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  • Writer's pictureAgastya International Foundation

A Labourer's Precocious Son Inspires Agastya, and a Royal

Updated: Jul 9

On a sunlit afternoon in Jodhpur in February, 2017 on the road from the airport to my hotel, I asked the driver rather whimsically if there was a government school on the way that I might see. Ten minutes later he pulled over at a handsome building made of Jodhpur stone. Quite impressive, for a government school, I thought (I learned later that the building had been funded by a Dubai based NRI).

I walked into the principal’s office and introduced myself. Taken aback by my uninvited presence, the principal warmed up to me after hearing about Agastya’s work and suggested that I should meet the children. Most of them, he said, were children of laborers, stonecutters and security guards. I was introduced to a boy, Himanshu, thirteen years old and the son of a laborer, who the principal proudly announced as “the smartest kid in the class.” Himanshu was writing notes on a page on English grammar. Never one to be impressed by a traditional school principal’s definition of “a smart kid” I asked Himanshu, “Where do you see science?” “Science is here,” he said pointing to a creaking ceiling fan, “and here,” he pointed to a small piece of chalk and “here” he said pointing to his body. He turned his head toward the trees and plants outside in the yard and beyond and said, “There is science there.” Startled by his insightful response, I asked him what he wanted to be. “Army officer,” he replied. “Great. I am sure you will become a general,” I said to spontaneous giggles and laughter.

I told the children about a study in the US that had measured the performance of children who had learned to play a musical instrument. Neither innate talent, nor hours of practice seemed to explain the marked difference in performance between children in the A group who performed the best from those in the B and C groups. “What was the missing factor?” I asked the class. Silence. And then, Himanshu spoke. “It’s inner confidence.” "Aah!” I exclaimed, “Almost right. It was confidence that came from an ignited personal vision leading to a long-term commitment to be a musician.” The children in the A group aspired to be musicians. The children in the B group said they would play the instrument through secondary school, while those in the C group said they would play it through primary school.

Quite a remarkable boy, Himanshu,I thought to myself; a perfect candidate for Agastya’s Young Instructor Leader program, where Agastya teaches children to teach children to grow their curiosity, confidence and leadership skills. If only Agastya had a program in Jodhpur, hundreds of kids like Himanshu might find expression for their precocity.

Ten months later, on a refreshingly cool morning on December 5, 2017 His Highness the Maharaja of Jodhpur Gaj Singh ji inaugurated Agastya’s mobile science lab at the Government Girls School in BJS Colony, Jodhpur. The children and staff were visibly excited to have their esteemed “Baapji” visit their school. Under a white pandal in the schoolyard Baapji looked curiously at the dynamic and colorful hands-on models and experiments on display. Young girls freely asked him questions before they confidently explained the science behind the experiments. Baapji bent his head and peered down the infinity well. A girl in pigtails asked him, “How many images can you see?” “Quite a few,” Baapji replied to smiles and laughter.

In my speech to the children, teachers and government officials who had gathered I recalled my inspirational meeting with Himanshu and Mr. Vyas, his principal. I said that Himanshu truly had fired up Agastya to come to Jodhpur. Sporting a tuft on a full head of coal black hair, Himanshu – a special guest and the only boy present at the BJS School - walked up to the dais and shyly acknowledged the cheers of the girls and teachers. I announced Agastya’s readiness to sponsor up to one hundred children from Jodhpur to visit Agastya’s campus creativity lab in Kuppam, AP. “Raise your hands if you would like to visit the Agastya campus,” I said. A sea of hands went up, followed by cheering. As he graciously welcomed Agastya to Jodhpur Baapji lauded Himanshu and remarked that there were many more Himanshus assuredly in Jodhpur. The deputy principal of the school said that she hoped more Himanshus and Himanshis would have an opportunity to express their precocity through their exposure to and engagement with the hands-on experiments of the Agastya mobile lab. A village leader in a striking turban requested that the mobile science lab visit his village. The newspapers mentioned Himanshu’s catalytic role in bringing the mobile science lab to Jodhpur. The mobile science lab will reach 3500 children every year.

It was a magical day; a day, that I trust is only the beginning of something big and wonderful, as wonderful as Jodhpur one day becoming a hub for creative learning in India.

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