The Blog

On Single-Sex Labs

On Single-Sex Labs

India’s first Nobelist C.V. Raman maintained a strict separation of sexes in his laboratory, his student Anna Mani recalls in this profile by Abha Sur.    Raman would mutter “Scandalous!” every time a male and a female student walked together by his window. With a touch of amusement, Mani noted that Raman must have had an uncanny sense, for even while bending over a microscope, he would be able to catch a glimpse of an “offending” couple. She remembered one incident vividly. She was talking […]



Tengo poco Sanskrit

Tengo poco Sanskrit

I am a Tam-Brahm, which is short for Tamil Brahmin. My ancestors were Hindu priests. You can expect people from such families to have a smattering of Sanskrit, the language of liturgy. My great-grandfather worked in a temple in Mylapore — not Kapaleswarar’s, but a smaller temple. There must’ve been some regular pay for this job, but it couldn’t have been much.This ancestor had migrated from the village  to Madras. Though he did his old job in the new setting as well, his sons reaped […]



Meenakshi and The Supernumerary Nipple

Meenakshi and The Supernumerary Nipple

Legend says that the Pandya king, the ruler of Madurai, rejoiced at the birth of his daughter. She had beautiful eyes, like a pair of chiral fish. So she became Meenakshi (Sanskrit for “fish eyes”). The royal child had another physical characteristic, which the king and his wife didn’t think was so hot. That was the extra nipple on her chest between the usual two. Not to worry, the wise men of the court told the parents. It would just fall away when she met […]



The Universal Correspondent

The Universal Correspondent

Those were the days when I was struggling to establish myself as a journalist. They used to call me Universal Correspondent since I had no authority to represent any particular publication. Still, I was busy from morning till night, moving about on my bicycle or on my neighbor Sambu’s scooter. I was to be seen here and there, at municipal meetings, magistrates’ court, the prize distribution at Albert Mission, with a reporter’s notebook on hand and a fountain pen peeping out of my shirt pocket. […]



The Name is Bond. James Bond

The fictional British spy’s name originally belonged to an ornithologist, an authority on birds of the West Indies. The author Ian Fleming who lived in Jamaica was an avid birder himself. His book was going along well, he just wanted a name for his protagonist when he chanced upon his field guide “Birds of The West Indies.” Apparently, he contacted the real James Bond about using his name in the books, and Bond replied to him, “Fine with it.”  Here is what the NYT has to […]



Curious Case of The Sex Reversed Insects

Curious Case of The Sex Reversed Insects

They say there is nothing new under the sun. But consider this newly discovered genus Neotrogla with four insect species, in the caves of Brazil. The females have the equivalent of the penis; the males have a cavity like the vagina. Now, wait a minute. Did the researchers simply mislabel the specimens you ask? In biological terms, the female has the bigger gametes — larger, more expensive to produce energy-wise, stationary eggs vs small motile sperm — and is almost always the one who gives […]



An Avian Villain Does Good — Sometimes

An Avian Villain Does Good — Sometimes

Great spotted cuckoos, found all along southern Europe during breeding season, are notoriously lazy parents. They lay eggs in the nests of unsuspecting carrion crows, which raise them alongside their own, and at their expense — or so we believed. Researchers in Spain report an unexpected finding in Science this week: cuckoo hatchlings, in fact, confer protection on the entire brood. Each spring, on average, the crow lays five eggs and doesn’t seem to worry about an egg or two the cuckoo might’ve snuck in. […]



The Odd Couple

The first of these stories featuring an old couple and a host of zany characters appeared in the Tamil weekly Kumudham in 1963 and has entertained fans ever since. The writer was Bhagyam Ramasami; the  illustrator Jayraj. Sita Patti [full name: Sitalakshmi Appusamy], the madisar-clad sixty-plus bombshell, is the president of a ladies club called PMK (Patti Munetra Kazhagam).  As “Sita, the trouble-shooter” she pens an agony-aunt column for a glossy periodical. Patti cracks the daily The Hindu crossword well before noon. She peppers every sentence with English words, Madras socialite-style. Gita Patti, the “ugly rustic” down […]



Women Sharing Space

Women Sharing Space

This is of Ajay Palvayanteeswaran’s pet theories:  No two Indian girl graduate students can get along as roommates. Sometimes, he would extrapolate it to all Indians in general or any two women. “It is not a sexist statement,” he would add. “In fact, it works in favor of all males. We should divide and conquer.” Sylvia Earle The stereotype about women being not being able to live amicably under one roof brings me to the story of  an oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle. In 1969, […]



Three Smart Bras

Three Smart Bras

Did the Wonder Woman’s bra confer any special protection on her? Was it good for anything more than, you know, the usual? I am not well up enough on my superhero comics  to know the answer to this question, but here are three added-values bras I heard of recently. Smart Bra for Early Cancer Detection Turn 40 and mammographs will become a part of your annual physical — if you are a woman on a decent healthcare plan. One hates to complain about a medical […]