3 January 2019

Dealing with the famed Indian Bureacracy…

Running from pillar to post – or rather LIC office to Post office to straighten out some paperwork for our parents. To be fair, we are not making it easy on them. My dad is living but cannot physically be present or even sign any paperwork. My mom’s fingerprints never come out well (for whatever reason, Sharmila has the same issue) to match identity and none of the iris systems work in Kalyani.

All that said, we were able to get everything squared away after quite some
patience and running around..

2 January 2019

And you thought I am not interesting? :-)

Last time I was in Pune, I came tantalizingly close to meeting my classmate from fifth grade (thru tenth) – Ranjan Ghosh. In fact, I was close to his house meeting somebody else but his office schedule could not match up with my flight schedule. He was therefore very high on my list this time to meet.

Thanks to his and his family’s graciousness – they decided to visit me in my hotel since I was dog tired after all the road travel from Mumbai and then in the Pune traffic – I had an outstanding time with the Ghosh family last evening. In a somewhat of a coincidence, his younger brother has moved to Atlanta recently and I managed to go check on him when his parents were visiting him from Durgapur a couple of months back!

The last time I saw Ranjan was in 1983 – more than three and a half decades back. Funny part is that he has remained pretty much the same. The same athletic build, head full of hair, mustache and all that. I could have picked him up from a crowd any day. It was great to meet his wife Munmun. She is from Rourkela. I rattled off the names of all my friends from Rourkela hoping she would recognize somebody. Unfortunately, she is too young to know my friends.

But I persisted in finding some intersection point and eventually it paid off. Turns out her younger sister is married to an ex-student of my mom. We, in fact, called up her brother-in-law Samar Sarkar and I chatted with him for some time. Sure enough, the network got thicker and thicker. He is a good friend of none other than my good old runny buddy in Atlanta – Samaresh!!!

That was not the only connection. Remember Mrs. Biswas – my tenth grade English teacher? I had made my last trip to Pune to meet her. Well, a little poking and prodding and we found out that Mrs. Biswas was Ankita’s (that would be Ranjan’s daughter) English teacher and Vice Principal in school (St. Mary’s, I believe). You should have seen the look on Ranjan’s face as he realized that all these days he was oblivious to the fact that his English teacher from St. Xavier’s, Durgapur is the exact same person as his daughter’s English teacher from St. Mary’s, Pune!! How cool was that?

Ranjan’s son – Ani – took a great liking to me. (Young kids can easily jump to wrong conclusions that way!) We exchanged some puzzles and riddles. Before we said goodbye, he walked up to me and said “Tumi khub interesting uncle”. (he accused me of being an interesting uncle). Now, that is something that should some strutting rights!!

It was great seeing the Ghosh family from Pune!

2 January 2019

The original entrepreneur in my friend circle

Maneesh and I met each other for the first time when we found ourselves in the same project in our very first job way back in 1991 in Mumbai (then referred to as Bombay). He was one of those very sincere, very sharp in software coding and a very shy kind of person. (As an aside, he is still very sincere and super sharp in technology – maybe not as shy; but hey! two out of three counts!!)

We came to US together – again, for a common project. Citibank had shipped us to Florida in the same flight. Eventually, both of us were shipped to Dallas together. And at some point of time, I left Citi but he continued. Over the years, we have some contacts (after all, who can escape my birthday calls 🙂 ) . The thing I knew about him was that he had started a company – Sena – which was into online security. As online banking took off, Maneesh and Sena did extremely well. Eventually he sold the company. By then he had moved back to India.

Ever since, he has focused his time and effort in social entrepreneurship (something he has grown a deep liking for after getting his MBA from Stern) and investing in start up companies.

I missed Maneesh last time I was in Pune. Not this time!! In fact, he was waiting downstairs at my Bengali teacher’s building to pick me up and settle down at a coffee shop. I obviously had a lot of questions for him. I am not an entrepreneur. That bug never bit me. Ergo, I am always intrigued by people who do that. I am curious about how their brains compute the risk-return curve.

Learnt a lot from Maneesh last afternoon during our meeting for a couple of hours – specially, the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

“What have been the key learnings in the last few years, Maneesh?”, I asked.
After a few thoughtful moments, Maneesh offered – “Probably two”.

“First,” he explained “is the important of sticking to something. You may be good at something. You may not be. You may have early successes. Or you may not. Regardless, if you continue to persevere – eventually, you are going to succeed. May not be exactly the way you thought – but you will definitely succeed”.

He even suggested that not having early success might be a boon since that tends to wean out the competitive field quickly.

“And second learning?”
“The importance of networking. Whatever it is that one tries to do in life, one cannot do by oneself alone. You always need people who can give you that extra push or get you that all-important break. You need to cultivate your network assiduously. Conversely, you should help out people who reach out to network with you. Most people start networking when they need help not before. That is a mistake”.

In other words, your network can be your net worth.

It was not all work. We wasted no time picking on our great buddies over funny incidents from the past. No point taking names – but let’s say Srini, for example 🙂 🙂

Maneesh, thank you for making time for me. I have always admired you for building your own path. But I am even more in awe of you realizing how you are spending your time today helping others!

Till next time!

2 January 2019

How often do you get to meet your first grade teacher?

That too 46 years later!!
I recollect it was 1973. Somewhere in the middle of the academic year, I suppose. Our favorite Bengali teacher – Mrs. Dhar – had given a class test. One of those words was “Aam” (meaning “mango” in Bengali). In my infinite wisdom, I had forgotten to put a small vertical line – thereby making it “Am” – which has no meaning in Bengali. Even I knew that! However, that ill fated missing vertical line cost me a mark and I scored 9 out of 10. I distinctly remember coming back home and facing my dad; it was – well, let’s just say an extremely unpleasant experience! I am sure I started putting extra vertical lines all over my Bengali answer sheets thereafter – because, you know, who wants to get thrashed by their dad? 🙂

Well, that spelling mistake is my first living recollection of Mrs. Dhar. I vividly remembered her visage and I also knew that she had triplets – Rinku, Minku and Tinku. (triplets were pretty uncommon in Durgapur).

I had come dangerously close to finding her a couple of years back when I had traced Rinku-di in California. I had even sent her a Facebook request explaining that I was trying to get hold of her mom. Not sure if she ever saw that but I hit a wall on that trail. Eventually, last year I found out Mrs. Dhar’s phone number. Which led to one of those awkward – “You won’t remember me – but I was your student in 1973” phone calls. I was afraid that she would take it to be a crank call. So, before she could slam the phone down on me, I threw the kitchen sink of my memories from those days at her including naming all my other teachers and exactly how the classroom roof looked (it was a crazy semicircular roof).

Having thus established by bona fide purpose, I had the chance to talk to her a couple of times more – all the time looking for a chance to go to Pune. By the way, in a complete twist of fate, I was in Pune a little over a year back to meet Mrs. Biswas – my English classroom teacher from tenth grade – from a different school. I had no idea that Mrs. Dhar was in the same city. Better yet, I never realized Mrs. Biswas was related to Mrs. Dhar. All I had to do is ask!! Go figure!!!

Well, what do you know? A flight to Bombay and an exhausting drive to Pune later, I was there ringing the bell at Mrs. Dhar’s door last morning. For a near-nonagenarian, she looked great and seemed to be in even better spirits. Very active socially and physically, she is an example to me on what I should be when I grow up.

We caught up on a million things – our old school, her daughters, my daughters, our old teachers, some of my batch mates and what not.

I am not sure I will get a chance to see her again (I sure hope I will). But I am just tickled pink that I was able to see her again after those Bengali class days of first grade – a full 46 years back!!

Like you have heard me say before – I am not sure I have ever made something of myself. Or, for that matter, ever will. But whatever it is that I am, a big part of it is the cumulative effect of some incredible influences of elders, teachers and friends around me from my formative years. I hope Mrs. Dhar will accept my visit to see her as a sincere form of saying “Thank You” for that influence.

31 December 2018

“Cholo Rini, Cholbe?”

Thanks to Facebook and my insane habit of posting, I found out from Maitreyi this morning that she was in Durgapur today too. My first reaction was – “Maitreyi?” Meaning “Rini?” Of the “Cholo Rini, Cholbe?” fame?

I HAD TO SEE HER.

The story goes back to my previous post. This was when I was to hang out at Sharmila’s place all the time. Mr. and Mrs. Sur was their next door neighbor. They had two kids. One very docile and goody-goody boy called Kunal – probably about five years old. And a firecracker of a girl – around three years old. And that would be our aforementioned Rini.

Rini, as was her wont often, would find herself into Sharmila’s house and just park herself there and talk up a storm with any and everybody who would give her attention. One of those days, I guess, she had stayed on for too long. Mrs. Sur sent Kunal to retrieve her sister.

Kunal, if not anything else, was surely mortally afraid of her younger sister. Asking him to tell her to do something against her wishes was like sending him to the gallows. I still remember that day – Kunal gingerly walking up to the front room of Sharmila’s house and almost bleating out to his sister – “Cholo Rini, cholbey?”. Roughly translated, he was fishing for her overall take on the concept of going back home when it was too late. No points for guessing but Rini pretty much told him exactly what she thought of the concept of telling her to go home when she was not ready.

The rest of the day has always been a blur to me. Till date, I cannot stop laughing remembering that event. For ever that brother and sister was tagged with that “Cholo Rini, Cholbey?” identity in my mind.

You can see their picture in the inset. Rini was literally as old as her son is – who I had the fortune of meeting and befriending today. I think he figured that I matched his IQ and warmed up to me quickly.

Mrs. Krishna Sur has been the original inspiration for Sharmila to venture out of her educational profession (architecture) and pursue her love for paintings. Being an unparalleled artistic person herself and one of the most successful entrepreneurs Durgapur has produced till date, she has been a great influence on Sharmila during her formative years and later.

It was absolute the icing on my Durgapur visit cake to see the Sur family. Thank you Maitreyi for reaching out this morning. Memories of a lifetime gathered today.