I was almost done with the whole trip. This time, there were a lot of intersection points that I was able to create. It was 6PM in the evening and I was very tired. I was going to leave the hotel around midnight to catch my flight. I decided to take a quick nap.
The next thing I knew was that the hotel room phone was ringing. It took me a few seconds to realize where I was – I was so deep in my sleep. It was almost 9PM. The voice on the other end said “Your guest is here”.
I suddenly remembered – my classmate from MBA days – in fact we were next door neighbors in our dorm for the entire period – was going to drop by. I quickly got freshened up and ran downstairs. I almost missed him in the crowd. I had a mental picture of Anand Makwana from 1991. The one I saw over 26 years later has dropped a lot of body weight. And looked much much younger!!
You know you have made some good choices in friends when you realize that they would fight through Delhi traffic for over two hours just to spend some time with me. This, after unfailingly waking me up every morning, but for which, I would have certainly missed the first class!
We caught up on a lot of things – his family, his parents (turns out his mom passed away soon after I went to see her when we were still studying) and his professional and personal life. I was impressed with how much tennis and running he is able to put in in a week.
Some of the best conversations we had was around what are the lessons we have learnt in the last twenty five years or so – both on the professional and personal fronts. It was extremely educational for me to internalize his synthesis of life lessons. Frankly speaking, I am still processing thru his words.
Had it not been for my flight and the fact that he was going to be late reaching home, I probably would have chatted for another couple of hours. Which is what I intend to do next time I am in Delhi…
There have been a few pivotal points in my life that changed it completely from a path that was originally planned. Life does not offer an opportunity to run control experiments – so it is very difficult to make any comparisons or run “What if” scenarios. But all in all, the journey through those sudden changes have been remarkably memorable for me.
“You delivered one of the biggest changes for me that for ever defined my future – career wise as well as personal success wise”, I told Dr. D.K.Pal as my brother and I settled down with him and Mrs. Pal at his residence in Kolkata. After numerous attempts in the past, I was able to finally pin him down in Kolkata.
“How is that?”, he asked.
“Do you remember how I landed up in Narendrapur?”
“I thought you did very well in the entrance exam. In fact, Satyada told me about your performance much later. That is how you got into Narendrapur.”
“Well, that is the ending. The beginning was very different. And that is where you come in.”, I replied.
“How so?”, he asked curiously.
Let me first give you a background here. Dr. Pal is my classmate Pratik Pal’s dad. Pratik and I went to elementary school and secondary school together. And then higher secondary too. Later in life, I worked with Pratik professionally (two different companies though). Presently, his career is in the stratosphere. He is too busy for me but I try to keep up with his family as well as his parents.
Those days when we were classmates, my go-to elders to get wisdom on studies and career were Dr. Pal and Mr. Dubey. I would not listen to my dad’s advise but I would any day weigh in their thoughts.
Having finished my tenth grade from Durgapur, the plan was to try and get into St. Xavier’s School, Kolkata. As luck would have it, my performance in tenth grade was enough to get thru to my and my dad’s coveted school without having to sit for an entrance exam. We were all set. At home everybody was excited that I will go to the school we had all been waiting for.
Enter Dr. D.K.Pal in the scene. He had gone to Narendrapur – which is a residential school – in fact a Ramakrishna Mission school – to pick up an admission test form for Pratik. I think he was in Kokata anyways and thought it would be great for Pratik to at least sit in a competitive test. For whatever reason – remember, everybody at home were thrilled that I was going to St. Xavier’s school – he picked up a form for me too.
And then delivered it to my home – in that green color Bajaj scooter he had. And strongly urged Pratik and me to at least get the experience of sitting in the test. Which, for reasons unknown, both of us did.
Here is the clincher – in spite (or perhaps because of) giving the test in a completely relaxed manner, I somehow managed to ace it. Soon enough, we got a personal letter from the aforementioned “Satyada” (who was the Vice Principal).
Around the same time, I got into some usual high school girl problems that we shall not delve into further here 🙂 But the sharp mind that I had, I quickly noticed that Narendrapur school session was going to start two weeks earlier than St. Xavier’s. My path to minimizing my misery at home (on that girl front) was to run as fast as I could to Narendrapur.
Without much ado, I announced to my dad and Dr. Pal that I am going to accept Narendrapur. Do not remember what my dad’s reaction was. But I was delighted to find out that Pratik was going to do the same. (I have asked him many times but he maintains he had no girl problems of his own, whatsoever 🙂 ). In fact, we remained room mates in the hostel (dorm) during our entire stay in the residential college.
“And, that, Pal-kaku, is how I landed up in Narendrapur. It all started with you picking up a form for me. And if you ask me or my parents, they will tell you that it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me”, I concluded.
That evening last week, we sat and talked about a lot of our days from the past. Much later in time – when Pratik and I went to different engineering schools, I was in Durgapur but Pratik was not. (our schools had different schedules). Dr. Pal had broken his leg. I used to be there at their home for endless hours – chatting him up or helping him with his physiotherapy or taking him to the doctor. We had some great bonding time. And I noted down a lot of life lessons from him.
We had barely gotten started when we realized that a couple of hours had quickly gone by. I had to take leave to make sure I could take the nephews out for their mandatory “chicken chowmein dinner with “jethu” (what they call me)”
As my brother and I were taking leave, I overheard Dr. Pal – who was talking to my brother then – make a comment that is destined to be etched in my mind for ever. He said “Rajib is like a second son to us”.
The lower portion of the picture below is from five years back when I had made the trek to see the hut made of dirt and straw that I was born in. My connection to the hut goes back over five decades back. It was a very powerful moment to get in touch with my past – so up, close and personal.
This time when I went to create the intersection point with Jagannath-da and Santo-da, they walked me back to my hut. I was aware of this – but I saw it first time with my own eyes – the hut is no more. (upper part of the picture below). The straw caught fire a few years back and the rains took care of the unprotected dirt walls after that.
It was another powerful moment to realize how a big part of my history has fallen victim to the vagaries of time. On the other hand, I was really really glad that I was able to see it (in fact, twice) in the last few years and even took my brother and sister to see the hut!!
Ah! Old order changeth, yielding place to new!!
In the end, the longest and the hardest searches are almost always the ones where the sought after person is right there in front of your eyes. I must have asked 30 people over the last 20 years if they were aware of Krishnan Miss’s whereabouts. The last time I saw her was on my last day in fourth grade – 1977. Then I moved to a new school.
Earlier this year, I was talking to one of my classmates from that school – Mousumi, who lives in Singapore and was lamenting that I was still missing some of our old teachers. She thought for a little while and gave me a pointer – “I think her son was in our batch in the school you went to after leaving our school”.
I was, of course – “That cannot be. I keep track of – and talk to – all the hundred odd classmates from my next school. How can it be that I never realized that Mrs. Krishnan was the mom of one of them?”. She thought I had a good point but insisted that she seemed to specifically recollect this fact from the past.
There was nothing to lose. We had only 2 Krishnans in our batch – one is in New Zealand and the other I had just met a month back in Delhi. I shot 2 WhatsApp messages to them, expecting to run into another dead end.
What do you know? Sushil – the classmate I had just met in Delhi a month back, responded, saying “Of course, my mom was your teacher. She still keeps talking about you”. I was like – “Are you kidding me? I have been looking for her for decades now. And all this time she was your mom and she lives with you?”.
As you can imagine, only one thing could happen when I was going to be in Delhi next. Which was today. She had come back from her native place in Kerala a couple of days back to make sure we do not miss each other.
It was magical getting to see Mrs. Krishnan – after four decades!! Again, to put it in perspective, I have lived only for one more decade than that!! I could have picked her out of a crowd easily. She still looks the same.
We talked a lot about our old teachers (one of those rare cases where I was able to give her contacts of her own old colleagues) and some of the old students she could remember. Like my biology teacher yesterday, she had cooked lunch for me too!!
It was extremely rewarding to create an intersection point with somebody who had helped me in the journey of me becoming who I am today. Words cannot possibly convey my sense of gratitude.
A shout out to Sushil and Mousumi for helping me make this happen is in order here!!
I had just checked in to the hotel and the young lady who helped me with the process also guided me to my room. As is my wont, I chatted her up to find out more about her background and passions and all that.
What I was not prepared for was to realize that Sushmita is from a town (Katwa) literally next to where my mom grew up most of her life! In fact, one of my fondest memory from early childhood is when I used to walk up to Kalna station to watch the Katwa local pull in and pull out. I used to be totally fascinated by the big steam engine and watch the driver get water filled, throw in coal in the bright fire and pull at a hanging wire to give that earth shattering Toot! For the longest time, my ambition was to be a steam engine driver…
Back to the Guest Relations Executive… I found out that she is an avid photographer. I am not good at it but I certainly take a few shots. Turned out both of us prefer Nikon for DSLR. In fact, we exchanged notes on her experience with the D5100 body (I use D7100) and the different lenses.
Indrani Solomon, if you are reading this – I told Sushmita how I had met you In almost identical circumstances (at Taj Bengal) and we had discussed your passions and goals then. And when you achieved them, I was able to meet you in North Carolina many years later…
Let’s see if I will have more intersection points with this particularly bright young lady too…
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..