Perseverance in routine, boring, everyday work is the building block of great things. This is a lesson which I learnt from my mother.
You can say that I was always a very fickle-minded person with no particular aim in life. My parents never really worried about what I wanted from life, because they believed that ‘time shall bind me to my destiny’.
But, in school, whenever I was asked about my aim in life, it always made me nervous.
All my friends had specific answers to the question. Some said that they wanted to be a doctor, some wanted to be engineers while others wanted to be teachers. For my generation in the late 1990’s, those were the three careers which most of us aspired to. Every family wanted to boast of a teacher, at least – if not a doctor or an engineer.
I still remember the time when I was in asked a question by my teacher in class 8: “What’s your aim in life, Joyeeta?” I had given what might probably have been the silliest answer: “I want to run a lab.” The teacher had then asked, “What lab?” Shrugging my shoulders, I had replied “No idea.” I had even laughed along with the whole class – and had probably annoyed the teacher in the process, for he may have thought that it was one of my pranks.
So, when anyone asked me this question the only answer I had was, “I want to have a lab.” God knows from where this weird idea had come to my mind. It may have been because I had seen my father working in his big laboratory at the hospital. That microscope of his had always fascinated me since the very first day, and I remember seeing chloroplasts (in which photosynthesis takes place) through the microscope.
Having my own lab was certainly something that I wanted for real – but I had no idea how. After giving my class 10 exams, my baba (father) said, “Since you have nothing to do for the next three months, come with me to my laboratory and help me out with the cleaning.”
I thought it would be fun helping baba in his laboratory. But it wasn’t. For about a week, I enjoyed assisting his helper in washing the test tubes, conical flasks, petri-plates and slides wearing those disposable white globes. But, after a week, I became restless because I wanted to sit in his chair and look through the microscope lenses.
Baba used to look at my washing and say, “Patience, Joyee, patience. Clean them again. They aren’t clean.” Washing and rewashing made me feel dull, and I started thinking that baba was torturing me.
I told baba, “I don’t want to do this. Give me some other work.”
He said, “You are still not fit for any other laboratory work.”
I said, “Then I am done with this. I don’t like this laboratory work”.
Baba said, “But you always wanted to have a laboratory! So what happened now?”
I just answered, “You only make me wash your glass wares and never allow me to see through the microscope. I want to see through the microscope – not just wash the glass wares and prepare the urine samples. Yuk!”
Baba said, “If you don’t do these, how will you be able to prepare the samples and see them through the microscope?”
I just flicked my eyes, made faces at him and said, “If that’s the reason, why don’t you do the washing and then prepare the samples and see them through the microscope?”
“Because I am done with all those. I have worked hard throughout these long years of training – and have come to this position where I just need to see through the microscope and give my signatures, only now. Perseverance, Joyeeta Talukdar! That’s what you are lacking right now,” replied my father.
At this point, his answers were merely passing over my teenaged head. He understood that. He sat down comfortably on his easy chair – and asked me to sit on one of his stools just beside the microscope table. “Tempting me!” said my mind, but then, I turned my head towards him to listen.
“Follow your ma (mother), Joyee. Only then can you turn your dream of running a lab into a reality.”
Again, I made faces at him. I literally had no clue about what he was talking. However, as I was in no mood to wash the glass wares (that being the only alternative), I actually listened to him.
Baba continued, “See how she does the same work again and again everyday without even complaining? She knows what to do at the perfect time – which masala to put in the vegetable she is cooking and at what time to make it taste perfect. She also does what’s required for you and your bhai (brother) during particular times. Does she ever complain?”
I said, “So?”
My father said, “That’s perseverance. She knows exactly where a particular thing is kept at home – and especially, the things in the kitchen. She is so perfect at this that she’ll be able to take out the required items and cook a dish with her eyes closed. This perseverance is because of practice. It’s the same in laboratory work – it is just like kitchen work, where you need to be perfect with your recipe of doing work.”
That day, I did not understand what baba was talking about. However, 10 years down the line when my friend (S Sandhya) and I were given the responsibility of establishing a laboratory by Dr Bikul Das, this very lesson of baba helped us a lot.
It has been four years since we have established an animal cell culture laboratory and mice facility centre. Everyday, when we go to do our routine work, I remember those very words of baba, “Routine laboratory work is like kitchen work, where you need to know the recipe you are going to prepare well – so that you have some results in your hands, good or bad.”
The same lesson was taught by my teacher, Dr Bikul, on the very first day of our practical training, where he said, “Laboratory work is just like kitchen work where you need to know about your recipe’s constituents. Those having kitchen skills will find it easier to make things work in the laboratory.”
So, everyday when I enter the laboratory and find it tough to do the same routine work again and again, I remind myself of my ma who perfectly manages to cook food for every one of us. Although it’s one of the jobs she hates the most, she has the perseverance to do it everyday.
And yes, I am proud to say that, in this scientific world, I stand tall today because I follow my ma everyday!
A version of this post was first published here.
Image used for representative purposes only.