Daily Archives: January 20, 2015

The fragrance that makes you want to eat earth

Aerosol generation after drop impingement on porous media is a three-step process, consisting of bubble formation, bubble growth, and bubble bursting.

Aerosol generation after drop impingement on porous media is a three-step process, consisting of bubble formation, bubble growth, and bubble bursting. (Image courtesy of Youngsoo Joung/MIT)

I don’t know about you but I have eaten sand/soil moistened by early rain after a harrowingly dry and hot Indian summer. Growing up in Ahmedabad and living through temperatures often touching between 112 to 114 degrees Fahrenheit the first monsoon rains always caused Earth to emit that irresistible fragrance. Now thanks to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) we know what releases that fragrance.

In a story reported for MIT News by Jennifer Chu, it is revealed that a light rainfall in the aftermath of a hot dry summer releases aerosols trapped in the earth’s surface through a mechanism that the scientists have identified.

Cullen R. Buie, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, and Youngsoo Joung, a post doctoralstudent in Buie’s lab, conducted some 600 experiments on 28 types of surfaces: 12 engineered materials and 16 soil samples, according to the story. “As a raindrop hits a surface, it starts to flatten; simultaneously, tiny bubbles rise up from the surface, and through the droplet, before bursting out into the air. Depending on the speed of the droplet, and the properties of the surface, a cloud of “frenzied aerosols” may be dispersed.",” the report says.

The story does not quite say it but from firsthand experience I can tell you that this fragrant emissions happen only after the first spell of rains. It does not continue to happen as the monsoon/rainy season progresses. I think a prolonged dry spell is necessary for this effect to happen.

Apart from making you want to eat the top soil the earthy smell that people experience is also known to whet an unusual appetite for certain kinds of food. In the context of where I grew up the preferred food combination soon after the first wet spell was “uni uni rotli aney karela nu shakh”, fresh, hot tortilla-like thin Gujarati bread (rotli) made from wheat flour and curried bitter gourd. I am fairly sure other regions have their own combinations.

That earthy fragrance is one of those enduring ones that never really leave your olfactories. On reading the MIT story I could smell it this morning. Although snow is also essentially water, snowfall does not cause that smell because I presume it requires that the surface is hit with some force in order that aerosols are unlocked and released.


Ida’s brilliantly minimalist visual flair

ida1 ida2 ida3 ida4

I began watching Pawel Pawlikowski’s ‘Ida’ on Netflix last night and have continued early this morning. It is a brilliantly minimalist visual feast served by cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal.

In the first 15 minutes of the film, I was spoilt for choice while deciding which frame to highlight because the film up to that point has been an unending stream of visual gifts. One watches movies as much for their stories/performance as for their visual content and editing. It is cinema after all and not a radio play.

The moment the movie opened the first visual reference that popped up in my mind was Satyajit Ray’s 1958 masterpiece ‘Jalsaghar’ (The Music Room). The elegant decrepitude of the once opulent palatial mansion’s music room is extraordinary in ‘Jalsaghar’ just as the novitiate nun’s journey into her family’s dark past during the Nazi era Poland from her time in 1960 is captivating. I have given three frames from ‘Jalsaghar’ below for your edification.

The purpose today is not to write about the whole of ‘Ida’ because I am still in the midst of it but point out its stunning cinematography. I have a weakness for visuals while watching movies as much as memorable lines.

jalsaghar jalsaghar1 jalsaghar2

Litharge Dawn


Litharge Dawn

Litharge Dawn by MC

Litharge as a yellow-red-rust color has always been etched in my mind’s eye. A lot of my digital paintings have a preponderance of litharge. Incidentally, litharge is not a color but a naturally occurring mineral formed when lead is oxidized. It is essentially plumbum oxide or lead oxide (PbO). After painting the two pieces above, both jointly titled Litharge Dawn, the following passage of writing just materialized.

A litharge dawn mounted a determined assault on the defiant dark night which showed no hurry to retreat.

The night knew it would have to eventually yield as did the morning that it would scratch away the ink black splotches still holding out across the horizon.

It was a perpetual war that the two great realms fought.