There’s a new child in school. He’s a 9 year old Thai and he knows, at most, a few words in English. Of course, he landed in my class. I admit it- I fumed. Heck, I breathed fire. I even had a chat with the admission department. In an ideal world, which is what we see in movies, teachers have infinite time to spend with each child, casually introducing a song here, a book there, a deep conversation in between, and lo presto, difficult children have become docile achievers, dumb kids start radiating intelligence and everyone’s exchanging hi-fives. In real life, there’s very little time to do any of that. So, all I've been able to do so far is shoot despairing glances at him as I run from one child to another.
But this child has a truly indomitable spirit- the size of a continent. Perhaps that’s why he was named Asia. In the last session with his class, I introduced the children to timelines, and encouraged them to draw a timeline for their own lives. Since I didn't want Asia to just copy stuff he didn't understand, I asked his classmate to tell him to write it in Thai, hoping we could translate it later. Mid-way he started jabbering like a chimpanzee and suddenly, the entire class was in chaos, gales of laughter rolling them this way and that. When I finally calmed a child down, wiped away her tears and helped her breathe again, she translated what he’d said.
Turns out that Asia, interpreting it in his own way, created a unique timeline. Under each year, he listed things like ‘The year when I poo-pooed in my pants and didn't tell my teacher’ and ‘The year I didn't take a bath for 2 weeks’. It was hilarious. It was also enlightening. What more important events in life could there be than the ones that make us laugh out loud? His timeline was way better than mine. This nine year old bested me with his humor and easy confidence, tongue in cheek the whole time.
And that’s what defines him. A child he may be, but what is extremely striking about him is an old-fashioned sense of self-confidence that he exudes almost unconsciously. It's quiet. Even when it inspires wackiness, it has dignity. I can’t help but compare it to the confidence-on-steroids that I witness often, unfortunately more in adults than in kids. 'OMG, I'm so crazy, I'm so awesome, I'm so weird'... OMG, Please!
It reminds me of an old Tamil movie in which this character is on a continuous ego trip, insufferably eager to proclaim himself 'different.' The opening scene of the movie features his friend, his patience apparently frayed thin, asking him, "Saapadu- vaai valiya dhaane?" (Your food- enters through your mouth only, right?) That was sheer genius, in my opinion. It reiterates, somewhat crudely, that we all have more in common than we like to admit. With everyone being unique (which we are), it becomes a moot point anyway.
I saw Asia again today. He understood pretty much nothing I told him. He just kept saying “What?” in Thai until I clutched my head in despair. (Yes, I used the word despair again.Get used to it). But he also made me laugh. Yes, he did make a paper airplane out of the worksheet I gave him but what the heck, it was more useful to him that way. Who says alliteration is more important than aerodynamics? Not Asia. When he left I was exhausted. I’d learnt enough for another day. Until tomorrow then, Asia. Go easy on me, okay?