31 January 2021

The “sparks” of music

The exact day escapes me. It was a Saturday morning. Somewhere in the summer of 1980. Around 11 am, if my memory serves me right. I was sitting up in my bed studying a subject – which I have no recollection of, but surely my body was gently oscillating to and fro as it tended to do when I would read out a subject book aloud. It was like I was trying to shake out some space in my memory cells so that I could jam in some more of those confounded facts I was supposed to remember.

All I remember is my dad coming back home in his bicycle (the trusted Phillipps bicycle that he bought in 1964 and clung on to till 2012 when he moved out of Durgapur) and peeking into the bedroom and mysteriously declaring “Ki enechhhi bol to?” (Can you guess what I have brought?).

Not used to getting any excuses from our parents to leave our books alone, the three of us made a beeline to dad who, by then, had started unwrapping a cardboard box and out came a vague looking black box – the likes of which I had never seen before. What particularly caught my eye was the prominent red button in the corner.

That was how I got introduced to what I learnt later to be a “tape recorder” (cassette player). Dad proceeded to connect the gadget to 230V of power, fished out a small rectangular looking thing and pressed a button. Voila! a small door swung open and dad fit the rectangular thingy in it and shut it firmly.

Then I remember him pressing the red button (which had caught all my attention and fascination just by the way it stood out with its color) multiple times. But you could see from his reaction that things were not going as he expected them to. A quick look into a small sheet of paper later, he figured out how to “record” something. Apparently, you had to press the red colored Record button AND the “Play” button (second from right) together.

It was an “Anand” branded tape recorder. I do not believe I have seen that brand ever after. However, surprisingly after quite a few days of searching Google images, I was able to grab a picture of that tape recorder. Exactly like the one we had.

In the meanwhile, mom had brought a cup of tea for dad. Dad took the cup of tea in his hand and triumphantly started his maiden recording. It was the first line of “Tumi je amaar… ogo tumi je amaar”. He rendered it as off-key as he could muster with a voice that would stop a train in its tracks. But he gave it his all. And then, he took a long sip of the tea with that hissing sound we make back in India when we drink tongue-scalding hot tea – considered very uncouth in the Western culture (the hissing sound, not the hot tea). And pressed the Stop button.

The next 15 minutes was like the “Rewind” and “Play” button had gotten stuck; we listened to him over and over and over again. We were mesmerized by how that puny black box could remember what dad did and play it back faithfully. Too faithfully, I might add. The recorded voice was as awful as his original rendition.

I was awe-struck enough to momentarily consider a change in career ambition from being a steam locomotive driver to somebody who can make those black boxes. Not for long though.

But then, dad had to go for work. “B” shift, as they called back in the steel plant he used to work in. He carefully packed the recorder up and put it in the “locker” of our “almirah” (safe). I guess, being new, it was that valuable.

This is where things get a little more interesting. In the evening, unable to get over my curiosity, I brought the box out of the safe. My mom pointedly asked me not to do so. I deliberately disobeyed her. And tried to do a dad. I hooked up the instrument to the electric power and tried to show off to my siblings. At this point, I was a hero to them.

I did everything I thought I saw dad do. All I remember is there was a big spark, a dull noise and some smoke coming out. The small red LED on the right went off to sleep slowly as if in a disapproving way. Panic got written all over me. In a matter of seconds, I went from hero to zero. I may not have understood technology then. But even I knew smoke ought to come out of a steam locomotive – not a tape recorder.

Panic quickly gave way to fear. I was deathly afraid of my dad’s reaction. He was kind of short tempered to begin with. And he was not going to be happy at my misdeeds. I was going to be skinned alive, I had convinced myself.

That evening was a living terror. I could not put my mind to any studies. I just sat there petrified by what my dad’s reaction would be. I remember going off to bed and then not being able to sleep. My dad returned around 10:30PM. I remember the gate opening, the knock on the door, mom opening the door and then she said something.

I have no recollection what happened after that. I had panicked myself to sleep.

Woke up next morning and in about a jiffy, remembered everything. It was a Sunday. Could not even escape to school. I lay there in the bed refusing to get up. But something assured me a bit. It was the tone of my dad’s voice as he talked to mom and then the maid servant who had dutifully showed up.

Eventually, of course, I had to get out of bed. Those maid servants wanting to clean up beds could be really irritating at times.

Funny thing, dad did not mention anything about the recorder. Which was worse, frankly. I was wishing that he had said something. By the way, you could not have seen a young kid focused on his book as fervently as I was that morning – even if you had tried to. If you did though, you might have noticed that I might have been holding the book upside down.

Then dad left home at 9am. With the box. I assumed he had gone to see what could be done.

Came back on his faithful bike at 11 am – again with that same box. And summoned me and my mom. That is when I realized – this is going to be it. I am going to get some stern lecturing. Perhaps worse. And mom will be dragged into it for letting me do it too.

Much to my surprise, he opened up the box and asked me “Chalao ebaar”. He asked me to operate the machine. And told my mom to sing a song. Of course, I was like “No, no, no, you do it. What do I know about these things?”. Would not touch that dratted thing with a barge pole, if I could help it.

Dad, though insisted. Which, with trembling fingers, I complied to.

Mom sang the song “Ekti gaan likho amaar jonno / No hoy aami / tomaar kaachhe / chhilam oti nogonno”. I believe the original singer was Pratima Banerjee. The song means

“As trivial as I might have been to you,
Please, do pen a song for me”

Turns out the “transformer” (whatever that was) was defective and the shop had changed it. The recorder stayed with us for a long time after that without ever blowing up again. That first cassette stayed with us for a long time too. I have heard that song play over and over again! That was the first song that I remember my mom singing.

Much later – in December of 2012, I had sat down for a music session with my mom. My first and last one with her. I had reminded her of the incident. She sang that song while I played the tabla with her. This time, I let the nephews do the video recording.

For some reason, after my mom passed away, that song has played in my head repeatedly.

It is like that Rewind-Play button in the tape recorder has gotten stuck again…

30 January 2021

Dog walking in cold weather

Took Jay Jay out to Alpharetta downtown late in the evening. Chiringa has taken the tent out. So, we could not sit inside (all the other inside places had too many people for our comfort). Grabbed a couple of glasses of wine and walked with the dog in the cold. It was 42 degrees and with wind chill nearly 36. Finally settled under one of the heaters at Chiringa. Jay Jay, though, had a whale of a time. I think I lost count of number of places he left his markers…

30 January 2021

From the bartender’s corner – Guava cocktail

This one is improvised from a recipe I found in a rather humorously named website.

Take two slices of lime in a muddling glass and throw in a spoonful of sugar in it. Muddle it very well. Add ice to it. Pour two ounces of rum and four ounces of guava juice in it and then shake it well.

Pour it in a glass of your choice (I used a margarita glass) and serve.

Great tropical drink. Probably more suited to summer days but I enjoyed it anyways.

30 January 2021

Puzzle: Want to feel better after a Covid test?

This math puzzle about Covid will make your jaw drop (also make you feel better after getting a test)

First, please take all precautions again Covid. If you think you got exposed or have symptoms, get yourselves tested, quarantined and everything else CDC is asking us to do. Once you have done so, think about this puzzle…

The following puzzle – which is a very real one in Covid days – is an adaptation from a puzzle I had posted last year.
The end question I am going to ask you is this:
Q1. Your Covid test came positive. What is the probability that you really have the infection?
Q2. Your Covid test came negative. What is the probability that you really do not have the infection?

As Narayan had pointed out last year, most doctors do not get this. The fact that all tests have false positives and false negatives (they are not perfect) makes the real probability unintuitively high or low.

The real answers will knock your socks off.

Ok, let’s start this:
1. The COVID PCR test has a false positive of about 0.5% (*See Source). Which would mean in about 200 people without the virus, the test will make a mistake in one case and say he/she has the virus.

2. The test has a false negative of 10% (** See Source) This means of 10 people who actually have the virus, the test will miss out 1 of them.

3. Assume 2% of Americans at any point of time has the virus (*** See Source)

You went to get a PCR test done. Test showed positive. What is the real probability you have the virus? Hint: It is NOT 99.5%
Take the other case – the test showed negative. What is the real probability you do not have the virus? Hint: It is NOT 90%

Both the answers will make you feel much better.

That should be good enough reason why we should LOVE math! And at the risk of Tammi – the math teacher in my friend circle – slapping my wrist, I would say, you will love the chapter on Conditional Probability.

* (in reality 0.2%-0.9% per https://www.icd10monitor.com/false-positives-in-pcr-tests…)
** the actual number can widely vary – as high as 67% – depending on when you got tested after exposure. The more time you give after exposure, the more the virus gets to establish itself and lesser the false negative number. https://www.acc.org/…/variation-in-false-negative-rate…
*** I took CDC’s 25% estimated US population had it https://www.cdc.gov/…/2019-ncov/cases-updates/burden.html over 11 months and took the average as 2%. (It will be slightly higher due to ramp ups)

29 January 2021

Quarantining with Phoenix

Waiting for Covid test results to come in. Went for a long ride with Phoenix. It was cold and long. But was worth getting out of the house without coming in contact with anybody else. Got so cold that I had to come back and sit in the hot tub for half an hour to get the core temperatures back…

29 January 2021

Like the good old times…

Sat down to write a letter to an old teacher of mine who helped me with Bengali in 1984 (I was not good at it). Made a valiant attempt to write the whole letter in Bengali. Landed up using a couple of English words…But writing with a fountain pen to a Bengali teacher in Bengali – that is as 1984 as it gets for me!!

29 January 2021

That bit about “Early to bed…”

Nikita had asked me to wake her up at 7 am. Which is never an issue for me. It is a different matter that after about half a dozen nudging, she eventually gets up at 8:19AM. One full minute ahead of class starting at 8:20.

This morning though, I slept in and did not even get up till 7:15. I had barely put my glasses on and picked my phone up when I was accosted by these hilarious texts from Nikita. Apparently, she has been awake since 5 and realized I did not wake up at 6 (as I told her I do – which is normally what I do.)

But you can see her funny texts here accusing me of putting up a charade. She even went to the extent of opening up a website – http://exposingrajib.weebly.com to expose by double standards!!

BTW, I was checking the website – apparently, there are more exchanges on the website – I assume from Nikita’s friends?

27 January 2021

A great tribute to my mom

This is by my first cousin once removed – Shreya. (I know my math now from here).

I got this from her literally on the one year anniversary of the day I saw my mom last.

Why my cousin does computer science instead of doing what she is so good at, I will never know. But then again, this is from a guy who wanted to be a steam engine driver but did computer science because his parents heard that the topper from the previous batch in high school had done so.

So, there is that…

26 January 2021

Of Montaigne and Somshekhar Baksi

This guy – Somshekhar Baksi – is what you might call a Renaissance Man. My meeting a few years back is something I savor every moment reminiscing about it. Once a year, I get to talk to him on his birthday. (Which, regrettably ends when he realizes I have taken too much of his time). Today was no exception.

Our big topic today was Montaigne. If you are not much into philosophy, this is your cue to exit. Baksi – as we used to call him in our MBA school days – led me to yet another book – not Montaigne’s “Essays” per se… but the biography written by Sarah Bakewell.

This is what I came up on Page 1… Nothing has described why I blog about mundane details about my life better than this… Or why I will never write a book…

“shared self-revelation is the best way to develop trust and cooperation around the planet, replacing national stereotypes with real people.”

For, in describing what makes me different from anyone else, I simply reveal what I share with everyone else: the experience of being human. This idea—writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity— while not unique, is often overlooked.

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