22 September 2018

The continental divide in my knowledge

Once I finished memorizing all the African countries, I asked myself if I could extend that to learn all the country names in the world. Naturally, I started by Googling “How many countries are there in the world?”

You would think it should be a straight forward answer. Far from it. The definition of a “country” is not as clear cut as I had thought it would be. There are countries that the UN recognizes. Then there are are completely autonomous areas with their own government and no control from outside – but they do not go for UN membership (e.g. Cook Islands). Kosovo is not a recognized country by UN, but it competes in the Olympics as a nation.

In fact, if I have this right, there are 195 sovereign states recognized by the UN, 201 partially recognized states, 204-207 de facto sovereign states, 206 Olympic nations, 211 FIFA countries and get this – 249 countries that have their own ISD (country code for telephone numbers) codes!

Anyways, finally memorized the names of all the nations recognized by the UN. Trying to understand the definition of continents was a trifle more tricky. Learnt some really interesting tidbits about continents. See how many of these you knew:

1. Which continent is Greenland in?
2. Which is the continent with the most number of countries?
3. Which is the continent with the least number of countries?
4. How many countries have contiguous area that straddles over two different continents?
5. This one is specially for my friends who live in the USA like me. How many countries in our continent?

20 September 2018

Goodbye, Mr. Stocks!

When I left your bed at 8 PM on Monday with your beautiful family around you, I promised you that I will visit you the next morning. Perhaps you did not hear me with all the struggle you were going thru – gasping for breath. Or perhaps I should spoken up a little bit so you could hear me.

The next morning came for me. But not for you.

Ruffling my fingers thru your sweaty hair while you lay on the bed, it felt very strange. This was the first time – in the one year that I knew you and have visited you at least forty to fifty times – I actually went in to your room. Every single time I visited you, I found you in the common area and that is where we spent all our time.

It was so strange to see you lying down without any movement. Before that you were the person who could not sit down. The only way for me to spend time with you was to walk next to you as you kept walking up and down the corridors. Purposelessly. Incessantly. Always whispering something to yourself. The only reaction I would get out of you was when I gave you a handshake. Inexplicably, you would burst into a smile. How many ever times I repeated it – that was your acknowledgement. Unfailingly.

You never told me about your son and your daughter. I got to meet them for the first time on Monday night. You never told me that you were part of the armed forces. I saw the certificate in your room. For that matter you never told me anything! Or to anybody else. I learnt from your wife that at the young age of 48, you had started deteriorating. I got to know you about twenty years after that.

By that time, you had lost your ability to say anything. I would ask you simple questions. You would stop. Look at me for a long time. As if you were trying to process what I had said. You would then mumble something – that was barely audible or coherent for me. I would nod. And away we would go shuffling down the narrow corridors of the hospice again.

Last couple of months started being different. Your walks got slower. And for the first time, I saw you tentatively sit down and doze off in the sofa between your walks. It was there for everybody to see that you had started to slow down.

Till you stopped entirely on Monday night.

Ours was a relationship borne out of silence. Its strength was never rooted in words. It was in the time we spent together silently.

Without a word you came into my life.

Without a word you went away.

But I had to put in a few words for you to remember our time together!

16 September 2018

He was a complete stranger then. Now he is a dear friend…

“I hope to meet you down the road again”. Those were the last words we had exchanged on Friday, 9th September 2016. You can read the full story here – how I had a chance meeting with Doug at Chicago O’hare airport. He was selling for an utility company. I was trying to catch a flight.

Our exchange was short initially. But my flight got delayed by 17 minutes. Sensing an window of opportunity, I had walked back to him and had a deeper discussion with him. He had said something that I have never forgotten till this day. I think I had asked him about his experience selling those utility subscription at the airport. His words were “I hate the way people treat me like ####. You will be amazed how people will show me the hand and walk away. I know they are in a hurry. But why treat me like I am below them? I am just trying to do my job.”

“I am just trying to do my job”. Those words had rankled in my mind long enough that ever since I make conscious effort to be gentle with sales people that accost me. Especially those who have been trying to sell me more and more Delta Amex credit cards every week in Atlanta airport!

I get ridiculed by my family for making friends with everybody in Facebook. And in life. But I am incorrigible. My family readily agrees with that. Doug and I became Facebook friends and on his birthday every year, we kept up with each other.

Then, this week, one more window of opportunity opened up. I was in Chicago getting the decks ready for the announcement of the new company and my job there. I had a breakfast slot open. Doug readily agreed to make the 40 mile trek to catch up face to face one more time.

That was an wonderful hour. Got to know about Doug’s background and his kids and wife. We had a great time talking about learning from life’s lessons. Ever gracious, Doug had some great stories from his life that ranged from being hilarious to poignant. He is a great dad! He is a great husband!!

As he left after our breakfast, I reflected on our friendship. He was a complete stranger. And yet fate put us in a collision path – and we were destined to be friends. All the flight that day had to do was leave on time – and I would have never had a second chance with Doug. But, the flight was delayed. Two years later, that resulted in a wonderful breakfast and I got to know a genuine human being.

Long time back I had once expressed my thoughts about this kind of random meetings and then re-meetings in the following way…

In life – like in runs – we start from different points and end at different points. The line between those points – or the speed at which we traverse the line – does not define us. What defines us are the intersection points with others’ lines. For, it is in those intersection points that life offers us the opportunities to acknowledge each other’s journey, celebrate each other’s presence and make a difference to each other’s lines.

And that journey is what it is all about.

That is why we live. That is why we run.

I toast to your good health, Doug! Also, happy birthday, a few days in advance!!

14 September 2018

Is it just me?

It used to be – when I was half my age, I could not stand Rabindrasangeet (Tagore’s songs). I found them to be slow and too easy to sing or play with. To be sure, I am one of the rare Indians who went thru a full engineering and MBA course without ever getting into or listening to Western music. I was more about the sophistication of the songs that originated from the Sufi movement and that included Nazrulgeeti.

As I age, I find myself inexplicably attracted to Rabindrasangeet. They are still slow and easy to play with. And that is exactly what I like. The one difference is that as I am forced to slow down, I find meaning in the songs that completely escaped me.

Just like a singer friend of mine two decades ago had predicted will happen to me!!

Be it songs, motorbiking or life, I am finding that momentary speeding up is easy. Slowing down and staying steady is so much more difficult. And yet that is mysteriously attractive.

“Tomar khola haowa 

Laagiye paaley, tomar khola haowa

Tukro korey kaachhi 

Aami doobtey raaji aachhi

Sokal amaar gelo michhey 

Bikel je jay taari pichhey

Rekho na aar bedho na aar

Kuler kaachhakaachhi

Aami doobtey raaji aachhi

Tomar khola haowa”

“Your gush of fresh wind

Has touched my sails

And tore away my anchor

Now, I am even willing to drown

My morning has gone in vain

And my evening will follow soon

No! No! Do not tie me down

To anywhere near the shore

(For I want to be blown away by)

Your gush of fresh wind… “ 


Category: Musings | LEAVE A COMMENT
12 September 2018

The year is coming to an end!

The year is coming to an end!!
It was almost a year back that on Oct 1, I commenced my year off from work to explore life. For the fourth time. Every time has been better than the previous time. The structure is always the same – do a few new things for myself, do a few things with the family and do a few things for the community.

The report card for the whole year, looking back, has a few hits and a few misses.

The following are of the category “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

🙂 Learnt how to motorbike!! At the age of 52!! Have already posted nearly 4,500 miles (7,200km) under my belt. A long ways to go to be super confident (those dratted right turns around mountain corners 🙂 ) but I will get there some day, I hope!

🙂 That amazing Mongolia trip with Roger. It is a hard life they live but what a once-in-a-lifetime experience!! Those blank boarding passes, the sleeping in a new “ger” (nomad’s tent) every night, the alcohol made from mare’s milk, the sanddune-as-your-bathroom routine, the eagle on your hand, the experience of vast nothingness…. I do not think too many things can top that for me.

🙂 Some of the best family times – those international trips to countries we visited for the first time – Indonesia, Thailand, Aruba, Cancun (Mexico). Those 10 days of completely destination-less road trip with Sharmila. That Hilton Head beach vacation for just the two of us! Those trips to see Natasha in New York!

🙂 That character-building experience of spending a year in hospice units. Especially the memory care unit. Watching palliative care unit patients come in and then go away. Setting a perspective in life. And making every moment with them so momentous

🙂 Tried to push the minimalism curve. The closet now has literally one third of the clothes I used to have. The shoe closet? Reduced 90%!! (Have to admit – I am one step away from my dry cleaner missing their promised date from having a wardrobe disaster!)

The following belong to “It is all about human relationships” category

🙂 Continued with that old habit of running from my second time of year off. Ran in over half a dozen countries. Ran into a hostel mate in Cancun. But the best part? Running with Nikita – the latest runner in our family. She is faster than me. My slow speed never bothered her as much as my insistence on taking a picture together did!

🙂 Speaking of proud moments with daughter, watching Natasha grow up. Just in the last six months, she went to Germany and then Czech Republic by herself. And then went to Ghana. She is there now even as we speak for the next six months. To put this in perspective, first time I got a passport was when I was 10 years older than she is. And nobody in our entire family has ever set their foot on to that dark continent called Africa. Now she has!

🙂 Met so many unique people – remember finding that domestic help from the seventies in that remote village? or finding that farmer – who came in a ragged jacket – no less – who would put me up on his shoulder so that I could pick a tamarind or a mango from the trees in our village when I was not even five years old? finding Steve Martin’s birth place and sending a picture of that house to his mom? so many parents of my friends that I grew up with… that young entrepreneur from Colombia, those security guards and Uber drivers from Ghana and Burkina Faso… what a tapestry of people weaved my life!

And then there was the category of “Keep up with the habits”

🙂 Kept up with the learning cycles – new puzzles, new words, new word origins and lately everything about Africa!

🙂 Finished writing about 42 different gins from 1 different countries. Way too many cocktails. And now on to learning everything about mezcals. Read 6 different books on these subjects.

🙂 Almost completed finding all my elementary, middle school and high school teachers and visiting them. The last one was during Sharmila and my aimless road drive.

🙂 Got lot more disciplined on food and sleep habits.

🙂 Called 3000 people to wish them happy birthday!

🙂 Called my mom and brother daily!

🙂 Played tabla – mostly to our dog Jay Jay, who is not exactly known for his high standards in music!!

🙂 Now, have readers from 132 countries reading my blog!

But there were things I wish I had done better

(o) I ran a lot but not how much I used to run before. Frankly, for the third time in my running career, I find I need some inspiration or goal to push myself.

(o) I never could get myself into mediation. I wanted to. I gave the time. But I have not yet learnt the trick how to control my mind.

(o) I helped a few Year Up students and mentored them. I wish I could spend more time with them. I know they wanted to. And that is a regret I will have.

(o) Similarly, five budding entrepreneurs let me advise them as they built their companies. But I could not spend as much time as I wanted to. Or, as I understand, they wanted me to either. That is another regret I will have.

Nothing was more frustrating than the ones that I missed miserably

🙁 I always wanted to take Sharmila and Nikita for a couple of boat rides in local lakes this summer. Never got even one of them done.

🙁 I tried my best to see how to be a teacher in a high school or an university. I was even willing to do it for free. In spite of my best intentions and a lot of effort, I came to the conclusion that the bureaucracy of the process to do so was so high that I will never be able to get myself there.

🙁 And then there were the life changing events of my dad having a brain stroke and losing his right side of the body and then fighting back to get most of it back. Only to see my very healthy father in law who I was close to move on from this world.

Something good from my failures did come at the end though…

I was very frustrated that I could not get myself in a position to teach high school kids. I wanted to teach Math and Physics.

But I have been able to take that failure and pivot it to the next best thing. I will now be able to combine my wanting to help K-12 kids in school and a little professional ability to run businesses as I move to my next career move. I will join my new set of team mates who are focused not only helping the common student but also in identifying the specially talented ones as well as the ones who have special needs so that every one can have the best education and life for themselves.

Further, my new team mates are focusing on helping detect early signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other mental degeneration … you know like the ones I was spending my hospice hours with.

The year off could not have gotten any better!

The year off could not have ended any better either!!

Please accept my sincere gratitude to all of you who have spent time with me in the last year or encouraged me in my journey in large and small ways (you will be surprised how small things like encouraging comments in Facebook or my blog mean a big thing to me when I read them later).

And wish me luck as I start another new chapter in life with another incredible team.