Saturday, November 20, 2010

Science in the Village

Much of my family still lives in a small village in central India. Although I haven’t been there in several years, I used to make yearly visits with my parents when I was a kid. I have fond memories of those trips because, believe it or not, that’s when I did much of hands on science.

Life in the city was tightly regimented. We had a small house, with literally no privacy at all. I was under my mother’s eye all the time and she wasn’t exactly happy with me playing around with stuff. I couldn’t go out much because it wasn’t exactly safe with all the traffic on the streets. And apart from school, I didn’t have many friends in the neighborhood.

But these things changed in the village. We had a large house where I could disappear into corners where my mother could not see me. I had kids my age to play with and, believe it or not, resources.

My grandfather had this huge stack of issues of this magazine called ‘Chakmak’. ‘Chakmak’ was supposed to be a science magazine for kids. It was full of interesting experiments kids could do. I spend countless hours reading the magazine and then trying out the experiments.

My favorite was the rainbow. Part of the house had a kuchha roof. Sunlight used to stream in through tiny holes in the roof into a very dark room. Not only could we see dust particles in that thin pencil of light, we could then reflect it off a mirror dipped in a wide dish full of water to create a rainbow on the wall. You could disturb the water a little bit and watch the colors dance. We spent hours mesmerized by this spectacle.

The second favorite thing was making a ‘projector’. One of the kids of the neighborhood lived in a house that had a long hall with a door at one end. The wooden door had a hole in it. We could place a mirror outside the house and reflect it onto the door, creating a light beam inside. We could then place a convex lens in the hole and make a primitive projector. The kids had small films of movie starts and film scenes that we could then project onto the wall.

Things were available! Lenses, small DC motors, films, plastic toy propellers, magnets etc. etc. Things that my mother would never let me go buy in the city. I didn’t even know where to get them in the city. We made primitive telescopes with the lenses and rolls of cardboard. We attached tiny propellers to DC motors and hoped they would fly. And when they didn’t we could open them up to see how they worked. We spent afternoons rubbing magnets on nails to magnetize them. And then the evening winding copper wire on the same nail to turn it into a electromagnet. We could cut out the star charts from the science magazine and identify all the constellations in the night. Starts were visible here, unlike the hazy and bright skyline of the city! The only time I’ve seen the milky way with naked eyes was in the village.

I find it ironical that I did more science with these improvised and cobbled together experiments in the village rather than in the relatively well equipped labs and classes at my school in the city. But well, such is life.


  1. I mn't sure bt think so d magzine is 'champak' nt 'chakmak' is it??

  2. @sipya: No, it's Chakmak only. See here: