16 June 2022

Walking to Didu’s house

Usually, I am the one that gets up in the morning and starts walking – sometimes running – from hotel to my mother in law’s house. It is a 15-20 minute walk. That is usually followed by a continuous loop of “Do you want to eat this? Do you want to eat that?”and me just simply saying “No” every time. Finally, I would leave and as long as I stay within her earshot, I can hear her complaining that I did not eat anything.

This morning Sharmila and Nikita joined me in the walk.

15 June 2022

How he would have loved to see this

We reached Durgapur at a fairly fast clip. Door to door in 3 hours. Nikita made a beeline to Didu’s kitchen, grabbed a biscuit and ran out to feed the fishes. I took her pictures and stood there watching her. My father in law would have loved to see this. Unfortunately, we lost him nearly four years back!

Second goal for this trip accomplished. (First one was to see Didu). One last one left. But first I will take her to some of my old spots in Durgapur.

14 June 2022

You will be surprised how much leverage some fish might have

Nikita wanted to see Didu. So, Didu came from Durgapur to stay in the hotel in Kolkata with us to spend some quality time. And after that, we are all going to Durgapur today. For a very brief stay.

I needed to go anyways to drop my mother in law. But Nikita said she wanted to see the “fishes”.

The story behind this goes like this – My late father in law had built a small concrete open top water storage outside the house in his yard (see the picture). Growing up, we called such a structure “choubaccha“. And in that, he put some water lilies. And then, for good measure threw in some fish. Who quickly multiplied.

Those fish were the prime attraction for the two granddaughters every time they visited my inlaws. Nikita and Natasha would stand outside that structure for long periods of time. And grandfather would supply them with small cookies one at a time. And they would crush the cookies in their palms and throw the small bits to the fish and watch all the fish run around jostling for those tiny morsels.

It is one of the lasting memories they have of their grandfather’s house and actually of grandfather himself.

To relive those memories for a few minutes, we are going to make the trek to Durgapur today for a day or two. Fortunately, the skies are overcast and hopefully the heat won’t kill us!

14 June 2022

Juhi’s Elder

“Hey, that cocktail matches your name!”
“That is because I created it!”

Last couple of trips to India, I had gotten to know Juhi. This time, I had not noticed her initially – those masks still make facial recognition tricky for me – but one of the nephews pointed out “Juhi didi na?“.

As I was talking to her, I noticed that the advertised cocktail at the bar of the Executive Lounge carried her name.

“Looks like a summer drink to me”, I said as I read the ingredients.
“Yes sir, best on a hot day.

“Let’s make two of them. And then I will take a picture of the drink with you.”

Sharmila and I both tried the drink.

It tasted great. The elderflower left very fragrant notes and the vodka was mild enough. Probably better suited for being by the pool in heat rather than in an air conditioned room though.

14 June 2022

That was not the way it was when we were kids

This evening, I made a foray into College Street to check out College Pen Forum. Wanted to see if there were some interesting new or old fountain pens. The trip itself was a bust since the the gentleman there thought that showing me various pens would be a waste of time and waas focusing his time on selling those inexpensive ball points and gel pens that were flying off the shelf.

Interestingly, amongst all those bulk pens, he had a winner of a fountain pen – the Pilot Justus 95. It has a very interesting mechanism that can turn the nib from hard to soft (and various settlings in between). Basically you turn the edge of the pen and as you do so, a metal plate comes out on top of the nib split. By controlling that fulcrum point, you control how much the nib will “give”. Very unique mechanism. That would set you back by over $320 in the USA or about Rs 25,000 in India.

However the most interesting experience was noticing that sign you see in the middle of the picture. You probably remember from your school days how you bought your notebooks (to write on). They were priced per notebook or might be by the dozen. That is how we grew up. That sign says you can buy by the kilogram – meaning the weight of the notebooks you buy. So, you pay by the weight instead of the count! I checked with my brother. And he confirmed that is how he buys notebooks for the nephews!

Never knew this!

14 June 2022

Nikita braved the Kolkata heat to go see the Victoria Memorial

Enroute back to the hotel yesterday, Nikita had seen the Victoria Memorial and then read up on it. Today, she asked if she could visit it. I have never been there personally. But Kaku immediately jumped in to take her there. The younger cousin – Rishu finished his school for the day and then accompanied her there. Even though it was beastly hot and humid and they went there in the peak of the afternoon heat, both reported having a great time there.

14 June 2022

Book Review: Factfulness by Hans Rosling

The more I read thru Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, the more I was taken back to an incident from a few years ago. This is when I still participated in WhatsApp groups (now, in general I avoid all groups other than those set up temporarily around events). Regardless of whether it was my early schoolmates’ groups or engineering college group or MBA group, I was always struck by the gullibility of folks that could be seen in those much forwarded messages that were mostly fake news. Nobody would even attempt to do a fact check first. The second was the negativity in the debates.

The particular one I am referring to involved my early school group and the general lamentation was about how in India, politicians have become more corrupt than ever, doctors cannot care less about patients and the society is degenerating fast in general. These are very well meaning folks and I can certainly vouch for their intelligence. I had asked them if they realized the following: We generally feel (rightly) that medical science, social conditions and all that was worse when our parents were growing up. But when it comes to our own life, we feel things were somehow better in the past (not so much past that it goes to our parents’ time) and now it worse!

Therefore, somehow, we all seem to have lived thru the Golden Age of this world in the near past. Whether it is medical practices, politics, transportation… you name it. I had asked them if something seemed too simplistic in this picture. Especially when contrasted with facts like lower death rates for most any reason, increase in real income level of poor people. The last point should have been amply felt by all my friends who had a constant struggle to get domestic help.

This book, I was thrilled to find, goes straight into that issue of how we have a very distorted view of the world and why we do so. Now, this is where I went wrong. I had thought my friends were simply not exercising their intellectual curiosity. That it was a knowledge issue. The book disproves my point. It is less of a knowledge issue. More of a bias issue. Biases that were important for our evolution but are very blunt and often disastrous tools in many situations (but not all) today.

I also want to give a shout out to Sunjay Talele. It is Somshekhar Baksi that has consistently recommended books that I have loved. Sunjay is now up there. He is three for three now.

Going back to the book, the whole purpose of the author – a medical doctor, renowned public educator and an adviser to WHO and UNICEF – is to establish how little we actually know of the world around us. Worse, how we are stuck with very old views of the world and how much the world has changed ever since. This leads to wrong decisions – personal and professional – on an everyday basis.

The book starts with 13 questions. Astoundingly, every segment of the population – different countries, corporate folks, doctors, students, Davos participants, Nobel Laureates – all get very few of those questions right. Most all do worse than a chimpanzee throwing bananas at three target answers. The author draws a chimpanzee face in every chart to show what the “random” answer would have been and how human beings do far worse than that. Which points to systemic bias in our knowledge. Or rather, as the author proves – “feeling” of answers.

Did you know the fear about “chemicals” is way overblown? Sure, there are bad chemicals but most of the chemicals that we are afraid of have very little to be afraid of. As an example – try out “how poisonous is DDT”. Check out the CDC report or any medical reports. It is nothing like what you and I think. [Of course, if you drink a gallon of DDT for over a month, it will severely affect you – but that is not the kind of extreme pictures we have in mind when we think of DDT].

Thru data – mostly from organizations like UN, UNICEF, WHO etc, the author dispels most of the misconceptions we, in the West, have about the Middle East, Africa, India, China and such. Many of those views were never true. Some were valid decades ago but nowhere even close to the truth today.

Here is another one. If I told you worldwide, 30 year old men have spent 10 years in school on an average and then asked you what do you think that number is for 30 year old women. And gave you the choices of 1 year, 4 years and 7 years – what would you say? Well that is a trick question. The answer is 9 years!! We have mostly caught up on that specific problem in spite of the pictures of Afghanistan and Sudan that come up in the news.

To be sure, the author is very clear is that 9 is not an acceptable answer. We got to keep pushing harder till every life lost to war or preventable diseases and gender bias is eradicated. But that does not mean we need to ignore the remarkable improvements we have made in this world on those exact areas. He stresses that we should think that the world is “Bad” AND “Better”. In other words, do not mix up relative scales with absolute scales. Recognizing that is important since just thinking the world is “bad” will lead to despair. Thinking it is “bad” AND “better” drives home the point that we need to keep doing what has made the world “better” so that the “bad” gets lesser and lesser. These are two seemingly contradictory concepts that we have to hold in our head together.

The best part is that the author dissects top ten instincts that leads to this lack of “Factfulness”. (e.g. Negativity Instinct, Gap Instinct and so on). The first four are most important.

You have to give this book a try.

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