Chemistry and Physics were my favorite subjects as they explain the physical world to us more eloquently than any religious text. So when I reached College my ambition was to pursue chemistry for my graduation as I felt the subject more appropriate to quench my thirst to know nature scientifically. But unfortunately an incident at the Chemistry lab at Payyanur College totally changed my priority and I chose Physics as my Graduation subject (though I never repented the decision)
The incident occurred at the University Examination in the Chemistry Lab. I loved Chemistry lab with its pungent smell of rotten eggs (the Kip’s apparatus always in action), Bunsen burners ignited and the large high work bench with flasks, test tubes , pipettes , burettes, glass rods and other paraphernalia. It was our initiation to the world of experimentation and exploration of the material world. The two main parts of the lab work for Pre- Degree were titration and salt analysis. I liked salt analysis much. Here we are supplied with an unknown salt. We were expected to find out the salt-its acid radical and basic radical - after performing a series of experiments with acids and alkalis. There is an approved system for the analysis in which the salt after dissolving in water in a test tube was treated with acids ,alkalis and gases and the changes observed. Initially the presence of a radical will be detected and once a clue is received there are other experiments which could confirm its presence. This way after a serious of experiments one could categorically tell what the salt is. There were some thirty common salts like Calcium carbonate, barium nitrate, potassium chloride, etc which were given for detection. The method is very scientific and there are fewer chances for error. I appreciated the scientific practices involved. So during our practical sessions I always found out the salt much earlier than any of my friends.
The disastrous incident occurred at the annual University Examination. Being the final Examination all were a little tensed. The examiner was a lady Professor from a far away College. I was a little anxious as a pass in the practical exam is mandatory. After the initial screening I was supplied with a white salt. I began my experiments and in less than five minutes I confirmed the acid radical. Within another ten minutes I got the basic radical also. I felt very happy and began to write the summery of the results very elaborately. I finished everything and there is still half an hour left. The attender of the Chemistry lab Shri. Govindan was a close family friend. He decided to help me. When the examiner was not in sight he came very close and asked me in a whisper. “You Got?” I murmured back happily “Yes- Calcium Carbonate”. To my great shock he quipped “ Wrong! It is Barium sulphate ” I was bewildered beyond control and I started to shake all over. My belief in myself was shaken. I was damn sure that the result I got was correct. But how could I suspect the very man who has supplied the salt? He has pronounced his final verdict and I am proved totally wrong. Now there is only one way left- I scored off all my observation and started to write the summery for Barium Sulphate .
When hardly five minutes were left to close the exam, Govindan, my dear friend came to me again and said “I am sorry Murali –I got confused- What you got is absolutely correct!!! The salt is Calcium Carbonate! Now hell came loose on me. A shiver started to develop from beneath my legs which started to climb up and I began to tremble visibly. I thought I am about to lose the game as a failure in the practical exam will disqualify me for higher studies and my parents are sure to put a full stop to my studies. I started to write the observations again correctly within the time left. But my hands were trebling violently and my fingers failed to decipher my thoughts. I thought of reporting the whole matter to the examiner. But I feared that may complicate the case further. Finally the last bell rang and I handed over the sheet fully scored off to the examiner. My exasperation was beyond words.
However I passed the practical exam in first class. But my fear lingered. Whenever I passed past the Chemistry lab I remembered the incident and I began to hate the subject. The incident at the Chemistry lab thus changed my priority and my life!