"It’s like one lamp lighting another, I am setting off a chain reaction"
As a young boy, Mahesh M would often play with marbles but little did he know then that the game would lead to a lifetime of interest in mathematics. At two-years-old, polio left Mahesh with a disability in his lower body.
Now at 46-years-old, Mahesh is dedicating his time and effort to inspire the same curiosity and wonder in children that counting marbles had evoked in him when he was a child.
His tutorials are not limited to academic content, in fact he tries to stray as far as he can, and incorporate the history and circumstance behind the discovery of great mathematical equations for his small class of 21. In his classes, he uses origami and models to teach geometry.
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For older children who have a knowledge of integration, he demonstrates how to calculate the position of stars and planets. “Many people learn these methods, but don’t know how to apply it. My intention is to help establish how present math is in our world,” he said.
Mahesh had the fortune to have good teachers. Faced with the twin obstacles of poverty and a disability, he was confined to his home, until a government school teacher who passed by his house everyday insisted that he come to school. With the teacher’s help, he was able to advance quickly. Having witnessed what a good teacher could do, he dreamed of bringing this kind of change in others’ lives.
“Pragnya mathematics has been my lifelong dream. Looking at our country and its youth, I can say that we are not educating and enabling independent thinkers. Which is why we have to rely on other countries for cutting-edge technology,” he said.
Manjula K, a 36-year-old chartered accountant was in Class 7 when she first encountered Mahesh’s teaching. Thoroughly impressed, she continued to learn from him until college. “He had just then become a software engineer and was not that well off. Even then he had no expectation of being paid for what he taught us,” she said, going on to explain that enthusiasm for teaching, math and science were palpable and contagious and led her to adopt a career path that involved numbers. Even now, Mahesh only accepts fees from those who can afford to pay.
Apart from imparting knowledge and inspiring curiosity, he also mobilises the people around him — his classmates, colleagues and others to donate to help people with disability. ”In India, lack of mobility for people who have disabilities renders them helpless. People are often confined to their homes for this reason,” he said.
In order to help them move out of their homes and to help them live independent lives, Mahesh uses his personal funds to provide motorised vehicles to people with disabilities. To date, he has been able to give away 26 such vehicles and hopes to give away more.
Mahesh involves himself in many efforts to help people. Munniswamy, a person with disability and presently an employee at Provision Asia, an organisation that works for the welfare of people with disability, did not know how to read or write any language. Mahesh then started teaching him to read and write Kannada. “It changed my life and opened up new opportunities for me,” he said.
With the help of his friends, Mahesh has been able to guide and provide monetary aid to 16 people to attain degrees.
Spoorthy G S, now an assistant professor in a government college in Tirupathi was one such beneficiary. “I wanted to pursue MTech but had trouble arranging for money for my admission. My father approached Mahesh and he facilitated my admission. His help was a huge relief for me” she said. Years later, after getting a job, Spoorthy was able to continue the cycle, donating money to Mahesh so he would be able to help someone else in need.
This is precisely the kind of change that Mahesh wants to create, to empower people with education that can inspire so that they can empower others. Shalini, a former maths professor at Sheshadripuram College, who is now in Germany seeking to pursue a PhD, was once a student of his. In her first year of being a teacher, she was able to bag the second prize for best teacher at her college. She attributes her interest in teaching to Mahesh’s passion, “To do well in a subject, you have to believe that you can do well and Mahesh sir helped me develop this attitude towards not only maths but everything in my life,” she said.
For the future, Mahesh plans to scale up Pragnya Mathematics to take his passion for maths and science and reach a larger audience. Having studied and benefitted from a government school, he aims to partner with these schools, adopt them and cultivate an atmosphere of innovative thinking and curiosity in mathematics. “It’s like one lamp lighting another, I am setting off a chain reaction,” he said, explaining that education has the power to uplift anyone regardless of background and circumstance, as it had in his case.
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