Sandipta, A Sister I Lost

Sandipta Chatterjee (1978-2012)
Sandipta Chatterjee (1978-2012)

NEW UPDATE. As of June 12, 2013. — She did NOT die of a heart attack. At least, that was not the primary reason for her sudden death. Recently, I found out through talking to Sandipta’s family members and friends that she died of a preventable health crisis, that she was not looked after properly by people who should have looked after her, and on the day of her death there was major negligence by a very small number of people who surrounded her. Plus, the shabby nursing home where she was taken for treatment was a major scam. Sandipta died of all the above reasons. I keep thinking and writing about her not only to remember her, but also to warn others like her who could fall victims of such a horrific social situation and massive medical malpractice. I hope you join me on this awareness mission. Save many more Sandiptas by spreading the word. Thank you. -Partha Banerjee, New York.

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On a Calcutta cable channel we follow from here in New York, I heard a few minutes ago that its news anchor Sandipta Chatterjee suddenly passed away.

She was only 34 years old. She died of a heart attack, according to ABP-Ananda where she worked since 2005.

I knew Sandipta. The absolutely unexpected news of her death shook me to the core.

Sitting here in the U.S., ten thousand miles away from Calcutta, we often don’t know how to react to such news. I have written about it at length. Death of the people we knew. Death of the people who we cared for, admired and respected. Death of authors, poets, singers and filmmakers we worshiped. Death of friends, relatives, loved ones. Sometimes it seems like the news is not real; perhaps it’s just a bad nightmare and would pass as soon as we wake up. I have written about our very surreal feelings and our unnatural ways to deal with them.

Some deaths are expected. Some are not. Some are too close. Some are a little distant.

She was so full of life. She was so full of love.
She was so full of life. She was so full of love.

How do I describe this emotion right now? I don’t have much. I don’t know what to say, and how to say it. The scrolling lines at the bottom of the TV screen when they were airing news of some other politics, violence or cricket match were simply too unreal. They said one Sandipta’s body would be taken tomorrow morning at nine to Calcutta’s crematorium.

I read the lines a second time. And then a third time. Who is Sandipta and why is her body being taken to the crematorium? Why is ABP-Ananda airing the news, and why is the Sandipta I knew absent on the news screen tonight?

What is going on here? — I restlessly asked myself.

Then at a half-minute break between news segments, they showed her picture. It was Sandipta I knew. Sandipta Chatterjee. She suddenly died of a heart attack on Sunday.

Sandipta died of a heart attack on Sunday??

I knew her. I came to know her through sharing some common interests on Facebook about five years ago. One interest was Tagore: she was a graduate from Tagore’s university Vishva Bharati. The second common interest was Satyajit Ray: on Facebook, we shared notes about our love for Ray and his movies and short stories.

We shared other interests too: we were both from Calcutta, and that too, from North Calcutta. Her Facebook pictures showed that she came from an average, middle class family. In fact, photos she posted on her Facebook from before her marriage reminded me of the neighborhood where I grew up: dark, dingy, dusty, crowded. Her premarital home was just as middle-class North Calcuttan as the home where I grew up. Her friends looked like my friends.

I told her a number of times she reminded me of one of the sisters I left behind in Calcutta.

A dear sister from Kolkata
A dear sister from Kolkata

In early 2012, after I recorded my Tagore songs, I called her up and went to meet her at her workplace. That was the only time we met. She came out of her first-floor studio and we greeted each other with a warm smile. She was very busy. Still, she found time to sit down in the studio’s lounge and took time to talk to me for about half an hour. I gave her a copy of my Tagore album “Aro Ektu Bosho.”

We shared some ideas about how to work with like-minded Bengalis — especially those who love Tagore and Satyajit Ray — on the rapidly-engulfing quicksand on the cultural front. We thought it would be good if we put up a pragmatic plan to work together in the coming days. Sandipta was not nearly as political as me; being a news anchor at a very demanding, private cable channel, she probably didn’t have any time to spare on anything else except for her work and family. And I told her she worked too hard, way too hard. I would see her anchoring news at every possible hour — practically every single day.

A thirty year-old, beautiful, young, married woman, she obviously gave up a lot of her personal time — to satisfy her workplace demands. Yet, she did find a little bit of time to talk on and off Facebook about shared interests, shared passion: especially Tagore and Bengali language and culture.

Did she take care of her health? Did she find time to have medical check-ups regularly? Was there time for her to look after herself? Did she eat well, rest well, or exercise? Did she know she had a life-threatening heart condition?

At 34, Sandipta worked through December 1 for seven years at ABP-Ananda, until recently known as Star-Ananda. She did not come back to work on December 2. News broke that Sandipta had a massive heart attack, and died at a North Calcutta hospital.

Sandipta died of a heart attack??

I am still not sure how to react to this news. It has not sunk in.

But she is gone.

I am going to miss her. She was like a dear sister. A young, vibrant, beautiful, hard-working, art-loving, music-loving, Tagore-loving, Ray-loving, Calcutta-loving sister.

RIP, sis.

Sincerely (and Very Sadly) Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Sandipta

Do You Want to Die of Cancer? If Not, I Have Some Tips.

Foreword: Stay away from Monsanto and its BGH-tainted milk…and other products. They are as bad as Agent Orange.

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Part I.

-One-

Have you ever seen someone you loved dying of cancer? I have. I have a feeling some of you may have too.

Those who have seen it intimately would quickly understand what I’m talking about: the horror and pain of the disease and how this disease from hell can hurt and destroy not just the person suffering from it, but the entire circle of family and close friends. But for the person who’s going through the pain and horror and trauma, it’s indescribable.

There’s a saying in our Bengali society: “Bhagaban, shatruro jeno emon na hoy.” It means, Oh God, may even my enemies not have this.

I am writing this article not as a doctor or a scientist. I am not a medical doctor. Although I have a doctorate degree in biology from a reputable U.S. university, and some of my post-doctoral research has been in molecular biology and infectious diseases, I do not have any special expertise to write about cancer from a biologist’s point of view. Plus, I have changed my career, and moved out of science into humanities, journalism and social sciences.

I am also sincerely apologizing to them who have sick patients at home: a child or an adult, whose cancer could not have been prevented because of various reasons. Some people are more prone and genetically predisposed to cancer. I am in no way contradicting their beliefs or lifestyle choices, or raising any hopes for them. I salute them for their courageous battle.

What I am writing here is purely a layman’s story. I’m describing some facts here, and I’m going to write down some simple tips I think I can share with you about cancer based on my real-life experience.

But before I write down the tips, let me quickly describe what kind of experience I have had with cancer. I must say it’s not something one should brag about. I wish I never had this kind of experience; I hope none of you ever have it too.

My mother died of cancer when she was only forty-two. She had ovarian and uterine cancer that spread too quickly — like wildfire. We did not have the means back in those Calcutta days to have regular medical check-ups, and my mother perhaps also hid some of the symptoms and pain to save my father and us from worries, stress and doctor’s visits. Maybe, she thought it was not serious, and that the pain would slowly go away. Eventually, when doctors saw her and did surgery on her, it was already Stage IV. Metastasis had occurred (i.e., the cancer had spread throughout her body), and even after removal of her ovaries and uterus, she did not survive for more than a month or perhaps six weeks. The cancer came back, caused her unbearable pain, changed her physically too, and doctors basically gave her maximum-strength sleep medications to save her from agonizing with the pain.

My mother died when my sister was only thirteen years old. I was twenty-one turning twenty-two. I could never get over with her painful death even after so many years. For my sister, she lost her at a critical age, and it caused her lifelong social and emotional problems. My father suffered greatly too even though on the surface, he wouldn’t show it.

One week after my mother died, my uncle — eldest brother of my father — died of oral cancer. His suffering was more prolonged. He actually got it a year before my mother did, and his cancer took time to develop. Doctors initially misdiagnosed it, and the disease spread. Finally, it went out of control, and my uncle who was a flute player, lost one side of his face; there was a gaping hole on his cheek. He couldn’t speak, and was in excruciating pain. Toward the end of the disease, about a couple of months or so before he died, he was in so much physical and emotional pain that he went to commit suicide.

Then, my grandmother — my mother’s mother — died of throat cancer when I had already left India for USA. She suffered greatly too for months. I heard she couldn’t eat or drink in the final months before she passed away.

(I have also known cancer deaths of a few other people I loved and admired a great deal: another uncle — my father’s youngest brother who had special affection for me; a colleague from my first work place at a rural Bengal college where both of us were professors; and a senior friend in Albany who became like an elder brother in this land of alienation where we have no relatives at all: friends have become like relatives here. I had a mentor who taught me political organizing during the dark days of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule also got throat cancer; twenty years later I saw him dying in Calcutta of this horrific disease. I have seen these deaths from a distance; yet, they were also difficult to bear.)

As I said, even though there’s nothing to brag about how many cancer deaths I’ve seen in my life — closely — and how they have forever changed my attitude toward life, I must say that I have also developed some knowledge and insight about cancer and how to perhaps ward off cancer as much as possible — if possible at all. And I want to share some of that insight and knowledge with you.

Sharing my personal knowledge — from a first-hand point of view — would be my small way to contribute to the worldwide battle against the deadly disease.

Again, thousand salutes to them who are fighting back courageously against cancer — all over the world.

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-Two-

Since my childhood in India, I always heard that very soon, there would be a cure for cancer. I heard that somewhere in the United States of America, some famous scientists had built an entire research township where they were pushing hard 24/7 to come up with cancer cures. In a poor Indian family like the one where I grew up, that rumor was reassurance. That was more than enough to believe that cure for cancer was not far off.

Boy, how mighty fools we were! Nobody told us that Western scientists — U.S. scientists in particular — have not been able to come up with a SINGLE cure for ANY diseases in the past fifty or sixty years. Nobody discovered or marketed a panacea like Penicillin or small-pox vaccine for a VERY long time, even though drug industries with help from media and governments have always created and sustained an illusion and false hope — whether it’s about cancer, AIDS or Alzheimer’s. At the same time, these powerful, now-global institutions have actively rejected thousands of years of scientific knowledge and lifestyle choices from the Old World: India, Africa, Japan or China.

Therefore, the real, believable rumor for me now has been that the mighty, well-financed, powerful medical research industry WOULD NOT want to come up with any more cures for deadly diseases — for obvious sale and profit reasons. Cures would cut long-term profit.

Genetics, Molecular Biology: Use Pro-actively.

I’d save that political discussion for later.

But, because the fact remains that “modern” Western science has not been able to produce any cure for cancer, and more people are dying of cancer worldwide than ever before, and signs and predictions are that cancer deaths will rise rapidly in the coming decades, I believe it’s about time we approached the disease from a totally different point of view — going completely against the dictates of a rat-race-variety Western lifestyle and the powerful medical science industry.

We shall go the pro-active way as opposed to the re-active way. That means, we shall change our lifestyle so that cancer cannot penetrate us and take us over. We shall live the way civilizations lived peacefully and prospered before the re-active, profit-driven variety of Western medical industry and multinational drug czars and insurance giants took our lives over, once and for all.

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-Three-

So, here’s my simple, three-point pro-active lifestyle-change tips, based on what I have seen in my own life.

(1) The first and foremost lifestyle change is: REDUCE STRESS AND ANXIETY. (Catch phrase to remember: SLOW IS GOOD).

(2) The second-most important lifestyle change is: EAT AND DRINK RIGHT. (Catch phrase to remember: LESS IS MORE). Here in the U.S., they say: “Eat one size smaller.” Plus, avoid junk food — like McDonald’s, KFC or Pizza Hut. Avoid drinking milk that has artificial hormones in it: such as Monsanto’s BGH.

(3) And the third advice, however generic, is: DO NOT DO ANYTHING YOU’RE GOING TO REGRET LATER. (Catch phrase to remember: LOVE YOUR LIFE).

(3a) — An emphasis of #3 above: LOVE YOUR LIFE. (Catch phrase to remember: YOUR LIFE).

Let me explain these three easy tips — one at a time. Stay with me for the next few minutes. Okay? Please?

But obviously, its easier said that done: reduce stress and anxiety. You’d say: yeah, right! How would you do it? In this West-inflicted, East-copied rat race where even the naive, half-asleep country farmer is being forced to overnight sell his farmland to a giant automotive, media or I.T. industry, where Monsanto is forcing Indian farmers to commit suicide by numbers unheard-of in human history, GE has polluted an entire river in USA, and where urban middle-class man with a private-sector job or small business is finding less and less time to spend with his loving wife and children (and in the Old World, aging parents) because he’s spending more time at work, on the road and away from home (and can’t even find free time on the weekend) — where is the time to rewind, to get rid of all the anxieties and stress?

The new world order controlled and run by power at the top of the food pyramid is demanding more of your time — more of your life. They order, “Work harder, meet our production goals, or we’ll make your life miserable!” Problem is, it’s already miserable. Problem is, we’re already working harder — FOR THEM. We shall never be able to meet their production goals.

It’s not easy to discuss it all in one article. Plus, I do not have all the answers. I am writing this piece to tell you what social, economic and emotional situations the people I saw up close dying of cancer went through, so that the prevention (note that I’m not using the word remedy, because of its reactive nature) is possible and can be worked out. Regardless of what excuses or real, serious predicaments you have, won’t you try to live differently before it is too late?

Don’t you want to spend some precious time with the people you love the most, before this life ends?

I’m sure you have thought about changing your lifestyle many times over. WELL, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, DO IT NOW!

(I promise to write more on it. Please come back. Let me know your thoughts.)

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Holistic Approach. Pro-active Approach.

T = mc2 . Einstein. That’s My Life.

(You can call it Part 2. I urge that you read both Part 1 and Part 2 together.)

The Time of Life Clock. Simple Description.

Recap from Part 1 of this post.

I came up with a plan and figured that T = mc2 perhaps could be one simplistic way to summarize my life – life of an ordinary, no-name, no-pedigree, mediocre, half-poor, half-educated, brown person who spent the first quarter of his life in India and the second quarter in America. I thought I could use my basic arithmetic and algebra skills (practically no math learned past high school) and come to a final tally of my life’s income and expenses, and profits and losses.

So, I thought, this could be the simple formula to summarize my life:

T = mc2

Where T is total time of life, m is total involved money (used, gained or lost), and c2 (or c x c) is the product of two major costs I had to incur over all these years — both in India and America.

Therefore, to put it in words, it is:

Time of life = Money involved x Cost1 x Cost2 .

[That’s Equation One]

Now, the question is, how do you break down the equation and show it part by part?

Here’s an attempt to do it.

First, let’s talk about the costs. In today’s market-maniac world, that’s perhaps essential: to know the costs to live.

Okay. Let’s see.

Cost1 or C1 is a product of all these factors, and I’m putting them together as they should be.

C1 = Earning Education x Earning Experience x Building a new life in an old land and in a new land x Winning Relationship x Building Family x Making Friends x Winning Praises and Rewards x Accomplishments x Achievements x Finding Coworkers x Keeping Supporters x Sustaining Sympathizers x Creativity x Activism x Critical thinking x Organizing x Making people think differently

[That’s Equation Two]

In short, C1 is the total product of all the good things that you earn, gain, develop, nurture and refine — because you want to do it.

In short, C1 is the total product of positive things I built in life — things that made me nice, happy and smile.

My Dr. Jekyll

Cost2 or C2 on the other hand is the total product of almost the opposite things you find in C1. Here they are.

C2 = Spending experience* x Spending education* x Loss of lives that directly impacted me x Loss of hopes x Sacrifices I was forced to make because of leaving behind my family, friends and society x Loss of friends x Lost and betrayed relationships x Insults x Injuries x Loss of stability x Stress x Anxiety x Fear x Physical and Emotional Abuse x cheating by establishments

[That’s Equation Three]


In short, C2 is the total product of negative things impacted my life — things that made me ugly, crabby and sad. The Mr. Hyde in me — that I often talk about.

(But look at the elements with an asterisk *  — i.e., spending experience and education — these are not necessarily negative. We might say these are “necessary evils.” You must spend some to gain some.)

I hate him. But he is so real!

Now, for the math buffs out there, you might immediately find a fallacy in Equation Two and Three. The fallacy is, things that I built (or won) and things that I lost (or destroyed) are really inversely proportional to each other. In other words, spending experience (from C2) is really inversely proportional to earning experience (from C1 ).

Like, spending experience = 1/earning experience.

Another example would be, losing friends or family members is inversely proportional to making friends and building family. A third example would be rewards and praises: are they just the opposite of insults and abuses?

Like, rewards and praises = 1/insults and abuses.

So, in other words, people might say, it’s total fallacy, because C1 essentially crosses C2 out, and therefore, we end up with a cliché or conundrum, which is T = m. Time of life = Money in life.

You might say, what new did you teach us? We always knew that “Time IS Money!”

You made a good point. But unfortunately, you are wrong.

[You, at this point perhaps a little irked]: Show me I am wrong. I’ve been very patient so far.

Yes, that you have, indeed. Thank you.

Well, wait a minute then. Let me explain.

See, you need to find the end result of those multiplication products. I’ll give you an example. In my life…in anybody’s life…spending education cannot be exactly inversely proportional to earning education; do we use all the education we gain, ever? Of course, we might say, we never really “spend” education — that is one treasure in life that we can never run out of how much ever we use it. But that’s too much philosophy. My philosophy here in these formulas is much simpler: this is a philosophy you can touch, taste and smell. It’s real. There is nothing abstract about it.

Similarly, you see, earned rewards, praises, promotions and compliments are not exactly the same amount you lose by being insulted, injured, or physically and mentally abused. Again, you need to see the end result of the product: do you have more insults and abuses than rewards and compliments? Or, do you have more on the plus side of the equation? You find out. You are the ultimate judge.

I won’t take too much of your time. You’ve been very patient.

Therefore, at the end of the day, it all boils down to this.

T or total time of my life = Total Money involved in my life X Total product of Cost1 elements X Total product of Cost2 elements.

I think it is a very fair, balanced, realistic and simple formula to summarize my life. I really do.

I would ask you to test this formula in your life’s situation. See if it works for you too. If it does, then it’s a universal formula – irrespective of man’s economic or social class, caste, race, nationality, religion, lifestyle choice or color.

I have every reason to believe my formula would prove to be universal.

I’ll let you decide on the other, possible mathematical and scientific aspects of the formula.

Remember, T sits on the left hand side of the equation. Time of life is the most important determinant here. All the other aspects of life – including the so-called all-important money in today’s world – sit on the right hand side (the variable side).

T is the absolute truth here. Whatever way you come up with your own measurement of T for your own life, it’s going to be an absolute truth – for you.

Everything else is there to help calculate our total time of life.

That’s the ultimate message here. From me.

I hope I came across nice, simple and clear with that message.

Thanks for brainstorming with me. It’s been fun.

Thank you, Sir Albert. You’ve been quite an inspiration. You brought out a mini-Einstein in me. That’s incredible, given where I was and where I am now!

Wow! So gratified!

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Post Script. — I also doubled checked on the qualitative applicability of the equation by trying its various possible forms. Like, if Time = Money X Costs, then Costs = Time/Money. Also, Money = Time/Costs. Think about it: all the various possible forms actually work quite well.

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Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

People have had other concepts of time-money relationship. I think my formula is unique and much easier to understand.

Death…the Tick Tock Time Bomb

Yama, God of Death

–Tick Tock…Strike One–

I have seen death too many times in my life. He’s been with me all along.

Honestly. Really. Nothin’ to brag about. But it’s true.

I know Lord Yama, the god of death, all too well. I can’t say I like him a lot. But because I’ve accepted the fact that I can never get rid of him, I have resigned to un-dislike him. Or, is it dis-unlike him?

Anyways.

You see, it’s not easy to explain. This guy is like the distant uncle from the village who’d show up at least once a year, totally uninvited, and wouldn’t mind our very obvious unwelcoming gestures…until he decided to travel somewhere else, to be someone else’s guest. Some years, he’d show up even more than once a year. Gosh…really annoying!

What can I say: he’s always been quite whimsical.

When I was a child, I didn’t know him all that well. Growing up, I heard strange tales about him…where he lives…what he does…where he goes…how he makes a living, and all. I never paid close attention to those tales. I never believed I had to. I was least bothered.

Slowly but surely though, his presence became matter of factly. Then, one day, he volunteered to introduce himself. I saw his face up close when I was only in sixth grade. He said to me, “Hello kid…I am your Lord Yama Uncle.” He said, “Pleased to meet you.”

I was speechless.

He said to me, “You don’t look very happy meeting me, do you, kid? That’s okay. I’m leaving you now for a while. But you’ll see me again, don’t worry. I’ll be back.” And just before he left, he grinned, uncannily, and said, “You’ll see me over and over again. You better know me well, kid. Or, you’re gonna be miserable.”

He was right. A few years went by.

When I just got into our M.Sc. program at the University of Calcutta, Uncle Yama for some reason decided he’d now be our guest for a quite a while. Maybe, he didn’t have no other place to visit. Maybe, his village had a drought and he must eat and sleep at somebody else’s house. Maybe, he realized he didn’t see us for a long while and started missing us too much. So, one early summer evening, around seven thirty, he showed up and knocked at our mezzanine apartment door.

In fact, he banged hard. He wouldn’t wait no more.

Ma was dying of cancer. Uncle Yama took her first…and left…

He left…but only for a short while. In Ma’s death, he’d struck a gold mine. He saw with his unearthly, uncanny eyes (see his profile photo above) that this was a place where he could come back now…quite often…over and over again…uninvited…and these people wouldn’t say no to him…couldn’t say no to him.

He knew we were too good and too powerless to dis-un-dislike him.

[…]

(to be continued. please come back.)

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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