24 December 2023

An “enlightened” family !!

Sharmila and I were having our evening drinks at Lapeer chatting up with Nicol and Jules, when a gentleman came up from behind and called out my name. Turned around and it was good old Paul Gourley! I had not seen him in some time but we had workd together when I came to this city nearly two decades back.

Turns out he was there for Christmas Eve dinner with his family and had noticed me sometime back.

I was a great admirer of Paul. Very quiet but a strong performer. I remember in meetings waiting to hear if he had to say anything. Usually, you could measure his words in gold.

It was such a delight to meet his whole family! Lynn, Adam and Ann Marie!! Hopefully we will get to see them more in the future!

17 December 2023

Israel is not sure I am an Indian by birth

“Rajib?”
“Yes. Israel?”
“Yes, sir!”

And that is how we started our Uber trip in the morning from the hotel to San Francisco airport.

“Where is that accent from, Israel?”
“Nigeria!”
“Are you from Lagos? Abuja? Or the rural parts?”
“Lagos. How do you know about Nigeria?”
“Well, believe it or not, I have a school friend who works in Lagos and another in Abuja.”
“Are you from India?”
“That I am”
“Have you been to Nigeria?”
“No. Actually I have never been to anywhere in Africa.”
“Oh! You do not know what you are missing.”
“I know. The irony is my elder daughter was in your neighboring country Ghana for half a year. And my younger daughter is going to be in Uganda for some time next year. But I have not.”

That started an interesting conversation with Israel. Once I found out about his family – both in Nigeria and in the USA – we moved on to discussions of Nigeria. The politics there – the vast difference in the economies of the north and the south, the religious lines, the recent change in Presidency and so on. We, of course talked a lot about soccer. I told him how we grew up watching stars like Roger Milla from his neighboring country – Cameroon.

What startled me about Israel was his knowledge about India. He seemed to be quite abreast of the economic developments and politics in India. In fact, he was outright in praise of India and what it has achieved in the last couple of decades.

“I love Modi,” he declared.
“You do? Why do you like Modi?”
“He has kept India non aligned. He is not willing to be afraid of anybody – not China, not USA, not Russia. This is important for a country to grow up.”

“What do you think of Modi?” he asked me.
Instead of directly answering the question, I talked about all the positives and negatives I hear from my friends and read in the news.

From there Israel went into the different states of India. He demonstrated great interest in the different languages in India.

“Is it true that all your languages are different?”
“Yes. I have lived in four states. And my mother tongue cannot get me a glass of water in any of the other three states if I tried.”

“Where is Punjab?”
“It is in the north. Bordering on Pakistan.”
“What language to they speak there?”
“Punjabi”

He delved into Punjab for some time. Now, I was getting a little wary. There has been some deep political controversy recently that involves India, Canada, USA and some Punjabi citizens in USA and Canada that India considers as terrorists. Given the depth of knowledge Israel had on economics and politics, I was sure that this is where his curiosity was coming from.

“I know a name from Punjab.”
“You do?”
“Durminda”

I could not understand the name he gave. I was not sure whether it was his accent or he was pronouncing it wrong. So, I asked him
“What was that name again?”

“Dh-ur-meen-da”
“Dharmendra?”
“Yes, Yes,” he was clearly excited.

I started laughing out loud. He was talking about the famous Bollywood actor Dharmendra from the 1960s-80s. Bollywood movies were, and still are, a staple export from India to Africa. Interestingly enough, Nigeria has grown a very large movie production industry too. Bollywood today produces the largest number of movies in the world! As luck would have it, Nollywood (from Nigeria) is the second largest!

Anyways, I was laughing my head off, as I mentioned. Partly relieved that we had moved from politics and partly that he remembered Dharmendra.

Israel was still on a high. In a raised voice, he kept saying…

“I know Durminda. I know Sholay.”
“Well, you know more about them than me. I have not seen Sholay myself.”
“What?” Clearly, his enthusiasm was punctured.
“You are no Indian man, you are no Indian”, he kept saying, shaking his head!

And I just kept laughing to myself.

Finally, as we pulled into the airport and he came out to take my suitcase out, I asked him if we could take a picture together.

“Of course. But you have to promise to see Sholay when you go back home. Total action, man!”
“Ok. I will!!”

That was a fun start for the day.

If any of you take an Uber in San Francisco and the driver is an Israel from Lagos, ask him “Have you seen Shree Char So Bees? Asking for a friend!”

11 December 2023

Meeting a true independent thinker

Deepak Rammohan Bharadwaj!

I had not called out that name in a long time. Deepak was one more of those incredibly smart young kids (well, then he was a kid) that I got a chance to work with in the then startup – i2! The first thing that comes up in my mind when anybody mentions Deepak’s name is “independent thinking”.

Even in those days, he would come up with an angle of thinking that would often be missed by the rest of the team. Often ran contrary to the group’s thinking.

Then one fine day, in the middle of his career, he decided to go back to academia and get another degree.

Subsequently, in his career, he has switched fields and domains a few times.

While I have not been as successful in thinking independently and just being brave in taking life decisions as he, I have always wanted to sit down with him and have a long session of understanding what his life lessons have been.

Today was that day! I was in San Francisco for a day. As anybody knows, traffic from the outer cities to SFO is a bear in the evening. I had offered to meet him straight out of the airport before coming to my hotel.

“No. You have never missed in wishing me on my birthday one single year. This time I am coming over to see you!”

The evening started by discussing one of our common loves – mixology. He has stuck to the classical drinks while I have experimented with fruit juices a lot. One thing we both agreed on – James Bond really messed up the classic martini for everybody with his vodka version and that “shaken not stirred” thing. Martini has become Deepak’s go to drink while Old Fashioned is mine. That is how this evening started too – although we switched to softer red wine with our dinner.

“So, what drives you to think independently and act independently?”, I asked him.

Deepak thought for a moment and offered “Trying new things keeps me excited”. We discussed the challenges one faces in following an independent path. The friction (of straying from the herd) that one has to overcome in the society, friend circle, family… and so on.

Finally, before he left, I asked him my tombstone question.

“So, what do you want be written on your tombstone?”

“Just that he was a nice person!”

“That you are, sir! That you are!!”

9 December 2023

Ran into another old friend

I was sitting down at Starbucks trying to catch up on some bill payments and all that when I saw a young lady walking towards me. I wasn’t sure if she was headed for the restrooms or for me. But moment she smiled, I realized she was heading for me!

“Amanda!! It has been such a long time!”, I exclaimed.

“I know!”

Amanda was my dental hygienist for a long time before she left the dentist office I go to for greener pastures. I had not seen her for years. I remember all the chats we used to have during my regular visits to the dentist’s office. I had gotten to know about her family from all those conversations.

Today, I got to meet one of her kids – Avery!

6 December 2023

My meetings with this family are entirely accidental

A few months back, I ran into Manu and Mihika in the airport. Turned out we were all headed to Scotland in the same flight.

Today, Sharmila and I were casually strolling in downtown Alpharetta heading towards one of our usual watering holes when we spotted a lady hurriedly crossing the street. And we thought we knew her. Sure enough, it was the other Gupta family member that I did not meet in the airport!

Keerti joined us at the bar for some time for a good chat!

28 November 2023

Lovely start to the morning

There I was – sitting at my usual chair at my usual Starbucks after my usual morning routine busy knocking off some office work before the traffic on 400 subsided. Picked up my head from the laptop and I thought I saw somebody I knew walking thru the door. Except, this is not where I would normally expect to see him.

But sure enough, it was good old Jon!! He had come up from Buckhead to meet a friend.

You may remember him from a prior post as the CEO that meaningfully changed the arc of my career by taking a huge chance on me. Always great to catch up with this nicest gentleman I know.

19 November 2023

Even by my standards, this is over the top crazy

Draw up your chairs and grab a cup of coffee/tea/wine/beer/favorite poison. This is going to take me a bit to go thru the crazy details.

Well, remember how I collect fountain pens, write letters and have pen friends all over the world? One such friend I have lives in Lithuania. Now, as pen friends, we do not exchange phone numbers or email ids. You know the whole purpose is to keep up communications thru hand written letters. Some of them even purposely control the speed (do not respond immediately).

Rita – my pen friend in Lithuania – and I have been writing to each other for a couple of years. From her writings, I had gotten to know a little about life in Lithuania (she lives in a rural setting). I also got to know about her family. She is my age group, has been married for almost the same time as I and has kids ranging from 31 years to 10 years. One of her daughters is non-verbal and differently abled.

Well, I had this brilliant idea that I will go surprise Rita and her family and show up at her door one day. I told her Gintautas what I wanted to do.

First, he was not sure what pen friendship is all about.

“That is a thing?”

“Of course”

He was not convinced. He was afraid that I had fallen for a “scam”, as he put it.

“Scam, for what?”

“I do not know. You do not know them?”

“No. for all you know Rita is actually a 20 year old school kid who writes to me pretending to be somebody else.”

“Did you call them?”

“I do not have her contacts. Besides. This is supposed to be a surprise.”

“Email?”

“Nope”

“Do you know how she looks?”

“No. She never sent me a picture. That is not uncommon among pen friends”

“Does she know how you look?”

“No”

You could see that disbelief written all over his face

“But I have the address I write letters to. Let’s go there”.

Well, then we hit a snag. Google Maps was showing a place and Apple Maps was showing a different place. They were nearby – both near a small town called Taurage – but we did not know where to head to. That is when he became very resourceful. Using the address, he went into some property records and found out the exact location. Apple Maps was right.

This was the day we were taking all the back roads. A nice, leisurely drive thru the sylvan beauty of west Lithuania later, we showed up at a building. The building certainly looked very tired.

I needed Gintautas’ help with the language. “You want to come in?”

“I am not so sure.”

“No problem.”

“You call me if you need any help.”

As Gintautas explained to me later, he was convinced this was some sort of a scam. And he told me over dinner that if I did not come out in 30 minutes, he was going to contact the cops!!

One thing I failed to mention to you. I had picked Saturday as the day to visit Rita since I knew she worked and consequently, I felt weekdays might be inconvenient. But I was surprised that on a Saturday, even at 10:30 am there was not a single person to be seen anywhere. No kids outside, nobody walking on the streets. It was like either everybody was sleeping or they had gone to the church.

Well, as for me, I entered the old building. At the entrance, I went past a car with a lady sitting there and the car running. What if that was Rita and by the time I talked to her folks inside, she was gone?

It was a two story building. I was to go to 15-7. Building number, I guessed was 15. I assumed 7 is the apartment number. There were two doors on the ground floor. They did not have numbers on. Luckily for me a gentleman was coming down the staircase. I immediately asked him about Rita. He promptly said “No English” and walked away.

That put me in a bind. If he could say “No English”, his English was vastly better than my Lithuanian. Scratching my head, I opened up my phone to the page with Rita’s name and contacts written and decided to go door to door.

First door on second floor. Knocked multiple times. No response.

The second door was open and seemed to open into a corridor. But there were no lights on. I put my phone light on and knocked on the first door. No response whatsoever. Second door had “8” written. Knocked hard. No response.

There was a part of me that felt that they were looking from the peephole inside and was having flashbacks of the Soviet days of strangers showing up with flashlights in a dark corridor and knocking heavily on their doors!

The third door had loud music blasting from inside. There had to be somebody there. But not sure they could hear my knocking.

Well, I was fresh out of doors on the second floor. And if one of them said 8, I was sure 7 was nearby and I might have already tried it.

Not knowing any better, went downstairs. Knocked on another door. Nobody responded. By now, I was desperate. Knocked again.

Just then the original gentleman who had come down, came back into the building. This time I showed him my phone with Rita’s name and contacts. He pointed to the door that I had just knocked. So, I had the right door, FINALLY!!!

Knocked yet again. I thought I heard some noise from inside. I kept waiting. Eventually, a gentleman came out. Looked like he had been asleep. Without any words, I showed my phone. He nodded, signaled me to wait, went inside and locked the door.

And I was going “Now what?”

Well, there was more noise. I figured this gentleman went to the lady’s door and was trying to get her. [Much later, I found out he went and told her that some idiot had a phone with her details on it looking for her]

Eventually, a lady who had clearly gotten out of bed, came out.

“Rita?”

“Taip” (that is yes in Lithuanian, that much I had learnt)

“I am Rajib Roy. From Atlanta. We write letters to each other.”

Completely blank stare greeted me.

“Rita Sudeikiene?”, I asked again showing her my phone with her details.

“Yes”

Then I took my phone to my contact page.

“This is me. Rajib Roy. Atlanta. Pen friends”

You could see that she was slowly starting to make sense of it. I figured she was wondering what the hell was I doing there. Her written English was very good. But Gintautas was very surprised I actually communicated in English with somebody from here. I calculated that maybe she is not as confident in her spoken English.

I tried with my halting English – “I come to visit Lithuania. I came to say Hi to you. I leave now?”

As she told me later… she was shell shocked. As she should have been. But finally she gathered herself enough to ask…

“How long will you be here?”

Not wanting to disturb her after sleep any further, I said “I was in Klaipeda. I am on my way back to Vilnius. I Will have to leave now”.

But she kept asking the same question.

“Wait here. I will get my friend”

I went out and called in Gintautas who was very happy to see me in one piece.

“I found her. I need your help with the language”

Rita and Gintautas talked.

“She is asking if she could meet us in a place for coffee in Taurage after an hour”

“Do you think we will get late?”

“Not at all”

I turned to Rita and said “No problem. Bring your family”

And that is how I got to meet my pen friend’s family in Star Pizza in Taurage. We had a great time together. Laughing about the whole thing. Her husband and Gintautas were speaking in Lithuanian all the time, laughing and looking at me. I had a great time with Rita’s younger daughter. Her non-verbal daughter was a little more difficult- but looked like she was having good time with some pizza and coke. We missed Rita’s 31 year old son who was busy with other things.

Most of the time we spent getting to know the family and shaking our heads at what we had just accomplished.

Gintautas took a picture of us before we left. I promised to bring Sharmila some time to Lithuania and meet the family again.

On the way back as we proceeded for more rural driving, my friend blurted out…

“I cannot believe this”

“What can you not believe”

“You were total strangers. You had not seen the family ever. They did not know you. And you were sitting down talking and laughing and having such a great time together. Even I felt I was part of the excitement.”

“Well, take this from somebody who is a quarter century older than you. Most of the beautiful things in life make absolutely no logical sense”

We focused back on the road again…

6 November 2023

For a 30th birthday, that was not bad!!

The phone rang. But she did not pick it up.

Tried her husband next. Went straight to voicemail. Called back. This time it rang. Subhasis picked up.

“Rajib, that is a surprise! How are you?”

“Well, I just landed in Dallas. Sorry for the airport background noise. I have a meeting tomorrow morning. I know it is 8pm already but I was going to swing by your house for a glass of wine.”

“Oh! How long are you in Dallas?”

“I leave tomorrow afternoon”

“Dang! We are in Los Angeles celebrating Rishi’s 30th birthday. We will be back tomorrow evening!!”

“Oh! say Happy Birthday to Rishi. Sorry to have missed you this time.”

“Yes. Please let us know next time. We really missed you.”

“No problems. Let me go to Sunil’s house and see if I can bug him”.

I kept the phone down, grabbed an Uber and headed towards Santa Monica, California.

Now, you are probably wondering why would I take a Uber for 1,500 miles. Here is the backdrop. I was lying thru my nose. I had just landed in Los Angeles airport.

You see, I had called Rishi (our dear old Gampu) on his 30th birthday and he let me know that his parents – our good old friends Debjani and Subhasis – are visiting him. We talked about the time he and I met in New York when he was in NYU. And the great discussions we have on the phone every yer. We promised to meet again soon.

That is when it had struck me that I had a conference to go to in Long Beach. Checked with him and yes! there was an evening of overlap.

A few hush hush text messages and the whole surprise was set up.

I was sitting at the bar, quietly waiting for them to show up for dinner. Audrey came in a little earlier than others. This is the first time I met her. I had missed their wedding a couple of years back. We grabbed a drink each and waited for the unsuspecting friends from Dallas.

Moment we spotted them, Audrey took her position with her phone.

I grabbed my wine, roller suitcase and tried to brush past Subhasis who was waiting next to their table.

“Excuse me, sir!” I said, as I pretended to get past him.

“Sure,” he said while stepping aside.

We made eye contact.

And THAT is exactly when the SCREAMING started!!!

[The place was a little dark so the pics are a little blurry]

Thank you Rishi and Audrey for helping me pull this off!!

That was a great finale to a week of celebrations for Rishi’s big birthday!!