My Bengali Friends In America

It was almost like it.
It was almost like it.

How many friends have I made here in America?

In nearly thirty years, at least thirty thousand?


Well, maybe, not so many. At least, I didn’t count. But many, many, many, many, many. That’s for sure.

American friends. Indian friends. Bengali friends. Chinese friends. Mexican friends. British friends. Brazilian friends. Korean friends.

We can easily start with an A as far as their names, countries or languages…and end with a Z.

That’s definitely one of the big blessings God blessed us with in this one otherwise ordinary life: to be able to know and make friends with people whom I would otherwise not be able to know and make friends with in this one otherwise ordinary life.


I’ve always had this strong desire and knack to make new friends. Some of my school and college friends still remind me of that. I remember I would cut my own science classes to sit in some humanities and commerce classes, just because I wanted to spend time with some friends who were not like us: “elite” science students in an “elite” school in Calcutta.

The word “elite,” of course, is emphasized. To show you the elitism we had back in those days. Fake elitism with no substance.



I could talk about new friends I made here in America, and literally, start mentioning their names alphabetically. Like, Ashis from India. Ahrar, aka Bablu from Bangladesh. Chad from China. David (one of the many Davids) from USA. Esther from Mexico. Fran. Gordon. Hyun-Ae from Korea. Iffat — at least two of them. John…oh, how can you not have John’s? Kanungnit from Thailand. Lydia. And so on. These are all real-world friends, and not Facebook faces.

It’s impossible to mention them all in one blog. It would take us many articles to remember them, especially I want to tell you why I remember them in the first place. Their attributes. Their specialties. Their special smiles. A special event with them. Etc.

So, I’m only going to mention two special Bengali friends here. One of them is a simple man from Jashore, Bangladesh who had a small book and music store in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. When I left science, and went back to school to do a humanities degree at the age of forty, and lived in New York City all alone leaving my family behind for quite some time, Shahid’s small, basement bookstore was a refuge. A group of Bengali friends — Muslim, Hindu, Christian and atheist — would flock around in the evening, have some tea and fritters and stuff, and chitchat for a couple of hours. This chitchat has a very special and fond Bengali name. We call it adda. Shahid’s bookstore was an adda oasis for us, away from home.

He was not particularly a business-minded person. He took care of his friends more specially than he took care of his customers. Not that he was not mindful of his customers. But he never had the desire to make his business flourish. He was not a believer of the typical, business-world rat race. Soon after, it folded, and so did our priceless, cherished adda.

Where New York immigrants speak two hundred tongues.
Where New York immigrants speak two hundred tongues.

The person who first took me over to his bookstore chat room — way before Facebook chats and Google hangouts and Skype meetings came about — was Salam Sarwar, whom I’ve mentioned in a blog a few weeks ago. Brother Salam, in Bengali whom I call Salam da (da is short for dada or elder brother), has always been less of a tax consultant and public accountant than a head-to-toe, complete Bengali progressive liberal, with enormous, normal desire and knack for Bengali poetry, music, movies, and of course, adda. One day, in his Brooklyn office, while having a conversation, he picked up the telephone and introduced me to Shahid. Before you know it, both Salam da and I ended up in Shahid’s bookstore hangout, and that was the beginning of a long friendship with the simple man from Jashore, Bangladesh who was a sports journalist and political activist who almost lost his life during the 1971, violent and historic Bangladesh liberation war. Later, for a short time, Shahid bookstore Ananya (Bengali: incomparable) with an impeccable reputation of honesty moved up to second floor of the building.

I came to know of Shahid’s close friends too. Anis, Abedin, et al. One thing was common for all of them. They all were highly educated and smart, and kept in touch with world political affairs. And they knew them in-depth. A journalism student at a very prestigious journalism school here in New York, I would often be awed to see their level of knowledge and analysis.

I remember I invited them to hear Noam Chomsky at our journalism school when a few friends and I had organized his talk in April of 2000. They all came.


Today, after a hiatus of at least five years, I ran into Shahid at Salamda’s Brooklyn office. As if the story circle was meant to complete this way.

We said hello to each other.

And a lot of precious memories rushed in.

Just thought of sharing with you,


Brooklyn, New York


Jackson Heights, Queens.
Jackson Heights, Queens.