Circle of Life with Touch Points of Tangents


Our life often moves in a circle. The journey along the circle gives us a 3600 experience and different perspectives enriching our lives.

For some, the shape of the circle is not perfect and there are broken lines, double lines and distortions. The diameters of the circle are different for different people. The color and thickness of the line of the circle may also vary. So, each circle is unique.

On our circular life, we keep moving forward on a curve, changing the course of our life without realizing that we are returning to the same point where we had started.

During this journey, our circle is touched by “tangents”. These tangents come as a surprise, appear without much notice, create “touch points” on the curve and leave us or “diverge” from our circle never to come back again.  The touch points are the golden or sometimes sad moments of our lives.

In this post, I am narrating three interesting touch points in my circular life. I begin with my encounter with a top Hindi singer of India, then with a Professor of an International repute in Vienna Airport and ending with meeting an interesting woman in Washington DC. All these touch points are diverse and different but collectively communicate lessons I learnt in my life.

This is my New Year Post. All my best wishes my blog readers. Hope to continue with you sharing of my thoughts and experiences.

I was the Music Secretary while studying at IIT Bombay. It was 1974. Mood Indigo, the famous cultural festival, was just launched. We wanted to invite Talat Mahmood, one of India’s best Ghazal singers for one of the nights. Talat Saab was renowned for his quivering and silky voice. He reached on time with his “crew” at the IIT Student Gymkhana.

As expected, his rendering of songs was intoxicating and heavenly. He chose some of the best but forgotten Ghazals. The accompaniment on the accordion was simply superb. The program that was originally estimated to end by 1 30 am ended at 2 30 am because of the demanding audience. And Talat Saab was gallantly honoring the requests of all being a good soul.

The crew started packing. Talat Saab was to take first flight to Delhi at 6 30 am. He was in a fix whether to leave for the airport from the campus at IIT. Originally, he was planning to get dropped at Bandra (West) and take a small nap for couple of hours.

He asked my advice. “Prasad, going directly to the airport from IIT makes a sense. No point to go to Bandra as it is already 3 am” – he said.

“But Sir, it will take only 20 minutes to reach the airport at this nightly hour from IIT.  If you leave now, then you will be at the airport by 3 30 max – some 3 hours early. One and a half hour is generally sufficient and you will be wasting your time and probably get more fatigued because you will chased by your fans once they find you at the airport” I told Talat Saab.

“You are right, well then, what do you suggest?” asked Talat Saab.

Suddenly, I thought of an idea. Except for the accordion player (I don’t remember now whether he was the great Enock Daniels), other members of the crew had left as they were not going to Delhi. I suggested Talat Saab that can he consider singing a few special Ghazals with the accompaniment of the accordion. He could sing the Ghazals that he does not normally render in public.


Talat Mahmood Saab surrounded by the natural beauty of Jog Falls

“Oh, that’s a great suggestion, I often miss doing odd pieces – many of them so quaint and so dear to my heart”. Said the Maestro.

For the next hour, Talat Saab took us to another world – something so private. He sang Ghazals of Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, K.L. Saigal and M.A. Rauf. When he sang Ghazals of these stalwarts, he would bow down, say humbly “gustakhi maaf” (means pardon me Sirs for venturing to imitate you). That was so touching. He ended with Tasveer teri dil mera behela nah sake gi one of his greatest and most remembered non-filmy songs.

I dropped him and the accordion player at the airport. I learnt how to be warm and humble from this great singer. I never met Talat Saab again but this encounter made a touch point in my life.

I was always fascinated by the research published by Professor Daniel Peter Loucks of Cornel University. Many of you belonging to faculty of civil engineering might have followed his text books.

One of his books that I greatly admire is “Water Resources Systems Planning and Management An Introduction to Methods, Models”. Professor Loucks wrote this 600+ page book with Eelco van Beek of Netherlands. You can download the entire book from here

Apart from his research, publications and numerous awards that he received, Professor Loucks is known as a Teacher Par Excellence. He states on his website

“In the course, I teach in public systems modeling. I attempt to make it both challenging and enjoyable.   If we are not having fun, then I have failed.   I encourage questions and arguments.  That way we all learn more about how to analyze and identify and evaluate possible solutions to public sector issues and problems”

In 1987, International Association of Water Pollution Research & Control set up an international group of experts on Systems Analyses in Water Quality Management. I was included as a member of this prestigious group. Prof Loucks was obviously listed and my name appeared right next to him (alphabetically L (loucks) to M (Modak). I was so thrilled and felt honored to be cited “next to him”. I was wondering when will I get a chance to meet the Professor.


Professor D P Loucks

I was returning from Vienna to Mumbai after an assignment from UNIDO. Vienna was under heavy snow and the flights were delayed. I was flying Swiss Air. The check-in counter was reconfirming the passenger names by a call out as some passengers were opting to shift from Swiss Air to other airlines. During these announcements, I heard a call out “Professor Loucks Please”. My head turned around and I saw a “Professorial person” in early fifty’s walking to the counter with a long overcoat. I was astonished with this coincidence.

After Professor Loucks dealt with the lady at the counter, I approached him and introduced myself. Meeting him by chance at Vienna Airport was simply amazing. Professor Loucks was in International Institute of Applied Systems Analyses in Vienna and was returning to the United States.

We grabbed two tall stools with a round table in a coffee shop. The flights were delayed by 2 hours at least.  Professor Loucks was very kind to a youngster (and nobody) like me. He listened to me attentively. I discussed with him about precipitation hydrology and ideated that the same “theory” could perhaps be used for simulating air pollutants at multiple sites in an “air shed”. I remember, when he heard me, he smiled and said “Dr Modak, you are in the right path, innovation happens when you read work done in other fields without any walls or silos. That’s what I call as “interdisciplinary thinking”.

The two hours of discussion I had with Professor Loucks became a touch point in my circular life. I gained confidence in my convictions, picked up new messages and got inspired. Professors sharp interjections in the conversations with politeness taught me the art of being open, friendly and yet critical.

I was in Washington for projects with the World Bank. I always stayed at Fairmont hotel. I love the place.

One of my colleagues from the World Bank was to see me in the lounge for a discussion. We decided to meet at 4 30 pm. I was in the lounge at 4 25 pm waiting for him.

There was a woman sitting in the chair in front of me – probably waiting for someone. She was wearing a grey colored suit. She was looking at her watch and was busy texting on her mobile.

My friend from the word bank was getting delayed. I got a call from him – “Prasad, I am stuck as boss wants me to I see him – Gimmie another 15 min please”. I said “granted”. Life in most corporates like the World Bank is often driven by the “bosses”. But after 5 min I received a SMS, “Delayed to 6 pm, but please don’t go away”. “Typical World Bank”, I muttered a bit loudly (not realizing). The woman in the front chair smiled probably understanding my irritation.


Lounge at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington DC

Just then she received a phone call. I sensed her anger and frustration as she was responding “Look Bill, I have been waiting for you at the Fairmont Lounge for quite a while now.  Let me know whether you will be coming at all. You and your folks at the World Bank have never been on time”. Her voice was raised.

She looked at me and said in an apologetic tone “Sorry, I got a bit worked up. I was expecting someone from the World Bank. I have been waiting for quite a while already and it looks like that the guy won’t show up before 6 pm”

We decided to go to the coffee shop to while away the time. The woman turned out to be a very talkative person. “What do you to Jean?” I asked “Well, I work in the field of Cleaner Production in Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). I am working as a Short Term Consultant for the World Bank in Kenya”. I introduced myself and passed Jean my name card. “Oh, that’s you then Prasad… “Jean exclaimed. I have read your work. I have been looking for you – and what a chance to meet!”

We chatted then about my experiences of working with SME clusters and debated on strategies that work and which don’t. I told her about my work in countries such as Vietnam, Egypt, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines etc.

Jean was quite a meticulous person and was taking notes as I was making some “profound statements”. I got some sharp questions from her and really enjoyed intelligent conversation with this wonderful woman. I wished that the Bank folks come late or don’t even turn up.

We had two rounds of Colombian coffee. It was nearly 6 pm. And alas, I saw my friend from the World Bank walking across to us. I thought of asking Jean to join our conversations.

Just then Jean got a call from her World Bank contact. She had another animated conversation.

“OK Prasad, so venue has changed to Four Seasons. I have to go. Pity that I am not carrying my name card right now – but sure I will be chasing you” She said with a warm smile with dimples.

Her eyes while parting showed how interested she was to keep in touch and how much she had enjoyed our conversations.

Unfortunately, we never met afterwards – but we did exchange emails for a while.

But I thought that this time, the “situation” was different.  I was perhaps her touch point and I knew she would tell story of our conversations to someone.

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  1. HNY Prasad. we were together in AIT and enjoyed the time we spent there. i dont know if you recall we met in Pune and you came to my house and I was frustrated that Pune University didn’t have the AIT as a recognised institution in their catalogue and i couldn’t pursue my doctoral studies there. then came your suggestion why dont I go and meet the folks at IIT B. I remember you saying profound things like why do you want to downgrade your qualifications by opting for the local universities. IIT is your place they will accept you with open arms. it was so true and next thing happened was my admission and payment of the princely sum of Rs 150 per semester fee.

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