Castles in the air - they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too.

आम्हां घरी धन शब्दांचीच रत्नें | शब्दांचीच शस्त्रें यत्न करुं ||
शब्द चि आमुच्या जीवांचे जीवन | शब्दें वांटूं धन जनलोकां ||
तुका म्हणे पाहा शब्द चि हा देव | शब्द चि गौरव पूजा करुं ||
- abhang of Tukaram Wolhoba Ambile of Dehu

There's No Freedom Like That of a Child's Imagination

கடலுக்கு உண்டு கற்பனைக்கு இல்லை கட்டுப்பாடு

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Partha and Krishna

For Aijaz Ahmed Wani

This essay is dedicated to my friend and colleague, with whom I was on the same project for nearly two years, and had stuck together through all kinds of scrapes.

He was a suspicious, cynical fellow when I met him first, not entirely convinced of the scientific value of the project. Yet he tagged along, out of nothing more than a sense of duty.

Our first adventures took us around remote and inaccessible regions of tribal Maharashtra to scout for samples for a genetic study. The fair Kashmiri lad, who considered autumnal Poona hot, would simply wilt under the May sun. His face aflame, as the histamines surged through his veins, still retained the firmness of determination which marks his character. He let me take centre-stage, in negotiating with the Tribal Welfare Department officers, talking to tribals and trying to convince them about what we wanted from them - just a few scrapes of the cheek with toothpicks. He is a fellow of clinical efficiency, and samples that he collected have rarely failed to give results, while those I collected had comaparatively mixed outcomes. This was best demonstrated in a week's expedition to Jabalpur, where he taught me Urdu. That converted a colleague-hood to friendship.

In those days, the work studying tribal genetic diversity was largely mine; he was just an adjuvant. But I do not think I'll ever find one like him. Very well-read and practcal fellow, he had an accurate estimate of the worth of what we were doing. Taking little interest in it himself, he nevertheless pitched in with all he could. I was as Partha, the agonist, and he was as Krishna, the sarathi, the advisor and instigator. His level-headedness, and not unsubstantial cynicism acted as a tempering agent to my enthusiasm, ensuring always that our work was reasonable and of high quality always.

Things changed slowly, as the diversity work came to an end, and we began focussing on another project - studying human genetic disorders. This time roles reversed. My interest in this was never quite high, while his enthusiasm skyrocketed. He had read tremendously in advance, and had quite a favourable opinion of our enterprise. As expeditions to Mumbai to collect patient samples increased in frequency, his skills came to the fore. As I said he was a very clinical operative, executing his job with the highest standards of laboratory practice. Gradually I let him do all the work, and took to theoretical analysis of the data being generated. A fairly organised division of labour became the norm, and our project really took off.

Then it was time for me to move on, and this transition period took four months. During that period we struggled with standardising some analytical techniques - he as the doer and I as the interpreter. Gradually he took my part too, in preparation for my departure. But in those last days we worked quite closely together. He was then as Partha, the hero and I as Krishna, the advisor, interlocutor, critic and philosopher. It was hedonic.

Partha and Krishna are celebrated as the greatest of collaborators, their stellar role in the Mahabharata is known to all. Having had that experience in real life, I have now understood the meaning of what it is to have a partner and be a team. May I and every reader of this be blessed with such reinforcing and complementing colleagues.

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