V. S. Rakenduvadhana is an Indian writer, poet and visual artist based in Helsinki. Her diurnal energies are mostly devoted to her work as a neuroscientist. While pursuing her scientific quests, she has had a lifelong nocturnal affair with art, philosophy and music in its many forms. Her poetry, fiction and visual art works are now emerging in some literary magazines including The Vital Sparks, The Abstract Elephant Magazine and Camas, while she is working on her first novel.
Artwork: ‘The Burgeoning Mosses’ by V. S. Rakenduvadhana
To thy unquenched Yagna,
And into the nelumbian palms of Hestia;
I offer my eyelids and sleep.
Rain upon me,
Thy numberless eyes;
And imbue me
With the depths of the sea
Of jñana ( ज्ञान), gnosis (γνῶσις), znánije (знание).
The concrete mixer locomotive queued with the other vehicles on the road. In its traffic induced inertia, it looked like a stoical snail (perhaps, an Achatina Fulica) that stood with its large mixer-conch. I thought of how a grain of sand in the gut of this mixer was perhaps once, a gastropod shell. I also thought of how the spiral blade in its interior, in ineffable ways, resembled the spiral of the shell. Then, as my bus moved, the concrete mixer dwindled, till it reached the minuity of the grains of sand that lay in its grey viscera.
I recalled that my colleague mentioned the cherry blossoms outside the lab, and decelerated my strides with a deliberation to finally see the trees. They turned out to be many versions of unremarkable; and tasted of the same deceit that reeked of Indian restaurants in Europe. The excavator that dug near the building extenuated my defeat by offering its aesthetic commiseration. I closed my eyes and quickly meditated upon its malacostracan nature, as it continued its digging.
Once again, I failed to miss my quotidian quota of eye contact with the taxidermical marvel of a reindeer that greeted one in level Parter. Once again, it conscientiously granted my quotidian quota of a reminder of that one time I ate reindeer meat, accidentally, at a conference. I calculated that the speck of meat I ingested measured no larger than 500 x 1000 x 500 micrometer, as the smallest amounts were shredded into the cheese that topped the riisipiirakka. The embalmed reindeer however, did not consider the dimensions.
Upon entering the osteology of the laboratorium, I breathed differently. Meticulosity inundated me. Every move of my limbs was then on premeditated by an equation whose quotient had the tactile nature of phi, and sometimes pi. I carried that equation on my back the whole working day like the Achatina Fulica I met in the morning. I prepared the solutions utterly permeated by their musicality. I aliquoted the antagonists and toxins into small tubes, deeming each to be a psalm that sat with its flock of nocuous hymns. I abluted my surgical instruments and dried them with an incontestable sincerity. I pulled my electrodes from the quartz capillaries and observed their minute tips, regarding them as celestial miracles. I cut a straight line through the rodential cranium, and severed the meninges, opening my way through, as I would do the corolla of a lotus. I fixed my eyes sharply upon the isochronous movements of the vibrating microtome blade as it traversed layers of white and grey matter. Every preparatory measure was a funambulist maneuver where I poised precision with celerity. This was perhaps, the only time when the chimera of my pacifier, which sat in posterior limits of my cranium, waned with me; as we made way for the experiment to tintinnabulate in every iota of existence.
“Siemanko!” Tadeusz interrupted me, and I landed as softly as I could, as I fell from my agitated reverie.
“Siema! Co tam?” I replied, dividing my eyes between eye contact with him and the attention the little blemish of blood on my glove deserved.
“Are you just about to start something? Are you busy?”
“A bit, yeah, but I’ll have an hour of break, soon. What’s up?”
“Okay, right. I need to talk to you about the LPS (lipopolysaccharide) and neuroinflammation stuff, need your input on some things. I’m writing up the animal license application for my subproject. So you’ll come when you have some time?”
“Yep, absolutely, I’ll be there soon,” I nodded and smiled. He almost forgot to look at my mouth and the precious pacifier. Then as he walked toward the door, he turned around.
“Is Akseli here today?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
I caught the fugacious amble of his stare on the pacifier, just as he turned again to leave.
Helsinki winter had scuttled into the operculum of the sky. Summer sat like an unblinking pair of eyes, whose brilles were occasionally occluded by cirrostratus and cumulus clouds. The beams of light surged imperiously, performing a mandible claw maneuver on the city air that surrendered with the slightest of protests. The characteristic Helsinki grey had also been retracted like a siphon; and the citizens roamed the streets like newly sentient statues. In that summer sun, my apartment was an Argus-eyed entity; listening to the ceaseless respiration of my computers and kinesthetically sensing my movements in the house.
It was time for the titivation rituals to head to my evening shift at the ward. It involved multiple mirrors that were dispersed across my bedroom, salon, open kitchen and bathroom. I looked at the reflection of my makeup, and the flaws of my technique that were only discernable with a very close look. I brushed out my eyebrows, and painted my lips with a mahogany lipstick.
Peering from my frail, mahogany lips, the pacifier coruscated in the summer sun. It assumed many forms; and appeared to be many things, to many people. It was somehow subject to interpretation. Some presumed I was wearing adult braces or some form of an orthodontic appliance. Some thought I wore grills. To some it appeared to be a mask, or a peculiar facial contrivance.
I, with a contrived farcicality, have called it the pacifier. My official explanation for it has been an ostensible medical condition, and those of pertinence have never probed further— no one since Gotama. That was the beauty of Helsinki—no one probed, prodded or offered unsolicited judgement; it was a metropolitan sanctum of congenial insouciance. My explanation was not really a lie either; within the ambit of technicality and semantics— water is a chemical, and the pacifier no less than an iatric measure.
I wore my backpack and headed out, crossing the square that my building faced. The local imbibers and drug addicts had gathered there as always; and the decibels that ensued from their fracases competed with the cantankerous seagulls and their boom box pandemonium. “Perkele!” an old woman yelled, pushing her inebriated confrère. The man lay on the concrete of the square, garbling along as the crew screamed and clapped. “Vittu Saatana!” I heard him scream back, having mustered himself after a few seconds.
The metro was a hackneyed myriapod whose entrails housed an outlandish milieu. A girl with long, dense eyelash extensions sat facing me, reading some kind of a Finnish magazine. Its cover featured an oriental style painting of a woman with long silver hair, embroidering into a tambour frame; and through the eye of her needle, the woman had looped her hair, instead of thread. Beside the girl with the magazine, a man sat with two poodles, one black-furred and one white. The immaculate poodles stood at the man’s feet with the exhaustion of ornately prepared offerings. One of them turned and looked at me with upraised canine brows questioning my raison d’etre. I receded quickly, and kept my eyes on my smart phone screen throughout the ride, there on.
In thirty minutes, my stop arrived and I got off the metro. The eerily steep escalator ride was even more discombobulating with the reflective walls and peculiar neon lights. I couldn’t fathom who this aesthetic would appeal to. After ten minutes of lumbering upon the setts in my stilettos, I was at the hospital.
I entered Gotama’s room in the ward. In the corner, near the windowsill, an incense stick exhaled an extended string of smoke, which reached for the ceiling. Then, a gust of wind perturbed its numinosity and the smoke contorted into a helix, coercing the stick to respire like a mortal. Gotama sat cross-legged on his bed, with his head drooping like a poppy flower. His long, dark tresses fell, framing his head much like a perigonium. I could not tell if he was asleep, narcotized, or both. A circle of crumpled balls of paper lay on the floor. In its center a mound of ash sat, bearing a miniature dolmen. From the ash, a tiny cherry blossom flower peered. A singular ball of paper scrabbled with the wind and stopped near my foot. I picked up the scrunched ball, and opened it. In Gotama’s nonpareil cursive, it read:
Szary, Starzy, Wystarczy (Grey, Old, Enough)
Nescience is violence,
Nescience is violence,
Nescience is violence.
Gotama had begun to look so much like Jesus. His long curls moved in the wind like the murk of the night, or like cephalopodous ink in the depths of the sea. His eyes were sempiternally glazed and his sclera gleamed like nacre against his dark, unblemished skin. Closing his notebook, he looked up at me.
“How are you feeling today? Did they give you something new?” I whispered, scrunching the paper into a tauter ball in my hand.
“I’m okay. I think there was a new pill, yeah. It didn’t make me feel anything different, though.”
“Wrote anything new today?”
He nodded and placed the notebook closer to me on the bed, with a pen inside the closed notebook—to denote the page of interest.
“How are you? Any new discoveries, Lady Curie?” he asked with his etiolated voice. A minuscule smile broke into his lips leisurely, and almost indiscernibly.
“No Himalayan achievements this week,” I smiled back at him.
“The humility of Marie,” he said, now with a toothy smile that broke out, uninhibited.
Over the hours of my shift, I frequented him. We sat together as the sedulous Helsinki sun watched us from the window. I brushed his hair, brought in his dinner and tidied his room. Many minutes of reticence and many of conversation dissipated in the wind like the incense smoke; as we anticipated the midnight sunset.
Then it was time to go. I did my final round, and returned to Gotama’s.
“You should get more sleep, you know,” I said to him, as he stood by the window, watching something.
“You should too.”
I did the nod of disapproval and picked up my bag. Gotama pointed to my mouth, indicating that something was not in place. I looked at my reflection on my smartphone screen, adjusting the position of my pacifier.
“I’ll take off, now. See you tomorrow.”
“See you. Take care of yourself. Don’t work too hard.”
The aurorean metro was something else. It ran like a prayer, and reverberated like an empty conch. I rummaged through my backpack to locate that ball of paper. I could not find it. Instead, a scrap of paper that looked uncannily like a fortune-cookie note clambered between my fingers as I dug through my bag. Some letters had disappeared owing to its inferior quality ink. It read:
I a the cuti le of thy purp e,
I am t y cara ace.
Tadeusz typed into his computer as I scrutinized the paraphernalia in the shelves. A Rubik’s-cube-esque puzzle with neuroanatomical structures in each face sat on the edge of one of them, accruing dust.
“So why does it matter then, if we are not triggering an infection?” Tadeusz posed his question, swirling towards me, in his office chair.
“Well, we’re not interested in triggering an infection. We are interested in the innate immune response and the consequential neuroinflammatory insults that occur as an outcome of every kind of infection; regardless of the type of bacteria, virus, pathogen, and regardless of the site or way of infection. That singular insult predisposes one to various neuropathologies, like say, epilepsy. And if we took it further, such accumulating insults set the stage for neurodegeneration. So I think this is what we’re going for, with the pilot studies. Clearly, LPS (lipopolysaccharide) is altering the excitability in our models.”
“Ah, right. That makes sense. But isn’t it weird that the E.coli injections triggered something so different from the LPS in that study? It’s really weird.”
“Yeah, that’s true; I need to check it out. Send me the paper. We’ll discuss with the professor as well,” I said, turning away to conclude the conversation, realizing we had spent too long divagating.
As I was at his doorstep, some alarm went off.
“Must be your timer going off,” Tadeusz pointed out, as I walked out, somewhat confusticated. I did not recall setting any timers. I walked down the corridor, wondering if it was the freezer alarm. I inspected the usual suspects with no success of distinguishing the origin of the alarm. Then, I recognized that the sound came from my office.
My bag lay on the office table, trilling like a sibylline bird. I opened it and splattered its contents upon the table. There, the ball of paper rolled out like a little orb.
The little paper orb sustained its rotational movements as if haled by invisible gears. Upon scrutiny, I could see mosses germinating from the paper crust of the orb. Smaller than the mosses, minute flowers sprouted in certain patches. Then, I realized –They certainly were not Bryophytes—they do not grow flowers!
I brushed off the viridity from the paper ball but they never ceased to grow back.
The futile “mosses” and their chaperoning flowers, kept on growing. They were nearly as futile my attempts of demonstrating the purpose of the pacifier; or being truthful about it.
The innominate flowers, kept on growing. They were nearly as tenacious as the love I had received in my life—the love I knew I was ineligible for.
The burgeoning greens were nocuous, and kept on growing. They were nearly as nocuous as I was.
I rushed that evening to Gotama, with the exigency to show him what had become of the ball of paper. He stood at his door, waiting for me. We sped together to the window where I cautiously took the ball out and handed it to him.
Gotama unsnarled the paper ball. It now read:
Zielony, Ziemanie, Nie Zle (Green, Tellurian, Not bad)
Nascence is valour,
Nascence is valour,
Nascence is valour.
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