’22 Sep India
- This is the lightest I have ever traveled to India Sep 2, 2022
Just an overnighter and my laptop backpack. 36 hours of flight, 48 hours of dealing with Indian bureaucracy (related to my late parents’ properties) and 36 hours of flight back. In between, hope to see my siblings and their families and if the court documents are settled with early enough – one quick dash to the see the last of the parents surviving – my mother-in-law. What is a trip to India worth without the constant back and forth of her badgering me to eat more and me steadfastly refusing to do so?
One thing though – India still has some attraction for me to go back to. After all, I have been making quarterly trips even after the parents passed away. I still long to spend more time with my brother and sister (an evening without my brother narrating “Ami Kono Risk Niy Na” is almost a wasted trip for me) but without the excitement of being able to see my parents, the attraction of the location is fading. I keep asking myself – why can’t we meet somewhere else? That way we can all see a new place together.
Have you ever gone thru this?
- How lazy is Linkedin getting? Sep 3, 2022
This is a sample of invites I get these days. Has Linkedin completely given up on doing some basic checks on bot accounts? Maybe we should have Elon Musk make a bid for Linkedin and then back out.
And how lazy are these bot algorithms getting? Coming up with names by just chopping off English words in the middle?
Interestingly enough, if you go to the profile (https://www.linkedin.com/in/licity-fe-07625a248/) to see how these algorithms work, you will realize that first they always have an important college name as education background (Harvard in this case). And then when you try to see what they have studied, you realize that it is just a few paragraphs scraped directly from the college’s website and inserted in!!
Worse, these algorithms can’t do some basic math. Apparently, this profile, while holding a Manager job in Taiwan from 2010-2015 also managed to do her 2 year MBA course in Harvard (2011-2013)!! Has Harvard relocated to Taiwan these days?
And why are only attractive looking young women inviting me to have a professional connection? Whose profession are we talking about anyways?
- Have you seen this before? Sep 3, 2022
I was checking in at the boarding gate in Doha for my flight to Delhi when I saw a jacket button sitting at the desk. Curiosity got the better of me.
“Who left a jacket button here?”
The person at the gate said something from behind the mask that I could not comprehend. I continued with my puzzled look. For a moment I thought may be he did not understand my question with the muffling effect of my mask.
He repeated again… “It is a microphone, sir!”
It was a microphone!! I touched it – sure enough it was stuck there. Very carefully masquerading as a button.
It was not till I had walked straight into the plane that it struck me – What was a microphone doing on the desk? For gate announcements? That would be fairly uncomfortable bending all over to speak into it. And if you did not have to reach near it (very powerful microphone), it was bound to pick up a lot of background noise.
I think I will ask them on my way back…
- Enjoying the rains Sep 4, 2022
Went from the airport straight to the hotel in Kolkata. My brother – who also came in to town around the same time as me – met me there.
Taking advantage of the rains, we grabbed a couple of chairs under the umbrella by the pool and started chatting. The ever helpful servers got us drinks and snacks in regular intervals walking thru the rains! It did help that we were the only guests anywhere near the pool area!!
Reminded me of the old days when we would love to get drenched in the rains together. Now, nobody is however left to berate us with the much respected Bengali tradition of “thanda legey jaabey”!
- Reminded me of mom a lot Sep 4, 2022
Going around the incredible spread of food for lunch at the Royal Bengal, I was dilly dallying on what cuisine to settle for. After some time, thought will go with the local Bengali food. (Coming all the way to Kolkata and eating sandwiches seemed somewhat out of place).
The spread was pretty much in line with mom would make for lunch every time I visited her – “gobindo bhog chaal”, “begun bhaaja”, “uchhe bhaaja”, “lau posto”, “daal” and “aloo jhuri bhaaja”.
The only way these folks could have made it any closer to my mom is by dumping multiple big ladle full of all these stuff on my plate before I could even protest!!
- Back to “panta bhaat” Sep 5, 2022
I have to somewhat sheepishly admit that this item was one of the reasons that I chose to stay in Royal Bengal this time instead of my usual JW Marriott. You might remember from an earlier post how I had discovered this in March this year in this hotel.
I had to start breakfast today with it. If you know me at all, you know that I am not a foodie by any remote definition of the word. I eat so as to not get hungry. I try to stay on time with my meals and with age, have started to get a little disciplined with what I eat.
And “panta bhaat” is not exactly for the weak of the heart. Or generous of the waist. This is white rice, white potatoes, mustard oil, raw onions and raw chillies. If those “white” calories were not enough, it might serve well to remind you that the rice is actually fermented overnight – which gives it some alcohol content. So, there is that! And all these when you are trying mightily to get up!
But what I am in favor of – is nostalgia. Re-living old moments. Life visited is wonderful. Life re-visited makes it memorable. “History Of My Future”, as it were.
Mid 70s – when our family was still struggling to get a financial foothold, this is what mom would make for breakfasts on weekend days. What was sorely missing today is the “knacha posto“!
I duly filled in the suggestion card 🙂
- The small town that grew on me Sep 5, 2022
I had heard about this small little town outside Kolkata called Kalyani when I was growing up. Even there, the context was that the gentleman who was credited with envisioning Durgapur (where I grew up) had also envisioned Kalyani. (He was the first chief minister of West Bengal) Beyond that, I knew nothing.
In any case, the first time I came to this town was about 15 years back when my sister moved here. Most of our meetings were not in Kalyani though since my visit would be a good excuse for all of us to land up in our parents’ place in Durgapur.
Then my parents moved here 10 years back. That is when I started coming to Kalyani every three months or so. In the span of 7-8 years that I visited my parents here (about 20-25 times), I got to know every part of this town and a lot of the locals. Especially the tea vendors – thanks to my brother and I stopping at various tea stalls during our runs. And then there was that one tea stall in front of Kalyani stadium where a local had asked us if we were in town for the soccer tournament. Looking at our running attire (which was fairly good by local standards), he assumed we were here as formal players. In fact, his question was “Dada, khela-ta kotaaay shuru hobey?” (“When will the game start today?”).
With the impending sale of my parents’ house, this town will also start becoming a distant memory. Now that my niece is in college in Bangalore, most of our sibling meetings will be in new places that we will visit together to explore India.
This small sleepy town had slowly, imperceptibly but undeniably grown on me.
Perhaps knowing this would be one of my last few trips to Kalyani, the authorities had put up this new sign I saw today!
- Last few moments of calling it our own – the house Sep 5, 2022
- Last few moments of calling it our own – the kitchen Sep 5, 2022
The place that saw my mom make uncountable cups of tea for us. And often where we had to drag her out of because she would be making yet another snack for us.
Many of you may remember the hilarious story of how my mom went from being upset about our wine drinking to agreeing to it and even tacitly supporting it. Don’t miss the one wine glass sitting out like a misfit among the traditional Indian household kitchenware from the 70s in this picture. She used to make sure that three things were ready before I would arrive – toilet paper rolls, bottles of “mineral” water and that wine glass duly washed!
- Last few moments of calling it our own – his spot Sep 5, 2022
Everything has been dismantled from the area that was my dad’s. The bed has been disposed of. A couple of his shoes are lying against the wall. The furniture is all gone. A couple of plastic chairs are still there and some discarded newspapers.
Fairly painful to realize that things came to a stop so quickly. That too during Covid – the one time I could not come back and see him quarterly.
The room represents the emptiness that he left in my heart…
- Remember the three things my mom always kept ready for my visit? Sep 5, 2022
- Last few moments of calling it our own – the water tank Sep 5, 2022
- Last few moments of calling it our own – the balcony Sep 5, 2022
Absolutely the most memorable place for me in my parents’ place. So many early mornings spent with dad before anybody woke up – just listening to the birds… not a word uttered between us, yet volumes spoken.
This is also where we used to have those hilarious moments.
Without a shade of doubt, the funniest moment was my socks moment. I had just finished my run and was sitting in the balcony cooling down. I had taken my shoes off but had my socks on and my legs were outstretched on the top of the railing while I was sitting in one of those plastic chairs.
The socks, as is customary in the USA, were ankle socks – the concept of which was completely lost on my dad. He kept staring at my socks that day.
“Ki holo?” (What’s the matter?) I asked.
“Socks gulo eto chhoto diyechhe keno?” (Why did they give you such short socks?)
I was not sure how to answer that. I merely offered a defensive “Erokom-i hoy”. (This is how they are)
Not convinced a bit, he came back a few seconds later with “Koto daam niyechhe?’ (How much did it cost you?) My father’s general knowledge of any object in this world used to be incomplete without knowing the price.
Now, I had no idea about the price. I have seen Sharmila bring home half a dozen of them at a time and I never had asked her for the price. (Not everything apparently runs in the genes)
Just to fend him off, I told him “One and a half dollars”.
You could see something was churning in his head. As it turns out, he was trying to multiply 1.5 with 62.5 (which was the exchange rate those days for dollars to Indian rupees). As the numbers piled up in his head, his eyes started widening. (“Bisfarito netro” for my Bengali friends).
Finally he blurted out something that had me rolling in the balcony. The summary of it was this: “Son, the American shopkeeper cheated you. For that much money you can get socks here that will come up to your knees!!”
Such great memories.
All those are setting now just like the evening sunsets we used to watch together – again from this balcony!!
- How time came to a grinding halt Sep 5, 2022
Every December, I would show up in India with 5 calendars filled with my pictures of Sharmila, Natasha and Nikita. Oh! also Jay Jay!! Every January, dad would put it up on the wall. Every month, the pages would be flipped and the next few days of phone calls with my mom would be around the new pictures.
Where was it taken? Who is the other person? As much as I would explain to her that I could not see the calendar she was seeing (invariably I would be calling from my car), she would press for more answers for a few more days.
And then suddenly on Dec 2020, the page flipping came to an end. That was the last month of my mom’s life and the last time she saw new pictures of the Roy family in the USA.
My dad, in very poor health condition, had no need for a calendar. He too moved on in a few weeks.
And the calendar stands there even today – many months later – as a symbol of when time stopped in the Kalyani house of my parents.
Even that will be thrown away to oblivion today.
- This has been the season of transitions Sep 5, 2022
That quick signature and the paraph indelibly inked the new truth that as the eldest son of all the surviving children of my parents, I concurred that we have for ever forsaken ownership of what was my home away from home. It has now been consecrated to the annals of memory without any recourse to reverse.
Lately, it seems like I have been going through a cold winter of separations. First my mom, then my dad, then what was my home for 15 years, then Nikita left and now my home away from home is no more ours!!
That signature was what all this very quick trip to India was all about. It was done with the alacrity of incredible standards by Indian bureaucratic norms.
So much so the better I guess. Some of these separations are perhaps best done without lingering around for too long.
Putting the final lock to two homes in a matter of six weeks!! I do not think I could have ever mentally prepared myself for this.
- There has to be a better way than this Sep 5, 2022
As reported before, I had a very smooth experience with the Indian bureaucracy this time. The fact that India disallows Power of Attorney to be given from US meant I had to come to India for aa few hours to physically sign papers, give thumbprints and take pictures. But other than that, the process just glided thru. What helped us was that my brother had done a lot of running around beforehand to get paperwork ready and the buyer is somebody who works in the Land department of the state government. So, he knew the steps very well and guided us thru it flawlessly.
But what if you do not have these advantages?
After giving my thumbprints, while we were waiting outside for the authorities to take our individual pictures and all that, I noticed this very elderly gentleman sitting in a corner. I got very curious about him. You can see that he cannot see well (eyes seem almost closed). The shoes are worn on the wrong foot. What was he doing sitting all by himself in the property registration office?
I put my mask back on, went and sat next to him. And gently enquired – “Ekhaaney esechhen keno?” (Why have you come here?).
He was old enough that most of his faculties were failing him. His words were garbled and he spoke haltingly. After some time I realized that he had come to register his house in the name of his two sons. He has lived in Kalyani all his life. Built a house many moons back. Lost his wife. And now wants to make it easy for the transition for his sons once he dies .
Our conversation got abruptly interrupted when my name was called out for biometrics.
On our way out, I noticed he was not there any more. I figured his work was done and had left.
After the whole thing was over and the bank folks came and verified everything and handed over the checks, all of us – including the buyers side – helped ourselves to a round of hot tea by the streetside. (BTW, best masala tea I have ever had in my life).
It is then that I noticed the same gentleman was being helped by two younger folks – presumably his sons – on his feet to shuffle towards however it is that they had brought him.
I stepped up, bent to his head level and said – “Kaku, abaar dekha hobey”. (Sir, I will see you again).
He kept staring at the ground and mumbled something. I could not hear him with all the street noise around us. I simply stepped back and watched him slowly move on. Fairly sure in my mind that it had to be the last time I was seeing him.
Came back and joined everybody else for tea.
Felt pity for the ordeal the gentleman had to go thru. There has to be a better way to take care of such important processes for such elderly folks.
- That ad made no sense to me Sep 5, 2022
Saw this as we were approaching our hotel in Kolkata coming back from Kalyani. Unless my Bengali has gotten really rusty, the ad is exhorting one (presumably lady) to not change husbands but change houses.
Well, that makes no sense. First of all, in most cases, I would assume changing your husband will result in a change in your house. So, one does not need to present the two cases as mutually exclusive.
Second of all, what the heck was that all about again?
- Sunrise in Kolkata after some sharp showers Sep 6, 2022
- Without my blog, I would have never met this interesting young gentleman Sep 6, 2022
“Remind me again, how do we know each other?”, I asked.
It is a fairly strange question to ask somebody after inviting him to meet you in your hotel. Well, in June, I had tried to meet him but I could not make time. He had insisted that I make some time for him in my future trips. Since my Durgapur trip got canceled, I took a chance to see if he had time.
I knew that somebody called Tirtha Tanay Mandal often posted comments on my blog. Especially the ones about fountain pens. He had surprised me with his knowledge of pens and had made a few shop suggestions for me to visit in Kolkata.
There was a guy a couple of years younger than me in school with a very similar name. I kind of assumed it was that person.
So when Tirtha walked in with his wife Tanushree, I was taken aback a little at how young they were. (barely reaching 30).
“Well, 6-7 years back, I had come across your blog while Googling something. Ever since then I have read your blog posts every single day.”
Looking at his wife, I asked “Have you folks had lunch?”
“No no sir. He has been crazy to meet you. Let’s just sit down and let him talk,” she said.
We moved to the Resident’s Lounge and asked for some soft drinks and cappuccino. And we started talking…
Forget about my blog – the guy is truly aa very interesting person. I was astounded to find out about one of his passions. He collects different tickets that had been in vogue over the years (literally centuries) for the various modes of transportation in India – bus, train, tram, ferries!!
I was not sure how much variety was there in it.
That is when Tanushree fished out an envelope from her bag. And from that envelope came out four ziplock bags. With some tickets in each one of them. That had been in circulation since the earlier part of twentieth century!!
Some of you who grew up in India when I was growing up might remember the bus tickets that used to be made from computer cards. Do you remember those olden days’ train tickets? You can see them in the picture. Apparently, those are called Edmondson tickets. I looked up in Wikipedia. Apparently that used to be a world wide standard in train tickets originally made in the 1840s by a cabinet maker!!
“So where do you get all these?”
Found out that there are forums, collectors’ websites for exchanges and all that. But Tirtha actually goes all over India to collect these tickets. For example, he waits till the crazy crowd Durga Puja season in Kolkata and then goes to buy metro tickets. Apparently, to manage all the crowds that are not used to automated systems, the metro system switches to the traditional mode of tokens!!
In his turn, he loved that I collect pens, old vinyls, CDs and all that.
“I have never found out what you call the hobby of collecting tickets”, said
By the way, trying Googling that. You will be surprised how many websites there are about people collecting bus tickets, movie tickets and all that.
That was not the end of it. Found out that Tirtha and I went to the same residential school (of course, he went a couple of decades after me). But he had the contacts of my hostel warden – who I had been looking for a long time.
As I started putting the ziplock bags back into the envelope and give it back to Tanushree, he immediately said… “No, no. Those are for you!”
“What? These are part of your collection.”
“That is okay. These are extras. I knew a person like you would value them.”
I was truly touched by the gesture.
To say I had one of the best afternoons of my life and learnt a lot would be an understatement.
We also agreed to start writing letters to each other!!!
- Two friends from school days Sep 6, 2022
- The Kolkata Roys Sep 6, 2022
After quite some time I had two relaxed evenings with my brother’s family. The last eighteen months, the elder nephew was busy with his high school exams and before that of course, there was the Covid thingy.
We focused most of our time on what the nephews like best – eating at different restaurants and of course math puzzles!! They had their first experience of hibachi. I think their stomachs were ready to burst at the end of it. But they enjoyed it thoroughly.
By the way the Victoria Memorial you see in the background – that is actually a wall mural!
- My best friend from elementary school days!! Sep 7, 2022
Our houses are antipodal today. I am in Atlanta, Avijit is in Perth. We share the hemispheres neither on the north south divide nor on the east west divide. And yet we used to live stone’s throw away (well maybe a few throws away if you could lay them down longitudinally) and were a constant feature in each other’s houses some forty years back.
We happened to be both in Kokata this week to sell our parents’ houses. He lost his mom literally a few days before I lost mine. And coincidentally, our stay in India overlapped by a few hours this time. We made the most of the opportunity and spent an hour together over breakfast before he had to run to the court and I had to run to the airport.
- My school friends agree on one thing about me Sep 7, 2022
Abhik had made me promise that the next time I would be in Delhi, I would have to let him know. He would round up our school friends from elementary days and have a gathering. I had about 3 hours between flights to spare. And Abhik came thru with his promise. The last time I had seen Abhik was in 1986 May!
Some of the folks I had last seen even earlier (like Chinmoy). While I am not big into group meetings, the school friends have always been an exception. Perhaps because we have a lot in common – in terms of experiences we went thru together in the early, formative stages of our lives. Each one of them – Kushal, Sushil, Chinmoy, Abhik, Aniruddha, Mithun, Deepak and Jay had to fight a lot of Delhi traffic snarls to get to our meeting spot near the airport. Sanjay was in fact visiting from Bombay and he rearranged his schedule to meet us too!
Those young boys in grey shorts and white shirts have now prospered is so many different ways – from doctors to engineers to managing directors to NGO … you name it… and yet when the folks get together, it is almost like the conversations pick up from where we left off during school. Down to even discussing the crushes from those days!!
The Delhi folks made it very special for me by getting the restaurant to even put in a name plate for me. Those guys really know how to get my ego up.
For all that never-changed-spirits of friendship, everybody agreed on one thing. There is one thing that has changed a lot. And that is me. By general consensus (including my own vote), I was an awkward, thin-as-a-rail nerd toting thick black framed glasses. Nothing really stood out about me other than that I used to get good grades. (Which today I have concluded counts for next to nothing).
Apparently, nobody would have ever predicted the person I am today if they had seen the kid then. Which, upon reflection, could not be truer.
It would be an interesting exercise for me to reflect on whether my traits today are learned traits that I made myself learn or were those traits always there and they just happened to come out as my life context and environments changed around me. As an example, how different would I be today, if I had never come to the USA?
I was fortunate that the group did not deliberate on whether this me is better or that me was better. I was fairly sure that they would demand the old guy back!!
- Oh! And this happened Sep 8, 2022
Since I had over 4 hours of wait time in Delhi airport, I started checking out the stores before going to the Lounge. Well, checking out is an overstatement. Since most of them were selling clothes or jewelry or suitcases and all that, I browsed them from a fairly safe distance. Till I came to the book shop. Which had a pen section!!
Ten minutes later, these two old style Parker pens were mine! Some of you might remember these from our childhood as the pens with the short nibs. Made of stainless steel, they are less flexible and therefore “give” very little even under pressure. If you like fine tip nibs, you will like these. Found out that Luxor is the company that markets Parker pens in India.
The ink pot was part of the package. I could not convince the shopkeeper to open the package (these require those scissors and all that to open up) and throw away the ink.
- How these folks became my friends to begin with Sep 8, 2022
This time I met a dozen of my St. Xavier’s School (SXS) classmates in three different settings. All that within the 2 days that I was in India!! There is an interesting story about how they almost never became my friends to begin with. This involves Father Wautier – the best principal I have ever had in my life, my own dad and my brother.
In 1971 December, SXS had admission test scheduled on one Friday, Saturday and Sunday over a weekend. My father, having figured that all kids will be interviewed first before results would be declared, went to visit his mom in Debipur village on Friday. Came back on Saturday and took me for tests on Sunday. Only to be told that all seats had been filled up.
My dad was terribly crestfallen. It was his dream that I would go to SXS. I do not think he ever forgave himself for that.
I went to Benachity Junior High School (next door to SXS on Mirabai road) instead. Every December thereafter, my dad would take my report card to Fr. Wautier and plead “e bochhoro first hoyecche. ebaar-e niye nin”. (This year too he has stood first – you have to take him now). But Fr. Wautier always sent him back.
Fast forward to 1976 December. My brother now had to go to school. Dad took him to interview in SXS. No points for guessing which day he took him there of the three day options. I remember being in the room with the whole family when Fr. Wautier interviewed my brother. I distinctly remember he asking him to narrate a poem.
For some reason, my brother froze up. Fr. Wautier was incredibly warm and comforting and gave him some encouragement. And like summer tempest came out “Baa Baa Black Sheep” from my brother’s mouth like he was waiting to throw those words up all his life.
On Monday, results were out. My brother was in.
Dec 12, my results came out.
Dec 13, my dad went on his annual pilgrimage to Fr Wautier.
Same old “e bochhoro first hoyecche. ebaar-e niye nin”
Fr. Wautier: “Congratulations, Mr. Roy. But there is no vacancy”.
To hear my dad say it, he pleaded a couple of times. With no result. And then he put down his trump card…
“But his brother got thru this time”
Fr. Wautier was nonplussed. “His brother? What is his name?”
“Chiradeep. Chiradeep Roy.”
Fr. Wautier went to those metal folder racks, fished out some paperwork and asked my dad if that kid whose papers he was holding was my brother.
“Yes, father. They are five years apart”
“Bring Rajib’s report card tomorrow. He will be in our school from January”.
My father, well prepared as he was, promptly fished out my report card from his pocket.
A few signatures and some admission money later, I became part of these guys!!!
Never got a chance to say good bye to my friends in Benachity Junior High School 🙁
Had it not been for my brother…
- My reception committee Sep 8, 2022
- Heart warming sight Sep 8, 2022
After one and a half days of journey, finally reached home. Freshened up, had some snacks and then headed out to Alpharetta downtown with Sharmila and Jay Jay. Chatted up with our old friends in Chiringa, grabbed a couple of drinks and then settled down by the Green to watch all the cornhole games going on.
It was a very pleasant evening to just sit out and watch the crowds over a glass of wine. The best sight happened late in the evening. An elderly gentleman started practicing some throws. There is nothing uncommon about that. Except that he waas carrying a baby in his other hand.
I could not help myself but go up and introduce myself. I told him that this is the best thing I have seen in some time. Turns out the baby is his grand child who just turned 12 weeks. He lives in Johns Creek and his daughter lives in Roswell. They meet at the Alpharetta Green regularly for evenings out. I told him I will take a picture of him and the grandchild when he is playing.
The baby was too cute!! Again, best thing I have seen in some time. Loving this downtown living!