My New Book — Music Box and Moonshine

Flipping through

Music Box and Moonshine is my translation of 18 Bengali short stories — by famous authors from India and Bangladesh. Some of these authors are legendary and world famous — such as Rabindranath Tagore, Bibhuti Bhusan Bandyopadhyay, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Syed Mujtaba Ali, and Sunil Ganguly.

The book got launched — in fact, this month, at the famous Calcutta Book Fair. My wife represented me at the ceremony, and brought back a few copies. I was very happy to see the high-quality production. Moreover, Times of India did a wonderful story on me and some of my peer writers, writing and publishing from abroad.

Bina Biswas at Rubric Publishing in New Delhi was in charge of the entire publication process. She found the best-quality paper, two great artists — one doing the cover, and the other the inside illustrations (one for each of the 18 stories), and she made sure the printing and editing were flawless. She knew of my requirements for quality.

I’d also want to share this experience with you. A colleague named Tania at work here in New York this morning saw the book, and was very impressed. She asked, “So Partha, tell me, what is the meaning of the title?” It was a very reasonable question. I paused, and replied, “Music Box stands for poetry and musicality, and Moonshine stands for humanity.” Honestly, I did not think about the instant answer: it just came out of my mouth. And yes, that is the theme of the book, indeed.

I am so happy that this book got out, after a wait for nearly ten years. I have been translating Bengali short stories, poetry, and songs for many years. For this book, however, we did not want to make it too big; therefore, we took out a few other stories — stories I plan to include later. I plan to publish at least one more volume, if not more, of this series. There are so many great writers who adorned the ocean of Bengali literature with their pearls: how can I exclude them?

Some Bengali writers

I hope the book finds some commercial success — both in India and here in America. It’s now available at Amazon.in (click on this link), and will soon be available globally at Amazon.com .

Happily, I start reading events soon: March 9 is the first event here in New York. If you want to help us out by organizing reading, please let us know.

I deeply care for the subject of the book, and I worked passionately for it. I have a feeling once you pick up a copy of the book, you won’t be able to put it down.

Thank you for taking the time to read a small sample of the vast, endless treasures of Bangla literature.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York.

MBMS 1

A Cloud-Capped Star Sets

meghe-dhaaka-taaraSuddenly, a very happy day turned out to be not so happy.

It was my wife’s birthday yesterday, and she was celebrating a special birthday in Kolkata with her friends and family (we don’t call it extended family there — it’s just family). She doesn’t get such an opportunity: here in New York, it is a year-after-year routine visit to a restaurant of her choice between the small few of us, followed by watching a movie, only to rush back home in a terribly cold weather. Not much fun. Back there, it‘s always different. Her aunt cooked tons of food, and friends fed her with the ceremonial “payesh,” or rice pudding Bengali style.

Then, on the same day, I got the news of Supriya Chowdhury’s death. Or, Supriya Devi, as she was later known.

Even though it may seem far too sentimental and detached: like, why would I even care about the death of a film star I never knew, and only admired her acting on the silver screen? There is a reason. The two most important movies Supriya acted were “The Cloud-Capped Star” (Bengali: Meghe Dhaka Tara), and “E-Flat” (Bengali: Komol Gandhar), both directed by legendary filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak.

Note: If you want to know the riches of Bengali and Indian non-Bollywood (i.e., junk) movies, watch them. I can send you a list of such movies. They are subtitled.

These two movies, like some other movies by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Buddhadev Dasgupta, and such directors (Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta, Girish Kasaravalli, M. S. Sathyu are just a few others) made me what I am today — psychologically and intellectually. It made me what I am today — a progressive, democratic, socialist who believes in equality of all kinds.

The open, liberal, and progressive, intellectual Bengali consciousness I slowly got transformed to, from a closed-minded fanaticism and patriarchy that I originally had inherited — was possible because of honestly, Bengali literature, poetry, music, and yes, movies. Coupled with reading some history.

Supriya Chowdhury’s acting in Ritwik Ghatak’s movies made me appreciate the history of a bloody and traumatic British partition and its aftermath on our society, economics, and politics. It made me realize what we had lost as a nation, and what we did not gain. How the British stole our treasures, and transferred power to the rich feudals.

If Ritwik Ghatak was the writer of this script, Supriya was the personified conveyer of the message.

A picture tells a thousand words. Sure. A dark-skinned (and therefore not pretty by Indian and Bengali standards), tall, strong actress whose eyes and lips oozed sensuality (and therefore not acceptable within the prejudice of Bengali and Indian mediocrity) blew me away.

She made me a man, from a child.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York.

Supriya Chowdhury

A Real-Life American Experience

Ape

Here’s a real-life story from today’s America, the so-called “best country in the world.” A country that created fancy and fascination especially in India. Everybody in today’s India wants to get a piece of the dollar dream. Indian parents teach their children how to realize their dream to get to the dreamland.

But people like me who live and work here, and have been doing so for many years — with eyes open, have a different experience about the ground reality in USA. This is one such experience.

So, a young couple returning from India — two days ago, on Tuesday. Their plane landed at JFK airport here in New York. They had booked their tickets long ago to fly from NY to Jackson, Mississippi via New Orleans. They live and work in Jackson. But because there is extreme and unusual cold in those areas, they shut down the airports. Their scheduled flight was canceled.

Okay, fine, it happens. Airport and airline authorities told them … one, two, three-hour delays … before the next flight back home. Okay, fine, it happens.

Then, they said there would be no available flights until Saturday, and authorities and corporations would take no responsibility for their three extra days of stay or food or transportation in NYC, where they don’t know anybody. They were not the only ones: there were a few other people who got this news, including old men and women. Authorities said they had no legal obligations for their three unplanned days in New York City, because inclement weather-related airport shutdowns precluded them from paying any compensations!

So, after spending sixteen or eighteen hours at the airport, sleepless, exhausted and jet lagged, they eventually got in touch with me: the young woman’s father — an old friend — called me from Kolkata. I brought them over to my humble place in Brooklyn. At that point, the couple had already in transit all the way from India, for over fifty hours.

I reserve the urge to express my personal opinions on this story. You decide what’s going on here in USA. This won’t be news in New York Times or CNN. They have other more important things to talk about. This is small.

We, small people, don’t feature. Not in this “best country in the world.”

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York.

###

Occupy

Trump and His “Shithole”

Donald Trump, Narendra Modi

#MeShitholeToo!

What would I do if Trump calls my beloved country India “shithole?” Or, for that matter, Bangladesh or Pakistan — two other countries I dearly identify with?

Yesterday, at a dinner, Amy Goodman — famed journalist at Pacifica Radio and DemocracyNow! first told me that Trump said Africa, El Salvador and Haiti were “shithole countries.” Then, I saw it in Washington Post and NYTimes. At an immigration meeting with senators at the Oval Office, Trump asked why the United States would accept immigrants from “shithole countries,” rather than people from Norway.

Clearly, a racist, if not white supremacist, statement. Historic too!

I was greatly disturbed, and thought, well if that is the case, then it makes him the first officially recognized racist president in modern history. I posted a status update on Facebook, and then quickly deleted it because I didn’t want to make his supporters explode, and hurt me. I thought, I’d rather go low key: why irk these people?

Plus, I thought, isn’t it a provocation by elite media and their elite personalities who single out Trump’s hateful one-liners and Tweets, and sell bigger on knee jerk reactions, yet keep giving him passes on the more deadly economic, environmental, and war policies?

Sure, Trump’s shithole remark is obscene and racist (and now he denies it and his supporters defend it), but don’t the elite and the illiterate bigots alike use such words all the time, and that’s why the country is so hateful in the first place?

Are most Americans sane and civilized? What is your experience at workplace, at family gatherings, at bars, and at baseball games? Racism and bigotry can be seen everyday, everywhere.

What about the all-pervasive Islamophobia? What about the anti-immigrant hate? What about the nonstop police brutality on blacks? What about the union bashing and corporate giveaways? What about force-feeding extremely unhygienic and toxic food and drinks to the ordinary Americans? What about the nonstop war across the globe — on supremacist doctrines?

Elite, liberal media and their Oprahs and Maddows and Steinems will cash in on such prized, racist statements, but will otherwise actively support a war, violence, bigotry, and class-warfare-based system.

Trump and his hate and bigotry did not evolve in a vacuum.

At the same dinner meeting with Amy Goodman, we made acquaintance with a young guy named Jordan from Ohio. He told us a story from his life’s experience. In the suburb of a big city in Ohio, the town was expanding its games and sports facilities for the youth, but it wouldn’t include basketball in the expansion. At public meetings, some of the town executives and citizens would ask, “Why bring in basketball? Why bring in the thugs?”

The above story exemplifies the deeply-ingrained mindset of the average American people. It is this mindset that helped elect a racist man like Trump to be the president of the United States — a country that was built on the broken backs of immigrants and slaves. White supremacists have hate and disdain for the “others,” — i.e., people who are not white and of European, “Aryan” descent. The extremist types are KKK and such groups, and we know what they stand for. Many Trump supporters belong to them.

So, to answer the first question I began this article with: how would I feel if Trump calls my country of birth India, or Bangladesh or Pakistan — shithole countries?

I know how I would react. But I also how most other Indians would react.

A large majority today would react in one of these ways.

(1) India is no shithole, but Pakistan is. All those Islamic terrorists!

(2) Bangladesh is major shithole: it’s Muslim and f… poor.

(3) Africa is shithole. And so is Haiti. Salvador…we don’t care.

(4) Blacks are thugs. We Indians don’t like blacks.

(5) Trump is right.

People across India and across the world either participate in racist discussions, or stay silent when such hate happens. It’s my lifelong observation. I’ve seen similar mindset among many ordinary Americans too. Very few people challenge it. Very few.

And knowing India and America — the two countries I’ve lived in all my life, I know that’s the reason America has now elected Trump — a racist man — to be its president. I know that’s why India has now elected Modi to be its prime minister, a man who is a lifelong, indoctrinated member of RSS the Hindu supremacist organization — an organization whose follower Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi. Modi and some of his closest associates have been implicated in major anti-Muslim, anti-“low caste” violence and bloodshed.

And that’s why Trump and Modi are two closest allies in this global politics of hate.

Shithole, indeed, and it stinks!

Sensibly writing,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York.

###

 

Suchitra Mitra, A Legend

Suchitra Mitra

(Photo used only for non-profit, academic, informative use.)

A few years ago on January 4 — I think five or six years ago — I remember I walked into my college office early in the morning, turned on the computer, and went on to browse my routine newspapers. There was a news: Suchitra Mitra passed away.

For those who do not know, Suchitra Mitra was a legendary singer in Kolkata (Calcutta), who specialized in the songs of Rabindranath Tagore. She had a golden voice. Her enunciation was deep, meaningful, and flawless. Her dexterity in Tagore music was exemplary. She taught hundreds of students, and inspired millions more. She epitomized Tagore and his mastery of words, and inculcated it in the minds of us the intellectually disadvantaged youth.

For those who do not know, Rabindranath Tagore was a poet, philosopher, songwriter, novelist, and educationist. He got the first Nobel Prize ever in Asia — in any subjects. Tagore is an institution in the two Bengals and India.

For the musically oriented Bengalis such as myself, I grew up listening to diverse varieties of Indian and Bengali music. Classical Indian and Bengali, pre-Tagore oldies, devotional songs — Baul, Kirtan, and other genres, post-Tagore modern and contemporary, and also trashy and fantastic movie songs alike. But Tagore songs have always remained very special to us. And some Tagore exponents have remained in our hearts as our gurus, mentors, and teachers. As if they brought to us the Tagore whom we did not have an opportunity to see.

Suchitra Mitra was one such singer. Even my father, who had a Hindu fundamentalist upbringing and never understood Tagore that much (and regretted it in his later years), enjoyed listening to Suchitra Mitra. But he only liked her Tagore singing, and not her progressive political affiliation.

Suchitra Mitra was a lifelong believer in socialism. In her early years, she was a political activist, and in her later years, acted in a couple of socially-conscious movies. Her acting was wonderful. She was also a writer and poet.

Even though I have been at a number of Suchitra Mitra’s live performances over my years in Kolkata, I had only one chance to meet and talk to her. Students of the music school Rabi Tirtha (the Tagore Pilgrimage) that she founded gave her a lifetime achievement award, and I had a precious opportunity to be present on the occasion. She was gracious to grant me an informal conversation.

At the end of the conversation, I touched the feet of the legend. I was talking to her, and saying to myself, “Look Partha, you’re talking to someone who went to Tagore’s university, and spent her whole life mastering Tagore’s music. You’re talking to a legend who had once stopped a Hindu-Muslim communal riot by singing Tagore’s music of peace — in front thousands of arms-wielding people, about to kill each other.”

Suchitra Mitra also graciously gave me an autograph on that day.

I said to myself, “Partha, you are truly blessed.”

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York.

###

 

New York Fire Kills the Poor…Again!

Fire on 8th Street blog 1
Too many tragedies for the poor. Endless tragedies.

Exactly four years ago, I woke up at 5.30 in the morning here in Brooklyn, and found out that a house in our backyard was on fire.

My wife and I ran out to discover a lot of fire trucks, police officers in patrol cars, ambulances, and a whole host of media with their big cameras.

I took pictures and videos of the house in blaze, victims being carried out on stretchers, and firefighters throwing burning beds and furniture through the third-floor window on to the street. We learned that three young women — poor and unfortunate — were burned alive in that ill-fated house.

From our rear window on the third flood, we could see the charcoal-black building for years after. I walked past the abandoned house many times after.

Today, in the Bronx — another similar neighborhood in New York City — a similar house fire killed twelve people including two children. Poor and unfortunate, they fell victims to a continuously apathetic and inefficient system that does not care much for the poor and hapless people in this so-called “Best Country in the World.”

The poor and hapless die here in America all the time. Nobody knows. Nobody cares. The president, the governor, the mayor, the city council members…and of course, the privatized, profit-only economic and political system…

On December 20, 2013, I actually had a chance to talk to the media about this never-ending saga of the poor being victims of poverty, illiteracy, carelessness, and a ruthless, pro-1% administration. I told them that the city and country must work to stop these tragedies. Educate the people. Find ways to plug safety violations. Ask the landlords to make sure their tenants are safe. City council members must work for the people, rather than showing their faces once in four years at the time of the elections.

Nobody did nothing. This mighty city and this mighty country went on, rewarding the rich, and punishing the poor. Republicans or Democrats.

At that time, it was an aftermath of a ruthless, pro-rich Bloomberg government and his corporations and media. Now, it is a so-called pro-people De Blasio government, that has not done much at all to save these extremely vulnerable people from death.

The cycle goes on.

There will be a lot of talks, and there will be lot of finger-pointing after this massive, new tragedy. But I am afraid no substantive change will be made.

I hope I am proven wrong.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

###

BJP Wins Gujarat…and This is How.

Gujarat resultsBJP has won Gujarat 99-80, narrow margin. This is how it works in this fake, America-modeled “democracy” today — especially in India and USA.

(1) You don’t talk about issues that matter to the ordinary people (like, why do I work so hard, but still can’t make ends meet; or, why is my land forcibly taken by Monsanto or Coke; or, why is the pollution situation so horrific; or, why do I get rough treatment in offices when the party thugs and politicians get a royal treatment…etc.).

(2) You talk big, you talk fluff, you brand your opposition traitors, and you blame the Muslims and immigrants for your own failures. You make sure the richest of the rich are happy.

(3) For media, you show the same face of the top leader on TV ’round the clock, but do not ask him (or her) any controversial questions that might cost your media job, reputation, or life. Your questions, if any, are like a bland, barley soup, with no spices or salt.The supreme leader is de facto running for all constituencies and districts. Only his (or her) familiar face matters, and nothing else. The local candidates have little or no significance.

(4) You carefully avoid any sensational tragedy, violence, or crime during the election campaign (like, Roy Moore in Alabama, or the videotaped killing and burning of a Muslim man by a Hindu fanatic in Rajasthan). This is critical.

(5) You never apologize for anything (this is a big-time corporate policy, developed in USA — you never say sorry for any errors, lapses, or crimes). Do not ever admit any errors.This is a proven, corporate management policy. Do not ever give the media any opportunity to cash in on any errors you’ve committed (even though everybody knows it: like BJP’s big corporate donors — media will not surface it, unless you admit it).

With a stupid, toothless, and corrupt-to-the-core, weak opposition, you win. I am very surprised BJP barely managed to win. It shows they are not as smart as some of us think. And even this fake election fiasco brought them almost to defeat. Because their wrongdoings are so many, and so grave.

This cycle has continued, and will go on, forever, with this fake, America-modeled, two-party system. Corporate media will make sure alternative voices are never heard, or are downplayed and undermined. Like, the way New York Times and CNN and Democratic Party trashed Bernie Sanders. In India, it’s even easier, because educated liberals and left — still support Congress Party and its out-of-touch royalty.

By the way, almost ALL of the corporate news media did their own exit polls, and predicted BJP getting a much higher share of seats.

We know why.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

Port Authority Terror Today!

Dec 11 NYC terror
Photo Courtesy: New York Times (for non-profit, one-time-only, academic use.)

I express my sadness, frustration, and anger on such cowardly terrorist acts, and offer my sympathy for those who were hurt. Thank God, nobody lost their life.

Then, we talk about Islamophobia and Immigrant Bashing.

Every time something like it happens, it automatically makes people even angrier against immigrants and especially Muslim immigrants. People start calling names, and refuse to be in any discussion, any dialogue, or any debate.

Some media flare up the sentiment, and profit more. I am sure tomorrow’s papers will be flooded with sensational, front-page stories, with zero substantive discussion about the immigrant communities. In fact, immigrant communities will continue mistrusting one another, and even more.

I am also sure people like Trump of USA and Modi of India do not mind that hiked-up hatred, to win more elections, exploiting the anger. Misplaced anger also diverts attention from other real-life issues, such as money, jobs, education, health, environment. Violence on women and children. Police brutality. War. Gun violence.

It works so well! They have done it over and over again.

Yet, based on reports today, this idiot named Akayed Ullah, who blasted the bomb at Port Authority today lived in Brooklyn, and was from Bangladesh, and I know literally hundreds of Muslims from Bangladesh living in Brooklyn and New York. I live here. I work here.

I have no doubts in my mind that this nut represents a small, miniscule number of nuts, and the vast majority of immigrants — Muslim, Hindu or Christian, with papers or without — do not believe in violence. They believe in peace. They condemn violence of any kind.

Let us not divide ourselves even more, and fall prey to the traders of bigotry and hate.

Let us come together. Let us live in harmony and peace.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

###

25 Years of Babri Mosque and BJP

babri-masjid

Twenty-five years ago, on December 6, Hindu fanatics (who now support Trump) broke the law, conspired with police and politicians, and rammed through barricades to demolish an old mosque in North India.

They did not do it only to show their anger against Muslims, or to reclaim a piece of land they believed was the birthplace of Hindu god-reincarnate Ram. It was a political ploy to start massive violence and bloodshed across the country, and permanently polarize Hindus and Muslims to consolidate vote banks.

Thousands of innocent people were killed — mostly Muslim men, women and children — by RSS and BJP supporters and thugs. The incredible violence and mass killing brought back memories of horror that occurred during the 1947 British partition. A peaceful land was turned upside down.

BJP, along with their ideological mentor RSS, were not in the seat of power in 1992. The nationwide bloodshed and religious polarization since the Babri Mosque massacres, followed by a similar 2002 communal violence in Gujarat, brought them to the highest seat of power in India. They created and exploited hate. Just the same way Trump created and exploited hate.

Now, their leaders who were once implicated in the bloodshed have stopped talking violence, and media have done their best to make people forget about the history. Now these leaders have new ploys: demonetization (scrapping of currency) and destruction of a traditional, familiar economy.

Absolute, purposeful nonsense!

End result: India is now one of the most polarized places on earth. Hindus and Muslims are more hateful than ever before. The rich is now super rich, and the poor is now…poor. Bollywood stars, cricket players, corporate business leaders, and politicians are incredibly rich and powerful and celebrated by media, and are guarded 24/7 by special security forces, spending public money.

For the 99% in India, a man can be killed any time, a woman can be raped any time, and a child can be molested at school any time. It’s not only impossibly suffocating to breathe air in India. It’s impossibly suffocating to live your daily lives. If you don’t know how to be a part of this cruel, corrupt system, or refuse to be a part of it, you are doomed.

In twenty-five years, India — a place so close to my heart — has forever changed.

India’s Climate Catastrophe

Courtesy Indian ExpressCourtesy: Indian Express (for non-profit, educational use).

Reports from today, November 11, 2017. From: Newsweek, Bloomberg, and NDTV.

(1)

New Delhi’s air pollution has reached levels so toxic that United Airlines flights to the Indian capital city until it improves.

UA canceled their flights between USA and India, after evaluations found the air quality to be around 40 times the World Health Organization’s safety levels. India’s pollution is so bad that the city has turned into a “gas chamber.”

United said the city’s air conditions were severe enough to be considered a natural disaster, and to be avoided like a hurricane or wildfire would be.

(2)

New Delhi’s air quality consistently ranks among the worst in the world, but the city’s air pollution last week registered 10 times worse than the air in Beijing, which is notorious for its smog. Residents complain of burning eyes and itchy throats, and doctors said chest infections and respiratory illnesses have surged.

Authorities ordered 6,000 schools to close, trucks except those carrying essential supplies have been banned from entering the city for a week, and construction projects have been temporarily stopped.

(3)

India’s environment minister Harsh Vardhan appears to question recent global studies that claim lakhs of people die in India due to pollution. Dr. Harsh Vardhan told NDTV in an interview that “to attribute any death to a cause like pollution may be too much”.

The Lancet Countdown 2017 last month said air pollution had claimed as many as 2.5 million lives in India in 2015, the highest in the world. There have been other estimates as well, putting a different number to the lives lost due to air pollution. 

The environment minister continued:

“Certainly if you have a diseased lung and if the pollution is continuously damaging your alveoli (air sacks) then one day when you die, you can attribute the cause of death, to some proportion, to maybe pollution. But I don’t think we can generalise and say that millions of people are dying only due to pollution,” Harsh Vardhan told NDTV in an interview.

Dr Harsh Vardhan’s comment is in contrast to his response in February this year when another global study that estimated 11 lakh (1.1 million) deaths due to air pollution in India in 2015. He had then called air pollution a “silent killer” and a “slow poison” that could kill people, particularly children. “It can be a killer also. It can be like a slow poison. Which keeps destroying your alveoli in the lungs at a slow pace,” he had then said.

But Dr Harsh Vardhan wasn’t the environment minister in February. He is now.

And that is another example to show the people in power do not work for the ordinary, suffering people. We know who they work for. They don’t care if millions of innocent children, women and men die of carcinogens in a man-made, toxic environment. India is dying of a toxic environment.

I rest my case. You judge.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

###

Courtesy Indian Express 2
Courtesy: Indian Express (for one-time, non-profit, academic use.)