Curiosity did not kill the cat!

June 22, 2018Veena K

I was crooning to the mellifluous voice of Lata Mangeshkar’s song ‘Bada Natkhat Hai Krishna Kanhaiyya’ when a sudden ‘hello’ from the other end of the phone, broke my rhythm. I had dialed my friend Parimala’s number and had been listening to her ringtone. When I questioned her about her choice of song for the ringtone, she asked me “Why not? Doesn’t it make more sense for me than anyone else?”. Yes! yes!, I had to agree wholeheartedly. Her son Vasudev or just Vasu, as we like to call him, was known to be ‘natkhat’. I am yet to meet a child who is so naughty. He was a scrawny little thing, who would run around the house looking for screws. Yes, you read it right – screws! By the time he was seven, he had decided that it was time to look inside a mixer to see how it works, and had opened a perfectly working one. But alas, he could not put it back together before his father got home! His mother was besides herself with anger, helplessness and at the same time so proud of her son! She somehow managed to get the whole thing back in place that day but there was no stopping this child. Even as a toddler from the day he could steadily hold things in his hands, she had seen him hold the only screwdriver available at home, going around searching for crevices and things where it could fit in! The first few guinea pigs were of course his toys which had moving parts and batteries. He then graduated confidently to other household items. The most daunting task for his parents was to find hiding places for anything that had screws fitted in them. By the time he was around 11, he had mastered the art of not only taking screws out, but also putting them back in order all by himself, including the mixer, the iron box, tape recorder, toys and so on. He had even become an expert at repairing them all by himself, thus rendering a welcome free service to family and friends. With time our little ‘natkhat’ grew better and better at fixing things that he would open in a jiffy using the very same screwdriver.

Curiosity not only made Vasu look deep into things but, most importantly made him analyse his failures as well. He was keen to know why he was not being able to put things back together and get them working again. It took him nearly four years, and costed his parents many hours of frustration, to learn this. A curious mind is certainly active and is keen to learn a job and do it better and better in a creative manner.

Luckily for Vasu the adults around him answered all or most of his “why’s” and “how’s”, when he was young. He also found a partner in crime - Mr. Subba Rao, his cousin’s grandfather. Though, Mr Subba Rao worked as a clerk in BPL he was always keen in doing things that required mechanical operations. His room was full of machinery and equipments that were needed for carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, micro controllers, sparing not an inch on the floor or the cupboards. This was and still is a heaven for Vasu. Whenever an opportunity arose, Vasu visited Mr Subba Rao’s house, and the two instantly connected. Subba Rao became Vasu’s self-appointed guru and mentor. Knowledge transfer took place automatically from the older generation to the younger one, and “jugaad” was a second nature to both of them.

Vasu had this immense urge to learn and acquire facts and knowledge. He was never one to first read then explore; it was always the other way around for him. Having been born in an illustrious classical Carnatic musician’s family, he was exposed to music in his early childhood. His great grandfather was the erstwhile renowned Carnatic musician and composer Mysore Vasudevacharya in the Mysore Wadiyar Court. His grandfather S Rajaram, was a vocalist, composer and Director of AIR and later Rukmini Devi’s Kalakshetra in Chennai. As a child, Vasu fell in love with the violin and would fiddle around with it, with the help from his grandfather. When his grandfather realised the he was really keen to learn, he placed him under the guidance of Vidwan B Raghuram for formal tutoring. Vasu soon realised that every young violinist had a fascination for the electrical violin, but a good quality one was expensive. By the time he was in class 9, he had mastered carpentry and was tinkering with amplifiers and microphones, and hence decided to put his skill to use. He started building an electrical violin with the help and encouragement from his teacher. It took him nearly 6 years to create a good quality electrical violin with the right tune at an affordable price. In 2014 he participated in Manthan – a competition conducted by FKCCI for a business plan. It was during this event he was convinced that there is scope for improvisation and that’s how his startup” Reverb Instruments” was born. He is now on his way to patenting his electrical violin.

However, academics always eluded Vasu. He was, according to his school’s progress reports, just an average student.He was extremely passionate about microcontrollers and had been doing projects on it since he was young. He had used microcontrollers to successfully develop car theft detection systems and earthquake detectors. But, the greatest irony was that he failed miserably in the very same subject. Microcontrollers being a practical subject, made it difficult for him to write a theoretical exam on it. He, however, found a way by learning to visualise all his academic textbooks and finally managed to score 70% in the same subject the following year, but if he were to write this exam again, he says he will still be able to score only a maximum of 20-25%. Vasu ‘learnt to learn’ by himself and vouches for Google Scholar Search. He says reading research papers made him understand how theory is put into practice which should have been ideally taught in schools, while learning science as a subject. He managed an aggregate of around 65% in his degree and has been accepted by Chalmers University in Sweden to pursue his post graduate studies in power systems analysis and transmission and distribution of power. All thanks to his simple, yet straightforward thoughts and feelings about engineering, without usage of any flowery language in his Statement of Purpose (SOP).

Vasu opines that the engineering classes taught him more soft skills, people management skills and keeping out of trouble, rather than any technical skills. As goes the popular saying: “In India, people do engineering first and then think of what to do next! He is strongly of the opinion that the approach towards engineering should be as a verb and not as a noun, the way it is perceived now! However, he says he is happy that the engineering course did provide a platform for his other interests, though it did not give him any direct technical knowledge. It helped him, an introvert, to find good friends with whom he could share technical ideas as well as his love for music.

Vasu’s story is a perfect example of what can be achieved through curiosity driven learning. And HumbleSchool sincerely thanks Vasu to give us an opportunity to bring his story to you. Through stories like these and our upcoming product we aspire to create a Vasu in every home irrespective of age. Because there is no age bar for curiosity; it is an important ingredient in the process of learning at every age. It helps in keeping the mind strong and in good shape; makes you feel alive; and one can never grow old, in thinking at least!

Please do write in the comments section to let is know your thoughts

PS: Just to help his mother water plants in their balcony, Vasu had used a timer IC to control a solenoid valve connected to a network of pipes to automatically water potted plants, consuming minimal water.