’22 Mar India
- Another mixed feelings long haul trip Mar 9, 2022
One more of the quick trips to India. Last one was to celebrate mom’s one year death anniversary. This one is for dad’s. The excitement to make these trips is completely gone. These trips were all about expectations of some funny comments from dad, a trip with the siblings and their families, all of us sitting down on the floor as a big family to have dinner and all that. But with their departure and passage of time, the adhesive force of pulling everybody together is missing.
The kids have grown up. Niece is in college in Bangalore. Nephews are focused on their all important Board exams. The timing is not perfect either for my sister – who is preoccupied with setting up their new house or for my brother – who is out of town for work.
One silver lining is that my brother in law is going to be in Durgapur when I go to visit my mother in law. Looking forward to it… he is a very funny guy.
- Exactly a year back… Mar 11, 2022
… on this day, the sun rose in the east in its fullest glory like you see it today.
Only that my dad did not rise.
He passed away in his sleep after going thru a lot of suffering for about five years and then having been dealt the biggest emotional hit – losing my mom a few weeks before. I was not there with him that day (was not vaccinated yet). A year later, I will be there at the spot where he passed away (although the exact time of his departure is not known).
There are too many memories that floods my mind. For whatever reason, the one that I remember most is the last video call I had with him when he asked the same question he had been asking me over and over again … “When are you going to come?”
- That is one driven lady! Mar 11, 2022
I had checked into the Westin in Kolkata where I was helped by Nisha – the Front Office Manager. As is my wont, I started talking about how she landed in this job and all that. I was fascinated by her life history. Particularly striking was the number of places she has worked in all over India – often taking risks uncommon for a lady of her age.
“Were you always driven like this?”
“Who was the biggest influence in your life for you to be like this?”
“My dad. He has always supported me in my decisions.”
“If I met him today and asked him to describe you in three words, what words would he use?”
After thinking for a few minutes, she said…
“Stubborn… empathetic and… free bird”
“How did you become a Front Office Manager?”
“That is what I studied for.”
“You always wanted to be a Front Office Manager?”
“I love interacting with people. Like you do. And that is the biggest part in the hospitality industry. Especially for Front Office Managers”.
“Got it. So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to keep growing in my job, get promoted and experience more locations”
“Awesome! Maybe I will see you later in life in some other city or country!!”
By that time I needed to head out to Kalyani. While the occasion was a little sombre – anniversary of my dad’s demise, I could not help reflect on how driven and industrious the younger generations have become. And that is in fitness of things. “Old order changeth yielding place to new”. The New – as I am experiencing it – gives us confidence that the world is always being passed on to better and abler hands…
- The final sunset Mar 11, 2022
This is perhaps the last time I observed the sunset from the balcony of my dad’s house. This is what we used to sit down and watch together over innumerable cups of tea. Rarely speaking a word. By the time I make it to Kalyani again, my sister will have moved to her new house and this will not be our place any more either!
The final sunset indeed!!
- The bed where he breathed his last Mar 11, 2022
There are so many memories… This is where I slept every three months when I came to visit him. This is where he was shifted every time he got very sick. This is where he was surrounded by all his grandkids who came to see him after his stroke in 2017. Lonely (mom passed away a few weeks), completely out of any zest for life and beaten down by too many physical ailments, he was finally granted his wish to transition. It was sometime in the dark of the night that he quietly breathed his last on this day last year.
I still miss him a lot!
- Learning something new this time! Mar 11, 2022
You probably remember Tathagata from my last trip to India when he taught me about the blue gin turning into pink. I had to meet him and pick up something new. I asked him to make an Old Fashioned for me.
Whaat I found out is that he makes his own bitters. It is a fairly interesting process he follows. I also learnt from him a lot more about Angostura bitters. I did not know that it is manufactured in Trinidad and Tobago. (Later found out that it actually originated from Venezuela). I also found out from Wikipedia that there is only one person who knows the whole recipe of Angostura bitters (passed down from family member to family member)!
- Have you ever seen anything like this? Mar 11, 2022
This in Newtown, Kolkata. I was surprised that they had this public display. First, I have no idea if the public is aware of what those metrics mean. I, for one, had no idea what is PM10 and PM2.5 till I Googled them. Second, I have no idea whaat would anybody make of these metrics unless they sa what is good (or acceptable).
Full points for bringing awareness though. After all, I had to learn what is PM10 and PM2.5
- That is an interesting contraption Mar 12, 2022
I was impressed with hotels like ITC Pushpanjali in Durgapur that they had provided sturdy toothpicks to press teh elevator buttons with. To avoid direct contact due to Covid reasons.
I thought this hotel – this is the really impressive ITC Royal Bengal in Kolkata – has gone a step ahead. You have food pedestals to press the up or down button for the elevator. The irony is, once you are inside, you still have to use your finger to press the floor button!
- Visit to my maternal uncle’s house Mar 12, 2022
Sprang a surprise on my uncle. They were not aware that I was going to be in India. The highlight of a trip to Durgapur is of course spending time with Rana – my first cousin, once removed.
After our usual conversations, we moved on to puzzles. I gave him a puzzle involving a clock face.
As you can see more than one person was trying to solve it!!
- Intersection points from cross connections Mar 12, 2022
A few years back, Shamita had joined one of those social media groups that I was part of. Now, this group was for our elementary school where I studied from first grade to fourth grade. For some reason, I just could not remember Shamita. So, I called her up one day to see if I could jog some old memories. I started by asking her the various teachers’ names who would have taught her. The trouble was I could not relate to any of those names either. And I am pretty sure I remember each and every teacher’s name from the school.
Eventually we sorted it out. She never went to that school. Somebody had invited her to the group by mistake and after looking at some of the other girls’ names, she assumed this was her high school group. We had a good laugh.
She left the group. But of course, I became friends with her. Every birthday, I would chat with her and keep up with her family as they moved from Bhubaneswar back to Durgapur. She had read my blog and had let me know that her husband is equally quirky. Apparently, he too pursues new hobbies from time to time. She called it “keragiri”. We had agreed that I should meet her husband some time.
Which is what I did today. After catching up with all his “keragiri”s (right now, he is into cultivating orchid flowers), I asked Somnath (her husband) – “So, how did you guys meet each other?”
“Oh! it was a cross connection. Like the way you guys have become friends,” he said.
So, after about 10 minutes of being totally bemused, this is what I was able to put together. This goes back to 1980. Some of you who lived in Durgapur those days might remember those black rotary phones at home. Life was simple enough that all phone numbers were of 4 digits. The numbers were easy to remember but the calls were difficult to make. There would be a lot of static, accidental three way connections and cross connections which would simply go to the wrong person.
It was during such a cross connection on an otherwise innocuous phone call that Somnath had placed, he found Shamita on the other side. They had no idea who the other person was. Shamita was barely in her 8th grade. Apparently, he liked her voice. And they got chatting. And Shamita gave him her number. (You cannot obviously rely on cross connections in aa deterministic fashion 🙂 )
And that is how their love affair started and continues to this day!!
Pretty crazy how mistaken identities / connections can lead to life time friendships. And more!!
- Catching up with my young friend Mar 13, 2022
You might remember by young friend from a previous post. I met him in April last year and was fascinated by the story of his kidnapping and how he escaped. Spent some time with Vivek again in this trip. Was encouraged to hear that he is embarking on a new career soon. All the best, “Nicky”!!
- Run in Durgapur Mar 13, 2022
- Finally I caught up to him Mar 13, 2022
I had tried multiple times to meet this gentleman – who was my classmate in middle school – without any success. In fact, we used to use the same school bus. This time though, I was more successful!
I last saw Soumitra in 1983. That is a good four decades back. He left for Kolkata St. Xavier’s and I left for Narendrapur RKM. And that was that. Till today.
His face has remained pretty much like I remember him from those days – full of the innocent boy vibes. We talked about the slightly greenish grey shorts he used to wear to school (most of us wore slate grey). I remembered the one time I had gone to meet him and he was not there. I met his mom and had chatted with her till he came back home. We lost her about two decades back but I was able to surprise him by describing in fair amount of detail how his mom looked. I wish I had gotten a chance to see her one more time.
It was great to catch up with this really good soul after so many years! Hopefully I will see him a few more times…
- The old order has been restored! Mar 13, 2022
You might remember from my old posts that a trip to Durgapur is never really quite complete till I have met Utsab. For the last two years, I had to suspend it unfortunately, due to Covid reasons. We restarted the practice again today.
Like old times, both he and I had to fend off his mom’s (my friend from yesteryears – Baisakhi) complaining about Utsab not studying and then we went off to more interesting topics – like Utsab’s fascination and vast knowledge about cars!
In the meantime, Utsab has grown by nearly six inches and towers over me now!! And he is thin as a rail – just like I used to be at his age!!
- I bet you have not seen this before Mar 13, 2022
Those two pictures are that of a phone. Baisakhi’s phone to be precise. Apparently the cause of this phone being so bent out of shape is that once Baisakhi got …. errr…errr… fairly bent out of shape. To save my own skin, I would rather you ask her the details of what happened.
I am simply marveling in the fact that the phone still works and the display is intact!!!
- That was “cool” Mar 13, 2022
Well, it was actually a “kul” – as we called in Bengali. It is a kind of a ber and is called a jujube in English, I believe.
We grew up with multiple “kul” trees in our house. Come winter, one of the common activities for us kids were to get those “kul“s out of the trees. With help of sticks and sometimes stones. They tended to be fairly tarty in the beginning of the winter and became sweeter towards the end. Hence the rule of thumb was not to eat these before “Saraswati Pujo“.
Of course there were various varieties of these – the small, green, very tarty ones; the bigger, often light green, yellow, orange or even red sweeter ones. Then there was this variety called “biliti kul” (meaning “foreign jujube”) that were even bigger and tasted really great.
Often these bers were dried into dark red, shrunk versions that were used for making different kinds of “chutneys“!
After what I would guess to be four decades or so, had one such cool “kul” at my inlaws. These ones were humongous. Much bigger than the biggest “biliti kul” I had ever had. I have to admit, the taste did not match up. Or to at least what I remember of their taste.
- At my in laws place Mar 13, 2022
My brother in law had rearranged his previously scheduled trip to Durgapur to coincide with that of mine. We could not remember when was the last time we met in his house!! Probably 10-12 years back. It used to be that I used to come to his house every day. We would do Fortran coding together – of all things!!
I still see my mother in law fairly often (three times in the last twelve months). Her health is starting to get more frail but her spirits are sky high. Is it just me or does it look like she is more happy to be in a picture with me than with her own son? 🙂
- Evening dinner Mar 13, 2022
- Calling all Bengalis Mar 14, 2022
If you ever get a chance, try the breakfast buffet at ITC Royal Bengal in Kolkata sometime. It is served on the second floor in the Grand Pavilion. The name lives up to itself. The sheer size is mind boggling and the variety of food on display can be unnerving. There are about half a dozen very large food stations. And when I say large, I mean really large. Each food station can easily accommodate an entire floor of a reasonable house here. The staff is outstanding in their service and attention to details.
I had just finished my cup of tea and a masala dosa. That was more than enough food for me, if you ask me. But the allure of all the food on display was strong enough that even a confirmed non-foodie like me started strolling around. You know, to see what else was there.
By the time I had finished going around all the stations, I was feeling hungry again. Not sure whether it was the quarter mile walk I must have done to visit those stations or just the smell of great food wafting in the air that made me feel hungry.
Anyways, I reasoned with myself that I was really not hungry. I could not be. And kept walking. Till I turned around the corner of a station and saw this – “Panta Bhat”!!! Next to it was “knacha pniyaj” (raw onions), “sorsher tel” (mustard oil), “aloo bhaatey” (mashed potatoes with some garnishes) and “knacha lonka” (raw chillies). “Panta bhat” was the staple diet on weekend mornings for us in the village. It is basically rice left over from previous night soaked and fermented in water. Traditionally, we had it with the ingredients on display – and on a rare festive occasion, with “knacha posto” (soaked and ground poppy seed – to a paste form).
Man, seeing the “Panta Bhat”, I was hungry all over again.
I did what every self-respecting Bengali would do – I rolled up my sleeves and went into totally native “aloo bhaatey – pniyaaj haatey” mode. The only thing that could have made it better for me was if I had the guts to eat with my fingers. (I did not. I figured a seven star hotel might impose standards).
- Cross section of intersection points!! Mar 14, 2022
Sitting down at the breakfast table, I measured up the young gentleman and the lady at the next table. From her accent, she seemed to be visiting India – although she definitely looked Indian. He seemed to be of Caucasian descent. They could not be more than in their mid-twenties, by my reckoning.
He was mostly quiet. She was talking about how she liked Indian food – like mysore dosa and all that. I was enjoying how much she was enjoying Indian food. Then slowly, their conversation became white noise for me as I focused on my “panta bhat”!! (See the story here) But somewhere in their conversation, I heard “Chicago” being mentioned.
Later, during a lull in their conversation, I could not help but butt in…
“I heard you guys mention Chicago. Are you visiting from there?
“No, we went to college in Chicago”
“Yes, sir! But now we live in San Francisco”
“Got it. Working there, I presume?”
She nodded. “Paypal”
“By the way, I work in Chicago. Near Schaumburg.” I let them know.
“And where do you work? Also, I did not get your name,” I asked turning to the gentleman.
“I am Joe. I work in a small healthcare startup.”
“What kind of startup? Analytics?”
“No, mental health”
“What is the name of your company?”
“Really? Wait…”, saying so, I fished out my phone and went to my office emails.
“You mean – this company?” I asked him showing him an email.
Guess the surprise and excitement on his face! Turns out we (as a company) are their customers!! That got Joe talking. I learnt from him about the size of the company and how they have had tremendous growth ever since they started in 2019.
“By the way, where are you from?”
“Where in Virginia?”
“Ah! You know the Sheraton on the beach? That is one of the favorite properties of my wife!”
“How about you?”, I asked the young lady now.
“Oh! I was born and brought up in Delhi. I went to UC for studies”
“Got it. And what brings you to Kolkata then?”
“Oh! we are getting married!”
Just at that point of time, an elderly lady came in and started talking to her. I figured she was somebody from the marriage party. The lady looked around – there were no empty tables. She finally signaled with her finger to the empty chair at my table. I immediately offered her the use of the chair.
Instead of pulling the chair out and moving to the other table, she just sat there and started talking to the young lady. Our tables were very close to each other. So much so that the table numbers were 41 and 41A. They were so close, they did not even deserve independent numbers.
I was not bothered by this at all but the young lady suddenly screamed “Ma, onno loker table-e boso na”. (Mom, do not sit at other guest’s tables). Now this surprised me no end. Because she spoke in clear Bengali.
I addressed her directly. “Let her feel comfortable here. I am totally cool. But how do you know Bengali?”
“Oh! I am a Bengali.”
“Really?” I suddenly realized I never got her name…
“What is your name?”
“Oh! that is as Bengali as it gets!”
“Okay. Now you are in Bengali overdrive!!!”
Of course, by now I realized that the elderly lady was her mom. So, I chatted her up for the next 10 minutes giving her all the respect an elderly lady deserves. Learnt that their family was originally from Sylhet and then moved to Silchar pre-independence.
She was even kind enough to take a picture of the three of us!!
She, being a mom, asked after my kids. I told her about my two daughters – 24 and 18 year olds.
“24? Where is she?”, asked Sagarika.
“Oh! Natasha lives in New York. She went to NYU and graduated in 2020 amidst Covid”
“So, did we!!”
I then realized that this young couple were of the same batch as Natasha (different colleges).
Simple math would suggest that this so called “elderly lady” is probably then of my age or younger.
I politely excused myself before I put my foot any further in my mouth!!
That said, I hope to see the young couple the next time I am in San Fran for a Board meeting!
- This much chlorine cannot be good for them Mar 14, 2022
- Meeting Mrs. Roy!! Mar 14, 2022
This was back in 2017. In fact, April 11th to be precise. I had caught up with Debasis and his wife Joyoti in Kalyani. Got an opportunity to meet Debasis’s parents too. Joyoti had mentioned about how she spent every weekend with her mom in Kolkata – who was ailing. I had promised to visit her mom sometime.
Five years later, I was finally able to meet the lovely lady. Parkinson’s is slowly consuming her. Her speech has become so soft that it was difficult to hear her clearly. But her spirits were very high. And that smile!! That beatific smile never left her face. To the extent we could have a conversation, it was such an enjoyable time for me. As I sat down next to her in her bed, I had flashbacks of the patients in the hospices I go to. It has to be soul crushing to not be able to express oneself completely. Against that background, the upbeat nature of Mrs. Roy gave me such a heart warming feeling.
I let her know after some time that I was going to join the rest of the gang in the living area.
“Jaabar aagey ekbaar dekha korey jeo”. She asked me to see her one more time before I left. That at least assured me that she enjoyed our conversation too.
You can also see the rest of the gang in the picture. For some reason, Rabindranath Tagore, unlike others, could not focus on the camera!!
- Relaxing by the poolside Mar 15, 2022
Sister’s family and brother will join later. I am by myself with no “todo”s for a couple of hours. I am doing one of those activities that relaxes me a lot. Sitting in the shade by the pool on a hot, sultry day in Kolkata and writing down the stories of intersection points. (Of course, the other activity I like is chatting up total strangers looking for intersection points!! )
- View from the swimming pool Mar 15, 2022
- The whole family together Mar 15, 2022
- The whiplash from my United Airlines flight time changes!! Mar 17, 2022
But I do not blame them a bit. In order to avert Russian air space, they are taking a circuitous route. And depending on headwinds, sometimes they are tripping up the limit for crew hours and fuel needs. We had to stop at Bangor, ME today to switch crew and refuel – just an hour away from our final destination!
- Puzzle #1 (math) from my India trip Mar 17, 2022
This was given to me by my elder nephew. I was able to solve it but in the process I learnt a new concept in numbers called partition number. My nephew taught me a method of how to get to the partition number for a number. He claimed it is called the Chinese method.
Here is the puzzle:
In the following expression, once expanded, what is the coefficient of x9 ?