Thirty minutes into the conversation, comes the assertion. “I don’t believe in stars” says the interviewee, jumps down from the bed and locks himself into the bathroom. The interview is not about Hrithik Roshan’s waning box office appeal. My subject is a shy boy who’d rather watch stars through his binoculars than in a multiplex.
In the maze of concrete high-rises in Dwarka Sector 4, the name Sahal Kaushik doesn’t ring a bell for many. But since Thursday, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing at the Kaushiks’. It was the day news of the home-schooled genius topping the list of Delhi candidates taking the entrance exam to Indian Institutes of Technology broke.
Two days hence, away from nosey TV crews and intrepid reporters, Sahal, 14, wouldn’t be the tongue-tied geek many writers made him out to be, one assumes. The hypothesis is wrong — the physics genius lets us know. “I never like doing interviews,” he says. “How can you pose personal questions to a stranger?” he asks. He has a point.
Like any other 14-year-old, Kaushik has more than 250 friends on Facebook, loves Google-chat and liked the story of 3 Idiots. Unlike many of his peers, he didn’t like the cast. “I am simply not interested in actors,” says the adolescent. When he began to watch movies, his mother Ruchi, 46, tells us, Sahal hated Scarlett O’Hara’s manipulative character in Gone with the Wind and that he liked Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia.
During Saturday’s interaction, mum’s the word for Sahal. For years, his mum has been his world. Recognising her son’s genius at two, the doctor gave up her practise to home-tutor him. “At three, he could spell complex words and knew his tables. By the time he was six, Sahal was doing trigonometry. I realised that home-schooling was working.”
Beginning with home-schooling workbooks, Ruchi exposed Sahal to great works of literature. When she needed to teach him about the Russian Revolution, for instance, she would rent a DVD of Nicholas and Alexandra.
Soon Sahal’s prowess for tackling theorems and theories beyond his curriculum came to the fore. He took the class 10 exams aged 12. “When I ran into a tough math lesson, he took tuitions,” says Ruchi. At his mother’s behest, Sahal enrolled at the Naraina IIT Academy. For the next two years, he studied for six hours a day at the coaching class. “He is brilliant with mental math but abhors writing,” says his physics teacher U P Singh. “No wonder he did so well at the IIT and not so well in the boards,” adds Singh. Sahal scored 76 per cent in Class 10 and 73 per cent in the Class 12 boards.
He has been a member of the the Amateur Astronomers Association for more than six years. “I like night-viewing with binoculars. I would love to do it in a place like Ladakh where there are no clouds or light pollution,” he lets in. For the first time, the reclusive interviewee’s eyes light up. A star is rising.