18 August 2017

Starting new intersection points … the security guard

Any travel for me is not always about re-connecting with old connections. Sometimes it is about making new connections too! All intersection points have to start somewhere…

I was seeing off my brother at the ITC Sonar hotel in Kolkata where I was going to stay for the night to catch a very early morning flight. After he left, I was walking back the steps when a familiar face smiled at me. I smiled back like every time. I have seen this security guard / usherer for as long as I can remember in this hotel.

Unlike this time, I stopped and chatted with him and got to know about this background. Mr. Prabir is her name. He has been working in the same hotel as a security person / usherer for over two decades. What I did not realize is that before this, he was in the army for another two decades. And for family reasons, he had to find alternate jobs (to stay close to his family).

Obviously he got busy with other guests – but I am glad I spent ten minutes getting to know him. Next trip onwards, I hope to get to know him as a person even more..

18 August 2017

Sun. Spot.

This is the first time I saw the sun during this trip in India. Every single day in the last week – be it in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Kalyani, Lucknow or Kanpur, all I saw was totally overcast skies – and I mean not a single break in the cloud cover the whole day.

It is like India got a head start on the full solar eclipse a few days earlier…

For the first time, on the drive from Kanpur to Lucknow airport, I was able to spot the sun. Asked the driver to stop the car so I could take a couple of shots…

18 August 2017

Devlina. After over a quarter of century. Now Dr. Devlina!!

Back in MBA days, we had a fairly close knit team. We used to move around together – Devlina, Jyotsna, Srimathi (who we lost to cancer), T Srini and myself. Devlina was undoubtedly the sane, logical thinking, most caring person. After finishing up MBA, I remember taking a train to this city called Rourkela and showed up to meet her parents and brother.

I had some great time there. Her brother – Jayanta-da – taught me how to speak in sign language. I was fascinated by how her mother had dedicated her time and life to improve the lot of people born with inability to talk or hear (she had opened up a school there). All in all, I came away very impressed with the Mukherjee family.

And I think that was the last time I had seen Devlina.

On her request, I was in IIT-K for a guest lecture in their management school yesterday. I will let the students decide what they thought of the talk but it was just thrilling to see Devlina again. She has remained just the same way. Looks the same, the same broad smile, the same motherly and caring instinct. It was like the 26 years in between never happened.

What is fascinating about Devlina’s background is her variety of experience in career. She has worked in two different countries (India and US), made the uncommon switch from Corporate life to Academic life and picked up a few additional degrees in between. Technically, she is Dr. Devlina to me 🙂

For a guy like me who has been contemplating on how to give back to Academia, the meeting with Devlina was very timely and eye opening. I was able to pick up quite a few pointers from her. In fact, you can see in this picture how the student was all rapt attention to the words of wisdom from the professor! Errr…. make that Dr. Professor 🙂 🙂

18 August 2017

Cells do what?

Biology and I have always had an interesting relationship. I had, and continue to have, great curiosity to learn how our body works. In fact, even today, I will pick up a book that explains how our brain works, how our various body parts evolved over time and am usually more than sufficiently skeptical of easy explanations – as an example – food fads.

It was the exam time that I used to dread. It appeared to me that I had to learn everything by rote. I could not logically deduce anything (you know, like in math). And I was not good at remembering stuff. That had to do with studies. Certainly studies that had to do with the red Biology book written by one Katyal and one Ali.

It was sometime in 1979, I believe. Our Biology teacher – Mrs. Pandey had just started with the first chapter. And it was about the most simplest form of animals – single cells, that she was explaining. Eventually, she went to the topic of how cells reproduce and create more of themselves. Her words have been indelibly marked in my memory. “Cells multiply by dividing”. I get it that most folks with rudimentary knowledge of biology will know what she was talking about.

But to a logical thinking, math puzzle oriented 12-year old, that was a “Whoa!! Back up, Back up” moment. What do you mean you multiply by dividing? That gives a lie to my most favorite subject those days – maths.

I do not believe I ever recovered from that shock. Dropped biology after tenth grade unceremoniously crashing any dreams my parents might have had that I would grow up to be a doctor someday.

But I liked my teacher. In fact, I used to look forward to her new lessons – to learn some new thing. However as I said, you could not get me to read it the second time to prepare for exams.

First time I visited Mrs. Pandey at her residence was in 1980. She had asked me to prepare some charts for her for a project she was doing. I remember having done them with great care and then cycled up to her house in Benachity. As an aside, that day, I had a great intersection point – I had run into my classmate Jayita from a previous school in the same building that Mrs. Pandey lived in.

The next time I visited her was again in the same house. This time it was 1983 and I had finished my tenth grade and was going to move to a different school and city. I had gone to pay my regards to her.

And then for the third time, I saw her in her house yesterday! Nearly 1000 km away from the prior house I had visited. In Lucknow! I was in Kanpur to give a guest lecture in IIT. About 2 hours of drive away from where she lives. Made the trek up and down to get a chance to see her and thank her for all her lessons.

The additional attraction was getting to see her son Vikram, who was also a classmate of mine. We were never in the same section (home room) but certainly knew of each other very well. There are those annual birthday calls too!!

While it was a short stay, it was memorable to see Biology Miss (that is how we called her then) and Vikram!! It was heartening to see Mrs. Pandey in great spirits, sporting that incredible smile and in good health. I guess those cells did a great job in multiplying. Or was it dividing?

Ah! I forget!

16 August 2017

It is barely 6am! And I am exhausted already!!

Today is the last day with my parents this trip. Perhaps, realizing that, my dad woke up early and sat up in his bed. He cannot step out of his bed and sit in the balcony like we used to. I sat next to him and gave him my iPad. He loves reading Natasha’s articles in various newspapers.

It did not start this way. Like every other Indian grandparent, he wanted his eldest grandchild (or for that matter, any grandchild) to be an engineer or a doctor. But once I showed him Natasha’s articles published in a newspaper, he completely changed. Now, he thinks that if you are not a journalist then you are a nobody!!

I usually bring him some copies of those newspapers every time. This morning, I gave him my iPad and showed some of Natasha’s writings on the online version of the newspapers where she was interning in this summer.

A few minutes later, I came back from the kitchen after re-filling my cup of tea. My dad seemed to be a confused lot. Looks like he had seen something in the article and he had a question for me.

“Ei tweet byapar ta ki?”
(What is a tweet?).

In a jiffy, I figured out what had happened. He must have seen that icon for Twitter at the end of the article and his curiosity got piqued. I also figured out quickly that this was not a task for the weak of the heart. I had one heck of a time explaining concepts like blog, Facebook and most hilariously “searching for a groom on the net”. In the past.

As I struggled to figure out how to approach the problem, three sips of tea later, my dad tried to help explain his question…

“Ei je lekhey – Mamata tweet korlen, etar maaney ki?”
Mamata Banerjee is the chief minister of the state (somewhat equivalent to a Governor in USA). So he mentioned that he has read “Mamata has tweeted”. What does that really mean, he legitimately asked.

I made a couple of attempts. With no evident import.

In fact, he looked at the article again. The picture of the bird in the Twitter logo did not help at all.

“Tweet to pakhira korey. Uni ki pakhider moto seesh den naki?”
(I thought birds tweet. She is not going to whistle like a bird, right?)

That is it. I lost all my ability to rationally explain anything. I was exhausted just from trying to suppress my laughter!!

I am going to miss this morning chats from tomorrow…