20 February 2018

Four different paths converged for a few hours!

Last week I was in Virginia Tech to meet an old classmate of mine – Madhav. More on him later. The second highlight of that trip was meeting these three guys you see in the picture. I had never met them before but we had one common thread – we all went to the same high school (Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission). All in very different years but the same school, nonetheless.

Rounak, the youngest of the four of us, is yet to reach the half way mark to my age!! He was not even born when I left India for US!! Arindam – the one who insists that not shaving is lower maintenance than shaving everything off like me – is the avid runner in the group. Srijan – the professor – is an outstanding person. His ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time and argue both sides of the case is something I have to learn some day.

Like I said, other than the fact at very different points of time, each one of us studied within the same four walls of a particular classroom, we had little in common, at the surface. But somehow, we managed to find ourselves in the same latitude and longitude at the exact same time last week – thanks to some help from Madhav.

The discussions that I had with these youngsters were of varied themes. And I realized how rich the diversity in their thoughts were on a wide range of topics – from social media to statistics to politics. One thing for sure – their thought processes are far more evolved, their perspectives in life far more mature than mine were at that age.

That is why, while many are given to believe that things are getting worse by the day, I continue to conclude that the world is actually getting better and better with every generation. And so much so, the better for it!!

16 February 2018

The Bhaduris of Knoxville

My final stop in Knoxville was to visit the Bhaduris at their house. Lots of memories from the past when the three families – theirs, ours and the Mukherjees used to get together and the kids were young. Now, two of those are in college already and one more threatening to do so in a few months!!

Too many hilarious moments from the past to out together in one post. It was great to see that Budhendra’s legendary sense of humor is still intact! I am sure Anusuya and Amitesh will remember the “chhipi” moment!! We also reminisced how the three wives – Arpita, Sharmila and Anusuya had settled on a 5K race training plan way back in Dec 2010. Out of curiosity, I had checked their chosen training regime to find that the very first day said “Take Rest” 🙂 :- ) I kid you not!!

Budhendra is absolutely the kids’ favorite uncle. Both of mine had learnt fishing and boogie boarding from him and they are hooked on to it now!!

It was great to see Budhendra, Arpita and the twin brothers!!

For the ones who are surprised to see us drinking coffee – that surprise is understandable. Actually, last evening we chatted so much over quite a bit of wine that I forgot to take the picture. I had to make amends this morning!!

15 February 2018

For the record…

… if you ever find me someday teaching high school students or even middle school students – specifically Maths and/or Physics – you can certainly hold the lady on my right responsible for transgression 🙂

I was in Knoxville for a couple of meetings. Swung by Nivedita-di and Ranjan-da’s house for the first time ever. I am totally glad that I did. The Gangulys are one of those couples that can be great friends with toddlers, teenagers, thirty somethings as well old folks like me with equal amount of ease and grace! Ranjan-da’s humor and passion for art (including some incredible cartoon drawings) is met and matched by Nivedita-di’s, poise, intellect and gravitas.

Ever a cheerleader of the Roy family, Nivedita-di and I actually discussed the possibility of me switching to teaching as I think thru what to do with my career when I get back to working again. I have to say with all due honesty that I am a wee bit tempted!!! Of course, there is always the worry of being the wrong model to highly impressionable kids…

14 February 2018

Checking in with the Pulijals

This was a very long standing promise that I finally got to keep. After almost 10 years!! I remember making that promise when Hari and Usha had visited Sharmila, the two young daughters and myself in our then-new home in Atlanta. I remember having a great time talking about everything and sundry. That meeting itself was after another ten years since I had visited them both in their house in Randolph, New Jersey.

Since I have some time these days in hand, I got into the car and pressed the gas after pointing the car in a generally north easterly direction from Atlanta. The idea being to catch up with some old friends. First stop was Roanoke, VA. Thoroughly enjoyed the solo trip. Took a lot of stops to enjoy the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Eventually showed up at the Pulijals’ abode around 7 PM. It was almost a throwback to that evening I spent at their Randolph house. Non stop chatting. We talked about our old colleagues from US and India, about the kids, about Usha’s passion for dancing, growing plants and trail walking and Hari teaching young kids yoga and Bhagwad Gita! I am not sure how we got there, but we also talked about the reverse osmosis process while softening water!!

It was just like the good old days!!

It took me quite some time to get to the promise I had made them that I would visit their then-new digs in Roanoke. Finally, I got around to it last night!!

Loved it!

1 February 2018

I never quite figured out…

… should I try to be an entrepreneur like him or a poet like him!!

My last recollection of meeting Avinash was during a recruiting drive in IIT Kanpur. That goes back nearly 2 decades. He always struck me as a very bright young guy. I remember Raghu and I discussing a couple of times about the potential of Avinash.

Turns out Avinash became a very successful entrepreneur. But since he stayed most of his time in India, I rarely got to see him. We have interacted multiple times during the last two decades but just could not put ourselves together in the same city at the same time.

Till last evening.

It was one of those great conversational evenings. There are successful entrepreneurs and there are successful entrepreneurs. I have never seen any entrepreneur – frankly too many leaders – who have internalized learnings from experience as well as Avinash has. His insightful commentary on the mistakes he has made and how that has made him a better leader is material for a great leadership book. If not for anything else, just the display of humility itself is awe inspiring.

One of the great concepts he talked about is “organizational debt”. In a full circle, he gave full credit to Raghu – the same Raghu that I used to discuss about Avinash two decades back – in opening his eyes to the concept. I am going to skip the details here but it deals with the difficulties any “people person leader” will always have in getting over personal biases and subjectivity.

Another item that Avinash and I have common interest is shayaris and old Urdu poetry. In fact, we spent some time discussing the vagaries of ascertaining gender of inanimate objects in Hindi. His knowledge of Urdu and Hindi is far superior to mine and he has promised to help me translate some the poetry I struggle with from time to time. In that context, a memorable statement from him… I told him how I struggle to translate to English even after I understand what was in the poet’s mind. His words were … “That is to be expected; for poetry is defined as that which is lost in translation”. That was sheer poetry defining poetry!

Yet another memorable quote. I forget the exact context. But he backed up the famous quote “To give up ego, you have to have an ego first” with a Hindi poem which basically means – Only a poisonous snake can forgive. A non poisonous snake forgiving means nothing!!

That was a great evening! Raghu, we missed you!! Let’s get all three of us together soon!!

8 January 2018

Ubud: Small Village. Mega Intersection!!!

This is one of those mega intersections that has so many people and so many connections involved that I may not be able to keep everything on the up and up. It involves Atlanta, Durgapur, California, Illinois, Panang Malaysia, Dubai and of all places – Ubud (a small village in Bali).

Let’s start with the picture on the top as the initial point. That is Natasha and Nayanika. They became friends over a summer when they were doing a summer program at North Western in Evanston, Illinois. The day I had gone to pick her up to come back home, the university had arranged for a free things – including a lunch for the students and the parents. I found myself randomly sitting in a table with mostly young kids either crying or talking excitedly promising to keep in touch with each other. Also at the table was the gentleman second from one end in the lowest picture.

Not knowing anything better (and frankly not able to help myself), I struck up a conversation with him. Realized that he – Gaurav – is a very successful, entrepreneur in the Bay Area. So, those were three strikes against me – I am neither successful, nor an entrepreneur and certainly cannot afford to live in the Bay Area. But I persisted. And hit pay dirt!!! In a few minutes, we realized that we are married to classmates. His wife – Anupama – was Sharmila’s classmate in primary school. What’s more – his mother in law was Sharmila’s teacher for a year!

Back to Bali.

Natasha had mentioned that Nayanika and her parents would be in Nusa Dua too. Except that by the time we reached Nusa Dua, they had already left. (I chalk it up to higher level of intelligence 🙂 Must be the water in Bay Area 🙂 ). Not to give up easily, I found out that they were in Ubud and promised Natasha that one way or the other, I will make sure she got to see Nayanika.

After visiting a few villages, we landed up in Ubud for lunch. Where the Sharan family swung by!!! That marked the meeting of two classmates. In fact, two sets of them!! That explains the second picture from the top – Sharmila and Anupama.

“I do not recognize your face. I like your hairstyle though. I wonder why!! ”, I had to humbly admit to Amit – the gentleman in white shirt who had come with Anupama.
“I am Amit – Anupama’s brother”, he replied, laughing.
“Oh! I remember your name. You were one year junior to me in school”.

And we talked a lot about our school teachers. Then finally, I asked
“Where did you go to college?”
“RE College, Durgapur”
“Day scholar?”
“Yes”
“Which department?”
“Electronics”
“Hmmm… That is interesting”
“Why?”
“Do you know a Soumya Kanti Ghosh?”
Seeing him deep dig into his memory… I helped further – “You might remember him as Apu. He was a day scholar too”.
“Oh! Apu. Soumya. He was our class topper”
“Indeed!!”
“How do you know him?”
“Funny you should mention that. You see that lady?”, I asked him pointing to Sharmila.
“Sharmila?”
“She is his sister. He is my brother in law”.
“No way”
“Yes way”

Was that cool or was that cool?

Three Sharan families had come from Bay Area, California, Panang, Malaysia and Dubai, UAE. The Roys had come from Atlanta, Georgia. We had the opportunity to meet in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. The whole thing happened because one Roy girl and one Sharan girl went to a program together in Evanston, Illinois. To realize that their mothers were classmates!! And so were their maternal uncles!!!

What is the chance of that?

1 January 2018

Guess who I ran into?

Phase A of our vacation over. Kids spent a good amount of time with grandparents and cousins. Moving to Phase B now. Time for just the four of us to spend time together.

With that in mind, we reached Kolkata airport quite some time before our flight to Bali, Indonesia. The airport was empty and the checking in, immigration and security check were all super smooth. The girls were hungry. So we headed towards the restaurants inside. I knew one restaurant that I thought they might like.

We turned left, got past the construction area of the duty free shop and then started cutting across the shop. Just as we did it, I saw somebody walking by. In fact, by her uniform, it appeared that she worked at the duty free shop. Looking at her, I was fairly sure I had seen her before. In fact, I thought I knew who she was too.

I was looking at her to see if it was indeed the person I thought she was – without making it appear too embarrassing. It was a 50-50 situation and I was weighing the options of how to approach her. (It could be really really weird if I walked up to a random young lady and asked her if she recognized me and she said no. I would never hear the end of it from Nikita and Natasha. Or Sharmila, for that matter).

Fortunately for me, she recognized me too!! In fact, she talked first!!!

Although itt was for a brief few minutes (she was on duty), I was able to introduce my family to Anzee. Last time I had met Anzee – in fact the only time I had met her – was in the bar at ITC Sonar hotel. Three and a half years back. She had served me and my brother some wine and I had realized while finding out her story (what else is new? 🙂 ) that she hailed from a place very close to where my sister had adopted my niece.

Nikita took a quick snap of Anzee, myself and Sharmila. It was delightful running into her and getting a quick update on her and her family!!

31 December 2017

Sharing a lighter moment after 40 years!!

Once in a while, I pick up some mild compliments about my writing style. Mostly undeserved, I must hasten to add. That said, if there are two teachers I lay most of the credit for my writing style, it would be Mrs. Debjani Biswas (ninth and tenth grade English teacher) and Sir Kelvin Donegan (my fifth grade English teacher). I was lucky enough to meet Mrs. Biswas this year in Pune.

The search for Sir Donegan was much tougher. Most of the teachers in school – in fact all of them, I would say – did not have the faintest idea about his whereabouts. Worse, I had heard rumors that Sir Donegan was no more. Because of that rumor, my intensity to search for him had reduced too.

Earlier this year, I found somebody who said that she goes to the same church as Mrs. Donegan every Sunday. And she confirmed that the news about his death was largely exaggerated. A few weeks later, I had a phone number in my hand.

As is my wont, I opened with the breaker-of-all-ices “You won’t know me sir….”.
He duly confirmed that!!

I quickly established my credentials by giving him some of the details from 1977.
If his words were to be believed, he was beyond delight to hear from one of his old students. Apparently, I am the only student from yesteryears that he has had a chance to talk to in over 30 years.

Turned out Sir Donegan left school and embarked on a completely different career in the merchant navy. Which meant, he was always out of the country. Eventually, he went back to his first passion in life – growing plants! He is into hydroponics and lives near the farm in Himachal Pradesh (1250 miles / 2000 km away from our school).

The most encouraging news I had from him that day was that he still visited his old house in Durgapur every year during Christmas / New Years time. You can do the math now… went to pick up my in-laws… thoroughly delayed on the highways… there was still some time to be squeezed out to see Sir Donegan!! Last time I talked to him? 1977! 40 years back!!

To say I had a great time would be a gross underestimation of the exhilaration I had upon seeing him. He had a great influence on me and most of the students. (I had written about him on a blogpost dated Oct 30 this year while discussing the controversy around the word “stoppage” – in case you wanted to look it up in my blog).

I updated him on all the teachers from school, learnt a lot about hydroponics and also the adventures he had in his life while traveling the world with the merchant navy.

The facial expressions should give you a good idea about the fun that was had!!

13 December 2017

As smart as funny he is… Mr. Wilson!!

Let’s see… when did I get to know Jim? Somewhere in the late 90s when we worked together in a company in Texas. Then, over the years, he and I have met a few times and every single time I have learnt something from him. Then I had a big gap. Which closed today!! Had a few drinks with him this evening…

Picked up quite a few brilliant nuggets of learnings he has had ever since I met him last time. But enjoyed his famous one liners and come backs even more.

One of the most memorable comments from him today was… “Rajib, there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Now, who amongst us has not heard that or said that innumerable times? But I bet you that none of you have heard the caustic addendum he had… “Only stupid people asking questions”!!

I think I was in the process of falling at the bar floor laughing my guts out, when I heard him say “Yeah! Don’t blame the question”!!

I really wish I get to see this guy more often!!

17 November 2017

Cafe con Laura

Last time I saw Laura was when my family went over to her place to have dinner with her family. That was six years back – almost to the day. Nov 20, 2011 to be precise.

And it was in Santiago, Chile!!!

Today, I met her in my neck of the woods – Milton, Georgia – over a couple of cups of coffee. We had a great time together – talking about our old workplace, colleagues from our prior lives and our own parents!!

Found out an interesting coincidence. When I drove to meet my colleague from Mumbai days at a Starbucks in Appleton, Wisconsin in September, apparently, I was within spitting distance of where Laura’s parents live!! Oh! How I wish I knew that then!!!