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Small wonders

When a 15-year-old in Trichy ‘performed’ a ceasarian operation supervised by his parents –– both doctors –– people were outraged. HT profiles five child prodigies with genuine reasons for a claim to fame.
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON JUL 01, 2007 12:47 AM IST

Olympics in sight but still some way to go

Anupam Pratihary, Bhubaneshwar

He is a five-and-half-year-old whose father begged on the streets of Bhubaneshwar and whose mother worked as a maidservant. He was sold twice for Rs 800 and almost had his left leg amputated following a freak accident. Yet, he is one of the country’s best-known child prodigies.

As it often happens, Budhia Singh’s incredible talent was discovered by sheer accident. As punishment for abusing a resident judoka, Budhia, then three-and-half-year-old, was ordered by his coach Biranchi Das (now his adopted father) to run till he returned from an important assignment. Having completely forgotten about the punishment, Das returned after seven hours to find the little boy still running. Resident judokas told him Budhia didn’t stop running even for a minute.

“A couple of days later, I was watching a TV programme on the marathon when I realised Budhia, too, could become a top-class marathon runner. And that’s how it all started,” says Das. And then we all know how Budhia caught the nation’s imagination in 2005 when he ran a staggering 60 km from Puri to Bhubaneswar in 5 hours 16 minutes.

“I just love to run. When Sir (Das) takes me out for a run every morning, I enjoy myself the most,” says Budhia. What comes second? It’s running again: “I love to chase down my friends in a running contest.” Budhia's running ability was further confirmed when he ran himself into the Limca Book of Records on May 2, 2006 after running 65 km, again from Puri to Bhubaneswar, in 7 hours 2 minutes. Budhia’s timings have certainly improved — he now does 12 km in one hour where he started off with 6 km in the same time a couple of years ago. And he’s aiming higher.

“I want to run in international half-marathon competitions to get the experience and then try for the big marathon,” says Budhia. Das has his schedule worked out for the next year and both are eyeing the junior world athletic championships after Budhia turns 15. And after that he has his sight set on the 2020 Olympics. Budhia declares, “I will win a medal for India in the Olympics.”

Enjoying the game

Shweta Thampan, New Delhi

At 14, most children find it difficult to make up their mind about their future. But, there are some like Parimarjan Negi moving forward with a sole ambition –– to become the world champion in chess. It seems a realistic target for a boy who became India’s youngest Grandmaster and second youngest in the history of the game in 2006, at the age of 13. Not surprising because Parimarjan learnt the rules of chess at four and by the time he was five years old, he was participating in professional events.

Parimarjan does admit he may have missed out on some childhood memories, other children his age cherish. “I can’t enjoy both my game and my life at once, and I think what I've gained is much more interesting and significant than any experiences that I might have missed,” he says. Nevertheless he does not really have any regrets. “My biggest regret is of being a muggle (non magic folk in the Harry Potter world).”

Behind every child prodigy are inspiring, sometimes pushy parents, but Negi has a different definition for pushy. “We as parents have to give exposure to our children otherwise they won’t do well, and the more they do well, the more the pressure is on the child. We did not buy a television to help him concentrate more on his game. You might call that being a little harsh, but when he wins a match we also reward him,” says his father, JB Negi.

Currently in Athens to train under Nigel Short, Parimarjan’s next destination will be the Biel Open followed by the Mainz festival in August. And it’s Amsterdam after that, “in a rising stars vs experienced stars match”.

Upbeat over the rhythm of dhol

GC Shekhar, Chennai

He is -yet to touch ten, yet the drum sticks he wields travel at amazing speed weaving unbelievable rhythmic patterns on the percussion set that would be the envy of even experienced drummers. No wonder ace drummer Sivamani called him " a boy of breathtaking talent who will cross new boundaries in percussion."

This is Siddharth Nagarajan, who has already entered the Limca Book of Records as the youngest drummer of India from 2003 to 2005. Siddharth’s baptism to drums came under most unexpected circumstances.

One afternoon when the family was asleep a Dhandia beat started emanating from an adjoining room. When his parents peeped in they could hardly believe their eyes as their one-and-half year old son was trying out the beats on the dhol, his father Nagi (an accomplished drummer himself) had left to dry.

Prodded by his dad Siddharth started playing various rhythmic patterns. “I realised then that he had rhythm flowing through his veins, explained his father. From then on, it was history as Siddharth debuted during a temple function sending the crowd into raptures. He was just three and so tiny that most of the crowd could only see the flash of the drumsticks and heard some of the most amazing drumming they had ever heard. “We had to make him stand on stool so the audience could get a glimpse of him,” said mother Vidya. Today he has more than 1,000 concerts to his credit.

Shailendra Verma, 14, computer geek; Sushma Verma, 7, matriculate

Two talents under an asbestos roof

Pankaj Jaiswal, Lucknow

Shailendra and Sushma Verma are rare siblings. Shailendra is on the verge of being the world’s youngest computer graduate this year. His sister, Sushma, became the youngest matriculate early this June. Among many rarities, there are three basic ones. First: two prodigies in one family; second: the family lives in abject poverty; and third: the parents are illiterate.

Sushma said: “We do not feel any pressure to perform. We really enjoy studying.”

Shailendra had cleared class 12th from the National Open School, without tuitions or teachers, when he was 11-years-old. He never went to an education institution till then. Soonafter, he cleared SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and TOEFL and secured admission in a US university in a Bachelor of Computer Science programme. He could not go due to money constraints.

Tej Bahadur Verma said: “Shailendra is a self taught boy. He reads and absorbs. He was not even three-years-old when one day I heard him recite Ramcharit Manas’s verses that I used to sing. Then gradually I found he could read and write better than children much older. Sushma turned out to be similar.”

Shailendra, when he was 11, had no one around him who spoke English. But he spoke it proper with British accent to most of the words. Now, he is in the final semester of Bachelor of Computer Application (BCA) course from Lucknow University.

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