Monday, September 29, 2008

Talking Science

I don't like scientific, technical writing. Period. 
Apart from the fact that everything has to be accompanied by a proof which is enough to discourage disorganized article-readers like me it is amazingly boring. I read articles at train stations and due to the chronic absence of stapler at my desk, I sometimes leave half of my reference on the dining table. Then when I come to work I always have a pathological longing to write about the parts that have been left on the dining table. 
Scientific writing for me is like dressing up a beautiful gypsy woman in a black work-suit. Make her wear pointy heels even though she is used to walking barefoot on the grass. There is no room for being quirky. 
I remember when I first got my solvents to experiment with, one of them had a "strong repulsive odor" ( yeah that is how I have to describe it). Initially, because it had a long chemical formula which was a bit of tongue-twister, I labeled it "the stinky IL" in my lab-book.I got so used to that name that I mentioned it by mistake in one of our supervisor-student meetings and Les, my supervisor was genuinely amused. 
I get criticized time and again for my writing style which incorporates more freedom than it should. I try to keep it normal though.
These days since I am writing up for a report I keep thinking of boring words on my way in and way out. Simple rules like replacing the word "explore" with "investigate". I tend to have more "compares" and "evaluates" in my mind. I am off reading Calvin and Hobbes for the past two weeks and I invest my time reading NewScientist over lunch. 
Honestly though, sometimes technical writing is a bit too pretentious. It is a bit bewildering when someone fills an article with something like,"It is highly unlikely that this theory of randomization would not appear to agree with the other three theories published on the matter". I honestly hate the use of the word "highly" and "unlikely" together just to top it with something like "would not" later. 
You feel like saying, "Oh come on dude! Just say that your stupid theory agrees with everything published before! I am on a serious caffeine dosage here!" 
I think one of the most serious impediments in the enrichment of the knowledge database of PhD students is the resistance offered by phrases like "juxtaposition of associated variables" or "aberrant variations in the conductivity of ionic solutions". I know the meanings of all these words ( reading up for GRE never goes waste) but when they combine in those kind of poisonous combinations, the result is always soporific. 
I have also observed that it does not matter how funky your work actually is as long as you can go on and on about it in combinations of above mentioned words, everyone thinks you are the reincarnation of Einstein. 
The best way to describe the physical appearance of my dissolution experiments for example, is "Poo from a dog with a tummy upset". Of course this is stretching it a bit too far I know but when I write it down I have to say, " the end result of the dissolution experiment is a dark brown low viscosity fluid". Now anyone would remember it more the first way than the second. 
When I get a nice infra red peak I feel like calling it , "beautiful, slim peak at 1700" but instead I have to call it attenuated or sharp. 
It is one thing doing experiments and another writing about them! For in the lab, you always see people talking to their reactions. 
"Look at my HPLC data!! Isn't it absolutely gorgeous? Aww you little funny peak there! How cute you look in this clear background!"
Or sometimes when something is not happening,"Come on you little piece of S***. Turn brown!! That is what I want!!"
In the end however, as much fond as you are of all the little reactions that you make,when you write it down it turns just as tasteless as the paper that it is printed on!
God help me finish this report!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Leela and Mayah

I keep coming back to Osho all the time.
I read this story in one of the Alpha to Omega books by Osho which talk about the teachings of Patanjali.
Once Bodhidarma went to China and the emperor of China went to see him. He went to him and said that his mind was really restless and he wanted have a peaceful mind.
Bodhidharma asked him to bring his mind first with him. When the emperor heard this he said,"Don't be ridiculous. My mind is with me. It goes where ever I go".
To which Bodhidharma replied, " Okay so you are certain that your mind is inside you. Now I would just like you to point it out to me. Just close your eyes and show me where it is and I will make it peaceful".
The emperor closed his eyes but he could not find his mind. He realized that it was actually a process not an organ. He opened his eyes and told Bodhidharma that he could not find it.
Bodhidharma smiled and said," It is at peace as long as you can't find it".

True Yoga is the situation of no-mind.

The life of a common man is such a farce. There is a mess of present to deal with. Thoughts ranging from,"Is my milkman adding water to the milk?" ( Excuse me for this metaphor for I do not remember seeing a milk man since I was six!) to "I think I should get a better car than my best friend". We are fed up with so many small things all the time and then in between all this chaos there are moments of joy. When we come home from a tiring day at work and our kids show us what they painted at school. Or walking home hand in hand with our beloved ( even though we fought about being hypersensitive just last night).
Then there is tomorrow. The glossy, scented tomorrow that is almost certainly going to be better than today.
All of this is created and pre-lived and relived by the mind and we can't even point it out!
If my knee hurts, I know exactly where the pain lies but when my mind hurts I can never really figure out where to apply my Tiger Balm!
So sometimes, walking back home under a nice starry sky, I find myself secretly wishing that it would be so much better if I did not have a mind!
Everything would be easy. I would not "mind" most of the things that I usually "mind".
It is such a surreptitious word! You don't realize how much you use it unless you put it in quotes. :)

Most of my Western friends here think that this whole idea of no-mind and not chaining yourself to tomorrow is full of inertia! The West is ambitious ( they always have their armies ready to invade!). They can logically explain to you why it is essential to keep moving ahead in life ( by finding better jobs, better homes and better women for yourselves!). It all makes sense. It is true but all this mathematics is a function of mind again! Like some nasty mathematical functions, mind goes in loops as well. Money loops, Power loops and Sex loops.

I really appreciate the word "Mayah" that the Indian philosophy has given us. I like the words "Mayah" and "Leela" alike. Mayah is the illusion that we have thrown ourselves into with our minds.
It makes everything seems logical and right. All our chases are justified ( even though it is an oil chase in Iraq neatly labeled as "war on terror"). Unless we pull ourselves out of it we do not realize what a mirage it is and the only way we can do that is by being without a mind for a while.
"Leela" on the other hand is a nice and happy word. It does not have the kohl-lined-gold-dusted black eyes of Mayah.
If Mayah is the evasive beauty ( that is about seventy five percent silicon), Leela is the little girl that runs up and down the steps reciting a Sanskrit poem for fun!
Leela is the rabbit that jumps out of the magicians hat.
Mayah, is really God's Leela just to keep his little kids busy with something to do! Only some of them realize that they have been given balls of wool to play with and I think Patanjali was one of them!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The author of this blog is (supposed to be) busy gearing up for a "show us what you did with our money for a year" report. Sincere apologies for not being regular!

Over a long period of about ten years, I had confirmed that I am among the top two percent when it comes to "interesting" people. There are certain basic things that you need to be very confident about ( without sounding like a big show off) and being an interesting person is certainly one of them. I should specify that I mean interesting in all the absolute form and not like a substitute for saying, "This word is a polite way of barfing".
I am also confident about other things without any doubt or fake humility. For example,I know I am fit. I know that I know enough exotic words in English to freak out an average Australian. :)

However, sometimes you come across one little moment in your life that makes you wonder if you have in fact all these days been  living an illusion. Not that it really matters for I believe that life is an illusion anyway! Most of my "certain" conclusions are God's "Joke of the Day". 
I must confess though that I am not particularly proud of this disillusion. 
I went into my stats class one day ( equipped with skillfully "made" up jokes on the probability theory) and began my lecture. Twenty minutes into it ( As I was firing away at sixty words per minute) I saw my student phasing out. I thought it was just one of those paranoid imaginations of mine and went on. Ten minutes later I saw him look down for a while and then jerk up as though he had just realized that he was supposed to do something. Then every five minutes later he would jerk again and it took me about three sets of these kind of jerks to realize that he was trying to ward off sleep. It was an outright insult! 
So what if I am talking about mutually exclusive events! Isn't that interesting when I tell you little (sad) stories about blondes and brunettes belonging to two mutually exclusive sets??!!
Every time he tried to fight sleep I remembered how much time and effort I had taken to make this lecture more interesting and it indeed was! At least in my bathroom mirror with toothbrush in one hand! 
One hour into it and I became really depressed all of a sudden. I had this massive cloud of sadness looming over me. I asked him to go out and get a coffee. He didn't even let me finish the word coffee. While he was on a break, I found myself googling the words "probability" and "fun" together. The results were too complicated for me to understand and actually figure out what the fun part was. So I decided to stick to my practiced version. It is funny how when you are teaching, time flies and when you are being taught it goes at a pregnant snail's pace. So even before I could finish figuring out what to say next he was back which meant hope in capital letters. So I went on for about thirty minutes more and realized that coffee had no effect on his alertness. 
When I finally got out of the room, I could not find my way back to my desk because my eyes were fogged with self-doubt! 
Honestly, am I that bad? Is everyone around me fooling me? Am I being used without my knowledge for a reality (?) show? 
Although he did say before he left that he was playing video games on play station all night ( which is a legally accepted excuse in universities these days) I still found it hard to accept that someone could be so innocent about sleeping in a one-on-one tuition. 
I felt like I had taken an exam and I knew I was going to fail even before the results were out ( I know that feeling very well but I think this feeling was worse) .
I walked around with a long face for two days but I had to pull myself together for my next class. I did. This time I had to teach "History of Life on Earth" and I tried to relate it to everyday life by using this .
We had a laugh but it was still difficult to keep him entertained. 
So I have one less illusion to deal with now. I hope God compensates me for this one soon. Maybe by making me realize that I can actually swim three kilometers in an hour! =)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Blogger's Block

I have been getting emails and phone calls from people because I have not posted anything new in a long time! I must accept that all the extra work that I have recently taken up has made my writing take a back seat and also whenever I really do get time, it is hard to get inspired. 
I think to be a good writer or a poet, you have to be either extremely rich ( complete with a butler who brings in meals while you write melancholy sonnets for a fictional lover) or extremely poor ( where words are a way to get distracted from a dwindling bank balance). When you are somewhere in the middle like me, life is full of little challenges but completely devoid of the one big struggle that makes you famous. 
I remember a story from my childhood. I was a really timid kid. I used to be scared of not completing my homework on time or even something as silly as a dance exam that I was not well prepared for. Before every exam I used to get nervous and paranoid. In one of my fits of unreasonable fears, my grandfather ( who is I guess the most well-read man in my life) recited a poem in Marathi
It was written by an apparently ambitious, young poet. In his poem, the poet was planning to turn the Earth over ( I really don't know what the point is in doing that since it is a sphere), bringing the Heaven on Earth ( I guess we could all do with this, but if we can get the same feeling in two beers what's the point again?) and he was going to stop the Chakra ( wheel)  of  Time to get what he wanted. My grandfather sang it in his glass-shattering voice trying to reinforce some confidence in me. It worked for a while and I calmed down. Then I asked him who this poet was. Ajoba narrated some of his other ( equally ambitious) poems and said that the poet should have lasted longer because he died at the age of twenty four from tuberculosis! 
I think that day I made up my mind about not writing anything that could turn out to be ironically funny after I die. 
Poetry is a complex molecule. It can only be synthesized under an intense emotional atmosphere. So my current lifestyle that comprises mostly of events like buying a second-hand fridge, finding a new flatmate, filing in an annual progress (?) report, making sure I have enough vegetables in my diet and teaching a reluctant student 'History of Life on Earth' is hardly conducive for poetry. 
I was never really a soap-opera person. So weaving intricate extra-marital affairs is also out of question. 
Humor however was always my domain but humor is like the Yoga of writing. 
Unless you breathe well and relax, you don't really get good at humor. It takes a lot of contemplation really to be able to bring out the funny side of life. 
So unless I relax, I don't think I will be able to get over this Bloggers's Block! =)