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.
After 10 days of frustratingly scrambling thru the refrigerator searching for stuff, I finally gave in today and organized the whole dang thing by categories. While not exactly following a Dewey decimal system, the post-its at least spell out the categories. In the process, I managed to come up with an empty shelf too. I was so pleased with myself that I called Nikita to show off my organization powers.
“Do you like how I have organized everything?”
“You know what she will say, right?”
“I CAN’T FIND ANYTHING, ANYWHERE”
Somewhat deflated, I asked “You do not know that.”
“I should know, dad”
“Because that is what I do to her when she tries to organize my bedroom”.
I did not even take a picture of the “before” situation to undo everything!!
About 9:30 am last morning
Me (on the phone): “Rajib here”
Mom: “How are you?”
Me: “Good. Today is dad’s birthday, right?”
I go thru the next part of the movie pretty much every single year the same way.
Mom (incredulously): “It is your dad’s birthday, today?”
And then I could hear her informing dad – “Did you know it is your birthday today?”
Dad, like every year, gave a hollow laugh and pronounced that nobody his age actually celebrates their birthday.
It is then that I pointed out to my mom over the phone that this was a big birthday for him. His 80th, in fact!
That got mom excited even more. “Did you know you turned eighty today?”
I could not hear any response from him. I was pretty sure he was doing the math in his head.
As anticipated, after a few seconds, I could hear him “Of course!”
Then I could hear him say “Dyakh! Merey ketey aasir ghorey dhukey porlam”. Not sure how to translate this but it would roughly mean he managed to drag and scream himself into his eighties.
After a few more minutes, I kept the phone down.
Next call. My sister.
The phone was switched off. Dang!
Tried a second number. She picked up!
Me: “What happened to your main mobile?”
She: “I have it switched off”
She: “It is a touch mobile”. (meaning smartphone in our lingo here)
She: “No, Rima plays with the apps and gets distracted from her studies”
Me: “Ok. Did you know it is dad’s birthday today?”
She: “It is not his birthday today”
Me: “When is his birthday?”
She: “Aug 28th”
Me: “It is a big one for him. He turns 80 today”
She: “No. he does not”.
You will be surprised that for somebody who did not even realize what date it was how confident my sister can be that I am wrong!
Me: “He was born in 1938. He is 80 today.”
She: “Ok. I need to keep the phone down”
Me: “Why? I just started talking…”
She: “I need to call Ashok to get a cake”. (Ashok being my brother in law)
Me: “Why don’t you use your other phone… Oh! Never mind”! I had a quick flashback of smartphone… internet… apps… niece… etc etc etc. I get it.
About an hour later, this picture showed up on my WhatsApp. I can only imagine what must have happened. First, my sister would have commandeered my brother in law to get a cake. Armed with that cake for her granddad, my niece must have walked into my dad’s place and shaken him out of his bed. You can see the general reluctance written all over my dad’s face.
It sure looks like he had been waiting with that knife in his hand for a few minutes as my niece tried to take a picture. Only to realize that the “touch mobile” was off 🙂
I even got a video of everybody singing Happy Birthday to him!! The video showed him cutting the cake.
What is the big deal?, you may ask. Actually I myself did not realize it. It was Nikita who pointed something out. “He is using his right arm to cut the cake”, she had observed!
It was his right side that had gotten paralyzed after the brain stroke exactly a year back. He had absolutely no functional capability on the right side of the body. In fact, his hand used to dangle like a dead limb and he would not even realize when he rolled over his hand in awkward positions while sleeping (thereby potentially running the risk of breaking bones).
That has been a story of a remarkable recovery.
This morning I called my mom and asked how were the surprise birthday celebrations.
Forget the celebrations. She could not say enough about the ingenuity of human kind that instead of putting eighty candles on the cake (and wasting a lot of stuff), we had simply figured out how to make a candle in the shape of a “8” and another one in the shape of “0”.
I think I need to get myself to Kalyani soon again! Missing out on too much fun!
Every year, the local Bengali community asks me to write something for their annual publication. Usually, I pick something from my blog and then send it to them. This year, they asked me to put together a few blogs and write out a longer piece.
Which I did. With a lot of effort. After finishing it, I waited a day and then did a read over. Corrected a lot of mistakes that I had and changed a few of the constructs.
Then I had a brainwave. Since we have a budding journalist in our house, I sent it to Natasha and asked her if she could edit it for me.
I think she paid me back for all her workbook corrections I did when she was younger! Not only did she make a lot of edits, she put a 10-bullet point note in the beginning – on common mistakes I make that I should avoid. The last one was 5 sentences long in bold and beautiful font!!! And now I know what a “em dash” is!!
That said, she did give it a very polished look. After looking at what she has done to my initial script, I am tempted – a wee bit – to actually write a book about my life journey – provided Natasha agrees to edit it.
I can visualize the title page already…
“History of my Future. First Draft.”
Written by: Rajib Roy
(Liberally) Edited by: Natasha Roy
Learnt the difference between a professional and an amateur today!
“Dad, you are a nerd”
“Oh! Yeah? I have been called worse. So, there!”
She shook her head and went on to the kitchen to warm her milk.
What earned me that sobriquet this early morning at the breakfast table was the fact I was trying to put a jigsaw puzzle of African countries together. You can be forgiven if you are equally confused about why on God’s green earth would I wake up early in the morning to do jigsaw puzzles.
Well, it happened the other day. Natasha was on her way from Paris to Accra, Ghana to start her fall semester. The flight was half way done, time wise. Nikita had asked me how far had she reached. I started to answer her “She will be roughly above….”. And I never managed to finish that sentence. I actually had very poor understanding of the geographical location of the different countries in Africa. Most other continents, given two countries, I can name – with reasonable accuracy the likely countries she will be flying over. But when it came to Africa, all I could think about was the the big Sahara desert!
Coming to think of it, while I had a vague idea of where Ghana is (I remember Mrs. Bhowmic teaching us about cocoa production n Ghana), I could not name a single country that borders the country my daughter was headed to!! I remember in school we had learnt a lot about the countries in other continents. But do not seem to remember studying a lot about Africa. Of course, it does not help that Africa has way too many countries!!
Curious how many countries I could name in Africa, I started jotting them down. And challenged Nikita to the same. After a lot of effort, I could remember about 35 of them. I thought I would have completely trounced Nikita. She beat me by about 10 countries! And then when we Googled, we learnt that even she had missed 10 countries!!!
If that was bad, try this. She asked me if I could tell locate the various countries are. I got about half a dozen right. And about half a dozen more if you allow “rough vicinity” to be the pass mark. The rest, I had no idea where they were (other than vague North, South, East, West etc.).
That is what triggered that realization that I need to do something about my ridiculous ignorance of the second largest continent of the world. What I did was, unlike most sane people, ordered a jigsaw puzzle of Africa (countries as individual jigsaw pieces) from Amazon. This morning, armed with a cup of coffee and pen and paper, I sat down to study the map.
“You just watch. In 3 months I will master Africa. I will learn about each country, their capital and some cool facts about each country”, I told my incredulous younger daughter.
“Yeah. You might want to do that faster”
“Why?”, I asked.
“They keep having rebellions and split into different countries”, she said as she took her cup of milk out of the microwave.
You know, maybe that is why I never learnt anything about Africa in childhood. They kept changing the count on me 🙂
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 🙂
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).