14 October 2019

Meeting Mr. and Mrs. Jain

This is the second time I met Mr. and Mrs. Jain. Strictly speaking, this is the first time I met Mrs. Jain – but I have seen her once before. It was December 10th, 1976 – a Friday. It was our report card day. We all got promoted to fifth grade that day. Mr. Jain had come to pick up my classmate – Nishi Jain. All I remember is that he had some kind words to say after looking at my report card.

Funny part is that I never went back to that school after that day. Between that day and next school opening day, my dad got me admitted to a different school. That pretty much took away any chance of meeting Mr. Jain again.

Mrs. Jain was a different story. Our school had two buses. One day one of those buses had a mechanical failure. So, the bus that picked me up had to proceed to do the second route – which was Nishi’s route. I remember the bus stopping to pick her up and Nishi turning back to one of the houses and waving. That is how I guessed that it was her house and the lady at the gate waving back at her was her mom. And then there was a very small girl – maybe three year old tops at that time – hanging on to the gate and waving too.

Like I said, these are well over 40 years back! Believe it or not, last week, I got a message from that small toddler that hung from that gate – Supriya – she now lives in Chicago – that her parents were visiting her. That toddler is in the picture below along with her parents!!

I had about an hour between business meetings downtown. That was enough to swing by to say Hi to Mr. and Mrs. Jain. Had a fantastic time reliving the days of the past. Was suitably impressed how both of them have kept themselves physically and mentally fit at their ages!

Looks like they are going to be around for a couple of more months. I have to find some time one of these evenings to spend more time with them!!

21 September 2019

Meeting Julia’s mom

Julia and I got to know each other about a year back. Over the year, I had prepared a long list of complaints about her that I had promised to deliver to her mom when I meet her. I had figured that during one of my Austin trips, I would meet her mom Cathy and just unload on her 🙂

Turns out she was visiting San Francisco last week and the three of us were able to get together for an hour at a bar next to office. It was a quick meeting since I had to run for a office dinner right after that.

Here is a problem though – I never got a chance to complain about Julia! Because Cathy and I spent all the time exchanging dad jokes and a lot of puns. She is a veritable fountain of groaners and some really witty puns.

Celeste would have been thrilled with our level of dad jokes. My two daughters? Not so much!

26 August 2019

It is not what you know! It is who you know!!

That was a unique flying experience. First the pilot came on the PA system and apologized for starting 15 minutes late but the door was closed and he said we were good to go. At the same time, Delta sent a text message to all the passengers with the app basically saying – “No way, Mr. Pilot. You are going to wait for another hour after the fifteen minutes.” Not to be outdone, the pilot came back a few minutes later and told us that he was with the FAA agents on the phone and their basic message was “No way, Delta. You are going to wait for two hours after that fifteen minutes”. I turned around to my fellow passenger who had told the air hostess when she came around asking if anybody wanted drinks that he would wait till we get in the air and pointed out that he was being too optimistic!!

Anyways, we deplaned. And then replaned. “You again!”, I told the same nice gentleman who came and sat next to me. This time we started chatting about our jobs and all that. eventually, we got up in the air and we went back to our own things. Fifteen minutes later, I tried looking out of the window. He was sitting next to the window and luckily for me, he had it open. Not sure why – but all Delta passengers in the front keep their windows closed. I guess all that movie watching on their devices. I get mildly irritated that we are not able to see the clouds and the sky outside. Not so with American Airlines. Somehow their passengers always keep the windows open – at least every time I have taken American Airlines.

In any case, just as I looked out the window, my eyes glanced at the screen of the iPad my fellow passenger had. He was clearly listening to something intently thru his headphones. I recognized a person on the screen. I rudely interrupted him and asked

“How do you know this gentleman?”
“Oh! I do not know him. But he is a great guy. His name is Roger Whitney. He has this amazing podcast about retirement that I love to listen to”
“I know. I have known him for over 20 years.”
“Really? You know him? How do you know him?”
“Oh! We occasionally get drunk together at a bar and come up with plans to go to some crazy places in this world”, I replied nonchalantly.

I whipped up my iPad and showed some of our pictures from the Mongolia trip.

You could see that I had suitably impressed Mark Hensley (that being his name). I told him about Roger’s family history, his kids and his triathlon. Mark, who was already a super fan of Roger was starting to put him on the pedestal of a demi-god. Which Roger kind of is. But more importantly, Mark was starting to feel better and better about me due to the halo effect of the aforementioned demi-god!!

Mark wanted to know if he could talk to Roger some time. Apparently, he has been wanting to talk to Roger for a long time. So, I gave him Roger’s office number, admin name and email id. Again, with every such move, my stock was going up in Mark’s eyes.

I talked about how our families know each other … the great times we have had with Shauna, Spencer and Emma over the years.

Roger, dude! I gotta admit! You are a hero!! A hero who still cannot bend enough to enter a ger without hitting his head – but a hero nonetheless!!

As we were all getting to deplane, Mark asked me –

“So, you actually rode camels with Roger?”
“Yes, sir. And eaten camel meat too!”
“And drank alcohol made from horse’s milk together in a nomad’s camp.”

“Wow!!”, he finally exclaimed.

Roger P. Whitney! I won the admiration of a random fellow passenger not because of what I know. But because of who I know.

All I can say is … “You are a good man, Charlie Brown!!”

(Apologize for the bad quality of the picture – I am not a selfie guy and the airplane was dark. He did want to take a shot of the iPad screen with Roger’s picture on it)

25 August 2019

Meeting one of the smartest guys I know!

Thank you so much, Neal, for making the time to meet me in the middle of some hectic wedding activities. Getting to see Avia and talking to her was mesmerizing. I think she is very funny – specially for her age! The last time I saw her, she was still struggling to open her eyes in this new world. That was way back when and you were on the other coast. You might remember that after visiting the new born – we did what all fathers of new borns do – we went for a run!!

I missed Kim and Veera though! Hopefully Sharmila will join us too.

It was great catching up about our Optiant days together and all those great folks that we got a chance to work with.

But the best part – at least for me – was talking about taking years off. Hopefully you will do it sometime. You are the one person I know in my entire network who is most likely to. You have always had a independent perspective towards life and have an innate sense of how to not fall in the trap of “never enough” when it comes to money.

I know you will give Avia and Veera some indelible moments in life when you do so.

I went back and searched up my photo database (which is now over 100,000 pictures) to find that moment I talked about that has stayed seared in my memory. It was one of those year offs for me. It was after a grueling 10 year near-nothing-to-$1B start up success (the success was in spite of me; but the effort was not for the weak of the heart). That robbed me from enjoying the first daughter (Natasha) in her early years. But the second one (Nikita) had not yet completed a year when I took the year off.

As I was telling you – for the first time, I subscribed to a newspaper – Wall Street Journal, no less! I guess I was trying to catch up with the world in a hurry. But some of the best mornings were sitting outside by the pool reading the newspaper and then Nikita – who would have just woken up – would come up to me – with the dog in tow and shimmy up the chair to sit next to me. She was barely a year, as I said. So, the conversations were fairly unintelligible. The dog never seemed to mind though.

It is moments like that you are going to be very proud of when you reflect back on life when you realize the end is nigh. You will remember very little of what work you did at office.

So, here is to you taking a year off and creating some life memories. Perhaps that boat in Barcelona that we talked about? 🙂

23 August 2019

Why would you want to know if I have a chair nearby?

“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.
“Sit down?”
“What? Why?”
“I work in 1 Pierce Place!!!”

“No way”, she said in disbelief.
“Yes way”

“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!

20 August 2019

Meeting up Lori in Charleston

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!!

13 August 2019

Meeting Chandra after nearly 2 decades

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 C++ Templates!! I still remember him as the person coming up with all sorts of new and innovative ideas. And of a very gentle and patient demeanor.

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!!

28 July 2019

The good old Aroras!

Got to meet Gagan, Bharti and Ishan after a long time. Missed Mehul though. No meeting with the Aroras are complete without talking about the good old days in Dallas when we were yet to have kids.

Or for that matter some thought provoking discussions with Gagan. This time the topic was about intellect versus intelligence. And some truly insightful (and likely to be controversial without the full context understood) debates around whether intellect should be a protected category (like race, color, gender etc)…

I got more food for thought than I had bargained, Gagan. Thank you for that!

Bharti, next time no excuses – you are saving a drink for me – else I might bring up a certain On The Border evening up in our conversations again 🙂

26 July 2019

Boy, how time flies!!

Just the other day, these two used to run around the rug in our living area singing silly songs.

Now they are discussing how to fight back peer pressure and parental pressure and make career choices that align with their passions.

When I was their age, I can honestly admit that I had not the faintest clue what I wanted to do in life.

Kids are getting smarter with every generation. And that is the way it ought to be.

20 July 2019

How come I did not know this?

“You remember Yogesh?”, she asked.
“Sholapurkar?”, I asked
“Yes. You have a great memory”

I kept staring at her. Something was not computing in my mid.

Well, let me start from the beginning. It was one of those birthday calls back in January. Jasmine was my classmate from our MBA days. She is in London now. She has mentioned that she would be visiting her brother in Princeton in June. I had asked her to let me know when she comes and I will put in my best effort to see her.

I knew of Jasmine as those smart-and-beautiful types in our class but we did not have more than a passing knowledge of each other. I have to admit I started questioning that “smart” part when in June she gave me some of her travel details and actually said she would like to get together with me to remember our MBA days.

Well, to make a hash of the long story… there I was – this morning knocking at her brother’s door. She came out and I have to admit we must have surprised each other with our hair styles. I remember Jasmine’s face from 1989 and the chrysanthemum that her hair served as a background. Well, it has mostly completely straightened out. (I wonder whether she does what Sharmila does too !!). And, of course, my hair split with me decades back.

Having introduced me to her nephews and daughter, she asked me that question about Yogesh.

Here is the thing – I know of only one Yogesh in my life. He joined my first company in Bombay a year after me. I was assigned to do some training of that whole new recruit group. I remembered him as a particularly smart recruit. And I knew he lives in UK now. My synapses must have done some quick connections about he being in UK and she being in UK and asked “Sholapurkar”?

What I could not get is how they know each other. More importantly, even if they had run into each other in UK, how did the topic of me coming up? None of them know me that well.

And now we are back at the moment when I was staring at her…

“You know he is my husband, right?”

HOLY MACRO!!! All these days, I had independent knowledge of both of them, talked about families and all that and never for once realized they are are married to each other!! Of course, that led to the discussion of many more common friends from either side.

It was great seeing you Jasmine after three decades. I loved your perspective on MBA classes and when one should go for MBA. I wish I had spent some more time with you during 1989-1991. Some of that wisdom might have rubbed off on me.

But above all, as I told you on the phone also, I will always remember you and respect you (and Yogesh – now that I know that he is your husband) for one thing above all… for adopting your daughter. As I explained to you – during my time with the cause of battered women and kids in Dallas, one thing I learnt was that there are more kids than caring parents. Anybody who subtracts one from that problem is top notch in my books.

I got a glimpse today of the long period you had to endure to get the adoption done – but Sara (spelling?) could not have waited for more perfect parents.

May you and Yogesh’s tribe increase!!