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!!

18 August 2017

One more intersection started…

I had just checked in to the hotel and the young lady who helped me with the process also guided me to my room. As is my wont, I chatted her up to find out more about her background and passions and all that.

What I was not prepared for was to realize that Sushmita is from a town (Katwa) literally next to where my mom grew up most of her life! In fact, one of my fondest memory from early childhood is when I used to walk up to Kalna station to watch the Katwa local pull in and pull out. I used to be totally fascinated by the big steam engine and watch the driver get water filled, throw in coal in the bright fire and pull at a hanging wire to give that earth shattering Toot! For the longest time, my ambition was to be a steam engine driver…

Back to the Guest Relations Executive… I found out that she is an avid photographer. I am not good at it but I certainly take a few shots. Turned out both of us prefer Nikon for DSLR. In fact, we exchanged notes on her experience with the D5100 body (I use D7100) and the different lenses.

Indrani Solomon, if you are reading this – I told Sushmita how I had met you In almost identical circumstances (at Taj Bengal) and we had discussed your passions and goals then. And when you achieved them, I was able to meet you in North Carolina many years later…

Let’s see if I will have more intersection points with this particularly bright young lady too…

18 August 2017

Starting new intersection points … the security guard

Any travel for me is not always about re-connecting with old connections. Sometimes it is about making new connections too! All intersection points have to start somewhere…

I was seeing off my brother at the ITC Sonar hotel in Kolkata where I was going to stay for the night to catch a very early morning flight. After he left, I was walking back the steps when a familiar face smiled at me. I smiled back like every time. I have seen this security guard / usherer for as long as I can remember in this hotel.

Unlike this time, I stopped and chatted with him and got to know about this background. Mr. Prabir is her name. He has been working in the same hotel as a security person / usherer for over two decades. What I did not realize is that before this, he was in the army for another two decades. And for family reasons, he had to find alternate jobs (to stay close to his family).

Obviously he got busy with other guests – but I am glad I spent ten minutes getting to know him. Next trip onwards, I hope to get to know him as a person even more..

18 August 2017

Devlina. After over a quarter of century. Now Dr. Devlina!!

Back in MBA days, we had a fairly close knit team. We used to move around together – Devlina, Jyotsna, Srimathi (who we lost to cancer), T Srini and myself. Devlina was undoubtedly the sane, logical thinking, most caring person. After finishing up MBA, I remember taking a train to this city called Rourkela and showed up to meet her parents and brother.

I had some great time there. Her brother – Jayanta-da – taught me how to speak in sign language. I was fascinated by how her mother had dedicated her time and life to improve the lot of people born with inability to talk or hear (she had opened up a school there). All in all, I came away very impressed with the Mukherjee family.

And I think that was the last time I had seen Devlina.

On her request, I was in IIT-K for a guest lecture in their management school yesterday. I will let the students decide what they thought of the talk but it was just thrilling to see Devlina again. She has remained just the same way. Looks the same, the same broad smile, the same motherly and caring instinct. It was like the 26 years in between never happened.

What is fascinating about Devlina’s background is her variety of experience in career. She has worked in two different countries (India and US), made the uncommon switch from Corporate life to Academic life and picked up a few additional degrees in between. Technically, she is Dr. Devlina to me 🙂

For a guy like me who has been contemplating on how to give back to Academia, the meeting with Devlina was very timely and eye opening. I was able to pick up quite a few pointers from her. In fact, you can see in this picture how the student was all rapt attention to the words of wisdom from the professor! Errr…. make that Dr. Professor 🙂 🙂

18 August 2017

Cells do what?

Biology and I have always had an interesting relationship. I had, and continue to have, great curiosity to learn how our body works. In fact, even today, I will pick up a book that explains how our brain works, how our various body parts evolved over time and am usually more than sufficiently skeptical of easy explanations – as an example – food fads.

It was the exam time that I used to dread. It appeared to me that I had to learn everything by rote. I could not logically deduce anything (you know, like in math). And I was not good at remembering stuff. That had to do with studies. Certainly studies that had to do with the red Biology book written by one Katyal and one Ali.

It was sometime in 1979, I believe. Our Biology teacher – Mrs. Pandey had just started with the first chapter. And it was about the most simplest form of animals – single cells, that she was explaining. Eventually, she went to the topic of how cells reproduce and create more of themselves. Her words have been indelibly marked in my memory. “Cells multiply by dividing”. I get it that most folks with rudimentary knowledge of biology will know what she was talking about.

But to a logical thinking, math puzzle oriented 12-year old, that was a “Whoa!! Back up, Back up” moment. What do you mean you multiply by dividing? That gives a lie to my most favorite subject those days – maths.

I do not believe I ever recovered from that shock. Dropped biology after tenth grade unceremoniously crashing any dreams my parents might have had that I would grow up to be a doctor someday.

But I liked my teacher. In fact, I used to look forward to her new lessons – to learn some new thing. However as I said, you could not get me to read it the second time to prepare for exams.

First time I visited Mrs. Pandey at her residence was in 1980. She had asked me to prepare some charts for her for a project she was doing. I remember having done them with great care and then cycled up to her house in Benachity. As an aside, that day, I had a great intersection point – I had run into my classmate Jayita from a previous school in the same building that Mrs. Pandey lived in.

The next time I visited her was again in the same house. This time it was 1983 and I had finished my tenth grade and was going to move to a different school and city. I had gone to pay my regards to her.

And then for the third time, I saw her in her house yesterday! Nearly 1000 km away from the prior house I had visited. In Lucknow! I was in Kanpur to give a guest lecture in IIT. About 2 hours of drive away from where she lives. Made the trek up and down to get a chance to see her and thank her for all her lessons.

The additional attraction was getting to see her son Vikram, who was also a classmate of mine. We were never in the same section (home room) but certainly knew of each other very well. There are those annual birthday calls too!!

While it was a short stay, it was memorable to see Biology Miss (that is how we called her then) and Vikram!! It was heartening to see Mrs. Pandey in great spirits, sporting that incredible smile and in good health. I guess those cells did a great job in multiplying. Or was it dividing?

Ah! I forget!

16 August 2017

Dorothy Miss!

I was in a tight schedule yesterday. I had to go visit my inlaws in Durgapur but unlike every other time, I was not going to spend the night there. In fact, I had to come back by 7PM so my brother would have the option to go back to Kolkata if my nephew’s fever resurrected. The plan was to meet my inlaws, take them out for lunch, drop them back at their place and then head back to my dad’s place.

Fortunately for us, the roads were very clear. It being India’s Independence Day, all establishments and many shops were closed. A few random showers here and there thinned out the herd of pedestrians, motorcyclists, stray dogs, goats and chickens from the road. If any one of them were contemplating on stepping back into the roads, the constant honking of my brother surely made them think otherwise 🙂

That opened up the possibility of creating one more “intersection point”. One phone call to Pratap Bara in Kolkata and after taking a few wrong turns here and there, we showed up in front of Mrs. Benedict’s house. She was my fifth grade science teacher. We all called her “Dorothy Miss”.

Science was my favorite subject. So, obviously I used to look forward to her classes. But most interesting to me were the experiments she used to demonstrate to prove some scientific principles and all that. That was 1977.

And this is 2017.

Sir Lawrence, her husband, was also in our school but was never my teacher (other than a couple of weeks of substitute teaching when my seventh grade class teacher – Mrs. Srinivasan was out for some reason that I cannot recollect now).

I had a great time talking to Sir and Miss. (which is how we addressed our teachers in primary and middle schools).

I was delighted to meet their younger daughter – Shalini. She is a confirmed backpacker like my other friend Shirdhar. She has backpacked thru some beautiful parts of the world. There were some amazing stories yesterday!! Did I mention that I also got to taste some wines from the different places she has been to? !!

I am thinking I should regularly check up on Sir and Miss. Especially after Shalini’s trips. No vested interest, I assure you 🙂