11 February 2024

’16 Jun India

  1. One more time… Jun 26, 2016

    That time has come again. Off to fly to the other side of the world to be with my parents for a couple of days. This time dad has said that he won’t let me go anywhere else – he wants me to stay at home the whole time. And mom has said she wants to go see her sister’s newborn first grandchild.

    I am fairly sure, I am going to take a few hours out to go dig up my past and create intersection points again. Last time, I went from pillar to post to meet as many of the parents of my friends as I could. This time, my goal is to track down a few of my old elementary and middle school teachers and visit them to thank them. It would be interesting to see if they can remember me from the thousands and thousands of students they would have taught in their lifetime…


  2. Great start already… Jun 26, 2016

    As I was finishing up my previous post about going to India and creating intersection points, something happened that reminded me that I do not have to wait to get to India to create the first one. I was still finishing up the post when I heard a “Rajib?” from nearby! Sure enough! It was Dhil Jith!! We have worked together in the past and I have not kept up with him for some time.

    It was good to meet his family and chat for some time (amazing how his daughters and mine think the same way about visiting India) and get started on this intersection thingy 🙂


  3. Two brothers pitted against some tiny ants!! Jun 27, 2016

    Part 1: Attack of the Ants

    From the day my dad brought my mom and him back from the hospital – way back in 1971 – my brother has been the person I have been closest to all my life. Forty five years later, we are still almost inseparable. We talk every single day – even if for a couple of minutes. When in India, we travel together (usually he is the driver and I am the hapless guy clinging on to dear life :-)), we drink together and almost always in any family squabbles, we align our positions together.

    I am going to see him today! There are way too many memories I have with him. The one that Sharmila and I often laugh about was how the two engineering brothers were almost shown up by a few tiny ants. It was a seventy two hour ordeal that had our heads scratching but we did come out on the top.

    It was four years back. Almost to the day. I was visiting India with my family. We were at his place in Kolkata. As you can imagine, it was beastly hot. Sharmila, myself and the kids were sleeping in a room with air conditioning. And all of us were sleeping on the floor. That room has no bed – we just put extra mattresses on the floor and went off to sleep.

    The fun started early in the morning. Suddenly, Nikita woke up saying ants were biting her. I thought it was most likely bedbugs. Switched on the lights and upon close inspection realized that there were indeed a few ants near the bed. Hearing all the commotion, my brother came in. We did some quick checking around the bed, cleared out the ants and the kids went back to sleep on the two sofas nearby. Sharmila, myself and my brother simply got out of bed and had tea sitting outside in the balcony.

    My sister in law, when, she woke up and heard about it, could not be any more embarrassed. We told her to think nothing of it but she got the maid to clean out the whole room with phenyl, put the mattresses on the terrace in that beastly sunlight for the whole day and searched for any signs of food in the room like a hawk.

    Except that next day, early morning, the same thing happened again!! Like clockwork at around 4am I woke up bitten by an ant!!. My sister in law was hopping mad about the whole thing and at that point of time, no ant – even if it was a hop, skip and jump away from her – had a flicker of a chance of survival as she hopped all over them 🙂 The girls just went back to the sofa to sleep. The nephews, who had woken up too, came by and started coming up with their own theories about the source of the ants while walking around dazed themselves.

    That is when the day got interesting for the two brothers though. As the wife and sister in law started plotting their shopping plans for the day, my brother and I concluded that between us we had eight years of engineering studies. And this was our calling. We were going to get to the bottom of it. Where were the ants coming from?

    Part 2: The Initial theory – where is the food?

    At around 10am, everybody left. And the two brothers sat down to work. Wait – first we needed some tea. No amount of investigation is properly done without us drinking steaming hot tea all the time! Okay, now. First course of action was to move everything away from the floor. We reasoned that ants were always looking for food. (see, we are deceptively smart brothers, that way 🙂 ). So, there must have been some food in the room for them. Or at least the room was in their way to get to food elsewhere.

    We swept the room clean and then waited. Sure enough! In ten minutes we could spot a few ants around the middle of the room. As an astute software engineer, I knew that half the problem of debugging was recreating the situation! We were in a good spot. Now, to carefully observe the ants and see the line they were toeing.

    We hit a snag almost immediately. Try as we might, the ants were not filing in a queue. In fact, they seemed to be very confused and going all over. Plus they were to be found only in the center of the room. That made little sense .

    At this point, I need to introduce you to something called “lakshman rekha”. I was introduced to it in India a few years back. It looks like a chalk. And you basically draw a line on the floor on it. What is amazing is that ants cannot cross it. If they come near it, they die. I have seen that with my own eyes. I am sure that chalk is filled with potent chemicals that are not allowed in any other country.

    Part 3: Location! Location!! Location!!!

    So the two of us went to the next logical step. If the ants were not coming in a line from somewhere in the corners of the room, we needed to figure out what location were they gathered around. With the “lakshman rekha” chalk that I talked about, we divided the whole room into grids of two feet by two feet squares. And then went around inspecting square inch by square inch visually. Pacing up and down, with our hands behind our back. Much as I would surmise Sherlock Holmes would do in his days. No smoking pipes for us, though. Just hot tea 🙂

    This move met with some success. Fifteen minutes later, we were able to pinpoint a few dead ants within a two feet by two feet block. Now the engineering brains went into overload. How come the ants were to be found only in the middle of the room only? Where are they coming from?

    The most logical conclusion was that there must have been some cracks in the floor and they are coming up thru that. It was time to test that theory.

    Part 4: The ants – they upped their ante!!

    First came the visual inspection. Every single spot within that big square was inspected. We swept out that part of the floor again and then we took two sides of the square. And started continuous scanning from edge to edge – you know like those raster scanners!

    “Any ants?”

    That exchange continued for a few minutes till one of us yelled – “There is an ant!”
    And the other one yelled “What the heck, where did it come from?”

    “There is another!”

    This was getting to be a one of those mysterious whodunits!! We spotted the ant suddenly but we did not see it emerging from anywhere! Taking a break to make some more tea, we told the ants – “Well, it is going to be your industriousness versus our perseverance in logical thinking”.

    It was time to further subdivide the square. The big square was now divided into smaller squares with the “lakshman rekha” about two inches square each. By this time, we had our noses literally to the ground looking for minute cracks in the floor. My resourceful brother had already scared up a magnifying glass.

    Here was the problem though. Mysteriously, ants continued to show up – as if from thin air! I had scanned that spot a second back – nothing. And yet, a second later, in front of my eyes – was an ant!! That was crazy! We had further narrowed down the space. Every few minutes, another ant would appear and very soon would die due to the “lakshman rekha”. (Not that a live ant would have been much of a help – there were no direct interrogation methods we could have used 🙂 ).

    Part 5: Falling from the sky?

    Wait, that was getting too complex. Ants mysteriously appearing on a small piece of floor space and there were no cracks?

    “You think they are falling from the ceiling?”, I asked.
    My brother looked up.
    “Maybe from the fan,” he said. “You know what? There must be a dead insect on the fan. We have not been using the fan since we are using the air conditioning. I bet that is where they are dropping from”.

    Now, how do you test that? How do you get up to the ceiling fan? We needed a ladder.
    “”Our neighbor has a ladder”, he said.

    “Wait! Before asking them, let’s make sure they are falling from the top. How do we separate the bottom from the top? Do you have a white towel or a white piece of cloth?”, I asked.

    At this point, the family had come back from one round of shopping. They came inside the room. Had the heartiest laugh looking at the two brothers poring at a white piece of cloth looking for ants. They took a few pictures to prove the two brothers’ ridiculousness to posterity (which I have duly attached here) and then went back – no doubt for more shopping.

    In the meanwhile, we figured, if we could spot ants appear on the top, they must have fallen from the top. If we saw them crawling – especially near the edges of the towel, that meant they were coming from the bottom.

    And with baited breath, we kept staring at the white towel.

    “There it is”, I yelled. It appeared like a small black dot at first. And then expanded into an ant.

    The brothers felt triumphant. They ants were falling from the top. That is why they were curled up into a ball when the appeared.

    Knock! Knock!!

    “Ma’m, can we borrow your ladder?”
    “Sure! what’s going on?”

    My brother, smart as he is, quickly calculated that “We are fighting a couple of ants” would not have been very convincing words. So he opted for “Oh! We want to clean the fans”.
    Myself, smart as I am, was going “Idiot! They will think that you are making your brother from America clean your fans”.

    Long story short, the jubilation of the brothers was cut short in about thirty minutes when we realized that there was not a trace of an ant or dead insects or anything remotely interesting to ants on the fan. And we had two dead flashlight batteries at the end of search to vouch for it.

    Part 6: The lucky break

    Ladder duly returned, we plopped back on the sofa. With more hot tea in hand, of course. Step by step, we went thru the logic of the search. We knew that they appeared only in a small place of the floor. We had eliminated the possibility of coming from the bottom. In fact, we had proof that they were falling from the top. Where could they possibly be coming from?

    In the meanwhile, the hot tea was making me sweat already. Noticing that, my brother asked “Should I move the AC flow towards you?”.

    “No, that is okay”, I said, casually glancing at the AC. I had almost taken the next sip when I yelled “Pinku! I think they are coming from the AC”.

    My brother – I call him Pinku – was incredulous. How could they come from the AC? But he agreed. All theories have failed. Why not give the new theory a try?

    Now imagine this – two brothers, standing in close quarters, holding a white piece of towel at the four ends right next to where the AC blower was. And every couple of minutes, was inspecting the towel. As silly as it could ever get.

    But the silliness paid off. My brother was the first one to spot – “There it is!”. And there it was! Fruits of labor for six long hours!! The ants were indeed being blown into the room by the AC!!

    A few more minutes of testing proved our latest theory to be totally on the mark.

    The excitement, jubilation and sheer sense of achievement was making us quiver. We could not wait for the family to come back home to tell the story (On an aside, the entire family had a “Whatever” reaction to the discovery). My brother, in the meanwhile, started working on the solution.

    A few minutes later, a quick patchwork involving a mosquito net and a few clothesline clips (see the picture) the blockade was set up. For good measure, the window sill below was marked with the “lakshman rekha” chalk thoroughly. That cup of tea that we sipped was the sweetest of them all as we watched the ants getting spewed from the AC once every couple of minutes, get caught by the net and slowly slide down to immediate death upon impact with the lakshman rekha!

    Part 7: Almost done!

    Nice showers and some snacks later, both of us headed to South City to partake of what we thought were thoroughly deserved alcohol with Sharmila and my sister in law in tow. The kids stayed back to watch something. The scene at the bar table was one of complete mirth as we regaled in telling the whole story to our wives. While both of them thought that it was ridiculous – but funny, we thought that it was the ultimate vindication of our parents’ money that they poured in for us to get our engineering degrees.

    And somewhere, my sister in law asked “But how are they getting inside the AC?”


    My brother and I stared at each other with our half finished glasses! How the heck were they getting there to begin with? See, we, engineers are not about asking questions. We are about finding answers. We leave all the questioning to our wives 🙂

    Sharmila thought we did not have to go further. We disagreed.

    Part 8: Epilogue

    Next morning, the ladder against the outer wall, two brothers scaled the window sills and then realized something. The AC, working thru the night, would have a few cold parts exposed on the outside. The terrible humidity would condense and drop as cold drops of water. The industrious ants – awake early in the morning – would stay close to the water line avoiding the direct sunlight (I assumed it was cooler) and in a line would file along. Some of the curious ones were straying from the line and getting inside the AC. And eventually they were getting spit out from the other side!!

    For a moment, I asked my brother “Should we open up the AC to see how they are making thru it alive on the other end?”

    He suggested that we only finished our bachelor’s degree in engineering. Maybe we should leave some problems for those who did a master’s degree.

    I concurred.


  4. New Bengali friend Jun 27, 2016

    I was getting ready to leave the Qatar lounge in Doha to head towards my plane. Before doing so, I walked up to this young guy to say Thanks for helping me show where the different amenities in the lounge were when I had walked in. In particular, I was looking for the showers and some food.

    As I said “Thank you” to him, he asked me “Are you a Bengali?”.
    “I indeed am. Do you speak Bengali too?”
    “Yes sir.”
    “How did you realize that I am a Bengali?”
    “I overheard you, Sir”.

    So apparently, Shahnawaz – that was his name – overheard me talking to Sharmila and then my brother in Bengali. We talked for quite some time after that. I learnt that he has been working in Qatar for the last 10 years and has been supporting his parents and his own family way back in Bangladesh (Chittagong area). I has a baby who is going to turn a year in a few more days. He gets to see his family twice a year but thinks worthwhile to work hard abroad and send the money back home for his family. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He thought he would continue working like he is doing now but perhaps get this family to live with him.

    I talked about Bengalis living in US – both from India and Bangaldesh. In fact, I even showed some pictures of our Bengali runners. He was suitably impressed!!

    It was getting to be time for my flight to leave. So, we grabbed a colleague of his to take a picture of us, exchanged our contacts and promised to stay in touch!!


  5. Flying into Kolkata – the “Old Fashioned” way. Jun 27, 2016

    After settling down in my seat on my flight to Kolkata from Doha, I started chatting with my new friend – the flight attendant – “DJ” is how he introduced himself. Originally, he is from France. We talked about a lot of stuff – including Brexit and sooner than later, went to the topic of wine. Turns out he is somewhat of an accomplished bartender!!

    As the passengers started filing in, he got busy. But eventually, he came to take our beverage orders.

    “How would you like to start the evening, once we get up in the air?”, he asked. I was quite sure, he wanted me try the French wines.

    “Not the way, you were probably thinking JD”, I said.

    “What is your ideal start to the evening?”

    “An Old Fashioned”.

    He looked at me for a second and said “I will try my best”. And then went off to the other passengers.

    I had almost forgotten that exchange. After we hit 31,000 feet and leveled out, he came to me, kneeled down on one his knees and asked me “How do you like it?”. “How do I like what?”, drawing a blank. Like I said, I had forgotten about our exchange.

    “Your Old Fashioned”.

    “Oh! With Luxardo cherries and extra bitters. But I am not that picky”.

    “Ok”, he said and scooted off.

    A few minutes later, he came back with this drink. How he managed to get the ingredients, I will never know.

    “That was Angostura?”, I asked.

    “Indeed!”, he said.

    “Why do you stock bitters in a flight. That too to Kolkata?”.

    He would not answer me – just gave the corporate line “We will do anything to please our customers! Enjoy!!”.

    I tried a sip of the Old Fashioned.

    It was a best start possible to this evening. Even at 31,000 feet up in the air floating in an aluminum tube!!


  6. Last leg of the journey… Jun 27, 2016

    Landed in Kolkata at a God forsaken time (2:30 am). Now having coffee with my brother at. 24 hour cafe – waiting for dawn to break when we would start driving toward’s dad’s home.

    The idea is to reach by 5:30. And instead of going upstairs after parking the car, we are actually going to put a run together first (one of those brotherly bonding thing). Then we will go upstairs, no doubt profusely dripping. That explains the change of clothes before having coffee!!

    I can almost see the surprise in dad’s face – “Kolkata thekey dourey eli???” (Did you run all the way from Kolkata? ) 🙂


  7. Just tp prove Sharmila right that we are two crazy brothers Jun 28, 2016

    Reached Kalyani, parked the car in front of parents’ house, went for a 5K run, stretched and now relaxing. Parents and sister’s family have no clue that we are sitting outside…


  8. Catching up on the last three months… Jun 28, 2016

    He is hard of hearing. Therefore he never picks up the phone or wants to talk to me during my daily calls to mom. But when I show up, usually the whole morning is spent talking about what all has happened ever since he saw me last…


  9. Enjoying each other’s company… Jun 28, 2016

    … one step at a time.
    Accompanied him on his regular evening walk!


  10. Memorable moment… Jun 28, 2016

    Three generations enjoying streetside food (foochka) together. The last living recollection I have of having streetside foochka with my dad was in 1974 when we had gone Puja shopping in Benachity market.


  11. The evening routine … Jun 28, 2016

    … of course, that means drinking on the sly 🙂
    After securing my sister’s place’s main doors – lest our parents walk in on us, I got down to work. Even managed to get my niece to be my “sous mixologist”. Between the two of us, we came up with a concoction involving “jal jeera”, “gondhoraj lebu”, “beet noon” and vodka. With so many Bengali sounding ingredients, we should christen this drink “Royal Bengal Tiger” or something 🙂 Certainly, it was a roaring success, haha :-). The partner in crime missing this evening is my brother who had to rush back to Kolkata to help the nephews with their ongoing school exams. Also missing was my usual drinking partner Sharmila, but that is whole different story…


  12. The smallest of things sometimes makes the biggest of a difference Jun 28, 2016

    This morning, when everything had quietened down, I was just sitting down by myself, relaxing in the front room of my parents’ house when I noticed that dad was engrossed in reading something. From the distance, I couldn’t figure out what book he was reading but he seemed to leaf thru the pages front and back – as if he was comparing notes – and often kept talking to himself under the breath and sometimes smiled. Not wanting to break his concentration – I love watching people – especially kids when they are absolutely in the “now” – I just watched him for some more time. Not even for once, he did lift his head. Just going backward and forward thru the pages and kept comparing notes…

    Finally, my curiosity got the better of me. Very softly I asked my mom who was sitting next to me – “What is he reading?”. My mom then told me the whole story (loudly enough that it broke his concentration, but since he is hard of hearing, he did not follow the conversation anyways).

    About a year and half back, I was able to take my dad to visit his birthplace. That was after years and years of cajoling him. You can read about it in my blogs from Jan 2015. In any case, having lost his dad when he was two and a half years old, I guess property disputes led to his mom, elder brother and elder sister getting evicted by my grandma’s in-laws (society was cruel that way those days, I guess). He has very bad memories of being put in the streets and the long trek to my grandma’s brother’s place and losing his sister during the trek.

    In any case, the important thing was that he was able to get over his scars and visit his dad’s place and his birthplace. He was mesmerized to see the temple that his dad had built (my dad was even named after the same God that the temple was dedicated to). He even had pointed to the street that they had taken his dad’s body away on and how his mom sitting on the verandah and crying then. That trip, above all, lifted a big part of his mental block.

    I have always thought that it would go down as one of my biggest contributions to his late stages in life. But I did not realize that the story never ended there.

    You see, after I went back to America, I had picked about 50 of the best pictures from that trip and made a photo book out of it – you know those that Apple makes for you. To add to the memories, I had put in the Google map of our route and satellite pictures from Google Earth of the property and the temple.

    Little did I realize what special position that book has taken in his daily life. Apparently, he keeps it next to his pillow all the time. Once or twice a day, he pulls it out, my mom said, and spends hours leafing thru the pages. In front of me, twice he touched the book to his head (in Indian culture that is a show of respect). It would appear that those few glossy pages that Apple printed for me is his daily connection to his dad that he barely remembers and the temple that has stayed till date as their common connection. God knows what all thoughts he goes thru when he smiles or compares pictures in different pages.

    It did make me wonder what life is like without having a father to look up to throughout the formative stages of life. I have been lucky that I still have not had to face a day without my dad. I dread the memories of missed opportunities to show respect I might have when my Apple book gets printed.


  13. Morning solo run… almost Jun 29, 2016

    This morning, it was just dad, mom and myself at home. I did not even try to convince either one of them to go for a run with me 🙂 For whatever reason, a few piglets ran for some diatance with me for all their money’s worth!!


  14. No biz like shoe biz!! Jun 29, 2016

    My dad has been gaga this morning about my running shoes. Multiple times he mentioned how great they looked. He even called my mom and showed her – “Dekho ek-i juto kintu duto sundor rong” (‘See, it is the same shoe but two different colors’).

    I asked him if he wanted a pair like that. He declined saying his ten year old slippers are still going strong.

    Just when I was feeling good about his approval, he threw in “Kintu moja duto tomay thhokiye diyechhe”. This is a old story – he thinks the shopkeeper in America cheated me by charging me for the full socks but gave me only upto the ankle!!

    I told him I was getting late for my run and left 🙂


  15. Revisiting an old age home… Jun 29, 2016

    This morning after 10 am, both the parents retired. Dad had talked a lot this morning. And mom needed to take her sleeping pills. Not having much to do, I went downstairs to my sister and asked her if she wanted to go out with me. She readily agreed – which was good news for me since I needed her to drive me around 🙂

    The two of us visited my friend – Satyaki Lodh’s – father who lives in an old age home about 30 minutes of drive from my parents. I met him for the first time three months back during my last trip to India.

    He seemed to be pleasantly surprised to see me. I was a little surprised that he remembered me. He is 89 and has memory lapses. But he softly told me that I am the only person he knows who knowingly shaves off his head. I agreed that he had a point there.

    Like last time, he was quiet most of the time. My sister, who was impressed by the old age home had a lot of questions for him. He answered them softly. But there was a common theme between him and my dad. He too, said that he has no reason to live anymore and would rather die peacefully. My dad is better this time but the lack of a purpose to live at an old age is a real challenge – at least among the few people I know in India.

    It was good to see Lakshmi – his attendant again. I need to write sometime about lifestory as I had learnt it and how she has fought thru her life to raise her two sons – who happen to be of the same ages as my daughters.

    And I made a new friend too – Mr. Biswas who lives there with his wife. Their only son is in Germany. He did most of the talking till we left about an hour later. He had a lot to say and after some time I was not too sure if the quiet Mr. Lodh was enjoying all this or just waiting for us to leave him at peace. He did put that doubt to rest a few minutes later.

    Just as I took leave, the otherwise very quiet Mr. Lodh, told me “Abar eso porer baar. Bhalo laagey erokom du minute-er jonno-o dekha hole”. (‘Come by next time too. It feels good if you drop by even if for a few minutes’).

    I sure hope he meant it. Since I do plan to drop by again.


  16. Notice something funny with my mom’s phone dialpad? Jun 29, 2016

    As it is my mom is completely oblivious of all the advances in phone technology. She does not even look up the address book to call somebody. She has no idea how to increase the volume while on a call. The only thing she has been trained to do is press the buttons (stemming from her land line days) and wait for the other person.

    Even that, looking at her phone, how she does it, I do not know. Looking at her keypad, I can only conclude that she has never attempted to make an outbound call!! And she has had this phone for at least a couple of years!!


  17. Nikispeak: What is a foochka? (golgappa or paanipuri for others) Jun 29, 2016

    Before going to bed, I was catching up with the two daughters. Nikita, of course, wanted to chat for a long time and get all the details of my day. She is fairly curious that way – especially if that can distract her from all the homework and chores her mom has given her 🙂

    When I had just come to the point of “I went to have foochkas”, she interrupted me…

    “What is a foochka?” Before I could try to explain, she remembered something and continued…

    “Oh! Isn’t that the thing where you poke a hole and have with really yucky water?”

    And for good measure, added.. “No offense”


  18. That was (almost) a new side to my dad! Jun 29, 2016

    This morning’s three hour long conversation with dad (he spoke most of the time) was a little eye opener for me. Usually, the conversations become so negative about general state of affairs or a littany of his worries for my brother and sister that I politely find some excuse to do something else after fifteen minutes or at least attempt to force a change of topic abruptly.

    Today was somewhat different. In fact, this trip has been somewhat different. It started the usual negative way. It was about he not wanting to live any more. Why are other young people dying and not somebody like him who is ready to leave now? But quickly he gathered himself and looked at me and said – “You are the eldest son of the house. After my death, you will be in charge. Let me tell you my three wishes after death.”

    I was pretty sure he was going to bring up a few topics known to irritate me but I hung on. And I was glad I did. I learnt something.

    Point 1.
    “Do not do any ceremonial things after my death”, he said. “Just cremate me and next day each one of you go back to your office and school. There is no need to call all relatives and friends and go thru the motions of shraddho”. (This is part of Hindu rituals after somebody’s death). “I have had a good life and there is nothing sad about me leaving the world. Don’t even try to shave your heads.” (again, this is a Hindu ritual for sons when their dads pass away). And then looking at me he said “Oboshyo, tomar byapar-ta alaada”. (‘You, of course, are a special case :-)’).

    I was internally going – “Now we are talking”!! I absolutely believe in what he said. He had a humble beginning and did what most folks always dream of – raising three successful kids and their families. He overcame a lot of odds in his life. He certainly set an example to three of his kids. When he leaves us, we can say with certainty that he was absolutely ready to. He fought hard till he could live life in his own terms. Such is a life to be celebrated not mourned after he passes away. I will drink to that!

    Point 2.
    “With the money saved from not having to do all the perfunctory ceremonies, donate that money to Mother Teresa’s orphanage”. He went on to let me know how in his ripe old years, he has come to the conclusion that we do not do enough about orphans. He asked me rather rhetorically – “Those kids, at least the orphanages will take care of them when they are very young. After that what? How are they going to get a chance in this world. Our own kids, after so much money spent on education cannot find jobs. How are those kids going to eat? Who is going to take care of them?”

    He then told me about an incident that has come back to visit him in his memories repeatedly over the last few years. The one time he went to America, apparently, Sharmila had taken him to a Walmart and there he saw a couple with four kids. He was confused why two of them had the same skin color as them and the other two were completely different. Sensing his confusion, Sharmila had told them two of them were adopted. That is why they were different but calling “dad” and “mom” to the same persons.

    As an aside here, I need to mention that adoption runs in our family too. In fact, my niece – who you saw having “foochkas” with me yesterday is adopted. My sister and brother in law adopted her from Mother Teresa’s orphanage after their natural process of having kids did not yield results.

    Reminding me of my sister, my father continued “Your sister adopted because that was their only option left. That family I saw in America – and it has taken me a long time to process this – did not do it because they needed to. They did it because they wanted to. Giving a kid – with an otherwise assured dead end – a gift of life – I cannot think of a higher human virtue. Especially when you already have your own kids”.

    I was too stunned to say anything.

    After a few more moments, he lowered his head and continued – almost as if was uttering the words as the thoughts came to his mind “I know America is rich. But money can buy affordability. I have my doubts if money buys generosity. I had to wait till very late in my life to realize that I had a good shot at financial stability. Looking back, had I known that I will be the way I am today, I probably should have adopted an orphan. That should have been my duty.”

    For a brief moment, he slipped into his negative mode. “Why is our government not putting efforts to increase awareness? We have quotas for education and jobs for so many people. I have nothing against that. Why not for a few more who have next to no chance to get a shot at life?”

    That forty five minutes hit me very hard. People who know me are probably aware of how violently I am aligned to his points of views (save the government part). Having spent some time volunteering for an organization dedicated to battered women and kids, I came to see up close and personal how bleak the other side is.

    Fortunately, I have seen the other side too. I have friends who have adopted kids – some after having their own and some without. I have friends (I have written about one of them) who have adopted from multiple countries and in one case – with specific medical issues because they could afford the treatment in US for them (among other things). I even have a friend from Dallas who (she and her husband) had explained to me before they got married that they were not going to have their own kids – instead they were going to adopt kids.

    “Because there are more needy kids than caring parents in this world”, they had told me. I had an immediately flashback to that coffee meeting many many moons back as my dad kept talking.

    Point 3.
    His final point was something he said he got inspired by a story of a lady he read in the newspaper. Apparently, the lady who died of a terminal illness donated both her kidneys and because of that two other patients got their lives back.

    “Even though she is dead, she is truly immortal. It is true that when I die, I am gone. I have no more use for my body parts. If any of those body parts can help somebody live or have a better life, why is there even a question about it? Why is this not the automatic mode?”

    For another few seconds, he fell back to his favorite punching bag – “Why is our government not raising our awareness on this? Why are they not making it easy for us to do this?”

    “My kidneys are failing. My lungs are at 40%. But I might have other parts – maybe my eyes – they are weak but not gone. Can they help a blind man get eyesight?”

    Now, my understanding, while sketchy, is that it may not be as difficult or little known as he thinks it is in India. My general impression is that it might be less prevalent but it is easy to become donors. What I am not aware of is how good is the process of ensuring that the parts are secured within the stipulated period of time and all that. I think I need to discuss this more with my friends in India and then with him again.

    Regardless of that, I could not agree more with him about how not to accept death as the final arbiter of how long we can be productive human beings. We can – in some parts – outlive death, if we so choose to. In a very noble way, to boot.

    He was tired after three hours. He finally went back to sleeping in his cot.

    I got up from my chair realizing again that the apple never fell too far from the tree!!!


  19. Should I take this personally? Jun 30, 2016

    FB is asking me to tag my friends among the pigs that ran alongside me yesterday!!


  20. It is always about the bottomline!! Jun 30, 2016

    My dad, given his background, is ever worried about money. I remember my childhood days when he would try to cut as many corners as he could and fight for as many deals as he could get so as to save some more money. The only exception was education. When it came to the education of the three kids, he was ready to make the family go without food but he had to make sure we went to the best schools, bought all the books etc etc. Sometimes he would take it almost to an extreme. While it was very irritating then, I have a better perspective because I understand his background better. But sometimes it creates some funny situations. Like this morning.

    I was lacing up to go for my run. My dad, again started admiring the running shoes. I asked him what did he like specifically. “Gothhon ta khub sundor. Rong ta bhari sundor”, he said. (He liked the structure and especially the colors)

    I figured he would like to see my other colorful shoes. So, I fished out an old blog entry from my website and showed him my collection of colorful (and not so colorful) shoes. (picture attached). It took him some time to realize these are all my own shoes. And that I can’t use any of them for running after 300-400 miles. Therefore I have to go thru about three or four pairs every year.

    He looked at all the shoes and went “Baapre… baapre… baapre… baapre…. baapre…” like a recurring decimal. (Baapre is the septuagenarian’s equivalent of “OMG” ).

    I was then expecting him make some comments about all the different colors I have or even the sheer number of shoes I have accumulated. Instead, he quickly cut to the chase by summarizing the situation to its lowest common denominator. As he handed my phone back to me, he said “Lakh takar opor juto aachey”!

    (Roughly means – There are shoes worth 100,000 rupees – but the translation does not bring out the essence at all)


  21. Another morning of discussions Jun 30, 2016

    Today he talked about religion. I am aware that this can be a very divisive topic among my readers – so I am not going to expound on it. I will say that I was superbly impressed on how his views on various religions as well as atheists has become nuanced over the years. His bed is strewn with various religious books – you can see the Gita, a Bible, some books on Ramakrishna lying next to his inhaler and medicines!

    One humorous anecdote. He talked about Ramakrishna’s famous saying “Taka maati, maati taaka” (which basically denounces the focus on money – saying wealth is dirt, dirt is wealth). At this point, I interjected. To bring in levity I asked “Then why were you complaining that the banks are not increasing their interest rates for you?”.

    Not to be outdone, he continued with the same flow – “Etar abaar onno ekta interpretation-o hoy. Taaka thaakley maati – orthat jomi kintey paarbey. Abar sei jomir daam baarley aaro taaka paabey”.

    He gave another – and a rather convenient interpretation. He said, if you have money, we can buy dirt (land) and then as the price of land goes up, you make more money.

    I think I can deal with that religion 🙂 It was good to see that he has not lost his sense of humor!!


  22. Sir Roy and Deepali Miss Jul 1, 2016

    One of the goals for this trip has been to meet some of my teachers from school days that I have not seen in a long time. First and foremost was to find Sir Roy. He was my math teacher for 9th and 10th grade as well as my class teacher for ninth grade. Not that I was particularly great at math but it was undoubtedly one of my most favorite subjects (and still is). (Geography and Physics were the next two). I still love the logical thinking required in math problems and puzzles. Sir Roy and Sir Nandi were the two teachers that I remember the most for instilling in me the love for math.

    Sir Roy, to all of us, was not just a math teacher. He was our go to person anytime we got into trouble in school and almost always could count on him to be our friend, philosopher and guide. Two of the lasting memories I have of him was his constant smoking and always reading an English novel. He was undoubtedly one of the most voracious readers I knew.

    In the circle that life is, last year, one of my classmates’ (from school days) twin daughters had called me from India with a math problem. I was driving (in US) and promised to look into it when I reached home. Funnily enough, before I put the phone down, I had suddenly remembered a method (of elimination) Sir Roy had taught and was able to solve it for her verbally over the phone. My wife thought I had gone crazy drawing triangles on the steering wheel while standing at a traffic light!

    I had fixed the time and place to meet Sir Roy. It was not his place but rather where he still teaches his students (he is retired from school now). The best news he gave me was that Deepali miss was there too. Mrs. Roy – who we always called “Deepali miss” was one of the first teachers I had met in fifth grade after joining my new school (St. Xavier’s). In fact, I think sequentially it was Miss Lakshmi Dutta, Sir Donegan and then Mrs. Deepali Roy. So that would have been precisely at 9:55 am on 10th of January, 1977 when she walked in and introduced herself as our Bengali teacher.

    I remember her being very sweet to all of us and not being very strict with us (as opposed to Miss Dutta and Sir Donegan from the previous two periods 🙂 ). Certainly, we were not above taking advantage of it 🙂

    One amusing incident. Miss Dutta taught us math and was very strict. In our math test, I remember that I had made a error. And so had my friend Shounak. But my friend had smartly answered one question more than he needed to. (we had to solve 10 out 11 problems and he did all 11). He got credit for that and beat me in that test. Not to be outdone, I tried the same trick in our Bengali test. Except that Deepali miss promptly canceled my last answer and told me that I should focus on revising my answers instead of wasting time on questions I did not answer!! Boy, was I confused that day!!! 🙂

    Both Mr. and Mrs. Roy left indelible marks on me and in many ways has shaped and formed me who I am today. It was energizing to see them after such a long time (some 33 years) together and talk about our old days in school and get caught up on a few of the other teachers.


  23. Bhowmic miss! Or as we called her – “Geography miss” Jul 1, 2016

    After visiting Mr. and Mrs. Roy, the next stop was to cover my next favorite subject – Geography! Fortunately, I have been in touch with Mrs. Bhowmic for some time – although I had seen her only once in the last thirty years or so. She is even on my Facebook friends list.

    Mrs. Bhowmic and geography has been synonymous to many of us. For students like me, learning geography started with Mrs. Bhowmic in 7th grade and finished with her in 10th grade. My dad and she are the two persons in this world responsible for my loving world geography to this day. My dad, even now, will pepper you with questions like capitals of countries and river names and all that if you do not have your guard up. Mrs. Bhowmic, fortunately, focuses on more varied topics!

    But there was another side of Mrs. Bhowmic. She was my classmate’s mom too. Her son Abhik and I were classmates for six years in the same school. So, I got to know the family a lot more closely than that of most other teachers. And that connection, as I said has continued till today.

    Many of you who know me from much later stages of life will find this incredulous but I used to have a head full of hair. And very thick too!! (I know, I know this one is for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not 🙂 ). In any case, Geography miss used to often comment about that in the class. And she brought it up last night when I went to meet her again!!

    Another lasting memory I have from those days was my annual exam in seventh grade. While appearing for my Geography test, I came down with typhoid. I started shivering two thirds into the time period and managed to somehow finish it up. I remember that my vision had become blurry and I was struggling to keep my head up. Eventually, I gave up. The next thing I knew was I was lying down in our principal’s room, our PT teacher had thrown his jacket on me (I was shivering a lot) and Mrs. Bhowmic was next to me. Then I blanked out.

    Couple of weeks later, I was back from the hospital, still very weak and mostly in bed. My dad came into the room after having visited the principal. He was worried that I would not be promoted to the next grade since I missed all but three of my annual exams. (We needed minimum marks for the whole year but I had no chance of clearing it). Fortunately, our principal told him to quit worrying. When he was there, he ran into Bhowmic miss. And as my dad narrated it, apparently she had said “Aapnar chhele to jor niye-o geography-te first hoye gelo” (basically, I had lucked out and topped the test that year). So, I told my dad that I wanted to be a geologist when I grew up. He told me – No, you have to be an engineer or a doctor. And that was that 🙂

    It was so great to see her after such a long time. I got to know a little more about her personal life and the circumstances under which we lost Mr. Bhowmic at a very early age due to misdiagnosis. But what was most teachable for me is her spirit of fighting it out. She still lives her own independent life and keeps up with teaching.

    I have always considered – right from our school days – that Mrs. Bhowmic has been one of my most ardent supporters and cheerleaders. She still is today. If nobody puts a “like” on my FB posts, she would be sure to go put one!!


  24. Sameer-da! My tabla teacher!! Jul 1, 2016

    Continuing with meeting up with my old teachers, the next one was a change of pace. I had been looking for Sameer-da who taught me “tabla” during my fifth and sixth grade for a very long time. I got a lucky break last time when I was in India. Do you remember the blind lady (Sundori-di) that I had gone to meet? (http://www.rajibroy.com/?p=10121). You probably also remember that she plays an instrument called the sitar. Thru her association with the School of Music in Durgapur, I was able to trace Sameer-da’s whereabouts.

    A month later, I had called up that number in India. The voice on the other end was unmistakably his. Even though I was hearing the voice well over three decades, I was quite sure that it was him. The question was would he remember me?

    “Sameer-da, aami Rajib Roy bolchhi. Aami aapnar kaachhey tabla siktham. Chintey paarchhen?”. I basically introduced myself as one of his students and asked if he could remember me.

    His immediate response was “Soma-r dada Rajib? America thekey bolchho?”. Meaning “Are you the Rajib who is Soma’s brother? Are you calling from America?”.

    My sister and I started learning music together. She continued for a long time. I gave up after two years. At that time, I was not too much into it. Today, that is one of my biggest regrets. I discovered my love for tabla after going to engineering school. I wish I had continued with formal coaching for a few more years. By the way, convincing my father that I wanted to stop learning tabla was very easy. I just manipulated him by saying that it was distracting me from my studies (remember how he wanted me to be an engineer or doctor? :-). My mom, on the other hand had suggested that I cut down on my playing time 🙂

    Sameer-da used to teach me tabla as well as accompany my sister’s music teacher. Later in life, he had become close to our family but I had left Durgapur way before that.

    Finally we pulled up in front of his house – and that took us some time since he lives in a village outside Durgapur town. Google maps had failed me already and finally, I had to resort to asking people on the streets. Of whom there were not a lot since it was late at night – 9PM and it had just rained. However, when I saw him, I could not believe my eyes. Sameer-da has not changed a bit. Not even one fraction of a bit. You can see him in the picture. He is 61 years old. And he can as easily pass by as a twenty-something!!!

    That was one of the best meetings I have had in a long time. I had no idea about his own family history. Got to know how he was one of five kids. How all his brothers would go out and play in the remote village he was brought up in but he was more attracted by the sound of tabla that his dad used to play. Eventually, that love became his passion and then his profession.

    And it still is his passion and profession!! We talked for some time about some of the intricacies of tabla – the instrument as well as the playing. Lamentably enough, I learnt that there is not much of interest left in Durgapur to learn tabla. Apparently, studies, western music and parents wanting their kids to get onto stage in rapid time has taken over the psyche. Unfortunately, tabla is one of those instruments that takes a lot of time to get the hang of and a whole lot more practice and perseverance before you can get on to stage.

    But for most part, we talked about our families. I got to know about his son and daughter – none of whom I have ever seen and also caught up on mu sister’s music teacher!

    He in turn, talked about my parents’ generosity. I did not realize this but apparently my parents had helped him when he was going thru some tough times in his personal life. He even showed me the set of tabla my dad had gifted him much later and he still has preserved it and plays it occasionally.

    Although I gave up my formal lessons two years into it, I did impress him by mentioning that I do sit down to play by myself (terribly, I might add) every Friday. He in fact, quizzed me on a few taals and songs. I lucked out and came thru with flying colors. I think he went easy on me!!


  25. It is always fun confusing your mother in law…. Jul 1, 2016

    My mother in law, who is totally against drinking alcohol and certainly absolutely against me inducing my father in law to drink is almost always a picture of confusion every time we have dinner together. I ordered a mocktail (non alcoholic) for her and when the drink came, I casually mentioned that she might like the alcohol in that drink and that I was quite sure she had not tried it before. You can see her protestations and refusal to drink.

    Then my brother – who had stepped out to take a call – came in and made a short shrift of my lie. You can see my mother in law’s reaction in the next picture. In fact, we had to get a second one!!


  26. The best for the last Jul 1, 2016

    We are done with another of those whirlwind tours to Durgapur. I missed meeting some of the folks I wanted to. But I did meet a few teachers, parents of friends, relatives and all that – 10 visits in less than 30 hours. We always keep the best for the last – a long dinner with my inlaws at a nearby restaurant.

    This time was no different. And like every time, we had an awesome amount of fun… Totally relaxed at the end of the quick visit (if you discount my mother in law getting worried about the drink I ordered her, that is 🙂 )


  27. Essentially, there are two kinds of vodkas … Jul 1, 2016

    Smirn On and Smirn Off.
    And he insisted on pronouncing it “Simirn” !!


  28. Sir Nandy! Jul 1, 2016

    Time to visit another teacher. I called up a number I had obtained recently. I was assured that was the right number.

    “Achcha eta ki Mr. Nandy’r nombor?” (Is this Mr. Nandy’s number?)
    “Hnah. Ke bolun to?” (Yes, Who is this? – he addressed me in the form of grammar used to address elders in Bengali)
    “Sir, Amaakey aapni bolben na. Aami apnar purono student. 1983 batch. Naam Rajib Roy”. (Sir, don’t address me that way. I am much younger. In fact, I am a student of yours from 1983 batch. The name’s Rajib Roy”

    “Rajib Roy maaney amaader Rajib?” (Rajib Roy? Are you our own Rajib?)
    That was a very confusing question. I had no idea which Rajib he had in mind. This was getting more confusing than his alligation problems from Jadab Chandra Chakraborty math book.
    “Kon Rajib bolun to”? (Which Rajib might you be referring to?) I asked.
    “Narendrapur to?” (He referred to the school I went to for 11th and 12th grade)
    “Osadharon smriti shakti aapnar”. I told him I was amazed by his memory.
    “Aarey, tokey ekta cost accounting-er boi thekey khub shokto onko eney diyechhilam, mon-e aachhey?”

    While life has prepared me for a lot of a situations, certainly it did not for this one where my math teacher from seventh and eighth grade not only pin pointed me from among thousands of students who he must have taught over the decades, but remembered the exact problem he had given me. I had no living recollection of that problem.

    But then again, that is our Sir Nandy! Like I had mentioned in a previous post, between Sir Nandy and Sir Roy, you could not possibly escape getting the soundest of foundation in logical and mathematical thinking. I visited him yesterday. This was the first time I saw him after 1983!! A short 45 minute planned meeting went for nearly two hours.

    I got to know his family history. As students, we never had shown interest in understanding our teachers’ backgrounds. We talked a lot about our school and how education has changed over the years. I also got to meet his daughter who is headed to the USA for her MBA degree. We talked a lot about living in the USA. By the way, I am impressed with the youth of today and technology. She has never seen that country (or any other country for that matter) but through the internet, she and a couple of her friends have already fixed a out of campus dorm, figured out what to buy from Bed Bath and Beyond and all that. At that age. I would have been lucky if I could figure out how to spell the American university name properly. And the state name if I really went Beyond 🙂

    But nothing was more fun than discussing with Sir those problems where people, with no apparent real jobs would keep mixing milk and water repeatedly from two containers and then we had to calculate the proportions of each. Or those tubs of water that used to get filled with a tap but also seemed to mysteriously have a hole that water escaped thru and the hapless students like us had to figure out when would the tub get filled up. If ever. I mean, if ever, we could figure it out 🙂

    “By the way, what was that problem you were referring to?”, I asked. The story I got from him was, apparently, I used to finish up my math problems in class quickly and sit down and idle in class. To keep me busy, he used to bring new problems for me – increasingly more difficult. Then he got frustrated – his words, not mine. Because I kept solving them. As he explained to my brother who was with me and also was his student – “Aami-o chharbo na. Oke aami thhekaboi.”. Basically, he felt he had to come up on top of this what he perceived as an escalating war. That is when he fished out a cost accounting book from his college days and chose the problem for me that he referred to in the phone call.

    “Did he solve it?”, my brother asked.
    Sir Nandy laughed out aloud. “What do you think?”.

    I kept smiling sheepishly because. frankly I had no idea if I did or did not. But I am going to take that as a yes. Or that is the story I am going to stick to when I narrate this story to dad tomorrow. Else, he will make me call Sir Nandy up again for the problem and won’t let me go out for a run till I solve it successfully. I am telling you, my dad has not changed much.

    That was a blissful time spent with Sir Nandy! On our drive back, I was not sure what I was more happy about – that I got to see him again after 33 years or that he had such detailed memory of me. I must have done something right somewhere, either way!

    P.S. I have tried my best to write this in a way I do not come off as a self-boasting or showing-off person. I am sure in those days, I was an idiot. But hopefully, today I am not. In spite of my efforts, if this has hurt your sense and sensibilities, I sincerely apologize.


  29. Mr. Mukherjee!! Jul 2, 2016

    After Sir Nandy, it was going to be lunch time and go thru Sharmila’s shopping list. (Yes, there is always a shopping list 🙂 ). But I was wondering if we could squeeze in one more quick visit. My brother readily agreed. So, we headed off to Mr. Mukherjee.

    Now, I have never seen Mr. Mukherjee in my life. But he is my friend Samaresh’s dad. You might recognize Samaresh from our Sunday morning run blog posts. In fact, Samaresh is one of the founders of Chalupa group and is indeed the person who coined the name “Chalupa” for our group.

    Getting back to Mr. Mukherjee, he lost his wife (Samaresh’s mom) very recently. And I had heard from Samaresh that he was going thru a tough adjustment period. So, I figured I would check on him to see that everything was going on as well as they could given the circumstances. And also send Samaresh a picture of his dad!!

    When I walked in, I saw a very frail gentleman laying down on his bed. He got up when he saw me. I introduced myself and sat next to him in the bed. Introduction was not easy. First of all, as I said, we had never seen each other before. And he is very hard of hearing. So, it took me some time to establish that I was his younger son’s friend from Atlanta. For about five minutes, I could not get across to him with my name. Finally, I had a brainwave. I fished out my iPhone and started writing on the Notes app. He brought out his glasses and read it. And then addressed me as “Rajib”. That iPhone Notes app came out to be very handy throughout our conversation.

    He was speaking very softly and haltingly. But slowly, I got the story out. He is nearly 87 years old. He was married for 65 years! And then he lost his wife. My mind was racing thru so many thoughts. How do you cope with a world where you wake up one day with your life partner for 65 years no more? Worse, she suffered a lot for quite a few months before she passed away. What I gathered from his daughter in law was that even he wanted his wife to move on and be released from further suffering. What a heart breaking experience it must be to watch your companion of 65 years suffer through so much in front of your eyes with the full idea that she is not going to come out of it by herself. And at that an advanced age, you probably do not give expression to your sorrow so easily either.

    I remember Samaresh narrating that his dad eventually did break down after his wife was taken away. And that is first time he saw him cry.

    Our conversations were slow and halting, as I explained. I suddenly remembered Lord Tennyson’s “Home they brought her warrior dead”! I was wondering if a similar trick would work. I recollected that Samaresh’s family had joined us together with my family at the Chalupa run last Sunday. Quickly went to my blogsite on the iPhone and picked out the picture – zoomed in and introduced him to my wife and then my younger daughter. I, then kept moving along and stopped at his granddaughter’s picture.

    “Chintey paarchhen? Aapnar naatni” (Do you recognize your granddaughter?)
    He suddenly perked up – “Eta chhoto-ta” (This is the younger one)
    I kept moving along the pictures of the runners. And stopped again.
    “Aar e boro”, he told me showing his elder granddaughter in the picture.

    It worked!! He suddenly got up from the bed, walked to a shelf nearby, opened it, reached to the top and then brought out an album. Walked back to the bed and sat next to me. I realized he had gotten excited by his memories of granddaughters from America and was going to match my pictures with his.

    He patiently leafed thru the pages and showed me many pictures of Samaresh’s daughters and explained where those pictures were taken. My brother, smartly, used my iPhone that was lying on the bed to capture the moments.

    That was a very satisfying experience – seeing him get energized. He even wanted to come downstairs to see us off. We insisted that it was too hot and that we would see ourselves out. “Abaar aasbey kintu taholey”, (Ok, but come back then again) he said as we bid adieu.

    Finally, studying all those English poems and taking pictures after our runs – both came to some good use!!

    Taking a detour to meet Mr. Mukherjee? Good call. Very good call.


  30. Morning tea! Jul 2, 2016

    Amidst all those dashing from place to place to meet people, some time is always kept aside just for the two brothers. Usually over the first cup of tea, early in the morning…


  31. PT Sir!! Jul 3, 2016

    We were getting ready early in the morning to start from Durgapur to Kolkata when my brother and I had a brainwave – since we had covered some of my favorite subjects the previous day, why not see if we can cover my least favorite subject too. We knew the rough area and the rest we figured we would wing it. It was easier said than done. We got a little lost and had to make calls to a friend in Delhi to bail us out.

    But that is how I met “Shanti sir” or “PT Sir” as he was called during our school days. After 31 years again!! Now PT sir was less of a teacher to us and more of a friend. I recollect him to be very jolly, very active and always smiling – almost bordering on breaking into a laughter at the least provocation. And he has not changed one bit. You can see from the picture – it would be hard to place him to be in his sixties.

    Yesterday, I learnt his fascinating family history. Especially how he got to be a PT teacher because his dad wisely got him to leave our state to shield him from all the Naxal movement that was holding ground. And how he aced some of the athletics tests (I think in Gwalior) and the rest has been history.

    There are a lot of memories I have of PT Sir. Two stick out. The first one was the day when I broke out into a bout of typhoid (see a previous blog about our Geography miss). He was the guy who had taken off his jacket seeing me shiver and put it on me instinctively. I remember bobbing in and out of deep sleep – and I felt a little comfortable at one point of time. Opened my dreary eyes and realized I had his jacket on me and he was standing next to me.

    The second incident was very funny. As a background, just like many who know me today and not from before get surprised when they see any old picture of mine with a head full of thick and lush hair (I was not born this way, you know 🙂 Actually, I was. But that is not my point 🙂 ) similarly, they would find it very surprising to know that in spite of all my running and marathons and attention to physical health today, I was a terrible athlete most of my life. Using the word athlete itself would be a stretch.

    I was a very wiry, nerdy guy. With parents extremely focused on my studies. I liked playing. And would try to do so whenever my parents were not watching. But I was outrageous in my skills. Rumors in school had it that I would not even know which end of a soccer ball to kick. Regrettably, there was a lot of merit to it. On an aside, I played soccer for my college team later in life but I will tell you that story later. It was more of a question of relative excellence since I studied then in a part of India that was not too familiar with that sport 🙂

    If following PT sir’s instructions to run after the ball was not scary (because seven other guys would outrun me to the ball), attending the PT exams was an outright nightmare. I think it was such a test in my eighth grade. Or was it my ninth grade? In any case, he split us into two teams to play field hockey. In that entire period, the sum total of times that I touched the ball was – mmmm… let me think … if I count all the flicks, long shots, short passes, hard hits and accidental brushes with the ball….. ummm.. yeah, it was a big fat ZERO 🙂 In the end PT sir gave me a chance to hit the ball in the goal with nobody around but just the goalie. It took me three independent attempts to connect with the ball. That one time that did connect, for good measure, I connected with a whole lot of ground too. My chattering teeth moved much more than the ball did.

    In any case, at the end of the whole episode, PT sir declared the grades for each students. I was one of the only three students to have achieved the distinction of getting a “C” grade. Everybody else got “A” or “B”. In fact, most got “A”. Frankly, it did not bother me. My parents would have not let me back in to the house if I ever brought back a “B” grade in any subject, but they did not care about my PT grade.

    The funny thing happened a little later. First, I would not say that I was not disappointed. I was hoping for a “B”. May I remind you that I did connect with the ball eventually and it did head out in a generally appropriate direction? An “A” would have been uncalled for since it stopped within about a foot. A couple of my classmates – I distinctly remember Kushal, Jayanta, Sanjiv and Biplab walking up to PT Sir and saying – “Sir, O class-er first boy. Okay C grade dilen”? Basically they pleaded for a better grade for me on the grounds that I was the “first boy”. PT Sir, in one of those “I may be a teacher but I am your friend first” moment, promptly upgraded me to a “B” grade. I was elated! I plotted how to come up with stories of my excellent footwork and all that while explaining my hard earned “B” grade to my parents – then thought the better of it and opted for the real story. My dad had a good laugh!! My mom – who would have a fifty fifty chance to knowing which end of my hockey stick to hold – totally thought I deserved it. On a good day, I might have even got an “A”, she thought.

    You can only imagine PT Sir’s surprise when I told him about my marathon runs. Once he had settled down from his guffaws, he looked at my brother (who, by the way was a true athlete and PT sir’s favorite student) and he confirmed what I had just said. In one of those spontaneous moves, PT Sir came over to me and shook my hand!! I could not believe it!! That was my triumphant moment!! I had finally earned our PT sir’s respect! Finally I got my “A” grade. Without any assist from Kushal, Jayanta, Sanjiv or Biplab!! Eleven years of trudging along the trails in merciless heat, torrential rain and bone chilling snow – all of that was made totally worthwhile – by that one handshake!!

    I am a painfully slow learner but I eventually got there. Over thirty years later!!


  32. Missed the “J2” brigade!! Jul 3, 2016

    This time, my trip to India was bang in the middle if class test season for my nephews. Missed the usual reception at the airport, the soccer games in Kalyani … Came down to Kolkata to spend a few hours with them. Back to their books they went and I headed back to my parents’ place in Kalyani…


  33. “Dude! Even I have more hair than you” 🙂 Jul 3, 2016

    Managed to fulfil mom’s wish on the last eveningin India. Drove for nearly two hours in torrential rain to finally reach her sister’s village and met the new six month old grandchild of the family. Unfortunately for my mom though, the kiddo was not amused by my mom. The good news was that he was totally taken in by shaven head and forgot to cry. Eventually slept off in my arms…


  34. Xavierian brotherhood in full display… Jul 3, 2016

    I studied in St. Xavier’s for six years – fifth thru tenth grade. But made a lot of life long friendships there. Over the years, that batch of hundred odd kids has managed to keep up with each other and many of their families are close friends today. Little surprise then that whenever I am in a city in India, somehow a few of us from our school manage to make some time to have a lunch or a drink or a dinner together.

    Thank you Jayanta, Abhijit, Ansuman, Niladri and Arindam for gifting me with your time and braving the heavy rains in Kolkata and almost wading your way through to our lunch spot. Little did I know in 1978 sitting in those small benches that we would actually be sitting together again around a lunch table nearly forty years later. But I certainly am glad that I got a chance to start that journey with you on that day …


  35. Keeping up with a tradition… albeit singlehandedly. Jul 3, 2016

    It is 4 am in the morning. I am up t – sitting out in the balcony on the fifth floor. In every trip this has been dad and my quiet time. We would sit quietly here and watch the dawn break over numerous cups of tea without a word spoken. This trip, however, he has not been able to get up in the morning even once. His blood level has dropped down to somewhere near 7 and he has been tired and sleeping a lot. On the other hand, when he is awake, he has been in a jollier and more positive frame of mind.

    The skies are still dark with a faint hint of blue all around. The glow from the distant city lights in the horizon are visible through the silhouettes of the trees gently waving in the ever so slight breeze. A few streetlights rudely interrupt the prevailing blanket of darkness. And in that interrupted lights, lay a few dogs sleeping peacefully – getting ready for another day filled with random chases anreven more randomly getting chased. Couple of cows lay idly chewing the cud.

    The birds, however, are in full throated melody all over. Many a bird are waking themselves up with their characteristic mellifluous notes. The most notable is a pair of cuckoos cooing in tandem with the ever increasing pitch of theirs. The crows, not to be outdone is throwing in their lot too with their harsh crows. No bird has yet gotten out of their nests or trees yet.

    The roads are taking in a wholly deserved night of rest before getting trampled on by those innumerable cars and scooters flying, those incessant hawkers peddling and nerve wracking horns blaring. And the early trains have not started either.
    The breeze has picked up. So much so the better. The air has been thick with near cent per cent humidity after a full day of torrential rain. The breeze seems to be trying to push back on that humidity as it gently soothes the skin with an envelope of coolness.


    As I write this, the dawn break is in full flow. The skies are distinct blue – now devoid of all the heavy clouds of yesterday. The birds have become more bold and more sonorous. Some of the curious dogs are up and about and making their presence felt with the occasional barks. The first few birds have stepped out from their trees too.

    In the breaking light you can see the buildings and trees more distinctly. They look like they have just stepped out from a fresh shower. The colors are becoming visible steadily. The sharp edges of modern civilization is starting to pierce through that quiet, tranquil beauty of nature though. You can hear the first train of the day tooting in the distance warning of its first departure to get the hustle and bustle of the day started. The first “toto” (auto rickshaw) is now visible sleepily meandering thru the streets.

    The first few morning walkers are out. As are those picking flowers in the morning. The walkers are walking at a furtive pace with a certain air of purposefulness. The flower pickers seem to move from tree to tree at a slower pace befitting the rest of the morning calm.


    Dad is still sleeping still. I am going to get myself another cup of tea, and watch the rest of the morning.


  36. Visiting Mr. Kolay! Jul 4, 2016

    I had just dropped my nephews at their house last morning and was running a tad late for the lunch meeting with my St. Xavier’s school friends. The temptation was very high though to take a slight detour and visit Mr. Kolay. Eventually, that is what I did.

    Subrata Kolay and I go back to fifth grade. I count him and his wife Sharmistha in my close friends’ list. I was aware that last quarter onwards his dad has not been doing well. He is the same age as my father and I was saddened to hear about his fast deteriorating health. Especially since when I saw him last – actually the only time that I have seen him before – and that was when he was tending to Sharmistha when she herself was fighting back some health issues – he had seemed to be a very healthy and hearty gentleman – certainly for his age.

    He was expecting me since I had to call Subrata up in Houston to get the address and Subrata had promptly related that to him. I spent a very fulfilling forty five minutes with him and Mrs. Kolay as well as Subrata’s brother. Most of the chatting happened with Mr. Kolay. It was very encouraging to see him in a very positive frame of mind. He might be ailing but you cannot get a word of despair or negative outlook from him.

    Instead, he started asking me after our school and school friends. I was stunned – and I mentioned this to him multiple times – by how many of our school friends’ names he could recollect. For some of them, I had to pause to remember what they are up to these days so that I could let him know.

    Like I said, it was a very quick trip. Later in the evening I got a message from Subrata that his parents were excited by the trip. Sure as heck I am hoping that they were not just being polite. I have been feeling a little guilty about not spending some more time with them. There is that time being the only finite resource thing… I think they deserved some more from me… These are the kind of people that shaped me when I was very young… I really want to come back and make it up during the next trip.


  37. “Jodi tor daak shuney keu na aasey, tobey ekla cholo re” Jul 4, 2016

    “Should no one heed your call, then march along by yourself”

    After dad not joining me for the morning dawn break and then my brother not joining me for the run in the morning today, somebody had to keep up with the tradition. Even if just for tradition’s sake 🙂

    The sky became overcast very quickly. And we were back to the hot and humid weather. Since I have about 25 hours of flight in front of me, wanted to see if I could tire myself out by pushing my body for an endurance run. Finished a 5K run in a minute faster than my normal 5K race pace. (8min/mile average with a couple of peaks at 7:30 min/mile).

    Now drinking water by the gallons to avoid cramping up…


  38. Then and now… 31 years later Jul 4, 2016

    Top: 1985; taken with my first camera – an Yashica
    Bottom: 2016; taken with my iPhone

    (BTW, my dad could not recognize me and my brother from 1985. First of all he thought that we had taken the pictures just now. He looked at my picture and said that is my brother in law. Worse, he looked at my brother and guessed my niece!! When I zoomed into my brother’s face, he recognized him. And therefore deduced the other one to be myself. And immediately sputtered out his extreme confusion – “Eto taarataari eto chul ki korey laagiye felli?” – he thinks we put on a wig or something 🙂 )


  39. Then and now… 40 years later… with my sister… Jul 4, 2016

    Left: 1976;
    Right: 2016;


  40. I almost missed her!!! Jul 4, 2016

    “Mousumi? Tor baaki bhognangsho-ta koi?” (meaning – Mousumi? Where is the rest of you?)

    If I told you that I have known Mousumi for 43 years of the 50 years that I have lived in this world, and that she is one person I have kept up with consistently (although mostly by phone), you can be easily excused for not understanding how I missed her in the crowd. Before I left US this time, I knew she was going to visit India too (from Singapore) and that there would be a overlap of a couple of days during our stay in India. We had scheduled in an hour of meeting on Saturday early evening.

    Mousumi was my classmate from the first grade. Among the girls in my class, I was closest to her. In fact, you can see in the insets how we looked at that time. Later in life, there was a group of us (including both of us) who became very close and would take trips together during our vacations in college days. Her dad also taught me math during summer vacations. Much later, I used to visit her and her family whenever business travel got me near where they lived. In fact, the last time I saw her was one such trip in Sweden twelve years back. I was there for a few hours. We accompanied her son to his tennis game and during that time, the three of us (including her husband) caught up on our “adda”. And that is the thing. I had not seen her (or her pictures) in the last twelve years. But I had a mental picture of her.

    As planned, I arrived at South City mall – a couple of minutes after she had already arrived. As I entered the mall on that Saturday evening, I was immediately accosted by millions of people milling around. I started scanning the crowd quickly to see if I could spot her. Making a phone call would have been efficient but it was way too loud for me to hear anything. I distinctly remember a youngish looking woman coming generally in my direction but I figured she was headed for something or somebody behind me. As my eyes continued to scan the crowd and I almost started fishing out my phone, I noticed that lady now smiling at me. And that is when I realized that it was Mousumi standing in front of me.

    She has dropped so much weight and now sports such a different hairstyle and looks so much younger that had she not put on her distinct smile, I might have even gotten irritated at her for blocking my way!! That is when I asked her whatever happened with the rest of her 🙂

    Finding a quiet spot at South City mall on a Saturday evening is well nigh impossible. However, I knew of one bar (my brother and I frequent it whenever I am in Kolkata) that tended to be quiet in the early evening (and then really loud once the live music began). We headed up there and then soon walked into the relatively sparsely populated bar. The first thing we had to do is convince the people at the bar to tone down the music going on.

    After that, we caught up on the last twelve years and much more. There was a lot to discuss – her son – who is now a full time career person, Indranil-da (her husband), her parents (you might remember them as a set of parents I had visited last March), my parents, family in Atlanta and so on. We have common grounds around ailing parents and in laws. Certainly, we have a lot – I mean a lot of common friends. Since I am the one who keeps up with everybody, I was doing most of the updating 🙂

    For good measure, we took a perspective of life ever since we have known each other (which is, as you know by now, virtually all our lives). Some of the interesting discussions included anger management (I have never seen or heard anybody see her getting angry), the pros and cons of being introverted, what possibly would our tombstones say, some of the most important lessons we have learnt in life and what we admire most about some of our common friends.

    My big mistake was scheduling one hour to catch up with her. I should have known better. By the time I got a reminder call from my brother, we had been sitting there for three hours. I could have gone for another three hours without missing a beat but there were two nephews waiting for me and some good chow-mien I had promised them at their favorite restaurant!

    We left soon promising not to wait for another twelve years before the next meeting!!


  41. Ask my wifi password what??? Jul 4, 2016

    I walked into the business class lounge in Kolkata airport at 1:30 am and as I was checking in, I chuckled at something. After settling down and grabbing a glass of wine, I went back to take a picture of what I had smiled at. There was nobody at the desk. The lounge was pretty empty. My flight – at around 4AM was the only flight left.

    I was taking a couple of shots when the young guy who checked me in came running..

    “Kuchh chaahiye kya, saar?” (Do you need something, sir?)
    “Nahi. Bas yunhi photo khnich raha tha. Aur hna – yehan pe ‘Ask FOR your Wifi password’ likhna chaahiye tha” (No. I Was just taking random pictures. Oh! BTW, I noticed something. This should read Ask “FOR” your Wifi password)

    The totally hapless guy looked at the sign, looked at me, looked at the sign again and then finally looked at me again and said “Hamara yehan to aisa-hi chalta hai saar” (Here, sir, this is how it goes). I am sure he gathered that I was not from around here.

    And then immediately to divert my attention, he asked “Kuch khaayenga piyenge kya saar? Sab aapke liye free hai”. (Would you like to eat or drink something, sir? For you, everything is free).

    That was the second time I chuckled at the checkin desk in five minutes 🙂


  42. You better pop those pills thru the airport scanner Jul 4, 2016

    It was well past midnight. There was nobody at the security queue in Kolkata airport. I lazily walked up to the conveyor belt and started chatting up the CISF lady who was manning (womanning???) the scanner. I think we started talking about the tea she was drinking and then talked about how long she has been working at the airport and all that idle chit chat as I slowly fished out my laptop, iPad etc out from my backpack and started putting my wallet, phone, watch into the backpack.

    Just then a gentleman – somewhat younger than me – came briskly to the spot and politely asked the lady “Tablet nikalna hai kya?” (Do I have to take out the tablet?”)

    The lady muttered something. He re-asked the question. She continued to be confused and muttered something. Which was surprising for two reasons – first she was talking to me in Hindi all this time and the gentleman’s question was clear. So, her answer should have been a prompt “Yes”. The second reason is that the gentleman could easily see that I had taken my iPad out. So, his first guess should have been to do the same.

    The gentleman tried explaining in hindi that many airports allow tablets to stay inside his backpack. This was his first time in this airport. So, he was checking.

    Finally, the lady asked “Dher saare hai kya?” (Do you have a lot of them?)

    Suddenly, a light bulb went on in my head.

    I told her “Woh poochh rahe hai ki iPad nikalna hai kya” (He is asking if he has to take his iPad out). And then without waiting for her answer, I turned around to me and said “In Kolkata, you have to. Why don’t you go ahead of me? I need to rearrange something”. I let him go ahead as I continued to get my ziploc bag out and all that.

    After he was gone, the lady asked me – remember, by now I had earned her confidence – “Isko ‘tab’ boltey hai kya?”. She wanted to know if it is called a “tab”. Mind you not a tablet. A tab.

    I should have clarified to all my blog readers. In this part of the world, a “tablet” usually refers to a pill. (which is why she was confused by his question and wanted to know if he was carrying a lot of them).

    Back to her and me, I could have easily clarified that iPads are also called Tablets. Well, you know what I mean. Instead, I figured this has been a hectic trip – lot of running around and meeting people. Now, I deserve some practical fun. So, I told her “Aarey chhoriye na madam. Yeh sab log bahar se aatey hai. Kuch bhi bolta hai”. Basically I told her not to worry at all. These big shots come from outside and call stuff whatever they want.

    And smartly walked away to be frisked… 🙂

  43. Speaking of ladies being high maintenance… Haha 🙂 Jul 4, 2016


  44. Somebody has checked in alright!!! Jul 4, 2016


  45. Now for the lump in the throat moment… Jul 4, 2016

    Left home 34 years back. Must have said Goodbye some 60 times. The last 15 must have been in the last 5 years itself.

    None the wiser though how to deal with a Goodbye. Neither they. Nor I.

    The facial expressions say it all…


  46. That was an interesting sight!! Jul 5, 2016

    I was standing near one of those markets in Kalyani when I spotted a van coming with a big cloud of smoke emanating behind it. Quickly, I fished out my iPhone to capture the picture of utter pollution soon to pass me. My first surprise was that the various shopkeepers – some literaly sitting on the ground by the road was yelling at the guy driving the van. I figured they were yelling at him for the coughing he was going to induce soon.

    The real surprise was when he passed me. Forget pollution. He was actually fumigating!! Why he was fumigating the roads from a van instead of going to either side of the roads where there were water puddles of various shapes and sizes, I don’t know. And those shopkeepers? They were actually hollering at him to drive by closer to where they were sitting!!!


  47. There is an extra window!!! Jul 5, 2016

    This young gentleman is a “must visit” for me when I go to Durgapur regardless of how tight my schedule is. One of the “must do”s is for my brother to take him out for a spin in his car. Like many kids his age, he is fascinated by a ride in a car.

    This time my brother was using his friend’s car. He got Rana (the kid who is my cousin’s son) to stick his head out of the sunroof and drove him around.

    You can see how totally dumbstruck he was with his first experience of a sunroof. “Chhadey ekta janla aachhey abar” (The roof also has a window), he explained to his grandpa (my maternal uncle)… 🙂


  48. Double the fun!! Jul 5, 2016

    A couple of years back, I had found Jayasish thru Facebook. We were in the same school for our 11th and 12th grades and we were in the same hostel. He was in UK when I called him. It was great catching up on our old friends. Specially since he has kept up with more of our eleventh and twelfth grade friends than I have. I also found out that Jayasish was planning to move back from UK to India to join his family there.

    Last December, when I called up “Jasha” (that is how we called him) to wish him a happy birthday, we had agreed to meet up in Kolkata next time I was there. Unfortunately, in March I missed him due to some last minute changes in my schedule in Kolkata. So, this time, I had scheduled specific time for him.

    That is how I met Jasha after 31 years. We spent less than two years together in those days – I remember meeting him for the first time on July 10, 1983. We had just checked into our dorms that Sunday. But during our lunch meeting, he blew me away by some of the details he recollected from those twenty months or so. It was also great to meet his wife – Surita and over lunch I got to know about her family and their two daughters.

    Jayasish had further let me know about Pratik’s (another friend of ours from those days) whereabouts. Fortunately for me, Pratik changed his plans for the day accommodate a visit when I called him. Saw Pratik too after 31 years. Also was delighted to meet his wife Sampa. Speaking of intersections. turns out Pratik, Sampa and Sharmila all went to the same engineering college (three years apart though). And Pratik could recollect Sharmila from those days!!

    It was absolutely thrilling to get to see Jayasish and Pratik after such a long time. I have not been close to a lot of my friends from eleventh and twelfth grade (relatively speaking compared to my friends till tenth grade). The two of them inspired me to start those searches!!


  49. Soft landing… Jul 5, 2016

    Landed in Atlanta after a looooong flight. Sharmila had come to pick me up. Heard that the kids were out till late evening. So did the only sane thing left to do – gin and tonic with Sharmila at the nearest bar I could find.