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!!!

30 October 2017

Very successful year in meeting my old class (home room) teachers

This year, I have been able to locate and visit 9 out of 10 of my home room teachers. They are strewn all over India. Each search was very satisfying (of course after the frustration of numerous false leads). In the end, being able to say “Thank you” to each and every one of them face to face has been an unforgettable experience! As I have maintained before, they were crucial influences in my formative years. I have no doubt that without their combined influence, I would not be who I am.

I am left with only one teacher from seventh grade – Mrs. Srinivasan. This one is going to be very tough. She was there only for a very short duration. I remember many of the events from her class. But so far, I have found only two persons (both teachers) who even remember that there was such a person. Will keep searching…

Meanwhile, time to move on to the subject teachers then!!

28 October 2017

The mix master!!

Mathew Lepcha from ITC Sonar in Kolkata is undoubtedly one of my most favorite mixologist. Will definitely feature in my Top 3. Anytime I am near Kolkata, I have to drop by at his bar to pick up a few more lessons in organic chemistry.

Today, I learnt a new trick of making some very interesting looking cocktails that includes baloons, isopropyl alchohol, syringe and dry ice!!! We exchanged a lot of notes today about cocktails.

In the end, he made a special drink for me and I had to guess the ingredients – I got 2 out of 4 right. The base of green cocounut water and the rose essence – although I missed the lack of pink color and went with rose syrup. I could not decide between rum or vodka – it weas rum – I am a gin guy and not a rum guy – and I could not name the khus. Khus is not something I use much in my drinks. I liked it. Especially for the hot Atlanta summers, it would be a good substitute for mints.

Very few people are as knowledgeable and as passionate about mixology as Mathew is. The guy is an absolutely delightful person to know. If you like cocktails, he is totally the guy you have to know!!!

28 October 2017

“You will get a cigarette” !!!

Circa: Jan, 1977.
I had just walked into a new school in my fifth grade. I knew nobody in my class. I had gone and sat down in class 5B – that is where my name had showed up in the long list in front of the headmaster’s room.

Soon, our home room teacher (class teacher) walked in. She seemed jovial and strict at the same time. I was just a scaredy cat. Everything was new – new school, new building, new uniform, new faces, new teacher…

Knew nothing!!

As the teacher settled down after our rather disunited “Good morning, miss”, one of the first question she asked was “Who is the first boy?”. Well, I was a “first boy” but from a different school. So, that did not count. Shounak raised his hand.

“Well, you will be the class monitor. You will report to me any misbehavior in our class and I will give that student a cigarette”.

The new school, new building, new uniform, new faces, new teacher was scary enough. I did not need a teacher giving out cigarettes. And what kind of school did my dad get me in to? Why would the teacher give a cigarette? And how is that even a penalty?

Much later I learnt that all of us were to get a “conduct” report card every other week that we had to get our parents to sign off on. And if we did not behave, we would be awarded a “C-grade”. Apparently, not a “cigarette”!!

That teacher was Miss Lakshmi Dutta. She was our math teacher in fifth grade. She taught chemistry when we were in higher grades. And then she left the school. In 1979!!

About four decades later, this year, I had discovered that she lived very close to my brother. My previous attempt to meet her was futile since she was unwell. I almost had the same bad luck this time. Today, she was unwell too and the only reason we did not have a longer meeting is that she had to go to the doctor. But we did meet! After almost four decades!!

You would think that by now, I should be used to meeting my home room teachers after decades. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meeting Miss Dutta was as exhilarating as it could be.

Anybody who was her teacher would probably remember her for a few things – she giving a lot of students some unique names – “Kaan Khaara”, “Morobba” (for most of them those names have stuck for a life time) – and those trips to the chemistry lab where she would make the fire in the bunsen burner turn into different colors …

Today, I got to know about her original birthplace, her life journey, her granddad, her dad, her own schooling, her siblings, her selfless support for her dad and mom during their last years in life…

This meeting was no less humbling than that first day I had met her in 1977!! I hope to see her a few more times since she is so close to where my brother lives…

26 October 2017

How I met my new Facebook friend but never talked to him

This is an interesting “intersection point” where a friendship was established. But no words were spoken. I am not even sure how to write about somebody that you have not talked to. But here it goes…

I had made a quick dash to Ahmedabad to meet a friend about some work related stuff. In between our meetings, we had strolled over to the Crowne Plaza next door to catch up on some food. We were sitting at our table in some deep discussions, when I realized that the waiter was standing next to me. Instinctively, I told him “Just a glass of water”.

I had almost turned my head away to continue with the discussions when I realized that the reaction from the waiter was not exactly what I was expecting. I turned back and saw him pointing to something hanging from a lanyard around his neck.

That is when I realized that he had no ability to hear or speak.

That is not an everyday experience I go thru. It took me a few seconds for the whole thing to sink in. Meanwhile, he fished out a small diary. Presumably for me to write on. I smiled at him and pointed to my glass. He got the message and went away.

But I was totally distracted the whole time. Multiple times, I saw him helping other guests so seamlessly. Did not betray any signs of shyness. He would interact with every guest with the same level of sincerity and proactivity as he would if he could hear and speak. Except of course, it was happening thru notes on a notepad and finger gesturing.

Finally, I told my friend that I had to meet Hardik again. I signaled him to come to our table. Which he did. And then I was stuck again. How do I ask him questions? How do I tell him that I was totally moved by his courage?

Presuming that I was ready to order, he brought out his notebook again and pointed out to some blank space below what I assume the previous customer had written – “Black Coffee”. Not knowing any better, I drew a long line and wrote “I am very impressed by what you have achieved!” and gave it to him. He read it and looked at me. There was obvious delight in his eyes. He did his namaste thing.

I turned the page and wrote further that if he wanted to be friends with me and chat, he could email me. And gave him my email address. He scribbled something over it. I turned the notebook around to read it.

Want to take a guess what wrote? He wrote – FB?

I am an idiot. What was I thinking giving my email address to a millennial? Facebook it was!!

He himself located his FB profile on my phone and sent himself a friend request!!!

That is how I had a memorable “intersection point” without ever talking!!

This story will not be complete without a shout out for Crowne Plaza, Ahmedabad. I am not sure whether this is a global practice for them or just in India or just in Ahmedabad. In any case, hats off for stepping up to the plate to make this a better and caring society. May your tribe increase.

25 October 2017

My first grade class (home room) teacher!!!

“Thank you for coming all the way from Kolkata to Ernakulam to see me. I feel very special today. Nobody has done that before”.
“No, no, no, that is not how it works”, I quickly responded. “I am the one who is here to say thanks for every way you influenced me when I was barely a few years old. In many ways I am today who I am due some of those early influences”.
“Plus”, I admitted, “You had asked me to come and meet you”.
“I did?”, she asked somewhat confused.
“Ah! You do not remember, do you? I will tell you that story”

That is how the conversation began the moment Mrs. George opened the door. She was my class teacher in first grade. Last time I had talked to her face to face was in 1973. This year, I had tracked her down to a place about 1500 miles away from where we used to be and had promised her that I would come and see her. Especially given the great difficulty she has in moving around (both her knees are shot) and the fact that she is valiantly fighting Parkinson’s, I was determined to make that meeting as quickly as I could.

After she slowly walked to her chair with the help of her cane and I settled next to her, I continued-
“You lived in Aurobindo Avenue. 5th street, right?
“Back in the mid eighties, there was a girl on 8th street on your road that I used to be romantically linked with. One day, I was coming back from her house, and I ran into another old schoolmate of mine – Soumitro was his name. He lived on your street. He had mentioned that a year or so back, you had realized that he and I had become classmates after leaving your school. And you had asked him to ask me to come and see you if he met me again”.

“Not sure why – I believe I had gone back to my college a few days after that or I was feeling too awkward (and I was plenty awkward those days), I never came and saw you”.

After pausing for a moment, watching her take in the whole story, I finished up:
“Mrs. George”.
“I know I took too much time. But I have come today and I have kept your request”.
“Thank you!”, she smiled.
“And I brought something for you”

That is when I fished out a printout of a photograph I was carrying for her in my backpack.
“Do you remember this?”
“Looks like a class picture during Christmas party”.
“Indeed. Mrs. George! December, 1973!! I want you to keep this picture”.
As you see from the photo below, I spent quite some time naming the students and giving her an update on where they are and what they are doing. Much to my surprise, there were a few names she recognized instantly!!

The rest of the afternoon went remembering so many of our old teachers and me learning about her early childhood days in the rubber plantations near Kottayam district and her days after she left our school.

I got introduced to Mr. George. Mrs. George showed me pictures of her daughters and grandkids. I even got to see a picture of her from her wedding day!!!

If there was one meeting I never wanted to end, it had to be that one. First grade! First class-teacher!! There are still many more memories we did not get a chance to share! But I had two flights to catch before I could get back to my place (there were no direct flights for me). Reluctantly, I took leave.

“Yes?”, I looked back at the door where she was standing to say Bye to me.
“What happened to that girl from our road?”. I think she was trying to tease me.
“Oh! I married her!!”.
Going by the big laughter she gave, I did not think she was expecting that answer!

As the Uber guy started our one hour drive back to the airport, I felt a surge of emotional high for being able to see Mrs. George after 44 years to say Thank you. As well as the simultaneous pangs of the inevitable question – Will I be lucky enough to get another chance to finish off a few more stories?

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)!!