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!

2 November 2019

My incredibly talented friend Muktiram

I did my last two years of high school (eleventh and twelfth grade) in a residential school. I got a chance to meet Mukti there. He was in the same hostel (dorm) as I was. I remember him as the quiet and kind person around. Always very helpful.

I had lost touch with him for a very long time till I chanced upon one of his work of art. In my house, I am not the one who understands art – yet, even to me, his work of art that I saw was outstanding. (If any one of you want, you can check out his Facebook page “Muktiram Maiti Indian Artist). I have talked to him a few times over the lat few years once I got hold of his phone number (and needless to say, his birthday).

Yesterday, I got the opportunity to catch up with him in his office in West Bengal Bangla Academy. Surrounded by piles of paperwork stacked up on a couple of tables and the traditional Kolkata office style almirahs along the wall, I sat with him to get to know his life journey.

Drawing and painting was his passion. Is his passion. Will be his passion. He has given up everything in life to pursue his one love in life. Mukti explained to me how his teachers in Ramakrishna Mission encouraged him to pursue art and how he came under the influence of some of the most well known contemporary artists in Bengal. And then branched off on his own and created his unique style. (You will see the effect of the bright colors and then the bold lines – that he has created for himself). Mixed media is his choice of medium of expression.

My wife is an artist too. But I had to hear his story to understand how we have access to so many resources that Mukti does not. For us, to buy a canvas means a simple trip to the store – hopefully with a 50% off coupon. Mukti has to “cure” the raw canvas he buys for over four to five years to season them for painting.

I saw some of his paintings. Again, I am no expert. But this guy would have reached great heights if he was in a country like where I live.

For all that, he did not care all that. He said he does not want fame or money. He just wants to fulfill what he was born for.

We came out and had a cup of coffee from a nearby shop. I had a spirited discussion with him on why I thought exposure is important. For any profession. Particularly artists.

My sense of art is limited to “drawing” my salary. But a few years back, I had decided to build a website for Sharmila to display her gallery of paintings. Which is where she refers all the galleries to today.

I am so inspired by Mukti’s art, I am thinking of opening up a website gallery for him. What do you think?

(P.S. I have attached a couple of snippets from his paintings. But you can see in his Facebook page as referred above)

31 October 2019

Rounding up my Durgapur trip…

No trip to Durgapur is ever complete without spending a few minutes with Utsab. He is the only son of Baisakhi – my friend from early school days. Baisakhi also has another connection with us thru my sister. She, her two twin siblings and my sister were/are all singers. In fact, they learnt music from the same teacher at one stage of their lives.

Utsab and I have the weirdest topics that we chat about. First and foremost there are the cars. He is an incredible walking and talking encyclopedia of cars. And I barely know which side of the car to sit in to drive it. But I am amazed by his understanding of the mechanical aspects of how an engine works, the differences between the types of cars and details that only an aficionado can master.

From there we move on to other topics. Last time I remember we had talked about his favorite subjects. Baisakhi was not at home. Utsab had not even gotten up from bed. He continued to lay in his bed and I sat next to him and kept chatting. This time the topic was about an animated Robotics game that he is coding. In fact he showed me some of his code on his computer.

I pulled together the sum total of programming knowledge I have gathered over the years and asked “Are there any bugs?” 🙂 It looked like a scripting language to me. He let me know that it was based on Java. This guy has just gotten into his teenage years only a couple of years back. And he is already doing computer programming. I have seen this in US too – kids coding at a very early age. At that age, if you had told me “Java”, the first thing I would have said is “motorcycle” (folks from my era will know what I am referring to).

As you can see from the picture, I responded with the one technology trick I know – how to control my phone camera from my watch. For all that, Baisakhi wrote back later saying “Utsab thinks you are a superhero”.

As long as he has no undue expectations that I will go around slaying villains wily nilly in the streets of Durgapur, I can live with it!!

Impressionable, young minds, I tell you.

31 October 2019

Checking in on my old neighborhood

I arrived in Bengal about a couple of days after the Kali Pujo festival. While in Durgapur, I realized that some of the festivities were still going on. That brought back nostalgic memories from three and a half decades back. Went to the old neighborhood I used to live in to see if any of the Pujos were still going on. I am glad I did. While all the local set ups were being brought down, the neighborhoods were all lit up still with all sorts of colorful lights. And there were those occasional firecrackers bursting from different houses which reminded me of what I used to enjoy most about Kali Pujo.

Met the only guy – about ten years my junior – who still lives in the neighborhood. And then decided to go to the house we used to live in. I got to know the folks who live there a few years back. They knew us though. Their two daughters – Antara and Sanchari – were both my mom’s students in the local elementary school. Also, I believe my brother taught Sanchari math in her high school days.

The best part was realizing that Antara was visiting her parents with her husband and her young kid – Chiku, I believe they call him (the kid, not the husband). When I walked in, while everybody was excited (at least they put a smile on), Chiku was in a cranky mood. He had just gotten up from afternoon nap and was still coming to terms with the new evening. After a few minutes of exchanging pleasantries among the adults and Chiku clinging on to his dad, I asked him “Wanna play ball?”

Something stirred in him. He stopped doing whatever it is that he was doing, kept looking at me as if he was trying to trigger some memories and then gave a smile and asked his grandmother to get him his ball. And then the two of us played together for some time. He would not even let me go. So I took him for a walk to the main road to check out all the bright lights.

Eventually, I had to take leave. You can see in the picture that he was the least interested in the picture. That was cutting in to his ball time.

Here is another of those “intersection point” stories. There was a reason Chiku remembered something when I said “Wanna play ball”. You see Antara – who moved into our neighborhood in Durgapur (in fact the same house as ours) about 25 years back – now lives in the US. Coincidentally, a few months back, she moved from North Carolina to Atlanta. In fact, her house is very close to where we live.

I had gone to visit her right after they moved in. That day too Chiku was cranky after getting up from his afternoon nap. I remember picking up a ball from the floor and asking him “Wanna play ball?”. For whatever reason, that earned his trust and we played ball for quite some time that afternoon. That is what he must have remembered!

I think his memory cells for ever will associate me with afternoon naps, crankiness and a ball!!

I guess it is my brother’s turn to teach him math now!!!

31 October 2019

The Apple Watch challenge

My mother in law was aware that I would visit her. Not because I told her – I am all about surprising people – but somebody else is not good at keeping secrets. No point taking names, but let’s say Sharmila, for example 🙂

In any case, fully realizing that Sharmila would let her mom know beforehand, I landed up a day before when Sharmila was expecting me to visit her. Therefore, the first thing that hit me when I reached my mother in law’s place at 7 in the evening was a big padlock in the yard gate. Called her up and asked her what she was up to.

She tried to act smart and said “Oh! waiting for you”. I do not think she was ready for my answer – “Really? I am outside your gate!”. All I heard was some confused words like “Today?”, “Now?”, some clanking of keys, a phone drop and then finally she emerged!!

It was heartening to watch how she has adjusted herself to the life without my father in law. She seems to have created her own rhythm and stays within that. She seemed happy. Obviously, that is the most important thing for Sharmila and I. Not being anywhere near her, we are not able to do much to help. So, seeing her happy is fairly reassuring.

Before I left, I told her that I needed to take a picture. Of both of us. She was not sure how I was going to do that. I showed her how I could operate the phone camera from my Apple Watch. In fact, let her see how the picture would look on my Apple Watch before taking the shot.

Here is the problem though. Upon seeing the picture on my Watch, she somehow concluded that the Watch was going to take the picture. Consequentially, every time I went – “Ready for the picture? One, two, three!”, I would realize that she was staring at my Watch not the phone camera!! After about five tries, I managed to get her to look at the camera!

31 October 2019

Surprise! Surprise!!

The first day was full of surprises in Kalyani. My parents were not aware of my trip to visit them. Next morning, my sister and her family came back home and got the same surprise. And then I headed towards Durgapur. It is a three and a half hour drive but is an integral part of my India trips. Sharmila’s mom lives there by herself now after we lost her dad about a year back.

Off to see her. But first stop – my own uncle (“mama” in Bengali) who lives in the same town.

I went there expecting to see my uncle and aunt. It was my turn to get surprised! As a bonus, got to see my cousin (uncle’s second daughter) as well as my mother’s eldest sister there. I guess there are some advantages of visiting Bengal during the “Bhaiphonta” season. You can run into the brothers and sisters of who you are trying to visit.

Caught up with my mom’s elder sister. In Bengali that would be “masi” – specifically “boromasi” since she is the oldest all the sisters mom has. A great time was had by all remembering some of the old memories when my grandfather and grandmother was still alive.

Who I missed dearly was my nephew – who was busy studying with a few other kids with their private tutor at home. Ah! Next time, then…

31 October 2019

Meeting Mrs. Sarkar

One of the common ways that I barge into a stranger’s house is “Masi, aapni amaay chinben na”. Meaning, Ma’m, you don’t know me. Not the most reassuring of getting oneself introduced to an elderly person. But a fifty three year old wearing shorts and with a shaved head usually evokes sentiments closer to mild laughter than of any fear.

This once though, the lady replied in Bengali – “You are Rajib Roy, right? My son has already told me about you.”.

This meeting has roots in another meeting about a couple of weeks back. I was in San Francisco and in between office meetings, managed to meet Debjit Sarkar. I almost did not meet him and if it were not for a much delayed flight, I would have surely not met him. We grabbed a coffee at a Starbucks that was very close to both our offices and then caught up .

“So, how exactly do I know you?”, I asked. You would think that when I have been greeting somebody happy birthday for years and have often talked about career choices and all that, I would remember how I know the person. I did not. That had never stopped me from having great conversations with Debjit over the phone though.

Turns out Debjit and I worked in the same company in Dallas. In fact, we lived not too far from each other. I could not recollect running into him but he remembered me. Found out a few more connections I had with him. He worked with another friend of mine – Sanjay – (who was in my school in elementary days and – again, in another coincidence – lived in Dallas for some time) in Delhi and in fact attended his wedding with Anita (both Sanjay and Anita knew Sharmila since they were all in the same engineering school).

We also found out that about ten years later, I used to go his office building in California when he worked in a bank. That bank was a big customer of mine (when I worked in a company in Atlanta) and all the time that I visited that office, never realized Debjit was there too!

As another point of connection, I also found out that Debjit grew up in the small town of Kalyani, where my parents live – as does my sister. In fact, his mom lives literally a few minutes walk from where my dad and sister lives. I had promised Debjit that I will go check in on his mom next time I was in Kalyani.

And that is how I met Mrs. Sarkar for the first time! Took my sister with me too. We were both impressed how fit and alert Mrs. Sarkar was for her age. In fact, she had just come back from a vacation trip to the other end of India a couple of days back. Unfortunately, I could not meet Debjit’s dad who left us last year. But I was happy to hear that Mrs. Sarkar might be visiting America soon. Would be great to catch up with her again!