He kept his head down throughout the class. This continued for days, weeks, months and years. He still keeps his head down.
One day. When I started teaching, I went near his desk to see what is he doing? He fidgeted and tried hiding his notebook on which he was doodling. Yes, that is what I thought in the beginning. Just a doodle. Later to realize that he was trying to draw a story. A story with exceptional detail and depth.
In grade 5, Pavan cannot read and write a word in Hindi and English. He cannot speak Hindi fluently. He cannot add or subtract numbers. He cannot count more than 100. Any regular teacher would just come in the class and spit and shout at him. Punish him sometimes. As if beating and punishing would magically make him read and calculate. Aren’t these some of the important parameters in the school through which a teacher assesses the child?
I could see that he had closed himself entirely. I mean he played with his friends and speak to them but also spent hours alone. Not just teachers, but friends too made fun of him for being big and not still not reading. He even had trouble writing his own name. So, he drew his name.
I knew I had to dig deep. So, I invited Pavan to my home, where there are many children all the time, and asked him to do whatever he likes. A lot of papers, colors, and paintbrushes are always available at my home. Naturally, as I predicted, he started drawing and painting. His drawing is not very pleasing generally but I like the ideas in it. He copied many drawings from many picture books and connected all of it to make one story. Often, he would then describe to me what is happening in the painting. This was the beginning of Pavan and i talking to each other.
I wondered that it is not just about painting. There must be much more than that. We tried clay modeling and random model making. He would make cars and huge trucks with cardboard. He made a real rat cage to catch rats for me. He made a birdhouse for a bird I miserably tried raising. The bird died. So Pavan buried it and planted a sapling on it. They say that if you plant a sapling on top of a dead body then the plant flourishes.
I brought puzzles for him. He got to cracking each one of them. He even started making his own puzzles. I could see his resourcefulness, skill and doing things with hands, making things, handling tools, ideating and making a working machine is at a very high level than his counterparts. More importantly, he was thinking very different from others. He would approach a problem very differently. He could imagine things that I would never. He actually sees things that are fantasies to me. And I really think that he thinks like a genius. I think he is genius.
Meanwhile, I also learned that he started speaking after 3 years of birth. People in his village call him ‘Baiyya’ which means ‘madman’ in their language Gondi because he used to roam alone for hours in the forests. Everyone in the village still calls him that. But I guess he is so used to it now that it doesn’t matter much. He rejects this idea that he is mad in any way. I agree with this. He is very normal. As we got close, I tried teaching him to read and basic arithmetic. I failed. He just could not remember. Maybe my technique was incorrect. And he needs something else that I cannot offer. He has some problems with speech also. Sometimes I think if all these might indicate dyslexia? Whatever it is, Pavan is unusual in any sense. He still can’t read in grade 7. But he loves our library. He looks at the beautiful pages of books for hours. Looks at pictures and try to make sense of the story.
I am worried. He is a person of high intelligence. Maybe a genius. But no one sees him like that. His father thinks he will not be able to do anything and is planning of buying him an auto later in life for some income. Teachers think he is dumb. But I know that he knows what amazing things he is capable of. He is the best at puzzles in the school. He could solve 2 faces of Rubik’s cube now which no other child has done yet. There is a small group of children who are Pavan’s fan and help him making models. He says that he wants to be a ‘chitrakaar’ later in life. I told him that he already is one.
But I don’t know when he will learn to read and write. These things cannot be ignored regardless of the child’s great potential and intelligence. I mean he fails all subjects all the time. What would he do when no-detention-policy is over after class 8th?
Now sometimes he looks at the board and looks at me if it interests him. Like science seems interesting when I bring some experiments in the class. But many times he stills keeps drawing. Surprisingly, he never sleeps. He stills stays alone and keeps making something. And he likes it. In a recent conversation with the rest of the class, I could see a set of children emerging who could see Pavan’s genius. They say that we can read but can’t do things that Pavan does.
I don’t know what will happen to him in the future. If he will be able to learn the conventional textbooks stuff or not. But I know that there are many Pavan in every class and every school and they must be encouraged and dealt with kindness and love.