Sunday, November 12, 2017

Children's Day special: Life lessons for adults from these six child prodigies

'Life is hard, but there is enough to be grateful for'
Sabiya Ali, 11
Claim to fame: Won a silver medal at a chess tournament organised by the South Mumbai Chess Academy this year

Sabiya Ali, Pic/Falguni Agrawal
Sabiya Ali, Pic/Falguni Agrawal

I have been attending the day-care centre set up by the NGO Mumbai Mobile Creche since I was one year old, but I had not seen a chessboard until six months ago when the teachers introduced the game to us during an educational programme. Coach Abhishek Deshpande would visit the site four times a week to tutor us. Each session would last three hours. Since then, the chessboard has become my best friend, and my escape from reality. It helps me focus and has improved my concentration in studies too. I love that chess sucks you in. You are focused on one goal — to checkmate and become the victor. My favourite piece is the knight because of unusual moves and power to jump over other pawns. Initially, I ended up missing a couple of classes because I was preoccupied with household chores. I live in a hut on a construction site in Thane with seven family members. My father works as a POP sealing worker on the site, while my mother helps him by doing odd jobs. We migrated from Gonda district of Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai. Life is hard, but there is enough to be grateful for.
As told to Anju Maskeri

'Listen when people offer you feedback'
Anusha Subramanian, 17
Claim to fame: Wrote her first fantasy fiction title Heirs of Catriona (Rupa) at the age of 12; her second young adult novel, Never Gone (Penguin Books India), was published last year

Anusha with her writer father Ravi Subramanian. Pic/Shadab Khan
Anusha with her writer father Ravi Subramanian. Pic/Shadab Khan

Anais Nin once said, 'We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect'. I think her words capture the beauty and the satisfaction that the world of words holds perfectly. My own love for writing started out as a thirst for books. I would devour anything I could get my hands on from Tinkle and Amar Chitra Kathas to Nancy Drew and Percy Jacksons. And it was reading that gradually led me to writing, for having learnt to love words, I wanted to create them now. When I started writing my first novel, I didn't think that I would publish it. But by the time I wrote my second one, writing had evolved into an escape from daily life. Writing gives you power — the ability to control how your story will end. When it comes to my books, I've always had trouble dealing with criticism. But one of the first things I learnt from my dad was that it is imperative to listen when people offer you feedback. Whether you act on it is up to you. Dealing with a father who is part of the same industry sounds like a nightmare! But truth be told, it isn't that bad. May be it's because we are very different people. He focuses on plots; I focus on characters. He goes where the words take him; I plan before I pen. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. The worlds of reading and writing have shaped me in ways that I cannot explain, and I know that as long I have a book to read, I will never be alone.
As told to Jane Borges

'Put your mind to a goal and don't give up'
Medansh Mehta, 8
Claim to fame: Made the gaming app, Let There Be Light, that impressed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadela

Medansh Mehta. Pic/Datta KumbharMedansh Mehta. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

A year and a half ago, when Microsoft along with NASA, announced the Imagine Cup for school kids, it caught my fancy. It's a global competition that empowers the next generation of computer science students to use their creativity to come up with innovations. At the time, the Delhi smog was in the news, just like it is now. So, I thought, why not create a gaming application around the environment. I chose from one of the themes they had put out - Prosperity Shining. It was about balancing conservation and economic growth. In this, I didn't have to resort to hardcore coding, so I used basic languages like Logo and Scratch to create the application. Although Microsoft had created tools for us to use, it was challenging nonetheless. This was the first time I was creating a gaming app, so I encountered obstacles at every level. I would refer to YouTube videos for guidance or sometimes, sleep on the problem till I came up with a solution. In a day, I would dedicate three hours to the project. It took me a month to make the app. My goal was to design the game in such a way that players would enjoy it. Since the game wasn't on Playstore, the only feedback I got was from my parents. The greatest validation came from Satya Nadela, of course. What I loved about him was the genuine interest he took in understanding what we had created. I think there are several ways to solve a problem that exists, only if we put our mind to it.
As told to Anju Maskeri

'Be brave, be kind and have fun'
Tanishka Sanghvi, 10
Claim to fame: Sang Laadki with Rekha Bhardwaj on Coke Studio when she was seven

Tanishka Sanghvi
Tanishka Sanghvi

I have been singing since I was six. And then I got the chance to be on Indian Idol Junior, and Coke Studio, where I sang a song composed by my father, Sachin Sanghvi [of Sachin-Jigar] called Laadki. It spoke of a conversation between a father and daughter. I express myself best when I sing. I can spread joy. It gives me satisfaction when people seem happy when I sing. I don't see myself as a different child though, or famous. I think I am normal. My aim is to keep singing and eventually become the next Lata Mangeshkar. If I had to give a message to children who want to live their dreams, I would say, be brave, be kind and have fun.
As told to Aastha Atray Banan

'Ditch the cellphone, pick up a book'
Atharv Patil, 16
Claim to fame: Founded ihavereadthebook.com, a platform where children review books for other kids

Atharv Patil
Atharv Patil

In 2015, I was at Crossword bookstore, sitting on a stool and reading. I was noticing other kids. They didn't know which book to buy; they were simply going by the synopsis. I didn't think it was the right way to pick a book, because the review on the cover is by the publisher. So, I thought why not start a website where kids review books for other kids. We now have over 2,000 reviews and thousands of readers. The initiative has reached 55,000+ schools in six countries including USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Singapore, and of course, India. Right now, I am busy with the IITJEE exams, but I still find time to do this, and read a book. I enjoy it when people tell me that they bought a book because of a review they read on the platform, or when elders say how noble it is to talk of books at a time when everyone is obsessed with gadgets.
As told to Aastha Atray Banan

'In a team, all strengths and weaknesses are accepted'
Bharath Anand, Vedant Thakur and Yuvraj Kundargi, All 14
Claim to fame: Created two bots S.C.A.R (surface cleaner and aerating robot) and the A.S.P (autonomous seed planter) that secured first place in the Open Category (ages 13-15) at the WRO India (World Robot Olympiad India). They are currently representing India at the ongoing WRO finals in Costa Rica

Vedant Thakur and Yuvraj Kundargi. Pic/Shena Kharabe
Vedant Thakur and Yuvraj Kundargi. Pic/Shena Kharabe

Initially, it was only Vedant and I, who were on the project. Bharath (inset) joined us later. We have been classmates for seven years, so we share an understanding. It took us four months to put the two bots together. Of course, there were disagreements on how to go about the programme. Bharath executes tasks extremely well, but needs to be told to do them. I am quick tempered and tend to flare up.

Bharath Anand
Bharath Anand

Vedant, on the other hand, can get a bit impatient. When we couldn't arrive at a solution, we would approach our coach, Kashyap Shah, to intervene. The common binding factor was the zeal to create a mechanism that would combat environmental problems; especially pollution in water bodies and deforestation. We started in our backyard, and visited six ponds and a creek in Nerul. A few tests were conducted to gauge the level of pollution. We made a bot, which through a system of infra-red sensors would locate and pick up waste floating on the water's surface. The other robot, A.S.P, was created to restore depleted forests through a seed dispenser. The time we spent on the project was intense. We skipped playing in the evening, tuitions were cancelled and our grades began to drop (laughs). We encountered several challenges. Since SCAR had to work on water, it had the tendency to drift. We resolved this through trial and error. The experience not only sharpened our technical skills, but cemented our friendship. When you work together as a team, it's important to accept each.
As told to Anju Maskeri


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