In the very beginning of our M. Sc. Biochemistry class every senior professor asked the question: ‘what is the definition of life’. Few students who did not feel shy to talk in front of the class tried to give a definition and our professor also cited an example which was not covered by the definition of life as mentioned by the student. For example a student said “living things move” and the professor countered him by saying that a car also moves, planets move. In no time we realized that there is no definition of ‘life’.
We can understand what ‘life’ is but we cannot define it, like ‘time’.
We had a professor named Indu Bhushan Chatterjee, I. B. Chatterjee or IB in short, who went back little more than fourteen billion years and started with ‘Big Bang’, the event when the universe was created from a highly condensed form of energy, confined in a volume smaller than an atom, with a huge explosion, in a very-very small time, like billionth of a billionth of a billionth ………… of a second. Probably I.B. Chatterjee wanted to create the universe first and then life on earth. But other professors were interested in life alone.
Big Bang, I am sure everyone knows is a term coined by a famous physicist Sir Hoyle. It is experimentally (by American scientist Prof. Edwin Hubble) and mathematically (By Prof. Einstein) demonstrated that the universe is expanding, galaxies are moving away from each other. With every second elapsed the distance between any two galaxies have increased by some distance. Therefore if we could travel back in time, 14.3 billion years ago the entire universe potentially existed in a very tiny volume, smaller than an atom, and the universe was created from it with a huge explosion, ‘whoosh’ and from that moment of creation it is ever expanding. Over a period of time the fundamental particles were created, then smaller elements like hydrogen, helium, Lithium, nitrogen, carbon etc. were created and heavy elements (like Uranium etc.) were created when the early stars were exploded in supernova explosions. Our solar system was created many billion years after the ‘Big Bang’. Our Moon was created when an asteroid, named Thetis, having the size of the Mars collided with the nascent earth. The collision not only created the Moon but also made the earth spin at such a high speed that a day lasted only six (instead of 24) hours; the distance between the Moon and the Earth, when the moon was just created after the collision was only about three thousand kilometer, good for Neil Armstrong. Why the universe was created from a tiny minuscular volume of highly condensed energy is a question whose answer we do not know and probably will never know.
Now let me take you back to the seventh floor of 35 Ballygunge Circular Road which was the venue of our Biochemistry class where Prof. I. B. Chatterjee was trying to educate his students about some serious science. But as soon as he had uttered those two magical words “Big Bang”, few students from the last two benches started uttering sounds which rhymed with the word “bang”. Prof I. B. Chatterjee frowned, looked visibly disturbed. From 14.3 billion years in the past he ‘time travelled’ to the present in just few seconds and started teaching his portion of the syllabus which probably was vitamin C but I am not sure because I never paid attention to anything academic.
During the break few of us in our small group were discussing the incidence during the lecture of Prof. I. B. Chatterjee. Kamal Krishna Kajuri, who belonged to our close group commented, “Big banger somoy koekta bang o janmo loichilo, oi bang guli pichon theika daika utche” (during the Big Bang few frogs were also born and few of those frogs croaked from behind). Kamal Krishna Kajuri used to speak Bengali like a person from Bangladesh does and we always found his way of talking enchanting.