Silver linings

by Gauri Gharpure – This pandemic and the subsequent lockdown and restrictions have had different impacts on all of us in different ways. While it is crucial to have such restrictions for containment of the infection, it also brings problems like being confined to our residences, fear and/or skepticism of the future, etc. But in spite of all this, there might be some things which have positive impacts on us, at least in hindsight. As scientists, we may feel that we cannot get our experiments done due to restricted access to laboratories. But science also happens outside laboratories, in many different ways; from observing flora and fauna around us to reflecting on previous work and doing some nice thinking about the work done and to be done in the future. It also happens in our very own kitchens. Curious how it happens? Let’s find out!

Science has been thought as something done in fancy laboratories with sophisticated and expensive instruments and equipment. It is something that takes years of patience and perseverance to achieve and requires diligence and hard work ,and can only be pursued by nerds or geeks. But guess what? We “do science” that all the time. In fact, for the past few months, we all have been doing a form of that multiple times a day. I am talking about cooking. Yes, something so ingrained in our routine is basically a chemistry experiment and this fact has been brought up multiple times in previous blogs on the page.

Don’t believe me? Just go to the kitchen and observe how we cook. We add certain ingredients in a certain order, make sure the that the things that require more time to cook go in the pan first, add the salt to dehydrate and thus cook vegetables faster, add sour things in the end since it hinders the cooking process, etc. All these basic rules done, we can then play around with some  variations to the process in terms of ingredients, techniques and combinations  to produce something new. It is like any other experiment involving  basic principles, a good amount of troubleshooting and standardization of protocols and voila, you get your results! So yes, we all do science experiments all the time. Added to that is the satisfaction of enjoying the product of your hard work.

Here, in the student hostel during the lockdown, a group of us performed a number of such experiments over the past few months. We have been cooking all our meals diligently, from everyday meals to sweets, experimenting with different cuisines and cooking styles from different states and countries. Each of us is from a different region of the country and we incorporate a variety of cooking styles and spices. So even if we have cooked the same vegetables in so many different ways, we have never gotten bored. We call it a collaboration between various scientists with the first author as the person who led the cooking endeavour (or head chef, if you want), followed by the second or co-author (or the sous-chef) and so on. And of course, we all enjoy the meals together. It is also important to point out that we are a mixed gender group and all of us are equally adept in cooking different dishes. So yes, there have been times when my guy friend taught me how to make, say, a brinjal delicacy, guiding me and showing me which spices to add, how much to fry etc. So, kudos to Avik, Harshith, Mukta and Shailya for breaking gender stereotypes in all respects! Not to forget that we all also contribute equally to the preparation before the cooking (buying and washing vegetables and groceries) and the cleaning afterwards.

So yes, even when the lockdown spells a lot of trouble for us in so many respects with so many crises coming up for a wide array of people, I am grateful for having such an amazing gang of friends. Not only did we enjoy and look forward to our meal times, but formed special bonds over shared pav-bhaji, pasta and aam-panha alike.

The moral of the story is, there is always a silver lining. Look carefully and you will find yours among all this chaos. It could be as simple as having people to talk to, having a place to stay and food to eat. It could be that some things worked out during the few months everyone had time to retrospect. It could be that you learnt some new skills from webinars and online courses. Amidst all the chaos around us, let us find that sliver of hope and pray that this too shall pass, leaving us wiser and more grateful for what we have.

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