Monday, November 22, 2010

Ailing Curiosity
bibeebeeBEEP.......bibeebeeBEEP..........bibeebeeBEEP..... hmmmmm.... guud morning...... what time is it?...... nearly seven... no biking today.... mmmmmm.... let's sleep in.... zzzz.... maybe not.... If Jawahar Bhaiyya wakes up... it'll be an hour before I can use the bathroom. Alright! Let's leave my island bed and cross the Great Barrier Reef of Clutter to get to the bathroom...

And so started my Sunday morning.

People are astounded by how/why I wake up early on Sunday. Frankly, I have nothing better to do. The world averages eight hours of sleep a day, a third of its lifetime. What a waste! I wish we could do away with it entirely. But what would I much rather be doing? Something worthwhile perhaps. I would workout or go biking maybe, but it's not happening today. The other worthwhile thing would be to get some work done. ....yeaaahhhh..... Work! I need this experiment done. It'd be cool to see the phenotype. And based on where that takes me, we could do this... and that and oh yes, that too. Wouldn't it be sweet if I saw this... Yooohooo.... (strange echoes eerily like boss's voice) *Don&Jay... You're not sleeping, so stop dreaming. Quit slacking an get back to work*

Although, it would be cool if I can find out how Bre1controls stem cells, while its other as yet unestablished partners in crime have such different affects. But wait... I need to make this DNA and that fly, put horns on this protein and a tail on that... yada yada yada. The cloud of slithering lists of experiments hides the sunshine of joy.

Somewhere around the afternoon I take a break. It's been like this well before the qualifying exam: Long days and longer nights spent in lab, fretting over slippery steps to the big experiments. I've been doing this project for a long while now, and quite frankly, I've stopped asking questions. I don't feel very curious any more. The course of my project was wisely mapped out very early on, chiefly by the Boss. I'm following it, and veering slightly when I have to. It's a very efficient plan, well thought out and structured, almost corporate in its design. That's how people who have gotten anywhere, function: systematically and disciplined. One needs the right tools to do the right experiment. I'm in the arduous process of making them. 'Arduous' only begins to describe how it feels. At times the disappointment of failed attempts is suffocating. To add insult to injury, I did everything right. So I do everything right, again, and hope it works this time.

Well, on my break I run into Brent. He's a well built guy of 28 (I think). His eyes make him look fifty, his teeth, sixty. He's in lab most of his wakeful hours. His boss has framed covers of several top tier journals in his office, all baring data from the lab. Brent himself has his name on a couple of them. I've seen his talks. They are packed with findings (data). He is a brilliant researcher and will probably do really well. I ask him how he is. He says "if I can just finish this western (blot) I might do something with my Sunday."
At this point a good clean result gives me as much joy as gossip to gossip mongers and sighting one of five survivors of a species to birdwatchers. So a Sunday spent in lab is like preparing for a hopefully pleasurable date. You never know what it'll turn out to be like.
I'm a graduate student, in the business of finding things out. We're supposed to be lean mean meme machines. It takes an innate urge to uncover and connect nature's dots. That urge is ailing in me right now. Curiosity is really truly suffocating within. When one has to troubleshoot every single experiment the light of the end of the tunnel seems to fade. Einstein's famous saying "Subtle is the lord but not malicious" seems like such a load of BS. It's like being stuck in limbo. I tell myself to keep at it. But then, when your boss sits you down and says "We have to make progress... if that means spending less time in the lab, so be it." Your PI telling you that feels like watching vultures circle above you, when you're still not dead.

But then, when things start to work, little by little, one feels encouraged. Getting a single reagent ready for which you have struggled for months feels like progress. It's at least one step closer to that experiment which'll give me a peek under nature's "subtle" shroud.

Honestly, I didn't finish this post in one sitting. I think I'm getting there. The emotional reinforcement of each successful experiment (I need so many of them right now) is twice as strong as each setback of a failed experiment. I really really like what I do and hope to be able to keep doing it. I can't let that curiosity and sense of amazement at new finding die. Data God please smile upon me. Give me a reason to live and nurture curiosity.

Friday, February 19, 2010

In the Here and Now

I'm a dreamer. I dream of outstanding discoveries, splendid mountaintops, flying, snoozing on a sheet of wind off a cliff, relishing good food, familial bliss and more. I dream of their fulfillment at least once during the course of my life. I hope to be able to afford that sort of fun and still be a good son, brother, friend and so on. I've come to realise that realistic dreams have a price tag! They need money. You can't trek to Mt Everest, or snorkel in Lakshadweep for free. Being in science doesn't give you much money. Added to that, is the fact that to stay afloat in science you have to invest MOST of your living hours in work. So I work as much as I can in the hope that life can ration as much fun as possible into my time on this planet. (Here I hide the fact that I have nothing better to do than work). Like many people I know, you work as hard as you can right now, so that later on, life can be cushy.

But somethings nudge me out of that expectant daze. Somethings make you forget the glees and worries of the past and future. You are grasped by the Here and Now. I have felt this before and felt it again yesterday at the Argentine Tango class. The perfume of human touch and warmth of a smooth voice hung in the room. Lilting notes of Nuevo Tango flitted above the polished wooden floor and Andrei and Kathy swivelled to them... in beautiful, sensuous harmony. Andrei teased playfully with complex moves as she followed with knowing grace, responding in ways that made her ten times as gorgeous. Andrei would pull a surprise once in a while, make staccato transitions into steps and halt after a quick couple of moves. Kathy would follow and smile in enjoyment. The enjoyment of not knowing what move the next heartbeat will bring. As the beat picked up, they glided over the dance floor pivoting, swirling and turning in unison. Like their souls connected at her palm and shoulder blade. And then, at then the song finished. Though they reached an awesome finale, they could have gone on. Rather, I wish they would have... at least a little bit.

Tango is a beautiful danceform. But this thrill of not knowing what the next moment will bring is what captures me in the present. I've felt the same while playing table tennis with Yunus and Iliyas in 11th and 12th. You never knew how they would spin and place the ball. It was the same thrill when Kanitkar was at the crease on the final ball against Pakistan and scored the four runs needed to win the match. I guess the suspense of the result of an experiment can come close, but the pain in getting to that point numbs it a tad.

And after the dance is over, the ping-pong ball returned to the other court, the match is won, and a meaningful experiment is done, I return relishing the moment that was. But only for a while. You keep looking forward and working so that in time the moment will return and enrich life with a new experience like a sensation of weightlessness, a new landscape, poetry and the pleasure of finding things out.