“Yes. Is that Rajib?”
“Of course! I should have guessed it!”
“Happy birthday, Nancy. How are you?”
A week back, that is how one of my daily birthday calls started. After a few mutual updates, it took an interesting turn.
“I know you started working again. Where are you?”, she asked
“I work in Chicago. I still live in Atlanta though.”
“Oh! Cool. We have an office in Chicago and I come there once every couple of months.”
“Nice. Would love to catch up next time you are in Chicago.”
“Well, to be fair, I say Chicago. But we are not really near Chicago. We are in one of the suburbs way out of Chicago. It is further away from even the airport.”
“Where is it?”, I asked curiously.
“Oh! It is a small place called Itasca.”
“Where in Itasca?”, I persisted.
“Wait. You know Itasca?”
“I might have a working knowledge.”
“It is a building called 2 Pierce Place.”
“Do you have a chair nearby?”, I casually asked.
“Do you have a chair nearby?”
“Yeah! Why?”. She was justifiably befuddled.
“I work in 1 Pierce Place!!!”
“No way”, she said in disbelief.
“Well, when are you going to be there next?”
“Next Wednesday, in fact”.
“You know the Westin behind your building?”
“Yes. That is where I will be staying.”
“Meet me at the bar there at 6:30. When you get there, tell Chante or Tara that you are Raj’s guest. They will take care of you”.
And that is how, a week later, I got to see Nancy who I had worked in the same industry with many moons back. We tried our two companies to establish a partnership which eventually did not come thru. But our friendship has, over these years!!
I am starting to believe that it may be true that these kind of incredible intersection points happen only to me!
Imagine driving 330 miles (over 500 km) in a day. Now imagine doing that 4 days in a row. Not sure how, but as a result of Sharmila not letting Natasha drive across state boundaries and Natasha wanting to spend the weekend with her friend from middle school (and somebody both Sharmila and I love) – Dani, I landed up doing daily trips between Atlanta and Charleston!
Of course, to me everything in life is about meeting a stranger or meeting somebody from my past. Using a feature in Facebook that Graham had taught me, I learnt that Lori was in Charleston these days! Missed each other on Friday (it was too late) but absolutely got to see her on Sunday!
Sharmila and I got to know Lori when she was the manager at a restaurant/bar that we used to frequent quite some time back. To the best of my knowledge that establishment does not exist any more. But after Lori left that place, I lost track of her. All I knew was that she had become the manager of a hotel somewhere in Atlanta.
The good news is that birthday calls always kept the relationship going – although only once a year! It is certainly not my fault that people’s birthdays tend to come only once a year!
“I remember you wanted to visit South Korea. Did you ever get that done?”, I asked her as we settled down in a bar by the water in beautiful, laid back Charleston.
“No. But I want to.”
Lori was born in a city south of Seoul. Well, she was found there and eventually brought to Seoul by an adoption agency who had matched her up with her adopted parents.
After 18, Lori left home and built her own career. She will tell you how she has rebelled many times and often had unresolved anger. But eventually, she found out how to use them as a source of energy to propel her rather than keep her back.
“So, after such a life – that can be called ‘interesting’ to say the least – what are the lessons you have learnt? In fact, if you were to say three things to my daughters, what would they be?”
“Slow down”, she said readily.
“Take risks”, she said after a few seconds of thinking
“And make mistakes”, she finished up after a minute.
“As you reflect on life, what are you most proud of?”
“That I am still living.”
“And what do you have as words of wisdom for somebody much older than you like me?”
“Whether you are ashes or six feet under, your impact will continue after you are gone. Focus on that impact.”
We talked a lot about our old friends (and the owners) of the old establishment we used to visit (Mark, Chris, Holli.. you were all remembered), her current work and some of the learnings she is having in her new job on the personnel front.
I never thought I was going to see Lori again. It was so great to have been proven wrong again!!
“Dad, do not publish anything yet”, Natasha sternly told me.
“Why not?”, I asked
“Because it has not hit the stands yet”.
That was a week back.
What she had given me a few minutes previously was the soon to be released copy of the Inc Magazine. This is the annual one where they feature the top companies in the world (by growth etc etc).
As both of us settled down at the Starbucks over a couple of cups of coffee (strictly speaking some coffee for me and some pink looking drink that I am sure Starbucks had given a fancy name to charge five dollars for her), I started leafing thru the magazine.
Of course, the piece de jure was the one about the “State of the CEO” written by her and another editor (also called Natasha). I read it up word for word. It was interesting to find that the portion they had highlighted was about the health problems of entrepreneur CEOs.
I was so excited reading about the article written by her that I forgot to pay attention to the actual details of the companies. Later, I found out that the company topping the Financial Services growth list is Yieldstreet – founded by none other than my friend and the entrepreneur with the Midas touch – Milind Mehere!
My last recollection of Chandra was in the i2 days at the turn of the century. Those were the glory days of supply chain, internet boom, nightly regression tests and
Subsequently, our lifeline to keep in touch was the annual birthday calls. Last week, I had called him like clockwork to wish him when I realized that he actually works literally a few miles away from where I work in Chicago area! And that is how the dinner this evening happened.
He looks the same and his demeanor is the same. What was remarkable is how deep his wisdom runs now. An unapologetic entrepreneur (third successful start up now), he is brimming with stories of what all he has failed in. You can barely get him to talk about all the successes he has had. His stories of what he would do different are amazing anecdotes of true humility and sincere willingness to learn.
We spent quite some time talking thru our respective learnings from the various career phases we have had.
Chandra, let’s meet many more times. You can help me understand what I have learnt from life a lot more than I can do by myself!!
Most days, my 8AM call to my mom in India can be best described as a “scripted” conversation. She usually stays with the same set of topics. First would be the weather report – “Bhalo” means Good. Also means “It was sunny as heck; the clothes dried out very quickly on the clothesline”. “Baajey” means Bad. Which means “It rained today and I could not dry out the clothes properly”. An extreme case of “Baajey” would be “Bichchiri”. You and I refer to it as the “monsoons”.
She would then move on to complaining about my dad, updating about my sister and niece and mentioning about any phone conversations she might have had in the previous 24 hours with her siblings. That would be followed by she enquiring what my brother had said the previous day. Because, my 8:10AM call is always with my brother.
And then again, once in a while I dig my heels in and pick something she might have mentioned and just go down a few rabbit holes to make some memorable moments. There is a hilarious one about a “West Mall” (actually Qwest Mall), but I will talk about that later. Today it is about the “Bop Bop” dance.
A few days back, my mom informed me that my niece had started taking “Western Dance” classes. Most days I would just muse about the deep irony in my sister sending her daughter in India to Western Dance classes and my wife sending our daughters in America to Indian Classical dance classes and leave it that. This particular day, I was feeling extra charitable and decided to just mess around with my mom.
“What is a Western Dance?”, I innocently asked her.
From the hemming and hawing on the other end of the line, you would be well advised to deduce that the question had completely taken the wind out of all the pride she had for her niece learning Western dance. She tried a few times to construct sentences and rolled them back. Finally this is what she came up with…
“Aarey.. oi je.. haath pa chhore… abar komor dolai…”
So, if you were to believe her, Western dances mean you desultorily flail your hands and legs about. And gyrate around your hips.
Barely able to control my laughter, I asked her if that was not true for most dances. Don’t ask me what kind of a question that was. I just needed to keep her busy while I hit the mute button to finish off my laughter.
“Abar dekhbi bhishon laafalaafi korey. Puro body heliye day. Maajhey maajhey hotat dnariye jaay”
That was too much even for me. I just could not help laughing out into the phone. She was trying to explain to me that in Western dances they jump about too much (I assume as compared to Indian dances). They tilt over their entire bodies. And then she mentioned apparently Western dancers come to abrupt stops in the middle of their dances!!
I do not have the faintest idea where she has seen any Western dances or what she was trying to describe. But just the visualization of what my mom thinks is a Western dance was too hilarious.
Perhaps the laughter touched her to the quick. And jolted her memory. She excitedly told me “Mon-e porechhe. O Bop Bop dance shikchhe”. (“I remember now! She is learning Bop Bop dancing”).
That did not help. I had to confess to her that I do not have the faintest idea about Western dancing and would not know what Bop Bop dancing is. Except that the name does align with a lot of “laafalaafi” (jumping around).
Anyways, after finishing up the call, I called up my sister…
“Meye-takey phone ta de to” (I brushed her aside and told her I needed to talk to her daughter)
“What did you tell your grandmother? What dance are you learning?”, I asked.
“Why? Hip Hop”, she replied, confused.
Well, guess who was NOT confused? “Ah! Bop Bop! Now I get it” 🙂 🙂 🙂
My simple mom! I tell you!!!
I gotta go see her again! I will be sure to carry a video of a Bop Bop dance for her from America!