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Thursday, December 26, 2013

The uncertainty principle and challenging d impossible!!

I was reading this book “A brief history of time” by Stephen Hawking; a person I am quite fond of. While reading, I came across this chapter “The Uncertainty Principle”. This chapter gives a crisp description on the uncertainty principle and its implications. Most of us know what uncertainty principle is but just in case we forgot, it states that at a particular time, its impossible to accurately calculate both the position and velocity of a particle; the details can be found in the book I just mentioned.

During 19th century, in the wake of Newton’s laws, the famous French scientist Marquis de Laplace suggested that the future of the universe and also human behaviour could be completely predicted if we could calculate its present state. This implied that the future events could be determined by us humans and hence it challenged the intervention by God! Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!), Heisenberg came up with his uncertainty principle which proved to be a setback to Laplace’s dream of a deterministic universe because if one is unable to exactly measure the present position and velocity of an entity, how can one determine its future state?

The uncertainty principle together with Quantum mechanics led to the sad death of Laplace’s deterministic theory and gave way to the probabilistic universe which states that a future event could not be fully predicted but what could be predicted is a number of possible outcomes. (Einstein was not quite convinced with this theory and he also got God involved in all this which was evident in his emotional statement “God does not play dice”!)

What happy thing I could visualize from this is that this theory favours probability and thus there is no certainty or even impossibility for any event to take place; though some events are favoured more than others but this does not kill the chance for a seemingly impossible event to take place. So, if we want something and the present situation makes it seem impossible, we shouldn’t give up because with the uncertainty principle prevailing, nothing seems certain and also nothing impossible!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Bit of odd...

I think the way people in west look at us could be little odd. I have forgotten all about that forcibly. However, a very recent encounter with a very old professor reminded me all of that and I wanted to muse about it here. There is this poster number 100 something and near that sits a old professor. I will not name him. That place was very empty, so I decided to ask few questions on the poster.

Then while talking the professor asks me where am I from,I said India. Then he says I know that but where exactly in India. Then I said Kolkata. To that he says I travelled to Kolkata once via a train through Howrah.I knew what he was going to tell next - and that is what exactly he said. He fell sick with the contaminated water. The place was very dirty and he felt very sorry for the people who stay there etc. etc. He also made statement that those who come to USA are atleast saved from the bad life people have in India. This got me into thinking why do we make ourselves look like that to the external world? Are we so pitiable. People generally judge from the outward look of everything,be it road, people or dirt. Hope someday we will appear and behave cleaner so that people look at us with respect.

This is not the end of it.He even went on to ask if my name was a brahmin name?I said names are not brahmin, sometimes surnames are! To that he surprised me to say that Tripathy is a brahmin name. That got in to me and I did not want to stand there and talk. Basically he was trying to point out all the evil we have. From dirt, to poverty to anarchy to caste system. So, I feel it is time for us to behave differently portray ourselves differently and change the system. Only  by voting right we can do it.... 

Visiting Cold Spring Harbour for a meeting? Here is what you should know

In my over a decade stay in the USA, I have not visited the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratories. Although there were a lot of very interesting meetings took place there, the registration cost was a big deterrent. I decided to attend the fall Genome Informatics Symposium starting 30th October 2013 this year. Although the whole journey was rather unpleasant I will not discuss that here. I will talk about my experiences of staying in affordable places and travelling to long island from there and the science.
Internal Transportation:
I booked a place in Bronx through the trusted AIRBNB web site. I have had pleasant experiences before using their services. I stayed very close to the Botanical Garden Bronx. Getting to the hosts place from JFK was not an issue, only taxi fare was a bit higher. So, try avoiding taxis and travel light is the first lesson. After I reached there first day I just slept, did not know when I was sleeping and when getting up. Then one of friends picked me up the next day to her house in Brooklyn. The best way to travel is take a metro card for a week (If you are travelling a short term) . This friend was staying in Avenue H and daily it was a train from Avenue H to 34th Herald Square before taking another transit to Long Island Rail Roads.
How to go to Cold Spring Harbor:
From anywhere in the city; the best way to go to cold spring harbor is to take the Long Island Rail Road (LRR) to Syosset (Not cold spring harbor). The final destination for this train is Huntington. This train starts from Penn station, and goes via Jamaica. So whichever place is close to you just take. Suppose I am coming from Brooklyn, then I will either get down at Atlantic or 34th Herald Square. From Herald square I have to walk one block towards 33rd street and 7th avenue (Herald square is at34th and 6th avenue). There is Penn station. Upon exit from Herald square you will find several boards telling which way is the penn station exit. Upon coming out also there will be boards and direction to Penn station (This is opposite to Hotel Pennsylvania). Then for going to cold spring harbor you have to take Long Island Railway services. Your Metro card will not work.
Word of caution for buying weekly LRR weekly pass:
 Here one thing to take care is if you are starting on Saturday then take a pass, otherwise travel as a daily passenger. For instance I took a weekly pass that is around 88 USD on Tuesday, but its validity was between saturday through Friday. So, in other words, I paid for the travel I have not made. This is something you have to be careful about since it is not written anywhere. If you take a train from Penn station, it takes easily one hour to reach Syosset (Remember you are suppose to go to Syosset – don’t go to the cold spring harbor station). Just get down the stairs on the opposite end. This is where the cold spring harbor shuttle stops and ferries people through the station and institute. It stops right at the Grace auditorium where most of the meetings take place. I was attending the EBI workshop that preceded the genome informatics meeting. It was taking place at Blackford hall which is at the right hand side of the grace auditorium and easy to find.
Going for EBI workshop what to expect?
If you are going to attend the EBI/Ensembl workshop, they will ask you to install the virtual machine which is a typical linux box created on any operating system. A word of caution is to bring in an OK sort of laptop. With my small laptop, I had terrible time doing anything. I am going to write on how to create a virtual machine shortly (watch out my blog site). 
The Meeting:
The meeting is itself very tiring. It starts at 9 AM and ends at 9.30 PM. And they have these poster sessions in between. So, it may be better to stay very close by. Even I was told that all other meetings are also arranged that way.
The Science:

This meeting is all about algorithms and software for genomics, so it is very appropriate for people who are in this field. Lots of tools and algorithms are discussed here before they get into publication, so students watch out for this. Met Allpaths assembler creators, ENCODE people and many other familiar faces. Overall pretty good!

By the way I am live tweeting talks #genomeInformatics 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

WE ARE ALL MOTIVATED- either positively or negatively

I heard a story of two brothers and wanted to share with u all.
One was a drug addict and drunk who frequently beat up his family. The other was a very successful businessman who was respected in society and had a wonderful family. How could two brothers raised by the same parents, brought up in the same environment be so different??????The first brother was asked, "What makes U do what U do? U r a drug addict, a drunk and u beat your family. What motivates U?" He answered, " My father. My father was a drug addict, a drunk and he beat his family. What do U expect me to be? That is what I am."The second brother was asked, " How come U are doing everything right? What is your source of motivation?" And guess what he said?????"My father. When I was a little boy, I used to see my dad drunk and doing all the wrong things. I made up my mind that that is not what I wanted to be."
Both brothers derived their motivation from the same source, but one was using it positively and the other negatively. Negative motivation brings the desire to take the easier way which ends up being the tougher way.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Fly above the cloud when it rains...

I have posted this on my lab door to motivate my students and myself. This is what I tell to myself time and again when there is a crisis situation - although technically there should be no-crisis-like situation.

I have joined IICB during a time when all the Networking projects were decided, 12th 5 year plan was laid. So, there was very little scope for me to get into any of these lucrative fund giving projects. Fortunately or unfortunately I have been included in one of the networking projects but I am still clueless about the fund part. I only see occasionally some mention of the fund, its reduction and so on, but never saw anything for my lab as yet... Anyways leaving the complaint part aside, how do I run my lab? Director is generous enough to have granted me some money for my sequencing programs and servers which I thought was adequate, but balancing sides such as purchase, vendors, payments have been a herculean task for me.

I will give an example here. I want to do some genome sequencing with a third party. I call them, negotiate a price (With promise to give them more business later). They take few days finally before making an offer. Now I look for money, get it sanctioned and raise an indent. But unfortunately there sits a man who has the power to reject it for no apparent reason. The reason - he does not understand what it is. Fine, no one is suppose to understand everything, but will it not be nice to come back and ask? Then you go back and ask, and then  he agrees to reverse it. By then the buggy software makes the account zero. You then go and talk with the same man he holds the power to change that zero status to previous status, will make you wait for 30 minutes and may be finally do that. You raise the indent again, then he sits on it before you really go and ask about the status. Then comes a committee formation and finally giving an order. When you get the order you send your samples to the company and the company does the job and sequences the samples and gives you the bill. The lousy department sets some date cutoffs (twice a year). If your bill reaches later than the cutoff date, your money disappears and truly disappears and you are responsible for paying the bills. Just imagine the life of a scientist is suppose to be much more skewed towards research rather than these mundane activities, but it is unfortunately so here.

All these money giving, money disappearing act happens when the money is given by the institute. Now, the only way around is to get your own fund. So, I am rather more determined to get the money from outside rather than from inside. With lot of deadlines hovering on my head for grant submission let this be a motivation rather than having negativity towards the people that create impossible situation. So finally I can say amidst my work trips,  my carrier trips (Carrying DNA samples, getting the bill in hand), my personal trips, I have survived, meeting deadlines and submitting 3 grant proposals back to back to DBT. Hope atleast one of them gets funded. So, this is what I would say running above the cloud when it rains....

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A million heroes!

Aamir Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan, and ofcourse not to forget the bollywood baadshah Shahrukh Khan; they are all heroic figures to atleast a million people! Few of us even worship them, celebrate their birthdays, and go mad to get a glimpse of these sitaare zameen par! Like all others, I also admire these actors but not to a point that makes me go crazy. I admire them because I like their acting skills. But, unlike a crazy teenage fan, now reason for my admiration has changed from looking them as stars to looking them as workers doing their job!

Once I got to listen to an Art of Living preacher; the words which stayed in my mind were “everyone and everyone’s job is equally important in this world; noone or no job can be put above the other”; if sweepers are considered quite low in society then just imagine what difficult situation can arise if all the sweepers in this world goes on a week’s strike; it could lead to some pandemic kind of situation! I know that still we would talk about the superiority of professionals like doctors or for some of us the priests, both of which are worshipped, atleast in India! But are we not aware of the greedy doctors involved in organ thefts or the so called great preacher cum rapist Asaram Bapu!

I guess one shouldn’t be assessed by what profession one belongs to but by how good one does in his/her respective field. In every profession, there are some people who excel, some mediocres and some who bring bad names! In this context, for me every single person is a hero if (s)he does good in his/her respective field; be it a scientist, a sweeper, a driver or a doctor! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Yet another smoking article!!

This piece I wrote exactly 11 months back for our apartments journal club, dont know what happened to the article though. Today while looking for something in my laptop, I re-discovered it. It is again about smoking .....

Do passive smokers have a choice?

Have you been sick? I bet all of us at some point of time must have fallen sick. Do you recall what you felt during your sickness? The overbearing thought of getting well is what comes to mind when we fall sick. So, now the question is if there are people who really want to invite sickness. Well, I can give one group of people that definitely invite sickness for themselves and also for others. So, who are these disgusting set of people – the answer is the people that smoke in public places.

Even a first grader knows smoking is hazardous and those who smoke can eventually face multiple problems including cancer, high blood pressure, low immunity, palpitations and a range of other diseases.  Smoking continuously, reduces your life span by 10 years. Again it affects your quality of life substantially even if you managed to be alive. People, who continuously smoke, age faster than non-smokers. While most of the smokers are aware of this, they just do it never-the-less. While, it is a choice they make for themselves, they have no right to be the bearer of poorer health for others. So, what are the dangers of being a passive smoker?

Study reveals that passive smokers also face health hazards exactly similar to active smokers. Wikipedia records reveal that passive smoking can even cause disability and death. Passive smoking causes cancer, cardio-vascular diseases and respiratory diseases. It is known also to cause asthma, dementia (loss of memory), crohn’s disease, tooth decay, allergies among others. Does it sound scary? Yes it does. Ever since we came here (to be precise on 25th July 2012), I have noticed one common trait – people smoking everywhere - more so in public places. I got appalled that no one is raising any concern to this!! I was undergoing some job medical test, and one of the panel doctors was smoking in a closed room and to my horror, the other doctors present there never raised any alarm. You go out on the street; I bet you will find every 2-3 feet one smoker carelessly puffing up smoke without bothering about the surrounding. I have lived in other parts of India and abroad but never seen anyone smoking as much as they do here. I am wondering if there is a special reason behind this.

While smokers are willingly destroying their health, they have no right to put others in danger. There is a nationwide law against smoking since 2008 – that bans people from public smoking. If someone found smoking in public then a fine of $5 can be slapped on them.

What can we do to protect ourselves?

Anytime you see someone smoking in a public place, just try and raise your voice. I think it has been that the smokers have taken it for granted that they have every right to smoke anywhere they like. If everybody raises voice, then they will be conscious and eventually this practice will die a natural death.
Wish you all a very happy and healthy smoke free dussera.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Completing 1 year in IICB....

Today exactly one year back I landed in Kolkata. I will be completing one year in IICB in a week now. Amidst all fear, speculations, we took a rather bold decision to come back to India. My position was not permanent, it still isn't. We both left our comfortable jobs, beautiful home, green card to work for the country. Now after a year on when I look back, I don't think it was bad at all... It has taught us a lot of things, but at the same time I am lucky to have my students, my lab and a very loving environment here.

I will share some of my experiences here:

What I learnt the hard way:

1. Dont accept objects you did not intend to order or never open a pack:

Some of our lab purchases has been excellent, some were OK and some were awful. Among the awful stuff I bought was a set of 3 non-performing UPS from Business Center ( I dont know where this name came from). First thing is I was coaxed into buying 2 printers that I never asked for. Then these UPS that never ever worked and the lady that sold us promised us that she will not ask for money for a year. In between we processed all the bills, but our lousy purchase department lost one of the bills from Business center and it could not be paid. Finally I had to pay it off from my contingency.

2. When processing bills, if you give a file to someone keep a copy or keep an evidence of it.

Here in IICB, when the bills are processed, it passes through a string of processes. I still dont understand why it has to be that way. For me purchase should be straight forward. You choose the company that sells a particular product, then procure it and send the bill to account section for final payment. But here, it goes to division A (I am not sure about their role here), then they sit on it (If they did not loose the file) for sometime before passing on to x, y, z division before it finally makes an entry into finance. Be cautioned, at any stage your file may be lost. If it is lost, not only your bill will be unpaid, but also you have to make an arrangement to pay it somehow, since the money goes away every march if unspent. Now the most logical solution to that will be to have a device to record that you have really handed over your file to someone. So, keep a scanned copy of your doc, make the people sign on a paper that they took the doc and so on.

3. Follow up:

Here nothing happens without following up. You may tell one thing one time, but the other person does not take it seriously till you tell it N number of times. That is true in every aspect of life here. So follow up on each and everything. Buy a tape recorder if necessary and play it multiple number of times.

4. Have infinite memory:

Since you have to follow up on each and everything, you need to have infinite amount of memory. If you already did not have it, buy an external hard drive t:)

Now I want to tell something nice about what we have achieved in a years time.

1. We released a product - a successor of VMD: Before I joined IICB, I contacted the director and the head about availability of Oracle, since VMD ran on oracle. Although there were several copies of Oracle license floating around, I could not get hold of any. Then came the idea of launching the whole thing in Mysql. VMD has a very complicated schema and it uses Oracle's materialized view concept heavily. So, I had to think carefully about how to emulate this feature in Mysql and which tables/views to retain so that the front end remains unchanged. Finally we achieved this, and our successor to VMD named as is available in a new platform. We are building tools and wrappers around it to get rid of other dependencies so that it can be portable. Thanks to my MTech. student Akash Gupta for the efforts.

2. We sequenced 2 economically important BGA genomes! 5 more in pipeline and one probiotic bacteria also in the pipeline!

3. Standardizing assembly efforts of the BGAs that have a mixed read length [Thanks to Neha's tireless work  on this].

4. Collaborating with cancer genomics group on cancer marker finding and cancer exome sequencing projects [Again thanks to Neha, Sanjib, Pijush for this].

Apart from all these, I have already written 8 grant proposals. One is funded with me on 0 budget, one got a nod, one from CSIR (although I have received nothing from it yet), 2 got rejected, one is under subjury, two more ready to be sent, one more under preparation.

I got good money from my Ramalingaswamy contingency so I could hire 2 people, and generous start up fund from director for all the proposed work.

I thank my entire crew for our lab achievements. I thank Lubna for helping set up the lab from scratch. I thank Madhu, Arpita and Deeksha for taking care of purchase of chemicals/equipments. Deeksha for standardizing DNA extraction protocol, Madhu for taking care of cultures and looking after lab cleanliness. Arpita for working on Inventory database system, Subhadeep for taking care of newer culture facility.

Our lab now has 3 Linux servers; access to India's superfast computer; access to HPC cluster in IICB; 10 PCs(including 2 laptops); one computational lab room and one wet lab room; laminar flow; incubator shaker; centrifuge; balance; pH meter; -20C; refrigerator; digital microscope; gel electrophoresis unit. We use nanodrop, geldoc, ultrcentrifuge, maldi, sequencer and many more equipments from the core facility, so we are more or less and fully functional group with tons of enthusiasm to execute world class research.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where "Habena" is the keyword...

Ever since I landed in Kolkata, the most frequent word I hear is "Habena" - means not possible:)) Who says impossible is a word written in fools dictionary - it is here; adopted by the young and the old; the wise and the ignorant; the rich and the poor - alike. Now, this is not a Kolkata phenomenon alone, the whole nation rides by this doctrine. You go to a govt. office, the first response is "this will not work". If you are desperate and don't have enough time, then you go and offer bribe money and get things done. I feel the basis behind this "habena" business is "pay me under the table then I will make it happen". It is frustrating yet there is a silver lining to it. We can change it if all of us act together. Be persistent, ask for the rule book, ask for the complaint number, ask more questions and refuse bribe.

I will give a positive example here. When I shifted to my official accommodation, I asked for an extra light point in the room that I planned to make my office. The electrician as usual said "habena". I asked him why? He said coyly, because the light points are very far off and there is no scope. Then I showed him a point nearby and asked him to draw wires from there. The next explanation he gave me was since no one has it in this entire complex, you should also not have it. Then I said, why can't I be the first one to have it? Then he thought for a while and said he will do it and finally did it also :-D

Now, I am working on a project (Not my real work project, but a silly one), where I have to get my gas connection agency transferred to a newer location. The gas connection is in my husbands name. The earlier agency gave a transfer letter in his presence, with all the requisite documents. But the new agency will not accept the letter stating that "the person has to come personally". Now what is the rationale? Is it that you fear I get a connection which is in someone else's name? How is it possible? The person stays in this household as evident by the postal address proof. Person 'X' living in house 'A' can only transfer the gas to house A. So where is the scope of fraud here? If fraud is the only objective, then in this internet era, one can skype, get the digital signature and get it done...

I am in  the middle of this, amidst my grant deadlines, my paper deadlines, students projects, research  problems and host of other issues to get the gas connection transferred to my new location - where it rightfully belongs. In my todo list the next thing is to get to know the rule, call the main head office and find out if there are any exceptions and the last but not the least is to file an RTI to know if they have transferred any connection line in absence of the person concerned...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nutritive value of goat meat

Goat meat has been established as a lean meat with favorable nutritional qualities, and it’s an ideal choice for the health-conscious consumer. lets compare the nutrient values of prepared goat meat, chicken, and other red meats consumed in the United States.

lets see the nutrient composition of goat meat and other meats....

Saturated fat(g)
Protein (g)
Cholesterol (mg)

Goat meat is lower in calories, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than traditional meats. Less saturated and less cholesterol meat is the healthy food, moreover goat meat have higher levels of iron comparing to beef, chicken and pork. It contains the potassium content with lower sodium levels, the amino acid levels the goat meat resembles to that of beef and lamb.
Iron value (mg)
Goat meat

Health benefits:
The nutritive value of the goat meat is increasing in health management of the people today. The amount of saturated fat in goat meat is less than the total amount of unsaturated fats, which may be important in human nutrition. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are in liquid form at room temperature, are known to decrease the risk for heart disease and stroke.
            Less saturated fats and relatively high proportion of unsaturated fats makes a goat meat as good healthy meal. The good fats (unsaturated fats)  improve the blood cholesterol levels, ease in inflammation, stabilize the heart rhythms, plays many beneficial roles.
Based on the research they have found that the goat meat helps to lowers the blood cholesterol and reduces the risk for arthrosclerosis and coronary heart disease and the goat meat can be included in the healthy human diet.

Some basic cookery rules:
1.      Cook the goat meat at low temperatures due to its low-fat content and lack of marbling (small streaks of muscles found within the muscle) the goat meat can loosen the moisture and toughen quickly if it is cooked at high temperature.
2.      Cook the goat meat with the moisture.
3.      Next is as usual can add the marinade on the meat before cooking and cook with moist heat such as stewing.
i  think these tips are useful to have a healthy life and can create awareness by not having McDonald's chicken burger or KFC chicken 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Students should take play a good role in politics....

I don’t like the student politics, mainly the students who ruin their future by doing politics. But now student politics is a big and serious issue. We are shameful that Bengal is mostly affected by this. Students enter in the college taking with their colorful dream but we have seen that many students lose their lives foolishly. If we saw few months back, we have seen that many people specially young ones had been injured and died also. Now a days colleges are politically charged, students gherao-ed teachers, principals, blocked colleges main gate etc. As a result it mainly hampers the education.
Today our country is waiting for young and honest leaders to rule them. We want to see our country as a well developed country. We want young leaders who will not get corrupted and use technology to develop a newer and better country. Let us make our nation educated. If the young students see the politics in a right sense, then student politics is never hindrance to education. It helps the students to actively participate in nation building and is never in conflict with education. Students from across the various state should be engaged in a number of discussions and seminars such as including the current status of higher education, the status of education of rural areas and villages etc. So I believe it is a young and educated leader who can understand and change our corrupt society for a better tomorrow and we can try to achieve it through non-violence. Let us strive for our Happiness and peace but in the process that not harm each other.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Don't Gossip


Remember, people who gossip with you will also gossip about you in your absence.
Gossiping and lying are closely related. A gossip listens in haste and repeats at leisure. A gossip never minds his own business because he has neither a mind nor a business. A gossip is more concerned about what he overhears than what he hears. Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves nothing unsaid.

Someone said it well: “Small people talk about other people, mediocre people talk about things, great people talk about ideas.”

Gossip can lead to slander and defamation of character. People who listen to gossip are as guilty as those who do the gossiping.

A gossip usually gets caught in his own mouth trap. Gossip has no respect for justice. It breaks hearts, it ruins lives, it is cunning and malicious. It victimizes the helpless. Gossip is hard to track down because it has no face or name. It tarnishes reputations, topples government, wrecks marriages, ruins careers, makes the innocent cry, causes heartaches and sleepless nights. The next time you indulge in gossip, ask yourself.

  • ·         Is it the truth?
  • ·         Is it kind and gentle?
  • ·         Is it necessary?
  • ·         Am I spreading rumors?
  • ·         Do I say positive things about others?
  • ·         Do I enjoy and encourage others to spread rumors?
  • ·         Does my conversation begin with, “Don’t tell anyone?”
  • ·         Can I maintain confidentially?

Refrain from indulging in gossip. Remember, small talk comes out of big mouths.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

this is the poem which i wrote in 11th class for mother'sday and came on newspaper

Mother a beautiful relation in this world, the smile of her changes our mood even when we are depressed or sad, daily the smile at her face is precious and priceless, she gives her shoulder all the time especially in our bad times and at good times, angel she grants all our wishes from childhood to till now, the way she hugs all the emptiness run away from us, she is the one she makes the roti for us and serve with love, she is the one hold our hands and made us to walk, now also still am safe, least bothered bcoz she is there with us in all the time, this is dedicated to all mothers in this world....

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Short Story - Chronicles of Latika

Guys!, Here is short story that I published in a book few days back.. Wanted to share.. Please please comment and let me know if I should write more or quit totally!!

Chronicles of Latika

Baba, I want to become a scientist one day, I want to know the reason behind all the things I see. Masterji taught that everything we see is related to science. Said Latika, cooking rice on a chulah for her father, Monomoy. I know dear, I have faith in you that you will be well educated one day and make this village proud. Can you see that star beta? Asked Monomoy, pointing towards a star in the distant sky. That is your mother, watching and blessing you from sky. When you become a successful woman, try not to forget to look into that star beta, that will guide you to the right direction. Latika’s eyes were filled with tears.

Monomoy and Sakuntala lived a peaceful life in the village of Mandul, sixty kilometers interior from Bankura, a district in Bengal. A farmer by profession, Monomoy worked hard to meet both ends needs every day, but the love he shared for his wife helped him to erase all the pain he had on the field. Sakuntala trained herself in making incense sticks, which she sold at the village market.

Their love was blessed by a baby girl after three years of their happy married life. Sakuntala named the girl Latika.

You know why I come to school? Asked Latika to Manu, a fellow classmate. Why? What could be the reason apart from getting a meal? I care only for that. Said Manu. I come to learn. I want to learn everything you know. Latika said, eyes glowing. My baba says I will be successful one day, and for that I need to learn. Did you finish the homework Masterji gave us yesterday? Manu suddenly realized he was in trouble. I… I… totally forgot to do the task. Masterji would kill me if he finds it out. Have you done it? Asked Manu panicking. You speak as if it’s the first time you forgot to do your task. Take these. She handed him a note. I did your task for this final time. Next time, please be serious. Believe me, you don’t want to remain jobless when you grow up. Scolded Latika. Okay, okay… You always speak like my grandmother. I will do the task form next time, you see. Manu sighed. Hey, I got you these green mangoes that I collected yesterday. It was fun.Manu smiled while handing over the mangoes to Latika. Well, thanks. But don’t expect I will do your task again for these mangoes. Stated Latika. You go to hell… groaned Manu and Masterji entered the classroom.

Latika was never deprived of love and kindness from both of her parents despite several attempts by Monomoy’s sister-in-laws to make them feel guilty of not having a boy child. Sakuntala never cared for much about what people had to say. She loved her family and had trust in God to keep them safe. When Latika was 7 years old, Sakuntala decided to send her to the village primary school. This led to an outbreak of cold rivalry between Sakuntala’s sisters-in-law and her. They did everything possible to stop Latika from attending school, but Sakuntala was stubborn in this matter and she made it her goal to educate her child, no matter how adverse the situation became. They will talk and keep on talking, but for how many days? Even they will get fed up of the same topic and leave us alone. Sakuntala used to say. And they prayed for brighter days to come.

Brighter days did come, though the meaning was more literal than metaphorical. The village suffered from a drought last summer. The effect was so severe, all the water of the ponds and wells dried up in unison leaving the great mass of the village waterless. Monomoy lost all his grains and his field dried up. The summer seemed to last forever, and the villagers began to get sick. Dehydration already caused death of more than a dozen of them already in the second week of the drought.

Sakuntala got sick. Dehydration, said the doctor at the local clinic. Lack of water has made her sick. Only cure is water, you see. Said the doctor. Monomoy knew he didn't have the cure, nor anyone in the village had a single drop of water. Only thing he could do is pray for the rains to wash their worries off. But, the situation worsened as the drought entered its fourth week. Sakuntala got sicker everyday. There was nothing Monomoy or Latika could do to revive her health. Even Latika began to have symptoms of dehydration. Sakuntala knew her fate and started to spend most of her times with her daughter, while Monomoy went in search of water. She shared her childhood memories with Latika and they laughed and got emotional at different turns of their discussions. One day, Sakuntala asked Latika to stay beside her and not to leave her side. Sakuntala said, Look Latika, I need to tell you something. I am going to die. Latika looked at her frozen. I tried to raise you in the best possible way that I could. But, you have to promise me that you will never quit your studies and make this village and your father proud, Latika nodded, tears rolling out of her eyes, I want you to understand that no matter how bad the situation becomes, your father will always protect you and I will bless you from the sky. She looked pale and breathed heavily. This drought will end soon. Latika stood still. You will be okay mother. God please don’t mean to take my mother from me. Please God. She looked in the ceiling offering a silent chant. She could hear her mother drawing her last breath and there she stood, eyes closed, too weak to cry. Sakuntala was dead.

The land was dry, and there was no sign of water for as long as is visible. The landscape reminded Latika of the drought in her village that took her mother away. You should rush with the soil sample I reckon, said Manavendra, we don’t have entire day to stay here. He headed towards the Lunar landing Research Vehicle. Latika concluded her thoughts and collected the samples and studied patterns for the rest of their stay on the Moon. After remaining about eighteen hours on the moon’s surface, they finally returned to their main ship, the Chandrayaan-III. Dr. Latika Sen is the honored astrophysicist in the team and Wing Commander Manavendra Sen was a trained pilot. This was first manned mission to moon by India.

Latika looked out the window of the Chandrayaan-III, she could see the blue planet, also called earth. How ironic, Latika thought, people die in this planet full of water due to lack of water. She looked into the black space outside, she could see the stars as clear as she would have never seen.

She pointed her finger at a close star and told Manavendra, whom she called Manu, Look Manu, that star is my mother, and the next one is my father. Manu smiled and held her affectionately in zero-gravity.

I came the closest that I could, maa, baba, hope you can see me clearly. It’s your Latika.

Coughing Kolkata!

My mom has always been fond of Kolkata and so am I. What attracts us towards this city could be defined by the name itself; Kolkata-the city of joy! The city can be described by its round faced, soft spoken people speaking India’s sweetest language, finding bliss in eating ‘fuchka’; in stalls which could be found almost anywhere you see. Clear complexioned, beautiful looking girls dressed in cute outfits giggling and gossiping, unknowingly (or rather knowingly!) catching guy’s attention. Be it a housemaid or a high ranked officer, they share such sense of oneness that one could hardly make out the difference in their status by listening to their conversation.
The one thing which I found really disturbing about this city is the smoke; by smoke, I don’t mean the polluted gas from vehicles but the carcinogenic smoke from cigarettes. This is something surprising that a city that seems to be all immersed in happiness is home to so many smokers. I was pondering on what could be the reason for this wrong scenario but could not find a convincing answer. I have been to many places in India but nowhere have I felt the omnipresence of smokers!
I once went to Jadavpur University where I got amazed to see so many students holding cigarettes in a manner which for them seemed like a symbol of pride. To save myself from being the victim of passive smoking, I would either cover my nose or just try to hold my breath until I cross this “high smoke zone” which I encounter everyday while my way to office. One morning, while coming to office, I saw a relatively big cloud of smoke right infront of me and I immediately held my breath. As I moved one step ahead and looked on my right to curse the person, I realized, to my amusement, that it’s source was not cigarette but incense sticks! I found this encounter quite amusing because in  Kolkata, the first thing that comes in mind on seeing smoke is not bus, auto or incense but cigarettes!
I hope this mindset could change but this would rather need a radical change in people’s outlook; we need to get convinced that smoking doesn’t make us look cool, or it isn’t a way to freak out with friends or to get relief of pain after being betrayed by a girl! I just hope and wish that the intellect in Calcuttians wouldn’t get choked up by cigarette smoke but would proudly spread out like incense.

Monday, April 29, 2013

India's account deficit - Please read this carefully

[Reposting from our main lab blog]
As we all are experiencing the rapid fall in rupee price wrt International currency,  it is a great concern right now. I was reading this article and thought about writing few lines about it. Here is the article, if you want to give it a try: 

So, it is not rocket science, we know what are the factors that contributes to India's huge foreign deficit. Here are some of them:

1. Huge imports and declining export.
    a. We are importing oil (petro chemicals) paying foreign exchange.
    b. We import huge amounts of gold. In fact it is the second largest import after oil.
    c. Our exports are declining.

Well, while petroleum products are essential for running  the economy, gold does not do much for the country. It is the obsession we have towards gold that rips us of our foreign exchange...

So, you may ask, what can I do for this? Well, we all play a very important role as educated citizens. You can do the following things to help economy:

1. Say NO to gold. Or in other words don't buy gold jewellery.
2. Don't waste petrol unless you really have to.
3. Don't buy imported gizmodos and fancy electronics to impress your friends.
4. If you are in a lab and you can get away with buying Indian stuff please do so. Don't buy imported goods unless it is really a limiting factor in the success of your experiment.

Second Ramalingaswamy concalve - In Gods own country...

[Reposting from our original blog site]
I am currently sitting at the Thiruvananthapuram airport (being dropped by the hotel carpool system much earlier than the flight departure), have really got no other option other than writing something that is very recent. Sorry folks, this is not science, but soon we will separate this musing section from science in case you are just looking for science in this blog site. Just hang on till then...

Well, it goes this way: we all Ramalingaswamy fellows landed here in the early hours of 20th Jan 2013 in Thiruvananthapuram airport, got picked up to a transit. Sat on the lobby of this nice hotel for a couple of hours and then bundled up together to a nice scenic place called Kollam that has one of the nicest hotels - The Raviz. I can't rave enough about this hotel. The moment we checked in, tall saree clad young girls put tilak on our foreheads and handed over some delicious herbal drink. Then they led us to our rooms. The rooms were panoramic. Then we assembled at a place where lunch was arranged and the welcome ceremony began. I could not contain my happiness when I was told that our contingency amount was raised to 10 lakhs for the first year. I had this concern about hiring people from my contingency. In any case, that was the best news ever for me! People were amazingly friendly, food was super delicious. The meeting was very well organized by Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology. I must congratulate Dr. Meenakshi Munshi for doing such a wonderful job in taking care of all the administrative issues in a timely manner. She had the toughest jobs of interfacing between the govt. and the fellows and yet defending both parties when the opposite party questions certain things. I applaud her. So, also the entire mentor team including several amazing scientists such as Dr. Kanury Rao (ICGEB), Dr. Shubha Tole(TIFR), Dr. Usha Vijayaraghavan (IISc.), just to name a few. This led me to think that I have indeed taken the right decision to come back to India.

The presentations began from 21st onwards. It was truely inspiring to see all the scientists in their third years on the fellowship publishing 4-5 papers most of them in good impact factor journals about an average of 5 impact points. Few of the scientists were really amazing that have brought about paradigm shift in scientific belief systems working here in India. I personally benefited lot since I met with a person who is good at metabolic engineering and another person who has the neem genome assembly and another collaborator with whom I plan to work in near future.Overall, even if I spent 10 days away from my lab, I feel the time spent was really good.

On 25th I met Doctors, researchers, pharma company heads and my collaborator Dr. Susanta RoyChoudhury in Mumbai hospital about marker development and commercialization. It was truly an uplifting experience.