I was initiated to the internet some time in 1996. I took to it as a duck to the water. I figured out the freebies real quick. Even if the coffee mug did not survive the flight to Calcutta a ten dollar made it to my door step through the snail mail.
It was a matter of time that the novelty wore off. I started concentrating on using the web in ways that resulted in better satisfaction for the time and efforts spent. During the early days I was unguarded and ignorant of concepts like identity theft.
Awareness of risks came with watching movies like “The Net” that was made in 1995. My personal experiments have been largely been positive. There were some situations that left a bitter after taste, but that did not deter me from the experiments and forays to this new world. Tracking down lost contacts was a favorite pastime and has remained so till date. It makes me feel like a distant disciple of Sherlock Holmes.
The first success was tracking down Sumantra Chattarji. We had been to the same college and the last I saw of him was when he was down with jaundice and was being served glucose drinks by his fiancé. That was twelve years back. This was 1997 and I was in my first ERP implementation in Calcutta. One evening I was waiting for my colleagues to wind up and decided to try searching for this Chattarji.
This was a somewhat rare strain of the otherwise abundant Chatterjee’s of the world, and interestingly Yahoo came up with a result. This was a woman living in Boston. I emailed a friend and asked him whether he could call up this number. The following morning there was this email from Sumantra bursting at its seams with joy and surprise. It was amazing; especially in India in 1997.
Since then I have routinely used the cyberspace to trace people in the brick and mortar world. Tracking down some is easy and uneventful. But I got a kick out of rediscovering Shankar Acharya. The name isn’t a rare one and is ethnic to a populace spanning over half of the country. The Shankar I was interested in went to school with me. 1976 was the last time we met and this was the summer of 2006.
Google presented a number of Shankar Acharyas to choose from. The ones that did not fit the age group were easy to discard. After a day or so I realized that the economist that cropped up in each search was also not the one I was after. Then someone told me Shankar most probably lives in Delhi.
I dug up the electoral records of a Shankar that tagged him to the M.C. Primary School, Pitampura polling station. I learned that his father was 77 in 2003 and Antaryami was his grandfather. I even got names and ages of a brother and sister-in-law; but I still did not have the information needed to contact and validate whether this was the correct Shankar.
Then someone told me he was a medical doctor and I knew that I was close. I zoomed onto this “senior spinal fellow” at a Delhi hospital. A photo on the website looked like him. There was an email id that I immediately wrote to. I could not get through to the phone number so I asked a friend to also try.
He was luckier than I was and the following day I had the pleasure of breaking the news to a crowd. I have not been as lucky always. Some trails have gone cold; some have been non starters. After two years of searching I once found out my subject has passed away. Once when I searched for Sandip Samanta, Google asked me “Did you mean: sandip samantha?” Move over Fox, there is a new Samantha in town.