Bengaluru Jul 12, 2019, (Research Matters):
The walls were as quiet as ever. Warmth and protection radiated from them, but all went in vain against Ourelia’s boredom. She had been counting the days, as patiently as someone could, for the past 14 years. Every day presented the meticulous, yet mechanically planned, cellular routine in the same way. She would tend to the daily tasks by nibbling on the required nutrients and oxygen. She would then move on to cook some much-needed proteins and try to find some fun in watching the machine churn out strings of amino-acids.
Today was nothing different. She had finished her daily chores and now sat in contemplation of her past and in the imagination of her “exciting” future. Her life could easily be categorized by her three surprises, or to be dramatic, the plot twists of her life.
Her first plot twist happened around the time she was born. About 14 years ago, her journey as a Oogon began when she had been instructed to travel from her birthplace to a new distant land called ‘Ovaria’. Ovaria, the quaint sounding city, is the place to be for cells who were programmed to be Oogons in their lifetime. So, Ourelia, along with few others with a similar set of instructions, followed the chemical cues to navigate through the labyrinth of other types of cells, each heading for their own instructed destination. Exoticism was one thing their journey never had a shortage of. Slowly and steadily, but also drained of energy and motivation, they had moved.
That was when she had first met Ouzy. The ever so logical and reality-seeking fellow Oogon. Being starkly different in their characters, they had soon become close friends and often were involved in long-drawn discussions on life, the Universe and everything else in between.
Their group had soon reached Ovaria where Ourelia had experienced her second surprise. Mitosis. And they were now called as an Ocyton.
Initially, their numbers were in thousands. They were just another regular small group of cells destined to navigate through specific chemical signals to reach their destination. But soon enough, in Ovaria, their journey had diverged from the definition of ‘normal’. They were instructed to activate a process in them called ‘Mitosis’.
And from that very moment, she remembered that they were handled and guarded like delicate and precious entities. Walls of cells were built around them to help and serve them in any way remotely possible. All that an Ocyton had to do was to do mitosis by pushing a knob and make a copy of herself, in the process.
Ourelia remembered herself requesting a place beside Ouzy so that they could continue with their ramblings earlier. Though a wall of cells covered them, their voices carried through to make both of their lives livelier.
And so she and her fellow Ocytons multiplied. Not just once, or twice, but succeedingly many times. Soon enough, geometric progression played its magic. The paltry party of thousands exploded within five months into a swarm of about 7 million.
Ourelia couldn’t help smiling at one specific incident. She had just undergone her regular dose of mitosis and her resultant twin had already left her to meet new friends. Whistling through her thin bilipid layer, she called out to Ouzy.
“Hey there Oucine! How are we doing today?,” she asked, having talked to her only the day before for an hour of soulful, dejected ranting on how sad an Ocyton’s life is.
“Hello, Ouerlia darling! Nothing has changed for the past seven months. I highly doubt if anything would have, in the past 24 hours, having spoken to you only yesterday,” Oucine replied with a grim smile.
“Ah-hah. Ingenious and smirky reply - that is a positive thing that I’m taking from your reply, dear Ouzy. Anyway, I do have something sweet to sprinkle on that sour tone of yours,” Ourelia winked and smiled so wide that it would have dislodged her bilayer’s integrity.
“I wish I could carry around the same optimism as you. But, I think maybe I'll settle for grim humour. So, what is this rainbow-coloured, glitter-sprinkled news that you have for me? Let us see if it could wash away some of the mitotic sweat I’d had since - oh wait - forever!”
Ourelia chuckled, and the cells guarding Ouzy were thrown off balance in the force.
“Oh Ouzy, look at you. News knows no colour. It doesn’t have to be colourful to be good. It has to be tasteful to your gut and peaceful for your soul. For all I care, my news could be coloured black and still taste like Biriyani; or it could be pink and feel like the evil elaichi in the same. Now look at blue…”
“Okay, you know how much I love your ramblings. Can we just cut down to the chase and move to the part where you actually tell me the news?”
“Okay, okay, here you go. I’ve heard from a very trusty little bird, that our next step in the journey is about to happen in a day or two. If this does not shake your organelles inside, my next news will,” Ourelia had said before dropping her voice to a whisper, “I also heard that we will undergo something similar yet vastly different than the mitosis that we do now. The name of that sweet and exotic process, my dear friend, is ‘meiosis’,” she had ended with a dramatic head bow, known only to her.
She remembered clearly how excited Ouzy was on hearing the news, as she had started to mumble out her thoughts aloud shortly after.
“Hmm,” Oucine had paused before breaking into a thinking-out-aloud monologue, “So, all of our tiring and energy-consuming divisions come to an end for what, lo and behold, we divide one last time - albeit differently in some sort of special way. So what does this mean? And how would this… this ‘meiosis’ do anything differently? We all have our 23 pairs of chromosome units. Would it be something to do with them? I bet my nucleus, Ourelia sweetie, that it would have something to do with them.”
“Well, at least I did a good job of cheering you up so that you’ll be thinking about this for the next couple of hours. But hear me out, Ouzy. I think, whatever our journey is, it is going to have a beautiful destination. And I don’t want to paint my intuition with any of the senses that we could perceive, because my gut says it is far more grander than we could fathom. But, being an optimist, I guess I should put a pinch of salt on my grandiose and unfathomably-wonderful, gut belief system.”
“For once, Ourelia, I think your gut might be right in thinking so.”
All through their mitotic days, their protections, very slowly, had also been increasing. A second layer was added, and then the third layer, and then even more. A moat of some kind, a pool rather, made of an amorphous liquid was also filled between two protective layers to prevent any outside intruders to each Ocyton’s private quarters and that any impact would be less felt inside.
Ourelia and Ouzy, however, had continued on their daily conversations over the evening chores by making good friends with the cells guarding each of them. Though they didn’t dare leave their inside safety, they would bribe the guard cells to stand in straight lines with gaps in between, so that they could see each other and chat.
Ourelia met her third life twist when a synthetic voice boomed and echoed across the walls of Ovaria. She remembered it like it happened yesterday.
“Attention dear Ocytons! You all are, as you would believe so, in your first and primary stage of development by undergoing your daily dose of mitosis. However, now all of you will be heading into, which would as your best imaginations would have it, secondary stage. If you all could pay proper attention, it would make things much easier and faster. The instructions are simple. I’m guessing that by now, you all have a fairly good handle on mitosis, that I might as well call each one of you ‘The Mighty Sis’,” the voice had paused for the bad pun to sink in.
On receiving an awkward silence and some snarky smirks, it continued, “I can see that all of you are tired, so I’ll let that one pass. For one last time, you have to undergo something called ‘meiosis’. But, there is a catch here. You will go through it in stages, taking well-meant, important breaks in between, so that you would be on track with the other wistful events to follow.”
Ourelia, though was expecting the news, had been confused with this new instruction. For the past six months, none of them had a break from the division. Meiosis, as they called it, seemed to be different and quite crucial, for whatever it is to follow.
She chuckled at the thought of that synthetic voice once more. It gave an aura of neediness and a long time of loneliness to be able to garner such a superpower of giving away free pad puns.
“Right-O oocytes! Now, all you have to do is to turn the knob that says ‘MEIOSIS’ only till ‘Prophase-I’. Hear me out, loud and clear - PRO-PHASE - phase as in your lovely looking cytoplasm laded faces - and ONE, as in, not two, not zero, but the natural number in between them, that is ONE - as a triumphant school kid who would say ‘I won’. You all got it?”
Ouzy’s reply had been the ultimate icing on the cake.
“Oh gosh, golly Ourelia! Just when I thought you were bad enough, seems like it is a competitive world out there for the best nonsensical jibber-jabber”.
They had all turned the knob, the way they were instructed to. Ourelia shuddered as she recollected how she felt after going through meiosis for the first time. Ouzy, after finishing it, had been eyeing her through the gaps in their guard walls.
“Ourelia! How are you doing? Everything there went good?”, Oucine had shouted with a concerned voice after seeing her struggling to get on her feet.
“Well Ouzy, I should admit, I don’t feel very good. I feel like I’m different. Like, someone has scrambled me up jolly well. My insides, for some reason, feels so constricted, you know. Do you remember how you were saying earlier, that it would be something to do with our nuclear package? I can see what you mean now. In some weird way, I feel like someone went inside me and cut up pieces of me only to glue it back together differently. Oh man, I think I’m going insane. Do I even make sense to you? It is... It is like, you know, I feel like… a perfectly fitted jigsaw puzzle but with the wrong pieces in place. I’m sorry, I’m rambling. I think I need to sit.”
The voice had boomed once again, but this time, with a solution.
“Hello, Ocytons! I see that all of you have now been meiosed - now that’s a word to be added to the dictionary. What I also see is that some of you are not feeling well. I assure you, it is nothing to be scared of. You see, all of you are now in the phase of meiosis called Prophase which all of you had cranked your knobs towards. Now, what happens in prophase is that your nuclear package, which contains your 23 pairs of chromosomes gets constricted initially, which explains the tight knot in your gut feeling. Also, the chromosome pieces are, to put mildly, cut and pasted again, albeit not in the same way, which would kinda explain however confused you are feeling. But, hey, cheer up folks!”
“You guys get to rest for the next foreseeable future, which is to say, nothing less than 12-13 years. We will be awaiting signals from the head office above, which is charmingly named as anterior pituitary, after which we will proceed ahead with the rest of the meiosis. Until then, ciao!”
That was when she had, in retrospect, falsely thought that a break was what she needed the most. She had even forgotten about the uneasiness of meiosis momentarily. Images of relaxing hammocks and long drawn naps had clouded and danced before her eyes. Realisations of no-more-mitotic-exercises or sole-crunching walks had drawn her well-curved bilipds to a smile. For once, paradise had felt so near and true.
She remembered the last conversation she had had with Ouzy. It was etched in her mind and came gushing back on ready retrieval command.
“Wow, so that puts a rather sunny perspective on things, eh Ouzy? But then again, who is to say what’s sunny or what’s damp, given that we haven’t experienced anything in between sunny and damp.”
“So, do I have to deal with this for the next 12 years? Or is there any annual discount on your philosophical ramblings?” Oucine had given Ourelia a friendly wink.
And that was where everything had ended. Before she could even say proper good-byes to her friend, another additional wall of security had popped up, now with no gaps in between them, that she actually felt like being in a multi-walled fortress.
Her third surprise, not only brought along new experiences and feelings but also isolated her from the rest of the world. Since then, her journey provided no new challenges. She heard no new news. Her walled prison did the work it was supposed to do perfectly - did not let anything to either go outside or to come inside. She felt like she was trapped in a vacuum of deafening silence.
What she didn’t realise is that she would be in for another surprise pretty soon. While she was lost in her own mind-numbing thoughts, the order from the higher office had finally arrived. Anterior pituitary had made its move.
The city of Ovaria jumped to life when the synthetic voice boomed once again. The entire platoon of Ocytons gave a thunderous cheer, that carried across each of their walls. With no news of the happenings outside for 13 years, the age-old annoying voice flowed like a gentle stream in their ears.
“Well, hello again dear Ocytons. We meet again, after about 13 years. I hope you are all enjoying your much-needed rest and stay here at Ovaria. I notice some of you had left us.”
A collective gasp went through the land. Ourelia began to sweat. She turned towards her guards for help.
“Hi, hello! Um… What was this about some of us leaving? Is it true?”
“Yes, lady. It is. Some of us wall guards were then shifted to guard the new incoming Ocytons. They were from some nearby ‘Stem Cell’ land. They were pretty sweet actually. And, young too. But, like...”
“Okay okay. Sorry to cut you short. Could you do me one huge favour? You, being my guard and all, aren’t you supposed to protect me, and, I don't know, also help me with some things? My dear friend is just next door and goes by the name Ouzy. Can you just ask your neighbouring guard friends and ask if she is still there?” Ourelia pleaded.
“No problem missy. Give me a minute to relay the message.”
The voice continued, “I use this opportunity to welcome the new Ocytons. Now to the important news at hand. We have finally received the expected message from up top. I want every one of you to listen to me carefully. The rules have been changed now”
“Um… lady? Yes, Oucine is indeed still your neighbour and sends her best wishes to you too. Also, she wants to talk to you after this voice stops annoying her.”
Ourelia’s eyes welled with tears at the good news. How good it felt to be at the end of Ouzy’s sarcasm. How good it felt to have the knowledge of her presence. She pulled her attention back to the voice.
“Some of you will be leaving us now every 30 days, let us say, for a higher purpose. As to who will leave, will be chosen randomly. When your turn comes, you are supposed to undergo some initial changes following which you should slide along the path which will be marked with chemical markers for your convenience and navigation. Most of your walled guards will remain here while some will come with you for your protection, and let us face it, for good company too. Till then, the rest of you, just sit back and enjoy. As to the chosen one, buckle up, it is going to be the ride of your life. The chosen one will be given further instructions separately. Adios, for now, folks!”
Ourelia sat down and buried her head between crossed legs and gave way to the heavy sobs she had been harbouring inside all this time. Ouzy is still there. Ovaria is still alive and running.
Oh, what wouldn’t she give to pass messages to Ouzy as before!
The guard who helped her earlier cut through her thoughts, “Um, Ourelia, right? I could not help but notice, you seem disturbed and well, kind of miss your friend. And, she um, wants to meet you.”
Ourelia was confused. Meet, but how?
The cells in her walls gave way and Ouzy stood there, looking the same, but only with a broad grin on her face. She shouted at Ourelia, “Ourelia, my dear friend. I did and would miss you, so very much! Why, you may ask. Well, guess what? I’ve been selected as the first Ocyton to go where no Ocyton has gone before and might I add, the experience is exhilarating,” and she left leaving Ourelia speechless.
Around 14 days later, the girl in which Ourelia, along with the thousands of Ocytons were residing in, got her first period.
Where is Ouzy going and what was her exhilarating experience? What happened in those 14 days? What would have happened to her wall-guards? Stay tuned to know more, next month.