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‘Non-academic’ Genius

I found the column “The Pottery of Physics” by Kamala Mukunda and Venkatesh Onkar (EPW, 2 December 2017) to be an extremely interesting observation about the neglect of ways of learning other than the so-called “academic” learning.

I found the column “The Pottery of Physics” by Kamala Mukunda and Venkatesh Onkar (EPW, 2 December 2017) to be an extremely interesting observation about the neglect of ways of learning other than the so-called “academic” learning.

My younger brother showed a precocity towards “non-verbal” creativity from a young age. Despite being born into a Brahmin family that valued only the scholarship of books, he used to invent many contraptions. He created a working transmission with just two wires, invented a machine to convert waste polyvinyl chloride (PVC) into auto cables, and converted waste plastic into a garden hose with another machine he invented. He even invented a coffee roaster with a simple assemblage of a cylinder mounted onto an electric stove. Yet, he found no marketing agencies to pick up these innovative ideas. He could repair any machine, be it a scooter, auto, or mixer. My brother possessed what is called “kinesthetic” intelligence, and would intuitively understand the principle behind any contraption. He could do the job of a mason, an electrician, or a plumber, and even pursued carpentry on his own. When he built his house, he performed all these roles himself. Yet the family always belittled him for being “non-academic.” He learnt a lot on his own—to this day he can explain any scientific principle very clearly. He is fluent in many languages and can speak them like a local. Today, he watches science channels on TV and can explain to us what he has learnt, so lucidly.

While to some extent there is a recognition and space for such people in the West, in our country such geniuses are never given awards. IQ tests are totally verbal. My brother was not affiliated with any institution, and hence did not get what is due his genius, although he could do more than any student of engineering. It is a pity that we do not recognise that there are many types of intelligence. M K Gandhi’s idea that all of us should do “bread labour” or manual labour, espouses the ideas of kinesthetic intelligence.

It is not enough to have “co-curricular” activities, but rather, to give importance to non-academic learning. A new scheme to promote skills fails to value those skills that already exist. Why do we not pay individuals who possess such skills well? Or help them improve further, beyond what is disparagingly called “screwdriver technology?” I worked for some time in the occupational therapy centre at KEM Hospital in Mumbai, and my time spent there was indeed an eye- opener for me in this regard.

Maithreyi Krishnaraj

Bengaluru

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