Monday, November 24, 2008

Back to childhood II: Snow wars

Earlier were days splashing in water when it was the first rain of the season and then as years passed by I gave it up but making paper boats for streams of rain water didn’t change. It’s the second winter here in Germany and I felt getting back to younger childhood days in the first snowfall of this winter and the first ever major snowfall in my life. Though I was here last winter, the skies failed to appease my yearning for the whiteness but this year, the wait and thirst was more than satisfied. Winter came early and so did the snowfall. It is the most beautiful experience.

After dancing and enjoying the Diwali night in Aachen, we started out to hit the bed at around 1.30AM only to discover that it had snowed and was snowing like crazy. The entire road was white. The shrubs, trees and the parked cars were coated with inches of soft fluffy snow! I held my palm out to catch a few and felt the chillness as the snow melted in my hands. I also caught a few on my tongue! The temperature was minus 3 with soft wind guiding the snow fall. We walked through the white pavements occasionally making snowballs from the snow collected over the cars and aiming the person walking in front.

After reaching the destination, we decided not to call it a day, but to begin it in the snow! Everyone was so excited and we left our mobiles and purses safely in the room. Gearing with coats, caps and gloves, we walked the snow covered lawns and awed at the white trees. The colour of the street lights made the scene more magical. After reaching the place with the maximum collected snow, it was time for snowball fights. Seriously, I never had so much fun. Though fingers sting when collecting the snow, it is definitely worth the pain to dodge and get hit with! We even made snow cigarettes by pressing and rolling the snow and smoked with our breath through our mouth!

Finally our first snow man was ready. Well, from the size, he may be a snow child, but that was what we could manage without proper equipment and gloves. I felt like Calvin making his famous snow monsters! As our snow man braved the cold sitting on top of a BMW, we retired to the cozyness of heated rooms and blankets. I really felt like a kid, let loose to enjoy however he wanted to.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Di-shirt-ster : Ode to a white linen

I have always treated them with loads of affection and some of them with high respect. They were instrumental in presenting me at various occasions and have been the reason for loads of head turns and a reason for starting conversations. They definitely make up 50% of me where ever I go and I believe that they are the most essential to build self confidence.

I am speaking about my shirts. I definitely am crazy about shirts and brands and like to flaunt the best ones in parties and functions. I care for them like they are a part of my body. When I was home, there was a time when I never even used the detergent on them. It was substituted by shampoo for I have a feeling that the detergents will be hard on them and destroy the fabric. Such is the care I have taken and still, there was this black Saturday for me and them.

Not many shirts had lined up for the wash but I thought there was enough inner wear and socks and pants and it was time to take them to the wash machine. It is a brand new Siemens with loads of programmable options and I set it up in the best way to suit the shirts. Special non caustic detergent was added and the temperature of water was set to 40 degrees. The rotations per minute were optimum and the wash time was ninety minutes. After switching it on, I went on to make a brilliant Saturday morning breakfast. Hot steaming pongal with coconut chutney. The breakfast was devoured over a conversation with my mother and I finished reading the morning papers online. It was then time to take the clothes out for drying.

It was a total disaster. The brand new ‘jockey’ that was sent to me for diwali was a spurious product. The colour had washed out and it was all over the other clothes. My soft cotton linen white shirt with brilliant green, red and orange stripes had turned a shade of grey. Gone with it was a couple of white vests. It was such a painful moment for me, to take the damaged shirt in my hands. Memories of when I wore that shirt came flooding back and that made the situation more unbearable.

I didn’t throw away the shirt, but did the spurious jockey. Next time I wash my clothes, I am going to wash this stained shirt along and see if the colour will drain away. If not, it still remains white in the photographs.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Am sure many guys have been in this situation, with a full bladder and an interesting girl in the conversation!

It was after the welcome dinner at the FEBS crystallization course in Czech Republic. It was the first international congress I was attending after starting my PhD and I was highly excited to be encircled by PhD’s from around the world. All the twenty four participants were having a good time after dinner. After a game of pool with friends and beer, I felt the need to take a leak to get more comfortable and started walking towards the rest room. I had to cross the big hall where we had dinner and groups of students were discussing science and politics and religion.

Just half way through the hall, this female researcher intercepted me. She introduced herself and shook my hand and asked mine and my research status. I told her in brief about my project and my need of crystals. Crystallographers usually need good diffracting crystals and when I told her that I am ok with crystals that just diffract, she was shocked! According to her, it was blasphemy! Then I explained in detail and she was impressed. The fact that she got impressed, made me more excited and the purpose of my walk through was forgotten for the moment.

Minutes rolled by and I felt nature calling me loudly, but I fought it back. I did not want to break the great scientific rapport that was building on and that too with a beautiful female researcher! She started into the details of her project and the difficulties she was facing. My mind was half concentrating on her words and half working on to avoid spillage. Nobel laureate Peter Agre’s words got reminded “If you fight back the sensation, then it has to get back inside after sometime. This cycle is most important and is responsible for the fact that many of you are sitting here and listening to me without running off to take a leak!.” But I think he forgot to mention the time frame of the get back inside for it felt like an over flooded dam ready to break any second. I crossed my legs and now I could not hear her words at all. Still she kept talking and talking and I was rooted just for the fact that she was talking. My responses became routine. A nod, smile, yes ofcourse and aahan’s became programmed for auto intervals.

I could have just told her that I needed to take a leak and go off, but also there was the fact the when I came back from the rest room, I will not be able to continue this great conversation and I knew that other guys were ready to pounce on her the moment I left the scene. But then finally, after an hour of fight back and conversation, she wanted to get some beer and I used this opportunity to tell her that I need to remove the excess beer accumulated in me and ran off towards bliss!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Spiritual connections and Hamburg

I was really confused for the title of this blog and finally settled for this one.

It was 1980 and my father got an offer to work with Prof. Armin de Meijere. He was Prof. of Organic chemistry in the University of Hamburg at that time. But unfortunately, due to some political problems, the funding for the project was withdrawn and my father couldn’t make it there. After that, life took a different course for him, but working with this Prof. was something he really missed and wanted to.

Nearly three decades later, in the year 2008, I get a chance to work in the University of Hamburg. It was really a special offer. I met the contact in Czech republic and made arrangements to visit the DESY (Deutche Electroniche SYncrotron) facility in the University of Hamburg to measure Dynamic Light Scattering on my proteins. His name was Dominik and he was doing his PhD under Prof. Betzel. It took me three hours from Muelheim to reach Hamburg. The train journey was brilliant and the main railway station in Hamburg is just similar to our good old Chennai central! Over bridges, kiosks in the platform, huge clocks, battered down main display board, dim lighting, the smell of food and the crowd, it was nostalgia in a new place.

I made my way to the DESY campus by taking the suburban train ( S1 / S11 to Oathmarshen, direction of Wedel and bus from Oathmarshen to DESY ) and was bowled over by the huge campus and greenery there. Dominik took a hungry me to the canteen where I had real good German food! To get good food in the canteen is a blessing and we sadly don’t have in here in Muelheim. And then it was time for measurements. They came out really well and Domink was pretty good in pacing up the work.

I told him, “If time presents, then I need to visit the department of organic chemistry in the University of Hamburg and try to find the whereabouts of Prof. Meijere.” “Dr. Meijere?! How do you know him?! He was my teacher in Organic chemistry in Gottingen” was his surprised reply. Then I told him my father’s story. It was really a very special moment for me. I actually worked with a student of the Prof. with whom my father should have worked with! There is some spiritual connection running beneath everyone. It surfaces during happenings like this.

After a days work in the lab, I met up with my school mate, Harsha. He works in Hamburg. Unfortunately, I could not see the beauty of the city due to my packed schedule. Before boarding the train back, I sent dad a postcard…” Dear Appa, we will visit Hamburg as the first place when you come here to visit me…” Love, Munna.