Tuesday, November 25, 2008


By Manuwant Choudhary

Who really invented the zero?

I have always thought that this was one of the most powerful inventions of the world.

Every civilisation claims origins to the word zero in their ancient roots.

From the little I gather on this from research on internet the zero had its beginnings in Arabia where the word for zero was `sifr' from which we get the word `cipher'.

Later Babylon and Greece all have their own interpretations of zero.

Zero denotes two things ...first its a positional system...since any number before or after it signifies a numbers value, but a zero in itself means an emptyness that cannot be described by any other word.

According to an internet version the Indian mathematician Aryabhat used the word `kha' to signify a zero and in many ancient texts the words zero was denoted by a dot.

But the first description of zero as we know it is from an inscription on a stone tablet which contains a date which translates to 876.

The inscription concerns the town of Gwalior, 400 km south of Delhi, where they planted a garden 187 by 270 hastas which would produce enough flowers to allow 50 garlands per day to be given to the local temple. Both of the numbers 270 and 50 are denoted almost as they appear today although the 0 is smaller and slightly raised.

You must be wondering why I am getting into all this history.

But many years ago when I first became a journalist in Bombay I had to interview all kinds of people. I was never, never lucky with Supermodels and only partially lucky with Godmen!

One Godman I went to interview was a person called Pandurang Shastri Athawale...a scholar on the Bhagwad Gita...and he had just won the Magsasay Award for his work in transforming rural Gujarat and parts of Maharashtra.

There were hundreds of his followers waiting for his `darshan' and I really wanted to interview this great man.

I waited for more than an hour and I knew my time was running out.

Reporters in city newspapers often have to cover more than one assigment.

And so by the time Shri Athawale gave me time..I had to leave for my next assignment..a talk by Shri Lakhubhai Pathak...UK's pickle king..who had alleged that he gave a large donation to India's Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and that Rao cheated him.

But Lakhubhai did not speak about his case against the Indian Prime Minister.

Instead, he spoke about `Zero'.

So today with elections around the corner and politicians listing the number in their achievements..its time for us to stop.

Nitish Kumar's government has completed 3 years and large advertisements proclaim his efforts...while the RJD counters the Nitish campaign by posters showing people drowning in the Kosi floods while water gushes out from the mouth of an evil Nitish Kumar!

Nitish gives himself 99 per cent...but Laloo's RJD gives Nitish a `minus 10'.

So Nitish asks opinion leaders to give him a number.

After much thought I give him a `0'.

But no cheer for the UPA either.

I give Laloo a zero too.

And yes my Prime Minister Manmohan you too get a `0'.

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