Sep 8, 2013

Monsoon Pregnancy

The month of December had just started. Winter monsoon was already at its peak bringing more rain to the plains. Flood damages and record low temperatures were the topics discussed by everyone in the southern states of India. Only a couple of weeks ago, one of the worst cyclones hit the entire state of Andhra Pradesh propagating its remnants in the form of frequent rains scattered all over Tamil Nadu.

"I was on my 39th week into my pregnancy with my first baby. I still remember the day vividly", Kamatchi recollected that momentous day from her past. 
Kamatchi is 55 years old now. Age had painted extra wrinkles on her face, adding more beauty with maturity. A few black hairs on her head showed that she still has years to live and share her life stories with generations.
"It happened 36 years ago! I was only seventeen then", she traversed through time. "Only a year before did I enter into the wedlock. I wanted to complete my school education but my parents had another idea"

I paused and reflected on myself. I am Swati, Kamatchi's last daughter. When I was 16, going to school was a norm. To my generation, it was hard to believe that completing a school or going for graduate studies was a privilege once. 

That is when I felt that my mother is a phenomenal woman I have ever seen. She wanted to see her daughters graduate in higher studies, that which was denied to her when she was young.

"What other idea did your parents have?", I asked her. I was as curious to know about her first pregnancy as I was on my own.

"It was to align with the society's expectations of getting their daughter married as soon as she attained her puberty. Within a few months of my marriage, I became pregnant".

I recollected my prenatal appointments with an obstetrician. "Did you visit a doctor regularly?", I asked her curiously.

"My dear, during my days, my mother and other elderly women in our locality were the obstetricians. Each day they would prepare some healthy food cooked with herbals and make me eat. This, they said, would take care of nausea and other pregnancy-related complications".

"Did not you feel any complications?", I asked her curiously recounting my days of nausea.

"Not that I can remember, until the day my water broke, that is to say".

"What happened then?", I asked her.

"It was around 11.30 in the night when my water broke. There was continuous rain since the previous night. Most roads were filled with knee-deep water. As soon as my water broke, I started getting convulsions. I could not bear the pain any longer. But then, we did not have a car or a two-wheeler to be rushed to the hospital".

"How did you reach the hospital then?", anxiety engulfed me.

"My father made my mother and myself wait outside of our house, walked to the nearest railway station to inquire about the next train that would take us to town".

A stark contrast hit my mind hard. On the day when my water broke, I called my best friend who had earlier happily agreed to give us a ride to the hospital.

"My dad came home with his face lit brightly", she said, breaking my chain of thoughts. "Come soon. A train is about to arrive at the station. I had already bought the tickets". For the first time, I felt God is listening to my prayers.

Holding my father and mother's arms from both the sides, we walked to the nearest railway station, all the while my mouth chanting "Mariamma", begging her to be with me till I pull this through.

There was a power outage then because of heavy rain. By the time we walked through the muddy waters and hasted to the station, the train had arrived.

We got down at the town railway station and reached the government hospital by a bullock cart. My father sent for a nurse to attend me, who in turn had sent the news to the lady doctor on call. The doctor, who had just come from her home, injected chloroform, a full body anesthesia.

"Were they monitoring your blood pressure and baby's heartbeat?", I asked her innocently.

"Who knows? The next thing I know was that my daughter was born".

Aug 25, 2013

Completed 31 orbits around the Sun!

Today I completed my 31st journey around the Sun, from Earth. To celebrate the occasion, Jaisri carefully plucked 31 'Sun' flowers, tied them together and made a hand-made bouquet. Thank you so much Jaisri!

Aug 16, 2013

Top 10 Productivity Tools in Matlab

Rick Rosson is a Senior Applications Engineer at Mathworks, a company that developed the Matrix Laborary (Matlab) software. He gave a talk on top ten productivity tools in Matlab, most of which I already knew. Still, I liked the talk because I got a free Matlab logo sticker for answering correctly to a question he posed during the talk (Yay!).

Here is the list of top ten productivity tools in Matlab according to Rick Rosson (not in any particular order though).
  1. Code Analyser
  2. Section Mode
  3. Publishing
  4. Command History
  5. doc command
  6. Tab completion
  7. Inline syntax guidance
  8. Automatic variable name change
  9. Matlab path
  10. startup.m
You can read about all the above ten tools from Mathworks website, however, let me give you a brief introduction to each of the tools.
Code Analyser: This is a new feature in Matlab which you will find at the top right corner of Matlab editor window. If your script is error free, the code analyser indicator will turn green indicating everything is alright. If your code is inefficient, or has error which does not affect the execution of the code, it turns yellow. As you would have probably guessed by now, the code analyser indicator turns red if there is any error in your script that affects the execution of the code.

Section Mode: As a Matlab user, you would have probably known that '%' symbol at the beginning of a line is used to comment a sentence. Instead, if you use '%%' symbol, it will still work as comment, but in addition, it starts a new section. So if you are writing a code which can be split into several sections (or modules), you can separate them by using '%%'. For example, you can have a section to read or import the data, another section to analyse the data and one more for making plots.

Publishing: One useful feature about Matlab is its ability to publish a report in the form of pdf or html or in many other formats. Traditionally, I execute each plot, save them as jpg or eps format and manually add/import results to create a presentation file or a report in word format. All these can be done now at the click of a button. What more? The comment tag that you type followed by the '%%' symbol will become section header when you publish!

Command History: Had a bingo moment when you created that plot some time ago, but struggling to find how did you create it later on? Command History comes to your rescue in such situations. As the name suggests, the command history windows remembers all the commands you had every typed since the last time you cleared the history manually. You can even select a portion of history and make a script out of it.

doc command: While help command gives you a rough idea of what the function is about, doc command will give you more details and insight of the function. In other words, doc gives you a complete documentation about a function which you want to learn how to use.

Tab completion: This, I think, probably came from working in a Linux environment. Its probably useful when you are creating a Matlab script that runs to 1000s of lines. To speed up writing a code, type first few characters of a command (typically two to three characters) and then hit Tab command to autofill, or to choose the right command from a list of options.

Inline syntax guidance: You probably have an idea of name of a function that you want to use, but not sure about its syntax? Don't worry. Just type the function name and wait for fraction of a second. The inline syntax guidance will pop up with a help window showing various syntax options by which the function can be called.

Automatic variable change: Suppose if you have written a function for a specific problem. And now, you want to generalize it by changing specific variable name such as 'temp' to more general variable name, such as 'x'. You have probably done this using find and replace tool. But the catch is that there could be several variables starting with temp, for eg, tempoutside, temproom. Find and Replace would probably do a nasty work (if you do try, you will get xoutside, xroom instead of general variable names such as x1, x2 etc). Automatic variable change does this job more efficiently. Just change the variable name 'temp' to 'x', hold the Shift Key and hit Enter button. It will search and replace only the variable name 'temp'.

Matlab path: addpath command adds the path to custom library folder where users can create and save custom library files specific to their work. By default, Matlab would search for a function in the current directory. In case the current directory does not have the function file, addpath will tell Matlab where to search for it.

startup.m: Instead of using addpath command every time you open a new session in Matlab, you can write a startup script and set all the paths. Matlab would execute the startup script every time it is started, and automatically add paths to various custom libraries and functions.

In addition to the top ten productivity tools, Rick also listed ten more productivity tools. They are
  1. tic toc
  2. profiler
  3. file compare
  4. todo fixme
  5. debugger
  6. stack browser
  7. plot browser
  8. plot tools
  9. generate script
  10. file import wizard.
Thanks to audience's frequent interruptions and their effort to make this talk "An introduction to Matlab", Rick did not have time to discuss about these ten tools. But then, we have Google right?

Aug 7, 2013

Astrology: A rational introduction

Astrology can be defined as “Logical interpretation of movements and relative positions of certain astronomical bodies with a belief that they have an influence on human affairs.”

When it comes to Astrology, entire population on earth fall into two groups; the first group is the ones who do not believe in astrology, while the second group is those who believe in astrology with a question, “People have been believing it for several millennia. How can they all be wrong?”.

True. There are evidence pointing out that kings had referred to astrology to predict the outcome of a war or natural calamities such as flood and drought. Astro bodies at certain positions were considered as a positive omen to start a public project such as building bridges, dams or temples and sometimes, even for the journey of a pilgrimage.

Does the position of certain astronomical bodies such as sun, moon, and planets really have an effect in predicting human behavior? Maybe, maybe not. But that is not what I'm going to write about in this blog post. Rather, I am going to focus on understanding the rationale behind astrology, scientific arguments which have made many generations believe in this field.

Let me first introduce you to the framework of a horoscope. The following picture shows a typical Tamil horoscope (also known as Jathagam). The building blocks of such a horoscope are the twelve boxes, popularly known as houses.

Typical horoscope showing the position of major planets

Before explaining the significance of twelve, let us first look into one of the most profound mathematical concept; 360 degrees. Many things that happen around us can be explained using 360 degrees. For example, earth completes 360 degrees when it revolves around itself once. It completes 360 degrees when it completes one full rotation (orbit) around the sun. Similar to Earth, other planets also complete 360 degrees for one full revolution about itself or one full orbit around the sun. Moon completes 360 degrees to orbit around the earth.

How can we perceive this 360 degrees movement of various astronomical bodies based on observations from a naked eye? There are several ways to do it. One simple way is to divide 360 degrees into 360 1-degree sectors and keep track of the planets when the move from one sector to another. However, certain planets such as Jupiter are farther away from the sun that it is extremely difficult to keep track of their 1-degree movement using naked eye.

We need to divide 360 into larger sectors to make the objects traceable. How large? Let us say, 4 sectors of 90 degrees each? The problem with such a fewer number of segments is that it becomes impossible to track the faster movement of planets that are closer to the sun, such as Mercury. So just like one would conduct a grid independence study, based on the experience people have found that having 12 sectors of 30 degrees each will make this problem tractable. But, on what rational basis did they arrive at twelve?

A long time ago, when there were no telescopes and technological gadgets around, people relied on naked eye observations. With no city lights to pollute, clear sky nights were absolutely dark that they were able to see far more stellar objects that are possible to see today only with the help of powerful telescopes.

One disadvantage of such a dark and starry sky is that it is extremely difficult to keep track of the movement of one particular object over a period of time. Solution? They started looking at the star's background to find its relative position with respect to other stars in its vicinity. In order to remember the position of various stars in the surrounding of the planet under observation, they identified some of the bright stars which do not move (on a relative scale) with respect to the planet. To make the problem easier, they grouped some of those bright stars to form a shape that is easy to remember. In other words, they formed a constellation.

They identified twelve major constellations with the help of twenty seven brightest and easily recognizable stars. The twelve constellations were roughly 30 degrees apart. So the problem of tracing a planet is now reduced to identifying in what background (constellation) does the planet lies at a specified time.

We would love to give names to anything right? Of course, we give names not only to the newborn but also to pets and things around. So it's not a wonder that people named those constellations (houses) based on their patterns such as Aries (Mesha), Taurus (Vrishabha) etc.

Now, all that one needs to do is to find in which house (constellation) does each of the observable planets reside at the time of their birth. In the typical example shown in the picture above, one can see that when viewed from the Earth (that's the reason why you won't find Earth in any of the houses), Mercury would set before sun while Venus sets right after sunset, followed by the Moon. When the sun and moon are in the same house, it is no moon day (or Amavasya) and when the sun and the moon are 180 degrees apart (or 6 houses apart), it is full moon day (or Purnima).

In terms of time, Earth takes 24 hours to complete one full revolution around itself (360 degrees). In other words, it takes 2 hours to rotate by 30 degrees. Since sunrise and sunset is defined with respect to Earth's rotation, the setting time of Mercury (Venus) would not be more than 2 hours before (after) sunset. However, using the same chart, it is possible to fix our frame of reference for time on some other planet as well.

For example, Jupiter takes 11.86 Earth years (4332 Earth days) to complete one orbit around the Sun (360 degrees). Hence, in order that Jupiter moves its position from one house to another (Transit of Jupiter), it will take 361 days (~ 1 Earth year).

Now the main question still remains. Does the location of planets in an arbitrary background at the time of one's birth have any significance in predicting their future? I will leave it up to the readers to find an answer to this question!

Aug 4, 2013

Novice Academician

While having a conversation with my wife, she asked me question, "Who inspired you to blog?"

The question sets my train of thoughts in motion. I looked back in to my glorious but forgotten past. It was in 2007 when I first ventured into blogging.

Back then, I was working as a SRF and have been following a few blogs that were published by professors on science and engineering topics. At some point, I believe, reading their articles inspired me to write!

I started a blog and named it after condensed form of my name, sramanujam. It was a wordpress blog. Soon, I changed the name of my blog to Novice Academician, though the domain name remain unchanged.

But I wasn't really an academician then! So I had set my blog's tagline as "not yet; will soon be".

Novice Academician published articles mostly on math, news, heat transfer and other sundries. One of my articles I wrote on conduction, convection and radiation got mentioned in a blog carnival.

"Well, I'm not sure who inspired me to blog. But I started blogging way back in 2007", I replied to my wife.

After a desperate search, I found that waybackmachine has archived my first blog that I had deleted about five years ago! Going through some of the articles that I had published in my earlier blog, my wife asked me, "Why did you delete it?"

Honestly, I don't know! Back then, I never thought that deleting a (first) blog is like orphaning it. But now, I feel very bad for what I did. The only thing that consoles me is the fact that there is a website that archives every website published in the world of internet. In fact, of all the websites I had ever browsed, I now rank higher than highest!

Jun 26, 2013

I thought, I wrote.

People often make mistakes. Often times, they get punished either by the court of law or by divine intervention. The punishments are mild, medium or hard based on their mistakes. But, there is a worse punishment one can ever subject to, punishing someone without giving him a proper reason. It's not just worse, it's inhumane.

People often get angry because they expect the world to move around them. But unfortunately, the world moves on its own path. We are not at the center of everything. We fail, we lose hope, we get frustrated because of this. Everyone has expectations, dreams, aspirations to be someone, to do something or to achieve something in their life. There is no single human on earth ever born who is happy because his expectations are fulfilled, dreams realized, aspirations achieved. Even M.K.Gandhi had dreams which are not fulfilled even today!

True, we cannot make the world move around us. But as a human being, we can only hope that at some point in our life, we can make the world stop and have a look at us. We can strive to get the world's attention for a moment on us. Unfortunately, for most people, this moment happens when they are no more. The world stops and thinks about that person when he/she is not alive to celebrate the moment with consciousness.

Only a few succeed in grasping this reality. Those who understood this are the ones who never hesitates to struggle in their life. They remain cool and composed because they know that things can't go wrong unless they try to manipulate and make the world move around them. They do have expectations, dreams, and aspirations. But their dreams are big. Bigger than us lesser mortals can comprehend.

Everyone is born, everyone would die one day. But there are very few who has the courage to struggle, who aspires to make the world pause for a moment and think about them when they are alive. It takes one spur of a moment for nature to take back the life it gave us. No one was born with a guarantee that he/she will stay alive till their dreams are fulfilled. But so long as we are alive, we have a choice; to leave our footprints in sands of time, or be forgotten. It is up to us to choose.

Jun 15, 2013

That moment!

"My water broke. Call the hospital", my wife cried in excitement.

"Sure I will!", I replied dialing the hospital number, checking the calendar meanwhile. "Saturday, May 25", it said.

I had a hunch that our baby will be born on 25th. After all, my wife and myself were both born on 25th! Won't it be awesome if our baby were to be born on the same day as ours?

"Her water broke at 5 AM. No, she did not have any contractions yet. No, we do not need an ambulance", I answered the protocol questions from the nurse-on-call. Jaisri woke her mom up while I called our friend Rachel who had offered us a ride to the hospital. "I will be there in ten minutes", she said over the phone. 

Meanwhile, Jaisri checked the hospital bag once more to see if she had missed something, prepared a cup of coffee for us and was ready to go. "We are going to see our baby", she said in excitement.

Ten full months! We could not wait a minute more, particularly since the day we came to know that its a baby girl! At a quarter to six, we reached the Poudre Valley Hospital, registered and went up to the maternity ward. One thing I love about American hospitals, particularly PVH, is that the father-to-be is allowed to stay in the maternity ward throughout the labor!

But Jaisri is yet to have her first contraction, the beginning of labor. "Your cervix is at 1 cm now. You need to dilate more. Let us wait and see if your body is able to do it on its own", Dr. Stern, the doctor-on-call said.

Four hours went by. Nothing much happened. Rachel, my mom-in-law, Jaisri and myself played Phase10 to spend our time. "Do you think it is possible for our baby to be born today?", we asked the nurse who was monitoring Jaisri's blood pressure, the strength of contraction and pulse and our baby's heartbeat.

"She has a good chance! Its good that her water broke early in the morning", the nurse replied.

The doctor examined her again around noon. "Your cervix is still at 1 cm", he said. Three hours later, Jaisri felt her first significant pain. Sooner she had more contractions at a regular interval that her pain became unbearable.

In the evening (which was still afternoon in this part of the world), we consulted our nurse and agreed to call the Anaesthesia specialist to administer Epidural.

The combination of more frequent, high intense contractions and epidural lowered Jaisri's blood pressure which she did not feel, thanks to Epidural. But, unfortunately, the baby was alarmed with the condition and her heart beat lowered.

"Will something happen to me?", my wife asked me anxiously. I realized that no words are enough to convince her. I called the doctor and asked the same question. "She looks perfectly alright. There is nothing to worry about", his replied reassured our faith.

Still, every ten minutes, Jaisri's bp lowered drastically and baby's heartbeat would come down to half of its normal rate. We cried from inside and did the only thing we could do, pray to God. "Why should this happen to me?", she quizzed herself.

"Don't worry honey. Everything is going to be alright soon. Think of all the good times we had so far", I said, trying to calm her down. Meanwhile, the nurse adjusted the Epidural dosage and infused saline and glucose to keep her bp under control.

After observing her vital signs for a while and finding that they are stabilizing, I took a brief meditative nap. At the wee hour in the morning, my wife woke me up and said, "my cervix has dilated to 8 cm!"

I felt elated! "Our baby is going to be in our arms soon", we cried in joy. The nurse then gave her instructions to coincide her push with the peak of her contractions.

Her push became rigorous next morning when the sun rose. "Your baby has a wonderful black hair", our nurse said. With every contraction, the nurse asked Jaisri to push and count from 1 to 10, and repeat it three times.

After a long and enduring wait for 26 hours, Hrdaya was born. It is hard to express "that moment" in words in any languages humans had ever learned.

That moment, when I cut the umbilical cord of Hrdaya and welcomed her to the best moment in my life that I would cherish forever.

Jun 7, 2013

Confessions from a Ph.D scholar

"Will you get a job at least now?", was the question everyone asked when I shared the news about the successful defense of my Ph.D. thesis.

"Will I get a job at least now? Did I not qualify for a job earlier? Why did I opt for a Ph.D.? Why did I even opt for a graduate program after my Bachelor's?", I asked these questions to myself.

I did get a job from one of the leading software companies in India soon after completion of my degree in Mechanical Engineering. I opted for Masters degree by choice and not out of compulsion. When I took the decision to join SASTRA University as a JRF, I was still an employee at that company.

For many in our society, four years of Bachelor's in Engineering/Technology is a valid pass to get a job. It does not matter whether one has a sound understanding of their curriculum, nor are they really concerned about whether the four years of learning is applicable and useful for rest of their life. But deep inside, I was never satisfied with my learning. I realized that Bachelor's curriculum is only surface level deep. How can I rejoice myself after scratching only the surface?

“When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it.”  - Paulo Coelho in Alchemist.
How true!

When I quit my job, I did not have an alternate plan. I quit because I was not satisfied with the work1. Like many engineering graduates, I could have continued with my job, have a raise and/or promotion with time, marry a girl and get settled. But, I had a dream - to continue my education, learn more and go deeper from the surface. It was a risk when I quit my job not knowing what to do next. As if the whole world conspired to help me achieve my dream, one fine morning I received an email with an offer to join SASTRA University as a Junior Research Fellow (JRF) and work with Dr. Katte.

That one mail changed by destiny.

First few months I spent with Dr. Katte helped me in molding myself into a research material. It was during those days I learned the nuances of doing research such as critical thinking and technical writing. Soon, I quit JRF post to fill the vacancy for SRF with Dr. Katte on an ISRO sponsored project. At this point in time, SASTRA University did not offer Masters by Research program.

"What are you doing? ", my "well" wishers asked. I did not have an answer to them. How can I say I quit my job to pursue higher studies, but have joined a university which does not offer Masters?

Thanks to Dr. Katte, SASTRA finally introduced the Master of Science in Engineering by research in 2005. I was one of the three students who had registered for the program in the first batch. After two years of hard work, I defended my Master's thesis successfully and shared the news with everyone about graduate conferment. 

"Are you going to work at least now?", they asked in one voice. "Nope, I am going for a Ph.D.", I said. I am pretty sure they heard it as "he did not get a job yet".

My association with ISRO continued during my Ph.D. as well. From VSSC, ISRO sponsored project at SASTRA, I joined in a SAC, ISRO sponsored project at IIT Madras. After four years, I submitted my thesis with five papers (of which three are based on my Ph.D. work) in international journals and 6 international conference papers.

"I have defended my thesis successfully", I shared the news yet again to everyone.

"Will you get a job at least now?"

"Nope, I am going for a postdoc", I said.

"A what?"

"Never mind. Well, I won't be working for quite some time yet!", I replied to them.

No, not too soon. I am happy that I had gone a level deeper, but I still have miles to go.
1I thank the company who recruited me. It was during those 5 months that I learned stuff about computers and also learned to speak English in American accent which eventually became useful when I went to the U.S.

Apr 20, 2013

Oppiliappan, the unparalleled one.

 Image courtesy: Divine Brahmanda

Markandeya could not believe what he just heard. "Is he out of his mind?", he wondered.

"It was all my fault. I should not have provided refuge to the old man who was on his way to somewhere. Why did I invite him into my house?", he asked himself.

The old man was seated across Markandeya and was trying to read through his mind. "Have you considered my proposal, Sir?", he asked.

Narayana was the elder brother of Lord Balaji, the mighty, rich and popular ruler of seven hills. At his prime age, he looked like a cupid with broad shoulders and thin waist. His tall appearance made him appear mighty and grand. There was a huge competition from the kings of nearby provinces who wanted to marry off one of their daughters to him.

But he did not like any of the princesses he was introduced to.

"I have decided to undergo a long journey in search of my dream girl", said Narayana. Lord Balaji knew that this day would come. But he did not expect it to come so early.

"But brother, you still have your age. I shall make arrangements for you to visit all the provinces which are under my control and be their guest. Maybe you will find one of their daughters to be your dream girl"

"I so want to believe your words come true. But dear brother, I have lost all my hopes. Moreover, my instinct is warning me against such belief. Something tells me that I'm searching for her at the wrong place."

Lord Balaji knew that his brother had made a decision and would not change his mind for whatever reasons. "At least allow me to make arrangements for some of our men to come with you and help you till you find your special someone", he said.

"That is not possible, Lord Balaji. I do not know how long it would take to find her. If it takes several years, I would be wasting the lives of those men for my own sake! I will not allow that to happen".

The next morning, Narayana left the palace of seven hills. His brother had made arrangements for food and shelter for Narayana till he was within the territory of seven hills. He had passed a word to all the kings from nearby provinces asking them to offer any help he may require, should he ask them.

That was forty years ago! During the passing years, Narayana had walked to all corners of the world and had met plenty of girls, none of whom looked even remotely like the girl he was searching to find. After an arduous journey to all around, he finally reached a small village located nearby Kudanthai, a temple town.

It was while he spent his previous night at Thanjavur that he heard from people about Rishi Markandeya who lives in an ashram near Kudanthai. He decided to pay him a visit.

A sudden surge of happiness beckoned him as he reached near the ashram. He could hear his inner voice saying his long search was about to end. "Markandeya is a Rishi. Through his penance, he has acquired immense knowledge of everything. Maybe he will tell me where to find my dream girl", he thought.

Markandeya welcomed the old man into his hut and offered him a meal. It was when Narayana was having his meal that he noticed her for the first time. He knew at that moment that she was the one he has been searching for all through his life!

"Her name is Bhumi", Markandeya introduced his adopted daughter to Narayana.

"Nice to see you", he said. "I have a feeling that we have met somewhere before", he added. Shyness enveloped her suddenly and so intensely when she heard him talking to her. She let out a smile at him and ran inside.

He felt sad at her sudden disappearance. He could not eat anymore. His breathing became uneven, and all through the while he was having his lunch, his eyes darted in search of her. He finished his meal in a haste, washed his hands and took a seat beside Markandeya.

"May I ask you what brings you here?", Markandeya asked.

"Your daughter", he replied instantly.

"I took a long journey a few decades ago in a quest to find my dream girl and marry her. There was so many princesses waiting for my nod to marry them. But I did not like any of them. My instinct told me that I would find my dream girl only when I take a long journey in search of her".

That was forty years ago! I have been to lots of places, met zillions of people and their daughters who wanted to marry me. But I could not marry them. At one point in my life, I even feared that I may never be able to find my dream girl. But my instinct had guided me all the way until I reached your place.

"It was when I saw Bhumi that I realized she is my dream girl. She is the one I have been searching for all my life. Will you please marry her off to me?"

"Markandeya could not believe what he just heard".

"My Lord, forgive me for saying this. But you are an old man. You may not live for long. How can I marry off my daughter to you? God forbid, what if something happens to you soon? My daughter is very young. No father would want to see her daughter suffering from loneliness for the rest of her life".

"I may be old, but I still have my age. I can still fight and rule from this place for the next hundred years!", he said.

"Let your words come true. But how will I know that she is your dream girl? What if it's your lust and not love that convinces you that she is your dream girl?"

Narayana reflected on that question for a long time. "Could he be true? Is it the lust or love that describes my feelings for her?", he contemplated on his own thoughts.

"Lust is like salt in a meal. I sure have a lust for her, but that does not explain all my feelings to her. Salt is added only for taste. Can anyone really have just salt as their meals?"

"True. But one who has tasted salt in his life will never be able to give it up. Humans would age with time, and so will my daughter. If you like the meal only because of its salty taste, you will soon get bored of her when the quantity of salt decreases with time".

"I certainly agree with you, sage Markandeya. Lust adds a flavor to life, but only love lasts forever. I promise you that I would never expect a meal from Bhumi with salt. This promise will be a symbolic gesture of my true love".

"My blessings to you and my daughter. With such a vow, you have become an unparallel human being. After your marriage, you will be named as Lord Oppiliappan, the unparalleled one".

Apr 18, 2013


"Why do you want to take your raincoat with you today?", my mom asked. "Its certainly not going to rain today".

How I wished it would rain that moment just to prove that my mom was wrong. Not that I so wanted it to rain though! It was only the previous day that my mom had bought me a new raincoat. Like any new items, I fell in love with it at first sight. I certainly did not want to leave it at home!

"Mom, you only told me that raincoats are like umbrellas. So what if it does not rain today? I can still wear it to get some shade from the sun".

"You have gone nuts", she mocked at my reply. "Here, take this. But be very careful", she warned, handing over the newly bought raincoat to me.

"I will mom", I assured her collecting the bag, inside of which contains the new raincoat, neatly folded.

I could not pay attention to any of the classes that day, for my mind was completely preoccupied with the raincoat. I took it out from its bag and placed it in my lunch bag to show off my prized possession to all my friends. "Let them feel envious", I thought.

The day ended with a final bell followed by reciting of our national anthem. As soon as it ended, I rushed out from my class, got into the first train I could catch and run all the way home.

"Why the hurry?", my mom asked when I reached home and gasped for breath.

"I just want to show you that I took very good care of my raincoat", saying so I opened my school bag only to find everything inside but for my new raincoat.

My little world tumbled down like nine pins. "Where did it go?", I asked myself while searching frantically.

I suddenly realized that I took it out and kept it in my lunch bag. In my haste to reach home, I had forgotten to pick it up from my desk!

What should have been the happiest night ever for me turned into a nightmarish sleepless night. "What if someone saw the raincoat and took it? Will they hand it over at the security office? Or will he take home with him saying finders, keepers?". That night was perhaps the only time in my life I had a sleepless night without having a single cup of coffee.

Next morning, I got up from my bed along with the first ray of sun, brushed, bathed, gulped cereal, grabbed my shoes and ran to the station to catch the first possible train. The school gate was opened only a few minutes ago when I reached it. "I left my raincoat in my class yesterday. Did anyone hand it over to the security office?", I asked our school watchman.

"No son. But the sweepers have just arrived and started their work. Perhaps they can tell you if they find or not", he replied.

From the entrance, I could see that the sweepers have not entered my classroom yet. I ran all the way to the classroom to see if I could find it before them.

I felt a huge relief when I saw the red color lunch bag sitting under my desk. When I approached it, I found the lunch box and water bottle inside. "But where is my raincoat?"

There was only one another school bag on the last bench. Perhaps he was early today and playing some games. "Would he have taken it?".

A part of me encouraged me to see in his bag, while the other half warned me against such thought. Conscience beckoned me to open the bag where I found my new raincoat, neatly folded. I felt elated in finding my raincoat again that I did not want to confront my classmate for stealing. After all, it was my mistake!

That evening, I made a conscious effort to pick my lunch bag with my raincoat inside. When I reached home, my mom asked: "Did you find it?".

"Yes! I replied", only to realize that this time I forgot to pick my lunch bag when I got down from the train!

Apr 12, 2013

Biking around Fort Collins

"I see you don't have a bike!", my friend said to me. It was his first visit to my apartment since we moved in to Fort Collins last October.

"My lab is just a ten minutes walk from here. I take a bus for going to other places", I replied to him. After some thought I added, "I had never felt a need for a bike".

The next morning, he came to my apartment with two bikes and said to us, "Take these bikes. You can use these to go to the college or for shopping".

Biking was my primary mode of transport until a year ago while I stayed in IIT Madras campus. Other than some rare occasions when there was a flat tire or my bike was sent for servicing, I had always preferred bike to commute from my hostel to lab, and beyond. The last time I rode a bike was when I moved out of 317cauvery for good. I had never biked since then!

Now that I have a bike, I want to give it a try. I bought a secure lock and took the bike out for the first time since we moved. Nostalgia hits me hard when I placed my right foot on the pedal and pushed it to move forward.

I learnt to ride a bike when I entered into a high school. Back in those days, my family did not own a bike. My brothers and myself would take a bike for rent from a nearby shop on an hourly basis and take turns to practise at a ground (which now houses a multi-storey apartment). I felt in love with biking so much that I asked my parents for a bike after scoring a centum in my tenth standard math exam.

Feeling worn out brought back my memories to present. I realized I was tired and was gasping for breath. I was sweating buckets under my fleece though the outside temperature was only 12 deg C! It was then that a realization dawned on me; biking is not only a great way to know Fort Collins better, but also to keep myself in shape!

Spring Fauna Pictures

Thanks to Jaisri for the last three stunning pictures of a chipmunk and an American Robin.

Mar 28, 2013

Workshop on Scientific Illustration

"We would hear our inner voice saying No, you are not meant for this everytime we try to do different things, learning to draw a picture for example", the speaker at the workshop organized by College of Natural Sciences in collaboration with Sigma Xi, CSU chapter, said.

True! I always wanted to try my hand at drawing. Not that I feel I'm an innate artist, I just want to know what I am capable of by putting it to a test.

"Expressing your ideas through art is a good practise. It helps communicating your ideas clearer and faster", he continued. For about 45 minutes, the speaker talked about various techniques to overcome the inner voice and master the art of drawing.

Like all creative works, drawing uses right part of our brain. When we start to draw an image, the left part immediately takes over and command us saying "this line does not look straight, it doesn't look like what-you-see at all, etc". The simplest way to overcome this voice is to try drawing illusions.

Draw a rough sketch of a human profile from a side angle. Now try drawing a mirror image of the profile and observe your thinking process. 

When I did this, I drew a replica of the profile instead of a mirror image! "This is the beginning. By practise, you will be able to overcome this and can draw mirror images at ease", the speaker explained.

Drawing mirror images triggers more response from right part of our brain, and after some time, we would feel the flow by losing track of time while drawing.

In the next stage, one should try to look at light and shadow and identify the shades. Viewing a particular scene through a rectangular frame would also make our life easier by telling us what to draw. One typical advantage in using  a frame is that we can draw a picture by looking at the negative space around the object within the frame.

Towards the end, the speaker showed various examples from Biology and Chemistry of how drawing helped scientists shape their ideas and communicate effectively. The most significant of those examples is a 3000 year old book on Tibetan medicine.

my drawing of a dry fern

Finally, the audience were asked to draw pictures of some of the objects we saw around. I tried my hand at drawing a dry fern, a flower vase with rose and a vow to draw many more in future.

Mar 23, 2013

If you don't like the weather, wait for ten minutes!

Only a couple of days ago I was telling my wife that the last snow of this winter had just ended. With the beginning of spring, we were hoping to enjoy some rain. All the Kollywood and Bollywood songs that were shot in rain came to our minds then.

When today's weather changed from sunny to overcast, it was a pleasant surprise for us to see tiny flakes floating all around. With time, those cute little flakes grew in size and became soft pellets. 

"Its snowing again!", we were jumping in a mixture of joy and surprise.

That's when I remembered an old sayings which I read somewhere, "If you don't like the weather, wait for ten minutes".