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June 17, 2014 / swati


Don’t you get that feeling that the part of your life that you’ve lived already has somehow just flown by? Doesn’t it just feel like yesterday when you moved to this city, or met this girl, or got interviewed for your first job? I have been obsessed recently with the thought that life is nothing but momentary, it’s stuck in my head like an annoying weed, like a constant background music playing out of a broken harp, like a damper to all my moments of immense excitement, like a pain killer to get through the day when I have a heartache, like a badly timed joke when my mother would scold me. I know that when I think back the present time would just seem momentary. The life that I’m living currently would be compressed into a thought that lasts for just a second in future-me’s mind. Do we remember how hard we slogged for a project? Or how much fun our first amusement park ride was? Or how we waited and waited to meet an old friend and time seemed like it would never pass?

I have this image in my head of a bubble in a pond that comes up to the surface and bursts. So many bubbles in that same pond, just randomly coming up to the surface and breaking off. Maybe while they were coming up from the bottom of the pond to the surface – in that time – they felt that their lives would never end. They move up slowly, enjoying their time, getting nervous about the dark areas, getting excited by the fishes they see at times and finally reaching the surface of the pond. And then, they just burst. Some just get pinpricked by some growing plant in the pond and burst before they can reach the surface, ouch. Some remain attached to more pretty weed in the pond, and just burst there without coming up to the surface at all. Some of these bubbles see the light, the sun on top of the pond, and then release that tiny amount of atmosphere in them. The pond seems to be capturing that atmosphere, and making more bubbles as if it were recycling them. Looking down from the surface of the pond, it’s bottom kind of seems to be so much closer than the time it took for the bubble to reach the surface. Looking down from the surface of the pond, the bubble thinks to itself, wasn’t it just yesterday when I left the surface of the pond?

I know that I’ll feel like the bubble in some good years – so what’s the point in holding on to some moments and worrying about letting them go, or crying about the others when they will eventually be just gone (gone under the water). Fast forwarding my life to after 10 years – I know I will have a PhD, and looking back then the current time would seem momentary. Although I feel like a bubble that’s trapped in a layer of liquid that’s just not letting me perceive any motion, I know this time will also just seem momentary like the ones I’ve lived so far.

June 9, 2014 / swati

I married a Portuguese.


Today while coming back from office – I met this guy. He was a tall, dark and handsome Portuguese, we fell in love, ran to a church and got married.

Ha! Just kidding.

So, today while coming back from office – I met this man who asked me for directions. I sensed a strong Bengali accent in his somewhat broken English and asked him where he was from. He happened to be from Bangladesh – and I ‘showed off’ the few Bengali sentences I’d learnt as a kid. So happy he was. I asked him if he was working in Zurich – he was just visiting some family but had been living in Portugal for the last 20 years or so because he married a Portuguese lady! I was quite curious about how he managed to do that while being in Bangladesh, and expressed my confusion in as mild as words I could put it in:

He laughed and said, “Oh my wife was a Bengali when I married her (of course!), but now she has become a complete Portuguese! (since we’ve been living in Portugal since so long!)”

August 4, 2013 / swati

What if I die?

It’s time to clear the backlog!

11 Jan, 2013. As I was going on a ski trip, I sat next to a PhD student at MIT. It was dark outside, there were no lights in the indoors, just one very annoying bright screen, with “The break-up” playing on it. Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn. It’s funny how His humor works! I really can’t tolerate one bright light shining on me, especially if everything is dim. I just can’t tolerate that brightness. But that’s not really the point of this post.

I was sitting next to this Phd student at MIT. We started talking about well, everything to do with the grad life – our work, the seemingly unending research hours, the tending-to-zero social life, the funny advisors, weird advisors, expecting advisors, disappointed advisors, over-enthu advisors, the poke-their-nose-in-everything advisors. And then came the nuances of being in academia, the job market, the applications, how to ask for recommendations, how to be shameless, the occasional staring out of the window, wondering why am I doing research, if it will change the world, if I should become an artist instead. The desperation of missing something that you want to do in life.

“I am always scared about – what if I die, this very moment, will I have any regrets?”

“Talking about dying, I was scared of dying, terrified in fact, because of the kind of research I do. But now, it’s been day after day after day of doing research, that I have given up being scared.”

“What?! What do you do for research? Do you work at the nuclear plant?”

“No, no, I just work with sulphuric acid, and then at times with hydroflouric acid. ”

And then came a series of unasked but eye-opening details. Hydroflouric acid burns the skin like hell, and it reacts so quickly that these burns can actually be fatal. But the worst part of it is, the burns can go undetected! HF actually interferes with the nervous system, and you might not notice a burn until long afterwards. To quote from Wikipedia –

Hydrofluoric acid is a highly corrosive liquid and is a contact poison. It should be handled with extreme care, beyond that accorded to other mineral acids. Owing to its low acid dissociation constant, HF as a neutral lipid-soluble molecule penetrates tissue more rapidly than typical mineral acids. Because of the ability of hydrofluoric acid to penetrate tissue, poisoning can occur readily through exposure of skin or eyes, or when inhaled or swallowed. Symptoms of exposure to hydrofluoric acid may not be immediately evident. HF interferes with nerve function, meaning that burns may not initially be painful. Accidental exposures can go unnoticed, delaying treatment and increasing the extent and seriousness of the injury.[8]

Once absorbed into blood through the skin, it reacts with blood calcium and may cause cardiac arrest. Burns with areas larger than 25 square inches (160 cm2) have the potential to cause serious systemic toxicity from interference with blood and tissue calcium levels.[9] In the body, hydrofluoric acid reacts with the ubiquitous biologically important ions Ca2+ and Mg2+. Formation of insoluble calcium fluoride is proposed as the etiology for both precipitous fall in serum calcium and the severe pain associated with tissue toxicity.[10] In some cases, exposures can lead to hypocalcemia. Thus, hydrofluoric acid exposure is often treated withcalcium gluconate, a source of Ca2+ that sequesters the fluoride ions. HF chemical burns can be treated with a water wash and 2.5% calcium gluconate gel.[11][12][13] or special rinsing solutions.[14][15] However, because it is absorbed, medical treatment is necessary;[9] rinsing off is not enough. Intra-arterial infusions of calcium chloride have also shown great effectiveness in treating burns.[16]

“And now working with these acids everyday, being fully educated about the risk that comes with it, and still working with it everyday, I’ve lost the fear of dying. ”

The following staring out of the window was immersed in thoughts – so what if I really die? Is the thought overrated? And, ofcourse – Oh god! I’m glad I’m not in a lab like this! Skiing should be fun.

August 2, 2013 / swati

August 1st.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. Well, I have had my reasons. There were many times I felt like writing some of my experiences down, before I forget the tiny details. I would take notes, at best on my phone, saving the deed to a later date. Until one day, I lost my phone, the phone with all my notes on it. I never felt the urge to write something so strong as in that “week of lost phone”. By the time the Swiss kindly returned it back, the itch to write had taken a back seat again.

Today, it’s the Swiss national day, August 1st. I’m sitting facing the lake crowned by 5 layers of mountains only making me wish more that I had my paints here. Everything here seems like a painting. There is the artificial noise, as on a blank TV, in the water. A layer of trees sketched with thick charcoal, a spray paint of fireworks that perhaps someone is testing with. It comes for a moment, and then disappears into this dark blue night. A couple of boats, as if to give the painting some elements. A very raw layer after layer of mountains, eclipsing those before them. Oh, and I forgot, a simple gradient from cream to mauve in the sky. The reflections in water of the moving boats, the way the current in the water changes the intensity and sharpness of the strokes one would use to paint them. I would need a whole range of mixed media to paint this one! It’s no mystery why there were so many great artists in Europe, but well, even they couldn’t have done justice to what I am seeing right now.

Listening to the water splashing somewhere, lying down on the grass, watching fireworks roar above me in the sky, I am reminded of an encounter with a family we ran into on one of these summer days. The man was giving a hand to his kids, about 8-10 years old each, helping them climb onto a very high rectangular arc that was protruding above the Zurich lake. It was a scanty frame that remained of a roof that once existed. These kids climbed on that, that high thing up there.. ran, RAN on it, and dived into the lake! Wow! Not an itch, not a quiver, not a falter in their step. My mother was as astounded as me, and congratulated the guy for making his kids so fearless in life. His reply was, “Haha, that’s the problem. They are now not scared of anything! Every other day they either come back with an arm broken or a knee!”

Well, I feel the excitement today, the guts to run on that arc, to dive in the sea! Here’s to the broken arms, knees and other things.

January 19, 2013 / swati

! (It’s a rat’s race)

I was sitting at an Indian restaurant having malai kofte (cheese balls in a tomato curry). It was kind of late, and there was just one other person, right next to my table. He seemed like he was around 20s I would say. We started talking about food, Indian places in Boston, about India. He was studying he said, had always wanted to go to India, see the world. I would also like to see the world, who wouldn’t, but I hadn’t even had the time to see things around Boston. I told him how I just started driving in US, how I went to Walden pond and loved it, how wonderful driving really is and how I wish I had a car. You wouldn’t believe it, he said, but I’m not just a student. Twelve years back (oh! I thought) when I thought about what I wanted to do, I had just one answer. Drive around. So, he drove around the US for twelve years, driving a number of trucks, trucks that take cars around, squashed cars for dumping them. Probably it wouldn’t matter if he dropped a few here and there! And, then he loved his job so much that he was now studying transportation logistics and supply chain. Something very similar to what I do, but look at that! Twelve years, but who cares! He shared a picture of his kids, near a car he sold. He loved spending time with his kids, wanted to give them every thing in his power, be there for them. As he continued talking, I started thinking about my own life, how I was told every minute was precious, if I don’t work someone else will. How every minute of my life was a race. A rat’s race. How maybe I needed to pause and just feel life coming to me. 

December 1, 2012 / swati

The beginnings

There was an idea. A thought, to learn more about the world, by conversations. It came to me while I was sitting at a busy cafe, watching people around me. Who were these people? What were they thinking? Where were they from? There was an aged lady sitting on the table next to mine. And straight ahead, was a man, who was talking to ‘Wendy’. The old lady seemed to be working on Facebook, checking mail, sending some emails. The man sometimes looked at the lady, and said some things. Maybe they knew each other, I thought. Perhaps the lady’s name was Wendy. In sometime, maybe one of them will go and sit with each other. Perhaps, she just came earlier and was finishing her work. I was trying to fix the design of a business card a colleague made. All of a sudden, the lady dropped water on her Macbook! She was quite hassled! I got up, helped her drain out the water, reassuring that nothing would go haywire. She conversationally mentioned, that the man sitting across was saying some things, but she wondered if he was talking to her. I was quite surprised, why, all the while I thought they were together. She left the table, and left me wondering what her story was. To my luck, she came back for an umbrella she left, by when I was able to draw up the courage to ask her what did she actually do. She was making a movie on African kids and trying to raise money for the same. The man, I later found out, had a pet walrus called Wendy, who he spoke to affectionately. In a conversation with him, he mentioned he was from ‘Salem, the town of witches’.

A couple of days later, I was at a friend’s place – drinking beer while he cooked his food. We started discussing this idea, and he said, that you should perhaps read more books. Books, oh how I just can’t get through them. I can’t read anything unless it’s completely thrilling, gripping, mysterious, magical and the like. I can’t get myself to read anything useful. And then he said, books are like food. Just like you can’t stop eating chips, likewise, you can’t put down a not-so-good-for-you book. But that doesn’t mean books can’t be read. I loved the analogy. I simply loved it.

I read up about Salem, the town of witches, the witch trials – how people blindly believed in something, because they had no better explanation. I wonder what all we believe in, that seems logical, but really turns out to be shocking after a century.

November 27, 2012 / swati

The Why

Everyone has a story, a tale that connects them to where they are, who they are, what they think, what they want to be, the choices they made in life. These stories give a perspective, they provoke a thought, they make you reflect on your own life. I document here some anecdotes strangers share with me, anonymously. I want to get amazed, inspired and learn where people come from.