19 September 2020

The Sylvesters!

Of the various aspects of flying every week that I miss, the topmost must be making new friends. I probably have made more friends on the road – at airports, hotels, restaurants – than by any other means. It has been a great experience even keeping up with them (I send FB requests to many of them – some of them make the mistake of accepting).

Now that I am not flying any more… I am having to adapt. Truth is I do not meet that many strangers any more. However, I am getting a few opportunities in the open areas where Sharmila and I go for late evening drinks. The most fascinating friends was a small kid call Dylan who played soccer with me in the Halcyon mall open area. I have not seen him ever since.

Today, we made friends with the Sylvesters. They were sitting in the adirondack chairs in Alpharetta downtown next to where Sharmila and I usually sit. It started with if we were comfortable they sitting down at the next set of chairs. From there we discussed beers – they were having Shiner Bock and we found the common connection in Texas (their son and Tom’s dad is in Texas and of course, both my daughters were born there) to Turkey (where Tom spent a few of his early years – his dad was in General Dynamics). Nikita, our younger one, went to a private school run by mostly Turkish teachers and actually learnt Turkish for a year.

Silvania is from Brazil – and that of course got us started about my experiences in Brazil including the crazy crowded city of Sao Paolo (where she is from). I thought Silvania Sylvester was a nice alliterating name. Found out that her middle name (dad’s name) is Silvi !!

We hope to run into them again. This time I need to talk about soccer!!

15 August 2020

A chance meeting

Sharmila and I had reached Alpharetta downtown a little late. It was probably a little past 9:00 pm. It was a great evening. Beautiful temperature. The full moon was up. All the bars except one were closed. So, I grabbed two gin and tonics from there and sat in one of those many chairs they have set outside for folks to sit in a socially distanced way out in the open.

There was really nobody there. Till an elderly lady came and sat nearby. Actually her son came to settle her down and then went away. The family went for a walk but I guess Grace (we found out later she went by Grace) had enough of walking around for a day. If you think I am the one to talk to strangers, you should have met Grace. Within a minute we were talking about everything and sundry.

The hilarious part was when Grace explained how she had had three husbands. And that her third husband and the first husband where the same person. Both her husbands are no more. And then she slipped in that her second marriage was the best. I think it lasted thirteen years or so. In any case, thru the evening, I kept on repeating “So, Grace, what I am learning from you is that the second marriage is the best always”. “No, no, no”, that is not what I am saying,” she would immediately protest realizing that Sharmila and I were still on our first marriage! And all three of us would break into peals of laughter.

Later, I got to meet the whole family – especially her son, Jeffrey – who seems to have had a similar track record career wise like me.

I cannot wait to see Grace again in downtown Alpharetta. Loved her feistiness and throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude!!

15 August 2020

Guess who I had breakfast with today

My good old friend from eleventh and twelfth grade – Navin Saxena – was in town to drop his son Varun at Emory. I remember seeing Varun in April of 2014 when I was visiting Portland for work. We had all gone out for dinner. Navin let me know today that Varun distinctly remembers me. For a rather unique reason. Apparently, Navin and I had a minor public fracas trying to prevent each other from picking up the dinner tab.

Before that evening, I had seen Navin in April, 1994 when he had come for an interview in Dallas. And before that it was in May, 1986 in his hostel in his Engineering College.

Last time, we had reflected a lot on the past, our school days, our trips together to Dip Sengupta’s house, my house, his house and many of our old friends. Today, we talked about what the future holds for us. He, especially, has been going thru some soul searching given he is a freshly minted empty nester.

It was great to talk about the important things in life over what he called a “chai toast” (We were drinking tea).

11 August 2020

A great mind on some really young shoulders

“Wait, how did you get so much mental strength to withstand all this?”
“I do not know. I was determined not to follow in my parents’ path.”
“That takes some real determination.”

I was so engrossed in the conversation that I had completely forgotten to make up my mind what to have for lunch when Brelyn (Howard) came to check on us.

Let’s back up a little.

John and I was up to our usual Sunday thing – ride our motorbikes to some small town in Georgia, have lunch there, meet some local people and come back home. The town of choice this Sunday was Ellijay which is fairly popular with tourists nestled in the mountains of North Georgia.

We parked our cars and spotted a restaurant – “Emily’s Bar and Restaurant” on the other side of the road. There was a table open in the front patio. We agreed to settle down there. (BTW, if any of you go there – they have a lot of outside patio tables in the back – which I found out later).

That is when Brelyn came to help us out. John and I chatted her up asking her a few questions about the local area.

“Are you from this area?”, I asked
“Do your parents live here?”
“Well, my parents are not your run of the mill parents. They are drug addicts. My mom is in jail and my dad is on the run.”

Well, I was not sure what to say next. Brelyn, as I found out later, had just finished high school and apparently that was her parental background.

“Wait, so who is taking care of you? Meaning…” (I suddenly realized that as a 18/19-year old, she is an adult)
“Well, I stay with my grandparents.”
“So, they have taken care of you?”
“Yes. They are the loveliest people. Specially my grandma.”

“Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“Five sisters. Actually three step sisters. My grandparents are raising my younger sister too.”
“They sound like amazing human beings. Are they from your father’s side or mother’s side?”
“Mom’s side.”

“I have to ask you a question. With that background, you do realize that your life could have turned out very different, right?”
“Yes, sir. I am aware.”
“The peer pressure… the temptations at high school… those are difficult things for a young adult like you.”
“So, then how did you get keep yourself on the straight and the narrow?”
“I have seen my parents. I was determined what not to be.”

For a moment, as John asked her something, my mind floated back to my own daughters. I hope some day all kids like them will grow up to realize how lucky and blessed they have been. I shuddered to even think of a hypothetical situation of something like that befalling my own daughters.

As I snapped back to the present moment, I got Brelyn’s attention again…

“You know, Brelyn, for a kid your age – allow me to call you a kid – I have two daughters – one a couple of years younger to you and another a couple of years older…”
“I certainly think of myself as a kid.”
“… for a kid of your age, as I was saying… you have an incredibly strong mind. I think, at the end of the day, that is what will make the biggest difference in your life.”

“Have you thought of going to college?”
“Yes. Right now I am working in the mornings to earn money.”
“What would you like to be when you grow up?”
“I have a couple of ideas…”
“You know what? That is the best thing. Don’t make up your mind yet. Keep it open – try out new things and then settle down on what you want to do the rest of your life”.

“Before we leave, can I take a picture with you – would love to post your story on my blog.”

“Sure thing. Send it to me on Facebook. I will read it up.”

Riding back the lonely backroads of Georgia, I got yet another understanding of what privilege means and how I still have so much to learn from folks that are one-third my age!!!

If any of you make it to Ellijay, try out Emily’s (great food and nice presentation – that will take you by surprise) and if you are there for lunch – make sure you say Hi to Brelyn (she pronounces her name like the cheese).

2 August 2020

Meeting Lucky in his home ground

About a year and a half back, I had the craziest serendipity. Got to meet this young gentleman in an elevator and had he not ignored the notice in the elevator about which button to press, I would have probably never gotten to know him. Or realize that he grew up in my neighborhood. Went to our high school too!

Turned out Lucky and his girlfriend Lesly were at his parent’s place (in our small little town). Last week, finally, we found an evening for the four of us to go out for a drink and dinner in an open mall.

It was thoroughly an absorbing discussion. While Lucky and Lesly are still ways away from being half my age, the discussions were of great gravity and import. This included the larger purpose of life, relative importance of work (or not) and what throws us off the pursuit of happiness.

It was a great evening. I hope to run into them more often and have some more of those discussions. Truly impressed by the intelligence and the wisdom of the young folks of today.

31 July 2020

Serendipity. Times two.

That is what I thought the young gentleman asked as we ran past each other in the trail yesterday. I was not too sure since I had the Airpods on. He did look somewhat familiar as he passed me – but I was not sure at all.

But I heard the voice again a couple of seconds after he had passed me. I looked back to realize that I was clearly the subject of his address.

“Rajib-da, Avijit”

My mind was racing to map that face to all the Avijits I knew. Somewhere from the subconscious, bits of memory started flying around – beer, gin, airport, long hair… Finally, I thought I had pinned that face down. But I still had lingering doubts.

“I could not recognize you past your hair band”, I finally told him.
“Yes, the hair has grown too long in this virus season”.

This is the second time in my life I met Avijit.

Nine months back. It was end of October. I had a whirlwind trip to India to check on my parents, mother in law and the family. I remember checking in for my return flight a little early (the flight is at a God-awful hour of 3:30 in the morning or something) at Kolkata airport and heading straight to the business lounge. Whereas everybody was enjoying the sofa, lounge chairs and food there, I went and occupied one of the two chairs at the bar.

I was too tired. I just wanted to sit down by myself and enjoy a gin. There was absolutely nobody at the bar.

Eventually, the bar person showed up.

“Apni? Kemon aachhen? Kobey elen?”, he recognized me straightaway from all my quarterly visits. Apparently, I visit bars too often! After exchanging pleasantries and enquiring after his family, I asked for my gin and tonic.

Now if you ever go to that bar, you will notice that there is beer, wine and vodka in the shelf but no gin. But I knew what I was doing.

“Sure!”, he said and fished the one bottle of gin he keeps stacked underneath a hidden shelf. It is not the best gin – but it is gin alright. With Schweppes.

So, there I was. Finally united with my gin and tonic and catching up on my blog writing, when another young guy came up and sat at the other chair. And he got himself a beer.

I am not sure who opened the conversation (99% chance it was me) but soon I found out that he was in the same flight as I. I figured he was going to Doha and then like me will be flying to his work / home… I was headed to Atlanta.

“Where are you headed to?”
“Do you live there?”
“Which flight from Doha?”
“Qatar 755”
“You live there? Or are you heading out to somewhere from there?”
“No, I live in Atlanta”
By this time he was a little bemused at my inquisitiveness. To ease things, I let him know that I lived in Atlanta area too!

Well, that was a surprise! What is the chance I would sitting in a bar in Kolkata airport by myself and the guy sitting next to me was also heading to the same destination?

As the evening progressed, we found out that Avijit – he had introduced himself as Avijit – lived in Sandy Springs (about 10 miles from where I live) and that we had a few common friends.

Also, I found out that he preferred gin and tonic too but never realized that there was hidden stash and he simply had to ask for it!!

In fact, I remember that Sharmila and I had dropped him and his wife and daughter at their house. (They had come by train to pick him up). So all of us got to meet each other.

And that was that.

Till I heard that familiar voice calling out “Rajib-da!” again yesterday!!

It was good running into you Avijit again. I think two chance meetings should be hint enough. Next one, we probably should plan out, what do you say?

28 July 2020

How Covid created an Intersection Point!

For the last six months, I have been working from Roam – a shared workspace kind of business. My usual routine is to sit down at a socially distanced table and get on to those unending video calls. Whenever it is a phone call, I get up and start walking around while being on the call to get some exercise.

Yesterday, I was on an hour long call with Anand Iyer and was pacing up and down outside the building when I thought it was getting too hot for me. So, I stepped in while being on the call and simply proceeded to walk inside the premises where it was comfortably air conditioned.

Usually I avoid the areas where the tables are so as to not disturb others while I am talking. Suddenly, a gentleman – I have seen him in Roam very regularly and later found out that his name is Jesper – flagged me down. I was half sure he was going to complain that I was being too loud. I could see he was on a video call – there was somebody on the other end of the camera on his laptop screen.

I excused myself from Anand and pulled my Airpods out, ready to apologize. Somewhat surprisingly, Jasper just pointed his finger to his screen. I realized that he wanted me to take a closer look at the screen. Which is what I did. And what do you know? That gentleman on his video screen was our good old Ian Goldberg!!!

That was one heck of a coincidence. Ian and I met last year in the context of an opportunity in our company. Eventually he went a different way. But we are part of the same family of companies owned by the same investment firm.

Apparently, when I was strolling around on the call, I walked behind Jasper and Ian could see me in his screen and immediately pointed out that he knew me! I am sure Jasper was as surprised as I was!!

Good news – I got to get to know Jasper and his company (they do some cool IoT stuff) and of course, now Ian and I have a crazy story to tell everybody!!

Something good did come out of all of us cooped up in our small tables on video calls – thanks to this virus!!

18 July 2020

What a wonderful hour and a half!

Greg and I had worked together long back. Like I mentioned in a previous post, even run together. (Strictly speaking, I think it was more like we started together and then he waited for me to finish up on the other side).

Today, we kept an old promise to motor bike together. And that gave me an hour and half of pure Greg time. And I am incredibly happy that I got it.

We immediately bonded over our dads. For the last few days I have been struggling with the fact that my dad has had yet another stroke and this time he has lost his speech. And I cannot even go see him – for another six to twelve months. Looks like Greg was very close to his dad – who is unfortunately no more. We exchanged notes on how dads are the ultimate influential figures for kids. Every dad is a first hero that a child ever knows.

But what I will always remember our morning for is Greg’s “Never Say Die” attitude. After he left the company we had both worked in, he took what looked like a great role across the other coast. I recollect talking to him before he took the job.

A few months later, I saw a post he had written on Linkedin on how his move did not work out and that he was not going to let this bring him down – instead he was glad he took a chance and now he is going to learn from it.

Reading his post, I remember thinking thru if there was some place in our company that he could be awesome in. Well, somebody else (who I do not know) also read that post. And one thing led to the other and Greg now has a job made in heaven for him. It was not just the job. It is the current virus led situation that has opened up an opportunity for him – and he has hammered it home to great success.

To think – if he had not faced that severe set back (and kept his chin up), he would have never had this dream opportunity!! As the old story from Taoism goes… you never know what is good and what is bad…

Although, Tao be danged, I know Greg is pure goodness!!

17 July 2020

Chris Stein!!

We live no more than a twenty minute drive away from each other but we do not get together as often as we should. Chris and I have worked twice together and have had to live thru some tough business situations together. Took the opportunity yesterday to meet him in Halcyon – where they have done a great job of seating arrangements out in the open for social distancing – and catch up on our families.

There were a lot of friends and updates we went thru from our past to be able to cover in one evening but we gave it a shot anyways. Chris might have dropped about 45 pounds in the last few months but none of his sharp sense of humor, for sure.

“Are you ready to jump back into the corporate world?”, I asked Chris who is enjoying time off from work.
He thought for a while and then added – “I think so. There is only so much of being a trophy husband at home I can take!”

That is the sharp wit I miss when not around him!!!