A child prodigy at 50 and bit


I dislike two things about child prodigies.

One, that they are children.

Two, that they have pesky parents.

Let me explain.

Child and prodigy to me is like child and facial hair. They don’t sit well on the tongue, do they?

Incongruous, to say the least.

At an age when they should be displaying child-like fragilities, they are accomplishing adult tasks.

Sad.

I can never understand why this world is in such a hurry to turn children into adults, when it’s the adults who should be trying to become children all over again.

Parents have got to take the blame.

Most parents look at children as start-up ideas, born to them in bedrooms, car back-seats or elevators. Much like garage-born enterprises.

They turn into aggressive marketers, and unabashedly hard sell their products.

Never before! Never again!

A child like no other!

In a world where USPs are invented if they don’t exist, any semblance of prodigious talent is godsend and exploited to the hilt. I have been a forced consumer of this nonsense a couple of times. That, I must confess, is the closest I have ever come to any prodigious talent.

I remember two instances.

“Darling, see who’s come! Ramesh uncle!”

Her parents expected her to shriek with joy from inside, and come running to hug me.

But nothing happened.

“Now, stop playing with that stupid doll and come here. Uncle wants to ask you something.”

Turning to me, they whispered as if it was the world’s biggest discovery being let out before going public, “You know she is just five and can name the capitals of 196 countries!”

My eyes widened and jaw dropped, in surprise.

“Oh, are there that many countries in this world?” I nearly asked, but fortunately swallowed my misplaced surprise at the last moment.

When the prodigy finally appeared, ironically, all eyes turned towards me for the performance.

The script was clear.

I was supposed to ask tough, intelligent questions and be blown away by her instant answer.

But what the hell do I ask?

I would look stupid and would be insulting her if I asked her the capital of America, India or England.

So I racked my brain and came up with this:

“What’s the capital of Waidhofen an der Ybbs?”

There was silence, as ignorant parents stared at their dumbfounded prodigy in disbelief.

She had never taken this long for anything.

Was this the moment of truth? Was she just another ordinary child?

Those must have been the terrible thoughts running through her parents’ minds, when the prodigy, to my great relief, spoke.

“Uncle, Waidhofen an der Ybbs is a city!”

I recovered faster than I thought I would. In the process discovering some hidden prodigious skills in me, too. That’s the thing about age. It teaches you how to fake intelligence.

“Ah, terrific. Of course, I know. I was only testing you!”

There was general relief all around. I felt like a winner myself, having encountered a prodigy and come out unscathed.

In another house on another day, it was a boy.

He could answer mathematical questions in seconds, his parents boasted, and invited me for a duel. These are the only duels one goes to hoping that the other wins. Who wants to be the guy who fails a prodigy and kills his parents’ dream!

“Ask!” they shouted, like the gong that gets gladiators going.

“Square root of 36?”

Answered.

Parents threw a oh-come-on-ask-better-questions look at me.

“Square root of 625?”

Answered.

This wouldn’t be done until I asked something impossible, I knew.

So.

“Square root of 52748438147344?”

“7275412!” comes the answer in an instant.

I break into a well-rehearsed jump, cheer and exclamation, making it look like an impromptu one. Parents were beaming, and I was hoping we would get on to more exciting rituals like tea and snacks, when the dreaded prodigy interrupted.

“Sorry, uncle. It is 7262812.”

There was an awkward silence. The prodigy had made a mistake for the first time in his life!

Unaware, I was celebrating even after their world had fallen silent.

Did I overdo it?

I recovered in time, and displayed more prodigious skills.

Age, I tell you!

“My God, he is terrific. Not only does he know the right answers, he also knows what is wrong!”

None got it. Not even the dumb prodigy. But it worked. Celebration broke out again in that household.

Some would say I am envious of child prodigies, and this post is a case of sour grapes.

Not entirely untrue.

But my point is that it is okay to be born with prodigious talent, but aren’t those freaks a bit unidimensional and stagnant?

They seem to have arrived in life even before they have begun. That’s why they have nowhere to go. That might be the reason why we never hear about these child prodigies after they grow up.

Ever wondered what happens to such talent? Do they just fade away? Or like the fabled tortoise, does the rest of the slow world catch up? Or do they just become big bores, doing the same thing all their life? I mean, how many times can one ask tough questions, listen to instant answers and jump with surprise!

On the other hand, look at inferior beings. They are always in transit. Their present is always more dynamic and they will always have a future to look forward to, because they have so many to catch up with and so much to improve on.

So tell me, who deserves the world’s respect?

Someone who is bestowed with abundant talent by some queer gene mix-ups at birth?

Or someone who, through effort, stretches his modest capabilities a little further everyday, to keep progressing?

Take me, for instance.

See how much I have grown and progressed from childhood.

I now have a bigger belly, scarce-but-nice silver hair and a higher BMI than when I was a child.

I also play better chess, sing better in bathrooms, have read more, written more and know more than when I was 20. Even my harshest critics say that I have become less nasty, less illogical and less annoying than last year.

Why, even my wife says I am getting better at…okay, let’s not go there.

A clear sign that I am on my way to becoming a prodigy is at our dining table. Every night, I wait impatiently for my kids to finish their victory stories of the day and their attempts to tell me that they are budding prodigies, because I have my own and much much more to tell them.

The only problem with becoming a prodigy at this age is that your family is least interested in marketing you. You have to do it all by yourself. Look at me.

But believe me, it’s a far better space to me in at 50 and bit, than at five.

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