Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why I Love Viruses……

I can bet that nine out of ten people reading the title will immediately think I am talking about computer viruses, worms and assorted online trash. No. I am not. What I am referring to is the original, the one and only, natural viruses, after which the malicious computer codes were named- in admiration, in fact. Now don’t get me wrong. Its not that I am some kind of apocalypse-loving death wish spouting crazy dude because I declare my love for viruses of the biological variety. But as someone who has dabbled a bit in the field of microbiology, in a purely amateur, aww shucks, this is soo interesting kind of way, I do love those nasty buggers, the viruses, those pieces of raw genetic information (incomplete code, for you computer-geeks to understand) which, once inside a host, voila, form a complete and virulent organism, capable of reproducing in millions…

The immediate reason for this post is two things which happened last week. The first one was, the UN declaring India Polio free, more about which later. And the second was the preemptory way we were ordered at the hospital to undergo swine-flu vaccination to prevent A1H1N1 (the swine-full viruses’ official designation) infection….i hope you sympathize with me, that I can swallow any number of pills but show me an injection needle and I will scream and run and hide. At least that’s what I used to do before I had to start learning to give 50 injections a day…of course to others. That kinda eased my discomfort with those sharp, long things, but I am still unable to overcome a tendency to close my eyes tightly when someone approaches me with a loaded syringe. So, given a choice I would gladly have taken my chance with swine-flu virus rather than the injection.

The reason, I say so, is not because I am extra brave or anything, it’s just that the news I am hearing about the swine-flu virus, THIS YEAR, is that it has mutated to such an extent compared to the previous year’s version, that although it is more infective now, with an increase in number of people infected even in summer while previously it dared not show its head out in the bright sunlight and waited for gloomy, rainy days, it appears to be attenuated (weakened) to a certain extent, with less deaths and number of people recovering more, with just a mild disease. The mutation means that the vaccine which was prepared for last year’s edition of the virus is just about equal to coloured water now in efficiency, but people still line up to get the shot purely for mental satisfaction. Because once you are infected, you have to wait for your body to organize itself and then clear the virus on its one- this is not bacteria, you cannot kill it with anti-biotics. This sonafabitch is a virus- too hard to kill.

Which brings me back to the polio virus. I have a special affinity to the polio virus because of the grief it caused me in my 2nd year Microbiology class. The topic for the lecture was Polio and I has as usual made my preparation before the class, so when the lecturer stated that the Salk vaccination, which is orally administered is better than the Sabin vaccine which is injectable, I stood up and contradicted her (I was yet to learn my survival lessons then). This kind of caused a flap and I was sent to the HOD to defend myself, who instructed me to report with the proofs of my assertion or not turn up at all, (remember, I was still a raw 2nd year student then -of a 5 year course).. so next class, I turned up before the the full inquisition board, the entire department and proved that my statement was correct, the injectable vaccine was more efficient (as it prevented infection even from wild strains seen in nature), but because the government could not afford to inject everyone, it promoted the easy to use Oral or Drop method vaccine for mass vaccination. It was just economics (economy of scale) triumphing over science. I was grudgingly vindicated and re-admitted in class.

So, when the UN declared that India was Polio-free I was intrigued until I read the report in detail, that says that there were no new infections of polio (in humans) which we means that the virus had no human host where it can show its villainy. Current evidence says that it survives exclusively in humans so the virus should have died a natural death by now. But has it? These are hardy little buggers and they can literally hide inside our very cells and strike when we are weak. I wouldn’t be popping the champagne anytime soon in our fight against the viruses. They were some of the earliest developed life forms on our planet and they make even the dinos seem a young species. We just have to learn to coexist with them and of course, develop efficient anti-virals to deal with infections. But that seems a tall order, twenty years after HIV erupted into public consciousness, we still don’t have an effective anti-viral to kill it. And HIV is a baby compared to what’s out there – Ebola, Hantu, WestNile river etc. 

If you are still with me, I can conclude only by saying that just like an archeologist gets excited by old bones, I get excited by these miniscule creatures who live all around us, inside us and affect everything we do, but which most of us have never given a second thought to. Respectable enemies they are, remember that next time you have a cold.

Sunday, April 22, 2012



[This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, places, etc is purely imaginary]

I was hurrying home from work as I usually do on Saturdays looking forward to kicking back my legs and enjoying the rest of the short weekend when I got a call on my mobile. I had just turned onto my street and could see my house down the road and I debated whether I should stop to answer the call right away or would it wait till I got home. Would it be a call over from work asking me to report back to duty for any emergency? I had just crossed over half the city from easternmost end to the westernmost end, with all the traffic hassles with various city-improvement destruction of the roads, to finally reach home and now I have to go all the way back? 

Cursing, I pulled out the phone and was startled to see it was from Preethi. What did this mean? I had an off today from my consultant duty and she was supposed to take on the slack. Was she as usual trying to wriggle out of her commitments by passing it on to any unwary prey she could reach? Most of the other male colleagues of ours had fallen victim to her wiles, her “I have a sudden emergency at home, my grandmother is sick” routine which was all pure balderdash. As I knew for a fact that on those very same sick-leave days, she would be hanging around various malls and theatres with her boyfriend. She knew and she knew I knew that there was no way I was going to fall for whatever story she spun now. I was too old a pro for that. Courtesy a Tamil proverb – only a Snake knows other snakes’ legs…

Anyways I switched the phone on reluctantly and said “Hello”. Preethi started talking fast as she usually did “hi! Where are you right now? Remember you were talking about watching titanic in 3-D? Well, I have an extra ticket for the movie with me, my boyfriend can’t come and I don’t want the ticket to go waste and so I am on my way to Satyam theatre”. It took me a few seconds to process all this information and understand that she wanted me to go a movie with her. Travel halfway back the city again to the theatre? As I was puzzling it over, she started screaming in my ear in her rapid-fire staccato way “if you are not coming tell me now, I thought I would call you first, before I call any other guy, don’t want to waste the ticket, so you coming? Or should I call someone else?” Well, that tore it, I was first on her list? Can’t turn her down now, can I. So, I dutifully said yes, even though I had just 40 minutes to make my way to the theatre.

 I hurried home to change from my work clothes, unbuttoning my shirt in the car and by the time I had rung the doorbell and my mom had opened it, I was out of my shirt and was about to unzip my pants. “Just in time mom” I told her as she had prevented me from doing a strip on the street. I raced through the house scattering clothes all the way to my room, where I pulled on some casuals and ran back to the front screaming “lock the front door, I am going to a film” and escaped before further questioning.

On the way to the theatre, I reflected on this sudden consideration of Preethi. Why me? As far as I knew she hated my guts. I was the last man standing, the only one between her and the post of chief in the department. When she had joined, an year ago, there had been three others between her and me, in hierarchy and in matter of months she ate them all like a great white shark and was now snapping at my heels. I knew she was unscrupulous, devious and cunning, but hey, I was all the same and more. I had fended off her challenge and had shown her place to her. Was this some elaborate trap she had planned for me? Some sort of sexual harassment, the movie “disclosure” type of complaint in the offing? Hmmm!!! If so the prudent part would be to cancel and head home. But the reckless part of me, wouldn’t allow me, it wanted, craved the thrill, the danger – of walking into the trap and busting it on her face. Well, let’s see. On the other hand this might just be a friendly overture to watch a film, a way of not wasting the ticket money. By this time, I had reached the theatre.

Preethi was there by the ticket counter and she waved me over. A lot of guys there gave me dark and dirty looks as they turned around to see who she was waving to. She looked stunning as usual, the perfect example of the cliché, that all that glitters is not gold. As everyone around us, wallowed in jealousy, we went in to watch the film. Titanic in 3-D was exactly as titanic had been in 2-D all those years ago. I really felt sad for myself, when I reflected that I was watching such a beautiful love story with an enemy instead of a friend or lover. But I consoled myself with the thought that at least she was beautiful and no one else in the theatre would guess we weren’t a couple, especially as we were sitting so close together with her leaning on my arm.

After the movie got over and we walked out of the theatre, I offered to pay her for the ticket, but she refused and said she wasn’t going to let me off that easy. She wanted a treat instead. So we trooped off to ID, the specialty restaurant at the theatre, and I decided that I was going to make sure that I wasn’t going to be fooled into sticking to my diet while she emptied my purse. For someone who looked so petite, she had a damn fine appetite, ate like a horse and I had seen her rip off the other guys in those early days before everyone learnt her ways. 

As we sat there eating, I asked her “so what happened to your boyfriend?” and she told me “he couldn’t come to Chennai this weekend as we planned, there was some kind of strict deadline at his company and he had to stay back”. Preethi’s boyfriend was currently working in Bangalore and he used to drop over into Chennai most weekends to meet her, spend time with her and bed her (as the wags gossiped) before heading back. The other girls bitched behind her back, that being available to him, was the only way she could retain him this long on such a long distance relationship. But as I have often found, women can be the cruelest critics of their own sex when they are jealous.

“So tell me again” I asked “how you two met?” “Well, Preethi drawled as she disposed off a masala-dosa at top speed “he is the son of our downstairs people, our house-owners”. I enquired “So you have known him long then?” She said “For years and years, ever since we rented their house. But I wasn’t interested him at first, it was only when he got that IT job in Bangalore and went off to Bangalore that I first realized how much I had been loving him and told him so” I nodded my head and refrained from asking “so, your sudden love didn’t have anything to do with the fact that he had suddenly got a job with a MNC and started earning a lakh or so every month?” but I couldn’t help smiling at this thought. 

She must have seen my sly smile so she candidly went on “His parents were very irritating house-owners, they were always putting new rules for us tenants, I decided then I would get back all the rent my dad paid them over the years by marrying their son”. “So they have agreed?” I asked. Preethi said, “Not yet, but if they don’t they would just have to leave the house to us and go away, its ancestral property and he is fully entitled to it”. “Ha, ha”  I thought to myself , “all parents of sons with houses beware, somewhere a tenant is planning to marry your son and chase you away in your old age, if you don’t behave as reasonable owners”

Meanwhile, something happened which disturbed our intense secret-sharing session. Preethi had been squeezing some tomato ketchup over her noodles, she had all this while, maintained a steady stream of food traffic, and she squirted some ketchup over to the next table, on the white duppata of a girl sitting next to us. This was a raucous party of four, dad, mom, and what looked like two (yummy/good-looking) sisters and they had been making a lot of noise all the time. They looked like they were celebrating someone’s birthday, the mothers, I guess, so despite the disturbance the other patrons of the restaurant had looked on indulgently.

But when the girl beside us said something derogatory about people’s lack of concentration, the tigress opposite me snarled and waded into her. Very soon, a full-fledged female-on-female fight was going on. I would have enjoyed watching it, but it was getting late and I had to get home by at least five P.M. as my mother had warned me that we were going out around Seven PM that day, to go see a girl for me, for an arranged marriage, the very reason I had taken an off-duty from work that day. And Preethi was delaying me, with this catfight. So I neatly stepped in and pulled her off from the other girl and we departed posthaste. After seeing Preethi off on her bike, I went back home to face the inevitable music from my mom.

Two hours later, freshened up, neatly dressed, we reached the girls house, were we were welcomed by the bride’s father and asked to step inside. From the dim lighting on the veranda, as we went into the bright light of the drawing room, I glanced over to see that the gentleman was the father of the fighter-cock I had seen that afternoon and the very girl, I had pulled Preethi off was standing there in front of us. I knew everything was finished in those first few seconds of meeting that family. So how was I gonna explain this to anyone?

By the way, from the title if you are wondering about who the sauce was for, it was ME, the goose.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Anger Management Issues.....

In addition to my clinical duties, I have to occasionally indulge in administrative duties, which despite the fancy words merely refers to refereeing my subordinates while they slash each other. So I walk in this morning to find a landmine waiting for me, a perfect trap set by one of my juniors to make me blow up in the face of another. The scene had been prepared carefully, the dialogues were pitch perfect- enough to make any normal man explode in anger and punish the offending culprit. My instigator was foaming at the mouth “do it sir, do it, this time you have to take action, we cannot let this kind of behavior go on any longer, we have to make an example this time”. As I said, enough to make any normal person give a memo/call for explanation immediately. Any normal person. Not me.

 I have this curious habit of thinking things through even when I am under great pressure, even when someone is screaming in my ear. They say the best soldiers perform calmly even when the bombs are falling all around them, bullets are whizzing past their ears. Unfortunately, I have never had the chance to be in a combat situation, so I don’t know if I will panic or stay calm. But in all other non-combat situations my mind stays grounded. Besides I am a great believer in the concept of “audi alteram partem” or “hear the other side” and in the absence of the nominal offender and without inquiring her side of the story, I was reluctant to take action and present her with an adverse order on arrival. After all, it would be more proper to chew the person out verbally first and then do the needful, I reasoned. 

And so after  asking the accuser to calm down and leave it to me decide on the proper course of action, I decided to involve myself in the daily routine of work which had got stalled with this diversion. By and by, I started thinking things through, piercing stuff together and with judicious inquiry among the others around the department, I finally understood that I was about to have made myself a donkey that morning. The entire thing had been the result of a personal vendetta between two warring parties and one of them had set a trap for the other on the occasion when the accused party would be late and not be able to defend herself and counting on me to the dirty work of actually taking action and facing the ire of everyone once the issue explode beyond the confines of our department. In chess terms, a check had been placed on me. 

Nobody fools around with good-natured, good old me, can they? In minutes I had a counter plan ready and calling in the accuser of the morning, I told her in no uncertain terms that although I was in overall in-charge, she (along with the other) was the one directly responsible for the state of affairs and in the absence of the other I had no option but to punish the accuser and proceeded to issue a call for explanation memo to the trap setter. Biter bit. Checkmate..Look on her face. Priceless.

The point I am trying to make in this post is that the only thing which saved me from exploding a grenade in my face was my anger management, my lack of temper, my self-control or whatever you want to call it. I am very, very slow to anger, so slow that I probably do it maybe once in  five years or so. And then I do it,  because everyone around tells me that it’s good to let go off your anger rather than bottle it up and so I give myself permission to act angry, for others sake if not for mine. Believe me it’s so hard to act angry or pissed off when you are just not feeling it and you are only laughing your head off inside. 

People close to me have always been astonished at my self-control and lack of anger (in contrast to the rest of the family- all of them Rayalseeema Chilli like hot to anger - swear death, revenge and vendetta types) and have praised me for it as if its voluntary, but it’s not. I don’t consciously do it. I somehow find the funny side of everything, even if it’s me being made fun off. When you are laughing inside you cannot be angry. My sister has over the years accused me of being a cold fish with no passion or emotion. But she is absolutely wrong. She hasn’t seen me in love. I am as a passionate as the next man when it comes to the finer emotions. Just this anger and short temper seems to elude me.

Come to think of it, when I was in school, I regularly used to get in trouble with my teachers because they thought I was making fun of them or smiling sarcastically at their lessons. I tried and tried all through my school life to explain that I had a natural smiling face (like the Joker in Batman) and I went from morning to night with a smile/laugh on my face and it was nothing personal and I wasn’t criticizing their teachings. But they never believed me. They used to complain that I was making them uncomfortable and often I had to stand outside the classroom till I could frame my face into a sad expression. For a long time in my life I used to wake up with a smile on my face, go through the day with it and go to bed smiling. Life was not meant to be taken too seriously for me. 

Anyway nowadays whenever we go to see a girl for my arranged marriage, my mom takes it upon herself to explain my personality to the girl’s parents. I suspect she does it because she doesn’t want them to think that the smile on my face is a sign of unqualified approval of the girl. She tells them  that I am a calm type and I never get angry and in fact she has never seen me get angry in all these years (a slight exaggeration/a white lie) and she expects that the girl is calm too. For this is one condition that I have insisted on while selecting a girl for me. So any calm, quiet girls out there? Please mail me with your EQ scores

My point is, I cannot abide people with short tempers, the raging, foaming types. Even in my friends circle, I always cut off those who cannot keep their temper in check. I strongly believe that people who say certain things and afterwards blame it on their being angry words (or on drunkenness) are LYING. Flat out. They wanted to say it, but didn’t have the guts to say it sober or calm and hence try to excuse their behavior with a convenient fall guy- their short temper. I am certainly inflexible in this belief and I would rather have no company than the company of someone with a short fuse with whom you have to hold back and walk carefully all the time. Its too stressful and life is short. Adios.

P.S.  My sister often curses playfully, that I will get a mate, (fate?) who will be the very opposite of me, a raging cursing, foaming, rabid girl…I just pray it wont happen..or I might just finally get angry myself.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review of American Pie- the Re-union

American Pie: - Re-union …….Review.

There are two cult classic coming-of-age movies which every kid who grew up in the turn of the millennium (otherwise known as the pre-internet porn era) would remember – Hot Bubblegums, a sexual comedy with no frontal nudity (As it was labeled on the DVD cover) and the American Pie movies, sexual comedy with occasional nudity (depending on the source of your DVD copy). Hot Bubblegums, a vintage film, was usually the first introduction to the pleasures of boy bonding as everyone in a friends circle used to seriously discuss the escapades of the characters in the movie, on their various mis-adventures on the way to get a glimpse of the full frontal.

And then American Pie arrived on these shores. It was Our movie. Everyone we knew resembled one or more of the characters in the film. They had tried or knew someone who had tried one of the various gags depicted in the movie with varying degrees of success. It was considered the official reference guide to masturbation on all college campuses throughout India. Even guys with years of experience in the art and jaded with practice, learnt something or the other from the movie.

Especially the most famous lines in movie history, as spoken by Oz to the group “you wanna know how third base feels? Oh!! It feels like warm apple pie” and Oz wriggles his fingers. And Jim, as everyone knows, goes home to find his parents out of the house, a warm apple pie cooling on the kitchen table and anti-climatically gets caught by his dad with his pants down and apple pie became a code word for something else for an entire generation.  

My first introduction to the American Pie series was in college when someone, a long, long night ago, in a galaxy far, far away (late night/hostel room/booze/hotel California discussion) started talking about Murphy’s law- how despite your best planning and time management possible- you always ended up getting interrupted during any peaceful masturbation session by totally unlooked for disturbances/relatives.

And then the first scene in American Pie came up in the topic about how Jim gets caught by his Dad and mom when he is using his socks to jerk off and his mother takes it away to wash. Everyone in the room had his favorite horror story of getting caught by someone or other and someone volunteered that he had a DVD of American pie and we all ended up watching it together sympathizing with every scene and especially the vow they take in the end to get rid of their virginity before they leave for college, a  worthy ambition (for young males) if ever there is one…the movie, despite its Americanisms totally became the aspirational ideal for young Indians of my generation, even though we could never even dream of living like that on Indian shores. But enough of a historical background let’s get down to the review.

I happened to catch a DVD copy of the latest in the American pie movie series – the re-union…..Its sobering to remember that the American pie movies have now entered their 10th year. Fans of the original American pie series can remember that the series drifted away from its original characters with subsequent parts and lost all trace of its original flavor becoming mere caricatures of itself. Thankfully that mistake is not repeated here. All the original characters who rocked in the first part are back- Oz, Kevin, Jim and his dad, Stiffler and his Mom, Sherman (Sherminator?), Vicki, Michelle and the unforgettable Paul Finch. Even the two geeks who were the first to introduce new words to the English language after Shakespeare, the two who shouted “MILF, MILF” are back- older, wiser and somehow sadder.

That’s the beauty of this movie it takes the characters forward ten years and shows us the perils of growing up. How the kick-ass wild kids of yesterday are burdened with the cares of adulthood and scream for one last fling of those long-gone good times. Stiffler, the most love-hate character of the original is now working in a corporate firm, as decent as any Wall Street banker. Oz, the big jock on campus ends up becoming a sportscaster with a glamour girlfriend who cheats on him openly and the usually well turned out Finch is now just an unsuccessful petty thief. And in a reversal of fortune, its now Kevin who shies away from having sex with Vicki, because he is married now and doesn’t want to cheat on his absent wife. Its bitter-sweet to see how far the gang has fallen since those heady days of high hopes. But the film is not all gloom and sentiment; it has its moments of sheer madness.

As the film starts, all the characters get together at their hometown for their 10 year re-uinon after school. And they decide to recapture their best years. There is plenty of mindless gags and mayhem, for sample, Stiffler crapping in a rival gangs picnic basket, Stiffler getting stiffed by a woman who asks him to bring her off but fails to reciprocate and Jim as in the original getting his rocks off with a sock, while watching Porn on the net, only to be surprised by his son and throwing off the sock in shock, it lands on the kids head- upside down.

There is also plenty of voyeur gags, wife swapping and public humiliation of various characters- some of it Gross. But hey, this movie is strictly for the aficionados, the fan boys. You either like it or hate it. There is even a complete reversal of the MILF episode from the earlier series – this time its Stiffler’s turn to take revenge on Finch, by getting it on with Finch’s mom.

All in all a pretty enjoyable movie if you are a nostalgic fan. But I daresay, kids of today, who have not seen the original version’s might not “get” what the movie is all about….So as the motto of the movie goes “drop your boxers, boys and get ready to f***”

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Now that i have started experimenting with different genres, its time to try out a Haiku:

Valid Doubt?

I'll find you anywhere in this universe.

Love burns bright like a beacon.

How did Google find you?

(P.S.Comments and suggestions are most me improve...)