October 2013

Science: Data from NASA's Curiosity rover has revealed the Martian environment lacks methane. This is a surprise to researchers because previous data reported by US and international scientists indicated positive detections. Read more ....

If you got beat up by a bully on your walk home from school every day, you would probably become very afraid of the spot where you usually met him. However, if the bully moved out of town, you would gradually cease to fear that area. Read more ....

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory and telescopes on the ground may have found the most crowded galaxy in our part of the universe. Read more .....

Many viruses and bacteria infect humans through mucosal surfaces, such as those in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract and reproductive tract. To help fight these pathogens, scientists are working on vaccines that can establish a front line of defense at mucosal surfaces. Read more ....

Is your cable television on the fritz? One explanation, scientists suspect, may be the weather - the weather in space, that is. Read more ....

A study by University of Georgia ecologists has found that diversity in mammal immune system genes may have more to do with the opportunity to choose a mate than with exposure to parasites. Read more ....

Humour: Locked out of your own house can be an alarming eperience, especially if you are new to the neighbourhood where neighbours are yet to make your acquaintance. I should know because I have gone through that embarrassing situation. Read more ....

The skeleton

(This is a feeble translation of a story by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Much better translations are available)

The room, adjacent to the one where we three childhood friends slept, had a human skeleton hanging on the wall. The bones made a rattling sound when the breeze blew during the night, and in the daytime we had to study the structure of the bones. In those days we were given lessons in literature by a teacher, while a student from the Campbell Medical School taught us osteology. Our guardians wished that we should become proficient in all branches of knowledge. It would be futile to explain to people who know us as to how successful we have been in fulfilling that wish. To those who do not know us, it would be better if things remain unsaid.

Many years have passed since then. In the meanwhile, the skeleton has disappeared from the room and so has all knowledge of osteology from our heads. No amount of investigations can reveal where they have gone.

A few days back, owing to shortage of space in the house, I had to sleep in that room in the night. Unaccustomed to sleeping anywhere else other than in my own room, sleep eluded me and I lay tossing and turning on the bed. All the bells in the nearby church chimed in unison announcing the late hour. Just then the oil lamp that was burning and had been flickering for the past five minutes, went off abruptly. There had been a few unfortunate incidents in my house lately and, so, when the lamp went off suddenly, the thought of death came instinctively to my mind. I reflected that for nature it was the same thing whether a lamp gets extinguished late in the night and merges into the ever-pervading darkness or whether the flames of life of human beings are snuffed out suddenly, sometimes in the daytime and sometimes in the night.

The recollection of the skeleton came to my mind. I tried to imagine what the person, whose skeleton it was, must have been like in life. I suddenly felt as if some conscious matter was moving around the mosquito net while tapping on the walls of the room; I could hear the sound of breathing. It was as if the conscious matter was searching for something but could not find it and, therefore, was going round and round in search. I realized that this was my imagination caused by a tired mind owing to sleeplessness; it was the throbbing of blood rushing to my head which sounded like footsteps. Yet, a shiver ran through my body. "Who is it?" I spoke out in order to dispel my fright. The footsteps approached the bed and stopped and I heard a reply, "It is me; I have come in search of my skeleton."

I thought it was ridiculous to be scared of my own imagination. Holding my pillow firmly and speaking in a casual manner as if talking to a person with whom I had a long acquaintance, I said, "That's a very good task you have undertaken at such an hour. But what need do you have of the skeleton now?"

The reply came from very close to the mosquito net, "What do you say! My heart was encased in that skeleton; all the 26 years of my youth had blossomed around it - don't I crave to see it once?"

"That is true. Fine, you look around for your skeleton while I try to get some sleep," I replied.

The voice said, "Are you alone? Then, let me sit for a while; we can talk for some time. I used to talk with people 35 years ago; but for the last 35 years I have only spoken to the wind in the cemetery. Today, once again, I will sit by your side and talk like a human being."

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  • Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
  • IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
  • Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
  • Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
  • IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
  • Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
  • Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
  • Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
  • Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu