It was 12:40 pm. The chemistry lecture was on in L7, one of our lecture halls. The chemistry professor, in his typical broken English and Bengali accent, was starting to lecture on spin and orbital angular momenta. He had said absolutely nothing on the topic till then. He walked to the board and wrote "B = H0 + (4*pi*M) where M = magnetization" Is that the way to start a lecture? Then he said "you must have seen a similar formula during your JEE days". Someone in the first row asked him where the 4*pi came from. Apparently, this way of teaching was perfectly natural for the others. After all, who wants to waste time on pondering over the motivation, the significance, and anything related to the topic? Anyway the instructor does not need to stop for a moment and let the students think how to approach the (unspecified) problem. How can we do that if we have to touch upon the whole of chemistry ever done in 4 months? "B = H0 + (4*pi*M)" is a good beginning. You know the formula, great. Then you can apply it in trillions of problems, with different B's! You can get hundreds of marks, gloat, eat, breath, drink, sink, cover yourselves in billions of marks! Anyway, he then proceeded to derive another formula (derive is not the word, sorry, derive implies some logic) . He then glanced at the students and said, "Dont worry. You dont need to be frightened. I will simplify this formula." He the proceeded to write "mu(M) = sqrt(n(n+2)) BM" on the board. "This is easy to apply", he said with a satisfied smirk on his face. "Some people prefer using the equation with s, some with n". That inane comment then rounds up the inept handling of the subject. After all, isn't which formula you apply more important than what you are doing, if you have to produce millions of "scientific" papers per month, which also serve the useful purpose of being used as wallpapers in laboratories to hide the drab walls whose paint is peeling off? Drown yourself in papers. Publish bajillion papers based on other work by varying a few parameters, and you are a great scientist!
Visions of millions of scientists conscentiously poring over papers and creating zillions of sheets filled with data written in crabbed handwriting in a room, with the walls being papered with their papers and the photos of this year's nobel prize winners floated in my head. Beats me why these people have a fascination for keeping these photos on their walls. Maybe to delude themselves that they are doing some scientific work.
No! I didn't join Physics to become one of these faceless horrors churning out data! I doubt whether these people can sit down and think about the philosophical aspects of a theory. No, it is much easier to say that dxy rotates 45 degrees to d(x2-y2), twirl your hands suggestively, and say that this is orbital angular momentum, without stopping to think what an orbital means. Even if this plainly is not a logical extrapolation of classical physics, what the hell, you can derive formulae! Bajillions of beautiful formulae! Thousands of staggering papers with zillions of tables with many beautiful decimals! For the MBA oriented people, this means you can answer two three questions in the endsem! 15 marks! I can almost see these thoughts in a milder form swirling around in the empty faces of the people around me. People who have never had the chance or inclination to have an abstract thought, forget that, an honest thought, a thought not related to the furthering of their career. I am surrounded by a sea of such people. An orderly, marching sea. Each walking in a well defined line towards a career. Eyes fixed straight ahead. As I look around in confusion, for someone to share my thoughts, I see empty faces, empty heads. Very suggestive of the movie Equilibrium.
There is a tremendous feeling of loneliness, a lack of intellectual companionship. Have I come to the wrong place? Why are the others like this? Is it the same elsewhere? Such thoughts created an internal turmoil in my mind. Meanwhile, outwardly, I calmly listened to the lecture. After the lecture, my thoughts went further. After coming to this place, what have I done, except write 50-60 exams, participate in hollow activities, read things and curse potatoes? I have no time. No time to read things of my interest extensively, no time to pursue my finer instincts. I havent written a poem in one and a half year. I havent drawn a portrait in one year.
What does this place do to people? Does it turn out automatons, robots who write CAT, machines who produce papers? Isnt there a bigger aspect to science? Isnt there a need for imagination? Is it a coincidence that great scientists who have changed the philosophical perception of science have keenly appreciated art? Shifts in perception dont come with millions of formulae. A higher plane of thought is required. Art, litertature, music, these are other, more accessible manifestations of this plane. But, hell, who thinks in such a manner? People here prefer sutta, a crass song with slang, to Stairway to Heaven. People who can fill in a poster colourfully are great "artists". Appreciating music and art isn't easy. Abstract thought isn't easy. I dont know how to put more than half of abstract thought in Telugu. It exists, but simply has gone out of normal usage. The language of science has irrevocably changed to English. More significantly, the language of philosophical speculation and abstract thought has become English. How can these people, who struggle with formulating a coherent sentence, have philosophical thoughts? I dont blame them, but I can't help feeling a surge of anger when a Kanpuriya (a localite), a big hulking fellow with huge hair, sits bovinely and says "arre yaar. ye sab hamaare liye nahi hain. bas formula bataado, aur ham lagaadenge", (Arre yaar is untranslateable. The rest mean "All this is not for us. Just tell the formula and we'll apply it." Again, "applying" is a weak translation of "lagaadenge") and another hulking fellow laughs and says "jugaadu!" (fraud) in a happy tone, glad to have found an intellectual (?) companion.
I guess this feeling has been intensified due to my having been in the olympiad camps, where we had an intelligent batch of people in one class. The experience of being in intellectual company lifts you up, and goads you to think, exercise your mental agilty and compete. After that, coming to this place, where the average Kanpuriya or Bihari has eyes and ears only for the average marks, and says "Arre yaar. Kuch samajh me nahi aa raha hai." (I am not understanding anything) and "Abe Angreji jyaada mat bolna hai" (Dont use too much English) has been a big comedown.
Wherever I look, I see emptiness. Hollowness. The signs of the grave. A mental grave.
As George Eliot says in Silas Marner -
"their imagination is almost barren of the images that feed desire and hope, but is all overgrown by recollections that are a perpetual pasture to fear. "Is there anything you can fancy that you would like to eat?" I once said to an old labouring man, who was in his last illness, and who had refused all the food his wife had offered him. "No," he answered, "I've never been used to nothing but common victual, and I can't eat that." Experience had bred no fancies in him that could raise the phantasm of appetite."
I am embarking on a journey, a voyage of five years in the wilderness...