Friday, November 1, 2013

Practical Lessons

                     I stood in the queue to weigh the starting material, phthalimide, which we had made in the earlier practical. From across the room, our instructor was constantly shouting out to take precautions in this laboratory. We were guests in the laboratory as our actual chemistry lab was under renovation. We were adjusted in the Saturday slot and were given the entire day (8 hours) to complete three set of experiments. The place was crammed with some 32 students and the weather outside provided no respite from the heat that was generating within the laboratory. Each table had a water bath boiling, the concentrated chemicals emanated fumes that gave a sustained headache all through the day, the exhaust fans did little to dissipate the heat and I waited in a line that was not needed at all and yet we all knew the place would be swarming if we didn’t!
                    Although I m never really ecstatic about chemistry lab, I had reasons to be nervous. The first reason was that we were carrying out a reaction using the product we had obtained in a previous practical.
“If you have not made phthalimide properly, you will not get the product,” our teacher warned us. Unlike other days, where we had some consolation in blaming the starting material, here we were to be held responsible.
                 “Control the reaction temperatures perfectly, heat it gently just for 2 minutes at 80 degrees” her voice echoed in the room.  Maintaining a temperature is laborious as it is, but keeping it steady while continuing a reaction is another task altogether. A little lax, the product is gone!
                 Armed with starting materials, ice cold water, freezing mixture, bromine (that dangerous, attractive and toxic chemical resting in a burette), boiling water and a chilled spine, we set out to perform the task. 
               “Stir, stir, stir, freeze it, the temperature is rising” we called out to each other. My partner, Ketan, was stirring the mixture, while I was keeping the temperature regulated. Once done with preparing the mixture, he looked around.
               “Stop looking at them, 2 minutes is over! Concentrate on our reaction” I chided him.
               The tricky part was done and dealt with. The next part required precision but time wasn’t a constraint. Our reaction mixture in the conical flask was a shade of yellow.  We finally stood straight and rested our back and neck, which were strained, monitoring the reaction.

“Why is everybody else’s solution looking like coca cola?” I wondered out loud.
“They must have gone wrong.” Ketan gave a flat reply.
“The entire class got in shades of brown, only ours is yellowish. I think we didn’t keep it for 2 minutes exact” I doubted.
“You kept it for 2 minutes with a stop watch! We are right.” He shut me up
We started adding the concentrated hydrochloric acid as he insisted we start. I was hesitant and wanted to confirm if something could be done about the colour but gave in.
“How come you got this colour after adding hydrochloric acid?” asked the girl from other table.
“We haven’t yet started” I replied.
“We all got brown color. Did you forget to add bromine?” she interfered further.
Our table had become more interesting to others. Everyone took turns to ask what the matter with our product was.  We continued adding concentrated hydrochloric acid to get the required pH.
With each drop, my skepticism hit the roof. I tried recollecting everything we could have done wrong. Did we heat it well? Did we freeze it as much as it had to? Did  we measure the exact volumes? Where did we go wrong?

“Did you get this color after adding hydrochloric acid?”
I was tired of giving a reply to the same questions. Yet, the person asking was our expert. Oh my God! It is definitely wrong! He wouldn’t have asked that otherwise.
“Yes, sir. We are yet to reach to isoelectric pH.”
“Wow, you have carried the reaction perfectly well. You won’t even need to precipitate out again. You will get at isoelectric point. Continue very slowly” He advised.

           Suddenly the clouds of doubt hovering above us had cleared.  Assured that we were doing it right, we started with a new vigor. Like he said, we obtained the product in the first precipitation. We drained it lovingly, washed and drained and dried it.  Finally we put it for recrystallization.  While our product was getting recrystallized, my friend walked past our table.
“Hey! This is not the product. When you dry it, it will just crumble into powder and you will get nothing.”
“Ketan, did you hear what she said? We won’t get the product.”
“Are you mad? Those who don’t get the crude proper often tell that way!” He brushed aside the comment.

Sometime later in the day, I had shining crystals. Although they didn’t have the perfect shape, yet they were the buff colour crystals which I almost lost to my pessimism!

Life is like that chemistry lab, only without a manual. No one warns you that what you did previously will affect you now. No one shouts their lungs out to keep the conditions regulated. No one checks on you to clear the mess strewn on the table. A cluttered table is a cluttered mind. No one would peek into your doings and tell you that you have done awesome.
Instead, there will be people who would wonder what you did that made your life different. People who would question your sanity. People who would taunt and tease at what you make of yourself.
You would look around and find their lives to be perfect. Their dreams fulfilled. Their products all brown and perfect whereas yours would look unprepared.  They would mock at your creativeness, smirk at your ambitions and isolate you. The test is to not falter. To do your best and be content. To not doubt your judgement if you are happy with the outcome. To not compare your life with their standards. To be happy with your pale yellow uniqueness and wait for the outcome.  It is easier to compare and feel incompetent than to look within and feel complete.  Be the positive force that makes you stand the test.


Sreeja Praveen said...

My God.... That was one awesome message, dear ! It was quite a technical write up at first, but no regrets, because the analogy seems to have worked well in carrying the message to us.....well written, and well blended !! Kudos !! :)

maithili said...

Yes It was indeed a little technical. I might send it to college magazine :P Thank you for reading and commenting

Keirthana said...

This was a lesson to me. A very important one :) Thanks for that!

maithili said...

I m happy it helped you :)