16 October 2017

“Do Ra Me”

The phone rang with the familiar tone when I call an India number.
Somebody picked it up and said “Hello”
It was early in the morning. I had to clear my throat and ask gingerly “Mrs. Paulraj?”
“Speaking? Who is this?”

That was a very difficult question to answer. How do you tell the person –

“Well, there is no way in God’s green earth you will know me if I tell you my name. Okay, it is Rajib. Rajib Roy. See? It made no difference. But here is the thing… In 1973, when I was in my first grade in Benachity Junior High School, you taught music to us. You used to sit on a piano and sing songs like Do Ra Me (from Sound of Music ) and, we, the kids, used to join in with a full spirited, high toned bleat. All of us except Mukundan. He was the bully in the class. You never liked him. Neither did we. So, you used to send him out to stand outside the class. If you really insist on crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, well, he was required to hold his ears too”

What I said was “Ma’m, you were my teacher 44 years back. I was merely 7 years then”.

And to establish my credentials, I quickly rattled off about seven other teachers from that school that I am in touch with. That seemed to gain her confidence. The more updates I gave her about her colleagues from four decades back, the more believable I became to her.

I told her about the drama we did in our second grade. We had to do a play – Cinderella it was. I was one of the princes at the ball dance. (the last time I had danced, as I recollect). My dad had bought me princely clothes for that – bell-bottoms!!! Did I mention this was early 70s? 🙂 I also told Mrs. Paulraj about the time she had pulled me and my partner – Mousumi – aside and taught us how to synchronize our steps to her notes.

In the end, she had given up and told me “Just follow Mousumi’s instructions”. And that is what I had done. If it was not for Mousumi’s eye signals that night, I would have had no idea whether to step left or right. That stage light and all that face powder on me was too confusing!!!

“Ma’m, the reason I am calling you today is to thank you. You were part of a small set of folks who had a big influence on me in my formative years. I just wanted you to know that I am happy in the way I have turned out to be. And I wanted to take the time to say Thank You to you”.

A few heart to heart words later, I am now on to another adventure. Somehow, someday, I hope to see her physically in Salem, Tamil Nadu, India to tell her Thanks to her personally!!

18 September 2017

She knew what an Alien Brain Hemorrhage is!!

One of the best perks of having a job that requires me to travel (pretty much all my jobs did) and it certainly makes up for all those delayed flights and crazy hotel situations – is getting to meet new people. Different people with different backgrounds, different dreams, different aspirations and most importantly different life stories.

Last week I had finished up my duties as the mixologist at our corporate event when I realized that I was very hungry. A challenge of being a bartender is that you are constantly mixing different drinks and rarely get a chance to grab a drink of water – let alone some food. The other challenge was that I was in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin where everything shuts down after 9PM. Even the room service at the resort we were staying shut down at 9PM.

It was nearly 9:45 PM. Not knowing any better, I hit Google and found a local bar and grill open till 2AM. I was too tired to go there and sit there by myself. So, I grabbed Anand – who was hoping to hit the sack and pushed him to come with me. (with the promise of a glass of beer; he is easy that way 🙂 ).

It was a pretty desolate bar. In fact, Anand and I doubled the population at Lincoln Bar that night. Discounting the bar lady, there was only one other customer. And the bar lady – Rachel – was her name – let us know that the kitchen was closed!! So, the establishment was open only for drinking. Anand, helpfully, let Rachel know about my situation. She went inside and came back with the good news that the frier was still on. So, onion rings, french fries and a couple of gins it was – for dinner. Long time back Jon, watching me have fries and wine for dinner in Burlington, MA had called it “The Dinner of the Champions” 🙂 This one must have topped it.

Once I got some food, I started to make friends with Rachel. What caught my attention was (remember Anand had talked about me mixing drinks earlier in the evening) how much she knew about cocktails. We exchanged quite a few notes. Here is the clincher. She asked me if I knew how to make a Alien Brain Hemorrhage. As luck would have it, I not only know how to make it, it is in fact my signature drink every Halloween. But I have never met anybody else who knew that drink. (Chris, do you remember me making that at the Azul Agave bar?). That was totally fascinating. And if you have ever seen that drink (it is a shot), you will know why that drink is named that way.

Then I got to know Rachel and her personal life story. She has 4 kids. When she told me her eldest one’s age, she must have detected some surprise on my face. “Yep, I married very early”, she said!!

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”, I asked her.
“I want to go to college and become a psychiatrist”.

Very encouraged by this, I mentioned to her that I have a daughter who goes to college and there was a time she was thinking of psychology and all that. (She is doing journalism now).

“What words of wisdom would you give my daughter if you met her today?”, I asked.
She thought for about a second and said “Do not get married early. Take your time and understand who you are and what you are looking for in your partner”.
“Okay, I will tell her that,” I assured her. “On the other hand, Natasha is on my FB friends list. You can tell her yourself”.

Eventually, Anand took a picture of us and we left the Abode of the Dinner of the Champions!

Next time I make a Alien Brain Hemorrhage, Rachel, I will toast one for you and wish that you can go back to college and grow up to be a psychiatrist soon!!

18 September 2017

Throwback to my first job in life!!!

He has lived all over the country – East Coast, West Coast, Arizona, Midwest… and went back to India a couple of times. But finally, I was able to nail him down – of all places, in Appleton, Wisconsin! The first time I met Qazi was in 1991 in Mumbai when I joined my first job. I think we both joined on the same day. In fact, we started working in the same project.

The way he used to crack jokes (mostly “groaners” or what my daughters call – “Dad Jokes”) and imitate others was hilarious. Clearly the clown prince of our project, he used to keep us regaled most of the days. He even started our own regular journal for the project team – “Dungeon Times”. (We used to work in the lowest floor in the building).

He has not changed much (I saw him for the first time after nearly 25 years). The spontaneous impressions he did of our old project mates had me rolling on the floor in Starbucks last week. And they brought back a lot of memories from that project where I spent about a couple of years.

Since I was never good at coding, I moved away from it eventually. Qazi stayed on the technology side. That led to some good discussions on the evolution of technology – or rather the evolution of programming over the last forty years. More importantly, where it is headed in the future. Thoroughly enjoyed the discussion!

Thank you Qazi for making some time for me in the middle of the day. Would love to continue with our discussions…

15 September 2017

The trio got together again!!

About a year back, Julio and I were in Sheboygan, WI for some meetings and I had taken him to my favorite dinner spot – Blind Horse. There we had met Paula who was working in the bar. You might remember her from the post I had put up about her interesting life story.

I remember asking her about her lineage. Which she could not answer. I found out that she was adopted when she was only a few days old. Also found out that her brother is adopted too. And he is married to an adopted lady. Guess from which country? India!! I remember further that Paula wanted to go back and finish her college and that she had never been on a plane.

A week back, I had written to her letting her know that Julio and I were going to be in the area again and would love to come by Blind Horse for a dinner and get an update on her life story. Unfortunately, she said, she did not work at Blind Horse anymore!

“Oh! So, where are you working now?”, I asked. Hoping that if it were nearby we still had a shot of seeing her.
“I now work at the bar in a resort called Osthoff”, she had replied.

Aha! Want to take a guess where was Julio and I headed for our meetings? It was at the Osthoff resort, believe it or not!! What are the chances of that?

This Tuesday, after our meetings were over, Julio and I strolled along to the bar in the property she worked in and had a great time catching up with her. We talked a lot about her new baby and her aspirations in life. We were very proud of her that she had worked herself out of all financial debts in her life!!

One of the things we talked about was her desire to find out her original roots (remember my very first question to her about her lineage?) Looks like she is getting started to find out the answer to my question.

Best of luck, Paula! We know these kind of processes take a long time.

Before leaving we took a picture of the three of us and we made sure we had aligned ourselves this time just like we had last time (see inset)!!

15 September 2017

Jerome Holbus!!!

I think it was around August or September of 1995. Sharmila and I had gone for a dinner party at Sanjiv’s house. He was the founder and CEO of the company I had just joined a couple of months back. We were introduced to some of the other guests – mostly people from the same company but I did not know all of them.

That is where I met Jerry for the first time. All I remember is that he and his wife were excited about moving to Europe (for business purpose) soon for a few years. After that, I probably saw him about a couple of times when he returned to the US and then soon left the company.

It was only during my call to him this year on last birthday that I found out he lives in Wisconsin. So, this week, when I had a gap in my meetings in Elkhart Lake, I offered to drive down to Milwaukee to see him. He graciously suggested that we meet midway in Grafton at Water Street Brewery. I figured – Brewery, Europe, beer in the afternoon – yep! the math works!!

Except that when I finally saw him after nearly two decades and we settled down at the bar, all he drank was coke!!! But we had a great time catching up on each other’s lives, kids and careers. Also, we caught up on our old friends.

Somewhere during the discussions he was talking about his current work and he mentioned somebody called “Buck” who was Indian. “Buck Chintamini, in fact”, he said. Out of a suspicion, I asked him if his formal name is Devasish. Jerry was not too sure about that. So, I fished out my phone and showed him a picture.

What do you know? All this time, he was talking about my classmate from MBA days!!! And as luck would have it, just this weekend, I was in touch with the same Buck for some personal stuff!! What is the chance of that? Is the world really small or what?

Jerry, it was great to see you after so many years. Let’s not wait for that long for the next one…

5 September 2017

Meeting Suzanne after a couple of decades…

The last time I saw Suzanne was in the software development offices of a prior company in Dallas when the company was very small and both of us worked in the User Interface team. As I recollect, she then moved further south in Texas and all I knew was that she was following her passion. She had found art to be her calling. She was doing bronze sculpture, painting and what not. Thru Facebook when I had finally tracked her down, I found out that she also is into photography and videography.

I am always attracted towards people who follow their passions in life. I was barely 39 when I came to the moment of epiphany that it is only one life we will have. And even that is perhaps more finite than we are willing to admit. Nobody wakes up with the first thought – “One day less. How should I then spend the rest of my life?”.

Given that, my excitement was palpable when I found out that Suzanne was going to pass by Atlanta in one of her sojourns. Sharmila and I were waiting at home to welcome her. When she finally showed up after having gotten a first hand understanding of Atlanta traffic, I was thrilled to see her – like I said, after two decades. I could pick her up in a crowd easily – she looked so similar to what I had imagined.

We were even more thrilled to explore her van. Sharmila and I spent half an hour checking out her Ford Sportsmobile that Suzanne had personally designed. It has a kitchen, her sleeping quarters, hot and cold showers and her art area complete with storage space. I am sure Sharmila will want one like that soon. Can you imagine going around in the country and stopping wherever you want and start painting once a beautiful scenery catches your imagination?

Suzanne has reached where I want to some day. Prioritize her time to do what makes her happy – bereft of what corporate world or even society at large might tell you to do. Obviously, there was a lot of catching up of old friends that we needed to do. But I also wanted to learn from her and get her perspectives on life.

With that in mind, we eventually went to have lunch by the lake and pondered over a lot of questions. Getting her perspective was very insightful. One of the biggest discussion we had was around the seeming dissonance of what we were built out to be versus what the current society values. The basic hypothesis we agreed on is that as human beings, we are not sent to be highly specialized like a machine. In fact, we are happiest when we can pursue multiple goals – when we are not defined by just one thing. We certainly admire people who are world experts in one area, but we are in awe of people who can do multiple things well.

People we have considered “geniuses” (we need at least fifty years after death to consider somebody a genius to make sure the effects are longer lasting) – Edison, Franklin, da Vinci, Tagore… – all of them excelled in multiple fields. None of them were unidirectional. And yet today’s society and corporate life tends to value you increasingly more if you are a deeper and deeper expert in one field. In fact, there is a saying to downplay trying to have a multifaceted personality – “Jack of all business, Master of none”!!

Great discussions!! I certainly had one of the best times in a long time. There were a lot of things left to still discuss. But we just had one day.

Looking forward to the next meeting!!!

19 August 2017

Last intersection point before leaving India

I was almost done with the whole trip. This time, there were a lot of intersection points that I was able to create. It was 6PM in the evening and I was very tired. I was going to leave the hotel around midnight to catch my flight. I decided to take a quick nap.

The next thing I knew was that the hotel room phone was ringing. It took me a few seconds to realize where I was – I was so deep in my sleep. It was almost 9PM. The voice on the other end said “Your guest is here”.

I suddenly remembered – my classmate from MBA days – in fact we were next door neighbors in our dorm for the entire period – was going to drop by. I quickly got freshened up and ran downstairs. I almost missed him in the crowd. I had a mental picture of Anand Makwana from 1991. The one I saw over 26 years later has dropped a lot of body weight. And looked much much younger!!

You know you have made some good choices in friends when you realize that they would fight through Delhi traffic for over two hours just to spend some time with me. This, after unfailingly waking me up every morning, but for which, I would have certainly missed the first class!

We caught up on a lot of things – his family, his parents (turns out his mom passed away soon after I went to see her when we were still studying) and his professional and personal life. I was impressed with how much tennis and running he is able to put in in a week.

Some of the best conversations we had was around what are the lessons we have learnt in the last twenty five years or so – both on the professional and personal fronts. It was extremely educational for me to internalize his synthesis of life lessons. Frankly speaking, I am still processing thru his words.

Had it not been for my flight and the fact that he was going to be late reaching home, I probably would have chatted for another couple of hours. Which is what I intend to do next time I am in Delhi…

19 August 2017

One of the best compliments received…

There have been a few pivotal points in my life that changed it completely from a path that was originally planned. Life does not offer an opportunity to run control experiments – so it is very difficult to make any comparisons or run “What if” scenarios. But all in all, the journey through those sudden changes have been remarkably memorable for me.

“You delivered one of the biggest changes for me that for ever defined my future – career wise as well as personal success wise”, I told Dr. D.K.Pal as my brother and I settled down with him and Mrs. Pal at his residence in Kolkata. After numerous attempts in the past, I was able to finally pin him down in Kolkata.

“How is that?”, he asked.
“Do you remember how I landed up in Narendrapur?”
“I thought you did very well in the entrance exam. In fact, Satyada told me about your performance much later. That is how you got into Narendrapur.”
“Well, that is the ending. The beginning was very different. And that is where you come in.”, I replied.
“How so?”, he asked curiously.

Let me first give you a background here. Dr. Pal is my classmate Pratik Pal’s dad. Pratik and I went to elementary school and secondary school together. And then higher secondary too. Later in life, I worked with Pratik professionally (two different companies though). Presently, his career is in the stratosphere. He is too busy for me but I try to keep up with his family as well as his parents.

Those days when we were classmates, my go-to elders to get wisdom on studies and career were Dr. Pal and Mr. Dubey. I would not listen to my dad’s advise but I would any day weigh in their thoughts.

Having finished my tenth grade from Durgapur, the plan was to try and get into St. Xavier’s School, Kolkata. As luck would have it, my performance in tenth grade was enough to get thru to my and my dad’s coveted school without having to sit for an entrance exam. We were all set. At home everybody was excited that I will go to the school we had all been waiting for.

Enter Dr. D.K.Pal in the scene. He had gone to Narendrapur – which is a residential school – in fact a Ramakrishna Mission school – to pick up an admission test form for Pratik. I think he was in Kokata anyways and thought it would be great for Pratik to at least sit in a competitive test. For whatever reason – remember, everybody at home were thrilled that I was going to St. Xavier’s school – he picked up a form for me too.

And then delivered it to my home – in that green color Bajaj scooter he had. And strongly urged Pratik and me to at least get the experience of sitting in the test. Which, for reasons unknown, both of us did.

Here is the clincher – in spite (or perhaps because of) giving the test in a completely relaxed manner, I somehow managed to ace it. Soon enough, we got a personal letter from the aforementioned “Satyada” (who was the Vice Principal).

Around the same time, I got into some usual high school girl problems that we shall not delve into further here 🙂 But the sharp mind that I had, I quickly noticed that Narendrapur school session was going to start two weeks earlier than St. Xavier’s. My path to minimizing my misery at home (on that girl front) was to run as fast as I could to Narendrapur.

Without much ado, I announced to my dad and Dr. Pal that I am going to accept Narendrapur. Do not remember what my dad’s reaction was. But I was delighted to find out that Pratik was going to do the same. (I have asked him many times but he maintains he had no girl problems of his own, whatsoever 🙂 ). In fact, we remained room mates in the hostel (dorm) during our entire stay in the residential college.

“And, that, Pal-kaku, is how I landed up in Narendrapur. It all started with you picking up a form for me. And if you ask me or my parents, they will tell you that it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me”, I concluded.

That evening last week, we sat and talked about a lot of our days from the past. Much later in time – when Pratik and I went to different engineering schools, I was in Durgapur but Pratik was not. (our schools had different schedules). Dr. Pal had broken his leg. I used to be there at their home for endless hours – chatting him up or helping him with his physiotherapy or taking him to the doctor. We had some great bonding time. And I noted down a lot of life lessons from him.

We had barely gotten started when we realized that a couple of hours had quickly gone by. I had to take leave to make sure I could take the nephews out for their mandatory “chicken chowmein dinner with “jethu” (what they call me)”

As my brother and I were taking leave, I overheard Dr. Pal – who was talking to my brother then – make a comment that is destined to be etched in my mind for ever. He said “Rajib is like a second son to us”.

Best compliments.

Ever!!

18 August 2017

Fourth grade class (home room) teacher!! Four decades later!!!

In the end, the longest and the hardest searches are almost always the ones where the sought after person is right there in front of your eyes. I must have asked 30 people over the last 20 years if they were aware of Krishnan Miss’s whereabouts. The last time I saw her was on my last day in fourth grade – 1977. Then I moved to a new school.

Earlier this year, I was talking to one of my classmates from that school – Mousumi, who lives in Singapore and was lamenting that I was still missing some of our old teachers. She thought for a little while and gave me a pointer – “I think her son was in our batch in the school you went to after leaving our school”.

I was, of course – “That cannot be. I keep track of – and talk to – all the hundred odd classmates from my next school. How can it be that I never realized that Mrs. Krishnan was the mom of one of them?”. She thought I had a good point but insisted that she seemed to specifically recollect this fact from the past.

There was nothing to lose. We had only 2 Krishnans in our batch – one is in New Zealand and the other I had just met a month back in Delhi. I shot 2 WhatsApp messages to them, expecting to run into another dead end.

What do you know? Sushil – the classmate I had just met in Delhi a month back, responded, saying “Of course, my mom was your teacher. She still keeps talking about you”. I was like – “Are you kidding me? I have been looking for her for decades now. And all this time she was your mom and she lives with you?”.

As you can imagine, only one thing could happen when I was going to be in Delhi next. Which was today. She had come back from her native place in Kerala a couple of days back to make sure we do not miss each other.

It was magical getting to see Mrs. Krishnan – after four decades!! Again, to put it in perspective, I have lived only for one more decade than that!! I could have picked her out of a crowd easily. She still looks the same.

We talked a lot about our old teachers (one of those rare cases where I was able to give her contacts of her own old colleagues) and some of the old students she could remember. Like my biology teacher yesterday, she had cooked lunch for me too!!

It was extremely rewarding to create an intersection point with somebody who had helped me in the journey of me becoming who I am today. Words cannot possibly convey my sense of gratitude.

A shout out to Sushil and Mousumi for helping me make this happen is in order here!!