28 November 2022

Usually it is the other way round

I was sitting at my desk working in one of those shared office space places in Alpharetta when a young Indian gentleman started approaching me. He seemed new to me. I have been working out of that place for over 12 years and could not recollect seeing him before.

“Rajib?”

Well, that surprised me. I thought he was going to ask for some help or directions in the new place. But it seemed like we knew each other.

“Yes. You have to help me out a little here.”

“20 years back. Dallas.”

“i2?” I asked.

“Yes”, he replied. But I still could not put the face and a name together.

“You have to help me a little bit more.” I admitted.

“Pradheep Sampath.”

That is when it clicked. Product Manager in Nayan’s group. All sorts of three letter acronyms – LSP (large scale planning), SPP (Spare Parts Planner) started flowing fast thru my stream of consciousness.

From there, the joining of dots flew fast and thick. We remembered a lot of our past friends and some memorable events from our Dallas days.

I had to get back to my Zoom calls after the coffee break. But, good news is that Pradheep will be visiting Alpharetta from DC regularly. Looking forward to spending more time with him!!

(As a reflection point later in the day, it reminded me of something I tell my folks at work always. When we meet again many years later, we will forget product names and financial numbers. We will always remember people and specific interactions. That is how we humans are.)

17 November 2022

That is a unique answer!!

“What do you want to be written on your tombstone?”, I asked her.

This is a question I often ask people I meet – not to be too dark, but to get a perspective of long term view of their own lives from them. Most of the answers revolve around core values of people – kind, family person, love, made a difference etc etc.

So, I was completely unprepared for what Robin had to say after giving it a few seconds of thought…

“BADASS!”

I laughed out aloud. That is so Robin. Right from the days in i2 back in the ‘90s, I remember her as the ultimate change maker. A lot of those fiesty arguments of QA vs QC (in software) came flashing by immediately!!

Following that, her career has been nothing if not “Badass”. Multiple times CEO, great exits and helping the community of startups grow – those are a few of the things that have defined her.

What has absolutely not changed is her sense of gratitude towards folks who she had worked with in the past. Which is what got her to drive thru Atlanta morning traffic for an hour and have a breakfast with me! (She was in town for some business)

I felt special that she did that for me. Getting to hear her personal reflections in life was nothing short of enlightening.

But then again, I would not expect anything less from a self-styled “Badass” person, either!!

3 November 2022

Boy! How quickly they grow up!!

It was just the other day Shreyoshi – we called her “Munu” – was this young little girl dancing on the Durga Puja stage with other youngsters – including our own daughters – in Dallas. And her little brother would cling on to her mom – Anindita all the time crying – while Anindita taught all these young girls how to dance on the stage.

And that Shreyoshi has grown up so much today. She was in Atlanta for a BCG project. And we were able to meet her before she headed out to the airport.

It was incredibly heartening to see how mature she has become. Very well articulated and very thoughtful in her answers. And her humility was striking.

Came back home and dug up some of the pictures I had of her from yesteryears!

Hope to see this young lady on the road more number of times and learn new things about how the next generation thinks.

1 November 2022

If one birthday surprise was good…

… two had to be better.

I took leave from the very reluctant Gangulis and headed to the hotel. And then I remembered that it was somebody else’s birthday – Deval’s mom’s!

In the morning I had asked her to make sure she wished her mom on my behalf. And asked what were the celebration plans. She told me that they were going to Big Bowl.

So, there I was at Big Bowl, hoping to spot some Gujarati ladies. In about a minute I was right there at the table with Deval, her sister Krupal, her daughter Jessie and her mom (Shaku). I needed to at least say Thank you to her for unfailingly supplying me with Gujarati snacks and savories even now when I go to office. And of course, there are those LP records of her late husband!

I could not spend more than 5 minutes but it was thrilling to spring that surprise on her!!!

1 November 2022

Springing a birthday surprise!

This was one of those really intense weeks. Both personally and professionally. Technically, I think it is called “week from hell”.

On Tuesday, I finally finished up my stuff at office at around 6. Only because nobody else was there. And I had another 6-8 hours of work left. The idea was to go to the hotel, sit at a corner with a glass of wine and pound thru the work.

Except, I suddenly had a brainwave. It was Ranajoy’s birthday. He lived not too far from my office in Chicago. We go back to elementary school days in Durgapur in India. And while wishing him a happy birthday, I had found out he had plans to go to Maggiano’s for dinner!!

I knew that restaurant. Made a beeline for it just to spend 10-15 minutes with him and his wife, Madhumita. You should have seen the surprise on his face!!

The last time I saw them was seven and a half years back when Natasha and I were in the city.

It was so good to see them. But next time, I will keep more time so I can at least have a drink with them.

31 October 2022

My 15 minutes of fame

I had finished my dinner with Jon and had pulled up the rental car to the valet at the hotel. I saw the valet guy take the keys from the person who had the previous car and walk towards the car. Then, on second thoughts, he ran back to the person who was going up the steps to the checking in counter. I could see he asked him something, the guest nodded, both smiled, shook hands and parted.

“Is he somebody famous?” I asked the valet looking at the clean shaven, well built African American gentleman walking away. I was expecting him to be some kind of professional athlete.

“Yes. He is Mr. Booker”

Now, I have to admit I did not know who exactly Mr. Booker was but the name was vaguely familiar. The valet guy for some reason told me he is the mayor of DC. Which my irate daughters later pointed out is actually a lady. And this was the famous senator from New Jersey – Mr. Cory Booker.

After he was done checking in, I was wondering whether I should go and talk to him. He probably gets too many strangers walking up to him and bothering him.

I finally took the plunge. “Mr. Booker?”, I asked as he was grabbing a couple of bottles of water.

He turned back and said “Yes.”

“How many times do you get asked that question everyday?” I asked. Since I could not come up anything better or more interesting to ask.

“More than you think”, he said and laughed and put me at ease.

It should have ended there with me wishing him good night.

Instead, I proceeded – “I am from Atlanta but I have a daughter in DC. She just started in GWU.”

“Really, what is she studying?”

“Well, she wants to do law”

“We need smart kids in law. Good for her.”

“I know this is imposing on your privacy but would you be open to taking a picture with me? My daughter will be thrilled” I asked a little worried that incessant requests like this probably irritates folks like him.

“Oh! absolutely!”

As I was trying to look around to ask somebody to take our picture, he did something startling. He took the phone away from me.

“What is your daughter’s name?”

“Nikita!”

He put the camera on video mode and started taking a video of him and me. And he said “Hey Niki! Here I was minding my own business here in Milwaukee and this guy who can be my stunt double walks up to me and says he knows you. Hope he knows you! Wish you all the best. You have a cool dad!”

And I am yelling “Oh! My God!!!”

Then he took a selfie with me, made sure I got his Chief of Staff Veronica’s contacts (who also a took a selfie with me) and asked me to pass it on to Niki and that if she wanted an internship ever, she should contact Veronica.

We bade each other adieu. I checked in and went to my room. And then sent the video to the girls. One remonstrated with me for not mentioning her name and the other was in sixth heaven.

But for once, both agreed that dad may not be always somebody to be embarrassed of.

That was my 15 minutes of fame!!

31 October 2022

Intersection Point!! Mr. Wittman!

I had not seen Jon in ages. We had worked together in a previous job and had I personally learnt a lot about airplanes from him. I remember he taking me to the hangars and explaining the intricacies of flying and maintaining the airplanes we owned.

And the beer and wine we used to have in Sheboygan!!

We had thought of meeting for an hour and a half. It was three and a half hours by the time we got kicked out of the restaurant!! It is difficult to express the feelings of meeting old friends like Jon after a such a long time. We had some nice learning moments exchange notes on reflections from our times together!

I also found out that his daughter is a teacher. Hopefully, I will get to work with another Wittman from the family soon!

27 October 2022

My first friend from Fiji !!

“What is your name?”, I asked the usherer as she walked me to my breakfast table in the completely empty restaurant at Carvallo Point Lodge in Sausalito.
“Mereseini”
“Can you spell that out for me?”
Which she did.
“And what is the last name?”
“Vatu”
“V-A-T-U?”
“Yes”
“Wow! I have not heard those names ever. Where are the names from?”
“Fiji”
“Fiji?”
“Yes”
“Wow! You are the first person I know from Fiji!!”
“Oh! At first, I thought you are from Fiji too!”
“Why?”
“Well, Roy is a common last name in Fiji. In fact our soccer superstar has Roy as his last name.”
“I did not know that!”

As I mentioned, there were no other customer around. Which gave me some time to get to know Mereseini.
“Your last name – does it have a meaning?”
“A rock”
“Oh! It reminds me of another country near you – Vanuatu! It has the letters of your last name”
“You have been there?
“No. I have never been to the Polynesian islands. But I have heard about those countries. The other country there that I know with the letters of your last name is Tuvalu. Which has a funny capital name. But I cannot remember.”
“Funafuti”, she reminded me.
“Yes. I had forgotten!

“Tell me a little about your country. All I know is your capital name, Vijay Singh and Fijian water – which I am not sure if it is from Fiji at all”.
“Well, it is a poor country. And living is hard.”
“Your family is there still?”
“Yes”
“Why did you come to America?”
“I had heard that there are lots of opportunities to work here.”
“Who told you? How did you know there is lots of work opportunities here?”
“By reading up and hearing from other people”

“Okay. So, how did you come here?”
“I have a green card”
“Thru your husband or family here sponsored you?”
“Oh! I am not married. I won the lottery.”
“The green card lottery?”
“Yes. I did not get the first time. So, I applied again. I could not believe my luck when I got it the second time. I came here last year.”

“Wow! So, now that you are here, what do you want to do with your life?”
“I want to join the army”
“The army? Why?”
“I have always wanted to be in the armed forces. Plus the benefits are very good”.
“I see.”

By this time, the server had arrived to take my order. And I had to once again go thru the coin toss in my mind – what was it going to be? – vegetable omelette or two eggs sunny side up?

Chomping thru the breakfast (the coin came up on the sunny side up, by the way), I could not help mull over how industrious and adventurous young folks like Mereseine are. Coming to a completely different country in a completely different hemisphere – north south wise and east west wise – with nobody here – to restart life from scratch. And how luck is such a crucial factor in the journey of life.

Not to speak of how blessed we still are in America.

Hope to run into Mereseine – and more folks like her – in my journeys.

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