Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Miscellaneous incidents

My last post gives me the opportunity to segue into a post about a couple of incidents involving Sujit (and not involving me).

Many words have multiple meanings depending on the context, which confuse kids. When Sujit was in std I, he had a lesson called 'Early Man'. When Jaya asked him what it meant, he replied,'It is about a man who gets up early.'

One of my physiotherapists wanted to learn Hindi so that he could converse more easily with some of his patients who were more comfortable with Hindi. So he joined a class for spoken Hindi. When he came home after attending the first day's class, Jaya asked him what he had learned. He said,'It was about first person, second person, third person'. Sujit did not understand him and asked,'Which person were you?'The joke did not end there. The physiotherapist did not hear it properly and replied,'I was the last person!'

This physiotherapist was very keen on learning new Hindi words and he would keep asking for Hindi translations of various English words. Once during such a conversation, he suddenly said,'Can't see'. Jaya and I looked around wondering what he couldn't see. After some discussion we realised that he meant khaansi - the Hindi word for cough.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I become a card sharp!

When Sujit was in KG or Std. I his teacher asked him,'What does your father do?' Sujit thought that she was enquiring about his grandfather and replied,'He plays cards!' He said this because at that time my father-in-law used to play cards for a few hours every Sunday with some of his retired friends.

The teacher was shocked. Poor child - his father is a wastrel!

In the evening, when Jaya went to the school to pick up Sujit, the teacher asked her,'What does your husband do?' Jaya wondered why she wanted to know about me. The teacher related what Sujit had told her that morning. Jaya assured her that there was no such problem and told her about my stroke.

I don't know what shocked the teacher more - the news that I wasted my time playing cards or the news that I am quadriplegic.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Although I read a lot more about evolution, I also read a bit about astronomy - two huge topics that I only get time to skim. The first popular science book I ever read was A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson about seven years ago and it stoked my interest in astronomy (nay, in science in general) by giving interesting pieces of information that I had not thought about earlier. For example, although I had an idea of the distances of the planets in the solar system, text books show them equidistant from each other. This gives a misleading picture which had stayed with me. The reality is very different. As Bryson writes:
... this is a necessary deceit to get them all on the same piece of paper. Neptune in reality isn't just a little bit beyond Jupiter, it's way beyond Jupiter - five times further from Jupiter than Jupiter is from us, so far out that it receives only 3 per cent as much sunlight as Jupiter.

Such are the distances, in fact, that it isn't possible, in any practical terms, to draw the solar system to scale. Even if you added lots of fold-out pages to your textbooks or used a really long sheet of poster paper, you wouldn't come close. On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with the Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over 300 metres away and Pluto would be two and a half kilometers distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn't be able to see it anyway).
I knew something about the solar system but that I was quite ignorant about the things beyond it. I knew the universe is big but didn't have an idea about how BIG it really is. The numbers were mind boggling. Bill Bryson again:
Carl Sagan calculated the number of probable planets in the universe at as many as ten billion trillion - a number vastly beyond imagining. But what is equally beyond imagining is the amount of space through which they are lightly scattered. 'If we were randomly inserted into the universe,'. Sagan wrote, 'the chances that you would be on or near a planet would be less than one in a billion trillion trillion.'
I started reading some blogs on astronomy and loved reading about galaxies, scales in the universe and other cool stuff. Undoubtedly, it helps that I don't have to put out the rubbish. When things get too complicated for my synapses, I can always feast on some great eye candy that illustrate Carl Sagan's words: "We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people."

Being a bit better informed about astronomy and evolution also enabled me to be more discerning about science reports. I learned that whenever terms like 'paradigm shift' and 'scientists have to go back to the drawing board' are used, it is usually an exaggeration.

As an example of the kind of things that interest me these days, here is a discussion with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has the knack of talking about abstruse topics in a way that makes me want to hear more.