We are all inherently curious. Maybe the degree of curiosity in each of us differs, but the fact remains that we all are curious by nature. The stellar advances that mankind has made in the field of science and technology testifies this. If some prehistoric caveman was least interested in observing how a round log of wood made pushing things around much easier, we probably wouldn’t have pretty much anything that we see today. Yes, I exaggerated that a bit, but the fact is, some curious dude was smart enough to observe this, and that set the ball rolling ( or was it the wheel? 😉 ). You get the drift; curiosity does way more than just kill poor little cats. But, have you ever felt that you have been too curious for your own good? Have you felt the burn of curiosity?
I take the liberty to assume the answer to be affirmative. At some point or the other, your craving for knowledge would have driven you over the edge. Don’t fret if you haven’t had a chance yet – your time will come too. Meanwhile I would like to share an incident from my own life when I felt the burn – literally. Of course, if I started to narrate every other incident involving curiosity and me, it would be a marathon effort – there are one too many incidents. Looking back now at this one, I feel it was more an act of curiosity blended with naivety. So here goes..
I was always fascinated by Science – Chemistry in particular. I loved to see those neat little chemical reactions that teachers used to show us; and I fancied myself doing some exotic experiments in a dungeon of a lab in white overcoats. Using some scrap metal pieces, old batteries, magnets and pieces of electronic junk salvaged from broken toys, I had set up a sort of personal science lab too. Whatever piece of useless junk I came across, used to end up in my so-called laboratory. This was around the time when we were formally introduced to Chemistry as a subject in school. A few years later, we were doing practicals, and my dream of donning a white lab coat and doing experiments in a lab became partially true. Partially, because the experiments were not exotic per se; rather, they were routine pedagogical stuff like some basic titrations and qualitative salt analysis.
For me however, it was a chance to be up close with chemicals and stuff that I had always read and learned about in awe. And with my makeshift lab in place at home, it was just a matter of time before I would start thinking of adding more junk in there 😉 . Opportunity knocked one fine day, when our teacher decided to show us around the lab, explaining a few out-of-student’s-reach chemicals. Everything was pretty much exotic to me, and none of the chemicals seemed innocent enough to warrant a touch-and-try adventure ( I already had an incident with Sodium a couple of years prior to this; that probably kept me in reins ). Then we were introduced to a rather common place element – Iodine. Well, at least the name was very much familiar and it did look mundane compared to chemicals like Potassium dichromate which were explained earlier ( though I fell in love with the brilliant hue of the latter 😀 ).
A small container with small chunks of iodine was shown. We were allowed to take out a few pieces and see it close up too. As luck would have it, a few pieces of iodine were left behind on the table, even as the teacher collected back all pieces that were distributed and sealed them back in the container. All it took was a fraction of a second. My curiosity got the better of me, and my urge to increase the stock materials in my home lab did the rest. “It is a really small piece, so it doesn’t make any difference if you take it with you”, I reassured myself and slipped that piece into my pant pocket.
Thankfully for me, that was the last hour of class that day, and I was soon on my way back home. I used to commute by the school bus. There was a fair bit of distance from the school to my home – it used to take around 45 minutes for me to get back. About 5 or 10 minutes in to the journey, I felt something was wrong; very, very wrong. I could feel a burning sensation along my right thigh, increasing in intensity as time went by. For a couple of minutes, I was at loss for an answer to this mishap. Then it struck me – it was the innocent, mundane piece of iodine which I had put in my pockets that was behind this turn of events.
I gingerly put my hand into the pocket, hoping to take out whatever was left of it and stow it someplace else. But it was all gone! And what’s more, the 20 paise coin I had in the same pocket was corroded beyond recognition! However what bothered me more at that time was the state my leg was in, rather than the chemistry behind whatever happened in there. I couldn’t wait to get home and check to make sure that all was well with my limb. The feeling in my thigh was really weird. It was so scorching that my friends who shared the seat with me in the bus also felt it. After what felt like ages, I finally reached home. The sight of my leg gave me a shock. The patch of skin on my thigh was all black and looked as if it was charred. In spite of my panic, I somehow managed to run to a nearby clinic. The doctor was very calm and composed as I narrated my tale. The sense of urgency which I expected him to show was not there. He advised me to apply some coconut oil there. “Coconut oil? That’s it!?” – my feeling was incredulous. But hey, he was the doctor, and he did his part to alleviate my fears. I don’t know whether it was a placebo effect, but the coconut oil did work, even though my skin remained burnt for a couple more days.
I felt the burn of curiosity that day; and it gave me the scare of my life then. Did I learn my lesson? Well, let’s say my curiosity has never abated despite this incident. My experience was nothing compared to that of some exponents of science, whose curiosity drove them to such extremes that they ultimately succumbed to the ‘burns’ it caused. Nevertheless, I did learn to think twice before doing something; and to think thrice before doing something stupid. I have grown wiser than to put unattended chemicals in my pant pockets. And I live on with my iodised leg. In effect, I would say the burn of curiosity helped me. It helped me to become more prudent. It helps to be curious, with a pinch of wisdom added in. After all, as Socrates said:
“Wisdom begins in wonder.”
Have you also felt the burn of curiosity? I would love to know. Feel free to share in the comments.
[Image courtesy: Original image of graduated cylinders and beakers courtesy of Horia Varlan.]