Saturday, June 29, 2002
M I N D  G A M E S

Problem child

I never got a passing mark in math... Just imagine — mathematicians now use my prints to illustrate their books. Funny, me consorting with all these learned folks, as though I were their long lost brother.

— M. C. Escher

A big hand collects the tears rolling down the cheeks of the child, which makes this little soul take notice of his sorrow. "School bell calls," says the teacher and drives the child to his destiny. The place stinks of class and grandeur — where no little poor orphan has studied before — it has a name, but is better known in this country as "the school".

"The school has inducted a bricklayer’s son." — spoken more like "The Church has taken in a non-believer." "My children won’t have such classmates." "We thought you kept such elements away." "Are you converting it into a slum school?" "If he stays, we take our children out." The Principal faces the onslaught at the meeting of the Parent Teacher Association before the session’s inauguration. The gathering comprises the rich and the famous — men and women who cannot be denied or overruled.


"As you say," the head surrenders an argument and summons the teacher. "I am afraid the child will have to be taken out," he declares the verdict to the teacher, half apologetic. The teacher: "Taken out? Why? Has he created a problem for anyone?" A celebrity among the parents: "He might create one anytime; such kids are always problem children." Another: "He can be a bad influence on our kids." A teacher: "It is for the sake of the child. He will forever find it difficult to keep pace with our students, who are superior to him in intellect and upbringing."

The teacher: "Most honoured ladies and gentlemen, Children are messengers of the God; if we abandon one, He will not be happy. Besides, the child has lost his family at age 5 and hardly ever carried its influence. I assure you that he is not a problem child. His father laid the foundation of this school, more physically than any of us. There are bricks in the walls of this room that bear the imprint of his mother’s hands. The child belongs here. If there’s any doubt in your mind regarding his intellectual leanings, I say that all of us observe him in classroom situation before you arrive at a conclusion." Pompous industrialist: "If the teacher is so desperate to get a lesson, we should give him a chance."

Inside the first-standard classroom, there is room for joy, with children learning in a play way. The observers find in the room 100 big cards on which integers 1 to 100 are written. There are also an unlimited number of cards with symbols ‘+’ and ‘=’. The Principal (prompting): "1 plus three is equal to…" "Four," the class yells out, but the child remains silent and raises his hand. The Principal: "What’s wrong child; don’t you know the answer?" The child: "I do, but I also have a question. What maximum number of true equalities can be obtained using these cards, if each card has to be used only once?" The googly leaves everyone clean bowled. It’s the child who gives the answer (What was it? Write at The Tribune or The Teacher: agree, he is a problem child indeed." The problem child stays.

— Aditya Rishi