13 April 2017

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.

13 April 2017

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.

13 April 2017

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!!