Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Of Boilers and Columns

The words pumps, pipes, reactors and filter-dryers are not typically words associated with poetry! But as it turned out, these very bulky pieces of equipment ended up etching a new memory point in my mind!

Long long ago, the benzene ring had caught my fancy and several years ago, this fascination led me through the doors of chemical engineering. Years passed. Life meandered through different curves and routes and then suddenly I saw myself looking at the face of a reactor! I saw a filter-dryer assembly. I saw the brightly colored, color coded maze of pipes all the while inhaling the queer smell that is characteristic of the CHEMICAL PLANT.

And the memories came back.

The visit to a sulfuric acid plant many many years ago. I remembered how the plant had its own captive power generation unit. I remembered the caustic soda plant where we realized that Solvay was a guy and not some suave process name that said that soda was made the 'solvent way!' The Linear Alkyl Benzene plant that was our project for a whole year. The early morning trips to the last stop on Mumbai's Harbor Line railway. The running out of the station to catch that company bus that would ferry us to Patalganga! Missing that bus once, and having to go through a route via Mopada in a vehicle called a Vikram! The wild cow in a rain puddle full of muck one day. The Patalganga river which we later found out was in effect a nallah for carrying effluents. The drongo, the snake, the striped tiger and the crazy guy who tied these entities into a story.

If that was not enough, then just looking at the equipment, gave me a thrill. Not because they were actually beautiful, but because all these pieces of equipment did not look arcane to me. I'd spent a year drawing them complete with nuts, bolts and flanges in some remote part of my life. I knew how thick the walls must be for a certain temperature and pressure. I knew the secret behind the color coding of the pipe mazes. I knew what happened in a milling machine. I knew what a jaw crusher was - and I knew that it wasn't a tool used by the mafia to aid them in their nefarious acts! I loved seeing the process chemistry and analytical chemistry labs, since HPLC meant High Performance Liquid Chromatography to me and not Himachal Pradesh Liqor Corporation or some such random term! I knew. I understood. I identified.

The Chemical Engineer felt alive again...

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