Sunday, December 19, 2010

Water Baby - Part 1

Arnab Ghosh looked around to see what time it was, he never wore a watch and lab didn’t have a clock anywhere. Maybe they didn’t want the people working to realize how much time they used up here; the lab had no windows, no skylights, no way of even knowing if it was day or night. He felt his pockets to look for his PDA and realized he had deposited it with security, the facility had strict rules about PDA and other electronic devices, with the new life connect devices people didn’t even know how much confidential data they were sharing without being aware.

He guessed it will be around 8 in the morning; he was always good with guessing the passage of time though his entire thesis was based on proving that passage of time was an unreal concept, people just moved in the space-time without being explicitly aware of it. It was the property of the entire universe to move along geodesics. He realized that this was another night this week that he spent away from home, his mother would be worried even though he had told her he was going to the lab.

He got out of the lab, swiped in his ID card in the machine in front of the security guard, who retrieved his PDA from the bin the machine had told him to. The guard returned his PDA with a smile that he thought he should give a fellow Indian down here in Boston. He returned the smile while taking the PDA and said “Good Morning”, the guard smiled even wider and said “Good Morning Sir”, he wanted to remind him not to call him ‘Sir’ or ‘Babu’ which he used to do sometimes but he realized that might tempt the fellow Indian guard to launch into a conversation with him which he didn’t want at this time. He signaled a goodbye and started to turn around to leave but not before the guard said “Oh its morning again, working I didn’t even realize the passage of time here”. Arnab smiled and quoted HG Wells “There is no difference between time and any of the three dimensions of space except that our consciousness moves along it" and left.

He took his normal route to home which was a little round-about avoiding all escalators and conveyors knowing that this was the only exercise he was about to get the whole day. He would now go back home, eat the food mom had kept, sleep, get up, socialize on the web for some time and then it was time to go back to the lab again. His research on teleportation had hit a plateau, with his day to day work now being going over past calculations, derivations and seeing if the earlier researchers had missed something. Around 20 years ago in 2013 this very lab had discovered teleportation or rather the first working prototype of a teleporter, the idea was simple, strip down the matter to its constituent molecules, transport them over a dedicated line and then reassemble them over at the other end, nothing more than graham bell had done with his telephone, but the calculations and data required to reassemble the matter required a few Petabytes of data to be sent along the matter and the entire processing capability of MIT’s supercomputer working at few exaFLOPS speed. But this had come down due to new algorithms developed by two Philippine mathematics students, but still it was substantial and time taken was far more to satisfy curious science fiction enthusiasts who could have been possible research grant donors. It was hailed as the next big thing by fellow scientists and media alike but now 20 years later it had still to become commercially viable. It has been put on the back burner by MIT’s applied physics department and totally ignored by the media now, but 2 years earlier when Arnab had surprised everyone for opting for it as he had shared the vision of Prof. Jin Swan of living in Asia, coming to work in America and being home in time for dinner. He was the brightest of Ph.D. students and looking at his thesis work on space time, accelerated particles he was supposed to work on the hottest field of Grand Unified Theory or GUT as it is called but he shocked everyone by opting for teleportation.

He walked out and passed by the University Pool where some kind of race was going on, of course the swimmer was alone but on the giant screen in front of her she could see all the other swimmers swimming in their virtual lanes probably swimming alone in lanes of their Ivy League pools, the coach was of course physically there and had added the ambient noise of a crowd shouting and cheering in the background. Maybe he also had realized the advantage of being physically there rather than tele-commuting as they used to call it. Being present there on a screen never had quite the same effect of physically being there and people like Arnab were trying to make it a reality. But till that had happened the rising costs of transportation and fossil fuels and inability of mankind to find a cheap alternative source of energy had made it nearly impossible for people to travel large distances except for the Uber Rich. He took out his PDA and clicked a snap of the pool with his Augmented Reality program, the program threw up a lot of data, he touched the recent happenings section, which showed that there was currently a race going on in which MIT’s best swimmer Bella was competing with other colleges. He felt a twitch inside of him seeing the pool, he felt like jumping in taking a swim himself but he remembered he had swore on his mother never to be in water not even a bath tub. His friends used to make fun of him and call him a rabies infected dog because of his complete refusal to even enter water, he had missed many a trips to the beach, water parks etc due to this. Of all the idiosyncrasies of his mother this was the greatest, her being hell bent of keeping him out of water bodies. He sometimes used to wonder if his mother’s being possessive and controlling was the result of her being an immigrant of India in the USA or something else, many of his friend’s mothers were single mothers too but they never acted like his mother. He had actually wanted to visit India in an exchange program and see if all Indian mothers were like this but his mother had flatly refused and made a huge scene of him wanting to leave her for a whole year and go to some other country rather than concentrating on studying physics.

His mother’s insistence of him studying physics was another mystery to him, he was a natural at physics and could imagine the most complex of physics’ theories in his head, in fact better than his any of his known peers at it, but still his mother kept pushing him more. He didn’t know he was at this position because of his mother or despite of it.

He entered his house and saw his mother on the treadmill as usual, even at 51 she had a stamina of 25 year old athlete and was in better shape than people his age. Panting she asked if he had something to eat, he shook his head and started to move to his room when she got off and said she will fix something for him and asked him to sit down at the table. He pulled out the table from the wall and sat down to what he dreaded most, his mother’s questions about his work, she knew nothing about physics but always asked a lot of questions.

“So how was the day at lab”, she asked as she put down a microwaved ‘quarter pounder with cheese’ in front of him. “Uhh.. Ok ok … “

“Anything special?”

“No maa… Nothing special, just routine everyday work” he said getting irritated, he picked up the remaining burger and walked off to his room. He went in and punched in his name and password at the door of his room and instantly the room started configuring itself to his liking. He kicked off his shoes, finished his burger and switched on his TV to watch some movie and dozed off to sleep.

He woke up to the sound of his PDA ringing. He picked up the call half asleep; it was his over eager research assistant Kwon speaking in a hasty manner. “Slow down Kwon, I already have difficulty understanding you” he said to him. Kwon in his short-out-of-breath sentences told that the particle accelerator team had got some new break through with their tachyon research and there was some crisis situation at the lab which he needed to see personally. He couldn’t make much of it but Kwon instead of sending an email or sending an IM over the messenger had called on his number, then it must be important. He got ready quickly and headed out to the lab skipping 'breakfast' much to his mother’s daily displeasure. When he reached he saw the maintenance and IT people were doing some work on his lab when he asked them they said to contact their manager as they were just following directives, their manager pointed him to the head of the department saying this was his directive that most of his power and computing capabilities be directed to the particle research lab.

When he met Prof Steve he said he was expecting him, he then went to explain to that particle research team had finally found evidence of tachyons, particles which travel backwards in what we perceive as time. They have also found a way to generate tachyons with very low energy particle accelerators and that too in abundance. And they needed all the computing capabilities and power they could get, they needed to do a lot of work before this could be published. Arnab tried to argue but he knew it was futile, this was a major discovery, Nobel Prize winning major discovery and this would take precedence over a research which had not published any papers for a year and wasn’t going anywhere.

Dejected he went back to Kwon who was sitting outside the lab like a puppy who has been turned out of his home. He told Kwon the story and pretty much the news that this might be the dead end of their research. They needed a really fast computer to work on their teleportation data and even the remaining computing power was also taken away from them. Apart from a miracle or some new kind of algorithm which would lessen the amount of calculation necessary nothing could save them now. He asked Kwon to schedule a tele-meeting with the remaining team at a time which was convenient to all the time zones and let him know. He then walked over the particle research lab where many of his ex-classmates were, he saw the whole division was in state of celebration and frenzy at the same time. So much new data about the particles’ properties was coming in and many people were just running around to collect all that, many people were there to congratulate the pair who had achieved this, Michael Adams and Ernest White, the pair was a couple in real life too, they had met in the university and had realized soon that they shared more than their love of particle physics and sexual orientations. There were many big shots there , who he recognized from conventions and paper presentations, everyone was saying the same two words to the pair ‘Nobel Prize’, he went up to congratulate them and said the same two words. He struck around to drink a little champagne which was just sparkling wine imported from some African country. But he was at mourning, his lab, his place of solace where he found a little peace if anywhere in the world, was dying. He took out a bottle of wine and left for his lab when he got an IM from Kwon saying that meeting was scheduled in ten minutes from now, he had to tell his children that their mother was dying, he needed some liquid courage.

The tele-meeting went worse than he had imagined, many people felt very let down and angry and didn’t hesitate to show it in on the screen, one girl Allesandra from Brazil broke down in front of the web cam and started sobbing that her life’s best years were wasted on this project. He tried to keep a stern face while he felt like shouting “you are crying for your few years my whole life just vanished” but he knew that such was life and all its random injustice. He was increasingly getting more irritated as the day was passing, coming out he even snapped at the security guard who called him ‘Sir’. He stopped on the way back at a liquor store to buy a bottle of wine, he knew he was drunk but wanted to be more so, if there was any day to get drunk this was ‘it’.

He got home fully sloshed, when he walked in his mom got startled as she was not used to seeing him at this time, as soon as she looked at him she realized that something had happened. She asked him he was ok, he replied in the affirmative and started to walk towards his room. She asked him to at least have dinner to which he said an instant no.

“What’s wrong, what happed today at the lab?”

“Nothing happened in the lab and nothing is never gonna happen in the lab, ever”

Shocked she started following him and asked him “Tell me na what happened? You don’t come drunk every day, was there something major that happened in your lab today?”

This was the final straw for him, he erupted “Yes something happened, but not to me, nothing major happened nor is it going to, only thing that happened to me was this stupid teleportation project and you, and both were the worst thing that ever happened to me. This this …. God forsaken life happened to me” he threw away his PDA which smashed to pieces. There were silent tears in his mother’s eyes she got quiet and withdrawn like she had seen this kind of anger before.

Arnab started furiously punching in his password in his door and after a failed five attempts he was locked out of his own room, frustrated he kicked the door. His mom quietly walked up to the door put in her password. Arnab without saying a word walked in his room which didn’t seem like his own, it had different lighting, different position of the bed, even a new storage space overhead which he has never noticed before, this was his mother’s configuration of the room. He kicked off his shoes and tried to sleep but his thoughts didn’t let him, he wondered why was this happening to him, why his research failed, why his mother was like this, what happened to his father, why his life was like this? He realized he had no answers and that he needed something to drink. He got up suddenly from his bed and hit his head with the overhead bin which suddenly popped open and lot of junk fell on him.

Dazed and confused he switched on the light and saw what the junk was, it was pretty old, at least 20 years old, a digital photo frame, a jersey of a guy having MIT swimming team written on it, a thing which looked like a bike helmet from the 2000’s and some other random stuff. Curious he picked up the digital photo frame and turned it on and surprisingly it came on, first picture was a group of boys and girls wearing the MIT swimming team jerseys like the one he just saw, then it showed a guy and girl sitting on a vintage motorbike, a girl in a swimming costume holding her medal up for the picture and screenshot of webpage which says Jhoomur Ghosh wins gold in some Inter-state swimming competition. He stared at that one till the pictures switched again, he tried to clear the cobwebs from his head; as Jhoomur Ghosh was the name of his mother and she was also a student here at MIT once.



  1. I shall keep my thoughts to myself till the story is continued... :)

  2. Good one dude.. Nice build up.. Cant wait for the other part!

  3. @Bharath - Thanks.... Just pubished the second and concluding part


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