Monday, October 30, 2006

Citizen Of The World?

My father was the only one among nine siblings from his family to have moved out of Chennai to make a living in the northern city of Dehradun, then in Uttar Pradesh, now in Uttaranchal, soon to be in Uttarakhand. As he reaches the culmination of his successful career, he has tracked back to Chennai. Needless to say, he has taken to life there like a fish to water, including attending a classical concert each evening at a venue that is no more than a stone's throw away from home.

Mom, on the other hand, breathes and dreams Bangalore. Having spent all her pre-marriage years in Bangalore, she never runs out of stories detailing the magic of Bangalooru, its people, the gardens, etc. There is that distinct glow in her eyes and an unbound enthusiasm whenever she makes plans to visit Bangalore. She often laments the fact that she does not derive the level of satisfaction when bargaining with the Marathi thelewallah as compared to the Kannada vegetable vendor!
My sister has been all over the country, setting up her house wherever she went. But even as she moved from place to place, she finally found her calling in Pune, where she now raises her children and runs her clinic. She, too, has soaked the
Puneri culture and rattles off instructions to her patients in Marathi as if that were her first language. She doesn't consider herself an outsider no more.
Then, consider my aunt in Manhattan, who thinks there could be no other city that even comes close to NYC in terms of livability, all this inspite of incidents like the WTC crash and the forever orange alert. She savors the independence and comfort NYC offers and trashes even the faintest idea of living anywhere else. I hate her audacity but love her panache thats so typical of a Manhattaner. Secretly (not any more), I envy her easy access to the Central Park, the world-famous museums and the Broadway theater.
So where do I belong to? I wish I could say Dehradun or Pune, places where I spent almost a decade of my life each. Or perhaps Madison, that I have begun to love and feel one with during the last three years. I have at some point of time or the other, always sensed each of these cities to be my own, so much so that setting feet on its soil brought forth a unique sense of security. But each time, I move on laden with pleasant memories of a warm past relationship. 'Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?' A favorite interview question: I wish I knew...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Not spoony about this one!

Sure, you’d agree that there are burning issues in the world today waiting to be solved: the Iraq war, North Korea nuclear tests, polio eradication and obesity. But that's not to deter these researchers to perform a systematic longitudinal study researching a very common occurrence, a problem each one of us has faced at some point or the other, but rarely gone beyond lamenting and complaining about. Hats off to these guys who are path-breakers in the field of 'spoon' research. I'm talking about a paper published recently in the British Medical Journal about disappearing teaspoons!

Initially, I found it really amusing and a little absurd that anybody would waste time, money and manpower on such issues. But then I thought about research in general: the whole idea of research is to ask difficult questions, to scientifically explore the causation and thereby find solutions to problems. Its an answer to the intellectual man’s inherent and incessant inquisitiveness. As I analyzed this more, I became appreciative of the fact that schools (in the US and UK among some other countries) encourage this culture among students and scientists. Indeed , the sky is the limit for us to ask perplexing questions and find ways to research them. Why, then, shouldn’t we rightfully know where those teaspoons go from the spoon shelf? Why did I never think of doing a study like this?
Somewhere along this train of thought, I was thinking about the education system in India. There is no doubt that there are advantages in our system that has been producing top quality engineers and scientists who now lead many companies and institutes around the world. Keen sense of mathematics, multi-lingual capabilities and resourcefulness are all ingrained in most of us like nowhere else. But out-of-the-box and novel thinking lags behind in our priorities. For 12 years of schooling, most of us are burdened with heavy bags, homework and unrealistic expectations, to be the winner of a rat-race of sorts that leaves the real essence of life unexplored. Even hobbies are forced onto children by their parents with a vengeance of some kind (for all the things they themselves probably never attempted and achieved)! In all this, there is a huge possibility that one ends up without exploiting one’s special talents in trying forever to be just like everybody else.
To sum up the interesting results of the spoon study, they found that “the half life of the teaspoons was 81 days. The half life of teaspoons in communal tearooms (42 days) was significantly shorter than for those in rooms associated with particular research groups (77 days). The rate of loss was not influenced by the teaspoons' value. The incidence of teaspoon loss over the period of observation was 360.62 per 100 teaspoon years. At this rate, an estimated 250 teaspoons would need to be purchased annually to maintain a practical institute-wide population of 70 teaspoons.”* Incredible!

*MSC Lim, ME Hellard, CK Aitken, BMJ 2005; 331:1498-1500