Category Archives: Science

Irrational

Not just a mathematical uncertainty
An exclamation of human emotion that
Makes one feel insensible, irrational.
I wonder how much it matters – this
Need to logically think, to unravel
Quandaries with a stick of a defined length
And set out the shapes in perfect geometry.
Where does it come from?
We are governed by laws of nature
That can’t be broken, only mended.
So given how we are slaves
To the very idea of order, wherefore
We believe in chaos? Oh wait!
Isn’t it the other way ’round?
There is a tornado somewhere that
Seems lost and confused – the sense
In its existence being questioned as
It rapidly turns on its eye to see that
It is here because of a butterfly’s
Innocent flights of fancy.
Ah! The rational irrational.
I wish I knew you better.

Explanation:

I had to write by hand for 10 minutes without break, to let my irrational mind free and help me address new topics in poems.

I found the outcome interesting. I don’t know if I like it but it is what it is. (The poem is presented in its unedited form.) I was structured by the word and wrote about irrationality when I could have written about anything! I don’t even fully understand what I wrote: some math, chaos theory, natural world and almost no human emotion (which is the very essence of what I would consider irrational). I took the most rational subjects to speak about irrationality. Am I such an academic? Please don’t hate me!
“I wish I knew better” now feels other-worldly, like my own conscience was asking me to connect better with my emotions. Mildly freaked but highly intrigued!writing-with-pen
Why don’t you try the same? Make sure you handwrite it. I got very different results when I typed – very uninspiring and wholly depressing.

O Black Widow!

Black and glossy dollop of sin
Frozen explosion of sticky tar
Red ominous assassin marking:
Hourglass –
Timing every kill on your venter.

You lie still waiting suspended
Within your tangled web of deceit
Sensing movements unintended
Waving –
A deadly acrobat on eight feet.

Stronger than steel your silken fibre
Your resolve persists stronger still
Leathered dominatrix whipping desire
Oh my!
How I’ve loved you and forever will!

Martyred my life as a sexual devour
Just for one octapodian embrace
An instinct drew me to you for Ours
Was I –
A target, a meal, a dupe, a disgrace?

Despite the neglect you showed me
I am in my eyes a hero
In the Order of Araneae
Only –
With a not-so-grieving widow.

Physical calm

Heavenly fusion,
Elements combined within –
Nucleated peace

Sunrise

Entry to Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity
PS: My pingback to The Daily Post is not working. Am I the only one?

The author that ignited a passion that became a profession

I have always found my solace in words, for as long as I can remember. I have been most influenced by characters I have read about; no matter if completely fictitious or generously inspired. I somehow could not make sense of people I met in real life. They either obfuscated their motives or didn’t give me the opportunity to read them. At the time when I was engrossed in Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and R.K. Narayan I also started developing a taste for popular fiction, as written by John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon and most importantly Robin Cook.

Dr. Robin Cook writes medical thrillers; the most famous being Coma, which became a movie. I didn’t know anything of the kind back then. I didn’t consider at the time that medicine could be thrilling. All I knew of medicine was the burning disinfectants, bitter syrups, pills too large to swallow and offices too sterile and sinister.

I had just turned thirteen and had always liked Biology. I had a rudimentary idea about the human body and beginning to grasp its complexity. It was an innocent time. We giggled when anything ‘reproductive’ was mentioned and blushed furiously when the same was diagrammatically explained. We had had the ‘special talk for girls’ the year before. My male classmates were annoyingly inquisitive for the rest of the day for they knew what was ‘Whisper’ed. Yes, I remember the taunts.

41NXPQRZGCLWe had 40 minutes for lunch every day and some of us would stay back in our classrooms to eat while reading our books. We didn’t have a cafeteria or a mess hall. I saw one of my classmates reading Chromosome 6 by Robin Cook. It had a bright purple golden cover and I found the cover-art fascinating. It was a chromosome. I had just heard the word chromosome in a documentary on the Discovery Channel. I was more familiar with the term DNA fingerprinting since I loved shows on true crime solved using forensics. But I didn’t really know what DNA was either. I asked my friend bravely if I could borrow her book after she was done. She was a sweet, quiet girl named Bhavana. Or was it Bhavna? I don’t even remember her last name. She was happy to lend it.

The next two weeks are a blur. I don’t think I had ever been addicted to a book before then. I even switched seats and moved back so I could read during class! I was introduced to the character of Jack Stapleton – a daring pathologist who, along with his colleague and love-interest Laurie Montgomery, solves mysteries. The mystery I had in my hand starts off with a body going missing after autopsy. It turns up later – mutilated and bullet-ridden. Our hero Jack figures out that it was the same body that had gone missing. His examinations reveal that the person had had a liver transplant. Surprisingly the liver that had been transplanted has the recepient’s immunological markings (thus not rejected) but has… primate DNA and primate parasites. I will say no more. As a 13 year old my mind was blown. I discovered the world of genetic engineering, the industry of biotechnology, medical malpractice and the underbelly of scientific research. Of course, the story was not meant to be a treatise on emerging technologies in biological research and thus there are some loopholes. If you are interested in a more scientific review then please read this.

I went on to read more by Robin Cook that included, amongst others, more from the Jack Stapleton series, such as Contagion, Vector. I liked some of his books more than others, and these ended up being the ones in which medical research was involved. I couldn’t get enough of it. I started watching more documentaries. Something in me recombined and a new gene was being primed for expression. We didn’t have internet at home back then for me to learn more than what I could gather from The World Book encyclopaedia. This was 1998.

The next year I started high school and we were formally introduced to Biotechnology. Nurture influenced nature, as it always does. I knew immediately what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a biotechnologist, a genetic engineer, a medical researcher.

This is not a book review. I could never review Chromosome 6 objectively. I don’t know if the ‘writing’ is any good or even now – after a Bachelor in Biology and Chemisty, an Advanced Diploma in Genetic Engineering, a Master in Human Genetics and a PhD in Cancer Biology – if I would not be able to tell you what is ‘technically’ wrong in Chromosome 6. To me, it is personal and it is perfect. It ignited a passion that has not slept for 15 years and one that still refuses to even lie down.

Now that I am asked to give thanks to someone who has helped without ever realising it: Thank you Dr. Cook for giving me a reason to wake up every morning. Equally important – I would like to thank Bhavana/Bhavna for being kind enough to lend me her book and trusting me to return it. God knows I have troubles doing the same! I don’t know where you are and how you are doing. You may never read this but I really wanted to let the world know that without your kindness I would have probably become a bad lawyer. And we don’t need any more of those!

Photo of Dr. Robin Cook courtesy robincook.com

The old don’t grow wise; they grow careful

Take more photographs, younger Sam. Life moves on vFrom: http://looneytunes.wikia.com/wiki/File:Road-runner-4.jpgery quickly and all that remains after ten years will be streaks and puffy white clouds of blurred memories, as though life was The Road Runner. You must try to capture all its juicy mass at every given opportunity or at the very least use malfunctioning electronics to get it to stand still. Who knew Wile E. Coyote had it right all along!

I know you are worried about what is awaiting you. You are in the second year of your undergraduate degree and you seem worried that the Indian syllabus is not preparing you for your future course of study. You are right. It is not. Don’t be alarmed – you will figure it out. And in about six years’ time you will start your Ph.D. It will be the most challenging, rewarding and though you will not realise it while it lasts – it will also be the most fun you will have.

You will study medical research intensely and you will gather much technical know-how and theoretical background to get you through scores of academic discussions with your peers and also seasoned scientists. You will do well enough. Just stay honest and extend your capabilities on a daily basis and you’ll be fine. But here’s the fine print that you will not realise existed until you are I. It’s part of the ‘Terms & Conditions’ you agree to without reading and then blame Apple for desensitising you to such matters. Ironically it is the most obvious thing there is. A Ph.D. is exactly what it says it is – a degree in Philosophy. It doesn’t matter what subject you chose to dissect. Not much of a fine print actually.

What it truly teaches you are things that can’t be graded or examined. It will change how you perceive effort and reward. It will turn your priorities around and make you question every belief you ever held. I lost my bearing after one year. I was tired of looking inward for answers and I turned to (as always) books for comfort. I found my panacea in ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert M. Pirsig. Some of his words hit home and stayed there.

“You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself.”

Pursuing a Ph.D. is like climbing a mountain. It’s a marathon. It’s an endurance sport of every kind. Understanding this helped me see it to the end. Learn to find peace in patience, or you will suffer younger Sam. It will be the toughest test of them all. No three-hour cram on calculus will ever come close.

thesis in coffee

Neither can any other achievement rival the joy of hearing your thesis committee declare in unison that your work is worthy of a doctorate. It will be a nerve-wracking week preparing for that meeting. 4.5 years will come down to 45 minutes. And then when you see the heads nod and your advisor’s proud smile – it will be a moment forever etched in your memory. It’s almost worth going through it all, just for that moment. The final thesis defense that you will share with family, friends and colleagues will end in tears of joy and many happy hugs. There’ll be so many wishes from around the world; all sincere and all beautiful.

IMG-20140611-00120
(c) Sam Rappaz

You will sit down with your fellow graduate students who are currently struggling and rattle off worldly wisdom like a war veteran. Then, you will sit down with graduate students who came before you, all doctors in their own right now, who made your insecurities vanish when you started, and have a laugh about how every thing comes to pass. About the grand scheme of things and how we become so focused on tiny details that we forget what made us passionate in the first place. We forget that the process is, in itself, fun. Don’t forget to have fun Sam. You are too serious about everything. To remind you of exactly that, your lab will present you with a hand-made personalised graduation hat. It’s a special tradition in this part of the world. They will collect snippets of your life, your likes, your personality and ask you to wear it as a mark of distinction at the after-party following your defense. It’ll be very cool and very pink. You would have helped to make many during your time as a student. You would have dreamed of having one of your own, for it would mean that the ordeal was over: a cardboard hat to crown your own personal glory.

Now, isn’t all of this something to look forward to?

I’m not only late but also lazy with the Daily Prompts from Nov 14 (By Hand) and Nov 15 (Good Tidings) which I have combined to write the piece above. I’m playing catch-up!

PS: The title is paraphrased from the original quote “No, that is the great fallacy; the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” – Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms)