Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Back to The Classroom

On 15th July 2002 on a bright Monday morning in Bhubaneswar my life took a significant turn. On this day I choose, it would be more appropriate to say I was forced to choose chemical engineering. The decision was taken by a reluctant engineering aspirant who had simply no other choice. Constraints for a more sought-after branch in engineering were few less marks in the entrance exams and a pleading from my mother not to venture out of Odisha. So finally, I choose to study chemical engineering in NIT Rourkela. The then HOD of Chemical Engineering, who was there for the counselling process, had even admonished me since I took very long to decide. For a 18-year-old who hated chemistry to the core, this was the end of world. I remained frustrated for 3-4 days before for I accepted the truth.

17 years later, on the very same date/day and place, the same boy started classes for an Executive M Tech Course in Process Engineering IOC-ICT Campus at Bhubaneswar. Apart from the numbers in the years column, there are many dissimilarities in the two events and associated emotions.

In between the 17 years, the boy had a sigh of relieve that Chemical Engineering is not about Chemistry. He has since fallen in love with Chemical Engineering. He got a job in one of the most reputed companies to work for as a chemical engineer. He has more strands of grey hairs than the black ones and has accumulated fats at the wrong place. More importantly he has learned that there is no end to learning and the quest for knowledge should never die.

The institute’s Bhubaneswar campus is a young one. Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai and IOC has joined hands to start the Bhubaneswar campus. From 2019 they have started the executive M Tech course. The campus is being run from the IIT Kharagpur extension center in Gajapati Nagar. So we belong to the first batch of the executive M Tech Course.

The first class, whole full day class, was taken by Prof. BN Thorat, Director of the Institute. It was more of a personal interaction rather than a technical lecture. We discussed about our life journey till date. He seems a widely read and traveled man having a vast experience in life. It was an engaging session with two-way communications. None of us felt sleepy in the post lunch session is a testimony to the quality of the conversation.

I am sure we will have exciting times ahead and our stint in the campus will be enriching for us professionally, personally and intellectually.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Banyan Tree

It stood near the pond at the end of the village, just at the intersection between two roads going towards the farms. It has been there for as long as my grandfather remembers. It is the same as it was in his childhood, he says. May be it has lost a branch here and grown another at other end, but it is as permanent as the stars and the moon in the villagers mind. With its branches spreading very wide, it looked like an old lady sitting and guarding the village or may be guiding the wandering travellers which road to take. Often many villagers mid noon or afternoons were spent there. On the way to the pond for taking bath in the summers, it would serve as a temporary shed for many. Some would rest a little to get respite from the sultry heat, others pause here a minute to have a chat with fellow beings. Village folks coming back from the farms would untie their cattle from the cart and feed them. Women after taking a bath would stop to put a little water and flowers near the base as a sign of respect. In the afternoon children would make use of the aerial roots to swing and climb the branches. Or play marbles or gilli danda under the shadow. It provided a natural habitation for many squirrels, crows and a variety of birds. In summer its branches provided a cool resting place.

(image source: google)
I was visiting the village after a long time, may be after 20 years. On the way to the farm somehow I decided to stop little under its shadow, rest a bit and absorb the feeling of nostalgia. I cleared an area of the fallen yellow leaves near its roots and sat resting my back on the trunk and closed my eyes.

How are you?

A voice asked me which awake me from my slumber.  I looked around, and expected to see any old villager who recognised me. I didn’t find anyone; expect a dog, resting at the far end at the edge of the shades.

May be I dreamed I thought to myself and closed my eyes again.

How are you? The voice asked again. I looked up in the direction of sound; thinking may be someone playing a prank on me.

Don’t worry. It’s me... the banyan tree. The voice declared.

Do you know me? I enquired, sounding a bit perplexed at the thought of a tree talking with a human.

Yes, I know you, since you were a little kid...... said the banyan tree. I also know your father and his father....all three of you have played under my shades....at different times.

Hmm. I mumbled, in acceptance of the fact.

So how did you not forget me?

I remember all. I remember all the kids who have played under me. I also remember everyone who has ever rested under my shades.

Why do you remember all? I asked.

Because I considered them as a part of me. I thought of them as my family. My family also included the crows, the squirrels and the maina who used to stay with me.

Where have you been all these years? Asked the banyan tree.

I left the village to study in the Sundarpur, a town nearby. I replied.

Then, I got a job and working there. I added.

Sundarpur, I have over heard the name of the town from travellers. Must be a big place!!! 

Hmm...much bigger than this village. I replied.

Why this place so dirty and empty. I asked. In our childhood, it used to be a happening place.

Times have changed son. The village folks also don’t come here often. The pond’s water is polluted due to the nearby factory. No one takes bath here. Villagers also don’t go to the farms anymore. Everyone work in the factory.

And the children? I enquired.

Children don’t come to play anymore.


They have stopped playing outdoors. Now everyone plays inside their own houses in a hand held machine.

Mobiles...I thought to myself.

Also it’s very hot outside during the afternoons. He added.

You also seem to have lost few branches. I asked.

I did not lose any branches. It was cut to make the road wider. The peepul tree on the banks of the pond and the neem tree just after it also have been cut. Except the old gulmohar on the other side of the pond all trees have been cut.

A light breeze passing through the leaves made a rumbling sound as if to express its sense of displeasure.

The squirrels and the crows are still there. Occasionally the storks stop to eat their catch from the pond. In winter the south bound ones stops for a night halt.

I stood up to o near the trunk. Few places the bark had dried, just waiting to fall. A squirrel hurriedly climbed up the tree. A bird flew away sensing danger from my movement. The do rising from its siesta raised it head, looked around and then made himself comfortable in its original position.

Do you miss the old days? Are you not disappointed? I asked, gently leaning against the trunk.

Yes, sometimes I do. He replied.

We all miss the old times. Don’t you miss your childhood? Have you never been disappointed?

I sighed and replied in the affirmative.

That is part of life. The important thing in life is not to live in the past but in the present. Few branches fall, few are cut but I still row new leaves. I still try to spread my arms with the aerial roots. He flowers still flourish on the tender branches. I still spread my seeds with the help of the squirrels and the birds. Whatever happens, I still do my duty.
So should you.....just like your father does. The tree added.

A small fruit hit me on my chest and I woke up. The sun was setting. The gulmohar was just a silhouette. There was cacophony in the surroundings from the birds returning to their nest. The dog was gone. Then I realized, all along it was a dream. The tree talked to me in my dreams.

I returned home, ruminating the conversation.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Engineering in Medical Sciences

Last week was mostly spent outside of the base. Even if you do nothing, being outstation, is itself relaxing. No need to check with colleagues about the health and happiness (plant’s health and boss’s happiness😋 which are interdependent). The atmosphere in Bhubaneswar was cloudy and humid. I had to hop between two hospitals to get the opinion of specialist doctors. In recent times, frequent hospital visits have forced me to remember the basics of Zoology (The last time I was closest to a Zoology book was when Mr. Vajpayee was Indian Prime Minister, twin towers of World Trade Center were rising proudly above the New York Skyline and 11th September was just any other normal date). 

After studying chemical engineering (especially fluid dynamics / mass transfer / transport phenomena), I am able to connect the basic fundamentals of engineering in the workings of the human body. I remember, in 7th or 8th Semester during the mid-term exam, the transport phenomena professor had asked a question where we had to find after how much time a tablet will mix with body fluids in the intestines. Most of us had answered wrongly, but we were given marks for correct approach. The circulating system in our body works like a complex piping network. Most important part being heart, the lungs and the kidneys apart from the blood vessels which supplies blood to various part of the body. The heart acts as a positive displacement pump, pumping fluid across the network. The kidneys functions as a filter, which filters the blood to remove impurities and pass them to the urine. The lungs are where the carbon dioxide is removed from the blood and oxygen is enriched (application of mass transfer). Imagine, you have a clogged artery or a vein; it’s like a choked pipe line or a pipe with pinched valve. Due to the restriction in the blood vessel flow will be low, hence to some part of the body less flow will go. This is sensed by the neurons present and they signal the heart (through Brain) to pump blood more vigorously (application of Process Control). This will increase the discharge pressure of the pump and blood vessels will carry blood at the higher pressure. This, in common language, we call high BP. Now since, blood pressure is high, the kidneys functions at a higher pressure. Upstream pressure of the filters (kidneys) is high with same downstream pressure. Hence, some amount of materials which should have been retained in blood is discharged to urine in kidneys. Tests results of protein in the urine indicate performance of kidneys. High blood pressure may be a cause of under performance of kidneys but not the sole reason. The blood pressure in the vessels of the eyes are also high, which increase the size of the nerves and your eyesight may be affected. If any chokage of the blood vessel is found, (for which the heart is pressure is high), a stent is provided inside the artery / vein to increase the cross sectional area or a bypass of the clogged area is provided so that blood flows without restriction. This will ease the load on the heart and failure chances are minimized. Other methods to lower blood pressure are to give medication, which relaxes the muscle of the blood vessels so that blood flow is easy. That’s how the BP medicines work. Now a day’s whenever I come across a new medical term, I Google it and read. I am happy how an exposure to engineering fundamentals has helped me understand medical science better.

The day before coming back, I had few hours to kill. I was confused between Planetarium and Museum. A little analysis of pros and cons finally landed me in Pathani Samanta Chandrashekhar Planetorium near Achary Vihar in Bhubaneswar. The last visit to a planetarium was in June 2005 with Surya. We had visited the Birla Planetarium in Kolkata. The 30 minutes show showed concepts of big bang, our solar system, black holes, galaxies, nebulas etc.

Sometimes, I wonder, how as a civilization we have made immense progress in the field of science and technology. In some areas we are going up to the nano particles level, while in others, we are measuring distance in light years. The visit to the planetarium gives you a different perspective on life. All our happiness, sorrows, worry, concern, in fact everything, is just limited to planet earth. Whatever has happened in history, all the great men and not so significant men who were ever born were born in this planet. Our planet is just a small dot in the whole universe and if you compare our life time (65-70 years), is less than a blink of eye in the galactic scale. Let’s appreciate the fact and enjoy the impermanence of our happiness, sorrows, worry, concern as well as our lives.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Joy of planting a tree

Monsoon is here again. Although it’s raining sporadically here and the rain is not as incessant as it used to be in our childhood, but still it’s a happy respite from the heat and humidity. With the arrivals of the rain, the farmers will get busy tilling and cultivating their land. The whole process of preparing the field, sowing seeds / planting crops, weeding out, applying fertilizers, harvesting, post harvest processing will take around 4-5 months for paddy. When you see the whole process and realize the amount of hard work and dedication it requires growing and harvesting a crop, then only you will appreciate the food we eat and will hesitate to waste it. Having spent my childhood in a rural surrounding, I always loved the whole process of paddy cultivation. A paddy field was in front of my house. Before planting the crop the field is just a patch of mud. Few days after the plantation it will turn light green and within a month the hue will change to dark green. In early Autumn, you will find kashatandi (a grass with white flowers) on the edges of the field which will give you illusion of white clouds on the ground. After 3-4 months the color of the paddy field will change to light brown during the time of cultivation. Monsoons not only bring rains but also signify the start of life all around. On any random walk, you may find a tree newly sprouting leaves or a seed starting to germinate. The earliest memory of monsoons for me was looking at a corn seed germinating from the ground near my home.
Corn sapling (image source: Google)
The sight of sprouts coming out of a seed, and then developing into leaves and gradually to a self sufficient tree always fascinated me since childhood. After I moved to a ground floor five years ago, the same passion for trees resurfaced. I planted 3 mango trees, one litchi, and one guava in my back yard apart from other seasonal vegetables. In the front lawn, two bakul trees were planted (in the hope that it will provide shed for car parking during lunch break...for someone else and some other day). Few guava, mangoes and gulmohar trees have been planted in office. On Rathyatra day last week, we had planted around 70 nos. of neem and mango trees in a nearby temple. Last time I was travelling to Bhubaneswar, I bought some jamun. I had saved some seeds for trying to germinate seeds. After about 15 days of planting the seeds, sprouts have started coming out. They will need a little bit more nurturing before they can be planted independently somewhere.
The jamun seeds sprouting in my back yard.

Of course, I will not be around here to enjoy the fruits, someone else will. But are we not enjoying fruits, planted by someone else in some other place. 

Moreover, the joy of watching a seed turning into a tree and supporting life on its own is itself very rewarding. Happy monsoon and go out to plant and adopt a tree.

(I will keep updating status of the jamun sapling from time to time)

Update on 02-Sep-2018:

the saplings were planted in individual polythene bags . Each bag had a mix of soil, manure and a little sand to help water drainage. total of  20 saplings. 14 in black bag and 6 in plastic ones. 

Update on 9th January 2019

Growing up healthily... Planning to move to a sunny area

Update on 04th July 2019

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A trek through a wonderland: SAR Pass Trek Part-III

The trek was long and so is the blog entry. Out of experience I can say that attention span and patience are two things we are losing very fast. In order to make it easier I have divided the trekking experience into three parts. The first part contains how I came across the idea of trekking, planning the tour, itinerary of the trek, few things about Kasol and my experience in the first three days in the camp. The second part is about the trek, which lasted 7 days and 6 nights, starting from the base camp till the return. The third part is about few things which should be kept in mind during planning for the trek, and some other thoughts/information. The link to all the parts are given below. 

Happy reading.

Apart from adventure and break from monotony, it was a nice opportunity to meet new people from a variety of back grounds. The lifestyle in the plains and up in the hills differ. They live a much harder life than us. People in Grahan has to walk 9 kilometres to have access to proper health care. The doctor in the primary health centre in the village hardly comes. The village school has facility for up to class 8 only. 1/3rd of the year, their village is covered in snow keeping them locked. Even in such adversity they do not complain. They have aligned their life with nature and are surviving. That's a lesson for us.

Few Tips:

  1. Do not ask your mother to help pack you bag. She will put the whole world in it.
  2. The trek is not a picnic. You need little bit of physical fitness. Since it is a group activity, the group should not suffer because of lack of your fitness.
  3. Buy a good pair of trekking shoes and practice walking before the trek.
  4. Take extra camera batteries and memory cards with you. Batteries have a tendency to discharge during cold.
  5. Pack your luggage to minimum. One set of thermals and extra pair of clothes should suffice. The back pack provided by YHAI is adequate for the purpose and you need not invest in one.
  6. Mix with locals. It will give you a new insight.

Contact Information of Mr. Ompraksh (Camp Leader of Biskeri Thatch). He can arrange private treks.

Email ID: omprakash.adventure@gmail.com
Mobile No: 8894000812 / 9418432012

1. Lennin and Ajosh for some of the photographs.
2. Ridtz for the videos.
3. YHAI for the arrangements.

And above all the people of SP-29 who made it an amazing experience.