Tuesday, January 23, 2007


My most frequent visitors. Mr. And Mrs. Finch.
Every morning as I enter the lab, they wait for me outside the sun-filmed window. They wait for me, in a world that does not need to maintain its temperature to a meager 21oC.
Mr. Finch is an enterprising young man, for he keeps pecking at the window till his beak hurts and his wife scoffs at him. Both of them cannot see me through the filmed glass so they assume that they are staring at some other couple just like them.
Mr. Finch wants to prove to Mrs. Finch that he is better than the guy across the window. So he flies up and down furiously, just to realize that the other one is a perfect match.
Mrs. Finch is one of those pragmatic, overweight women. She does not jump up and down and exhaust herself nor does she mind her husband’s weird antics. Like a seasoned wife, she bypasses everything he wants her to take notice of.

Like those ugly birds you find outside large worship places, ever ready to snatch that half-eaten sandwich or swoop at low altitudes scaring your children they will never pry on your food.
They are not crows. They don’t turn you deaf first thing in the morning. They are not swans either, narcissistic and full of themselves!
They are like those typical middle class birds. Content with who they are but fantasizing about defeating their own image, their own reflection!
They don’t ask for bread, but they are not too proud not to have it either.
They hop around and eat the crumbs if you leave some on the sill, but they wont knock on the window and make you get bread for them.
Like a middle-aged couple they sit staring at me. Never too busy flirting. They are two independent people staying together because they like to. Not making a big deal about love or even companionship, they look at me with watery eyes and turn their necks around like the hands on a clock. Sudden but expected.

Hard as he can, Mr. Finch tries to defeat his opponent but Mrs. Finch knows that he is not an Eagle or an Albatross. He is Mr. Finch who will always sit beside her on the windowsill and try to reach the parapet. He cannot brag about his wingspan but she knows that she would never like an Eagle to sit next to her and stare at the sun-filmed window!

Friday, January 12, 2007

What I do when I don't write. ;)

When I am not a below-average low-budget writer, I assume the very productive and bit more lucrative role of a chromatographer.
To a layman chromatography is Greek I agree, but as I evolve as a writer, I find myself evolving as a chromatographer too!
My job involves as much skill, intelligence and patience as writing!
Although the word chromatography has been derived from the separation of colorful bands on a paper plate, modern chromatography has gone ages ahead of that. I don’t want to go into the technical mumbo-jumbo (as I want my prospects as a writer to stay intact) but these days chromatography is getting more efficient and enjoyable.

It reminds me of the running races in school they used to have during sports week.
When they made us stand in a row at the starting point; irrespective of our sizes or energy levels. At the blow of whistle, the hyperactive brat infamous as the “class-clown” usually bolted ahead of everyone and reached the finish line first. And the bespectacled, chubby, saturnine class topper usually finished last. The rest, ranging from moderately volatile to outrageously inactive finished in between.
This is exactly how it works. There is a thirty-meter long almost anorexic column. The Internal Diameter is 0.25 mm. It is coiled up into a pretty spiral and mounted on a stand inside an oven (similar to the one you bake cakes in, but I haven’t tried baking cakes in it as yet).
The mixture you wish to analyze is injected at the on end of this column and various components of the mixture run across to reach the detector at the other end in ascending order of their molecular weights. So the lightest makes it first and is detected as a peak on the computer. We can find out what anything is made up of, if we have a gas and a liquid chromatograph. The area of these peaks increases as their amount in the mixture. So we have a nice X-Y diagram to look at and feel like Sherlock Holmes.
What I say is very basic. These days, chromatographs have a lot of added accessories. Earlier when there were no computers, they used to get a mechanical device to print the chromatograms like cardiograms. Chromatographers then measured the areas of the peaks manually and calculated results. Now, we have state-of-the-art workstation software where we can edit, modify, crop and integrate the chromatograms the way we want to. Just like those picture editing software you get where you can turn yourself into Angelina Jolie !
We don’t have to do a lot of detective work in finding out the identities of the compounds as our ancestors did. They couple the machines with digital libraries with a formidable amount of compounds that could be found on earth. So it is relatively easy.

For biological analyses, we use liquid chromatography where a “liquid” assists the components of a mixture to reach the detector. This technique doesn’t have an oven. A pump, quite naturally replaces the oven, as we are handling a liquid. There is no heating involved so liquid chromatography takes care of the thermally unstable compounds that break down at higher temperatures.
For the analysis of volatile and ethereal compounds we use the Gas Chromatograph. Where the compounds that need to be found out are escorted to the detector through the column by an inert gas (the kind of gas that stays aloof and doesn’t fight or fall in love with any of the compounds under consideration). This technique has an oven to heat up the column so that the vapors are swiftly directed to the detector. We analyze perfumes and pesticides using this technique. Although these are not the only things, that can be analyzed using a GC (yeah the world is full of acronyms)

These GCs or LCs are coupled with fashionable detectors. Sometimes they use a flame detector that checks your sample for carbon-based lighter compounds like alcohols and ring structures. Sometimes they have a phosphorous detector for carbon and phosphorous containing compounds. Or sometimes you just get a universal Mass Detector called the Mass Spectrograph which uses seriously high voltages in a tiny, almost dangerously evacuated cup created by a donut shaped electrode. I know I have sublimated into Greek now, but I am trying to keep it to simple Greek!

So when I am not busy writing, I am busy finding out the ingredients of Lavender oil to check if some ingenious trader has mixed synthetic aromas in it and is selling it as “natural lavender oil” in a nauseatingly purple container. Or I am measuring the rate of release of steroids on an LC or I am analyzing drinking water for the presence of pesticides (NO I don’t go public with my findings and turn into an unpopular celebrity! :P)

It is a great job! I need to shuttle back and forth from one lab to the other. Sometimes I need to stand for long hours for getting the samples ready to go into the column. Sometimes I have to rack my brains on the software and sometimes I have to read boring manuals for troubleshooting! :)
It is an eventful job nonetheless. Which gets me tired and in between two runs on the GC or the LC, gives me bright ideas for my literary expeditions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Growing up!!

I was brought up with the help of a series of babysitters and maids. My parents used to work all day and I was almost always left with women of great patience! I was not a particularly ill-tempered brat, but I wasn’t a saint either. Like a cold-blooded murderer I used to go about my pranks with the finesse of a calm psychopath. I used to draw cartoons on the mirror using my mother’s lipsticks. I loved washing clothes as a kid, so once I remember emptying an entire pack of Surf into the tub. I later freaked out because I could not get out of the foamy bathroom. These babysitters were instructed to keep me presentable by the time my parents returned. So they used to clean my nails of muck and mud with a safety pin before my mom came back.

I grew up into a considerably (?) decent (?) person however flawed my upbringing might have been, but I lose all the faith in upbringings when I see the kind of kids they are bringing up today.
I thank my parents for giving me a childhood that was completely free of an infestation called the Television. I still cannot bring myself to watch TV. All I can watch (without flipping through the channels at 60 per minute) is National Geographic, BBC/CNN and Friends.
The lack of TV, cable TV to be precise introduced me to books very early in my life. My interest in books was not one of those cosmetic interests that people develop in order to be taken seriously. It was a means of growing up for me. I read everything from Fairy tales to Russian folk literature. I read poetry and my grandmother taught me to appreciate poetry when I was barely four. Books are like your own LCD TV and what is more interesting about them is that they are totally personalized. :)
What you see is the only telecast and there are no repeats.

Sometimes when I am responsible for entertaining kids, I am shocked at how easily manageable they are. You just need to give them a bag of chips and the TV remote and they are okay.

I remember there was this mythological series called Vikram and Vetal on the national television when I was five. Vikram was a cool and amazingly patient dude. He had the responsibility of carrying a phantom on his back and going someplace I fail to recall now. The phantom was called Vetal. Vikram was supposed to be mute all the while and if he spoke up for any reason, the phantom would fly away. Vetal entertained him with stories on these trips and Vikram got so engrossed that in the end he always broke his vow of keeping mum. The phantom was such a hideous looking character that I was petrified of the TV for almost two years after that. He had long golden hair and wore bright red lipstick, which was one of the most severely etched fears in my five-year-old heart. Even if I over heard the title song of the series on the street I used to sob helplessly and make everyone think that I had some kind of a psychological disorder. If someone insisted on watching it in my presence, I used to crawl under the bed and stay there till it got over all the while covering my ears to avoid any of it entering my head. :)

I guess my unfortunate encounter with the TV made our bonding impossible later as I became very busy trying to be a versatile student!

My next-door neighbor was a sixty-year-old man infamous for being excessively fussy about cleanliness. I somehow managed to help him overcome his paranoia by making him my best pal. He used to help me build tents and dress up as a runaway cat. Sometimes I became his hairdresser (he was almost bald then but I used hair bands and birthday hats!). He took me to the zoo sometimes, which was quite near to our place. I loved the zoo (exclusive of the fact that it made me “belong”!).
Going to the zoo was never pre-planned. It was never a “family picnic”. I hardly remember going anywhere with both parents as a kid. I went to the parks and zoos on impulse with my babysitter or neighbor. They all say that I was exceptionally quite back then (maybe my current temperament comes as a shock to everyone).I guess I was too busy observing people and things then. I remember a lot of things and places very vividly. My father used to have Saturdays off. I loved all the weekends spent with him. He was like a kid himself at that time. The Zoo with dad was a great treat!
Even now sometimes when I get random dreams in my deep sleep, my sixty-year-old best friend forms a part of them every now and then!

My parents were often subjected to raised eyebrows for leaving me alone at home. There were people who laughed at their decision of having an only child and that too a daughter!
But I got a wonderful childhood. Free of any kind of extreme.
Discipline, Freedom, Love and Appreciation were given in just the right amounts which made me independent yet attached to the people I truly care about.
I learnt to guard my space at a very early age and also to let go.

The most important lesson I learnt was to be there for myself all the time.
Which also taught me to be there for others. I am never lonely when I am alone and sometimes I can be completely oblivious of a crowd. It is an amazing feeling. Reminds me of something I read in a Ruskin Bond story,

If I am not for myself,
Who will be for me?
And if I am not for others,
What am I?
And if not now, when?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Hello!! Hullo!! Heylow?? Hi there!! :)

You can judge people by the manner in which they talk over the phone.
When people who have spoken to me over the phone on numerous occasions but haven’t met me in person end up meeting me, they look decidedly disappointed!
“Oh! Is that you Saee? I had imagined a totally different person! (Which I am dead sure is a much better version of me). They tell me that I sound much more stylish and reserved on the phone (which means I have a lousy dressing sense). I don’t mind disappointing them. At least I enthrall them on the phone!

My mom seems to be in a mysterious hurry from the moment she answers the phone. Even if it is a Sunday and she is sitting with her feet up on the coffee table reading her weekly forecast in the newspaper, the person on the line gets a feeling that he is demanding an awful amount of time and that if he stops talking he would let my mom make a great deal of positive difference to Mankind.
Sometimes when she is on the phone with an important client, she starts drawing sadistic doodles on the first chit of paper under her hand. Pictures of eyes with excessively narrow dimensions or of cartoons that look oddly adult! I have never been able to fathom the meanings of such cryptic conversations!

My uncle (mama) and my grandfather have been blessed with very powerful vocal cords.
You’d be able to hear every word they say from wherever they are calling from even without the telephone. Sometimes we put them on the speakerphone and yell across from the adjoining room to save us the “reverberating headache”. My grandfather is a rock-star on the phone. He is a glib speaker so when he finds himself at a loss of Marathi words, he jumps to Sanskrit and then goes on to quote Plato on the phone. He has been diagnosed with a hearing loss recently that has taken all the burden of dialogues off his mind. He is happier now; as he doesn’t have to listen to other people .So most of the times he uses his talk time to talk than listen.
We have strict instructions not to put him on unless it is absolutely essential.

My dad never confirms if he has dialed the right number before proceeding. So he rains down on complete strangers asking them about the ratio of biological and chemical fertilizers he needs to add to the soil. Then abruptly goes blank and starts reading the dialed number aloud and suddenly disconnects and turns around to find us giggling under our breaths. His cell phone network does not cover our house so every time he is on the phone; you can see him stooping awkwardly out of the window.

Some people make animated gestures, trying to convince people over a telephone call. Some people go suspiciously inaudible when they are on the phone, which kind of makes me worry if they are conspiring against me.
There is a different subclass of girls who speak in higher octaves when they are on the phone with their boyfriends. I guess it must be to make it musical, but people who are in their ground states of existence ( meaning who are not in love and fully loaded with work or more precisely,like ME) find it a tad unnerving.

The most irritating type of phonecall however would be the one made from your cell phone to a land phone situated in a disorganized household. When you need them to take down a message or a number, they put you on hold and you can hear the frantic opening of cabinets and drawers in search of a pen. When they finally manage to collect the stationery, they make you repeat the same thing twice and confirm three more times. When finally you think you are through, they ask you your name twice and then realize that they know you and start enquiring about your parents. I usually disconnect during the pen search and call back because I hate to hear frantic opening of furniture. :)

I think the way you use your phone speaks volumes about you!! So next time when you call me, dont forget to tell me that you are charmed! ;)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Electric Encounter.

I guess the profession that demands the least of human traits would be being an Electrician.
I had a very bad encounter with electricians recently.
We added two extra floors to our office and decided to shift a few extremely expensive machines to the second floor.
When the blue prints were made, an electrician came to observe the existing layout required for the machines. I tend to respect people who can manage electricity ( so I always treat even the State Electricity Board Loafers with a cup of tea when they show up). He stood there, looking at the sockets and the plugs with a dignified expression on his face. I was eager to help him, so I took prints of the pdf manual for the instrument which had pictures of the sockets and the details of amperage for each component ( with details of the same installation in the USA and Canada plus everything repeated in German!!). He was very impressed, and the gullible fool that I am, even I was happy that I managed to impress an Electrician.

They wanted to give the lab an "international" look, so all the wiring was supposed to be concealed. Every time we went upstairs to review the progress, the architect would volubly explain to us about a "duct" that went along the perimeter of the building from inside the walls which contained the "wires" for a "ready made" connection whenever we feel like. This Duct was probably something equivalent to a metro rail for him.

About a week before the shifting of the instruments, they began drilling.
Every room had an apprentice ( who when not preoccupied with the drill would stare at all the female members in his line of vision; sometimes even turning around for some especially attractive specimens. His sole occupation would be to use the drilling machine.They are so desensitized and reckless. If I were an Electrician, I would feel guilty about creating such a big commotion and bringing human beings to near deafness by drilling walls. I would not have had sound sleep ever in my life. They are, however oblivious to such feelings. All they can do is screech away on the walls and have tea ( and leave paper cups all over the building).
We excused the noise in a hope that all we have to do now is pick up the machines and put them into the new sockets.

We flew in expensive service engineers to dismantle and reassemble the parts.Their rooms were booked and we went for a cursory check the night before just to realize that something wasn't quite right with the wiring. The UPS connections were screwed up and the UPS guy was raging mad at the construction electricians. Sensing dispute a few of our own electrical diploma holders jumped into the argument.
We ( The Management) were completely clueless for an hour and a half.Then the UPS guy and the Contractor's man independently described their points and we ended up agreeing with the UPS guy. The contractor's electrician had managed to conceal a horrid mess of wiring and the contractor's masons had covered it up with RCC and pretty laboratory tiles. Nobody had the heart even to think about straightening it up.We ordered samosas and tea and kept staring blankly at the polished walls. When someone came up with a solution, his opponent would come up with a new problem and outwit him. This went on till midnight and finally the UPS guy came up with an acceptable solution.

The next morning, they began drilling again. The expensive engineers dismantled the machine and sat on the lab counters waiting for the War of the Electricians to come to an end. Just as we thought everything was okay, the fastidious UPS guy would make them drill again.
The contractor's electrician packed up and fled at about half past six. The Victorious UPS guy saw it through and got everything under control. Before he left, he made us aware of the inherent dangers of using the mess that has been concealed by the contractor's electrician thus leaving us sleepless for the rest of our lives.
It came to an end late at night and the gentle whine of the turbo molecular pump that my machine gets out so musically, made my heart rest a bit.

I walked in gingerly the next day,wary of expecting a short circuit and the eventual shut down of the high speed pump but lousy Electricians were the only suffering in our Lives. As I sighed and started tidying up the lab, there was a knock on the glass door. I turned around to find a skinny guy in worn out cargoes with a drilling machine who said,"Madam, bahar aao A/C ka point laganeka hai"

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Movie Review : Happy Feet

This is a story of a Penguin without a soul song.
Mumble Happy Feet is the one who cannot sing in tune and is looked upon as a great misfit in the community of Penguins as they find soul mates by singing to each other.
But it is not his lack of singing that makes him out of place, but his added talent of tap dancing that makes him weird.

There are fireworks in the music department. With everything from Elvis to Fusion and Jazz.The movie takes you from those helpless "Awwww so cute" sighs to sitting at the edge of your chair when an obnoxious shark chases the hero through frozen oceans.
You also realize that Nicole Kidman has a very pretty voice as well,something that fails to register when you see her onscreen!!
I was especially amused by some of the lines in the movie, like the one where they tell him," You have done everything that was penguinely possible" :)
The animation is fantastic. It gets you into that cold, chilly, icy mode.Some of the underwater acrobatics are mind blowing.It turns everyone in the movie theatre into a five year old kid with eyes wide open. :)
Robin Williams is inimitable. I have never seen anyone personify a cartoon character more efficiently!!

The movie has some serious messages, one of which is the indiscriminate use of natural resources by human beings that is leading to an imbalance in the ecosystem.
Perhaps, no one could have conveyed this better than a lonely Penguin.
We don't have to belong. When we believe in what we have, people want to belong to us.
It is an outright noble movie, that makes us realize that courage and the urge to do something good and honest are the only "cool" things to do. As it reaches out to so many kids the world over, I hope that it leaves a great impact on their uncorrupted and Happy Minds.
Refreshing and Intelligent this movie makes us reach out for the lonely Penguins within and feel okay!! :)
Somewhere as we flow with it, we find ourselves tapping our own Happy Feet!!