Update: I just heard that one of my most beloved high school teachers passed away. Find him in the last photo at the bottom. He is the goal keeper in front with glasses. Mr. Swarnendu Deuri. I dedicate this blog to him. He was a phenomenal English teacher. He knew how to love, encourage and inspire his students. He knew about young, adolescent men and their emotional and biological needs. He knew his English literature. Deuri Babu, Sir, this is for you, from Partha.
Often, I look back at the time I left India to get a degree in the U.S.
It took me and my family, seriously, a lot to come to this point of my life. Successes, failures, struggles, wins, losses, tears and joys. But believe me, we went through a heck of a lot, in one life. We gained a lot. And we gave up a lot too.
Often, I question myself if I had done the right thing. Was it also the right thing for me to drag my poor wife along with me, who didn’t have to leave India at all, and did it only because I did it? If it was sacrifice for me to leave my very familiar place and people behind, it was even more so for her to leave her loving parents, uncles, aunts and cousins and friends behind. She was the only child, and her parents were heartbroken when she left.
On this Valentine’s Day, I want to send my wife a special message of love, for being with me, together, in this lifelong search of gold. We never cared for the material gold. Honest to God, our pursuit was truly an intellectual one. On that front, definitely, we’ve won.
Yet, looking back, just leaving behind that unbelievable place — so full of love and maya — we lost too. I guess, that’s been the story of most immigrants coming to America, through generations. Italian or Irish, Russian or Chinese, African or Arabian, and more recently, Bangladeshi or West Bengali — all perhaps share the same story of a torn, traumatized identity. Some say it. Some don’t.
But I’m not sure how many immigrants who left in recent years keep such an intense, emotional bonding with their homelands. But I do. For me, India, Calcutta and Bengal are not just places I was born and grew up in. They are as present and as real and alive as they can ever be. Even though I’ve lived in the U.S. for almost thirty years, and got used to the American way of living and speaking and walking and swearing and partying and criticizing and paying and receiving and teaching and learning and friend’ing and foe’ing, deep inside, I’m still as Bengali and Indian as I was back in that August of 1985.
I now know about America more than many Americans, I can swear. I identify with my American’ness more than many so-called mainstream Americans. But I also know about India and Bengal and Calcutta more than many Indians, Bengalis and Calcuttans. I have some deep-seated pride in my international identity with both places, across the two sides of the globe.
My wife just returned from India after a month-long trip. I could not go with her. It was difficult to travel together for various reasons. One reason was financial. Do you realize how much money it costs for a one-month trip to India? And we’ve done it, regularly, for so many years. Well, except for the first nine years, between 1985 and 1994, when we had absolutely no money to travel. I’ve written about that very difficult time too. I’m writing more carefully about it in my memoir.
When I left India, not only we carried thousands of years of a great civilizations’ great history, heritage and Hinduism (our liberal-progressive way), but we also carried with us thousands of pieces of music and poetry, sights and sounds, games and riddles, funs and fooling-arounds, and of course, food and flavor.
It would take me a whole chapter in my memoir to talk about the food and the flavor.
Often, I think about discovering a way to record the smells — the zillions of smells — that I carry deep down inside.
I shall write more about that intense search of gold — how to record smells — later.
India, 1985, when I left for America, brings back a lot of memories. My deepest desire is to share some of them with you.
Would you care to share your memories with me?
Hoping for a real, loving, sharing and caring Valentine’s Day, heart to heart, away from the malls,
Brooklyn, New York