We used to just know him as Prashant Sir. But his affable nature, quizzical expressions, and downright hilarious yet profound statements still ring out loud and clear in our conversations. Even now.
Prashant Sir was a biotechnology cum environmental biology professor who used to teach us in Degree College at St Xavier’s, Mumbai. St Xavier’s houses one of the country’s best and most well known life sciences departments and as such, I was quite pleased with myself at having gained admission to the course after a lacklustre junior college stint. But it was only in my second year into the course that we were all subject to the full blaze of the Prashant Phenomenon. And by the time we were “seniors” my friend Sarada and I decided to chronicle what came to be well known as “The Prashantisms”! And for good reason!
Prashant Sir had this way about himself that could not be duplicated anywhere else and in any other circumstance. He would be in the middle of an enthralling explanation about some core Biotech/Env Bio issue and suddenly interject with a profound statement, which when heard in a detached context would never fail to evoke peals of laughter from whoever was at the listening end.
For example, I remember this one occasion, during an Env Bio lecture, he was teaching us the intricacies about some mechanism to either measure or battle air pollution, when he suddenly said, “So you see, the water actually becomes VAPOUR on heating!”
Now I know it was meant in a good way and with all the good intentions possible, but when a bunch of wide eyed third year degree college students (who are all set to step out into the complicated world and make their marks) are told this----well, they laugh....and they resolutely set their sights on bringing out a booklet titled “Prashantisms-The Man, the words, the hyuk hyuks”
Another instance comes to mind when we were making our first attempts at building large volumes of e-coli communities. Escherichia Coli (for those not in the know) are bacteria, which are commonly cultured in labs for research into a wide arena of things. E coli colonies themselves are used to teach students about bacterial life and as such, we had to deal with a LOT of E Coli.
On one such occasion, as we were going in and out of the department operating the incubators, growing our organisms and getting frustrated over samples that refused to multiply, Prof Prashant strolls by with a wry smile on his face. He looks at us sitting there staring vacantly into out petri dishes and says, “Ah! E Coli! Wonderful organisms...given the right set of conditions,” At this point Sar quietly snuck out her handy notebook while we waited with bated breath for the impending Prashantism. And it came. “You see E coli colonies are like the world population or better still like the slums of Mumbai – IF NOT CONTROLLED, THEY JUST GROW AND GROW AND GROW.”
I remember two more such incidents, related to me by my senior and good friend Eisha Sarkar. I still remember vividly how I was whiling away my time in the library reading about ancient world civilizations, when Eisha trooped in-obviously delirious from a super boring environmental sciences lecture. She found me there, pulled me out of my book and said, “You know what he said?” I started guffawing before I even heard her out, but I faintly heard her telling me that Prof Prashant had left the class in uncontrolled hysterics when in an attempt to talk about our responsibility towards the ambient air pollution status, he said “IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU EMIT”. I think I laughed for a day and a half after that.
On a different occasion, again involving poor Eish and an env sci lecture, I came to know that Prof Prashant was teaching them about solar energy, its variegated uses and most importantly its immense potential. He proceeded to regale them with a fictional scenario – “Imagine you are larger than the sun and the earth,” (my seniors should have realized then and there that something hilarious was brewing) “and imagine you have a HUGE magnifying glass in your hand-if you point it at the earth and focus the sun’s rays through it – THE EARTH WILL BURN TO ASHES”. Erm well....
The one I remember most vividly and my all time favourite Prashantism, is an Env Bio lecture he was conducting in the lab. He was talking about sewage systems and bio energy and some such and I don’t really know how and exactly when the conversation turned to...well...yes ... MOSS. All I remember is him talking about the fast rate of growth that moss has (I was sieving out the rest of the lecture). And then he did it. He said, “You see MOSS grows so very very very fast. I mean you have a wall and initially you have a little moss and a lot of wall, then you have a lot of moss and little wall, and then one day YOU HAVE ONLY MOSS AND NO WALL AT ALL.”
Suffice it to say we laughed for a week after that and we still laugh when we talk about it today. Mind you we never laugh AT him. Only at his words. We all had a soft corner for him and respected him a lot for his knowledge about his subjects and the hard work he put into his work and his life.
We passed out of college and got our degree. All of us went our separate zany ways and Sar and I never really got down to getting that booklet published. But by jove! He brought fun into our mundane lives. His words still make us laugh and the Prashantisms still ring out loud in our conversations. Even now.