Sunday, December 28, 2008

Biological Inspiration

Being a teacher of Biology I thought of doing a post on my own subject. I felt I’ve neglected it for too long and it needs to be accorded a place in my blog. I must tell you what made me take up Biology in the first place. I was truly more comfortable with Math and I had a flair for languages. I was good at Hindi (I really WAS good) and I remember reading the first library book in Hindi, that was issued to me in school, in about an hour or so and had nothing to read for a whole week. Till my 11th standard board exams I’d never illustrate my biology answers with suitable diagrams. For the boards I practiced a few diagrams and luckily there was some question on adaptations of animals and I actually managed to draw the diagram and was grateful to God for it.

It was with such inartistic inclination that I took up Biology in PUC. Those were days when a choice had to be made between Math and Biology and I opted for Biology since I had dreams of following my father’s footsteps and becoming a doctor. And it was then that I realized that with a little practice diagrams in science could be mastered but dissections in Zoology made me shed tears of self pity. What had I got myself into? Mathematics was so much easier to deal with than frogs and roaches. I was in perpetual terror of Zoology practical classes and skipped lunch on those days as my only way of protesting against my Zoology teacher who’d dish out cockroach after cockroach till I got my dissection right.

For my graduation I took up Botany as my Major subject surprising everyone by refusing to even apply for a seat in medicine. I felt Zoology could be dealt with at a subsidiary level and plants were certainly easier tohandle. So if I had to be stuck up with the wrong subject I may as well choose the easier one. I really do not know when I started loving my subject but in the three years that followed and later when I did my Masters and Ph.D. I did enjoy studying the subject. I have my practical record books in the department and my students refer to it even now. I also managed to get over my dislike for Zoology and today I tell my students that the two subjects are complimentary and should be viewed as life sciences.

I am in awe of nature because-

When left alone there is such a balance in nature that it would put us to shame. The adaptations made to accommodate other life forms could well be emulated by us. In an earlier post I had written –

“After all take a look at the soaring branches of a tree and how the same source of light is successfully utilized by each and every leaf of a tree and every tree in an environment. And the root system penetrating the soil uses the same water source without disturbing the roots of neighboring vegetation. Compare roots to cultural values and spreading branches to children looking for new avenues to spread their wings. Do they not play different roles important in their own way but each occupying its own special niche thus complimenting each other?”

I had written this with reference to adjustments in a marriage. Why only marriage? Why cannot this apply to adjustment and accommodation of different cultures and religions? What is stopping us from respecting and taking useful lessons from other cultures?

When I go for my morning walks I always look at the trees for inspiration. Their branching is clearly visible in autumn. Each tree has a pattern unique to its family. Their flowering season also varies. Insects and bees that feed on their nectar get a steady supply all through the year. Some plants are heliotropes and need bright sunlight and others are shade loving and happily grow in the diffused light available beneath tall trees. Live and let live is the message that nature gives us. We humans keep fighting all the time due to clash of interests. Every parent wants his ward to become an IT professional or a doctor. Engineering/medical coaching is highly priced and a child has to sit for several entrance exams before being accepted by a good college. He dare not tell his parents that he wishes to pursue a career in Arts or would prefer to learn music. It is easy for me to criticize young parents with my own children well settled and comfortably placed in life. I am equally guilty never having asked my children what they would actually prefer. I kind of took it for granted that their interests were the same as mine. But with IT jobs being affected due to global melt down I can see what our misplaced ambition is doing to a whole generation of software engineers. Apart from having deprived society of good teachers and educationists we may be soon dealing with unemployed youth venting their frustration on us in one form or another. Why don’t we choose different niches and put all available resources to good use?

Weeds interest me too. The gaps between boulders placed as dividers often have weeds growing in them. The town planners keep removing them. You have them in parks and gardens. Research says that weeds hamper the growth of crop plants and need to be eliminated from time to time. I consider anti social elements in society to be like weeds. They will interfere with the healthy development of a society and need to be eliminated from time to time. They cannot be permitted to strike roots. A constant check and balance system ought to be in place. Life forms are amazing. A virus is a chemical entity unless it is hosted by a living cell. Once within the cell it takes over the metabolic activity of the cell and often becomes cancerous. How much more havoc a polluted mind can cause is anybody’s guess. But then we have lichens too. They can break down rocks by secreting chemicals. So also a thinking mind can work on hard core fundamentalists and mellow them to our favor. One has only to try. There is no time like the present one. The Kashmir election and public reaction after the Bombay blasts are indicative of a certain amount of maturity in thinking and the time is ripe to fight terrorism.

I think that is enough Biology in one sitting. I was going to harp on the root system of vegetation and link it with societal values but will leave it for a later post. Just one last word –

If a tree thought its that leaves were important because they trap sunlight energy to convert it to food for the entire world and consumers of different levels were unimportant or if consumers of different levels felt that they could fell down trees since they could not voice their protest I would say that both were wrong. Natural resources have to be recycled and renewed. Entire forests have vanished not due to felling of trees but due to overgrowth leading to unhealthy competition among them. And floods caused by the absence of vegetation to check water flow have washed away civilizations. Adaptation to the environment is the key to success whether we talk of plants animals or human beings.

Happy New Year once again!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Childhood and what it stands for.

Long long ago my daughter resorted to bed wetting even at the age of three and in order that she may not feel upset my husband said ‘It wasn’t you my child, I did it. It was me.’ So it was customary for her to wet the bed and call out to me and say ‘Appa has done it again!’. I’d pretend to get angry and she’d say ‘Never mind appa, don’t do it again.’ I’ve forgotten how she got over the habit but I remember she got over it before going to a regular school.

Years rolled by and grandchildren came along. We’d take our grand daughter Megha for evening walks. We’d invariably ask her to use the rest room at home before we left home and once again before she finished playing and it was time for us to return. She has the habit of waiting till the last moment and announcing at the most inappropriate moments that she wants to do ‘pee-pee’. The few minutes she needed to go to the rest room would not be sufficient and she would wet her pants. Or we’d be returning home and just when we’d be reaching for the door, damage would be done. Her dad being rather strict would scold her for not being careful.

Brat that she happens to be, she resorted to another trick. She’d suddenly want to be carried on my back. ‘piggy ride amma please!’, and I’d give in. It was not that I did not understand. I felt that a piggy ride would perhaps ease things out. But no, I’d suddenly fell something warm trickling down my kameez and the girl had done it yet again! To top it she’d tell me ‘please amma, tell papa that you did it!’. She’d further tease me saying that people on the road would think that I had wet my pants! Just like her aunt I’d think but would try to save her from her dad’s wrath. We’d both pray that her dad would not be in the basement and use the toilet there to wash up and rush upstairs for a change of clothes! And did I notice a suppressed smile on my husband’s face or was it my imagination? Those were time when I truly missed India where a child could be made to squat behind a bush to relieve herself.

I think one thing that has not changed is childhood. Children continue to remain children whether in America or India. At the park where we took Megha I regularly met other parents and grand parents. We were all from different countries and cultures but the children were the same. They played to their hearts content and had to be invariably dragged home.

‘Okay, I’m goin’ home’ I heard a Mexican lady say. “Remember to say hi to foxie when she comes out to play with you’.

I was reminded of the time when my mother/aunt would threaten to call poochandi. Another thing that hasn’t changed is the bond that children share. I have mentioned in an earlier post how my kids preferred punishment to being separated from their friends. They can fight verbally as well as physically. But try separating them and you are their common enemy. I hear that when my grand daughters (from two sets of parents) got to spend time together they were constantly quarreling for the same toy/book whatever. Priya gave her daughter Megha ‘time out’ and made her stand in a corner. Two year old Aarya went and stood by her side pulling a long face as if she was saying ‘So what if we quarrel. We are still friends’.
My only request to parents of little kids, particularly those in India is not to snatch childhood from their children. Let them run wild once in a way for ultimately they’re going to love you for it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Proximity award

Thanks artnavy for awarding me. I was touched by its content/intent. You've been very kind to think of bestowing it to me.

This award is given to a blog that invests and believes in PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.

I now pass on this award to

1.Tys on ice who is an all time favorite.

2.Venki who seems to have forgotten his 'nani'.

3.Joy who takes time out to read my sermons tho' she belongs to my daughter's generation!!

4.Hillg'mom for being a good friend.

5.ITW for being the charming mother of not one but two 'little delights'.

6.Rajani for her Jamshedpur connection which automatically makes me biased towards her.

7.Preethi who doesn't know how much I enjoy her posts that take me back to the time I was a young mother.

8.Prats for the same reason as Preethi.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A 'doctor' in the family....

I have some good news to share.Daughter no.2 has completed her Ph.D work and is ready to file for her degree. I had already confessed that I am a really stupid mother and I forgot to wish her before the D day,ie the day she defended her work. It was very comforting to know that her parents in law called her up to wish her. Sorry my child, I remembered you the day before and forgot about it right when it mattered.I am sure it wasn't easy. During her stint in Graduate school, she had two children and how she managed home and college is beyond my understanding. Hat's off to her and her husband who made it possible.

I go back in time to the days when my children were school going kids. I had always noticed that my 1st daughter Priya and son Rahul were easily distracted and were not putting in their best but my second daughter Prasanna was very focussed and worked hard. So even if her hard work did not translate into marks I'd let her off but would scold the other two for being careless and threaten to send them to a 'dabba' school in our neighborhood if they did not improve. This somehow bothered Prasanna who felt hurt at not being scolded.

'Does it mean that mummy does not expect me to do well?' she's supposed to have thought and that motivated her to work harder. The hard work she put in and perseverance that she showed had perhaps become a habit and helped her achieve her goal. Having done my Ph. D. I can understand how frustrating and difficult it can get when week after week goes by and one has no results to show. I often wondered why research in any subject results in a doctorate in Philosophy. I now understand. The experience is such that one learns to take the good, bad and ugly experiences with a smile and a philosophical attitude automatically sets in. In my case the Ranchi University added to my problems in its own way and made me a true follower of the Bhagawad geeta. 'Do your duty without worrying about results' crib and complain!

Be it as it may, my daughter is planning a trip to India before starting some post doctoral work and we are looking forward to some quality time with her. She truly deserves to get away from her lab and research work and freak out as her own generation would say.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


With everyone having condemned the terrorist attack in Mumbai and a whole nation united in grief there is nothing much I can add. The days when we did not have TV was perhaps better. Riots in 1979 brought life in our Steel city to a stand still. There were reports of a bus load of Muslim women being burnt alive and we did feel helpless. There were rumors of the minority community retaliating. But the visual media had not made its way into our drawing rooms and the papparazi style hounding for by news channels following the Mumbai blasts was thankfully missing. Reading newspaper reports or listening to news on radio is certainly not the same as watching it over and over again in every news channel.

I agree that sensible reporting helps us get news updates. But I am not sure if this is done anymore. I recount a conversation we had in college-

A: ‘The muslim community has refused to let the dead terrorists be interred in India. They will have nothing to do with them. Islam does not endorse bloodshed.’

B: ‘Do you believe them? I don’t.’

C: ‘Why not? Everyone from a particular community cannot be labeled a terrorist. It was a muslim tea supplier who led the NSG commandos to the different areas of Nariman House.’

B: ‘Whatever you say. My mind refuses to trust them.’

A: ‘What about the Hindu fanatics who burnt an evangelist and his two sons in Orissa? Would you want to trust them?

C: ‘Fanatics and fundamentalists have perverted minds and belong to a class of their own irrespective of their religious affiliation. Their acts can never be justified.’

I was glad that very few supported B. But then it is a handful of fanatics and fundamentalists that take on the world threatening to destroy it.

I have given an account of what a frenzied mob can do to an innocent boy in an earlier post. I was witness to the incident and I still feel guilty for not being able to do anything to help.

Are we being fair? Is the over enthusiastic news reporting doing more harm than good?

Again consider the question of Pakistan’s involvement in training terrorists. It is evident that the government there is not able to handle the issue with an iron hand. But could an attack of this level be planned and executed without help from our own people? Traitors from our own country who can do anything for money? Should not our own government have a system in place to identify and punish them? For all we know a good number of them may be holding key posts in government offices or may be spoilt brats of the rich and mighty. Why do we blame the executors of terrorist acts? The masterminds direct them from the safety of their offices thousands of miles away. Why don’t they send their own children as suicide bombers for a change? And would these politicians who claim that such incidents keep happening all the time in big cities or that they were ‘mantris’ not ‘santris’ (sentries) say the same thing if their kith and kin were victims? Who doesn’t remember the Khandhar incident when a dreaded terrorist was released in exchange for a minister’s daughter?

My mind is confused. I try to think of solutions. None come to my mind. No one is born a terrorist. What makes him one? How far is religious fanaticism responsible for the situation? Would it help if Imams, Shankaracharyas and other religious leaders come forward with messages of religious tolerance and universal brotherhood? We cannot let this continue. Let us all ponder over all possible solutions to save the world and ourselves.