Learning to be Free

In the Malayalam film 101 Chodyangal (101 Questions),the protagonist,a schoolboy,is assigned to find 101 questions from life by his teacher.

Written by Shaju Philip | New Delhi | Published: May 19, 2013 8:37:04 pm

Thirteen-year-old Minon,who won the National Award for the best child actor this year,on the unusual decisions that have shaped his life

In the Malayalam film 101 Chodyangal (101 Questions),the protagonist,a schoolboy,is assigned to find 101 questions from life by his teacher. In real life,13-year-old Minon,who acted as the protagonist Anilkumar Bokkaro and won the National Award for the best child actor this year,is also busy answering questions that life throws at him,only he does it in an unconventional way. Son of a sculptor-craftsman John Baby and painter Mini John,Minon has never attended school,learning instead at home through his parents’ intervention and his interactions with the world at large. “We wanted our children to enjoy life and the freedom it has to offer. If independent thinking has to shape a child,he or she should be left free. When we got married,we decided to have children only if they can be given enough freedom in life. Even our daughter Mintu does not attend school and learns in her own way,like Minon,” says his father Baby,50,who wants Minon to choose his own career when the time comes.

While his peers’ lives are hived between activities at school and home,a typical day in Minon’s life is hardly everyday stuff. Homeschooling means there is no fixed timetable to adhere to,no examination to study for and no syllabus to complete. “I can read or paint at any time. Sometimes,I may do that all day or sleep through the day. I have never longed for school. I strongly believe that real education is outside the syllabus. Students should not be spoon-fed,instead they should imbibe knowledge from nature,situations and people with whom they interact,” he says.

While he’s interested in art — a prolific painter,he’s already participated in 65 exhibitions and has painted over 4,000 works since he turned eight — his other love is Malayalam literature,particularly works by his favourite author Vaikom Muhammad Basheer. He also lists Mark Twain,Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens among his favourite authors. A diversion from these home-bound activities is travel. “I love going to forests. It helps me discover nature,” says the teenager who wants to “grow up to be a globe-trotter.” His parents accompany him on trips,mostly across Kerala and other southern states.

The other activity that takes him out of his village Pandankary in Alappuzha is his role as a motivational speaker. Minon has delivered lectures in schools and colleges on culture,art and environment through Kerala. “I used to attend guest talks on art delivered by my father at educational institutes. Later,my father encouraged me to address the students. Now,schools and colleges invite me for talks. I see this as an opportunity to grow. Some call me to speak on my approach to education,’’ says Minon in halting English. He always prepares ahead of lectures and ensures that the interactions are limited to pre-decided topics,so that he never feels out of depth. “Since I know I can answer their queries,I don’t feel nervous ahead of these lectures,” he says.

It was filmmaker Siddhartha Siva’s father,Sivaprasad,director of successful films like Ee Snehatheerathu and Sthalam and a friend of Baby,who first suggested that he act in his son’s upcoming venture. Having accompanied his father to film sets for artwork assignments,Minon found the prospect exciting and a few voice tests later,he was signed on. The shooting in Kerala lasted less than a month. “I was never anxious because I was familiar with the set-up. I used to go with my father when he had film assignments and see how things worked,” he says. “He is very versatile. As soon as the camera would be turned on,he would adapt himself to the demands of the script. He came across as a mature artiste,” says Siva.

While he doesn’t have many friends in his village,he is in touch with other homeschoolers in Kerala,whom he meets during his trips across the state. A firm believer in homeschooling,Minon firmly stands by his parents’ decision to let him choose his course of action and his future. “Two years ago,my parents wanted to send me to school,but they never pressurised me. When I told them I wanted to continue my home education,they agreed. They are always willing to go by my wishes,” he says.

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