2 July 2016

Mr. Mukherjee!!

After Sir Nandy, it was going to be lunch time and go thru Sharmila’s shopping list. (Yes, there is always a shopping list 🙂 ). But I was wondering if we could squeeze in one more quick visit. My brother readily agreed. So, we headed off to Mr. Mukherjee.

Now, I have never seen Mr. Mukherjee in my life. But he is my friend Samaresh’s dad. You might recognize Samaresh from our Sunday morning run blog posts. In fact, Samaresh is one of the founders of Chalupa group and is indeed the person who coined the name “Chalupa” for our group.

Getting back to Mr. Mukherjee, he lost his wife (Samaresh’s mom) very recently. And I had heard from Samaresh that he was going thru a tough adjustment period. So, I figured I would check on him to see that everything was going on as well as they could given the circumstances. And also send Samaresh a picture of his dad!!

When I walked in, I saw a very frail gentleman laying down on his bed. He got up when he saw me. I introduced myself and sat next to him in the bed. Introduction was not easy. First of all, as I said, we had never seen each other before. And he is very hard of hearing. So, it took me some time to establish that I was his younger son’s friend from Atlanta. For about five minutes, I could not get across to him with my name. Finally, I had a brainwave. I fished out my iPhone and started writing on the Notes app. He brought out his glasses and read it. And then addressed me as “Rajib”. That iPhone Notes app came out to be very handy throughout our conversation.

He was speaking very softly and haltingly. But slowly, I got the story out. He is nearly 87 years old. He was married for 65 years! And then he lost his wife. My mind was racing thru so many thoughts. How do you cope with a world where you wake up one day with your life partner for 65 years no more? Worse, she suffered a lot for quite a few months before she passed away. What I gathered from his daughter in law was that even he wanted his wife to move on and be released from further suffering. What a heart breaking experience it must be to watch your companion of 65 years suffer through so much in front of your eyes with the full idea that she is not going to come out of it by herself. And at that an advanced age, you probably do not give expression to your sorrow so easily either.

I remember Samaresh narrating that his dad eventually did break down after his wife was taken away. And that is first time he saw him cry.

Our conversations were slow and halting, as I explained. I suddenly remembered Lord Tennyson’s “Home they brought her warrior dead”! I was wondering if a similar trick would work. I recollected that Samaresh’s family had joined us together with my family at the Chalupa run last Sunday. Quickly went to my blogsite on the iPhone and picked out the picture – zoomed in and introduced him to my wife and then my younger daughter. I, then kept moving along and stopped at his granddaughter’s picture.

“Chintey paarchhen? Aapnar naatni” (Do you recognize your granddaughter?)
He suddenly perked up – “Eta chhoto-ta” (This is the younger one)
I kept moving along the pictures of the runners. And stopped again.
“Aar e boro”, he told me showing his elder granddaughter in the picture.

It worked!! He suddenly got up from the bed, walked to a shelf nearby, opened it, reached to the top and then brought out an album. Walked back to the bed and sat next to me. I realized he had gotten excited by his memories of granddaughters from America and was going to match my pictures with his.

He patiently leafed thru the pages and showed me many pictures of Samaresh’s daughters and explained where those pictures were taken. My brother, smartly, used my iPhone that was lying on the bed to capture the moments.

That was a very satisfying experience – seeing him get energized. He even wanted to come downstairs to see us off. We insisted that it was too hot and that we would see ourselves out. “Abaar aasbey kintu taholey”, (Ok, but come back then again) he said as we bid adieu.

Finally, studying all those English poems and taking pictures after our runs – both came to some good use!!

Taking a detour to meet Mr. Mukherjee? Good call. Very good call.

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1 July 2016

Sir Nandy!

Time to visit another teacher. I called up a number I had obtained recently. I was assured that was the right number.

“Achcha eta ki Mr. Nandy’r nombor?” (Is this Mr. Nandy’s number?)
“Hnah. Ke bolun to?” (Yes, Who is this? – he addressed me in the form of grammar used to address elders in Bengali)
“Sir, Amaakey aapni bolben na. Aami apnar purono student. 1983 batch. Naam Rajib Roy”. (Sir, don’t address me that way. I am much younger. In fact, I am a student of yours from 1983 batch. The name’s Rajib Roy”

“Rajib Roy maaney amaader Rajib?” (Rajib Roy? Are you our own Rajib?)
That was a very confusing question. I had no idea which Rajib he had in mind. This was getting more confusing than his alligation problems from Jadab Chandra Chakraborty math book.
“Kon Rajib bolun to”? (Which Rajib might you be referring to?) I asked.
“Narendrapur to?” (He referred to the school I went to for 11th and 12th grade)
“Osadharon smriti shakti aapnar”. I told him I was amazed by his memory.
“Aarey, tokey ekta cost accounting-er boi thekey khub shokto onko eney diyechhilam, mon-e aachhey?”

While life has prepared me for a lot of a situations, certainly it did not for this one where my math teacher from seventh and eighth grade not only pin pointed me from among thousands of students who he must have taught over the decades, but remembered the exact problem he had given me. I had no living recollection of that problem.

But then again, that is our Sir Nandy! Like I had mentioned in a previous post, between Sir Nandy and Sir Roy, you could not possibly escape getting the soundest of foundation in logical and mathematical thinking. I visited him yesterday. This was the first time I saw him after 1983!! A short 45 minute planned meeting went for nearly two hours.

I got to know his family history. As students, we never had shown interest in understanding our teachers’ backgrounds. We talked a lot about our school and how education has changed over the years. I also got to meet his daughter who is headed to the USA for her MBA degree. We talked a lot about living in the USA. By the way, I am impressed with the youth of today and technology. She has never seen that country (or any other country for that matter) but through the internet, she and a couple of her friends have already fixed a out of campus dorm, figured out what to buy from Bed Bath and Beyond and all that. At that age. I would have been lucky if I could figure out how to spell the American university name properly. And the state name if I really went Beyond 🙂

But nothing was more fun than discussing with Sir those problems where people, with no apparent real jobs would keep mixing milk and water repeatedly from two containers and then we had to calculate the proportions of each. Or those tubs of water that used to get filled with a tap but also seemed to mysteriously have a hole that water escaped thru and the hapless students like us had to figure out when would the tub get filled up. If ever. I mean, if ever, we could figure it out 🙂

“By the way, what was that problem you were referring to?”, I asked. The story I got from him was, apparently, I used to finish up my math problems in class quickly and sit down and idle in class. To keep me busy, he used to bring new problems for me – increasingly more difficult. Then he got frustrated – his words, not mine. Because I kept solving them. As he explained to my brother who was with me and also was his student – “Aami-o chharbo na. Oke aami thhekaboi.”. Basically, he felt he had to come up on top of this what he perceived as an escalating war. That is when he fished out a cost accounting book from his college days and chose the problem for me that he referred to in the phone call.

“Did he solve it?”, my brother asked.
Sir Nandy laughed out aloud. “What do you think?”.

I kept smiling sheepishly because. frankly I had no idea if I did or did not. But I am going to take that as a yes. Or that is the story I am going to stick to when I narrate this story to dad tomorrow. Else, he will make me call Sir Nandy up again for the problem and won’t let me go out for a run till I solve it successfully. I am telling you, my dad has not changed much.

That was a blissful time spent with Sir Nandy! On our drive back, I was not sure what I was more happy about – that I got to see him again after 33 years or that he had such detailed memory of me. I must have done something right somewhere, either way!

P.S. I have tried my best to write this in a way I do not come off as a self-boasting or showing-off person. I am sure in those days, I was an idiot. But hopefully, today I am not. In spite of my efforts, if this has hurt your sense and sensibilities, I sincerely apologize.

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1 July 2016

The best for the last

We are done with another of those whirlwind tours to Durgapur. I missed meeting some of the folks I wanted to. But I did meet a few teachers, parents of friends, relatives and all that – 10 visits in less than 30 hours. We always keep the best for the last – a long dinner with my inlaws at a nearby restaurant.

This time was no different. And like every time, we had an awesome amount of fun… Totally relaxed at the end of the quick visit (if you discount my mother in law getting worried about the drink I ordered her, that is 🙂 )

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1 July 2016

It is always fun confusing your mother in law….

My mother in law, who is totally against drinking alcohol and certainly absolutely against me inducing my father in law to drink is almost always a picture of confusion every time we have dinner together. I ordered a mocktail (non alcoholic) for her and when the drink came, I casually mentioned that she might like the alcohol in that drink and that I was quite sure she had not tried it before. You can see her protestations and refusal to drink.

Then my brother – who had stepped out to take a call – came in and made a short shrift of my lie. You can see my mother in law’s reaction in the next picture. In fact, we had to get a second one!!

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1 July 2016

Sameer-da! My tabla teacher!!

Continuing with meeting up with my old teachers, the next one was a change of pace. I had been looking for Sameer-da who taught me “tabla” during my fifth and sixth grade for a very long time. I got a lucky break last time when I was in India. Do you remember the blind lady (Sundori-di) that I had gone to meet? (http://www.rajibroy.com/?p=10121). You probably also remember that she plays an instrument called the sitar. Thru her association with the School of Music in Durgapur, I was able to trace Sameer-da’s whereabouts.

A month later, I had called up that number in India. The voice on the other end was unmistakably his. Even though I was hearing the voice well over three decades, I was quite sure that it was him. The question was would he remember me?

“Sameer-da, aami Rajib Roy bolchhi. Aami aapnar kaachhey tabla siktham. Chintey paarchhen?”. I basically introduced myself as one of his students and asked if he could remember me.

His immediate response was “Soma-r dada Rajib? America thekey bolchho?”. Meaning “Are you the Rajib who is Soma’s brother? Are you calling from America?”.

My sister and I started learning music together. She continued for a long time. I gave up after two years. At that time, I was not too much into it. Today, that is one of my biggest regrets. I discovered my love for tabla after going to engineering school. I wish I had continued with formal coaching for a few more years. By the way, convincing my father that I wanted to stop learning tabla was very easy. I just manipulated him by saying that it was distracting me from my studies (remember how he wanted me to be an engineer or doctor? :-). My mom, on the other hand had suggested that I cut down on my playing time 🙂

Sameer-da used to teach me tabla as well as accompany my sister’s music teacher. Later in life, he had become close to our family but I had left Durgapur way before that.

Finally we pulled up in front of his house – and that took us some time since he lives in a village outside Durgapur town. Google maps had failed me already and finally, I had to resort to asking people on the streets. Of whom there were not a lot since it was late at night – 9PM and it had just rained. However, when I saw him, I could not believe my eyes. Sameer-da has not changed a bit. Not even one fraction of a bit. You can see him in the picture. He is 61 years old. And he can as easily pass by as a twenty-something!!!

That was one of the best meetings I have had in a long time. I had no idea about his own family history. Got to know how he was one of five kids. How all his brothers would go out and play in the remote village he was brought up in but he was more attracted by the sound of tabla that his dad used to play. Eventually, that love became his passion and then his profession.

And it still is his passion and profession!! We talked for some time about some of the intricacies of tabla – the instrument as well as the playing. Lamentably enough, I learnt that there is not much of interest left in Durgapur to learn tabla. Apparently, studies, western music and parents wanting their kids to get onto stage in rapid time has taken over the psyche. Unfortunately, tabla is one of those instruments that takes a lot of time to get the hang of and a whole lot more practice and perseverance before you can get on to stage.

But for most part, we talked about our families. I got to know about his son and daughter – none of whom I have ever seen and also caught up on mu sister’s music teacher!

He in turn, talked about my parents’ generosity. I did not realize this but apparently my parents had helped him when he was going thru some tough times in his personal life. He even showed me the set of tabla my dad had gifted him much later and he still has preserved it and plays it occasionally.

Although I gave up my formal lessons two years into it, I did impress him by mentioning that I do sit down to play by myself (terribly, I might add) every Friday. He in fact, quizzed me on a few taals and songs. I lucked out and came thru with flying colors. I think he went easy on me!!

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1 July 2016

Bhowmic miss! Or as we called her – “Geography miss”

After visiting Mr. and Mrs. Roy, the next stop was to cover my next favorite subject – Geography! Fortunately, I have been in touch with Mrs. Bhowmic for some time – although I had seen her only once in the last thirty years or so. She is even on my Facebook friends list.

Mrs. Bhowmic and geography has been synonymous to many of us. For students like me, learning geography started with Mrs. Bhowmic in 7th grade and finished with her in 10th grade. My dad and she are the two persons in this world responsible for my loving world geography to this day. My dad, even now, will pepper you with questions like capitals of countries and river names and all that if you do not have your guard up. Mrs. Bhowmic, fortunately, focuses on more varied topics!

But there was another side of Mrs. Bhowmic. She was my classmate’s mom too. Her son Abhik and I were classmates for six years in the same school. So, I got to know the family a lot more closely than that of most other teachers. And that connection, as I said has continued till today.

Many of you who know me from much later stages of life will find this incredulous but I used to have a head full of hair. And very thick too!! (I know, I know this one is for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not 🙂 ). In any case, Geography miss used to often comment about that in the class. And she brought it up last night when I went to meet her again!!

Another lasting memory I have from those days was my annual exam in seventh grade. While appearing for my Geography test, I came down with typhoid. I started shivering two thirds into the time period and managed to somehow finish it up. I remember that my vision had become blurry and I was struggling to keep my head up. Eventually, I gave up. The next thing I knew was I was lying down in our principal’s room, our PT teacher had thrown his jacket on me (I was shivering a lot) and Mrs. Bhowmic was next to me. Then I blanked out.

Couple of weeks later, I was back from the hospital, still very weak and mostly in bed. My dad came into the room after having visited the principal. He was worried that I would not be promoted to the next grade since I missed all but three of my annual exams. (We needed minimum marks for the whole year but I had no chance of clearing it). Fortunately, our principal told him to quit worrying. When he was there, he ran into Bhowmic miss. And as my dad narrated it, apparently she had said “Aapnar chhele to jor niye-o geography-te first hoye gelo” (basically, I had lucked out and topped the test that year). So, I told my dad that I wanted to be a geologist when I grew up. He told me – No, you have to be an engineer or a doctor. And that was that 🙂

It was so great to see her after such a long time. I got to know a little more about her personal life and the circumstances under which we lost Mr. Bhowmic at a very early age due to misdiagnosis. But what was most teachable for me is her spirit of fighting it out. She still lives her own independent life and keeps up with teaching.

I have always considered – right from our school days – that Mrs. Bhowmic has been one of my most ardent supporters and cheerleaders. She still is today. If nobody puts a “like” on my FB posts, she would be sure to go put one!!

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1 July 2016

Sir Roy and Deepali Miss

One of the goals for this trip has been to meet some of my teachers from school days that I have not seen in a long time. First and foremost was to find Sir Roy. He was my math teacher for 9th and 10th grade as well as my class teacher for ninth grade. Not that I was particularly great at math but it was undoubtedly one of my most favorite subjects (and still is). (Geography and Physics were the next two). I still love the logical thinking required in math problems and puzzles. Sir Roy and Sir Nandi were the two teachers that I remember the most for instilling in me the love for math.

Sir Roy, to all of us, was not just a math teacher. He was our go to person anytime we got into trouble in school and almost always could count on him to be our friend, philosopher and guide. Two of the lasting memories I have of him was his constant smoking and always reading an English novel. He was undoubtedly one of the most voracious readers I knew.

In the circle that life is, last year, one of my classmates’ (from school days) twin daughters had called me from India with a math problem. I was driving (in US) and promised to look into it when I reached home. Funnily enough, before I put the phone down, I had suddenly remembered a method (of elimination) Sir Roy had taught and was able to solve it for her verbally over the phone. My wife thought I had gone crazy drawing triangles on the steering wheel while standing at a traffic light!

I had fixed the time and place to meet Sir Roy. It was not his place but rather where he still teaches his students (he is retired from school now). The best news he gave me was that Deepali miss was there too. Mrs. Roy – who we always called “Deepali miss” was one of the first teachers I had met in fifth grade after joining my new school (St. Xavier’s). In fact, I think sequentially it was Miss Lakshmi Dutta, Sir Donegan and then Mrs. Deepali Roy. So that would have been precisely at 9:55 am on 10th of January, 1977 when she walked in and introduced herself as our Bengali teacher.

I remember her being very sweet to all of us and not being very strict with us (as opposed to Miss Dutta and Sir Donegan from the previous two periods 🙂 ). Certainly, we were not above taking advantage of it 🙂

One amusing incident. Miss Dutta taught us math and was very strict. In our math test, I remember that I had made a error. And so had my friend Shounak. But my friend had smartly answered one question more than he needed to. (we had to solve 10 out 11 problems and he did all 11). He got credit for that and beat me in that test. Not to be outdone, I tried the same trick in our Bengali test. Except that Deepali miss promptly canceled my last answer and told me that I should focus on revising my answers instead of wasting time on questions I did not answer!! Boy, was I confused that day!!! 🙂

Both Mr. and Mrs. Roy left indelible marks on me and in many ways has shaped and formed me who I am today. It was energizing to see them after such a long time (some 33 years) together and talk about our old days in school and get caught up on a few of the other teachers.

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30 June 2016

Another morning of discussions

Today he talked about religion. I am aware that this can be a very divisive topic among my readers – so I am not going to expound on it. I will say that I was superbly impressed on how his views on various religions as well as atheists has become nuanced over the years. His bed is strewn with various religious books – you can see the Gita, a Bible, some books on Ramakrishna lying next to his inhaler and medicines!

One humorous anecdote. He talked about Ramakrishna’s famous saying “Taka maati, maati taaka” (which basically denounces the focus on money – saying wealth is dirt, dirt is wealth). At this point, I interjected. To bring in levity I asked “Then why were you complaining that the banks are not increasing their interest rates for you?”.

Not to be outdone, he continued with the same flow – “Etar abaar onno ekta interpretation-o hoy. Taaka thaakley maati – orthat jomi kintey paarbey. Abar sei jomir daam baarley aaro taaka paabey”.

He gave another – and a rather convenient interpretation. He said, if you have money, we can buy dirt (land) and then as the price of land goes up, you make more money.

I think I can deal with that religion 🙂 It was good to see that he has not lost his sense of humor!!

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