18 August 2023

Of three old friends and junk genes!!

The last time you would have seen these three together would have been in Chennai – circa 1989. Except that the fourth chair would not have been empty. Partha Roy would have been sitting there.

The two girls would have been talking loudly. Both would be laughing heartily. I would be trying to cut in with some dad jokes (then called “PJ”s – stood for Poor Jokes). And Partha would quietly sit there sipping his soft drink and then once in a whole bring the roof down with his loud guffaws. Lata would be speaking with a great command of the language English and Kiran would be talking of something disapprovingly with a liberal dose of Hindi words in her English.

34 years later… nothing has changed. At all!! Other than Partha, who was conspicuous by his absence, everything felt the same.

I was in Boston for work. Stayed in the Marriott in Cambridge that I used to stay in the late 90s when we had an office next door. Lata works in Cambridge and Kiran lives in Cambridge. A few phone calls here and there – and there we were!!

Two highlights…
Lata refused to believe that I had once driven her and her roommate – together with my friend Aditya – from New York to DC and we had stayed with somebody she knew in DC. I gave her a lot of details of the trip – but she would have nothing of it. Finally, I had to call Aditya and get him to send us a couple of pictures (he was and still is an avid photographer) from that trip. I showed them to her. Her first reaction? “That is me? Send it to me – I want to show my son this picture”.

Second was, Kiran and I got a class on “Gene 101” from Lata. I finally have the answers to a lot of questions about genes, DNA, genomes, chromosomes etc etc that I had all these days. Learnt about “junk genes” for the first time. Did you know about them?

17 August 2023

Meeting God!

“Rajib, we have just relocated to New York,” said the message from Vinayak – somebody with whom I went to IIM Ahmedabad together for our MBA. In fact we were in the same Section (Section C) in the first year. But that is where our similarities ended.

He was smart as heck. A very pleasant person to talk to and modest by the gobs. He was also very smart with finance courses and computer classes. In fact, he was so good, his nickname in campus was “God”.

I do not participate in any WhatsApp groups. So, I miss out on all the updates people post there. However, I do try to keep up individually with all of those whose birthdays I am aware of. Therefore, I was real glad that Vinayak proactively let me know that he has moved from India to the USA.

“Oh! Turns out I will be in New York in a couple of days too!”

We planned to meet early morning at 6:45 at Columbus Circle before my office meetings got going. Finished my run in Central Park and as I emerged from out of the park into the Circle, there he was! Waiting for me, looking the other way.

We took a walk in the park – remembering a lot of our days and friends from our MBA days. The last time we met was in 1991. About 32 years back!! A street side coffee and breakfast later, we split.

It was so rewarding to meet Vinayak and learn about his life journey. Hope to come to New York more often and spend more time with him in the near future.

16 August 2023

The last name connection!

The bar was reasonably empty in the hotel. So much so, the better. It gave me a chance to grab a glass of wine, sit by myself and read a book. The white noise of folks chatting around me, customers joining and leaving offered me the perfect environment to be in my zone.

As I picked up my head from the book to take a sip of the wine, I heard the gentleman next to me say “1505”. Looks like Patrick, the bartender, had asked him for his room number to start a tab. I tried to get back to my book with some mild thoughts of “what if somebody overhears that and charges their drink to his room?”

That though was quickly disabused when Patrick asked “Last name?”. Of course, he was going to match up in his system to avoid exactly the kind of fraud I was thinking of.

“Mukherjee”, I heard the gentleman say as I tried to look for the spot in the book where I had trailed off.

That last name had me immediately intrigued. I waited for him to finish placing his order. Patrick soon withdrew from the scene to take care of other customers. I lifted my head, turned to my left and finally caught the visage of my bar neighbor. Seemed like a young, well dressed, Indian gentleman.

“Mukherjee, huh?”, I asked.
“Yes, sir”.
“That would make you a Bengali, right?”
“Yes. How do you know?”
“Well, it takes one to recognize one. Rajib Roy, by the way”.
“You speak Bengali?”
“Of course!”

As with all my intersection points, the rest of the time was spent exploring connections. Once I figured out he had gone to Presidency and was from Kolkata, I knew sooner or later I would find some common threads.

“So, where did you study in Kolkata?”
“Well, outside Kolkata. Narendrapur. It is a Ramakrishna Mission School”.
“I have a vague idea of it. I went there too!!”

Turns out he was in the same campus as I was – although 14 years later.
“Which bhavan?”
Brahma. You?”

I fished out a picture of Prabasaj-da and I canoeing last Sunday and told Pinaki (that is his name, btw) – “You see this guy? We canoe together. He is from your old bhavan. This guy was All India 2 in IIT JEE”. I was hoping to impress him that I knew some smart people.

As I continued tracing his life, found out that he was in UK for some time. And also that he was into drama acting.

“Did you ever come across a Mausumi Das?”
“She was big time into drama”
“Yes. We went to school – and I mean from first grade – together!!”

And then it was his turn to enquire. I think he had started thinking about folks my age from Presidency or Narendrapur.

“Do you know Subhendu Dasgupta?”
I thought for a while and had to admit – “I can’t say I am remembering such a name.”
“Subhendu Das Dasgupta”
“Subhendu Das Dasgupta?”
“Yes. I think he goes by Das Dasgupta also.”
“Ah! You are thinking of Tathagata Dasgupta.”
“Oh yes! Tathagata. Why am I saying Subhendu? Do you know him?”

“Know him? Let’s see – we went to school together in Durgapur. We worked together in the same company in Dallas. His sister and my wife were classmates. We were in his place in California a couple of months back. And yes! I was talking to his wife Monalisa an hour back to wish her a happy birthday!!”

You can only imagine his reaction!!

We got Patrick to take a picture of us, exchanged our contacts and called it a night! We promised to see each other in Raleigh or Atlanta when our travel takes us to each others’ cities.

Today, I started traveling for work after a LONG time and the intersection points started flowing almost immediately!!

Still love talking to strangers. How else do you make new friends?

14 August 2023

Met her after a long time!

The irony is we live in the same city and we have talked so many times every year. Coretha and I worked together many moons back. After leaving our old company, she has been often my go-to person to get ideas and advise on Talent and Culture questions and often referrals for key positions. When Sharmila and I were vacationing in St. Pete earlier this week, we found out that she has a property there and we checked out her building too. But got to see her for the first time after nearly 10 years!!

My selfie skills are terrible and the sun was hitting our faces mercilessly when I attempted to take this picture!

11 July 2023

My classmate who never left my hometown

I had just about enough energy left in myself to create one more intersection point. Decided to go with this friend who I have not seen for 38 years. And even that, she has more vivid memories of that last meeting in her house than I do. Which is not very common. What is remarkable about Aditi – my friend in question – is that she finished all her studies in Durgapur and then started teaching in her high school. This means she is the rare person in my friend list who has never left Durgapur for studies or for work!!

Finding her place was a bit of a hassle – I had the address but we got misguided not once, not twice but thrice by walkers-by in the street. Ironically, we asked the first gentleman for directions while literally standing in front of her building. He duly send us down the wrong path!!

It was great to see her and catch up on her life story after these many years!!

11 July 2023

A chance meeting

My brother was driving from out uncle’s house to my mother-in-law’s house. We had just turned around the corner from Kanishka road when he asked – “Isn’t this where Buku has set up his food stall?” I let him know that was my impression too. We snooped around not exactly sure what were looking for – other than it would be a structure dispensing food of some sort.

I asked my brother to pull up closer to what looked like a food truck. I could see a few people inside – cooking and all that, but their faces were not visible. My brother was sure one of them was Buku. I had doubts.

We got out of the car and walked up. I could now see that there were three people inside – what must have felt like a heat chamber. There was one portly built guy with a head cover cooking some hakka noodles. He looked at us expecting us to place an order and immediately exclaimed “Arrey! Bachchuda? Pinanda?”

And that is how we found our friend with who we had spent many an evening playing soccer or cricket from 1979 Dec thru 1983 July. I left home after that. He was a great athlete and used go be our star player. He and his brother “Piku” – were also my mom’s favorite students in class. We grew up literally about 20 yards from each other.

Later in life, he started his fast food stall business. I knew the rough location of where he normally opened his truck. And that knowledge was good enough to meet this overjoyed gentleman, who thought nothing of ignoring his customers for a few minutes to relive our old days!!

10 July 2023

Change of pace!

After having more than my generous share of meeting relatives, decided to change up and visit an old teacher of mine. He taught me math – but he is also my friend Mousumi’s father. So, I alternate between addressing him as “Sir” and “Kaku” (Uncle).

I had visited him a couple of times in Durgapur in 2015 and 2019. He had moved to Kolkata a few weeks after I had visited him last. This was the first meeting in Kolkata.

We started discussing the concept of Time – as viewed by the Theory of Relativity (which I think I understand somewhat ) and that as viewed by Quantum Theory (which I am having great difficulty comprehending). But we could not finish the discussions since I was running out of time. (more people to meet).

I did get a call from him the next day suggesting we should continue with our discussions. I might have to do the next bout over Zoom!!

Always great to see folks like Dr. and Mrs. Roychowdhury – the likes of who have made me whoever it is that I am today. I feel immensely indebted to such souls!

7 July 2023

Mr. and Mrs. Sampath!!

Back in 1986, one May morning I woke up in Durgapur with a tremendous sense of getting bored and that I was really whiling away my time. It had been a week already that I was back from college for summer vacation. Not knowing anything better, I took a train to Kolkata and walked up to a friend’s dad who had opened a computer company. I figured he would give me a job. Which he did.

For a princely sum of Rs 500 per month (about $6), I started my first job at a company called Artintel. My job was to learn Cobol and start programming in it. Which kept me very happy. I had something to do at least. Every Monday morning I would go to Kolkata and come back Friday evening.

During the weekdays, after work, I had again pretty much nothing to do. That is when I used to often take refuge in my friend – Ranga’s house! Ranga’s family had just moved from Delhi to Kolkata for his dad’s job. I used to simply show up at their place.

There are a lot of memories from those days. First, although they had arrived, their stuff had not!! In fact Indian Railways could not trace the “container” for a long time. I think it took over a month for the stuff find its way back. Mr. and Mrs. Sampath would cook food in some basic kitchen ware for us and that would taste heavenly to me. (I have had a weakness for South Indian food all my life). Uncle and Aunt were gracious enough to even insist that I stay back with them. We would simply sleep on some sheets on the floor! After a bout of playing cards. Those were some real fun times!!

The second thing I remember was Uncle’s incredible mastery of the Bengali language. He is, of course, a Tamizhian. But he would speak Bengali without a shred of an accent. He would pun and play with Bengali words effortlessly. Best part – he would do Bengali crosswords!! That is after he had finished the English crossword from the Telegraph every morning over a cup of South Indian coffee!! Sometimes, Ranga and I would join in with him too!

That summer’s kindness and grace they showed had made a deep impact with me and I never forgot the memories I had with them. For the longest time, I wanted to meet them one more time just to say thank you. However, they had moved back to Chennai and my trips to India were razor focused on my parents.

Now that the situation has changed, I took the first chance to fly into Chennai on my trip to India.

I cannot possibly describe in words how much fun I had with Uncle and Aunt again. We talked so much about those days that Aunt finally concluded – “This felt like one of those days in Dover Lane!” What I had not realized as well is that she has taken over the mantle of crosswords from Uncle these days. And she has extended it to sudoku now!!

It felt real blissful to see them in such great spirits (Uncle donned a special Indonesian batik shirt for us!!) and even better health. I wish Ranga was here too. In one of the pictures you will see a picture of uncle and aunt with Ranga and Meera (his sister) from those days.

But the story would not be complete if I did not talk about Shridhar! He was kind enough to pick me up from the hotel and drop me at the airport. Got a chance to get some great perspective from him about some of the NGOs he works with and his perspective overall of Indian affairs. I had met Shridhar for a brief moment in May 1989 when he was visiting Ranga!

You will see his wife Geetha and daughter Vasudha in today’s picture too. Now look at Ranga’s sister Meera in the original picture. Do you see the similarity?

Thank you Sampath family for your incredible grace and kindness that summer of 1986 and on this day too!

2 July 2023

Great evening with Adam

We talked for a couple of hours but I forgot to ask Adam how we had met first. I believe it was in the coffee shop of Ballground, GA. We have met there a few times but we have ridden together only once.

I was aware of his terrific skill in building motorbikes. Some of the ones he built were incredibly beautiful. But, yesterday, I got to know a lot more about him. I had no idea about the adversities he had faced – starting from a bad car accident leading to back surgery which led to dependency on opiods from pain. And that was just the starting of the downhill journey…

It was an amazing story of life that went really really south. This involves multiple felony charges, probation officer, being homeless and penniless, carrying clothes in a trash bag always … not to speak of being spurned away by friends and loved ones…

And an equally inspiring story of how he finally managed to break thru all barriers and pull himself up together. It has been a long journey but he made it.

He is a happy man today – great job, makes extra money from his hobby of building motorbikes, a steady girlfriend, a solid roof over this head… I was so thrilled to be there at the Cigar Bar to hear his whole life story.

A few things I learnt from his story:

(*) Unless you make up your mind to change, nobody else can do that for you. The pain you have to fight (he equated the feeling to like being under water and having run out of air… ) can only come from you wanting to do it.

(*) It is never a monotonically going down or up in life. Even as your life goes down, it takes a few bright turns. And then when it finally pulls itself up, it still throws some curve balls.

(*) There are always a few people – almost always strangers – who step out of their way to help you. Such is humanity.

Now I need some lessons in how to build motorbikes from him!

I also want to put in a word for No Longer Bound – a faith based, residential long-term help to wean people away from addiction that Adam credits immensely for his turnaround!