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!


Vishesh said...

we are part of nature too :) And the balance is maintained always ,i guess :D

Ardra said...

Brought back memories. I myself am a Zoology graduate. I wanted to take up Literature but since I had scored more marks in Science, the college required me to take up Zoology!
I was a disaster in the lab- making a mess of my dissections. I still remember one of my professors asking me with utmost concern if my eyesight was poor! And the live frog being pinned on the dissection board in the Physiology classes- straight from Horror movies!
However the theory part was interesting, especially Genetics.

***Adaptation to the environment is the key to success whether we talk of plants animals or human beings***.


Wish you and your family a Wonderful New year

Anonymous said...

you are very correct..

we should learn a lot from nature..

maybe that's why we call her MOTHER nature... who is patient with her kids & lets them learn on their own..
its us who don't understand her & keep expoiting her..

i loved the comparison of weeds with antisocial elements.. we do need to weed them away..

i wish my bilogy teacher was like u.. :-)

Mampi said...

Wow Lady,
blessed are your students who got to understand your subject this beautiful way.

Hip Grandma said...

vishesh:If only we humans understood this we'd never mess with nature.

Ardra:genetics was and is my favorite branch of Biology.I can spend hours counting chromosames.happy new year to you and yours.

oorja:welcome here and how right you are.but mother nature's patience is being tried and when patient people get angry they can react badly.worse than those with a short fuse.

mampi:With less and less students opting for Biology we do have to make it interesting if we wish to remain employed.Thanks for your kind words of appreciation.But i do feel that this was too serious a topic to close the year with.

Renu said...

Reminded me of my college days, when I hated dissections and could never eat my lunch that day, as my hands smelled of formalin:)
I also agree with u that adaptation is the key to success,cant understand the mindset of people who want to fight and destroy things.

J P Joshi said...

Wow, teacher.......thank you. That was one very interesting and informative lesson - Biology, zoology, botany, Maths, Ph. D., dissection and feelings, nature, morning walks, philosphy of life and living, IT jobs, weeds, viruses, elections in Kashmir, terrorism, and to top it all "Adaptation to the environment is the key to success whether we talk of plants animals or human beings".

Loved it. HAPPY NEW YEAR. May you continue to have such "BIOLOGICAL INSPIRATION(S)".

Hip Grandma said...

Renu:I am so glad that there were/are more like me who hated dissections.yeah I deal with formalin even now and it reeeeeeeks!!But however I don't have to actually touch specimen preserved in formalin.Were it not for Genetics I might've ran a marathon away from the Zoo.lab.Happy New Year!

j p joshi:thhank you sir.It is actually comments from people like you that inspire me to write.Thanx once again and 'A happy New year' to you too.

hillgrandmom said...

Happy New Year HHG and what a wonderful way of interpreting life through Biology! Loved Biology too--though Zoology more than Botany.

Ugich Konitari said...

HHG, What a great writeup. You know, someone asked me a question recently on my blog, and I was trying to think of something/an example, which could clarify what I was saying. I wonder if it is sheer coincidence that you blogged about this and I found an answer here ? have a wonderful New Year....

Hip Grandma said...

hillg'mom:Thanks a million and have a great year!

ugich:Thank you and a Happy New Year to you too.Could you link the post mentioned by you.would love to read it.

Ugich Konitari said...

HHG, Thanks for your comments on my recent blog, (which is the one I wrote about in a previous comment here. ). A lady called Devaki, had asked a question in the comments of the same blog. That is what I was trying to answer....and then I pointed her to yours....

dipali said...

Such a beautiful post, HHG! I loved Biology, and enjoyed the froggie dissections too, until one fine day my system could no longer take it.
For years afterwards I couldn't bear the smell of Lifebuoy soap. In college I'd bunk the Zoology practicals and managed to pass without ever dissecting a cockroach!
But, although I didn't study Biology formally after my first year in college, I still find it a fascinating subject. And Mother Nature has tolerated so much nonsense from her ungrateful children, it's high time she taught us a few lessons.
Happy New Year, HHG. Would love more Bio posts.
And, my dear soul sister, looking at trees and plants on my morning walks is something I also find amazingly rejuvenating:)