20 February 2018

Four different paths converged for a few hours!

Last week I was in Virginia Tech to meet an old classmate of mine – Madhav. More on him later. The second highlight of that trip was meeting these three guys you see in the picture. I had never met them before but we had one common thread – we all went to the same high school (Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission). All in very different years but the same school, nonetheless.

Rounak, the youngest of the four of us, is yet to reach the half way mark to my age!! He was not even born when I left India for US!! Arindam – the one who insists that not shaving is lower maintenance than shaving everything off like me – is the avid runner in the group. Srijan – the professor – is an outstanding person. His ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time and argue both sides of the case is something I have to learn some day.

Like I said, other than the fact at very different points of time, each one of us studied within the same four walls of a particular classroom, we had little in common, at the surface. But somehow, we managed to find ourselves in the same latitude and longitude at the exact same time last week – thanks to some help from Madhav.

The discussions that I had with these youngsters were of varied themes. And I realized how rich the diversity in their thoughts were on a wide range of topics – from social media to statistics to politics. One thing for sure – their thought processes are far more evolved, their perspectives in life far more mature than mine were at that age.

That is why, while many are given to believe that things are getting worse by the day, I continue to conclude that the world is actually getting better and better with every generation. And so much so, the better for it!!

16 February 2018

A sub chapter in my life that I almost forgot to write about

As you know, I spend a lot of time on the road for work which means many an evening is spent grabbing a quick dinner sitting at the bar. And the days I am not traveling, usually Sharmila and I go out and get a drink. A common theme in all these settings is that I make friends with the guy or the girl behind the bar and get to know about their life stories.

There is an interesting pattern there. Try it out yourself if you do not believe me. More often than not, it would be a young person in her or his twenties. They would have invariably finished their high school. After that either they could not afford college or are working at a bar to earn money to some day go to college. I know of kids (and I consider twenty year olds – kids) for whom a few thousand dollars is the difference between going to college or not going to college.

A few months back, at the urging of a friend of mine – Aaron, I attended a breakfast meeting of YearUp.org. I had some familiarity with this organization from one of my prior jobs. I would recommend that you read up on them – what they do and all that if you live in the US. In short, they take kids who are done with high school and try to give them a “break” into the corporate world.

Money is not the only issue with the kids. Professional skillsets is also not the only other issue. Most of them do not have the background or exposure to present themselves. They have a hard time writing a reasonably good resume. Because they have no understanding of what corporate America thinks is a “good resume”. They have little to no interviewing skills in a corporate set up. Most of them would not even know how to talk to an executive for a few minutes.

That is what YearUp tries to solve for. They try to give those kids some professional skills and a lot more of the soft skills and try to engage other corporations to give them an opportunity at an internship for six months. In all, as the name suggests, the full program is for a year.

But there is a catch. They have strict rules for the students. No cuss words. Always formally dressed. Always carry a resume. Never be late…. If you play by the rules, the year is free to you. If you get demerits, you are thrown out of the program. Lest you think these are easy… I want to remind you that most of the students can not afford cars. One of my students takes a bus, then a train, switches to another train and then a bus again – a two and a half hour ordeal EACH WAY to go to his internship place. And he cannot afford to be late as long as he wishes to stay in the program.

In any case, late last year, I enrolled myself to give my time to the cause. I came in mid stream but a few folks – like Amrutha and Carla – were very helpful in getting me inducted. I was assigned twelve students. I have to tell you – all of them have incredibly humble beginnings – one girl pushes disabled people in wheelchairs at our airport, one girl worked in the catering section of a local racetrack, one guy mows lawns, one guy worked at the backend of a local retail store… but their determination to be successful someday is jaw dropping to me. I certainly had a humble beginning myself – but nowhere near these folks. My parents gave up a lot in their lives but they always paid to make sure we got college done – even if they had to borrow money. And yet, these kids while not having that advantage, has more determination than I ever had.

Ever since last November, I have been spending one on one time with these new friends of mine helping them understand how to present themselves in a corporate environment, how to behave in a corporate environment, how to write resumes, how to interview, how to think about careers and all that good stuff. I am thrilled to say that due to the efforts of Yearup, six of my twelve kids have scored jobs in the last two weeks. I am still working with the other six.

If not anything else, I would ask you to just go to Yearup’s website and read up about them. They just want to create opportunities. They certainly created a few for me. Who knows? Someday you might create some opportunities for a few of their kids too!!

P.S. In the picture, I am addressing a larger set of students giving them my thoughts on how to work with recruiters …

16 February 2018

The Bhaduris of Knoxville

My final stop in Knoxville was to visit the Bhaduris at their house. Lots of memories from the past when the three families – theirs, ours and the Mukherjees used to get together and the kids were young. Now, two of those are in college already and one more threatening to do so in a few months!!

Too many hilarious moments from the past to out together in one post. It was great to see that Budhendra’s legendary sense of humor is still intact! I am sure Anusuya and Amitesh will remember the “chhipi” moment!! We also reminisced how the three wives – Arpita, Sharmila and Anusuya had settled on a 5K race training plan way back in Dec 2010. Out of curiosity, I had checked their chosen training regime to find that the very first day said “Take Rest” 🙂 :- ) I kid you not!!

Budhendra is absolutely the kids’ favorite uncle. Both of mine had learnt fishing and boogie boarding from him and they are hooked on to it now!!

It was great to see Budhendra, Arpita and the twin brothers!!

For the ones who are surprised to see us drinking coffee – that surprise is understandable. Actually, last evening we chatted so much over quite a bit of wine that I forgot to take the picture. I had to make amends this morning!!

15 February 2018

For the record…

… if you ever find me someday teaching high school students or even middle school students – specifically Maths and/or Physics – you can certainly hold the lady on my right responsible for transgression 🙂

I was in Knoxville for a couple of meetings. Swung by Nivedita-di and Ranjan-da’s house for the first time ever. I am totally glad that I did. The Gangulys are one of those couples that can be great friends with toddlers, teenagers, thirty somethings as well old folks like me with equal amount of ease and grace! Ranjan-da’s humor and passion for art (including some incredible cartoon drawings) is met and matched by Nivedita-di’s, poise, intellect and gravitas.

Ever a cheerleader of the Roy family, Nivedita-di and I actually discussed the possibility of me switching to teaching as I think thru what to do with my career when I get back to working again. I have to say with all due honesty that I am a wee bit tempted!!! Of course, there is always the worry of being the wrong model to highly impressionable kids…

14 February 2018

Checking in with the Pulijals

This was a very long standing promise that I finally got to keep. After almost 10 years!! I remember making that promise when Hari and Usha had visited Sharmila, the two young daughters and myself in our then-new home in Atlanta. I remember having a great time talking about everything and sundry. That meeting itself was after another ten years since I had visited them both in their house in Randolph, New Jersey.

Since I have some time these days in hand, I got into the car and pressed the gas after pointing the car in a generally north easterly direction from Atlanta. The idea being to catch up with some old friends. First stop was Roanoke, VA. Thoroughly enjoyed the solo trip. Took a lot of stops to enjoy the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Eventually showed up at the Pulijals’ abode around 7 PM. It was almost a throwback to that evening I spent at their Randolph house. Non stop chatting. We talked about our old colleagues from US and India, about the kids, about Usha’s passion for dancing, growing plants and trail walking and Hari teaching young kids yoga and Bhagwad Gita! I am not sure how we got there, but we also talked about the reverse osmosis process while softening water!!

It was just like the good old days!!

It took me quite some time to get to the promise I had made them that I would visit their then-new digs in Roanoke. Finally, I got around to it last night!!

Loved it!

1 February 2018

I never quite figured out…

… should I try to be an entrepreneur like him or a poet like him!!

My last recollection of meeting Avinash was during a recruiting drive in IIT Kanpur. That goes back nearly 2 decades. He always struck me as a very bright young guy. I remember Raghu and I discussing a couple of times about the potential of Avinash.

Turns out Avinash became a very successful entrepreneur. But since he stayed most of his time in India, I rarely got to see him. We have interacted multiple times during the last two decades but just could not put ourselves together in the same city at the same time.

Till last evening.

It was one of those great conversational evenings. There are successful entrepreneurs and there are successful entrepreneurs. I have never seen any entrepreneur – frankly too many leaders – who have internalized learnings from experience as well as Avinash has. His insightful commentary on the mistakes he has made and how that has made him a better leader is material for a great leadership book. If not for anything else, just the display of humility itself is awe inspiring.

One of the great concepts he talked about is “organizational debt”. In a full circle, he gave full credit to Raghu – the same Raghu that I used to discuss about Avinash two decades back – in opening his eyes to the concept. I am going to skip the details here but it deals with the difficulties any “people person leader” will always have in getting over personal biases and subjectivity.

Another item that Avinash and I have common interest is shayaris and old Urdu poetry. In fact, we spent some time discussing the vagaries of ascertaining gender of inanimate objects in Hindi. His knowledge of Urdu and Hindi is far superior to mine and he has promised to help me translate some the poetry I struggle with from time to time. In that context, a memorable statement from him… I told him how I struggle to translate to English even after I understand what was in the poet’s mind. His words were … “That is to be expected; for poetry is defined as that which is lost in translation”. That was sheer poetry defining poetry!

Yet another memorable quote. I forget the exact context. But he backed up the famous quote “To give up ego, you have to have an ego first” with a Hindi poem which basically means – Only a poisonous snake can forgive. A non poisonous snake forgiving means nothing!!

That was a great evening! Raghu, we missed you!! Let’s get all three of us together soon!!

31 January 2018

I have an idea

This is a classic demand supply problem. Remember that event that I talked about who called up Sharmila to tell her that she needed to drop more paintings because they had sold off all her paintings?

Well, they called again today to say they are done with second batch too and need more.

Guess what? Most of the other paintings she wants to put up for sale are actually now in other events or galleries. She is trying to see if they want to take other category of paintings she has for sale.

Meanwhile, I have an idea. I am thinking of doing some paintings myself and sign her name on it. Seems like the fastest return to investment to me 🙂


30 January 2018

Of oil paints and wines…

After missing the cut for two years, Sharmila was finally an invited artist to the “Spotlight on Art” event in Atlanta (Trinity School). I went there for the opening night. Not that I know which end of a painting brush to hold. OR which is oil and which is acrylic. But I am a sucker for these art events since they always give free wine to the artists and their guests!!!

Apparently, this is a big event. I had to wait a long time to get my wine. First, cops turned me away saying parking was full. Finally, I had to take a shuttle. Then I could barely get inside the exhibition. If it were not that cold outside, I would have just stood out. After about a couple of hours, there was enough space to fight my way to bar counter. Of course, then getting to a spot without having others spill my wine as they jostled around me was a challenge unto itself.

Eventually, late in the night, I could go around and see all the paintings. Also took a few pictures of Sharmila around her paintings. And one where the painting handlers were wrapping up one of her painting for a buyer.

That reminds me. As I mentioned before, she was invited on her third attempt. And on day 2 (today), she got a call from them to bring on more paintings – they were all sold out on the ones from her they had put up yesterday!!

I might go back for some more wine 🙂

22 January 2018

She gave me something to think about… What do you think?

Last week, I spent some time with one of my favorite friends in one of the hospice centers – let’s call her Mrs. Nancy. I walked into her room and was not sure she would have remembered me.
“Mrs. Nancy. Remember me?”
“Of course. You went to India to see your dad.”

That was surprising. In fact how our whole brain works or sometimes chooses not to work still is an enigma to me. Both Mrs. Nancy and my dad can remember certain things so well and then there are obvious things that we have to keep repeating to them!

“So, how is he doing?”
“Thank you Mrs. Nancy. He actually has had a surprisingly good progress. That was very encouraging”.
“That is good”.
“Indeed. Looks like I missed your birthday when I was gone.” I had noticed a few cards over her table.

She kept looking at me. I was not sure I had a grip over the whole situation. So I asked:
“When is your birthday?
“Jan 19th”, she said after a quick thought.
“Jan 19th? I see. Let’s see… that was… that was… wait a minute. Today is Jan 19th! Is it your birthday today?”
“I do not know”

I opened up a couple of cards and sure enough – one stated Jan 19th.
“Happy Birthday! It is your birthday today!!”, I yelled.
I was not too sure why I was yelling. I was inexplicably excited.

“Have you read the cards? Did somebody read them to you?”
“I do not remember”
“Well, that is what we are going to do now then”.

As you see in the picture, I held the cards very close to her and slowly read them out. The particularly favorite one for me was the one from her son and daughter-in-law who wrote a very touching card, I thought. In fact, I read it out a couple of times for her. (The picture is of that card).

I did not realize it then, but the picture has partially caught that incredible smile that can come only from a blissful pride in your child.

Later, when we were done, I packed up the cards and then settled down in my chair.

Suddenly, she remembered my dad again. She can’t remember her own birthday but she remembered a person she had only heard about a couple of times. Go figure!

“Do you write to your dad?”

Whoa! I am reasonably fast on my feet – even if I say so. But that one stumped me.
“No”, I stammered… Too many things were swirling in my mind – the two weeks it takes for a letter to go from Atlanta to Kalyani. The missed mails. etc. But I soldiered on – “I call my parents up everyday”. I omitted the part that should have clarified “parents” mean “mom”. My dad can’t hear anything on a phone.

She nodded. I figured I had made peace with her.

Till she came up with the words that has been ringing in my ears – “Sometimes you should write him a card. He can read that over and over again”.

I must have stared at her for a few good seconds.
That is true. Phone calls are one and done. Cards and letters are forever. I know how much I cherish the letters that I have saved from my childhood. And how much I regret not saving more of them.

She might have just pushed me to write to my dad. Maybe a letter every other week? What do you think? Should I do it?

Would you do it for your dad or mom? Do physical pieces of memory transcend ephemeral ones like phone calls?