’19 May India
- The ingenuity of my niece! May 24, 2019
Back to hauling myself to the other side of the world to spend a couple of days with my parents. This time there is some suspense in the air because some well laid plans can come to nought if my father changes his mind. And he has done this to us once before.
For the last few trips, I have been trying to convince him to come out and stay in a resort for a couple of days instead of being cooped up in his room all the time. He has steadfastly refused so far. “Tora ghurey aay” (You guys go ahead) has been his common refrain. Which is somewhat unfair to my mom – who is consumed by her care taking role and never gets a break.
This time, I tried a different route. Not totally above a Machiavellian streak here and there, I decided to try to appeal to him thru my niece and nephews. I called up my niece a month back and let her know that I will take her out for a vacation if she can convince my dad to come with us. Then next day, I called up my nephews and told them the same thing.
Apparently, I did not need to (call my nephews). I was underestimating my niece’s wily ways. I understand that evening she went and told my dad that he has no option but to come with her. My dad had asked where was she thinking of going. She had feigned complete innocence and said that she would convince me to take the family for a trip when I land up in India next. My father, mistaking it to be a far fetched plan, dismissed her by saying – “Sure! I will come.”
That morning there was a WhatsApp message from her waiting for me declaring that she had succeeded. Somewhat incredulous, I reminded her how he had changed his mind once before and we had to cancel the whole trip at the last moment. Had she thought thru that?
“I will fix it”, was the response.
Next morning, there was another WhatsApp message with some images of handwritten notes. I had to save the images and expand them to read them. They were hilarious and at the same time reflected upon my niece’s determination. Not sure whether you can read the notes … but she had written up a declaration that my parents have consented to go for a trip with us and that it was an irrevocable agreement. To give that declaration some heft, she even put an official looking name to it – “Enjoy Vacation Tour Society Ltd”, it seems! Love that “Limited” bit at the end. Why take any more liability than is necessary?
She got my mom to sign it and then faced the next problem. You see, after my dad’s brain stroke, his right side was totally paralyzed. He has gained some strength back but certainly does not have the dexterity to write. Or sign, for that matter! No problems!! My niece put ink all over his thumb and got him to put a thumbprint on the declaration!
It probably has not escaped your sharp eyes that she put three names as organizers. Herself first, of course. And she has given herself the designation of “Secretary”. Which is only fair, I think. Then she put my name with an even further elevated title – “Chairman”! So far so good. She put my younger brother’s name too in the end. Even she was aware that without my brother, nothing will happen. In our family – he is always the person on the ground getting things done. In trips like this, he is the one calling up all resorts, doing some hard negotiations on rates, arranging for transports for everybody, meal plans and all that. We simply show up and have fun.
But I am sure even he was not ready for the title he got – “Travel Agent”. I had to pick myself up from the floor laughing away to glory before I could call my brother and let him know about his new founded designation. From his reaction over the phone, I figured he was rolling on the floor too!!
We are 36 hours away from knowing if my dad has reneged on the deal. In fact, to take no chances, I am not even going to his place to see him. I am sure he will say “Ei to dekha hoye gelo. Tora ghurey day”. (He will claim he was looking forward to seeing me. That being done, there was no need for him to join us). I am going straight to the resort from the airport where he is supposed to show up.
Unless he changes his mind.
- Morning run in hot and humid Kriparampur May 26, 2019
- Evening walk down our memory lanes… May 28, 2019
- A defining moment I am likely to remember life by … May 28, 2019
- That moment… May 28, 2019
- You cannot claim dancing to be a fine art after you watch me do this… May 28, 2019
- In the end, it did not end as planned… May 29, 2019
Turns out my dad did get in a car to head towards the resort where we were going to all get together as a family. But once I landed in Kolkata airport, I got the news from my brother that I was very afraid of. My dad fell ill after an hour and started throwing up. The decision was taken to not take any more chances and the car turned around to get him back home. All this happened when I was in flight. The good news was that he was very stable after reaching home. The bad news was that if the logistics of his journey was set up differently, this would not have happened at all. Well, we were where we were.
Here came the next complication. You see, we had planned a big surprise for my dad. To go back to his life history, after he left tilling land in his village and moved to Durgapur to join an upcoming steel factory (the one move that put the three of us siblings on a completely different life path), he had then tried to convince other folks from his village to get out of farming and go get a job in an industry. Two that he had succeeded with were my mother’s brother and one of his cousins. I traditionally have called them “Mama” and “Kaka”.
They too moved to Durgapur and started their family there. In the process they got their families on a different arc of financial stability too. And they have been forever thankful to my dad about that. They would always show up at her house and help my dad and mom with a small thing here and a small thing there. In fact, I grew fairly close to my “mama” and his family. He had a big part in my life – from rushing me to the hospital when I came down with typhoid to teaching me how to tie a tie when I had my first job interview. He also was the one who got me interested in math early on by giving me math problems to solve for. My “kaka” lived a little further away and we saw him more on a weekly basis rather than multiple times a week. I remember looking forward to his trips because of his quick, funny quips and the constant supply of logic puzzles he used to have.
After my father suffered his stroke in Sep 2017, during his recovery period, one of the first memories that came back to him was these two uncles. He would repeatedly talk about how much he helped them and how much they helped him back and that that was what being a family meant. He would repeat the same thing over and over again. Looking back, while that part of his memory got restored early, the rest of the brain was still damaged and he had no idea that he had just mentioned the same thing a minute back.
Regardless, those two uncles were his source of pride always. First, they joined him in his call to give up on tiling land. And second, he had helped them get a job. On the other hand, he also was very happy how much he could depend on them whenever he needed some help. He always referred to them as his right arm and left arm.
Back to Sunday. So, the idea was to get those two uncles (and aunts) to come to the resort and spend a couple of days with my dad. We figured he would have a blast. It was not an easy journey for either of the uncles – one of who is a cancer survivor and the other has had some serious nerve damages (and actually cannot speak fully well due to a botched surgery).
Anyways, the best news of the day after I landed was that my dad was stable and normal once he went back home. The quick decision from me was to proceed with the vacation as planned sans my parents. As much as it hurt that I would not see him with my uncles, it was no less a trip for me to spend time with the two uncles myself. While I have kept up with them and their families over the phone and visit them fairly often during my trips to India, this was the first time – after early childhood – that I would get them for some quality time.
And then there was the next generation. For the nephews and the niece, they were literally having hourly countdown to the trip. It would have been devastating for them to cancel the trip.
So, well, we went ahead and pointed all the cars to the resort.
Looking back, it was simply a blast. I will put more pictures soon. But to get a couple of days to sit down and say Thank You to folks who helped you and your siblings in the formative stages of life was invaluable. To do that while similarly creating memorable moments for the next generation at the same time? Now, that was priceless.
- Quid Pro Quo May 29, 2019
For all the effort that was taken to teach their hapless uncle how to do the Dental Floss dance – quite unsuccessfully, I might add – they were rewarded with some demo of a two handed drum beat. It is a little tricky in terms of timing and coordination.
Well, that kept them busy for a whole evening! This is the final demo they gave me of a triple combo.
I was simply glad nobody in the resort complained about the ruckus they raised…
- Oh! The “times” have changed alright! May 29, 2019
Last evening, I arrived in Durgapur to check on my mother-in-law. This is my second visit to see her after we lost my father-in-law a few months back.
This morning, sitting idly in the living room, I was doing what any self-respecting Bengali would do in their mother-in-law’s house – namely, drinking gallons and gallons of tea. Presently, it dawned on me that I needed to get ready and go visit an old favorite math teacher of mine. Looking at the two clocks on either end of the room, I was overcome with confusion. You can check the picture below to understand my predicament.
“Kon ghorita thik time dichchey?”, (which clock is correct) I asked my mother-in-law.
Without even as much as raising her head from whatever it was that she was doing, she replied “Somoy dekhte abaar ghori dekhey naki keu?”. She essentially berated me for relying on clocks to tell me the time.
“Mobile gulo tey dekhey ne”. She asked me to use a mobile phone. Which was a good thing – since, there were half a dozen of them lying on the table.
A few minutes later, I asked her who changes the batteries in the clocks when they run out. She praised her help at home for taking care of all those niceties.
I went back to sipping another cup of tea, realizing that the irony was completely lost on her!!!
- Guess where we took our dad on his wheelchair today? May 30, 2019
- Reliving some evenings from four decades back May 30, 2019
- The modernization of my mom May 31, 2019
This story is especially for Sharmila who ridicules me for scaling the water tank on the terrace at my dad’s building to have wine.
As a backdrop, I need to first explain two generic words used by Bengalis. The first one is “ye”. This is basically a word thrown to mean anything or everything – especially when you cannot remember the real name – or probably ever knew. A common English colloquial equivalent would be “whatchamacallit” or “that thingy”. Hope you get the general drift.
My parents – throughout my childhood – were a tad more conservative than the peer group I grew up with. There were three absolute no-nos for me and my sibling when we were growing up. First was watching Hindi movies (this is where they differed from most all my other friends’ parents I knew) – especially listening to the “laareylappa” songs. Not sure what “laareylappa” truly meant – but I am sure for my dad it translated to “not Rabindrasangeet”. The second prohibition was around smoking cigarettes. The third was around drinking. This might explain why I have never watched Sholay (actually, I do not think I have watched more than three or four Hindi movies in my entire life), never puffed a single puff so far and had my first sip of any alcohol at the age of 32!
And it is that alcohol that brings me to Bengali’s second generic word. You see, for Bengalis till a certain generation – for my parents anyways – the concept of social drinking was non existent. If you drink then you automatically slip down to the lowest rung of society. The whole gamut of your finest bottle of a cabernet to the local potent toddy was summarily dismissed as “mod”. They were all the same source of social evil, thank you very much. The society – according to them anyways – were divided by a deep chasm – the “modo maatals” (drunkards) and the “bhalo chheleys” (otherwise, good guys). You were either destined to be staggering or a staggering success, as it were.
Crossing that chasm was not for the weak of the heart when it came to figuring out how to have a glass of wine or two in Durgapur or Kalyani at my parents’ place. The Durgapur part was relatively simpler – Sharmila and I simply went to “Big Bazar” – name of a shopping mall – which is the excuse we gave to our parents while we went to some local restaurant that served some bad wine. Incidentally, my dad – who grew up with little money and is not exactly aligned with consumerism – was always mighty pleased with Sharmila that in spite of so many evenings being spent shopping in Big Bazar, she never actually bought anything and came home empty handed.
In Kalyani, the problem was a little more subtle. For one, there was no good spot to go and drink. So the solution was to insource the problem. In other words, find some place to drink at home. Dad’s place was ruled out for obvious reasons. Sister’s place was also dicey since mom could walk in any day. Eventually, the problem was solved by hauling our wine bottle and some spicy snacks up to the terrace and then scale the water tank every evening to commence our imbibing. Even if mom came up to the terrace, she would not scale the water tank.
That practice continued for years. And was a constant source for Sharmila to ridicule me and my brother. One fine evening, rains intervened and we had to bundle ourselves back down to my sister’s house. Where we were promptly busted when my mom walked in and saw all of us sitting and having a good time. She made nothing of it. If anything, much to our chagrin, she came and sat among us. Talk of some awkward moments. My brother praising the “soda” we were drinking was at best a noble attempt but a thoroughly unsuccessful one, by my reckoning.
The interesting part is my mom never made a fuss about it and would come and join us every evening after that. You might even remember how she sat with us in the bar of a resort we had taken our parents to one time and had drinks with us (she, of course, had a mocktail). That practice then continued for some time. Everybody knew what was going on. Nobody ever talked about it. You just never explicitly mentioned it by name. And my dad was none the wiser in the bargain.
Finally, we were emboldened to even drink in our dad’s house. Like I said, mom was cool. Dad had no idea.
The crowning glory came yesterday. We were all sitting down with my dad in our veranda outside and were chatting while enjoying the mild wind in an otherwise hot and sultry evening. When my mom walked up and said “Toder “ye”-tar saathey aajkay pniyaji banaabo”. In other words, she offered to make onion fritters for us to go with “that thingy” for the evening. My dad tried asking what she was talking about. She simply brushed him aside.
My brother and I kept looking at each other. Did our mom just encourage us to drink?
Wow! We have come long ways.
So there, Sharmila Roy – you can’t ridicule my brother and me anymore. Our mother makes “pniyaji” to go with that “ye” thing. Let me see you getting your mom to do that now!
- One of my early sources of love for math… May 31, 2019
Anup Nandi, Uday Bhanu Roy, Dr. A.N. Roychowdhury… I can name the trio of my teachers that got me started on an insatiable journey to learn about math (and logic in general). If I could add private teachers, I would add Swarupananda Karmakar to that list.
Lately, Dr. Roychowdhury and I have had some late night (for me) discussions on his first love – Physics. In fact, most of our discussions revolve around the challenges of the grand unification theory (of the four core forces in this universe).
Thanks to Somshekhar Bakshi, I was able to refer Dr. Roychowdhury to two books that has intrigued me – one on Physics and one on Maths. Yesterday, I was able to visit him in his house to discuss those books!
Dr. Mukherjee, in so many ways is the person I always wanted to be – but know will never be – quiet, soft-spoken and every word worth measured in its weight in gold.
He and I have other connections too! His daughter – Mousumi – is somebody I went to school with from first grade (although I have a lurking suspicion that she does not want to admit to it :-). My brother Chiradeep and his wife Chaitali were also students of Dr. Roychowdhury!!
I have to admit that seeing Kakima (Mrs. Roychowdhury) having knee issues was a little perturbing. I always remember her as the person who welcomed me with a smile every time I showed up at Mousumi’s house and insisted that I had tea and some snacks before I left.
Dr. Roychowdhury and I have opened up another area of common interest – evolution! Especially, how did homo sapiens’ brains evolve where we are today?
I am looking forward to a few more late night discussions on that topic and learning from him. What is remarkable is that he has so many things to teach me on so many topics. It is like nothing has changed in four decades!!
- The car whiz-kid May 31, 2019
One of the beliefs I have is that the longest lasting effect most of us will leave in this world is how we spend time with and influence kids. The theory being they will outlast us by about three to four decades and 99.99% of human beings will have no real remnants of what they have done three to four decades after they are gone.
My true reckoning came one particular day on my way from Durgapur (visiting my in laws) back to Kalyani (where my parents live). I remember, we were approaching Panagarh when I got a call from Baisakhi (my friend from school years) to mention that her son regretted that he did not get a chance to high five me before I left.
That is when I realized that my seemingly meaningless meetings might have a whole different meaning to other folks (especially kids).
Therefore, in spite of knowing that Baisakhi would not be at home this time, it was important for me that I go check in on her son – Utsab. The conversations with him flowed naturally and the lucidity of the same were derived from nothing other than the fact there was pure intellectual curiosity without any expectations from either side. In fact almost all my discussions with him were had with me lying down on his bed – which he had just gotten out of and was still unmade.
He was painfully aware that his mom was going to take him to task for not making his bed before I showed up. I let him know there are many more things important in life than making our beds. For example, cars. This kid has more knowledge of cars around the world than I know. Once he realized we are a Lexus family, he could tell me exactly which year Lexus introduced the “grille”!!
It was a short time that we spent together. But the fact that he had let his mom know that he was waiting for me the whole morning is what made my day. Somewhere, somehow, either I have done something right or I have fooled somebody well. For the time, I will choose to believe the former!
- A ritual as old as time… May 31, 2019
- Meeting his old friends May 31, 2019
My dad hates the concept of being moved around in a wheelchair. That symbolizes having to give up a certain level of independence that he is not willing to. In the evenings, on a rare day when he gets out, he takes his walker. Even that, he is not totally comfortable with. He would rather take a walking stick. He has had a couple of falls while trying to do that. So, he is down to his walker.
But that also means he can’t walk for too long a distance. If he ever goes out, he walks for about thirty yards and sits on a culvert. He does not have the strength to go to the old spot in a park where he and about half a dozen elderly folks used to get together every evening.
Two evenings back, over his protestations, my brother and I took him out in his wheelchair. After having “foochka”s, we then pushed him to that old spot in the park. It appeared that he had a great half an hour there with some of his old friends who had showed up. He also learnt about some others who are no more.
As we set his wheelchair off the brakes to bring him back, he introduced us to his friends – “Eti aamar chhoto chhele aar eti aamar boro chhele”. He could have stopped after introducing us as his younger and elder son. But no! Pointing to me, he said “Kaal choley jaabey” (He is going to leave tomorrow). The only reason to mention that was to build up to his next statement – something that he is apparently very proud of “America-y thaakey”. (He lives in the US).
That statement he invariably mentions to everybody has always made me cringe. It is a very fine line between showing pride and showing off. Over the years, I have just learnt how not to react to it anymore.
I was too preoccupied anyways with the thought of how we take self-independence for granted and how our lifestyle quality dramatically turns for the worse as age starts taking that away bit by bit.
- We are a good company… May 31, 2019
- Good news. Bad news. May 31, 2019
The good news is that I am fairly comfortable with babies. In fact, if you come to a Roy household – be it Kalyani, Kolkata or Atlanta – with a dog or a baby, you are fairly assured of being completely ignored given the attention the dog or the baby is going to get. In fact, in those rare occasions that I show up to a party, if I can spot a baby, I am fairly well occupied for the rest of the evening. For whatever reason, babies take to me reasonably well too (same IQ level, they reckon?).
The bad news is that, invariably, in about a few minutes, they go off to sleep in my lap. There is only so much of having to look at my face that they can take, I presume.
Which is exactly what happened when a couple of the helps at home brought their kids/grandkids around to our house during this trip.
- Relief from 102 degrees of heat Jun 1, 2019
- Some unexpected dancing skills… Jun 1, 2019
- The youngsters had a great time… Jun 1, 2019
- … as did the adults Jun 1, 2019
- Post run jump into the pool… Jun 1, 2019
- He is happiest around his grandkids…. Jun 1, 2019
- The whole family together Jun 1, 2019
- This is how he spends most of his days Jun 1, 2019
- The downside of not having a stage rehearsal Jun 1, 2019
“Chintey paarchhis?” was the message that came to me along with a Facebook Friend request. I had no doubt in my mind – “Sontu-da to?”. Apparently, it took him by a little surprise that I had readily recognized him. Which was understandable. We lived in the same neighborhood for three years only and even then since he was three years senior, we did not have as many interactions as the other kids who were nearer my age.
I remember meeting him for the first time during the winter of 79-80 when we moved to a new neighborhood. The last time I saw him was around the winter of 83-84. I had already left home for a residential school and then Sontu-da’s family moved out of our neighborhood. Day before yesterday, my brother and I pulled up in front of his house in Citi Center, Durgapur and was able to see him and talk to him – more than 35 years after we had seen each other last.
We went thru some of our old memories. I recollect Sontu-da teaching me 2 different card tricks the very first day I met him. In fact, I remember playing a lot of cards with him and the other kids in our neighborhood when it got too hot to go outside and play in the field.
But the most remarkable memory we both had – and shared a common laugh together was something that had happened in the summer of 1980. In those days, if you were to land in Durgapur unsuspectingly around second week of May, you were bound to see many a neighborhood putting up a make shift stage in the evening – usually in some open space, but sometimes bang in the middle of the street. That was your first clue that the season was upon us for Bengalis to get our annual urge to display our hidden histrionic, musical and poetry reading talents. The ostensible reason was celebrating Rabindranath’s birthday – “Rabindra Jayanti”, as we would say.
Sontu-da had taken upon himself that year to get some of us kids – very wet behind our ears when it came to acting – to act out a play written by Rabindranath Tagore. “Chhatrer Porikkha” (The Student’s Test), if my memory serves me right. Our practice sessions were a riot of misread statements, jumbled up words and sometimes entering the scene way too early on a miscue. It did not exactly help that half the kids in my neighborhood those days used to stammer with different degrees. But give it to us for putting up a spirited fight.
Now, in that particular play, I was given the lead role – that of the student. Yes, you can safely guess from there that none of the kids were going to have a bright future in acting later. Be that as it may, my purpose was to try and get rid of my teacher by purposely giving ridiculous answers when he would ask me questions in front of my dad who was paying a visit to check on my progress. I distinctly remember a question where the teacher was going to ask me something like – “If a palm tree grew in height by two feet everyday how tall would it be at the end of ten days” – or something like that. My impish answer would be – “depends upon if the tree was growing straight or in a crooked fashion”. You get the gist of it.
Well, at the end of a few weeks, I think Sontu-da had gotten the motley crowd to a modicum of decent performance. We were brimming with a fair amount of confidence a couple of days earlier when we realized that nobody needed a cue or a prop to remember their words.
The actual performance on the stage was a whole different ballgame though.
To understand that, you have to realize that we never had any dress rehearsal or stage rehearsal. For one thing, the stage was going to be set up only a few hours before the actual show. Setting a stage up essentially meant going around house to house asking our neighbors to lend us a cot. Once we had gathered about four of them, we would put them together and then cover them with some kind of borrowed cloth covers. This was out in the open. So, you were not going to do any such thing till about a few hours before the show. Otherwise we would need somebody to volunteer to be at the makeshift stage to prevent those cloth covers or cots getting spirited away. Sitting out in that sweltering peak mid-May heat in Bengal would scurry off many a brave soul. We were mere kids then. We needed rest before our performance, moreover!
Net, net – no stage rehearsal.
Trust me, there are details of acting that you completely miss when you skip a stage rehearsal. And this is not counting those cases when the rickety cots were of uneven heights or some of those cloth covers on the cots got themselves entangled. You can get caught on the wrong foot on many other snafus.
Case in point: When I started giving all sorts of ridiculous answers to the questions from my teacher – none other than my next door neighbor Debasish – his part of the acting involved getting frustrated, scratching his head and pacing up and down. And try the next question.
So far so good. Now, let me remind you again, we were young kids trying to put up a public performance with very limited access to means. We needed to dress up Debasish as an elderly, respectable teacher. How do you make somebody look elderly? Sure – you dump nearly a bottle of talcum powder on his thick headful of hair.
The fun really started in a few minutes. The audience – not exactly holding us to high standards – seemed to have settled down and was getting into the act. I had gotten over my initial stage jitters and was fluently belting out those crazy answers that I had committed to memory. Debasish, with equal verve started pacing up and down the stage showing the required amount of impatience. And commenced to profusely scratch his head.
Yes. One of the important lessons we all learnt in our short career of acting that evening is that when you have a head full of talcum powder, you are well advised to stay away from profusely scratching your head. Powder starts flying out of your head and you look like a walking and talking chimney. Worse, you don’t see it yourself. You just see your co-actors desperately trying to hold heir laughter. The audience? Not so much. You think you are doing something wrong. Which means you get panicky and that scratching increases in its intensity considerably. Leading to you know what….
The not-so-virtuous cycle unfortunately continued till Debasish literally ran out of talcum powder on his head. At which point we all picked ourselves up from the stage and finished off the play with all sorts of jumbled lines.
Epilogue: Speaking of profusely scratching, we scratched off acting as a career next morning during our post-play get together.
Ah! Those simple times! Those really good times. Wish they would come back even if for a fleeting moment…
Anyways, it was great seeing you Sontu-da and remembering those times!
- The goodbyes… Jun 1, 2019
They never get easier. The only silver lining is that my mother and mother-in-law can still come out to wave me away. My father-in-law, on the other hand, is no more and my father cannot come downstairs to say his goodbyes…
Felt really sorry for mom missing out on the resort trip. She is the one who enjoys going out but is stuck at home due to care-taking responsibilities for my dad.
- I might have to learn singing after this. If I remember to, that is!! Jun 2, 2019
“Where did we meet last?”, I asked
“Carbondale, Illinois, right?”
“Yeah – that was three years back. Do you remember where we met before that?”
“Was it not Dubai a few years before that?”
“Indeed. I guess it was high time we met in Kolkata then – the city where we met each other for the first time – let’s see … about 33 years back?”
With that we settled down in the lounge of Westin hotel in Kolkata. It was an irony that I knew so many of the students from my batch in Durgapur so well but never knew Piyali. There is a funny story about how we met for the first time on a hot summer evening in Kolkata in 1986. It somehow involved two medical colleges, a Kathak dance class and she being majorly disappointed in me. I will let her elaborate on that story.
Over the years though, she certainly has become somebody I enjoy talking to and learn from. She has a streak of independence in her thinking that has led her to try out so many different things in life. Often buckling the social norms. What is most endearing about her is that in spite of having strong beliefs, she never goes around telling people how they should be living their lives. But if you get her to talk, there are a lot of pearls of wisdom you can pick up.
“So, talk to me about your singing. You had mentioned that during our last two conversations. How difficult was it for you to pick up from where you left it in your young adult days?”
Well, that was when I learnt that Piyali has never learnt singing before. When she told me that she was going to learn singing, I assumed, like her dancing, she had to give it up once her medical studies and life took over. What I found out was that she had to give up dancing due to an injury. After crossing 50, she decided to do something she always wanted to – singing – but never got a chance. Apparently, she had asked many people to teach her but nobody had taken her seriously till she got a break while waiting for a ride. Story for another day.
“So, what are you trying to achieve?”
“I just want to learn music. I do not believe I want to ever give performances. I want to train my ears enough that I can listen to a piece of music and detect what ‘raaga’ it is.
“What have you learnt about yourself thru this journey so far?”
“There is medical research that suggests that music can postpone the onset of Alzheimers. I can see in myself that my short term memory has dramatically improved in the short one and a half years of learning music”
“Yes. I was forgetful enough that I often used to forget brand names of medicine that I would prescribe. I would remember the chemical compound – but not the brand names. Now I have no problems!”
“That is really interesting”
From her taking up kettle balls to learning how to do bonsai to her jet-setting lifestyle from Las Vegas to Dubai to Kolkata, it is very difficult to keep up with my friend. But the short durations that I get once every three to five years when we meet face to face are always eye opening to me.
“Looking back on your life, what would you like to be on your tombstone?”
Thinking for a few minutes, she said “That I found happiness in the small things”
I never thought about it that way – but that absolutely describes you, Piyali. Over the years, I got to know of some of the challenges you had faced. But I cannot recollect even on one occasion where you were negative about anything or even complained a wee bit. Which is fairly unique in today’s world. Especially in India, where everybody seems to focus on how things are getting worse from day to day, you are a refreshing oasis who reminds us how beautiful life is.
Can’t wait for our next meeting.
- My ever smiling dorm mate!! Jun 3, 2019
Last time I was in Bombay and had published a post on meeting my friend from MBA days – Somshekhar Baksi, I got a message from another friend – Anish Gupta if we could meet. Unfortunately for me, I had run out of time but I had promised him that the next time I was in Bombay, I would be sure to meet him.
Sunday was the day to keep that promise. I met Anish for the first time after 1991 Feb. We were in the same dorm. My recollection of him was that of a constantly smiling person, very soft spoken and very well-kempt hair. And he always used to carry a handkerchief in his trousers’ left pocket!!
We had similar interests in life and in fact followed similar career paths initially – technology in financial services sector – and then our paths diverged. He stayed on with the financial sector to become an expert and moved to Singapore before moving back to India. I went off to the USA and have jumped industries every time I changed jobs – never letting anything close to something that can be considered an expertise get anywhere near me.
Thanks to the effort Anish put negotiating traffic in Bombay, I was finally able to see him in my hotel after nearly three decades. We chatted for the better part of three hours. Interestingly, most of it was focused on the longer view of life – what MBA taught us and did not, how we figure out what are the important things in life and how do we balance our work, family and ourselves. I even got him interested in my version of the Level 10 Life that I follow to set and achieve life goals.
It was great to see that the constant smile on his face has not left Anish. More importantly, his genuine curiosity about everything has remained intact from those days of D-13 in IIM Ahmedabad. That is the thing I have always admired about him. And still do.
- Epitome of a gentleman Jun 3, 2019
“Charles, you will absolutely not remember me. My name is Rajib. You used to be the librarian in COSL. I worked in COSL SEEPZ premises for about a year”.
“How do you remember me?”
“Well, if I were to name three of the kindest persons I have ever met in my life or perhaps ever will – you will be way up there in that list”
The way he had parried away my answer, I figured I was not the first one to bring it up.
Way back when, I had worked in COSL’s SEEPZ premises. First for a two month internship in 1990 and then for a job 1991-1992. During the summer internship, I was asked by my boss – Sesh was his name – to work on an Expert Systems software COSL had bought. He gave me the specific project he wanted me to do – resume management application for HR. The problem was that the more I tried the software, the more I realized it was anything but an expert system. Moreover, the HR requirements for resume match were fairly standard and required less of expert systems and more of deterministic matches with a some level of forgiveness.
Eventually, I gave up and decided to ignore Sesh’s advise to not worry about the project and learn more about expert systems and the application. I wanted to focus on the problem. So, I went to the library the company had and started looking up every book that I could lay my hands on.
Presently, a soft spoken gentleman that I had seen at the entrance – presumably the librarian – walked up to me. With a tie on (we all had to wear ties in that hot, sultry summer weather in Bombay) and his full sleeves wrapped up all they way to the elbow, he asked me if I was looking for something. I told him about my challenge.
“Have you looked at dBase4”?
I had no idea what it was. So, he helped me get a thick book. And arranged for a floppy disk with the software loaded.
Long story short, I studied up the whole dang thing and built something before my internship was over. I was fairly satisfied with the system. But a year later when I joined the company for a full time job, I realized that nobody ever used it!!! Not that I cared. They gave me a job, right?
How I managed to sit face to face with Charles about three decades later is a story unto itself. About a couple of years back, I had gone to Pune to meet an old teacher of mine from school days. Sri Ganesh – who was a senior of mine in COSL, realized that and offered to meet me at a hotel by Bombay airport before I could fly out to USA. That evening, we were talking of old colleagues and Charles’ name came up. He even got me his phone number.
Once I went back to US, I called him up and had the conversation I referred to earlier.
A couple of years later, last Sunday in fact, I tried Charles thru WhatsApp, phone call and email before I left Kolkata. I was going to be in Bombay for a few hours and I wanted to see if he might have time. Only late in the evening he responded saying he will come and meet me. That was awfully kind of him.
And that is the way I remember him. Nothing has changed about him. The ever soft spoken, humble to a fault, Charles was recognizable both by his looks and his behavior across those three decades like nothing has changed.
There was in interesting story, as it turns out, how he had pointed me to dBase4. Charles studied electronics but did not like it. He took his dad’s advise and took up library management. That afforded him to read many books and he liked databases. He even built a system using database systems those days. And that is what made him realize what I was looking for was a good database management system that particular afternoon in 1990.
Charles, you are one of a kind. Your gentlemanliness, your kindness and your humility makes you a unique person. May your tribe increase!!