16 December 2014

MIL-FIL Mehfil: An eye for an eye

Remember all those fun experiences when my in-laws were visiting us? And the recent funny realization of how wise my FIL is in not giving into my MIL’s demand for a new TV (and instead get her cataract removed? 🙂 )
Well, there was another mini-episode yesterday. I called up my FIL last morning regarding some paperwork related to his accident and surgery while in US. He seemed audibly upset over the phone. I asked him if he was distracted with something.
“I am not sure if it was such a great thing to get your masi’s (that is what I call my MIL) cataract removed”. he said.
“Why?”, I asked, worried that there might have been some post-op complications. Which would be terrible since her other eye is non-functional from a very early age.
“Well, because of that, I am getting yelled at the whole day”, he somberly replied. I had no idea why would somebody yell at him for getting the cataract removed.
This is what I learnt as I pressed him on. Evidently, my mother in law can see crystal clear – so to speak – that everything in the house is NOT being put back in their right places after he uses them. She can now clearly spot the cobwebs on the wall and the dust spots on the floor. All those days of making short shrift of house cleaning has come to a screeching halt for my FIL and the housemaid. Hence all the yelling…
Barely able to conceal my laughter and then wisening up, I enquired “At what age do you get cataract?”.
“Oh! Seventy or so”, he said.
“Twenty five more years…”, I mused to myself as I subtracted Sharmila’s age and put my phone down 🙂

14 December 2014

Who said Bengalis are afraid of the cold?

In a resounding thumbing of the nose to the proverbial Bengali fear of “Thanda legey jaabey”, nine of the Chalupa runners – including the high schooler Pooja – showed up for the below freezing point run this morning. Manas, who already had put in a 5K run before starting for another 5K with us was a visual proof of the frosty temperatures. When he started with us, all the small sweat beads at the edge of his hair on the head had frozen and in the glisten of the morning light, he looked like one of those Christmas lights you pay money to buy. (or as Bengalis might put it, “kadamphool” 🙂 ).

Anyways, it was a great run in the morning. Apologies for the poor quality of the pictures. While fiddling with my iPhone with my numb fingertips trying to set it up on the trash can, I accidentally set one of the filter modes on.

Ran into old running buddies and ultra runners – Lia and Samantha on the trail. Lia had to withdraw from a 100 mile run because of her back. So, it was good to see her on the running trail again. As I explained to her, there was something that made me withdraw from the 100 mile run too. It was the thought of having to run 100 miles 🙂

Finally, as always, the highlight was the coffee session (“adda”) at Starbucks. We discovered a budding poet in Samaresh today. And got a Sylheti 101 course from Arup, Sheuli and Malobika. The hapless students – Sharmila, Sanjib, Manas and myself were none for the worse at the end. And I also got my old Starbucks moniker “Hey You” back on my cup!!

And finally, also ran into Heidi – the manager of that Starbucks and another old running buddy!!!


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12 December 2014

How difficult can this be?

I was driving back home from Atlanta airport last evening. The office traffic had not picked up yet and so I was speeding thru. As I switched from I85N to GA400 N, I found myself behind this vehicle which had an ad painted all over its back proclaiming “AAA batteries delivered and installed”. (I could not take a picture since I was driving but I Googled at home and sure enough there was a picture of a similar vehicle available on the internet).

I was really confused. How fat and lazy have we become in this country that we need help to put in those small – less than one inch – batteries in our TV remotes and flash lights? We need service for that? And there are businesses surviving trying to offer that service? Evidently, they are making enough money to buy a truck!

A few minutes later, I passed the truck and was trying to see how the driver (presumably owner of the business; I did not think this could be that big of a business to support multiple employees) looked. And that is when I saw the large, iconic, immediately recognizable, red “AAA” (Automobile Association of America”) logo brightly painted on the door. Of course, this was a AAA truck trying to sell and deliver car batteries to roadside people stuck with dead batteries.

Why they would not put the “AAA” logo behind – or better still use the logo instead of writing out the letters “AAA” in the sentence starting “AAA batteries”, I do not know.

In any case, sanity returned. We are not that fat and lazy in this country, I concluded – as I put the car in cruise control mode and sipped my double caramel frappuccino loaded with whipped cream that I had picked up from the airport Starbucks 🙂


12 December 2014

I have never been this humbled before

[If you happen to be a reader who is of the feminine gender, you may be able to help this young soul]

Everything this morning was going like most other days. Early morning. Marriott hotel (in Durham today). Business meeting over breakfast. Settled down at a table in the far corner. Lady came and asked us what we wanted. I said oatmeal. The gentleman I was meeting perused the menu. To give him some time, I looked up to the lady, saw her badge – it had her name and mentioned “Washington DC” under it. Being somewhat familiar with that place I asked her “Which part of DC are you from?”.

Everything was going according to the script so far. Then she dropped the bombshell. She softly replied “I really do not know. I grew up in foster care system”! I was incredulous. How can one not know where one is from?

I persisted: “What do you mean you do not know where you are from?”
She: “I grew up in over 100 homes in DC and Durham area. I am not sure how to answer where I am from”
Me (turning to my business guest): “Do you mind if I take a couple of minutes?”. He readily agreed.
I asked her: “How old are you?”
She: “21”
Me: “How long do you work in a day?”
She: “All my waking hours”
Me: “How many jobs?”
She: “3”
Me: “Where are your parents? Wait don’t tell me. Would you mind if I spent ten minutes of your time after my breakfast with you to learn your life history? Should I talk to your manager? I know this is your work time”.
She assured me it would not be a problem.

And that was that. For the time being.

The business meeting grew more promising by the minute. What was to be a 45 minute meeting bled well over an hour and a half. Finally we shook hands and I walked him out of the restaurant area. As I turned back, I realized that the whole place was cleaned out. Nobody was around. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Hurriedly, I walked towards the door of the hotel and asked the usherer “Would you know if Imani is still working here?” (BTW, I had memorized that Imani was her name before I noticed she was “from” Washington DC). He was such a nice guy that he said “I do not know. But let me find out.” Saying so, he went inside the kitchen and came out with Imani!

I was really, really relieved. We sat down in one of the numerous empty tables and I told her “Tell me your life story”.

There was this girl who was born to a dad who spent most his life in jail. She could not remember if she ever had seen her. Her mom became a drug addict. The state agencies came along and to protect her and her two siblings, pulled them away from their mom at a very young age and put them in the foster care system. The foster care system is where parents take care of kids and get paid by the state to do so. The system made sure that the siblings never got separated. The DC system was fine.

Then they were moved to Durham. She did not cast a very positive picture on the foster care system there. Some of the stories of what she and her siblings had to undergo is too sordid for me to write here. Being a softie, there are words I cannot get myself to utter. Being a dad of two daughters, I could not help myself shudder. Let me put it this way – think of the worst abuse a lady – especially young, can go thru – and she had to go thru all of them. As she kept moving from houses to houses.

“Why did you not report to the authorities? or the cops?”, I asked.
“Sir, we did. The authorities (not cops, foster agencies) came. They would ask us to go to a room and then talk to the foster parents. I can only imagine what happened there”.
“Why did you not let your foster mom know this?”.
“We did, sir”.
“Why not the cops?”.
“Today, I would do it. Then, none of us knew how to access cops we could trust”.

After that, every couple of minutes, I would interrupt her “Sorry, can you repeat what you just said?”. I had my daughters’ faces floating in front of me all the time and I was totally distracted and angry.

“Then what?”, I asked.
Her first break came when she managed to get a kinship program.
“What is a kinship program?”, I asked.
“That is when in school, one of your friend’s parents decide to take you in. The advantage is that they don’t abuse you – obviously, they are loving parents of their daughter who is around”.
Fortunately for her, the mom of her best friend in high school decided to take her in.

From there, her grades flourished. Straight A student.

After high school, she put herself thru a technology school (one of those training institutes) by working the rest of the time. But at the end, she realized that there were not too many technology jobs for people at her level.

“So, from here, where do you go?”
“I want to go to business school. So, I am working three jobs to pay off my debt – from the technology school – and then save for a business degree”.

I let her know that if what everything she told me was how life happened to her – and I have no reason to disbelieve her – first, I was sorry that she got a tough deck of cards but also that I had never come across anybody who knew how to take life by its horns and come up triumphant. I had no doubt, she would succeed.

As I prepared to leave, I suddenly realized that she had opened up to a total stranger in spite of a lot of abuse by men. So, I sat her down again and showed her my website. I told her I write about people I meet on the road. I showed her the picture of the Delta lady and mentioned – sometimes, my friends are able to help the people I write about. I asked her if it would be okay for me to take a picture of her and write the story on my blog.

She thought for a second and said – “On two conditions”
“I am listening”
“Talk only about the positive things. In spite of everything, sir, I am still smiling. That is important to me.”
I felt a lump in my throat. “Ok”, is all I could manage.
“And the other one, sir, I do not want anybody else’s money or help in getting better jobs. If some of your friends could mentor me, that is the best help I can get. That is the thing I cannot solve for myself.”
I really wanted to give her a hug. “Listen, I am blessed with some of the best human beings as my friends. I guarantee you many will jump at the opportunity to mentor you”.

We got somebody to take a picture of us. I was so overwhelmed that I did not even check the picture to see that it deserved a retake – till I was sitting in the plane.

And thus we parted….

As I listlessly walked away dragging the suitcase to my rental car, only one thought went through my mind…. I have been so privileged in my life. I have two daughters. I got a great deck of cards from life. Wonderful parents, wonderful wife, best folks in the world I call “friends”, great teachers… they have all pushed and pulled me to a position where I have been able to provide my daughters (so far) a privileged life. What should I do for them (and myself) to realize how privileged we are?

So, that was my morning story. Any of you – especially those of the feminine gender – if you are willing to mentor (by phone and email) a 21 year young lady who has not seen the brightest days in her life but is determined to change that, please send me a personal message. I will pass on her email id and phone number to her. You can talk to her and see if you can give her some guidance. Just tell her “I am a friend of that weird Indian guy you sat down to talk on Thursday morning”.


11 December 2014

Lovely way of putting it.

Hal Boyd, an old professional associate and a personal friend wrote something as a response to my last blog, that was very succinct and put a complex message into a compelling visual. I felt it deserved a blog post all on its own. Slightly modified, his words were:

“Life has no warmups – only one time around the track, and not all will get a full lap”

11 December 2014

I guess I have reached that stage of life…

In two days, I learnt about the passing away of the dad of a dear friend of mine from first grade and then the young wife of somebody that I was introduced to barely months back.

There is something about death that absolutely stops me in my track. Not sure whether it is the finality of it all or the incredible mystery of the unknown or the the fear of the inevitable… But I do realize that as the years roll by, that finality is touching more and more people I know around me.

And I have always wondered what learnings should I derive from that understanding of finality.

There is a old poem that I had once read and written down, but never quite figured out with authority who penned those words….

In any case, the words went thusly…

Do less thinking,
And pay more attention to your heart
Do less acquiring,
And pay more attention to what you already have

Do less complaining,
And pay more attention to giving
Do less controlling,
And pay more attention to letting go

Do less criticizing,
And pay more attention to complimenting
Do less arguing,
And pay more attention to forgiveness

Do less running around,
And pay more attention to stillness
Do less talking,
And pay more attention to silence.

Certainly, by that above yardstick, I need somebody to postpone my death by a long time!!!!