14 July 2021

Every time I see that building…

Circa 1975. Sometime in December, as I reckon. It was getting late that evening and my parents had not come home yet. They had gone to Benachity market for some year end shopping. My sister and I were in charge of our 5 year old brother.

Around nine pm, my parents finally showed up. Apparently they had difficulty in getting a rickshaw for hire. Nonetheless, my dad was very excited. Dinner be darned, he immediately unfolded the piece-de-resistance that he had purchased. A fairly thick – certainly the thickest I had seen till date – book called “Book of Knowledge”.

It was a book of General Knowledge duly categorized in chapters like “Science”, “History” etc. Most of my early knowledge about the world came from that book. I have searched for that book after my parents died but it was nowhere to be found. Smart money is on the guess that they gifted it away to somebody in our extended family.

In any case, that night, even as my mom fixed dinner, you could not separate my dad from that book. He kept on reading the facts and figures – and loudly too. I suspect, he felt that knowledge would transfer to his three kids thru osmosis if only they heard it.

Post dinner was no better. I had not even had a chance to lay my hands on the book. Now mom and dad were together reading the book. Not seeing much point in it, I went off to sleep.

Next morning though, dad’s interest had waned considerably. Perhaps he had finished the book cover to cover, I had reasoned. Which was impossible – it was a 800 page book. But those days I was gullible and was not into big numbers. I still was trying to figure out my 20s tables.

But I did leaf thru the book that morning. The first chapter that got my attention was the ones that dealt with records… you know like the longest river, highest mountain and all that. Remember, I come from a country, an education system and certainly a set of parents where – at least then – you had to be “first’ in studies. You might remember how my parents were disappointed that I did not come first, second or third in my first marathon in Athens, Greece. I blame that conditioning for being attracted to the chapter that dealt with ‘first” in various categories.

One of the early facts I had learnt that day was “The highest building in the world”. The book said it was “Sears Tower in Chicago” and gave some statistics. Completely ignored the numbers (like I used to ignore the years in history books) – but that name stuck with me.

For the next fifteen years, I do not think I got to know much about America – let alone point out where Chicago might be on a map – but I knew about Sears Tower. And so did my dad. I know that because it would be one more of those questions he would inflict on any unsuspecting kid if they happened to meet him.

I am fairly sure he died fully committed to the belief that Sears Tower is the tallest building in the world. Of course, it is not called Sears Tower any more (Willis Tower, if you care) and is not even in the Top 20 in the world now. But trying to explain that would be like trying to convince dad that Yugoslavia is not a country. Yes, another favorite question of his was “What is the capital of Yugoslavia?”

As luck would have it, I happen to work in that city of Chicago now. Twice a month now, I fly into the Ohare airport. Almost always, the airplane flies up straight from Atlanta, swerves to the east into the Michigan lake and then makes a straight-line west bound route into Runway 9L/27R.

On clear days like today, just as we approach the lake shoreline, I get this view. Immediately, I my eyes go to the Sears Tower and for a few moments my mind is taken back to that night in December of 1975!

13 July 2021

A familiar spot

“You will not know me sir…”, I started my conversation with the gentleman who had just stepped out of his house when I rang the bell. If I could get a penny every time I have started my conversation with a stranger with that familiar refrain of “You will not know me…”, I would be a rich person today. Well, maybe not as poor, at least.

“My name is Rajib Roy…” I continued.

“Oh! I know you.”

That floored me. “You do? How?” I stammered. I started looking him up a little more purposefully. Perhaps we had worked together in the past?

“Oh! We still get your mail,” he casually answered.

“Ah! so you know of me, then!! Indeed we lived in this house for nine years. This was our first house – for my wife and me. Both my daughters were born in this house. We have a lot of memories here.”

“Why don’t you come in?”

“No. I am between meetings in Coppell and Mansfield. I thought I will just swing by to see the house from outside.”

We stood there and talked about his family – his five kids and how two of his young daughters have converted my library cum music room into their bedroom. And the neighbors we used to have then. After a few minutes, I told him that I needed to go.

“Would you mind if I took a picture of the house from the front?”

“Sure thing. If you don’t want to come in, you can go to the backyard from the side gate to take pictures.”

And with that I got the two shots in this picture of the first house Sharmila and I had bought and moved in to. That was 1998. Sharmila went into labor literally the day we had moved our stuff. Natasha, Sharmila and I – we all moved in together a couple of days later. I still remember opening up boxes after boxes looking for a spoon to make coffee the day after we all came back from the hospital!!

The backyard – specially the pool and the water behind brought back rich memories of the two girls. Pool was their favorite spot. Their friends used to come over and have pool parties fairly regularly. (In our friends’ circle and in the neighborhood, we were among the first ones to have a pool those days).

After taking in the view for a few seconds, I had a “Bye Bye Pool” moment like my father in law as I withdrew!

I am fortunate that work lets me still come back to Dallas and re-live some of the memories of those beautiful days long gone!!

13 July 2021

The precision makes very little sense

I was cruising in our Airbus 321 this morning to Dallas when I wanted to check our flight map and the following screen came up. Note the figure against distance traveled. Throughout the flight, the system kept updating the distance, but always gave it till the second decimal digit in miles!!

Think for a second. That makes no sense right? A second decimal place in miles would mean about 50 feet. The plane itself is three times as long. At 31,000 feet height at a speed of 500 mph, it takes us less than a tenth of a second to cover a second decimal in miles.

It is an irony that my flights get delayed by hours but I am given my flight progress in less than a tenth of second accuracy!!

13 June 2021

Does this make sense to you?

I was sitting at a local Starbucks getting some work done. When I went to pick up my drink, something struck me in what I saw.

Do you see it?

There are two queues ostensibly for mobile pick up. They are separated by the starting letter of the customer’s name. So far so good.

Here is the problem – one has A-F and the other G-Z. That does not sound like a balanced queue load – unless Americans are overwhelming these days naming themselves in an alphabetically skewed fashion.

“Jason!”, I called out to the friendly gentleman who always helps me with my tea.
“Yes, Roy”.
“Come here. I have a question”.
Nobody was there in the store at that time. Jason came over and surveyed what I pointed at…

“Do you see the problem?”
“What problem?”
“Why do we have 6 letters in one queue and 20 in the other?”

Jason was truly flummoxed! He counted from A to F, looked at me, looked at the cards again and shook his head – “I have no idea. I just printed out the corporate templates!”.

Ah! The corporate templates! Bane of all our intelligence!!

Anyways, we had a great laugh together and I got a free cup of tea!!

10 June 2021

Chicago’s Midway Airport

Chicago’s Midway Airport

I think I have flown into Midway only once.

Our flight today took off northwards from O’hare Airport, banked to the right and straightened out over Midway Airport. At that point, I realized something. It is a perfectly square airport with the main runways forming clean diagonals!

I do not think I have ever seen an airport with as much geometrical symmetry!

20 May 2021

You know, every time I think I understand how airlines work…

… the airlines come up with a curve ball for me. Yet another first time for me!!!

Sitting at the Delta Skyclub, as I wrapped up my office emails – I looked up at the display board to see if there was any delay in my flight. And sure enough – the top entry showed “Canceled”. The destination? Atlanta! The time of departure? 5:04!!

That is my flight 🙂

8 million miles later, I have figured out how to take these things in my stride. What I was curious about though is why I did not get a notification from Delta. Usually, they let me know how they have rebooked me. Checked on my phone and it said my flight was on time!!

Thoroughly confused, I went closer to the display board to check. And you can see what I am confused with even now…

2 different flights – same airlines – same destination – same time – one canceled and one on time! Luckily my number matched the one on time.

I looked up Delta’s website on the canceled flight number to see if it was delayed. I could not find any such flight today or tomorrow!!

I have no idea what happened here…