A bus ride

Posted: December 27, 2007 in Personal

 

I boarded the bus, this evening, to get back home. My car was in the garage and I was compelled to use public transport. There were a few minutes for the bus to depart. Passengers started filling the empty bus but the seat beside me was empty for a while. The driver was having a rather loud conversation with a few frequent travelers. The clamor was unbearable and I was getting impatient. An old lady hopped into the seat beside me and the bus started moving. The old woman was in her mid-fifties. Her clothes were soiled and looked greasy. She carried a gaudy striped purse which was mended in many places. The black hand-made stitches holding the pieces in place had loosened and a wad of old one dollar bills stuck out of the purse. Her face was heavily painted with cheap make-up. The eye-liner was shapelessly used above the lashes. One of her dull eyes had turned opaque with cataract. Her dark purple lips parted revealing her half crooked, half pale brown teeth as she smiled and greeted me. I greeted back.

“Indian?” she asked. It was quite obvious. I smiled and nodded. She looked at me and smiled back. Her gaze rested on my ears. “Nice earrings!” She said. I smiled again. After a while, she repeated,” Very pretty earrings, are they real?” I shifted uneasily in my seat and lied “No, not at all.” She sat quietly. “Then why do you not give them to me?” I looked at her trying to sound calm, “They are a gift from home.” Silence. “I will give you a dollar. Give them to me.” I froze and did not reply. Her expression turned cold. Her eyes glittered as she continued looking at the shining metal. I could see immense rage in her eyes. She hissed,” I have a sister, she is so mean. Some people are good, they give, but some are so mean, they do not give! You know, I feel like pulling her hair and beating her!” I cowered back. Had she asked me one more time, I would have given them to her. I gathered courage while she was still seething in anger. There were quite a few people in the bus. That comforted me. I quickly got up from my seat and alighted at the next stop not bothering to know which stop it was.

Just Do It!

Posted: October 28, 2007 in Personal

Just Do It!

I am not an athlete. I had never raced before. I signed up for the Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run in June. I had begun to realize that I truly enjoyed running. It is not just a sport for me. I run away, primarily from calories, but also from anxiety and sadness and anger. I run to excitement and elation of the endorphins. I decided to seriously train for this 5K for the experience – for the high. I just wanted to complete a five km run in a decent time.

I bought myself a pair of new Nike Air Pegasus 2007+. I scourged through a plethora of websites and articles and finally settled on a training schedule chalked out by Runner’s World. I had a even bigger 5K that day. A mid-term, a class assignment, another midterm, the real 5K, another assignment deadline, all within 41 hours. There was a conflict of time between the race and my mid-term. I had already preponed my exam. By Sunday, I was overwhelmed. I did not know how I could do it and almost compromised on my goal. I will just try to complete the 5K. My lecture on Monday ended early. I was in a dilemma. Should I just take the midterm on schedule and give up the race? (I had a valid excuse!). My troubled mind sought shelter on the treadmill. I went to the CRC and I ran. I ran 4.01 mi in 35 min. I was soaked by the time I was done. I also had my answer. ‘What the heck was I thinking!’ I thought. ‘I will not just complete the 5K, I WILL race.’ I could not let three months of hard work go down the drain.

I decided to stay in the study room. Home would make me cozy and complacent and I had to study for 2 exams and keep up with my training. I had very little time. The day of the race had finally dawned. I had not slept for more than five hours for the past four days and was caffeinated for most of the time. Today, I did not want the caffeine. I put on my Head Sport Tee, my sweat band and took my shoes and shorts with me.

First, I had to attend class, then take my exam and then run. I would wear my shoes just before we leave for Turner Field. The assignment was done, the test was fortunately not so difficult. I arrived at the CRC. Liz gave me my bib. And my Mizuno Tee! We had a team T-shirt. I was to run with my team T-shirt on. I felt the soft silk white garment Liz had put in my hands. I ran my fingers over the cloth and walked off to the changing room in a daze. I changed into my white Mizuno which read – ‘On the move, with Georgia Tech.’ I stared at myself in the mirror. It was too big for me. You could barely see my shorts. But I did not seem to care. I just kept feeling the shirt. I felt like I was an athlete. I had a mission. I had to run, run as fast as my motor units could take me. Strangely enough for that moment, I could imagine a caricature of me, my upper body straight and stream-lined to propel ahead and my lower body; a pair of wheels rotating at full speed – like when you see Asterix when he has had his potion or when Tom is on a hot pursuit after Jerry. I knew as I walked out of the CRC, my gait had changed. I was determined and ready.

The race started at 7pm with the Elite runners at the forefront. I left the start line at 1:38 past the actual start time. I began slow and steady as we climbed the gradual hill on Hank Aaron. I continued at a steady pace till my muscles felt warm and I could sense the heightened blood flow through my lower body. Then, I picked up speed. I had crossed the first water stop at the first mile. We were on Piedmont and turned onto Harris and then on to Courtland Avenue. I could see the descent on Memorial Drive. While other racers were gaining speed on the slope, I was trying to maintain a steady pace, I knew a few wrong strides on the slope and my knee would hurt. I waited for level ground and sped ahead as fast as I could, trying to put behind as many as had gained over me on the slope.

As we turned right on Hank Aaron to complete the last fraction of the mile, I saw the five Olympic rings in gold, glimmering over the finish line. I stared at the rings as I ran towards them. The timer read 25:39. It was dark by now but I think I glowed. I had completed my first 5K in 24:01 minutes.

376 first dates

Posted: September 15, 2007 in Personal

It has been a few days now, since my goldfish – Splatter – fell ill. When I woke up last Thursday morning and checked up on Splatter, he was almost half out of water. His eye abnormally stuck out of water and each time he changed course, his belly protruded out. He floated awkwardly like a buoy bobbing superficially on the calm waters of his pool.

I spent three long hours staring helplessly at him. He was writhing in pain (at least to me, it seemed that he was). The sight depressed me immensely. I was frustrated and almost burst out, ‘Why do you not tell me what is wrong with you? I can help!’ After a few quick calls to my cousins and a confirmed diagnosis from Google, I knew that my baby was suffering from severe indigestion. I would have to starve him for a couple of days and then put him on a fiber-rich diet.

I could hardly concentrate on my course or homework and spent almost all my time near his bowl for the next few days. I could see Splatter swimming around in the water. He was getting better. He responded well each time I fed him. The morning after, he was carelessly making his usual rounds of the bowl, and I again blurted out, ‘Did you even know you were sick just a few hours back?’

And then, it struck me. He can only retain events that occur in a span of 15 minutes. He probably does not recall the great peril he was in, not too long ago. Yesterday was eons away for him. And here I was, still reeling from the episode. He may not even have an idea that he has been going round and round the same bush every day and I am the same person as yesterday and the day before, who has been feeding him. I tapped on the glass to feed him. Sadness took me. I looked into his eyes and muttered, ‘Would you ever remember me?’ Splatter held my gaze for a second too long, his round black eyes boring into mine. He gave a light shrug with his flaring translucent tail and turned to complete his rounds.

Pollen Invasion

Posted: March 28, 2007 in Nature

The pollen count estimates the total pollen concentration in the atmosphere over a period of 24 hours. Pollen levels of 0-30 per cubic meter are considered low and a count of 120+ is high. The count in the city today was a 5499! I was surprised that the visibility had reduced considerably and I felt as if I was driving in a yellow haze. The road looked sick. It seemed ‘jaundiced’ by the pollen infection. The reports informed that oak, sweet-gum, sycamore, birch, mulberry and beech were the miscreants for the sky-rocketing levels of pollen. Every time, I left my desk to go out, I felt dusty. My nose tingled. I felt smothered by the yellow blanket, my eyes burnt and my head was heavy. Never had I imagined or experienced a phenomenon such as this before. Below is a picture of a trash can by the road side at Emory, covered with pollen.

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Spring

Posted: March 24, 2007 in Nature

Spring Break was almost over. It was time to get back to the grind. I was on my way to my lab at Emory and I drove past Piedmont Park at quarter past eight this morning. It was pleasantly quiet at the park. Women in their mid-sixties wobbled in groups along the concrete track in the park. I caught a glimpse of a few joggers on the far side of the park; their wet shirts revealing the intense activity they had been through on this beautiful calm morning. With the temperature warming up to almost 78F, the trees had already begun to look green. I remembered what a friend said to me a couple of days back. After the bizarre winter, with no signs of the temperature rising even above 60F, I found it incredulous when he said that Spring was round the corner. He said, ‘The trees are changing color… they know it is time.’ I was all ready for another bout of cold weather but he was right. It got warmer. All along the expanse of the park, I could see lush young green grass. The sidewalk presented a cheerful medley of purple and white cherry blossoms. If only the light at the intersection of Piedmont Road and The Prado could never show me Spring; I could wait for hours and watch the park.

As I drove towards Ansley Park, I smiled. I was reminded of the famous poem ‘Leisure’ by W.H. Davies.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

The North Druid Hills offered another pretty site – A meandering road that seemed to go right into the woods. You needed to go some distance to actually see the buildings hidden in the trees. The lake that nestled in the hills was bared by the winter. The tall trees were beginning to cloak the view again. Here too, pink cherry blossoms had bloomed in abundance. The view was breath-taking. I felt greatly fortunate when I realized that I could treat myself with this view every single day, for the coming few months. Then I would the watch the canvas in a bright warm color scheme and experience the unveiling of the lake again in fall and wait to yet again be mesmerized by this display of Nature.

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Paranoia

Posted: March 14, 2007 in Research

I turned into the parking lot of my apartment thinking and rethinking if today’s lab-work went well. Eight full hours of hard and knocking gradients had already numbed my brain. I tried hard to recollect every minute detail of my experiment. I took the sample of fixed tissue out of the container. (The sight never ceases to awe me and disgust me at the same time .) I held the whole brain under water and gave it a thorough wash, feeling each sulcus and gyrus as I started from the frontal pole to the occipital lobe. I had realized that I had cuts on my fingers. I had covered each one of the cuts; big or small using all the bandages, knuckle bandages, butterfly clasps and tapes I could find before I wore my gloves. Six of my ten fingers had pale coffee colored bands on them. All the protective gear had been in place.

It was well past midnight and I was ready to go to bed. I lay in my bed, awake. Something was bothering me. I could not figure out what it was. ‘Maybe I did not lock the door to my apartment.‘ I got up to check. As I went past the shoe rack, my eyes fell on the shoes I had worn today and instantly I smelt animal odor. My nasal cavity seemed full with the scent; very pungent and very disturbing, just like you feel chlorine when you accidentally inhale water while swimming. I immediately squatted on the floor to examine my shoes. The shoe-cover had slipped once… just once. I looked to see if I could find anything on the sole. Nothing. I had touched the shoe with bare hands. I ran to the sink, my heart pounding. I washed my hands with Purell- twice. For a moment, I wished those hands that touched the shoes were not mine.

After what seemed like an eternity, I went back to the shoe rack. I tried to sense the odor again. There was none.

Monkey Business

Posted: July 15, 2006 in Research

The asphalt radiated heat as I walked down the dusty road to my office on what seemed one of the cooler Georgian summer days. I was dripping with sweat. I could not wait to get to my cool air-conditioned cubicle. This was going to be one of my hardest days. For the first time ever, I was going to scan four anaesthetised monkeys. The vet and the technicians were all ready to start while I changed into the most uncomfortable dress with an equally discomforting name: Personal Protective Equipment – PPE for short. The gloves make my hands sweat in the coolest of places and the procedure mask causes my protection screen to cloud each time I speak. I remembered the day I was asked how I felt about working with monkeys. ‘That will not be a problem. Research has to be done and if monkeys are needed, they should be used’ – I had firmly replied to the lady in the HR office. Now I was hoping she does not see me today. My hands shook as I adjusted the rectal thermometer and then positioned the oxygen tube. I tried to immobilise the poor animal with the ear bars. The vet snatched the bars from me and pushed them right into the monkey’s ear. ‘Do not worry, you will not hurt him. Just push them fully in and tighten’, he said and smiled. Gently, I pushed the patient table into the scanner and got ready for a peek into the sedated brain. Within an hour, we were done with the ten year old rhesus. What I did in that hour, I do not remember. It was time for the second one. This setup was no better than the first one. After almost eight faint hours, I heaved a sigh of relief as we packed up for the day. Even after handling 14 monkeys now and with many more to go, I find it difficult to make this duty, ‘just another task’ on my to-do list.