Well, today I had to go to college for some work. Going to college for me is not as easy as you might be tempted to think. It’s 80 kilometers from a place that is at least 15 more kilometers from my house. No, I don’t do it everyday. Yeah, that means I stay there. But it’s our summer hols now, full three months of it, and there’s no college. I had to go there because of some work.

So I was returning from there by train, local train. I had to get off at Dum Dum. It was pretty empty when I got on it. Pretty empty means that if you run and be bad-mannered and shove a few people around, you have a chance of getting a seat. I got a seat.

Where I sat was at the end of a compartment, a sort of half-closed space with the seats, and most of them were occupied by boys slightly older than me. They looked like they were travelling together.

One of them cracked a very, very poor joke and started laughing hysterically, drawing his breath in with loud squeals. Very weird. Everyone else was quiet. Nobody laughed at the joke. The joke was conceived when these guys saw a cow outside half-running beside the railway tracks. Then this guy said that there was a meeting in the forest where every animal came except one. Which was it? When no one could answer, he said it was the cow, because it was running over there. That was the joke. As one of them correctly pointed out, it wasn’t a PJ. It was an NJ or a no-joke.

After a while I found out that they were from Jadavpur University, and two of them were from my school, two years senior. Same section, in fact.

A lot of time passed by, we were talking, and then they mentioned a math problem. Not very tough. How many 3-digit numbers have their cubes ending with 44? Well, I gave it a hurried initial thought and said none, because I thought that there was no digit which when cubed gives 4 in the unit’s place. But they said there would be many numbers.

I started thinking again. I realized that 4 cubed gives 4 in the unit’s place. No other digit does that. So the unit’s place digit of the number must be 4. I took the number as a string of 3 digits represented by x, y and z. Then the number was 100x + 10y + z. I tried to cube that expression in my head, but my formula wasn’t right. I was thinking (a+b+c)^3 = a^3 + b^3 + c^3 + 3(ab+bc+ca), which wasn’t right. I thought in that line for a long time, with the wrong formula, and couldn’t get anywhere. Then I took out my phone, and started the calculator, and found out the cubes of all 2-digit numbers ending with 4 and various leading digits, and checked how many ended with 44. This I did with the idea that the 100th place digit wouldn’t affect the last two digits of the cube. Which was right. I did this for a while, then thought some more, and got an answer. But it wasn’t ‘a lot of numbers’. The number wasn’t a lot. So I didn’t know whether to tell them or not.

All this time, the train had stopped at some station. Not a very small station. The guy who had originally mentioned the question had got up to stand by the door. I had felt like asking the name of the station once, but hadn’t.

Then the train started moving, and I looked out of the window, and slowly, floating past it, I could see a covered stairway leading from the platform and sinking down. That was familiar. I had seen it on my way to college that very day. And I felt a little queasy. Then I saw the Metro tracks outside the station, running parallel to our tracks, and the words DUMDUM JN. written on the platform wall in large letters. It went right past the window. And I thought, man, I have missed it. I felt pretty queasy.

I kept thinking about it for some time. That was bad, missing my station like that. I wish I’d asked a guy sooner which station it was. I hadn’t paid any attention at all all this while to these stations and all.

Then after some time, I asked the guy opposite me, ‘Is the answer 18?’

He said, ‘Yes.’

Then I asked, ‘Is there another station where I can get off and catch a Metro?’

He said, not really, but why didn’t I get off at Dum Dum?

P.S. It later took me a whole lot of time to get home that day.


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