15 August 2018

Got stuck on a sticky note

Normally, when she goes out of town, she stacks up the refrigerator with all sorts of food cooked for the week with sticky notes on each container declaring the contents. Without those sticky notes, I kind of have a reputation for “depth first search”. Which means, I will take the nearest container and eat whatever it has – whether it was meant for me or not – for every single meal, till it finishes. Then I would move to the container behind it.

This time has not been any different. All those delicious dishes she has cooked for Nikita and I are all cleanly stacked and marked with post its inside the refrigerator.

That being said, I have to admit that the salmon this time has been a little drier than usual. Try as I might, it just “wooden” go down well 🙂

13 August 2018

Running is a close second…

As much as I love running with Nikita (to the extent that I will often run twice in a day to make sure I can join her), nothing tops doing math together.

School has started. And so has our sitting together with a few pieces of paper and a math book. Right now, her school has her attending math classes two grades higher than her actual grade but what I like most is doing math problems from outside the school curriculum.

I am always amazed and impressed by the difference in which math was taught to us versus how they learn it in the US. Even now, when I see how my nephews learn math in India, I realize that the focus is on the formulaic part – with a lot of tests.

Kids in US seem to be lot more focused on actual application of the math concepts. They are more worried about if the kids can translate a real world problem to the correct mathematical formulation rather than solving the formula itself.

Many of the math problems for my daughter encourage them to approximate or estimate, as an example. In India, we had to come to the exact answer to the nth digit if we hoped to get full marks.

I thrived in the India system. I think I would have struggled in the US system.

In any case, this was last evening – by the pool side, understanding rotational speed and linear speed. (At some point of time we had turned the food cart – see next to the fire chimera – upside down to study the big wheels and the small wheels to check the concepts first hand).

Pure joy!

11 August 2018

“Jahaan chaar yaar mil jaaye / Wohi raat ho gulzar”

In keeping with the song lyrics from the Bollywood movie Sharaabi, last night bloomed when the four old friends from school met at our house. The four of us went to school together from fifth grade to tenth grade. The three of them (excluding me) got to see each other for the first time after 1983. That would be thirty five years!!

Sanjeev is vacationing with his family – Ananya (Tina), Rohan and Alisha in the US and swung by our house last night. As did Shishir who drove down for five hours from Charlotte and Manbir who drove a couple of hours from South Georgia.

It was magical to re-live some of those memories of St. Xavier’s days! I wish Manbir and Shishir’s families were able to join us too!


19 July 2018

Meeting Lata!!

Lata and I go back to the mid 1980s when I was studying engineering in Chennai. We became very close friends then. I think she left for the USA to do higher studies around the same time when I started working in India. Later, when I came to the USA, I had kept up with her. I remember some of my office friends in USA and she had once driven from New York to DC area. I had also visited her in her college (Columbia) in New York later when she was doing her PhD. And I certainly recollect she meeting me and Sharmila in New York once. Finally, about four years back I had met her in Atlanta (I think she had come to CDC).

Her area of work has always fascinated me. It used to be that she was into oncology. She has worked in two of the biggest pharmaceutical companies. But now she is in a much smaller company. And she is working on another very interesting area (for me at least) – bacteria!!!

If you think I talk, you should meet Lata! She is nothing if not a bundle of energy. Over dinner in Boston last week, I got a great primer on bacteria. I learnt a lot about so many different bacteria we have in our stomach and our gut and how it is difficult to put bacteria from outside into our gut thru the digestive system. Apparently, the bacteria that thrive in our gut and are crucial for our existence cannot survive in any acidic environment – which our stomach is.

One of my curiosity questions was about probiotics that we hear so much these days and see TV ads of. In general I am very skeptical of anything on the food front that come up suddenly as new fads. But she did put my curiosity to rest. I understand while having probiotics cannot harm you – indeed, they increase the good bacteria – the matter of fact is those bacteria is very easy to produce by our body and it does so constantly. The ones that are far more important and is singularly important for our system to survive (in the guts, for example), no amount of eating probiotic food is going to help.

Well, that was end of Chapter 1 when we finished dinner.

Hope I do not have to wait for another four years for the second chapter!! Cannot wait to learn more new things about bacteria…

11 July 2018

This one is for you, Mrs. Martin !!!

Way back in 1995, on a July morning, I had started a new job. My new manager Dan Stenger, on my first day at work, took me around to meet all the developers in that quiet startup company. “And this is Steve Martin”, he explained to me as he took me to yet another desk. “Steve, this is our new developer, Rajib Roy”.

Steve took his eyes off from his screen and mischievously told me – “Not that Steve Martin. Although sometimes I get emails meant for him!”. I grinned back and might have even said “That is funny”. I had learnt two things that day when I walked out of that room. I have a colleague named Steve Martin. And that there was another Steve Martin who probably was a very famous guy.

Today, I can whole heartedly admit to my friend Steve that I have never watched movies and there was absolutely no reason for me to knowingly grin that day. But I did fool him that day. Speaking of which, did I mention that I was made a development manager a few weeks after joining the company? Yeah, all that stuff about you cannot fool all the people all the time… don’t believe a word of it 🙂

In any case, Steve and I eventually parted from the company and went our own ways. I had an incredible chance meeting with him about a couple of years back where he had tagged me on a Facebook post of a picture of an airport terminal from the inside. I had correctly guessed that we were at the same airport at that moment and ran from one terminal to another to see him – albeit for a few seconds (they were finishing up his boarding).

If that was a great coincidence, try this…

Yesterday, I had posted about my Lyft driver who took me from Boston to Natick. Steve saw that post and let me know that he was born in that small town I had gone to. In fact, even gave me the address of the house he was born in. Quickly consulted Google maps and realized that my hotel was about 2.5 miles away. My first instinct was to run early morning to the house, take a few pictures and surprise Steve.

Instead of surprising Steve, I actually let him know of my plans. He told me that his mom would be thrilled if she could see that house again. That was the house she had given birth to Steve in – in the early 60s! Nearly six decades ago!!

Given that, I did not want to leave anything to chances. So, when my hostess for the evening came to pick me up – I commandeered her car and got her to take me to that house.

As I stopped there and started taking a few quick pictures from outside, I could see somebody rapidly closing the window shutters from inside. Got out of the car and rang the bell…

“You will find this very strange and I do not blame you for that. You see, my friend was born in this house nearly six decades back. My name is Rajib and I am visiting this town for business. I found out about my friend’s house and thought I could send a nice surprise to his mom.”

And then I offered to show Steve’s picture and our exchanges on my phone – but the lady – Julie is her name, did not need anything. She trusted my story right away. She explained how the house was built in 1953 (or did she say 1951?) and that there have been five owners before them. But she did not know of the Martins.

One of her sons peeked out from inside the house with a video game in hand.

“Was he born here too?”, I asked.
“Yes, This is John. He is 9”. And then she yelled for a Timmy. Presently another young kid came out. “And this is Timmy. He is 8. He was born here too”.
I explained to the two kids how my friend from Dallas was born in that house many many years back and I had come to take a picture of the house.
“Can we be in it?”, they asked innocently.

And that is how I managed to get a few shots of the house.

Later last night, I sent the pictures to Steve and he went back to his archives to send a few pictures of the house from the yesteryears. Including one from the late 50s with his dad standing in front of it and one on a snow covered day!

What is the chance that in 1995, when I met Steve on that day, I would realize that someday I would be the guy that would reconnect him and his mother to the house that she gave birth to him in?

Life, I tell you! Always full of incredible surprises!!!

10 July 2018

Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am…

The meeting in Boston got done on time. My next meeting was in Natick but I had some time in hand. Not being a big fan of the crazy parking lot fashionably called Mass Turnpike around this time of the day, I figured the most prudent thing would be to hightail it to Natick and wait out there.

“So, where are you from?”, I asked my Lyft driver as he rolled thru the traffic that was starting to build up on the Pike.
“Ghana”, he replied.
I played it totally cool. Like I knew everything that was to be known about Ghana. And casually dropped “Great! My daughter will be there next month for six months”.

Guess who got surprised? He looked at me in his rear view mirror and asked “Where are you from? Why is she going to Ghana?”
I explained that I am from Atlanta. Originally from India but not part of the Indian diaspora in Africa. Also that Natasha will be studying for her fall semester in the University of Ghana.

He seemed to be thrilled by those two facts. First, he kept telling me how Natasha is going to love Accra. And that people in America like me have very different understanding of Ghana and Accra from what it really is.

He then encouraged me to visit Accra with my family. And then quickly pivoted to India.

“You know Bollywood?”, he asked.
“Well, somewhat. I did not grow up watching movies and do not do so now either. But I know what is Bollywood”.
“My man, you do not know what you are missing. Don’t see today’s Bollywood movies. See the old ones. Watch Amitabh Bachchan movies. You know who he is right?”
I mentioned that I had heard of him.
That seemed to get him even more energized.

“You have to watch his movies tonight. You know his best movie? My most favorite movie in the whole world?”
“Sholay!! You have seen it, right?”
I had to admit to him that I was probably the only one among 1.2 Billion Indians who has not seen Sholay yet.

He went on to talk about “Amar, Akbar, Anthony” and waxed eloquent on Dharmendra.

Having concluded that I had my fill of Bollywood trivia for one evening, i tried changing the topic…
“So, how did you land up in Boston?”
“Well, I have a very funny life story.”
“Talk to me”. Finally he was in my familiar zone. I am always up for listening to people’s stories – especially if they are funny. Bollywood is of no use to me.

Scratch that funny part.

What he told me was not in the least bit funny.

Foster Osei was born as a first child to a young Ghanian couple in Accra. Then when he was only 2 years old they put him in his grandmother’s home (from mom’s side) and left for London.

“How long were you with your grandmother?”
“They never came back to take me.”
“Yeah, man. They had four more kids in London. But never came back to take me.”
“How did your grandmother raise you? What did your grandfather do? What was their income?”
“My grandfather died before I was born. My grandmother had the property my grandfather left”
“Your parents never came back??? Did they write to you?”

“Oh! Have you ever seen your father after that?”
“When I was 18, my parents visited Ghana. That is when I saw them.”
“What was your first feeling?”
“Anger. I was very angry that I had four siblings in London but nobody took me there. I still have nothing but anger for them.”

“You said you have two young kids, right?”, I asked.
“Yes man, 12 and 8”.
“How has that affected how you look at your kids?”
“Well, I had no idea growing up what a dad looks like or being a father figure looks like. My grandmother was my dad and my mom. When she passed away….”
You could see he was choking up.

“Sorry about your grandmother, man”. By now, I was trying to show some empathy by saying “man” like he was 🙂 But to push him back to his kids, I re-asked “How has that affected how you treat your kids?”

“I am always there for them. I do not miss any school event. Any picnic. Any holidays. I take them to New York in my car whenever we have time. I will never let them miss their dad.”

“Well, as hard it was, it seems it has made you a great dad.”
He thought for a second and sighed heavily. “Maybe you are right. Maybe it is all God’s design to bring the best out of me”

Turns out one of his uncles (mother’s brother) who was in the USA eventually did his paperwork and got him here and got him started in a small business. He has grown from there.

One touching part of this story… his siblings never knew about him for most of their lives. But the youngest one – a sister – just before she got married in London, made it her life’s mission to see her eldest brother she had heard about. She made it to Boston eventually, spent a couple of days with her elder brother that she had never seen in her life and went back to London to get married.

By this time, we had pulled up to the Courtyard.

“Would you mind stepping out of the car and take a picture with me? I want to send it to my daughter to tell her I have one more friend from Ghana. And to the rest of my friends just so that they get to know of your story”

“Sure, man”.

As he finally left, I stood there with my overnighter and office bag waving at him and thinking to myself…. “Sometimes you forget, Rajib, how lucky you have been in life”.