’15 Jan India
- Returning a favor 🙂 Jan 17, 2015
- Will he? Won’t he? Jan 18, 2015
My trips to India usually are very short but very hectic. Partially because I have not yet learnt how to stay put in one place and partially because I can’t stop setting goals for everything. Reaching them is a completely different story altogether.
This time, reaching my top goal is precariously hanging in a balance. You see, for the last two years, I have been trying to convince my dad that we should go visit the village he was born in. He has steadfastly rejected the idea citing his poor health. What he would not admit is the emotional baggage that he might be carrying.
In 1940, when he had barely crossed his second birthday, he suddenly lost his dad. My grandfather was survived by my dad, grand mom, his elder sister and his eldest brother who was 11 years elder to him. Things are a little murky after that. My grand mom and my uncle (his elder brother was the respected patriarch in our family) were very reluctant to discuss this topic with me. My dad was too young anyways.
What I had pieced thru some of the information that was let out was that somehow my grandmother got thrown out of her house. My conjecture is that my grandpa’s brothers eased her out of the inheritance. (In India, at that time, society did not offer too many rights or much support to widows).
That led my grand mom to traverse about a hundred kilometers to a village where her brother resided. Her brother and his wife – who were struggling themselves, nonetheless, took the family in. Again, the details of the journey is murky but I know at that point my dad lost his elder sister too.
In any case, that new village is where my grand mom and family settled down and even reached a semblance of prospering (which means they had their own land to till and had their own hut). You might have seen the picture of that thatched hut made of dirt where I was born in a blog in 2012. That hut still does not have electricity or running water.
As I grew up, I realized that my uncle and grand mom never wanted to discuss their life prior to coming to my birth village. The memories of that phase of life is something they simply did not want to revisit. My uncle never took his wife or kids to his own village where he was born. Likewise with my dad.
But for the last two years, I have been pressing my dad. He was too young. He remembers nobody (although he had heard some names from his mom). I suspect he simply followed what his elder brother and mom did. I have been trying to explain that before dying, he owes it to himself to visit the place he was born in. Certainly, I want to see the place my dad was born in. I know he has no grudges (again, he was too young), but he is emotionally connected to his brother and mother’s example.
After two long years, this time when Sharmila visited him a couple of weeks back, it appeared that he has relented. He is willing to consider. Ever since I heard that, my brother and I have been talking to him everyday and making plans. Every alternate day he has been switching between “Let’s give it a try” to “No way, Jose”. The last couple of days, he has held steady at “Let’s give it a try”.
I have about 48 hours in hand. I land in India in 36 hours. After sleeping that night, my brother and I want to pack our parents in his car and hit the road. Before he gets a chance to change his mind. Assuming he has not already.
That was the larger problem. The smaller problem then was answering “Where is this place that he was born in?”. Google maps is showing nothing by the name he has always told us. I have a vague recollection that grand mom had once talked about a large village she had gone to for a fair from her inlaws’ house. That place can be easily located on Google maps. For three days, with an ever increasing radius I had been scanning from Google Satellite maps, the names of the villages. (sometimes, I had to spot what looked like a few huts and then kept zooming till Google would give a name; btw, Apple maps is worthless in this regard). Eventually, I hit a village whose name comes close enough.
My grand mom and uncle always called it “Deripur”. There is no such place in the whole district. There is a “Dwariapur” that is close to the larger village. Startlingly enough, there is a Wikipedia entry for Dwariapur. There are only 5 lines about the village. One of the line says that it is also referred to as “Deriapur” by locals. I am quite sure “Deripur” is the same name colloquially. Otherwise, I am totally out of alternatives.
So there it is. After a long trip to Kolkata, a few quick hours of sleep later, I am hoping against hopes that the my dad will still be agreeable to making the trip. And of course, that my joining the dots has indeed led me to the right village!!
Wish me luck!!
- They have an airlines? Jan 18, 2015
- India trip – second goal Jan 18, 2015
If my dad is able to overcome his emotional baggage (I will know in another 36 hours or so), my second goal is to see if I can push my luck some more. He has had a similar emotional reaction to our numerous proposals to visit Durgapur with us. This is where he spent 50+ years of his life, two of his kids were born here and he left this place to go live near my sister about 3 years back. But he made the move because he realized that he needed help himself – let alone he being able to help my mom.
But he never wanted to get out of Durgapur. In fact, he is still very emotional that they had to sell the house they lived in for 17 years before the move.
The idea is the following: if we really succeed in actually getting him to see his birthplace, his ability to conquer his emotional baggage might just propel him to take another one on barely an hour and a half of car drive away.
My brother and I have already made hotel bookings in Durgapur in case he wants to make that adventure.
And to top it off, if we can pull Durgapur off, for sure, I will make sure my parents get to see the mom of my first friend in life – Moniruddin (alias Khokon) (remember, how I found him after nearly forty years of search and went to visit his mom?). My mom and she remember each other fondly and have talked over the phone in the past year too. They getting to see each other would absolutely be the icing on the cake for this trip of mine!
I just can’t wait to land in India. Speaking of which, I am still stuck in DC tarmac on a much delayed Emirates flight 🙂
- India trip – third goal Jan 18, 2015
After getting my parents to get in touch with some of their (and our) original roots, it will be my turn to get in touch with my roots. Every time our daughters travel with us to India, we get all their cousins (and their families) together at a resort near Kolkata for a couple of days. Not that they understand each other’s language much but it is amazing to watch how they can converse without much of a support from a language. The most interesting part is watching them learn each other’s culture and practices.
This time the daughters are not with me. So, I am going to do to myself what I do to them. My mom had five siblings. All those six of them have about thirteen kids. Discounting my brother, sister and myself, I have ten cousins. I have not seen two of them in my entire life. I got to see two of them for the first time six months back and two more for the first time after about twenty five years last year.
This time, my brother and I have invited all of them to have a great get together of all our cousins and their families (from my mom’s side) at a resort near Kolkata. Many of them, like me, have not seen each other for a long long time…. sometimes ever!!!
This one is going to be real interesting!!! Realizing an otherwise stranger is actually my blood relative is not something I experience too often!!
- And yet another intersection point!! Jan 19, 2015
Do you remember how at Bombay airport, a couple of years back, while waiting in the Business Lounge with my family, I had mentioned to Sharmila that the gentleman sitting at the other corner of the lounge poring over his laptop might have crossed my path some twenty five years back? And then how I had simply walked up to him and called out his name to see if he would look up? It was indeed him!
Well, a similar thing happened today while waiting in the Business Lounge of Dubai airport. I was very sleepy and still waiting for my flight to Kolkata (which subsequently was delayed). I was trying to keep myself awake by calling up friends from early school days to see if I could create some intersection points during my India visit.
Just as I started talking to a friend of mine from first grade, I thought I saw a gentleman briskly walking by while talking on the phone. I had a vague feeling that he might be the same guy that I had worked with about fifteen or so years back. When I say “worked with”, I mean we were in the same company – I was in Dallas, he was in Bangalore and we had met a few times during company events.
I decided to take my chances (at worst my risk was that I would get a strange glare from a stranger). After excusing myself rudely from my friend on the phone and promising to call him back very soon, I walked up and called out “Sankalp?”. Sure enough, it was him!! Good news is that he recognized me immediately!
It was great! I had not kept up with Sankalp in a long time. I was aware that he had started his own company in the early 2000s (which is when I probably saw him last). Had I not met him today, I would have had no idea what a great success that company has been.
Both of us had about twenty minutes (this was before I learnt that my flight had been delayed) and we made the most of it. Catching up on business, the challenges of taking a company public, our old friends from work, families and so on. The worst part – and this is probably starting to show we are growing old – was getting to know the unfortunate passing away of a couple of our old colleagues.
It was absolutely fascinating to run into Sankalp when I was least expecting him. He always was and continues to be the role model for a lot of entrepreneurs.
- He will !!! Jan 20, 2015
- Stalled at a “rail gate” for 20 minutes… Jan 20, 2015
- We found it!!! Jan 20, 2015
After a rather long journey – only in time, not in road distance – thanks to the terrible conditions of the roads inside remote villages near Gushkara, West Bengal, and all those people stopping us and asking for donations for the upcoming Saraswati Pujo, we finally stood at the spot where my dad was born! Google maps was very accurate in getting us to the village. Then getting to the spot of his birth took a little more time. But the villagers were very curious and very helpful. The key was one hint – that my grandfather was a very God fearing person and that he had built a temple right next to his hut.
The temple – like every village temple I guess, has been well taken care of. On the other hand, the hut did not have any such luck. It collapsed in one of those furious monsoons (nobody occupied it for some time) and all that remains is a round mound of dirt and a lot of undergrowth.
You can see the temple on the left and the space in between (before the hut you can see on the right). That space is where my dad was born. This was confirmed by somebody else (see a later post).
He has no recollection (other than the fact he had heard about the temple his dad had built) of the place but seemed to reach an inner peace once he saw his birthplace.
- That is how he got his name!!!! Jan 20, 2015
His dad had built this temple. He was aware of that. That was the only known artifact left from his dad. (His mom and his brother has long left him too).
He slowly went up the temple with mom and then looking at the idol, simply collapsed. Remember he has an almost non working knee. He cannot sit down on the floor. He always is in bed or at best in a chair.
He was transfixed looking at the idol. And then, right in front of our eyes, he slowly sat down (we have not seen him sitting on the floor for years!!!!). Mom sat next to him.
A few minutes later, I walked up too. After quite some time, he explained something to me. And I learnt another new family history item. He explained that the name of the God is “Damodar” ( I believe that is an incarnation of Narayan). That is why the temple is called Damodar Temple.
Then it all started to make sense to me. My dad’s name at home is “Damu”. My grandmom had once told me that my grandad had christened him so after Damodar. I always thought that was in reference to the river by the same name that flowed by where we lived (Durgapur). I had probably wondered what was the connection between my granddad and Durgapur but figured Damodar was a very well known river in West Bengal anyways – specially because of the untold miseries it created for people on either bank during monsoons.
Turns out Damodar is the name of a God. My granddad was an ardent worshipper of this God. He even built a temple for the God Damodar. And that is what drove him to name his son “Damu”. Not the river!!!
- Old is gold!! Jan 20, 2015
While trying to locate the exact location of my dad’s birthplace, we talked to and made friends with a lot of the villagers today. At some point, I had the presence of mind to ask one of them to lead me is the eldest person in the village with the assumption that he or she would know somebody that my dad had heard of.
The news must have traveled thru the village soon. While we were busy checking out my granddad’s temple, we saw an old man hobbling towards us. Before we saw him, we heard him. He was yelling “Ami Kali Roy-er chhele. Ami Kali Roy-er chhele”.. (I am the son of Kali Roy). My dad paid no attention since he is pretty hard of hearing anyways 🙂 That confused the elderly gentleman no end. Somewhat clueless, he looked at all of us and asked “Damu konta?” (Which one among you is Damu?). That is when my dad asked him who was he.
Turned out that he is a blood relative of ours. Kali Roy was my granddad’s first cousin. And this gentleman knew my granddad. Again, my dad and this gentleman had never met each other – just heard of each other. But there was a high level of excitement as they met for the first time in their lives at pretty much the far end of their lives.
He also asked us to visit another gentleman – which we did. (He himself did not join us though – and from another villager I gathered that the two families are not on talking terms!!!) We went to another house and told them about who our dad was and if we could meet the person we were looking for. The folks there brought us chairs to sit down. And we waited and waited.
Eventually a very old man came out – taking one painful step after another helped by his walking stick and a young child. He trudged his way to my dad and asked “Tumi Nitai-er bhai?” (Are you the brother of Nitai?”). Once my dad confirmed that, he could not help control his emotions. He started talking about how he had seen my uncle last in 1940 and that they used to play together and never got a chance to talk to him after my dad’s family left the village. And then he asked the inevitable “Kemon aachey?” (How is he?). His face completely fell when he realized that my uncle is no more. “Ekey ekey bondhu gulo sobai choley gelo” he murmured (“One by one all my friends went away”). Anyways, he stood there for some more time and talked about our ancestral family.
It is these two gentlemen who helped me narrow down the exact spot where my granddad’s hut was. Thru them, I reconstructed a few more family facts. Evidently, my granddad was a deeply religious person. He used to shave his head off (that DNA has flown thru to me :-). Unlike me though, he had a “tiki” – which is that tuft of hair in an otherwise shaven head that you might have seen on some old Hindu pious men or even ISKCON disciples.
Evidently my father was the youngest of four siblings. Only the eldest (Nitai) and my youngest (my dad) survived. My granddad died of throat cancer. Unfortunately, nobody has a picture of him!!
But watching people who got separated about three quarters of a century away reconnect thru technologies like Google maps and Wikipedia … that was a lovely treat!!!
- Seen on the road… Jan 20, 2015
- Flash mobs! Jan 20, 2015
- No trip to Durgapur is ever complete… Jan 21, 2015
- The road that changed his life for ever Jan 21, 2015
During all the furtive photo taking and talking to villagers, at one point I noticed that my dad had separated himself from the rest of the crowd and had settled himself down in the sun on a raised platform inside the temple compound. As you can see in the picture, he was very busy in his thoughts and seemed to be gesturing with his fingers.
After giving him some time, I walked up to him and asked if he could recognize anything. He slowly explained that, that was exactly what he was trying to remember. He was too young (Two and a half years). Then he said that one scene that came to his mind was the day his dad had died. All he could remember was his mom sitting by the post in the “dalan” (the overhang portion of the hut that is outside the walls) and crying. And that they lifted his dad and walked down the road in front of the temple and went away. He thinks he was crying too but it was because everybody around him was crying. He had not yet understood the true meaning of death. Or that it was the last time he saw his dad. For that was his last travel down the road.
I went ahead and took a few pictures of that road.
Here is the intriguing part. He told me the whole story without any signs of emotion at all. There was no tinge of sadness. He was sad about the “helpless” situation his mom and siblings found themselves in but reacted to his missing his dad in a very different way.
And that is when it hit home for me. He never had something I have had all my life – a dad. He never played with his dad or had fights or ran to him when he needed to help. So, he had no basis to miss anything. Dad was just an entity to him that was never in flesh or blood.
And then it hit me again like a ton of bricks. This will be far more personal to me some day. There will be the long road for him too. And I will have no ability to hold back my emotions. I know that for sure, because I can feel that lump in my throat even as I write this story out…
- Even my brother got into it… Jan 21, 2015
On Monday night, as my brother picked me up from Kolkata airport and drove us to Kalyani, I explained to him the history of my father’s side of the family – to the best as I knew at that point of time. He had very little idea of it. That set the background for our trip there.
While we were there he spent a lot of time understanding the history of the village rather than our family. You can see him talking to a local to understand the village’s history, political leanings, economy, access to education etc….
- These days your kids will befriend anybody 🙂 Jan 21, 2015
During this morning’s run, as we were pulling into the corner of “I-Sector More”, I asked my brother if he would be game to meet somebody that I have never met myself either. He, like myself, is certainly not above barging into a stranger’s house at early hours of the day. He did not even ask me who was I talking about 🙂
So, after locating the exact house from the last names on the mail boxes, I walked up the stairs and rang the bell in one particular house. Presently, a gentleman opened the door and looked quizzically at me 🙂
“Apni aamaakey chinben na” (You won’t know me), was my first ice breaker. Bad move. In these days of random day light robberies in Durgapur, it is never a good idea to barge into somebody’s house in shorts and long sleeve shirts announcing “You don’t know me” 🙂 Especially when another similar looking guy was lurking behind in the stair steps 🙂 I am sure he was thinking “Chhnichkey chor naki?” :- ) Petty thieves or what?)
“Ami Madhubanti aar Neel-er Atlanta-r bondhu”. (I am Madhubanti and Neel’s friend from Atlanta). (Madhubanti, by the way, is his daughter). Another disastrous move. You never recover from an awkward introduction by saying you have traveled a long distance to talk to the parents of a friend you know. It kicks up the worst fears in a parent. Second strike 🙂
At that point, I got control of myself and did a re-do by explaining that I am from Durgapur and that I live in Atlanta and am visiting my parents in Durgapur. The last part was factually incorrect (which I corrected later) but it quickly put him in a familiar frame of mind and then we were able to talk for some more time 🙂
About the only worse way it could have gone otherwise is when he asked “Ki koren aapni” (What do you do), if I had avoided the prospect of explaining what geospatial data analytics is and made short shrift of it by saying “Bar-e kaaj kori. Drinks mishai” (mix drinks at a bar) in order to hang on to something he could hopefully relate to quickly. I could almost see him slamming the door on my face muttering “Ki modo maatal-er pallay porlam re baapu” 🙂 (I will leave this translation to my Bengali readers 🙂 )
Fortunately, my recovery worked great. And we had a short but great conversation. He made me promise that next time I will come in the evening and have an “adda”. And I agreed.
Finally, I had to solve the problem how to get Madhubanti to believe that my brother and myself actually was running from Citi Center and landed up at her place. First, I tried calling her up in Atlanta. She wisely let my call go to the voicemail. (her dad had no such option when I knocked on his door). Then I thought I would casually mention the pet name her parents call her by that I just learnt and also further learnt that she hates it if anybody else knows it 🙂 Out of sheer fear of my skin, I went with a far more painless option – got my brother to take a picture of us together 🙂
And then just like that, we hit the road and were gone….
I am sure there will be a call to Madhubanti and Neel with some parental advise tonight on how to be much more wise in selecting friends in life 🙂
- The three houses.. Jan 21, 2015
Having knocked off the first goal yesterday, the second goal fell today. After leaving his birthplace yesterday, my dad agreed to go to Durgapur. My bet that he would be more pliable after visiting his birthplace was well placed. And today, somewhat reluctantly, he agreed to visit our old homes. The first two were fine … he was a lot more emotional with the third one. This is the house he last lived in Durgapur.
In fact, he stayed in the car and declared he would not come out. After letting him stay for some time, I told him to come out to take a picture. It was almost he needed one more nudge. He came out, went inside the house, talked to the new owners for quite some time and took quite some pictures…
None of the three houses look anything like what they did when we lived there. There has been a ton of improvements and reconstruction done. One common theme though – all of them still have the beautiful flower gardens my dad had built out….
- Evolution of our houses Jan 22, 2015
- Picture this! Forty eight years later!! Jan 22, 2015
After we set out from my first friend’s house this morning (that story coming later), we headed towards our last destination with our parents which was kept a complete secret. My brother and I had worked this out. Parents had no idea but we were attempting to go visit my eldest cousin (Kajol-di) – my dad’s only brother’s eldest daughter. The challenge – which turned out to be the least of our challenges was that I was not being able to contact her on her mobile phone. The phone would ring, she would pick up and then there were only inaudible noises. I had been attempting this for over two weeks. I could not even find out where her village was.
All I knew was that her village was called Norja. Every attempt to search for Norja or Narja on Google maps promptly landed me in Norway. As smart as Google is, it had not a clue that I had no desire to visit the land of difficult spellings :-), at least as of now! I kept on searching for those two names on the internet and finally stumbled upon a government tender to bid for road construction between the villages of Basuda and Norja. Finding Basuda in Google Maps was rather easy. And then started looking for roads coming in and out of Basuda. And that is when I found a village called Narjja!! Why they put two “j”s I don’t know but I found my village.
As I started giving instructions to my brother on the road directions, my biggest worry was whether my cousin would be home. This cousin is special to me. There is a history here. My parents had taken over the responsibility of raising this cousin since my uncle had four kids in quick succession (including a set of twins) and was struggling a bit. Eventually a few years after my sister was born, she went back to her dad. But in the meanwhile, she lived with my parents and went to school. Also, she took care of me and played with me and all that when I was barely months old. You can see me in the black and white pictures from those times.
Within a few minutes, my dad grew suspicious that we were not heading home. He kept on asking where we were going and my brother and I kept on evading giving a straight answer. And he kept on getting impatient. Then we met our next challenge – A sign that said “Road closed”. That is it! No guidance on diversions or alternate routes – just that the road is closed!!! My brother, who has always treated all road signs as merely suggestions just went around the sign and proceeded.
We soon realized why the sign was there. The bridge on a river was broken. Literally snapped!! There was no road around it!!! But this is India!! People make roads when and where they need them to be. My brother, along with a tractor and a few other assorted vehicles left the road and start climbing down and then drove over hard fields at a snail’s pace, crossed the river which did not have much water to write home about and then came up the other side over complete dirt. Finally reached the road on the other side and then proceeded like nothing had happened!!
Eventually, when we were within a kilometer of the village, I called her again to get some directions. The good news was that I could actually hear her. The bad news was that she told me she was not in her village. She had gone to another village ten kilometers away!! Since we had managed to get past a broken bridge, this was not going to stop us. Found out the other village (Bhatar) in Google maps and headed in that direction.
Before long, I was able to see my cousin – who to be honest, I did not recognize at all even as she approached me at the tea stall in that village where we were waiting for her. Her first reaction? She just started crying seeing us. I am sure she had flashbacks of those days when I was barely months old and a complete nuisance to her 🙂 We chatted for half an hour and had two rounds of tea.
I had only two pictures of her from those days. I had copied them on my phone before I left Atlanta just to show her if we met her. Which I did. But more importantly, as you can see in the pictures, I got everybody to take pictures today standing in exactly the same sequence as those two pictures. I just wanted to see how two pictures with same people would look forty eight years later!! You can see for yourself! Cool or what? 🙂
Eventually, we gave her a lift home to her own village. As we said good bye to her, you could see her pride welling in her seeing that little month old cousin of hers has grown up so much! Every villager that came by – and there were quite a few since a car is a very unlikely sight in those dirt roads – she would introduce me with three phrases – “Kakar chheley. Engineer. America-y thhakey” (meaning “My uncle’s son. Engineer. Lives in America”). And that is all there was for anybody else to know, she figured. You have to be in the context of small villages in rural India to understand the power of the words “Engineer” or “Lives in America”. That “Kakar chheley” part wasn’t that powerful though 🙂
- Bridge to nowhere… Jan 22, 2015
- How a phone call went last evening…. Jan 22, 2015
Me: “Maasi, Apni amakey chinben na. Amar naam Rajib Roy”. (Ma’m you don’t know me. My name is Rajib Roy)
She: “Rajib Roy-ta ke bolun to”? (Who is this Rajib Roy?)
Me: “Ami Atlanta-tey thaaki. Apnar meye Sanghamitra-tar bondhu” (I live in Atlanta and am a friend of your daughter)
She (in a very loud voice): “Sei Facebook-e mojar mojat golpo lekhe – sei Rajib Roy?” (The same Rajib Roy that writes funny stories in Facebook?)
Me (somewhat taken aback that she knew what is Facebook, let alone that I write there): “Ei morechhey! Mojar mojar kina jaanina tobey haabi jaabi likhi Facebook-e” (Not sure ma’m if they are funny, but I certainly write a lot of random stuff in Facebook”
She: “Na na tomar onek golpo sunechhi meyer kaachhey……..” (I have heard about your from my daughter……)
In 2007, I was busy sorting out a ticket related issue with the Delta gate agent at Sao Paolo airport when a young lady walked up to me and asked me “Are you Rajib Roy?”. She certainly looked Indian. My memory had no recollection of her. As I was stumbling trying to figure out where I had met her, she let me know that we have never met. That made it even more intriguing. In any case, I eventually reconstructed what had happened – She had met Sharmila at a party that I had not attended in the recent past and got to know that I was going to be traveling from Sao Paolo on the same day (there is only one Delta flight every night) as was she after our business work there. She saw me with the gate agent, saw no Indian around and took her chances!!! Looking back, I could have turned the tables of surprise on her by screaming “Que Pasa?” 🙂
A month back Sanghamitra (if my terrible memory serves me right, I have met her a couple of times subsequently) had an intriguing – and certainly a first time for me – request. She asked if I would mind taking some time during my next India trip and visit her mom. I am not exactly used to that. Nobody – at least knowingly – asks me to meet their parents (I know one exception, but I will skip that since it is a hilarious story and is bound to put a certain someone in bad light 🙂 ). Certainly there was a time when all the moms went out of their ways so I could not meet their daughters 🙂
Turns out her mom has had two heart attacks and has lost the ability to support herself. (Her husband is no more). My friend and her brother had no choice but to move her to a old age home. (something like assisted living in USA). Being an intensely independent person, she is having a very tough time adapting to a life of old age homes – even a very good one. I can only imagine how a physical debilitation followed by a mental perception of forced taking away of independence in a matter of moments can crush the will of any person. Certainly, it would be to me.
But what good would a visit from a stranger do? Sanghamitra explained that she is aligned with my “thoughts on life and feelings for the elderly” (her words, not mine). And that she felt me spending some time with her mom will cheer her up even if momentarily. First off, she has sized me up very wrong. I need to refer her to all those moms who did not want their daughters to meet me 🙂 But, certainly I am not above sharing my most precious and constrained resource – my time left in this beautiful world – with somebody else’s who might be even more constrained and therefore that much more precious to them.
I will make an attempt to make a detour and visit her today on my way to the resort where I am getting all my cousins from mom’s side gather for a couple of days to meet each other after a very long time… if not ever…
And I just realized something – Hey! Maybe my Facebook writings are not that “haabi jaabi” after all 🙂
- It is never a pretty sight when all three siblings leave home at the same time… Jan 23, 2015
- Morning run with my brother Jan 24, 2015
- I know it is rude to disconnect when the party you are calling picks up the phone… Jan 25, 2015
But I had a dang good excuse today.
By the way, I am starting to believe that maybe it is true that these things happen to me only!! Else, how do you explain this intersection point?
If you recollect, my third goal was to get all the cousins from my mom’s side and their families together for a couple of days for the first time ever. My brother and I had chosen a small resort deep in South 24 Parganas. It is not the most popular place but gave us the quietness and the facilities and more importantly a dozen good rooms that we were looking for.
This morning, after putting in a run with my brother and then some outdoor activities with all my cousins – some of whom I met for the first time – and then playing in the pool with all the nephews and nieces, I was pretty exhausted. Add to that a heaving Indian meal and I was ready to hit the sack. Figured I would take in a little more sun and so settled down in a chaise lounge chair near a corner of the pool.
I must have kept my eyes shut for five minutes and then opened them for a moment to move over to lay on my side. In that moment, I thought I saw a gentleman walk in front of me with a camera in his hand. I had my eyes closed for another couple of seconds when it occurred to me – “Wait a minute! Could it be who I think it is?”. What is the chance that I would come from US to a far out small resort ways away from any city and run into my schoolmate from 5th-10th grade?
I got up, look towards him but I could only see his back. He was trying to take pictures of this lady – who I presumed to be his wife. I was wondering what to do. It would be awkward to walk up to him to check his face and then maybe ask if he went to school together with me. It is then that I remembered that I still had that friend’s phone number. So, I fished out my phone from the pocket and dialed his India mobile number and waited with bated breath.
I could see him taking quite a few snapshots of the lady and then he put his hand in his shirt pocket and pulled out his mobile. That was all I needed. I disconnected the phone and went up to him and asked “Suman? Chintey paarchis?” (Suman? Recognize me?). We both had that “What the hell are you doing here?” look!!!
That was indeed one heck of a coincidence. Turned out that other than his wife, his son and his mom was there too. We walked to where they were and I chatted with them for some time and got one of his office friends (they were there for a office party) to take a few pictures of us!
As I said, maybe it is true that these things happen just to me. But I am glad they do. I would take that any day so as to run into Suman, his wife Suparna, his son Sayan and his mom!!!
- View from the coffee spot at the hotel Jan 25, 2015
- The gang of 23!! Jan 25, 2015
And those are the 23 cousins and their families (including the two in the inset who had to leave early and myself as the photographer) that got together for a couple of days. This has never happened before ever and I don’t think we can pull this off again ever but it was certainly great to see all those relatives of mine for a few days all under the same roof. Learnt a lot about my extended family from mom’s side.
Statistically, the youngest and the eldest ones were separated by about half a century!!!
Also, we had 1 doctor, 5 teachers, 6 in other services and 5 homemakers.
Further, if you discount me, everybody lives within 100 miles of each other or less! The one exception point (me) is about 10,000 miles away!!!
And that completes my third goal for this trip!!
- Some nephew time… Jan 25, 2015
- Saraswati Pujo Jan 25, 2015
- Oh! What a yarn of lies we weave!! Jan 25, 2015
We checked out of the resort and were heading towards my brother’s home in Kolkata. A few minutes into the journey, I just floated the hypothetical “How about we head back to our parents in Kalyani?”. Of course, there were always those initial “Would be great, but what about…..?”. Ultimately, the surprise element of the adventure was enough that we decided we will change course. The price to be paid was that we would have to wake up very early and head back to Kolkata at a God forsaken time tomorrow morning.
The journey was a tad tedious what with my brother getting caught driving without a license (he left it at the resort, the cop was nice enough to let him go after talking to the resort) and getting caught in a tight jam due to construction. After about four hours we finally had covered 100 km (60 miles).
Of course, there was complete mayhem once we all walked in our parents’ house. Remember, they were under the impression they were going to see me in another three to four months when I left home a few days back. Then the two nephews confounded their whole confusion by trying to pull their own stunts of surprises. With all the commotion, my sister and niece came up from downstairs and promptly added to the confusion.
You can see in this picture my elder nephew holding court and has convinced half the crowd that we are leaving in about another hour’s time. Of course, slowly but surely he is getting caught in his own lies. But the best was when my mom demanded to know why do we have to leave tonight (which is untrue, by the way) and before my sister in law could explain that she had duties in her school tomorrow for India’s Republic Day ceremony (which is the truth, by the way), my brother added for good measure “Kaal Obama aaschhen” (Tomorrow Obama will be coming).
My father who is hard of hearing raised his voice “Kaal tor Baba Ma aaschhen???” (meaning Your inlaws are coming in tomorrow?) 🙂
Right now, there is absolute chaos and total confusion. At this rate, even I might forget what are our real plans are 🙂
- Reconnecting after 1976 …. Jan 27, 2015
First of all, I am back to Kolkata airport with good phone and internet connection! Need to start writing my travelogs…. Starting with a phenomenal get together last afternoon. I will tell you how exciting it was. Being an absolute stickler for time (even in Kolkata, I managed to show up for the get together on the dot at 12:30 pm – although I needed all the luck in Kolkata), I had scheduled two hours for this get together. I had figured we would run out of stories from 1973-1976 in that time. Well, we went over our schedule by another couple of hours and even then we were literally kicked out by the janitor who needed to clean the restaurant before his shift got over 🙂
This one was a great one for me personally. I had these friends I had made in first grade (and one of them in pre-kindergarten) and over the last few years, I had found out their whereabouts and was in touch with them individually. But never managed to meet them (save a few). Finally, as luck would have it, seven of us got together under the same roof!! The last time that happened was literally 39 years back 🙂
Unfortunately, a few more could not make it (it was Republic Day in India and they had office and school duties). And tellingly, none of the girls made it. As somebody mentioned “Saala, sedino lengi merey gelo, aaj-o lengi merey dilo” 🙂 For personal safety I am neither going to translate that nor divulge who said it 🙂 Are you listening, Ajanta, Aditi and Suparna? 🙂
I always thought I remember incidents from the past more than others. These guys beat me hands down. Specially Mrinal’s ability to remember as well as tell stories was mind blowing. Ah! those stories of gulmohar tree and Atish’s coveted tiffin of “lobongolotika”s !!!
Since Facebook is awash with pictures of people reconnecting with their old school friends over lunch or dinner at fancy restaurants, we figured we should instead, stay close to our roots. We re-enacted what might have been if we all stayed together and studied in the same college together. We gathered on the street and the ones who smoke bought cigarettes from the street guy and lit them up. We, the non-smokers, did some secondary smoking and mostly talked and laughed above the din of the honking and screeching of Kolkata traffic 🙂 [To be sure, we also ate lunch together in a fancy restaurant but that is not what bonded us 🙂 ]
Atish, Arghya, Sanjay, Soumen, Sujit, you have to make it to the next Kolkata get together!! And for the ones who did make it…. I was barely six years old when I took a few steps of my life together with you (and I was four years when I did the same with Arindam Dasgupta) and I was able to do the same yesterday again. It is a great life I lead and thanks for making it so….It was absolutely marvelous to see those red-shorts-white-shirt tiny tots have succeeded so much in their lives!!!
We will meet again… As the old shayar goes…
“Musafir hain hum bhi, musafir ho tum bhi
Kisi mod pe phir mulaqat hogi… ” !!
- Erenga-r “chaayer maasi” Jan 27, 2015
“You see life is not about the destination but the journey. The ultimate destination in life is always death. What is the big hurry reaching there? Let’s slow down and look around and enjoy the journey”, I explained.
I know. That was way too heavy for my ten year old nephew who, fittingly enough, stared at me blankly. (as a Bengali would put it “fyal fyal korey cheye roilo” 🙂 )
First the context…
You probably recollect from a previous blog that after checking out of Ibiza Merlin resort, instead of heading towards my brother’s place, we decided on the spot to go instead to Kalyani to revisit my parents who were absolutely surprised and delighted. You may also remember that the travel was very tedious. We covered about 60 miles in nearly four hours or so.
As we kept plodding along, my elder nephew was clearly getting impatient (as was my brother, by the way). At some point of time. the nephew had asked enough number of times how long would it take us to reach Kalyani that I was prompted to spout out the philosophical words quoted above.
“What does it even mean?”, he enquired.
“Well, once we reach Kalyani, what are you going to do? Most likely watch TV – right? Will you remember it next year when I come? Or will you remember more if we do something that we normally don’t do?”, I struggled to explain, clearly taken aback by his curiosity to actually understand what I said. (I know, silly nephew 🙂 ).
“Like what?”, he pressed on.
“Oh! I don’t know. Maybe we should look for some odd looking trees and stop to take pictures. Maybe we should stop by a roadside pond and see who can throw a stone farthest into the water. Maybe we should pick up one of those yellow flowers you see and count how many petals are there in a mustard flower. (The answer is four, btw. I had once stopped and counted). Or may be we should just stop and talk to a stranger and make new friends.”.
“Let’s do that”, he said.
Clearly surprised by the persuasive power of my own words and certainly not prepared for his “You said it. Now let’s do it”, I tried to defer the challenge by a classic stalling tactic – “Which one?”.
I would like to believe he is starting to think like me. But in all likelihood, he just remembered the last of the various examples I gave. “Let’s do the random new friend thing”. “Okay”, I said. Clearly, I was anything but okay. I needed some time to think this one thru. But soon enough, I had an idea. “How about we stop for a tea?”, I asked my brother. He was obviously tired of the traffic and readily agreed but the problem was it was nearly 2 PM. Well past lunch time. Where would we get some tea?
I guess where there is a will, there is a way. Under five minutes, we found a place that would serve tea. The tea stall lady was all by herself in her stall. Which was great – since I could talk to her at length. By this time, my nephew had grown cold feet and was suggesting that we probably should try the next tea stall. “Oh! come one. Let’s get out. If you don’t want to talk – that’s okay. Your job is to take pictures on my phone”. Which he was totally up to. Actually anything digital is like a candy to kids of today!!
And that is how we got to know our “Erenga-r chaayer maasi”. Erenga, we found out from her is the name of the village nearby and where she is from. Google maps showed this village to be a few kilometers due west of Chandannagar. “Chaa” means tea in Bengali (and not so surprisingly, many other languages in the middle east) and “maasi” is an endearing term every Bengali uses to respectfully address a lady (literally means “my mom’s sister”). And this is on Highway 13 – often called Delhi Road – connects Dankuni to Mogra and and is used to bypass the Grand Trunk Road on the west side of the Hooghly river.
We also learnt that seven months back she fulfilled one of her dreams and opened up the tea stall by the highway. She gets up early in the morning to make bread and omelette for breakfast for road side travellers along with tea of course. And then makes “ghugni” in the afternoon for lunch. And she then closes shop around 6 PM.
She also took me and my brother all around the shop showing us her set up. As my nephew kept on taking pictures one after the other. My brother explained to him the physics behind how the large earthen pot kept water cold for summer use. Here is one thing that struck me. Her set up was pretty standard. You can see from the pictures that she smashed coke (coal rocks) by hand and then used them to light up her earthen oven (‘unoon”). She had the standard kettle, glass and so on. But she had something else – the large coffee jar/pot (see pic) – that I had never seen in a roadside tea stall in my entire life. You see them in the restaurants where they fill it up with hot coffee and it stays hot for a long time. You simply pour coffee out of it.
I asked her, why and how did she get that coffee jar/pot. She talked about how many of her customers were getting impatient waiting for her to make fresh tea. To solve that she found out about this jar/pot and got somebody to buy it for her from Kolkata!!! My first thought was “That is pretty entrepreneurial”. My second thought was “Ah! More travelers in a deathly hurry to reach their destination”.
As I said good bye, I told her that we will stop by next time we were on that road. She repeatedly asked us to come during “Joyisththo maas” (around May/June). Evidently, her village is famous for its mangoes and she will keep a few for us!!!
Not sure what the nephew made of the whole experience. But he spent about thirty minutes explaining to my dad and mom in great detail the whole event when we reached Kalyani. And they sat with him listening with rapt attention… They clearly were in no hurry to reach any destination…..
- Will I be able to make the adjustment? Jan 28, 2015
It was a long – really long drive from my brother’s house to the old age home where Sanghamitra’s mom stayed. That was Kolkata crowded roads in a terrible form. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive of what a old age home might look like. I had never seen one before. But mostly, my thoughts were around analyzing why are old age homes becoming more common now in India. Even at the turn of the century, fifteen years back, it was not that common, if there were any at all.
Slowly it started dawning on me how the society in India is going thru an evolution many developed countries have gone thru some time back. With the advances in technology, communication and transport, people have moved further away from their parents’ homes for jobs. First, communication has made it possible for people to know of opportunities in other parts of the country. A few decades back, nobody in Bengal would probably know about great opportunities in Bangalore. Second, advances in transportation has made it possible for people to live elsewhere near jobs and yet be in touch with their loved ones in a far more easy fashion. As as the middle class grew in general in India, like every human being, so did the need for independence and privacy.
In the first wave, that broke the concept of joint families. My father is a great example. He moved away from his village a mere 100 km (60 miles) away but that was his ticket to economic independence and freedom. He visited his mom every weekend in the village but it was a joint family no more.
It appears that there is a second wave going on now. In the previous wave, there was still one or two kids who always stayed back in the parents’ home and took care of them. But as communication and transportation continued to advance, kids of the middle class started getting exposed to opportunities much further flung away – totally different states and even different countries. Add to that the fact that people started having less number of kids (a reasonably success Family Planning Programme was launched in India in the seventies) and increasingly families are having both the husband and wife working. What that is resulting in is a wave of parents who have retired but suddenly find themselves without any kids or grandkids near them.
The kids and the grandkids are succeeding by most every benchmark a middle class family can measure with. But the associated casualty has been a further breaking up of the unit called a family. The kids have great intentions but no ability to take care of their parents (remember they are trying to optimize their life around their own kids’ education and their own professions, just like my dad did). Sometimes they are not even in the same country. Meanwhile, day by day, the parents are losing their ability to support themselves.
There is another effect I have noticed. Most of my friends’ parents seemed to have grown some or the other kind of psychiatric issues – depression being the most common of them. But this trip alone, I heard of stories galore of dementia, bipolar disorder and many other such issues. Many of you probably know that both my parents suffer on some of those counts (my mother much more severe than my father). I do not think this set of retirees were ever prepared socially to deal with a life where they do not have much work to keep themselves busy on one hand and on the other hand, have no loved ones around at home.
Those were the thoughts that I was lost in as the car weaved thru increasingly narrower roads. At one point of time after about one and a half hour of drive, we entered a street that literally could not take traffic from both sides. After navigating for about three kilometers in that really narrow street (and me getting more and more worried about how hospitable the old age home location would be), we suddenly came to the gates of “The Peace”.
Once I entered though, it was a completely different scene. It was a lush green property with beautiful flowers all over the place and a few small clean water bodies with seats all around. It was truly a dramatic change. Then I looked at the building. Every balcony had old people sitting outside their rooms staring at me. Suddenly, I became very self conscious. I was wondering whether they were forlorn to see outside people to talk to or were merely wondering what was a funny looking, shaven head guy with a big camera doing in their campus. Or maybe they were just merely enjoying the sun.
Eventually, I found my way to Sanghamitra’s mom’s room. Except she was not there. But soon I found a lady headed my way slowly with the aid of her walker. And that is how I met the lady who I had trekked there for. Over the next hour and a half we talked a lot about her family, her background, my family… the two cardiac arrests she has had, the adjustments she is having to make in her lifestyle – especially around food (she has a lot of restrictions). Without doubt, one of the kindest ladies I have ever met in my life. Given such a large change in lifestyle, she was remarkably jolly and positive in her attitude.
I wish I had a lot more time to just get to know her and her journey in life a little more but it was getting time for me to make the next long trek to the place where all my cousins had gathered and it was also getting past her lunch time. Bid her adieu and slowly walked back wondering “Would I be able to adjust to an old age home ever?”.
- Oh! Boy! Missed one!! Jan 28, 2015
Remember all those strict instructions I had left for Sharmila on the refrigerator before I left for India? 🙂 I missed an important one! I should have mentioned “Do not cook post bora and deem-er jhol with rice when I come back”.
After all those carefully calibrated diet control in India – no sweets, small amounts for meals etc, everything has been thrown out of the window moment I saw what was on the table when I walked in at home.
There goes my ability to fight back jet lag 🙁 Ah! Well!! See you around 2 am in the morning 🙂
- “This was the best two hours I have spent in a long time” Jan 28, 2015
That is how my friend from school days Sanjay Sethi wrapped up our meeting. I had not met him and Saji Abraham ever since we finished our tenth grade. I had a thirteen hour layover in Dubai. That was as good a reason as any to catch up with two friends that I had not seen for 32 years!! Saji was kind enough to pick me up and drop me off.
The three of us went thru the whereabouts of about half our entire class (we had a total of 103 students). What was most heartening for me to see was how two of my friends from very early days have become such great successes professionally and personally. One has a thriving business here in Dubai and the other has globe trotted thru his entire high flying career in the banking sector. But above all, they always have time for our old school mates.
Got some real inspiration talking to them today.
Sanjay’s description aptly described how we felt walking away from that coffee place….We missed Sanjeev Gupta – the other high flyer today….
- An unique intersection point Jan 29, 2015
This one has an intriguing twist at the end…
Having already met two friends from school days, I still had some time left before my flight was scheduled to leave Dubai. Fortunately, Shirshendu had said he would be free after office. That was the opportunity I needed. We got together at a bar near the airport for a couple of hours. We had been trying to co-ordinate a meeting for a long time.
Of course, it always starts with updating each other on our old common friends. And we had a lot of those to catch up on. And there was the Kalyani connection – his sister and his parents (separately) moved to Kalyani. As did my sister and my parents (separately).
Then we got to know about each other’s families and how he moved to Dubai to sell books and eventually worked his way into a successful executive in the construction business. I also learnt about his mom today. At the age of sixty five or so, she decided that she needed to learn something new. So, she took classes in recitation (elocution, reading poetry or as Bengalis would say “abritti”). Here is a stunner – within a short period of time she excelled in it and has given multiple performances. She now performs in TV too!!! Evidently, nobody has heard her complaining! She always has a solution ready before she articulates a complaint. I absolutely need to meet her. And probably take my mom with me too 🙂
If you saw us for those two hours, going thru the updates of friends of different stages in life – early school, late school, college, work etc etc – one by one in great detail (including the names of minibuses one of our friends took to meet his girlfriend – yet another common friend of ours) you could be easily forgotten for not realizing one small detail. And that twist is that you would have never guessed that Shirshendu and I had never met each other ever. Till today!! We never studied together in the same school at the same time. We were never classmates in our entire life.
But we had a zillion common friends. And through those friends, we were always deeply aware of each other. It is like we ran in parallel lines intersected by many many friends at the same time but our lines never intersected!
It was great meeting Shirshendu for the first time and catching up on all those old friends…
- Cat got my tongue!! Jan 29, 2015
One more in the series of India trip this time. It is more of a non-post than a post.
I am the last one who is at a loss for words. Right words, maybe. Words? Never 🙂 And yet, I have failed three times to lend words to my feelings of meeting Moniruddin (Khokon) and his family. You may remember how my first friend of life suddenly vanished from my life one fine day without much of a notice. And then how that started a very very long search to find my first friend of life. I distinctly remember the frustration and fear I had some days that I probably will never get a chance to see him again.
And yet, I did manage to see if – thru a lot of perseverance and a very well timed encouragement from Sharmila to keep looking. I had poured out my heart explaining the search and that first phone call I ever made with him after I was able to locate him.
Then, in a few weeks I actually visited him and his mom. My mind was an absolute etch-a-sketch of emotions – of actually getting to see in flesh and blood somebody that I had searched for a long time, somebody who was my first playmate in life, his mom who took care of me so much and that I had missed the chance to see his dad by a few years who simply used to dote on my the-then-very-young brother. For a couple of weeks, I had attempted to write out the experience of meeting him. Eventually I gave up. I was getting too overwhelmed to find any words.
Then I visited him again a few months later. This time, his mom and I sat down and talked endlessly about our lives. I know I had a lot to write about. I was not wanting in materials. And yet again, I could not find a way to express my feelings properly.
This time, I took my parents with me. It was almost like an action packed movie. My parents were so thrilled to see Moniruddin that they forgot to even walk to his house. They stood near where we had parked the car (See pic) and kept talking excitedly till my brother reminded them that his mom was probably waiting for us.
My mom and his mom were very close. And they got to see each other after a long long time. For the first few minutes they could not even talk without holding each other (see pic) – probably still not believing that they actually got to see each other. Unfortunately for all of us, uncle was not there to join in the get together. But you can see in the picture how my dad and my friend were having a great time together.
Now I know why cannot ever write a good post on meeting my long lost friend who appeared again. It is that last picture. It is that poignancy of his mom standing at the door of her house every single time silently. Every time I start writing I start imagining what must have been going thru her head – perhaps wondering whether she will see each other again? And that is the exact question I carried with me almost my entire life.
I think I need more time to express what it really means to get back your very first friend of your life.
- Finding dad’s birthplace – looking back… 1 Jan 31, 2015
Going through my camera pictures now (not iPhone pictures) finding out some shots that have captured the moments very well…
My brother, here is intently watching my dad’s reactions (you can see a part of him on the right side of the picture) as he enter’s his birthplace for the first time in over 75 years….
- Finding dad’s birthplace – looking back… 2 Jan 31, 2015
This was the defining moment of the trip. It was a very difficult angle to take a picture from (it was a three feet wide corridor). You could see peace had dawned on his face – the constant frowns and upside down lips were gone – as he sat down on the floor on the temple that his dad built – for the same God that he named his son (my dad) after. The close up shows the deep thoughts he was in as he stared at the idol inside. I can only imagine him having strong flashbacks and memories of his late mother, late brother and all that he had heard about his dad.
- Finding my cousin – looking back… 3 Jan 31, 2015
This was the other defining moment of the trip. My brother took this picture. The first reaction of my cousin (who lived with us and literally helped me stand up when I was a few months old) when she saw me after all these years and realized that I have indeed finally stood up in my life. Priceless tears of happiness…. Was absolutely worth daring that broken bridge over the river just for this moment…