While talking to a girl interested in taking up science journalism, I found myself mouthing that sage piece of advice in the field - "And don't forget to start a blog, its the simplest way to get a feel for your own writing and let would-be editors see a sample too". I was talking about a science writing blog, but it reminded me of my own long abandoned Incharaa..and I am staggered to find that it's been four years since I wrote anything here! Four years too many :(
So what has happened in these four years, and how if at all does it affect my writing? Well, four main things have happened I think..I got my PhD, got married, did a year's worth of freelance science writing~journalism and finally: I made up for a seven year glut of once- a-year travel (that too with constant background worry about this or that experiment not working), by wallowing in travel these last two years :) The most wonderful and satisfying for me were Cambodia, the forests of Bandipur and Mudhumalai(a long neglected old favourite)and of course the higher Himalayas following the Gangetic gorge. I feel enriched of course..like with most travel..but also genuinely more at peace for having seen these places and spent time with them. They deserve separate write ups.
Finishing my PhD was of course a big deal..although anti climactic at the time after all the build up :P I feel like I grew up over the course of doing the Masters/PhD (most of my twenties were spent in the process so even factually that's true :)So every strong influence in that period whether from new people, learning things or even dealing with disappointments is in a sense also a 'PhD influence'. I am sure it has moulded how I write and what about, as well. As to being married, I can't offhand see how it might have affected my writing style or topics..except that I am better qualified to write about food now, given I have been cooking every day for two years :P And I suppose constantly hearing about all sorts of trains at home must have an impact somewhere..where, I can't say yet!
Science writing took up a great deal of my time for about a year..it was both hard work and a lot of fun, and for anyone who is interested, here are most of the pieces: https://laasyasamhita.contently.com/
However, I also realised that I couldn't do it for more than about a year and am now back in a lab as a happy post doc :) I guess I was spoilt with the independence that hands on research gives, as also the scope for creativity. I realized that journals, even science journals, are ultimately commercial entities and constrained by a particular style and layout that they want to stick to. This meant that my pieces got varying levels of editing; from a minimal amount to practically rewriting the whole piece. The massively edited ones were a huge disappointment to me, it felt like the final pieces shouldn't even have my name on them. The other problem was that in many big journals, you can't look up past literature yourself and give an opinion, even with a citation (as one would do in a typical scientific publication). It has to come from a scientist in a faculty position, either the author or someone else in the same field. And given most stories have deadlines of a couple of days from start to finish, this meant a lot of frantic calling up of numbers all over the world at all times with requests for comments on paper x..while also feeling awfully guilty that we aren't giving them anything like enough time!! In fact it amazed me how often people in fact read the paper in question (I hope!) and gave comments in time, I always felt I was calling in a favour that wasn't due. These two not withstanding, it was still a great experience.
So to rescue this piece from being a purely nostalgic memory indulgence, I'll bring in a movie that I watched recently and strongly recommend to anyone who hasn't yet seen it. Its called 'The First Grader'. The story is a true one, about an 84 year old man with a passion for learning, who insists on being enrolled in the first grade to learn to read and write when Kenya announces its 'education for all' policy post independence from the British. It is moving, realistic and really just wonderfully made. It made me feel both fortunate and humbled, and in the way that some movies have of seeming to carry a personal message just for you, it made me feel proud of everything in my life that came only after a successful struggle, from the smallest failed experiment that was repeated twenty times in twenty ways to stepping over the worst decisions made in life to get to the best. Do watch it if you haven't yet.