Fascinating France and Incredible Italy!

I’m borrowing this article from Mukti’s Kitchen, a well-known Indian cooking class in New York. Visit her website and Yelp reviews from her students.

Mukti and I just came back from a trip to Italy and France. It was wonderful. This is an overview of our trip. I’ll write more in the coming weeks.

Although the vacation was too short, and both the countries have so many beautiful places you can see, it was simply great to be able to visit Paris and Rome. It is only a matter of time before we go back, and check out places we missed this time.

In Paris, we took a bus tour to see the famous sites. Of course it included the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Luxembourg Garden, the Pantheon, the Latin Quarters, and Louvre. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go inside the Louvre, and it was already very crowded in late May. But we compensated for that gap by taking a boat cruise along the Seine at night, and to see the Tour Eiffel lit up and glittering like gold was phenomenal.

Eiffel Tower

[Author and his wife Mukti in front of Eiffel Tower]

Paris is truly a wonderful, artistic city, and we had a knowledgeable, young guide who helped us to understand the depth of history that the city offers. And the cleanliness everywhere — on the street, along the metro trains, Paris can definitely brag to be one of the most well-cared-for big cities in the world. And Parisians were, unlike what we often hear, were extremely helpful and kind. Many French people speak English, and those who do not also try their best to help you out.

Our second stop was Italy, where we spent one more day than we did in France. There, we depended on our walking skills to roam through the city of Rome. Rome has incredible history: from the Colosseum to the Forum to the Pantheon to some of the oldest churches including  Santa Maria in Trastevere to the markets at Campo di Fiori. Rome was simply fascinating!

Colosseum

[Photo by author]

Our added attractions were to visit the city of Naples by a 300-kilometer per hour high-speed train, and then also take a local train ride to the ancient ruins of Pompeii. Unbelievable history, incredibly precious experience. Pompeii  was destroyed by a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius (which is still a live volcano!), and the skeletons of the little town houses, gardens, pools, markets, and streets still stand to tell us about that great tragedy. Even some of the bodies buried live in the mudslide and lava are preserved as “fossils”. A very touching, heartbreaking story we heard since our childhood in Calcutta.

Pompeii preserved body

[Photo by author]

In both Italy and France, we had many opportunities to taste their foods, beverages and desserts. Simply put, I have never tasted food so real, fresh, and delicious — outside of my own kitchen. Even at the moderately-priced hotel in Rome, the breakfast they served early in the morning was so normal and natural: the cheese and tomato and bread and fruits and yogurt were absolutely fresh.

France and Italy have done a remarkable job to keep their foods out of the clutches of food doctoring, preservatives, and artificial flavor- and chemical-producing companies. I remember when we went to Granada and Barcelona in Spain a few years ago, we had a very similar experience.

Whether it was the chicken dish we ate at a  restaurant in the Trocadero in Paris or the crêpe in the Latin Quarters, or whether it was the pizza or pasta we tasted at small streetside eateries in Naples and Rome, they were simply high quality. And not pricey at all. Very affordable: the average people eat there all the time. Even the fruit juices we tried in both countries were pristine. The orange juice tasted like real, fresh orange.

And the countless gelato (ice cream) corners in both countries — so lovely!

So glad we took the trip. Short, but memorable and sweet. We shall return.

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Farmers Market at Campo di Fiori

[Photo by author]

Visiting France and Italy…and Comparing Them with USA and India — An Analysis

2018-05-26 12.46.42The Roman Forum — Relics of the ancient city. Julius Caesar was assassinated here.
(Photo by author)

[Blogs can sometimes work better than Facebook. At least, that’s the hope I have here. Or, maybe, in this Era of Post Reason, nobody cares. Maybe, nobody wants to read anymore about history, politics, economics, or such “boring” subjects. We gathering most of our knowledge from corporate media, and imagine the rest of it.]

I just returned from a short vacation in France and Italy, and planned to write a series of articles on what I saw there, comparing their situation with that in USA and India. I write them on this blog, segment by segment.

Here is part one: a historical narrative, sort of.

The Poor Immigrants Today: Politically Exploited and Socially Excluded

When Hitler rose to power in 1930’s Germany, he tricked his country’s men and women into believing that he was the true and honest voice of the ordinary Germans, who can rescue the country from “economic misery” and “social anarchy.” He created an environment of ultra-patriotism that made people believe that (1) Germany’s economy is unraveling because of a post-WWI “punishing” Versailles Treaty, and also because of Jews that he said were living as parasites with no allegiance for the nation of Germany and its supremacy, and (2) in order to get out of the mess and re-establish “Old Glory,” Germany must withdraw from global economic agreements, drive out its Jewish aliens, and assume military power by secretly building an incredibly huge arsenal.

We know the rest of the history.

In 2016, Donald Trump came to power in USA — once a laughable proposition — by championing an “America First” slogan that almost exactly copied from Hitler’s book of propaganda. He threatened to withdraw from global economic treaties, impose trade embargo on China and Europe, and through his far right media outlets, blamed Muslim and Mexican immigrants for the economic “ills” of America. In his many speeches, he openly called immigrants as “murderers and rapists.” His Republican Party that over the years became a far right-wing party with fascistic trends, sided along with him, and a weak and corrupt Democratic Party with its inefficient leadership failed to stop him from becoming the president of America. Hitler also had exploited a weak, corrupt and inefficient Weimar Republic for Germany’s “miserable” situation.

History is repeating itself today in other parts of the world. We have seen it in today’s India, where a far right, fringe grassroots organization called the RSS and its political front BJP have assumed an once-unthinkable majority in the parliament, with Narendra Modi as the prime minister of India, whose visa the U.S. government revoked after his alleged mastermind role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riot in the state of Gujarat where he was the chief minister. A man affiliated with the RSS had once killed Mahatma Gandhi. In 1992, these Hindu supremacist groups were responsible for a massive, bloody carnage across India.

History repeats, but people forget the history very quickly. Mainstream media and politicians make them forget.

In Europe today, we see the same scenario unfolding. In France and Italy, two countries I visited last week, see this trend. In the recent presidential election, far right wing candidate Marie Le Pen received an unprecedented high percentage of votes, and became the biggest opposition to liberal Emmanuel Macron, who eventually won the election. In Paris, we have seen many “Frexit” signs on lamp posts — following the “Brexit” (British economy out of the Euro Zone) fallout. Far right lives even among the free Parisians.

As we all know, the British powers have always colluded with American powers, to create war (Iraq war on a fake WMD pretext being the most recent example), violence and havoc across the world — going against the wishes of the rest of the human civilization. Brexit consequences helped Trump to consolidate his “America First” propaganda even further.

In Italy, the newly elected president Sergio Mattarella won against a powerful anti-EuroZone, far right coalition led by a heir of WWII dictator Mussolini. Chances are, Mattarella, a weak president, will not survive his presidency long. We just came back from Rome and Naples. People are not happy with the way the new government is running.

Anti-immigrant sentiments are high, and poor immigrants we spoke with look grim, scared, isolated, excluded, and sad.

In all of the countries above — during the present and past — poor, hapless immigrants are bearing the brunt of the economic chaos and social unrest that they are not responsible for. The 1% is now 0.0001% in USA, and the so-called “American Dream” is long lost — for most people. Northern Europe and Scandinavian countries practicing social democracy and with a strong labor union are doing a little better. The American situation is potentially catastrophic. The Indian situation is explosive.

America’s wars across the world and their aftermath have created a new generation of destitute, and millions have fled Bangladesh, India, Pakistan (former British colonies), Mali, Algeria, Senegal, Morocco (former French colonies), Tunisia, Albania, Libya, Ethiopia (former Italian colonies) — places which were even further ravaged by a global war-waging American military industry. Vietnam was also a French colony, before USA inflicted the historic genocide and barbarism.

Poverty, illiteracy, and health crises are dangerously high in the undocumented immigrant and refugee communities. They are trapped, with nowhere to go.

History repeats itself, but people do not remember history. Those who do, an ignorant, violent, or complacent populist culture excludes them from their association and awareness.

(To be continued).

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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Satyajit Ray’s Genius

May 2 is Satyajit Ray’s birthday.

Most people outside of Calcutta or Bengal do not know much about this legend, this genius. Those who do know in India, America or Europe know him as a master movie director, who got an Oscar award for his lifetime achievement. Movie buffs may find out that major international film scholars and critics have included him as one of the top ten or twenty genius film directors, ever!

Great.

Yet, he was so much more than that. Not only he was also a bestseller writer, artist, and a master musician who had major expertise in both Western and Indian music, he along with some other legendary movie makers and storytellers changed the way people thought about film as an art form. We can perhaps put Kurosawa, Godard, Antonioni, Truffaut, Bergman, Di Sica, and so on.

Kurosawa RayKurosawa said this famously about Ray: “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.”

Satyajit Ray was a major, very powerful departure from Bollywood. And he accomplished this great revolution with shoestring budgets, and often in dire financial predicaments. Especially his watershed movie “Pather Panchali” (Song of the Road, 1955) almost collapsed because of lack of funding. He sold his wife’s jewelry to continue.

Ray’s movies and his entire life’s work were symbols of progressive thinking, racial, caste and gender equality, rejecting hate, bigotry, fanaticism, and religious superstitions. He carried forward what we call “Bengal Renaissance” that challenged religious and social orthodoxy in India.

Three DaughtersIf Rabindranath Tagore was a most important lightening rod during the British Indian period, I believe Satyajit Ray played that role in modern India’s post-British era.

A comparison with Charlie Chaplin comes to mind, where they were both absolute masters in all areas of the art of film making, and combined entertainment and social education — with total, amazing ease.

Of course, his Apu Trilogy is much celebrated in the West, but if you asked me, my two other favorites were his Calcutta Trilogy, and later his anti-war, anti-fascism triology also known as the Gupi and Bagha trilogy

Today, when India, America and many parts of the world are going through a massive, scary surge of fanaticism, hate and bigotry, Satyajit Ray’s creations help us to rekindle faith in modern thinking, scientific reasoning, and employment of art as powerful social education.

Let us remember this Bengali Indian maestro.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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The Adversary

The Cricket-ball Tampering Scandal

Australian captain Smith’s Ball Tampering: Cricket scandal and corruption.

So, they tampered with the ball, made it more effective (using illegal means), and got caught by camera. Then, Smith and some other players were punished by their cricket board, and banished for a year or so from playing cricket.

Yet, it is so commonplace occurrence in India and Pakistan!

Why India or Pakistan is so corrupt, and Australia or New Zealand is not? Aussie and NZ people and press and governments expose the perpetrators, and bring them to justice. In India and Pakistan, they worship the corrupt as gods, hide the scandals, and pretend they are all as clean as angels. They even give them national awards. The most corrupt are the richest. Nothing — no consequences — ever happen to the rich and celebrity in India, and this complete lack of accountability has made these countries so corrupt.

Here’s a SHORT list of stories — written by other journalists and bloggers — where India and Pakistan cricket players and officials have been caught of cheating on or off the ground. Just click on the links below.

And there are many, many stories that I did not have time to include. It’s a dark, shameful history.

Sincerely,
Partha Banerjee
Brooklyn, New York

_____________________________

[India’s star player and captain] Dhoni guilty of corrupt conduct, claims lawyer in Mudgal case

FIR against MS Dhoni’s wife Sakshi in multi-crore fraud case: Reports

Corruption in Cricket Exposes India’s Larger Failings

Most damning incidents of match-fixing in past 15 years

[Former Sri Lanka captain] Arjuna Ranatunga says India vs Sri Lanka World Cup final was fixed, wants probe

Was the World Cup semi-final fixed [in 2015]?

Just not cricket? A history of cheating claims against Pakistan

SACHIN TENDULKAR: FACE OF CORRUPTION IN INDIA

[There are many more…]

My New Book — Music Box and Moonshine

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

Suddenly, 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

Suchitra Mitra, A Legend

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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Celebrate Diwali in America

kids-diwali-photosA SINCERE PROPOSAL.

No, not to big politicians or big media. They are too busy, and their priorities are too different.

I am making this humble request to you: my friends, colleagues, supporters and well wishers. I propose that we all celebrate Diwali — the Festival of Lights — here in USA, the Land of Diversity. Celebrate it as a secular, social festival. I invite everyone: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, socialists, greens.

Light up. Lighten up. Have a party. Mark your calendar. Google the date.

Even though Diwali has a deep connection with Hinduism, and it always falls on the day after the auspicious Kali Puja or the worship of Goddess Kali the Demon Slayer, Diwali is now a pan-Indian festival, both in India and all over the world, wherever Indians are. And you can find us everywhere: America, Europe, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Zambia or Zanzibar. And people from all religions celebrate it with much fanfare. In fact, in my opinion, perhaps next to Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Eid, Kwanzaa and Yom Kippur, Diwali is a festival that many Americans are aware of.

Of course, thanks to a blanket exclusion by corporate media, even those who have heard about Diwali and know that it has something to do with India or Indians and Hindus or Hindi do not know what it is really all about. So, every time somebody asks me what is the occasion they saw fireworks over the Hudson next to Brooklyn Bridge, I take the time to explain to them that Diwali — the Festival of Lights — is an autumn festival when people all over India lighten up their houses with small or big lights, and celebrate with fireworks, followed by fabulous food and sumptuous sweets.

I then take the time to explain to them that it is a symbol for the victory of the good over evil, or for the more religious, triumph of good karma over bad karma.

Then everyone understands, and greets me, saying, “Happy Diwali.” And that makes me happy too.

🙂

Diwali fireworksNow, fireworks, followed by sweets are big in India. Here in America the so-called Land of Freedom, they have imposed so many restrictions on our lives that we don’t even know how restricted we are. We can’t blow our mandatory Hindu conch shells outside of the temples and designated schools or community halls where we’re having our celebrations. We can’t lighten up our pious, ceremonial, invocation firewood almost anywhere, let alone outside the designated areas. Fireworks, even the silent, small and beautiful ones, our children can’t play with without having special permission from the city administration. You can’t even buy fireworks in New York City for Diwali, unless you are a big business group, and have resources and connections and permissions to do it over the Hudson next to Brooklyn Bridge.

Truly, believe it or not, even for the less-religious like me, it’s mighty stifling.

But no, I’m not proposing that we be given permission to crack our fireworks anywhere we like. I’m not even proposing that we be given permission to light up our ceremonial, religious fire inside our wooden houses. I know how dangerous it can be. Just like any responsible New Yorker, I would be very reluctant to undermine the safety of me, my family, and my neighbors. We are responsible, enlightened citizens.

All I’m proposing that let us all celebrate Diwali — the Festival of Lights — in its true, secular, inclusive spirit, inviting everyone in America to be a part of it. Let us observe Diwali this year, and every year, to show our real spirit of inclusion and diversity, and make this colorful, social festival a known event in the American household.

Happy-DiwaliAnd if not for the fireworks, approved or not by the government officials, let us rejoice Diwali at least for its food and sweets part.

If Yoga can be a popular, household practice for today’s America and especially its open-minded young generation, why can’t Diwali? Both are spiritual. Both are secular and inclusive. Both celebrate life. Both inspire health and happiness.

And if you are truly worried about your health and happiness due to the plentiful of Indian food and sweets, we shall make them low-calorie for you.

Heck, we could even make them totally fat- and sugar-free.

🙂

Let’s celebrate Diwali this year.

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How I Celebrated Diwali This Year in America

Diwali must be a national holiday in America, the so-called Land of Diversity. It’s a beautiful, colorful, and secular festival. Let us all celebrate it.

Diwali — Festival of Lights — must be a national holiday in America.
_____________________________________________________

No, I did not celebrate Diwali this year in America in a significantly different way from the other years.

No, I did not celebrate it with firecrackers. Firecrackers are not allowed in New York unless you have a special permit for a special occasion. And Diwali is not a special occasion unless you do it as a big business group, together with other big businesses.

I did not celebrate Diwali visiting from makeshift Kali temple to makeshift Kali temple, as I did back in Calcutta. There is no makeshift temple in New York, or anywhere else in the U.S.

I did not celebrate Diwali taking the bus, tram or train to visit a family or friend — wearing new Indian dresses. Even in a place like New York City where they brag about diversity a lot and where over two hundred languages are spoken and five million religions are observed, it’s practically unthinkable to walk across the town in a sari, kurta, punjabi or salwar. You can find a few people walking in their ethnic dresses in a small, dingy neighborhood of the town where they live in large numbers — on one or two special days in the year. But that’s about it. I do not live amongst them.

I did not celebrate Diwali as a holiday. Diwali, or any other non-Judeo-Christian celebrations are no holidays. Most people here in America don’t even know what Diwali, Deepavali, or Durga Puja is.

BUT, THIS YEAR, I CELEBRATED DIWALI IN A PERSONALLY CELEBRATORY, SUBTLE WAY.

I hope some of you — readers of my blog living in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia or South America — think about doing something similar in your own circles. This is one small way you can make a difference.

This is a small way you can make a difference in peoples’ attitude about us, the invisible others.

_____

Beautiful, isn't it?
Beautiful, isn’t it?

I went to teach my weekend labor workshop, as I always do, in a remote corner of Long Island. Some forty union workers — brothers and sisters came to attend my class today. Some belonged to a Greek orthodox club. Some belonged to a women’s association. Some were rank and file union members.

I spoke with some of the leaders who I’ve always considered open-minded and willing to learn about other countries and cultures. I knew they would much appreciate my little idea.

I told them before the class began that today and tomorrow would be the Diwali weekend. I told them what Diwali or Deepavali — Festival of Lights — was all about. I told them that over one billion people were now observing Diwali as their biggest festival of the year.

So, before the class began, in their introductory speeches welcoming the students, they wished everybody a Happy Diwali. They relayed my information back to them. I even drew a little greeting sign on my flip chart with colored markers, complete with the familiar Diwali lamps.

It went well. People were happy to know about it. They wished me back.

_____

But, the real surprise was this.

During the coffee break, when they normally show a work-related video to the participants each week, they invited me, and played a three-minute-long National Geographic video on Diwali (click here to watch it). The video showed how people are celebrating this happy occasion in Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore and Calcutta with much fanfare. It showed the firecrackers kids are playing with on the neighborhood streets. The video showed Indian families — Hindus and Muslims alike — eating and sharing sweets, and wishing one another.

At the end of the two-minute video, the Greek orthodox club members, the women’s association sisters, and the rank and file members all clapped. Then, they wished me a Happy Diwali again.

It made my day. It put a big smile on my face.

I realized I didn’t wait for big media — CNN, Fox or New York Times — to tell Americans about Diwali.

I realized that with some effort, you can enlighten people a lot.

Just the way Deepavali does it.

May Goddess Kali Bless You All.

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Reminds me how my mother used to decorate our small, mezzanine apartment with clay lamps and candles.
Reminds me how my mother used to decorate our small, mezzanine apartment with clay lamps and candles.

Devout and Liberal, Muslim and Musician!

Image

People tell me that I sometimes write angry blogs. They say I must tone down. They say, calm is good for your heart.

I agree.

Therefore, I’ve decided to write in a calm, peaceful, toned-down manner. I’ve decided not to use phrases or phenomena that might irk people unnecessarily.

Rather, I’ve decided not to use a language that might irk people unnecessarily. I can’t promise I won’t write on controversial subjects. But I promise that I shall try to put it in a softer, subtle manner.

See, I do it periodically, and then I get angry again. Especially when situation around me becomes too stressful.

But, leaders, thinkers and no-name blog writers can’t afford to lose their head. Because if they do, they do a disservice to the people they’re leading or making think.

In case of a no-name blog writer, losing head is even worse. They lose their head, and nobody even notices. A headless blog writer that nobody notices is no joke. Definitely no joke for the blog writer.

So, I shall not lose my head. I have a feeling if I don’t lose my head, my head won’t lose me.

Enough pun. Enough fun.

___

Bade Gulam AliI was thinking while driving out to my weekend labor workshop on Long Island. Often these two things — driving and thinking — go together well. Especially when you’re away from the hustle and bustle side of civilization.

So, I was driving, and thinking of civilization.

I was listening to a beautiful Indian classical music on YouTube. It’s a Sitar and Sehnai duet played by two Muslim maestros named Vilayet Khan and Bismillah Khan. These are two household names in music-loving Indian families: Muslim or Hindu. The YouTube was playing a raga named Bhairavi, an early-morning tune.

Bhairavi soothes your mind. Its mood calms you down, just the same way a pleasant early morning is supposed to sooth.

(Bhairavi is also a Sanskrit word. A Hindu goddess is also called Bhairavi. Countless ragas these exponents mastered on have Sanskrit/Hindu names. To them, it didn’t matter. To me, it never even occurred in my mind before they cooked up and capitalized on the Hindu-Muslim chasm, for political benefits.)

If you want to listen to their beautiful instrumental duet, you can click on this link here. Make sure you’re a little away from the hustle and bustle side of civilization. Or, it may not have the same effect on you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km6KA-LDHek

Now, I was thinking: does anybody outside of India know that Indian Muslims, devout as Bismillah or Vilayet Khan, are so liberal and artistic and awe-inspiring musicians? I mean, think about it: Muslim, devout, liberal, artistic and musician — say these words slowly…together! Don’t we often have this perception that Muslims — especially the devout ones — are fundamentalists and fanatics and against art and music and all? Isn’t that how America and its media portray Islam to us? Or, for that matter, any religions or faiths outside of the box?

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I grew up in a place where dogmatic-variety Islam took a 180-degree turn, and became liberal and secular. Here, contrary to what we hear about Islam, not just Muslim men like Vilayet or Bismillah or vocal genius Amir Khan or Bade Gulam Ali, but Muslim women such as Begum Akhtar, Parveen Sultana, Zeenat Begum and Shamsad Begum have been major public sphere singers — both in India and Pakistan. Then, in a very liberal Bangladesh (again, contrary to what we hear about this “poor” country), Muslim women such as Sanjida Khatun, Fahmida Khatun, Rejwana Chowdhury Banya, Laisa Ahmed Lisa, Mita Huq have performed and taught Tagore music. Runa Laila is a pop musician of world reputation.

In Bengal, epicenter of Indian secular liberalism, legendary musician Alauddin Khan, a devout, conservative Muslim who could play twenty instruments, mentored two world-famous musicians Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, the latter being his son. Ravi Shankar had married Alauddin’s daughter whom the mentor named Annapurna, name of a Hindu goddess. Annapurna, they say, was a phenomenal musician herself.

Alauddin was a genius, and was a mentor of a generation of genius musicians: both Hindu and Muslim.

How many of us know about it? Ask…calmly…why do we not know?

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I could go on and on. But you don’t have unlimited time, and I don’t have unlimited calm. I get carried away, and then get…you know what…angry.

I don’t want to be angry. so, I shall stop.

Just one final message before we adjourn.

Don’t fall for what they preach about Muslims. Know them well. There is a different world of Islam altogether.

They don’t practice fanaticism. They practice peace.

Peacefully, on this day of invocation of Goddess Durga,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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P.S. — I couldn’t let you go without mentioning another devout and liberal Muslim musician named Kazi Najrul Islam, the national poet of Bangladesh. Look him up. He was a Muslim. He was also a revolutionary. And a legendary musician.

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