Monday, April 12, 2010

When the past takes a flight and alights on your present.

I do not have an adjective to qualify the happiness that you feel when a leaf from the past takes a flight and alights on your present. The name of the flight that my past chose to fly yesterday night was Joby Joseph.

Joby was the conscience of my lab during my master's studies at IISc. He was then working on his PhD thesis topic : "Why only two ears? - Some indicators from the study of source separation using two sensors". In fact, with out making a big fuss about it, he was showing us all that two ears are indeed enough for us to be sensitive about the world around us. I have learned a lot from being with him and admiring him all the while. But it seems that the only thing he ever tried to "teach" me was bird watching and he failed. His skill at spotting birds is pure magic and its futile trying to learn it. After PhD he had moved on to NIH Maryland to pursue post doctral studies in neuro science and has been there for last five years.

That is the leaf from the past. And see how it alighted onto my present
Today at 2.30 pm while attending a class, I got a call on my mobile from an unidentified number. As usual, I didn't bother to return the call. But when I reached the department, the security told me that some one had come for me and got my mobile number. He showed me the visitor's register and there I found these letters - J, o, b, y, J, o, s, e, p, and h. I couldn't believe it. I returned the missed call, but there was nothing to be heard from the other side. (Later I found out that his phone had a dysfunctional microphone.) Then I got it confirmed that Joby is in campus and in fact will be giving a lecture in ECE department at 4 pm. I rushed to the venue and there I met with my past.

I hardly understood any of the biological terms that he used. For a self proclaimed theoretician like me, his work seemed so frighteningly real. He cuts open the head of grass hoppers by hand and implants sensors in them to directly record the field potential at the scale of single neurons. The last two slides had quite a surprise in it. The penultimate one was a photo of his home laboratory. It was quite surprising to know that these kind of experiments could be performed using equipments that will fit well onto a single table and costing no more than a few lakhs of rupees. The last slide contained portraits of each one of his lab team - fellow researchers, technicians and students. I do not recollect any presentation which ended with such a slide.

Joby has not changed.

But IISc has.

At least according to him and one of our famous friend - Natasha - the nature lover and the nature photographer. After the talk we and one more friend took a walk to what according to them was once the corridor of life in IISc and what is now a construction site with four massive buildings nearing completion. The area near D-gate and the air field. Both Joby and Natasha seemed to be really depressed at the loss of such biodiversity. I had to admit that I had never noticed the richness there when it was there.

Even when people walk together, they see, hear and smell very different worlds. Some just see, hear and smell the tensions inside their heads. Some see the buildings, hear the roads, and smell the dust. Some see the trees, hear the birds, and smell the flowers. For example, now Vinita is seeing the rain and I'm seeing an LCD monitor! Wish I had a greener heart.