My name is Lubna and I am a numerophobic/arithmophobia!" "Sorry, I can't teach you maths because I don't know how!" I stammered to my daughter, who looked shocked. I thought I heard a crack in our bond as mother and child. I felt the nine months that I carried her couldn't make up for this disappointment...it was the way she looked at me.
"You don't know maths?"
I tried to evade the question but I couldn't. I had to relive my fear of numbers again. A mother can't lie to her children can she, I had to tell my child that I had hidden behind words all my life, first out of pleasure and then out of choice.
"No, I hated it, I couldn't ever understand it...I liked statistics and algebra, if that counts... your uncle and dad are good at numbers."
"How could you not know how to do maths?"
I didn't know what to say, could I tell her that I was probably a numerophobic or arithmophobia both are real conditions in which one has a fear of numbers.
Okay, I won't go as far as saying that I actually have a condition, it is just that I was never attracted to numbers. They seldom made any sense to me and most of the time the things taught in mathematics class was quite useless in daily life. My logic is that words will come in handy one day, numbers well...for the majority it is just a jumble of digits (no offence to those who understand the language of numbers weird as they seem in my world). I mean what was I supposed to converse with a friend I made when I asked her, "So what have you studied," and she told me she held a masters degree in mathematics. I couldn't ask her, "So have you read the latest book by Pythagoras, Euler or G.H. Hardy?" After she had revealed that she held a degree in maths, we both kind of shut up for a while - I tried to figure out or remember some interesting story about maths, or a theorem I had learned. I contemplated asking her so what's the rate of Pi nowadays or something like that, but I realised that would have been mega stupid. Pi is constant I guess. If she hadn't proved that she was human behind that intelligent brain, and talked about topics that a mere mortal like myself could understand, I guess that would have been our first and last awkward meeting. But her gesture of speaking my language helped, and we have been friends for a long time now.
On hindsight, I have always wondered like many other numbers impaired people, how does taking out the Pi (3.14) of anything help me find directions? Or how will knowing the diameter/circumference/radius help? I am sure those who can understand the language of numbers, will think that I am naive (of course they will replace that word with expletives of their choice or even with numbers that could be even more abusive).
The only time I have found numbers to be cute was linked to the vampire character Count Dracula in Sesame Street, who used to count everything he saw.
Recently a friend of mine tried enticing me to watch a TV series involving numbers 'Numb3rs' and 'Touch' in which the main characters solve crimes for none other than the FBI. But I couldn't get myself to watch these shows, and I feigned that it was a 'woman thing' which I am sure my friend must have heard as "Dude I am a woman hence it is quite evident that you don't really understand numbers or have a short attention span."
My brother, very much pro-maths and numbers, almost made me watch the 1999 movie 'Matrix' starring Keanu Reeves. After about ten minutes (or was it less, huh these numbers) I was completely confused and must have dosed off at least twice. Thank God it was on video (this was before DVDs were common) and I could forward most of the film. My brother was disappointed but it was obvious he wanted me to enjoy the wonders of the world of numbers and science, and he even tried to explain the storyline to me. But I must confess it sounded even more complicated than before, what did I know of time/space whatchamacallits - I guess that was the first time my brother learnt to his horror that he had a sibling who hadn't 'evolved' intellectually and was therefore not worthy of being privy to his world of numbers.
Having established that I am no maths-buff that does not mean women have been left behind in this field. They have made their mark in maths (even though their mothers' must have regretted that their daughters were intelligent and would scare off prospective husbands - of course that is another archaic myth). After a little research I realised that women have always been interested in maths and other subjects that men think are their domain. Women like Hypatia of Alexandria who was a Greek philosopher and mathematician and lived AD 350 to 370 - 415 proved her intellectual dexterity. And more recently, mathematician Shafi Goldwasser of New York, who is a professor at Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.
As for me I am happy in my world of alphabets, with digits playing on the periphery of my life. And in the end I would like to say, "My name is Lubna and I am a numerophobic/arithmophobia!"