23 August 2019

Why would you want to know if I have a chair nearby?

“Yes. Is that Rajib?”
“Of course! I should have guessed it!”
“Happy birthday, Nancy. How are you?”

A week back, that is how one of my daily birthday calls started. After a few mutual updates, it took an interesting turn.

“I know you started working again. Where are you?”, she asked
“I work in Chicago. I still live in Atlanta though.”
“Oh! Cool. We have an office in Chicago and I come there once every couple of months.”
“Nice. Would love to catch up next time you are in Chicago.”

“Well, to be fair, I say Chicago. But we are not really near Chicago. We are in one of the suburbs way out of Chicago. It is further away from even the airport.”
“Where is it?”, I asked curiously.
“Oh! It is a small place called Itasca.”
“Where in Itasca?”, I persisted.
“Wait. You know Itasca?”
“I might have a working knowledge.”
“It is a building called 2 Pierce Place.”

“Do you have a chair nearby?”, I casually asked.
“Do you have a chair nearby?”
“Yeah! Why?”. She was justifiably befuddled.
“Sit down?”
“What? Why?”
“I work in 1 Pierce Place!!!”

“No way”, she said in disbelief.
“Yes way”

“Well, when are you going to be there next?”
“Next Wednesday, in fact”.
“You know the Westin behind your building?”
“Yes. That is where I will be staying.”
“Meet me at the bar there at 6:30. When you get there, tell Chante or Tara that you are Raj’s guest. They will take care of you”.

And that is how, a week later, I got to see Nancy who I had worked in the same industry with many moons back. We tried our two companies to establish a partnership which eventually did not come thru. But our friendship has, over these years!!

I am starting to believe that it may be true that these kind of incredible intersection points happen only to me!

20 August 2019

Meeting up Lori in Charleston

Imagine driving 330 miles (over 500 km) in a day. Now imagine doing that 4 days in a row. Not sure how, but as a result of Sharmila not letting Natasha drive across state boundaries and Natasha wanting to spend the weekend with her friend from middle school (and somebody both Sharmila and I love) – Dani, I landed up doing daily trips between Atlanta and Charleston!

Of course, to me everything in life is about meeting a stranger or meeting somebody from my past. Using a feature in Facebook that Graham had taught me, I learnt that Lori was in Charleston these days! Missed each other on Friday (it was too late) but absolutely got to see her on Sunday!

Sharmila and I got to know Lori when she was the manager at a restaurant/bar that we used to frequent quite some time back. To the best of my knowledge that establishment does not exist any more. But after Lori left that place, I lost track of her. All I knew was that she had become the manager of a hotel somewhere in Atlanta.

The good news is that birthday calls always kept the relationship going – although only once a year! It is certainly not my fault that people’s birthdays tend to come only once a year!

“I remember you wanted to visit South Korea. Did you ever get that done?”, I asked her as we settled down in a bar by the water in beautiful, laid back Charleston.
“No. But I want to.”

Lori was born in a city south of Seoul. Well, she was found there and eventually brought to Seoul by an adoption agency who had matched her up with her adopted parents.

After 18, Lori left home and built her own career. She will tell you how she has rebelled many times and often had unresolved anger. But eventually, she found out how to use them as a source of energy to propel her rather than keep her back.

“So, after such a life – that can be called ‘interesting’ to say the least – what are the lessons you have learnt? In fact, if you were to say three things to my daughters, what would they be?”

“Slow down”, she said readily.
“Take risks”, she said after a few seconds of thinking
“And make mistakes”, she finished up after a minute.

“As you reflect on life, what are you most proud of?”
“That I am still living.”
“And what do you have as words of wisdom for somebody much older than you like me?”
“Whether you are ashes or six feet under, your impact will continue after you are gone. Focus on that impact.”

We talked a lot about our old friends (and the owners) of the old establishment we used to visit (Mark, Chris, Holli.. you were all remembered), her current work and some of the learnings she is having in her new job on the personnel front.

I never thought I was going to see Lori again. It was so great to have been proven wrong again!!

13 August 2019

Meeting Chandra after nearly 2 decades

My last recollection of Chandra was in the i2 days at the turn of the century. Those were the glory days of supply chain, internet boom, nightly regression tests and C++ Templates!! I still remember him as the person coming up with all sorts of new and innovative ideas. And of a very gentle and patient demeanor.

Subsequently, our lifeline to keep in touch was the annual birthday calls. Last week, I had called him like clockwork to wish him when I realized that he actually works literally a few miles away from where I work in Chicago area! And that is how the dinner this evening happened.

He looks the same and his demeanor is the same. What was remarkable is how deep his wisdom runs now. An unapologetic entrepreneur (third successful start up now), he is brimming with stories of what all he has failed in. You can barely get him to talk about all the successes he has had. His stories of what he would do different are amazing anecdotes of true humility and sincere willingness to learn.

We spent quite some time talking thru our respective learnings from the various career phases we have had.

Chandra, let’s meet many more times. You can help me understand what I have learnt from life a lot more than I can do by myself!!

28 July 2019

The good old Aroras!

Got to meet Gagan, Bharti and Ishan after a long time. Missed Mehul though. No meeting with the Aroras are complete without talking about the good old days in Dallas when we were yet to have kids.

Or for that matter some thought provoking discussions with Gagan. This time the topic was about intellect versus intelligence. And some truly insightful (and likely to be controversial without the full context understood) debates around whether intellect should be a protected category (like race, color, gender etc)…

I got more food for thought than I had bargained, Gagan. Thank you for that!

Bharti, next time no excuses – you are saving a drink for me – else I might bring up a certain On The Border evening up in our conversations again 🙂

26 July 2019

Boy, how time flies!!

Just the other day, these two used to run around the rug in our living area singing silly songs.

Now they are discussing how to fight back peer pressure and parental pressure and make career choices that align with their passions.

When I was their age, I can honestly admit that I had not the faintest clue what I wanted to do in life.

Kids are getting smarter with every generation. And that is the way it ought to be.

20 July 2019

How come I did not know this?

“You remember Yogesh?”, she asked.
“Sholapurkar?”, I asked
“Yes. You have a great memory”

I kept staring at her. Something was not computing in my mid.

Well, let me start from the beginning. It was one of those birthday calls back in January. Jasmine was my classmate from our MBA days. She is in London now. She has mentioned that she would be visiting her brother in Princeton in June. I had asked her to let me know when she comes and I will put in my best effort to see her.

I knew of Jasmine as those smart-and-beautiful types in our class but we did not have more than a passing knowledge of each other. I have to admit I started questioning that “smart” part when in June she gave me some of her travel details and actually said she would like to get together with me to remember our MBA days.

Well, to make a hash of the long story… there I was – this morning knocking at her brother’s door. She came out and I have to admit we must have surprised each other with our hair styles. I remember Jasmine’s face from 1989 and the chrysanthemum that her hair served as a background. Well, it has mostly completely straightened out. (I wonder whether she does what Sharmila does too !!). And, of course, my hair split with me decades back.

Having introduced me to her nephews and daughter, she asked me that question about Yogesh.

Here is the thing – I know of only one Yogesh in my life. He joined my first company in Bombay a year after me. I was assigned to do some training of that whole new recruit group. I remembered him as a particularly smart recruit. And I knew he lives in UK now. My synapses must have done some quick connections about he being in UK and she being in UK and asked “Sholapurkar”?

What I could not get is how they know each other. More importantly, even if they had run into each other in UK, how did the topic of me coming up? None of them know me that well.

And now we are back at the moment when I was staring at her…

“You know he is my husband, right?”

HOLY MACRO!!! All these days, I had independent knowledge of both of them, talked about families and all that and never for once realized they are are married to each other!! Of course, that led to the discussion of many more common friends from either side.

It was great seeing you Jasmine after three decades. I loved your perspective on MBA classes and when one should go for MBA. I wish I had spent some more time with you during 1989-1991. Some of that wisdom might have rubbed off on me.

But above all, as I told you on the phone also, I will always remember you and respect you (and Yogesh – now that I know that he is your husband) for one thing above all… for adopting your daughter. As I explained to you – during my time with the cause of battered women and kids in Dallas, one thing I learnt was that there are more kids than caring parents. Anybody who subtracts one from that problem is top notch in my books.

I got a glimpse today of the long period you had to endure to get the adoption done – but Sara (spelling?) could not have waited for more perfect parents.

May you and Yogesh’s tribe increase!!

20 July 2019

Blast from the past!

Remember how I was going to lay a siege for Partha at his sister’s place? Well, as I was walking into Paromita’s apartment complex last night, I got a call from my best friend from Durgapur days – Avijit – who now lives in Perth, Australia. I told him that I was hoping to meet Partha and we talked about the time he (Avijit) had visited me in IIT Chennai and a rather memorable musical evening the three of us had had in my dorm room. That was 1988.

I even talked about that evening to Paromita and Mrs. Roy while waiting for Partha. And this morning during the run, I mentioned again about that evening to Partha.

This evening, Avijit – may his tribe increase – managed to extract a picture of that evening from his archives and sent it!

That is Avijit on the tabla, Partha singing and myself on the guitar!

20 July 2019

The (other) Roy family!

First pic was moments before I was going to give up waiting for Partha. He was too late after a delayed flight. I said goodbye to Paromita and Mrs. Roy and was going to be on my way.
The second pic was moments after Partha walked in and had still not gotten over the surprise of seeing me!!

20 July 2019

The long wait was totally worth the wait!!

Last time Partho and I did some physical exercise together was back in 1989. Playing soccer in IIT-Chennai!! While he was a year junior, we had studied multiple times in the same school and college and thus got to know each other very well. in college, we were in the same dorm and in fact only about 6 rooms apart. I moved to Room 239 and he moved to the room I had before – 233.

The last time I saw Partho was in 2001 in Austin when he brought his sister – Paromita – (I distinctly remember his red Mazda Miata) to the hotel Sharmila and I were staying in (Four Seasons on river Guadalupe used to be our favorite weekend getaway then) for a Sunday brunch. Pinning down Partho thereafter has been a challenge. An incorrigible introvert, getting him to return my phone calls was harder than straightening out a dog’s tail. That said, this year, he did call me back!!!

But I was closing in on him. Last week, in a post, I had talked about visiting Natasha in NYC this week. Paromita (his sister) had tipped me that Partho will be in town too to visit her. Made some re-arrangements of my flight and laid siege in his sister’s house from 8PM. After about two and a half hours of waiting for him, I was almost ready to give up. His flight had been terribly delayed. Just as I was getting ready to leave his sister’s apartment, he walked in!!

The expression on his face was priceless!!!

We were too thrilled to see each other! We have a lot of memories together from the past. We used to play music together (he was a vocal singer and I used to play the tabla), we played soccer for our dorm team and even college team together and then there were those evenings of reading Sukumar Ray’s “Abol Tabol” together and breaking out into peals of laughter!! How can we ever forget “Aay re amaar moida thaasa naadus re”? !!

It was too late for all of us. So, we agreed to meet early morning in Central Park, go for a run and catch up on the past years.

It was a great run!! Partho, as elusive as you are, meeting you is always memorable!! We have to do another evening of “Abol Tabol” session !!

15 July 2019

Meeting him for the first time after he received the Presidential award!!

Sharmila and I got to know Kaushik when he was doing his Ph.D. in Georgia Tech. In fact, I believe it was my brother’s brother-in-law who had introduced us. We had had Kaushik at our house (at least once that I can remember) and then met him and his new bride – Anwesha at the Durga Pujo in Atlanta once. Then they moved to Boston. That was about 10 years back. The only other time I had met them was when I was in Boston for business many years back and we managed to have a coffee together at a cafe near his office.

After settling down Nikita, our next stop was to head towards Boston where Sharmila had to catch a flight for India. I remembered that on our way would be Needham – which is where Kaushik lives. They had a baby about 15 months back and I had seen his pictures – full of mischief, I might add – on Facebook a few times. A couple of quick phone calls and text messages and it was agreed that we would swing by their house on our way to the airport.

As I pulled up to their house, I could see a young kid with an elderly gentleman in the yard. That is why I realized that the grandparents were here too. (Turned out to be Anwesha’s parents).

I was good to see Kaushik. Especially after he received the US President’s Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Obama in 2017, I was a bit afraid that he might not recognize me any more 🙂 Nothing of that sort. We felt as much at home at his place as we do at our own. Having Kabir (their son) around was total fun. He totally lived up to being as mischievous as the Facebook posts from Anwesha would suggest.

Coming to think of it, we would not have it any other way either.