Every day I was punished, at home, in school. And they were wrong and I was right. But my crime was that I would follow only what I felt to be right. It has been a great adventure to be right and to be punished. That gave me tremendous integrity, and everybody – my father, my teachers – later on recognized it. Almost all of them recognized that they were wrong. But they treated me just like any other child. They never thought that I would be able to stand all the punishments, and still insist on doing the things I wanted to do.
For years, I had been standing outside the class. The teachers would find it easier to teach – otherwise I was constantly asking questions. And I knew, and they knew, that they didn’t know the answers. The moment I would ask anything they would say, “Simply go out of the class.”
I would say, “But that is not the answer to my question.”
For example, I asked the man who started teaching me arithmetic, why in every language there are ten basic digits, one to ten. He said, “My God, I have been teaching mathematics for almost twenty years.” – and he was a first class MSc in mathematics – “Nobody has ever asked me, nor have I ever thought myself why there are ten digits.”
I said, “I know the answer. But first I want to know whether a gold medalist in mathematics from the university knows a basic thing which is fundamental to mathematics.”
He was angry and embarrassed. I said, “It is very simple. I have seen the villagers counting on their fingers, and there are ten fingers. Man must have started thousands of years ago counting on fingers. And, because all over the world man has ten fingers, hence every language, every country has those ten basic digits. Otherwise there is no reason.” And there have been mathematicians who have used fewer digits; Godel used only three. He said, “That’s enough: one, two, three. After three, comes ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. After thirteen comes twenty.” And he managed to solve all kinds of mathematical problems with only three digits.
I was interested in mathematics, that’s why I had joined the class. But before joining the class, I had looked in all kinds of mathematical books in the library, and found this Godel, who managed to work only with three digits. That gave me the idea, that the ten digits has nothing to do with mathematics, it has something to do with the hands of man.
I said, “Rather than answering me, you are telling me to go out of the class and stand there at the window. There is no problem for me, because I enjoy the air outside better than this dark hole which you call your classroom. And this dirty furniture, ugly, hard. And you force small children to sit on this furniture, six, seven hours a day; that is enough to destroy their soul. I am perfectly happy outside. There are trees and birds and fresh air. And particularly you are not there, so I need not bother about any questions.”