Feature

Meet the two Kashmiri geeks who break things and make robots

Mir Faizan (left) and Sheikh Najeeb Shafi (FPK Photo/Furqan Khurshid)

One failed a couple of times in Class 12 and yet made projects for college-goers. While the other ended up making a drone after finding no takers for his dream project. When they finally bumped into each other early this year, they became partners in passion and programming.

Sitting in a room full of gadgets and accessories, two young boys are busy discussing the programming model of a bot— a computer program that works automatically, especially one that searches for and finds information on the internet—they’ve been working on from past few days. After running into each other at a competition in early 2018, the duo from Srinagar went on to surprise many by their diligent performance in robotics.

One of them, Sheikh Najeeb Shafi, 21, spends most of his time in his 12/14 room, especially on his computer desk, surrounded by accessories, wooden bots and electronic gadgets.

The only other person whose presence in this room makes Najeeb comfortable is Mir Faizan, a 12th standard student, and his partner in passion. Their discussion on the programming of bots usually continues for hours.

As is usually the case with geeks, Najeeb forgets things quickly, but he remembers what actually triggered his mind when he was yet to pass kindergarten. “That day, an electrician had come to fix a bulb in our house,” he recalls. “The moment he turned the light on, I was surprised and fascinated to see that it actually was working now.”

From that day on, Najeeb started breaking up whatever he could get his hands on. “After breaking a thing, what would usually inspire me to break another was that I could make something working out of the broken trash,” he smiles. “I didn’t stop my stupid acts and soon it become a part of me.”

Sheikh Najeeb Shafi. (FPK Photo/Furqan Khurshid)

But his growing inclination towards breaking things, and alienation from regular studies set his parents thinking. “My parents would very often force me to pay attention on my regular studies as my grades were going low,” he says, pointing out that his talent, passion and interest weren’t noticed by parents or his teachers. “My teachers at school would always complaint to my parents about my weak classroom attention as I was getting gravitated towards something that they failed to notice.”

But that hardly bothered him.

As a sixth grader, Najeeb remembers receiving an electronics book of 12th standard from his friend. “The only thing I could make sense of from that book was images,” he says. “But soon my attention was caught up by something that is called programming.”

Soon he started making sense of how any hardware can connect with the external environment. “Now breaking things to make up something new would inspire me to go to the next level and I continued to do so.”

Back on the computer desk, he asks his friend Faizan to check the application on his android phone that controls their bot made of a wooden frame, and some electronic motors and parts fixed inside it.

In early 2018, Najeeb met Faizan at a qualifying exam of India Skills. Both of them participated in the competition as a team, and ended up as runner-ups at the regional level.

“My expertise was in software and I was interested in robotics as well,” Faizan says. “We participated in the competition as wildcard team. Our hand-made bot completed the task within a much lesser time than most of the competitors. Everyone was surprised with our performance.”

Few years back, Faizan had surprised everyone when he won a bronze medal at IIT Delhi.

“I went there as a 9th standard student to compete with the students of IIT Delhi and ended up winning a bronze,” says Faizan claiming it to be his memorable achievement.

Unlike his friend Najeeb, Faizan always received an overwhelming support from his family and teachers. “Breaking up toys and other things around me was always a part of me that fortunately was noticed by my family and teachers in a very positive way,” says Faizan, who as a child was curious to know the flying mechanism of aeroplanes and jets.

Mir Faizan. (FPK Photo/Furqan Khurshid)

Later he went on to make a Jetpack project for which he reached out to the government for financial assistance of Rs 40 lacs. He couldn’t get the funds. “But that didn’t discourage me,” he says. “I still managed to complete almost 50 percent of the project by making up parts out of what seemed to be trash to others.”

However, he failed to complete the project, as he lacked the highly sophisticated machinery to make parts of the jet engine.

Soon he found his heart in mecha-tronics or robotics. “I worked on it and soon made a drone that was a combination of aerotronics and robotics,” Faizan says. “This was my big achievement.”

On the computer desk, Faizan directs Najeeb to fix the pending wire connections, as the mobile application is fully loaded on his smart phone.

“After failing in 12th standard more than a couple of times,” Najeeb continues, “I got that space to identify what exactly should I be doing in life. And it was during that time when I had started making projects of B-Tech final year students. I continued to sell my bots to keep investing on new things.”

At the moment, the duo is preparing for India Skills competition and both of them are highly hopeful to make it to the international level, sooner or later. At the same time, they’re pursuing their academics—Faizan is in Class 12, while Najeeb has got an admission in B-Tech first year lately.

FPK Photo/Furqan Khurshid

Back to the wooden computer desk that Najeeb has made for himself in his messy room, the two wheeler bot is all set to go.

“What’s the thing that can balance itself on two legs apart from humans,” Najeeb asks Faizan.

With a smile, he responds while clicking on his android phone, “It’s this bot.”

And soon, as the two-wheeler bot starts running on its two wooden wheels, the two diligent nerds quietly exchange smiles and return to their work table.

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