Bangladeshi Love Song

Her fingers slide over guitar strings

Their fair and slender joints indistinct

Neither curved, nor angular

Evading each sort of description

 

As she plays the tune

Of a Bangladeshi love song

 

She does not remember the lyrics

But she does remember the guy

Who taught her the song

He used to sing in Bengali

 

As she learned how to play

This Bangladeshi love song

 

She plays beautiful, the mere tune

Conjures and stirs up intense passion

Making me so aware,

That from now on

I will have so much to lose…

 

So much to lose

As she keeps playing on her guitar

This haunting, Bangladeshi love song

 

I wonder at the heartache

That crossed the world

From listener to learner

Until it came into my life

With this beautiful Lithuanian

 

Who smiles as she plays the guitar

While teaching me, this Bangladeshi love song

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Before he can show the world, only a Dhoni knows that he is Dhoni

“Who the hell do you think you are, MS Dhoni?” I say to Anand when he asks for a heavier bat.

Anand is ten years old; the bat he wants to bat with is nearly as large as him. He is playing for the school under-seventeen softball team (Yes, we play organized softball in India) because there are not enough players to make the team. Because of a few excellent boys, disciplined coaching by my dad, tactics from me and some luck we make it to through to district level games and are now in Solapur playing the zone tournament semi-finals. Anand is in the outfield and does not have much to do for most of the game, which is exactly according to my plan. He is the best player among the ten year olds, but everyone else is seven years older, twice as large and four times heavier.

Anand has been taught to push the ball (called a bunt) and run like hell to first base. No one in the world thinks that he is going to hit a two time national Under-Seventeen pitcher (Who is probably lying about his age by a couple of years) throwing thunderbolts that our best players are getting out to.

In softball, three strikes is an out, you get a strike if you play and miss the ball. Anand is already on two strikes, he is going to be out the next pitch because the Solapur pitcher is accurate as hell. He has tried to bunt and has been unsuccessful.

I can see Anand, he faced up the first pitch and was scared of the pitching. He tried to bunt the second one and missed again. He is going to get out, I know it, the team knows it, everyone on the ground knows it.

The pitcher throws the third strike Anand swings at it. Somehow it hits the bat, flies over the catcher and out of the ground.

Foul ball, the third strike has to be a clean miss to be called out. Anand survives.

Anand suddenly turns around to his team mates and tells them he wants the heavy bat. The one he has difficulty holding up even. Everyone, the umpires, spectators and players do a double take.

“Who hell do you think you are, MS Dhoni?” I say, some of the spectators are laughing.

(For the ignorant, MS Dhoni is India’s cricketing hero; he also hits the ball out of the park regularly)

Anand insists while I shake my head in resignation; the little guys always seem to think they are going to hit the ball for a home run.

He is going to get out anyways so what the hell. I let him have the heavier bat.

What I see next amazes me.

The pitcher winds up and Anand is holding the bat properly his head is balanced and he is watching the ball. Pitcher pitches and he swings through with his shoulders, head perfectly still like the big hitters. He connects but not exactly and the ball sails fifty feet into the out field and lands in foul territory.

Not a strike, but not a hit either. Everyone stops laughing at him.

Anand is not being macho; he has just realized that he can hit this guy and he is backing himself to do it.

Another pitch, this time the ball hits the sweet spot of the bat and it whistles over first base and lands just outside the playing area, another foul.

That wasn’t a fluke. That was a line drive. A ten year old kid hitting a near fully grown pitcher for a line drive The crowd is cheering for him, even the opposing players are impressed.

One more pitch and he swings again, this time he only nicks it, the ball sails over the catcher for another foul. He is tiring, and the bat is heavy.

Another pitch, he connects again and hits it properly down the ground but it goes straight to the fielder at first base, unlucky. The fielder picks it up and touches base. Anand is out. His dream run is over. But the crowds are applauding.

The opposing team do not celebrate the out as they go through with the motions. No aggression, no cheering they do it like it is a formality. Maybe they were struck by this kid who not only had the guts to take them on, but knew how to.

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Greatness comes when you have the guts to seize the chance. Anand should have been scared shitless by the pitcher, but when he found out he could do it he backed himself when everyone thought it a cute moment at best, and he very nearly pulled it off.

We very nearly won the match after that, but since we were playing against Solapur in Solapur, the umpires were from Solapur too; in the end they cheated us out of the game. But that always happens in India, we were surprised that they even umpired the first innings fair.

I also helped coach the girls team from our area to win the tournament, our boys pitcher also was good enough to be selected for the state tryouts. But I will remember the games because of Anand. He got out but he showed all of us, including me, that he has what it takes to beat anyone.

That moment, when he realized he could do it, two strikes down.

It is that sort of moment the teacher inside of me lives to see. It did not happened not because I was teaching great or made some great speech to inspire the scrawny little bugger. It happened because he got a chance, realized himself what he needed to do by learning from the situation and then asked for the means to do it.

What I did was really simple and difficult at the same time. I let him have the heavy bat, easy.

It was hard because it went against all logic and coaching instincts, it hurt my ego and plan that the small kid should block the ball and run instead of going for a hit. It laid to waste all the time spent coaching him to do something else.

The only thing that mattered was that I let him do it the way he wanted to. I am grateful to my upbringing that I have been given the humility to make the right decision at that moment.

Because before he can show the world, only a Dhoni will know that he is Dhoni.

 

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Feeling at home- A lot of it is about the smell…

It is the holidays, and I am going home on the bus after a long time. Travelling on the Maharashtra bus service is more or less a complete assault on all the senses. The noise, the crowd, the bad suspension rattling your bones throughout the journey tire you out, but the worst thing is the smell.

It is overpowering: workers going home from a long day in the city raise their signature stench which makes me wonder if they have taken a bath even this morning. The grime on the bus floor has its own stink and of course the latrines, I will not get started on public latrines at bus stations.

But there are pleasant things vying for the attention of my nose as well: the tea stall at the bus stand, right outside the window, boiling the tea to death with cardamom and ginger, hoping the flavoured wafts of steam will catch my attention; my deodorant which is fighting a losing battle against my own body trying to sweat off the heat; that whiff of jasmine coming from the flowers in the hair of the girl in the seat in front of me. It smells of travel and it feels good.

The aromas change as we leave the city and climb up the mountain ghats on our journey. The inside of the bus still reeks, but luckily for me the wind brings relief through the window.

I get off the bus and walk home on the road with fields on either side of me. In a short while I am there. I bang at the door and the maid opens it, everyone else gone someplace, they will be back in a while, but for now the house is empty.

But it still feels like home. There is no sound and no one there. But it all looks familiar and more over if I close my eyes it still feels like home. Every whiff emanating from every corner is like a perfume to me. And then I begin to wonder about scents as I settle down on the sofa and holler for tea. (Tea on demand- another luxury I cannot have in the city, *sigh*)

How much of feeling at home is about the smell? I would say a lot.

I spent my childhood in a one room-tin-roofed-leaking-house. It had a large open ditch in front of it through which the town’s sewage passed. The smell was horrible and it was crowded because all five of us had to fit into one room. It was even more crowded because a lot of my friends used to come and stay there, so sometimes, we were fifteen to the room.

But I was brought up there, and my friends all assembled there every day. We had long talks about life, the future and what not- right there in front of the gutter. That was the place where I first held a girls hand- In a romantic early teenage sort of wayJ.

My parents owned a pharmaceutical store selling medicines right there near the ditch in front of the house, I had to sit in the store after school. I was surrounded by medicines, sweets and soap. I sold cosmetics, perfume, headache pills and was secretly intrigued by the condoms and pictures of girls in bikinis on them. I never figured out why women got embarrassed when they were asking for Mala-D tablets (If you do not know what is “Mala-D”, Google it and smile) until I got a hold of some biology books and an internet connection towards the end of my teens.

Maybe that is the reason I am not so uncomfortable around gutters, ditches and open sewage drains. I am pretty much oblivious to them actually, and I adjust pretty quickly. Maybe the smell takes me home.

I have many good times with my family still and we have moved into a new bungalow on the outskirts of town. But we still have a ball when my whole family crowds into our little flat in Pune on weekends with everyone sleeping next to each other, getting into fights because nobody remembers to bring enough mattresses around and everyone wants the fan at a different speed.

I get the best sleep there and what senses are working when I am sleeping besides smell? I think all those senses- the familiar smell of my dad who still smells distinctly like a westerner after twenty years of India, my mother who bathes with Neem Leaf Soap, and a bucket of clothes for washing in the corner. All of these smells come together to make me feel at home.

It may also because of the times I spent in the pharmaceutical store, which was joined to our house that I keep a bunch of over the counter medicines in my bag. The scent of medicine evokes a feeling of comfort for me. I never use the pills, but because I carry them around, a part of my childhood comes back to me every time I open my bag. I also am the go-to man for painkillers.

My new house is awesome, not in the least because there is finally enough space to live and move around for all of us. But also because it smells the same (Except for the sewage drain, some things you cannot and should not go back to, even for nostalgia!) My mother cooks just the way she used to. There is still my dad’s extremely milky tea fragrance in the morning and the bucket of unwashed clothes is lying there in the corner.

When it first rains in my new house, the water lays the dust and a sweet smell rises. That smell was there too in my old home. I get transported back there, sitting at the medical counter facing the sewage gutter filling up with rainwater, watching a little trickle turn into a raging stream of brown dirt, the water nearly entering the store.

And maybe, after six years of moving into our new house, I am finally feeling more and more at home. A new house always smells fresh and unused, the smell of paint is overpowering, but very soon the aromas change. I always loved the new place, but because my sister and I were in college in the city, we did not come home very much. So it took time to be familiar with the nooks and crannies, and when a house is new- it takes a life of its own. It grows up, acquires its own character and then settles down cosily till the end of its days.

It has been over five years since we moved into our new home. It now has a distinct character behaviour and odour. It is going to stay pretty much this way- with various add-ons and small changes till this house becomes old and crumbled, ready to be torn down. And then the debris will buried and a new house will come with new memories of strange people.

But that is in the future, as I look outside there is a house being built- not far from where I live. During my evening walk I go over to it. They are digging into the ground for the foundation. I know the contractor- he built our house and he gives me a smile that says hello.

They are scooping out rich black earth. One of the workers calls us up and throws a few shards of pottery out of the hole he is digging in. He also finds a few bricks. It seems there was once a house here, many years ago.

I look at the shards and bricks as I pick them up, the dirt clinging to them and not letting go. I bring them near my face to look at them up close and the smell strikes me. They smell like the soil they have been buried in, the earthly fragrance penetrating almost every pore of the brick.

And maybe that is why we feel so good when it rains after a long dry spell and the dust is laid. When that sweet smell rises up towards us- It pulls us back down right towards the ground. Where everything has lived and died and continues to reside even now, maybe that is why it is the most beautiful smell, reminding us of earth.

Our home

P.S.- To prevent your kids from having nostalgia about bad smells in your house- buy room freshener.

http://www.facebook.com/AmbiPurIndia

Cheers.

The AntibioTick

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The Sponge Baba

In India, a Baba is a sort of holy man. Renouncing worldly pleasures, the Baba is driven by a search for truth and realization. In the olden days people with this burning desire had no choice but to become Babas. They preached sermons, dwelt over the finer points of philosophy and- if not celibate- had devoted complaining wives who put up with them because maybe, deep inside, they were seekers too.

In the present age of science and technology, the “Baba” mentality- requiring renunciation and focus has become quite useful in academia. Here is the AntibioTick’s experience with someone who in a past life would have been an ostracised saint belting out devotional songs of love, peace and harmony.

Maybe it is in blessing of those pains that he has been reborn in the vocation that all saints aspire to be in- Taxonomy.

(That being said I DO NOT think all Taxonomists were former saints- definitely not the ones that plagiarize)

The Sponge Baba studies the taxonomy of sponges- sponges are animals which look like sponges. They have a lot of pores and they filter feed and breed- that’s all they do. Insanely boring, but they can cope with it I guess. A majority of sponges are found in the sea, but there are freshwater ones too. Most are really sensitive to pollution and live in pristine habitats.

To collect sponges in the Western Ghats of India, one has to wander in the monsoon because that is the only time there is water. Because India is an insanely over populated place, you need to go to mountain tops to find pristine habitats.

I was going with the Sponge Baba not because I loved sponge taxonomy, but because I have this feeling that, even while I was working in a more popular (and better funded) sub field of biology, I thought there may be a thing or two about approaching the subject I could learn from taxonomists.

It is raining on the old Mumbai-Pune highway and we are going to Korai Fort, a strategic Maratha Bastion abandoned for centuries. The sky is overcast and every patch of soil is green around us- it is the monsoon.

The Sponge Baba is travelling on his bike. Being a Baba reborn he does not sport a flashy ride. His Honda Shine 125 cc is the kind of bike an accountant would use. He does not drive instinctually; you can see the protocol unfolding in his head, painfully methodical. I am riding pillion, my open face helmet makes me look like a dork. Two more friends are with us on another motorcycle.

The rain is not heavy and it comes and goes rather randomly and frequently. We wear windcheaters and waterproof trousers. Plastic Bags inside our rucksacks keep our cell phones and wallets dry. Armed with the usual arsenal of sample bottles, nets, scalpels, alcohol and formaldehyde we drive on with the wind and water seeping through our jacket zippers.

We should get better gear I think- but then again it never gets too cold in the Western Ghats.

The Sponge Baba is not part of the usual pack of weekend tourists that show up at forts in branded trekking kit. His gear is worn out. He is looking for things not found in civilization.
The atmosphere does give him peace of mind though and puts the sometimes moody Sponge Baba in a meditative state.

I talk with the Sponge Baba about this and that on the way. Our helmets bump frequently. We leave the highway and make our way through smaller, less travelled roads. As we ascend, the turns increase with the greenery.

At the foot of the fort there is a hamlet where we park our bikes. We make our way upwards. It’s about an hour’s slow climb to the plateau where we can collect samples in earnest.

I witness the beauty and the diversity of the plants around me, taking it in like a schoolboy. I regret for a moment that I did not take Botany seriously in college. Back then all I wanted to do was to clone sheep.

We walk slowly. Being with the Sponge Baba means that you observe everything, we collect some bugs for his bug taxonomist friends, look at an interesting plant that hosts a weird insect, and take delight in the beauty of a flower that makes the perfect photograph.

Everything is captured by his camera and attention.

There is so much beauty you sometimes forget the point of the journey. It is easy to get lost in this riot of life. Many do get lost and live lives as wanderers and tourists. They are happy enough wandering around and so was I at that time.

Not being the fittest, we struggle to climb at times. We are tired and thirsty; as usual no one brings enough water. We rest mid-climb, and finally make it to the top. Tired, sweating and out of breath.

The top of the fort is a green plateau the size of a few football fields. Stone walls crumble at the edges, the slow work of centuries. The shallow lake in the middle of the plateau is full. The wind blows, fog comes and goes. Torrents of water fall in sheets and we have long since been soaked through. We are alone except for the few couples who have braved the rain to make love on the mountain top, away from the eyes of the world.

My two other friends begin collecting samples to take home. They draw nets and collect, recording the temperature and other parameters. I see them, squatting by the puddles peering into the water.

But the Sponge Baba cannot draw nets, Sponges do not swim. They adhere to substratum and grow. He has to get into the water, turn over rocks and inspect them thoroughly one by one. Where you find a thousand insects, you may see one sponge.

I am helping my friend collect water from a particularly green puddle at the side when I look up and see him.

The Sponge Baba- a youth of average height, a little bit round and plump, fair face with a goatee, and narrow-bottom-pleated pants rolled up to his knees. His formal white short sleeved shirt is soaked, but he is not shivering. The water cannot be more than five or six degrees and he is in it up to his knees.

He bends over in the water his eyes on the lookout. He sees something and calls me to come over to him with a few sample bottles.

The water is frigging cold. I must be mad to enter, but what the heck. I have come all this way and I am not even studying anything- which make me crazier than them. My rationale petering out thus, I take the dip.

The water is freezing; it bites my skin while the chill wind cuts across my face. Water flecks my cheeks, Goosebumps rise on my arms. I wade inwards with a couple of bottles in my hand. I begin to shiver. And so, the water slowly getting deeper, I navigate through boulders towards the Sponge Baba.

“I need your help with this,” he says indicating a large boulder we see in the clear water near us. “We need to overturn this.”

We plunge our arms into the water, get a hold of the rock and turn it over. He studies the rock carefully for sponges. None found, we turn it back over to how it was originally, minimal disturbance of habitat. We move ahead, find another rock and again turn it over. It is always the same method the same painstaking adherence to predetermined protocol.

It had a strange effect on me, standing there in the cold, doing this one action over and over again knee deep in cold water. The Baba had infinite patience in his penance, the chances of finding a Sponge under any given rock is always slim, but he continues regardless. It is an ascetic mentality, to do penance almost as an end to itself- yet always seeking, and to never be disappointed in not attaining.

How can not finding the Sponge under the rock not matter to him when everything he does is to find the Sponge? How can such a meditative experience build up with such rigid methodology? Does he eventually find the Sponges? What happens then?

A little while later, my hands became numb, I stopped feeling the cold and I stopped shivering. Alone I would have gone out of the lake or lost attention but I was with the Sponge Baba, his attention rapt upon finding sponges, and therefore I too, in his presence was kept aware, not thinking, but conscious of what was going on.

And then it happened, we overturned a rock and there it was- Tiny white colonies with a spherical hole in the middle.

A tiny freshwater sponge

A tiny freshwater sponge

The adherence to protocol vanished. There were still rules, but this was not a controlled setting, it was a freezing rainwater pond on the top of an abandoned fortress. There was one tiny sponge sticking to a rock and thousands of litres of water. If he cut it out and it floated away, there would be no sponge for him to take home and study.

People say writing is about learning all the rules and then forgetting them. It is true. It is about exploring the infinity between limits that define. It was so at that moment with the Sponge Baba and his work.

There is a protocol to remove a sponge from the attaching rock, but the rain, wind, sleet and random flow of water you need to take care of on your own. There is no written methodology.

You need to be thoughtless.

Out came the scalpel, a relic from his undergraduate days, and he began sawing the sponge off while I held the upturned boulder steady in the water. He sawed till it was attached by the merest filament, and then held the sample bottle’s mouth to the sponge. The last thread he cut, and the sponge floated into the bottle.

He cut off another sponge, this time though the filament did not hold and it floated away. But he was calm. Moving the bottle a little he caught the runaway sponge just before it got out of reach.

It is not as picturesque as Yuvraj Singh taking a blinding catch at point, or Iker Casillas pulling off a stunning save, but in terms of concentration, attention and timing it was of the same quality.

The Sponge Baba was a different person there. The shackles of protocol had fallen off and the wings of instinct had unfurled. Collecting Sponge after sponge he continued, me by his side as a witness.

I have no photographs of me and the Sponge Baba in the middle of the pool on top of the fort. But the Sponge Baba did have a photo of the pool for his habitat records which I have put here in this article, along with a photo of the sponge.

I have no skill of photography anyways that would have captured what I felt and saw. And I do not know which camera would have captured that tension live, for what we do is not visually appealing in an obvious way.

I do appreciate the power of an image though so I have put the photographs for you to use like an empty stage. If you can dear reader, try to see what I saw- that moment I experienced with the Sponge Baba.

The freshwater at Koriagad

The freshwater at Koriagad

I look at the photographs and I see me and the Sponge Baba in the middle of the pool, water up to our knees, turning over rocks.

I also remember the wind and the rain shower and how the rain was blowing over the pool at great speed making all sorts of mesmerising patterns on the surface. The sound of millions of droplets crashing on to the water was like a swarm of bees, the waves lapping on to the lake side like the distant thunder of waves crashing onto a sea shore.

I remember the penance in the water that mesmerised me into another state. I also remember the trek back down, taking care not to slip while laden with filled sample bottles of water-fleas, crustaceans and filter feeding sponges.

I remember the hot cup of tea served at the little eating house, the gossip exchanged on the way and the excitement of our collection and the new things we would find.

I remember the drive back- and the exhaustion we felt when we finally got home and the Sponge Baba’s comment that his sister thought he had been very clever at choosing a profession that required him to wander to such places that others could only visit as tourists.

He would take the sponge to the lab and study it. He would look at it, dissect it and describe it in a precise technical manner. The descriptions are boring and mean nothing if you are not involved in the topic.

But I will remember the most how the whole ecosystem and climate came together for me as a homogenous whole to me in the context of the sponge. Even the Sponge Baba and I were integrated, we were complete.

I did not go up to that mountain searching for God, but the experience was amazingly spiritual.  It is the sort of experience found in temples and described by saints. And the medium of that experience, the point that you focus on, be it rock or statue, person or animal is the form of God at that moment.

As for the Sponge Baba and me in this case, we experienced God- a poriferan sponge, under a rock submerged in a rainwater pool- on top of a mountain.

 

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The truth is just too much fun

I was talking with friends today,exchanging gossip as usual. Sometimes though gossip can ruin the fairy tale images in ones mind. so she said-

“Ignorance is bliss”

I disagreed but I had no answer to that and no coherent argument because sometimes not knowing does save you a load of emotional baggage, often.

In the evening though I was watching fairy tail movie reruns on TV and I realized something.
 
Though I remember enjoying cartoons myself immensely I do not watch them anymore, I turn to either fantasy that is more real on an emotional level or to real world interactions.

Even if LOTR or Game of Thrones is fantasy the emotional issues they deal with of good and evil, politics and other things are very real world like compared to say- Aladdin.

And therefore that which is closer to reality is more entertaining,in my taste and perhaps in that of a few other people I know.

So in the end I have an answer for my friend.

Ignorance is bliss of course- but the truth is far too much fun.

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Bella Mariposa

There are few things more beautiful than a young woman completely involved in what she’s doing. Confident, joyful and and elegant.

You see it in dance movies all the time, like Nora Clark, the female lead in Step Up. In Dance movies it is easy to capture the performer’s beauty and their immersion in their craft. The timing, moves, music and beats are obvious and naturally elegant to our senses. You understand and relate to the music and rhythm.

These women don’t try to be beautiful, they are beautiful because of the things they do. Their actions are graceful, their joy is contagious and its so enchanting that you forget their looks after a while.

In research some of the girls around me tend to have this tendency to dress down  I got confused at this because they can be very pretty when they want to. I always wondered about this approach.

Then a few years ago, incidents involving friends in the 2010 Masters Batch of the Department taught me something. Something I’ve just begun to understand.

The first one was with an ecologist friend of mine who was an insect enthusiast and loved butterflies. She was fanatic about them really. The first memory I have of her is in the university garden. It was the middle of the day and she was walking a little behind me, there was a large hedge between us. I was talking with a few other people and was waiting for her to catch up when I heard her say.

“Get up lazy, its the afternoon and you’re still sitting here! Don’t you have any self respect?”

I first thought she was speaking to a drunkard lying on the other side of the hedge so I walked over and looked. There was no one there though, or so I thought.

“Who are you talking too?” I asked tentatively, hoping she wasn’t crazy.

“Just look at that guy!” She pointed at a twig in the hedge “Is that what he should be doing at this time of the day!”

I looked closer, and there on the tip of twig was a little Chocolate Pansy Butterfly having a nap. Now I don’t know what the poor butterfly should have been doing to avoid the scolding but I’d never seen anyone talk to a bug before. That’s when I decided this is one person I am definitely being friends with.

Her name was Bella Mariposa and we eventually became very good friends. She did turn out to be quite crazy, but in an adorable way.

There was also this class field trip in our second year. We were at a place called Tamhini near Pune, It was February and the river had dried up. We were all wandering, watching and observing. Most of us were not really serious though, and were having fun gamboling around.

Mariposa though was different. The moment she entered the forest she was not a person any more. She became something else, something beautiful.

Insects fly away when people come near, but not for Mariposa, she had a way of approaching which was completely silent, inching forward almost infinitely slowly, not even the insect would notice, even if he did, I am sure he wouldn’t be scared.

I still have that picture of her in my mind. It is how I will always remember her, in the dry riverbed full of rocks covered completely with a canopy of green leaves, like a great arched ceiling. Rays of sunlight streaming through gaps in the foliage, the whole scene bathed in light filtered green by the leaves.

And in the middle of this scene is Mariposa; worn out pair of Reebok shoes, patched jeans with a hole in them and a camera slung around her neck picking her way among the boulders, her large black eyes always watching. Noticing what no one else could see with instincts no one else had.

She did not seem part of us then, wherever the main group went, she would quietly be some distance away. One hand on her camera, ready for the moment.

When some insect was visible Mariposa would stop, and begin inching closer, it was all about timing, getting the best shot at the closest distance while being completely silent, not alarming the creature.

She would stand at a safe distance, take a photo and come closer, another one, still closer and again another. Then she would be there. The exact distance and angle she was waiting for.

Everything is still silent- hanging on a thread, the insect twitches, he is about to fly I think- but he doesn’t, it almost like she is willing him to stay- and he’s listening; like a charmer she has it set. Now is the moment.

Click

And another one for backup-

Click

Slowly she draws back again, still in sync with the bug and its surroundings, soundless. At a safe distance she relaxes, takes a breath, looks at me and smiles. The dance is over.

“That was perfect.” she says.

It really was.

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Tick Diaries… A Midnight Spin.

It is night, and the human form of the AntibioTick- Chandrakant Redican (Chandu), is purifying the DNA of his PCR products.

DNA is the bit in the cells of the body that carries information on what the cell is going to be like, what it is going to do, etc etc. It is made out of four different types of chemicals- A,T,G and C which are arranged in a line in different combinations. It is like a language with four letters. For example- the sequence AAATTGGCTCP does not mean anything at all.

If you really want to know what the sequences say, hunt up your nearest biochemistry professor and ask him. They are usually happy to talk because not many people are interested in what they do.

Chandu had a little DNA, but he needed more of a specific bit of that DNA. To make a lot of copies of DNA, you do a reaction call a PCR.

When a PCR reaction is done in a PCR machine takes a little piece of DNA and turns it into a lot of DNA. And I mean a lot. I mean millions of copies. And It all still fits into the fifth part of a tube that holds only a drop of water.

A PCR reaction without a PCR machine is like The Movie “Tees Maar Khan” without its popular brilliant Item song- “Sheila Ki Jawani”- brainless concept, waste of money and uninteresting.

Another cool thing about PCR is that it makes a lot of copies of any little piece of DNA that you want.

The greatest and most brilliant thing about the PCR though is that the reaction takes three hours in a PCR machine which you turn on and can ignore. Those three hours are bliss because something is going on and you can say you are “Doing a PCR” and feel like you are doing something useful with your life without doing anything at all. While the time should be spent reading research papers or something you actually go have a cup of tea in the Cafe, shout at trainees, bitch about seniors and if it is night-  watch the latest episode of Big Bang Theory downloaded through proxies on the Institute’s servers which you spent the last PCR reaction hunting up.

For more information about PCR, visit this link and be bored, else read on.

Chandu needs these millions of copies of the same bit of DNA to find out what the sequence is.

Because we have a lot DNA, it is a lot of work to sequence all of it. So if you just need to know what type of bug it is you can just take a small piece of DNA and sequence it to find out.
So you are actually treating a sequence like unique identity mark, or a bar code where the order of the DNA sequence is the identity of that bug, bacteria or animal

Some bits of the DNA are really useful if you treat them like identity numbers or barcodes because they do not change much within species and are different between speciesl.

To read the sequence the Chandu needs pure DNA. The DNA in the PCR mix is not pure at all. It has all the stuff that is needed to make many copies of DNA. Large protiens call taq polymerase that read the DNA sequence and make copies. Little molecules call DNTPs which are the building blocks of DNA and some salts because you need a pinch of salt in everything to keep things real.

Actually there is a scientific reason for the salt which the biochemistry professor can tell you. I can tell you too but I don’t want to.

He has a plate containing wells with DNA which has PCR stuff, He puts a thick gooey transparent substance into each well. This thick gooey transparent substance is called PEG (Poly-Ethylene-Glycol), He then puts a rubber seal over the whole plate. He then vibrates his sample plate to mix everything up real nice and puts the plate in the centrifuge

(In the Chandu’s Lab, a centrifuge is an expensive thing that spins other expensive things round and round very fast).

He operates the machine…

Set at- 3800 RPM, thirty minutes.
Start..
Low Rumble…
Whirr…
Speed up
Countdown begins…

As Chandu stares at the machine and hears the whirrs, his vision goes out of focus and the world around him dissolves. Everything goes black.

He opens his eyes. He is the AntibioTIck now. He is lying flat on his back and he feels a bit dizzy. The ceiling is a long way above him where he can see a great round cylinder. He looks to his left and right he sees two steel towers rising up to the cylinder. His hands feel a rubbery floor.

The AntibioTick stands up and looks to his left and right. He sees the towers reaching up to the round steel cylinder above the cylinder he sees bits of a huge plate, very similar to the small one that he just loaded into the centrifuge. He looks below and he sees a rubber floor similar to rubber seal he put on the plate just moments before.

He looks ahead and he understands. He is inside the centrifuge. On the plate which is purifying his PCR products.

The plates are moving round so fast that they are perpendicular to the floor of the centrifuge. He realizes this and is suddenly scared that he will be thrown off and dashed to smithereens. He forgets that centrifugal force will not let him fall.

The whole centrifuge seems like a great chamber, it is filled with an eerie light, a type of ether making everything visible. A great steel structure is in the middle going round and round at 3800 revolutions per minute, steel arms swinging around it. The steel arms holding four great white plates with a hundred wells each, there are things shining in those wells.

The AntibioTick looks at the wells, some which are are right below him. Each well seems large enough to hold a grown man. It is filled with a glowing transparent gooey stuff. He remembers what it is called- PEG.

He sees bits of DNA going round and round each other in glowing helixes all through the gooey stuff. The helixes have glowing steps in the middle and the phosphate backbone glowing. The DNA molecules are slowly sinking down. Huge taq polymerase enzymes which do the job of adding base pairs to the DNA are also there. They look like coiled boulders, But they are only floating, too large to be pulled down.

Some stray sequences only a few base pairs long forming different shapes and coils lie here and there. Random stuff that is of no use further. Primer Dimers they are called.Moving to and fro are large molecules of Phosphates that have not been added to any DNA, slowly they are falling apart, randomly colliding.

Life is like a giant centrifuge for the AntibioTick at the moment. He is seeing stuff that he has studied his whole life and thought would never see with his own eyes. All that time he had been doing experiments that you are assuming some invisible substance is there and you find out only at the end if you run it through an experiemental gel and look at it under Ultraviolet Light. Always you deduce what has happened even in the most common experiments, you try to imagine, you know what is going on but you never really see.

But now it  is like Roger Federer playing tennis. He is there, he knows exactly how the ball is turning, what fraction of the ball to hit to send back the way he wants, he is not thinking about the game- he is the game..

And after a very long time in his life, in this standardized and old technique, The AntibioTick has finally found the Zone. Lets hope it lasts.

The long strands of DNA are going deeper and deeper into the well. They are coming together at the bottom to make one large pellet. The large taq enzymes are still suspended. The small strands have also spun down. Just the really small particles still move up and down. Too large to stay up, too small to be pulled down and held there.

When the spin is over, the gooey stuff will be poured out and the pellet should remain. This pellet will be put in water again and the stuff will be check if the DNA is still there. The AntibioTick will follow this procedure, but he is sure that this experiment will work out, he has seen it.

Suddenly there is a slowing down of the spinning, the motors stop the and the plates start spinning slower and slower, finally swinging down and dangling motionless. There is a beeping noise, the AntibioTick feels dizzy and he blacks out.

Chandu wakes with a start. The centrifuge is beeping. His spin has ended.

(Apologies to those doing PCR reactions, I do two hundred a day myself so I am also poking fun at myself. If you think that Sheila ki Jawani is not as good as Munni Badnam hui, I agree- but the thing is the movie Dabbang (The first one) was pretty good so I could not use the analogy in that case. The sequel though is useless primer-dimer waste.)

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