24 July 2009

Home... it just brings a smile on our face.

Its where you want to go after having a stressful day at work. Its where you want to go at the end of a fun day hanging out with friends. Its where our roots are. Its where our hearts lie.

Its where we had sleep-overs with friends, made tea, watched a movie - everyone wrapped in a single blanket, lights off. Its where we spent the night chatting... discussing everything - from aspirations to fantasies, about puberty and about love.

Its where we made teams and fought over midnight games. Its where we gossiped about all those who weren't around. Its where we grouped and vented our frustrations. Its where we comforted each other... asked each other to just 'hang in there'.

Its where we tried out our new recipes... tested whether our smoke alarm works. Its where we over-slept; tucked our heads under the pillow even as the clock struck 12 on a Sunday morning. Its where we cheered ourselves up with some good music on a Monday as we buckled up our belt. Its where we sat and watched the daylight fading as we sipped some ginger tea.

Its where we battled through leaking roofs, faulty flushes, broken windows and flying insects. Its where we laughed over our fates and joked about our situations. Its where we fought against recurring homesickness and mounting frustrations... its where we celebrated our joys and glittered in our achievements.

Its where we spent our first year in Pittsburgh. Its where we spent our first year in America. Our first home. Behind all those cracking walls lies a place which was nothing short of heaven to us. Walking down centre avenue to 4720, through the dark corridors into apartment 1E ... is our home. It just brings a smile on our face.

We are really gonna miss you a lot!

22 July 2009

When it comes to Science, it easily reminds us of the giants - the likes of Newton and Einstein, Bohr and Boyle, Watson, Crick and Pasteur; these stalwarts shaped our Sciences, shaped our understanding, and laid platforms for the surges of discoveries to come ahead of their times. They succeeded because of their visions - their thinking was beyond what most of us could comprehend.

Yet, there are those names - those you probably never heard of - probably never read about - those names that were swept away by the dust of times, and yet they brought about a difference to the lives of millions of people.

One such is Dr. Jesse William Lazear. This goes back to the 1800-1900s.

Yellow fever produced devastating epidemics with extremely high mortality rates. Normal life was just impossible! It is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. Three hundred thousand people have been believed to have died in Spain owing to this plague in the 19th century (Wikipedia). It causes variable symptoms like fever, chills, bleeding into the skin, jaundice, internal hemorrhages, delirium, coma and finally death. Yellow fever is almost always severe.

Cuba was a very important hot-bed for yellow fever. The British and American troops then in Cuba were struck by this disease that later on claimed the lives of 10% of the population. The statistics were that chilling - 10% of a population were completely wiped out.

Two doctors - Carlos Finlay and Walter Reed began conducting experiments to test their hypothesis that mosquitoes were vectors in causing this viral disease. Jesse William Lazear, a doctor from Johns Hopkins participated in a commission studying yellow fever transmission. He confirmed Finlay's theory that mosquitoes transmitted the disease. But there was something else he hadn't told his colleagues...

"I rather think I am on track of the real germ" wrote Lazear to his wife from Cuba on September 8, 1900. It took just 17 days from then. He had conducted the study on himself - he had allowed himself to be bitten by yellow-fever infected mosquitoes. In course of time, he developed the classic symptoms and succumbed to them at a tender age of 34. His log book became a great source of reference for Reed's studies and finally Finlay suggested mosquito-control strategies which were immediately applied in Cuba thus helping to eliminate the disease in its entirety (in Cuba). Mosquito control, to this day, remains an important method in control of yellow fever.

"He was a splendid, brave fellow," Reed said of his young colleague, "& I lament his loss more than words can tell; but his death was not in vain- His name will live in the history of those who have benefited humanity."

09 July 2009

Over the last few days, 'A' has been pounding me with questions. Questions about India. I was never this motivated to go to lab - these days I just feel like going because she'll be around to ask questions. I think I'd wipe less sweat from my forehead even if I was facing my panel during the PhD exams; this girl asks a new question before I complete answering the previous one.

None of her questions intrigued me so much as the one she asked today. It was not the question about how our languages evolved, not the question about why we eat spicy food, not the one about why we still choose to learn English from our infancy, certainly not the one regarding how a country with a population of 1.17 billion can still have a strong economy. This question was something I had never asked myself... something I never thought I'd have to answer. The question was straight and simple, yet so profound - it would define what I am today.

She asked me: "How does it feel to be an Indian?"

How does it feel to be an Indian? How does it feel to be from a country with a history dating back to thousands of years? How does it feel to be from a country where nearly 2-million criminal cases are 'recorded' under IPC every year? How does it feel to be an Indian where we worship 330 million Gods, speak over 1500 different languages, celebrate more than 365 festivals ... and at the same time ... have increasing reported mortality rates (6 deaths for every 1000 population), even more increasing reported birth rates (22 births per 1000 population), and even in 2009, every hour, at least 18 women become victims of crime?

Should we feel proud to be Indians as we belong to the land of the Mahatma - where we hold the record of not instigating war ever in our thousands of years of violent history? Should we feel proud to belong to the land where 'zero' was invented; where plastic surgery was first performed in 6th century BC; where the greatest of the epics were written and narrated; where the seat of the world's biggest democracy sits; the land of the spices which paved way to the world's greatest silk routes; the land of the biggest movie industry where almost a thousand movies are made annually?

Or are we just from yet another third world country where there are the highest number of tuberculosis infections; a place where there are highest number of deaths due to terrorist attacks almost in the world save for Iraq; a democratic country where nearly 540 Indian Parliament members face corruption charges including embezzlement, rape and murder; a 21-st century economic super power that still struggles with an ancient discriminatory caste system?

How does it feel to be from India where most people can't even sing the national anthem without erring; where our own national animal is facing extinction; where our national game gets the least encouragement; where we still find places that do not get electricity? Or do we bask in glory because nearly 40% of doctors in USA and 40% of employees in NASA are Indians; because India has the second fastest growing economy in the world; because we have a burgeoning IT sector that has made even the Westerners insecure of their jobs?

It all depends on how we see India as. Its not enough to just continue to glint in the stories of our history. At the same time, we have no reasons to stop believing that India has the potential to be the greatest country in the world - it has all the raw materials for it!

How does it feel to be an Indian? Its the toughest question I have ever faced. In a room where there are people from America, Russia, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Colombia and China... its an Indian who's asked 'the' most number of questions about his country. Its tough being an Indian and yet the greatest thing ever. I stay 8000 miles away from home; yet all it takes for me is to see an Indian flag fluttering to give me an adrenalin rush. I still read the Indian newspaper - the story of the death tolls and the story of our rocket sciences. I still drink the Indian tea - with ginger, cardamom and lots of sugar. I live in a country whose culture differs so much from ours, yet my roots hold me firmly and defines me and my personality. I guess that's what it feels to be Indian!

06 July 2009

Cricket remains my favorite sport but I have had to play some really amusing games in the past 24 years of my life. It perhaps isn't what 'normal' guys would play ... but who said I was normal anyway?

Take for example the magical game of 'Princess'. The only way I could entertain two little girls across my street was by playing this enchanted game. It was a simple game of pictionary except that you had to enact certain words whispered in your ear which the other girl guesses. If the girl gets it right, you suddenly chase her and try to catch hold of her within a certain time period. Why on earth would I chase someone if they get the right answer is beyond my comprehension but the rules were laid down strictly by those little girls and I had to abstain from asking too many logical questions. The person with most points eventually wins and is crowned the 'princess'. I had the fortuity to be crowned the most number of times. I am the official princess of our layout :-(

I played this game of 'hopping' over numbered squares (a very common game called 'kuntu-pille' in Kannada). This is a game every kid mostly of the feminine gender plays on their streets in front of their houses drawing squares using bricks and using the nicest smoothest polished stone like a striker. This I played with a group of cousins and unfortunately again, I emerged the reigning champion! I defeated almost 3 girls who carried the experience of at least 4 to 5 years in this game on my debut day!

With this little girl cousin of mine in Pittsburgh, I play snakes & ladders, except that I'm the most miserable failure in this particular game. Ask me why. Technically, I play awesome. I get to climb most ladders, I miss most snakes, I frequently get sixes on the dice... but... and here comes the but... the number 97 (sometimes 99) eludes me the most! That's where you get to be bitten by the last snake on the board - it always bites me! Even if it doesn't ... I still lose. Ask me why again! Everyone hates losing and this little girl takes it personally and attacks me if she loses. In fact, she even attacks her parents if she loses. So, she very conveniently turns the dice in slow motion until she gets the score she wants... to make matters worse (for me) and better (for her), she also adjusts my dice in such ways that I get bitten by every snake on the board not once but twice ruling out any possibility of my victory. Makes me wonder why I even care to play ... but in the end, she's happy = I'm happy!

Then I have this little dynamite in Dallas. I have done the weirdest of things with her. One actively pursued game by both of us was to collect long twigs and sticks. Why you ask me... I dunno! We just happen to collect them... and continue to collect them... until we have lots of them... and then we collect more, all of which we assemble on a table. Then we use them as projectiles to throw them into the creek. I still don't understand what the whole point is here... but her concentration and enthusiasm in doing this motivates me to do the same thing too! She also likes to take me around and show numerous holes she dug with her friends... one fun game we both play with each other is - she writes imaginary letters on my back and I have to guess the word, and then I do the same thing to her - this is something I enjoy because it is so ticklish!

Another little girl used to give me a little Ganesha idol and asks me to tell a story with it... I had to dust off my rusty brain and create such imaginations - in my story Ganesha has played the roles of a police constable, a surgeon, a blood-thirsty villain and even super-man!!!

I wish I had more male-cousins! Then, I'd get to play with Nintendos and play stations... things would be less pinker... games would be less prettier and more competitive. Until that happens... I have to be contented in being a princess - in a land of imagination ... of a little child's mind!

01 July 2009

It has happened again! I always wondered why my blog gets so many hits? Some of my friends call the stuff I write as 'recycled garbage'. Inspite of a million blogs world over which try to make a difference to the society, people prefer my garbage to everything else. How pathetic can society get? How ignorant all of you are. How doomed the planet is!

I like to be pretty blatant (that's pretty blatant and not pretty & blatant FYI) with most of my views... and my recent take on America and her policies hasn't gone all that well with my 'white' friends (I often use stupid in conjunction with the feminine gender... call me a chauvinist pig but I refuse to care)! They think I'm anti-American! Heck! I'm anti-nothing. To prove that, I'm gonna shed off all the negative energy around me and list out the top 10 reasons why I think America's awesome!

Well, for starters, you have the ham burger! Oh shucks! Wait a minute... I don't eat that, do I? The cheese perhaps? Obese American teenagers are a big turn-off... so I'd stay away from cheese for now. Maybe the buildings - ummmm ... I can pretty much draw everything using a scale and a pencil - perhaps they could do with more of Victorian architecture! Awright! Lets get serious!

  1. Lets begin with something I personally care about. The American 'chicks' (is that offensive?) are totally out of this world! Oh good lord! One visit to the gym and that's enough to give me concussions! They are epitomes of perfection. Yeah, there are these can-you-believe-it obese people who can scare the shit out of any of us ... but the rest are ... oh i love summer!
  2. Pittsburgh is so beautiful! Yeah, their trees are separated by fixed distances, the lawns make a right angle at the corners, branches spread out symmetrically, even creeks are geometrically perfect - but bottomline, it is so beautiful! Green is beautiful and Pittsburgh is green all over. Take a nice evening walk at Flagstaff Hill and you'd think life is so worth living!
  3. People are nice. I have heard more apologies and acknowledgments in one year here than in my last 23 years back home! People are simply honest. They fake smiles and attitudes; they do, but they ain't cunning. They are straight forward and don't carry a knife behind their backs all the time. They think lying and plagiarizing are actually crimes! Hilarious!!!
  4. Their time sense is appalling! They come 'at' 8pm if they are called 'at' 8pm. Don't we all think that we need to go to a party late if we are to be considered important guests. Who cares for someone who comes on time?
  5. For someone who sailed pass Bangalore University exams without knowing a shit of how transcription happens (replication is where I stopped studying molecular biology), this country has actually made me think. Textbook theories wouldn't be accepted, research papers were disproved, well-known theories were snubbed at; every damn academician here wants to know what 'I' think about a certain thing. They actually got me to think. Can you even imagine such a thing? And the education system is just awesome!
  6. The civic sense is so good! I have seen kids aged around 3 to 4 years taking tissue papers (discarded by someone else) and throwing them into the bin. Vandalism is not a passion of these people, something we joyously pursue.
  7. They are a stickler for rules. They walk on sidewalks even if the street's empty. They follow lanes; trucks don't prefer to drive in the opposite direction on highways. They stop at 'stop signs' even in the middle of the night or early in the morning. They give way to pedestrians (every visit to the post office in Bangalore was a tryst with death for me)
  8. People are patriotic. It kills me but its true - Indians are probably the only species who bitch about both their home country and the country in which they currently stay! Here, they elect a party to power and provide their full support for it. They applaud when fire fighters or police personnel do a rescue mission.
  9. They are really helpful. Complete strangers have given me their cell phones to make calls to wherever I needed to. Except for air-hostesses in Continental airlines who are demons in disguise, I don't think I ever met a rude American. I have certainly met lots of rude Indians in America. Ironical ain't it? And NRI uncles and aunties should be a banned species!
  10. Their varied climate, though sucks at times, has really made me appreciate so many things I never did before. I have never before craved so much for sunlight or greenery; I had never appreciated the beauty of fall colors (hit the east coast and you'll experience one of the most amazing visual treat ever); I had never seen snow lighter than cotton; I never had hailstones as big as pebbles falling on my head; seasonal changes are those that happen in America. Our seasonal changes ain't really changes at all.
There you go! Now that wasn't hard. I probably would have compiled a post faster if I had to write about America's dying economy, but it did not take me more than 30mins. to write this one. Which country is not screwed up today? At least, I'm happy this nation is giving me, perhaps, the best years of my life ever! Because, 5-8 years from now, I'll be married... and life as you know... hits... rock bottom... then on!