Can you believe that a four-year-old would try to replicate paintings and sculptures he had seen during a tour?
This young man’s story and talents will leave you more than impressed.
“I was probably four years old. I was with my parents in Kathmandu. We had spent the day visiting many historical temples there, and when we stopped at a restaurant, I grabbed a tissue, paper and a pen. I started drawing whatever paintings and sculptures I saw earlier that day. It was at that moment when my parents realised that my interests lay in history and culture,” says Arsh.
At 17, Arsh Ali is the youngest archaeologist in India today. He has worked at numerous excavation sites belonging to the Harappan and Egyptian periods and is presently working on ten projects with five already being done.
One of the research papers he is currently working on is about the dispersion of Buddhism to Egypt by Ashoka, where Arsh has found new evidence linking Ashoka’s Dhamma to Egypt. This widely-awaited paper will be published this November.
Arsh explains, “During the Mauryan period, when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism, he wanted to spread its teachings across continents. He was successful in spreading Buddhism to most of the East. But what we didn’t know was that Buddhism reached many parts of the west with Ashoka’s efforts.”
This was proved to Arsh when he found evidence in Sanchi, a known Buddhist site, that linked back to Egypt. When he was going through archaeological expedition journals, he came across a pottery piece with Brahmin Inscriptions, an ancient Indian language. Arsh notes, “This was some evidence that linked the spread of Buddhism to the west, with Ashoka.”
Arsh has always been curious about history and various practices in culture. He recalls how he came across the infamous process of the Egyptians– The mummification. He was reading an encyclopedia when he came across a peculiar image of a creature that had a canine head and a human body. His curiosity peaked, he asked his parents about it.
It was the image of Anubis– The ancient God of Mummification. As he read about it, he grew interested in Egyptian cryptology.
Cryptology is the study of codes and the art of solving them. And hieroglyphs, which are ancient Egyptian writings are decoded using cryptology. This, Arsh started mastering when he was seven years old!
Along with mastering hieroglyphs, Arsh knows about ten languages which include basic knowledge in Arabic and Latin. Along with that, he is well versed in about 18 scripts, like Kharosthi and Ugaritic which are almost extinct today.
He told me how he practised the process of mummification on dead fish and noted his observations.
And like the mummification project which he did when he was young, a major part of his projects are also solo ventures. “But occasionally, I take help from experts, because we do need guidance. I try to abstain from it because most of it comes out of curiosity and that powers me through,” he shares.
And Arsh owes his journey in archaeology to his parents; he says, “My parents were most supportive. They recognised my curiosity and were most helpful.”
Arsh is one of those examples of what happens when parents incite curiosity in their children. His parents moulded his sense of wonder, bringing out such unique skills in him. Arsh displayed skills of drawing ever since he was young and even put on showcases of his work for his peers.
His parents’ ability to recognise his talent and mould it, is something that we should all carry forward to future generations.
When asked why he chose archaeology, Arsh says, “Archeology is a culmination of subjects like biology, chemistry, geography and history and my interest in these subjects led me to that.”
And through archaeology, he wishes to contribute something meaningful to the world, so that all organisms can benefit from it.
He narrates how his interest in these subjects came about, “My parents would buy me books, and though I didn’t know to read when I was a child, I would be intrigued by the images. And since I started reading books, I haven’t stopped reading them.”
His advice to youngsters? “Read a lot. Don’t leave behind reading. Reading about history gives you a sense of the past and prepares you for the future. It allows us to make a better future. Read with love. Read with curiosity.”
I was grateful to talk to one of the brilliant minds in India. With curiosity and dedication going hand in hand, Arsh is not just leaving a mark in history but revolutionising the future.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)