|The cover of a project paper by Athena, my student|
Charles Darwin [1809-82] was a mediocre student at school. His father was a successful and wealthy country doctor who had high hopes for his son. But Charles seemed determined to shatter his father’s dreams. Books and theories did not charm him. He loved the outdoors. He was fascinated by rare beetles, flowers and birds. He watched them for hours and made notes. His father was not at all amused by all that. “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching,” the father scolded the young boy and predicted in no uncertain terms, “You will be a disgrace to yourself and your family.”
The father was not going to let the son become such a disgrace, however. He packed him off to a medical school in Edinburgh to study medicine. But Charles soon dropped out. Then the father sent him to study for a degree in Cambridge so that the young man could become a parson. A parson is a respectable member of the society and could easily earn a good income too. Moreover, he would have enough and more leisure to collect beetles and watch birds.
At Cambridge, Charles loved to study botany. Soon he became a friend of Professor Henslow of the botany department.
It is Prof Henslow who recommended Charles Darwin for a job on the HMS Beagle, a ship that was on a several-year long research tour, a journey that would take almost 5 years. The job offered to Charles was an unpaid one: as a ‘naturalist’ who would be collecting life and mineral specimens.
Charles hesitated. He didn’t think he would be at home in the sea and that too for such a long period. His father objected vehemently too. The vehemence of the objection aroused the young man’s self-respect. He decided that he should liberate himself from his domineering father. He said yes to the unpaid job on the HMS Beagle and embarked upon a voyage that would last nearly five years.
The voyage took him to many countries and forests. Charles was amazed by the variety of life forms he watched in those strange lands of Brazil and Argentina. He observed the birds and the animals and the plants. And fossils. How did some species become mere fossils? How did they become extinct, in other words? By the time the Beagle returned home, Charles Darwin had become a scientist with a radical theory.
Survival is a struggle in which many lose out. The fittest survive. It is indeed a harsh world. Even the giant mastodon will have to surrender in that struggle called survival. Adapt and evolve. Even mutation becomes inevitable sometimes. Intelligence is another name for your efficiency at doing the things needed for your survival.
The young man who had found Shakespeare “intolerably dull and nauseating” became a scientist with a radical survival theory. Probably, he had not encountered Shakespeare’s Hamlet who wondered aloud: “To be or not to be – that is the question.”
|Athena Baby Sabu|
When my student of grade 11, Athena Baby Sabu, chose to do her English project on Charles Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle, I didn’t know what had motivated her. But I loved the project. Particularly the artistic elegance of its presentation. The urge to bring her work to a wider audience became irresistible for me. Athena ends her project with a very significant quote from Darwin: “It is not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent, it is the one most adaptable to change.” To change or not to change – that is the real question. Especially in our hard times now.
Let me conclude this with a few pages from Athena’s project work. All the illustrations are her own art.
|I found this Table of Contents ingenious|
PS. I had brought in this same space another project work of this same student two years ago, when she was a student of my wife.