31 October 2019

A funny thing happened!

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?

31 October 2019

Rounding up my Durgapur trip…

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.

31 October 2019

Checking in on my old neighborhood

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!!!

31 October 2019

The Apple Watch challenge

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!

31 October 2019

Surprise! Surprise!!

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…

31 October 2019

Meeting Mrs. Sarkar

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!

29 October 2019

This is my idea of a good dad-son time…

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!