Bedtime Stories - Surely you're joking

During school days, one of my favorite subjects is Physics. For various reasons, not to mention some of the best teachers I've had, it has remained a favorite subject ever since. I still remember reading books on relativity, QED etc without understanding a single word in the entire book. The Soviet publications on elementary Physics were cheap and easily available. It was just that I have had to read a lot more on basics before even attempting reading one those big volumes. That's when I came across NBT's introduction to basics of Physics series. Thus, a journey into a fascinating world started.

At some point, my interest moved from physics to the physicists. They were no less interesting than the subject itself. Especially the physicists from the period 1910-30, when giant strides were made in Quantum mechanics / Astronomy / Particle physics etc. The leading physicists of this period starting with Einstein, Bohr, Dirac, Oppenheimer, Pauli, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Fermi, Born were fascinating by themselves. Each of their biographies is much more interesting and the eccentricities of them and their days are interesting reads by themselves.

Richard Feynman comes into this list a little later than all these giants. He grew up in the 1930's depression era New York and studies physics. His semi-Auto biography 'Surely You're joking, Mr.Feynman' is actually a fascinating collection of anecdotes from his life and few of his lectures on education etc. The eccentricity of the genius is what makes the whole thing interesting and the inner workings of the life towards the research he does is as fascinating as the man himself. 

But the book is not about physics or about the physicist itself. It is about a very interesting person who goes through a lot of crazy situations in life and comes out of it always laughing. 

While re-reading it recently, I was wondering whether it is possible to convert the adventures into bedtime stories for the kids.

It is a long time habit of mine to tell stories to the kids before they go to sleep. Now that Sibi has grown up and Vanathy knows more stories than me, I do not do it often. But there are days the kids want to hear a story and we usually take turns to tell stories to each other. Its fun and there is nothing that makes going to bed more interesting.

So I tried to start the experiment by first breaking up the story into incidents that can be made into little bed time story capsules. Following is the list bed time stories I could make out of the book.

1. He Fixes radios by Thinking
2. Who stole the door?
3. The deaf and dumb ball
4. Latin or Italian - Vanathy loved this
5. The Chief Chemist
6. The Princeton episode 
7. The first visit to Brazil - Learning Portuguese
8. Los Alamos - Adventures
9. Safecracker Feynman
10. Second visit to Brazil - Carnival episode
11. Nobel laureate 
12. Painter Feynman

Each of these episodes will not run beyond 5-10 minutes in narrating and makes for a fantastic story in each itself. After the second one, the kids were hooked and Vanathy started asking for 'more Feynman stories'. 
'Still Life' - Feynman
When I read this book first in March 1999 (I happen to mark the books with dates and place I bought them), I threw open the door to a person whom I've admired for his curiosity and for not taking life too seriously. It also showed that not all scientists are dour and the fascinating life of Feynman makes it fascinating. What I told the kids is that if they can get through life with that same kind of curiosity and 'live life in full' then there is nothing more they will want. 

There are many morals that are inherent in each of these stories that are hugely relevant to today's students if only we care to tell it or ask them to read the same. A great book that still surprises me and more importantly gives me joy every time I read it. This time the joy multiplied through the kids.

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