Story of India’s Child Prodigy

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(Tathagat Avatar Tulsi, the one who has glorified Bihar to the
national and even international level through the heaps of records he bagged
since his childhood is no more a child now. Termed as the ?Child Prodigy of
India? once and highly acclaimed by the national and foreign media, the Bihari
boy is now an assistant professor at IIT-Mumbai. Last mid-year he completed his
very first year there, that too as a teacher. Tathagat shared his experience of
being a professor at one of the premier institutions of India with
mangalorean.com. Excerpts from the
interview.)
 


Last year you completed your very first year at IIT-Mumbai as a
professor? How was your experience of being the teacher of the premier
institution?


Well, overall experience was great. Getting adjusted to a new place
takes some time and I also took some time for it, but there were no major
difficulties initially (and not even now). In fact, the people at IIT are so
cooperative that it was a very smooth transition. And then, I was always looking
forward to join IIT Bombay, it was a dream place for me. So, in my initial days,
I used to roam inside the IIT campus with a constant feeling that “wow, finally,
I am here?.








As far as my work is concerned, last year I was dominated by teaching. I had
never taught earlier and not only that, my exposure to class-room lectures was
very close to zero as I was mostly self-studied. So, I did not have any idea,
what teachers do in the classrooms or how students react during the lectures.
Indeed, I was a bit nervous for my first lecture. But after first few lectures,
I became accustomed to it. But getting used to the lectures is different from
being an excellent teacher and I am constantly trying to become the later and
that needs few years of experience.


Sometimes, I find it interesting that a person, who never went to
schools/colleges, who bunked all the lectures (these are symptoms of a bad
student) is now a professor.


 
Unlike others, you must be finding yourself in a strange
situation where the students most of them are of your age, how do they
react?


Their behaviour is very nice and much disciplined; they treat me as a teacher
without any consideration to my age. Initial teaching is always little
difficult, because we need to prepare lecture notes, assignments, question
papers and all those stuffs, which we never did earlier. But with little
practice, all this became easy.
 


What about your colleagues, most of them must be in their
50?s?

Age is never a consideration in professional community, so
they treat me just as a colleague (of course, a junior colleague), Even, I also
don?t find age to be an issue as I am so much used to work with the people ahead
of my age.
 


You rejected 2 job offers, one being from Waterloo University,
Canada. What was the reason behind that rejection?


There were several personal reasons for it. Let me tell you that at one point
of time, I was very keen to settle abroad and I was very enthusiastic when I
visited USA for six months in 2005. Those 6 months were very crucial in
transforming me in two ways, both personally and professionally. One major
change was my decision to stay back in India. I don’t want to dub it
as?patriotism” but the emotions are indeed very complex. I was just unable to
accept that one part of this world is so prosperous and another part is so
struggling. I was 18, when I visited USA and at that age, everything leaves a
strong impression, I got very much disturbed that I belong to a struggling part
and despite that, I want to ignore this fact to accept the prosperous part.


During my childhood days, I had attended many public functions and got chance
to meet lots of “aam aadmi”, there were two types of “aam aadmi”, one who used
to wish me that do good in science and make an important discovery (i used to
like this wish), another who used to “request” me that do something for our
nation. I never understood this request but after my USA visit, all of a sudden,
this became a major question for me: what I did for them? I am using “aam aadmi”
because I have visited several village schools in my childhood days and I have
personally witnessed the hopes and aspirations that these villagers have, from
qualified people like us. Specially, in my case, they had known me through
newspapers and their smiles, tears and hopeful eyes, while talking to me, is
something that I cannot forget.

Describing the details of these changes
will be too long, its better I stop here, I can only say that I developed a
strong sense of love for our very own people.
 


Tell us about your Phd work that you did in IISc,
Bangalore.


Well, I worked on quantum search algorithms during my PhD, which mainly deals
with quantum computing. Quantum computer is something that we, the scientist,
are looking forward to, since it has a tremendous potential to change the
scenario of scientific research as well as tremendous industrial applications.
Basically, quantum computer will be a very powerful computer that can easily
solve the typical computational problems; we face in scientific research or
industrial applications.

My topic: quantum search algorithms, is one of
the applications of quantum computing. I thoroughly enjoyed working on it and i
am continuing the same work here also. Whatever I have claimed in my thesis, I
have also given the mathematical proof for
that.
 


How you found Bangalore in the 7 years you spend there? Learnt
Kannada little bit?


Well, learnt kannada only a little bit, my favourite kannada sentence used to
be “nanu summage tamaashe madita ide” (I was just joking) because normally, I
pass too many jokes. well, my Bangalore experience is something that I will
cherish for my lifetime. I spent most of my teenage life there. My teenage
period was not so smooth, mainly because of my early background and I faced many
“strange” kind of problems (i write “strange” because most of the teenagers will
not be able to even think of these problems), later I also successfully solved
those problems. Bangalore is a close witness to that struggle of mine, how can I
forget it?
 

How was your experience of IISc. It seems
there was no discount given there because of your age when it came to
performance.

To me, Bangalore means only IISc as I had not gone
much outside the IISc campus during 7 years, so my IISc experience is same as my
Bangalore experience. Yes, age never played any role in the academic work there.
My advisors were Prof Apoorva Patel and Prof  H R Krishnamurthy so of
course, they are my favourites also.



How is Tathagat in real life, besides being a world record holder
and an IIT professor?

I can only say that I am a person who
continuously want to explore, evolve and enjoy. Since childhood, I am observing
that what makes the two human beings different is the wealth of experience; I
just want to maximise my own wealth of experience. So, I don’t hesitate in
trying anything new even if people around me suggest me to follow a traditional
path. lets see, even now, I have much more to explore.


 
It seems your father had a great role in framing your life?
Can you tell in detail, how crucial his role was in making Tathagat a world
record holder?

Of course, my father’s role was very crucial. I
mean, you can figure it out from the fact that I was just a kid while making
world records; I just used to tell my father what I want, without having any
idea of what it really takes to get that. My father only managed to get all
these things done through High Courts and Supreme Courts. He always believes
that I am a “gifted” child, he is not a professional mathematician but when he
found me to be doing so well in mathematics, it was a pleasant surprise for him.
I was not only good in maths but I also had a natural ability to do fast mental
calculations (i.e. to multiply two large numbers fast in my head, without using
paper, pen and of course, calculator). It was this special ability that inspired
my father to give his best to nurture my talent. and then the story
started.
 


You hardly talked about your mother in any interview. Of course your
father must have guided you in your professional life, but what about your
mother, what support you got from her?

That?s a wrong
accusation, my mother’s support has been also very crucial and important and no
one needs to describe the crucial role of mother in his or her upbringing, that
is well-known.


 
Do you still use bicycle at the campus; I think many IITs
give cycle to promote eco-transportation?


Yes, I use bicycle. Can?t say about eco-transportation but I don’t know
driving, the moment, I learn it, I will get a car.


 
Do you think Bihar has changed since the time you left
Bihar?

I don’t say that I have left Bihar, even now I am very
much attached to it. Yes, change is the law of nature, Bihar has changed and it
will keep on changing, hope that sometime I would be able to significantly
contribute to its change.



 
The ups and downs of your life which taught you the
lessons of life?

Well, all of us face too many ups and downs in
life and same with me. But I would like to mention the biggest up and down in my
life.
UP: When I was breaking world records
DOWN: When I was facing
negative publicity
Again UP: COMING SOON.
I have indeed, learnt a lot from
these experiences and even now, I am learning more.
 

In
Germany, when you were invited with the Nobel laureates, some controversy
came?
What was that and why was that according to you? Heard
that the foreign media took it the other way and some India media too backed
it?

Nothing wrong happened with the foreign media, you can check
the records. It all started with Indian media only. In an interview to Hindustan
times, then HRD minister Shri M M Joshi ji said this about that incident: “one
newspaper correspondent printed the story and others blindly followed the suit”.
I have to say the same thing with a more focus on the word “blindly”. “blindly”,
because they never bothered to examine the facts, or even to take my statements,
before writing a sensational story of a fraud prodigy, “blindly”, because they
never realized that they will write something extremely derogatory false news
about a 14-year old who will not be able to handle the situation, “blindly”
because they kept on publishing the same sensational story without caring that
it will push someone to the state of extreme darkness, virtually making him
blind in his own life.

I guess, in 2006, the Indian Parliament passed an
amendment to the juvenile justice act this amendment strictly forbids the
newspapers to publish the name or photo of any person, below 18, who is accused
in a criminal case. Though I never got accused criminally, I will always have a
regret that this amendment was done after 2001, had it been done before it, my
life would have been much better, vo kehte hai na “meri zindagi mein aate, to
kuchh aur baat hoti”. Don’t want to talk much about it, kuchh zakhmon ko chherna
nahi chahiye, hamesha dard dete
hain.
 

Do you regret for not having a
normal childhood anytime?

I do have some regrets, I don?t want
to claim that I am a happy guy, I have got my own share of success as well as my
share of failures. But I cannot say that I regret for not having a normal
childhood, mainly because I have no idea of a normal childhood. I have
experienced only my childhood and that was certainly not normal by any standard,
so how can I regret something which I have never experienced.



 
Are you now fed up with many records and would like to
say now this was too much, now i want to take rest! Or you are still ambitious
and want to make some new records?

I never tried for making
records, it all came very naturally, i was only eager to finish my studies at
earliest and start my scientific research soon and I was successful to some
extent since I started my doctoral research at 15.
Even now, i don’t want to
think of success in terms of records. but I am still very ambitious and want to
achieve much more (ye dil maange more !!). Yes, I do take rest at a regular
intervals, to keep myself fresh, one thing is sure that these days, I have
realized the importance of a proper rest to maintain the work efficiency. So,
now I treat rest also as work so that I can lie to myself that “wow, I am
working 24×7?.



 
Some reports say your aim is to get the ?Nobel prize?,
is this dream or your main aim?

Nobel was my childhood dream. I
was always inspired to study science in my childhood days and since Nobel is
regarded as the symbol of global excellence in science, I made Nobel my
dream as well as my main aim. But, let me clarify that this is not so now, I am
a grown up person now and know that there are several criteria to measure
excellence.


 
Interested in sports? How much time you spent per day on
them?

Not much. I had played badminton for some time, but then
got busy in my work and had to leave. I am planning to resume it again, I love
this game, and it?s a very good aerobic exercise and a very good
stress-reliever. May be I will start playing it for 2 hours in 3 days per week,
planning to resume it next month.



 
What according to you are the shortcomings of Indian
education system?

I don’t belong to the standard education
system, so how can I comment about it, but one thing I certainly feel is
that the students should be allowed to take specialisations at an early age. For
example, I was good in maths but not interested in other subjects so why I got
the burden of studying other subjects in detail, similarly there are many
students who just hate maths, why should they be forced to read maths in
details. All of us are different with different abilities; let them sharpen
their abilities in early childhood when they are biologically more flexible. We
start specializing after 10th standard; can we shift the specialization few
years back? It?s just my personal opinion. No need to take it
seriously.
 


How difficult it was to face courts for every time you was about to
create a record?

I cannot say about the difficulty as that was
mainly faced by my father.



 
How was your meeting with Nitish
Kumar?

I feel fortunate to have spent some quality time with all
big leaders of Bihar, be it Nitish Ji, Modi Ji, Lalu ji or RamVilas
ji.

It was just a normal conversation, where he expressed his wishes and
blessings to me. I remember, once we had a photo session during a conference, I
was standing a little far from him, when he noticed me, he pulled me towards
himself and asked me to stand close to him, I was pleasantly surprised by this
gesture, this is the way, elder people encourage youngsters and bless them to
come forward and work for the society. I found him to be a very committed person
with a vast pool of experience, which keeps him suitably balanced in all his
actions and I guess, these qualities made him what he is today.



 
How Murli Manohar Joshi motivated you to join
IISc?

I have met Joshi Ji on several occasions during my
childhood days, as a then HRD minister, he was the key person to remove the
minimum age barrier of 19 years specially for me to appear for the National
Eligibility Test (commonly known as NET exam), a competitive exam conducted for
determining the eligibility for lectureship as well as research fellowship. I
wrote and qualified this exam at 13, and it was only possible because of Joshi
ji’s special permission.



 
Are you going to settle in life soon? Any marriage
plans? Do you have any girl friend and a relation that you would like to
disclose?

No girlfriends and nothing to
disclose.
 

Many a times you must have faced problems in
some offices when you share you qualifications details and others, they must
have questioned how this it could be possible? Do u faced such kinds of
problems. How often? Do you carry all media reports to support your
records?

Yes, I do face these situations, but they are not
problems for me, indeed I feel happy when they get shocked.

I don?t carry
any media report, I just say that “trust me, if you can”. But, one thing is
true that I try my best to hide my background because mostly I have seen that
after finding it, the normal friendly conversation stops and something unusual
starts and I want to talk like friends, if I want to make friends. Well, it
depends from person to person. If I figure out that he or she will like my
different background, I just tell about it proudly, take my cellphone out,
connect to the internet and show all web articles on me (no need to carry the
media reports). With experience, my guess never goes wrong and friendship
increases after this. In these situations, i only regret when my mobile does not
get enough signal for a fast internet.


 
Almost all people have one or two inspirational teacher(s)
in their life, who was that in your life?

Inspiration, I have
mostly got from my parents, specially my father. Since I have done self-study
during school days, I did not have any teacher in that
sense.
 

Message to parents who build pressure on their
wards to make them a ?genius??

Just develop a sense of
responsibility in your children and then they are smart enough to give their
best to be a responsible citizen, they will themselves figure out their
strengths and weaknesses and then use them to the best level. Be responsible
towards them, they need attention, praising them or criticizing them for a wrong
reason will lead them in a very wrong
direction.
 


What people say about Tathagat
 
1. RJ
Shashi, Radio Mirchi, Patna
– It was just an ordinary day on my radio
show, but the synergy of my studio had suddenly undergone charismatic
transformation since Tathagat arrived. The most striking part of Tathagat was,
from the starting of the show he was carefully noticing my activities and how I
operate all the equipments and all of a sudden he asked me, ?Would I be able to
handle all these complex instruments at a time like you?. I was astonished; this
world renowned ?prodigy? was asking this question. Also, his down to earth
nature and simplicity is ample enough to impress anyone.
 
2.
Goverdhan Mehta, Director, IISc, Bangalore
  (He was the director when
Tathagat was at IISc)
I met Tathagat a couple of times at IISc. I am
pleased that he has earned his PhD and got an early start and a good position at
a reputed institution to prove himself. Let us now be guided by his performance
as judged by his peers. Showering further adulations by media without any hard
evidence of solid accomplishments is neither good for him nor for science in
India. I wish him well and hope that he will live upto the expectations.

Author: Manish Kumar


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