’17 Apr India
- Now, which airport am I in? #8 Apr 6, 2017
The airport has a big library right in the middle. You can pick up any of the books all around you and sit there and read. The second picture might be a dead give away – chairs and sitting places ensconced in tea cups and kettles.
This airport was also made famous by my friend Narayan Venkatasubramanyan who seemingly visited it every other day to miss his flights for ten years or so. Everybody here knows him by his first name. Of course, any of them who tried to remember him by his second name landed up with their tongues twisted up like pretzels!
- Unique exercise inside an airport Apr 6, 2017
Well, first of all, it was not a run really. Although, after I checked into the Skyclub in the airport – weary from a 8 hour translatlantic flight – and realized that I had a lot of layover time, my first instinct was to take out the running shoes and clothes from my carry on and go for a run inside the terminal.
A few minutes later, it dawned upon me that a brown guy like me running up and down Schipol airport without any apparent reason (or luggage for that matter) would undoubtedly get the carbine-toting security guards on my heels in a jiffy. So, decided to do the next best thing – go for brisk walking.
I think technically, the difference in brisk walking and running is less of speed and more about both feet being ever off the ground at the same time or not. But today, my walking speed varied between 14 minute mile to 18 minute mile depending on the crowd in the terminal. At the end, I had finished all the 6 terminals I was allowed to access (the other two required me to go thru immigration). A little over 5 miles, about 11,000 steps in about an hour and 20 minutes.
Now for a little glass of the bubbly and wait for my turn for the shower…
- Shhhh!!! Do not let anybody in my family know… Apr 6, 2017
Nobody in my family in India knows that I am coming to check on my parents and inlaws. Dad and mom had been asking for some time when my next quarterly trip would be. I kept pointing to the fact that I have an important office project going on and that it would be difficult for me to predict when I might get a few days to go visit them.
Which is entirely true. I was mentally getting prepared to skip this quarter totally and shoot for a June/July visit. Then a couple of weeks back came the news that my dad got some bad lung infection. As it is, he has only 20% of lung capacity left – thanks to all the smoking he did in his life as well as working in a polluted environment of a steel factory. It seems he caught some kind of infection which brought his lungs to their knees. We have gone thru this before and know the procedures to be followed – including putting in quite some steroids in his system to get the lungs cells to revive and fight back. He still does not have the strength to get up from bed and go for his evening walk – which is usually the litmus test of normalcy for him.
When that happened, Sharmila suggested that I look for the cheapest tickets I could find and hop onto a plane. And that is how a few days later (yesterday), I got on to a flight to see my parents. My trips are usually short – this time it is extra short. But the most exciting part is – they do not know that I am coming. Only the driver who is to pick me up from the airport has any clue. Sharmila is half afraid that upon seeing a sudden visage of mine in front their door (or for that matter her parents’ door) they might get a heart attack and beat the purpose of why I go there.
Doing it with this level of secrecy has its own downsides. First, I will miss my brother. My constant companion in India will be in Hyderabad for his office work. I did not want to tell him anything lest he upsets his office schedules and tries to rearrange them. Second, my reception committee at the airport comprising of the two nephews will not be there since do not know either. In any case, this is school time for them. I will go see them for an evening but I will not be able to spend any more time with them. And finally, my brother in law won’t have much time with me either since I did not give him enough time to rearrange his hospital duties.
But I am excited about seeing my parents for three days and my inlaws for a day. And of course, since I am making the long haul there, whenever my parents get busy or take rest (by now you know, we need to get my mother to sleep for over twelve hours so her psychiatric conditions do not flare up) I am going to scoot off by myself to create more intersection points.
Whatever little time I get, my priorities will continue with the same themes I had for the last two trips – first, I will try to meet up with some of my teachers that taught me in my childhood and say Thanks to them. The next priority would be to meet parents of friends and other elderly people and give them some of my time. And finally, see if I can meet some of my old friends that I have not seen for a long time.
Three days of journey and five days of meeting people. Seven flights, four different airlines, eight different airports. Should be interesting…
- Because 2 flights of nearly 10 hours each and 2 layovers of 12 hours total is not enough… Apr 6, 2017
- He gave it a shot… Apr 7, 2017
Dad’s first reaction when he saw me standing next to his bed? “Chaakri chherey diye choley eli”? Since I had not let him know beforehand that I am coming, his first reaction was that either I quit my job or list my job. His instinctive confidence in me can be bothersome.
His second reaction “Bangalore-e kaajey esechhis?” At least it was a little more logical for him to think I am on a business trip.
Finally, it sunk into him that this is one of my usual trips – except nobody knew about it. He tried a few times to get up. Could not get beyond sitting down on the bed. He complained of lung pressure every time he tried to walk.
- Post lunch session Apr 7, 2017
After having lunch together, we sat down to chat. That would translate to he again sitting down on the bed and complaining incessantly about current politics in India and me just throwing in a question here and there.
At some point, he concluded that democracy is not a good system. His basis of arguments was how he feels the populace in India is voting increasingly on the basis of religious extremism and how he feels money is driving votes.
As an aside, I was wondering where else have I heard those debates 🙂 But I asked him “What other system would you prefer”? That got him to talk about communism, dictatorships, military rules etc and then he finally concluded “nah! Democracy-tai thik aachhey!!”
Coming one full circle to the old adage that democracy is a terrible system except that there is none better!! Finally he got tired of arguing against himself and went back to sleep.
And I went off to catch up on my jet lag…
- Starting with an intersection point Apr 7, 2017
I could see the gentleman walking towards where I was near the luggage conveyor belt from a long distance across the other side of the airport. It was supposed to be a complete secret trip to Kolkata to see my parents. Except that I had told this gentleman beforehand.
In January, when I called this very old school friend of mine (he left school in the ninth grade) to wish him a happy birthday, I found out that he works at the airport that I use to go see my parents!! Then and there, I had promised to see him when I was going to be in Kolkata airport next.
“George Williams Pratap Singh Bara”!!! That was the gentleman with a clean shaven head like me who was approaching me with that unmistakable permanent smile on his face!! “How long has it been?”, he asked. A quick math in my mind pointed to 36 years!!!
I still remember his wizardy on the soccer field. In fact, together with the curly hair he used to sport those days, “Pele” was his common nickname that was not hard to guess. I learnt today that has he kept up with his passion for soccer. He has played at a pro level in Kolkata – the Mecca of soccer in India and that is how he scored his first and only job with India Airlines (now Air India). He has represented his employer and other clubs in various tournaments in Europe and Africa. “But never in the US”, he told. Might be some day though! Because he still keeps up with his soccer!!
But most of the time was spent discussing his kid. When I had called him to wish him on his birthday, we talked about his twins. One of whom is completely autistic with high ADHD. I had thought about sitting with him and understanding how they deal with it as parents.
Today was that day. I had a lot of questions. The first thing was to even find out how do you realize that a young child has autism? As first parents, how do you know “normal”? Turns out that was easy for them – since the other twin was a convenient control experiment. The rest was very tough though.
Both the kids are 20 now. But when some body says that one of them has finally learnt how to manage himself in the bathroom, you can only begin to understand the journey of the parents for 20 years. Hearing from him some of the long, tedious process they had to follow to get a hyper active child with no ability to concentrate and because of autism, very limited ability to converse to sit down when told to sit down was eye opening for me. And they had to go thru this just so that the child would sit down for a moment to take a few bites of his meal before he would run away again.
What was amazing thru all those descriptions was the realization how much sacrifice he and his wife has made to raise this child and continue to do so. His wife gave up her job. And he wakes up at 3 am every day to come to office by 4 am so that he can leave by noon and give company to his kid and give some relief time to his wife. Apparently, one of the daily routines for dad and son is to go out for a ride on his motorbike – come rain or storm.
And just when I thought I might have started to understand the tip of the iceberg, I realized another perspective. And that is thru all this, they had to continuously balance the other kid and ensure that he got as much of a normal upbringing as he possibly could.
When we finally hugged each other to say good bye I had to tell him the following:
“Pratap, you are a good man. A really good one. After hearing your whole story, you know what I find the most amazing part?”
“That you always have that smile on”.
We hugged each other one more time and left for our days…
- Encouraging sign today… Apr 8, 2017
- 12K run in hot and humid Kalyani Apr 9, 2017
- Last evening Apr 9, 2017
- “Bent maybe, but never broken” Apr 10, 2017
I believe that is how I had described Mrs. Mukherjee when I visited her last time.
Because of her spinal cord weakness she cannot sit up straight. But she refuses to be dependent on others. She was filling up some bank forms by herself last time when I saw her, as I recollect. Yesterday, on my way to visit my nephews, I swung by her house for another visit.
“Chintey paarchhen?” (Do you recognize me).
“Mon-e thaakbey na keno baba? Bubun-er bondhu Rajib to.”. She had no difficulty remembering me.
She is in the threshold of being a nonagenarian. In fact, in a few months, she is going to hit 90. For that age, The picture here can be very deceptive. She looks and in fact, is, frail. But under that frailty lies an uncommonly determined lady. In the hour or so that I was with her, she talked about her late husband, her grandson, their family’s craze for soccer, her last trip to US and many other details of her life.
“Nijey nijey hnaat-tey paarchhen?”. Remembering my dad’s condition and her spinal cord, I asked her if she was able to walk around. She reaffirmed that she can walk if she needed to (like going to the restroom etc).
“Walker nichchhen?”. I asked if she was using the walker.
“Laathhi?” How about the walking stick?
I remember that streak of independence last time I saw her. She was determined to walk as long as she could without any help. And this is in spite of having fallen down a couple of times.
That will has not waned a bit. Hope to see her with that same unflinching will on the other side of 90 when I see her next.
- And for the final surprise… Apr 10, 2017
Since this was the trip of surprises, the best one was kept for the end. You probably recollect that this time nobody was aware that I was coming over. Even my brother was kept in the dark. He was going to be away for work in a different part of India anyways.
Well, when he finally got to know about it (on Thursday), another surprise was planned out. And the surprise was that he would work over the weekend and then finish everything by Sunday night. That would let him come to Kolkata early morning of Monday.
In a classic role reversal, I was there at the airport to pick him up in his own car. And then started our usual routine – the drive from the airport to my dad’s house. Except this time, nobody knows I will have my brother with me too!!!
Of course, there was the mandatory tea break. With temperatures at 95 degrees and per the Weather Channel the humidity making it feel like 102 degrees, we got down to have some steaming hot tea that bordered on scalding the tongue.
- Day 3: Change of mood Apr 10, 2017
Still can’t get out of bed much… but was all smiles when he sat up. For the last two days, he was lamenting that my brother was not around. And today all the three children were sitting with him thanks to the last surprise by my brother.
After about thirty minutes, he went back to lying in the bed and slept off. And the three siblings went back to their newspaper reading, office email checking and blog writing respectively… 🙂
- Taking mom out to see her sister Apr 10, 2017
Taking advantage of dad’s long sleeps, the three siblings proposed that we take mom to see her sister that she has not seen in some time. After some hemming and hawing she agreed.
This is my mom’s elder sister. I had seen her a couple of years back when I came to check on uncle. Who, unfortunately, is no more.
But the most exciting part for me was to meet my cousin. After 34 years!!! My last recollection of him is playing soccer with him when I had gone to visit them in their village after my tenth grade!!
- My sixth grade class teacher (home room teacher) Apr 10, 2017
“Are you Rajib Roy?”, asked the deceptively young looking gentleman as he got up from his chair in the verandah of his house.
“That I am, Sir!”, said I, fumbling with the gate latch.
It had taken me a long time to find Sir Patrick Moore – my class teacher from sixth grade. I got my lucky break when I had met Pratap Bara at the airport a couple of days earlier. I got Mrs. Moore’s number from Pratap and then a few phone calls later, I had set up my tryst with the teacher that I had last talked to in 1978 !!! Three hours of car journey later, I stood face to face with him after almost four decades.
He did not remember me – which I would not have expected him to. But he did remember the two classrooms we sat in while in sixth grade. I remember that we were in the very last room on the ground floor. And one fine day, we were shifted to the room next to the library on the second floor. Sir Moore remembered that incident vividly since – according to him, it was he who had instigated that change after getting headaches from the chemical smell from our chemistry lab next door!!
I told him how he used to often ask us some very interesting questions and then ask us to think about it or even ask around about it and come back with answers the next day. I reminded him of some of the questions he had asked us…. He had just finished teaching us about how ancient people had discovered fire and how that was a big change for civilization. Then he asked us – “What was another discovery or invention of ancient people that changed civilization dramatically?”.
Or when another time, when he had just finished teaching us about the solar system, he asked us to think about what was a man made object that is visible to the eye from the moon.
I had an equally great time with Miss Yvonne (Mrs. Moore) (who was a teacher in our primary section but I never studied in that section of our school) discussing about life, my own life journey and learnt about theirs.
Finally, I offered my heartfelt gratitude to Sir for influencing me in no small ways to be whoever it is that I am today.
In the bottom picture, I am the one sitting in the same row with Sir, next to next to him, on his right.
- We were one red shirt short of a traffic light… Apr 11, 2017
- “Foochka” time!! Apr 11, 2017
Waiting with bated breath while the streetside vendor works his magic to prepare this particularly delicious savory which is at the same time spicy, salty and tangy. The Bengali version is called “foochka”. It is a calculated risk I take every evening walking the fine line between heavenly taste to the tongue and getting an upset stomach!!
- Somebody is conspicuous by his absence from the good bye moments Apr 11, 2017
- Erroneous conclusion!! Apr 11, 2017
The way my fellow Indian brethren display haste – you know like getting up from our seats barely after the plane touches ground or crowd at the gate all simultaneously moment they start boarding, you might be tempted to conclude that we are fastidious about being punctual or something.
Far from the truth, I assure you 🙂
We just don’t want you to reach anywhere before we do 🙂
- Successful in the second try!! Apr 11, 2017
Sometime around last year, I had traced this classmate of mine from eleventh and twelfth grades (junior and senior in high school) – Debasis to no other place than Kalyani – where my parents live! During my previous trip, I went to his house and met his parents. But he and his wife Joyoti were away on a vacation to Delhi. Some might even suggest that they had caught an early wind of the fact that I might be coming 🙂
This time though, when my sister and I walked in, we were able to meet all four of them! I saw Debasis for the first time after 1985. I remember him as a very studious and easy to get along person from my dorm building – Gouranga Bhavan. I used to visit his medical college to meet some of my other friends – later in life – but for some reason, never ran into him.
It was, as always, very exciting to catch up on an old classmate’s life journey. You probably will not be surprised but I found some intersection points with his wife Joyoti too! Her neighbor during her childhood days in Ranchi was my teammate in a job – much, much later in life. Also, she was classmates in college with a few of Sharmila’s friends from school!!
But undoubtedly, the exhilarating part was talking to his parents. Specially his dad – who, even at this advanced age keeps himself occupied in more ways than I can dream of. Of all the activities that he talked about that he gives his money and time to, the most intriguing was how he has been helping out about 100 prisoners in a penitentiary center by getting them involved in various activities – educational, sports and spiritual.
Unfortunately, my sister and I did not have much time since we had to go back to my dad. But I will be back. Specially since Debasis and Joyoti suggested we should go out for a drink some time! 🙂
- In the way from Pune to Mumbai Apr 12, 2017
- The French have their own mysterious ways… Apr 13, 2017
- Meeting Mr. and Mrs. Ghatak Apr 13, 2017
The sun was warming up pretty fast on Sunday morning in Kalyani. By 10 am, it was started to get real uncomfortable. The niece was somewhere else, brother in law had gone to work, dad was fast asleep after the morning chat session and mom was busy in the kitchen.
I proposed to my sister that she get dressed up and we go meet another set of elderly couple. She has been so impressed by all my friends and their parents that I have introduced her to in Kalyani over the last few years, that she readily jumped at the proposal. I had barely gotten ready myself when I saw from upstairs that she had already pulled the car out and was waiting for me.
About 10 minutes of Google map aided drive later, we parked the car in the shade of a tree and knocked on a door of the adjoining house. An elderly lady came out from inside and kept looking at me while trying to open the grilled door fence.
“Apni ki Mrs. Ghatak? Dekhtey to Moumita-r moto-i laagchhe”. I asked if she was Mrs. Ghatak and then pretty much answered it myself by observing that she looked uncannily like Moumita.
The said Moumita was married to a team mate of mine from 90s in Dallas – Arindam Banerjee. Arindam and I have met each other a couple of times after that but I do not believe that I have met Moumita for the better part of the last one and a half decades.
One of those years when I had called her up to wish her a happy birthday, I had gotten to know that her parents live in Kalyani. Last year, my brother and I had attempted to visit them – but they had given me the slip and had headed out for America the previous day.
After we settled down, Mr. Ghatak came out. And he surprised me by mentioning how he had met me almost twenty years back in a Durga Puja in Plano area in Texas. The details matched but for the life of me, I could not remember the meeting. Obviously he has sharper memory than I do.
I also found out that he is an avid swimmer. He swims regularly every week!! I cannot think of another person I know in India of that age group that swims regularly.
But the best part of the morning was Mr. and Mrs. Ghatak talking about all the constant domestic tiffs apparently they have. Both my sister and I had a good laugh together with them!!
- Splash down!! Apr 13, 2017
- The reason I was in Pune this time Apr 13, 2017
Teachers, especially at school level, are almost always incredibly influential in shaping up a kid. In my own childhood, I was blessed with an excellent set of them. They were often very different from each other and because of that I learnt from them very differently. In that bright constellation, some stars stood out perhaps a little brighter than the others.
One such star was Mrs. Devyani Biswas. She was my English teacher in ninth and tenth grades and also my class teacher (home room teacher) in tenth grade. Without her indelible mark, I can gainsay that I would have grown nary an interest in English literature.
Frankly, I was not that proficient at written English. It did not flow as well as – say, my desk mate Dibyendu Dutta who I was in awe of. Truth be told, it still does not flow that well but my grammatical mistakes and typos make reading it jarring enough that people are usually distracted from the quality of English. My approach to written English those days were not so much dissimilar to the precision that I used to bring to Math and Physics problems. With a wholly different effect, if I may add. There is a telling story that brought this out when Mrs. Biswas had given us a homework to write an essay on “Sound”. If you have the time, you can read up about it here… http://www.rajibroy.com/?p=6911
But finding Mrs. Biswas later was a much trickier problem than writing English essays. The only knowledge I had was that a couple of years after I left school, her husband and she left for Pune. The other data I had was that Mr. Biswas had joined a company called Thermax.
After that, if I could ever find anybody who hailed from Pune, I would try to see if they somehow might lead me to a Biswas family. Just last year, I had realized that a classmate from my eleventh and twelfth grade was working with Thermax. I even made him go to their company database and find out all the Biswas-es from their Pune location.
There were two reasons my searches failed. First, I learnt that evening from Mr. Biswas that he had left Thermax within five years. And the second was that I had forgotten that Mrs. Biswas spelt her name the non-Bengali way – “Devyani”. The typical Bengali way would be “Debjani”. We, Bengalis, can be a little liberal about throwing in our “b”s willy nilly ???? In fact, my name too, outside of Bengal, would be written with a “v” and not a “b”. So, all my internet and social media searches were essentially looking for somebody not my teacher!!
Finally, the search was put to a close when I met my third grade class teacher Mrs. Bose at her house in Kolkata during my last trip to India. Subsequently, I had written to and talked with Mrs. Biswas. She had mentioned that I could still call her “Mrs. DB”, if I so wished. That was indeed how we used to call her those days!!!
Ever since, I had mentioned to Sharmila a few times that I needed to visit Pune during one of my trips to see my parents. The opportunity came in the very next one. I was able to route myself out of Mumbai as the exit point and thus, the previous night, after saying my adieu to parents and siblings, took a flight straight to Pune and showed up at her doorstep.
Over drinks at her place and dinner outside, we caught up on our life journeys. Both her children are in US. Thru all those discussions, a realization I had felt before kept coming back to me. Of all the intersection points I have created, meeting teachers from the long past has been some of the most rewarding. Followed closely by meeting parents of my friends (and the elderly generation, in general).
When I am with a teacher from my past, I remember a lot of events from those days and they further imprint upon me how those teachers were a big part of whoever it is that I am today. In fact, I mentioned to Mrs. Biswas a story from “Tales from Far and Near”. It was called “As the night, the day”. Written by Abioseh Nicol. It involved two characters – Kojo and Bandele. I remember having asked Mrs. Biswas what did the title of the story even mean. And she had explained the original words from Shakespeare – “Be true to thine own self / And it shall follow / As the night, the day”. Essentially Polonius was urging his son Laertes before he set out to the seas to be always true to his own principles and that success would follow from that as naturally as the night follows at the end of the day.
To this day, during extreme stressful situations at work and home, those are my trusted go to lines.
Similarly, we talked about Nissim Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion” from Panorama, “Where the mind is without fear” by Rabindranath Tagore and so on and at every point I realized some those small learnings in early childhood translated to much bigger lessons in life. Little did I realize that at that time when I felt that they were simply a means to getting a good grade.
This story will not be complete if I did not talk about Mr. Arup Biswas – her husband and my anchor point for searches in the earlier years. Gracious to a fault, he put me to ease instantaneously with his approachable style, intellectual curiosity and some some very keen observations. I found myself often engrossed in deep discussions with him – who really was none other than a total stranger to me till a few minutes back. Quite a few topics were left to be discussed that night for a future point of time. I wish I had gotten to know him earlier in my life.
At the end of the dinner, the clock pushing almost half past eleven, they dropped me at my hotel. Before I let them go, I let Mrs. Biswas know why it was so important for me to meet her (and other teachers too).
Life is too short. Frankly, many of us find out rudely that it is often shorter than we thought. I just wanted to get an opportunity to tell her face to face – “Thank you for helping me become who I am today”.
Which I did. With all sincerity.
- For near strangers, that was way too much fun!! Apr 13, 2017
It is a sheer wonder that this meeting ever actually took place. That it happened in Lalita’s house was also not something I would have guessed. For all that, the four hours somehow went away without us realizing much at all. Let me see if I can unentangle the whole thing.
First there is Lalita. Last year, I had located her to be in Pune. She and I went to the same school in nursery grade (that is pre-kindergarten). After that year, I had met her twice in my life. On Saraswati pujo day in 1980 (in Raja, Tata and Mithudi’s house) and then on Saraswati pujo day in 1984. When I found her out last year, I had called her up and she promptly let me know that she had no recollection of our meetings or having gone to school together for a year but admitted that while she had heard my name. She was gracious enough not to put the phone down immediately. Instead we talked for a long time about our common batchmates.
The next is Jayita. Again, I had met her only twice in my life. But I have distinct memories of both those meetings. Nishi, I believe, had given me her number last uear. And when I had called her up, she too had no recollection of me. At least, she too, admitted that she had heard my name.
Before coming to Pune, I had asked if Lalita would have an hour to meet up. She, not only jumped at that (did I mention she did not know much about me? 🙂 ) but insisted that I came over for lunch at her place. I threw all my arguments of time being too precious to be wasted on hosting duties and all that at her and somehow convinced her we would meet outside.
She suggested that she call two of her batchmates from Durgapur too. Jayita was one of them. Since I knew her, I called her too and let her know that I was hoping she could join us. Well, I am not sure what happened but I think I got arm twisted into meeting at Lalita’s house anyways and all my protestations were summarily dismissed. Lalita was going to call another batchmate – Manvir.
When it came to Manvir, we were true strangers. Neither one of us had ever met or talked to each other. To the best of our combined knowledge.
The fourth person there Lalita’s husband – Bidyut-da. This is where the real twist comes. Bidyut-da and I are again complete strangers. Unlike Manvir, he was not even my batchmate. And yet, among all of the folks there, he was the one who somehow knew most about me! And he was the one excitedly waiting to meet me. So much so, he took a day off from work so that we could meet!!
Over hours of meeting and some incredible Bengali and Punjabi cooking – thanks to all the three ladies – we found out that these four seemingly strangers were interconnected by an uncanny set of intersection points that. Strange, how the rich tapestry of life can be so unpredictably familiar.
I will skip Lalita and Jayita’s connections with me – since we were batchmates, we were bound to have a lot of common friends from the batch. Also, since I had talked to them before, I had established as many of those connections as I could.
Bidyut-da had heard a lot about me from a gentleman called Swarup-da who was his fellow batch mate in REC, Durgapur. Swarup-da, as it turns out, helped me prepare for NTSE exam during 1981-1983. That was the starting point. And then as we traced down our lives, there were way too many of those connecting points. Of course, Lalita, herself is an intersection point for both of us. Then I found out that his sister lives bang opposite Sharmila’s parents’ place. Who I had visited just a couple of days back.
Bidyut-da talked about another classmate of his – whose brother lives very close to where we were meeting that day. And that gentleman is none other than Ranjan Ghosh – my classmate from fifth grade to tenth grade! I wish I had some time in the evening to go meet him but I needed to head out for Mumbai. I further found out that Bidyut-da and Lalita were particularly close to our next door neighbor from the early 1980s and I had absolutely no idea of that! Got a good update on that family from them. I had lost touch around the early nineties.
Coming to Manvir, other than our common batchmates (although we were in different schools), I could not think of any possible connections I might have with her. Turns out I could not have been any more mistaken. She and I have some strong intersection points that brings us all the way back to Atlanta. Manvir is married to a Bengali. She talked about a couple from US she knows thru her sister in law and how she has met them many times when they have visited Kolkata. She further talked about how she has accompanied the husband for shopping and helped him pick sarees for his wife. And a few more minutes later, I discovered that the said couple is none other than our own good old friends Swapan and Jaba in Atlanta!!!
Speaking of connections in Atlanta, there is of course another Manbir (similarly pronounced but differently spelt). A quick pointer here. For Punjabis it is pretty common to have the same first name be used for boys and girls. Well, Manbir used to live in Atlanta and is now in south Georgia. He and I go back to 1977 – we were classmates for 6 years. And I found out that the two Manbirs’ (or Manvirs, if you will) dads are brothers!!!
Like I said, we were having so much fun finding out all these connections that we completely forgot that we were supposedly strangers. In fact, we were so excited that somewhere, Lalita’s two daughters joined in to observe all the fun we were having.
Eventually, I had to take leave. I do not think we had finished learning about our life journeys yet. Hopefully, we will get to meet again.
- Breakfast meeting in Pune Apr 16, 2017
During the various stages of my professional life, I have been impressed by and immensely admired different folks. I have learnt a lot from them and almost always I found them to be different from me. And it is that difference that I have tried to study and then learn. (and sometimes chose not to learn – after deciding that I am a very different person and not every thing will suit me).
In the first couple of years of my job life, when I was soaking in as much as I could and essentially learning from what I was seeing around me in my first brush with corporate life, there was an unforgettable gentleman that I had come across – Nandu Kulkarni. I was never really part of his team except for the last few weeks when I was on a holding pattern waiting for my papers to come to be transferred to our company’s Latino operations in Florida.
Above all, it was his demeanor that had impressed me. Extremely level headed and soft spoken, I used to marvel at how he used to deal with stressful situations with an absolute calm and unemotional approach. I had sought him out to be my mentor and used to often swing by his office to chat with him. He, in a moment of lapse in judgment, no doubt – had taken me under his wings and used to give me quite a few pointers.
After leaving India, I had tried to keep in touch with him. When I visited my old company in Bombay, he was the first person I sought out to meet. And then I lost touch over time. Eventually, I got back in touch and had called him a few years back. I learnt how he had grown a passion for music and that he had moved to Pune.
I was plenty lucky that I was able to meet him during this trip to India when I landed in Pune. He was in Japan with his wife and had returned around midnight the previous night. Graciously, he had agreed to wake up early and make the effort to come and have breakfast with me.
Just being able to see him and say Thanks for every which way he has influenced me was a great achievement already. But, on top of that, the breakfast session was another learning exercise too. As an example, the first thing that struck me was how young he looked. His stance was straight as an arrow and he appeared to have little to no fat. Mind you, he must be at least ten years older than me.
“What is the secret to your health and young looks? Exercise?” I asked.
Unsurprisingly, he keeps up with a routine of biking, walking and hiking. Pune has quite a few hills around it and he takes full advantage of it.
“How about food?”, I pressed on.
“I have no restrictions on food”, he said.
“Really? Portion control?”
“Have you heard of Horace Fletcher?”
And from then on, I learnt about Fletcherism, which he swears by. I just downloaded the book today and I need to read it up. But what I liked is it does not ask you to avoid any kind of food. In fact, it encourages you to eat whatever you feel like. This is a little reassuring to me. I have always felt that each human body is too complex and too different to draw a broad brush on any kind of food as either definitely good for all or definitely bad for all. Instead, this focuses on eating only when you feel hungry (not by the time of the day), masticating your food till your saliva has fully processed the food (don’t gulp before it is ready), enjoy all the taste and feel of the food, and stop once you feel you are not hungry any more.
I found quite some similarity with another philosophy of Staying in the Now. One of the practices encouraged there is to slowly chew your food and focus all your attention to food.
After some time of doing this, apparently, Nandu has been able to get off all medicines. (He had a heart attack once before). His sum total medicine intake in a year is about a couple of paracetamols if he runs fever and such.
Another interesting story I heard from Nandu was his trip to Antarctica. The real interesting part was how he took the Polar Plunge. To be sure you have to dive into water at freezing point. And as Nandu pointed out, he can’t even take a cold shower. But apparently, he got over his fear and went for it. And swore that it was one of the most exhilarating and satisfying experience ever. I am pretty sure that the satisfying part was a post facto feeling 🙂 I have a deathly fear of heights. Maybe this will get me to do a skydive once in my lifetime.
One breakfast is too little a timeframe to catch up with Nandu. But I needed to go and he, I am sure was tired too.
“Next time, please meet again. Do not use your algorithm.”
The algorithm he is referring to is what I had explained to him a few minutes earlier. There are about a dozen people I know in Pune. I was going to be there for less than a day. I explained to him that I was prioritizing initially to meet teachers, parents of friends, elders, seniors and people who I had not seen for the longest time first.
I laughed out loud and promised that I will make an exception for him in my algorithm.
- A really cool guy!! Apr 16, 2017
I had kept the last meeting in Pune for one of the most interesting persons I have known – Dhananjay Nene. We called him Danny and in fact, still do. We have crossed each other’s paths many many times.
First, we went to MBA school together in IIM- Ahmedabad. Both of us had a passion for computers and programming those days. We both joined the same company after our MBA. We even worked in the same project for a year and a half!!
We came to the USA literally in the same flight! We worked in the same office in US. We stayed in the same apartment complex in Florida. We shared the same rental car. And then we moved to Dallas together too!!
As if that was not enough, both of us were – and still are – married to Architects – Supriya and Sharmila!!!
Somewhere around 1995, we split ways. He quit the company and joined a large telecom company in the Northeast. I quit a few months later and joined a start up in Dallas itself.
I knew what I wanted to talk about when I met him. Of course, after I was done with enquiring about his family – especially his mom who won the battle against cancer a few year back. The first topic was how he chose to stay with programming. I moved on from programming at some point of time. One might even suggest, with some grain of truth, that my programming was bad enough that I made the cut to be a manager 🙂 But programming was Danny’s passion. He stuck to it.
Moment I saw him, I had flashbacks of furious typing on the keyboard (he was probably pushing 100 keystrokes per minute those days – we used to joke behind his back that approximately 50 of them were backspaces 🙂 ).
“Are you still typing that fast?”
“Faster. Now I use a mechanical keyboard”.
Of course, for me – a guy who pecks on the screen of an iPad to write something, it was a revelation for me that there were actually different kind of keyboards!!
“You are at a vantage point of having stuck to the same thing for nearly twenty five years. Few people can reflect on programming as a process like you can, I suspect. Forget the language and frameworks. I will not understand them any more. But tell me what beliefs have you formed around processes or teams after this long a time”.
“You are not going to like it. It is too contrarian”.
“Try me. I suspect that is the difference. It would take that much experience to negate common wisdom”.
“Well, I do not believe in separation of coding from testing”.
Essentially, he made a case of why creating a separation of labor between coding and testing passes the buck around. A coder has to be the tester. The creator has to guarantee the quality.
“But, what about inherent bias?”, I pressed on.
“Get a peer review done of your code”.
That did make sense to me. But I was not ready for the next one.
“I do not believe in timelines”, said he.
“What do you mean you do not believe in timelines?”
“Artificial timelines are what creates so many quality issues today”.
“But this is not a hobby, Danny. Business speaks in two languages – money and timeline. On what other basis do you create trust or benchmark of performance?”
“How scientific are those timelines? Aren’t those artificial to begin with? Somebody drew a line on the sand to release a product or launch a campaign etc etc – right? It is not like somebody is going to die or a competitor is going to take away the whole market next day, right?”
I will tell you what. I got his point that, essentially, all timelines are artificial. I also got the point that deadlines can drive taking shortcuts and slip ups on quality. But throughout his explanation, I have to admit, I struggled with how I can conduct business without timelines. I have also struggled with the essential definition of quality. Whose eyes is it in – the customer or the creator?
Anyways, this is what I have always admired about him. He has always chosen to take the road not so well travelled and that is why I absolutely love and respect his opinions.
Our final part of the session was talking about his other passion – motorcycles. He has four of them and does a lot of long distance motor biking in India. I hope some day to have one and do some pleasure riding here in America. I did pick up quite some safety tips and lessons for a hopefully-soon-to-be-beginner.
As you can imagine, with his intensely analytical way of looking at things, he gave some great insights into how riding a motorcycle needs you to train your brain differently. He brought it to life with a great example…
“Imagine a cow crossing the road… or in your case, a deer crossing your road. Your brain processes the animal as a danger and a threat. Your eyes are locked on the animal. Here is the thing. You will drive your motorcycle where your eyes are. You are going to run into the animal at that speed. Instead, you have to retrain your brain to focus on the escape route – essentially, the gap between the animal and the road. Preferably the gap that is behind the animal not in front.”
That actually made a lot of sense to me.
It was getting ready to take the four hour drive to Mumbai airport for me. I could have sat for another few hours and soaked in a lot of wisdom from Danny. But I had to take leave for him. Hope to get both of us and our wives together some time… just like the good old days when we had no kids!!
- Meeting Sri Ganesh Apr 17, 2017
I was done with my India trip. 4 days with parents and 1 day meeting some folks from my past in Pune. All that was left was now a four hour drive to Mumbai airport and off to US I would be. Except that there was one more intersection point to be created.
I credit Sri Ganesh entirely for making this meeting happen. I had no time to get into the city. So, Sri Ganesh came to the airport to meet me!! That was awfully nice of him. We went in to a nearby hotel and grabbed a glass of wine and some light dinner.
Nearly 26 years back, I worked in the same office as Sri Ganesh in Mumbai. He was the head of Finances and Administration for our company. After 2 years, I was shipped out to the USA. He really had no reason to remember me much.
There are well networked people and there are well networked people. And then there is Sri Ganesh. Not only did he remember me, he remembered just about anybody and everybody I enquired after. Most of our conversation went something like this…
Me: “Do you remember the gentleman who was in charge of the library?”
He: “Charles D’Souza?”
Me: “Yes. He is absolutely one of the most genuine human being I have ever come across”.
He: “You want to talk to him?”
And then he would get Charles on the other line and have me to talk to him!!!
He seemed to have contacts with and the contacts of just about anybody who was there in that company that time. I was pretty impressed how well he remembered so many people. Someday, I hope to grow a memory like him.
Equally impressive was how many times he had set of offices and businesses from scratch in his career. Now, he devotes a lot of time to charitable causes.
Some of the perspectives he gave of life while reflecting on our past was eye opening. He seemed to always accentuate the positives in every change. It is a pity that I missed him when he was visiting Atlanta a few years back.
I am told attitudes can be contagious. I want some of his to rub off on me…