25 June 2020

Remembering my Lyft driver from last January

It had been a long sixteen hour flight. And my jet lag was starting to kick in. Immigration, Customs and Starbucks later, eventually my Lyft ride showed.

“Yes, sir! Rajib?”
“Yep. Do you mind if I sit in the front? I get car sick behind.”
“No problem”

As I settled down in my seat and Gregory (Roso) started navigating thru the evening Atlanta traffic, I was tempted to doze off. Instead, decided to see if a conversation and the Starbucks coffee could keep me awake. I was hoping against hopes that Gregory would be up for a conversation.

“So, what do you do outside of Lyft rides?”
That was interesting, I thought.
“What kind of music? Do you play music? Sing?”
“No, I produce music”.
“Produce music?”

Frankly, I had no idea what music production meant. What I learnt fascinated me. Gregory composes his own music and records them. Then he leases them or sells them outright.

Turns out he comes up with his own tunes and rhythms and then composes them with the instruments that he has.

“So, how do you sell them?”
“Mostly thru my website and networking”.

I checked out his website – https://www.producedbyvino.com. Fairly impressive.

“Why that URL?”, I asked mildly amused by the name.

“I am a big fan of basketball. And Kobe”. Looks like Gregory grew up with Kobe as his idol. The one thing he learnt from him, he said, is the value of practice. I understand, Kobe practiced for long hours. I do not know much about basketball. But Gregory informed me that Kobe had a nickname Vino because he got better with age unlike most other players. And that explained the website name. Gregory fashions himself after his idol.

“How about your personal life? Where are you from?”
“My mom is originally from Dominican Republic. I was born in Connecticut and spent early childhood there. Moved here with my mom eleven years back”
“And your dad?”
“He is in Connecticut”
“So, they are separated”
“Yes. My dad remarried and I have a step sister”
“And your mother?”
“She never married again. It is she and I.”

“Do you see your dad much?”
“Yes. I visit them whenever I can”
“You are close to your dad and step sister?”
“Now, I am. It did not start this way. I was very angry with my dad. I did not like him”
“And then?”
“Well, as I grew older, I realized that this was probably for the best for both of them. Now, I am glad that they are not together.”
“Yes. They are both in better places. And me working thru my anger with my dad has put me in a stronger place.”

“How about your girlfriend?”
“I do not have time for girls now.”
“I want to stay focused on making money. I want to make a lot of money. I have my youth now. I do not want to lose focus. That is what Kobe would have told me.”
“What will you do with a lot of money?”
“I want to take care of my mom”
“How so?”
“I want to buy her a good house and make sure she is financially very stable.”

“You know, your mom sounds like a wonderful person. Certainly has a wonderful son. I hope to meet her some day.”
“Thank you, sir! If you had come half an hour earlier, you could have met her.”

That surprised me!
“How? Were you giving her a lift?”
“No. She works in the hotel when I am dropping you.”

Wow!! What is the chance of that?
Sharmila and I were going to meet at a Westin for a drink instead of me going home and from there were going to head out to her art show inauguration. It is exactly in that hotel, as liuck would have it, that my Lyft driver’s mom works!!

Sure enough, when I enquired later in the restaurant in Westin, Maria had left a little while ago.

“No worries, Gregory. I go there once in a while. I will remember to meet her and tell her that she has a son who has great head on his young shoulders.”

That is when we pulled up to the Westin. I quickly introduced Sharmila and Gregory to each other and Sharmila took our picture.

If you ever run into Gregory, don’t forget to say Hi and encourage this incredible young gentleman.

20 June 2020

Lunch by the railway track

Caught up with John towards the end of our motorbike ride about his family. Over lunch at a restaurant by the railway track in Woodstock. John surprised me by how much he knew about the storm in Kolkata, Indian politics and the Indian prime minister Modi. We talked about the political situation in US, the likely outcomes of the virus, how he misses seeing his step grandson in Kenya growing up (he is stuck due to virus and cannot travel) and such. Really loved the conversation and the variety of topics John has wisdom around.

Should have known this guy long time back.

For that matter, should have started riding motorbike long time back too!

14 June 2020

An intriguing question from work life

Got to meet Garry Capers yesterday!! It had been some time since I had seen him. We had a chance to work together about ten years back. There are a lot of memories from those days – those weekly flights together to DC and the time in the Delta Skyclub spent together every Thursday in Reagan airport.

Other than catching up on our families and all the recent activities in America, we also reflected on our learnings from corporate life. Most of it was around the difficulties of building cultures in a company and how individual personalities play into it.

One observation we both had was that in every product company we have had a chance to work in or at least become close, there is/was always an internal skepticism towards the sales organization. Right, wrong or indifferent, folks inside the organization always seem to have an opinion (negative) about the sales organization (individuals are sometimes cited as very good, though). Interestingly enough, we both reflected that this was not true in professional services organization.

What has your experience been? Same? Different? If you have had a similar observation, why do you think it is so?

P.S. In case you were wondering how come I had forsaken my shorts when Garry’s clothes clearly indicated to the heat in Atlanta – well, I took my motorbike, so had to wear my protective gear. Fortunately, this coffee shop allowed sitting inside the air conditioned area (of course, with social distancing).

14 May 2020

Greg Jones!!

Went for a run in the morning at my usual trail. Since it was morning, there was not too many people out there. I was putting in my run at my pace, when I thought I saw somebody I knew!

Met Greg after a long time. In fact, the last time I met him might have been in a different trail when he and his wife was finishing up a run and I was starting my own. Greg and I used work together a couple of jobs back and is one of the coolest dude around.

Met his dog – I think Bodie is his name. You can see that “you are getting me late” look on his face. Apparently he goes for 15 mile runs at whatever pace you want him to!

“Greg, you were off the trails with that injury, right?”
“Yes, I am starting to recover now.”
“How many miles are you putting these days?”
“About 50 miles – “
“Sounds about right as you recover”, I said assuming he was giving me his monthly number.
“ – a week”!

The man and his dog are crazy. We agreed to go out on our motorcycles one of these days.

21 February 2020

29 long years

The first time I saw him was in 1990. He had joined the same MBA school as I (one year junior to me) and moved into the dorm I lived in then. That too literally next door to me! The last time I saw him was March 1991 when I left the campus. I was 24 then.

Then, a full 29 years later – after more than doubling my age – I had the chance to meet Vivek again – at a small bar outside the hotel I was staying in, in Baltimore.

The details of how I got reconnected to him is escaping me right now – but it was probably one of those days when I remember people from the past and start looking for them in Linkedin and Facebook. Fortunately for me, he had recognized me too and we had exchanged our phone numbers and most importantly – his birthday! That way I had a reminder every year to visit him if I were to be in Baltimore.

And that is where I was this week for a couple of days for a conference. Vivek was very kind to adjust his schedule at work and home and come meet me when I had some off time between all the meetings.

It was like the 29 years has never happened. We picked up from where we had left. Talking about all the old friends, the carom board outside our room, the campus, the courses and all that. I was fascinated to hear about his career and family journey that has taken him to three different countries. We also debated the pros and cons of doing MBA – specifically, which courses has really helped and which ones not so much.

The best part of our recollections was a common difficulty both of us had faced separately. Both of us had a lot of exposure to computer programming – unlike many other students – before we joined the MBA class. And both of us (in two separate years) had agreed to help our colleagues with the programming assignments in the introductory programming class in our MBA. In fact, we called them “rems” (remedial classes?). Basically, some of the fellow-students would gather in a dorm and I (or he) would use the blackboard on the wall (every floor in the dorm had a blackboard those days) to explain the basics of programming languages.

And sadly, neither of us quite figured out how to convince our non-programming friends that in computer science, it totally cool to write:



It did not help that some of them had math degrees before coming to do MBA!!!

19 February 2020

What was she looking at?

There was something familiar and yet strange about the lady. I was busy with my oatmeal in the Delta Skyclub, sitting all by myself, when I noticed thru the corner of my left eye that a lady – in what appeared to be dark formal clothes – walking past me. And then she stopped. That made me instinctively look up. That is when I was hit with the feeling of something familiar and yet, something strange.

She was standing at about 10:30 to me (left front). She kept peering out in the open thru the large glass walls, diagonally across from me. She would occasionally look in her phone, punch in something and then again look out in the open. I looked out a couple of times in the direction she was looking. There was nothing to see other than the airport watch tower half cloaked in fog and a lot of planes on the ground dodging each other as they rolled thru. The sky was one dreary grey sky.

But she kept looking that way – with a sense of purpose – that betrayed that she was looking for something in particular. I glanced at her a little more intently. Dark hair, brown skin, very prim in her dark office suit and red scarf. The roller and handbag screamed top of the class brands.

That is when something familiar struck me. Could she be….? No! What is the chance? And why would she be looking out into the fog? I tried to lean over to get a better look at the face. Most of what I could see matched a face I knew but still I had not crossed past what my friends in the legal land would say “beyond reasonable doubt”.

I just sat back. Eventually, she will move and turn around, I argued with myself. That is when I would find out if she is who I thought she might be. For a moment, I toyed with the idea of calling up the lady I knew and if the phone rang in front of me…. you know the rest. But what if she was not? What am I going to give as my excuse to my friend for calling her so early in the morning?

Well, I just kept eating my oatmeal and waited patiently for her to make the first move. I eventually finished my oatmeal and she had still not moved!! Finally, one of those cleaning persons came around and asked “Are you done with this, sir?”. I nodded in the affirmative “Yes, ma’m”. And that conversation next to her jolted the lady in the suit into the present reality. She shifted a little – thinking she might be in the way.

And our eyes met immediately. It was good old Malika alright!!!

After the usual pleasantries (I had not seen her in quite some time), I asked her “What the heck were you looking into the clouds for?”.
“I was looking for Russell.” (That be her husband).
That did not exactly clear up things. Much like the weather outside, I was still foggy. Why was she looking for Russell there? First, he would not be in a runway walking along. And if he was flying somewhere, there was no way she could see him in an airplane.

A little background about Russell. I got to know him thru Malika – who I go to know thru Sharmila. I am not sure how she got to know her (was it thru Rejina in Dallas?) but I know both of them are painters. Many years later, we had discovered that another friend of ours from Dallas – Debjani – went to school with Malika in Kolkata and we had even managed to have a reunion for them at our house in Atlanta.

Russell’s biggest claim to fame – at least to me – is that he makes absolutely the best “kathi rolls” on this side of the Suez. On a good day, on that side of the Suez too. How this Georgia gentleman learnt how to make a Kolkata street food so well, I will never know.

What I did not know is that Russell is also a pilot. And now he is flying charter planes. Once I got past the surprise that I never realized Russell is a pilot, everything fell in place. He had a flight that morning and was taking off. She was messaging him from the Skyclub and he was texting her roughly where his plane was. Which was why she was straining her neck to look out so intently to spot his plane on the ground.

And that is how I had my first intersection point of this morning!

Malika, it was great to see you. One of these days, when Russell is on the ground, let’s catch a different kind of “flight” at a nearby bar!!

1 February 2020

Free Wine! er… I mean Art Show!!

Apparently, free wine was waiting for me in Atlanta after being abroad for a week. Landed in Atlanta, met up with Sharmila at a meeting point and went straight to her art show. As you know from my previous posts, the real attraction for me is the free wine. I understand art as much as a walrus understands rocket science. Maybe even less.

This time, though, there was the additional upside of running into an old friend from yesteryears – Hunt and his wife Mary-Elizabeth!

31 January 2020

Almost did not make it

“I cannot give you a visa to enter the country”, the immigration office assured me.
“Why not?”, I asked
“Well, your next flight is in three hours. The rule is six hours.”

That was a bummer. I had not expected this. I was hoping to see Natasha Balseca after quite a few years. In fact, if I managed to meet her, it would be the third time I would have met her.

The very first time was somewhere around 2008/2009 time frame when on a dark morning at 5:10AM, Samantha (or was it Lara?) had introduced me to Natasha when we all showed up at the running group’s starting point on Windward Parkway.

I had learnt that Natasha lives in Ecuador and was in Atlanta to teach at a school for some time. Eventually she left for Ecuador but we kept up thru Facebook and birthdays. Then one summer, about 5 years back, she was back in Atlanta to teach some summer school. I met her up that time and we again put in a run, this time near Windermere Parkway. Since it was one on one, over Starbucks coffee, I got to know about her whole life story. And the fact that one of her cousins is in Galapagos. Which is some place Sharmila and I want to go to. Good to know that there is somebody we can reach out to.

That followed a couple of years of mostly Facebook and birthday contacts only. She then moved to Doha, Qatar with her family as a teacher. Funny thing is that I go thru that airport eight times a year but never managed to get out and meet Natasha. My connections are usually 2 hours or less.

This time, from Kolkata, I was headed to Muscat. I had a little over 3 hours. I was determined to meet her. In fact, I had asked her to come in her running clothes. I traveled in my running shoes and had my running clothes in my backpack. If we could figure out a way to run outside the airport without drawing the attention from the security guys, that was what we were going to do. 3 meets – 3 runs.

Except the immigration guy had other thoughts.

The good news is that after about five minutes of explaining my situation, I was able to convince him to give me a temporary visa. Phew!!!

As I came out of the customs area, I texted Natasha “Coming out” and started scanning the waiting crowd carefully. I was looking for any woman by herself in running gear. II did see somebody vigorously waving at me. She looked like Natasha all right but she was with somebody else. I looked behind me – there was nobody. So, it had to be Natasha.

Turns out Natasha’s mom – Gina – was visiting from Ecuador. Natasha had dragged her along. We decided to give running the boot and instead settled down at a tea shop to chat.

It was great to meet Gina for the first time. She was born in Virginia, married an Ecuadorean, had Natasha and then moved to Ecuador.

And I was thrilled that I was able to finally see Natasha after promising her every time I passed thru Doha that some day I will make it. Found out that Natasha is gearing up for a half marathon and that she has taken up rowing.

Thank you Natasha and Gina for coming to the airport and spending the time. One of these days, I hope we will put in a run together.

30 January 2020

This is my new friend

23 year old Mohammed took me around for a seven hour trip outside Muscat. Got to know a lot about his family, the country and local culture. One of 14 siblings, he has a very interesting name. Mohammed Mubarak Khamis Humaid Al-Jabri. I asked him why does he have such a long name. Found out those are respectively his name, his father’s name, his grandfather’s name, his great grandfather’s name and then finally, his family name! By that logic, I would be Rajib Abhaychandra Madanmohan Debendranath Roy !!!

Very nice gentleman. We are on Facebook now and I have his birthday and phone number. Fairly sure this is not the last time I have talked to him 🙂

27 January 2020

Guess who I met in Kolkata airport?

I got to know Anzee when she worked in ITC Hotel (I used to be a regular there before they built the Westin close to the airport). Anzee eventually left the job and moved on.

I know the particular place she worked in the international terminal. I check in that shop every time I am here. Most of the time she works during the day and I am here for an early morning flight and therefore miss her.

There was the one time that Sharmila and I were traveling with the family and we managed to meet her.

Today, I lucked out. She was working at night instead of day shift. It was great seeing her after such a long time and got a chance to catch up with her and her family.

(She, by the way, is from Darjeeling – which is famous for tea and also where my sister spent early part of her married life)