My Soap Factory
National High School Irinjalakuda, where I did six years of my schooling, had a room which was called laboratory. It's door was always kept locked, and was used only as a "store room" for the old test tubes, chemicals and other equipment. On rare occasions, instruments were brought from the lab to the class room for demonstration. I was fortunate to see one such demonstration in my seventh standard, when a chapter on chemical reactions was being taught.
National High School compound is divided into two parts. One is on the right side of the road, as we come from Irinjalakuda town. This part has the main office building and high school classrooms. The second, on the left side of the room has the big playground, at the end of which there is the array of upper primary classrooms (Now, many more buildings have come there and there is less of the playground). Seventh standard classroom was one among this array. On that day, all students in the class room were looking anxiously at the school gate during the Science class, and finally there emerged the procession of peon Gopalan and another peon (forgot his name), carrying test tubes and chemical bottles. Our teacher filled two test tubes up to half with two colorless liquids, and then poured contents of one into another, and then alas! the color changes to shining yellow! We all looked at this marvellous sight and back home, I explained this story to my sister.
I once got a chance to see the inside of the school laboratory. It was when we students were asked to clean the laboratory during a weekend. We cleared all the cobwebs inside, and brushed and cleaned few of the equipment that was there in the lab. Many bottles were there in the racks, filled with colorful liquids. They are all "acids"! We told to ourselves.
That time I had a craze or special liking for miniature models of all sorts of things (Even now I do have. I am a subscriber of Innu inland magazine for the last five years). So I decided to have a laboratory setup in my home. There were a large number of small empty glass bottles of Homeo tablets in our home, which I thought looked perfectly like test tubes. I found a long, narrow wooden piece on which I fixed few nails and it became the test tube stand. I looked at my laboratory with pride.
Then I saw the Chemistry text book of ninth standard (or was it eighth?) which had an appendix of list of interesting chemical experiments that can be practiced by students. One experiment particularly attracted my attention - Making soap. I always liked the fragrance from Chandrika soap factory at Irinjalakuda. Besides, during a visit to Thrissur town with my parents, I had noticed a small shop with a board "Iyyappan Soap Company" somewhere. I thought: Yes, I would make soap!
Soap cover was designed as the first step and the inner cover for the soap was made with cellophane paper after rubbing a candle on it for some time. Making soap itself was a secondary issue. Caustic Soda and coconut oil were the required chemicals for this chemical experiment. Coconut oil was not a problem, I could get plenty of supply from the kitchen. But I didn't know from where I could this caustic soda.
Then I discovered in another chapter of the text book that caustic soda was nothing but NaOH and we can produce it by electrolysis of salt water. I was thrilled. The Eveready electric torch at our home was opened and one battery was taken out from it. I sat in my room, with a small glass vessel full of salt water, the battery and couple of electric wires, and started "electrolysis". Hydrogen and Chlorine released from the experiment were collected in test tubes that were strategically placed over the vessel with the help of cloth clips and sticks. I did electrolysis until my fingers started paining because of holding the end of the electric wire on the poles of the battery for long time, and I was happy to see the yellow colored liquid that remained in the vessel.
I had no interest in the experiment after this (because some other exciting idea took that place), and the soap was never made. It was just one minor one among my many crazes of those days and it makes me smile now thinking how serious I was about the whole thing.
Much before my dreams of starting a soap factory, I had many other dreams time to time. The first such dream was to become a book publisher! I think this was my wish when I was in fourth standard. Then came the book writer, followed by film maker. After watching the Malayalam movie Panchavatippalam, I wanted to become a "good" politician. KV Ramanathan Mash, headmaster of our school started a "Nature Club" in school and there was a small documentary film show in the school as part of the club activities, during which I could not decide whether to concentrate on the screen or on the movie projector. After the show, I thought I should become a bird watcher. For few months after that - it was festival season - whenever I went to some temple festival, I started wishfully staring at the small black colored plastic binoculars hanging in the toy shops.
I never ever dreamt of becoming a computer engineer. But, as of now, that's what I have become. A lazy, middle aged, software engineer. Spending two third of a day in front of a video screen. Am I sad of it? No. But I am sad that I am not sad.