On my way from Kalyani to Kolkata, the first stop was at Mrs. Basu’s place. This was my foray into North Kolkata after a very long time. It is still as crowded as I remember. Seemed to be much cleaner than what I could recollect.
I had heard a lot about Mrs. Basu from her son – good old Avi – back in Atlanta. During our motorbike rides to grab a lunch or snacks to places around north Atlanta areas, Avi had talked quite some about his mom and all the places she has lived in her life.
What my brother and I found very refreshing in our conversations with Mrs. Basu was her very different attitude towards life – than most other octogenarians that I know of, anyways. In all the time that we spent together, she came across as a very purposeful and independent minded person. Further, she did not complain about one thing. Instead she talked about how she is happy with her lot – even with the fact that she lost her husband and her two sons are abroad and so she lives all by herself.
“What is the secret to happiness, then?”, I asked her.
“Managing your expectations of others,” she reflected very quickly.
Over our chat, I got to learn a lot about Avi himself – especially as he was growing up as a child. I think we need a few more motorbike rides to lunch places to discuss those. Of course, I will be sure to keep a safe distance from his arm’s reach when I do so 🙂
In addition, she mentioned about how she is very close to her daughter in law – Bani in Atlanta. Bani, if you are reading this – I think I am going to count that one thing against your mother in law this time 🙂
We left promising to meet again during my future trips.
While Somshekhar and I went to MBA school together, I did not know him much. In fact, our face to face interactions could not have been more than a couple of times. Over the last few years, I got intrigued by his comments on others’ posts on Facebook. What absolutely got my attention was his fascinating knowledge on very diverse topics. In fact, he is the only person whose book suggestions have been a 100% hit for me. It is more a reflection of similar interests. Also, we share common interest in groaners. Admittedly, his puns are more witty and wicked.
We had promised to sit down some time to exchange notes on life. I certainly felt I had a lot to learn from him and his life story. The new year started rather auspiciously for me with the first activity being sitting at a coffee bar in Bombay with this gentleman. What fascinated me in his life story is how he has often taken the road less traveled.
When all of us went after big jobs all starry eyed clasping an MBA degree under our arms – from IIM-A, no less – Somshekhar went back to his home in Lucknow after opting out of placement. He wanted to figure out what he wanted to do and be. I think for about four years he was in this state of self discovery and also thinking about going after Civil Services (he comes from a family of multiple Civil Servants). It was during this time that he tried out a lot of things.
I was amazed by how much Western classical and Indian classical he grasps. And when I say Indian classical – both Hindustani classical as well as Carnatic classical. In fact he took me thru some real in depth concepts that differentiate Hindustani and Carnatic classical music. I am completely out of depths in Western classical music – so that part was a short discussion.
Our discussions then veered towards books and his love for reading. Apparently, during that discovery period, he started reading up all sorts of books. We exchanged notes on what one or two books have influenced us most. For him, it was “Aztecs” by Inga Clendinnen. We also debated the pros and cons of reading books the traditional paper form (his preferred mode) and the electronic form (what I do today).
“Any learning from the life choices you have made?”, I enquired.
“People will respect you for who you are”, he said. He reflected on the fallacy of human beings missing the opportunity to discover themselves and being genuine rather than follow the precepts set by others on what “should be”. The deep irony he felt, was that eventually, respect and recognition from others come from being who you are rather than what others might have wanted you to be.
We decided to have lunch at this place. I wanted to see his collection of books as well as meet his wife and two daughters. I was glad that I did so because I found out a lot of intersection points with his wife Debanjana. First, she is from Durgapur (much junior to me). That evening I was to meet a school mate of mine – Debabrata – who had to back out at last moment due to a gall bladder surgery. (I know, the extent people will go to avoid meeting me 🙂 ). Guess what? Debanjana and Debabrata grew up as next door neighbors!
Remember Mrs. Sur who I went to visit in Durgapur before leaving town? Well a couple of houses down – literally on the same street – is where Debanjan’s folks (now, only her mom) live! We found many more common friends – Paromita in New York (who is the sister of an old friend of mine; Sharmila and I are now very close to her), Jay Vikram’s sister and so on. When I mentioned to her that I was going to meet Mrs. Dhar in Pune the next day, she knew her too!
But the best part was that she is a runner. She is much faster than me (10Ks in forty something minutes) and puts in more miles than I do now. Regardless, we had a good time exchanging notes on our running experiences. Maybe we can get Somshekhar to run someday and we can participate in an organized race together!
I truly should have become closer to Somshekhar much earlier in my life.