The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, February 06, 2012

The deification of Arfa Karim Randhawa.

Arfa Karim Randhawa became the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in 2004 at the age of just 9. This was a very early achievement. However, equally early was her death at the age of 16, following complications from an epileptic attack. Her life was filled with hope and tragedy. Yet, it is in death that the most remarkable things are beginning to happen. Arfa Karim Randhawa is rapidly being deified by her home nation of Pakistan.

Pakistan has just released a commemorative postage stamp on her birthday, February 2nd, in her honour. I know of no other child prodigy who ever had their own stamp, at least when still a child. So, this strikes me as a particularly unusual honour for a child. So, too, the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting have announced that a book will be produced in homage to the life of Arfa Karim Randhawa.

Arfa is becoming in death, an icon, even larger than the one she was in life. Her brief days upon on this Earth, are becoming a national tale to inspire her whole nation. Now, I see in this something good and something unusual. It is good that a precocious child should be respected as much as she was, in Pakistan. It is good that Arfa Karim Randhawa’s achievements are held up as an example to inspire a nation. Indeed, there is something admirable in Pakistan caring so much, at a government level, about the achievements of an individual child. It seems that they see in her, a symbol of the striving of a nation to become great. Arfa Karim Randhawa is seen to inspire young people in Pakistan to achieve their best. She is also the source of much pride for Pakistan. There is a sense that her early achievements show the world just what a Pakistani can do. Partly, of course, Pakistan’s motivation is out of a sense of loss, that their promising child should have died so young. There is a wish to remember her life and to somehow ensure that her memory lives on, such that it would feel that she hadn’t truly died after all.

All of this wish to hold Arfa Karim Randhawa up as an example, to her people, is in sharp contrast to the way Singapore greeted Ainan. Whilst they were surprised at first, at his achievements, and covered them in the national press, in the spirit of surprise, eventually, as his achievements continued to grow, they turned to ignoring them, or, indeed, eventually, lying about him and us, to make themselves (as a state) look better than they had actually behaved in the situation. They stooped to mendacious propaganda, to defend themselves against the truthful perception that they had been rather negligent where he was concerned. At no time, was there a wish to hold him up as an inspiration. At no time did they seem proud of him. At no time, was there ever any wish to elevate him and make him a symbol of anything at all, to his people – the Malay Singaporeans. Indeed, the first newspaper to fall silent on the subject of Ainan and to begin to ignore him, was the sole Malay newspaper, Berita Harian. It was as if they had been instructed to say no more. It was all rather strange. A rational nation would have been so proud of Ainan. Yet, they didn’t seem to be. They seemed, in fact, to find him an awkward phenomenon they didn’t quite know what to do with. What, on Earth, was a half-Malay boy doing excelling so much younger than his Singaporean Chinese peers? At least, that is what I intuit was one of their concerns, since Singapore is very much a Chinese dominated state, in which the mythology is that the Chinese are somehow superior (or at least they believe themselves to be). They certainly appoint themselves to all the best positions and roles in Singaporean life. That, in itself, allows its own conclusions to be drawn.

So, Pakistan has begun to deify Arfa Karim Randhawa, whilst Singapore began to attack Ainan a couple of years ago. I find this very interesting. In a hundred years time, I am sure that Pakistan will still make mention of their wonder child, Arfa Karima Randhawa. She will, by then, have become a legend. Should Singapore still be run by the PAP however, I very much doubt whether there will be any mention of Ainan, in the Singaporean media, unless it is to attempt to put some perjorative spin on his life story, in some way. Yet, Ainan’s achievements are far greater in number and level, than Arfa Karim Randhawa’s were. So it is doubly strange that Singapore should have adopted this way of discussing him. It is also oddly self-defeating, since Ainan could contribute much to Singapore were he moved to do so, by a warm relationship with them. As ever the famed state of Singapore shows itself to be not as long term in its thinking as it might believe itself to be.

Given the contrasting responses of their home nations to Ainan and Arfa, it does seem unexpected, to me, how Pakistan has responded to Arfa Karim Randhawa. Our own experience led me to expect that negligence was the most likely response of a state to a child prodigy – or even a degree of malevolence – as we experienced – if the child should be from a put upon minority, as Ainan is. So, although I see Pakistan’s response to Arfa Karim Randhawa as unusual, perhaps, in fact, it is Singapore’s response to Ainan that is strange. It certainly feels more wholesome to watch how Pakistan are responding to Arfa, compared to how Singapore responded to Ainan. Singapore actually lied about him, in the national press. By contrast, Pakistan’s national press are being very kind to Arfa.

Personally, I hope the deification of Arfa Karim Randhawa continues. I hope she becomes an emblematic figure, to inspire her nation for many decades, perhaps centuries to come. Every nation needs such people. Perhaps she can, in death, fulfil some of her potential, through her posthumous influence on the psyche of her people. I hope so. At least, then, something wonderful would have been made out of her brief life.

Perhaps Singapore could learn a thing or two about how to value the talents of its people, by looking at the ways in which Pakistan clearly values Arfa Karim Randhawa. There is something touching in their response to her – and something unsettling in Singapore’s response to Ainan.

I wish Arfa Karim Randhawa’s family well. I hope the efforts of Pakistan to honour her memory bring them some solace.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:27 PM 


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