Couple of weeks back, my old friend and colleague Michiko was in town. Our schedules were a little tight but we decided to give it a shot anyways. Turns out, we were able to make it work out. Which was lucky for me because meeting Michiko means you are bound to pick up some great words of wisdom.
Over some wine we caught up on our old days of working together and some of our old colleagues. Michiko is a guru when it comes to Data and Analytics. She has done the whole gamut of Data Analytics – from developing models to selling the products. Now she is in management consulting – helping out companies with their strategy and operations in Data Analytics.
A memorable moment during our discussions was when I asked her about her take on where Data and Analytics has reached now – full 12 years after we had worked together in this area. “You see, Rajib, Analytics is sexy. Everybody talks about Analytics. Data is not getting enough focus because it is not that sexy. In fact, governance is the most ignored area of data – because it is not as shiny as Analytics”.
I knew that her background was in music. I did not realize that she plays both the piano and viola. Given that she has achieved so much in life, I asked her:
“Looking back on all your achievements, which one are you most proud of?”
“I am not allowed to be proud of anything”
“Meaning?”, I asked confused.
“Remember where I am from?”
“Yes. In our culture we cannot be proud. It is considered uncouth to be proud”.
That was one of the most unique answers to a fairly common question that I ask people.
“Ok. Then tell me what work from your past – especially, when we worked together – do you remember the most?”, I pressed on.
“Nobody remembers the work, Rajib. You will remember the people.”
Truer words have not been spoken!!!
The funny part of our conversation came around when I asked her how she had met her husband. Believe it or not, they met in a chat room! Or as she put it – “The ’90s version of online dating!”
Michiko, it was simply outstanding to meet you. It was too short though. Let’s plan to have a longer meeting soon.
Fairly standard production process. Made from espadin agaves that are allowed to grow till 7-9 years (when the sugar content peaks). The chopped up pinas are cooked for 3 days in a pit lined with lava rocks. It is then milled by horse drawn stone tahona to let the yeast and other micro-organisms get to the sugar. Subsequently, it is fermented by mixing in deep well water and letting it sit in open air wooden oak vats for 3 days. As a final step, the two rounds of distillation is done in a copper alembic still.
The mezcal itself is fairly run of the mill. Seems to have an edge at the end in the length. However, Casamigos is still my favorite.
How many of these statements are true?
1. You can see the Great Wall of China from the moon on clear days (my sixth grade teacher had taught us this)
2. Bulls get excited by red color (which explains why they charge the matador waving the red flag)
3. Napolean was rather diminutive (by French standards those days anyways)
4. Only the royals among the Vikings wore the horned helmets
5. Einstein was weak in math (and failed once) as a school kid.
6. We have 5 senses (sight, sound, taste, touch and smell). (I was taught this pretty early in life).
7. Speaking of senses, the tongue has different parts where we taste different tastes (sweet, salt etc etc)
8. Continuing with our body, artistic folks are more active on the right side of the brain and vice versa for the science and math oriented ones.
9. There is no such thing as a “scientific proof”
10. A steep learning curve implies you will have great difficulty learning it.
If you have Googled, which ones surprised you?
“Charles, you will absolutely not remember me. My name is Rajib. You used to be the librarian in COSL. I worked in COSL SEEPZ premises for about a year”.
“How do you remember me?”
“Well, if I were to name three of the kindest persons I have ever met in my life or perhaps ever will – you will be way up there in that list”
The way he had parried away my answer, I figured I was not the first one to bring it up.
Way back when, I had worked in COSL’s SEEPZ premises. First for a two month internship in 1990 and then for a job 1991-1992. During the summer internship, I was asked by my boss – Sesh was his name – to work on an Expert Systems software COSL had bought. He gave me the specific project he wanted me to do – resume management application for HR. The problem was that the more I tried the software, the more I realized it was anything but an expert system. Moreover, the HR requirements for resume match were fairly standard and required less of expert systems and more of deterministic matches with a some level of forgiveness.
Eventually, I gave up and decided to ignore Sesh’s advise to not worry about the project and learn more about expert systems and the application. I wanted to focus on the problem. So, I went to the library the company had and started looking up every book that I could lay my hands on.
Presently, a soft spoken gentleman that I had seen at the entrance – presumably the librarian – walked up to me. With a tie on (we all had to wear ties in that hot, sultry summer weather in Bombay) and his full sleeves wrapped up all they way to the elbow, he asked me if I was looking for something. I told him about my challenge.
“Have you looked at dBase4”?
I had no idea what it was. So, he helped me get a thick book. And arranged for a floppy disk with the software loaded.
Long story short, I studied up the whole dang thing and built something before my internship was over. I was fairly satisfied with the system. But a year later when I joined the company for a full time job, I realized that nobody ever used it!!! Not that I cared. They gave me a job, right?
How I managed to sit face to face with Charles about three decades later is a story unto itself. About a couple of years back, I had gone to Pune to meet an old teacher of mine from school days. Sri Ganesh – who was a senior of mine in COSL, realized that and offered to meet me at a hotel by Bombay airport before I could fly out to USA. That evening, we were talking of old colleagues and Charles’ name came up. He even got me his phone number.
Once I went back to US, I called him up and had the conversation I referred to earlier.
A couple of years later, last Sunday in fact, I tried Charles thru WhatsApp, phone call and email before I left Kolkata. I was going to be in Bombay for a few hours and I wanted to see if he might have time. Only late in the evening he responded saying he will come and meet me. That was awfully kind of him.
And that is the way I remember him. Nothing has changed about him. The ever soft spoken, humble to a fault, Charles was recognizable both by his looks and his behavior across those three decades like nothing has changed.
There was in interesting story, as it turns out, how he had pointed me to dBase4. Charles studied electronics but did not like it. He took his dad’s advise and took up library management. That afforded him to read many books and he liked databases. He even built a system using database systems those days. And that is what made him realize what I was looking for was a good database management system that particular afternoon in 1990.
Charles, you are one of a kind. Your gentlemanliness, your kindness and your humility makes you a unique person. May your tribe increase!!
Last time I was in Bombay and had published a post on meeting my friend from MBA days – Somshekhar Baksi, I got a message from another friend – Anish Gupta if we could meet. Unfortunately for me, I had run out of time but I had promised him that the next time I was in Bombay, I would be sure to meet him.
Sunday was the day to keep that promise. I met Anish for the first time after 1991 Feb. We were in the same dorm. My recollection of him was that of a constantly smiling person, very soft spoken and very well-kempt hair. And he always used to carry a handkerchief in his trousers’ left pocket!!
We had similar interests in life and in fact followed similar career paths initially – technology in financial services sector – and then our paths diverged. He stayed on with the financial sector to become an expert and moved to Singapore before moving back to India. I went off to the USA and have jumped industries every time I changed jobs – never letting anything close to something that can be considered an expertise get anywhere near me.
Thanks to the effort Anish put negotiating traffic in Bombay, I was finally able to see him in my hotel after nearly three decades. We chatted for the better part of three hours. Interestingly, most of it was focused on the longer view of life – what MBA taught us and did not, how we figure out what are the important things in life and how do we balance our work, family and ourselves. I even got him interested in my version of the Level 10 Life that I follow to set and achieve life goals.
It was great to see that the constant smile on his face has not left Anish. More importantly, his genuine curiosity about everything has remained intact from those days of D-13 in IIM Ahmedabad. That is the thing I have always admired about him. And still do.
“Where did we meet last?”, I asked
“Carbondale, Illinois, right?”
“Yeah – that was three years back. Do you remember where we met before that?”
“Was it not Dubai a few years before that?”
“Indeed. I guess it was high time we met in Kolkata then – the city where we met each other for the first time – let’s see … about 33 years back?”
With that we settled down in the lounge of Westin hotel in Kolkata. It was an irony that I knew so many of the students from my batch in Durgapur so well but never knew Piyali. There is a funny story about how we met for the first time on a hot summer evening in Kolkata in 1986. It somehow involved two medical colleges, a Kathak dance class and she being majorly disappointed in me. I will let her elaborate on that story.
Over the years though, she certainly has become somebody I enjoy talking to and learn from. She has a streak of independence in her thinking that has led her to try out so many different things in life. Often buckling the social norms. What is most endearing about her is that in spite of having strong beliefs, she never goes around telling people how they should be living their lives. But if you get her to talk, there are a lot of pearls of wisdom you can pick up.
“So, talk to me about your singing. You had mentioned that during our last two conversations. How difficult was it for you to pick up from where you left it in your young adult days?”
Well, that was when I learnt that Piyali has never learnt singing before. When she told me that she was going to learn singing, I assumed, like her dancing, she had to give it up once her medical studies and life took over. What I found out was that she had to give up dancing due to an injury. After crossing 50, she decided to do something she always wanted to – singing – but never got a chance. Apparently, she had asked many people to teach her but nobody had taken her seriously till she got a break while waiting for a ride. Story for another day.
“So, what are you trying to achieve?”
“I just want to learn music. I do not believe I want to ever give performances. I want to train my ears enough that I can listen to a piece of music and detect what ‘raaga’ it is.
“What have you learnt about yourself thru this journey so far?”
“There is medical research that suggests that music can postpone the onset of Alzheimers. I can see in myself that my short term memory has dramatically improved in the short one and a half years of learning music”
“Yes. I was forgetful enough that I often used to forget brand names of medicine that I would prescribe. I would remember the chemical compound – but not the brand names. Now I have no problems!”
“That is really interesting”
From her taking up kettle balls to learning how to do bonsai to her jet-setting lifestyle from Las Vegas to Dubai to Kolkata, it is very difficult to keep up with my friend. But the short durations that I get once every three to five years when we meet face to face are always eye opening to me.
“Looking back on your life, what would you like to be on your tombstone?”
Thinking for a few minutes, she said “That I found happiness in the small things”
I never thought about it that way – but that absolutely describes you, Piyali. Over the years, I got to know of some of the challenges you had faced. But I cannot recollect even on one occasion where you were negative about anything or even complained a wee bit. Which is fairly unique in today’s world. Especially in India, where everybody seems to focus on how things are getting worse from day to day, you are a refreshing oasis who reminds us how beautiful life is.
Can’t wait for our next meeting.
They never get easier. The only silver lining is that my mother and mother-in-law can still come out to wave me away. My father-in-law, on the other hand, is no more and my father cannot come downstairs to say his goodbyes…
Felt really sorry for mom missing out on the resort trip. She is the one who enjoys going out but is stuck at home due to care-taking responsibilities for my dad.