21 February 2020

29 long years

The first time I saw him was in 1990. He had joined the same MBA school as I (one year junior to me) and moved into the dorm I lived in then. That too literally next door to me! The last time I saw him was March 1991 when I left the campus. I was 24 then.

Then, a full 29 years later – after more than doubling my age – I had the chance to meet Vivek again – at a small bar outside the hotel I was staying in, in Baltimore.

The details of how I got reconnected to him is escaping me right now – but it was probably one of those days when I remember people from the past and start looking for them in Linkedin and Facebook. Fortunately for me, he had recognized me too and we had exchanged our phone numbers and most importantly – his birthday! That way I had a reminder every year to visit him if I were to be in Baltimore.

And that is where I was this week for a couple of days for a conference. Vivek was very kind to adjust his schedule at work and home and come meet me when I had some off time between all the meetings.

It was like the 29 years has never happened. We picked up from where we had left. Talking about all the old friends, the carom board outside our room, the campus, the courses and all that. I was fascinated to hear about his career and family journey that has taken him to three different countries. We also debated the pros and cons of doing MBA – specifically, which courses has really helped and which ones not so much.

The best part of our recollections was a common difficulty both of us had faced separately. Both of us had a lot of exposure to computer programming – unlike many other students – before we joined the MBA class. And both of us (in two separate years) had agreed to help our colleagues with the programming assignments in the introductory programming class in our MBA. In fact, we called them “rems” (remedial classes?). Basically, some of the fellow-students would gather in a dorm and I (or he) would use the blackboard on the wall (every floor in the dorm had a blackboard those days) to explain the basics of programming languages.

And sadly, neither of us quite figured out how to convince our non-programming friends that in computer science, it totally cool to write:

A=A+2

🙂

It did not help that some of them had math degrees before coming to do MBA!!!

19 February 2020

What was she looking at?

There was something familiar and yet strange about the lady. I was busy with my oatmeal in the Delta Skyclub, sitting all by myself, when I noticed thru the corner of my left eye that a lady – in what appeared to be dark formal clothes – walking past me. And then she stopped. That made me instinctively look up. That is when I was hit with the feeling of something familiar and yet, something strange.

She was standing at about 10:30 to me (left front). She kept peering out in the open thru the large glass walls, diagonally across from me. She would occasionally look in her phone, punch in something and then again look out in the open. I looked out a couple of times in the direction she was looking. There was nothing to see other than the airport watch tower half cloaked in fog and a lot of planes on the ground dodging each other as they rolled thru. The sky was one dreary grey sky.

But she kept looking that way – with a sense of purpose – that betrayed that she was looking for something in particular. I glanced at her a little more intently. Dark hair, brown skin, very prim in her dark office suit and red scarf. The roller and handbag screamed top of the class brands.

That is when something familiar struck me. Could she be….? No! What is the chance? And why would she be looking out into the fog? I tried to lean over to get a better look at the face. Most of what I could see matched a face I knew but still I had not crossed past what my friends in the legal land would say “beyond reasonable doubt”.

I just sat back. Eventually, she will move and turn around, I argued with myself. That is when I would find out if she is who I thought she might be. For a moment, I toyed with the idea of calling up the lady I knew and if the phone rang in front of me…. you know the rest. But what if she was not? What am I going to give as my excuse to my friend for calling her so early in the morning?

Well, I just kept eating my oatmeal and waited patiently for her to make the first move. I eventually finished my oatmeal and she had still not moved!! Finally, one of those cleaning persons came around and asked “Are you done with this, sir?”. I nodded in the affirmative “Yes, ma’m”. And that conversation next to her jolted the lady in the suit into the present reality. She shifted a little – thinking she might be in the way.

And our eyes met immediately. It was good old Malika alright!!!

After the usual pleasantries (I had not seen her in quite some time), I asked her “What the heck were you looking into the clouds for?”.
“I was looking for Russell.” (That be her husband).
That did not exactly clear up things. Much like the weather outside, I was still foggy. Why was she looking for Russell there? First, he would not be in a runway walking along. And if he was flying somewhere, there was no way she could see him in an airplane.

A little background about Russell. I got to know him thru Malika – who I go to know thru Sharmila. I am not sure how she got to know her (was it thru Rejina in Dallas?) but I know both of them are painters. Many years later, we had discovered that another friend of ours from Dallas – Debjani – went to school with Malika in Kolkata and we had even managed to have a reunion for them at our house in Atlanta.

Russell’s biggest claim to fame – at least to me – is that he makes absolutely the best “kathi rolls” on this side of the Suez. On a good day, on that side of the Suez too. How this Georgia gentleman learnt how to make a Kolkata street food so well, I will never know.

What I did not know is that Russell is also a pilot. And now he is flying charter planes. Once I got past the surprise that I never realized Russell is a pilot, everything fell in place. He had a flight that morning and was taking off. She was messaging him from the Skyclub and he was texting her roughly where his plane was. Which was why she was straining her neck to look out so intently to spot his plane on the ground.

And that is how I had my first intersection point of this morning!

Malika, it was great to see you. One of these days, when Russell is on the ground, let’s catch a different kind of “flight” at a nearby bar!!

1 February 2020

Free Wine! er… I mean Art Show!!

Apparently, free wine was waiting for me in Atlanta after being abroad for a week. Landed in Atlanta, met up with Sharmila at a meeting point and went straight to her art show. As you know from my previous posts, the real attraction for me is the free wine. I understand art as much as a walrus understands rocket science. Maybe even less.

This time, though, there was the additional upside of running into an old friend from yesteryears – Hunt and his wife Mary-Elizabeth!

31 January 2020

Almost did not make it

“I cannot give you a visa to enter the country”, the immigration office assured me.
“Why not?”, I asked
“Well, your next flight is in three hours. The rule is six hours.”

That was a bummer. I had not expected this. I was hoping to see Natasha Balseca after quite a few years. In fact, if I managed to meet her, it would be the third time I would have met her.

The very first time was somewhere around 2008/2009 time frame when on a dark morning at 5:10AM, Samantha (or was it Lara?) had introduced me to Natasha when we all showed up at the running group’s starting point on Windward Parkway.

I had learnt that Natasha lives in Ecuador and was in Atlanta to teach at a school for some time. Eventually she left for Ecuador but we kept up thru Facebook and birthdays. Then one summer, about 5 years back, she was back in Atlanta to teach some summer school. I met her up that time and we again put in a run, this time near Windermere Parkway. Since it was one on one, over Starbucks coffee, I got to know about her whole life story. And the fact that one of her cousins is in Galapagos. Which is some place Sharmila and I want to go to. Good to know that there is somebody we can reach out to.

That followed a couple of years of mostly Facebook and birthday contacts only. She then moved to Doha, Qatar with her family as a teacher. Funny thing is that I go thru that airport eight times a year but never managed to get out and meet Natasha. My connections are usually 2 hours or less.

This time, from Kolkata, I was headed to Muscat. I had a little over 3 hours. I was determined to meet her. In fact, I had asked her to come in her running clothes. I traveled in my running shoes and had my running clothes in my backpack. If we could figure out a way to run outside the airport without drawing the attention from the security guys, that was what we were going to do. 3 meets – 3 runs.

Except the immigration guy had other thoughts.

The good news is that after about five minutes of explaining my situation, I was able to convince him to give me a temporary visa. Phew!!!

As I came out of the customs area, I texted Natasha “Coming out” and started scanning the waiting crowd carefully. I was looking for any woman by herself in running gear. II did see somebody vigorously waving at me. She looked like Natasha all right but she was with somebody else. I looked behind me – there was nobody. So, it had to be Natasha.

Turns out Natasha’s mom – Gina – was visiting from Ecuador. Natasha had dragged her along. We decided to give running the boot and instead settled down at a tea shop to chat.

It was great to meet Gina for the first time. She was born in Virginia, married an Ecuadorean, had Natasha and then moved to Ecuador.

And I was thrilled that I was able to finally see Natasha after promising her every time I passed thru Doha that some day I will make it. Found out that Natasha is gearing up for a half marathon and that she has taken up rowing.

Thank you Natasha and Gina for coming to the airport and spending the time. One of these days, I hope we will put in a run together.

30 January 2020

This is my new friend

23 year old Mohammed took me around for a seven hour trip outside Muscat. Got to know a lot about his family, the country and local culture. One of 14 siblings, he has a very interesting name. Mohammed Mubarak Khamis Humaid Al-Jabri. I asked him why does he have such a long name. Found out those are respectively his name, his father’s name, his grandfather’s name, his great grandfather’s name and then finally, his family name! By that logic, I would be Rajib Abhaychandra Madanmohan Debendranath Roy !!!

Very nice gentleman. We are on Facebook now and I have his birthday and phone number. Fairly sure this is not the last time I have talked to him 🙂

27 January 2020

Guess who I met in Kolkata airport?

I got to know Anzee when she worked in ITC Hotel (I used to be a regular there before they built the Westin close to the airport). Anzee eventually left the job and moved on.

I know the particular place she worked in the international terminal. I check in that shop every time I am here. Most of the time she works during the day and I am here for an early morning flight and therefore miss her.

There was the one time that Sharmila and I were traveling with the family and we managed to meet her.

Today, I lucked out. She was working at night instead of day shift. It was great seeing her after such a long time and got a chance to catch up with her and her family.

(She, by the way, is from Darjeeling – which is famous for tea and also where my sister spent early part of her married life)

6 December 2019

Do these things happen only to me?

Last night, Natasha dropped some broad hints about her Christmas gift list. Something to the effect that she would not be particularly upset if she were to receive some Glossier stuff this year. After reassuring her that we would not take it personally if she got upset :-), I had to ask myself the inevitable question any 53 year dad would legitimately ask – “What the heck is Glossier?”.

I know she is into Journalism and all that. Maybe she is looking for a Glossary??? That made no sense. So I Googled it up and had one of those “Okay boomer” moments. And then I remembered something else.

A few days back, I had seen a news item where somebody who I knew from my past had just joined as the CTO of a company called Glossier. I had been meaning to call Pawan up to congratulate her (and also find out what Glossier was). I had figured she would be too busy for me right now – so I noted it down as a new year action item.

I had a chance to work with Pawan way back in the mid 90s. A fresh graduate from UT Austin, she was an amazing professional. Over the years, she has built a sterling career spanning two different continents. Undoubtedly one of the smartest persons I know of (but not smart enough to avoid working in the same team as I 🙂 ) , she was fairly close to Sharmila and me when we worked together. Recently she has moved from being one of top executives in Amazon to Glossier.

I let Natasha know that I know the CTO of Glossier. Her text messages back opened up a sliver of a chance that she might have finally found something about her dad not to be embarrassed about.

“Actually, you know her too”, I texted her.
“NO WAY!! HOW COME NOBODY TELLS ME THESE THINGS?”, came the response in disbelief. All caps, no less!

I reminded her of a couple of times that she has met Pawan in the past (she was too young though). This morning I remembered something else. On my flight back home, I dug thru old pictures and managed to retrieve the picture below and sent it to her. With the message that..

“Believe it or not, Natasha, this picture is from when you were six months old. That dress you are wearing in this picture was gifted to you. By the same lady who is now the CTO of the company that you want your gift from this year!!”

What is the chance of that?

Life is such an incredible tapestry of rich memories and even richer relationships!!

29 November 2019

Mauricio Flores!!!

Mauricio and I worked long time back. I think I have met him twice – once in Buenos Aires and once probably in London during our office meetings. He was working in El Salvador (where he is from) and I was in our Atlanta office. He is one of those persons who I have kept up with after meeting once or twice thru birthdays and Facebook.

Last month, I had called him up to wish him for his birthday and realized that he now lives in Lisbon. (moved from El Salvador to Portugal via Peru). Turns out he was going to be in the Azores too. However, we missed each other there by a few days. On the other hand, we did meet up in Lisbon!

We went thru at least twenty of our old friends and updated each other on their thereabouts. Also, learnt a lot about El Salvador and a particular beach on the Pacific Ocean that might be a a great target for us to visit some day!

Thank you for taking the efforts, Maurcio! It was great seeing you!

21 November 2019

Thanksgiving came early this year!

For a road warrior like me, four days out of seven, home is where the hotel is and family is whoeever happens to be in the hotel lobby in the evening. For many months now, I have been sleeping during the workweek in a Courtyard near our office and the staff there has become my friends and family circle in the evening. In fact, I am on to my third manager of the hotel already but most of the staff has stayed the same. From political discussions with David to learning about tequila and mezcal from Eric to discussing kids and calculus with Lisa … there are way too many fond memories I have now.

Last night was my last stay for this month. I am scheduled to be out of the country with Sharmila and the kids like every year during Thanksgiving. So, last evening, I rounded up all the hotel staff and threw a Thanksgiving dinner. Now, I did not cook at all. And there was no turkey or cranberry sauce either. But the Americans were there and the Indian was there (ha! ha!).

We took the very old tradition and gave it a modern touch by GrubHubbing some yummy Indian dinner! There was Eric from the bar, Samantha from the kitchen, Tracey from the front desk and Alfredo who fixes just about anything in the hotel that breaks down. Had a great conversation with Alfredo about his background from Puerto Rico and his three kids here.

Thank you Eric, Samantha, Tracey and Alfredo! You all (and others in the hotel) make it a home away from home for me every week!! And I am thankful for that!

2 November 2019

Chef Rubai Ghosh!

As a family, we have grown to be a great fan of the Westin in Kolkata. The people there are the biggest reason. The facilities are great and we have gotten to know so many of the folks working there.

Chef Rubai is way up on that list of folks who know how to make your stay very enjoyable. She has cooked up some unbelievable specials for Sharmila, myself and our families over the last couple of years.

This trip was no exception either. It was great to catch up with her.

If you folks ever visit Westin in Kolkata, look her up. She will make some memorable dishes for you!