Thursday, June 24, 2010

Delhi IIT-JEE topper is just 14 & Home-Schooled

NEW DELHI: The boy sat hunched, his eyes on the floor and his hands held in a twisted clasp below his knees, clearly uncomfortable with all the attention.

On Wednesday, 14-year-old Sahal Kaushik left everyone gasping in disbelief by not only becoming the youngest ever to crack the tough IIT-JEE test but also topping it in Delhi and notching an all-India rank of 33.

Sahal, schooled at home by his mother, Ruchi Kaushik, a doctor-turned-homemaker, replied after what seemed an eternity to the barrage of questions ^ which IIT would he join? Would he study electronics engineering? He looked up: "I want to study pure science, physics or mathematics, not engineering." He looked down again. "I took the JEE because I could also get science courses through it."

He looks like any other 14-year-old, but is clearly very special. Sahal could spell out long words when he was just two, he recited tables till 100 at the age of four, and by the time he was six, he had finished reading H G Well's 'Time Machine'. The child's brain is obviously wired differently.

He muttered something to the effect that topping JEE in Delhi wasn't a "big deal". Then a long pause. Was he doing some complex mental maths, someone asked. "No," he smiled, "not today." He said he attributed his success to his mother and his "physics sir" but his all-time idol was Albert Einstein. He also wanted to do research in astrophysics. His mother added Sahal may go for a five-year integrated MSc in physics at IIT-Kanpur.

There is no age bar for entering IIT, but a candidate is required to clear class XII. So, Sahal enrolled with Vandana International School, Dwarka, for two years. He scored 78% in PCM ^ marks that might not be enough to get him into a half-decent Delhi University college. Asked about his lacklustre class XII results, Sahal said, "That's because I studied for only four days for each paper."

"This boy doesn't need a pen and paper. He solved JEE orally before selecting the answers. He speaks less, thinks more," said U P Singh, Sahal's mentor at Narayan IIT Academy. In the last two years, Sahal was given a separate group of teachers who taught him exclusively for six hours, six days a week.

"When he came to us at the age of 12 or 13, he said he was interested in electrostatics and also answered complex mathematical problems by just calculating them in the mind. I had never seen anyone like him before," Singh said. "But he is what he is thanks to his mother who sacrificed her career to mentor him so well," he added.

Sahal joined school only in 2006 and cleared class X in 2008. Before he was introduced to classroom teaching, his mother taught him "like it should be". He never took any exam, even through NIOS. "I realised very early that my child was different. I didn't send him to a school as I thought it would make him dull. I faced a lot of social pressure when I quit my practice and started teaching him at home 12 years ago. But it has paid off," said Ruchi Kaushik.

She remembered that she never taught Sahal according to any set pattern. "Sometimes, we would study geography for days together. On some days, he only read novels. When he read Charles Dickens, I told him about society in London back then, and its history too. That's how he learnt," she explained.
Sahal's father, who is in the Army, is posted in Assam. His sister, who is two years younger to him, also studies at home. "My daughter was initially slightly dyslexic but she has overcome it now. She is more into arts and more outgoing than Sahal," Ruchi said.

Sahal has many "older" friends from the coaching centre. His mother has invested Rs 15 lakh to put together a library at home. "All our salary goes into this. We now have more than 2,000 books and Sahal has already read them all," Ruchi said.

Does Sahal have any hobbies? Any special interests? "He knows all about Indian mythology," said Ruchi. "He loves reading about Egyptian history and anthropology." Her daughter, Saras, reminds her, "He also knows horse-riding and swimming."

Little Saras said her brother has won the Olympiads in maths, physics, chemistry, biology and has also worked with Dr Ratnashree, head of Nehru Planetarium, on calibrations in Jantar Mantar. So did Ruchi ever try finding the reason for her son's gifts? "Not really. That's the way he is."


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