Translucent Creatures by Bimal K. Srivastava
“What’s cooking boss?” Hemu (Dr Hemant Jain) casually asked his friend cum senior colleague, Prof. Rao.
Prof. Rao, who was about 10 years senior to Hemant Jain both in age as well as in service, was a professor of Physics at the prestigious Massachusetts Institutes of Technology (MIT). After having completed Ph.D. in Optical Technology at the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, he had come to USA in the year 1961 for post doctoral research and then finally settled down there as a Non Resident Indian (NRI), a common practice among Indian intellectuals. Hemant Jain had also come to MIT after graduating in Mech. Engg. in the year 1970 from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur , one of the most famous engineering Institutions of India, that produces a large number of engineers and Software professionals every year. After completing a Ph.D. in Mech. Engg., he was employed as an Associate Professor in MIT, and had also settled as an NRI, like Prof. Rao. Though Hemant Jain and Prof. Rao were from different fields and there was substantial difference in their ages also, yet they were very close to each other, perhaps due to being from the same country.
Prof. Rao and Jain used to share their lunch and tea hours together and used to talk to each other whenever they were free. This afternoon also as usual Hemu (as Prof. Rao knew him) peeped into the dark room of Prof. Rao and wanted to know what was going on. In the normal manner Prof. Rao replied that there was nothing new as he was only experimenting the frequency shift observed when light passes through various transparent materials.
Hemant Jain had been watching that Prof. Rao had been keeping himself busy in his optical lab and of late he had noticed remarkable change in the day to day behaviour of Prof. Rao, as if something has been puzzling him. Dr. Hemant therefore decided to probe deeper into the affairs, as he was apprehensive of Dr. Rao’s nature, all along who had been keeping himself so much engrossed in his field of work that he had not even bothered even to get married.
“If you don’t mind Prof. Rao, may I ask a question?” Dr. Jain asked Prof. Rao.
“Sure, sure why not” replied Prof. Rao.
“What is this special project, that you are engaged in these days?”…
“No, no, I don’t want an evasive reply. As a matter of fact, as a well wisher, this becomes my moral duty and responsibility to share and try to solve some of your personal problems, if at all I can do it. And for quite some time I am sure something is eating your mind. So be kind enough to transfer some of your burden with your younger brother” Jain told politely.
“OK, Hemu I will do that. In fact, I my self wanted to talk to you on this subject, as you are the only person in this country with whom I can talk so freely. But I don’t know how to start the topic?” said Prof. Rao.
“Why, what is the problem?” asked Dr. Jain.
“OK, I will put it this way. Hemu can you make someone invisible?” asked Prof. Rao.
“What are you talking Prof. Rao? Those things do happen in some of the Science fiction films and in Comics, but not in real life. No one has been able to invent any chemical so far to make a person invisible.” stressed Dr. Jain.
“OK, I will put it in slightly different form. Have you come across anything invisible?” asked Prof. Rao.
“Er.. I am not able to recollect anything like that. Moreover, if the object is invisible how the hell I will be able to see that? At least I don’t believe in such unscientific talks unless and until I myself see that.” Re-iterated Hemant Jain.
“Why? How about air? Can you see air? Is it not invisible? And do you deny its existence?” asked Prof. Rao.
“Well no. But that is a non-living object. And its presence has been proved scientifically” said Dr. Jain.
“OK. Now I will again ask you. What is the colour of pure water or pure glass?” asked Prof. Rao.
“It is colourless.” said Dr. Jain.
“Then can you see a colourless object?” asked Prof. Rao.
“Strictly speaking, no. However, due to reflection, refraction and other optical properties of light, we can see water!” said Dr. Jain.
“Exactly the same thing I wanted to emphasise. Suppose you synthesise pure water having no impurities at all, then perhaps you would not be able to see that, unless and until the reflected or refracted light creates some colour.” said Prof. Rao.
“May be! However, they are not invisible. We can see them. They are simply transparent objects, which allow all the light falling on them to pass through.” said Dr. Jain.
“That’s right. And suppose there is some extremely clean and transparent glass in front of us. Don’t we some time try to cross through the glass door thinking that there was nothing there.” asked Prof. Rao.
“Yes, yes we do! Even the birds or insects try to fly through the glass panes as perhaps they are not able to see the same.” said Dr. Jain.
“That means you agree with me that there are objects which are transparent and therefore partially invisible to us. But they are fully invisible to the eyes of birds and insects.” said Prof. Rao.
“Yes I agree. But I don’t see any transparent living object.” doubted Dr. Jain.
“Why have you not seen wings of certain grasshoppers and some other insects that are transparent? Similarly there are many varieties of small fish that are partially transparent. In fact, most of the mammals do possess some transparent body tissues. So much so, that even our own finger nails and lens of our eyes are totally transparent” stressed Prof. Rao.
“Yes that can be accepted.” admitted Dr. Jain.
“This is what I want to insist,” said Prof. Rao. “And I firmly believe that on this earth there are certain creatures that are fully transparent, and therefore sort of invisible to our eyes. That’s why we have not been able to see them so far and therefore we are not aware of their existence.” said Prof. Rao.
“Suppose I accept your views. At least some one would have come across such creatures some where on some occasion or other. We human beings are here on earth for million of years, but no one so far has ever reported or encountered any invisible creature.” queried Dr. Jain.
“You are correct. But there are certain unconfirmed reports of people coming across ‘Yeti’ over Himalayas , or that of a Dragon living inside the Scotland Lake . Similarly, many people report having felt the presence of some Ghost or some such objects near them, but nothing could be seen. Could it not be some invisible creature” asked Prof. Rao.
“Well Prof. Rao, your arguments are powerful and convincing. But unless and until there are evidence to show, it may be difficult to prove the existence of an invisible creature” hesitated Dr. Jain.
“Yes Hemu, you are correct, no one will believe me, unless and until I produce the evidence. And now a days, I am working on that topic. I am sure that I will definitely search a creature, which is perfectly transparent and therefore is invisible.” said Prof. Rao with affirmation.
“But are you quite sure of the existence of such creatures on this planet?” Hemu asked hesitantly.
“Yes yes, one hundred per cent sure and there is nothing unnatural about that. I wish you could have actually seen a documentary on television, which was telecast recently, showing a variety of beautiful translucent deep-sea creatures, including a squid that was completely translucent except for its eyes and ink gland. Perhaps then you would have appreciated my theory.” said Prof. Rao.
And then he (Prof. Rao) handed over a brief report about his project to Hemant Jain, which gave interesting facts about the topic, based on scientific reports and research work published by a number of scientists and research fellows. Main theme of the report was based on a write-up from the popular science journal, “New Scientist” that itself had complied the reports from various experts in the field.
“We are living in a world of colors. It may be, violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red and a mixture of the above. It could also be white, or even colorless. More over, nature has produced all sorts of creatures of different sizes, shapes, habits and colours. For instance we can see green parrots, black crows, golden coloured lions, brown and white horses, blue coloured peacocks, multicoloured butterflies and so on and so forth. However, so far no one has produced any solid evidence of having coming across a transparent or colourless animal. Of course, a number of such animals do exist, though at lower level of life form.
Several multicellular organisms are almost completely transparent, and many possess at least some translucent body parts or tissues. The most striking animal examples include some deep sea squids and the Phronima, several species of marine and freshwater shrimps, practically all 100 or so species of arrowworms or chaetognaths, the wings of some butterflies (Callitaera menander), the predcious aquatic larvae of the insect Chaoborus and even some species of fish, such as catfish Kryptopterus.
As early as in 1967, a scientist from Finland had once picked up a South Atlantic medusa that was so transparent and biconvex that shining sunlight through it like a hand lens, he had claimed to be able to light a cigarette with that.
Our nature perhaps had offered the concept of being translucent for making visual recognition more difficult, both for the prey as well as for the predators. Then in marine animals, transparency permits vertical migrations across water layers of different hues and light intensities, without the animal having to worry about adjusting body colour.
Transparent tissues share some general features: no blood vessels or very few, an absence of pigment cells, extracellular spaces that are smaller than the wavelength of light, and a relatively regular and repetitive structural unit. Commonly mucopolysaccharides and collgens are involved in animal transparency, but glucoproteins (in jellyfish) and chitin (in insects) may also be found.
However, so far it has been observed by the scientists that it is not possible to make certain tissues as transparent. For example, nerves always look white even in transparent organisms because of their high lipid content. Similarly, retina remains pigmented because of its visual purple (rhodospin). Another important thing is about the entry of external matter into the body of a translucent animal. Thus the food taken by such creatures remains visible as a part of the stomach contents, till it is digested and excreted out.
It is also the scientific observation that in order to maintain transparency, there should always be a supply of energy for the animal. Thus dead tissues eventually leave their transparency. Similarly, if the transparent tissues are heated, they lose their transparency. That is the reason that the lenses of fish eye, which normally are transparent become opaque on cooking or on boiling.”
Along with the report there were a number of “Annexure” as references from various scientific journals and magazines, technical papers written by reputed scientists, and experts from various technical fields.
Hemant saw the report and then left for his class, on the promise of meeting Prof. Rao the next day.
All along he was thinking of the strange and bizarre but convincing arguments of Prof. Rao, which were equally worrying as to Prof. Rao. He was sure that Prof. Rao must have been definitely planning for a bigger assignment and that he could go to any extent so as to arrive at some positive conclusion about his theory. This is what Dr. Hemant Jain was more worried for. Looking at the nature of Prof. Rao, he was certain that Prof. might do something unusual.
Next day during lunch hour, Dr Jain went straight to Prof. Rao’s Lab and then once again enquired about Professor’s plans.
Prof. Rao added that it was almost definite that such creatures did exist on our earth. At the same time it was also correct that it was extremely difficult for any person to see them or search them. However, perhaps some one might be able to photograph them by a special camera, capable of filming with infrared devices or some thing of that sort.
“OK. Even if such creature exists, how are you going to search it?” Once again Dr. Jain raised a doubt.
“Yeah, that may be a difficult job. But tell me which is the best place to search such creatures?” asked Prof. Rao.
“I don’t know.” Said Hemant.
“OK. I give you a hint. Most of the animals living in sand are sand coloured. Similarly, many insects living in grass are green coloured and beetles living in tree trunk are of dark brown colour. You also find polar bears living in snow of white colour. In other words mostly animals develop a particular colour that matches with the surroundings. Or I put it that rather nature assists them to achieve a camouflage with the environment. Isn’t it?” said Prof. Rao.
“Now I got it. You mean such creatures might exist inside the water which is transparent or at the icy places having snow.” Said Dr. Jain.
“You are correct. However, I would add one more point here. The place where there is possibility of existence of any such creature must be at an isolated and barren place. Thus first of all I am trying to concentrate on Antarctic region.” Said Dr. Rao.
“You mean you are going to make it all alone? And from where are you going to get so much of money needed for such project?” doubted Hemu.
“Well as you know being a bachelor without any close relatives and with no evil habits, I have saved a lot of money that I am going to spend on this research. Further, I am going to apply for long leave with the intentions of visiting my country i.e. India. But I would utilise the same for the research on translucent creatures. I would rather request you to keep these secrets to yourself, till I do something remarkable on my project entitled “T/C (Translucent Creatures)“. And then of my own, I would resurface again with my work worth a noble prize.” reasserted Dr. Rao.
This had happened about two years back. Dr. Rao continued to remain busy with his work as usual and there was hardly any time to talk about anything else. In fact Hemant had almost taken for granted that Dr. Rao had perhaps dropped the idea of search of the translucent creatures. Hemant Jain was also quit busy with a new project assigned to him and he had almost forgotten about the detailed discussions with Dr. Rao about such creatures.
Then one fine morning surprisingly he received a call from Dr. Rao, informing him that he was being deputed on a special project by MIT (Massachusetts Institutes of Technology) to Antarctica for six months to study the effect of sun rays on icy rocks of the continent along with a team of Scientists from various fields. Dr. Jain immediately knew the motive behind acceptance of such project by Prof. Rao. On the day of departure he gave a good bye to him wishing him a good luck for the double project.
Things moved fast. Occasionally Dr. Jain used to receive communiqué by means of the news bulletins about the progress of the total team. However, there never used to be much information about Prof. Rao’s project. Reasons were not very clear to him. Once one of the team members, who had returned from the trip due to sickness told Dr. Jain, that Prof. Rao was found to be not co-operating much with the team leader and with other members, and sometimes he was also found to be talking to himself. He informed that other team members were of the opinion that perhaps Prof. Rao was not able to mentally cope up with the harsh and hostile climate of Antarctica .
Some more months passed and Dr, Jain heard that many members of Antarctica team were returning, but to his surprise he found that Prof. Rao was not among them. Then one more member from the returnee informed Dr. Jain that Prof. Rao was almost of his own there and many of them (including the Doctor of the team) had started thinking about a medical check-up for him to examine his mental condition.
And finally the worst expected news-letter came from the University Office, which stated that Prof. Rao was found missing from the Antarctica Camp since last 10 days, after he had quietly gone out of the camp during night without informing any one there. He was believed to be dead, perhaps fallen down into an icy hole and eaten by some fish or other creatures. Some parts of his clothes were also reported to have been found near an ice hole with blood marks. After another two weeks he received a letter from the office to collect the belongings of Prof. Rao that were brought from the Antarctica Camp, as the address of none of his relatives were available in official records except that of Dr. Jain. It was a bundle of mostly private baggage since his incomplete official report of the assignment was already taken over by the University.
The tragic news, though anticipated (looking at the peculiar nature of Prof. Rao), however, shook Dr. Jain thoroughly. What a sad end to one of the greatest personalities, who could have reached to the status of a noble prize-winner. With a sad heart, Dr. Jain started arranging the items for despatch to his nearest relative at Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh in India. Obviously, all the official documents were already taken over by the University authorities, only a handful of personal clothing and sundry items were left. And then suddenly to his surprise, one of the inside pockets of the overcoat of Prof Rao appeared unusually thicker than the normal.
On further exploration, he discovered a hidden pocket behind the normal pocket where he found a hand written diary. Some how, the team members could never expect that Prof. Rao might have hidden it at such a place. Unfortunately the diary was in Telugu (An Indian language) that Dr. Jain could not read. Perhaps Prof. Rao has made all his observations about his secret project in Telugu rather than in English, to avoid its leakage to other team members, who were already suspicious about his activities. Dr. Jain kept the diary with him and despatched other items to India.
After a great search, Dr. Jain came across Ramulu, the owner and operator of an Indian Restaurant in town, who belonged to Andhra Pradesh in India and could read and understand Telugu well. Despite his busy schedules, Ramulu agreed to read the diary and translate that for Dr. Jain. Of course, it took a number of sittings for them to go through the whole dairy.
The dairy read like an interesting story by Prof. Rao. Although almost half the diary was showing the frustration and hopelessness shown by Prof. Rao, who could not find anything in spite of his continuous efforts. However, in last few pages he was found reaching to his ultimate goal, as if there was nothing else was needed for him. The selected excerpts from relevant pages are reproduced below;
16th Jan: I am sure; there is something near the cliff towards the eastern side of the frozen sea. I have seen a hole in the area with misty appearance of vapour.
19th Jan: I have tried to take a photograph by using the infrared camera. But the results are totally negative. Maximum I could get was the outline of vapour, which I am sure, were the exhalation of my T/C.
25th Jan: With continuous watch I can feel the size of T/C as something like a pig. At least two of them are there. They appear to be good swimmers and go inside the ice hole at the frozen sea.
31st Jan: They appear to be some sort of carnivorous variety. I have seen a beautiful and healthy penguin reaching near the hole and suddenly disappearing. The way it was being dragged inside the hole, I am sure it was being pulled in.
9th Feb: I don’t think they need enough food for survival. Perhaps a penguin or so may be adequate for a week. After a gap of about 9 days after the penguin incident, I could feel some movement near the hole. A fish was seen slipping into the hole, as if some one is pulling it by fishing line.
15th Feb: I have developed some more photographs, but the plates are all blank. It confirms my apprehension that the infrared photography is not working. With no further arrangements available for special photography at this place without the knowledge of team members, it seems the only alternative left for me is to rely on my eyesight and the presence of their exhalation.
18th Feb: It appears that they always eat their prey inside their hole. After consuming the meal, they remain inside for 6 to 8 days, and then once again attack on some unwary penguin or fish. Now I can understand why they remain invisible even after eating food. The food contents, which are nothing other than the flesh of another animal, will always make the T/C non-transparent, while they are passing through its intestines. Since the meal gets totally digested while the creature is still underground, the food contents cannot be seen. But I will try to search the excreta of the T/C some how.
18th March: It seems the blood of the T/C is also transparent like thick water. I have collected a few drops of the blood sample of the T/C on my hankie. This happened when it was dragging one penguin inside the hole, two other penguins attacked it from their beak and I could feel some of the watery liquid oozing out. I have tried to take the photograph of the episode, but perhaps it will only indicate the fight of three penguins with each other.
23rd March: Oh god, it was definitely an attack on me. I am sure, one of the partners has done it, while I was busy exploring their hole. I am fortunate enough to escape from the sharp invisible teeth of the T/C, as I really ran fast from the observation point.
24th March: My team members are asking about the wound that I received on the back of my hand. I told them it was a cut by the kitchen knife, but some of them appeared suspicious.
6th April: Although I have changed my place of observation, yet I doubt if they will not repeat the same thing. Now I can visualise their movement to some extent when they slip on ground to catch their prey. But they appear to be running (or slipping) very fast.
12th April: Once again a big attack on me. As I have started bringing the axe with me during observations, I some how managed to get away. But unfortunately now I have broken my ankle, during the chase. It was just a narrow escape for me but now I am on bed with plaster on my right leg. The team doctor advises me for complete bed rest for at least one month. I don’t know how I will do that without completing my special project.
20th April: Now I am quietly planning to visit the site again tomorrow even with plasters on. Let the Doctor and team members break their heads. I will see that more blood samples are collected for analysis of the same. I don’t mind even going near their hole. I will carry my pistol also. Let me see what happens.
And that was the end of the diary. Unfortunately 21st April was the date of disappearance of Prof. Rao from the Antarctica Camp. Only I know the place where his soul was resting. It was perhaps inside the stomach of a T/C.
God knows who will now complete the unfinished task of Prof. Rao?
The concept behind the “Report of Prof. Rao” as narrated in this Fiction is strongly influenced by the answers given by Mr. V. Meyer-Rochow, Qulu Finland and the Editor, New Scientist in reply to a question put up by Mr. J. Friberg, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Cover pic by Daniela.