’16 Dec India
- India-ward ho! Objective #1 Dec 26, 2016
One more of those treks to India to go check on the aging parents!! This time I have something I am incredibly excited about. To understand my excitement, I have to take you back nearly two years. After decades of gently prodding and poking my dad, he finally overcame all his mental blocks to go visit the place of his birth (nearly seven decades after he left).
Ever since, every time I had seen him – and that is three to four times a year – I kept pressing him to come out of home and spend a few days in a resort with all the family around him. It would be a change of place and would absolutely alleviate a lot of tension my mom goes thru (this is part of the psychiatric challenge she is a patient of) when we all come to see him.
He has steadfastly refused to budge from home. Last December, we had to cancel ten flight tickets and hotel arrangements because he declined to leave home at the last moment. You might remember that I did a makeshift trip for a couple of days since the niece and nephews argued successfully that the outing was not just for my dad.
This whole year, I have been again trying to warm him up. With absolutely no success, whatsoever. In fact, when Sharmila visited him earlier this month, he sent a special message thru her to ask me not to request him any more.
Around that time, I remembered meeting Samaresh’s dad six months back. If you go back to that story, he was the gentleman – hard of hearing – who sat in the bed quietly when I went to meet him. And then suddenly, when I mentioned his granddaughter, he came to life and grabbed an album and started explaining the pictures of his granddaughters to me.
Not above machinations, I placed some well placed calls to my niece after Sharmila left my dad’s home. Essentially to badger by dad. Not sure what happened but I got a WhatsApp message from my sister one day asking me to call my niece. My niece, very excitedly, reported that my dad had apparently said “Accha, ektu chinta kortey de.”. Which means, let me think about it.
That was the opening I needed. Next calls were to the nephews. They are absolutely my blind followers. As instructed, they promptly called their granddad – one by one – making a case that they can go on a vacation only if my dad agreed to join in too. Later I found out that my elder nephew had totally taken a few more Machiavellian cards from his uncle’s (that would be me) book and even suggested that it is not fair that he does not get to see my dad more often.
With the entire confusion of the whole kitchen sink thrown at him, my dad relented. A week back, there were total festivities going on in Kalyani. My mom was super excited that we will go out (she likes going out but cannot because of my dad). My sister and brother in law were jumping with joy. And the nephews and niece of course could not strut around any more proud even if they had wanted to.
My brother – the most street smart person in our family – promptly booked a resort outside Kolkata for a few days. But when I asked him why did he reserve starting the day I land – in fact, I am supposed to go straight to the resort from the airport – he had an impeccable logic. Scarred by dad’s last minute change of mind last time, he wanted to make sure that dad does not get to see me at his home first. Lest he goes “Well, now I have seen you. I do not need to go out. You guys go ahead and enjoy your time”.
That was pretty smart of him, I say.
For the last five days, during my daily call to mom, I was perennially afraid that she would start by saying “Dad does not want to go…”. Till this morning it has not happened. I am really really hoping he does not change his mind while I am in the air. At this point, having thrown the grandkids at him, I have no other trump cards left!!
Wish me luck that he won’t change his mind. I do not know if he will ever get out of home after this again. But what a great sight it would be to see my parents surrounded by their three children and their families. Those are some pictures I want to show my niece’s and nephews’ kids some day a few decades from now…
As of now though, 3 flights, 24 hours of flying time, 2 layovers totaling 13 hours and 3 hours of car drive separate me from seeing that sight…
- When in Rome… Dec 27, 2016
I was flying KLM from Atlanta to Amsterdam. After we got up in the air, the lady came and asked me if I wanted to start the evening with a cocktail. Immediately, I remembered my last trip to India. If you recollect the flight attendant “DJ” on Qatar Airways from Doha to Kolkata, somehow managed to get me Luxardo cherries and Angostura bitters for the Old Fashioned – which was not even on their menu. To try my luck again, I went on a whim and asked her if she could fix me a “Flying Dutchman”. I say on a whim because I was trying to pun on Flying a Dutch airlines. And guess what? She said “Sure we do. That is our featured cocktail”!!
It tasted very good but slightly different from what I remember. Found out that they use blackberry liqueur made by Bols (a Dutch company) and I was used to Triple Sec (orange liqueur). Also they added lemon juice and some simple syrup. The gin was, as expected, a very Dutch gin – Damrak. If you get a chance, check out their website (Damrak Gin) to get a chuckle.
Apologize for the picture quality. The ambience light in the plane was not too bright….
- While in India … more objectives.. Dec 27, 2016
Objective #2: Of course, finish my running year with the 1000 miles side by side with my brother!!
Objective #3: Keeping up with my standard practice, I am going to meet some parents of old friends and some of my old teachers if I can locate them. This part of my trip is always dedicated to saying Thanks to people who influenced me during my childhood. I have no idea whether I will be able to see any of them again but spending some time with them – for absolutely no good reason whatsoever – will be my way of showing gratitude. I am not sure I will make it to the old age home near my dad’s place where I have made some new acquaintances from my prior visits since dad and I are meeting outside his home this time (fingers crossed :-).
Objective #4. Of course, there is the other part of these trips – digging up friends from the 70s and early 80s that I have not seen for three decades and sometimes four decades and just check on them to see how they are doing. Most of these meetings are spent remembering the old times and me updating them on all the people that I have kept in touch with and often connecting them thru phone calls, Whatsapp and Facebook.
One very interesting trip will be this particular guy that used to play with me back in the late 70s. I cannot even remember when I saw him last but it was probably 1978. After much research, I think I have found out the village he now lives in. I am told he tills land there – basically became a farmer. I am going to give it a shot and see if I can get to the village and ask around and meet him. That would be just super!!! And if he cannot remember me, I have an incident to remind him of!!! That is sure to do the trick!! 🙂
- I might have a problem at hand… Dec 28, 2016
- Seen while loitering around in New Delhi airport… Dec 28, 2016
- This is messed up… Dec 28, 2016
This one is for Bob Hart who revels in these kind of software glitches…
As you can see from the ground speed of 17 mph, we were not flying any more. In fact we had landed in Delhi and were cruising to the gate.
But note how the display claims we were still over 700 feet over ground. And apparently, we were still 59 miles away from our destination! Moreover, it would take us 24 full hours to cover that. Best of all – the local time in Amsterdam and New Delhi is exactly the same!!!
- The dependable reception committee was there!! Dec 28, 2016
The two nephews are always there, without fail, to receive their uncle. They call me “J2”. Coming to Kolkata will never be the same without being hit by the humidity and simultaneously see these two moment I step out of the airport doors!
The first thing they yelled was “J2, dadu gaaritey uthey porechhe”. Meaning, grandpa (my dad) has started his trip. The excitement all around is palpabale in the family. Looks like the family as a whole is going to meet in the resort, after all!!
- The mandatory tea break!! Dec 29, 2016
No car journey with my brother at the wheel is ever complete without the mandatory tea break. The tea by the street side was uncharacteristically not so great this time… but the real fun is always getting out and chatting with the nephews and my brother and sister in law.
After a break for about fifteen minutes we proceeded for the resort. The phone reports that my brother collected seemed to indicate that my father was also mid way thru and had not yet instructed the driver to go back home!! Looks we will reach the meeting point pretty much at the same time. I think he is committed now!!
P.S. As I was showing my brother this post, I commented that our shirt style is the same. “So is our hairstyle”, he quipped 🙂
- That was a memorable few hours!! Dec 29, 2016
Dad not only made it to the resort, he even has had a great time so far. After checking in, we all sat down by the lawn with a lot of tea. He started predictably with the standard questions like “Who owns this place?”, “How much money was spent in building the property”, “How much money are you spending on this trip”… and so on.
But a few minutes later, he warmed up and started chatting with all of us. After about an hour or so, the three siblings of us were getting worried if he was feeling too tired. We offered to have lunch sent to his room. But he decided to walk with us to the restaurant which was a little way away – for him. He walks for about fifteen minutes in the evening every day and then literally spends the rest of the day lying in the bed.
After lunch, one of the staff of this place offered to get him a wheelchair. What was very startling was that he summarily dismissed the suggestion and then slowly and painfully started the long walk to the room which was about two hundred yards away. You can see from the picture that the walk was not easy but he would have it no other way.
Around the time he reached the pool, he was exhausted. He just sat there with my mom and started chatting with her. I started shooting hoops with my nephews, niece and my brother nearby. After about an hour more, he finally walked to the room with us.
He had arrived at 1. Finally he went to his room at 5:30. This, for a person, who is always in his bed but for half an hour so.
Even he himself remarked that he was surprised that after the long journey, he had stayed out for such a long time and yet he was not feeling much tired. Then he turned to my niece and said “See, you were telling me not to come. It is a good thing I did not listen to you and instead came here.”.
Some of us had to hold our niece back from hurtling herself at my dad!!! 🙂
- This one is specially for Sharmila… Dec 29, 2016
Sharmila always picks on me for not drinking in front of my parents. Which is true. Since my parents have a thing against alcohol, I do not drink in front of them. In fact, that is an understatement. While in Kalyani, we climb up the water tank on the terrace to have our daily wine or lock ourselves in my sister’s house. That has not stopped me from getting my father in law and mother in law to try out wines. And much to my mother in law’s dismay, my father in law looks forward to my visits so we can drink some wine together.
And that might be part of the problem. Maybe that is why Sharmila always picks on me.
Not any more!! Look who is drinking here!!
After dad went back to his room, he chatted with the nephews and niece for some time and dozed off. The kids started playing some board games that I had brought for them.
My sister, brother, sister in law, my mother and myself – we went down to the bar downstairs and spent a few hours there talking about a lot of life questions. And by the way, for Sharmila’s benefit, I want to point out that in the picture, my mom has a mojito in her hand, my sister and sister in law have Bloody Marys and my brother and I had gin and tonic.
Ok, maybe my mom’s drink did not have any alcohol in it. But ours did. And that is what counts!!
So there!! 🙂
- Finished out the goal finally… Dec 29, 2016
Great day with dad…
Drinking session with mom…
Oh! Yes!! Needed to complete my 1000 mile goal for the year with my brother. Which is why we got up early in the morning and went out for a run.
It was a great feeling to get past the 1000th mile while running with him. I was even appropriately dressed for the occasion!!!
- Early morning tea session with dad… Dec 30, 2016
- You think he is having a good time? Dec 30, 2016
- When in Bengal, this is a must do… Dec 30, 2016
- History repeating itself… Dec 31, 2016
A couple of years back, I was in this same resort and while resting by the pool one afternoon, I thought I recognized somebody. Turned out that I was right. It was a school friend that I had not seen for thirty years…
Today, I was again with the family and by the pool when, guess who I ran into? Paramita Ghosh – who turns out to be the better half of a classmate of mine from high school (eleventh and twelfth grades). I have not seen him since 1985. But Paramita and I agreed that we will try to fix that problem in a few days when I am in Kolkata for a few hours.
We also met her daughter Amrita who became an instant hit with my family with her shy, quiet ways and absolute candor in accepting that she is not the biggest fan of studying!! Looks like Amrita, Paramita and Natasha share a common love in writing!! Long after she was gone, my mom kept talking about her.
My sister concluded in a typical Bengali way – “Ekkabarey doll-putul”.
[Ekkabarey means “totally” and “Putul” means “doll” and do not ask me why we repeat ourselves when we say “doll-putul” !!
- The family get together comes to an end Dec 31, 2016
Everything worked out picture perfect. He did follow thru with his word to the niece and nephews that he will come.
Mom insisted on joining us for the evening drinks each of the three days. Last evening, in fact, she asked for another mojito!!
Time to say Bye for now.
That expression on his face as he climbed into the car to head back home, I felt, entitled me to check off the first objective of the trip…
And with that, I slipped into the other car to achieve as many of the other objectives as possible….
- Your average (petrol) gas stop… Dec 31, 2016
- It was either 30 or 31 years back… Dec 31, 2016
Having seen my parents off, I hit the road with my brother heading out to Durgapur to meet my in laws and hopefully a few more folks from my past. On the way there though, there was a place I needed to drop by. I had found out the whereabouts of Sujan Sarkar a few months back and was hoping to see him, his family and his parents once during this trip.
Of course, the challenge with a very successful doctor is to somehow fit in their calendar. So, a few phone calls later, the time was fixed to meet at his home. It was a little inconvenient time for most households, but I did not have too many options open.
As we greeted each other at his house gate, my first words were – “What, it has been over thirty one years? 1985 right?”. You see Sujan and I studied for a couple of years in a residential school for my eleventh and twelfth grade. And I had not seen him ever since. Or so I thought.
“Thirty years, to be precise. We had met in my medical college in 1986 when you came to meet Piyali, Madhumolli, Mausumi and the rest of the gang from Durgapur”. I distinctly remember that day when I had gone to Calcutta Medical College and hung out with Ansuman, Sudipta and all in the evening. Apparently, I had met Sujan too but I had forgotten. I was certainly glad that he remembered me so distinctly.
The best part of the trip was sitting down and talking to his parents. They are both older than my parents. But I was delighted to find out that they are in a great shape health wise. And mentally too. During the whole time I talked to them, they seemed to always accentuate the positives in life. I am starting to conclude that a positive outlook in life and staying physically healthy are very highly correlated.
It was also great to meet his wife Rupa (who completely coincidentally is from a place very close to the resort that I had taken my parents to) and his daughter Teesta. Teesta was having a get together at her home with about twenty or so of her friends. In a move that is sure to draw derision from my two daughters, I totally walked into the crowd and started making friends with the youngsters. I even got them to line up for a photo op.
A memorable moment with the youngsters…. “So, what are the New Year’s resolutions”? Most were shy and mumbled.
One boy, however, was very clear. “Sir, in the new year, I am going to think once, twice and even thrice before I do anything”.
“Why?”, I asked, “did you get in trouble for not thinking things thru”?
“Yes, sir”, he candidly admitted.
Trying hard to contain my laughter at his candor, I just fist bumped him saying “That makes two of us” 🙂
It was memorable to get to see Sujan and his family. It was worth every bit the wait and the effort.
- Shaving my head has its own advantages… Dec 31, 2016
Unlike most New Years’ eve revelers, I had decided to take it easy and retire early. No surprises there. After seeing my brother’s family off – who headed to his in laws’ house in Durgapur, I went back to the hotel room, grabbed the phone and the laptop and went down to the restaurant bar downstairs to write down about my intersection points.
Sitting in a corner, I was writing about my trip to Sujan’s house when I heard somebody nearby say – “Rajib?”. I looked up, somewhat surprised that I would find somebody here who would recognize me – although, I have to admit that I absolutely stand out with my shaved head in these parts of the world.
And it was Suranjan-da! Suranjan-da is my classmate Sumantra Kar’s brother and a senior of mine from my elementary and middle school. I cannot even remember when I saw him last. Maybe when I was in sixth grade?
It was a delightful fifteen minutes catching up with Suranjan-da and more importantly, getting introduced to his family – Suvra-boudi and his two daughters – Saranmoyee and Sulagna. I got to know a lot about the cause that Saranmoyee’s NGO focuses on – Livelihood. I have to admit that I take so many things in life to be granted that till I meet causes like what Saranmoyee works for, I fail to remind myself about how blessed we are. It was also great talking to Sulagna about her aspirations of becoming a MBA graduate. It certainly brought back memories from my old MBA exam days!!
I am really glad that I did not go to bed immediately and certainly very elated about shaving my head without which Suranjan-da might not have recognized me and I would have missed getting to know a beautiful family.
- I am surrounded by friends!! Dec 31, 2016
“Excuse me, Rajib, can I bug you for a moment? I just wanted to introduce you to this gentleman – Subhra Lahiri”
“Not a problem, at all”, said I. And it really was not, since I was actually writing my blog post about the very person who was talking to me – Suranjan-da!!!
As Suranjan-da stepped back to his table to re-join his family for dinner, I realized the real reason he had introduced me to Subhra. Turns out Subhra and I have more common friends than we could literally count on our fingers. And the funny thing is that our paths had never crossed before. We had never studied in the same schools but had enough common friends that we studied with – obviously at different points of time. He was even the bench mate in eleventh and twelfth grades with Avijit who was my best friend and studied with me till tenth grade.
As we were discovering many of those common connections – some even starting from my first grade like Mallika – I realized something. His family was waiting outside the restaurant door for him. I did the quick math and realized that they had just finished their dinner and was on their way out. Torn between whether to let him go or pull his family into the discussion as I continued to plough thru the fertile grounds of “intersection points”, I did what you probably might have guessed – got his family into the discussion too!!
I certainly am glad I did since the next two minutes went something like this…
“Hello! I am Rajib!”
“Hi! I am Dipita”
….. some more pleasantries….
“So, where are you from?”, I asked
“Oh! You are a Durgapurian too?”
“1986 tenth grade”
“Aha! Which school?”
“I see! Would you know a Sharmila Ghose?”
“Name certainly sounds very familiar. Cannot put a face to it though”.
“Wait”, I said and fished out my phone and showed her a picture of the subject of our discussion.
“Oh! Yes! The face is familiar too. How do you know her?”
“Well, rumor has it that I might have married her some twenty three years back!”
A few long seconds of laughter back, we caught up on Sharmila’s friends too. And by that I mean I updated her on the latest status of Sharmila’s friends!!
The one thing I want is my daughter Natasha to meet their daughter Ishita. They are the same age and have the same love for the language English. While Natasha is tending more towards the journalistic side, Ishita wants to go the teaching way. Oh! did I mention that both of them apparently share the view that parents serve the sole purpose of embarrassing their kids? 🙂 Believe it or not, we actually talked about it!!!
Somewhat reflecting, I realize we are about half an hour to the new year here in India. The day started by concluding a great three days resort stay with the three families I know the longest – my own. And then in the last six hours, I got to know three of the most wonderful families – Sujan’s, Suranjan-da’s and Subhra’s. One a classmate, one a brother of a classmate and one I had never known in my life!
If I can end every year on this kind of a note, I reckon, I am way ahead of the game!!!
- Perfect start to the year… Jan 1, 2017
- All in a day’s run Jan 1, 2017
The first run of the year was an adventure unto itself.
First we ran to Baisakhi’s house. We reached at 8AM after a two mile run and then instead of climbing up 3 floors, we just started yelling out her name from below. Eventually, a groggy eyed Baisakhi emerged in the balcony and we wished her a full throated Happy New Year. A minute of talking loudly later, we went off running in our merry way. I am pretty sure she woke up later in the day wondering whether it was just a bad dream 🙂
Then we ran for one more mile to my inlaws’ place and wished them a very Happy New Year and had our familiar tussle with my mother in law who insisted that we come in and eat something and we just refusing to go in while we were sweating. Instead, a minute later we kept on with our running routine.
After two more miles, we reached our familiar spot – a particular bus stop. Not that we were contemplating on taking a bus back (for one thing, we were very close to our starting point) – but it was the favorite tea stall we had there. Sat down and had two “bhnars” (clay cup) worth of tea and then just walked back home. We even taught “chaa-yer maasi” (the old lady making tea) how to take a picture of the two brothers sweating profusely from the join effect of running and hot tea!!
- The big shot in my own town!! Jan 1, 2017
I was in Durgapur till my tenth grade and my dad worked in Durgapur Steel Plant. Recently, while talking to another friend, I had found out that an old classmate of mine from eleventh and twelfth grade in Narendrapur High School had become a big shot in the same place where my dad worked.
Since I was in Durgapur, I had to figure out if the big shot would still recognize me. Fortunately for me, that was not an issue with Kishore. Although, I have to say that he had done his homework and found out about my shaved head!!
Had a great time with Kishore – a friend who grew up in Agartala and now calls the same town his home that I used to call home once upon a time. We had a great time catching up on old friends. It was almost weird asking him and his wife – Chandrani’s opinion of Durgapur. Seems like we all agreed that it is a great town.
I also spent quite some time with their daughter Ankita. I was delighted to learn about her area of specialization – genetics and genomics.
I overstayed my scheduled time at Kishore’s house. We had a lot to catch up on since 1985 – which is when I saw him last! Plus I was marveled by his sense of humility.
- Our renowned physics professor Dr. P.K.Mukherjee Jan 1, 2017
Strictly speaking, “PKM” was never my teacher in any class. He was the Physics professor in RE College and his fame as a teacher was pretty well known. I had approached him during my summer vacation in eleventh grade when I was home from my residential school with a couple of Resnick Halliday problems. I remember him taking me under his wings and had asked me to come a couple of times in the week at 3 PM.
I do not recollect the exact days of the weeks but I remember that he wanted me to come when there were no other students (I guess 3PM on a Durgapur summer day can be oppressively hot) and we used to sit down and keeping working on Physics problems. He was one of the first guys I had called up after the results of my final exams a year later were announced.
I also remember one more incident when I had gone to his college to greet him in 1986. He was leaving to take a class and just asked me to join him. So, there I was – following him into his class and then sat with the rest of the students. He finished the whole session as if there was nothing awry. And it was totally a practical joke he had played. Because half the students in the class were my classmates from tenth and twelfth grades. They were way too surprised to see me in the class and very curious to find out what had happened but dared not do anything lest “PKM” Sir got mad!!
At the end of the class, he took me back to his office and we caught up. But not before he laughed out and “Kirokom dilam bol” 🙂 🙂
I had made an attempt before to meet him. But he was visiting his daughter – and a friend of mine Anushree-di – in USA. I gave it another shot today. Fortunately, I was able to see him in his house today. We caught up on a lot of things including old Resnick Halliday problems!! I even reminded him of a billiards ball problem in rotational momentum that had taken us three days to crack and till date, I remember the answer to that problem – 5h/7. Don’t remember the full problem though.
He was impressed with me recollecting the problem enough that I felt like saying “Ami ki dilam bolun” 🙂
- Surprising Kunal Jan 1, 2017
This trip, I have been focusing more time to meet friends from the school that I went to for eleventh and twelfth grades. This one though is about a friend that I studied with till my tenth grade.
Around noon today, I realized that I had about forty five minutes of free time and was wondering who would be my next victim to go and meet. Somehow, my mind went back to the conversation I had with Kunal on his last birthday where he freely accepted that he has great difficulty remembering most of our friends from school and therefore he almost always avoids going to any school get togethers. Realizing that I will probably never see him in any of the old batchmates’ meetings, I figured he might be a good target to surprise.
I had his house address with me – so finding his house was not a problem. His face was a sight when he opened the door and saw me. You could see the struggle in his visage. I asked “Chintey paarchhis?” (Do you recognize me?). I guess the way I asked and my shaved head did the magic!!
We sat down and chatted for quite some time. Certainly more time than I had thought I would. A big part of our conversation revolved around taking care of old parents. Both he and his wife are having to deal with the challenges of supporting single surviving parent who do not live close to them. For all the challenges I have with our parents, it did remind me how much of an advantage we have with my sister next door to my parents and my brother so close to them.
It was great catching up with Kunal after three decades and a half!! It was even greater getting to meet his wife Kakali and his two cute young daughters for the first time!!!
- Our schoolteacher!! Jan 1, 2017
Last time I was in India, I simply ran out of time after meeting five of my school teachers. This time, I wanted to make sure I got to meet Mrs. Nita Banerjee. While she was not ever my home room teacher or subject teacher (she had substituted for our home teacher who had to be away from school for a couple of weeks), I had heard from my friends who had her as their home room teacher that she had enquired after me. I was a little intrigued about how she remembered me.
I was simply astounded how much she remembered about me when I met her today. Again, last time I saw her was in 1983. There is something about teachers. They see a new set of students every year and somehow they have an incredible ability to recollect a few things about vast majority of those students. It is something that has always marveled me.
I was delighted to see Mrs. Banerjee after such a long time. In a complete reversal of roles, today, I explained to her my philosophies in life – why I quit work after every so many years, why I put a high premium on human relationships, the book that Bronnie Ware wrote and so on. I had a great time discussing some of those topics that are very close to my heart.
We had a lot more discuss but it was time for me to leave. We promised to discuss these philosophies in more detail next time… perhaps when she comes to US to visit her son…
- The final meeting of the day!! Jan 1, 2017
In a short span of 24 hours in Durgapur, I have met my relatives, my inlaws thrice, two of my teachers, one friends from Durgpur days, one friend from tenth grade, one friend from twelfth grade and I am almost “meetinged out”. So the best, like every trip to Durgapur was left for the last – having a dinner out with my inlaws. My brother also joined.
It had all the hallmarks of such a dinner – my mother-in-law insisting we should have eaten home, my father in law refusing to drink anything other than ice wine (Which you cannot get in India), my mother in law complaining about me and my brother drinking too much, we talking about Nikita and Natasha and all that.
Like every time, this was the best part of the trip…
- Departure pushed out by an hour Jan 3, 2017
Just when I was getting ready to leave Durgapur, word came in that a cousin of mine – Arindam – had come to Durgapur the previous night. As I was explaining to my nephews later, it is somewhat of a complicated connection. This cousin is my grandmother’s brother’s grandson (dad’s mom’s brother’s son’s son). I am not too sure whether that makes him once removed or twice removed or way too removed.
In any case, long time back when Sharmila and I had gotten married and we were transiting thru Delhi, he had come and met us. He works for the Indian Air Force and was posted there then. Very recently, he himself got married. And he was in Durgapur with his wife. Figured it would be an appropriate return of favor.
So I woke him up in the morning and asked him and his wife – Priti – to get ready quickly and come and join me for breakfast. Which they did. My brother’s family also was there with me – so it was a great family get together.
Just to tease Priti, I asked her what did she not like about Arindam. “He is very disorganized”, she said. I was kind of waiting for a long list and was momentarily surprised by the shortness of the list. Then I realized that they have been just married and I should give them some more time 🙂 🙂
- Finding Nilu !! Jan 3, 2017
As the car got off the highway and took a right turn into the dusty dirt road along the canal, I knew that either I was going to be terribly frustrated or another one of those multi-decade long searches was going to come to a successful end. If I had the right village name and if it was an unique name in Google maps, I was on the right path. The good news of Indian villages is that I can be within three villages’ distance from the right village and by asking about a “Nilu Mondol” and some vague history and I would still be able to find that person. On the other hand, if I was one more village away than that, I might as well have asked for a John Smith in an Indian village and I would have gotten the same stares.
Last time I played with Ranjit (“we called him Nilu”) was somewhere in 1979 or so. I think December of that year because after that we shifted to a different residence. After Moniruddin (who if you recollect, I managed to nail down at his home after a four decade long search), he was the guy I played with most. We spent a lot of time in each other’s house and his mom used to take care of all the young kids in the neighborhood whenever we needed some help.
There is a rather embarrassing incident that is seared in my mind. One of those days when I was playing, I had a big fight with Nilu. And let’s just say that I might have or might not have hit him with a stone. My ever helpful sister quickly ratted me out. My mom gave me a choice – I could either stay out and go hungry that day or walk up to Nilu’s house and say sorry to him in front of his parents.
You will be amazed how all those deep resolves of a eight year old to not heed to his parents can quickly melt away when it becomes lunch time!!
As the car winded down the dirt road, we asked the first tea stall if there was a “Nilu Mondol” nearby. I knew I had hit pay dirt when he asked us to keep going till the village came to an end. Which is what we were doing, when I thought I recognized somebody by the wayside on his bike.
“Ei, tui Nilu na?”. (“Hey, are you not Nilu?”), I asked rolling down the window of the car. A few minutes of confusion and elation later, we sorted it out. That was indeed the friend of mine who I had to march up to say sorry so many years earlier and he was coming back from the fields where he farms.
“Manju-didimonir chheley to?”. He reconfirmed that I was “Manju”-madam’s son. That being my mother. I had forgotten that he was her student in elementary school.
I had a whale of a time catching up with Nilu and his parents (who you can see in the picture). Nilu’s life took him in very different ways than most of the rest of my friends. While most of us started from some small village, moved to a small town (thanks to our parents) and then individually moved on to bigger cities, Nilu moved back to his village with his parents and went back to tilling the land.
You can see from the picture on the top how much fun I had him and his parents!!! And yes, I reminded him of that hitting him with the stone too!!!
Moments like these make me feel so incredibly blessed!!!
- Meeting my third grade class (home room) teacher Jan 3, 2017
The year was 1975. About twenty five very young kids from third grade were asked to line up and walk towards the school gate. Any distraction from class work was always welcome; so we merrily started walking in a line. What was more exciting was that Mrs. Shastri – the teacher who was leading us – took us straight out of the school gate and onto Mirabai road. About a hundred meters down that road, we took a sharp turn and entered the outer garden of a bungalow. That was the bungalow of Mrs. Chobi Bose.
My memory is very unclear around why we visited our home room teacher Mrs. Bose that day. But I do not recollect seeing her in class again after that. Nearly 42 years later, my brother and I marched up to her house in Kolkata last evening. The best backdrop to the story above that I could put together yesterday is something like this: Mrs. Bose had left the school in the middle of the year in somewhat of an unplanned fashion. In all likelihood, Mrs. Shastri had taken all of us – her students – to visit her since she had left suddenly.
You know how sometimes some small incidents get permanently etched in your mind for no apparent reason? Well, I let Mrs. Bose know how I was struck that day back in 1975, by how well decorated her living room was. I still remember where I sat in her living room and was suitably impressed by those square pillows that were lined up against the wall on their vertices along their diagonals with very colorful covers. Mrs. Bose had a hearty laugh at my recollection.
My brother and I had such a great time chatting with Mrs Bose and finding out about her family. As if getting to see her and talk to her after such a long time was not a reward unto itself, she was, on top of that, able to give me two leads to two more of my teachers that I had been looking for some time. My second grade class (home room) teacher – that same Mrs. Shastri and my tenth grade class teacher – Mrs. Biswas.
Like that day forty two years back, I was again struck last evening by how tastefully Mrs. Bose’s living room was done. Admittedly those square pillows sitting on their diagonal were gone 🙂 But Mrs. Bose was the same old lively person that I remember from the mid seventies.
That was a great evening spent with a teacher from my elementary school days!! I am glad I got to see her after so many days!!
- Catching up with two Ranjan and Matthew Jan 3, 2017
Last evening, after meeting Mrs. Bose, my brother and I had about an hour in our hand before we were going to join his family for dinner. We went to the bar at ITC hotel to have a couple of glasses of wine and have some one on one brother time.
And of course, meet a couple of old friends that I had met at the bar last time I was there – probably a couple of years back. I had kept in touch with both Ranjan and Matthew ever since. We missed Anzee though.
It is always exhilarating to me to come back and catch up with folks who were complete strangers and then became friends just because our paths crossed coincidentally. Of course, that and my much-maigned-by-daughters habit of making friends with as many strangers as I can!!
- Last evening of the siblings together this trip Jan 3, 2017
Came to Kalyani to see the parents one last time before I take off tomorrow. The evening has so far rolled out like clockwork – streetside “foochkas” first, followed by a bottle of red wine and now enjoying some classical music together. Today, the focus was on a few numbers by Kaushiki Chakrabarty (Desikan).
- That was an interesting bottle! Jan 3, 2017
Sitting at the bar in ITC, I noticed this bottle of vodka. Intriguing name – Absolut India!!! My first instinct was that it was a knockoff. But given that I was sitting at the bar in ITC, I had to believe that was a real thing.
Ranjan got the bottle for me to examine. This is indeed as authentic an Absolut bottle gets. Bottled in Sweden, however, the pictures on the bottle are all iconic India related stuff. Interestingly the bottle claims that the pictures on the label were all crowd sourced.
Tasted a dash of it. Best way I can describe it is spicy mango. Probably best served in a typical tropical cocktail on a hot day.
- See, these things do really happen to me!! Jan 3, 2017
As I mentioned in a previous post, I had settled down at the ITC bar with my brother for an hour of gap time last evening. I walked in and asked if Ranjan and Mathew still worked there. I was told that they indeed were still in the hotel but had moved to other departments away from the bar. But they would call them up to come and visit me.
I started chatting with my brother and I believe I got distracted by a message or a call on my phone. I was looking at my phone when I felt that somebody had walked in right behind me. I was expecting it to be Ranjan but I did not lift my head up just in case it was actually some other customer simply going around me to the door.
But there was the hand on my shoulder and I looked up. It was not Ranjan or Mathew though. But it was somebody I knew. It was somebody I had worked with twenty years back in Dallas. He is not even a Bengali. Therefore, for the life of me I could not understand what was he doing in Kolkata.
“Rajasekhar Mallipeddi? What are you doing here?”
Turns out this was his first time … in fact first day in Kolkata. He was there on work. Apparently, when he landed in Kolkata airport, he even imagined running into me – since he was aware from my FB posts that I was in India. But here is the thing – I am usually never in Kolkata. I am in Kalyani or Durgapur. There is a bridge on the river Ganges that has broken down which has made any trip between Kalyani and Durgapur more onerous since I have to go thru Kolkata now – adding a couple of hours to the trip easily. Instead, I had decided to stop over in Kolkata for the night.
And as I said, this was his first in Kolkata in his whole life. Fancy meeting somebody I had worked with two decades back and who still lives in Dallas – a city I left a decade back – in a bar in Kolkata – half a world away!! Even he admitted – “Now, I believe that these kind of things do actually happen to you” 🙂
The three of us had a good time for half an hour generally catching up on our life and family and my brother giving some pointers on restaurants to try in Kolkata since Rajasekhar is a big foodie!!
- That movie star looking guy pacing up and down the corridor…. Jan 4, 2017
The lasting memory I have of Happy Ghosh is way back in 1985, when he was pacing up and down the corridors of Gouranga Bhavan – the dorm that we were in, in our residential school with a book in his hand (organic chemistry, no doubt) cramming for the exams. You know how I remember that? Because I was doing the same and I was pacing along a cross corridor. Both of us learnt an important lesson that day – long before you were warned about texting and driving, there should have been a similar warning of potential crashing if you read and walk at the same time – especially with the book held up to your nose steeped in fear of the looming exams. To this day, I have not yet figured out why some of us used to pace in the corridors while cramming. It is not like we were made to wear Fitbits or anything like that in that strict disciplined school 🙂
The other memory I have of Happy is his hair. Unlike pacing up and down, which of course, both of us did, the topic of hair is something on which we totally differed. I could not care less about my hair. If I could comb it once a day, I would have been ahead of my game. For the curious – yes, I used to have a headful of very thick hair at one point of time. I recognize it is difficult to visualize now. In my defense, I don’t walk up and down the corridor cramming with a book in my hand either 🙂 Happy, on the other hand, used to take exquisite care of his hair. He kept it long enough that he could curl it at the end just so – following the style of a famous movie star in India – but all the while not crossing the boundaries of what our school rules would allow.
Around 1987, I had a short meeting with Happy again in his engineering college when I ran into him while visiting another junior student. Who, as it turns out, eventually became my brother in law (Sharmila’s brother). Well, there is no mystery in those turn of events. I know exactly what I did 🙂
And then jump forward 30 years. A few days back while having a great time with my parents at the resort outside Kolkata basking in the sun by the pool, his wife – Paramita – who had recognized me – had walked up to me and introduced herself. I promised her that I will come and visit the whole family during this trip.
Evening before last, m dinner with brother’s family at the ITC restaurant (this part of my visits – having dinner with my nephews at a city restaurant of their choice is a near-religion for me) went very late. It was quarter to eleven at night when we were done. But Happy insisted that I come and spend some time with him. Justifiably, I was a little worried.
I really had nothing to worry about. Moment I walked in, we hit it off immediately. We, of course, talked a lot about our school and our progress in life in the interim. By the way, his is the first house I have seen so far in India with a very well designed bar stocked up nicely with a quite a stack of bottles of red wine. If you find me more often at his house, you know which corner to find me!
I spent some more time with his shy daughter – Amrita. And closed the loop with his wife Paramita about the mutual friends we seemed to have on FB that I found out later that day after I met her.
As great a get together as that was, I paid one price for showing up late… Happy’s mom had gone off to sleep. I missed meeting her this trip. Hopefully, we will fix that problem in a later trip.
- We will keep this box unchecked Jan 4, 2017
Today is my last day in India this trip. Got up very early in the morning – 5:30 AM. Had to check if Sharmila and the kids had made it back home (they were driving from Dallas) and wanted to be ready for dad when he would wake up. Another part of our routine – as many of you know who follow my India trips – is for father and son to sit outside in the balcony and watch the morning light emerge with absolutely no words spoken but a few cups of tea consumed. While in Ibiza resort, the whole family used to gather around him – so, I did not get the morning one on one time then. Today was my day.
I have been sitting in the sofa next to him for the last hour and a half. Already downed two cups of tea. But he has been struggling to get up. In fact, he did get up once, looked at me – not quite sure what he was thinking but he said “aajkey bodh hoy paarbo na re” (I don’t think I can make it today) and went back to sleep. “Ki paarbey na?”, (What can you not make?) I asked. But he was deep in slumber already.
Through the window, I can see that the sun is up and morning has fully bloomed. Which means, my window of opportunity has now moved out. I guess it is a good thing that I do not achieve everything in every trip. It keeps me coming back…
I will keep this one small box unchecked for this trip.
- Till next time… Jan 4, 2017
- Double Surprise!!! Jan 4, 2017
Our scheduled time to leave for the airport was 10:30 am. I changed my plans this morning to start half an hour early! I had tried to call a friend of mine from 11th and 12th grade last night. I thought he lived in Kalyani. But I never got a chance to talk to him (phones were off). This morning I found out why. He called me up from Delhi to let me know that he is out of town with his wife. I had almost put the phone down promising to meet next time when, out of a hunch, I asked him “Do your parents live in Kalyani?”. He said “Yes”. “Okay, I will swing by to say Hi to them”.
And that is why we started half an hour early and very soon my brother pulled up in front of Debasis’s house. Both of us went in and introduced ourselves. Debasis had already called up his parents and let them know. Which was a blessing because his elderly parents did not start howling that burglars were invading their house. On the other hand, that gave enough time to his mom to make some food and she kept insisting that we have something before we left.
We explained that I have a flight to catch and then caught up about Debasis and my Narendrapur days. He was in the same dorm as I. And apparently, his parents visited him every weekend. So, my guess is that I have seen his parents a few times but I certainly could not recollect.
Now what I did not tell you is that when we sat down in their living room, there was another set of elderly parents in the room. We assumed they were visiting Debasis’s parents and that we had interrupted them. I figured we would just be there for half an hour and leave without hopefully interrupting them too much.
In any case, I did turn around and started talking to the other gentleman..
“Aapni-o Kalyani-tey thhaken?” (You live in Kalyani too?)
And then he asked “Aapni kothay thhaken?” (Where do you live?)
He got a little excited… His wife made the next statement “Aamader chhele-o to USA te thhakey” (Seems like their son is also in the USA).
“Tai? Kothay?”, I asked trying to find out where .
“Atlanta”, she said.
Now it got interesting….
“Ki Naam?” I wanted to find his name.
“Partha. Partha Das”, she said.
Frankly, I could not say that I knew a Partha Das in Atlanta. So, I tried other ways – like where exactly he lived (they did not know), where he worked (Cognizant), but nothing led me to make any connection.
So, finally, I asked “What is his wife’s name?”
I thought there might be a connection! One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi… Yes! I think I go it!
“Tell me something”, I asked. Did Sreyashi’s mom visit them in Atlanta in the last twelve months?
“Indeed”, they said.
To tie the other loose end of the string of this story, I have to take you back quite a few months. I was getting ready to leave for India when I got a call from our dear friend Sudakshina in Atlanta enquiring if I could bring some medicine from India. I was totally okay as long as it was not overly bulky. I also wanted to know if everything was okay.
She explained that the medicine was for one Sreyashi whose mom was visiting them and she needed that medication. And then Sudakshina told me that she will have Sreyashi call me up. I was not sure I wanted somebody I did not know feel indebted to me for a small help. We did not know each other at all. So, I requested Sudakshina not to bother telling Sreyashi how the medicine came but to assure her that the medicine will arrive. I had duly handed over the medicine to Sudakshina after I went back to Atlanta.
And that was that!
Of course, now that I have met their parents (in laws), I have to become friends with Partha and Sreyashi when I go back. Not to mention that when I am back in Kalyani again, I have to go back to Debasis’s house to spend more time with his parents. And hopefully this time he and Joyoti will be there too!!
- One last unscheduled stop… Jan 4, 2017
Having wrapped up all the intersection points in Bengal for this time, my brother and I were cruising down Kalyani Expressway when I came to a familiar intersection. For a person who likes to plan and organize everything, I started furtively glancing at he watch … “Could I? Should I?”. I had twenty minutes…tops thirty, I reckoned.
Decide to give it a shot. “In a minute, you will see a tall red building called Godhuli to our right. We are going to stop there for a few minutes”, I told my brother. That is how I landed up in the old age home that my friend’s father stays in.
I have visited him couple of times before and I had made a lot of friends with very elderly people who would flock around me to hear stories about the USA. Many of them were in old age homes because of the precise reason that their sons and daughters all live in the USA. Some would even excitedly tell me about their visit to America. Stopped by for a few minutes to say Hi to them.
Mr. Lodh looked healthy physically but clearly his mental faculties including memory is not getting any sharper. He did remember that I had visited him before but beyond that he could not recollect much.
Spent about twenty minutes with him enquiring about how he was doing and talking about his son (my friend) and his grand kids in Atlanta as he soaked in the winter sun sitting outside.
I told him eventually that I had a flight to catch. “Thik aachhey. Jao ekhon. Abaar eso kintu. Erokom katha boltey paarley bhalo laagey”. (Ok. Go now. But come back again. It feels good to talk like this).
The last few words kept ringing in my ears as I got back into the car. Why was I even debating whether to stop for a few minutes or not? What was I thinking? There was never a question to begin with…. If I can’t give my time to elderly people like him, I need to recheck my priorities on how I spend time…
- Another word kept… Jan 4, 2017
I had promised Santanu a few months back that I would make sure I visited his family and parents during my next trip to India. Since he was very high on my list this time, I had fixed the time and place to meet him even before I started from USA. Of course, the place was going to be his home since I would not have expected his parents to travel.
On my way from Kolkata to Kalyani, I dropped by at his house. Normally, I refuse to eat at anybody’s place in India. It simply takes away time from the limited time I have to meet my friends and their families. Especially if one of them is busy in the kitchen.
Santanu, being very special, was the only exception where I had said that I would be eating breakfast at his place. To make sure that I do not miss out on “talk time”, I stayed for a little more time in his place. I am glad that I had allotted more time to the visit to his house because I spent a lot of time with his dad as well as him.
As you can see in the picture, his dad and I spent quite some time on the terrace where he took me thru his life journey from undivided Bengal to Jalpaiguri to Kolkata. He talked about his days in Public Works department as well as introduced me to the different types of plants he had planted on the terrace.
Santanu’s mom was quiet for most of the time. She is recovering from some long sounding ailment that Santanu explained to me which I cannot remember but the good news is that she is pretty much fully recovered.
Spent some time with his wife – who had cooked the delicious luchi-torkari-dim breakfast for us – and his kids.
With Santanu most of the time was spent on discussing psychiatric patients (my mom is one and he is a psychiatric doctor), our Ramakrishna Mission, our old high school and the batchmates from there. For once, I got more updates about friends than giving updates. Santanu is very active in keeping up with our classmates.
Hope to see him and his family again. I have to anyways come by to return a couple of books that I picked up from his place.
- Bittersweet meeting!!! Jan 5, 2017
I am not the best writer in English. For that matter, I am not the best writer in any other language. I have run ons in my sentences, I sometimes let my participles dangle and I start my sentences with conjunctions. That said, there are two teachers in my life that I remember the most who were deeply influential in whatever grasp I have over the language English. This trip, I managed to locate one of them – Ms. Devyani (thru Mrs Bose). The other one was a Mr. Samanta.
He used to come to our house in his bicycle on his way back from Shivaji Boys High School with a “pan” in his mouth, wearing a flowery shirt and then for hours, would sit with me and help me thru the difficulty of giving expression to your thoughts in a well arranged sequence of English words.
Then I became I close to his son – Kaushik – who was of the same age as I, but we never studied in the same school. I can certainly recollect spending quite a few afternoons with Kaushik and Avijit – my best friend of those days. If we were not solving global hunger problems during those sessions, we were probably solving even bigger problems like how to impress the next door neighbor girl.
Regrettably, my long searches for them about ten years back came to the worst possible way of ending. I learnt that both of them were no more. By the time I had managed to locate them, they had both escaped me by a couple of years.
As I sat last evening with Papiya-di (my teacher’s daughter who also had become close to me in the early eighties) and Sourav-da (her husband and my senior from middle school) before getting ready for the long flight back to US, I could not help having the pangs of regret of not getting a chance to say one last Thank you to Mr. Samanta or sitting down with Kaushik for one last afternoon of getting the world closer to a few more solutions!
If anything helped me thru that struggle, it was what a great company Papiya-di and Sourav-da were. We have very similar interests in terms of adventure, visiting places that are slightly off the usual touristy interests, importance of staying fit (Papiya-di is a gym rat) and in general how to prioritize time in life. Both of them are accomplished photographers. I am no where even close to them, but I knew enough to be dangerous during our conversations.
The last time I saw Papiya-di was somewhere around the late eighties (I think it was 1989) when I walked into Mr. Samanta’s house to say Hi (I think I had just come home from Chennai) and landed in the middle of a big drama. Mrs. Samanta complained to me about some hissy fit Papiya-di was throwing about her impending wedding. In spite of me giving extreme details of what happened that day, Papiya-di conveniently washed her hands off any role in that drama. Fortunately, Sourav-da remembered enough to back my story up!
I might have to come back to spill more beans on Papiya-di till she owns up!!
- One last intersection point for this trip… Jan 5, 2017
I was a few hours away from catching my flight to the US of A. Figured there was time enough to squeeze one last intersection point. I had to have dinner somewhere anyways. What better way to have dinner than with a guy that I had not seen for about three decades?
In fact, one of the last times I saw him – if not the last time – is the picture in the inset. Avijit’s mom had called Supriyo and myself over for lunch. Supriyo is the one with the trousers with the fullest flair, as it were, and that thin stick on the other end – yeah! – that is yours truly!!!
Even after the last meeting, I had made a few contacts with Supriyo over the next few years. He was one of the few guys who had an email id at work. Even in the mid nineties, it was a novelty in my friend circle. But once he quit that job, I lost touch with him.
The trail had gotten completely cold, till Facebook came around. Without Facebook, I would not have been able to sit with Supriyo and catch up on his mom (who I remember from a trip I had made to their house in Burdwan in 1985) last evening. Unfortunately for me, uncle is no more. I was able to fill Supriyo in about the whereabouts of some of our friends from those days. And we had some laughs about a particular incident where he got into deep trouble for committing a gross transgression of our dorm rules. We agreed it did not seem that funny at that point of time.
In a rare moment for me, I had completely forgotten about his sisters. Not sure how I forgot about them. Turns out one of them is in Durgapur – not too far away from my in laws. In fact about a stone’s throw and a half. Seems like more intersections points for the future!
That was a great way for me to finish up my trip to India – catching up with yet another friend from high school that I had not seen for way too long a time!!
- I might have created a Frankenstein Jan 5, 2017
A hilarious moment from this trip.
Remember, how I won my bet with Sharmila that I will drink in front of my mom? What is even better, we got mom to drink with us. Admittedly, it was a non-alcoholic mint mojito but you have to understand that for my mom to sit down with us around a bottle of wine and then order anything other than tea or coffee is as good as she drinking some stiff scotch in front of her inlaws!
Here is the funny part. Every single day, she would join us when the five of us – the siblings and their spouses would gather in the evening for a pre-dinner drink. While the whole trip was for my dad, I am convinced that it was my mom who got the most out of it. She never gets a chance to leave home – because of her condition and of course, because of dad. But unlike dad, she actually wants to come out with us. However, she can’t because she won’t leave my dad’s side.
Even on the last day in Kalyani, when we all got together in my sister’s house for the wine, she came down from upstairs and sat with us. She made it a point to join us every time but would not speak up. She would quietly follow our discussions and ask a quick question here or there. Reflecting back, I think I need to structure some of my trips around her more.
In any case, on the third day at Ibiza, my brother and myself ordered some wine. My brother in law, sister, and sister in law said they wanted coffee. So, my brother told the guy – 2 glasses of wine and 4 cups of coffee. My mom immediately started protesting – “Na, Ami oi sobuj-ta khabo”. (No, I am going to have that green thingy!!).
We were decent enough to hold back our laughter in front of her.
About fifteen minutes later, while we were discussing the recent demonetization in India, we heard suddenly my mom saying loudly – “Ei – amaarta niye choley gelo. Ekhono sesh hoyni.” She was complaining that somebody took something away from her and she had not finished it. We were all a little startled. (As a background, my mom suffers from complications of psychiatric issues – and without medications, is prone to “seeing” and “hearing” things).
My brother was the first one to cut thru the mystery. He saw the same waiter walking past us with the same green color mint mojito in his tray – purportedly for some other customer. He quietly took another sip of his wine and told mom – “Relax. Your drink is right in front of you!”. My mom, turned around and thoroughly satisfied that her drink was still there in front of her, quietly put the straw in her mouth.
This time we threw all decency to the air and laughed out heartily. And my mom joined in too!!
- Three easy steps… Jan 6, 2017
The legal way of entering the country is fairly well documented…
1. Clear immigrations
2. Go thru customs
3. Pick up a Starbucks 🙂
A shout out for Sharmila is in order here. Noticing that the Starbucks at the airport was going to close at 9 and I was still about 15 minutes away from clearing immigration and customs, she had bought the last coffee of the day from the store and kept it wrapped in her beanie cap to keep it warm!! Ah! It is good to be back…