Petrichor

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It’s been raining for a couple of days. The grey in the sky dulls out the exuberant fall colours around me. A few cars ply the road below my window, and I hear occasional creaks from the attic above, shuddering at the idea of more mice in the house. I slept without blinds on and it seems that the overnight downpour has percolated into my room, and has made me reek of Kolkata and my bed smell like Bangalore.

Back in Bangalore, I remember I once complimented a girl on such a drenched day, by naming her Meghbalika. I told her that I could write a whole world for her, even with the constant supply of internet cat videos and social media virality surrounding us. My outdated stories with sentimental princes and princesses stood no chance, she said, especially when pitted against high fiving cats. Meghbalika hated the rain, so I biked in the rain to get her an umbrella. As we walked back, a few minutes later, she probably realized that the umbrella was completely ineffective, so she threw the umbrella and her caution to the wind, and jumped onto a puddle and bathed me in street water.

As a school kid, when asked to write an essay on rainy days, I often used to start off by recalling a dream involving a yellow bird on a tree. In truth, that wasn’t my dream, rather an inter-generational dream loan from my mother. I had read one of her essays, and the dream motif of a yellow bird on a tree in the essay created a lasting impression. So here’s how the rest of my rainy day essay would go – school called off, so I would frolic around the house, chomping on Monsoon special snacks, when I notice a destitute on the road, getting drenched without protection, and we would call him to our house, give him clothes to wear and food to eat and then some money before he would take our leave after the rain stops. In that merry world of juvenile justice and equality, my rainy day would stand for cleaning out the dust on the road, and not for clogging the drains.

In Joy Gossain’s poem, the Meghbalika, a dancing cloud fairy he met as a child, drove the poet out of his known universe, to a journey he undertakes alone to write a whole world worth of letters. Years later, when the memory of the Meghbalika has waned and the poet realizes his whole life’s efforts have resulted in nothing but some blank pages, he returns to his childhood abode, only to observe that cloud fairies still dance in that forest, but his old muse, his original cloud fairy, now they call her rain fairy, has forgotten him and lives in that land of everlasting rain, dancing and enticing new travellers.

I cozy myself into the blanket further, and while away yet another grey Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

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Elo-melo

We needed milk, eggs and bread. It was already evening, the sun was still up, painting the surrounding in a tone of ochre. It was an elo-melo (in Bengali, means haphazard) day, and I didn’t want to do anything. It wasn’t late, but the air was heavy with a weekend kind of loneliness. Biking down Greenbelt Road to the nearest grocery store is an exciting chore, though.

My lazy laptop screen blinked, notifying me of yet another news about how the world was going nowhere. North Korea tested nukes, it seems. Just another bad world news that I’d shrug off insouciantly, except, I suddenly remembered that baba is on a tour to Seoul. I checked my phone, I spoke with him only minutes ago. It’s funny how the world is suddenly so small. The top three names in my Messenger are now all at very different parts of the globe.

I like the wind splashing across my face when I bike in the highways here. There is a thrill, and a numbing sensation as if I am racing away from life, hundreds of rpm-s at a time. Now the initial excitement of settling down to a new life has died down slightly. Buying groceries and cooking are regular chores now, and not daily adventures. Did Anshuman buy juice? I might have forgotten to close the window in the kitchen. Don’t need to cook anything for the night. There is a lot of pasta still, from yesterday. The brakes are not working perfectly, the gears are working much better than yesterday though. My back is still hurting from yesterday’s visit to the gym. The sky is red now, and the almost full moon is right ahead of me. An electronic tune kept playing on a loop inside my head, but I couldn’t recognise it right away.

Nine years ago, on this day, I remember standing in front of the electric oven in Keoratala burning ghat. My grandmother had just lost her battle with cancer. I remember I wasn’t as awash with grief as my current self would like to imagine. The fire was fiercely sad, though.

I got a fortune cookie earlier today, when I went to the chinese restaurant in our neighbourhood for lunch. I forgot what it said actually, but it was corny, like all fortune cookies. But I liked the way the waitress smiled, she seemed like a kind lady.

I hate facebook nowadays, It reminds me exactly how my life has diverged from those with whom I used to be joined at the hips even till a few days ago. I can’t help but feel jealous. Sridevi told me a few days ago that lack of Vitamin D can cause depression during winters. It’s just fall now. But Sundays are a bit like winter. What if days were like seasons?

Can’t wait for summer.

 

 

Uncle Sam

“Americans don’t have a sense of humour. You know that right?”, Kaustuv said, attempting to undermine my admittedly poor joke. And thus he joined the evergrowing list of people who have given me a myriad bunch of opinions about the country I am going to move in for the next few years, aka, US of A. I am not denying my PJ deserved a tick off, but did it really deserve another observation on the country of the big brother, of a thousand nukes and Hollywood, of big Macs and bad hombres? Et tu, Kaustuv?

When I informed my friends and family that I was going to go Pile Higher and Deeper in USA, I was bracing myself for the nuggets of wisdom alright. After all, this is the US, the number one country in terms of attracting global opinions. My left liberal friend smirked, asking me if I need to get a visa for US or Russia. My communist friend was aghast. I heard mumbles about Castro and Vietnam, and didn’t hear back from her for weeks. My anarchist friend was more deliberating. He was happy I was going to a place whose political supremo disavows politics. “He doesn’t know what he is doing, so he must be doing the right thing!” Then there were people concerned about the state of my facial hair. “Shave before immigration. Your surname could be confused with SRK’s first name!”

My tea loving post colonial family uncle reminded me, with true colonial snobbery, that all Muricans are uncultured rich brutes, without the veneer of grandmotherly monarchy or the polish of umbrella weilding English gentleman. “Bujhle Khoka, in a gentleman’s club they once announced that anyone who cracks the funniest joke will win membership and free tea for a year. Many days passed and many wannabe tea lovers thronged the club, but none could crack the club members up. Finally a young lad came and started his joke- ‘An American Gentleman once…’ The board members roared in laughter, holding their tummies, and rolled on the floor. Finally they asked the lad to stop and gave him two years free tea offer. Hue hue..”, he guffawed spraying crumbs of Marie biscuit at me. “Arre, today American science is at its place because of Hitler. All the European scientist bhodroloks fled Europe na, and where could they go but the Americas, bolo? But deep down, the country has no culture.”

But my grandfather wouldn’t concur. An ex army man and physics lecturer, he visited the Americas more than a decade ago and was instantly enamoured with their facilities and most importantly, their fruit juices. “Nothing like our packed juices, okay? One tetra pack after I woke up and I wouldn’t eat again for the whole day, such was the amount of protein in their juice!”

My doctor agreed. “Calcutta is dead, and India will follow. I was crossing Jadavpur University yesterday and I saw students sauntering out of the campus, smoking cigarettes! Where is the discipline? Why is the West great? Arre baba, they are punctual and disciplined! Even their Johnson baby shampoo is better! In India it’s made with substandard material, because of corruption.”

“There is beef in chicken also there, baba re!”, said my aunt. “Have you taken enough garam masala and panchphoran?” Also I was reminded by everyone about the exact amount of paper that Americans waste in the loo. “Number one reason behind deforestation. But remember to use enough, our digestive system is not compatible with less paper. Americans don’t take bath also. Why are they so kanjoos about water!? So many lakes they have no?”

God (and maybe NSA) knows what is waiting for me in Amrika.

*Exaggerations are for art’s sake, and without malicious intent. 😛

Transition

I’m in denial when it rains and I’m outside. I’d like to think I like it, letting my poetic juices flow with the drops of rain; but more often than not, I am afraid I’ll wet my head and exhibit my bald spots. And Bangalore is a tricky place, you can never be prepared for the showers.

So I got caught in the rain, walking back alone after saying goodbye to a good many people whom I was probably not going to see again for a few years – friends with whom I had spent more than just the last 4 years. I tried to be adult, gave them tight hugs, paid my share of the bill for ice-cream and shots, made vows to meet again in a year. It was the evening after convocation, and I had thankfully gotten out of my formals before going out to our usual gastronomic destination, New Bel Road, before the rains struck.

Point is, I’m bad at goodbyes. I fumble with the words. Especially if the goodbyes are the sad type. And I am woefully soppy, nostalgic, and often anhedonic.

Tears welled up, nicely hidden by the layer of rain water on my face. I wanted things to remain as it is. I wanted to preserve my years in college for eternity. The classes, clubs, magazines, projects, fests, love. Perhaps preservation is the wrong word. I wanted them to continue, unchanged. Biking late to class without having breakfast. The hated laboratory sessions and the impervious theory classes. Insidious administration and inspiring interactions with (some) professors. And my hostel. Clothes heaped alongside reams of papers under my bed. Books and laptop strewn on the bed. Memories of the many first times. Late night snacks with floormates. Heated arguments about every irrelevant issue in the world. The whiteboard which saw some spurts of activity interspersed with long periods of no use. The cobwebs on the far wall.

The images flashed, like divine powerpoint slides, blurred through the layer of water. Salty and fresh.

The torrents gave way to drizzles. Parts of IISc look hauntingly beautiful after it rains. The road from Bel Road gate to Janta Bazar, falls in that list. I continued walking. The road seemed good for a thousand more memories, even with the hundreds I had already made.

As Lily, who is always right, said, life is full of changes, but the important stuff remains.

To the important stuff.

 

 

Kiss

klimt-kissDuring my train journey from Aachen to Berlin, in a station whose name I can’t immediately recall, a couple boarded the train, snugly comfortable in each other’s arms, the woman’s head resting on the clavicle of the man. They sat a few seats ahead of me, and in no time, started kissing.

My voyeuristic instincts were piqued, but I am an honourable man, and I avoided watching them directly. Minutes whiled away, the playlist on my earphone threatened to repeat. I lifted my head from the book in hand, and saw that they were still in that fervid embrace, mouths busy in transferring genetic memories, beads of sweat glistening on their foreheads even in the comfortable air conditioning.

How were they breathing? The suffocating grasp of torrid passion clasped their bodies together, and the distance of clothing couldn’t dampen the needs of their writhing bodies. Perhaps they became a singular organism, breathing in through one pair of nostrils, and breathing out through the other. I was but a passive observer, but I was an audience to a cosmic dance of love; and by virtue of my keen interest and ability to decode the pheromones in the air, I was privy to their secret messages which spilled out in the surrounding atmosphere. I could hear their silent cries of lust, longing and despair, and feel the reverberations of their act of defiance against the whole fucking world. It was clear that the kiss was a farewell one.

Perhaps they started kissing in 1939 Berlin, before the man had to go underground to hide his branded star. Maybe they kissed across the jail rods in 1990 Cape Town, where the woman had been incarcerated for her colour. They could also have started kissing recently, in Aleppo, before the man had to take a boat to Greece for a recce journey. Maybe they just kissed under the star-kissed sky over Bastar forest, well aware that they by the end of the night, they will both be dead from police’s bullets. Or, perhaps, they were from the future, kissing across the orange wall bordering Mexico.

Outside, the German countryside was running backwards at a dizzying pace.

Did the microbiota in their shared saliva know that they were going to separate soon? A part of the other would continue growing in their own bodies, were the couple aware of that? Their whole future life would bear witness to this moment of passion, as millions of organisms from the other person would multiply and thrive in their bodies. When later they spend their lonesome nights separately, will they remember that they still harbour bacteria from that last kiss on the train, before they parted their ways?

The next station came, the train was to stop for a few minutes. They got up, and after waiting for the other passengers to get down, stood at the door, resting against each other. Finally, the man got down, the woman stayed at the steps, inside. She leaned outward, and kissed him. This time, a shorter, more matter of fact, reserved peck. The lips parted, the door closed, the bacteria separated. She got back to her seat, and the train started moving.

Roots

I was sitting in the lazy December sun, in the south facing balcony of our native house, reading English, August. A myriad of small town sounds surrounded me, successfully thwarting my desperate attempt to concentrate on the book. The tenant’s girl downstairs loudly read her secondary chemistry. Masons chattered away while working rhythmically in the house under construction nearby. Ma was chatting with the housemaid as she cut Note Shaak for our lunch. My grandfather, the sole resident of the house now, was reading the newspaper, unknowingly breathing in a periodic manner, according to a IMG_20161230_133915203.jpghalf forgotten exercise from a TV health show. I could hear my father on the other end of the house, talking in a highly accented Hindi with his clients on phone; they wouldn’t leave him alone even for a couple of days of vacation. Cycles and motorbikes plied occasionally on the road below, and exchanged pleasantries with the people on the road in a way only small town residents can. The quilt that I was using the night before, rested beside me to catch the sunlight, and a stream of dust spiralled up in the shard of sunlight above.

I was finding it difficult to read about the listless life of a young and disillusioned Indian civil servant with the humdrum recitation of the periodic table in the background. Nostalgic phantasms of halogens and chalcogens steered the mind away easily.

In the closed verandah, there was a small drainage hole where the wall and the floor met. As a kid, I had to judge its position accurately while playing with my exceptionally bouncy ball, much to my father’s ire. Another time, a bunch of monkeys raided our house for the guavas and Sajina flower, and climbed up the railings. I distinctly remember one of them sitting on the balcony ledge, oblivious to my grandmother’s loud excoriations. Only after finishing its guava peacefully and decorating the ledge with a freshly minted turd, did it take our leave.

Kanthi, the town, has a distinct old world impression in my mind. I used to visit the town, the native of my parents, only about once a year during my entire school life. Now that I live in Bangalore for college, the visits are even rarer. During each trip, my grandfather would announce a new list of acquaintances in the town that have passed away in the duration of our absence, and my parents would commiserate with anecdotes from their childhood. A thread of absurdity held all stories together, although they never felt out of place there.

Only the day before, while returning from Digha, the beach nearby, my grandfather was telling us the story of the first offer of marriage that he received. Apparently the girl’s father, impressed by his struggles in pursuing higher education, offered him his daughter’s hand in marriage along with half their land. My great grandfather, whose interest had been piqued by this incredible offer, decided to visit the girl’s family to see her. On the eve of leaving for their house, which was half a day’s journey away from his own village, he suffered a massive stroke and passed away. With such a sinister omen befalling before the possible union, my great grandmother went to a famous astrologer with the girl’s horoscope. After long calculation, the astrologer wrote down some numbers on a piece of paper, and connected them in the form of a serpent. Of course, marriage was out of the question. As we drove through the narrow road back from the beach, and the setting sun hid behind a grey, almost dark sky, and wispy fog rose from the paddy fields far away, the story sounded absolutely credible.

The tenant’s daughter raised her voice a notch. Restless, I got up and decided to take a walk around the house.

The roots of the present grow deep into the fissures of the brickwork of time, and sometimes, peeping into one of cracks in the plaster, we see time, frozen and immobile, shining out through the façade. Old photos and memorabilia scattered around the house offered snapshots of forgotten episodes of our collective history.

My grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer when I was in class 7. After months of treatment, which took away much of her strength, she returned to Kanthi, her home, in July 2008. Katun, as I call her, was deeply religious. Her days would revolve around the lunar cycles in the almanac, and ceremonies of varying levels of importance would be marked in her calendar. She hardly changed her schedule even as her stamina ebbed with the multiples doses of chemotherapy. She would call us in Kolkata and inform us about the ritual that had to be followed on that day regularly, but the strain in her voice grew worse with time. In August, feeling unwell, she came to Kolkata, and passed away on September 4th, of septicemia.

There was an old calendar hanging on the wall beside the dining table. Dusty and yellowed, it was from the Kanthi daily newspaper, and had an overlay of the lunar calendar with the normal Gregorian months mentioning all the festivals. Taking a closer look, I realized it was from 2008. The last page that had been flipped, which was the one on top, was from August, 2008. There, right in front of our blind eyes for almost nine years, was something that had been last touched by my grandmother, before she left home for the last time.

“Vapour of Chlorine is yellowish green in colour and ….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry for Neera

This poem is for no one, Neera, but you,

This poem is directed to your empty mouth at midnight

 

When, you, waking up suddenly, sipping water,

Will bite your tongue and for a moment, wonder,

Who is it that is remembering you so late into the night?

Then, each line word letter comma dash colon and fullstop

From this poem, will race towards you, your face

Mellowed by the trance of slumber, hair undone –

My silent words like my warm breath in bed,

Will aim for you; like the arrow from an expert archer

Will pierce you, only you.

 

Don’t be scared, Neera, you sleep, I am in a land far far away,

My dangerous hand will not touch you tonight,

My impossible heat, passion, lust and muffled cries

Won’t frighten you; my passion

Flickering like the tepid candle flame,

Will reach you through my words and letters.

When they kiss you , you wouldn’t even know –

Even if they stay with you for the whole night,

In the same bed, you wouldn’t wake up; in the morning,

They will be at your feet like dead moths –

Their presence immortalized only in the deepest pores of your body.

 

When I meet you many days later, unplanned like a waterfall,

You would laugh, oblivious and innocent, Neera,

And I will keep looking at your beautiful face –

While continuing the small talk, I will caress you,

In public, only before my mind’s eyes.

 

You wouldn’t even guess – Neera, your whole body bears witness

To the words in my very personal poetry.

 

(Translation of “Neera-r Jonyo Kobita-r Bhumika”, by Sunil Gangopadhyay)

The GRE conundrum

 

My GRE exam is in two weeks, which implies that all my normative activities are currently abeyant. I had imagined that my endeavours as a budding scientist would circumduct  around science, but no, the ludicrous perdition of an exam requires me to improve my lexicon.

words_istock_000015756375_large1Now I was a tyro in this exam practice business, and put up a semblance of confidence about taking the test. I was at my Pollyannaish best, even being complaisant enough to help out others. I thought I was comfortable with the English language, so I shrugged off the  portends of the GRE exam insouciantly, almost with effrontery. Like others, I took umbrage at the obvious avarice of ETS.  But I underwent a vicissitude and my  chimerical bubble shattered soon enough; and I realised that while my English was savvy enough for quotidian activities like reading, writing and talking, GRE was a different beast to tame.

And soon enough I got exposed to the litany of Word Lists available on the internet, and they all turned out to be redoubtable. I thought maybe reading novels would be an expedient way of learning words, but none of the novels could tell me what a palimpsest was. Dolorous clouds hovered in the horizon of my mind, and prognostication of terrible, err, abhorrent marks in the exam became contingent. My earlier ephemeral complacence transmuted to  apprehension, and the maudlin nostalgia of a younger, artless life overpowered me. I started asking existential questions regarding the epistemology of life, and whether the travails of GRE vocabulary building would result only in a pyrrhic victory.

But my peripatetic journey through word lists were not without their perquisites. I learnt that noisome didn’t excite the ears as much as it did the nose; and maunder was just a proxy word for meander. However ,my attempts to  enrapture my peers with diction were met with repudiation; with many of them disavowing their friendship with a dilettante with an ostentatious choice of words. They impugned my importunate tendency to engage in turgid loquacity. They eschewed me when they had their occasional powwows, and I was left  forlorn and lugubrious.

With the universe conniving to stymie me in my journey to lexicographic glory, I turned a phlegmatic ear to the objurgations. Instead of becoming elegiac, I decided to take this ponderous journey alone, steadfast, with only Magoosh as my appurtenant.

However, sometimes in the middle of the night when phantasms of flashcards carrying unintelligible words wake me up, I try to remind myself that I was here to do science.

What the coitus.

 

Corridor Talks 1 : the social responsibility of future scientists

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Corridors in my hostel become centers of discussion on various topics at night, ranging from the extremely banal to the fantastically esoteric. What I missed the most in my summertime sojourn  in Germany were these nocturnal powwows in my corridor, where knowledge and opinions fly in the air.

I am into my last year in Bachelors, which means that most of the conversations with my batchmates revolve around the future. Being an undergrad in primarily a research institute, most of our future plans involve trying to become like our seniors in the institute – grad students, people whom we love to hate (especially when they are checking your papers) and hate to love (when they teach you better than your professors). The process to becoming a grad student is a stressful one, what with applications, exams and the hunt for recommendation  letters. But the biggest source of stress is in the decisions that need to be taken. Graduate School is the most significant investment of possibly the most productive phase in one’s life. So it’s not surprising that existential questions arise in our minds – one of the many battles to fight before we embark upon the next step in our careers.

Now this blog post isn’t about making peace with myself regarding the stress of the purported career choice, it is about another pertinent issue that shapes our future.

It all started after we attended a talk on the “Joys of discovery in modern science”, by Prof. Ananthanarayan, a senior professor in IISc. This kind of a talk is quite rare in an institute like IISc; it is often assumed that people who are in here are already enthusiastic about science and don’t need occasional motivation. No wonder the talk was meant to be a trial run for another talk that he was invited to deliver to a general public outside IISc. The crux of Ananthanarayan’s talk was that modern science has been largely driven by the urge of human beings to discover the unknown, the promise of scientific glory and the immense joy of discovery. While the talk went on for about an hour, we spent more time in our corridor at night, dissecting and analysing the talk which gave rise to some interesting insights. This blog post is a distillate of that nightly discussion.

The question that we tried to address was about whether scientists should pursue science with possible applications in mind, or whether the research that they do should be left aside to be something that they prefer to do, without the extra baggage of societal applicability. This is, in fact, not such a straightforward decision. In many professions we are inspired to follow our passion and that’s the end of it; it is assumed that the zeal of an individual can drive that person to maximum productivity. However, it is often impossible to turn a blind eye to the world around us when it comes to the career that we choose. A 15 minute drive around Bangalore is enough to evoke in you a sense of privilege that we have began to associate ourselves with, so naturally. The stark inequality and deprivation even in the lives of many people in a metropolitan city like Bangalore is enough to make you feel privileged. Recently when Noam Chomsky visited India and was on the same cab with Aruna Roy, he was shocked to see many mendicants on the road of our capital city. Roy, a social activist herself, told Chomsky, that in India, “you have to be blind in order to walk the roads.” Otherwise, the disparity in the conditions of the lives of people will engulf any sentient human being with a sense of guilt.

The reason that I am able to study in a premier institute in our country has to do with the financial stability that my family has gifted me with. Chances are, that if I had been exchanged at birth in the hospital where i was born, I would be leading a life of much less stability, and most probably without the freedom to pursue the career of my choice, which is to become a scientist.

When I was preparing for my entrance examinations after high school I was enrolled in a coaching institute where I was one of the more meritorious students, in the sense that the institute identified me as a potential “rank material” among my other colleagues. So my fees were waived off, and I was sent into a special batch with the most promising students in my batch and we were given the best set of tutors. On the other hand, lured by the promise of good rank, thousands others enrolled in the same institute paying the full fees, but they were not given the best professors. In a way, they were paying for us, and the system was rigged against them in such a way that they were not even getting the best education. If I extrapolate the situation to all aspects of human lives in our country, are we not a part of the privileged few with the opportunity to study in a premier educational institute, while our education is being subsidised by the thousands who are not  getting the same opportunities as us?

So does that realisation not immediately handcuff my liberty as a scientist to choose my research topic? Am I not automatically expected to give back something concrete to the society that has invested in me, almost in an altruistic way?

This is where the ethics become murky. Such an attitude will immediately bring to question the usefulness of ‘fundamental’ or ‘basic’ scientific research, most notably in fields like theoretical physics or mathematics. My interest is in theoretical physics, and I am fully aware that if I pursue the field of my interest, I am not going to produce any work that will affect the lives of the disadvantaged people around me in any way, not in any foreseeable future.

At this stage of the realisation, the most obvious thing to justify your career choice is by questioning the true meaning of the pursuit of science, civilisation and humanity as a whole. If we, as a part of the society, are not going to invest in things like art, music or basic science, then what are we achieving as mankind, on the whole?

This is tricky business. While being perfectly acceptable, this borders on being escapist.

On the other hand, more applicable sciences, like bioscience and technology research have the potential to revolutionise human lives in ways ‘fundamental’ science can’t even hope to do. But the important thing to ask ourselves is, how are these applications going to really impact the society?

If it is about creating a positive difference to the deplorable conditions in our society, chances are that these applications are not going to affect the lives of these people in any significant manner. Research in Artificial Intelligence, though highly applicable in our day to day activities, will not be able to lift the poor beyond the poverty line. Neither can material research with ground-breaking implications in electronics engineering. And the skeptic in me also believes that cancer research, if it comes up with a solution, is also not going to improve the lives of the economically backward class in any obvious way.

So the reason why people do ‘applicable’ research is much the same as why some others do ‘basic’ research; they get a kick out of it. To live in the illusory premise of doing his/her bit for the betterment of the society tantamount to not recognising the true problems that cause disparity in our society. At the end of the day, we must realise that as scientists our roles in the changing of the social fabric is limited. Hence, a theoretical physicist who spends her weekends teaching school children from slums might be doing more useful work for the betterment of our society than an experimental chemist developing materials to improve the next generation of electronic devices, who doesn’t realise that his research is probably not going to change the social fabric one bit.

The choice is finally up to an individual scientist. Do you want to get a kick out of doing something applicable, or are you going to derive the same pleasure by discovering something fundamental about nature? In either case, if you want to make the world a better place, you should probably be taking an active effort outside your profession.

At least this is what we, a bunch of naive undergrads standing and discussing in the corridor outside our hostel rooms, felt.