Hickey-gem … again…

In the past, you probably have read about my team mate Bob Hickey and his really, really funny comebacks. He is a guy with an incredible sense of humor and presence of mind.

Early this morning, I called him up from the West Coast and went..
Me: “Was it your anniversary yesterday?”
He: “Yes”.
Me: “How many years?”
He: “32 long years”.
Me: “I did not realize that our anniveraries are so close. Mine is tomorrow”.
He: “Oh! How many years for you?”
Me: “Not as long as you. 24.”
Perhaps touched to the quick on that “not as long as you”, in about half a jiffy, he came back with…
“Hey! Rajib, only if my wife agreed, I would be more than happy to step aside and let you catch up to me”.

Again, all you could hear is both of us guffawing on either side of the phone!!!

See… this is why I foxtrot to office everyday…

After three days of coast to coast meetings, finally dragged myself to the Portland airport (with no help from United Airlines, if you needed to know 🙂 ). After checking in, went thru security and dropped down in a chair at the Delta Skyclub. There was one more hour long video meeting to be done before I could walk into my flight.

Somewhere during the meeting, as my team mate Anand Iyer explained something that has been a practice for quite some time in our company, I asked, rather impatiently – “But that makes no logical sense, right? Why would anybody do it?”.

Anand, much smarter than I – and who obviously agreed with my premise, instead decided to answer the core thesis behind my question. “There have four Nobel prizes given in recent times to people who have proven that we all behave irrationally”.

I had to take a time out for a few seconds to laugh my heart out.

“Well played, Sir, well played!!”

Sometimes I wonder why do I foxtrot to office every morning – is it because I am surrounded by very smart people or is it because I am surrounded by very funny people…

She is officially the earliest teacher in my life that I got in touch with!!

The day was Jan 15, 1973. I was a tiny tot – all of six years old – when I got down from a strange looking bus – it was more of a re-purposed police van really – to a very foreign environment. I got out of the bus and stared with somewhat trepidation at my new school. That was my first day of being a first grader in Benachity Junior High School.

I trudged along the school entrance path and unlike other smart students, took some time to find my class. I was one of the last ones to arrive and found myself a spot in the very last row of benches. I was pretty nervous. Not really sure who talked to who first that day, but I did strike up an awkward conversation with the boy next to me. Turns out his name was Ansuman Mitra. Actually it still is. And we are still friends and see each other about once a year! “I have a new blue tiffin box”, I remember telling him. That, clearly, was the only thing I could talk thru my awkwardness. Probably, also the only thing that I was looking forward to that whole day.

Presently, a teacher came and announced that the class we were sitting in is 1B. Apparently, 1A still had a few benches unoccupied. And some of us got randomly picked and shooed away to the class next door. That is how I landed up in class 1A. And my somewhat budding friendship with Ansuman was cut short prematurely. In reality though, I sought him out during tiffin (recess) period to show my tiffin box 🙂

Well, it was that random choice that got me in front of my class teacher – Miss George as we called her then. I have but only a few memories of those days. Miss George teaching us English was one of the highlights. There was a red book and a yellow book. I remember some of the contents inside but most of it has faded off. I suppose they were filled with the letters of the alphabet and a lot of pictures.

One of the lasting memories I have about Miss George was that during one of those tiffin periods, I had fallen down (don’t worry, I was not athletic ever; it was not like I had a grand fall while trying to kick the soccer ball or something – it was indeed an ignominious case of me slipping on a stair right next to where they used to ring the big dong announcing that a period was over) and had bruised myself. Miss George had somebody get some medicine (Boroline?) from head teacher’s office and applied it on my knee and put me to ease.

Much later in life – around the mid eighties, somebody told me that Miss George lived somewhere near Aurobindo Avenue (I think that was the street name) and that she wanted to see me. I was such an idiot – and also a confirmed awkward – that I never took that opportunity to find her out and meet her.

Well, that particular memory has gnawed me for a long time. Ever since, I have approached many a people from my past with the “Do you know a Miss George from Benachity Junior High School?” At some point of time, I learned that she had left Durgapur and was in Kerala.

That long search of mine was put to rest last week when Mrs. Bose helped me get her number. It was with great consternation, I called that number. How do you approach a person who taught you forty four years back and somebody you never have talked after that?

“Is this Mrs. Lily George?”
“Speaking”
And all that awkwardness came over me again! “Errr… You will not recognize me but you were my class teacher in first grade in 1973”.
“Oh!”

I recognized that I needed to back up my point a little more. So, I told her about the school, the other teachers and my recollection of how she looked and most importantly that picture she took with us after gathering all the classmates during a Christmas get together.

The conversation, from then on flowed very fluidly. I got to know about her kids who are both live outside India. I got to know about how she has settled down in Ernakulam. But I was most disheartened to hear how she is having a tough time with her knees. And this is in spite of the fact she already had one surgery.

She took down my contacts. And as I spelt my name – something seemed to stir in her memory. “Rajib Roy. Wait a minute. Were you not the first boy in class? In fact you were the first boy all throughout school, right? I remember you very well. I had heard that you did very well in high school too”.

Well, that was really awkward and embarrassing. First, me doing well in studies had more to do with my relentless parents. I was an unwilling participant. But there were other first boys and girls too (We had many sections). So, I was not sure that was my calling card. But most of all, I was afraid that she might say “Hey! Later on I actually wanted to meet you once. Did you ever get the message?”.

Once I kept the phone down after promising to keep in touch with her, a flood of memories of my classmates from those days started floating thru my mind. Suddenly, I remembered something. I went upstairs, opened up the computer and after some search brought out a picture from that Christmas party of Miss George and all my classmates together. From Dec, 1973. I had digitized it and kept it thinking someday it might come come in handy.

My next mission is to get that picture to her somehow. You never know. My awkwardness knows no bounds. One of the India trips, I might just show up at Ernakulam and give her a printed copy of the picture and let her know that her teachings and guidance is going forty four years strong. With no apparent sign of abating!

What a great feeling it was to actually talk to somebody who is till date, my earliest teacher that I have been able to track!!!

[I am the kid with a squint in the left eye standing in the last row, third from the right of the picture]

This year’s addition to the fountain pen collection…

Some of you who are close to me personally or professionally are aware that I use fountain pens almost exclusively for writing and also maintain a small collection. I wrote with my first fountain pen in fifth grade (1977) and in spite of all the messiness of ink all over my fingers, I have always preferred the feel of the ink-and-nib mechanism over the rolling-ball or simple gel mechanism.

While finding fountain pens became difficult over the years and certainly after I moved to the US of A, what became really difficult was getting the right paper that would neither bleed (most standard paper do) nor prevent the ink from drying (too glossy surface).  At the same time, it had to be smooth enough that the pen did not pick up any fibre from the surface that would muck up the capillary gap in the tongue of the nib. As a result, I normally stock up on writing pads once I find them to be fountain pen safe and almost always use a fine point nib only. I do have a very small cache of broad, italics and extra fine nibs for some calligraphic writing. (I am not very good at it though).

Annually, I add a few pens during the Fountain Pen Show in Atlanta. This year I went for some dual-toned bodies with bright colors. The total collection is starting to get close to the half century mark.

Missed my partner in crime Roger Whitney this year…

From the bartender’s corner – Esme Jasmine

Jasmine was the first cocktail I experimented with the Esme gin. The floral essence of the gin played rather well with the edgy bitterness of a Campari. To soften the Campari, I went with some Triple Sec and then some lemon juice to retain the citrus-forward gin’s character.

The nose was mostly carried by the gin and the Triple sec – junipers, orange and rose petals were the most prominent. The palette started with the citrusy taste but quickly the soft bitterness of Campari took over and settled down. The finish was mostly the junipers, the lemons and the rose petals.

Meeting Sri Ganesh

I was done with my India trip. 4 days with parents and 1 day meeting some folks from my past in Pune. All that was left was now a four hour drive to Mumbai airport and off to US I would be. Except that there was one more intersection point to be created.

I credit Sri Ganesh entirely for making this meeting happen. I had no time to get into the city. So, Sri Ganesh came to the airport to meet me!! That was awfully nice of him. We went in to a nearby hotel and grabbed a glass of wine and some light dinner.

Nearly 26 years back, I worked in the same office as Sri Ganesh in Mumbai. He was the head of Finances and Administration for our company. After 2 years, I was shipped out to the USA.  He really had no reason to remember me much.

There are well networked people and there are well networked people. And then there is Sri Ganesh. Not only did he remember me, he remembered just about anybody and everybody I enquired after. Most of our conversation went something like this…

Me: “Do you remember the gentleman who was in charge of the library?”
He: “Charles D’Souza?”
Me: “Yes. He is absolutely one of the most genuine human being I have ever come across”.
He: “You want to talk to him?”
And then he would get Charles on the other line and have me to talk to him!!!

He seemed to have contacts with and the contacts of just about anybody who was there in that company that time. I was pretty impressed how well he remembered so many people. Someday, I hope to grow a memory like him.

Equally impressive was how many times he had set of offices and businesses from scratch in his career. Now, he devotes a lot of time to charitable causes.

Some of the perspectives he gave of life while reflecting on our past was eye opening. He seemed to always accentuate the positives in every change. It is a pity that I missed him when he was visiting Atlanta a few years back.

I am told attitudes can be contagious. I want some of his to rub off on me…