23 November 2018

Intersections galore!!

“Kotha thekey beraatey esechhen?” I asked casually. (I enquired where they were visiting from).
“Philadelphia,” replied the gentleman, taken aback by somebody speaking Bengali in a free shuttle bus that carried us from the resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to a nearby marketplace.

You see, Amitesh, Anusuya and I had run out of wine for the evening (I totally blame Anusuya for this 🙂 ) and needed to replenish the same. The daughters opted to stay by the pool and we three got on to the bus. As I got on, I heard the gentleman talking to his wife and two young sons in that unmistakable language that I grew up with in my early childhood.

Once the ice was broken, the seven of us chatted for quite some time. As you might have imagined by now, I was busy finding out intersection points. There were way too many. I think, it all started with me mentioning that both my daughters were born in the Dallas area. Quickly found out that Sumana (the wife of the aforementioned startled gentleman) was a relative of Debjani. To put this in perspective, Sharmila and I were very very close to Debjani and Subhasis (Subho) when we were in Dallas as our kids grew up together. In fact, we exchanged some great stories of Rishi (Gampu) – one of which involved his teacher asking Debjani if they had a pet duck! Story for another day!

Indrajit (by the method of elimination, you have no doubt figured out that he was the startled gentleman) and we were talking of Atlanta when he mentioned that they knew Rupa. That was too much of a coincidence.

“Do you also know them?”, he asked

“What do you mean know them? Of course, we know them. In fact they were the first Bengali family we were introduced to when we moved to Atlanta eleven years back. Rupa and I have another weird connection thru her husband Abhijeet and my wife Sharmila. Rupa’s father in law and my father in law grew up in the same small little village somewhere in Midnapore district in West Bengal. In fact, there was this time that both were visiting Atlanta and recognized each other !!!”.

Amitesh and Anusuya were also talking to them about Rupa when I got myself busy on my phone. Looked Rupa up quickly on my Facebook friend list and showed them the picture…

“You are talking about this lady, right?”
“Yes, she is wearing my saree,” Sumana responded.
“What? What do you mean she is wearing your spree??”, I asked, somewhat incredulous.

And that is when I learnt about Sumana’s booming saree business in all of US. An Indian saree merchant selling direct to Bengali women all over US? I knew I had hit the jackpot.

For the uninitiated, “Bengali woman” and “saree” are uttered like you utter “Marco” and “Polo” in that kids’ game. I was sure we were going to have a lot of intersection points and perhaps she might be the link that might get me to many of my unfinished searches!!

The conjecture was not false! In the next half an hour or so, we found out about a ton load of connections we had.

Bidisha in Dallas? Her customer!! Also, somehow I am related to her thru Sharmila. It is very convoluted but I think I am her grandfather or uncle or viceroy or something like that. Funny part – Bidisha and her husband Neil are excellent friends of Amitesh and Anusuya and that is how I got to know them to begin with!! To think, we were all standing in front of the same family that had been hosted at a party in Bidisha’s place just a few weeks back!

Sabori in Dallas? Same connection!

Satabdi from Maryland? Her customer!! Turns out Satabdi and I grew up together literally a few yards away from each other in the early 70s!

Indrani from New Jersey? Her customer again!! Funny part – I had to let her know that Satabdi and Indrani are actually sisters!!

“So, how do you know Shravani?”, I asked. By now, I was going thru Sumana’s Facebook friend list to see if there was any answer to many of my unfinished searches. “Don’t tell me – she is your customer!”

“Yes, how do you know her?”, she asked.

“Ummmm… let me reconstruct… yes… her husband Prasenjit was my wife’s classmate in Shibpur”.

I am fairly sure, she was thinking I waste too much time getting to know people with all sorts of weak connections.

Then there was the Narendrapur friend of mine…. and the list just kept growing!!

Finally, it was time for us to catch the return bus.

But not before I learnt an important lesson. My street Spanish has gone down considerably from those days of haggling with taxi drivers in the streets of Lima to getting myself understood of a simple request I was trying to make to the security guy outside the grocery store. Many Spanish words and wild gesticulations with my phone later, I made a breakthrough!

“Oh! You want me to take a photo”, he guy deadpanned in chaste English!

As we reached our destination, Indrajit and Sumana made me promise that they will get a chance to meet Sharmila some time.

“Only on one condition”, I insisted.

“And what could that be?”, they asked curiously.

“Just do not mention about your business to her,” I said looking squarely at Sumana!

22 November 2018

Thanksgiving – Roy Family Style

Usually, Thanksgiving in the Roy family means going abroad somewhere as a family. We do not have any kith or kin outside of India to speak of. And Sharmila’s birthday is usually a few days away (no more anniversary wishes please!!). That makes it a good excuse to bond together as a family as well as celebrate Sharmila’s birthday somewhere nice.

This Thanksgiving is a little different. We are spread all over the world spending time with an extended definition of family.

Sharmila is in India to spend some time with her mother (we lost my father in law a couple of months back).

Natasha is in Ghana spending time studying and looking after orphans in a school which has become her new family.

Jay Jay is with his friends in the USA.

Nikita and I are in the Dominican Republic spending time with each other and our closest family friends in Atlanta – the Mukherjees!

This year is a virtual Thanksgiving for us!!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!!!

2 November 2018

Sharmila’s Art Show…

… or in other words, free wine for me.

I came straight from the airport and arrived earlier than her. It was funny hearing all the visitors talk about her and her paintings as I milled around incognito.

At one point I walked up to a couple staring at one of her works and asked “You like this painting?”. The old couple immediately touched the painting protectively and said “We have already bought this”. Like I was going to snatch it away from under their nose or something…

I just said “Oh” and shimmied on…

7 October 2018

Not sure which was better…

Over six hours of out in the mountains on the motorbike with two awesome friends or doing math with Nikita for over four hours. The good news is that it was a virtual tie! The bad news? I have done nothing else today!!
But can I show you how to graph complex trigonometric functions or what? 🙂

20 September 2018

Goodbye, Mr. Stocks!

When I left your bed at 8 PM on Monday with your beautiful family around you, I promised you that I will visit you the next morning. Perhaps you did not hear me with all the struggle you were going thru – gasping for breath. Or perhaps I should spoken up a little bit so you could hear me.

The next morning came for me. But not for you.

Ruffling my fingers thru your sweaty hair while you lay on the bed, it felt very strange. This was the first time – in the one year that I knew you and have visited you at least forty to fifty times – I actually went in to your room. Every single time I visited you, I found you in the common area and that is where we spent all our time.

It was so strange to see you lying down without any movement. Before that you were the person who could not sit down. The only way for me to spend time with you was to walk next to you as you kept walking up and down the corridors. Purposelessly. Incessantly. Always whispering something to yourself. The only reaction I would get out of you was when I gave you a handshake. Inexplicably, you would burst into a smile. How many ever times I repeated it – that was your acknowledgement. Unfailingly.

You never told me about your son and your daughter. I got to meet them for the first time on Monday night. You never told me that you were part of the armed forces. I saw the certificate in your room. For that matter you never told me anything! Or to anybody else. I learnt from your wife that at the young age of 48, you had started deteriorating. I got to know you about twenty years after that.

By that time, you had lost your ability to say anything. I would ask you simple questions. You would stop. Look at me for a long time. As if you were trying to process what I had said. You would then mumble something – that was barely audible or coherent for me. I would nod. And away we would go shuffling down the narrow corridors of the hospice again.

Last couple of months started being different. Your walks got slower. And for the first time, I saw you tentatively sit down and doze off in the sofa between your walks. It was there for everybody to see that you had started to slow down.

Till you stopped entirely on Monday night.

Ours was a relationship borne out of silence. Its strength was never rooted in words. It was in the time we spent together silently.

Without a word you came into my life.

Without a word you went away.

But I had to put in a few words for you to remember our time together!

16 September 2018

He was a complete stranger then. Now he is a dear friend…

“I hope to meet you down the road again”. Those were the last words we had exchanged on Friday, 9th September 2016. You can read the full story here https://www.rajibroy.com/?p=11642 – how I had a chance meeting with Doug at Chicago O’hare airport. He was selling for an utility company. I was trying to catch a flight.

Our exchange was short initially. But my flight got delayed by 17 minutes. Sensing an window of opportunity, I had walked back to him and had a deeper discussion with him. He had said something that I have never forgotten till this day. I think I had asked him about his experience selling those utility subscription at the airport. His words were “I hate the way people treat me like ####. You will be amazed how people will show me the hand and walk away. I know they are in a hurry. But why treat me like I am below them? I am just trying to do my job.”

“I am just trying to do my job”. Those words had rankled in my mind long enough that ever since I make conscious effort to be gentle with sales people that accost me. Especially those who have been trying to sell me more and more Delta Amex credit cards every week in Atlanta airport!

I get ridiculed by my family for making friends with everybody in Facebook. And in life. But I am incorrigible. My family readily agrees with that. Doug and I became Facebook friends and on his birthday every year, we kept up with each other.

Then, this week, one more window of opportunity opened up. I was in Chicago getting the decks ready for the announcement of the new company and my job there. I had a breakfast slot open. Doug readily agreed to make the 40 mile trek to catch up face to face one more time.

That was an wonderful hour. Got to know about Doug’s background and his kids and wife. We had a great time talking about learning from life’s lessons. Ever gracious, Doug had some great stories from his life that ranged from being hilarious to poignant. He is a great dad! He is a great husband!!

As he left after our breakfast, I reflected on our friendship. He was a complete stranger. And yet fate put us in a collision path – and we were destined to be friends. All the flight that day had to do was leave on time – and I would have never had a second chance with Doug. But, the flight was delayed. Two years later, that resulted in a wonderful breakfast and I got to know a genuine human being.

Long time back I had once expressed my thoughts about this kind of random meetings and then re-meetings in the following way…

In life – like in runs – we start from different points and end at different points. The line between those points – or the speed at which we traverse the line – does not define us. What defines us are the intersection points with others’ lines. For, it is in those intersection points that life offers us the opportunities to acknowledge each other’s journey, celebrate each other’s presence and make a difference to each other’s lines.

And that journey is what it is all about.

That is why we live. That is why we run.

I toast to your good health, Doug! Also, happy birthday, a few days in advance!!

6 September 2018

Charlie from TVA

It was almost 8 PM by the time I sank into the empty chair in Delta’s Skyclub in Chicago, suitably tired after a whole day’s worth of meetings. My flight kept getting delayed and it was getting increasingly clear that I was not going to reach home before 2 am in the morning. Not having anything better to do, I shut off the laptop, tucked in my papers and pen and grabbed a glass of wine.

Turning towards the elderly gentleman sitting next to me, I asked: “You are headed to Atlanta too?”
He: “Yes, sir! You too, I presume?”
Me: “Indeed. It is going to be fun trying to get back home tonite”
He: “Atlanta is home for you?”
Me: “Yes. You too, I presume?”
He: “Not really. I have to get to Nashville from Atlanta. I am going to miss my flight. Probably will get a flight early in the morning”
Me: “Do you know the Atlanta area? Do you need help with hotels?”
He: “Thank you. My granddaughter has already booked me at a hotel next to the airport”.
Me: “Great! I am Rajib, by the way”.
He: “Charles. That name – you are from India, are you not?
Me: “Indeed! Have you ever visited India?”
He: “Visited? I used to work there.”

That was surprising. I have met elderly Americans who were in India during the world war but not too many who actually worked there.

Me: “You worked there? What were you doing?”
He: “I was in construction that time. We were doing projects for power stations”
Me: “Which parts of India?”
He: “Around the borders of West Bengal and Bihar. I do not remember the exact names but this was all around coal mines there”

That was exciting. I am from that area.

Me: “Asansol. Purulia. Raniganj. Chotta Nagpur. Do any of those names mean anything to you?”
He struggled to remember – “I think they are familiar. Something is coming back to me. We were about four hours of train journey from Calcutta. Calcutta had some great British clubs.”

By this time, I was excited enough to blurt out quickly – “Believe it or not, I am actually from the area where you used to work. A place called Durgapur – which is only a few miles from those places you remember”.

He seemed more surprised than me.

Charles… Nashville… Construction projects… West Bengal… really old person…I kept musing…

“Wait a minute. This was in the 50s. right?”, I asked.
“Yes. Sound about right”
“Were you with Tennessee Valley Authority?”
“That is the only company I have ever worked for. How do you know about that?”

“You are just not going to believe what I am going to tell you now. I actually know you. Or rather, I have heard about you.”
“Really? From who?”
“Do you remember a Rakhahari Ghosh when you worked in India?”
He drew a complete blank.

“You called him RG, I believe. Apparently, you had handpicked him and given him a double promotion”.
“Something seems to come back to me. A thin, short boy, if I remember correctly. He was very hard working. Most hard working of the lot”
“Yeah, that would be a good description.”

He seemed to be somewhat lost in thoughts..

“He left me, I think, after some time”
“Yes, against your wishes, he left the job”
“I think he wanted to join a government job”.
“Yes, again! He took a job with the Indian Railways”.

“So, how do you know him?”
“Rather well. I married his daughter. He is my father-in-law. And he will be thrilled to bits to hear your voice. Do you mind if I call him up right now?”
“Sure. I will be impressed if he remembers me still.”
“He does,” I assured him as I speed-dialed my father-in-law.

Just as he picked up the phone on the other side, the PA system came alive in the Skyclub drowning his voice.

Strangely, instead of the lady coming over the PA system with yet another announcement of delay, it was the sound of a dog growling loudly.

I woke up from my bed, startled.

Sitting up, on the verge of breaking into a sweat, I realized that I was dreaming all this time. I came in very late (actually very early this morning) and had gone off to bed immediately. Even the dog was too asleep to realize it. Now he had figured it out and was on my bed wanting attention.

Half sleepily, as I gave him a belly rub, my thoughts went back to that day in 2014, when my father in law and I were sitting around the kitchen and over a cup of coffee, he told me the story of his first job and how he had always regretted later going for a government job per his parents’ wishes. He wished he had stayed back with Charlie.

Somewhere, in the back of my mind that day, I had made a note… What if I found out Charlie some day? What if I ran into him? How cool would it be to put him and my father-in-law together again? That would just be an incredible chapter in my life.

The chapter in my life, unfortunately will remain incomplete forever.

We lost my father-in-law a few weeks back.

Instead of closing out the chapter, I choose to put a “…to be continued” in the end.