31 May 2019

Good news. Bad news.

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.

31 May 2019

Meeting his old friends

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.

31 May 2019

The car whiz-kid

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!

31 May 2019

One of my early sources of love for math…

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!!

31 May 2019

The modernization of my mom

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!

29 May 2019

Oh! The “times” have changed alright!

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!!!