13 July 2023

’23 Jul India

  1. This trip to India has a very strange ring to it Jul 5, 2023

    Over thirteen years of going to India every quarter always centered around only one objective – it was my parents. Peripherally, it created opportunities to see my siblings, Sharmila’s side family, my old school mates, my old teachers and so many strangers. But the purpose was singularly focused on my parents.

    Then Covid stopped travel for a year. In that year, both of them passed away in quick succession. After that I made a few quarterly trips and they were all focused on settling up all their stuff in India. After disposing off the final item – their house – last September, my trips to India came to a grinding halt.

    I still am very close to my siblings (I talk to both of them every single day) and love the late night (for them) chats on WhatsApp with the nephews and niece. But, I never felt the urge to go to India. My brother and sister would encourage me constantly to come and visit them. Admittedly, my ever concerned sister would wrap herself in knots alternately pleading me to come and visit them and then immediately urging not to come since it has gotten indescribably hot in India!!

    From my point of view, as much as I want to see them, I don’t understand why it has to be in India. And if India, why in Kolkata/Kalyani (where they are and my parents were). I would rather go visit some beautiful spots in India and meet them there. For the last six months, I could not get them to agree to meet me in the Andamans.

    All that said and done, I did decide to go to India for a few days. There is an exigency in US that sort of forced my hand but that is a story for another day.

    So, here are my goals this time – outside of meeting immediate family from my and Sharmila’s side –

    (*) In my effort to focus on my parents in the past, I did not get a chance to meet a lot of my slightly distant cousins and nephews and nieces. Many, I last met in my old village and many I have not met at all. Some are 10 years older to me and some were born in post-Covid era!! I will make amends this time.

    (*) And here is the most exciting part… I am actually not flying into my normal destination. I am landing somewhere else in India. There is this elderly couple – parents of a friend of mine from college days – that I have been wanting to see for a very long time. I will write about them in a different post but I am determined this time to meet them and say Thank you to them – for the generosity they had extended to me the summer of 1986 when I got a chance to stay with them – before I take yet another flight to go to my home town.

    So there… that be my tour this time!

  2. Why I love aimlessly strolling around in airports Jul 6, 2023

    Took a shower, grabbed breakfast/lunch/dinner depending on whether my body thinks it is in Atlanta/Doha/Chennai, finished up some important mails and messages, notified Sharmila and my brother about my whereabouts and headed out of the Lounge. This is a routine I have developed over the last few years. If I have enough time, I walk around the airport for 30-45 minutes to do some people watching and observe what goes on in an airport.

    Any one of you who has traveled thru global hubs like Doha, Dubai, London, Singapore will relate to the richness of experience you are bound to have. Airports like Doha are a veritable congregation of folks from all corners of the world. Like a United Nations of Airplane Flyers. It is like humanity of every creed and credence crystallize here in a show of solidarity to be together for a brief few minutes under the same roof and then they dissolve away in their own contrails.

    As I observe the scene around me, I see some are running to their gates, barely able to catch their breath. Some are browsing the expensive stores – from a very safe distance, mind you and some elderly folks are visibly ill at ease with the complexities of a modern airport.

    In the middle of the airport, there is a huge yellow bear or pikachu or something like that. It is very well lit and is like the meeting point at Grand Central Station under the clock in New York. Faced with the resplendence of the area and the sheer scale of things, awe struck people gather here to perform that one singular thing that inspirational moments trigger you to do. Take a selfie!

    Today, there is that dish-dash clad smart looking young gentleman in one corner taking a picture of himself effortlessly. And not to be outdone, there is that hijab-wearing elderly lady trying to do the same – with a bit of balancing act with the phone on the other side. One particular spot has been taken up for some time by this young, Indian-looking girl who just is not pleased with the amount of smile she has been putting in her last thirty selfies. Between going from an ear to ear grin to sporting a Mona Lisa version, she seems to be unable to capture the full charm of her countenance. Short of her jaw muscles giving in, I am not sure how she is going to put a stop to this.

    I shuffle on. At the turn is that store that stands as an antithesis of that old “What glitters etc etc” saying. Here everything is glittering and everything is gold. In the sea of faces I could see peering into all the jewelry, nary was a person who did not have Indian descent. By mistake, a Caucasian lady stepped in to see what all the hullabaloo was all about and then swung back to her husband from who she had momentarily strayed, telling him nonchalantly: “Oh! It is gold”. Much to the bewilderment of all the Indian looking ladies who had that “What do you mean- ‘It is gold’? IT IS GOLD” look around them. The difference in values assigned to golden jewelry between the Oriental and the Occidental women is remarkable.

    I continue walking and glancing here and there. There is, of course, many walking while looking into their phones. Quietly. And then there are those who are also looking into their phones but from their animations and loud volume, you know they are on a video call with their near and dear ones. Well, far and dear ones, I guess. Speaking of volumes, you might be forgiven for thinking that the art of earbuds and headphones has been lost in this part of the world. Every body invites you to overhear what their conversations are all about.

    Then, there is that lady over there speaking loudly – alternately speaking to this guy – who has the hapless look of a unamused husband written all over his face – in Gujarati and then turning around to argue with the person at the lounge gate in broken English that she absolutely should be given access to go in.

    Right around that lounge is the duty free shop. To keep up with stereotypes, of course, there is a turbaned Sikh gentleman studying up all the scotches on show. If you folks do not have any Sikh friend, you should make one. They are absolutely the most fun loving and trustworthy friends you will ever have. And I do not know why, they always speak in soft voices to go with their kind characters.

    Oops! I almost bumped into a bunch of men. A pen in the duty free shop had caught my eye and I had gotten distracted by it. Alas! That was no fountain pen. It was your run of the mill ball point. (Then again, all ball points are run of the mill to me). But back to those men – four of them. They were headed towards A gates. Which is where I needed to be. Gate A5 to be precise. I just followed them, keeping myself out of their earshots. And studying them.

    They seemed to be from the African continent. Two of them had the long flowing clothes, one had trousers and shirt and the other one had T-shirt and jeans. The trousers guy had slippers on, two others had non descript shoes but one had a flashy set of footwear. Two had fez-es on their head, one had a base ball cap and the other had nothing but a rich lock of dark jet hair. As differently as they were dressed, they all sported nicely trimmed beards and were obviously very familiar with each other, given the amount they were talking to each other.

    And then somebody said something. And all stopped in their tracks. In the middle of other passengers milling around them. I stopped too. One then walked up to one of those airport folks and said something. The other gentleman nodded and my friend handed over his phone to him. I am sure you have guessed what was going to follow.

    The airport gentleman backed off a few yards and the quartet took position standing side by side. As if by some elementary laws of fluid mechanics taken straight from the introductory pages of a physics book, the milling crowd started going around the quartet and not in front of them. I think this is the Law of Photo Bombing in Fluid Dynamics. For what seemed like at least ten minutes, the airport gentleman took many photos, turned around the phone, took some more photos and just as he started walking towards the quartet, my slipper wielding friend gesticulated wildly while taking his baseball cap off. Back the airport gentleman went to his spot for Take Two.

    Finally, he handed the phone over to the rightful owner. The other three gathered around him as he swiped right thru the pictures only to be interrupted by the others who would use two of their fingers to zoom some part of the screen – no doubt to check how he looked in the picture. Every picture drew some approving nods but not all!!

    I am sure each one of you can relate to what I just witnessed. I have seen this in every coffee meeting of our runners group, every dinner meeting, drinks at bar with friends, vacation crowd, family gatherings….

    Just then, they called my flight.

    As I went around my quartet friends hearing them say some unintelligible words in Arabic (except I recognized when they said “Facebook”), I felt strangely reassured by the fact that even in this ever divisive world we have today, there are some things – a bit vain as they might be – that still unites all of us in our behaviors cutting across race, color, gender and what have you!

    P.S. I was not sure what picture to put for this post. So, I did the other common vain thing… I took a “selfie” after I sat down in the plane!

  3. Mr. and Mrs. Sampath!! Jul 7, 2023

    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!

  4. My first airport!! Jul 7, 2023

    And I did not even get to fly from here!!

    Chennai was the first airport I got to visit. This was way back in 1988. Predictably, it looked nothing like the swanky look today of. Nonetheless, I remember it as a very imposing structure and I was mesmerised by the fact that the whole building was air conditioned. Funny thing is that I was not going to fly. In fact, I would not be taking the first flight of my life for another 3 years when I turned 25. I was there due to a mishap and one stranger’s incredible kindness.

    Let me spool this back.

    One afternoon around lunch time in college, I received a telegram. That simply said that my friend Pratyush’s dad had passed away and I was to send him home post haste. Pratyush is my dear friend from Durgapur and he was studying in HIET college in Guindy not too far from my college. His brother – Debatosh – had sent the message to me.

    A bit rattled, I dressed up, went to the bank, withdrew some money and took one of those green PTC buses to head towards him. All the time thinking thru how was I going to give him the bad news. And I could not get over the fact that Mr. Paul who had passed away was actually with Pratyush and me in Chennai barely 48 hours back!! We had seen him off the previous day on the 8AM Coromandel Express!! Apparently he had died from a massive cardiac arrest after reaching home in Durgapur.

    Anyways, I located Pratyush in his class, interrupted the professor and explained to him the situation, and brought back Pratyush to his room. I was helping him pack his suitcase as he continued to fight his tears back in a state of shock. All this time, I was thinking thru which train might get him home fastest. I was targeting Howrah Mail that night.

    After getting all his things in order, he and I set out to go to the train station. A couple of his friends joined us to help me. There we were – standing at the bus stop – waiting for a bus to take us to Guindy station (from where we would proceed to Madras Central station). I was running thru in my mind Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and all that. We were unlikely to get a reservation. Should I send him by RAC? Put him on Waiting List? Go by next morning’s Coromandel? May be I can show the telegram to the train guard and get him to help us? This was going to be a 33 hour train ride after all!!

    I had stepped into the road, impatiently looking at the direction of the bus when a cruising car came by. There was a young gentleman driving it. He seemed to have taken the car out to go for a nice drive. He was not in a hurry. He was by himself.

    I stepped back on the pavement to give the car the right of the way. The car, for whatever reason, stopped next to us. There were nobody else near us. I figured he needed some directions. Instead, he asked us where were we going. I told him about Pratyush’s plight and that we needed to get to Guindy station quickly. Going out on a limb, I asked if he would be so kind as to drop us at the station – which would have been a 6 minute drive, tops.

    He said sure. We all jumped in. I sat next to him. He asked me about what was going on. I gave him a lot more details – that Pratyush actually had to get to Durgapur. First stop would be Kolkata and that before all that I had to get him a ticket.

    “Maybe I can drop you folks at Central Station, if you want?”

    “No, no, we can manage by train,” I quickly replied. I was struck by his kindness and empathy. Just to be sure, I also knew it was five of us – so we were not likely to get into any danger.


    And he kept driving. Then he asked – “He has to reach as soon as possible, right?”

    “Yes. I am not sure how long they will keep the body before cremating it.”

    “Have you thought of flying him?”

    “Well, no. I have no idea about airplanes. I do not even know how to buy a ticket. Let alone the price.”

    “It will be about Rs 3000. You want to think about it?”

    I looked around to the four others. Among the five of us, we did have that much cash.

    “Let’s do it.”

    There is one side story here. Pratyush and Debotosh always trusted my judgment and sense of responsibility. None of that was deserved, I am sure. But then, it was what it was. That is why it was I who had received the telegram and also why Pratyush had left me to make all the decisions.

    With that firm decision, the gentleman turned around the car and sped towards the airport.

    It was a very different feeling. I did not know what an airport looked like much less a flight ticket.

    Presently, we pulled up to this big building and the gentleman parked the car right next to it. He took us to the ticketing counter and stepped back as I finished the transaction. I was impressed with a five page leaflet I got. There were three carbon copies of the ticket details in that booklet neatly bound together with two staples.

    The gentleman offered to drop the rest of us back. We said we would hang around with Pratyush since he was not in a good mental state.

    “That makes sense,” he said and went away. We waved at him as long as we could see the car.

    Inside the airport – and in those days, it did not have all the strict security of today, I roamed around in complete amazement. Like I had mentioned, the air conditioning, the long glass walls, the smartly dressed people, the authoritative announcements, the no-nonsense CISF security – it was something that had me spellbound. But it was too expensive for me to try out in the near future.

    As Sridhar dropped me at the airport today, I looked it up and down and took quite a few pictures musing to myself that this is exactly where I had seen my first airport and wished that someday I would be able to afford to fly!! Very out of the world feeling.

    Incidentally, we never saw the gentleman again. Later, we had taken many a walk along the road hoping to spot a light blue Premier Padmini. Never did. That is a shame. We never got a chance to say Thank You properly to the stranger!

  5. An evening with DN Jul 7, 2023

    You may remember DN from an old post. He started as an assigned driver from the hotel I was staying in 1998 and today he and his family are intricately tied to my family, my brother’s family and with my parents when they were alive.

    Brother was in Guwahati. So, DN was there at the airport to pick me up. As always, we were talking about his family on our drive to the hotel and he was asking after mine. At some point, I mentioned how Sharmila and I were enjoying our retired, empty nesting lives. I asked him what will he do when he retires and all kids are gone.

    He said he will go back to Bihar (where he is from). I cast some doubts on his plans. Wouldn’t all his friends be here? Wouldn’t medical facilities be better here?

    He felt that he was very close to his relatives in his village and other villagers in general. And that, somehow, people there respect him. That is where he wants to die.

    Around that time – about 4:45PM, when he had started talking about his plans after his last daughter gets married, we arrived at our hotel. I had my evening free (I had kept it that way expecting jet lag to hit me hard) and my brother was still half a day away from meeting me.

    “Aap shaam ko kya kar raha hai?” I asked (What are you doing this evening?)

    “Kuch nahi. Aap kahin jaayenge?” (Nothing really. Do you want to go somewhere?)

    “Nahi. Aaj to tired hoon. Aap gaari park karke lobby mein aa jaayie. Main check in kar leta hoon. Phir aap ke saath chai piyenge”

    I asked him to park the car and come to the lobby. I will finish my checking in and join him for tea.

    In reality, I did not even have to do that. Indrani (duty manager in the hotel) was ready with my keys and she sent the luggage straight to my room. I grabbed DN and went to the top floor to have some tea with him in the exec lounge. If you did not know this, Indian hotels, especially the big ones, are a consummate meeting points for smartly dressed folks who gather there just to hang around and enjoy all the facilities of a hotel – not to speak of the air conditioning in this oppressive hot and humid weather. And taking a lot of selfies of course. If those pictures did not go to social media, it is like that event had never even happened. So, the lobbies tend to be very crowded.

    The lounge upstairs gave us a quiet refuge where we could sit and talk for a long time.

    Which we did. For four straight hours!! Needless to say, I avoided the whole hysteresis curve of having coffee to wake up only to have wine and feel sleepy later. So, went for the Old Fashioned straight!!

    However, in those four hours, I heard about DN’s post retirement dream. He took me thru his entire family chain starting from his grandfather and how his land was divided between his dad and his uncle and then how those have been further subdivided among their sons. (The daughters always get married off and they do not get any land).

    He took me thru how he has divided his dad’s property between his younger brother, half-brother and himself. And his plans of building a house in his side of the land. At some point we were deep in Google Maps looking for Dharampur Asli in Bihar and then looked up his plot of land thru satellite pictures.

    We were so engrossed in the story that we had some paper, pen and a pad brought up to sketch the whole plan of how the land has been divided in the family and where he was going to build his house after retirement.

    By 9, I was too tired and he needed to go back home to his family.

    While DN is no stranger to me, it felt enriching to talk to him about a part of his life that I was not exposed to at all!!!

  6. Bengalis – alias “Fries R Us” Jul 7, 2023

    Much like in the South (of USA), where we take something as healthy as a green tomato and then proceed to fry it, if there is a singular purpose Bengali food stands to serve, it has to be to scoff at your best cholesterol limiting medicines. You can name any food – let’s say “aloo” (potato) or “maach” (fish) or “dim” (egg) or go to more esoteric “uchhey” (bitter gourd), “kumro” (simple gourd), “begun” (egg plant), “potol” (need to find the English word)… You just throw in a suffix “-bhaja” at the end and yep! you have gotten yourself a delicious Bengali dish.

    Add a healthy dose of white rice, your expertise in mixing that with the “bhajas” like an expert masseur’s bare fingers kneading thru your tight muscles and you have successfully created the first course of a Bengali meal. The last course is usually an antacid. For every Bengali meal worth writing home about is bookended by a loud burp first and then an “ombol” – acid induced indigestion – a couple of hours later.

    You will get an idea about how frying is deeply embedded in our psyche when I tell you how many of our idioms involve frying. You are just being lazy? That is frying “bheranda”. Because we tend to be very lazy (but intellectually sharp), we have another one to separate the degrees of laziness – frying “khoi”. Want to prove innocence? You do not know how to turn your fried “maach” over to eat it. And so on and so forth…

    After finishing up with DN, I went down to see if I could get myself a light dinner. There is nothing light about the full spread of a JW Marriott dinner. By the time I am done surveying what is on display, I usually forget what I had seen in the first half. So, to narrow my scope, I went straight to the Bengali corner.

    Not to be disappointed, you can see (the picture is a little indistinct) your familiar – “jhuri aloo-bhaja”, “potol-bhaja”, “begun-bhaja”, “corola-bhaja”, “eta-bhaja”, “seta-bhaja” … and then the rice!!

    Somehow felt very comforted that I am back to my roots!!!

  7. Meeting my first cousin… for the first time!! Jul 8, 2023

    I have fourteen first cousins in all. They all live within about 80 miles of each other – other than the eldest one, who is no more. I am fairly close to all of them. Except one! Who I had not met in my entire life!! Till today!! Two decades my junior, I am not sure I have talked to her much ever by phone either. This time, over Whatsapp, we had arranged for me to meet her first among all my first cousins!

    Going by some of the pictures below, you would not have realized that we do not get to see each other much!! Most of the laughter was around remembering stories of my parents’ siblings!!

  8. Started Kolkata stay on a “relatively” high note!! Jul 8, 2023

    As I have noted before, this trip to India in the post-parent era is focused on catching up with as many relatives as I can – the families of my father’s and mother’s siblings.

    I hit a high note right in the beginning when, before I could meet any relatives, the moment I stepped out of the elevator, I ran into my old friend Tathagata and his daughter Tia from Dallas days!! Apparently, there are here to meet family too!!

  9. Getting dad’s side first cousins together Jul 9, 2023

    This is from my dad’s side. Three surviving first cousins and five first cousins, once removed.

    Some of them I am seeing for the first time, some for the second time and most after many decades. In fact, I am sure that the last time the first cousins and my own siblings and I sat down at a table together had to be back in our paternal village.

    The best part was getting to know my first cousins, once removed. Always impressed by the new generation!

  10. The parties just rolled into each other Jul 9, 2023

    After the big gathering of cousins from dad side, my brother-in-law’s (Sharmila’s brother) family showed up. My sister and other brother-in-law hung around for a little while and left. I did not get a chance to take a picture of all of us together before they left.

  11. The lesser known William Tell Jul 9, 2023

    I am sure there is a “tell-tale” story behind why my brother in law was trying to “shoot an apple”, but I do not believe I will ever know!

  12. Change of pace! Jul 10, 2023

    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!

  13. I thought I was having an engrossing conversation with my nephews Jul 10, 2023

    My brother’s reaction was a bit muted…

  14. Modernization of the “Bangali Babu” Jul 11, 2023

    We came to a red light and stopped. My brother, who is of the ilk that believes if your feet do not touch the starting line in a marathon race you are bound to lose it, somehow snaked his car thru the stationary cars/buses/motorcycles all the way to the front of the line. I can’t even claim that what he snaked over was legitimately a road.

    But, for once, I was glad he did it. If not, I would not have seen this incredible sight.

    There was – as you see in the picture – the prototypical Bengali babu of the yesteryears crossing the road. Adorned in his white “dhuti punjabi” and impeccably coiffed hair, he slowly but steadily went from one side to the other. He had a “johor coat” on to complete the Bangali babu look. This is in the middle of summer season!! It is a sweltering 95 degrees heat with humidity that will make you feel like you are swimming rather than walking on the streets.

    What melted my heart was his unbounded optimism that if he just put his hand up, all traffic would stop for him. In his Moses like mind, he less crossed the road; he more parted the sea of traffic around him.

    Alas! even this unimpeachable “Bangali babu”-ness has started crumbling down to the assault of modern civilization. The quintessential “jholi” has given way to a smart backpack. The half torn “chappals” have given way to smart, contemporary sports shoes!!

    If yesterday and today ever were to come together, I was surely staring at it just about now!!

  15. After meeting a long list of first cousins – removed and unmoved Jul 11, 2023

    I added a first cousin, twice removed!! On our way to Durgapur, we stopped by Mogra to visit my mom’s eldest sister! Four generations under one roof!

  16. I just have one question Jul 11, 2023

    If you ever ply the road between Mogra and Gurap, you are likely to come across a very small village called “Bhastara”. My brother and I had stopped there at a roadside tea stall before getting on the highway to Durgapur.

    As the tea-stall guy was heating our tea, an ad stuck on a nearby tree caught my attention. Curious what is being sold in this distant village, I walked up to the tree and saw this.

    The ad is for an astrologer. Not too surprising. My opinions on astrology aside (which are not particularly upbeat, to be sure), it is not uncommon to see a lot of astrologers / soothsayers / so-called-diviners preying on ignorant, poor people. In fact, my parents had taken me to somebody who had given me a stone to wear on my body to mend my wayward ways. What “wayward” ways, you ask? Well, apparently, my parents thought that my life had started skidding down fast since I had scored not-so-good marks in … get this … Science that year! The irony is beyond being rich.

    Coming back to the ad, the line in the middle says – “Gold Medalist in Astrology”. I just have one question. Okay, two, really.

    One: Who the heck is giving gold medals in astrology these days? Has it already become an Olympic sport?

    Two: What is a gold medalist doing in this far flung village of Bhastara?

    Well, the tea was getting cold. And we had a few folks to visit in Durgapur. I had no time to go around and ask the people nearby!!

  17. First stop in Durgapur – maternal uncle’s house Jul 11, 2023

    I am sure you remember many stories from my prior blogs about my uncle. He has fought back cancer, lost a kidney and yet, is hands down, the most hard working and industrious person in our entire family. Well into the mid seventies, he still lives one of the most disciplined life I know.

  18. A chance meeting Jul 11, 2023

    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!!

  19. My classmate who never left my hometown Jul 11, 2023

    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!!

  20. Airport #158. Sweetest of them all Jul 12, 2023

    This is what the stuff of my childhood wildest imaginations was made off. When we were very young, we used to live in the north east corner of Durgapur. That was the end of the township. In fact on the other side of our road was a cemetery and pretty much nothing else.

    In those tender years (the sum total age of the three siblings would not pip past the 10 year mark), anytime we saw large construction trucks going around, our imaginations would hit high gear. “They are going to make an airport here”…. “No, the train will go thru here…” – those were the invariable conclusions we used to come up with. And our imaginations would run wild from there. (Much later in life we got to learn the value of those trucks coming around to fix the potholes in our roads after every monsoon).

    An airport in our small town of Durgapur would have been a dream come true.

    About five decades later, here I am – in the airport of my childhood hometown. This became operational a few years back – and Sharmila and Natasha already beat me to this airport.

    Bit of a surreal feeling, I have to admit!!

  21. The best moments came on the last day! Jul 12, 2023

    Ever since he was born over half a century of summers back, we have been very close. We used to write to each other when I left home and have been talking to each other everyday for the last twenty years or so. He always accompanies me when I travel in India. The car time together gives us a lot of time to chat. But usually they are interfered by his incessant business calls.

    Which are interesting. Because at that point he proceeds to execute some dangerous maneuvers with both hands – deftly enough to make any ambidextrous person immensely envious. The process goes something like this: first, he lifts the phone with one hand and then uses the other hand to swipe the screen to accept the call. There is usually a second of thought in between – perhaps, wondering what the call might be all about. All this time, the car is moving and the bus in front has already applied its brakes. He notices that from the corner of his eyes and in a swift move, transfers the phone to his right hand, brings it up to his right ear, changes gear with his left hand while his head is cocked right to hold the phone firmly to the ear, re-transfers the phone to his left ear now using his left hand and then uses his right hand to sharply swing the steering wheel. He waits till he is within a whisker of defying the age old law of physics which prohibits two objects from occupying the same space at the same time. He does it so effortlessly that you would be tempted to believe that this is what he was really born for.

    But the morning tea-time is “our” time. Before the day’s maddening schedule of meeting people re-starts, we always grab some tea together in the hotel and chat about topics that we chat about. On this last day, we were awake early and came down to the lobby at around 5:45. By the time we were done talking, he realized that it was already 9:15 and he was late in visiting his in-laws!!!

    After my parents left, spending time with my brother is one of the primary attractions for coming back. It is not like we think similarly or are even built the same way – he is the risk taker in the family, I am the risk averse member; he is perfectly happy with his things and schedule all over the place,I am the only who has to write stuff down in a neat organized way; I have to keep all my finances in perfect order, he has a vague idea where his money might be…

    But we complement each other very well. And we respect that of each other. THAT is what makes our relationship so special!

  22. Professor on the move! Jul 12, 2023

    Usually my Durgapur sojourns have meeting my mother in law, maternal uncle and Baisakhi’s son as mandatory part of the itinerary. This time, I was stuck in the hotel this morning (brother had gone to his in-laws) without any car. I had no ability to go see Baisakhi at her place.

    Not to worry. She made time during the day and came over to meet me in her scooty!!

  23. She smiled!! Jul 12, 2023

    I do not think I have any other picture where my mother in law is actually smiling while a picture is being taken! It does not matter whether I am in the picture or not!

  24. The hardest part of every trip Jul 12, 2023

    She stood at the gate and kept waving at us till she could see us no more.

  25. Somebody explain this to me Jul 12, 2023

    Is that sign prohibiting you from taking your shoes off and go bare foot or from putting your feet up on the wallboard? I am in bulkhead on Indigo flight from Durgapur to Delhi.

    Have you ever seen this anywhere else?

  26. Flying is still a novelty in my town Jul 12, 2023

    I was pacing up and down to keep myself active while waiting for my flight in Durgapur security zone. Suddenly, I saw most of the folks get up and walk towards the gate. Which was surprising, since there no announcements that preceded that. What was even from unintuitive that the gates were nowhere near where everybody was.

    That is when I realized that the folks were excitedly watching our incoming flight land and then walked up closer to the glass panels to take all sorts of pictures.

  27. There has to be some kind of a demotivational poster like this… Jul 12, 2023

    The underlings pulling the weight of the organization and the boss overseeing from the top 🙂

  28. Can you identify the person in this picture? Jul 12, 2023

  29. From the old archives in India Jul 12, 2023

    It is pretty evident that some things have not changed for me… the curiosity about two wheels, the disdain for hair on the head, the comfort with shorts… These two pictures are separated by over 55 years!!

  30. One last set of cousins Jul 12, 2023

    Arrived in Delhi for my onward flight with about 8 hours to spare. Was enough time to meet yet another first cousin, first cousin once removed and a first cousin twice removed. In fact saw the twice removed fellow for the first time in my life!

  31. “Relatively” successful trip Jul 13, 2023

    The goal was to visit as many relatives as I could since I did not have to be with my parents any more. Let’s see who all I met this time:

    Sharmila’s and my immediate family members: 13
    First cousins: 10
    First cousins, once removed: 9
    First cousins, twice removed: 2

    I am marking this a “Mission Accomplished”

  32. One of the most satisfying part of this India trip Jul 13, 2023

    The advantage of meeting all those relatives was that I could ask them a lot of questions about our ancestors. And finally, I have put three family trees together – two for my paternal grandparents’ and maternal grandparents’ side and one for Sharmila’s maternal grandparents’ side. One goes 5 generations up (from our generation), one goes 4 generations up and one goes 3 generations up. The one I have not been able to put together is Sharmila’s paternal grandparents’ side.


    I think I have made the most of my parents’ absence this trip!! I wanted to get this put together for posterity before deaths take away all the sources of information from me.