31 October 2019

The Apple Watch challenge

My mother in law was aware that I would visit her. Not because I told her – I am all about surprising people – but somebody else is not good at keeping secrets. No point taking names, but let’s say Sharmila, for example 🙂

In any case, fully realizing that Sharmila would let her mom know beforehand, I landed up a day before when Sharmila was expecting me to visit her. Therefore, the first thing that hit me when I reached my mother in law’s place at 7 in the evening was a big padlock in the yard gate. Called her up and asked her what she was up to.

She tried to act smart and said “Oh! waiting for you”. I do not think she was ready for my answer – “Really? I am outside your gate!”. All I heard was some confused words like “Today?”, “Now?”, some clanking of keys, a phone drop and then finally she emerged!!

It was heartening to watch how she has adjusted herself to the life without my father in law. She seems to have created her own rhythm and stays within that. She seemed happy. Obviously, that is the most important thing for Sharmila and I. Not being anywhere near her, we are not able to do much to help. So, seeing her happy is fairly reassuring.

Before I left, I told her that I needed to take a picture. Of both of us. She was not sure how I was going to do that. I showed her how I could operate the phone camera from my Apple Watch. In fact, let her see how the picture would look on my Apple Watch before taking the shot.

Here is the problem though. Upon seeing the picture on my Watch, she somehow concluded that the Watch was going to take the picture. Consequentially, every time I went – “Ready for the picture? One, two, three!”, I would realize that she was staring at my Watch not the phone camera!! After about five tries, I managed to get her to look at the camera!

31 October 2019

Surprise! Surprise!!

The first day was full of surprises in Kalyani. My parents were not aware of my trip to visit them. Next morning, my sister and her family came back home and got the same surprise. And then I headed towards Durgapur. It is a three and a half hour drive but is an integral part of my India trips. Sharmila’s mom lives there by herself now after we lost her dad about a year back.

Off to see her. But first stop – my own uncle (“mama” in Bengali) who lives in the same town.

I went there expecting to see my uncle and aunt. It was my turn to get surprised! As a bonus, got to see my cousin (uncle’s second daughter) as well as my mother’s eldest sister there. I guess there are some advantages of visiting Bengal during the “Bhaiphonta” season. You can run into the brothers and sisters of who you are trying to visit.

Caught up with my mom’s elder sister. In Bengali that would be “masi” – specifically “boromasi” since she is the oldest all the sisters mom has. A great time was had by all remembering some of the old memories when my grandfather and grandmother was still alive.

Who I missed dearly was my nephew – who was busy studying with a few other kids with their private tutor at home. Ah! Next time, then…

31 October 2019

Meeting Mrs. Sarkar

One of the common ways that I barge into a stranger’s house is “Masi, aapni amaay chinben na”. Meaning, Ma’m, you don’t know me. Not the most reassuring of getting oneself introduced to an elderly person. But a fifty three year old wearing shorts and with a shaved head usually evokes sentiments closer to mild laughter than of any fear.

This once though, the lady replied in Bengali – “You are Rajib Roy, right? My son has already told me about you.”.

This meeting has roots in another meeting about a couple of weeks back. I was in San Francisco and in between office meetings, managed to meet Debjit Sarkar. I almost did not meet him and if it were not for a much delayed flight, I would have surely not met him. We grabbed a coffee at a Starbucks that was very close to both our offices and then caught up .

“So, how exactly do I know you?”, I asked. You would think that when I have been greeting somebody happy birthday for years and have often talked about career choices and all that, I would remember how I know the person. I did not. That had never stopped me from having great conversations with Debjit over the phone though.

Turns out Debjit and I worked in the same company in Dallas. In fact, we lived not too far from each other. I could not recollect running into him but he remembered me. Found out a few more connections I had with him. He worked with another friend of mine – Sanjay – (who was in my school in elementary days and – again, in another coincidence – lived in Dallas for some time) in Delhi and in fact attended his wedding with Anita (both Sanjay and Anita knew Sharmila since they were all in the same engineering school).

We also found out that about ten years later, I used to go his office building in California when he worked in a bank. That bank was a big customer of mine (when I worked in a company in Atlanta) and all the time that I visited that office, never realized Debjit was there too!

As another point of connection, I also found out that Debjit grew up in the small town of Kalyani, where my parents live – as does my sister. In fact, his mom lives literally a few minutes walk from where my dad and sister lives. I had promised Debjit that I will go check in on his mom next time I was in Kalyani.

And that is how I met Mrs. Sarkar for the first time! Took my sister with me too. We were both impressed how fit and alert Mrs. Sarkar was for her age. In fact, she had just come back from a vacation trip to the other end of India a couple of days back. Unfortunately, I could not meet Debjit’s dad who left us last year. But I was happy to hear that Mrs. Sarkar might be visiting America soon. Would be great to catch up with her again!

29 October 2019

This is my idea of a good dad-son time…

You can also think of this as my revenge for all the puzzles he used to ask me when I was a kid and not tell me the answer for days hoping I will figure it out by myself.

A little over two years back my dad had a stroke and got paralyzed on his right side. Most of his brain got fried too. Ever since, thru some strong will and help from my mom and siblings, he has gotten enough of the right side back that he can get up from bed and walk a few steps to the bathroom. He has also some cognitive power of the brain back but only some. And his memory is fairly spotty. I am no doctor but I think the parts that were most affected were the hippocampus and the frontal cortex part of the brain.

Since I had nothing better to do, I figured I would try to get a feel for what kind of cognitive power and memory he has gotten back and what he has lost. So, I tried formulating all sort of picture questions, rearranging letters, sequencing problems and asked him to solve them. He was totally into the game. Sometimes he would get them easily. Sometimes he would take the paper in his hand, close his eyes and think deeply as if to will those neurons and dendrons into proper places…

He got most of the numerical sequencing right – going up and down – skipping in 2s, 3s, 5s etc. But he has lost all idea about what happens if you go below zero. The concept of negative numbers has been erased. In fact, curiously enough, after counting down and reaching 0, he looped back to 10 !

Also, I realized that he can easily process words if I arranged them in a circle but only if I put them in a clockwise fashion. If I switched up even two letters or arranged the word in a counterclockwise fashion, he just could not see the word. Then I realized that it was not just words. I wrote the letters a,b and c in a circle and asked him to write down the permutations. As you can see in one of those sheets, he nailed each and every of the clockwise permutations. The anti-clockwise? Not at all. Even after I gave him the first and the second answer, he could not see the third answer. After he realized he missed half of them, all he said was “Jah! Fail hoye gelam” (“Oh! I failed the test”).

Then I gave him a few picture problems (you know like directions of arrows and all that). Drew a complete blank!!

Also, he could not relate to numbers in the real life. For example, he could not see anything wrong with the fact he is 81 and that his guess of my age (he guessed 20) is highly unlikely.

It was fascinating to see how some parts of his brain has rewired itself and others have not. (forget these, two years back he did not know who I was and thought my mom was his mom). I am going to try again next quarter and see if the brain is still healing itself.

BTW, the most difficult part of this exercise was for me to come up with the questions. This, from a guy who allegedly works in an K-12 assessment company!

29 October 2019

Evening “adda”

This trip was a total hushed hushed one. Nobody in India was aware. My sister went out of town for a day with her family (completely oblivious of the fact that I was landing up on “Bhaiphonta” day!!). She will be arriving this morning in a couple of hours to get the surprise of her life!!

Meanwhile, last evening, it was just the three of us. After a long time, it was just the three of us in the evening. First I took care of the important stuff – walked up to the street corner “phoochkawala” and had my share of “phoochkas”. For the uninitiated, that is stomach infection in a package form eaten as one of the tastiest Indian savories ever!

Then I went ahead and got a small vodka bottle. Got a second one too just in case my dad wanted to try it. Fortunately he didi not. He was just happy that I was drinking fruit juice in the evening. (Yes, he thought I was drinking fruit juice from a small bottle. That be my dad. )

The evening was one long tapestry of discussions of our life events from the time he lost his dad at the age of two and a half and then lost two other siblings quickly to this day where the three of us were sitting down – temporarily missing my two siblings.

I can’t remember everything (you will be surprised how much punch they pack in a 6 ounce vodka bottle in this little town) but we talked about the “easy chair”(kind of a cross between a chaise and a hammock) we had back in the seventies and how we used to count stars in the sky sitting in it outside our house. We talked about the time my brother was born (who, in keeping with family tradition, we almost lost very early on due to health complications). We talked about the time when my dad used to visit his mother every month (we lived about 60 miles away – but those days, it would take him about five hours to reach her in a remote village). On that last note – I do not believe the apple fell too far from the tree.

When we finally wrapped up – partly because he was tired and partly because my vodka bottle was running dry – I knew the discussions were a great success. You know why?

For a guy who complains half a dozen times daily “Bhogoban je kobey release certificate ta soi korbey” (“I wonder when is God going to sign my release certificate” – implying he is happy to move on from this world) – for that guy, he got up from the chair, stood for a second standing there and then finally turned to mom and asked “Naati naatni gulo manush hobey dekhey jetey paarbo?”. (He asked my mom if she thought he will live to see his grandkids establish themselves in their lives).

And I was like “Yesss!! I know how you can live longer. Want some fruit juice?” 🙂

29 October 2019

A few good men

Dad and I kept strolling thru the streets. We hit the common spots he and his friends used to sit down at when he could still walk around by himself. Except that no one was there in those street corners. Finally, after about 30 minutes of walking we found a park and some of his old friends there. He got a run down of the old group. Apparently, many of his friends are no more and these three that still have locomotory skills have moved to this spot which is more convenient for them. You can see my dad holding court from his wheel chair.