Monday, March 10, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "The Experiment"

I have to say I didn’t like secondary school at all. My friends from next door, who were a year or two older than me, had primed me for all the “exciting” things I’d get to do once I moved from 8th grade to the 9th. They were studious, hard-working twins, and I’ve no doubt they thoroughly enjoyed their lessons and lab work. I listened to them extol the virtues of science in the laboratory, but I had my reservations. (Quite apart from their tendency to pull my leg sometimes, I was never quite sure that I would love lab work as much as they seemed to. I wasn’t a studious student.) For starters, I couldn’t even accept that they were twins (although they were) because they were as unalike as a pea and a cucumber. They completely threw my preconceived ideas of twins being alike, and I wasn’t convinced they had come from the same pod, so to speak.

Anyway, my reservations about science and lab work proved justified. I took to chemistry, physics and biology like a fish to sand – in other words, completely out of my element. Of the three, I found the chemistry lab sessions reasonably interesting, if only because of the smells and fugs - and the odd explosion or fire - that were generated by the random mixing of chemicals. They ought not to have been random, but one teacher could hardly keep an eye on 60-odd exuberant students simultaneously. There were usually a couple of lab assistants who were meant to help the teacher control what went on, but more often than not, they turned a blind eye to our shenanigans. It was a wise idea to cultivate these assistants – and quite a few students did – because if you were in their good books, they would provide some surreptitious help during the lab tests.

Physics was a closed book to me, whether in the classroom or in the laboratory. I hated it with a vengeance. The two things I remember best are the vernier calliper and the screw gauge. I have no words that could describe the extent of my loathing for these implements, especially as I have never, before or since or at any time in my life thus far, felt even remotely inclined towards measuring the thickness of a wire. And since those were the introductory lab experiments in physics, they pretty much closed my mind off to anything else in that department. (It didn’t help that the physics teacher was an even bigger turn off.)

But the lab which tested me the most was biology. Mind you, my biology record book was a marvel of neatness – I loved drawing and took painstaking care while detailing the cell structures and cross-sections of various things that we had to draw (why? I didn’t know and didn’t care) and I displayed my neatest handwriting in it as well. It was a heck of a lot of work for a measly 5 marks or so, but to me it was worth it. I always got the full 5 marks for my record book. Lab work counted for 20 points, I think, and the remaining 65 came from the theory part. (I’m not quite sure if that’s an accurate distribution of points, but it will do.)

The record book points didn’t matter as much as the lab test and the theory test. You had to pass both the lab test and the theory. Getting a 0 in labwork and 60 in theory still didn’t mean a pass on the whole, and the minimum pass mark in labwork was 8 points or so. You’d think it would be easy to score 8 out of a possible 20… but nobody had reckoned with a girl who did so remarkably badly in bio lab.

Anyway, the very first experiment that we had to do in bio lab was to scrape a bit of skin off the inside of our cheek, stain it and observe it under a microscope. We were each given a toothpick with which to do the scraping. Simple enough on the face of it. I scraped at my cheek, then peered hopefully at my toothpick – but there was nothing on it that I could see. I think it was blunt (if you can imagine such a thing). So while my classmates busily worked away with their glass slide, drop of dye and microscope, I stood there scraping and scraping at my cheek.

After some frantic effort, I managed to get something on the blessed toothpick and was about to transfer it to my glass slide, when a batchmate sidled up to me and asked if she could borrow some of MY skin cells! Apparently she was too squeamish to scrape the inside of her own cheek! (Yes I know – ewwwwww!) I had to refuse - for one thing, I had quite enough trouble getting my own sample without scratching my cheek bloody for someone else who was too scared to get her own! For another, wouldn’t it be cheating? She was supposed to look at her OWN cheek cells!

The second lab experiment was to dissect a worm. Luckily we only had to observe while our teacher carried out the operation, as it were. At first I was so far in the back of the group (being a tall girl) that I couldn’t really see what was going on. I didn’t particularly want to, so I was content enough to be looking at the back of the other students’ heads. I also got to ignore what the teacher explained as she did her job. But then she asked us to get back to our tables so that she could exhibit the dissected worm and give each student the chance to take a look at what she had been describing.

Eventually she came around to our table and told us to come closer. I needed only one look – one horrified, queasy look at the luckless worm, which was moving weakly, teased open and pinned to the board – to realise that the thing was still alive. One big retch and I had barely enough time to make a quick exit to the toilet. I don’t like worms and never have, but I couldn’t stand to see one skinned alive. It was worse than any horror movie. As far as I was concerned, my interest in biology ended right there.


keith hillman said...

Fortunately I was spared such experimenting at school. I'm sure my reaction would have been the same

Radha said...

Huh. Funny, the thing that TOTALLY put me off biology in the 9th and 10th grades was the fact that I had to maintain those horrible record books. Unfortunately, I don't have anything like Shyam's patience (or even an ounce of her talent) for drawing intricate stuff, so even though I quite liked bio and liked the idea of trying to become a doctor, once I found out I would have to maintain the record books forever (like, a whole 'nother TWO YEARS! and god knows what was to follow in medical college), that put a quick end to any thoughts of pursuing anything even vaguely biology-related.

And so even though I got a record 100% in biology in the 10th grade, I was very happy to be able to drop bio in 11th and 12th and go with computer science instead. A decision that EVERY SINGLE TEACHER I came across in both Srinagar and back in good ol' St John's in Chennai reacted to with - "Are you CRAZY, Anu? You have a perfect score in Biology - why in the world would you want to drop that?"

And they ALL refused to take me at my word when I said I didn't want to deal with all that drawing :P

Anonymous said...

Ha, ha, ha, ha.... lovely post. You string your words beautifully. You use very few words to convey exactly what you have in mind and I get it. Lovely. I sympathaize with you, but I do belong to the other end of the specturm. I would have been one of those girls standing right next to the teacher while she dissects soaking her every word coz bio was my fav subject. Records were another fav as they gave me a chance to relax and draw. I entertained thoughts of becoming a doctor too till my bio sir in XII grade asked us to prick our own finger for a blood sample. I dont get queasy at the sight of blood, I'd have gladly pricked my friends finger, I drew the line at injuring myself for the sake of science.
Anyhoo... thanks for the laughs. Priya

Anonymous said...

Keith: You were lucky!

Radha: You scored 100% in bio? I'm impressed! :) Comp sci was the best choice though.

Priya: Thank you :) I dont get queasy at the sight of blood either, I dont mind watching a needle go into my skin - but I CANT push that needle in myself! :)

- shyam

meerkat said...

this reminds me of the time in junior college where we had to dissect a frog. fortunately (for the frogs that is) there was some sort of moratorium on wholesale killing of frogs. so only one frog was allowed to be used for demonstration purposes. as far as i remember the frog was subdued with chloroform and then all four of its limbs were tied to hold its belly ripe for dissection. we students gathered round the prof. she made the first cut along the length of the frog and at the first sight of blood 2 people just fainted.

later we were individually able to see the frog at our tables. not a nice sight. i am very partial to frogs now as we have a few of them spawning in the pond.

when i related this incident to one of my friends, he asked innocently how did they subdue the frog, did they drown it in water? still raises a chuckle

seriously though, if you had a really good teacher you would have marvelled at the wonders of physics and complexities of chemistry and the mechanics of bio organisms. maybe you should consider going back to see what you have missed and do an A-level course :-)


Anonymous said...

Meera: Eek! Go back to school??? To study science? There's the stuff of nightmares!

If I do study anything it's going to be a new language, Italian for choice :)

- Shyam

gautami tripathy said...

sciences, a nightmare? Never!

Refluxing Life

Anonymous said...

We had to dissect rats! Oh, do you remember this experiment where one had to test one's saliva for the sugar content? Spit spit and most certainly wasn't a fun exercise!

Anonymous said...

Gautami: You didnt have my teachers :)

Chronic worrier: I absented myself for the frog and rat dissections - I knew about them in advance :) The saliva thing wasnt as awful - not nice, but not stomach-churning either.

- Shyam

Teesu said...

Hmmm. Worms. Today, i would not want to touch them. But when I was 14, I remember actually spearing one for bait when I had gone fishing with some older friends (some guys plus few girls) I was the only girl who could / would do it and the guys were mighty impressed. :) Good memory!This was on Kodai's Berijam lake (spelling?!)

Teesu said...

Oh and worms stink. And today, am not proud of the deed. Bad memory for the worm I suppose?!

Shyam said...

Teesu: I'm SURE worms stink. I just dont want to be close enough to one to prove that fact :) Bad memory for the worm... well, depends on whether it survived! :D