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Monday, April 28, 2008

Nobody died doesn't look good

Some aspects of journalist's life are strangely familiar to that of a life scientist.
Take the case of my colleague. He walks in everyday, almost exactly half-hour before our scheduled time. He glances through the agency stories on the ticker. He shakes his head in dismay, "Nobody died today. We'll have a tough time finding stories for tomorrow's paper." Death makes him happy. "The page is taken care of," he tells me.

I remember saying something similar when I was a student of Life Sciences at St Xavier's College, Mumbai. I was great at theory and analysis but I would have a tough time doing the experiments because of my unsteady hand. I would look at blood serum samples and hope they would turn cloudy when I would add the typhoid antibody. I smiled every time the ELISA test for HIV/AIDS turned positive. A positve result would mean that the test was over. I wouldn't have to conduct further tests. Moreover, I liked the way the solution precipitated. I would pray that the test would be positive. I was disappointed when it didn't.

Never during those three years when I was training to be a scientist did I realise that the sample came from a human being's blood. A 'positive' result would ruin his/her life. I never realised how much his/her family hoped that the tests were negative. Science does that to you. It makes you very objective by nature. It got to me in a very big way. I was so obsessed with science that I stopped looking at people as people. When thy were happy, I would term it as 'excessive secretion of serotonin'. I am glad I realised it before it was too late. And, much to the shock of everyone, I switched over to journalism to meet some real people.
At the newsdesk, there is always a crunch. Stories fall, pictures are never good and we wait for the next big mishap. Someone's death is a big news item. Sometimes, whole pages are devoted to it. Deaths, mishaps, coma, collisions make for good headlines. Our only contact with the victims is the story itself. And for us, it's just a good story.

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