The Probability Lesson

Mr. Uppal and his two children are walking down the street. He meets Mr. Kore and introduces a young boy proudly as his son. What is the probability that Mr. Uppal’s other child is also a boy? This is a simple mathematical problem. Even without conscious reasoning, the answer would be 1/2 right? Because the other child will be a boy or a girl. Well, duh! We assumed in our mind, that Mr. Uppal is the father of either two boys, two girls, or in the order of birth, either a boy and a girl, or a girl and a boy. Assume independence and equiprobability, we start with the probability of one by four, but now that Mr. Uppal has said that one of his children is a boy, the only possible remaining answer is 1/3. So how is this possible?

Running down the corridor filled with the cacophony of grade 8 students lining up with their bags and bottles to go home, I yelled out at my math teacher Ms. Anju, who just taught me the concept of probability in the last hour. I asked her why Mr. Kore couldn’t decide the gender of the second child. Bewildered, she asked me to come back the next morning but I knew that this whole thing went over her head and that she wanted me to forget all about it.
“How about: we discuss this at your place in the evening? Don’t tell me you’re busy. I haven’t had an extra class for a week now!” I said anxiously.
With a sly smile, she replied, “You know Rhea, I feel ashamed sometimes to even be your teacher. But nevertheless, come at six. We’ll think about the problem over some coffee.”
All excited, I ran out of the teachers’ room and headed home.

I can’t help it but my condition forces me to think more. I even eat a lot more than other fourteen year olds would do. In this homophobic world, I find myself in an arduous position. I have strong feelings for my female teacher but I couldn’t be not called heterosexual at the same time. This was because I was just another teenager with random teensy crushes on my virile classmates as well. I was somewhere in between, kind of heteroflexible. So I had decided that that I would not ever marry, or make a family because all I wanted to do was a career in mathematics in a constant state of celibacy. I would just be unable to be that person what the society wanted me to be. And school, was slowly getting monotonous. I had won all major national Olympiads, all district level track and field gold medals and I have an ongoing research in mathematics which I hope to get patented by the end of this year. But the only reason I would go to school is for Anju ma’am. She was not more than twenty two years old and was the most beautiful person in the whole campus. We shared a special bond. She was more than a friend to me. She gave me extra lessons at her apartment and helped me prepare for all the Olympiads and national level quizzes. At school, as she came and taught us  those boring equations and I would keep staring at her face, her body, her lips, her feet, her clothes, her nail paint, her brown hair, her expressions, occasional smirks, occasional wrinkling of the forehead when she gets angry at some ignoramus student, the way she walked, the way she tied her hair before writing anything on the blackboard, the way she would close her eyes when there was too much flying chalk dust while rubbing everything off the blackboard… I adored her everything. She was perfect. I felt this enervating something inside of me, when she would walk into class each time.

I got out of the gate and there he was: my dad, who looked so worried, biting the car keys off the key chain for some reason. I asked him why he was fidgeting so much, to which he replied that I was on the news.
“Oh, is the organ donation NGO at it again?” I asked.
“They’re outside our house now too. We need to get you in from the back door!”
My parents never forced decisions on me, now that I was fourteen. They understood that I was probably more capable of making my decisions than they were. They supported me unquestioningly.

I and my dad reached back home and my mother came, hugged me and told me that this commotion is only going to get worse. The commotion, protests and the minimal media attention is going to explode into a front-page headline in a national daily soon. I understood what she was coming to and I plainly refused.
‘Are you sure, Rhea?’ asks my mother.
‘Of course I’m. Survival of the fittest, mother. I’m not going against Darwin. Also I don’t want unnecessary scar on my body.’
It’s a known fact that we are born to die and frankly, I don’t understand why it has to be made into such a big deal. If it were not for my mother, I would have said that to the bunch of people outside my house, some of them with young kids, shouting slogans, waving placards, literally wanting me to cut one of my beating hearts out. “Save a life. Donate!” they shout.
For someone who is one in billions, 7.125 billion to be exact, I expect to be treated better. Scientists are still befuddled regarding my condition that gave me two hearts in my mother’s womb. But years of research and sticking needles into me have led them nowhere, and they have labelled me as a freak mutation. It’s so rare – literally one in all humankind – that they didn’t even name the anomaly (as they call it, I will call it awesomeness). I wanted to name the condition myself, something on the lines of Rhea’s Heartsawesome, but the doctors aren’t thrilled with the suggestion. Instead, they want to cut one of them out and save a life. Huh?
An IQ of 180, increased concentration, exceptional athleticism and a phenomenal metabolism rate – are just the few boring benefits of an increased blood circulation. Why would I ever give that up?

It was half past five and I was steadfast on going for that extra class. I just couldn’t keep my mind off my favorite teacher and the probability question was just an excuse for the tiny little thing that I was going to tell her today. My dad, again from the back door sneaked me out and dropped me to Ms. Anju’s residence. I gave her a tight hug as soon as she opened the door; to her surprise though. She brought me coffee and we sat down with some fresh math! The look on her face, when I was trying to explain my problem to her, was a sight worth seeing. Her arguments were ridiculously adorable. Her idea was that there could be a culture which boys are taken as the walking companions, au naturel, so that the possibilities of the problem set comes down to two and the probability was 1/2, or involvement of the third gender which is like, mixing social rights and grade 8 mathematics. Even though her ideas were goofy, I forgave her benign logical ability.
“Ms. Anju, can I tell you something?”
“Do you have another hypothesis, Rhea?”
“I know you’re my teacher, but I have wanted to tell you this for a long time. I love you Ms. Anju and I have genuine feelings for you! Every time I see you, I just see that how beautiful you really are from the inside and the outside”, I whispered with a trembling voice. I held her hand and leaned forward and kissed her on her lips, scouting through her gloss like a yearning girl who was looking forward to this for quite some time.

She pushed me back and asked me what I was doing. With the awkwardness that followed, she mumbled, “Rhea, I’ll just call your dad. He’ll pick you up. I think you should go.”
This was unexpected. It hit me straight between the eyes causing more pain that I could fathom. Tears came rolling down my cheek as I said “I thought you loved me too!”
Ms. Anju said, “Yes I love you Rhea, but definitely not in this way. You are my student and you are by far the smartest teenager I’ve ever seen and probably I ever will. I love you, because I see in you a winner.”
“But I can’t win without you..!” I cried, wiping my uncontrollable tears off.
“You fight a war with this world, even come to school every day and according to me, you have already won. You fight the odds lined up against you very single day of your life, but you have to spare me out of it Rhea. We will be teacher and student, until the day we both die and nothing more than that!”

Embarrassed, heartbroken and angry, I stormed out of the house without saying another word. She tried to come behind me, but I ran straight to my dad’s car which was waiting outside. In a whim, I decided that if she wasn’t there in my life, then I didn’t want to be who I am. I would be what the world wants me to be. Everybody will be happy then. I was sick of this castigation, these protests and these chants which make me look like a selfish, evil person. That feeling of excitement of being special, of being different, of being one in a billion, of being respected, of being envied, just wasn’t there anymore in me. Probably I never had heartbreak before. But this time both my hearts were shattered to pieces. In despair, I made the choice. I gave in to the wishes of the world, because I hadn’t had my own anymore.

I told my dad, that I’ll get the operation done and get one heart removed and donate it to someone who actually deserved it. I did not reason with him when he asked me what happened. Neither did he. But he knew that something was up because I am seldom cold and scathing.

An ice cold feeling gripped my nerves, as I was being driven to the hospital. My mother was holding my hand and was trying to figure out the trigger to my impulsive decision. By the time I got there, legions of photographers and protesters were waiting outside the hospital. Amidst all the people and children shouting slogans and waving placards, I saw Ms. Anju standing at a distance. Her chestnut colored flying hair, long coat and teary eyes in the silhouette of the light from the setting sun made me stop. I ran to her, hugged her and said, “Ma’am, even though I’ll have a heart less, I’ll try to be the same Rhea Motwani, when I come back to school!” she asked me to rethink once, but I was determined. I was prepared for surgery, by the nurses. Time and time again, I was assuring my parents that I had thought this through. I told them, that I had already given my heart to someone and that the operation was just a procedure to take out the heart that wasn’t mine to begin with. My mother kissed me on my forehead as I started being wheeled to the operation theatre. I burst out crying. Suddenly, it became extremely still and quiet. I could hear the birds, the sound of traffic, the rustling of leaves, the sound of the wheels of my stretcher, but still that deafening silence. Life after the procedure wouldn’t be the same. I’ll never be as extraordinary as I am right now. I’ll never be as strong as a person as I am right now. As tears came running down my face, I wanted to see her again. I closed my eyes, to see that smile, those eyes, to feel that that touch once again. I indicated towards my doctor to stop the wheeling and called for Ms. Anju. She came running to me, wiping her tears away and asked me what the matter was. I asked her, to give me her ears, as I couldn’t really talk with that endotracheal tube in me. With all my might, I whispered, “I missed out the randomness in the order of birth!”
“What are you saying Rhea?” she asked me, all confused.
“If we don’t assume the order in which the children were born, the probability is 1/2. You were right ma’am. You are always right!”


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