Sunday, January 29, 2012

Alert young brains

Human brain has fascinated all those who have studied it; be it men of medicine, psychologists or philosophers.  Research in this field is throwing up more information on the development of brain in children.  Scientists say that a three year old baby's brain would have formed about 1000 trillion connections, which is twice as many as adults have!  It is said that baby's brain is super dense and for the first ten years of development, the number of connections formed is much more than in adults.  After the age of ten, in a process called "Pruning", child's brain gets rid of extra connections and gradually the connections shrink to half the original count.  It is for this reason that young children are capable of learning complex rules of grammar and understand their mother tongue very fast and with little exposure.  It was possibly for these reasons that the practice of evening oral lessons were imparted to children some decades ago.  Children were encouraged to play outdoor games till sunset.  Immediately after sunset children were called in, asked to freshen up and start the oral lessons and recitations under the guidance of an elder person in the family.  In fact, we were taught Amarasimha's "Naamalinganushasana", popularly known as "Amarakosha".  It was nothing but learning an entire dictionary by heart. What was learnt at a tender age was useful throughout one's life.

Amarakosha was recited by almost every child five or six decades ago.  There were even more wonder kids.  Many families in Pune were teaching the young kids to recite entire text of some important works.  Pundit Athalekar of Pune is said to have had trained his young daughter, in the 1960s, to recite Panini's "Ashtadhyayi" and "Bhagavadgita". One person who had seen this personally has recorded that given a sutra she could  immediately give its number.  Given a number, she could give the rule.  Given a word, she would recite all the sutras containing that word.  She was only eight or nine years old and did not understand the meaning of the rules at that time.  But what was learnt at that age would have been understood and assimilated later on in life.  There is also a claim that three year old twins recited entire Ashtaadhyayi!  There are many child progidies who excelled in music like Ravikiran of Gottuvadyam and U Srinivas of Mandolin fame.

We all come across young kids who have remarkable clarity in their thinking and fantastic communication abilities.  Some thirty five years ago I had been to Hubli with two of my friends.  We were invited by one of our friend and colleague there to his house.  We had probably spent some ten minutes in their house when his four year old daughter called me and took me to the backyard of the house.  She showed me a creeper and asked me what it was.  It was a cucumber creeper with several cucumbers, big and small, some of them ready for harvesting.  As I was enjoying the fine spectacle of the plant with so many cucumbers she tugged my hand and said, "Hey mama (uncle), don't be fooled by the fine cucumbers. Do not think of eating them.  They are all very bitter!".  Later that day we were served lunch with a dish made of cucumber.  She was sitting on the opposite side and I just looked at her.  She smiled and said, "Mama, you can eat this cucumber.  Don't worry, it is not from that plant.  These cucumbers have been brought from the market".  The way she connected the two and communicated has left a lasting mark in my memory. She was just four year old.

Another experience I had was with a child of four years again.  This girl had started going to LKG (Lower kindergarten) and after two weeks in the school had started liking her school.  She was enthusiastically explaining about her school when somebody asked her, "Will they admit me in your school?  I want to join your school".  She was not prepared for this question.  She thought for a moment and then confidently said, "Yes, they will admit you when you become small like me".  She had probably heard elders telling her that she would be entitled to certain things when she grows up.  Just as she gets certain things when she gets older, admission in her school should be possible when older people grow small!

The latest instance is one in which I was not personally present, but told to me by a young mother about her son who is not yet four years old.  She was driving her car with her son and mother-in-law.  As she was negotiating a turn in busy traffic, the boy said "Mom, there is some smell here".  She was surprised and told him that the smell may be outside on the road.  A minute later he again told her "Mom, the smell is increasing".  She was concentrating on traffic and a minute later she also felt there was some burning smell.  When she checked carefully she found that the smell was coming from the Air Conditioner in the car and now the smoke was coming thick and fast.  She parked the car on the side and got out of the car with all the documents and important stuff in the car.  Mother-in-law had also got out of the car with the boy.  Just as they got out of the car, the car caught fire and there were flames on the front seat and dashboard.  The boy immediately told his mother, "Oh, there is a fire in the car.  Call 101 and ask the Fire Brigade to come".  There were some construction workers nearby and they put out the fire by throwing water brought in pots used at the construction site.  He had a question for his mother, "Why are they bringing water in the pots?  Where is the hose? They have to use hose for directing the water".  A couple of policemen arrived on the scene in a few minutes.  He had one more question now.  "They do not look like fire fighters.  They look like police. Are not they?".  It seems the children were taken to a Fire Station by the school teacher some time back.  He had put into practice whatever he had learnt during that visit here, and more importantly, without panicking and showing remarkable presence of mind.

Scientists say that the first few years of a child go by very quickly and advise parents to touch, talk, read, smile, sing, count and play with the child as it helps in the child's development.  May be it helps adults even more, by making them learn much more with the additional incentive of unlimited joy of watching their children grow.

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