Sharvil Thatte, now 17, an outstanding ex-student, a winner of The Genius of the Year Award, writes to greet me on my Birthday. This is his exclusive style of writing ... I welcome readers to mail in their comments.
--Prasan Wilfred, December 11, 2011
About a decade ago, a young boy of tender age stepped out of his house and entered into a strange, new place. The boy was confused. Confused as to why at a place where he had spent about just under an hour did he feel so home. Where was he? Was this indeed the illusive wonderland he had heard stories of? He went back home that evening and slept, happy and content.
Over the next few days, he would have an itch at the back of his mind, a jump in his stride and a constant longing to the wonderland he was growing ever so fond of. The place even had a nice ring to it. The Genius. N 19 Saket Indore. The shiny 'D.P. Wilfred' name plate outside the office. The veranda outside with the old palm tree, bent over the years. The plastic chairs or the concrete second level of the courtyard where he could sit before the 'class' began. He never quite got used to the word 'class' being attributed to it. It was always some place he could happily spend the rest of his life. The place just wasn’t bricks and stones to him. It was an environment. A complete world within the world.
He had grown used to the people there too. Whether it be the friendly guard at the gate with whom he could sit safely and chat away in the evening as he waited for his ride, or the pleasant baijis, from whom he would receive a glass of water to quench his thirst and a smile to brighten his day, or the autowala bhaiya, who would bring him back home at the end of countless ecstatic evenings. Or the didis and bhaiyas who were the mentors there.
Funny word, mentors, he used to think. Initially, not used to diluting the authority of the traditional 'teacher' to 'mentor', he quickly fell in line. And boy did he have fun. He would be wild. Wild with joy. If he had wanted, he would have jumped around like a monkey at times, just to express his pleasure. Coming to think of it, he did. Alas, the poor mentor. Handling a group of exuberant children is hard enough but to add a monkey to it!
Then there were the games. He knew what he was essentially doing in the process was learning. But learning had never been so much fun. Answering 'Manila' to "What is the capital of Philippines?" would earn his team an extra 10 points, clenching victory from his friends.
Speaking continuously for 'just a minute' would earn him a win. Experimenting with science would earn him a prize.
A bout at maths, word play and logic would mean a pat on his back. Learning a speech by heart and presenting it in front of the judges and his peers would make him proud of himself. Reciting a poem made him feel elegant.
Correctly pronouncing the word 'opportunity' was a matter of self esteem to him. But probably the foundation of it all for him were the books. The place was FULL of books. There were shelves upon shelves full of books. Neatly assorted according to their categories, there were books of every kind. Story books, encyclopedias, comic books, fiction, biographies, 'The Great Illustrated Classics' and what not. He got to take them home, read them till his eyelids gave out under the burden of sleep. He would read them whenever he had a second to spare.
He got to make a project out of them on a topic of his liking. If it wasn't for them, he wouldn’t have quite understood the railways or the World Wars for the fact.
And to top it off, he would get books as prizes too!
First in declamation? Here, have a red labelled book!
Second in poetry recitation? No problem! Here, a blue labelled book. Books there were galore.
He grew with the place. Maturation was a way to put it. He had friends around him, with whom he had laughed, celebrated and parted ways for the summer break, promising to come back the next session.
The mock interviews, the scrabble competitions, the etiquette sessions with those heavenly enchiladas. But, as all good things must come to an end... The words 'Indian Education System' bring a scowl to the now 17-year-old boy. It was the villain in his fairy tale. To fulfill one of his goals, he had to sever a part of his soul. It was a conundrum he could get his brain around. In the end, he had to leave behind his wonderland. For 'the greater good'.
He was ashamed of himself because he couldnt believe how easily he could forget about those memories, those longings. He was ashamed that he had to express himself over an electronic medium. But for his average, mundane existence, he had no other shameless excuse. It was his life and he had never wanted to let it go, especially of a man and a woman. In fact, the man and woman. Uncle and Aunty as they were lovingly called by everyone.
It was their idea that had led to his wonderland's creation. The boy was always guilty that he never got to spend extended amounts of time with Aunty. She was always busy with the major administration of the Genius. He did, however, come to know Uncle quite closely. Uncle to him was like his grandfather, his friend, his guide and his mentor. He was extremely fond of him. He looked surprisingly handsome in suspenders, had an uncanny similarity to Amitabh Bachchan for the boy, and was a treasure chest full of knowledge to anyone who knew him. He only had one bad habit. Smoking. The boy had always wished he would quit.
And it was that one man's legacy that had made the young toddler the boy was into a confident youth, marching his way into adulthood. If it wasn't for him, the boy would have faded into the billions of human beings inhabiting the world as 'just some boy'. But he was glad that he hadn’t. And he was immeasurably grateful to God for somehow making him end up at The Genius' front gate.
He was, and always will be, in debt of one of the greatest men to ever walk the earth. He took the road less travelled and that has made all the difference for him and a little boy. The boy might have not met an Asimov, Verne, Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi or Kalam, but it was his pleasure to have met Prasan Wilfred and he was more than content. So on this day, the day a legend was born 73 years ago, the little boy from a decade ago would like to wish his beloved Uncle a very happy birthday. "