Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What My Chemistry Teacher Taught Me

When I was preparing for my HSSC Exams, I used to attend tuitions for the core PCM subjects and for electronics. We all did. And for chemistry I used to go to someone who was pretty much the demigod for students when it came to teaching Chemistry in Nagpur – Mr. Tak.

Tak Sir was a teacher of the superlative degree. He was also slightly idiosyncratic. On second thought, I’ll do away with that ‘slightly’ there. But that is what made him a superior teacher in a way. He had crazy metaphors and similes for the principles of Chemistry, things you would never forget, and consequently remember the related principle of Chemistry. 

The one metaphor that has stuck with me over all these years is related to how particles always seek to attain the state of lowest energy, the most stable state for particles. Sir explained the theory to us first and then gave us this example, which ingrained it in my head. 

He said, if you ever notice a man who has nothing to do, no pressing commitments, nowhere to run to, spending a lazy day at home, you will also notice that such a man will always be at his laziest best and at home in such a situation. His clothes will be in the same place that he took them off at the previous day, he himself will be sprawled in bed or on the sofa watching TV and it will take him immense effort to move even a single muscle because this state of lowest energy is the most stable state for him and given a choice, all men would want to be in this state forever…of stability.

I never ever forgot that metaphor and concept again. Never forgot at least one way in which men and electrons are similar. But I didn't think about it later too much either until...

I logged into facebook this morning and saw an update from Raksha Bharadia: 

At the same time, you have to find the right distance between people. Too close, and they overwhelm you, too far and they abandon you. How to hold them in the right relation?" 
-Hanif Kureishi

And that similarity came back to me again. Don’t electrons also need to be at just the perfect distance from the nucleus to remain bound and revolving around it? To stay with it? Any closer and they will intrude on the space that other electrons are meant to occupy. Any further and they will fly off the orbit, leaving the atom unstable. There needs to be just the right distance maintained so that stability and order prevails.

So also with people. Especially the ones who are necessary for your life to remain stable and in order. Any closer and you start suffocating each other. Move away and you never know when distances become voids. And those on the fringe disappear faster than you can bat an eyelid. 

If only our lives were governed by the same laws that govern Physics and Chemistry. But then maybe they are. And it is because we violate them the whole time that chaos raises its head.


And if only I had known that Tak Sir was not teaching us Chemistry with examples from life but it was, in fact, the other way round...

9 Thinkers Pondered:

ficklemind said...

very well written .. nice insights

Anupama said...

Thank you so much Ficklemind for the comment and the compliment :) Welcome to the space...

Priya Iyer said...

Loved this post! So true - keeping the right distance with people is so important, but very difficult to attain. :)

Anupama said...

Thanks a lot Priya :) And yes, in practice it is a mighty difficult thing to achieve I guess!

Pesto Sauce said...

"So also with people. Especially the ones who are necessary for your life to remain stable and in order. Any closer and you start suffocating each other. Move away and you never know when distances become voids."

Loved these lines, so true

Btw you have a pretty face

Mandar K said...

Superbb !! :)
Refreshing to see Tak sir's examples .. :P
Gem of a person !!
I consider all of our batchmates lucky to have studied in Tak sir's class.. :)
Thanks for refreshing the memories, anupama .. :)

Mandar K said...

Superbb !!
Refreshing to visit Tak sir's example after so many years ..
I consider all the batches lucky to have studied under Tak Sir..
Thanks a ton for refreshing those memories, anupama .. :)

Anupama said...

Hey Pesto Sauce,

First of all, interesting name! And thank you so much for the comment :) Welcome to the space....

Hey Mandar!

I agree, we all must really have been lucky to have studied Chemistry from him. I realize it more now after all these years. Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment Mandar :)

Sathej said...

Very nicely written..chemistry is one of my greatest passions and so I can relate to it..the 'optimum' distance is so important..if electrons get any closer, its not just that they intrude on other space..but often it would trun out that they would get sucked into the nucleus..how great was Bohr who postulated the energy and angular momentum quantization principles..

Yes, teachers do have a great impression..I recollect two of my teachers too at school now..Math and Chemistry..teachers and doctors - how noble professions..how deeply they touch lives..

Sathej