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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.

Gratitude Always...

[Re posting from our original scientific blog to musings here..]
Guys, I don't want to put in spiritual ramblings here, but since this is year end and I read few great articles on gratitude, thought shall share here.

As the year is coming to an end, we have to look back and say a grateful thank you for every small thing that we so effortlessly ignore. The fact that we are all part of a CSIR group that is ranked 82nd in the world (much higher than IISC, IITs) in terms of scientific output is something we should feel grateful about. We should continue to give in more than 100% wherever possible and stay honest, hardworking and truthful  no matter what.

In the coming year, I urge each one of you stay grateful to whatever happens. There is nothing good or bad, only the mirror through which we look at things may make it look good or bad. If in a day, you find many bad things happening, then you need to quickly introspect within yourself and see what is wrong on.

Say thank you to anyone who does even a small thing for you and say it from heart. Appreciate others meaningfully, give one extra rupee as tip, try help a needy person, and most importantly express gratitude for the food you eat, the beautiful world you see, the melodious sound you can hear - for many people are deprived of that privilege. Never take anything for granted!!

Staying grateful is an important feeling - it opens your mind and widens your horizon. Most importantly it generates a feel good thought, that is much more empowering than anything else.

I wish you all a very happy new year and a successful year research wise.