’15 Sep India
- One more time… India bound… Sep 6, 2015
This morning, Facebook helpfully showed my posts from this day in previous years. Guess what I was doing last year on this day? I was headed out to India to check on my parents. And my in-laws who were visiting us (remember those FIL-MIL Mehfil posts? 🙂 ) were returning together with me. In a pure coincidence, exactly a year after, to the day, I am headed back again to see my parents.
This trip is going to be different… First and foremost, my dad is in a much better shape than what I saw him in three months back. That should be good. Second, however, I have a day’s worth of work in Delhi. This is uncommon for me to get distracted by work when I am in India to spend time with my parents. So, I will have one less day with my parents this time. Third, and this is a little painful, my brother will not accompany me for most of the trip. It is extremely rare for us not to be together every single day when I am in India. But this time he is stuck with his kids’ exams. Which means I won’t be seeing the nephews much either. Most of all, I will miss those road trips with my brother – he, with his steering wheel and me with my Google maps!!
There are some possibilities of creating intersection points still though. Some of the ones I am planning include visiting a classmate of mine from elementary school who used to be the class topper, a few more classmates from middle school that I have not seen in over thirty years, perhaps the mom of my best friend from high school days…
First I have to get past hours and hours and hours of flight to get to India though 🙂
- Unique cocktail in India Sep 7, 2015
Landed in Delhi, checked into the hotel and then went to the lobby bar downstairs. Virtually no one was there. Which suited me fine since I was going to make a few phone calls and check office emails which are not very easy in an overflowing bar. But first, I made friends with the guy mixing drinks – Shubham is his name – and asked what would be an unique Indian cocktail he could fix for me. He made a few suggestions with jalapeños but I told him I have tried all those or variations thereof.
He said “Wait here” and went inside. I was not in a hurry to go anywhere – so I just sat there. In a few minutes, he came back with two plastic packets. Very curious, I asked him what do you have? “Imli paste and gur, sir!” That would be tamarind and jaggery.
In a few minutes he whipped up a cocktail that certainly lived up to my expectations of a nice Indian cocktail. I got to try that back at home. Although, I am probably going to try with vodka and gin instead of whiskey – which is what I just had…
- Truer words have never been spoken 🙂 Sep 9, 2015
- Perfect product placement… Sep 9, 2015
After the long flights to India, next morning, I figured I would go in for an early morning run to start getting used the the time difference. I was one of the first ones to show up at Lodi Gardens in Delhi for a run. It was still a little dark.
I had just gotten out of the car in my running clothes when I saw this guy running towards our car. I was a little curious. But then I chuckled. He basically came to a car right next to ours, opened the trunk and had a lot of coconuts on display. He promptly set up his shop moment he saw the first runner. And then in broken English he tells me – “You go ahead – finish your run. I will be waiting for you right here”.
I did not have any coconut water but after my run, I did get out my phone and took a picture of his mobile shop…
- I mistook her for somebody else; so I ran with her!! Sep 9, 2015
That is pretty much the short version of what happened. The long version – or as some of my friends bored of my long blog stories would call them – the “See More” version of the story goes somewhat like this.
Somewhere late last year, Facebook suggested that I might know this lady called Anuradha Malik. The face looked familiar – I remember her being in my MBA school and I noticed that all our mutual friends were our classmates from that school. I was not particularly close to her or anything but we had talked a few times in campus. I was not sure that she would remember me. However, never one to lose a chance to make FB friends, I sent her a friend request.
In a couple of days, FB let me know that she had accepted my friend request. From FB, I found out a few more details e.g. she had two daughters just like me and that she lived in Delhi and such. I also noted her birthday down in my diary. Figured one more birthday call to make every year – but it would be a good way to keep up with an old classmate.
This Feb, I wished her a happy birthday on FB and asked her for her phone number. Which she was foolish enough to share 🙂 Anyways, I called her up to catch up and wish her again. A few minutes into the call, I realized something was not clicking. It was a little strange that she was talking about a few people that I had very little knowledge of – mostly because they were one year junior to me. And she also was having difficulty remembering some of my friends.
And then I realized what had happened. I had a memory lapse and I confused Anu Malik with Anu Nayak from my batch. Anu Malik – who I was talking to was one year junior to me. Once I realized that, everything became very simple. I did remember a few things about her and the friends she used to hang out with. But I did not own up to her about my lapse that day!!
We kept talking about running. She was wondering if it was too late for her to start running. I, of course, kept encouraging her to start slow and steady. I told her about the oldest man who ran a marathon (102 years old Indian guy in Canada) who started running at the age of 81 because he was getting bored of life since he had just lost his wife!!
One thing led to the other and eventually Anu did start running. In fact, this Sunday, she ran her first 5K race. I followed up with her next day on FB asking her about the run. I still remember my first 5K. I knew it would be special to her. And then I let her know that I would be in Delhi the next day and if she had recovered from the race, I would more than happy to put in a run with her.
That is how our running appointment was fixed. I went in earlier to Lodi Gardens and put in a 5K run by myself and then waited for her. She had told me that her running group would be there too. I was excited about meeting another running group and run with them but most importantly, catch up with Anu.
I saw her after 24 years but she was easy to spot in the crowd. We split from the running group and put in a 4.5K run by ourselves. We talked about a lot of our college friends and our daughters and how they are growing up in different environment than ours and such.
In the end, she came to say bye to me and see me off in my car. (I think she went back to stretch with her running group). As we walked to the car, I finally got the guts to sheepishly bring up an old topic. I finally let her know that I had actually mistaken her for another person when we talked first. But I am glad things turned out the way they did. Otherwise, I would have been deprived of a chance to run with a college junior of mine!!!
She was characteristically graceful about it. Now, my next assignment is to make sure that the original Anu (Nayak) never reads this blogpost 🙂
- One more classmate from the yesteryears visited… Sep 9, 2015
My office meeting in Delhi had just gotten over. I was getting a little sleepy with the jetlag. But I also realized that I do not get a chance to visit Delhi much – this one was after more than ten years. There were enough old classmates to dig up.
Since the earlier I knew a person in my life, the more the priority I try to give to seek them out, I went as deep as first grade this time. There was this girl – Nishi Jain – who I was in the same class with – in first and second grade. Then we shifted to different sections and eventually different schools. She was the topper in our class. My lasting image of her was that one day when our school bus broke down and the second bus had to ply the two routes our school had. First the bus picked us up and then eventually picked her up. As we approached the bus stand, I could see all the other kids playing and throwing stuff. Nishi was standing under a tree, studying her school books. That lasting picture probably describes Nishi best. Very conscientious, very studious and you could not ever put her name and the word “mischief” ever together, even if you wanted to.
Anyways, a couple of phone calls and a Google map search later I realized that Delhi traffic was going to cost me an hour just to reach her place. Decided it was worth it. And I am certainly glad I did. It was absolutely thrilling to see Nishi after a long time. In fact, from her house, we went to visit her husband who has recently opened up a new plastic surgery clinic. Both of them have grown up to be very successful doctors!
All these days I had tried to keep up with Nishi – she had let me know that she was not a technology person. She had an email id but she never checked it. Somebody had opened up a FB account for her, but she has never logged in. Which is why, whenever I had to get in touch with her, I had to call her up.
Not any more! Now that her son has gone to the US to study last month, guess what? Anything I wanted from her (like contacts, old pictures etc), she was like “Oh! I will Whatsapp it to you”. I guess that is how she keeps in touch with her son these days. She even demanded that I open up a Whatsapp group for our elementary school batch. I was decidedly feeling Amish at her swift conversion to technology.
Somewhere, a picture flashed in my mind where Nishi, in her late forties, was standing under a tree in Delhi and studying up and down the Whatsapp manual. But I did not mention that to her 🙂
It was magical to see an old friend though!!!
- A few things you can always rely on… Sep 9, 2015
There are a few things you can always rely on – you know like death, taxes, irritating emails or calls from me reminding you that you are one year older, my blog posts showing up on FB with a “See More” link and such…. 🙂
You can add one more to that – and that is my classmates from my middle school having a get together in their city at the flimsiest excuse. So, when somebody like Deepak Bansal found out that I would be in Delhi for a few hours, the whole machinery went into action. Frantic calls were being made, stern reminders were coming from the likes of Amlan that his own flight would land at 9:15 and nobody were to leave the party before he showed up and such. You would think that some Carmel school classmates were coming to town. (there is an age old connection between St. Xavier’s and Carmel school in Durgapur – and they would probably understand the above sentiment). In reality, it was far more harmless – it was just me.
But thanks to the effort taken by Deepak, Amlan, Kushal, Sushil, Shounak, Biplob and Aniruddha on a working day, I found myself in a beer bar surrounded by some of my most memorable friends from a very impressionable age! Some of them I saw last about 32 years back. I was stunned how Sushil recollected the exact day he saw me last in 1984. I do not know what we were talking about – but we did laugh a lot. Something about “Past Imperfect, Future Tense”, as I reckon 🙂
- Finally got to meet that person!! Sep 9, 2015
Remember the story I had written in June, how a friend – Shirshendu – that I had heard about for a long time but had only met for the first time in January, that too in Dubai – had shown up at my dad’s place with another classmate of mine? Do you remember how my parents chuckled at his shaved head and was relieved to find out that I was not the only person sticking out? And how they never breathed a word about the fact that he had to shave his head because he had just lost his dad? And that is why he was visiting Kalyani? And he showed up to my parents’ house just to say Hi and spend some time with them?
Well you might remember also from another prior story when I first met Shirshendu that I found out he had gone to Dubai to sell books and then he worked himself up to be a top executive in a large construction company.
I knew exactly what to do when I stepped out my dad’s house this evening. I had to go meet Shirshendu’s mom. There is a song in Hindi that goes “jiski rachna itni sundar, woh kitna sundar hoga”. Which means, “If the creation is so beautiful, I wonder how beautiful the creator must be”! Google maps on my iPhone, accompanied by my sister and brother in law, I hit the road. For once Google maps met its match. The house numbering system in Kalyani was way too confusing for Google. I would not blame it. B-3/172 is next to B-3/18. But B-3/168 is not even within half a mile of B-3/172. Had to make a few phone calls to Shirshendu to get ourselves straightened out.
His mom is an amazing person. She reminded me a lot of Suparna’s dad (remember my friend whose mom has an advanced stage of Alzheimers but her eighty old dad was the most cheerful and inspiring person I had ever met?). In spite of all the recent difficulties she has gone thru – and she now lives by herself and does not go out for walks any more due to her knees – we did not hear her complain about one single thing during the whole hour we were there. I really wish I had taken my dad and mom with me 🙂
People say you are as old as you think you are. You have to see her to realize that physical ability and even life tragedies are but mere obstacles one needs to get past – not hobbled by. At the age of sixty five – when most people are thinking about the sunset years, she started learning recitation. And soon started performing on TV. In fact, right now, she is getting ready for an interview to be held in a nearby city.
She has a great group of friends, still exercises and does Yoga daily and even had toyed with the idea of whether she should learn how to sing. Now there is a person after my heart. Never say it is too late. Never follow the crowd. It is one life you will live. Live it on your terms.
I think I found out the answer to that Hindi song this evening!!
- You win some. You lose some. Sep 10, 2015
One of the best times of the day when I am in my dad’s house is the early morning hours when we sit down in the porch watching the day break over uncountable cups of hot tea. Today was no exception. Other than the fact, we talked for a longer than normal time. So long that before we knew anything, breakfast was brought in by mom.
Now a Bengali mom’s breakfast for her son is not to be underestimated by any stretch of one’s imagination. It is a religion unto itself. The sheer rigmarole of preparing a host of dishes – which can be most aptly described as “Carbs R Us” – is daunting enough to wean away those that are weak of the heart. Which is rich in irony. Since that is pretty much what happens to your heart after you partake of a few of those equal parts deliciousness and equal parts cholesterol savories.
We Bengalis might be dark in skin color but you should check out the white in our food. Rice is white but you cannot have that for breakfast. No problems! We shall have puffed rice (“muri”). That “paratha”? Made from white flour fried in diesel errrr… refined oil. Same with the smaller rounder “luchi”. That yellow curry? “Aloor dum” – made from potatoes. That brown stuff? Fried potatoes! Even those juicy yummy dessert items are white “rosogollas”!!!
In any case, my dad and I continued talking thru the breakfast albeit at a far lesser speed. Did I mention that those smorgasbord of white stuff can be as tasty as anything you ever eaten in your life. And you certainly do not want to deprive yourself of the indulgence of going thru the experience by being constantly distracted with small talk.
Towards the end, my dad commented – “Ei je baar baar du din-er jonno aasis. Jiboner sukh dukkher katha boley bhalo laagey” (“I really enjoy talking about all the joys and woes of life every time you come and visit me – although for a few days”). I weighed in his comments. And let the big potato bite first melt in my mouth. Then I fired back “Tomar saathey abaar sukh dukhher katha ki? Sarakhhon to khali dukkher-i katha”. Basically, I took a dig at his always complaining about everything. (which by the way is something I have noticed in all elders in India sans a few).
He stopped chewing his food and gazed into the outside. He had a frown on his face and kept thinking. Then finally admitted that what I said is true. “Sotti, sob somoy dukhher golpo-i hoy”. A full quiet minute later, he asked “Aar sukh-i ba kotha?’ (“What is there to be happy about?”).
I could have launched into a philosophical debate of happiness being a state of mind but I was not in a mood to distract myself from the “fulko luchi” (again a fried bread made from white flour) that I had just laid my hands on. So, I pushed the initiative back to him “Tomar cheye sukh-e ke aachey?” (“Who has more reasons to be happy than you?”)
He was sensing that he might land up on the losing side if he let me control the questioning. So, his quick response as he wrapped up his breakfast was “Se tumi Ambani-r saathey golpo korleo dukkher katha-i bolbe”. He basically implied that if I chat with Ambani – the richest person in India – even he would be talking about his woes and problems!!
The speed of conversation had slowed down considerably. Perhaps with the exhaustion of having to eat so much food. Eventually the maid servant came and cleared out the plates. After she left, my dad had a few very kind words for the lady “Tor maa-er jonno khub korey. Ja bola hoy – taar chey onek besi korey”. Basically my dad was trying to say that the lady was very helpful to my mom (without which my mom could not have managed given her condition). He explained that the lady went beyond the call of duty in getting some things done.
The food was probably starting to digest quickly. Carbs have a way that way. I was starting to spoil for a fight. “Ei ja! Ekta sukher katha boley felley”. Basically I teased him that he had slipped and mentioned something that he should be very happy about.
He laughed out loud startling me (and also making me realize that he is in a much better shape now; I had not heard him laugh like that for almost a year) and said “Khub hoyeche Ja. Uthey por ebar”. He unceremoniously shooed me away 🙂
- Bose Kakima!!! That brought back a lot of memories. Sep 10, 2015
My best friend during middle and high school days was Avijit Bose. We have always kept up with each other and although geographically we kept getting separated – till we could not be separated any further – he is in Australia and I in US – we could not get ourselves even in the same hemisphere latitudinally or longitudinally – he is still the friend that I talk to most.
We became best friends primarily because we were nothing like each other. He was a funny, street smart person, I was socially awkward and frequently did not know how to end a joke. He was athletic. I was anything but. He wasn’t the biggest fan of math but loved biology and veered towards the medical line. I loved math and therefore never understood a subject like biology where apparently division means multiplication and consequently went the engineering route.
But we spent a lot of time together. And in each other’s house. My parents were particularly fond of Avijit. As was his parents of me. I was always a special guest at his house. Which left me in the precarious position of having to balance their trust in me and also supporting my best friend in all his mischievous misadventures that his parents would surely frown upon if they got to know of them. And that was the other difference between us – he was the mischievous one and I was the goody goody boy then!! (Not any more 🙂 )
I have a lot of memories that go back to those days about his mom and dad. His dad let me accompany him on the stage at a flute concert once (he was an accomplished flutist). His mom would make special snacks for me. She would even bribe me to see if I would spill the beans of any girls in his life. I would feign total innocence. It worked well with the goody goody boy image 🙂
His mom once took me to visit her sisters and her brother about 150 km away from where we lived. I continued to keep in touch with those relatives of Avijit for many years after that. Even when we were geographically separated, I used to write letters religiously to both him and his mom.
Over the years though it became more and more infrequent to see her. I would get updates but would see her less so. The wake up call came for me when, a few months back, I heard about Avijit’s dad passing away. You have no idea how much I have kicked myself for not getting to see him once before he died or even for that matter, simply calling him up. He would always encourage me to study hard and thanked me for being a good influence on his son (I never claimed it, but he thought so).
Anyways, I had told Avijit this year that I will be going to see his mom. And there I was today – after fighting the terrible crowd of Kolkata suburbs for two and a half hours just to navigate about 40 miles. She was certainly frail of health. She recently had a nasty fall and her locomotion is severely compromised. Add to that a host of other physical ailments. But you have to give it to her in terms of mental courage and strength. She refuses to accept help – does everything herself as much as she can and I never saw once losing that beautiful smile I remember her for.
It was bliss to sit with her and just be that middle school boy again! I have to go back and spend more time with her again soon!!!
- The angle that Newton missed Sep 12, 2015
It was house full last night. It was my third and last night at my dad’s place. The nephews had come over since their midterms just got over. The whole evening was total fun and commotion. A sample here:
One of the time tested routines for my dad when his grandkids get together is to sit with them and ask them random general knowledge questions. Somehow the kids really enjoy it. It does not work as well on my kids since my dad cannot understand their accent any ways. I remember how Nikita had taken fullest advantage of that once and after every time he would give out the answer to his own question, she would say very slowly and loudly “Yes, and that is what I said”. My dad, partially out of gullibility but mostly out of his pride that his little granddaughter from America was so smart would readily accept her statement.
Last evening, as you can see another such episode occurred. At point, my dad asked “Rishu, bolo to, gachh thekey ekta aam jodi porey jaay, kon deekey jaabey seta?”. (“If a mango falls from a tree, which direction would it go in – up or down?”. My youngest nephew, who was the subject of his question nailed the answer.
“Eta prothom ke dekhechiilen?”, he continued asking him. (“Who observed this first?”). He was obviously trying to teach him about gravity. However, my youngest nephew was not aware of all this. So, my dad asked his elder brother who answered it correctly – “Newton”. Well, technically, I am sure there are thousands and thousands of undocumented cases of human beings before Newton who had seen a mango fall, but this was one of those cases where you are expected to give the answer that the teacher expected, not necessarily what was technically correct.
And then came the kicker question – “Can you explain why?”. If my younger nephew did not know about Newton, there was very little chance that he understood gravity. But he was already smarting from the fact that his elder brother showed him up. So, he thought for a while. And then somewhat himself unconvinced – as you can see from his mischievous smile – he offered -“Keno? Aamra kuriye khaabo boley!” (“So that we can pick them up from the ground and eat them”) 🙂
Coming to think of it, he had a point there. It would be conceivably impossible to pick fruits off the ground and eat them if they started meandering away from the earth willy nilly after getting separated from the tree.
Class was dismissed following a loud guffaw from the granddad while he focused on telling the funny story to everybody who was getting near the porch we were sitting in.
- Observations from a road trip to Durgapur Sep 13, 2015
- Math puzzle (relatively easy) Sep 13, 2015
Yet another custom when my nephews and niece are around in their granddad’s house along with me is to go out for a walk after dinner and solve mathematical or logic puzzles. You might remember how, last time, we got stuck on getting two numbers (was it 19 and 21??) using the digits 1, 2 and 3 and any number of operators.
Last night, we came up with a variation – Using the digits 1, 2 and 4 and no other digits (and you can use them only once) you have to come up with 1 thru 25. 20 posed an interesting problem. Can you try it?
Using 1, 2 and 4 get 20. You can use any number of mathematical operators and symbols any number of times (but no other digits than the above and that too only once). For the record, trigonometric functions are not allowed since there is an assumption of the unit (radians/degrees). We reluctantly accept logarithms but try to find alternate answers. We certainly accept concatenation. Meaning you can get 16 by simly saying 12+4.
- Dad’s double vision Sep 13, 2015
This morning, as soon as the nephews woke up, I took them down and tried a few trick photographs. After being interrupted many times by bikes and dogs and pedestrians on the road, we got one shot that we liked. In case you were not aware, this is a simple trick in panoramic mode and does not involve any stitching or anything. Then we moved on to the real fun part. I asked them to show the picture to my dad and see what his reaction would be.
As you can imagine, his reaction ranged from hilarious to outright hysterical. It took him a few minutes to realize that the same picture had two instances of the elder grandkid. That is when his total confusion started. At one point he said “Jora lagiyechhis…” (“you have put them together”) and then quickly corrected himself .. “O! Eta to phone-y. Etey to aathha cholbey na” (“But this is a phone. Normal glue will not work here”).
He kept on staring at the picture and then came to the conclusion that one of the identical nephews is actually not the real one. We must have dressed up my niece to look like the elder nephew. To disprove that, the nephews enlarged the picture by zooming in and left no doubt that both were the original versions of the same nephew.
After about ten minutes he gave up. He handed the phone back with the comment “Aamar khabar-e kichhu missiye dili naaki?”. He asked if we had spiked his food in the morning (with alcohol or something). Which, I guessed, was his last refuge of explanation on why he was seeing “doubles” 🙂
- Till next time… Sep 13, 2015
- Sometimes he was “Sir”. But mostly he was “Uncle” Sep 13, 2015
I was heading into Durgapur from Kalyani when I had to run thru my list of To Dos or rather To Visit items for the day. Other than my in laws and my own uncle – who are Must See for me – the options are as wide as they can be. This is where I grew up, went to school till tenth grade and consequently knew a lot of folks from my past. Every time, I try to a meet a few folks – some long lost friends from yesteryears and some parents of my old friends. It used to be that I would go around meeting my friends but they started losing their parents at such a cadence that I have often prioritized meeting parents higher than friends in the hope that I have longer time left to meet my friends.
So, as I was running thru the options in my list, the first person I wondered about actually had a dual identity for me. He was the dad of a first grade friend of mine – Mousumi Roychowdhury – with whom I have kept in touch (mostly by phone) throughout the years. But he was also Dr. A.N. Roychowdhury – the math professor in our local engineering college. And he helped me a lot during the tough junior and senior high school years. All those calculus, trigonometry, algebra became much simpler because of the time he took to sit me down and help me get them nailed thru my thick head. There was a summer that I had come home from my residential high school and I would show up multiple times a week to get some pointers at his home.
I not only remember him for those great classes and his mild mannered style of carrying himself and his passion for the violin but also what used to happen after those classes. Since I had a special identity of not only being a student but also his daughter’s classmate, I would meander into the kitchen area after classes. And auntie (Mousumi’s mom) would sit me down, chat with me and insist that I partake of tea and some snacks and sweets. Which was my reason to meander into the kitchen area to begin with!!! She was kinder to me than I probably ever deserved.
I called up my friend in Singapore, got her dad’s address and couple of Google Maps maneuverings later, I was knocking at a house in City Center, Durgapur. Uncle (I would interchangeably call him Uncle and Sir – it is that duality of identity again) came out. He had no idea who was at his door. So, I gave him my name. He thought for a while and asked “Bappa Biltu-r bondhu”? (he asked me if I was the same Rajib Roy that was his daughter’s and another common friend’s friend). Everything fell in place in his mind once I answered in the affirmative!
A couple of minutes later I got to see Auntie again. Age has crept up on both of them. But for both of them, the same old smile and hospitality and kindness has not left them. I stayed back for more time than I had planned. I was overwhelmed by their welcome as well felt extremely great to have seen them again. About 30 years later. I do not know about them but I absolutely had the best time of my life with them.
In fact, I missed them so much after leaving them that I made it a point to call them before boarding my flight to start my long journey back home. He asked me to Skype and email and phone whenever I could. I got to put that on my priority list when I get back home.
- Like I said…. Sep 13, 2015
As in Delhi, many of the middle school friends in Durgapur put a gathering together for the evening that I was there. A few more did not make it, however the get together was graced by the presence if some of the spouses.
The whole camaraderie thing has remained undiminished thru the decades although the subjects of discussion have become more age appropriate. For example, for the first thirty minutes we found ourselves talking about blood pressure, sugar level, knees hurting, annual physicals and such till somebody called a time out declaring “Hey! We have become our dads”!
We all agreed and moved on to more interesting topics like work, family, school and such. But mostly, we picked on Prodipto 🙂 BTW, the last time I had seen Jyotishwar was in 1983!!
- He might be a big time doctor now… Sep 14, 2015
But to me he is the same old Atish Sarkar that I went to first grade with.
Woke up on Saturday morning in Durgapur with the exciting prospect that I would be able to see another first grade friend of mine – the twenty sixth one that I have dug up so far, if you are keeping count – after a very long time. We got separated after 1976 and that was almost forty years back. Not sure how, but a few years back, I was able to get his phone number and I was startled to find out that he remembered me immediately. I had made a promise to visit him some time in Raniganj. And Saturday was the day.
While it is never too late to meet your old friends, in one aspect I was too late. His dad passed away long time back. I owed him a lot of things but there was one I have been ever indebted to him. It was a seemingly innocuous act of getting me an application form from Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission school and encouraging me to sit for the entrance test. My dad and I were already set on me going to a different school where I had a guaranteed admission. I did give the entrance exam in this other school and I did get in. And against my dad’s wishes then (there is a rather juicy story behind this one – but I will leave it for later), I went to this school. And to this day, my dad and I agree that was the best decision for me. It opened up a lot of future opportunities for me.
Unfortunately for me though, I never got a chance to say Thanks to his dad. I did narrate that story to his mom and expressed my gratitude for uncle’s encouragement. I was lucky that his mom was there that day. She was visiting him and I did not expect to see her at all. It was absolutely wonderful to sit with her and talk about some of the incidents from forty years back.
One of the amusing story was a routine Atish and I had every “tiffin” period – which was basically the recess time when we had our snacks and kicked around some “kodomphool” pretending them to be soccer balls. I had this blue “tiffin” box and my mom would give me bread, banana and a boiled egg every day. He had a silver colored one and I do not recollect what all he brought – but he sure always had a “lobongolotika” (which is one of the best sweets you could find in Bengal). He loved eggs and I loved lobongolotikas. So, the first act during every “tiffin” period would be to exchange those two items. Much later in life, I realized how that must have reinforced the wrong message to both our moms seeing we had finished up all our food in the box 🙂 We had a great laugh sitting at his house and ruminating over such small incidents in front of three generations of women in his life – his mom, his wife and his daughter!!
Before long, I realized that one morning was going to be too little to go thru all our stories. He needed to get back to work. We promised to sit together as five people again and finish up the rest of the stories some day soon!
- Remember the FIL-MIL Mehfil series? Sep 14, 2015
It was like those breakfast meetings we used to have in Atlanta when they visited us last year, except on Saturday it was in a restaurant we went out to in Durgapur. My mother in law kept getting distracted by the fact that there was an ex-minister in the restaurant too. Which soon led to an animated exchange of sharp opinions between my father in law and her (they come from affiliations of two opposing political parties). Which absolutely reminded me of the days from last year!!
It was good to see them again this time and spend some time on Friday and Saturday.
- A different kind of “back of the envelope” calculation Sep 14, 2015
I had just come out of an afternoon nap (since I come to India for a few days only, I do not even bother to try to get over jet lag – I sleep for three-four hours in afternoon and about the same at night) and stepped into the living room. In India, if you have an air conditioning at home, it is usually in the bedroom only. So, that makes for some good sleep for me. But when you come out of that room, it is like you cut through a whole room of heat and humidity to get to wherever you are trying to get to. For a person like me, who wears glasses, the “wherever you are trying to get to” is often a large approximation since the glasses get fogged up in about a nano-second.
I sat down on the chair, took my glasses out, wiped them with the corner of my shirt, put them back on and this was the sight I was hit with. My brother in law was calling somebody and my mother was rattling off something from what looked like a large brown piece of paper. Upon closer inspection, it actually looked like a large envelope.
My curiosity got the better of me. After she was done, I asked if I could have a look at the paper. It was indeed a large brown envelope. It had nothing inside of it. However, on both sides of the envelope, she had scribbled a lot of phone numbers. I realized that envelope was her contact list.
I followed her to the kitchen and had the obvious question. Why was she using an envelope instead of a notebook? Her answer was that she did not have that many phone numbers anyways and she did not want to waste a whole notebook for that!!! So, I offered to punch in all the numbers in her phone and keep them stored so she would not have to type them in every time. She immediately protested. Apparently that was getting too high tech for her. She wanted to be left alone with the envelope.
Fair enough, I said. But what if she lost the envelope – which she can be prone to. She agreed that she had no answer to that. I asked her to call me if that ever happened. I let her know that I have all those numbers in my contact list. She agreed that it was the best solution. I don’t think she stopped for a moment to wonder why do I have the phone number of the guy who delivers her milk every morning with me. What I really did was simply take pictures of both side of the envelope on my phone and saved it. I will have to send her two printouts when I get that call !!!
- A different kind of local train passenger Sep 14, 2015
You probably have heard me saying this often before – I am always struck by the difference in the attitude of people as they age between India and US. While generalization of any sort is fraught with danger – and I have certainly seen a few strong exceptions – but by and large, I tend to believe the following: compared to the country I live in (US), folks in the country where I was born and visit often (India), people, as they age tend to have a far less physically active life. And also seem to complain more. I would certainly put my parents in that category. But as I said, I run into exceptions too. I get inspired by those exceptions and that is why I write about them.
Such an encounter happened yesterday. I had a few hours left before I had to say bye to my parents and leave for the airport. I was aware that a gentleman that I wanted to meet for some time was going to be in Kalyani (small town where my parents live now) on that day. He is the father of a friend of mine in Atlanta – Nachiketa. I figured it would be good to go and say Hi to him. I was sure he would be thrilled to know that I live in the same place as his son does and we can talk about a few things. Also, my elder daughter and his youngest granddaughter are very close friends.
Before long, my brother and I were knocking on the door of what seemed to be the right address. There was no response. I pushed the door and it opened. I raised my voice to ask if anybody was inside. Soon, a very elderly gentleman came out. I introduced myself as his son’s friend from Atlanta and that I live in Kalyani too. Now, the last part was not correct at all but I was afraid that he would jump to all sorts of wrong conclusions when somebody comes unexpectedly from Atlanta saying that he knows his son. Eventually I corrected myself and let him know that my parents live in Kalyani but I personally have never done so.
In any case, I had bargained for half an hour of pleasantries – after all he was 86 years old and take leave of him. Turned out it went for over an hour and if I did not have a flight to catch, I could have sat for another hour. What had my jaw drop is that this gentleman – as I said 86 years old – takes the 5 o’clock local train every Sunday from Kolkata (where he lives) and comes to Kalyani where he has a house. He spends the day there and then next day goes to another town and teaches Post Graduate students in a college there. At 86 years old!! He travels in local trains (only people from Kolkata area will know what it is like to travel in crowded local trains)!! And teaches in a college!! I found out that he also spends Tuesdays and Fridays working at the National Library in Kolkata.
The Sundays that he spends in Kalyani – he tends to his large garden. He took us around his garden – with all sorts of flower plants, fruit trees and the like. It was an extensive set up he had. I asked him where did he get all this energy. He looked at me for some time and asked “What else would you expect one to do?”. That was the best answer ever. I was not sure I had an answer.
We went back inside from his garden for a cup of tea. He regaled me and my brother with stories of undivided India from the early twentieth century. (He was born in Bangladesh but moved to India). He had more stories about freedom fighters from those days than I had ever heard before. My brother and I had an absolutely fantastic time! Both of us agreed to meet him again – either in Kolkata or in Kalyani.