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.

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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.

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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.

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