Monthly Archives: July 2013

The arc of my life last week…

… Took me from roadside “cha” in earthen “bhnar” to Starbucks coffee in paper glass. 7 cents for 1 ounce to 3 dollars for 12 ounces!!!
Nothing says I am back in the US like that first sip of Starbucks coffee. When the lady asked for my name, I asked her to write “Cha” in remembrance of all the tea I had in India πŸ™‚ And she did!!! I am sure she thought I looked suspiciously unChinese for such a name!! πŸ™‚
One more flight segment and then I am home!!!

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Slow Dance

My friend Guruprasad Bala had a very intriguing question yesterday on one of my posts – why is it that all these funny things happen only to me? Going thru my blogsite and glancing thru past posts, it appears that these funny things also seem to happen a lot while I am in India. Now that got me thinking.

Eventually, I realized a couple of things. First, when I travel to India – especially by myself, I seem to be in a very different state of mind. I feel a far less sense of stress and responsibility. Second, that leads me to observe things more and very differently. Elsewhere, my mind would be racing to worries of the future but here, my mind seems to be in an “idling” mode. Hence the eyes don’t gloss over a silly grill in front of AC but stops there and tries to observe. Or reads an obvious junk mail and instead of deleting it somewhat irritatedly, actually finds some humor in it. Or just sits by the highway with my brother and has tea and endlessly watches the traffic instead of the usual “Chol, deri hoye jaabey” (“Let’s go! We will get delayed”)

It would appear that I come much closer to “living in the now” while in India. I actually “slow down” And that releases a very different level of energy for me. That is often as strong a driver for me to come to India as it is to see my parents. (I agree with you – maybe, I can cut down on the blogging/Facebook part πŸ™‚ ).

And then I came to the third realization. Truthfully speaking, if I wanted to, I had plenty to worry about while in India. In which case, maybe those stress and responsibility factors are simply ruses. If I try harder, I can get myself to slow down even in US. I have to figure out how. If not for anything else, the ticket prices to India are increasing by leaps and bounds πŸ™‚ And I do not know if I can fly so much when I am 87 πŸ™‚

But to slow down is an incredibly exhilarating feeling. Does this happen to you?

I am reminded of a poem “Slow Dance” by David Weatherford that rings very true for me right now. Unfortunately, I am guilty of each and every question he asks.

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round,
or listened to rain slapping the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight,
or gazed at the sun fading into the night?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

Do you run through each day on the fly,
when you ask “How are you?”, do you hear the reply?

When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
with the next hundred chores running through your head?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow,
and in your haste, not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch, let a friendship die,
’cause you never had time to call and say hi?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere,
you miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,
it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life isn’t a race, so take it slower,
hear the music before your song is over.

So, now I have a new goal in life – how to slow down regardless of where I am!!!

Getting my father in law drunk :-)

By now, you know that my parents – or for that matter my sister – do not exactly look up to alcohol consumption of any kind. My mother in law is the same way. However, my father in law is willing to try out new things and has far fewer preconceived notions.
Last night, I took them out for dinner in Durgapur – along with my brother and brother in law. First thing I did of course is ordered wine. Then I asked my father in law what would he like to have. He promptly said “margarita” (he remembered the only other occasion he had tried out margarita – with me, in Memphis, TN in 1997).
Of course, my mother in law was having fits πŸ™‚ She asked me “Angur gulo pochabar ki dorkar? Tatka khelei to hoto” (What is the bid idea letting the grapes rot (ferment); why can you not just eat them fresh) πŸ™‚
And my father in law was getting the “third degree”. “Buro boyese bhimroti dhorechhe” and so on πŸ™‚ He was however enjoying the drink. Which was not making things any the easier for my mother in law πŸ™‚ Regardless, he was not going to be cowed down – not last evening at least.
My mother in law then tried some different tack – “E sob gulo kheley mota hoye jaabey” (you will become fat from the sugar in these drinks). I think she believes the tactics to scare her daughter works equally effectively on her husband and son in law πŸ™‚
Anyways, eventually we stopped at two drinks, ordered food and normalcy returned over dinner.
The height of it all was – much later at night, when my brother and I were dropping them at their home in my brother’s car, I saw my mother in law quietly noting down the phone number from one of those seemingly ubiquitous “Mod chharan, nesha chharan, drug chharan” posters off the walls. (I think this is mostly hacks trying to sell off fraud stuff to affected parents, spouses promising to get their kids, husbands etc off any addiction – those posters are there all over in Bengal).
I could barely hold down my laughter till they left the car and went inside their house!!
It was very very funny πŸ™‚ I know of only one Facebook friend of mine who might not find this funny at all πŸ™‚

Unique experience – “Chor dhora”

I had an unique experience in Kalyani a few days back that I have to tell my FB friends especially if you are not from Bengal.
And it is about catching a burglar.
Evidently, there was a burglar that was slinking from boundary wall to boundary wall near my dad’s apartment building. And the security guy in his building (coincidentally he is also called Rajib – but certainly with a lot more courage than me) spotted him, kept yelling that there is a thief nearby and then chased him down and caught him.
Now comes the best part. “Chor dhara” has a few salient points to it regardless of where in Bengal it happens.
First, once a thief is caught, it becomes a spectator show. If you yell that there is a thief in the neighborhood – other than young males, everybody locks themselves up. But if somebody yells that the thief has been caught, people of all ages and gender pour out from their houses like ants spotting a sugar hill.
Second, there is total “instant justice”. There is scant respect for the police and the judicial system. Everybody just keeps beating up the burglar. As an example, my brother went there and joined the melee. No sooner had he spotted the guy who was obviously the target of attention, he just walked up and slapped him twice!! I asked him if we were sure he was actually stealing or had stolen before. I got a long lecture back from my brother!!!
Third, the stories of what the accused has done and how he was caught gets bloated and embellished with every minute. If you join the show thirty minutes later with the usual “Ki hoyeche dada/didi”?, the impression you will gather is that there was a gang involved, most escaped however three guys (it will surely include at least one of the sons of the narrator) managed to fight back bare handed the gangs’ weapons and caught the head guy!! πŸ™‚
Fourth, all the bravado escapes moment they have to take any responsibility. As an example, the cops eventually came. They heard everything and then picked a couple of folks who were yelling the most about what the accused has done and then asked them to come to the police station to make a formal complaint. Suddenly all those “dadas” were nowhere to be found!! Some crap about “night shift duty aachhe” or something like that!!!! πŸ™‚

Chance meeting

Here I am sitting in the Business Lounge in the new beautiful Kolkata airport. Flight leaves at 4:10 AM (ugh πŸ™ ) and the Lounge is pretty deserted. In fact two more passengers other than me.
One of them is an old gentleman (I figured a little younger than my dad) sitting not too far from me. He suddenly walked up to me and asked me “I know you are very busy but can I ask you for a help? Can you keep an eye on my luggage – I need to go to the toilet”. I, of course did not tell him that I am not really busy – just blogging.
When he came back, just so that I remain confident that I have not lost the art of irritating my wife and kids by making friends with complete strangers, I decided to take some interest in his story. Boy, am I glad I did.
He asked me if I have come on business – I told him about my parents and their health and why I travel to India for personal reasons not business. He seemed concerned and asked me about my dad’s age. I said 75. He asked me if I could guess his age. I figured a little less than my dad – he is traveling internationally by himself – so I pegged it around 65-68. He said 87 !!! I was like WHAT? a 87 year old Indian, by definition should be in a wheelchair in any airport. Or that is the impression I have gathered watching elderly Indians traveling at various airports.
Evidently, he has four daughters – in SFO, Houston, Philly and London. He visits them one by one once a year. So, I asked him what does he do when he is not visiting his daughters. He fished out his business card and said “I practice”. From the business card, looks like he is a tax lawyer. I was just floored by this.
So, I asked him – “Help me understand this. You do not need money. You are 87. Why are you working???”. He said his wife left him many moons back. And when his daughters left the country, he just was too lost to know what to do. So, he went back to the one thing he knew – practicing law!!
Fascinating!!
I wonder if forty years from now, even if I wanted to, can I possibly work in my domain? Also, will I be strong enough to travel internationally all by myself?
There is something to be learnt from Mr. Mahapatra from Bankura – you are only as old as you think you are!!!

AC grill problem solved!

The curiosity of that grill outside the AC unit (see post from a couple of days back) eventually got the better of me and I decided to walk into a stranger’s house to get the story straight from the horse’s mouth.
Against my brother-in-law’s advice (who is anything but adventurous), a couple of days back I walked into the house and rang the bell. An elderly gentleman (slightly younger than my dad, perhaps) opened the door. All I told him is that my dad lives in the building behind and without any further questions, he invited me in. I was a little uncomfortable accepting so much hospitality, so I suggested that we sit in the balcony – since I had a simple question for him.
He opened by asking after my dad’s health. One thing led to the other and I was struck by his kindness, hospitality and intellectual curiosity. Before I knew it, we were talking about his time spent in Kashmir during two wars (he is an ex-Air Force pilot), about his dad who was posted in Assam in tea estates and how his dad built the house 52 years back. Found out his two sons and daughter are all spread out far and wide (including abroad); his brother lives upstairs and he lives with his wife downstairs.
Our deep discussion on why war is simply a matter of political policy was going great guns (in between, his wife had already given us a cup of tea) when I was rudely awakened by a call from my sister saying it was lunch time and I need to come home soon.
I thanked him and walked back home marveling at his career and experience. I had almost entered our building when I realized something. So, I ran back (it was only thirty seconds) and again rang the bell. This time I told him that I completely forgot to ask him the question for which I had come the first time to begin with!!
He seemed to believe that his brother put in the grill (the AC is on second floor) to protect the AC from sunlight. He thought that direct sunlight would harm the compressor. When I pointed out that why not go for a solid structure instead of a grill with holes, he answered the grill diffuses the light enough. I thanked him again and came back.
I now think Kuntal was right. Some overzealous sales guy made some quick bucks from an ignorant customer.

What to do sir? We are like that only!!

Got this email today (the sender obviously mistyped the gmail address and I received it). But this is “Bangreji” (Bengali English) at its best…

“Dear,
Rajib Da, as per our telephonic discussion, I am giving you the details of accident….

When we were moving towards siliguri from Guwahati, near about 8.35 pm we were crossing Nalbari, at that time we headed a divider bolder to take diversion to other road. Then I called to maruti customer care help line, they given me the local maruti authorised dealer phone no. after that I called to the respective person ( Mr. Bikash), he told me to take the Car to their point, then we hire a car (Paid By Me Rs. 1500/-) for pulling our car and reached the dealer point. After that they told accident insurance claim facility is not available at their Dealer point. If I have to do the claim then I have to take my car to Guwahati dealer point. And they arrange a car ( for pulling our car) which took my car to Guwahati Bimal Showroom. ( Paid by Me Rs. 2000/-)

After That all story you know very well…

Regards

Dipak Mukherjee.

πŸ™‚