5 February 2024

’19 Oct India

  1. His quarterly walk Oct 29, 2019

    He is too weak to go out by himself. And my mom does not step out of home. So, he waits for my quarterly trips to go out for a stroll on the street and hope for a chance to meet some of his old friends.

  2. “The child is the father of the man” – William Wordsworth Oct 29, 2019

    Now he has his head shaved every week too!!

  3. A few good men Oct 29, 2019

    Dad and I kept strolling thru the streets. We hit the common spots he and his friends used to sit down at when he could still walk around by himself. Except that no one was there in those street corners. Finally, after about 30 minutes of walking we found a park and some of his old friends there. He got a run down of the old group. Apparently, many of his friends are no more and these three that still have locomotory skills have moved to this spot which is more convenient for them. You can see my dad holding court from his wheel chair.

  4. My new BFF Oct 29, 2019

    While dad was talking to his old friends, I went around and made a new friend. Decidedly from the other end of the age spectrum!

  5. Evening “adda” Oct 29, 2019

    This trip was a total hushed hushed one. Nobody in India was aware. My sister went out of town for a day with her family (completely oblivious of the fact that I was landing up on “Bhaiphonta” day!!). She will be arriving this morning in a couple of hours to get the surprise of her life!!

    Meanwhile, last evening, it was just the three of us. After a long time, it was just the three of us in the evening. First I took care of the important stuff – walked up to the street corner “phoochkawala” and had my share of “phoochkas”. For the uninitiated, that is stomach infection in a package form eaten as one of the tastiest Indian savories ever!

    Then I went ahead and got a small vodka bottle. Got a second one too just in case my dad wanted to try it. Fortunately he didi not. He was just happy that I was drinking fruit juice in the evening. (Yes, he thought I was drinking fruit juice from a small bottle. That be my dad. )

    The evening was one long tapestry of discussions of our life events from the time he lost his dad at the age of two and a half and then lost two other siblings quickly to this day where the three of us were sitting down – temporarily missing my two siblings.

    I can’t remember everything (you will be surprised how much punch they pack in a 6 ounce vodka bottle in this little town) but we talked about the “easy chair”(kind of a cross between a chaise and a hammock) we had back in the seventies and how we used to count stars in the sky sitting in it outside our house. We talked about the time my brother was born (who, in keeping with family tradition, we almost lost very early on due to health complications). We talked about the time when my dad used to visit his mother every month (we lived about 60 miles away – but those days, it would take him about five hours to reach her in a remote village). On that last note – I do not believe the apple fell too far from the tree.

    When we finally wrapped up – partly because he was tired and partly because my vodka bottle was running dry – I knew the discussions were a great success. You know why?

    For a guy who complains half a dozen times daily “Bhogoban je kobey release certificate ta soi korbey” (“I wonder when is God going to sign my release certificate” – implying he is happy to move on from this world) – for that guy, he got up from the chair, stood for a second standing there and then finally turned to mom and asked “Naati naatni gulo manush hobey dekhey jetey paarbo?”. (He asked my mom if she thought he will live to see his grandkids establish themselves in their lives).

    And I was like “Yesss!! I know how you can live longer. Want some fruit juice?” 🙂

  6. This is my idea of a good dad-son time… Oct 29, 2019

    You can also think of this as my revenge for all the puzzles he used to ask me when I was a kid and not tell me the answer for days hoping I will figure it out by myself.

    A little over two years back my dad had a stroke and got paralyzed on his right side. Most of his brain got fried too. Ever since, thru some strong will and help from my mom and siblings, he has gotten enough of the right side back that he can get up from bed and walk a few steps to the bathroom. He has also some cognitive power of the brain back but only some. And his memory is fairly spotty. I am no doctor but I think the parts that were most affected were the hippocampus and the frontal cortex part of the brain.

    Since I had nothing better to do, I figured I would try to get a feel for what kind of cognitive power and memory he has gotten back and what he has lost. So, I tried formulating all sort of picture questions, rearranging letters, sequencing problems and asked him to solve them. He was totally into the game. Sometimes he would get them easily. Sometimes he would take the paper in his hand, close his eyes and think deeply as if to will those neurons and dendrons into proper places…

    He got most of the numerical sequencing right – going up and down – skipping in 2s, 3s, 5s etc. But he has lost all idea about what happens if you go below zero. The concept of negative numbers has been erased. In fact, curiously enough, after counting down and reaching 0, he looped back to 10 !

    Also, I realized that he can easily process words if I arranged them in a circle but only if I put them in a clockwise fashion. If I switched up even two letters or arranged the word in a counterclockwise fashion, he just could not see the word. Then I realized that it was not just words. I wrote the letters a,b and c in a circle and asked him to write down the permutations. As you can see in one of those sheets, he nailed each and every of the clockwise permutations. The anti-clockwise? Not at all. Even after I gave him the first and the second answer, he could not see the third answer. After he realized he missed half of them, all he said was “Jah! Fail hoye gelam” (“Oh! I failed the test”).

    Then I gave him a few picture problems (you know like directions of arrows and all that). Drew a complete blank!!

    Also, he could not relate to numbers in the real life. For example, he could not see anything wrong with the fact he is 81 and that his guess of my age (he guessed 20) is highly unlikely.

    It was fascinating to see how some parts of his brain has rewired itself and others have not. (forget these, two years back he did not know who I was and thought my mom was his mom). I am going to try again next quarter and see if the brain is still healing itself.

    BTW, the most difficult part of this exercise was for me to come up with the questions. This, from a guy who allegedly works in an K-12 assessment company!

  7. Morning run in Kalyani Oct 29, 2019

  8. Guess who just found out that I am here? Oct 29, 2019

    You think we were having too much fun?

  9. Attempted murder? Oct 31, 2019

  10. Meeting Mrs. Sarkar Oct 31, 2019

    One of the common ways that I barge into a stranger’s house is “Masi, aapni amaay chinben na”. Meaning, Ma’m, you don’t know me. Not the most reassuring of getting oneself introduced to an elderly person. But a fifty three year old wearing shorts and with a shaved head usually evokes sentiments closer to mild laughter than of any fear.

    This once though, the lady replied in Bengali – “You are Rajib Roy, right? My son has already told me about you.”.

    This meeting has roots in another meeting about a couple of weeks back. I was in San Francisco and in between office meetings, managed to meet Debjit Sarkar. I almost did not meet him and if it were not for a much delayed flight, I would have surely not met him. We grabbed a coffee at a Starbucks that was very close to both our offices and then caught up .

    “So, how exactly do I know you?”, I asked. You would think that when I have been greeting somebody happy birthday for years and have often talked about career choices and all that, I would remember how I know the person. I did not. That had never stopped me from having great conversations with Debjit over the phone though.

    Turns out Debjit and I worked in the same company in Dallas. In fact, we lived not too far from each other. I could not recollect running into him but he remembered me. Found out a few more connections I had with him. He worked with another friend of mine – Sanjay – (who was in my school in elementary days and – again, in another coincidence – lived in Dallas for some time) in Delhi and in fact attended his wedding with Anita (both Sanjay and Anita knew Sharmila since they were all in the same engineering school).

    We also found out that about ten years later, I used to go his office building in California when he worked in a bank. That bank was a big customer of mine (when I worked in a company in Atlanta) and all the time that I visited that office, never realized Debjit was there too!

    As another point of connection, I also found out that Debjit grew up in the small town of Kalyani, where my parents live – as does my sister. In fact, his mom lives literally a few minutes walk from where my dad and sister lives. I had promised Debjit that I will go check in on his mom next time I was in Kalyani.

    And that is how I met Mrs. Sarkar for the first time! Took my sister with me too. We were both impressed how fit and alert Mrs. Sarkar was for her age. In fact, she had just come back from a vacation trip to the other end of India a couple of days back. Unfortunately, I could not meet Debjit’s dad who left us last year. But I was happy to hear that Mrs. Sarkar might be visiting America soon. Would be great to catch up with her again!

  11. Surprise! Surprise!! Oct 31, 2019

    The first day was full of surprises in Kalyani. My parents were not aware of my trip to visit them. Next morning, my sister and her family came back home and got the same surprise. And then I headed towards Durgapur. It is a three and a half hour drive but is an integral part of my India trips. Sharmila’s mom lives there by herself now after we lost her dad about a year back.

    Off to see her. But first stop – my own uncle (“mama” in Bengali) who lives in the same town.

    I went there expecting to see my uncle and aunt. It was my turn to get surprised! As a bonus, got to see my cousin (uncle’s second daughter) as well as my mother’s eldest sister there. I guess there are some advantages of visiting Bengal during the “Bhaiphonta” season. You can run into the brothers and sisters of who you are trying to visit.

    Caught up with my mom’s elder sister. In Bengali that would be “masi” – specifically “boromasi” since she is the oldest all the sisters mom has. A great time was had by all remembering some of the old memories when my grandfather and grandmother was still alive.

    Who I missed dearly was my nephew – who was busy studying with a few other kids with their private tutor at home. Ah! Next time, then…

  12. The Apple Watch challenge Oct 31, 2019

    My mother in law was aware that I would visit her. Not because I told her – I am all about surprising people – but somebody else is not good at keeping secrets. No point taking names, but let’s say Sharmila, for example 🙂

    In any case, fully realizing that Sharmila would let her mom know beforehand, I landed up a day before when Sharmila was expecting me to visit her. Therefore, the first thing that hit me when I reached my mother in law’s place at 7 in the evening was a big padlock in the yard gate. Called her up and asked her what she was up to.

    She tried to act smart and said “Oh! waiting for you”. I do not think she was ready for my answer – “Really? I am outside your gate!”. All I heard was some confused words like “Today?”, “Now?”, some clanking of keys, a phone drop and then finally she emerged!!

    It was heartening to watch how she has adjusted herself to the life without my father in law. She seems to have created her own rhythm and stays within that. She seemed happy. Obviously, that is the most important thing for Sharmila and I. Not being anywhere near her, we are not able to do much to help. So, seeing her happy is fairly reassuring.

    Before I left, I told her that I needed to take a picture. Of both of us. She was not sure how I was going to do that. I showed her how I could operate the phone camera from my Apple Watch. In fact, let her see how the picture would look on my Apple Watch before taking the shot.

    Here is the problem though. Upon seeing the picture on my Watch, she somehow concluded that the Watch was going to take the picture. Consequentially, every time I went – “Ready for the picture? One, two, three!”, I would realize that she was staring at my Watch not the phone camera!! After about five tries, I managed to get her to look at the camera!

  13. Checking in on my old neighborhood Oct 31, 2019

    I arrived in Bengal about a couple of days after the Kali Pujo festival. While in Durgapur, I realized that some of the festivities were still going on. That brought back nostalgic memories from three and a half decades back. Went to the old neighborhood I used to live in to see if any of the Pujos were still going on. I am glad I did. While all the local set ups were being brought down, the neighborhoods were all lit up still with all sorts of colorful lights. And there were those occasional firecrackers bursting from different houses which reminded me of what I used to enjoy most about Kali Pujo.

    Met the only guy – about ten years my junior – who still lives in the neighborhood. And then decided to go to the house we used to live in. I got to know the folks who live there a few years back. They knew us though. Their two daughters – Antara and Sanchari – were both my mom’s students in the local elementary school. Also, I believe my brother taught Sanchari math in her high school days.

    The best part was realizing that Antara was visiting her parents with her husband and her young kid – Chiku, I believe they call him (the kid, not the husband). When I walked in, while everybody was excited (at least they put a smile on), Chiku was in a cranky mood. He had just gotten up from afternoon nap and was still coming to terms with the new evening. After a few minutes of exchanging pleasantries among the adults and Chiku clinging on to his dad, I asked him “Wanna play ball?”

    Something stirred in him. He stopped doing whatever it is that he was doing, kept looking at me as if he was trying to trigger some memories and then gave a smile and asked his grandmother to get him his ball. And then the two of us played together for some time. He would not even let me go. So I took him for a walk to the main road to check out all the bright lights.

    Eventually, I had to take leave. You can see in the picture that he was the least interested in the picture. That was cutting in to his ball time.

    Here is another of those “intersection point” stories. There was a reason Chiku remembered something when I said “Wanna play ball”. You see Antara – who moved into our neighborhood in Durgapur (in fact the same house as ours) about 25 years back – now lives in the US. Coincidentally, a few months back, she moved from North Carolina to Atlanta. In fact, her house is very close to where we live.

    I had gone to visit her right after they moved in. That day too Chiku was cranky after getting up from his afternoon nap. I remember picking up a ball from the floor and asking him “Wanna play ball?”. For whatever reason, that earned his trust and we played ball for quite some time that afternoon. That is what he must have remembered!

    I think his memory cells for ever will associate me with afternoon naps, crankiness and a ball!!

    I guess it is my brother’s turn to teach him math now!!!

  14. Rounding up my Durgapur trip… Oct 31, 2019

    No trip to Durgapur is ever complete without spending a few minutes with Utsab. He is the only son of Baisakhi – my friend from early school days. Baisakhi also has another connection with us thru my sister. She, her two twin siblings and my sister were/are all singers. In fact, they learnt music from the same teacher at one stage of their lives.

    Utsab and I have the weirdest topics that we chat about. First and foremost there are the cars. He is an incredible walking and talking encyclopedia of cars. And I barely know which side of the car to sit in to drive it. But I am amazed by his understanding of the mechanical aspects of how an engine works, the differences between the types of cars and details that only an aficionado can master.

    From there we move on to other topics. Last time I remember we had talked about his favorite subjects. Baisakhi was not at home. Utsab had not even gotten up from bed. He continued to lay in his bed and I sat next to him and kept chatting. This time the topic was about an animated Robotics game that he is coding. In fact he showed me some of his code on his computer.

    I pulled together the sum total of programming knowledge I have gathered over the years and asked “Are there any bugs?” 🙂 It looked like a scripting language to me. He let me know that it was based on Java. This guy has just gotten into his teenage years only a couple of years back. And he is already doing computer programming. I have seen this in US too – kids coding at a very early age. At that age, if you had told me “Java”, the first thing I would have said is “motorcycle” (folks from my era will know what I am referring to).

    As you can see from the picture, I responded with the one technology trick I know – how to control my phone camera from my watch. For all that, Baisakhi wrote back later saying “Utsab thinks you are a superhero”.

    As long as he has no undue expectations that I will go around slaying villains wily nilly in the streets of Durgapur, I can live with it!!

    Impressionable, young minds, I tell you.

  15. A funny thing happened! Oct 31, 2019

    I was visiting my mother in law. Turns out she had returned from her native village just an hour before. She had been out for a few days. The problem she had was that there was no food to offer me – you know those sweets, savories, egg preparations that Bengali moms will shower you with anytime you show up at a Bengali house. Much less your in-laws’ place.

    In fact, every time I visit her, she and I have this constant fight. I keep asking her to sit down so I can talk and she would keep asking what I wanted to eat and head towards the kitchen.

    Not this time. There was no food to offer. Which suited me very fine. For once, after a long time, I actually got a chance to sit down and talk with her. Our topic meandered into my father-in-law (who we lost last year). She told me a lot of stories about him and his daily routine. Then she mentioned about her favorite picture of him. It was a picture of him at a much younger age holding a gun. My father-in-law’s family was famous in their village for having a licensed gun.

    For the understandably worried, my father in law had a gun way before I started dating Sharmila.

    In any case, we started ferreting thru the old albums and I finally located the photo she was talking about. She looked at it for quite some time. I asked her if I could take it to the US and bring it back the next time Sharmila or I am visit. (I want to scan it and keep it for posterity – not knowing when she might misplace her stuff). She readily agreed.

    On another upside, I found out some other old pictures too! See if you can recognize the person poking her finger into her brother’s ear in this picture?

  16. My incredibly talented friend Muktiram Nov 2, 2019

    I did my last two years of high school (eleventh and twelfth grade) in a residential school. I got a chance to meet Mukti there. He was in the same hostel (dorm) as I was. I remember him as the quiet and kind person around. Always very helpful.

    I had lost touch with him for a very long time till I chanced upon one of his work of art. In my house, I am not the one who understands art – yet, even to me, his work of art that I saw was outstanding. (If any one of you want, you can check out his Facebook page “Muktiram Maiti Indian Artist). I have talked to him a few times over the lat few years once I got hold of his phone number (and needless to say, his birthday).

    Yesterday, I got the opportunity to catch up with him in his office in West Bengal Bangla Academy. Surrounded by piles of paperwork stacked up on a couple of tables and the traditional Kolkata office style almirahs along the wall, I sat with him to get to know his life journey.

    Drawing and painting was his passion. Is his passion. Will be his passion. He has given up everything in life to pursue his one love in life. Mukti explained to me how his teachers in Ramakrishna Mission encouraged him to pursue art and how he came under the influence of some of the most well known contemporary artists in Bengal. And then branched off on his own and created his unique style. (You will see the effect of the bright colors and then the bold lines – that he has created for himself). Mixed media is his choice of medium of expression.

    My wife is an artist too. But I had to hear his story to understand how we have access to so many resources that Mukti does not. For us, to buy a canvas means a simple trip to the store – hopefully with a 50% off coupon. Mukti has to “cure” the raw canvas he buys for over four to five years to season them for painting.

    I saw some of his paintings. Again, I am no expert. But this guy would have reached great heights if he was in a country like where I live.

    For all that, he did not care all that. He said he does not want fame or money. He just wants to fulfill what he was born for.

    We came out and had a cup of coffee from a nearby shop. I had a spirited discussion with him on why I thought exposure is important. For any profession. Particularly artists.

    My sense of art is limited to “drawing” my salary. But a few years back, I had decided to build a website for Sharmila to display her gallery of paintings. Which is where she refers all the galleries to today.

    I am so inspired by Mukti’s art, I am thinking of opening up a website gallery for him. What do you think?

    (P.S. I have attached a couple of snippets from his paintings. But you can see in his Facebook page as referred above)

  17. Another surprise!! Nov 2, 2019

    Chiradeep​ thought he was going to meet Celeste​ – my friend from office – who was going to be in Kolkata and carrying something to be given to my mom. He came to the lobby at the time I had told him my friend would be waiting for hi,

    That was the expression on his face when he saw me instead!!! After fifty years, I can still fool him 🙂 )

    (Yesss!! Pulled off the fourth surprise of the trip)

    (Celeste, thank you for playing along. I owe you a favor in surprising Dennis​)

    (Yesss!! Pulled off the fourth surprise of the trip)

  18. Moments I wait for… Nov 2, 2019

    Every trip to India is all about my parents and inlaws. And then the siblings. And then all those intersection points with folks who I had crossed paths with long time back…their parents… their kids and so on.

    One of the most rewarding moments for me is to relax with my brother over a glass of wine. My sister lives downstairs from my parents. She bears the brunt of the day to day challenges with my parents. My brother lives in the big city nearby. He does most of the heavy lifting on the medical and financial front. And in all those high risk situations my parents get into health wise every other year.

    Folks like me who live very far can probably understand the sense of helplessness I have just because of the inability to do something. And realizing that the siblings are carrying more than their share of the duty.

    I have found very few ways – if any – to say thanks to them for all this.

    Sitting down with my brother over a bottle of wine on a roof top terrace of the Westin hotel for four hours just to talk to him without anybody else nearby was a great opportunity for me to to remind him of my gratitude.

    We are very close. We talk every single day of our lives. Still, just being physically there – just the two of us… In fact, I mentioned the first day I saw him – brought back from the hospital fresh out of a bout of jaundice after being born and almost written off… we have come a long ways together!

  19. Special coffee for a special person Nov 2, 2019

    Westin made a special cappuccino for my brother!
    And no, I did not pay him to wear my company’s T-shirt!!

  20. The near 50 year old contortionist!! Nov 2, 2019

    That be my brother giving me some tips on yoga to keep the core strong.

    Did I mention that my dad said that I am growing a paunch (beer belly)? I did not? Now you know.

    Looking at my brother doing those yoga poses… I am half tempted to stick to my beer!!

  21. Chef Rubai Ghosh! Nov 2, 2019

    As a family, we have grown to be a great fan of the Westin in Kolkata. The people there are the biggest reason. The facilities are great and we have gotten to know so many of the folks working there.

    Chef Rubai is way up on that list of folks who know how to make your stay very enjoyable. She has cooked up some unbelievable specials for Sharmila, myself and our families over the last couple of years.

    This trip was no exception either. It was great to catch up with her.

    If you folks ever visit Westin in Kolkata, look her up. She will make some memorable dishes for you!

  22. Bengali Alert!! Nov 3, 2019

    Seeking Bengali captions for this… Here are some for starters..

    ১। “আটা”: ব্যাপারটা পুরো মেখে গেছে
    ২। “ইংরেজীতে চা আনতে বললাম বলে তুই…. “

  23. One last surprise for this trip! Nov 3, 2019

    It used to be the case that the first sight of these two young gentlemen reminded me that I had alighted in Kolkata airport. That, and the oppressive heat and humidity.

    These days, a far more oppressive thing called education with it daily tests, projects, private tutors and heavier-than-the-kid backpacks has taken away that luxury from my itinerary.

    Met my nephews for a couple of hours before catching my flight back to Atlanta. They had no clue that I was in Kolkata!

    And that would be the final surprise I had in store for this trip.

  24. That familiar lump-in-throat moment of every trip… Nov 3, 2019

    Drove back to Kalyani from Kolkata to spend another couple of hours with my parents. The most important goal was to take my dad out for a walk in his wheel chair. Which we did for an hour. We spent the hour aimlessly strolling around in the streets of Kalyani.

    Now, he has to wait for another three months when I will be back.

    He was too tired to stay awake to bid me goodbye!

    Till next time!!

  25. A hard puzzle from India! Nov 3, 2019

    Tuesday afternoon, I was all by myself. Both dad and mom were sleeping. Not knowing anything better, I went around going thru the books that still adorn the book shelves in my parents’ house. These are books from my school days. They have kept them still. Most of them are disintegrating – but they are still there. After going thru some of the books that I had studied in high school, I chanced upon this book I still remember for very hard math/physics problems. Written by Irodov, it was a book I had bought from Kolkata Book Fair in 1984.

    I glanced thru a few pages. Sure enough, they are as hard as I remember them. There was one that caught my attention as a very interesting one. You can see the one in the picture that I have circled with the red line.

    This is a very tough problem until you hit the solution and realize how elegant the solution is.

    Here is a version of the problem:

    There is an equilateral triangle – each of side length “a”. There are three ants at the three corners. Let’s call the ants A,B and C. At the same moment the three ants start moving at exactly the same speed. Ant A keeps moving towards wherever Ant B is. Ant B keeps moving towards wherever Ant C is. And Ant C keeping moving towards wherever Ant A is. The question is : eventually when they meet, how much distance would each ant have traveled?

    Now realize that for every ant, the target ant is moving continuously. So, every ant is continually changing its direction. It is not as simple as an ant goes from one vertex to the other. That is what makes the problem hard.

    After thinking about the problem for some time – and not getting anywhere – I posed it to my brother when I met him two days later. Together we spent about an hour in our drive to Kalyani from Kolkata discussing the problem. Eventually, we reached Kalyani and asked mom for some paper and pen. Another half an hour later, we did manage to solve the problem. Excitedly, we pulled out the Irodov book again from the shelf to see if the answer it had given matched ours. It did!!!

    This was only Chapter 1 of the book and the 12th problem in it!! That chapter alone had another hundred plus problems. And then there were many more chapters!!

    Man, I am way past my prime when it comes to ability to solve these kind of problems.

    Anyways, see if this excites you to give it a crack.

    If you get it, try the same problem with a square of side “a” instead of an equilateral triangle.