Rants of a Physics undergrad

“Which major do you want to take?”

“Why, of course, Physics. I love Astronomy!”

“So, you have read A Brief History of time, right?”

“Yes, but how do you know?”

“How many times?”

“Three…each time I read I understand more and more.”

When I was having this conversation recently with a first ­year student, it seemed to me that I was talking to my younger self, whom I had left behind a long time ago. I used to spend long times star­-gazing and I felt proud about myself if I spotted Mars or Sirius. The twinkling stars did rub off on me. When I started my formal studies in physics, I had the same sparkle in my eyes as a teenager has when they get to meet their infatuation, the same odd mixture of excitement and nervousness. Fed on the stories of legends and their serendipitous discoveries from my childhood, I entered my college education, eagerly waiting for an apple to fall on my head.

However, when I got my hands dirty in the field, I realized most of these apples don’t fall so easily on your head. And worse, most of the time I found myself mundanely watering or pruning the apple trees planted by the giants. Often I was trying to debug someone else’s program that ran over hundred of lines. Or I was banging my head on following a few steps of a derivation in a research paper where author had provided me professional help with an extremely enlightening remark ‘It can be shown that …’. Apparently for everyone it was too trivial to waste time on it. Those excruciatingly long hours made me realize that one doesn’t always get to do the “real” physics. My formal training did teach me fairly advanced stuff like how to compute cross-­sections of particles colliding in Large Hadron Collider. But it left me high and dry when it came to quenching my younger self’s curiosity like why rainbow’s shape is a bow or when clothes are soaked in water, why their color turns darker or why do whirlpools in wash­basins always rotate in anti­clockwise direction. Further, simplicity might be the trademark of a good theory but working with spherical cow approximations doesn’t give satisfaction in the long run.

Many a times I asked myself where is the legendary musk for which I came looking for. I don’t think that hero­ worshiping is a sin. No, instead my concern is with being blindly romantic. This risk is quite high in physics (unlike mathematics) because here often only the glamorous side of the story is told. While recalling how Einstein solved splendidly the aether problem with his special theory of relativity in 1905, it is also important to stress contributions of Poincaré, Lorentz and others. History’s tendency to credit collective success to an individual does glamorize the story, but on the cost of sometimes giving an incorrect picture of what actually happened.

To conclude, there is no denying the fact that physics has its own rewards. My only hope is that when you find that research is not always a free ­flowing joy, when you find that you are stuck in a blind alley despite your best efforts, when you are desperate for some sign of physics to pop up in your lengthy calculations, then you would not complain that nobody told you so. Because I did.

Taxonomy of Love

What is love? A working definition could be love is something more than attachment. If you don’t like my definition, you would at least agree with mathematician G.H Hardy who said that “we may not know quite what we mean by a beautiful poem [love], but that does not prevent us from recognizing one when we read [see] it”. Once preliminaries are out of our way, I would list down my classification of various types of love seen around us –

  • Casual Love: It can be in the form of what people say to be infatuation/crush/puppy love. Or it can be a one-night stand. You get as easily infected as you get over it. Despite its short shell life, it can sometimes start with a thunderbolt and leave a lasting trace.
  • Domestic Love: Love that you take for granted. This guaranteed stability is its cause for salvation as well as its downfall. You would go all around the world looking for love ignoring it completely. But each time you return disappointed, domestic love would be always there waiting for you with its open arms, just like home. This is the most undervalued, underrated love.
  • Solitary Love: Love that is best enjoyed without nobody’s company, all alone in the seclusion. Of course, narcissism is included in this category but I am sure you are not thinking about it. It is popularly believed that males are the sole practitioner of this ignominious love. But there are beauties who have discovered it for their private pleasure. Once you taste the fruits of the labor, it is difficult to let go off it even for married ones. It is a great stress-reliever and you can have whenever you feel like, subject to only time and space constraint. For novices, it provides first opportunity to explore themselves.
  • Bedroom Love: Many would vehemently keep enough distance between the words love and sex. There is not any if we we are talking about bedroom love. Now again many of us would say what one does which involves above the waist is spiritual love and the one which involves below the waist is physical love. Why there is so much reluctance to accept the divinity and purity of the orgasmic pleasure one gets during copulation? Accept it and enjoy it without any guilt! It is not for nothing that Pagans believed that it is a means of enlightenment.
    Okay, I think a clarification is in order. The whole one-night stand affair is casual love but what you do during the night is bedroom love.
  • Unrequited Love: Love that is tragic and comic at the same time. You would be pledging your love to be pure (read not associated with sexual desire) in front of their photographs and dreaming to make them your life partner, but the other doesn’t even get to know that you exist. Or worse, they know everything about your love, but they don’t care about it or they pretend so. If you are wasting your time playing the waiting game, it means you believe it is the latter. Don’t do that. Instead follow tenth commandment of Osho: do not search; that which is, is; stop and see. This is the most despicable love. Avoid it at all costs and move on to a different love as soon as possible.
  • Perfect Love: Love that is told to be eternal, absolute and unconditional. Almost always it is supposed to be love-at-first-sight with a zing factor. In other words, once you see it, you can never miss it. It is often believed that it is spontaneous; you don’t need to put any effort as it will come looking for you on its own. Sadly you rarely experience it and if you do, it doesn’t last for more than a few moments. Every relationship has those perfect moments of triumph over banality. And nostalgia makes you feel you only had such moments in your past. If you are wise enough to resist nostalgia, then you would find yourself lured by the red roses and chocolates, walk during rains or full-moon nights, a world painted by the romantic songs, movies and novels. All of them are bent on making you believe the magic is for real. At the end of the day, they are a substitute for reality which help you to indulge in what is called vicarious love.
  • Vicarious Love: Love that is derived, the love you experience second-hand either in romantic novels or movies. You can’t brush aside its seriousness just because it’s imaginary.

(Acknowledgement: Inspiration goes to Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the time of cholera, and all of my past and present loved ones)

na, na, na…not a love story

When he saw the reservation chart declaring his allotted seat as RAC B6 31, he had only one word for it, ‘yuk!’. Already he was in a bad temper. The bus conductor had charged him extra for his apparently small luggage. If only the conductor had told him before, he would never have boarded that bus.

‘Now, where the hell is the platform 5?’ He was standing on platform 3. On the other side, there was platform 4. After which, there were only railway lines and with good-carriage trains on them. This was an ideal situation to ask for local help. The tea vendor told him it was at the backside of platform 4.’ Huh, backward?’ And as he moved in the specified direction, suddenly the platform took a little turn and a railway line started. Sure enough, a sign on the pole declared ‘platform 5’. Ingenious way of working in a limited space!

http://ourdailyfred.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/slow-train.jpg?w=426&h=283

When the train arrived on the platform, dragging his suitcase and ruck-sack, which had testimonies of his mom’s affections, he reached his RAC seat. He swiftly placed his luggage beneath the berth so as to occupy the maximum space and then waited for the other person with whom he was going to share the seat. Already it was a side-lower berth meaning it had less space compared to the opposite ones. It was sure that he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He just prayed for a good company. If the person wouldn’t delight him, at least he shouldn’t disturb him. Deep in these thoughts, he plugged earphones into his ears and plunged into music. After a while, he felt train moving. “Good, so he couldn’t catch it. He must be a bit too late.” Happy with his conclusion, he increased the volume of his music player.

***

He felt a soft pat on his shoulder. He moved around to see that a girl, wearing orange kurti over a black salwar with her shoulder-length hair untied, was saying something to him. She was carrying a back-pack. In one hand, she had her hand-bag while the other one was busy in holding her hair in place. He took out his earphones and asked rudely, “What?”

“Is this B6 31?”

“Yes, it is. Can’t you read it?”

“Yes, I can. But I am not sure about the coach. As I was bit late, I had to board into the coach, whichever came first to me.”

“Okay. Yes, it is B6 31…uhh… sorry, bit of bad temper.” he said,realizing he was talking to a girl who didn’t come across your eyes often. She was a thing of beauty. Despite her repeated efforts, her hair kept on coming in front of her face. When she tried to move them away from her face, she looked more beautiful.

“It’s alright.”, saying this, she smiled and then started arranging her back-pack in whatever space was left beneath the berth.

“Oh, I can help you with that”, saying this, he rearranged his luggage in a less aggressive manner. “umm…and what’s your name?”

“Jwala”, saying this, she continued to arrange her luggage carrying female paraphernalia.

He had expected that she would ask his name.  After her arrangements done, he hadn’t expected her to take out a book from her bag either. She chose the opposite corner, sat there with one leg beneath her and the other one folded. She started reading her book ‘When you can’t stop talking’ as the train moved on. He threw himself to the other corner. He took out one book and pretended to read it. “What does she think of herself? What if she is beautiful? If she gives a smile, all boys would start licking her feet. Go to hell!”He again plugged his earphone and started listening to the song ‘Mora piya mose bolat nahi‘ (My beloved is not talking to me) in the repeat mode of the player.

***

A few hours later, over the sound of the song playing, he heard the unusual loud sound of somebody clapping. He knew eunuchs were coming and therefore, lowered the volume. He now pretended to sleep. He heard them approaching nearer. He thought, “Jwala, being a girl, would not worry about them. She would be surely seeing my response. I don’t know what to do. Should I quietly give them a 10-rupee note? No, no, I would just pretend that I am in deep sleep.”

Somebody started caressing his cheeks. It was the second human contact for him during the day. It wasn’t soft. It was repulsive. He was just bidding his time. The eunuch said, ‘ Aey uth na, janu. Abey de na.

He didn’t move. Now the hand drifted towards his chest, opening his shirt-button. He had to do something. But what? Now, Jwala stopped pretending that she could continue reading when something interesting was going to happen.

Opening his eye, he quickly sat upright and said, ‘ aey de na, de na! kab se intzaar kar raha hun ki ab degi, ab degi. deti kyun nahi?’

‘ oh! toh tu bhi wahi hai.

haan, main bhi wahi hun‘, putting one finger on the chin, he answered in a womanish voice.

Hearing this, the eunuch blushed. Other passengers laughed. Jwala smiled. And with that, ice between them did break.
***

Despite the train rocking passengers in its way towards destination, people had made themselves comfortable. It didn’t look like they had just boarded the train. Some had taken out snacks from their bags, while some were just talking. Children had started playing their games which grown-ups  didn’t bother to understand. And there were vendors selling different stuff like tea, coffee, samosa, biscuits.

On one of the side lower-berths, a strong undercurrent of emotions was flowing.

“A sunny day with patches of clouds in the sky. Today’s weather is just perfect, don’t you think?”, he said, looking outside through the window.

“hmm… right.” , buried in the book, she mumbled.

“I know it would make anybody angry the way I talked to you.”

na, na, na… I wasn’t angry.”

“hmm…oh, but you should have been!”, he said facing her. However, all he could see was the book’s cover.

“I don’t get angry that easily.”

“Had anybody else been in your place, she would have fought with me. Already you must be in bad mood as you got late, right? “

na, na, na… I wasn’t in a bad mood either.”

“ah, good…your book looks like a novel. Murder mystery?”

na, na, na…”, still buried in the book, she mumbled.

“Fanatsy?”

na, na, na…”

“Romantic? I suppose that should have been my first guess.”

na,na, na..”

He went back to gazing fields outside through the window. For how long could he stare at the cover of a book?

He was not liking the repeated usage of ‘na, na, na…’ a bit. In fact, he was getting irritated. Already she wasn’t going easy on him.

https://i1.wp.com/ak1.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/888724/preview/stock-footage-view-of-passing-landscape-from-a-train-window.jpg

Just then a TTE arrived in the coach carrying the reservation chart with him. When he reached berth no. 31, checking their tickets, he said, “So, you two people are sharing this RAC berth. Okay, what’s your name, girl?… yes, Jwala! it’s my duty to ask you if there is any problem here?”

“Not yet.”, she said putting down her book.

“Good. In case, if there is any problem, I can arrange for a different seat. In the previous coach, we do have a similar pair. An elderly lady with a high-school student. So, we if you want to shift, both of you ladies can be together.”

“No, thank you, sir. It’s alright here.”

“Have a good day.”

“Oh, I thought you would go to the other seat”, he said to her as soon as the TTE left.

“And why would you think that?”,she asked back. This time her face was not hidden behind the book.

“As I was boring you so much with my stupid questions.”

na, na, na…on the contrary, I was boring you. The book was at such a critical juncture that I couldn’t resist it. And then who wants to go and sit with an old hag?”

This time he liked and enjoyed every bit of her ‘na, na,na…’. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling.

“okay…tell me about the book.”

“Oh, it’s nothing great. Just a usual romantic story.”

“But you said no when I asked if it was romantic.”

“Did I say that? Sorry. Must be deeply engrossed in…. Oh, no!”

Some tea vendor was pouring tea in a cup when a child came running and hit him. Child fell. Tea spilled on her kurti. The child started crying as soon as he fell. Children are quite good at knowing when to cry. Nearby passengers attention was on the child while his was on her.

“Can’t you see properly?”, he said in a raised voice to the tea-vendor.

“But, Saheb…”

“What is his fault? He was busy pouring tea in the moving train. He couldn’t see the child coming.”, she said while rubbing her kurti clean with a tissue paper that had just sprang out of nowhere.

“These parents also don’t take care of their children. Children keep on doing some nuisance or the other.”

Arrey, now if children wouldn’t do nuisance, who would?”

He couldn’t say anything further. She then went to the wash-basin.

“How could somebody be like this? I would not have been surprised if she had paid the tea-vendor for his loss. “, he grumbled to himself.

With nothing great to do, he took out his mobile and started looking through his SMS Inbox. After a few minutes, she came back. Seeing him busy with his mobile, she again started reading her book.

“Hi, I didn’t notice you came back.”

“Ya, you were sort of busy with your mobile.”

“hmm..was writing a poem.”

“Where? In the mobile?”

“Yes. Would you like to read it?”

“Do I have an option?”, saying this she gave a smile and started reading his poem.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever
Sure, but what is it for itself?
A thing of beauty is a joy forever
Sure, but would you like to be one yourself?

It’s natural to desire for everyone’s attention
Sure, but sometime won’t you like to parade around unnoticed
It’s natural to desire to be everyone’s sensation
Sure, but sometime won’t you like to hide behind shadows

You see your success in the eyes of others
Sure, but what if they speak of only their success
You see your success from the eyes of others
Sure, but what if they glorify your only success

Complaining lets off some desperation
Sure, but what if it takes away your divinity
Complaining lets off some frustration
Sure, but what if it doesn’t fit your description

Ya, a thing of beauty is a joy forever
Sure, but some things you want only as a souvenir.”

“It’s good… really good, especially considering that you wrote it within 15 minutes. Although somebody else might say that it’s negative about beautiful things. But anyway, it’s nice.”

“Leave about others. What do you think?”

“I already said. It’s good. Now don’t tell that you literally wrote it for me.”, sensing something she said it while looking into his eyes.

“Okay…not for you, but yes inspired by you.”

“In that case, are you complimenting or demeaning me?”

“Neither. Just thought this is how you… I mean, a thing of beauty feels like. “

“So, this is the title of your poem- How it feels like to be a thing of beauty.”

“Yes exactly, how do you know?”, he said astonished.

“I happen to know many other things. I also know that this poem is written by you.”, she said as if revealing a secret and started laughing.

“Okay, got it. Dumb question to ask. Now stop leg pulling. Tell me why don’t you complain?”

“About what?”

“About anything.”

“Simply because I don’t like complaining.”

“But there is nothing wrong in complaining.”

“There is. I don’t know if this is true for boys but certainly this is true about girls. My room-mate and I used to often discuss about it. If you complain about something, it takes away your positive energy. One doesn’t feel good after that. It affects us literally in a certain way.”

“Do you think that on the next morning of you complaining about anything, you would find a pimple on your cute face?”

“Ha,ha…Not that but still…”

“Strange.”

“But not stranger than this- today the train is on time. Looks like my station is just going to come. I’ll better hurry up.”, she said sitting upright suddenly. Leaving the book on the seat, she started pulling out her ruck-sack and placed it to on the berth. She took out a comb and mirror from her hand-bag and started combing.

As he knew he would not able to stop himself from staring her, while she combed her hair, he decided to go towards the toilet. Girls looked their best to him, when their one hand hold a comb while the other hold their hair in place. In the back of his mind, something else was going. Just when he thought it was going good, Indian Railways had ruined it for him. Whenever he wanted desperately to reach on time, trains were consistently late. But not this time.

He wanted some more time with her. Now how could he ask for her mobile number?  She hadn’t known him for long enough. If only, he hadn’t lost time because of her romantic book, which had turned totally unromantic for him, it could have been better. But what to do now? He was thinking hard.

He felt train slowing down. He could see train mocking at him, “What do you think trains are for-romance?”

He went back to the seat so that he could at least bid her adieu  She had tied her hair into a ponytail and looked like was just going to leave. She held her hand-bag and carried her ruck-sack on her back, and started moving towards the door.

“Hey, Jwala, wait! Your book”, he just noticed she had forgotten her book on the seat. When he picked up the book to give it to her, a small piece of paper, with something scribbled on it, dropped out of it.

“Oh, see, you are also leaving somebody’s number.”,saying this, he gave book along with the note to her.

“It’s for you, dumbo.”, giving him back the note.

“Oh…” He couldn’t believe his ears… “thanks…ah,can I call you then?”, he said as if proposing to her.

na, na, na…just keep on staring at it.”

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