Concept and illustrations by Nina Sabnani
Written by Deeya Nayar
Written by Deeya Nayar
You must have studied the Roman numeral system at some point in school. The sheer number of rules just for writing down numbers is quite daunting. Just to refresh your memory - I did while doing 3rd grade Math with my daughter, here are some:
(I had even forgotten the symbols - L is 50, C is 100, D is 500 and M is 1000)
You cannot repeat V, D and L.
X, C and D cannot be repeated more than thrice.
If a smaller numeral is placed before a larger one you have to subtract it. You cannot however subtract V, D and L in this manner. You can subtract I from V and X only, X from L and C only and C from D and M only.
If a smaller numeral is placed after a numeral, add it.
If a smaller numeral is placed between two larger ones, subtract it from the one after it.
For example, 3999 would be MMMCMXCIX.
When we get to addition and subtraction and higher operations, it begins to get really complicated.
Why the need for so many rules you ask?
Mainly because the concept of place values did not exist. This idea is perhaps the most brilliant thing about the Hindu-Arabic system that we now use (ie 0-9 digits). Peel away a layer from this and you bump into that superstar to whom a lot of intellectual progress can be attributed to, that most perfect shape - the little circle. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Mister Zero! All About Nothing by Nina Sabnani is about this hero who simplifies our lives much more than we realise.
Muchu is a diamond trader who lived in ancient India. One day he is embroiled in a particularly tricky calculation and goes to bed with his head still spinning. In the morning, he notices a sunbeam making a circular pattern on one of his scrolls. This triggers a thought process which leads to his discovering the concept of shunya or zero.
This story was originally an animation film. It is fictional but is based on actual research. Though the recommended age group is 5+, I think it will appeal to folks of all ages. Sabnani has authentically re-created the world at the time around which the concept was discovered. She brings in a philosophical twist by quoting a Sanskrit shloka about poorNa or whole and weaves it into the story beautifully by relating it to shunya or empty. The pages have been given a manuscript-like background, the colours are rich and earthy and the illustrations simply transport you back in time.
Like my favourite Math teacher used to say, the beauty of genius lies in its simplicity. Once you get it, you wonder why no one thought of it earlier and how folks did without it before. All About Nothing tells you this about zero and its importance in a most delightful manner.