Satyajit Ray’s Genius

Satyajit w Suhasini Mulay shooting
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

May Day: More Important Than Ever (and no, I am not a communist)

may-day-rally1
Today is May Day — International Labor Day.
Even though this special day began here in the U.S., in Chicago, corporate powers and their politicians and media have made us forget that glorious history.

And they have created this notion that celebrating the globally recognized workers’ day would automatically mean you are a communist. Celebrating together with the world community automatically would mean you are for a violent overthrow of the government. And most people have bought into that propaganda.

No, I am not a communist, but I believe May Day is very special, as it created for the first time in modern history a new consciousness for the working men and women — not just in America, but around the world. It gave working people hope and strength.

I grew up in Calcutta, and we saw May Day celebrated in a big way. All over India: but with the rise of a Trump-like, race- and religion-bashing government, it has dwindled. In the most advanced and equalized countries in Europe and Latin America, May 1 is still a very special day. People celebrate it with much fanfare, parades, music, and yes, reading books, and watching pro-people movies and theaters.

People here do not know much about the history of the labor movement — either from a global, or an American point of view. People who blast unions ALL benefit from the long and hard struggles our brothers and sisters have took on for many years: 8-hour workday, overtime, weekends off, family leave, sick day…you name it.

The one percent is now 0.0001 percent (as calculated by some of our union brothers and sisters on the last weekend’s class I teach on Long Island) — roughly a few hundred, extremely rich, powerful and violent rulers have taken the country of 330 million over. Labor union here is only 8-10%.

The calculation was like this:

(1) 330 to 3,300 people — extremely rich — have influence the election system in America with their millions of dollar, under the leadership of Koch Brothers.

(2) 330 million people live in America.

Therefore, 330 or 3,300, divided by 330 million = 0.0001 to 0.00001 percent.

(Q.E.D.)

That is the ruling class — horrific, violent, cruel, anti-worker, anti-poor, and extremely rich and powerful.

Today, to be organized with new knowledge, education, and insight, it’s even more important to celebrate May Day — to feel solidarity with the labor movement worldwide. If the corporate powers and their media can unleash their global reign of terror, we can fight back together — globally — and nonviolently.

May Dr. King and Gandhi be our guiding lights.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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May Day Protestors March For Immigration Reform

Korea’s Choose Peace. Why Can’t India and Pakistan?

Korea peaceIt’s mighty good news for people around the world who reject war and violence, and demand coexistence and peace. The Korea’s — North and South — decided to end their seventy-year-old war.

So, American propaganda to demonize North Korea did not work. Just the other day, U.S. media corporations and their mouthpiece politicians — Trump and all — declared North Korea was a demon, a major threat for world peace, and it must be destroyed. In fact, Republican and Democratic administrations for decades have told us that.

Suddenly, the two Koreas met at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, and American media and their Trumps began scratching their heads. War industries were terribly upset at the prospect of peace between the two countries.

Not only the two Koreas declared peace, but according to New York Times today, Korean Leaders Meet, Eyeing a Peace Free of Nuclear Arms!!!

Of course, war industries would be terribly upset, but let them be more upset.
__________

India Pakistan peace
Now, if only India and Pakistan could learn how to make peace! Their 24/7 media propaganda and political parties would be bankrupt, if the two countries with thousands of years of common history could realize it! Only if the people realized how their ruling class has cheated us, based on lies and concocted violence!

Yet, the situation is so strikingly similar. Just like South Korea and North Korea, India and Pakistan have been at war and major armed conflicts since the British left the subcontinent after two hundreds years of looting and ravaging one of the most peaceful and prosperous places on earth, and then cutting up the country in three different parts — causing incredibly misery and bloodshed.

Just like the Koreas, or like places in the Middle East, partitions and artificial boundaries were imposed by the occupying forces. In case of India and Pakistan, the line of partition often went through a piece of land, where the kitchen and bedroom of the same houses fell in two different countries!

All the rulers — democratically elected rulers in India and mostly military regimes in Pakistan along with a couple of elected leaders — kept the violence and armed conflicts alive. Indian and Pakistani rulers greatly benefited from this long, bloody, cruel wars and hostility that killed and impoverished millions of Hindus and Muslims.

Every time the government is in trouble, a cooked-up war would break out!

And USA powers and corporations are now deep inside India, in an unprecedented, disastrous way. American corporations have practically taken over the Indian economy. I have never seen such a complete takeover of India’s economy by foreign forces. This is neo-colonization at its peak!

American rulers have supported Pakistan for decades with arms, and they have supported military dictators in Pakistan. In 1971, with active support from Kissinger and U.S. government, Pakistani military caused havoc in Bangladesh (which was East Pakistan at that time), killing and raping hundreds of thousands of ordinary innocent men and women. They had extremist Muslims helping them on the ground.

But that’s another story. For now, if India and Pakistan take note of this peace declaration and de-nuclearization of the two Koreas, and find a way to emulate them, it would bring a very long-overdue peace in the land of Gandhi and Tagore.

We have had enough! We do not want another war. And do not war any N-bombs! 

Hands off, America! Hands off, Trump! Hands off, British and European powers!

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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tagore-gandhi

America’s New War, and Our New Year.

air-force-usa-bombing
Trump’s new war on Syria is immoral and illegal.

USA is not the world’s police, and nobody attacked USA. Trump wants to distract people from his imminent filthy problems, and that’s why the new war. And even if the bombing stops, that is no reason to believe U.S. has the right to invade and bomb other countries, whenever they like. They have been doing it for ages, since WWII — on various excuses. It’s outrageous. And as always, they have U.K. and France on their side. ONLY THEM.
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With that strong note of resistance, I’m writing about something totally different.
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April 14, and sometimes April 15 — based on the lunar calendar — is New Year’s Day in many parts of India — in various, spectacular forms. I am not an expert, but I know it’s celebrated in Bengal, Orissa, Assam and Punjab — under various names. We Bengalis call it Pahela Baisakh (the first day of Baisakh). Baisakh is the first summer month.

Our Old World New Year’s Day used to be celebrated with much fanfare — some places with flying kites, wearing new ethnic dresses (saris and kurtas in West Bengal and Bangladesh), fantastic masks and colorful costumes, AND social and religious gatherings around small sweet and samosa shops, garment tailoring shops, hair styling saloons, Indian-Chinese restaurants…or tiny goldsmith garages — you can imagine the rest…in a hugely crowded city like Calcutta, or Dhaka. People laugh unnecessarily this day, and they do it a lot. Believe it or not, they also hug each other.

Music and poetry is big — last time I checked — in both Bengals. In Bangladesh, the precious, silvery Hilsa (“Ilish”) fish features any menus, in major delight of the revelers.
Hilsa

These are places where new accounts would be officially inaugurated with sweets and fruits (ras gollas, mangoes and bananas in particular), and old accounts would be closed: all borrowed money paid up and off today (hopefully). Of course, thanks to corporate capitalism Wall Street and Wal-Mart style, they drove most small shops out of business, and those still in business would be out of business very soon. And India doesn’t have banks in most places, but its government has forced everybody to go plastic instead of cash, and it has caused havoc, beyond belief. But that’s another story.

Haalkhata

Of course in the Western world, thanks to what I call “Journalism of Exclusion,”
hardly anybody knows what we the “under-civilized” do, eat, wear, worship, or celebrate. We never existed in human civilization, and we still don’t, unless we are rich, white’ish, snob’ish, and famous — enough to donate enough to big politics, media, or both. Indian civilization to American media means new Wal-Marts, multiplexes, Pizza Huts, KFC’s, Coke, and fancy cars. Well, I believe a vast majority of Indians today think that way too.

(Human rights for the untouchables, the 24/7 rapes and murders of young women and girls, Hindu fanatics killing Muslims in India, and Muslim fanatics killing Hindus in other places — really, these are not fun stories for media or the mass: so, why bother? They tell us to be happy, and never question.)

But this Old World, forgotten civilization with its “Journalism of Exclusion” celebrations of its New Year’s Day — in some disorganized, unrehearsed, sometimes hilariously chaotic ways, keeps celebrating its history, language and cultural traditions — with absolute disregard and disrespect for the corporate media’s lack of inclusion. In fact, the people — more than one-sixth of human population — all know very well that an American-variety corporate capitalism and its sold-out politicians and media are slowly but surely crushing them to death. Some know it directly — for example the small sweet shop that ran its business for four generations, and now is about to be extinct because a big chain Reliance supermarket is selling fancier cakes and chocolates that younger people like a lot (and nobody questions what kind of sugar or preservatives were used, or how some child slaves harvested the chocolate — it’s not a part of human consciousness anymore).

But, still, ordinary people — with or without the knowledge of this new, crushing-them-to-death global corporate economy — keep celebrating their colorful, musical, food-and fun-filled social and religious celebration of their own New Year’s Day, the way many generations before them did it.

A story that I told you just now — would NOT be featured on tomorrow’s CNN, NBC, New York Times, or Wall Street Journal.

We don’t wish a Happy New Year, in case you want to know. It’s Naba Barsha in Bengal, Baisakhi in Punjab, Bisuba in Orissa, Bihu in Assam, and so on. We refuse to be a part of a media-dictated global cultural conformity.

I don’t know about you, but I am very, enormously happy to be that way.

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Bangladesh celebrates New Year

The Cricket-ball Tampering Scandal

cricket ball

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

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

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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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

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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.