Of oranges and fractions…

“Look at this orange. I’ll cut it… thus… how much is there?” She proceeds to cut an orange into two pieces.

“One piece for each of us… but, but what will the other brother do? He won’t have any orange at all?!”

“Don’t worry about that! Just tell me what you see in each of my hands… this is… this is… ” prompts my mother…

Blank stare from pupil (aka self)… how can she think it doesn’t matter if one person doesn’t get at least half an orange?? And besides, why only half? There’s a whole basket of oranges behind her??! And why on earth is she cutting them? That is NO way to treat an orange – the juice runs out and goes waste – everyone knows THAT! Plus that smell is making my mouth water – I have to have that orange now!

Oh, I get fractions all right, I just don’t know what she wants! I’ve been out of school for three weeks, thanks to a bug and my mom is “helping” me catch up on stuff that I missed and insists on the orange routine to introduce fractions to this third-grader.

Now, if she’d tried introducing fractions through potatoes or onions or even better, karela (kaakarakaaya/paavakai/bitter gourd/bitter melon – the bane of every kid’s life), I probably wouldn’t have cared and would have figured out the minutest of fractions – in the hope that she’d be so pleased with my quick learning that she might let me off with a really tiny piece of the bitter curry at lunch! Or maybe even a zero portion!

Why does it even have to be food anyway? And fruit that too?? Couldn’t it have been anything else? Like a bug or a beetle? (Ok, in my defence, this was before I knew bugs had feelings!)… I did a little research among my contemporaries and found out that all of them had been subject to the same treatment – orange cutting or apple (for variety!) cutting – to be taught fractions by struggling parents!

Lesson one to all parents – please refrain from using desirable food items – fruit, chocolate bars etc. all fall under this category – to teach any child anything about maths! You are permitted to use stuff like paper (unless you have a very hungry child!), bitter gourd (even the hungriest child would rather go for the paper!) to teach halves and quarters and thirds! It is sheer cruelty!

Lesson two t0 all parents: If you have more than two children, teach thirds before you teach halves – you don’t want to teach them unfairness, do you?!

Lesson three ditto: Feed them first before you sit down to a lesson – you do not want them thinking of aloo cutlets as you cut potatoes into pieces! Also might be useful to teach them that potatoes are to be boiled whole for cutlets before peeling and cut potatoes are not good for cutlets – only curries!

And you thought you were teaching them fractions?

Better still, just give them whole fruit – do not cut – a philosophy I learnt from my mother – though I never did learn fractions from her! For the longest time, I thought everyone ate like us – one mango served along with lunch at each plate. You were free to cut it (though you ran the danger of being called a sissy!), tear the skin off with your teeth and bite into the flesh, squeeze the livin’ daylights out of it and suck out the resultant gooey juice or any which way you chose. The only processing that was done to that mango was washing it! Imagine my shock when I was served mango in a bowl – actually peeled and neatly cut with a little fruit fork to pick up the pieces with – at a friend’s home! God, how many fractions must have been taught in that home!

So feed them (the kids I mean) cutlets or oranges and apples and then have this healthy low cal whole finger food for yourself – you don’t want to teach yourself  fractions, do you?! This is inspired by Madhu Yerramsetty’s starter at a family dinner in California last month – thanks, Madhu!


  • Cucumber – 1
  • Zucchini – 1
  • Tomato – 2-3
  • Sprouts – 1 cup – steamed for 3 minutes (optional but desirable!), cooled and mixed with 1/2 tsp of cumin powder, 1/4 tsp chili powder, salt, 1 tsp lime juice, pinch of sugar, 1 pinch of chat masala
  • Guacamole – mash with a fork – pulp of 1 large avocado, chopped onion, green chili, salt, pepper, lemon, 1 garlic clove, 1/4 tsp of sugar, red or green pepper, juice of 1/2 a lime.
  • Chopped fresh mint to garnish

Slice the vegetables into thick-ish slices – about 1/4 cm thick.

Place a dollop of the guacamole on top. Spinkle half a tsp of sprouts on each and top with mint.

Serve immediately.

You don’t need to cut these into halves or quarters or eighths or whatever – just pop ’em whole into your mouth!