We have all heard phrases like, “She’s a strong woman! She can bear it.” or “She can do it.” What makes someone strong? I have always despised being weak. Even when I don’t know what weakness is, I dislike anyone thinking of me as fragile, needing help or dependent! When I started earning and living on my own, my independence made me dislike weakness even more. But that was a few years ago, today I am older and hopefully wiser, and I ask myself the question, does being independent mean you are strong, and does the opposite mean you are weak?
My mother has always been a homemaker, and yes I would say she depends on my dad-and for me, she’s the strongest person I have know. So what defines strength? Does being strong means you hold on to your relationship, your family, your career with everything you have, or does it mean that you have the courage to let go of what needs to go, doesn’t matter how it kills you? Does strength mean holding on to your dreams and happiness or is it too weak to think that you cannot make new dreams and new happiness? Does it make you weak when your happiness depends on others; your family, your significant other, your career, or does it make you strong when you stand all alone against the world?
I don’t know the answers and sometimes these questions scare me. Should I rely on someone to make me happy? Should I let go of someone or should I hold on to that person? Am I being weak or am I being strong? If I am weak yet happy, does it matter? If I am strong yet sad, who is there to console me? Does it matter what I am? I am my biggest judge and critic, if I cannot look at myself in the mirror then my weakness or strength is pointless. But it is so difficult to make yourself happy, probably sometimes you just have to accept what you are, and does accepting yourself make you stronger? I probably will never know!
Would I work if I didn’t have to? Absolutely! Working, job, money, is more than just making a living for me. Being an unmarried Indian, I always have well-meaning relatives throw prospective grooms at me telling me to talk to them, and so many of them have asked me, “So would you continue working after getting married!” My answer is always an unequivocal YES.
Doesn’t mean I don’t hate waking up in the morning, of course I hate Mondays and love Fridays! But what I love even more is having my days crammed up with things to do-getting to work at 7:30 am, working non-stop until 4pm, going for a run/or groceries in the evening, getting home and cooking awesome dinner, still having time to read a few chapters, write a blog and having a feeling of complete satisfaction by the end of the day-it’s my current life and I am loving it! Of course, when I am working I am financially independent and I don’t feel guilty about indulging in little and big pleasures of life. But it is more than money it is the feeling that you can do everything that you want to…I love the feeling of being a scientist during the day, and being this artistic person who cooks, reads, writes in the evening. I of course love the financial freedom of wanting to travel where I want, when I want and not worry as much about money, or guilt of spending money which isn’t mine. Reading is my passion and I love cooking, sketching, painting and writing, but I don’t think I could enjoy all my passions as much I do if I didn’t love science as much. I work in cancer drug development and I would like to think that I am making a difference in someone’s life by trying to develop a safer anti-cancer drug. All my other passions would pale if I didn’t have this purpose in life, and this absolute need for science!
Does this make me smug? Perhaps just a tad! But I know how hard I have worked to come at this point in life. I wouldn’t give it all up for anything! Perhaps someday when I want to just relax and think about life just going by, I might give up working, until then I am ready to work my ass off and enjoy it!
My Dear Watson
Everyone needs that special someone who is their partner in crime, someone who is yin to your yang. I call that person my partner and we are each other’s sidekicks. I am very lucky to have not just one, but two such partners in my life! One is my older sister and the other is my friend. My sister has been my older sibling, my idol, my mother and my best friend at various stages in my life. Growing up my mother always told me, “Why can’t you be more like your sister!” instead of making me jealous that statement just made me love her more! She is the goody two-shoes to my rebelliousness, my rock when the world is going nuts around me, my shrink, sister and family gossip partner all rolled in one!
My other partner in crime is my friend whom I found at a stage in life when I had given up trying to make new friends or meeting new people. She has all the characteristics a sidekick and a partner should have, she’s funny when I am serious, she makes me laugh when I want to cry, she gives me a boost when I want to give up and makes me want to hit her when she doesn’t stop laughing! To a third person our random conversations make no sense, but we know what we are talking about. From our discussions about the state of the world, to the 1:30 am debates on high-throughput screening, to the endless lab talks, there is never a dull moment in our crazy talks! Her never give up attitude has made me want to want things from life which I had never thought possible. Like she would say she has taught me, ‘the finer things in life!’
The best part, they are so similar to each other in mannerism and characteristics that each of them reminds me of other. My two partners make me want to be a better person and they complete me in every possible way!
Daily Post-Off the Shelf
I love re-reading books. Even though I have a ‘to-be read’ list stretching a mile long, I like to think that I can take time out to re-read the books I have loved. Yes, you can’t look at the book with fresh eyes anymore, but I re-read to re-capture the essence of the book and sometimes to remind myself of my own thoughts and feelings the first time I read the book.
The one that would be on my first re-read list would be Yuganta by Iravati Karve. It was recommended to me by someone whose tastes and opinions matter a lot to me. Yuganta literally meaning ‘end of an era/epoch’ was originally written in Marathi (Indian language) and then translated to English. Yuganta is an analysis of Mahabharata by Dr. Iravati Karve. It presents a complete analytical picture of the characters and personalities in Mahabharata. Her analysis on concept of Hinduism as a religion which used to be modern in ancient times and its current regression in the modern times is very enlightening.
My second re-read would be The Class by Eric Segal. I have re-read it twice before, but there’s something about that book which touches my heart. It reiterates for me the concept that our hi-flying education doesn’t teach anything of importance like friendships, kindness, and ability to accept failure.
I hope I get a chance for these re-reads soon!
Usually when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we glance at our reflections, think narcissistic thoughts and then forget about it. Have you ever been afraid of looking in the mirror; afraid it will show you more than just your physical aspects? Mirror is not just a piece of glass, it shows you exactly what you are and the substance that you are made of, the inner workings of your heart and mind and your innermost desires.
An old Cherokee story talks about two wolves living within each of us-the bad one which represents our negative aspects and the good one which represents our positive side. The wolf that we feed is the one that dominates our personality. For the more religiously inclined the same story can be translated to the devil and the angel within us, who are constantly clashing for dominance. Within each one of us lies a capacity for tremendous goodness and tremendous cruelty, it all depends on what we choose to see and feed. One only has to look at the world today to realize that nothing can stop a man from being mean, cruel and inhuman. No fear of hell, deity or religion can stop a man from doing what he ultimately wants to do for his pleasure and power. The only check point is a man’s own conscience-that emotion which helps him empathize, look within himself and make him human.
A man’s conscience is his true mirror. Everything good or bad in a person comes from within himself, everything else just augments it. It is what makes him accountable for all his actions-good or bad. A man’s conscience tells him which wolf to feed and which one to starve.
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?
Listening to old Hindi songs one evening I felt I was missing something terribly. After a while I realized that my heart was craving simplicity. The song was “Jaane kya baat hai….” featuring Amrita Singh who is singing about missing her lover. The song is sweet and simple. I am not 16 years old anymore to project the feelings that are portrayed in a song but some songs are sung beautifully with perfect lyrics and you cannot help but be touched by it. Such songs make me wish for a simpler life, simpler aspirations. I wish the heart and mind were not so full of aspirations and unfulfilled dreams and I could go back to those days when it was so easy to fall in love. Back to those days when it was so easy to imagine spending your life with someone special, when you felt the world was at your command.
I am amazed sometimes at the rose colored glasses I wore as a young 17 year old girl. I was a practical and pragmatic person even then, but life seemed so easy and simple when you didn’t have to worry about a thing. It was so easy to judge others for their transgressions when you were so smug about your own life. While growing up I was a big fan of the concept that “right things should happen at the right time!” I was of the opinion that one should marry early in order to get the good pickings!! Hah little did the sensible “old” 17-year old me know that love was going to kick me in the hind and provide me with common sense on its way out!
But sometimes the sensible, pragmatic 30 year old me, craves the teenage years and the foolishness that comes with it. I won’t call it youth because by my standards I am still young, but alas not foolish anymore. Sometimes I get weary with all the thoughts and decisions that I am expected to take just because I have am an ‘adult!’ I am usually a very independent person but just for once I wish someone else would take all the decisions for me. Someone else would tell me if I am supposed to worry about my visas, my immigration status, would decide which guy was good enough for me to marry! And I wish, that that someone was my younger foolish self, who used to brave enough to tell a friend that she was being dumb and who used to be dumb enough to tell a boy that she liked him a lot!! Ahh the courage that comes from being young and dumb.
But wishing and hoping doesn’t tell me the future anymore than it changes my past. All we can ever do is play the cards we were dealt with, and pray and hope that we can survive them. Though my favorite prayer from a cartoon strip is: ‘God grant me the courage to change things I cannot accept, serenity to accept the things I have changed, and the wisdom to know I am different!’
The Poisoner’s Handbook by science writer Deborah Blum is about the birth of forensic toxicology in United States in early 20th century against the backdrop of prohibition and depression era. This book is primarily about pioneering efforts of Charles Norris – first chief medical examiner of New York and Alexander Gettler; his chief toxicologist. Together these two scientists changed the face of toxicology in the laboratories and in the courtrooms. They established the field of toxicology, bringing it the reputation it deserved and using scientific evidence to bring the poisoner’s to justice.
The book starts with a prologue about the lack of sufficient tools or methods for detection of poisons in early 19th century. It then describes the major poisons, starting with simple chloroform in early 1900’s and ending with thallium in 1930’s. Each chapter in the book is dedicated to a poison and the book progresses in the chronological manner, indicating the various important stages in the scientific development.
I have always been fascinated by forensics. While in undergrad school for pharmaceutical sciences pharmacology and toxicology was one of my favorite subjects along with organic and general chemistry. There is something very earthy and basic about getting your hands dirty while working in the lab. This book talks about the time when there were no hi-tech scientific instruments like mass spectrometers and liquid chromatography systems. Alexander Gettler invented his own analytical and detection ‘wet chemistry’ methods using his instincts and solid chemistry knowledge. He worked and published papers on poisons like methyl alcohol, cyanide, carbon monoxide, chloroform, thallium, developed techniques to find the minimum lethal doses of these poisons, refined the then existing analytical techniques-all this while being underpaid civil worker. The book talks about Charles Norris’ persistent troubles with the then mayoral authorities of New York, his constant struggles for getting higher budgets for medical examiner’s office and his initial troubles in getting the judicial system to allow scientific evidence in the courts.
It is a very well written and well researched book. It reads like a medical thriller as the reader constantly thinks how is Gettler going to detect this new poison! It imparts the right knowledge without sounding pedantic or too technical, it gives all the details but with the ease that a layman will understand. I am grateful to Deborah Blum for writing this book, otherwise I would have never known about these amazing ordinary heroes who fought so hard in their labs to make this world a better place. Anybody with an interest in chemistry with or without the chemistry background should be able to read and enjoy this book.