25 June 2017

Meeting old buddies after a loooooong time….

I think it was around 2003. Thoroughly exhausted after a week of intense meetings in Bangalore – and messed up by the time differences – I finally slouched down on seat 1C on a Jet Airways flight from Bangalore to Kolkata one Friday evening. I had my head down and was just trying to get some of my energy back. Through the corner of my eyes, sitting in the aisle seat, I could see all the people filing into the plane.

I suddenly saw this really cute young girl walk into the plane all smiles at me. I smile back at her. And thru the corner of my eyes, I could see there was a gentleman behind her. All I could see was up to his knees and he was wearing a kurta-pyjama. So as not to be a weird guy, I raised my head with the smile to acknowledge him too.

And that is when I go the shock of my life. The gentleman, as it turned out, was none other than Subhasis Ojha. Fancy meeting him – a guy who lived in Canada and was my team mate – on a flight in India. He introduced his wife Sanghamitra to me who was just behind him. It so happened that it was not the happiest moment for them. Of course, discounting the obvious fact that they had just met me, they had bigger challenges to deal with. Sangha’s mom had just passed away and they were headed for her last rites.

Believe it or not, after that day on the the plane, I actually managed to see both of them again this week, after a gap of almost a decade and a half.

It was a office meeting that got me to Toronto this week. After the meetings, I reached out to some of my old friends to see if they were available. Other than the Ojhas, there was Marty Flemington who showed up. The guy I will always remember as “Mr. Architect” – I saw him after another decade and a half. And what a great day too! It is his birthday today.

As onerous as travel and business meetings are – especially if you have to wait for an hour and forty minutes in customs – there are always memorable moments to create. And I am always grateful to friends like Subhasis, Sangha and Marty who make it so!!

17 June 2017

Great moment from a couple of years back.

That was a great experience in “What really matters in Life” exactly two years back. Reposted from that day…
My good deed of the day…
I know this looks like an Italian painting (except for the modern lady handbags, perhaps) but it is a real photo taken with my phone. The backdrop of the story goes in the following way:

Natasha, who goes and stays in a dorm and takes classes in different colleges every summer often makes friends from very different cities and countries every year. I, being a person who values people and relationships over just about anything else in this finite time on this beautiful earth that we have fashionably named “life”, am always a little bothered when she does not keep in touch with many of those friends after summer.

Conversely, you can only guess my excitement when she declared that she was going to meet a friend that she had not seen after one of those summers – I forget whether it was Duke or Brown – when we visit New York. Karina (they call her “Karina with a K”) was going to visit her at our hotel. Except the whole plan fell thru at the last moment due to her dad’s office travel plans.

I was not feeling too good about leaving Sharmila and Nikita to visit Time Square by themselves but I did tell Natasha that I will take her to wherever her friend lived. Which, as it turned out was a two hour hike with three trains involved in between. But, it was okay with me – as long as she realized that life is all about the human relationships. Everything else is too materialistic to be worried about.

The train finally pulled into the Ridgewood station. And we arrived at the agreed upon meeting point. As soon as we started coming out of the tunnel, she spotted her friend at the top of the flight of steps. They ran as fast as they could towards each other and hugged each other hard.

Separated by a year in age, brought up thousands of miles away, they had come together for a few weeks a few years back. Then this afternoon, there was the moment where they saw each other again!!! The tunnel lighting was not good. But that is the best picture I could get of that powerful moment of strength of human relationships.

And here I am waiting at a nearby bar, biding my three hours as they catch up with themselves…

8 June 2017

Crazy Airport story!!!

It all started as I was just finishing up my lunch at the airport. Steve Martin had turned the tables on me on my Facebook timeline by posting a picture inside an airport and asking me to identify it. It is the picture on the left. I correctly guessed that we were in the same airport!!

You can follow the thrilling story that ensued by reading the exchange he and I had on my FB post. I am writing it down here too to make it easy for you – with all the grammar and spelling mistakes intact:

12:05PM Steve: For Rajib Roy. What airport is this?
12:16PM Rajib: You in Atlanta? I Amin the airport right now.
12:16PM Steve: Boarding st gate C10
12:17PM Rajib: In how many minutes? I am in B
12:18PM Steve: Probably less than 15, bummer our flight getting here was delayed could have said hi!
12:19PM Rajib: I will give it a shot. Should be there in 5 mons
12:19PM Rajib: Mins
12:20PM Rajib: If you have to board go ahead but I am giving it a shot anyways
12:21PM Rajib: In train
12:22PM Rajib: In terminal C. Walking to c10 now
12:24PM Steve: Stepped out of line wife will save seat
12:24PM Rajib: C16
12:25PM Rajib: C12

AND WE GOT TO SEE EACH OTHER!!! Even managed to get somebody to take a picture of us. In the literally one minute we spent together, found out that Steve was headed with wife to New York and it is their 31st anniversary today!!

Too many memories flushed thru my mind during the walk – the early start up days of mid 90s, the hacky sack tournaments, the ping pong table, the dts-readers-list, emacs…. It has been probably 14 or 15 years since I had seen Steve last!!!

Our exchange did not stop there…
12:35PM Steve (from his seat): He didn’t even break a sweat!
12:35PM Rajib: It was awesome seeing you after so many years … even if for a few seconds.
12:37PM Rajib: Did you get your seat?
12:38PM Rajib: Thanks for waiting…
12:41PM Steve: Fun to be one of your random airport encounters with the past!
12:42PM Steve: I did and even get to sit next to my wife of 31 years today!
And he sent the picture of his lovely wife and himself as you will see attached in the picture here.
12:44PM Rajib: Awesome. Did you know 31 is an awesome number? The square of the reverse is the reverse of the square!!! Have fun with that!! And congratulations!

At that point either he decided he had had enough nerdiness for one day or they made him shut down his phone to pull away from the gate!!!

See, this is why I do not mind all the hassles of travel every week!!! What an adventure!!

26 May 2017

Samir-da and Sima-di!!

During my business trips this week, I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours with Samir-da and Sima-di! It was way back in 1994 that Sharmila and I had just moved to Dallas from Florida. We did not know anybody there. And some how Ashok-da found us out and invited us to the local Durga puja (the big festival for us Bengalis). And then he and Sumita-di had us over at his place. It was there that we got introduced to Samir-da and Sima-di.

For the longest time the Ghoshals and the Chakrabartis were the local “dada-s and didi-s” (elder brothers and sisters) that Sharmila and I used to love associating with. Then, life took over. We got kids and became busy. We used to meet them only during the Pujas. Eventually, Samir-da and Sima-di left town. And then, we ourselves, left town.

For a long time, I had been wanting to spend some time with the Ghoshals and the Chakrabartis. Well, I got one part done.

And Samir-da was as hilarious as I remember him from the Texas days. Between his description of calamaris – “rubber band-e beson maakhiye bhejey dai” – meaning “battered and fried rubber bands” to the stories of how he consistently failed in math every single year from first grade to sixth grade by either scoring 0 or 10 (out of 100) unfailingly (or should it be failingly? 🙂 ) had me in splits the whole evening. By the way, for the curious, the school, in certain years had a policy of awarding 10 grace marks to failing students. And that is how, apparently, Samir-da would score 10 undisputed marks in those years!!

Like I said, it was too funny an evening and greatly satisfying to see Samir-da and Sima-di in high spirits!!

18 May 2017

Can you believe it? This guy used to sit next to me in my fourth grade!

I cannot exactly call him my benchmate since we did not sit in benches. Instead, we had individual desks. Desks that had a cubby space to keep our suitcase and our prized tiffin box. And desks that had the top sloping in into you so it was more natural for you to read and write at that angle. Except that those slopes would always roll my black and red 2B Nataraj pencil down and then drop off to the floor. This guy – Ajay Lahiri – as I said who sat in the next desk – being the ever kind person that he was, would find the pencil, pick it up, realize that the tip was gone and would go ahead and sharpen it for me with his small steel colored sharpener.

Then he would point to the top of the desk where there was curved dip created in the desk specifically to keep pencils. And for the life of me, I would never remember to keep my pencils there.

Mousumi, if you are reading this, you probably remember that he sat caddy corner from you (you were right behind me) and in front of Sayanti (who, for the life of me, I still cannot locate). And Subir, if you are reading this, you may recollect that you used to sit perpendicular to us, facing the teacher and Ajay and I were to your immediate left.

That was 1976.

This is 2017.

Forty one years later, I managed to catch up with that guy again!! (I left that school in 1976). In New York City!! I had located him a few years back but all our past attempts to meet had failed.

Not this day!!

When I woke up early in the morning, I was super excited that I was going to see Ajay after so many years. So many memories started floating by. I remembered his parents. I remembered his house on Short Road. I remembered he had quite a few brothers and sisters but could not remember how many. And I remembered how frail and fair complexioned he was.

Then something more mundane struck me. We had agreed to have a coffee early in the morning in Grand Central Station before he had to go to office. Now, if any of you have ever been to Grand Central Station, it is a veritable junction point of multiple streams of people seemingly aimlessly coming in and out. To pin point somebody there is not the easiest task.

That is when I came up with a “bright” idea. (I tend to have those before I have my coffee and actually wake up). I was in Central Park. So that was about one and a half mile away from Grand Central. I put on my brightest orange running shirt and shoes and started running towards Grand Central.

I reached about ten minutes early. Milling around the human waves there, I was reassured of one thing. Among all those sharply dressed, skirted, suited, booted and otherwise formally dressed office goers, there was no way Ajay could miss my bright orange colors. I was hoping that he would not ignore me as one of those construction workers with similar orange colors who seem to be perpetually digging up something or the other in the city!

As we sat down over a cup of coffee, we caught up on a lot of things. Thirty minutes was way too short. But if I was going to have to wait for forty one years, I would take even a three minute meeting. Together, we remembered a lot of our friends and teachers (fortunately, I was able to give him updates on their lives to him). It was great to catch up on his kids (two daughters of identical ages as mine), his parents and his brothers and sisters!!! But above all, it was great to see how the guy who sat next to me in his red shorts and white shirt forty one years back has become such a successful and happy human being!

Running back to my hotel, I could not help reflect on how incredibly lucky I am in life that I crossed paths many many years ago with so many incredibly great human beings. And that even today, I am able to bend the path of my life to go meet theirs…

14 May 2017

Against all odds…

This year, when I had called up Gary Brooks to wish him a happy birthday, I also learnt that his daughter was going to be in Georgia Tech and that he was going to come and help her settle down. We agreed to meet up.

The day could not have been any brighter to meet this colleague of mine from yesteryears. We sat down out in the patio of a local restaurant with some nice drinks and finger food to catch up with each other.

I remember hiring a few people who worked for Gary (he was in a different company) into our company. I also remember having lunch with him, just like the present day, and making a case that he needed to follow his teammates. Which he eventually did – but not in the same group as mine.

“So, how has life been after i2 on the work front?”, I asked after we settled down. Gary laid out an interesting story of how he has been very satisfied work wise by being very clear on what he wanted. Apparently, his criteria was (*) that he would have a good time (*) he would continuously learn new things (*) and that he would earn some money on the way. “That has been the magic for me. By staying true to those criteria, I have always stayed happy professionally”.

To understand the simplicity of his demands, one has to understand his times growing up. Born of two hard working parents who had to toil hard to make all ends meet, Gary, by his own submission was not the model high school student.

“What did you do?” I asked
“All the wrong stuff that you don’t want to discuss”.

One day, as a last resort, his mom got him a job in the local Quaker Oil shop where he worked on daily wage. As he put it, that shaped a lot in terms of what he wanted to be (and not).

Then his mom sent him to college. Much against his wishes. The first day was not the easiest for him. Somehow he had signed up for an advanced course (I forget the subject – was it Physics?). There he was, not having studied much in high school, facing some of the best and brightest in the college. “The teacher talked about 3D vectors and most of the students were used to 2D vectors. And I was the one asking myself – What is a vector?”

That evening was the defining moment for Gary. After college, completely baffled and frustrated, he sat himself down and holding his head in his hands, wondered what was he supposed to do. Above all, the prospect of living the life working at the Quaker Oil scared the beejejus out of him. And from that day, he resolved that he would get back in the game.

It was not an easy fare to fight back. Other than his resolve, he did not have much more going in his favor. But he kept at it. And it seems, had his epiphany during a class in computer science when he suddenly understood how recursion worked. I told him that my theory was that understanding recursion was easy. You first understand recursion, then the rest is easy. (I think computer science students will get this joke). Jokes apart, that was it for Gary. From that day, he fell in love with Computer Science and to this day has stayed true to his trade.

Of course, he must have reached his nadir of computer science when he tried explaining REST Api and higher order languages like Python to me over lunch 🙂

On my drive back, I was amazed how life has its own way of working out if only you resolve to try. I had no idea about Gary’s background. I always thought of him as somewhat of a technical guru and his people had a great opinion of him as a manager. Who knew how much trouble and difficulty he had to overcome to go there?

I need to bookmark this post. Every time I see a kid who might be looking for direction in life, I know who to send them to!

It was great seeing you and getting to know you better, Gary!!

14 May 2017

The last guy to show up for interview…

Last week, I had an overnight layover in Minneapolis airport. What would have been an otherwise humdrum evening with catching up on office work and all that turned out to be a memorable one because this gentleman was gracious enough to drive for quite some time and come meet me near the airport.

Back in 1998, I had gone to my alma mater (IIM Ahmedabad) to recruit for our company. We had pretty much wrapped up for the day at 5:30 and had already notified most of the students who we had selected to show up for dinner at a very nice place (Vishala?). It is one of those places laid out like a traditional Gujrati village and a great place to spend the evening.

SK was running so late with his other interviews that he did not expect at all to have any chance so late in the day with us – but he showed up. And we did put together an interview for him and guess what? He sailed thru with flying colors. We landed up adding one more to our dinner reservation!

And that is how a great relationship began. SK came over to the USA in 1998 and if I recollect correctly, came over to our house once for dinner in Coppell. A few years later, both of us went our own ways and our contacts were pretty much reduced to my birthday calls every year.

Till last week!!

As always, it was great to catch up on the great career progress a smart guy like SK has made in his life. I promised him to come by his house next time and make friends with his three kids…

11 May 2017

Singapore. In Baltimore!

I reached the Marriott Baltimore lobby and immediately settled down on business stuff with my colleague – Kurt. An hour and a half later, I took a temporary break to get on to a call with our investors. I was on the call, pacing up and down the lobby when I thought I heard my name being called out. I looked around very quickly, still talking and generally ignored it. Till I heard my name being yelled out – this time more clearly and loudly.

I look around and what do you know? Good old Ajit was in the lobby meeting a customer. My history with Ajit goes back to the late 80s. He was a junior of mine in engineering college and we both lived in the same dorm (hall). Another connection I have with him is that he eventually married Soumya – who I got to know later in a completely different part of India as a friend of Srimathi. Srimathi, in her turn, was one of my closest friends in management school. Unfortunately, we lost her to cancer. The only solace I have is that I was literally one of the last persons she saw and talked to before passing away. I had taken a flight back to US after seeing her in Cancer Institute in Chennai. By the time I landed in Frankfurt, there was a message for me from her brother that she was no more.

Too many memories floated by my mind when I saw Ajit. Yet, I had to take care of the call and Ajit himself had to leave. So, we spent only a few minutes together – but promised to catch up for a longer time later…

BTW, in college, we used to call Ajit “Singapore”. Hence the title of the post. I do recognize that was a terrible stab at poetry 🙂

9 May 2017

Not fair… Mrs. Bose… Not fair…

You might recall from my blog (or FB updates) that early this year, I visited my third grade class teacher (home room teacher) Mrs. Chobi Bose in Kolkata. I had traced her after a lot of help from others and then finally met her after over three decades!! I wrote how lively she was. And how I was struck by how she had set her house up very tastefully just like she had done her house that I had visited in 1975!!

Thanks to her that evening, I found out the whereabouts of my second grade and my tenth grade class teachers. Last month, I talked to her and she helped me find my first grade class teacher!! It is like the gift just kept giving to me!!!

Thru my class mate Niladri Datta and that second grade teacher Mrs. Shastri, I found out today that our dear old Mrs. Bose, is unfortunately, no more.

As you grow older, you get more humility (and I certainly have long ways to go there) and realize that you are who you are, in many parts, because of the people who have influenced you. Outside of your parents, nobody can possibly influence you more than your teachers. And that is why it is such a noble profession.

But as age and humility set in for me, I continued to struggle to find out how to say Thanks to those teachers. It is not the case that I have made much out of myself – but whatever little I have done, I owe my gratitude to many people. Certainly the teachers.

In this age of Facebook, Whatsapp and cut-and-paste email, a Thank You message probably would not cut it, I had argued with myself. Nothing short of seeking those noble human beings out in real life and looking them straight in their eyes and say “Thank you for helping me who I am today” can possibly tell them what they meant to all their students.

And that is when the quest began to seek out my teachers and say Thank You to them. In that journey, I learnt an important lesson today…

… I better hurry up and avail of the first opportunity. Because, you know, you never know if you will get a second chance.

… and therefore, Mrs. Bose, even thru your departure from this earth, it would appear, you left another lesson for me.

… Now how do I get to say Thank You to you for that?

Not fair, I say, Not fair!!

26 April 2017

She is officially the earliest teacher in my life that I got in touch with!!

The day was Jan 15, 1973. I was a tiny tot – all of six years old – when I got down from a strange looking bus – it was more of a re-purposed police van really – to a very foreign environment. I got out of the bus and stared with somewhat trepidation at my new school. That was my first day of being a first grader in Benachity Junior High School.

I trudged along the school entrance path and unlike other smart students, took some time to find my class. I was one of the last ones to arrive and found myself a spot in the very last row of benches. I was pretty nervous. Not really sure who talked to who first that day, but I did strike up an awkward conversation with the boy next to me. Turns out his name was Ansuman Mitra. Actually it still is. And we are still friends and see each other about once a year! “I have a new blue tiffin box”, I remember telling him. That, clearly, was the only thing I could talk thru my awkwardness. Probably, also the only thing that I was looking forward to that whole day.

Presently, a teacher came and announced that the class we were sitting in is 1B. Apparently, 1A still had a few benches unoccupied. And some of us got randomly picked and shooed away to the class next door. That is how I landed up in class 1A. And my somewhat budding friendship with Ansuman was cut short prematurely. In reality though, I sought him out during tiffin (recess) period to show my tiffin box 🙂

Well, it was that random choice that got me in front of my class teacher – Miss George as we called her then. I have but only a few memories of those days. Miss George teaching us English was one of the highlights. There was a red book and a yellow book. I remember some of the contents inside but most of it has faded off. I suppose they were filled with the letters of the alphabet and a lot of pictures.

One of the lasting memories I have about Miss George was that during one of those tiffin periods, I had fallen down (don’t worry, I was not athletic ever; it was not like I had a grand fall while trying to kick the soccer ball or something – it was indeed an ignominious case of me slipping on a stair right next to where they used to ring the big dong announcing that a period was over) and had bruised myself. Miss George had somebody get some medicine (Boroline?) from head teacher’s office and applied it on my knee and put me to ease.

Much later in life – around the mid eighties, somebody told me that Miss George lived somewhere near Aurobindo Avenue (I think that was the street name) and that she wanted to see me. I was such an idiot – and also a confirmed awkward – that I never took that opportunity to find her out and meet her.

Well, that particular memory has gnawed me for a long time. Ever since, I have approached many a people from my past with the “Do you know a Miss George from Benachity Junior High School?” At some point of time, I learned that she had left Durgapur and was in Kerala.

That long search of mine was put to rest last week when Mrs. Bose helped me get her number. It was with great consternation, I called that number. How do you approach a person who taught you forty four years back and somebody you never have talked after that?

“Is this Mrs. Lily George?”
And all that awkwardness came over me again! “Errr… You will not recognize me but you were my class teacher in first grade in 1973”.

I recognized that I needed to back up my point a little more. So, I told her about the school, the other teachers and my recollection of how she looked and most importantly that picture she took with us after gathering all the classmates during a Christmas get together.

The conversation, from then on flowed very fluidly. I got to know about her kids who are both live outside India. I got to know about how she has settled down in Ernakulam. But I was most disheartened to hear how she is having a tough time with her knees. And this is in spite of the fact she already had one surgery.

She took down my contacts. And as I spelt my name – something seemed to stir in her memory. “Rajib Roy. Wait a minute. Were you not the first boy in class? In fact you were the first boy all throughout school, right? I remember you very well. I had heard that you did very well in high school too”.

Well, that was really awkward and embarrassing. First, me doing well in studies had more to do with my relentless parents. I was an unwilling participant. But there were other first boys and girls too (We had many sections). So, I was not sure that was my calling card. But most of all, I was afraid that she might say “Hey! Later on I actually wanted to meet you once. Did you ever get the message?”.

Once I kept the phone down after promising to keep in touch with her, a flood of memories of my classmates from those days started floating thru my mind. Suddenly, I remembered something. I went upstairs, opened up the computer and after some search brought out a picture from that Christmas party of Miss George and all my classmates together. From Dec, 1973. I had digitized it and kept it thinking someday it might come come in handy.

My next mission is to get that picture to her somehow. You never know. My awkwardness knows no bounds. One of the India trips, I might just show up at Ernakulam and give her a printed copy of the picture and let her know that her teachings and guidance is going forty four years strong. With no apparent sign of abating!

What a great feeling it was to actually talk to somebody who is till date, my earliest teacher that I have been able to track!!!

[I am the kid with a squint in the left eye standing in the last row, third from the right of the picture]