23 April 2018

No Durgapur Xavierian worth his salt…

… has been ever accused of having passed up on a perfectly good excuse to have a party. And this time there were two – both Subrata and I happened to be in Durgapur on that day. Met up with quite a few old friends – Jyotiswar, Gautam, Santanu, Prodipto and Kunal!

When I vociferously protested about it becoming an Indian party (I always complain in any party where the women/wives sit on one side and men/husbands sit on the other about it becoming an Indian party), the womenfolk gently reminded me that I was in India and it WAS an Indian party! 🙂

We were regaled by Sharmistha and Gopa’s songs, some blended scotch and a lot of childish banter!!

Ah! The good times!!

23 April 2018

Another classmate from middle school days…

Unlike the chance meeting with Tapas at that grocery store, meeting Indranil was a far more deliberate one. After leaving school, I was in touch with him only sporadically. Recently, he helped me put two long lost friends together – a friend of mine in Atlanta and somebody Indranil knew in the neighborhood where he used to live before.

One fine day a couple of months back, I was peppered by him with a lot of questions on Big Data. I had sent him one of my favorite books on this topic so he could read it up. I had also told him that one of these days, I will show up in his office in his college and we can talk about it…

In that sweltering heat of Durgapur, last Friday, I did show up in his office! But first, I was stopped by the security guy for trying to enter the building in shorts! Indranil had to come to my rescue!! We talked about a lot of things – and one of his twin sisters came by to say Hi too (she was very small when Indranil and I went to middle school together) – but we never talked about Big Data!

Perhaps that deserves a return trip!

23 April 2018

A chance meeting

The other day, while in Durgapur, I was leaving one of my relatives’ house and as I looked at the small street side shop about 30 yards away, I thought I recognized one of the customers buying some stuff there. On a hunch I walked up to him with that – by now common – refrain – “Chintey paarchhis?”

Amazingly, he had no doubt who I was. I guess he has seen me in Facebook.

Last time I had seen Tapas was when I had visited him in a new business he had started. That was at least two decades back. Later, I had heard that his dad was not doing well and had made an attempt to visit him unsuccessfully. We had gone to school together for a few years but finished up from different schools.

Fortunately, Tapas told me that his dad is doing better. I wish I had another 30 minutes in hand – so I could go and see him. It was a little odd time of the day and I had to hurry to get back to my parents in Kalyani!

Next time, for sure Tapas!

What a great case of being in the right time at the right place!!

23 April 2018

Smart Alec!

While in the air from Kolkata to Delhi, I was trying to Airdrop a few pictures from my phone to the laptop. Upon switching on the bluetooth, it started discovering nearby devices.

Check out the name of the last device it found!

Smart Alec!!

23 April 2018

A lasting memory from this trip

My dad loves Natasha’s writings. He has a standing instruction for me to bring her writings when I come. The challenge, of course, is that most of her writings are in online format and my dad is a complete offline kind of guy 🙂 A couple of times I had brought printouts for him but that does not do it for him. It has to be in a newspaper format. I brought him a few more this time.

On Sunday morning, he brought them to the balcony and started poring over them. The camera angle was not great but I think you can see smiling as he kept reading one of those articles. He would occasionally lift his head, gaze away in the horizon, mumble something to himself, smile some more and then restart reading..

I quietly took some pictures and left him to himself.

23 April 2018


The car finally left the asphalt and hit dirt road. We kept bouncing off the potholes and gave right of the road to the occasional goat, hen, duck, cow and even a pig at one time. Every half a kilometer we would ask somebody if they knew the house of a Uttam Dhara. He repairs motorcycles, we would add in case they struggled to place Uttam.

It was like playing pool. We would get bounced off the walls every half a kilometer till we stopped the car and walked down a very narrow lane and came to a house with a small kid standing in front.

“Uttam Dhara-r baari chinis?”
He quickly motioned to signal that we had reached the right house.
A lady came out from inside the house.
I could barely – just barely – recognize the face.

“Arati-di?”, I asked.
“Chintey paarchho?”, she asked if I recognized her.
I do not even remember what I gave for an answer as I was overcome with a surge of joy.

This had been a long wait. Even by my standards, this is was a tough search. The problem is I knew only her first name. I knew she was from some village near where my grandmother lived. And only God knew where she had moved after she got married. Trying to find such a person is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

Arati-di was a domestic help we had at our home in Durgapur in the mid seventies. Both my parents used to work leaving the three of us often unattended at home. My grandmother used to find poor people near her village and ask them if they would go to Durgapur to be a domestic help. This would give them food and shelter and also some money for their families.

First, we had Pratima-di. Then we had Maya-di and finally Arati-di. I have made very little progress on the first two. But I had a breakthru on Arati-di when I had gone to meet Jagannath-da (if you remember, he was the farmer who used to put me on his shoulder to pluck mangoes) a few months back. I had asked a few villagers then about all the three ladies.

One of those villagers had said that he had heard Arati-di’s son repairs motorcycles but he had no phone numbers or anything. That, surprisingly, was a strong clue. After coming back to US, I called up my uncle who still lives in the old village and asked for the local guy who fixes motorcycle. You can only imagine my uncle’s surprise at his nephew from US asking for the guy in the village who fixes motorcycles!!

The idea was to rely on the network of motorcycle repairmen. I was hoping that somehow they would know each other between villages to exchange spare parts and all that. Believe it or not, after bouncing around a few of those motorcycle repairmen with the same question “Do you know somebody in your trade whose mother’s name in Arati? His mother would be in mid fifties. So son should be around mid thirties” – as the network grew further and further out – one day, I hit pay dirt. Actually it was late night. The family was at a party and I was sitting by the pool late night making phone calls to the villages.

One guy said his name was Uttam. And his mother’s name was Arati.
I explained that I was calling from US.
“Keno? Ki chai?”, he was a little frightened and demanded to know what was going on. Perhaps he was being protective of his mom.
I explained the whole context that his mom helped me grow up when I was a kid.
He was incredulous.

“Apni ki Debipur-er?” (Are you from Debipur?)
I told him that I was from Durgapur but I was born in Debipur and that is where my grandmother lived and my father grew up.
“Teen bhai bon?” (You folks are three siblings?)
Yes, Yes! I had yelled.

He let me know that Arati-di had talked about us a couple of times when he himself was growing up. He told me to call back in the evening when he would be home back from his shop.

Which I did and then talked to Arati-di and noted down her village name.

And promised to see her again.

Which I did.

As I was saying, it brought unbelievable joy to see Arati-di again. I could barely recognize her face and she could not have picked me out in a crowd, of course. But I was carrying a few old pictures from those days which I showed her.

We talked for a long time. She kept telling stories from those days how she used to take us out for walks. I remembered that she used to help us with our meals when we came back from school. I even remember she had taught me all the words of “Ikiri mikiri…. “ (it is a silly game young kids play to a rhyme).

As she and I talked, numerous – very curious – villagers dropped by. There were kids a few years old to very elderly people who were no doubt amused by this clean shaven head – shorts wearing – shoes without socks – profusely sweating guy who had descended upon them.

I met Arati-di’s entire family. Her husband, his brother and their side family, Arati-di’s son and daughter and their families, Arati-di’s three grand kids. And the three cows, a bunch of ducks and the sole rooster that is part of the family!!

She lives in a hut just like the one I was born in. Walls made of dirt, thatched roof made of straw. No running water, but there was electricity.

Eventually, it was time to go back.
“Eto dur thekey aastey onek kosto hoy. Abar aastey boltey bhoy hoy. Kintu phone koro chheler phone-e”. She said she was scared of asking me to come again given all the hardships she thought I had to endure. But she would look forward to phone calls on her son’s phone, she added.

Bouncing back again on the dirt road, we eventually got back to asphalt and the car sped off.

I was completely lost in my thoughts of how people like Arati-di was part of me growing up. Me growing up to be eventually what I am today. Whatever it is that I am today. And how strange life is. Two human beings came under the same roof for a few years and then our paths diverged completely. The paths could not have been any more different if they wanted to.

Nearly four and a half decades later, somehow, we were again under the same roof. This time, her roof!!

Who would have guessed?

Well, I certainly felt good that I have not yet forgotten who all brought me to the dance to begin with.

22 April 2018

That was a weird – but effective – way to relax!

This is from last evening. My brother had come over to the hotel where I had checked in in Kolkata to relax for a few hours over a glass of wine and some brother to brother chit chat before I head out US-wards.

We sat down in the lobby lounge of JW Marriott and got ourselves some wine. Then… and I am not sure what led to what else, but soon we ordered some writing paper and two pens to go with the wine!

You can banish the thought of two brothers noting down the palate, nose and length details of the wine they were having. We are far too nerdy for that. Unbelievably enough, we entertain each other by exchanging math problems or logic problems.

Two sips of the wine later, he said “Try this” and gave me a very interesting math problem. Half an hour of continuous calculations and formulations later (did I mention we sent for more paper? :-), I gave up!

That is when he solved it for me. I was thrilled with the solution and very proud of my brother.

Mostly because he finds solving math problems to be relaxing like me!! Of course there is that irony that when he and I went to the same school, it was I who helped with problems he could not solve.

I realize most of you cannot relate to this but to me, it just does not get any better. It is like high school all over again. This time, with a glass of wine, though 🙂

If any one of you care, here is problem:
What is the value of (x-squared) + (x) + (1/x) + (1 / x-squared)
If (x-squared) – 3(x) + 1 = 0

There is an incredibly elegant solution to this. Message me if you want the solution.

If you cannot solve it, do not worry. Just have another glass of wine. Like I did!!!

22 April 2018

So how does one make potatoes at home?

This is in the lounge in domestic terminal of Kolkata airport.

I asked one of the young guys working in the lounge “Ei, etar maaney ki?” (What does this mean?)

The poor lad looked at the label, measured me up and said “Aamio ingraji bhalo bujhi na Sir”!! He pleaded his English was as weak as mine! But nonetheless, he addressed me as “Sir”.

Mightily amused, I returned to my table with a resolution that from now on, it is going to be only factory made potatoes for me !!!

Good start to this morning…

21 April 2018

Turning my attention to mom!!

One of the struggles I have always had – and have written about this – is how to make my mom feel special. My dad loves it that I come every three months. He loves sitting with us in the balcony and chatting with us. But when it comes to my mom – she never says anything. Nor asks for anything. If I tell my dad that I am going to miss a trip one quarter, he will get upset about it (till I tell him that I can make a lot of money if I stay back – he will totally agree with me then – go figure!! ) but my mom will just say nothing.

I have that picture of her walking a step behind dad with that chair lest he fall down as he walked around with his walker seared in my mind. I had talked about how we think about the patient but not much about the care giver.

The challenge is if I ask my mom “What would you like?”, the answer would inevitably be “Nothing”. It is like asking a high school student “What happened in school today?”

The only clue I have about what gives her delight is she had once told me how she always liked to go out to different places before marriage and had kids. I know after that, she has barely stepped out of home – she has been so engrossed in her responsibilities of the family. Even today, she refuses to leave dad’s side. The only time I had gotten her out to come out and stay in a resort with us was when I had convinced my dad to do so (about a year or so back).

My best bet this time was to take her out for a day trip – and let the helper take care of dad. Without giving her much of a choice, I packed her into a car and took her to her favorite sister (she has four sisters and a brother) who lives in a village a couple of hours drive away. She had not seen her for some time (actually the last time was also the time I took her there; like I said – this is her favorite sister).

As expected, she did not complain much!!

And there we were!! My mom, her sister, her brother in law and the little grandson they have.

At the end of the day, I know my mom wanted to spend more time with her sister. But I had to draw the line (yeah! yeah! yeah! Rajib was the time nazi!! So, what else is new? 🙂 ) before it became too late for dad’s help at home to leave.

I was glad to catch up with my cousins and nephew too! The best part? A norwester ensued and it started raining hard when we were there. And I was able to take my nephew out in the rains to get drenched with me. I was too much of a guest for anybody to complain (although their heart beats were skyrocketing).

The nephew and me? Pardon the pun in the metaphor – we threw caution to the winds!!