Category Archives: Travel

Meeting Sri Ganesh

I was done with my India trip. 4 days with parents and 1 day meeting some folks from my past in Pune. All that was left was now a four hour drive to Mumbai airport and off to US I would be. Except that there was one more intersection point to be created.

I credit Sri Ganesh entirely for making this meeting happen. I had no time to get into the city. So, Sri Ganesh came to the airport to meet me!! That was awfully nice of him. We went in to a nearby hotel and grabbed a glass of wine and some light dinner.

Nearly 26 years back, I worked in the same office as Sri Ganesh in Mumbai. He was the head of Finances and Administration for our company. After 2 years, I was shipped out to the USA.  He really had no reason to remember me much.

There are well networked people and there are well networked people. And then there is Sri Ganesh. Not only did he remember me, he remembered just about anybody and everybody I enquired after. Most of our conversation went something like this…

Me: “Do you remember the gentleman who was in charge of the library?”
He: “Charles D’Souza?”
Me: “Yes. He is absolutely one of the most genuine human being I have ever come across”.
He: “You want to talk to him?”
And then he would get Charles on the other line and have me to talk to him!!!

He seemed to have contacts with and the contacts of just about anybody who was there in that company that time. I was pretty impressed how well he remembered so many people. Someday, I hope to grow a memory like him.

Equally impressive was how many times he had set of offices and businesses from scratch in his career. Now, he devotes a lot of time to charitable causes.

Some of the perspectives he gave of life while reflecting on our past was eye opening. He seemed to always accentuate the positives in every change. It is a pity that I missed him when he was visiting Atlanta a few years back.

I am told attitudes can be contagious. I want some of his to rub off on me…

 

A really cool guy!!

I had kept the last meeting in Pune for one of the most interesting persons I have known – Dhananjay Nene. We called him Danny and in fact, still do. We have crossed each other’s paths many many times.

First, we went to MBA school together in IIM- Ahmedabad. Both of us had a passion for computers and programming those days. We both joined the same company after our MBA. We even worked in the same project for a year and a half!!

We came to the USA literally in the same flight! We worked in the same office in US. We stayed in the same apartment complex in Florida. We shared the same rental car. And then we moved to Dallas together too!!

As if that was not enough, both of us were – and still are – married to Architects – Supriya and Sharmila!!!

Somewhere around 1995, we split ways. He quit the company and joined a large telecom company in the Northeast. I quit a few months later and joined a start up in Dallas itself.

I knew what I wanted to talk about when I met him. Of course, after I was done with enquiring about his family – especially his mom who won the battle against cancer a few year back. The first topic was how he chose to stay with programming. I moved on from programming at some point of time. One might even suggest, with some grain of truth, that my programming was bad enough that I made the cut to be a manager 🙂 But programming was Danny’s passion. He stuck to it.

Moment I saw him, I had flashbacks of furious typing on the keyboard (he was probably pushing 100 keystrokes per minute those days – we used to joke behind his back that approximately 50 of them were backspaces 🙂 ).

“Are you still typing that fast?”

“Faster. Now I use a mechanical keyboard”.

Of course, for me –  a guy who pecks on the screen of an iPad to write something, it was a revelation for me that there were actually different kind of keyboards!!

“You are at a vantage point of having stuck to the same thing for nearly twenty five years. Few people can reflect on programming as a process like you can, I suspect. Forget the language and frameworks. I will not understand them any more. But tell me what beliefs have you formed around processes or teams after this long a time”.

“You are not going to like it. It is too contrarian”.

“Try me. I suspect that is the difference. It would take that much experience to negate common wisdom”.

“Well, I do not believe in separation of coding from testing”.

Essentially, he made a case of why creating a separation of labor between coding and testing passes the buck around. A coder has to be the tester. The creator has to guarantee the quality.

“But, what about inherent bias?”, I pressed on.

“Get a peer review done of your code”.

That did make sense to me. But I was not ready for the next one.

“I do not believe in timelines”, said he.

“What do you mean you do not believe in timelines?”

“Artificial timelines are what creates so many quality issues today”.

“But this is not a hobby, Danny. Business speaks in two languages – money and timeline. On what other basis do you create trust or benchmark of performance?”

“How scientific are those timelines? Aren’t those artificial to begin with? Somebody drew a line on the sand to release a product or launch a campaign etc etc – right? It is not like somebody is going to die or a competitor is going to take away the whole market next day, right?”

I will tell you what. I got his point that, essentially, all timelines are artificial. I also got the point that deadlines can drive taking shortcuts and slip ups on quality. But throughout his explanation, I have to admit, I struggled with how I can conduct business without timelines. I have also struggled with the essential definition of quality. Whose eyes is it in – the customer or the creator?

Anyways, this is what I have always admired about him. He has always chosen to take the road not so well travelled and that is why I absolutely love and respect his opinions.

Our final part of the session was talking about his other passion – motorcycles. He has four of them and does a lot of long distance motor biking in India. I hope some day to have one and do some pleasure riding here in America. I did pick up quite some safety tips and lessons for a hopefully-soon-to-be-beginner.

As you can imagine, with his intensely analytical way of looking at things, he gave some great insights into how riding a motorcycle needs you to train your brain differently. He brought it to life with a great example…

“Imagine a cow crossing the road… or in your case, a deer crossing your road. Your brain processes the animal as a danger and a threat. Your eyes are locked on the animal. Here is the thing. You will drive your motorcycle where your eyes are. You are going to run into the animal at that speed. Instead, you have to retrain your brain to focus on the escape route – essentially, the gap between the animal and the road. Preferably the gap that is behind the animal not in front.”

That actually made a lot of sense to me.

It was getting ready to take the four hour drive to Mumbai airport for me. I could have sat for another few hours and soaked in a lot of wisdom from Danny. But I had to take leave for him. Hope to get both of us and our wives together some time… just like the good old days when we had no kids!!

Breakfast meeting in Pune

During the various stages of my professional life, I have been impressed by and immensely admired different folks. I have learnt a lot from them and almost always I found them to be different from me. And it is that difference that I have tried to study and then learn. (and sometimes chose not to learn – after deciding that I am a very different person and not every thing will suit me).

In the first couple of years of my job life, when I was soaking in as much as I could and essentially learning from what I was seeing around me in my first brush with corporate life, there was an unforgettable gentleman that I had come across – Nandu Kulkarni. I was never really part of his team except for the last few weeks when I was on a holding pattern waiting for my papers to come to be transferred to our company’s Latino operations in Florida.

Above all, it was his demeanor that had impressed me. Extremely level headed and soft spoken, I used to marvel at how he used to deal with stressful situations with an absolute calm and unemotional approach. I had sought him out to be my mentor and used to often swing by his office to chat with him. He, in a moment of lapse in judgment, no doubt – had taken me under his wings and used to give me quite a few pointers.

After leaving India, I had tried to keep in touch with him. When I visited my old company in Bombay, he was the first person I sought out to meet. And then I lost touch over time. Eventually, I got back in touch and had called him a few years back. I learnt how he had grown a passion for music and that he had moved to Pune.

I was plenty lucky that I was able to meet him during this trip to India when I landed in Pune. He was in Japan with his wife and had returned around midnight the previous night. Graciously, he had agreed to wake up early and make the effort to come and have breakfast with me.

Just being able to see him and say Thanks for every which way he has influenced me was a great achievement already. But, on top of that, the breakfast session was another learning exercise too. As an example, the first thing that struck me was how young he looked. His stance was straight as an arrow and he appeared to have little to no fat. Mind you, he must be at least ten years older than me.

“What is the secret to your health and young looks? Exercise?” I asked.

Unsurprisingly, he keeps up with a routine of biking, walking and hiking. Pune has quite a few hills around it and he takes full advantage of it.

“How about food?”, I pressed on.

“I have no restrictions on food”, he said.

“Really? Portion control?”

“Not really.”

“Really?”

“Have you heard of Horace Fletcher?”

“Nope”

And from then on, I learnt about Fletcherism, which he swears by. I just downloaded the book today and I need to read it up. But what I liked is it does not ask you to avoid any kind of food. In fact, it encourages you to eat whatever you feel like. This is a little reassuring to me. I have always felt that each human body is too complex and too different to draw a broad brush on any kind of food as either definitely good for all or definitely bad for all. Instead, this focuses on eating only when you feel hungry (not by the time of the day), masticating your food till your saliva has fully processed the food (don’t gulp before it is ready), enjoy all the taste and feel of the food, and stop once you feel you are not hungry any more.

I found quite some similarity with another philosophy of Staying in the Now. One of the practices encouraged there is to slowly chew your food and focus all your attention to food.

After some time of doing this, apparently, Nandu has been able to get off all medicines. (He had a heart attack once before). His sum total medicine intake in a year is about a couple of paracetamols if he runs fever and such.

Another interesting story I heard from Nandu was his trip to Antarctica. The real interesting part was how he took the Polar Plunge. To be sure you have to dive into water at freezing point. And as Nandu pointed out, he can’t even take a cold shower. But apparently, he got over his fear and went for it. And swore that it was one of the most exhilarating and satisfying experience ever. I am pretty sure that the satisfying part was a post facto feeling 🙂 I have a deathly fear of heights. Maybe this will get me to do a skydive once in my lifetime.

One breakfast is too little a timeframe to catch up with Nandu. But I needed to go and he, I am sure was tired too.

“Next time, please meet again. Do not use your algorithm.”

The algorithm he is referring to is what I had explained to him a few minutes earlier. There are about a dozen people I know in Pune. I was going to be there for less than a day. I explained to him that I was prioritizing initially to meet teachers, parents of friends, elders, seniors and people who I had not seen for the longest time first.

I laughed out loud and promised that I will make an exception for him in my algorithm.

For near strangers, that was way too much fun!!

It is a sheer wonder that this meeting ever actually took place. That it happened in Lalita’s house was also not something I would have guessed. For all that, the four hours somehow went away without us realizing much at all. Let me see if I can unentangle the whole thing.

First there is Lalita. Last year, I had located her to be in Pune. She and I went to the same school in nursery grade (that is pre-kindergarten). After that year, I had met her twice in my life. On Saraswati pujo day in 1980 (in Raja, Tata and Mithudi’s house) and then on Saraswati pujo day in 1984. When I found her out last year, I had called her up and she promptly let me know that she had no recollection of our meetings or having gone to school together for a year but admitted that while she had heard my name. She was gracious enough not to put the phone down immediately. Instead we talked for a long time about our common batchmates.

The next is Jayita. Again, I had met her only twice in my life. But I have distinct memories of both those meetings. Nishi, I believe, had given me her number last uear. And when I had called her up, she too had no recollection of me. At least, she too, admitted that she had heard my name.

Before coming to Pune, I had asked if Lalita would have an hour to meet up. She, not only jumped at that (did I mention she did not know much about me? 🙂 ) but insisted that I came over for lunch at her place. I threw all my arguments of time being too precious to be wasted on hosting duties and all that at her and somehow convinced her we would meet outside.

She suggested that she call two of her batchmates from Durgapur too. Jayita was one of them. Since I knew her, I called her too and let her know that I was hoping she could join us. Well, I am not sure what happened but I think I got arm twisted into meeting at Lalita’s house anyways and all my protestations were summarily dismissed. Lalita was going to call another batchmate – Manvir.

When it came to Manvir, we were true strangers. Neither one of us had ever met or talked to each other. To the best of our combined knowledge.

The fourth person there Lalita’s husband – Bidyut-da. This is where the real twist comes. Bidyut-da and I are again complete strangers. Unlike Manvir, he was not even my batchmate. And yet, among all of the folks there, he was the one who somehow knew most about me! And he was the one excitedly waiting to meet me. So much so, he took a day off from work so that we could meet!!

Over hours of meeting and some incredible Bengali and Punjabi cooking – thanks to all the three ladies – we found out that these four seemingly strangers were interconnected by an uncanny set of intersection points that. Strange, how the rich tapestry of life can be so unpredictably familiar.

I will skip Lalita and Jayita’s connections with me – since we were batchmates, we were bound to have a lot of common friends from the batch. Also, since I had talked to them before, I had established as many of those connections as I could.

Bidyut-da had heard a lot about me from a gentleman called Swarup-da who was his fellow batch mate in REC, Durgapur. Swarup-da, as it turns out, helped me prepare for NTSE exam during 1981-1983. That was the starting point. And then as we traced down our lives, there were way too many of those connecting points. Of course, Lalita, herself is an intersection point for both of us. Then I found out that his sister lives bang opposite Sharmila’s parents’ place. Who I had visited just a couple of days back.

Bidyut-da talked about another classmate of his – whose brother lives very close to where we were meeting that day. And that gentleman is none other than Ranjan Ghosh – my classmate from fifth grade to tenth grade! I wish I had some time in the evening to go meet him but I needed to head out for Mumbai. I further found out that Bidyut-da and Lalita were particularly close to our next door neighbor from the early 1980s and I had absolutely no idea of that! Got a good update on that family from them. I had lost touch around the early nineties.

Coming to Manvir, other than our common batchmates (although we were in different schools), I could not think of any possible connections I might have with her. Turns out I could not have been any more mistaken. She and I have some strong intersection points that brings us all the way back to Atlanta. Manvir is married to a Bengali. She talked about a couple from US she knows thru her sister in law and how she has met them many times when they have visited Kolkata. She further talked about how she has accompanied the husband for shopping and helped him pick sarees for his wife. And a few more minutes later, I discovered that the said couple is none other than our own good old friends Swapan and Jaba in Atlanta!!!

Speaking of connections in Atlanta, there is of course another Manbir (similarly pronounced but differently spelt). A quick pointer here. For Punjabis it is pretty common to have the same first name be used for boys and girls. Well, Manbir used to live in Atlanta and is now in south Georgia. He and I go back to 1977 – we were classmates for 6 years. And I found out that the two Manbirs’ (or Manvirs, if you will) dads are brothers!!!

Like I said, we were having so much fun finding out all these connections that we completely forgot that we were supposedly strangers. In fact, we were so excited that somewhere, Lalita’s two daughters joined in to observe all the fun we were having.

Eventually, I had to take leave. I do not think we had finished learning about our life journeys yet. Hopefully, we will get to meet again.

The reason I was in Pune this time

Teachers, especially at school level, are almost always incredibly influential in shaping up a kid. In my own childhood, I was blessed with an excellent set of them. They were often very different from each other and because of that I learnt from them very differently. In that bright constellation, some stars stood out perhaps a little brighter than the others.

One such star was Mrs. Devyani Biswas. She was my English teacher in ninth and tenth grades and also my class teacher (home room teacher) in tenth grade. Without her indelible mark, I can gainsay that I would have grown nary an interest in English literature.

Frankly, I was not that proficient at written English. It did not flow as well as – say, my desk mate Dibyendu Dutta who I was in awe of. Truth be told, it still does not flow that well but my grammatical mistakes and typos make reading it jarring enough that people are usually distracted from the quality of English. My approach to written English those days were not so much dissimilar to the precision that I used to bring to Math and Physics problems. With a wholly different effect, if I may add. There is a telling story that brought this out when Mrs. Biswas had given us a homework to write an essay on “Sound”. If you have the time, you can read up about it here… http://www.rajibroy.com/?p=6911

But finding Mrs. Biswas later was a much trickier problem than writing English essays. The only knowledge I had was that a couple of years after I left school, her husband and she left for Pune. The other data I had was that Mr. Biswas had joined a company called Thermax.

After that, if I could ever find anybody who hailed from Pune, I would try to see if they somehow might lead me to a Biswas family. Just last year, I had realized that a classmate from my eleventh and twelfth grade was working with Thermax. I even made him go to their company database and find out all the Biswas-es from their Pune location.

There were two reasons my searches failed. First, I learnt that evening from Mr. Biswas that he had left Thermax within five years. And the second was that I had forgotten that Mrs. Biswas spelt her name the non-Bengali way – “Devyani”. The typical Bengali way would be “Debjani”. We, Bengalis, can be a little liberal about throwing in our “b”s willy nilly ???? In fact, my name too, outside of Bengal, would be written with a “v” and not a “b”. So, all my internet and social media searches were essentially looking for somebody not my teacher!!

Finally, the search was put to a close when I met my third grade class teacher Mrs. Bose at her house in Kolkata during my last trip to India. Subsequently, I had written to and talked with Mrs. Biswas. She had mentioned that I could still call her “Mrs. DB”, if I so wished. That was indeed how we used to call her those days!!!

Ever since, I had mentioned to Sharmila a few times that I needed to visit Pune during one of my trips to see my parents. The opportunity came in the very next one. I was able to route myself out of Mumbai as the exit point and thus, the previous night, after saying my adieu to parents and siblings, took a flight straight to Pune and showed up at her doorstep.

Over drinks at her place and dinner outside, we caught up on our life journeys. Both her children are in US. Thru all those discussions, a realization I had felt before kept coming back to me. Of all the intersection points I have created, meeting teachers from the long past has been some of the most rewarding. Followed closely by meeting parents of my friends (and the elderly generation, in general).

When I am with a teacher from my past, I remember a lot of events from those days and they further imprint upon me how those teachers were a big part of whoever it is that I am today. In fact, I mentioned to Mrs. Biswas a story from “Tales from Far and Near”. It was called “As the night, the day”. Written by Abioseh Nicol. It involved two characters – Kojo and Bandele. I remember having asked Mrs. Biswas what did the title of the story even mean. And she had explained the original words from Shakespeare – “Be true to thine own self / And it shall follow / As the night, the day”. Essentially Polonius was urging his son Laertes before he set out to the seas to be always true to his own principles and that success would follow from that as naturally as the night follows at the end of the day.

To this day, during extreme stressful situations at work and home, those are my trusted go to lines.

Similarly, we talked about Nissim Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion” from Panorama, “Where the mind is without fear” by Rabindranath Tagore and so on and at every point I realized some those small learnings in early childhood translated to much bigger lessons in life. Little did I realize that at that time when I felt that they were simply a means to getting a good grade.

This story will not be complete if I did not talk about Mr. Arup Biswas – her husband and my anchor point for searches in the earlier years. Gracious to a fault, he put me to ease instantaneously with his approachable style, intellectual curiosity and some some very keen observations. I found myself often engrossed in deep discussions with him – who really was none other than a total stranger to me till a few minutes back. Quite a few topics were left to be discussed that night for a future point of time. I wish I had gotten to know him earlier in my life.

At the end of the dinner, the clock pushing almost half past eleven, they dropped me at my hotel. Before I let them go, I let Mrs. Biswas know why it was so important for me to meet her (and other teachers too).

Life is too short. Frankly, many of us find out rudely that it is often shorter than we thought. I just wanted to get an opportunity to tell her face to face – “Thank you for helping me become who I am today”.

Which I did. With all sincerity.

Meeting Mr. and Mrs. Ghatak

The sun was warming up pretty fast on Sunday morning in Kalyani. By 10 am, it was started to get real uncomfortable. The niece was somewhere else, brother in law had gone to work, dad was fast asleep after the morning chat session and mom was busy in the kitchen.

I proposed to my sister that she get dressed up and we go meet another set of elderly couple. She has been so impressed by all my friends and their parents that I have introduced her to in Kalyani over the last few years, that she readily jumped at the proposal. I had barely gotten ready myself when I saw from upstairs that she had already pulled the car out and was waiting for me.

About 10 minutes of Google map aided drive later, we parked the car in the shade of a tree and knocked on a door of the adjoining house. An elderly lady came out from inside and kept looking at me while trying to open the grilled door fence.

“Apni ki Mrs. Ghatak? Dekhtey to Moumita-r moto-i laagchhe”. I asked if she was Mrs. Ghatak and then pretty much answered it myself by observing that she looked uncannily like Moumita.

The said Moumita was married to a team mate of mine from 90s in Dallas – Arindam Banerjee. Arindam and I have met each other a couple of times after that but I do not believe that I have met Moumita for the better part of the last one and a half decades.

One of those years when I had called her up to wish her a happy birthday, I had gotten to know that her parents live in Kalyani. Last year, my brother and I had attempted to visit them – but they had given me the slip and had headed out for America the previous day.

After we settled down, Mr. Ghatak came out. And he surprised me by mentioning how he had met me almost twenty years back in a Durga Puja in Plano area in Texas. The details matched but for the life of me, I could not remember the meeting. Obviously he has sharper memory than I do.

I also found out that he is an avid swimmer. He swims regularly every week!! I cannot think of another person I know in India of that age group that swims regularly.

But the best part of the morning was Mr. and Mrs. Ghatak talking about all the constant domestic tiffs apparently they have. Both my sister and I had a good laugh together with them!!

Successful in the second try!!

Sometime around last year, I had traced this classmate of mine from eleventh and twelfth grades (junior and senior in high school) – Debasis to no other place than Kalyani – where my parents live! During my previous trip, I went to his house and met his parents. But he and his wife Joyoti were away on a vacation to Delhi. Some might even suggest that they had caught an early wind of the fact that I might be coming 🙂

This time though, when my sister and I walked in, we were able to meet all four of them! I saw Debasis for the first time after 1985. I remember him as a very studious and easy to get along person from my dorm building – Gouranga Bhavan. I used to visit his medical college to meet some of my other friends – later in life – but for some reason, never ran into him.

It was, as always, very exciting to catch up on an old classmate’s life journey. You probably will not be surprised but I found some intersection points with his wife Joyoti too! Her neighbor during her childhood days in Ranchi was my teammate in a job – much, much later in life. Also, she was classmates in college with a few of Sharmila’s friends from school!!

But undoubtedly, the exhilarating part was talking to his parents. Specially his dad – who, even at this advanced age keeps himself occupied in more ways than I can dream of. Of all the activities that he talked about that he gives his money and time to, the most intriguing was how he has been helping out about 100 prisoners in a penitentiary center by getting them involved in various activities – educational, sports and spiritual.

Unfortunately, my sister and I did not have much time since we had to go back to my dad. But I will be back. Specially since Debasis and Joyoti suggested we should go out for a drink some time! 🙂