In 2000, from a remote village in India, a video footage emerged, showing a young girl receiving surgery to separate her fingers which were badly burned and fused together. The operation made headlines around the world because it was performed by a 7-year-old boy named Akrit Jaswal who was born on April 23, 1993.
The girl, who could not afford a doctor, was eight. Her hand had been burnt in a fire, causing her fingers to close into a tight fist that wouldn’t open. Akrit had no formal medical training and no experience of surgery, yet he managed to free her fingers and she was able to use her hand again.
“He learned very fast,” says Raksha, Akrit’s mother. “After learning the alphabet, we started to teach him joining of words, and he started writing as well. He was two.” While in class II he cleared exams meant for class V. His mother realized he was special when he would answer graduate level questions.
At 4 when most children are learning their ABCs, Akrit was reading Shakespeare and assembling a library of medical textbooks. When he was 5 years old, he enrolled in school. One year later, Akrit was teaching English and math classes.
Akrit developed a passion for science and anatomy at an early age. Doctors at local hospitals took notice and started allowing him to observe surgeries when he was 6 years old. Inspired by what he saw, Akrit read everything he could on the topic. When an impoverished family heard about his amazing abilities, they asked if he would operate on their daughter for free. Her surgery was a success.
After the surgery, Akrit was hailed as a medical genius in India. Neighbors and strangers flocked to him for advice and treatment. Nowadays when Akrit is in town, people gather for an audience. They come with prescriptions and medicines, seeking advice. They come with ailments and injuries for a diagnosis. They come to see a doctor, a healer. They come to see a guru, and because in India, there is always a spiritual dimension.
At age 11, he was invited to London’s famed Imperial College to exchange ideas with scientists on the cutting edge of medical research.
When he was13 years old, Akrit had an IQ of 146 and was considered the smartest person his age in India; a country of more than a billion people. This is an IQ level that beats even that of Albert Einstein, according to the Gifted Development Centre, USA.
Akrit says he has millions of medical ideas, but he’s currently focused on developing a cure for cancer. “I’ve developed a concept called oral gene therapy on the basis of my research and my theories,” he says. “I’m quite dedicated towards working on this mechanism.” His research is focused on modification of malformed genes that cause cancer and their successful repair either by the activation of enzymes or direct modification of genotoxic drugs.
Growing up, Akrit says he used to see cancer patients lying on the side of the road because they couldn’t afford treatment or hospitals had no space for them. Now, he wants to use his intellect to ease their suffering. “I’ve been going to hospitals since the age of 6, so I have seen first hand people suffering from pain,” he says. “I get very sad, and so that’s the main motive of my passion about medicine, my passion about cancer.”
Now 17, Akrit is working toward a Science degree in zoology, botany and chemistry at Punjab University in Chandigarh, India and is the youngest person ever accepted by an Indian university. Someday, he hopes to continue his studies at Harvard University.
When Akrit was eight his father resigned from his job as an economics adviser in Delhi so he could devote himself to his son’s talents. He moved the family back to their home village and set up a school for his son so his talents could be nurtured. He began a crusade to get the boy into a medical school when he was eight, but no Indian school would accept anyone under 17.
Frustrated with the perceived lack of support for his gifted son, Akrit’s father became depressed and left the family home some time back, telling him not to get in touch until Akrit had found a cure for cancer. Adored by his self-sacrificing mother and treated as a genius, Akrit has faith he will do this.
In February 2007, Akrit Jaswal appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show. When Oprah asked if he could understand Shakespeare at the mere age of four he answered, “I could understand it. That’s why I was reading it.”
He is a prodigy who has been touted in America and sold to the media as a Mozart of modern medicine. But Akrit has his critics and plenty of people are sceptical about the claims made on his behalf. Some say he is just a very bright boy with an exceptional memory but no real gift for science. Others claim he is the victim of pushy parents who stole his childhood.
Being so intellectually gifted comes with a heavy burden of living up to other people’s expectation. He has been told that he must do something great with his life, and has made it known that he doesn’t always feel positive about having his life predetermined in such a way. Is that the price one must pay for being a prodigy?
The following videos are parts 1 – 5 of a program called “Extraordinary People” featuring Akrit Jaswal: