India’s banking system is failing the common you and me


India lost the finals of ICC Champion’s trophy; a cricket tournament that many believe is a mini World Cup. I loved cricket once. I loved it to such an extent that I would rather watch Sachin, Ganguly, and Dravid bat than study for my exams. However, later in my life I fell in love with fisheries sciences and began spending more time reading books and giving less importance to sports that others played. The same education took me from shore-to-shore and I got to see a whole new world with my own eyes. In the year 2012, I received an international scholarship from Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) for a PhD programme in Canada. I was excited. However, there was a catch – to obtain the scholarship I had to furnish a bank guarantee of $10,000 U.S. in favour of ICAR. This would mean that I was required to deposit $10,000 in a bank and sign a legal bond saying that if I failed to finish my PhD the entire sum would be transferred from my account to ICAR. My father had just switched his business from electronic repair to selling bags and we did not have that much money. I also needed money to obtain passport, VISA, study permit, English language proficiency certificate, warm clothes, and a even more money to pay for my room rent and tuition fees because I would be receiving money from ICAR only after one month (I also had to eat, so needed money to buy groceries). I was worried about loosing the opportunity but my parents felt guilty of not being able to provide me enough for my education. I could have probably lived without a foreign degree but my father would have never. I decided to go from bank to bank and ask them for loan against whatever we had. My mother was ready to sell her gold but we did not even have enough of that. We owned a house on a large patch of land that was clearly worth more than ten times the money we needed.

I took all the documents to show to the banks that we owned the house and we were willing to obtain a loan of only $10,000 against it. Every bank refused. It was the month of June – peak summers – and I walked, to every bank, far and near, begging for money. Even though we owned the house, I was made to feel as if I was begging like a peasant from a Premchand’s novel. Most banks thought it was too risky to put our house against the loan and they did not want the hassle of auctioning it in the event of my failure to meet the necessary requirements of the bond. Every bank wanted a 100% cash deposit that I did not have. A bank officer even said that there is no guarantee that I would finish my PhD degree, and that I might jusg fail one of the exams. I showed him all the gold medals I had received for being University topper in my bachelor’s and master’s degree to which he said that I might just die and not finish the degree. I cried within. I really did not want my parents to be thrown out of their home. That would be too much for them to tolerate after bearing my death.

After being turned away by all the banks, my father did what he would have never done – he asked his elder brother to loan us the money. My father knew that by doing this his brother would never miss an opportunity to make us realise that he ‘owned’ us and we were worthless. But he was ready to do that for my sake. Within a day the money was transferred to my account by my uncle. Now, all the banks were more than happy to prepare a bank guarantee for me. Some banks even wanted me to open a foreign currency account with them. I receive calls from such bank even now but I still have a plain savings bank account. I save a lot from my scholarship and when I look back I realise that had the banks allowed us a loan, I would have paid it back to them with interest in 18 months. But, the banks would have not wanted that. They want, in all the cases, to earn money. Pure bloodsuckers. Today I hate to even look at the banks.

So, when India was playing the ICC Champion’s trophy I was still not following the game; however, I was intrigued by the presence of Vijay Mallya in the cricket stadium in England. Vijay had taken millions of money as loans from banks, defaulted on all of them, and fled India to escape being incarcerated. On one hand I am amused to see how people think that Vijay Mallya has audacity to challenge the banks, on the other hand I am angered to see that banks had trust on a businessman and lent him millions but each of those banks refused to loan me just $10,000 against something that was far more valuable. As I said before, I am not interested in cricket but I have still not forgotten the humiliation I received from the banks.

Are we documenting our lives better than our ancestors?


Never ever have humans recorded their life the way they do it today. One falls sick, there is a status update on Facebook. Whether it is first birthday or inconsequential 26th, celebrations are shared with everyone over social media. If it is a new guitar or just a bad haircut, there is a record of it somewhere as pictures. When photography was invented, it was a great tool to immortalize an event, art or a person’s achievement. Today, with advent of camera phones, everyone is saving innumerable events every year. However, a pertinent question is – why are we immortalizing ourselves duck-faced? But the more important question is if we are actually immortalizing our moments? Are we really going to preserve the snapshots of our lives? Do you even remember where are the pictures that you took three months ago?

When I was doing my bachelor’s degree, I owned a Canon point-and-shoot camera. I loved taking picture with it and saved them all in DVDs. By the time I finished my degree, I probably had 5 DVDs. I did not print of any of those because all the moments were dear to me and I simply did not have enough money to document them in tangible form. Today, 5 years later, I miss those moments but cannot find the DVDs. I think I lost them or they broke. I clearly remember that 2 DVDs would just not work because they got scratched. When I moved to Canada from India three years ago, I copied all the photos to my computer so that I could see them when I missed my old days. But three days ago my hard disk crashed and I lost everything that I had saved on my computer. More interestingly, I was not even bothered about those pictures when my computer died; I was more worried about the data from my PhD research and all the references that I had collected over the years. Moreover, just because I considered that research data was important, I had it saved it on cloud and was able to retrieve it as soon as I fixed my computer. Why did I not backup my images? It is because I had so many of them that it would have cost me a lot to buy cloud space. Also, I don’t even remember the pictures that I had taken with my smart phone and where I saved them. Although I do remember buying my current phone because of its great camera and ability to take good photos even in low light. But now I wonder if my phone’s camera quality actually mattered to me when I have lost all the pictures that I had taken? In fact, 90% of the pictures that I take with my phone end up being deleted because those moments do not seem to matter much after few hours.

Our ancestors immortalized their moments, tales, events, and stories through tangible and durable records such as monuments, statues, cave paintings, terracotta art etc. In contrast, we are trying to encode our life in magnetic fields and binary numbers. I am forced to think that when the future civilizations will discover silicon and plastic debris, what will they think of us? If our civilization is wiped off and the future humans have to develop everything again, will they be able to develop devices fast enough to see how I celebrated my 30th birthday before my silicon records are decomposed? Finally, are we really documenting our lives better than our ancestors?

Biologists are usually good cooks


 

Few weeks back in my department we organised an event called “The Great Curry Cook Off”. For this people had to sign up to prepare curries that others paid to eat and at the end of the event people who had paid to eat would vote for the top 2 preparations. I decided to make chick peas. About a year and a half ago I didn’t even know how to boil rice and here I was cooking for a competition. Though I did not win, I knew that my curry was great. One big lesson was that biologists working in lab can be great cooks.

Why?

Let me explain.

If you are a biologist and work in a research lab then you definitely follow protocols that require long lists of ingredients. Some ingredients have to be prepared fresh while you are working on some other step of the protocol –  multitasking is important here. Few chemicals have to be protected from light and shock, and a lot of them have strict thermal requirements. Your time management skills are very important so that you add each ingredient at the perfect time to continue your reactions in a way that you want. I cannot emphasise the importance of your patience which a lot of us run out of. In short, as a biologist, you deal with a very complex cooking recipe which has to be served to a large number of audience in the form of peer reviewed journals and you better be good else the reviewers are always trying their best to kick your bu** hard.

Now, just like cooking a dish, where does a biologist get the recipe for experiments? They probably get it from senior lab mates or researchers (mothers and grandmothers in case of cooking). Lot of biologists take protocols from peer reviewed research papers (cookery books in case of cooking). In an ideal world, which a PhD student wished (s)he lived in, all these protocols and cooking recipe should work in the very first shot and give the desired results with no error bars; after all these protocols have worked for the rest of the world. However, we all are hit hard by the reality – protocols suck. Another reason why a biologist could be a better cook is that when they follow a protocol in lab they make sure that the function and importance of each step and ingredient is known – what if an external examiner decides to ask you a question on the importance of annealing temperature in a PCR reaction. Similarly, when a biologist is in kitchen (s)he knows the function and effect of each spice, ingredient and cooking conditions such as heat and stirring which leads to a better cooked dish.  Hence, it’s the intuition, time management skills, and most importantly patience that makes biologist a master chef. A biologist also knows that every time an experiment is repeated the error bars tighten up (Error α  1/n) and the same wisdom is applied in kitchen. Therefore, the skills that  biologists learns in lab helps them to make tastier food provided they are left with enough energy at the end of the day to cook and they supervisor pays them enough to buy proper monthly groceries.

What is apopoetic


My Friends often ask me what does apopoetic even mean. When I started this blog I had named it ‘dreaming biologist’. But I always love to personalize things and make it look more original; which means my blog’s name should also sound original and different. But at that time I could not think of a name that would not only hint at who I am but would also allude to the sort of content that I write. I am an aquatic biologist and this blog is more about my appreciation of things and events around me. I observe events, analyze it philosophically and try to weave them into stories.

Sometime in January 2013, when Canada was all white with snow I wrote a new blog post on love and showed it to a friend. She didn’t comment much on the emotional aspect of the story but was quick to point out that my writings are a bit sciency. I had used some statistical terms and dropped some biological concepts into the story. So, my article was poetic but with a pinch of biology. I am not sure if liked that feedback but I thought I should continue to write in the same style; biology+poetic appreciation of things around me.

I don’t know if you have noticed but I think that most poets are obsessed with love and death. I am not a poet but my thoughts are a bit and even I am not untouched by these two topics. I feel that love is amazing and death is the eternal truth. So, one day while staring at the vast, infinite expanses of snow I was thinking of an amazing cellular process called apoptosis. Every cell in our body has a pre-programmed self destruct function. Any abnormality, internal or external, that goes beyond repair triggers a cascade of suicidal proteins and other molecules which finally cleave the DNA into small bits. DNA gone = game over. So, while thinking on the beauty of this process I stumbled upon this new word that I coined right then. Therfore, the term apopoetic comes from two words; APOPtosis and POETIC. Since this blog is all about musing of life of which death is an integral part and I am a biologist I think the term is apt. I define this term as poetic musings of life.

In one sentence.


Isn’t it amazing, we all may have an idea of what we want to be but don’t have enough strength to frame it in one simple sentence and say it aloud to the world.

Be the Purple Cow

Best selling author Dan Pink talks about an interesting trait of great leadership.

Apparently, a young woman in congress in early 1960s asked President John F Kennedy, what he wanted to do for America in ONE SENTENCE.

Just one sentence.

She said, “Lincoln had one sentence, to save the union of states and free the slaves, Franklin Roosevelt had only one sentence, to save America from Great Depression and to win the world war.”

She went on to say, “Mr President, you don’t have a sentence, you have a model paragraph. You are trying to do a hundred different incoherent things.Thereby, you are doing nothing.”

Kennedy was awestruck. He went back to his desk and within some months came back with his greatest goal as a President.

It sounded a little ambitious then but never mind, he pushed the whole human race forward.

He simple said in 1961, “Before…

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Creative Routines


I read it 15 years back that never say you don’t have time, Einstein had same 24hrs as you have. Whenever I am overwhelmed with work I tell myself these words and it always works.

Info We Trust

“We all have the same 24 hours that Beyoncé has” and its various iterations took the web by storm in late 2013 as the megastar became the figurehead of not only having it all, but being able to somehow do it all too.

How do creatives – composers, painters, writers, scientists, philosophers – find the time to produce their opus? Mason Currey investigated the rigid Daily Rituals that hundreds of creatives practiced in order to carve out time, every day, to work their craft. Some kept to the same disciplined regimen for decades while others locked in patterns only while working on specific works.

Creative Routines Poster

There are enough data to visualize a portion of the hundreds of creative lifestyles. Click the poster to discover:
Gustave Flaubert
Ludwig Van Beethoven
W.A. Mozart
Thomas Mann
Sigmund Freud
Immanuel Kant
Maya Angelou
John Milton
Honore de Balzac
Victor Hugo
Charles Dickens
W.H. Auden
Charles Darwin

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