’18 Apr India
- Eastwards, ho! Apr 13, 2018
One more time I am excited that I will be able to see my parents back in India. I cannot wait to hear what kind of complaints my mom will have or what kind of comments my dad will make. I know he has to a lot to say. Last three months he has been trying to talk to me quite a few times during my daily call to mom. But since he is hard of hearing, he cannot understand a word I say on the phone. Every time he would get frustrated and say “Tui aay. Tokhon katha hobey” (You come. We will talk then).
My predictions are that he will claim he has become better and that we do not need any more domestic help or the physiotherapist. He will complain that we are wasting too much money on them. My mom will complain that dad is not listening to her and will try to get off his bed when nobody is around (or sleeping). He has fallen three times already in the last three months trying to do this.
I know my dad is waiting for me to get him the printouts of Natasha’s articles (in those various publications she writes in). He is a big fan of her writing and keeps her articles neatly stacked on one side of his bed. He was upset that in December I had not brought the printouts. (In my defense, on Oct 31, he could not even recognize me; I had nary a clue that in December he would be sitting up and reading newspapers).
In terms of intersection points, this may not be an eventful trip in India. Most of the time I will be with my parents. However, there is another country I am going to visit for a couple of days and while I have some work there, I hope to meet some of my long lost classmates and colleagues.
But before all that excitement ensues, I have three flights (one of them nearly 14 hours 🙁 ), two long layovers and a trip by car to endure. And then 100+ deg F temperatures everywhere!!
That said, I cannot help reflect how lucky I have been that I have the flexibility to go see my and Sharmila’s parents and my siblings every three months!! Most of my friends my age are not even lucky to have all their parents and parents-in-law alive. I just hope they will live long enough and I will have the flexibility to do this as many times as is possible!!
- Mandatory tea stall stop (in near 100 deg temp)… Apr 14, 2018
- This is what those 10,000 mile treks are all about!! Apr 14, 2018
He got up in his bed moment he saw me and my brother. He had even used the walker from his room this morning to walk to the bed next to our main door so that he could see us whenever we set foot in the house.
This is the first time I am seeing him get up and sit in the bed by himself in eight months now.
It was a matter of couple of minutes before we were sharing a joke. Other than sharing the same hair style, of course!!
- He got tired soon … Apr 14, 2018
“Ei rokom aasis baba. Katha boltey perey boro bhaalo laage. Aami phone-e shunte ekdom pai na. E rokom ele duto katha bola jay”
Two hours of laughter later, he suggested that I should keep coming back so he can talk face to face. He admitted he can’t hear much over the phone – so he would like to chat like this.
Saying so, he laid down and went off to sleep faster than I could say “No problems” !!!
- Sibling time!!! Apr 14, 2018
- So, what kind of an animal is Neem exactly? 🙂 Apr 15, 2018
- Sunset… Apr 15, 2018
- Hiten Varia!!! Apr 16, 2018
Finally managed to beard the lion in his own den!! Flew from Kolkata to Singapore to spend a day with my erstwhile boss – Hiten Varia! Of all the managers I have had – and I certainly have been blessed with some of the best ones that I learnt a lot from (and still do), Hiten was the one I grew closest to personally. When we were both in Dallas, our kids and the wives – Shernaz and Sharmila became friends too. In fact, Hiten and I have taken our families for vacations together in some great parts of the world together.
And that is the upside when you are building a small startup. You spend so much time together, you go thru such tough times together that the lines of professional and personal relationships tend to blur. It takes a village to raise a startup and the successful startups build some great families.
The thing that made our relationship back in the ‘90s so special was that while we were very tied on core values – especially treating customers and employees, we would often be very very different in our approaches to business. There are some hilarious stories from the past with him on these things.
Sitting in the pub at the Singapore American Club, we went thru some of those moments and what we have learnt thru them. It was 1996. We were under tremendous pressure to deliver to our biggest customer. We just could not keep up with the speed of customers’ requirements and the speed of delivering solid quality, well architected code. Hiten sat me down and explained his belief on how we needed to rejig the org structure and create a new one to solve for some of this impedance mismatch. I fought tooth and nail for two weeks against that idea.
As a reward, I was asked to run the new org!
Till this date, reflecting back, almost everyone agrees that was a brilliant move. Yeah! I came around to seeing that too eventually. So much so, we used a variation of that structure in two of my next jobs!!
As I explained to Hiten last afternoon, thru those intense debates that we used to have at India Palace every late night after work, a few things have emerged in my mind that I have noted down as what I have learnt from him.
(*) The relentless focus on the customer – I truly have never seen anybody who has the customer so ingrained in his DNA. When you realize that you are a successful start up and that you are winning in the field, you can be amazed at how full of oneself one can get with one’s own ideas. While sales and development would start believing that we were better than customers and it was our job to lead the customer from darkness, this guy used to be one of the rare ones walking the corridors clarifying to us who is the cart and who is the horse. This is one learning that has deeply influenced me as a professional in future years.
(*) The ability to hold two opposing thoughts – I do not believe I am that good at it still. Faced with two opposing views, two opposing thoughts – the engineer in me will immediately try to apply logic (or perhaps rationalize) to decide what is “right”? But those days, I used to marvel – may be even get frustrated – that he would hear opposing points of views from me and my teammates or peers and after analyzing them deeply, would just leave it at that. He felt no pressure to align himself with any one view. It was like he would go “Those are pretty persuasive arguments. Each case makes a lot of sense. Good. What is the next topic?”. And I would be like “What? Can we decide first who is right? Actually, can we decide that I am right?” 🙂 You can guess what an idiot I was.
(*) Empathy – This is the single most trait of Hiten that everybody who knows him will say is his hallmark. And the one thing I will admit that I will never ever be able to copy. I have given up and concluded that I just am never going to be empathetic at this level. There are some very funny stories here too. He and I were in a meeting with a customer – ready to face the music – we were terribly behind in delivering. The customer – and this was a lady running procurement with a budget of multiple billion dollars in one of the largest multinationals in US – did not exactly beat around the bush. Hiten, then started talking. The more he talked, the more I was like “What are you doing? We need to give some logical arguments and build a case on our side”. Once he was done, I was pretty sure the customer was going to take us to the cleaners. I had not made head or tail out of what he said. And yet, the lady, looked at him and said “That is all I needed to hear from you Mr. Varia today. Please see to it that your team does its best to support my team”. And then she left after exchanging a few more pleasantries.
I was left stunned in the room, trying to make logical sense of what had just happened. Today, I realize that I was trying to use the wrong tool – logic from my cortical part of the brain – to understand empathy which comes from the limbic part of the brain.
I do remember on the flight back, sitting next to him, I tried multiple times asking “How do you do that?” and had stopped. I was starting to understand that these folks operate at a very different level.
Once in a while though, I can get them to my level – especially if I can grab them over a couple of martinis at a bar in Singapore!!
- Very funny cab guy! Apr 17, 2018
I grabbed a cab from the hotel and headed towards a park about 15 minutes away. Once we were near the destination, he asked me:
“Which building do you want to go to”?
“Oh, drop me anywhere near the park. I am meeting a friend there”
“Are you going to run here?” (He had noticed my bright orange running clothes and had now eliminated the possibility that I was a construction worker)
“Yes. With my friend”
“Do you run here often?”
“No. I do not live in Singapore. My friend and I went to school together. I am meeting him after 27 years”
That got his attention quickly.
“How did you keep in touch?”
He was suitably impressed.
Then he added “Well, if you do not remember some of the details from 27 years Back, Facebook may be able to sell that data to you”
I think he earned that extra tip!!
- That was no ordinary run in the park… Apr 18, 2018
First, this completed my run in the 20th country (Singapore)!!
Second, I got to run with a long lost friend of mine. Prasenjit and I went to our MBA school together. We last saw each other in 1991. We knew each other then but were not very close. But we became close later thru social media as we kept egging each other on for our runs and races.
Both of us started running very late in our life (mine was when I was a year shy of turning 40) and I am sure we both needed the encouragement from each other. Over the years, he has grown his stamina much more than me and does many more long runs. I need to get to his stamina some day.
I always had wanted to put in a run with him! Saw him after 27 years and more importantly got to put in a run with him!! That was very satisfying!!!
As an added bonus, met his wife Sonia after the run over a delicious breakfast too!!
- Lunch with Jyotsna Apr 19, 2018
Saw my MBA school friend after nearly a decade and a half. Jyotsna, T Srini, myself and our dear-departed Srimathi were very close during our MBA days.
Saw Srimathi last a few hours before we lost her to cancer almost two decades back.
Saw T after a long time just a month back.
And this meeting in Singapore completes the group!!!
- You know what is better than a great gin and tonic? Apr 19, 2018
For a person like me who has been researching about gin production and collecting gins from different countries and experimenting with cocktails with them, very few things can beat the prospect of finding a Gin-only-bar called “Tonic” in the hotel I was staying in!
Except, of course having a gin and tonic there with a classmate of mine that I have always admired (albeit from far) – Joydeep Sengupta! When I had called him up last time to wish him a happy birthday, I had also made a promise to see him if I ever were to land in Singapore. Unfortunately, when I told him that I would be in Singapore, I realized that he would be out of the country. Joy heads up Asia for the largest and most revered Firm in management consulting in the whole world. That is a game played at a very different league. I completely understood that travel had to be crazy at that level.
What I did not expect is a message from him on my last day in Singapore that he will be coming back to Hanoi in time enough to meet me for an hour before I headed out for the airport. I am so glad that he took the effort.
I saw Joy for the first time after 1991. There were so many things we caught up on. One hour was far too less for that. One of the topics we talked a lot about is the complexity of building “trusting” organizations. We were comparing notes of how very successful organizations like McKinsey runs with virtually very little financial goal setting and my experience at a Ritz where I learnt that every employee is given a thousand dollars to spend on guests in case they see a situation unfold that might lead to customer dissatisfaction… and we realized that “trust” is something that is very difficult to democratize and certainly very difficult to build culture around in an organization unless it is done from the very top and from the very beginning.
I had great interest in his second child who has special needs and I spent a lot of time understanding how, as parents, Joy and his wife had to learn a lot of new things in life. One of the most memorable moments was when he said – and I paraphrase him – “your expectations are lesser and therefore you enjoy the smaller things more”!! We talked endlessly about what we – the able-bodied ones – have done for the ones who need special help and how much is still left to do.
I promised to see his second son next time I was anywhere nearby.
I kept the promise I made to him on his birthday. I hope I can keep this one too!
- Can you spot them all? Apr 20, 2018
- A Durgapur trip inevitably means.. Apr 20, 2018
- Every run is a negotiation game with him.. Apr 21, 2018
The problem every morning in Kalyani is that I do not finish off my run first thing in the morning when nobody else is awake and the temperatures are far more bearable and certainly there is no direct sunlight. Before I can get myself there, usually, my brother wakes up. That can only mean the first cup of tea will be soon to follow… And then sitting idly in the balcony, we just start having yet another cup of tea every half an hour or so. Finally, the sun would be up, it would get warm and I start regretting not having finished my run.
Today was no different. Since it had gotten hot, I decided to put in an endurance run. The heat and humidity had already conspired to make the temperatures feel like 107 deg F on the skin.
Then the negotiations began! Any which way I go for a run, I will have to get past my dad who will immediately engage me in a discussion that roughly follows the same pattern…
“Where are you going?”
“For a run”
“Because it will get warmer later” (did you see how I dodged the obvious question of why I did not do it earlier? ha ha)
“How much will you run?”
It really does not matter what X is. I have tried various variations – 10, 8, 6, 5, 2…. His inevitable question is
“Why X? X/2 is more than enough”. He immediately will halve it.
Even if I were to tell him – “Okay, I will do X/2”, he will wait for a few minutes and go “Today is a very sunny day. X/4 should be adequate for today”…
At some point I will leave the house and just go run.
First question today after I came back – as with every day – was
“How much did you run?”
His response was again classic. I could have said any value and he would have said the exact same thing – “That is enough for this month. You do not need to run any more this month!!
That said, it was a 5 mile (8 km) run in rather oppressive heat and humidity at a sub-10 pace. Towards the end, I had to take a 30 second break to get my heart rate to come down from 170s. That was the penalty I paid for not carrying water with me.
- That is when you know he is trying to fight back to his normal self… Apr 21, 2018
After the run and the shower, my brother and I sat down in our balcony enjoying the strong winds on the fifth floor waiting for breakfast. My dad, who had observed us (from his bed) settling down in the balcony immediately declared… “Amio aasbo”. (I will join too!!).
If you remember from my previous trip, he would shuffle with the walker and mom and the helper would hold him or carry a chair behind him in case he collapsed. In a remarkable example of how he is fighting back to achieve a better “new normal”, he declared “Ami nijei aasbo” (I will come by myself).
Slowly but surely, one tentative step at a time, he did make it to the balcony, turned around and dropped himself on the chair.
“Ebar ektu cha dao”. (He asked mom for some tea).
That is a sure sign of he getting as close to his past self as he can. You know the other sign? – he immediately started complaining about expenses that we are incurring on his behalf. The next post will be about that. There was a well laid trap he fell into in that!!
- He fell for it. Hook. Line. And Sinker. Apr 21, 2018
If you have followed the last post, you know the context by now. In short, dad came and joined me and my brother in the balcony this morning. He came by himself in his walker and sat down – completely unassisted. It was slow but he did it. Of course, we were delighted that he is being able to win small wins in his long journey to be back to what he used to be.
Speaking of what he used to be – somehow the topic came to money. Wait a minute, I know exactly how. He was the one who lost no time in starting to complain…
He: “Boddo paisa khorcha hochche” (Too much money is being spent)
I: “Keno?” (Why?)
He: “Kaajer meye. Physiotherapy. Eto kichchu dorkar nei”
As I had predicted, he wants to get rid of the help at home and the physiotherapy because apparently we are spending too much money on them.
I: “Taaka ki tomar sesh hoye jachche?” (Are you running out of money?)
He: “Chinta hoy” (It worries me)
I: “Joto taaka-i hok tomar chinta jaabey na”
I assured him that he is never going to stop worrying regardless of how much money he had.
After some more time…
He: “Tumi maanchho na. Kintu taaka na holey konodin sukhi hotey paarbey na” (You may not agree but you cannot be happy without money)
Okay. Now he is getting into a territory that is totally my passion zone. I was not going to give in easily.
Me: “Mote-i na. Beshi taaka kaukey sukhi kore ni. Aar korbey-o na. Je sukhi se olpete-i sukhi. Aar je sukhi noy, se joto taaka-i dao kokhono sukhi hobey na”.
Basically, I was trying my usual line of more money cannot make you more happy. These are independent (for the most part) attributes. One can be happy with little. One who wants to be unhappy will be unhappy regardless of the amount of money.
He continued with his protestations that you need money to be happy.
I even conceded that money is important. But I challenged him to come up with a number that will make him happy. In fact, I asked him to think what that number would have been if I had asked this question when he was 30, 40, 50… and if he ever got to that amount of money.
Realizing that I was not going to get a convert, I went for the dramatics. Quickly, I laid out a plot and led him thru that…
Me: “Ami ekjon ke jani jaar $$$$ poisa aachhe. Se tate-o sukhi noy”.
I told him about somebody I know who is still not happy after having $$$$ money. Well, except $$$$, the exact number I gave him is pretty much all the money he (my dad) himself has.
I was stunned he did not realize what I was setting up. Worse, my brother did not catch on to it!
He: “Tai hoy naaki?” He was incredulous! He would not believe me!!
Oh! This was going to be interesting.
Me: “Yes. Aami oder bhalo korey chini ” I assured him that I know the person very well.
After some thought, he said “Taholey oder poribaar-e kono problem aachey”. He surmised that then the person has issues at home.
“Like what?”, I asked.
“Swami-stree te hoyto kono complication aachhey”. He figured my person was not happy because of some spousal issues.
“Dujona-kei aami bhalo korey chini. Holof korey bolchhi, kono jhamela nei”. I assured him again that I knew both the husband and wife (ha ha) and there were no problems between them.
“Taholey chhele meyeder saathey monomalinyo aachhe”. At this point of time he was clutching on to any straw. He suggested that my friend had problems with his kids.
“Ekdom na”, I reassured him again.
I had noticed that my brother had started smiling.
“Bujhechis?”, I asked softly
He nodded quickly indicating that he had realized what I was doing.
“Do me a favor”, I said very softly. “Let me get my phone camera on him and then you break the secret to him. Let’s see if I can capture his reaction”.
Once I had my iPhone set on my dad, my brother started..
“Kaar katha bolchhey dada?” (Who is he talking about? – he asked dad)
“Ki kore jaanbo? Dadar bondhu”. Dad pleaded complete ignorance since it was my friend.
“Kaar $$$$ taaka aachhey?” My brother asked him if he knew somebody who had that aforementioned amount of money.
My dad was still confused.
My brother slowly reminded him of our discussion – “What has he been saying? Somebody he knows very well. $$$$ money. Is never happy with money. Who do you think?”
Precisely at that moment he realized that I was talking about him all along.
What followed was a loud guffaw and myriad of facial expressions as I kept snapping his picture on the phone.
Finally I selected two of the pictures for this post that I think tells a great story… The first one was exactly at the moment when he realized what the joke was. And the second one was when he had re-processed the joke and realized that it was on him all along. That “You-got-me-good-on-that-one…I-fell-for-it” – look!
- Turning my attention to mom!! Apr 21, 2018
One of the struggles I have always had – and have written about this – is how to make my mom feel special. My dad loves it that I come every three months. He loves sitting with us in the balcony and chatting with us. But when it comes to my mom – she never says anything. Nor asks for anything. If I tell my dad that I am going to miss a trip one quarter, he will get upset about it (till I tell him that I can make a lot of money if I stay back – he will totally agree with me then – go figure!! ) but my mom will just say nothing.
I have that picture of her walking a step behind dad with that chair lest he fall down as he walked around with his walker seared in my mind. I had talked about how we think about the patient but not much about the care giver.
The challenge is if I ask my mom “What would you like?”, the answer would inevitably be “Nothing”. It is like asking a high school student “What happened in school today?”
The only clue I have about what gives her delight is she had once told me how she always liked to go out to different places before marriage and had kids. I know after that, she has barely stepped out of home – she has been so engrossed in her responsibilities of the family. Even today, she refuses to leave dad’s side. The only time I had gotten her out to come out and stay in a resort with us was when I had convinced my dad to do so (about a year or so back).
My best bet this time was to take her out for a day trip – and let the helper take care of dad. Without giving her much of a choice, I packed her into a car and took her to her favorite sister (she has four sisters and a brother) who lives in a village a couple of hours drive away. She had not seen her for some time (actually the last time was also the time I took her there; like I said – this is her favorite sister).
As expected, she did not complain much!!
And there we were!! My mom, her sister, her brother in law and the little grandson they have.
At the end of the day, I know my mom wanted to spend more time with her sister. But I had to draw the line (yeah! yeah! yeah! Rajib was the time nazi!! So, what else is new? 🙂 ) before it became too late for dad’s help at home to leave.
I was glad to catch up with my cousins and nephew too! The best part? A norwester ensued and it started raining hard when we were there. And I was able to take my nephew out in the rains to get drenched with me. I was too much of a guest for anybody to complain (although their heart beats were skyrocketing).
The nephew and me? Pardon the pun in the metaphor – we threw caution to the winds!!
- The three generations… Apr 21, 2018
- So how does one make potatoes at home? Apr 22, 2018
This is in the lounge in domestic terminal of Kolkata airport.
I asked one of the young guys working in the lounge “Ei, etar maaney ki?” (What does this mean?)
The poor lad looked at the label, measured me up and said “Aamio ingraji bhalo bujhi na Sir”!! He pleaded his English was as weak as mine! But nonetheless, he addressed me as “Sir”.
Mightily amused, I returned to my table with a resolution that from now on, it is going to be only factory made potatoes for me !!!
Good start to this morning…
- That was a weird – but effective – way to relax! Apr 22, 2018
This is from last evening. My brother had come over to the hotel where I had checked in in Kolkata to relax for a few hours over a glass of wine and some brother to brother chit chat before I head out US-wards.
We sat down in the lobby lounge of JW Marriott and got ourselves some wine. Then… and I am not sure what led to what else, but soon we ordered some writing paper and two pens to go with the wine!
You can banish the thought of two brothers noting down the palate, nose and length details of the wine they were having. We are far too nerdy for that. Unbelievably enough, we entertain each other by exchanging math problems or logic problems.
Two sips of the wine later, he said “Try this” and gave me a very interesting math problem. Half an hour of continuous calculations and formulations later (did I mention we sent for more paper? :-), I gave up!
That is when he solved it for me. I was thrilled with the solution and very proud of my brother.
Mostly because he finds solving math problems to be relaxing like me!! Of course there is that irony that when he and I went to the same school, it was I who helped with problems he could not solve.
I realize most of you cannot relate to this but to me, it just does not get any better. It is like high school all over again. This time, with a glass of wine, though 🙂
If any one of you care, here is problem:
What is the value of (x-squared) + (x) + (1/x) + (1 / x-squared)
If (x-squared) – 3(x) + 1 = 0
There is an incredibly elegant solution to this. Message me if you want the solution.
If you cannot solve it, do not worry. Just have another glass of wine. Like I did!!!
- Arati-di!!! Apr 23, 2018
The car finally left the asphalt and hit dirt road. We kept bouncing off the potholes and gave right of the road to the occasional goat, hen, duck, cow and even a pig at one time. Every half a kilometer we would ask somebody if they knew the house of a Uttam Dhara. He repairs motorcycles, we would add in case they struggled to place Uttam.
It was like playing pool. We would get bounced off the walls every half a kilometer till we stopped the car and walked down a very narrow lane and came to a house with a small kid standing in front.
“Uttam Dhara-r baari chinis?”
He quickly motioned to signal that we had reached the right house.
A lady came out from inside the house.
I could barely – just barely – recognize the face.
“Arati-di?”, I asked.
“Chintey paarchho?”, she asked if I recognized her.
I do not even remember what I gave for an answer as I was overcome with a surge of joy.
This had been a long wait. Even by my standards, this is was a tough search. The problem is I knew only her first name. I knew she was from some village near where my grandmother lived. And only God knew where she had moved after she got married. Trying to find such a person is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
Arati-di was a domestic help we had at our home in Durgapur in the mid seventies. Both my parents used to work leaving the three of us often unattended at home. My grandmother used to find poor people near her village and ask them if they would go to Durgapur to be a domestic help. This would give them food and shelter and also some money for their families.
First, we had Pratima-di. Then we had Maya-di and finally Arati-di. I have made very little progress on the first two. But I had a breakthru on Arati-di when I had gone to meet Jagannath-da (if you remember, he was the farmer who used to put me on his shoulder to pluck mangoes) a few months back. I had asked a few villagers then about all the three ladies.
One of those villagers had said that he had heard Arati-di’s son repairs motorcycles but he had no phone numbers or anything. That, surprisingly, was a strong clue. After coming back to US, I called up my uncle who still lives in the old village and asked for the local guy who fixes motorcycle. You can only imagine my uncle’s surprise at his nephew from US asking for the guy in the village who fixes motorcycles!!
The idea was to rely on the network of motorcycle repairmen. I was hoping that somehow they would know each other between villages to exchange spare parts and all that. Believe it or not, after bouncing around a few of those motorcycle repairmen with the same question “Do you know somebody in your trade whose mother’s name in Arati? His mother would be in mid fifties. So son should be around mid thirties” – as the network grew further and further out – one day, I hit pay dirt. Actually it was late night. The family was at a party and I was sitting by the pool late night making phone calls to the villages.
One guy said his name was Uttam. And his mother’s name was Arati.
I explained that I was calling from US.
“Keno? Ki chai?”, he was a little frightened and demanded to know what was going on. Perhaps he was being protective of his mom.
I explained the whole context that his mom helped me grow up when I was a kid.
He was incredulous.
“Apni ki Debipur-er?” (Are you from Debipur?)
I told him that I was from Durgapur but I was born in Debipur and that is where my grandmother lived and my father grew up.
“Teen bhai bon?” (You folks are three siblings?)
Yes, Yes! I had yelled.
He let me know that Arati-di had talked about us a couple of times when he himself was growing up. He told me to call back in the evening when he would be home back from his shop.
Which I did and then talked to Arati-di and noted down her village name.
And promised to see her again.
Which I did.
As I was saying, it brought unbelievable joy to see Arati-di again. I could barely recognize her face and she could not have picked me out in a crowd, of course. But I was carrying a few old pictures from those days which I showed her.
We talked for a long time. She kept telling stories from those days how she used to take us out for walks. I remembered that she used to help us with our meals when we came back from school. I even remember she had taught me all the words of “Ikiri mikiri…. “ (it is a silly game young kids play to a rhyme).
As she and I talked, numerous – very curious – villagers dropped by. There were kids a few years old to very elderly people who were no doubt amused by this clean shaven head – shorts wearing – shoes without socks – profusely sweating guy who had descended upon them.
I met Arati-di’s entire family. Her husband, his brother and their side family, Arati-di’s son and daughter and their families, Arati-di’s three grand kids. And the three cows, a bunch of ducks and the sole rooster that is part of the family!!
She lives in a hut just like the one I was born in. Walls made of dirt, thatched roof made of straw. No running water, but there was electricity.
Eventually, it was time to go back.
“Eto dur thekey aastey onek kosto hoy. Abar aastey boltey bhoy hoy. Kintu phone koro chheler phone-e”. She said she was scared of asking me to come again given all the hardships she thought I had to endure. But she would look forward to phone calls on her son’s phone, she added.
Bouncing back again on the dirt road, we eventually got back to asphalt and the car sped off.
I was completely lost in my thoughts of how people like Arati-di was part of me growing up. Me growing up to be eventually what I am today. Whatever it is that I am today. And how strange life is. Two human beings came under the same roof for a few years and then our paths diverged completely. The paths could not have been any more different if they wanted to.
Nearly four and a half decades later, somehow, we were again under the same roof. This time, her roof!!
Who would have guessed?
Well, I certainly felt good that I have not yet forgotten who all brought me to the dance to begin with.
- A lasting memory from this trip Apr 23, 2018
My dad loves Natasha’s writings. He has a standing instruction for me to bring her writings when I come. The challenge, of course, is that most of her writings are in online format and my dad is a complete offline kind of guy 🙂 A couple of times I had brought printouts for him but that does not do it for him. It has to be in a newspaper format. I brought him a few more this time.
On Sunday morning, he brought them to the balcony and started poring over them. The camera angle was not great but I think you can see smiling as he kept reading one of those articles. He would occasionally lift his head, gaze away in the horizon, mumble something to himself, smile some more and then restart reading..
I quietly took some pictures and left him to himself.
- Smart Alec! Apr 23, 2018
- A chance meeting Apr 23, 2018
The other day, while in Durgapur, I was leaving one of my relatives’ house and as I looked at the small street side shop about 30 yards away, I thought I recognized one of the customers buying some stuff there. On a hunch I walked up to him with that – by now common – refrain – “Chintey paarchhis?”
Amazingly, he had no doubt who I was. I guess he has seen me in Facebook.
Last time I had seen Tapas was when I had visited him in a new business he had started. That was at least two decades back. Later, I had heard that his dad was not doing well and had made an attempt to visit him unsuccessfully. We had gone to school together for a few years but finished up from different schools.
Fortunately, Tapas told me that his dad is doing better. I wish I had another 30 minutes in hand – so I could go and see him. It was a little odd time of the day and I had to hurry to get back to my parents in Kalyani!
Next time, for sure Tapas!
What a great case of being in the right time at the right place!!
- Another classmate from middle school days… Apr 23, 2018
Unlike the chance meeting with Tapas at that grocery store, meeting Indranil was a far more deliberate one. After leaving school, I was in touch with him only sporadically. Recently, he helped me put two long lost friends together – a friend of mine in Atlanta and somebody Indranil knew in the neighborhood where he used to live before.
One fine day a couple of months back, I was peppered by him with a lot of questions on Big Data. I had sent him one of my favorite books on this topic so he could read it up. I had also told him that one of these days, I will show up in his office in his college and we can talk about it…
In that sweltering heat of Durgapur, last Friday, I did show up in his office! But first, I was stopped by the security guy for trying to enter the building in shorts! Indranil had to come to my rescue!! We talked about a lot of things – and one of his twin sisters came by to say Hi too (she was very small when Indranil and I went to middle school together) – but we never talked about Big Data!
Perhaps that deserves a return trip!
- No Durgapur Xavierian worth his salt… Apr 23, 2018
… has been ever accused of having passed up on a perfectly good excuse to have a party. And this time there were two – both Subrata and I happened to be in Durgapur on that day. Met up with quite a few old friends – Jyotiswar, Gautam, Santanu, Prodipto and Kunal!
When I vociferously protested about it becoming an Indian party (I always complain in any party where the women/wives sit on one side and men/husbands sit on the other about it becoming an Indian party), the womenfolk gently reminded me that I was in India and it WAS an Indian party! 🙂
We were regaled by Sharmistha and Gopa’s songs, some blended scotch and a lot of childish banter!!
Ah! The good times!!
- That was a pleasant surprise!! Apr 23, 2018
We were busy in the private room in a restaurant in Durgapur – all the St. Xavier’s friends and their wives – when somebody came in to tell me that there was a visitor who wanted to see me. Somewhat curious, I stepped out to the most pleasant surprise of the day! Turned out it was Amit Konar!
Amit used to be in Food and Beverage in the Durgapur hotel I normally stay in. Over the years, we had become great friends. In fact, almost always, he used to take care of the reservations for me. There was a time when I had brought my parents back to visit Durgapur and stayed in the hotel for a couple of days. Amit had taken great care of them – especially their food. Even today, if I tell dad that I am going to stay in Peerless Inn, his first question would be “Sei chheleta aachhey?” (Is that guy still there?)
Eventually, Amit branched off on his own and I had not seen him since then. Somehow he got word that I was in town and in that particular restaurant that evening – so he came by to say Hi!
Of course, we said more than Hi! I was very encouraged to hear that his business is doing very well. He always struck me as a hard working and sincere person. Add to that his smartness, he is bound to do well. We talked about his young daughter and his future expansion plans.
It was good to catch up with this gentleman again!
Thank you Amit for taking the pains to come over to see me!
- Trip to my inlaws Apr 23, 2018
Usually, when my brother and I visit my inlaws, he and my mother in law does all the talking. I occasionally ask about my brother in law and his family. And then I try to encourage them to come back to Atlanta which they promptly refuse to.
That was exactly how it flowed this time too!!
We also, normally go out for dinner but this time we had to skip it since there was a school get together that had been arranged…
Tagging Rakhahari and Chiradeep!
- Throwback to Singapore last week Apr 23, 2018
- She did hang in for me!!! Apr 24, 2018
I forget the context now but I was talking to my elementary school day friend – Sudipta Chattaraj – a few months back and he informed me about his mom’s quick onset of Alzheimer’s. On an aside, I have noticed that among the previous generation (my parents’ age) in India, there seems to be a greater propensity to suffer from Alzheimer’s, dementia and even Parkinson’s. I am not sure whether this is relatively new or a by product of people living longer or I just did not know the names when I was growing up but senior people were still being afflicted by them.
Sudipta was one of those all rounders in our school. He was very good in studies, a great athlete, very gentle and soft spoken and – this one made me most jealous of him those days – had an impeccable handwriting!! Our teacher’s would call it “motor moto” – like pearls!! Sudipta is also the resident pediatrician for all our school friends’ kids. When Nikita and Natasha were young and we visited India, during those invariable bouts of getting unwell, we would make a bee line for Sudipta’s house!!
I was a little dismayed that Sudipta was concerned at the speed of how the ailment was progressing with his mom. I remember – and he reminded me – that I had told him “Ask her to hang in there for a couple of months more at least. I want to come and see her”. That is why Mrs. Chattaraj was the first person I visited in Durgapur after leaving my inlays’ place.
She seemed to have certainly grown very frail and the conversations were not always very coherent. But we talked for quite some time and tried to remember the days when she was our age and we were but kids. Most encouragingly for me, she did pick up on some of my jokes and laughed at them! Ha ha!! 🙂
It was great to see Sudipta and his family after many a year!!
- Attempt to settle scores… thwarted! Apr 24, 2018
During one of those friendly banters with Sharmistha back in USA – I think it was when Subrata and she had visited us at our place in Atlanta – I had threatened that one of these days, I would go to her parents in Durgapur and complain about her. She had dared me to do so and said that her parents would never believe me.
So, I showed up with my brother at her parents’ place during this trip to Durgapur. And I think I was right that she was afraid I would actually complain. I say that because Sharmistha was at her parents’ house already when I arrived – no doubt to prevent me from complaining 🙂
Jokes apart, I had a great time with Mr. and Mrs. Konar. In fact, had some good long conversations with Mr. Konar.
In one of those intersection point moments that I often talk about, it came out that his best friend in the neighborhood is also the brother of my brother’s mother-in-law. To top it off, that gentleman’s son was a classmate of my sister from first thru fourth grade and had visited us in our house back in the early seventies!!
It is a crazy small world!!!
- He was conspicuous by his absence Apr 24, 2018
One of the last stops in Durgapur was to go meet Mr. and Mrs. Bhattacharya! Gautam and I were again classmates back in early stages of school life. I have great memories of spending quite some time at his house next to the maintenance office. There was this span of time where I used to show up at his house everyday to work on a school project together. Frankly, my contribution was to mostly observe as he wielded the solder iron deftly. I was pretty happy being amused by the smoke that used to come out every time he dipped the solder iron in that lubricant flux before he picked up a mercurial ball of solder.
It used to be beastly hot summer days that time. And Mrs. Bhattacharya always used to make a glass of “sharbot” for me!! Also, Mrs. Bhattacharya was a colleague of my mom from the same school.
Over the years, I have kept up with the Bhattacharya family. I have made occasional trips to their house – chatted with Gautam’s better half Gopa – who happened to go to college with my sister many times and listened to songs sung by their son Sankha. But regrettably, my interactions with Mr. Bhattacharya started dwindling as he started succumbing to dementia, Alzheimer’s and all that. At some point he stopped recognizing me and then his movements became very limited.
I became aware recently that he is completely bed ridden now. So, went to check on him. He could not get up from his bed. In fact, he could not even turn to my side as I sat in the bed beside him. As I put my hand on him, he softly opened his eyes. He whispered a few words but I do not think he knew who he was talking to.
The good news is that Mrs. Bhattacharya looked great. She has had her tough days and only recently was in an ICU. But she seems to have bounced back nicely. After leaving uncle in his bed, we came to the living area and chatted about my parents and the good old days for a long time. I reminded her how kind she used to be to me and that I have never forgotten that!!
I hope to see them a few more times in my future trips!!
- Dip Sengupta!! After 33 years!!! Apr 24, 2018
My usual routine coming back from India entails taking an evening flight back to Delhi and then catching the night flight back to US. This time though, I took the morning flight – I needed a few extra hours to go see Dip, his family and most importantly, his mom.
Last time I had seen Dip’s mom – and I believe Dip too – was after our Board exams in twelfth grade. That would be 1985 summer. Navin, Rahul, Rakesh and myself had taken a train from Kokata all the way to Siliguri where Dip was waiting for us to take us to his home which was on the way to Darjeeling. They lived in this beautiful house in an even more beautiful scenic setting. New Chumta Tea Estate it was!
I remember having the time of my life there. Dip’s mom showered incredible attention on us. She had arranged for a lot of local trips to see some idyllic sights in the mountains. We had taken quite a few pictures during that trip. Much later in life, I had digitized them and sure enough – I carried them with me this time!!
I forgot to tell you how I know Dip. We were classmates in Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission College. That was for our eleventh and twelfth grades (junior and senior high school years). It was a residential school and Dip and I were in the same hostel (dorm). For quite some time we were even next door neighbors. However, our streams were different – he did English, History, Economics and such and I did Physica, Chemistry, Math and all that.
In the past I have told you about two of the teachers that I admire most when it comes to learning English as a subject – Sir Donegan (from fifth grade) and Mrs. Biswas (from ninth and tenth grade). If you were to ask me to name similarly two of my classmates whose English I admired and still admire the most – without even a shred of doubt, they would be Dibyendu Dutta (I wrote about him once) and Dip Sengupta. If you read some of his Facebook posts even today, you will be completely taken in by the lucidity and natural flow of words.
It was great to see Mrs. Sengupta after 33 years. That would be actually two-thirds of my life so far!! Unfortunately, I did not visit quickly enough to see Mr. Sengupta too but I was glad to see that Mrs. Sengupta is in great health. In fact, one of the rare cases of any of my friends’ parents keeping up with excellent health. Touch wood!!
We talked endlessly about that trip we had made and exchanged notes of what we remembered.
I have to say – from that initial scream and hug once I saw Dip to his insistence on going out for lunch and adda – it was as if those intervening 33 years never happened. The camaraderie and joi-de-vivre was untouched and intact. It was like we had seen each other just the other day.
Speaking of going out for lunch and adda, Dip took me to a local place and we had some outstanding animated discussions – as you can see in the picture. Dip has an unique perspective – what with he being a very successful business person in Delhi. Additionally, his professional area of interest being marketing (specifically advertisement) and his educational degree being in history, he brings a lot of fresh perspective to a person with my background. Our topics of discussions ranged from geopolitical events to consumer marketing.
Apart from the fresh perspective that I talked about, one unmistakable trait of Dip you just cannot miss is his positivity. His observations of some of the concerns across the world and in India on economic and geo-political issues never left the moorings of an underlying framework that on a macro basis, the world is getting better and better. This is something that I absolutely subscribe to. And am sometimes amazed by how we can get into the microscopic details of analysis of an event – and assign motivation or judgment to it immediately – and yet not be able to step back and see the larger (and slower) trajectory the world is on.
Perhaps learning deeply history gives him the advantage of setting perspective to things. On the other hand, I think that positivity is just sheer Dip. He was like that even when he was 16 years old.
I love spending time with such people! May your tribe increase, Dip Sengupta!!
- Unique Intersection Point Apr 24, 2018
This is going to be a very difficult story to string together. This involves a complete stranger in Singapore, a hospice patient in Atlanta, a small resort called Ibeeza in south part of West Bengal and an office building in Kolkata. Also, an untimely demise. At the end the story is that of an incredible attitude.
Let me give my best shot at stringing this together.
“So, exactly, how do I know you?”, asked her after we settled down at the Gin and Tonic bar at JW Marriott in Singapore.
This is the first time I am seeing her in person. We had become Facebook friends for some time and even exchanged a lot of messages (more on that later) but I forgot how I got to know her.
Turns out Indrani worked in the same office in Kolkata as my school mate from middle school days – Suman Das. They used to sit at desks a spitting distance away. Apparently, one of those days, she had mentioned to Suman how she loves following a few blogs and the write-ups that she reads there. Suman – not exactly known for having high standards while referring blog writers – asked her if she had ever seen my blog. Turned out Indrani liked my blog too when she started reading them. (I think that office attracted people who liked low quality blog writing 🙂 🙂 ).
In any case, all this happened unbeknownst to me. Then one day, I got a FB request from Indrani. Like many other requests, I just let it be since I could not recognize the person. I suspect she must have asked Suman why I had not accepted. For one day, I got a message from Suman saying his friend has sent me a FB request. She likes reading my stuff and that he knows her personally and can be trusted.
I accepted that request and that was that. I kept writing and she kept reading silently.
Then one day, I wrote about Mr. Thompson – the blind patient I have in one of the hospices. One of the things if you remember I had asked him about his thoughts on being born blind versus losing eyesight later in life. Which one was more difficult? I remember his thoughtful answer -while he admitted not coming from a position of having gone thru both to do a true comparison, he felt it was harder when something is given to you and then taken away.
That statement resonated with Indrani. Over personal messages she kept telling me why that was a very timely message for her. During our meeting at the bar, she joined all the missing dots for me. Her life story is an amazing one. Like many lucky ones, she started with a great job at an early age, met the love of her life and married him. For seven years, she lived the blessed life of a great husband, great inlaws, great friends, great jobs and of course her great parents.
And then one fine day fate dealt a cruel blow and she lost her husband at the tender age of 32 or so in a matter of hours after succumbing to brain aneurysm. Her words drifted away as I lost attention – just trying mentally to put myself in her position. When I finally came back to my attention, she had already covered the part where – to add to all the sufferings – she lost her father in law too after a year or so.
It was around that time she started reading my blogs. As she struggled to cope with the losses in her personal life, facing a situation that most people do not face, it was a struggle to figure out how to move forward or even what to do next. One thing she kept mentioning is how she had very supportive in laws, parents, friends etc through all that. I was pretty intrigued by her positivity. For that age, that had to be a sign of great maturity and equanimity.
To probe a little I asked “As you look back, how do you feel about those days? There must have been a sense of helplessness. A sense of why do you have to go thru so much pain?”
Her answer stunned me. Remember she is barely in her mid thirties. Her perfect framing of the answer was (and I liked the way she put it so much that I had to ask her to excuse me as I wrote it down on my iPad) – “Everybody has problems. Mine came this way.”
What an attitude!! I would be lying to you if I did not admit that I had to fight back a lump of throat. Indeed we all have problems. That is not what defines us. How we deal with it is what defines us. You can consider yourself a victim or you can learn from it. Certainly, Indrani sets the bar for me in how to deal with challenges in life.
It was in this backdrop that Mr. Thompson’s words were so poignant for her. That broke the dam – so to speak – and she wrote to me about her life history and how she realized the truth in Mr. Thompson’s words. It was better not to have ever had a husband than to have lost him so early. She completely believed in Mr. Thompson’s words.
As I had explained to her in our exchanges, Mr. Thompson’s is not an easy life. He bangs into walls, can’t find where his bathroom is, does not know where the remote is (TV is his sole company)… There are small things that you do not realize till you see them. One day, I saw him struggling to shave. Just imagine trying to put a blade in your razor – much less find out where they are and position yourself in front of the wash basin. But as I had told Indrani, he is determined to make the best of what is left for him. He is 96 and he is the most well dressed person I have seen at that age. Always shirt tucked in, shoes on, hair combed … remember he cannot see himself … but it is like he does not give a darn to what has happened. He is determined to be as normal as he can be.
BTW, I have talked to Mr. Thompson about Indrani and her sentiments for his courage. Mr. Thompson, in return, passed his regards to her. I even carried a picture of him for Indrani.
I learnt sitting at the bar, that as we were going thru these exchanges then, she was starting to make up her mind to leave her past and move forward too. Many months later, I got a message from her that she was going to get married again! She has found this wonderful person but that would also mean she would have to move to Singapore and away from her parents, her mother-in-law from first marriage (who she is very close to), her job, her friends etc… I wished her the best – thought this was a perfect chance to press the reset button and promised to look her and her husband up if I ever showed up in Singapore.
Unfortunately, I missed her husband since he was working late and I was running late for a dinner meeting.
You would think the story would stop here, right? Ah! then you do not know me at all. There is an intersection point behind this intersection point. Remember, I have not explained to you yet where that Ibeeza resort fits in the whole story.
Well, if you go back to a Jan 23, 2013 post in my blog or FB, you will see the story of how I was hosting all my cousins at that resort for a couple of days and while taking some rest by the pool by myself, I thought I saw Suman Das walk past me. Nobody has yet fathomed how two students from tenth grade ever managed to meet in a small resort and recognize each other some 30 years later.
Suman was there for a office party. He introduced me to his wife, mom and son who were there and I posted a picture of them in that blog. He had also introduced me to the rest of his office folks. Many of them had a lot of questions about life in America. I had a great time with all of them!
Who know who was there at the party? Yes, same Indrani!! Turns out it was she who had arranged the whole party!! I have seen her, must have met her but had no idea that it was the same person who became my Facebook friend or was even sitting in front me at the bar. I hurriedly showed pictures from that day on my iPad and she fished out pictures from that day on her phone. They matched!!!!
Is that cool or is that cool?
Best intersection point ever!!
- That’s all folks… for this trip!! Apr 24, 2018
- “Oh! And one more thing….” Apr 24, 2018
(Sorry Steve Jobs, for borrowing your line)
Apart from reliving all those memories from childhood – school friends, their parents, domestic help, mom’s sister… I did one more thing. Most of you in US will not be able to relate to this but one of our favorite comic books in India used to be Asterix. Originally written by Goscinny and illustrated by Uderzo (both from Belgium), this comic series is best appreciated with some knowledge of Shakespearian English and a rough idea about the Roman Empire. A little knowledge of Latin would make it perfect!
The puns are to die for!
“Vini, Vidi, Vibuci”, Julius Caesar exclaimed as he saw the tiny village of Gaul beat the heck out of his famed Roman army. If you are used to the “Vidi, Vidi, Vici – I came, I saw I conquered” line, there is a helpful translation of the line in the comic below the picture which reads – “I came, I saw, I could not believe my eyes”!!
Of course, how can one forget the nomenclature?
The Norman guys’ names always ended with “af” – Telegraf, Autograf, Timandahalf! The twin brothers on the ship? Firsthaf, Secondhaf!!!
The Romans’ (who were cast as villains) names always ended with “us” – commander of the army – Nefarius Purpus!!
And the indomitable Gauls had the “ix” suffix – Asterix, Obelix, the druid who made their potion – “Getafix”, the ironsmith of the village “Fuliautomatix”, the fish monger (who somehow always had rotten fish to sell) “Unhygenix”. The chief of the village? “Vitalstatistix”.
But the cream of the cream was the name of the wife of the chief of the village (who used to always nag him). Her name was simply “Impedimenta” 🙂
Managed to get the whole series of 36 comic books from India this time. (including the versions written by Ferri and illustrated by Conrad later). The suitcase was heavy as heck but it was totally worth it!!
Now you will excuse me if I do not surface for a few days.
(Vikram Das, we got to exchange notes sometime!!!)