Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Body Of Knowledge

I experience what I think as, for lack of a better word, an obsession about knowing my body inside out. And I am not talking about the basic details like the number of bones that help me walk or keeping track of the number of milk teeth that went missing due to dental carries. I am referring to the very minuscule and the not so important details, like the individual functioning of my cranial nerves, my tactile skills, the percentage by which my lungs decrease in capacity every time I exert myself, or the angle that my tibia bone makes with the tarsal bones.

I think this obsession has taken wings ever since I got into the habit of roaming aimlessly around the corridors of my department. For I keep running into flyers describing weird studies where they need volunteers. And instead of bullshitting that I participate in these studies because they give me free goodies or pocket money, or because I have the cause of furthering science and research as a noble interest, let me tell you the truth. I volunteer for these studies because I am very keen to know about those silly and unnecessary details of my body.

Like yesterday I found out that I belong to the 20% category of humans whose middle finger will not twitch even if you passed electricity through it. Now what was that supposed to mean? I read about a study where people tie you up to a chair (okay, not really) put electrodes around your hand, and pass electricity through your hands to see your fingers twitch and thereby measure muscle fatigue. Now any sane, rational human being would have stayed miles away from this study. But like the usual me, I had to express keen interest in the noble cause of furthering science and research, and had to volunteer. The very next moment, I see a heavyset, dark man sticking electrodes around my hands. And instead of screaming murder and running away, I find myself staring with fascination into my fingers to see them twitch. Ironically, they kept increasing the current till every finger in my hand was twitching. But this heavy middle finger totally refused to move even a nanometer. Ultimately, I was discarded from the study. But at least I know now that I belong to those 1 in 5 people who cannot make a career out of being a middle finger twitching volunteer.

This is not an isolated incident of craziness. While people tell me that they love their bodies and thus keep themselves away from all these weird studies, I have participated in things like this before. There was a study where all I had to do was blow air out of my lungs as fast and as deep as I could. They were measuring the forced expiratory volume of the lungs or something. So for one whole hour, I kept taking deep breaths and blowing myself out like a balloon every 3 minutes while they plotted how much my lung efficiency decreased over time. Don’t ask me what’s the big deal in that. Now I can add this useful piece of information in my resume, that my lungs had an average of a 10% reduction in blowing capacity after blowing out air for an hour or so. If nothing, I can even make a living out of selling balloons.

Then, I have let dentists pour water on my tooth to see how sensitive they are to change in temperature. I have participated in studies to find out what angle my feet bones make with the tibia. I have found out that one of my cranial nerves, called the vagus nerve is weak in nature, hence I might faint if I ever push too hard. I have learnt that there is something a little weird in my parasympathetic nervous system. And I have answered all kinds of weird interview questions for studies. I once remember how the lady asked me on the phone if I have been sexually active for the last 3 months for a study on caffeine intake and migraine that she was conducting. I proudly tell her that no, I am an Indian woman with oddles of cultural values and all that, and no, no alcohol, beef, or sex for me, thank you. The next moment, she tells me that I am not eligible for the study and hangs up. So much for celibacy !

I am sure you have your own little obsession stories, of things you like to do that would otherwise be considered inappropriate or unnecessary by most standards. And that is why even though we all have 206 bones and 12 cranial nerves and 33 vertebrae, we are all so different.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dark (and soporific) (K)night

I write this post in a moment of great danger to the genre of idiosyncratic people like me, and as my friend Ali puts it, in a moment of great shame to mankind in general. He thinks that in performing the very act that makes me type this post, I bring utter shame, disgrace, and humiliation to humankind. It is a shame in the name of friendship, and the ritual of watching movies together that forms the basis of strong social ties. If movies can make friendship, movies can break friendship. If divorces were not restricted to disjoining two people tied by vows strictly marital in nature, we as friends would have been divorced and disjointed months ago. I marvel at the infallible spirit of mankind that thumps its tiny fists to protect its social instincts, and dictates that movies ought to be watched together, with close friends, amidst sipping cans of coke and munching pounds of buttered popcorn.

Ali knows I tried hard. He knows I gave it my best. He knows that as the darkness and the chill engulfed the large theatre, I tried my best to keep pace with him, and with the crowd, concentrating with greater dedication than I did while studying physics during the boards. I tried to cheer with the crowd, and clap with the crowd, and whistle with the crowd. But ensconced in the lap of luxury, the purr of the AC and the thick foam of a chair behind my behinds became too much for my soporific senses. I had come with the condition that there is a probability, God knows how un-minuscule, that I would fall asleep in the course of the movie. And that became a turning point in the history of mankind and cinema, when despite all my sincere and hard efforts, I fell asleep while watching The Dark Knight (TDK) in the movie theatre.

Sacrilege. Condemnation. Thus cries out every soul that reads this my readers. But history has witnessed it that no matter how good a movie is, there have definitely been moments, minutes, maybe seconds, even nanoseconds when I have fallen asleep. The reason? I go to see most movies at the end of a long day. My energy reserves start depleting, and even the excitement and the thrill of watching a great movie doesn’t suffice in charging my batteries. I cannot concentrate on something that lasts longer than 30 minutes, the situation made all the more worse by my comfortable surroundings. It’s not that I don’t like watching movies, and believe it or not, I have nothing personal against the movie makers. It’s just that the prospect of staring into an illuminated screen with a darkened background induces my soporific self to wake up. I have slept while watching great movies. I have lost so many friends who stopped asking me out for movie nights because the one time I went with them, I have had the nerve to ask them what transitioned between the hero in his days of sworn bachelorhood to the days when he posed for a family picture with his wife and 4 children ensued by the rolling of the names of the art director and the spot boys and other people I have no business knowing the names of when they realized that I have slept through most of the movie. It is an instinctive call, I try to justify myself. Fishes cannot travel in airplanes, no matter how much they love to see the view below from the window. A fish has to live in water and I have to sleep through a movie, no matter how Oscar-winning material it is. I have slept through Bourne Ultimatum. I have slept through Kung Fu Panda. Hell, I have even slept through Sleeping with the Enemy while my enemy-like friend kept darting furtive glances at me.

And thus I kept my record intact, sleeping through this one as well, amidst moments when I felt Ali elbowing me and nudging me to wake up and kicking me and blowing carbon dioxide into my ears and pulling my hair when nothing else seemed to work. But nothing really helped prop myself up despite the frantic kicking. Resigned, he had to be content with watching the movie on his own for a good 30 minutes. For no matter how much I try to feign interest, action movies do not interest me. I see no point of supernatural characters jumping out of high rise buildings or driving vehicles at the speed of light without risking a ticket from the cop or having to struggle for parking. I don’t identify these situations with my everyday life, where I jump out of the 10th floor balcony instead of taking the elevators, or don’t have a heart attack when I see half my face marred enough to delineate the muscles. Action movies aren’t my cup of tea. Sitting through movies aren’t my cup of tea. Hate me, get mad at me, elbow me, kick me, tickle my nostrils with the tip of your handkerchief, but the next time you tie me to your armpits during one of the movies again, I’ll snore aloud and wake up with a jolt to ask if you think the hero is from North Dakota.


Thursday, July 17, 2008


I was thinking the other day that what if people had barcodes on their feet? Technology has advanced so much that it is difficult to believe people haven’t already considered this a possibility. Wouldn’t it be so very easy if everyone had barcodes on their feet? That way one could keep track of wherever one went, because most places would have these electronic scanners that would scan people as and when they entered and left someplace. This way one would leave electronic footprints behind, and using a secure password, one could find out where one was at such and such date. That will save so much trouble remembering when did you go to get your last dental checkup, when did you get that milk from the grocery store that turned sour before its expiry date, or when had you gone to visit your ex-girlfriend last in the year 1999. The information would be confidential, and no one but you would have access to it. Of course authorities like the cops could get hold of such information if they had permission to do so. Certainly that would make the job of tracing down criminals and suspects much easier. At the end of the day, if you are in the habit of maintaining a diary, you could connect yourselves to a device and scan the chip to keep a record of the places you went to. This way you could also trace the places you have been to when you visited Montana in 2005, the number of miles that you have jogged since January this year, and in general join the dots and create a map of your footprints on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Mothers will no longer have to worry about their babies getting lost, and it would help healthcare systems provide better service, knowing exactly when and for what reason you went to the doctor. And all it would take is a simple barcode on your feet.

What do you think?


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Slim-Phone & Fat-Treat

The upheaval created by the launch of the new iphone 3G last week astounded me. At the apple stores around the city, one witnessed a long queue of people snaking into invisibility who had actually base camped for hours to buy one of these phones. They could have spent the summer weekend hiking, fishing, or even peeling potatoes and watching TV at home. Yet they chose to half cook themselves in the blazing sun for hours, reminding me of the queues in front of the ration shops or the puja pandals in Calcutta to catch a glimpse of the much hyped pandals that looked like the Louvre museum or a casino in Las Vegas.

My friend, who happened to be one of the iphone maniacs, argued that while the previous model sold a million copies in 74 days, this one sold a million copies in 3 days. A quick calculation told me that in 3 days, one out of every 300 people in the US is a proud owner of an iphone 3G. Impressive. But the tech challenged and the often ridiculed clumsy cohort of people’s category that I belong to, all I ended up asking was- “What is the big deal about possessing a device whose primary function is to make people talk?” Seriously, I failed to realize the reason for this craze. I mean one could easily wait a couple more weeks and then buy one of these when the madness had somewhat subsided. True, it had the cool built-in GPS and great storage and stuff like that, but I’m sure my laptop combined with google was pretty capable of fulfilling the same needs of mine.

Sure the phone is great to touch and great to look and even greater to possess. My friend was quick to shrug off my thoughts as those being chronically an extreme version of insensitivity and ignorance. He actually looked hurt that God had not programmed me to be able to find an iphone cool. He himself stood in line for a good 3 hours in the blazing sun on a weekday, and at the end of it, all I saw was smiles and excitement on his face. Sure he hasn’t seemed this enthusiastic about checking out the chicks inside a store. What was that English word describing this syndrome? Hype? Don’t we call it “Hujug” in Bengali?

Anyway, the main point of this post is not what you have read till now. We shall talk of more important things here. The important thing being-

What happens when one fine day you become the proud owner of an iphone 3G?

You end up spending 22% on treat taxes.

Good for me, an iphone craziness survivor.