Sunday, July 23, 2006

Conversation with daughter- 3

Sowmya refers to this fascinating lecture by Richard Dawkins in which he describes how astronomical wonder can be presented to children, using different sizes of balls, pins, corns, etc and placing them at appropriate distances to illustrate the scale and size of the solar system.

When a seemingly drab subject is presented in this manner to children, it not only de-mystifies the whole thing, but also enhances their desire to learn more. In his book “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman”, the famous physicist Richard Feynman narrates how he enjoyed the company of children and how he indulged in exploiting their natural curiosity. He would, for instance, approach a group of children and tell one of them, “Any number that you tell me, I can tell you a bigger number”. The child would start with 10, 100, and go on to 1000, 1000000…. and each time Feynman would come up with a bigger number. Finally, the child would give up and ask him, “Mr. Feynman, please, which is the biggest number?” and Feynman would explain all about ‘infinity”. The concept would get indelibly imprinted in the child’s mind.

I love the poem, “The Cataract of Lodore” where Robert Southey magically captures, for his children, the beauty and majesty of a waterfall. The rhythm is so mesmerizing that it is almost like hearing the waterfall. The tempo is gentle when the water is just a trickle and brisk-paced as it gathers momentum. I am sure that this would have instilled in the children a love of poetry and, in equal measure, an appreciation of the awesome forces of nature at work.

All this must have weighed in my sub-conscious mind when I returned home quite late from office one day and was told by my wife that my younger daughter had already gone to bed, exhausted after studying for her ‘history’ test the next day. I went up to her room and found her still awake. “Why are you late?” she asked me, sleepy-eyed. Taking a cue from Dawkins, Feynman and Southey, I decided not to give her a direct reply and instead launched forth into a story or rather a grand sweep of Indian history. I must have covered the range from Gautama Buddha, how Buddhism spread to China , how this brought curious visitors to India, how the silk route came into being, how the Europeans got to taste the Indian spices, how they were driven by a desire to find a sea route to India, how this happened eventually, how the British came down and ruled us for more than two hundred years, that we got our freedom in 1947, that they left us with hardly any infrastructure except the Railways, how the country needs more and more electricity, how I was involved in the power sector, how I had been trying to convince a client that evening to invest in a power plant- and that’s why I was late.

Somewhere in the course of Indian history, between the 6th century BC and 1947, my daughter had dozed off.

I guess I have some distance to cover before I catch up with Dawkins, Feynman and Southey.


Anonymous said...

Maybe that is what she wanted, a little nudge into sleepdom. your tale probably helped her in acheiving that! a good nights sleep, very important before an exam.

Lalita said...

Your intentions were fine, but your timing was bad, man. Feynman you aren't.
Thanks for directing me towards a lovely poem all the same.

Usha said...

I guess in her sleepy state on the day before her exam, even feynman and Dawkins would have lost her in some century or other.
That was a good effort. I wish more teachers read such books and use more creative methods to teach children.

Raj said...

Sowmya, yes, that history lesson certainly helped in getting her to sleep.

Lalita : Feynma, I am not. But I am now into social work- helping out sleep-deprived people.

Usha : Yes, teaching methods must change. There is a French metaphor which says, " If you want to make your son a great sailor, you don' need to teach him the nitty-gritties of sailing,wind patterns, etc. Just inculcate in him the love of the sea.The rest will follow". Just arouse the curiosity in the child. The learning will follow

Viky said...

Heh Heh...Enjoyed it thoroughly. From Gautam Buddha to your bring in the power sector...

Raj said...

Viky, thanks.