20 June 2022

Great quote from Sen-t’san

Currently reading a book on Morality (where does morality come from? why are we so bitterly divided in religion or politics?) The following quote from the eighteenth century Chinese philosopher Sen-t’san hit a chord with me…

“The Perfect Way is only difficult
 for those who pick and choose;

 Do not like, do not dislike;
 all will then be clear.

 Make a hairbreadth difference,
 and Heaven and Earth are set apart;

 If you want the truth to stand clear before you,
 never be for or against.

 The struggle between “for” and “against”
 is the mind’s worst disease.”

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19 June 2022

Speaking of my ignorance…

If you had asked me to draw Kuwait, I would fill it up with sand, more sand and to bring some relief, a few sand dunes. I am sure most of us who grew up with mental pictures of “Desert Storm” would do the same.

Flying over Kuwait today, I was struck by what looked like very large river basins. This picture was taken from 36,000 feet above sea level but you can see the whole intricacy of tributaries and sub-tributaries.

After reading up on Kuwait, I now know that all those get filled up by winter rain (and are called Wadis – remember the pictures from Jordan or Oman?).

I think a great adventure would be to just fly over all countries, take pictures from the air and remove a few more of the dark corners of the vast ignorance I have!

19 June 2022

A mistaken notion I had about the Persian Gulf

Living in the West, I have realized during my travels in the Middle East, how little we know of that part of the world. I would go so far as to suggest that especially in America, we have not only little but very wrong ideas about the people and geography of that part of world.

Here is one more from my own ignorance. I always thought that the Persian Gulf would be deep blue color – even near the shores. But the real color can match the Caribbean at places. Which makes sense. Because the desert sand is meeting the water, the slopes are bound to be gentle (not hard rock and quick drops).

Loved this view of a beach in Qatar.

19 June 2022

Took off from Kolkata airport

Every time, I take a window seat while leaving Kolkata hoping to catch the Howrah Bridge. But the flights always take off northbound. The one time it actually took off southbound, I was able to take this picture.

Today, one more time, we took off northbound and then banked gently left. You can see the Hooghly River. You can spot the Bali Bridge and if you look hard, you can see the faint glimmer of the Howrah Bridge. The straight well lit road is B.T. Road. You can the see the silhouette of Kalyani Expressway too (which is what I used to take every three months to go see my parents)

18 June 2022

My dad would have been very proud of this gentleman

Sumanjit and I went to high school together for a couple of years – 11th and 12th grade. That was back in 1985. And indeed, that was the last time I saw him.

Over the years, we have kept up over the phone – certainly on his birthdays. But inspite of my quarterly trips to India, never quite managed to meet him. One of the reasons is that he is a very successful IPS officer. (For the Indian Civil Services-ly challenged – that is the Indian Police Services – the bureaucracy for law and order ). And he is a DIG – which makes him a top bureaucrat.

Full credit goes to him for making the time to come and see me in my hotel a few hours before we headed out for the US.

Over a few cups of cappuccino with our better halves, I was explaining to my wife about how I was waiting for him at the hotel entrance and his retinue pulled up with all the flashing lights and all that. As the jeep stopped, his security detail jumped out before he and his wife could step out.

That is something my dad would have given his right arm to see. He always wanted me to go to the Civil Services.

Boro hoy-e IAS officer hobey”, he used to tell me. (“Do strive to become an administrative officer”)
Keno? IAS hoy-e ki hobey?” (“Why? What is the big deal?” I used to ask him)
Saamney pichhoney police ghurbey” (My dad would try to impress upon me the importance of the role by explaining the security detail that would be in front and behind me)

Not that it had any effect on me. But my sister used to be profoundly frightened.
Keno? Dadakey dhhorbey?” (She thought all those security guards would be trying to capture me!!)

My dad would have been really really proud of me that even if I did not become an officer, at least I rubbed shoulders with a friend who was one. I am sure he would have been content living vicariously thru Sumanjit.

Meanwhile, all the hotel staff was wondering what was going on. Now, I stay in this hotel every three months. I happen to have made friends with everybody – from the front desk to the chef to the bartender and you name it. You can imagine the combined sigh of relief they had when they saw Sumanjit get out and proceed to give me a hug!

We were laughing over all this with our wives when Sumanjit told me a rather funny narrative. The narrative is that in the Indian context if a cop car pulls over in front of your house – especially one that has flashing lights – everybody in the neighborhood comes out with curiosity to understand what is going on. And then if the cops leave without you, your social stock immediately goes up! “Dada, aapnar bondhu-ke boley eta ektu korey deben?” (“Can you please pull some strings with your friend to get this thing done?”)

What is amazing about Sumanjit – and this would have endeared him to my dad even more – is his humility. For everything he has done and all the power, he could not care less. Still has remained the same human being I remember. Shashwati (his wife) was even worried that their retinue might be taking up too much space in front of the hotel!

It was a wonderful evening. Would not have been possible without the effort from him.

As an additional bonus, before he left, his son came by and that is a whole story for another day. Never met a person that young and that well balanced in life. We agreed to have a few Zoom calls after I reach the USA.

Thank you Sumanjit and Shashwati for your effort. Let’s do a trip together in India sometime as we promised!

18 June 2022

That surely had me fooled

Sharmila and I were enjoying the various artifacts that have been put up outside of Kolkata Street Food (opposite the Eco Park outside the Wax Museum) reminiscent of Kolkata a few decades back. There is the tram car, the double decker bus, the yellow Ambassador Taxi, old movie posters (like Sholay) etc. There is even a statue of Tintin!

While going around and admiring the set up, I was very aware of a quintessential walking hazard in India. That being – getting dropped on by all those birds on the electric wires above who somehow have an uncanny ability to induce bowel movements when and only when there is a human being below. Specially if they are not wearing a hat.

Accordingly, I was keeping an eye on the birds on the wires as I moved around. After sometime I realized that these birds were particularly lazy. Not only were they not flying away when I was nearby, they did not even attempt to look here and there foraging for food.

And then I got it! In an effort to create a replica of Kolkata of the yesteryears, the authorities had spared no effort. Those electric wires were not real ones and neither were the birds. Those were life-like statues of crows and pigeons and what have you!!

I do not believe I have seen this anywhere else in this world! I was totally fooled. Sharmila would not even believe me at first!