Skip to main content

To change or not to change

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.




  1. Hari OM
    Stunning work! Do pass my admiration to Athena. YAM xx

  2. Wow! Really wonderful Athena! Tom you are lucky to have her as your student. Her work is of the highest calibre.

  3. Cant help marveling at the creativity of your student.. Do convey my appreciation to her.

  4. Wow... amazing work... Loved the illustrations that you have shared... Athena is really talented...

  5. Absolutely stunning... and yes letting one's passion grow worked for Darwin and it sure will for your student too. These things drives me back home, really wish to be in your class once again.

    1. 😊 Nice to hear that. Covid has altered student behavior drastically. Class is big bore now with masked students sitting indifferent...


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Adventures of Toto as a comic strip

  'The Adventures of Toto' is an amusing story by Ruskin Bond. It is prescribed as a lesson in CBSE's English course for class 9. Maggie asked her students to do a project on some of the lessons and Femi George's work is what I would like to present here. Femi converted the story into a beautiful comic strip. Her work will speak for itself and let me present it below.  Femi George Student of Carmel Public School, Vazhakulam, Kerala Similar post: The Little Girl

The Ugly Duckling

Source: Acting Company A. A. Milne’s one-act play, The Ugly Duckling , acquired a classical status because of the hearty humour used to present a profound theme. The King and the Queen are worried because their daughter Camilla is too ugly to get a suitor. In spite of all the devious strategies employed by the King and his Chancellor, the princess remained unmarried. Camilla was blessed with a unique beauty by her two godmothers but no one could see any beauty in her physical appearance. She has an exquisitely beautiful character. What use is character? The King asks. The play is an answer to that question. Character plays the most crucial role in our moral science books and traditional rhetoric, religious scriptures and homilies. When it comes to practical life, we look for other things such as wealth, social rank, physical looks, and so on. As the King says in this play, “If a girl is beautiful, it is easy to assume that she has, tucked away inside her, an equally beauti

Face of the Faceless

“When you choose to fight for truth and justice, you will have to face serious threats.” Sister Rani Maria, the protagonist of the movie, is counselled by her mother in a letter. Face of the Faceless is a movie that shows how serious those threats are. This movie is a biopic. It shows us the life of a Catholic nun who dedicated her life to serve some Adivasis of Madhya Pradesh [MP] and ended up as a martyr. If it were not a real story, this movie would have been an absolute flop. Since it is the real story of not only a nun but also the impoverished and terribly exploited Adivasis in a particular village of MP, it keeps you engrossed. It is a sad movie, right from the beginning to the end. It is a story of the good versus evil, the powerless versus the powerful, the heroic versus the villainous, the divine versus the diabolic. Having said that, I must hasten to add one conspicuous fact: the movie does not ever present Christianity or its religious practices as the only right way

All the light we cannot see

Book Review Title: All the light we cannot see Author: Anthony Doerr Publisher: Fourth Estate, London, 2014 Pages: 531 What we call light is just a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. Most part of the electromagnetic spectrum remains beyond ordinary human perception. Such is human life too: so many of its shades remain beyond our ordinary perception and understanding. Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the light we cannot see , unravels for us some of the mysterious shades of human life. Marie-Laure LeBlanc leaves Paris with her father Daniel who is entrusted with the task of carrying a rare diamond, Sea of Flames , to safe custody when the second world war breaks out. The National Museum of Natural History, Paris, has made three counterfeit diamonds of the Sea of Flames. Four men are assigned the task of carrying each of these diamonds to four different destinations. None of them knows whether they are carrying the original diamond or the counterfeit. Marie-Laure a

The Little Girl

The Little Girl is a short story by Katherine Mansfield given in the class 9 English course of NCERT. Maggie gave an assignment to her students based on the story and one of her students, Athena Baby Sabu, presented a brilliant job. She converted the story into a delightful comic strip. Mansfield tells the story of Kezia who is the eponymous little girl. Kezia is scared of her father who wields a lot of control on the entire family. She is punished severely for an unwitting mistake which makes her even more scared of her father. Her grandmother is fond of her and is her emotional succour. The grandmother is away from home one day with Kezia's mother who is hospitalised. Kezia gets her usual nightmare and is terrified. There is no one at home to console her except her father from whom she does not expect any consolation. But the father rises to the occasion and lets the little girl sleep beside him that night. She rests her head on her father's chest and can feel his heart