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Bharatanatyam reminisces the classical compilation of Bharata Muni, the Natyasastra, and over the centuries has been moulded with varied forms, into being what is today a powerful medium for epitomizing the world around and also the elements of the inner self. Despite its roots in the Christ’s Era, this ancient art form that was lost among the court-dancers and held captive with the Kings, was resuscitated rather recently. This awakening, in the dawn of the twenty-first century, has brought with it a plethora of flavors, some inherited but predominantly, youthful and novel.

The Renaissance
Inspite of being thousands of miles away from the traditional schools of Bharatanatyam, including my own, I cannot but wonder at the phenomenal growth that the art form has witnessed with the contemporary elements being neatly inter-twined in all of its manifestations today. When Rukmini Devi and Krishna Iyer re-discovered Bharatanatyam and visualized its puritan art sans the extraneous “sringaara”, the dance form had already acquired a whole new identity. It was being draped with new emotions, the navarasas, yet clinging onto the traditional elements of body movements – the adavu and the abhinaya just the way they were documented in the Natyasastra, the Abhinayadarpana or for that matter, any of the authentic lakshanagranthas.

New Avenues in Bharatanatyam
Though the revived presentation of Bharatanatyam initially adhered to most of the authentic aspects of “Nritya”, the middle of the twenty-first century saw an enormous growth in contemporary dance forms that often imbibed features of other Indian classical dances and sometimes even attempted to portray social issues. A classic example would be the style adopted by Padma Bhushan Dr. Padma Subramaniam. Besides having introduced various new elements into a concert such as the “Pushpanjali”, Padma Subramaniam also integrated, in her dance, implicit messages for her audience. Though her basics were from the Vazhuvoor style of dance, Dr. Padma made Bharatanatyam a totally versatile art form and incorporated movements from Odissi, Kuchipudi and Kathak in her own new style of dance. “Bharatanrityam” thus evolved giving a new direction to the ancient dance form. Every piece of her performance has since been presented with a gush of contemporary ideas; she would not only amuse her audience with the tales of a Kuravanji but also bring a dummy gun as a prop to display a presentday war!

Art and Activism: Expressions that ‘speak’ for the times
Over the past decade, Bharatanatyam has emerged as an instrument that portrays on the one hand, the agony and chaos in the present-day world and on the other, the scientific and technological advancement in the new millennium. Anita Ratnam has been one of the leaders in this fusion of cultural activism in Bharatanatyam. Anita came from the traditional Kalakshetra School of Dance and mastered her art under her guru, Adyar K. Lakshmanan. She invested her time in new dance ventures as she toured the world and collaborated with a number of foreign performers and theater companies. Arangham founded by Anita in 1992, has presented several socio-oriented dance ballets such as ‘A Map to the Next World’, a summary of the colonial legacy of the native Americans and Indians. Besides, she has also adopted various abstract themes in her concerts. ‘Movements Monuments’ has been choreographed to simply highlight the interrelation between physical and kinetic structures. The performers used several geometric figures in their movements which reflected a subconscious encoding of structures in form,
foundations, shapes and emotions. ‘Pratirupa’ inspired by German poetry is one other choreography that emphasizes on the inner self. While meandering away from the epics and Indian mythology in such dance ballets, Anita also keeps to traditional Tamil literature and temple art in her productions ‘Kaisiki Natakam’ ‘Kannagi’ and ‘Gajaanana’ among others.

The Traditions: Immortal and Fresh
No matter how much the ages have influenced and inspired Bharatanatyam into becoming a medium of awareness than a mere form of art and classics, the traditions associated with its teaching, learning and practising have survived its evolution and will remain immortal. The guru-sishya identity, the intimate association with Lord Nataraja, the start at a Vijayadasami, ‘first’ dance lessons and the slokas on mudras and abhinayas, the Arangetram and overall, the ‘reminiscence’ of the art are those virtuous and indelible elements of Bharatanatyam that are unique to this Classical art form. And it is this identity that has spread past boundaries to captivate and profoundly influence the devout rasikas.

Celebrating Fall

It is that time of the year when cold winds inhospitably blow at your face as you walk home in darkness, fatigued from work...a time for those moody days that will soon turn into being utterly depressing...when the leaves that ruffle below your feet stay no more on trees revealing their quivering skeletons...the days of "deafening" quietness when migratory birds cross Oriental boundaries to seek solace.

Despite the little consolation of turning your clock back by an hour, Fall can be a dreary season. It could be unpleasant to stay up and awake and busy at work when the skies are dark and the sun can afford no sympathy upon a part of the Earth's inhabitants. It gets rather cumbersome to drape oneself with three-four and five layers of woollen clothing for every few yards of walk outside a centrally-heated building. And those few moments of walk, to top it all, can be chilling to the bones if one forgets that old pair of hand-gloves. At work too, it gets rather annoying to be deceived by day-light or the lack of it only to be disappointed that it is no later than early afternoon. Call it the Golden October or Romance in Twilight, Autumn has no flavors. It comes with a trail of sorrow and paints our colorful days with dismay until Life springs into being the next year.

Well, this definition of Autumn has only been recently added to my vocabulary. For twenty years, Autumn, I mean the few months that followed August had indeed been my life's best times...each year. The end of August would mark the beginning of conviviality, as the Calender would tip into a series of festivals. It would waylaid the beginning of a season of holidays, of real fun, of colour, sweets, fireworks, surprises and family get-together. They were the days of bustling activity along the busiest streets in the heart of the city, of noisy shopping spree of happy families and of highlights on TV of the D-days' telecasts...whatever it may be. Frequent phone calls from far-relatives would prompt plans for a fun-filled celebration. Those teasing days in-between when the First Quarterly Examinations would seemingly spoil all the excitement. But those days, however, would never last long. With little Poojas that commemorate the birthdays of Gods, the merriment would begin and lapse into an exciting 9-day toy-show during dussera peaking at the all-set, noisiest, rangeen, ecstatically funsome Diwali. A lot more shows of colour and light would follow close but would be clouded by the arrival of Second Quarterly Examinations. And even as they drew to a close, another little round of celebration. And this would be the best one, personally. Those days were the moments I would long for, all year through. They are the days that have been indelibly scripted in my memory.

Today, sitting miles away from the hub of celebration, same time, Autumn, I can't but sulk at all the beautiful occasions I am missing...Autumn, for me, marks not only festivities but also the thought of having a fantabulous birthday...but I am glad that this year, I would be home on this special occasion. The eve of the new year. A blessed beginning. And the only reason for celebrating Fall despite being oceans apart.

What's with my brain?

Life of a scientist can be fun, hilarious and eccentric besides just maddening. With research it is always the craziest of ideas that make the best papers, nonsense thoughts that stumble into stunning discoveries and poor jokes with a scientific temperament that give the scientist his identity.

It is common in a lab to interact with co-scientists to sneak into their ideas not to have them mask our own but to occupy our leisure with "entertaining" science thoughts. On such occasions, it is not quite unusual to use transferred epithets like, "your DNA sample", "my gel", etc. so much that it goes unnoticed even if we said "my pups are being delivered today!" Well for the non-scientists, it just means that I have bred some mice for research and they have borne babies today. I personally dislike this idea of owning biological samples "strictly meant for research purposes" as it doesnt sound too good to state in public that "my kidney cells dont grow" (they are the HEK 293T cells, a cell line developed from an embryonic kidney...well, somebody's kidney, not mine!) or "her blots are so blobby and not good for publication" (to describe the result from a Western Blot, a technique that's used in protein expression analysis). Such a possessiveness, however, is not dispensable when it concerns my colleagues. Not forgetting to mention that English is not the language that they are conversant with.

Thursdays are meant for primary culture when I, the 'responsible' person, gently, swiftly and sympathetically sacrifice new born mice to get out their cerebral hemispheres (something to do with the brain) to subsequently grow brain cells on a plate. It is not an easy job though not really nasty. P0 pups (new born) as we call them, are tiny, one-third the size of our little finger and calm and less agile than the bigger mates. It took me quite a few tries before I got the art of uprooting the intact cerebrum. The procedure doesn't stop there. I then carefully pull out the meninges (a thin layer covering the cortex) again making sure I do not disturb the gross morphology of the structure under the microscope and finally drop the clear cerebral hemispheres into a new petri dish with..whatever.. media. I have performed this dissection less than a dozen times now, so I still call myself an amateur in mouse work.

My turn this week came yesterday. Half past one, 6 pups, all game and I started the work. The usual. Cut off the head, hold the snout with big forceps, cut open the skull, pinch off the cerebral hemispheres with fine forceps, under the micrscope, clear the meninges, drop the hemispheres in whatever media. 3 pups and as always, I never got the hemispheres intact. They were either dislodged from each other or disfigured or even slurried. The fourth head. Splendid. Even after all the processing from above, I realized that this one looked amazing. A blind man (provided he is a biologist) could identify this structure under the microscope as belonging to some region of the head. Exemplary! I was so ecstatic with the production of my masterpiece held between a pair of forceps when somebody slammed the door of our tissue culture room. It was one of those non-English speaking colleagues. I know not for what reason she was here but the moment she entered she was all screaming..."Oh my God! Look what you have done!" Apparently I was so confounded with her entry that I had no clue what has been happening all along with my masterpiece. And she exclaimed, "Your brain is on the floor!"

Well. Not quite.

Life Alone

It's nearly her silver wedding anniversary with my dad
Since the time she stepped in home - a strange place for a little girl
Flipping past her, all desires to make music her world

She slogged day and night to keep her new home
Happy and the people satiated with her novel recipes
And to work she succumbed just to keep the budget at ease

Soon, a little mischievous newcomer - a gift from God, added to her life
Some joy but a lot of worry and pain
A whole lot of responsibilities put her mind on strain

And as her little lady grew up, worries doubled
All pain she patiently bore
Just to bless her daughter with the best in her career and so much more

She continues to strive to give her the best
And the rest to their little family - a true physic
Finally also finding time to catch up with her first love - Music

Mom, I call her, a blessing in disguise
I miss you so much being oceans apart
Truly you are irreplaceable and I feel it more now that I have a lonely start.

Vitamin M

Okay, its not folic acid that this post is about but a more essential vitamin that none of us can exist without, that human beings alone need and a vitamin that has acquired identity only recently in evolutionary history.

Being a resident of a European nation, I have begun to realise the face value of a Euro a lot more than I ever considered tossing a 1-Rupee coin into the plate of a poor man at the roadside. When I first travelled to the UK, I was amazed to see items priced as low as 2 and 3 GBP. By a casual gesture I would flip into my basket, nearly all that I found pretty and arrive at the cash desk with a sum of around a 100 GBP - a figure that I never really cared to multiply by 86 to realise what a spendthrift I have been. It was not long before I caught up with the habit of converting to INR and getting hold of my expenses that I was given the privilege to move to another country where the currency value is a little lower - the Euro.

It has been really difficult to control my expenses despite constant reminders from my friends that a 20 Euro pair of flip-flops can be really really expensive. I would rather recklessly toss in the 1-cent from the cashier (the remainder from the billed 19.99 Euro) and not really bother to pop it into my piggy bank when I'm home. Saving 50 Euros for a birthday gift was common.

All until I realized the face value of the currency. 1 Euro is definitely not equivalent to 1 Rupee even for a localite. The average salary of an upper middle class employee is about 3000 Euros per month, the same figure in Rupees is definitely not the average salary of the employees from an IT software company in Bangalore. Neither is 1 kg rice 1 Rupee and 29 Paise nor is Ipod Classic 230 Rupees. Soon after I realized the grave mistake that I have been doing, I was in a hot debate about gifts with my labmate, a localite. As we spoke she ridiculed my attitude towards money and my heavy budget for a birthday treat with a simple statement, "Well, last year I planned to gift a ticket to the Opera to Pat (her husband), but I later gave up the idea. It was way too expensive. 58 Euros per person!!" And that shut my breath.

And here I am a lot more responsible in handling the European currency. Well I finally realized today it is worth about 68.8 INR. I have even subscribed to the daily currency update to constantly remind me of what a "squanderer" I have been!

Nano about Neuro: Striking Together

"Applied Sciences" have become the buzz words among scientists-in-the-making today. Cheminformatics, pharmacogenomics, physioarithmetic (dont know if it exists) and many such integrative Sciences open newer portals for research prospects. As a neurogeneticist (in the making!), I wondered how it would be to integrate the nascent Nano-industry with my field of interest. Afterall, there's so much in common!

Nano: a tiny scale of 10^-9m...viz. one-billionth of a meter.
Neuro: a nerve cell body is usually about the same size.

Nano: charged particle deposition is central and this is used in a variety of applications viz. to create a surface of nano-dots.
Neuro: charged particle deposition on the next neuron (called the post-synaptic neuron) in a successive series of neurons (the neuronal network) can excite the former and create a depolarized surface.

Nano: polymerizes to nano-fibers
Neuro: axons are the fibers

Nano: application of an electric field to fluid droplets containing nanoparticles distorts the angle of the droplets potentiating the use of nano-fluids in fine-tuning focusing lenses in cameras.
Neuro: an electric impulse from the optic nerve applied onto the brain enables perception of an image caught on the retina, the principle behind the human camera.

Nano: applied best in the electrical and electronic industry
Neuro: ofcourse, its all about electrical circuitry in the body!

With so much in common, I guess its time we founded nano-neurotechnology, a field that deals with the application of nano-particles in brain repair and neuronal injury. Infact, there is already some evidence of its existence. The picture (courtesy: shows neurons grown on a layer of carbon nanotubes, a substrate that is so much analogous to the biological extra-cellular matrix and can enable survival of neurons on it. Does a neuron's electrical conductivity respond to cues from a conductive substrate? That's a clue to the technology.

Vanity: truly detested

Never forget how you have come to be what you are. Well, this is an annoying feature in the present era...vanity, pomposity, foolishness! Yeah, I am being very caustic on this issue because I have been victimized to "vanity" shows in every other co-cultural meet in this foreign land. Well yes, we are in India no more. We are the privileged lot given that extra avenue to be ourself sans restrictions from the conventional Indian society. But its so unnatural that women, more often than men, seem to lose their identity in pretending to be a 'super'natural being adorning themselves with the skimpiest clothes (point to note: on a wrong weather condition; totally unsuited for the occasion and many times for the woman herself and clothes which when made 10 times as long would still be considered 'insufficient' by her family), beauty accessories with an unfamiliar spelling (and sometimes even the name), a hair-do which in a few months can malnourish the 20-30-year long well-groomed blackness (beauty trials on fine hair can never be made with recipes for coarse hair), fluenting a language that's way beyond an American's understanding. Well, its hard to describe how it works with men in vanity. But what is vexatious is why they hide their identity when it comes to meeting others of the same tribe and don on a self that's so alien. I am sure they are not enjoying would be a lot of dramaticism, a lot of enacting and a lot of effort to get it rolling - the artifical self. And to talk about snobs?! I know nothing can be done about probably would get worse but its annoying for those few people around who still walk sticking to the convention "Be a Roman when in Rome" and yet hold on to their identity - the only definition of me and you.

Well, its all in your thinking.

P.S. Vanity is not nationality-defined.

Miracles Happen

Cant stop but raise a brow when you realize that at times, Life indeed is rewarding! Unfulfilled dreams, expectations of a quarter of a lifetime, uncertainities, misfortunes, ill-luck and criticisms...they never last more than a tiny phase of life. And there's one moment - a moment when you dont realise its live and real, a moment that many times goes unnoticed in the want of pursuing the future behind it - when everything's just fine. Just the way you wanted life to treat you. And you have all that you deserve. Its that great moment that I have nearly come to, after a long long wait - infact, it was not a wait - I was nearly getting to be satisfied with the turn of life. Getting a little tired of trying and tired of hoping for the best in a career. It was nearly the last lap, and I bet if I had missed this one, I would have never stopped to think that I lost something invaluable. I had lapsed into this sense of feeling that you get after a tiresome day when you are so paralyzed by work that you hit the sac without a grain for your appetite, when all you work for is to feed that little piece of flesh in your body! It is a feeling of satisfaction that you are forced to perceive with all the discontentments buried in the back of your mind...when nothing has worked the way you had wanted it to. This was my stand a little while ago. But for that last lap I mentioned. A casual gesture changed my life. Just out of practise, I continued trying...may be it was the last try. A last call for getting the best. It was the same way I tried as I had many many times before, all of which had ended in vain. This try was no different until it rewarded me a career of a lifetime. And here I am blessed with what I wanted where I wanted to be, and however I wanted life to treat me, I got it all. Was it a blessing that was a result of God's slow response to my deepest prayers? Was it an illusion that it was indeed destined to happen and I never realised? Was it a miracle? Or was it a reward of persistent tries???

No matter of what it was a result, I cannot stop but say, "things definitely do happen the way you want them to...cuz only when things have to go wrong they go wrong; there are moments when all things go right and perfectly as planned! That's a summary of Murphy's and Newton's (Third) Laws!"

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