This is going to be a very difficult story to string together. This involves a complete stranger in Singapore, a hospice patient in Atlanta, a small resort called Ibeeza in south part of West Bengal and an office building in Kolkata. Also, an untimely demise. At the end the story is that of an incredible attitude.
Let me give my best shot at stringing this together.
“So, exactly, how do I know you?”, asked her after we settled down at the Gin and Tonic bar at JW Marriott in Singapore.
This is the first time I am seeing her in person. We had become Facebook friends for some time and even exchanged a lot of messages (more on that later) but I forgot how I got to know her.
Turns out Indrani worked in the same office in Kolkata as my school mate from middle school days – Suman Das. They used to sit at desks a spitting distance away. Apparently, one of those days, she had mentioned to Suman how she loves following a few blogs and the write-ups that she reads there. Suman – not exactly known for having high standards while referring blog writers – asked her if she had ever seen my blog. Turned out Indrani liked my blog too when she started reading them. (I think that office attracted people who liked low quality blog writing 🙂 🙂 ).
In any case, all this happened unbeknownst to me. Then one day, I got a FB request from Indrani. Like many other requests, I just let it be since I could not recognize the person. I suspect she must have asked Suman why I had not accepted. For one day, I got a message from Suman saying his friend has sent me a FB request. She likes reading my stuff and that he knows her personally and can be trusted.
I accepted that request and that was that. I kept writing and she kept reading silently.
Then one day, I wrote about Mr. Thompson – the blind patient I have in one of the hospices. One of the things if you remember I had asked him about his thoughts on being born blind versus losing eyesight later in life. Which one was more difficult? I remember his thoughtful answer -while he admitted not coming from a position of having gone thru both to do a true comparison, he felt it was harder when something is given to you and then taken away.
That statement resonated with Indrani. Over personal messages she kept telling me why that was a very timely message for her. During our meeting at the bar, she joined all the missing dots for me. Her life story is an amazing one. Like many lucky ones, she started with a great job at an early age, met the love of her life and married him. For seven years, she lived the blessed life of a great husband, great inlaws, great friends, great jobs and of course her great parents.
And then one fine day fate dealt a cruel blow and she lost her husband at the tender age of 32 or so in a matter of hours after succumbing to brain aneurysm. Her words drifted away as I lost attention – just trying mentally to put myself in her position. When I finally came back to my attention, she had already covered the part where – to add to all the sufferings – she lost her father in law too after a year or so.
It was around that time she started reading my blogs. As she struggled to cope with the losses in her personal life, facing a situation that most people do not face, it was a struggle to figure out how to move forward or even what to do next. One thing she kept mentioning is how she had very supportive in laws, parents, friends etc through all that. I was pretty intrigued by her positivity. For that age, that had to be a sign of great maturity and equanimity.
To probe a little I asked “As you look back, how do you feel about those days? There must have been a sense of helplessness. A sense of why do you have to go thru so much pain?”
Her answer stunned me. Remember she is barely in her mid thirties. Her perfect framing of the answer was (and I liked the way she put it so much that I had to ask her to excuse me as I wrote it down on my iPad) – “Everybody has problems. Mine came this way.”
What an attitude!! I would be lying to you if I did not admit that I had to fight back a lump of throat. Indeed we all have problems. That is not what defines us. How we deal with it is what defines us. You can consider yourself a victim or you can learn from it. Certainly, Indrani sets the bar for me in how to deal with challenges in life.
It was in this backdrop that Mr. Thompson’s words were so poignant for her. That broke the dam – so to speak – and she wrote to me about her life history and how she realized the truth in Mr. Thompson’s words. It was better not to have ever had a husband than to have lost him so early. She completely believed in Mr. Thompson’s words.
As I had explained to her in our exchanges, Mr. Thompson’s is not an easy life. He bangs into walls, can’t find where his bathroom is, does not know where the remote is (TV is his sole company)… There are small things that you do not realize till you see them. One day, I saw him struggling to shave. Just imagine trying to put a blade in your razor – much less find out where they are and position yourself in front of the wash basin. But as I had told Indrani, he is determined to make the best of what is left for him. He is 96 and he is the most well dressed person I have seen at that age. Always shirt tucked in, shoes on, hair combed … remember he cannot see himself … but it is like he does not give a darn to what has happened. He is determined to be as normal as he can be.
BTW, I have talked to Mr. Thompson about Indrani and her sentiments for his courage. Mr. Thompson, in return, passed his regards to her. I even carried a picture of him for Indrani.
I learnt sitting at the bar, that as we were going thru these exchanges then, she was starting to make up her mind to leave her past and move forward too. Many months later, I got a message from her that she was going to get married again! She has found this wonderful person but that would also mean she would have to move to Singapore and away from her parents, her mother-in-law from first marriage (who she is very close to), her job, her friends etc… I wished her the best – thought this was a perfect chance to press the reset button and promised to look her and her husband up if I ever showed up in Singapore.
Unfortunately, I missed her husband since he was working late and I was running late for a dinner meeting.
You would think the story would stop here, right? Ah! then you do not know me at all. There is an intersection point behind this intersection point. Remember, I have not explained to you yet where that Ibeeza resort fits in the whole story.
Well, if you go back to a Jan 23, 2013 post in my blog or FB, you will see the story of how I was hosting all my cousins at that resort for a couple of days and while taking some rest by the pool by myself, I thought I saw Suman Das walk past me. Nobody has yet fathomed how two students from tenth grade ever managed to meet in a small resort and recognize each other some 30 years later.
Suman was there for a office party. He introduced me to his wife, mom and son who were there and I posted a picture of them in that blog. He had also introduced me to the rest of his office folks. Many of them had a lot of questions about life in America. I had a great time with all of them!
Who know who was there at the party? Yes, same Indrani!! Turns out it was she who had arranged the whole party!! I have seen her, must have met her but had no idea that it was the same person who became my Facebook friend or was even sitting in front me at the bar. I hurriedly showed pictures from that day on my iPad and she fished out pictures from that day on her phone. They matched!!!!
Is that cool or is that cool?
Best intersection point ever!!
My usual routine coming back from India entails taking an evening flight back to Delhi and then catching the night flight back to US. This time though, I took the morning flight – I needed a few extra hours to go see Dip, his family and most importantly, his mom.
Last time I had seen Dip’s mom – and I believe Dip too – was after our Board exams in twelfth grade. That would be 1985 summer. Navin, Rahul, Rakesh and myself had taken a train from Kokata all the way to Siliguri where Dip was waiting for us to take us to his home which was on the way to Darjeeling. They lived in this beautiful house in an even more beautiful scenic setting. New Chumta Tea Estate it was!
I remember having the time of my life there. Dip’s mom showered incredible attention on us. She had arranged for a lot of local trips to see some idyllic sights in the mountains. We had taken quite a few pictures during that trip. Much later in life, I had digitized them and sure enough – I carried them with me this time!!
I forgot to tell you how I know Dip. We were classmates in Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission College. That was for our eleventh and twelfth grades (junior and senior high school years). It was a residential school and Dip and I were in the same hostel (dorm). For quite some time we were even next door neighbors. However, our streams were different – he did English, History, Economics and such and I did Physica, Chemistry, Math and all that.
In the past I have told you about two of the teachers that I admire most when it comes to learning English as a subject – Sir Donegan (from fifth grade) and Mrs. Biswas (from ninth and tenth grade). If you were to ask me to name similarly two of my classmates whose English I admired and still admire the most – without even a shred of doubt, they would be Dibyendu Dutta (I wrote about him once) and Dip Sengupta. If you read some of his Facebook posts even today, you will be completely taken in by the lucidity and natural flow of words.
It was great to see Mrs. Sengupta after 33 years. That would be actually two-thirds of my life so far!! Unfortunately, I did not visit quickly enough to see Mr. Sengupta too but I was glad to see that Mrs. Sengupta is in great health. In fact, one of the rare cases of any of my friends’ parents keeping up with excellent health. Touch wood!!
We talked endlessly about that trip we had made and exchanged notes of what we remembered.
I have to say – from that initial scream and hug once I saw Dip to his insistence on going out for lunch and adda – it was as if those intervening 33 years never happened. The camaraderie and joi-de-vivre was untouched and intact. It was like we had seen each other just the other day.
Speaking of going out for lunch and adda, Dip took me to a local place and we had some outstanding animated discussions – as you can see in the picture. Dip has an unique perspective – what with he being a very successful business person in Delhi. Additionally, his professional area of interest being marketing (specifically advertisement) and his educational degree being in history, he brings a lot of fresh perspective to a person with my background. Our topics of discussions ranged from geopolitical events to consumer marketing.
Apart from the fresh perspective that I talked about, one unmistakable trait of Dip you just cannot miss is his positivity. His observations of some of the concerns across the world and in India on economic and geo-political issues never left the moorings of an underlying framework that on a macro basis, the world is getting better and better. This is something that I absolutely subscribe to. And am sometimes amazed by how we can get into the microscopic details of analysis of an event – and assign motivation or judgment to it immediately – and yet not be able to step back and see the larger (and slower) trajectory the world is on.
Perhaps learning deeply history gives him the advantage of setting perspective to things. On the other hand, I think that positivity is just sheer Dip. He was like that even when he was 16 years old.
I love spending time with such people! May your tribe increase, Dip Sengupta!!
One of the last stops in Durgapur was to go meet Mr. and Mrs. Bhattacharya! Gautam and I were again classmates back in early stages of school life. I have great memories of spending quite some time at his house next to the maintenance office. There was this span of time where I used to show up at his house everyday to work on a school project together. Frankly, my contribution was to mostly observe as he wielded the solder iron deftly. I was pretty happy being amused by the smoke that used to come out every time he dipped the solder iron in that lubricant flux before he picked up a mercurial ball of solder.
It used to be beastly hot summer days that time. And Mrs. Bhattacharya always used to make a glass of “sharbot” for me!! Also, Mrs. Bhattacharya was a colleague of my mom from the same school.
Over the years, I have kept up with the Bhattacharya family. I have made occasional trips to their house – chatted with Gautam’s better half Gopa – who happened to go to college with my sister many times and listened to songs sung by their son Sankha. But regrettably, my interactions with Mr. Bhattacharya started dwindling as he started succumbing to dementia, Alzheimer’s and all that. At some point he stopped recognizing me and then his movements became very limited.
I became aware recently that he is completely bed ridden now. So, went to check on him. He could not get up from his bed. In fact, he could not even turn to my side as I sat in the bed beside him. As I put my hand on him, he softly opened his eyes. He whispered a few words but I do not think he knew who he was talking to.
The good news is that Mrs. Bhattacharya looked great. She has had her tough days and only recently was in an ICU. But she seems to have bounced back nicely. After leaving uncle in his bed, we came to the living area and chatted about my parents and the good old days for a long time. I reminded her how kind she used to be to me and that I have never forgotten that!!
I hope to see them a few more times in my future trips!!
During one of those friendly banters with Sharmistha back in USA – I think it was when Subrata and she had visited us at our place in Atlanta – I had threatened that one of these days, I would go to her parents in Durgapur and complain about her. She had dared me to do so and said that her parents would never believe me.
So, I showed up with my brother at her parents’ place during this trip to Durgapur. And I think I was right that she was afraid I would actually complain. I say that because Sharmistha was at her parents’ house already when I arrived – no doubt to prevent me from complaining 🙂
Jokes apart, I had a great time with Mr. and Mrs. Konar. In fact, had some good long conversations with Mr. Konar.
In one of those intersection point moments that I often talk about, it came out that his best friend in the neighborhood is also the brother of my brother’s mother-in-law. To top it off, that gentleman’s son was a classmate of my sister from first thru fourth grade and had visited us in our house back in the early seventies!!
It is a crazy small world!!!
I forget the context now but I was talking to my elementary school day friend – Sudipta Chattaraj – a few months back and he informed me about his mom’s quick onset of Alzheimer’s. On an aside, I have noticed that among the previous generation (my parents’ age) in India, there seems to be a greater propensity to suffer from Alzheimer’s, dementia and even Parkinson’s. I am not sure whether this is relatively new or a by product of people living longer or I just did not know the names when I was growing up but senior people were still being afflicted by them.
Sudipta was one of those all rounders in our school. He was very good in studies, a great athlete, very gentle and soft spoken and – this one made me most jealous of him those days – had an impeccable handwriting!! Our teacher’s would call it “motor moto” – like pearls!! Sudipta is also the resident pediatrician for all our school friends’ kids. When Nikita and Natasha were young and we visited India, during those invariable bouts of getting unwell, we would make a bee line for Sudipta’s house!!
I was a little dismayed that Sudipta was concerned at the speed of how the ailment was progressing with his mom. I remember – and he reminded me – that I had told him “Ask her to hang in there for a couple of months more at least. I want to come and see her”. That is why Mrs. Chattaraj was the first person I visited in Durgapur after leaving my inlays’ place.
She seemed to have certainly grown very frail and the conversations were not always very coherent. But we talked for quite some time and tried to remember the days when she was our age and we were but kids. Most encouragingly for me, she did pick up on some of my jokes and laughed at them! Ha ha!! 🙂
It was great to see Sudipta and his family after many a year!!
Usually, when my brother and I visit my inlaws, he and my mother in law does all the talking. I occasionally ask about my brother in law and his family. And then I try to encourage them to come back to Atlanta which they promptly refuse to.
That was exactly how it flowed this time too!!
We also, normally go out for dinner but this time we had to skip it since there was a school get together that had been arranged…
Tagging Rakhahari and Chiradeep!
We were busy in the private room in a restaurant in Durgapur – all the St. Xavier’s friends and their wives – when somebody came in to tell me that there was a visitor who wanted to see me. Somewhat curious, I stepped out to the most pleasant surprise of the day! Turned out it was Amit Konar!
Amit used to be in Food and Beverage in the Durgapur hotel I normally stay in. Over the years, we had become great friends. In fact, almost always, he used to take care of the reservations for me. There was a time when I had brought my parents back to visit Durgapur and stayed in the hotel for a couple of days. Amit had taken great care of them – especially their food. Even today, if I tell dad that I am going to stay in Peerless Inn, his first question would be “Sei chheleta aachhey?” (Is that guy still there?)
Eventually, Amit branched off on his own and I had not seen him since then. Somehow he got word that I was in town and in that particular restaurant that evening – so he came by to say Hi!
Of course, we said more than Hi! I was very encouraged to hear that his business is doing very well. He always struck me as a hard working and sincere person. Add to that his smartness, he is bound to do well. We talked about his young daughter and his future expansion plans.
It was good to catch up with this gentleman again!
Thank you Amit for taking the pains to come over to see me!
… 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!!