'Mathematics can be fun to learn'

Greater Kashmir

If give a piece of paper to V.S.S. Sastry, 57, an Origami expert from Kolar, Bangalore, within minutes he will turn it into a beautiful paper object. Sastry, who has a regular job in Canara Bank in Bangalore, uses Origami to simplify arcane concepts of science and mathematics. Recipient of Karnataka government’s Best Science Communicator Award for 2012, Sastry has been popularizing science and mathematics subjects across India since 1982, when he was 40.
Sastry was recently in Kashmir to attend the Inspire Science camp that was held at National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, sponsored by Department of Science And Technology. Passionate about popularizing science and mathematics among students, he says by using paper models mathematics and science can be enjoyed and fun to learn. As students surround him in awe of his fascinating paper skills, Sastry makes instant sketches and science cartoons laced with humor. He says through paper models school kids can better appreciate and learn subjects like science and mathematics.
In a conversation with Majid Maqbool, V. S.S Sastry talks about his passion of popularizing science and mathematics by using his unique paper art to illustrate concepts to school kids and teachers all across India, and how science and mathematics subjects can be made more attractive for school kids in Kashmir.

What is Origami and how were you attracted to it?
Origami is a Japanese art through which you make paper art, like making paper cups and paper boats for example.  Ori means to hold, gami means paper. Similarly there is another paper art I practice which is called Kirigami. Kiri means cut and gami means paper. I came towards the popularization of science movement through Bhopal Gas Tragedy in the 80s. I come from a trade union movement in Bangalore.  I was part and parcel of a left wing Jhata that was carried out in the 80s. We had to stay at night at different places during the Jhata.  While traveling across the state, I found primary, middle school and higher secondary teachers talking about their difficulties in teaching science and mathematics to the students.  Then I told them that through paper they can teach mathematics and science to kids in an interesting manner. I showed them how theorems can be better explained using paper models. This was observed by one chemistry professor who asked me to write these things down. Ten years later he became secretary of a state wise science popularization network called Karnatka state Vigyhan Parishad. He got sanction from NCSTC for my Origami and mathematics workshops that were subsequently held in various states. Then we sat with curriculum at hand up to 10th standard level from the primary level. We devised a complete plan and the workshops became very popular in schools.

How can teaching science and mathematics using your paper models benefit students?
Students get visual illustration of what they are taught in the classroom. I have made around 16-20 paper models, and then I taught mathematics to students up to 10th level in workshops all over the country. I have already done around 1000 workshops throughout the country. I also made it into a book titled, “Origami, fun and mathematics” which is extensively used in schools across India. Three times it has been reprinted by ministry of HRD.  I came to know of many problems faced by teachers and students while conducting workshops in different states. Then I worked on finding solutions to those problems.

You are the only Kirigami expert in India. How did you come to practice Kirigami art to spread environmental awareness and knowledge about various insects among students?
I am also an avid bird watcher. I used to be invited to various Eco Clubs that were started allover India by ministry of environment. We had to take students to watch and study birds. But students were not interested in flowers, birds and trees. Then I thought of making a relationship between the insects and environment. I thought of using paper to make these relationships and bring students closer to the nature. I started practicing Kirigamy for this purpose. 
Ninety percent of insects are beneficial to human beings. But people only know of the five percent which are not beneficial.
As on date even if you have to collect a dead cockroach, you have to seek permission from local magistrate first, then the biodiversity department, and then ministry of science and technology. And the rules specify that the specimen you have collected, its photographs should be given to all these people. I found that people were afraid to touch insects. Specimens I collected did not show details of wings, limbs etc. Since I was told that I have to get permission from various government departments to collect insects, as a way out I decided to try Kirigami art.
We find paper everywhere. Most of the printed paper is used only once. After that it is scrap. I began to use make insects out of used glossy advertisement paper. These insects have colour, size, legs, wings, antennae etc. They appear very real. I am able to do away insect phobia among children when I teach them how to make insects using paper. Then they start appreciating the shape, legs and wings of insects. This makes them to learn more about the lives of these insects.
Like in India, in Kashmir people don’t know much about their insects. I know there are highly dexterous and talented people here. If you study insects using Kirigami, it will benefit people and also spread awareness about what kind of insects are found here.
Limca Book of Records recently recognized your achievement of making a paper rocket in Bangalore that is the largest structure of its kind. How did that came about?
I designed the rocket out of small, small units of paper that were held together in a peculiar way. The work was started under my guidance on July 1, 2010 and it took nine days to complete the rocket. Twenty five employees of Deutsche Bank from Bangalore came together under my guidance to make the paper rocket and this year the record came into the Limca Book of Records. 
Mathematics is a neglected subject in Kashmir. There is dearth of mathematics teachers and not many students prefer to opt for mathematics subject after finishing high school. How can this trend be changed?
Yes, Mathematics is a neglected subject. In Rajasthan good teachers are available for quota system to make money, but good teachers are not available for government to appoint them as mathematics teachers. At least they have a quota system there, but here in Kashmir you do not have even quota system for mathematics teachers.  If Origami training is given here to mathematics students and teachers, it will help in popularizing mathematics.
What I observed here is that there’re great hand and eye skills. The hard life here helps make good coordination between head and hand. I have met people here who can tell what kind of person you are just by shaking your hand! But there is a need of science movement here. More hands on activities should be there in the schools. There should be more of such science camps and workshops. Let students see the wonders of mathematics. For example, students for the first time here saw that mathematics could be a subject of cartoons as well. They didn’t know about such paper work. Children are more responsive to new ideas. Put some kind of dream into them. Let it take years to show positive results. Even I started this work at the age of 40 and it showed positive results.

What can be done to bring more students towards Mathematics and popularize this subject in Kashmir?
You have to nurture mathematics, then only it will show results. And you cannot get an IIT professor from outside and let him teach mathematics to teachers and students here. They will have to do it themselves and make mathematics interesting and fun to learn for the students. There is mathematics everywhere here. Tell kids mathematics could be enjoyed like a joke or a poem. Teach them practically.  The knowledge that is already there, reconnect it in an interesting manner for the students. Look at the mathematic limericks in Kashmiri folklore. The knowledge that is already there in Kashmiri folklore should be included in the school curriculum here. And government can put in a scheme and bring in scientists from outside every month so that there’s exchange of ideas and teaching methods. Funds are available in plenty. Knowledge Commission says that every district should have a science learning center. The chief minister here just has to write to them and the money will come.