Showing posts from July, 2021

August 1, 2021: End of Covidaze

August 1, 2021: End of Covidaze. It is certainly not the end of COVID-19. I started the effort, loosely called “Covidaze,” with the end date of today. The hope was that by this time, we would exhaust the funds from the philanthropy of my community at Wake Forest and we might all reach a point where the pandemic was somewhat in control. I was right about the funds and wrong about the pandemic. It still goes on, there are still needs, muted no doubt, but there are people looking for support with vaccines, tests, and the ancillaries that the pandemic has given us. The numbers keep varying and seem to have plateaued a bit where the Covidaze folks were working. Some of the people who needed support with supplies that Devdas was running are now back to their work as the malls and restaurants are open. On Saturday, I had gone with the hope of buying a shirt at the mall but retreated seeing the throngs of people there. Did a quick walk around to see if I could get a cup of coffee, all the outl

July 31, 2021: Departures are opportunities to come back

July 31, 2021: Departures are opportunities to come back. If you do not leave you can not come back. “Ma, Aaaschi” a loose translation would be, “Mother, coming.” The response a child automatically gives when the parent calls, right from the days of childhood when called to have dinner or do a chore. In such cases it could be a reluctant promise to come and do something. Often repeated to delay the coming. “Esho” says the mother, “come,” and the response “aashchi.” But when my bondhu said, “Ma Aaaschi” through the window overlooking the street before stepping into my car I felt good. He has made a promise. “I will be back.” Till then she will wait, in an empty home, with a housekeeper, waiting for the child to fulfil the promise. As we drove through the rush hour traffic to the airport, I realized that the promise matters. I will be back. Do not worry. I have said this many times when my parents were alive, knowing full well I will keep the promise, as will my bondhu. I too will say to

July 30, 2021: And how shall we respond?

July 30, 2021: And how shall we respond? The news is troubling, even as a steady state is being reported and the Angels are focused on coordinating testing and some vaccine appointments, we have not had to handle the need for beds, O2, and the other things that consumed us just about three months ago. I have taken some people to get vaccinated, especially those who find it tricky to negotiate the digital portal to arrange the vaccinations and set up the appointments. Some people, especially in out of the way locations are finding it tricky to find vaccines. Everyone is watching out for everyone else. This is how we respond. There is an awareness of the communal responsibility. But elsewhere the response is still being debated. In an eerie return to the squabbles over to mask or not to mask, as the numbers are changing in America, the advisors are again dithering. To vaccine or not to vaccine. Thankfully, that is not a large issue with the people I have been assisting with vaccinations.

July 29, 2021: Nimno chaap (low pressure)

July 29, 2021: Nimno chaap (low pressure). I have not seen rain like this since about 1975. It has rained nearly continuously. It comes in bands, sometimes the visibility is so low that one almost needs to pull over and wait. Everything is wet. Yet, within my real bubble, where I operate, the streets have not been flooded. Even if it becomes tricky to drive because of visibility, the roads are clear. Much is happening as the time draws close for a change in the real space, at least for some time, and many things to be done. In the hybrid life, choices have to be made that are different from the old days. No one I work with actually talks about me being away. It is only whether it is screen time or face time. Had a very interesting exchange with colleagues who asked, “Where are you?” I was able to say confidently, “On the screen.” That is all. For the first time in my life, over the last several months I had a sense of freedom from place. As long as I was available on the screen or in t

July 28, 2021: Some traumas live forever

July 28, 2021: Some traumas live forever. This is a date etched in memory. Not of COVID-19, not of the now. But before. Long before. When my son was in that strange age when you he was young but getting to a point where his decisions and opinions were valuable because he could maintain a sense of balance that my wife and I might lose when faced with a crisis. A personal crisis. Today, I relived that day, in my mind, as my family does every year. It was a pleasant morning; we were all rested as the flight landed in Heathrow. There was a mood of upliftment amongst us. In those times there were many flights between India and London, and the flight we took might actually have been from the city. We always travel heavy. I have never fully understood how we travel so heavy. In the really old days, as a bondhu recalled recently, I would travel heavy and there would be some wide-eyed anticipation of what my bag would spew forth as the little gifts for everyone would pour out. The young ones wo

July 27, 2021: We all have promises to keep

July 27, 2021: We all have promises to keep. With or without disasters and pandemics we make commitments. I do for sure, as do many others. These are explicit promises and when we are unable to keep those we turn to excuses. Phone calls to answer. The pandemic has tested us in this as well. Will I be able to do what I had said I would do? For work, for bondhus, for relationships. What happens if I fail? Do I hide behind excuses, drawing from the “mother of all excuses” – the pandemic. I could not deliver because of the pandemic. Or does one say, we will deliver in spite of the pandemic. I met people today who are in the latter category. In the energy of the conversation I realized I am surrounded by people who have accepted that our lives have been changed and whatever bubble we used to live in and want to retreat back into is now gone. And we planned, we talked, we know there will be a new wave of infections soon, and we worked with that in mind. Add in about 2 months to any schedule

July 26, 2021: There is rains on the way

July 26, 2021: There is rains on the way. There was a memorandum from the government last week promising some rain this week starting today. Amazingly, the government was correct. The rains came in the afternoon. I was elsewhere sharing my time with people in Florida and China as my bondhu munched on the infamous beguni with beet noon (impossible to explain to non-Bengalis, but it is a fritter made of thin slices of eggplant), especially on a rainy day. Time and place blended together as the rain pounded outside. I was delivered an under-performing vehicle in the morning. I was thinking of the arguments that usually follow with sub-par services. The pandemic has led to a surfeit of sanitizers that are sprayed in the rental car. It smells like a hospital in the car. But this is the product of the pandemic. A new sense of cleanliness. Everything must be washed. Several times. Some scientists somewhere seem to have suggested that the most recent variant can be transmitted by touch bringin

July 25, 2021: A day without transport

July 25, 2021: A day without transport. I did not have a car today. It was Devdas to the rescue. Even though it was a day of inactivity, the notion of not having a ready transport was disconcerting. Yet, I really had no reason to go out, to go any place that a camera and a computer could not take me; even then I felt the need for the absent transport. The leftovers of the yester months. The night lockdown has placed a strong sense of anxiety on the city. You can never be sure if the police will stop you or not. It is a benign form of Russian roulette. But it has changed the way of life. My cousin and my nephew stopped by in the evening. As we sat and reminisced, right around 8:45 in the evening, a restlessness begins. Is it time to leave, or is it worth the risk? Should we complete the story about the ancestors. Of the people who came before, whose stories will be lost unless the oral history is scribed. I did not know that my father was once a fugitive from the British police, having

July 24, 2021: The full moon looks the same

July 24, 2021: The full moon looks the same. Looking at the full moon from the prop plane at night has a charm that is quite unparalleled. I have not been on a prop commercial plane for a long time. But the flight today was on such a plane. Armed with a negative COVID-19 report, we left in pounding rain early in the morning. I was wondering on the short flight, looking at Chilka lake below, how different people have handled the pandemic. The group I was meeting with seemed to have taken it in stride. Months of video meetings culminated in this single day meeting. There was a complete weekend lockdown at my destination. They said it is best not to stay the night at a hotel. In and out. Sanitized car. Double masked. A little afraid. Showering my hands with sanitizer. Sanitized guest room. Distanced meeting. But life goes on. The meetings were productive. An amazing lunch, served on banana leaves, completely safe. No one used the bio-degradable “plate” before and no one will again. Had th

July 23, 2021: Learning to drive again

July 23, 2021: Learning to drive again. Today I achieved an important thing. I passed the first part of the learner’s driver’s license test. I have been driving for a long time, but it is not the license that matters. It is the creation of a new narrative of life. New identities, new realities. The American drivers license along with the International Drivers Permit allows me to drive anywhere in the World, almost. And I have. Not only driven a lot but have driven badly a lot. Stopped by Polish police after leaving the memorial of a concentration camp, hauled over in Madrid for driving into a one-way street, nearly stopped by police for an incident in Singapore, crashed a car driving from Cardiff to London, numerous speeding tickets in different parts of the World most recently after entering the Bypass from the Hyatt connector out of Salt Lake City. A checkered driving records. But today was different. As the rain poured, I stood in the line making a new part of my life story. Talking

July 22, 2021: Portuguese salami tastes like friendship

July 22, 2021: Portuguese salami tastes like friendship. It was a day when things changed rapidly. Two days ago my cousin had to be admitted to the hospital. It all worked as expected. Today a business meeting had to be cancelled because another flare up of an illness. This is normal. This is no longer a pandemic-driven life but life with the pandemic. Normal things are happening. Sudden illness. Bottle of wine. Portuguese salami washed down with wine and topped off with home-made egg roll. Late evening phone calls with familiar voices. Advising students working on a master’s degree. Meeting about work. The real comes to a hard stop at 9 pm. Few people venture out. The police may stop and slap a fine. The wine needs to be finished by 8:45 pm. Gatherings moved over to lunch at the club, not the extended evenings because everything must wrap up, and the cars must be parked by 9 pm. I have gone out occasionally after the witching hour and the roads would be deserted. The city shuts down.

July 21, 2021: My workspace is not a place

July 21, 2021: My workspace is not a place. From the beginning of the pandemic I retreated to holes to work. There are no windows there. There is no outside light there. There is only entrance and one exit. The big screen wall can show me the outside world through strategically placed cameras. The front yard, the back yard the camera at Yellowstone, the Redondo Beach, and the Big Ben. I do not have to move from one chair, my background is blurred out, I stay as a face on the screen. I have created two such workspaces. No outside light comes in, everything is controlled by a series of computers that reminds me of meetings and classes and gatherings with the gentle sound of Tchaikovsky. In each of these spaces time ceases to exist because time and light are connected. The sun. The night. The lightnings. They all disappear in these spaces. The large projection on the walls take me to the places I want to visit. The deer in the front yard triggers an alarm and I can look out. A catastrophi

July 20, 2021: The sounds of the night keep me awake

July 20, 2021: The sounds of the night keep me awake. I was planning on going to bed. It had been a long and busy day. With the pandemic really retreated into the back of the collective consciousness and the mask, albeit used incorrectly, has become standard wear for most people, other things are happening. Even the privately provided, a little expensive, vaccines are available. I was with a person who received the vaccine at a private clinic in the morning and it took all of a coffee time. In and out. Done. With this, other activities are becoming possible, and there is a sense that we can perhaps plan for a future where things will go on with the disease also being a part of everyday life. This is what everyone seems to believe. As long as it is manageable it is tolerable. As long as we accept there will be deaths, like other diseases we can live with it. It seems like a combination of preventive behavior such as masking, management of the sick with medicines, and acceptance that thi

July 19, 2021: I have fallen in love again

July 19, 2021: I have fallen in love again. With the city. When you look at the much-maligned city just the right way, you see its beauty. Driving down Casuarina Avenue, you can stop, breathe, watch the tall building. There is no dome on top like the Wachovia building. Or is it the Wells Fargo building? The horses grazing. The dark clouds of monsoon looming up. The rain came after I was on Broadway. As I drove past the Municipality Office on my left the visibility was down to zero. City Center was a haze. As I parked in front of my house, the newly tarred street looked smooth. Earlier, driving down what we knew to be Red Road, now re-named in a more patriotic way, I stopped the car and stepped outside. The air was heavy with the impending rain, and the dark clouds that only happens with the monsoon in the city hung over the large open space that offered a perfect view of the skyline of the old and new buildings in the distance, now interrupted by the needle of a building that seems to

July 18, 2021: The networks make who you are

July 18, 2021: The networks make who you are. One of the things I learnt from the pandemic is to get out of the narrow space that I had built for me with high mental blocks and the real walls that slotted me into one place. We must remain there, I was told, by no one, but was internalized. Convention. Then the walls closed in and the space became the basement the screened porch. Those are the unmasked limit. I noted the frustration building up. No one to talk to. No one to connect with. Because we have been taught to look t life through the lens of place. Then WhatsApp happened. What was merely a side show among many tools began to take on life. I invoked the system to teach when we had to “pivot” in the March of 2020. All of a sudden it was no longer just another tool, but the central tool before other tools were adopted to live with the pandemic. COVID-19 brought video conferencing to me in a way that was only a science fiction. And the networks started. I realized that I had built t

July 17, 2021: The rains came again today

July 17, 2021: The rains came again today. With a ferocity that seemed to be reminiscent of a Biblical flood. One that was, however, localized and while my bondhu and I were partly drenched as we ran to the car after the bulk of the deluge was over. The canopy at the City Center offers protection from the rain, but the noise of the rain falling on the canopy was a terrifying sound as my friend sipped on masala tea and we reminisced about the days gone by. Memories with bondhus, the ones that were and the ones that we are making. New experiences, new feelings, new bonds. Things I had never thought could happen were happening. As I drove to Park Street, yes, I drove myself. I hear this from many of the people whose comfort remains in driving in lane – “do you actually drive in Calcutta?” And as a close bondhu, sitting next to me on one such drive, almost shrieked as I passed the bus with millimeters between the vehicles, I realized I am truly where I belong. Driving in Calcutta is perhap

July 16, 2021: A day in court

July 16, 2021: A day in court. It was a sweltering day in the city. Some rain is needed. A split air conditioning system can create strange climates in the house. The downstairs were freezing today, whereas the upstairs was hot. One has to adjust these things manually sometimes, the thermostat-based adjustments get thrown off when it gets that hot. And the cicadas are loud on summer nights. The cacophony of the insects is perhaps only matched by the cacophony of the crows in the morning. I was out most of the day. COVID-19 efforts have slowed down a bit, there is still no good options to find vaccines. Might have to redirect the efforts. Now we hear about COVID-19 through the networks, not on the front pages of the newspaper or a ticker on the side of the Fox news channel, although they had abandoned it sometimes ago. The only way to think of COVID-19 is now as normalized. My bondhu flew from Lisbon. Arrived today. No real restrictions, I was told. Fairly smooth. My day was at the cour

July 15, 2021: When you are open to opportunities

July 15, 2021: When you are open to opportunities. Good things happen. COVID-19 has changed my life. I can see things in a different way by overcoming the sense of statis that comes from habit. I was content last year. Things were settled into a pattern of habit. The eye was stabilized into partial blindness. Everything was as they were expected. Because I was lulled into a sense that everything was OK, and things are as they should be. Then in March 2020 everything changed. The terror of a lockdown, not being able to do the familiar, was instilled. My most cherished activity – travel – was halted. My sense of contentment was shaken to the core as I remained static in the screened porch waiting. Waiting. This is what COVID-19 did to many people, and as I sat in the living room with two amazingly creative persons working out the intricacies of a documentary film script, I realized that without COVID-19 we would not be having this conversation. I took the leap out of contentment in Octob

July 14, 2021: I could smell the flowers today

July 14, 2021: I could smell the flowers today. The warm humid air blew through the bedroom. Somewhere nearby there must have been a bloom of rajanigandha (Tuberose: Polianthes tuberosa L .) and the gentle aroma wafted through the room, as an approaching storm brought promises of a rain in the night. The test people who the Angels had set up came on time. The results came in record time. All good. The challenge has now centered on vaccines. There is a supply issue. Our team has been trying to procure vaccines, but it is increasingly difficult. It appears, from our limited experience, that there is a real paucity of supply. There is a good amount of red tape as well. A bondhu explained the thing to me and how one has to knock on many doors to get access. All I am looking for is to do one camp at the place where we have become embedded to support the people of that community. Everything can be done, the space to do the camp is available, there are people who could administer the vaccine,

July 13, 2021: I have friends who make my life better

July 13, 2021: I have friends who make my life better. How many can stand on the rooftop and shout out, “I have friends that make my life better?” I am talking about bondhus, not only spouse, not only family, but people who make a difference in your life because you have learned to look past the momentary imperfections and focus on the value they bring to your life. COVID-19 taught us the importance of this. Even when stuck in a basement I knew that I would have friends visit me in the basement. COVID-19 also reminded us that true friendship is not held hostage by proximity. Touch. When you can, you should touch. Their lives. Shephard’s Pie. I remember the day when a bondhu looked at the pie, grabbed a good portion and said, “I can actually taste this.” Seven days into the infection. I looked at my hands and said, “Really, we made that good a pie?” Covid to the rescue. The person eating the pie, in the midst of COVID-19, is perhaps not the best person to judge the quality of cooking. A

July 12, 2021: I took a wrong turn today

July 12, 2021: I took a wrong turn today. As in any large city there is a complex set of roads and flyovers that crisscross the city, and one needs to know which one to take to get to specific places. It is like going to Malibu from Culver City an knowing the exact exit to take to get to downtown when coming off the Salem Parkway. I took a wrong turn today and ended up in my old haunts when I was a kid growing up in the Dum Dum Park and Bangur neighborhoods. Old spaces, old bondhus, old mischiefs. The mischiefs make up our lives and memories. Things we did then, things we do now. Hiding from others, surreptitious activities, getting discovered and then the laughs over our innocence. This is what makes memories that can be shared in the future. My bondhu came over in the afternoon and we went for what could only be called a “joy ride” just driving around and talking of the futures that are before us. Futures are being made now as we gear up for vaccinations. The Wake Angels, the NGO I a

July 11, 2021: Need to find vaccines

July 11, 2021: Need to find vaccines. The need has changed. The experience of the peak of the second wave has now been replaced by a new need – vaccines. Had a productive conversation with the leader of a small NGO and we realized our barrier now is procuring the vaccines. Devdas has already been working with his Youth Club and they are ready to set up the vaccine camp as soon as we are ready. The Wake Angels are working the phones to see where to get the vaccines from. We need to connect with a health care provider – a hospital or nursing home – to get the vaccines. Then comes the organization of the actual camp and find the people who will administer the vaccine. Devdas is also suggesting a careful registration system so that there is accountability for the vaccine distribution and the maintenance of the records of who gets what. I am really impressed by this person’s management capability. He called me late in the afternoon and reminded me of the celebration of “rath” on July 12 – o

July 10, 2021: Some things are the same everywhere

July 10, 2021: Some things are the same everywhere. Today I had set myself a specific task to get the Internet working at Mahavir Vikas. In my time, I have ordered cable and Internet installations in Winston Salem and Calcutta. The story is remarkably similar. The “cable guy,” immortalized by Jim Carey in the movie of the same name, keeps you waiting. This is a task where time and space must line up. The wires must enter the home and wiring must be done right inside the home. This is not a matter of throwing a switch somewhere and something happens in the other side of the World. That too exists. I recently heard of an interesting thing that had happened. Some weeks ago, right before going to bed, my phone had just popped a set of warnings that my entire system of monitor and control of a space, nearly 10,000 miles away, had just shut down. Such a catastrophic failure of all systems could mean only a complete loss of electricity. I called my family immediately, and they said, they had

July 9, 2021: The familiar sounds are back

July 9, 2021: The familiar sounds are back. Even though there is supposed to be a lockdown the sounds of the night are back as I sit on the verandah. It is a warm night, still and humid with a few mosquitoes wanting to feast on my blood. Blood. I remember blood and plasma. The horrifying days not too long ago when blood was needed, and the calls had to be attended to. Today we have thankfully moved away from that. For now. It is the call for vaccines. Conferred with a person who too is trying to get a vaccination camp going. Joining forces. The Wake Angels are also a part of this effort as is Devdas. Much can be done when people come together, and COVID-19 has perhaps been a reminder of that. We are not atomized individuals that are fighting our solitary battles. We can find support. We just need to have the predisposition to seek the support and accept it humbly. I was talking to a bondhu and realizing how frequently well-meaning support is cast aside until things become dire. That is

July 8, 2021: Summer nights are magical

July 8, 2021: Summer nights are magical. The rains have let up a bit. The cats seem to like the chairs in the verandah, and they settle down in a way that only cats can. A sense of complete relaxation. I feel bad bothering them, but I got to sit down too. The black cat is fearless. Looks at me and seems to tell me that I am interloper. This property belongs to the cat. We talk. In the frenetic World we have been placed in, the black cat simultaneously offers a point of peaceful reference and a cause of annoyance. The cats are everywhere. Today at Mahavir Vikas, I was airing out the house after it being locked in for more than a month. Was munching on dalmut (a Bengali delicacy that is crunchy, spicy and you can never stop) and a kitten appeared from nowhere in the drawing room. I think the kitten was as shocked as I was. Cats are a part of life at AC 140 – there are nearly a dozen – I do not know how they are related to the black cat, but they are very comfortable at AC. But a kitten i

July 7, 2021: The rains did not hold back today

July 7, 2021: The rains did not hold back today. Today was the first day of classes. For a decade, until 2020, I would be at Delhi’s T3 airport on July 7 greeting wide-eyed eager students from Wake Forest as they would embark on the five-week class with my family which I fondly called “Invisible India.” To take them into the heart of middle-class India – CR Park in Delhi, Salt Lake in Calcutta. Throw them into CA Market and have them pick out the live chicken for dinner, converting one student to eternal vegetarianism when the person realized “where chicken actually came from.” Live animals. But those happy days were snatched from me and many others. Today’s class on Communication and Technology started on Zoom. And I realized something that I had suspected all along – students would rather be online than in class. The academic industry hype is to claim that students want to be in the classroom. Maybe not. They want to leave home after high school in America and get the “college experi