Conversations at Thirty Six Thousand Feet

Last weekend i flew to Kolkata for a break. It was a not very usual Friday evening and I was really charged up as I was meeting a real special person and compounded by the fact that I had not taken a break in a year’s time. It was a comfortable emergency exit seat with adequate leg room in a  tidy Singapore Airlines flight. The  pre-recorded Bengali announcement was in ‘sadhu basha’ or Victorian era Bengali which drew a smirk from NRI type Calcutta bongs who are more used to watching urbane ‘antel’ Srijit or Anjan Dutt cinema.

I thought that the almost four hour flight from Singapore to Kolkata would be an endless eager and excited journey in anticipation, which it anyway was. I had a few flutters in my stomach after a rather crazy week. But it was pleasantly punctuated with an abrupt focus group discussion, which organically started with my immediate next door neighbor across the not so wide aisle asking me ‘It is an interesting book’?’ (I had picked up a super pricey , but uber cool Monocle Good Business Guide at the Duty Free Book Shop). Then a brief conversation started off from what we do for a living and we figured out that I am a full-time Policy Researcher and the gentleman was a top shot IT Honcho who studied Aerospace Engineering at IIT Kharagpur but had worked in IT since the late 1990’s in India, Singapore, Thailand and the United States in core Information Technology. He had worked on building and re-building tech delivery platforms of ObamaCare and he recollected the painful ordeal of fixing a messed up system. As he was presently working at a financial services major now, he said that the challenge is not there but he has a semblance of a work-life balance. Yup, he traded in the fun for a happier wife.

The IT honchos  window seat neighbor was a sustainability architect working on building smart cities in India based at a premier urban planning firm. He also happened to be from my same alma mater at graduate school. The chilled out dude was heading out to Kolkata to get engaged to his long time partner. The fact that she studied at a local school in India and logged on a 2x salary compared to him as she is aha! again in Fintech, seemed to be a point of concern (Indian men will be Indian men).

The conversation revolved around from how there is no proper Healthcare access for the Middle America to how Decision Science is all about predictive analytic and that current day programming is about optimization of the equation influencing the curve, and doing manual calculations faster. Machine Learning, Public Health and Energy Efficient Buildings over Jim Beam and Red Label with diet coke and ginger ale at 40k feet proved that Bengalis can have ‘adda’ or a discussion; anywhere and anytime.

The IT Guy shared some real words of leadership wisdom with the two of us. He told us that focusing on what the organization needs, will help us to grow better rather than obsessing over details. Corporate leaders grow by focusing on priorities and making money is not bad, were real take aways from the discussion.

The icing to this rather splendid discussion was rather dashing Delhi based Air Stewardess in a smashing Serong Kebaya who joined us (with a particular interest in exploring what was I reading) and discussed Farhan and Zoya Akhtar films , writing and good reads for a good 25 minutes before landing in Kolkata. I am not very used to attention from Air Stewardesses although I have been a frequent flier as a consultant for many years.

Human beings have an innate need to talk and if the conversations are as cool as this, the better it is. Of course, an expensive full service airline ticket would not ensure this peculiar experience all the time.


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