Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Monkey adopts a kitten!

Early last week I had heard from a colleague that a monkey was looking after an abandoned kitten. I couldn't believe that. When I was a kid I had 2 cats as pets. From experience, I know how ferocious the kittens can be. But 2 days later I got a chance to watch this Monkey & cat pair from a close distance. Two of my colleagues tried to take photographs. But the sky was over cast and the built in Cameras of their very expensive mobiles proved worth less. But last Saturday my friend Amol Parab could get the shots - clearly showing the pair!

Photographs © Amol Parab ( amlprb AT rediffmail DOT com )

Sunday, 11 May 2008


(11th May Richard Feynman's birthday.)
Here is an interesting poem by Feynman which I first read in his book "Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track". This is a book of his selected correspondence, edited by his daughter Michelle.

Prof. Richard P. Feynman wrote:

…I would like not to underestimate the value of the world view which is the result of scientific effort. We have been led to imagine all sorts of things infinitely more marvelous than the imaginings of poets and dreamers of the past. It shows that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man.

For instance, how much more remarkable it is for us all to be stuck — half of us upside down — by a mysterious attraction to a spinning ball that has been swinging in space for billions of years than to be carried on the back of an elephant supported on a tortoise swimming in a bottomless sea… I hope you will excuse me if I remind you of this type of thought that I am sure many of you have had, which no one could ever have had in the past because people then didn’t have the information we have about the world today.

For instance, I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think:

There are the rushing waves
mountains of molecules
each stupidly minding its own business
trillions apart
yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages
before any eyes could see
year after year
thunderously pounding the shore as now.

For whom, for what?
On a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest, tortured by energy
wasted prodigiously by the sun
poured into space.

A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea
all molecules repeat
the patterns of one another
till complex new ones are formed.

They make others like themselves
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity,
living things,
masses of atoms,
DNA, protein,
dancing a pattern ever more intricate,
out of the cradle,
onto dry land,
here It is standing:

atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,
wonders at wondering:

I, a universe of atoms,
an atom in the universe.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Nature made choppers!

They say listening to music reduces stress. Ok, I agree. But what I prefer is listening to bird songs.
There is a fashion to have fish tanks at home. It is said watching the fish reduces stress. But I prefer watching birds! ( Thanks to youtube contributors. )

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Cancer's a Funny Thing!

Due to my sheer negligence my large collection of books and old issues of magazines was attacked by termites. Now thanks to my wonderful elder sister things are (nearly) back to normal. But I haven't taken a stock of what is lost and what is saved. One of the articles I was searching in the surviving magazines was an article on an interesting biologist J B S Haldane. Of course, he is well known amongst biologist. And many are aware of a famous quote of him "My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." But what is perhaps lesser known is the fact that he had immigrted to India and died in Bhubaneshwar.
The article I was searching was having a very remarkable poem by Haldene. It was a poem about cancer that Haldane had written when he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. I was really upset with myself when I couldn't get this poem. But thanks to the net I found it!

I wish I had the voice of Homer
To sing of rectal carcinoma,
Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact,
Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.
Yet, thanks to modern surgeons' skills,
It can be killed before it kills
Upon a scientific basis
In nineteen out of twenty cases.
I noticed I was passing blood
(Only a few drops, not a flood).
So pausing on my homeward way
From Tallahassee to Bombay
I asked a doctor, now my friend,
To peer into my hinder end,
To prove or disprove the rumour
That I had a malignant tumour.
They pumped in BaSO4
Till I could really stand no more,
And, when sufficient had been pressed in,
They photographed my large intestine.
In order to decide the issue
They next scraped out some bits of tissue.
(Before they did so, some good pal
Had knocked me out with pentothal,
Whose action is extremely quick,
And does not leave me feeling sick.)
The microscope returned the answer
That I had certainly got cancer.
So I was wheeled into the theatre
Where holes were made to make me better.
One set is in my perineum
Where I can feel, but can't yet see 'em.
Another made me like a kipper
Or female prey of Jack the Ripper.
Through this incision, I don't doubt,
The neoplasm was taken out,
Along with colon, and lymph nodes
Where cancer cells might find abodes.
A third much smaller hole is meant
To function as a ventral vent:
So now I am like two-faced Janus
The only* god who sees his anus.
(*In India there are several more
With extra faces, up to four,
But both in Brahma and in Shiva
I own myself an unbeliever.)
I'll swear, without the risk of perjury,
It was a snappy bit of surgery.
My rectum is a serious loss to me,
But I've a very neat colostomy,
And hope, as soon as I am able,
To make it keep a fixed time-table.
So do not wait for aches and pains
To have a surgeon mend your drains;
If he says 'cancer' you're a dunce
Unless you have it out at once,
For if you wait it's sure to swell,
And may have progeny as well.
My final word, before I'm done,
Is 'Cancer can be rather fun.'
Thanks to the nurses and Nye Bevan
The NHS is quite like heaven
Provided one confronts the tumour
With a sufficient sense of humour.
I know that cancer often kills,
But so do cars and sleeping pills;
And it can hurt one till one sweats,
So can bad teeth and unpaid debts.
A spot of laughter, I am sure,
Often accelerates one's cure;
So let us patients do our bit
To help the surgeons make us fit.
- J.B.S. Haldane

Monday, 15 January 2007

(Our) Friendship day

There are so many special days nowadays that I have stopped keeping a track of them. Every other day there is some XYZ day and you are supposed to send some card to someone, buy and tie some kind of a band, wear some special attire, or buy some variety of flower, ... The list is endless but there is always some special gift or something you must buy. So it is very clear who must be the people who are promoting these new found zeal for newer traditions. One such day during the last week was a so called friendship day. I came to know about it because a film producer launched a film on the theme of friendship and had put huge ads in the newspapers. So I was wondering about what used to happen in the past ? I was thinking about whether the people were all spoilsports before this new industry of 'days' started ?
Incidentally Sunday was Makarsankranti. The day on which Maharashtriyans exchange sweets and remind others to talk sweetly. I am too lazy to keep a track of multiple calendars and making preparations for festivals. But this particular day is easier to remember because it (almost) always falls on 14th January. So one doesn't have to make efforts to remember it. Different states in India have different traditions and festivals. In Gujrat people fly kites on this day. Mumbai having a sizeable Gujrati population also celebrates 14th January as a kite festival. My cousin's maternal uncle was born and brought up in a Gujrati neighbourhood. So he always flies kites on this day and celebrates it in a big way. I traveled to their old neighbourhood ( Girgaum ) and spent 2-3 very memorable Makarsankrantis there. At home when parents were stingy about giving money to us for buying kites, here we had a total contrast. An elderly gentle giant ( he is 6' + ) who used to be as enthusiastic as we kids. He used to order special Maanja ( specially treated, toughned thread ) from Surat/Baroda. There used to be a big pile of kites. Kites of different colours and sizes. The entire day used to be spent in enjoying kite flying. ( with some precious time wasted on some stupid things like having a lunch.) The kite flying used to be full of thrill of kite fights. But the fights used to last only during the day. Kite flying at night used to be an altogether different game. There used to be a big kite specially reserved for the night. At night the kites were flown with paper lamps attached to the thread. Slowly the lamp moves further and further from you and becomes smaller and smaller. It used to be a great scene to watch. Those tiny dots in the sky!

Monday, 1 January 2007

... On the rocks Part-I

Vivek (ex colleague) invited me for a party at his residence. Since it was on a Saturday (30th), it suited me well. A party on 31st Dec is a thing of the past. We never have a holiday on the new year day and I can't afford to take a leave as the pressure of quarterly closing is considerable. So a party on Saturday with no worries about getting up early on the next day was not to be missed.
Took a nice long (solitary, of course!) walk and found Vivek's place after a bit of searching. Though I reached late, I was not the last to reach there. Biryani was perfect. (ordered from the famous Hussein caterers, no relations of Saddam; who was hanged in the morning. BTW though I didn't watch TV, but what was clear from newspaper photos was: A man with a very calm face. )
Somebody filled a glass for me and asked for my preference. But before I could refuse some one said "On the rocks". ( One more 2007 resolution: Be firm and more assertive in declaring the non drinker status). But the word "Rocks" led my thoughts to the real rocks. After all Vivek was an ace rock climber in his college(IITB) days. When I mentioned that, Vivek told us about a recent hike. He had taken his daughter & son to Tikona recently. I was glad to know that the kids enjoyed it immensely.
I can't say much about my hiking/trekking but I have a elder brother and a elder sister who were very enthusiastic regulars. One of the many hobbies of this dear sister of mine is to collect rocks! Mind you she is not a geologist. The samples were picked up just for the beauty of their random colours, contours and shapes. Though I could understand and appreciate this madness, somehow I never caught this infection. I had only used some of the smaller rocks as paper weights. ( Others in the house who used these rocks were some tiny variety of spiders! )
But during the last year I started reading books by Richard Dawkins. Though I had been into birdwatching for a number of years; I had never been interested in learning Biology proper. But Dawkins magic has transformed me into a Biology freak. Now there are 2 areas of Biology which have caught my immediate attention viz, Ecology & Evolution. While reading books about evolution I started wondering about my absolute ignorance of Geology. I find it very surprising that even though we are gathering so much knowledge about the outer space we know so little about what lies below our feet. While reading about evolution we are constantly reminded of the role played by rocks in preserving the past. Now I must know more about rocks. I must try to search those rock samples and put them on my working table. Because these rocks are the pages from Nature's autobiography. The rocks really rock!

Saturday, 30 December 2006

Reading Vs Writing

I had spent years trying to resolve this little paradox. The paradox of Reading Vs Writing!. I used to be a voracious reader but could never learn to write. It's not that I have finally found the solution and would like to run naked in the street shouting "Eureka!". But just decided that the only way to learn writing is by trying to write.
Who encouraged me to take this step ?
About 2 years back, I found myself at home with nothing to do. It was a rainy day and I was down with flu, so had absolutely nothing to do. Just decided to find a favourite novel by Marquez; that I had misplaced somewhere in the house. But luck was not on my side. I searched and searched but could not get the book. As a last resort I tried the topmost shelf of a cupboard which I had not touched in years. All I could get there were some of my old diaries. I used to write a diary in School days but had discontinued it. I had not thrown out this junk as I had not the heart to be cruel to the silly outpourings of a teenager. So with nothing on hand I started randomly reading my old diaries.
I read and read, was lost in my trip down the memory lane. I was brought back to the dreary present when some door-to-door salesman rang the door bell. When I looked at the watch I was amazed to find that I had spent close to 6 hours in reading! Of course, I am not a Marquez, but I certainly had the pleasure of getting lost in a magical world of which I was a part. I had found a time machine of my own making! I decided there and then, I may not become famous or successful but I must start writing a diary so that I can enjoy reading it years later.