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.

President Obama, Why Should I Really Vote FOR You?

Change? Really?

Related post. (Click on this link) — Questions Media Won’t Ask Romney and Ryan.

Related post. (Click on this link)– Occupy Wall Street: Ordinary, Working People — Moderate Left and Moderate Right — Must Come Together, Empower and Fight Back Against Both the Elite Center and Far Right and Far Left. Because there’s way too many overlaps as opposed to differences. Believe me: this is where the real strength is.

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NOTE: I wrote this blog using my personal time and resources.

Recently, I wrote two articles on this blog — both on the subject of the U.S. presidential elections. They were both popular — beyond my expectation. I want to thank all the readers — practically from all over the world — for their kind interest. It’s been a gratifying experience.

In the first article (click on the link here), I expressed my fear that Romney and Ryan — the Republican ticket — would win (that was before the Mother Jones “47%” expose broke out). In the more recent article I posted just a few days ago during the Republican National Convention, I challenged and asked some questions to the R&R ticket. You can read it here too.

Readers visited both articles with surprisingly high interest; particularly, the newest post where I challenged Romney, Ryan and Republicans to answer my questions got a very high number of readers. I was delighted. Of course, I never got any response from the Republicans at all; my doubt is that they never even heard my name, let alone read my questions. I wish they did.

But it was reassuring that so many readers took a moment out of their busy life to think about what I had to say on the political and economic scenario — of USA and almost by default, of the entire world. Given that my readership — especially my American readership — has a more liberal tilt, and that too, perhaps with a Democratic affiliation, I felt happy that my questions reached them and that they had the opportunity to use and share those twelve bullet points in their own circles. Who knows, maybe, some of these people are going to attend the Democratic National Convention that’s happening in North Carolina this week; chances are, at least a few of them who perhaps heard my name and about my OneFinalBlog through grapevine, Facebook and Twitter would talk about the issues I addressed in my articles, and have some productive, positive discussion.

At least, that is my hope. With that hope in mind, I’m now going to ask a few questions to President Obama and his Democratic Party — again, on the current political and economic scenario of America, and almost by default, of the entire world.

Republicans are now asking the American voters, borrowing the famous line from Ronald Reagan: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Actually, even though I have absolutely no soft spot for the Republicans and I said it loud and clear that I would never vote for Romney and Ryan, I believe the question they’re asking is not irrelevant at all. In fact, that is a perfect ask any voters should ask themselves: are we now better off or worse off? And, what is the measure of being better off or worse off? Is it economic, is it the war and violence situation, is it domestic repression, is it the elitist status quo, or is it something else?

Remember them? No? No wonder media makes so much money making you forget stuff so quickly!

The only problem is, Republican leaders are asking the question disingenuously, and cheating their ordinary Republican (or undecided) voters who may or may not remember the whole story. If these leaders — most of them affluent and powerful and with deep ties with Corporate America and its powerful lobbyists — were not so dishonest and if they didn’t have an equally disingenuous media on their side, they would rather phrase the question this way:

“We know eight years of Bush completely destroyed the American economy, created an astronomical budget deficit, gave obnoxious tax breaks to the super wealthy, bailed out billionaire bank executives and corporate criminals, waged catastrophic genocides in Iraq and Afghanistan killing millions, looting oil and destroying history of ancient civilizations and bleeding us the U.S. taxpayers here to death, and tarnished the American superpower image once and for all across the world, but still, we believe that we are better than the Democrats to run this country. So, would you not vote for us? Please?”

Neither the Republicans nor the disingenuous, gloss-over U.S. mainstream media would frame their question to the voters this way. They don’t have the guts or honesty to do it.

(And Bill Clinton, in spite of his jackpot speech at the DNC, forgot to tell us how he destroyed age-old American welfare especially for poor women, imposed NAFTA with majority help from Republicans drastically cutting U.S. manufacturing jobs in the U.S., overturned landmark Glass-Stegall, rehired Greenspan to destroy the economy even more, and deregulated financial derivatives with help from Rubin and Summers. He also forgot to tell us how he and war criminal W. Bush have been great buddies ever since. Maybe, he’s preparing us for a Hillary 2016 and a Jeb Bush 2020. Who knows? Nobody but the elite knows anything: it’s all elitist secret. And they call it a democracy!)

Too disturbing to digest!

In any case, we can never believe that Obama-Biden and the Democrats did a wonderful job in these four years and should be able to put all the blame on those eight years of a Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft presidency; hence, we should all be happy and happily vote for another four years of Obama-Biden. Not so easy. We have some serious questions for President Obama and his Democratic Party, and here they are. Again, for the sake of time — both of my esteemed readers and Obama and the Democratic leaders who are busy and important people, I’m going to ask only a handful. I’ll save the rest for later.

You know what? I like Barack Obama as a person. I like Michelle Obama too. They are two of the smartest and modernest first couple America has seen for the first time in generations. And I know for sure that just because they are black, a large number of Americans (and Indians — from India) hate them. It’s unbelievable that even in 2012, millions of people especially in USA, Europe and India believe blacks are inferior to whites (and to browns and red and yellows and olives and purples and grays…) and a black president is a disgrace for this God’s Country called USA.

Well, let me tell you this. I think these people are pure racists and sexists and bigots and jerks too; and just because I know them so well from my own long experience to be with racists and sexists and bigots and jerks, I think at the end of the day, I’ll come out and vote for Obama, even though I think his Democratic administration has cheated me of my hope, expectation and enthusiasm for a change. But that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to vote FOR a presidential candidate FOR him, and not AGAINST his racist and bigoted and sexist and lying opponents.

So, at this point, without annoying my patient readers to death, I’ll ask a few questions to Barack. Mr. President, Sir, would you please be kind enough to respond, or at least ask one of your colleagues to do it? It would be much appreciated. My questions are not prioritized in any particular fashion.

Question 1. (I asked this to Romey and Ryan too). — Rachel Corrie, a young American woman, in 2003 stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer to protest against Israeli government’s demolition of houses of Palestinian civilians. The bulldozer crushed her to death. Your Democratic Party leaders such as Hillary and Bill Clinton had blasted Chinese government’s human rights violation when its tanks threatened to kill Chinese protesters at Tienanmen Square a few years ago. Do you think your Democratic Party can show the same resolution to protest against the action of the Israeli government when they killed Rachel Corrie? (You might also add here the drama of including Jerusalem as the Israel’s capital in the Democratic election platform.)

Question 2. (I asked this to Romey and Ryan too). — Multinational, U.S.-based companies such as Monsanto, Union Carbide, Coca Cola, Chevron and Disney (among many others) have caused havoc in many other countries because of their ways of doing business. For example, over the past decade, 200,000 Indian farmers (yes, you’ve heard it right!) have committed suicide — the largest in human history — because of Monsanto’s permanent seed replacement with their own genetically engineered products and false promises of crop yield. Union Carbide’s infamous toxic gas leak in Bhopal in 1984 had killed thousand of poor workers and their families; women who suffered are still delivering crippled babies. Are you going to bring these companies to justice and compensate the victims for the disasters they went through?

Question 3. (I asked this to Romey and Ryan too). — Have you ever visited an agricultural or industrial farm in California, Tennessee, Arizona, Florida or Texas where owners work immigrant workers like slaves in a toxic situation — with zero human rights? Many of them die of cancer, tuberculosis and such diseases — because of their inhumane work conditions. Do you see any difference between their condition and that of the black workers and their families in a cotton plantation during the slavery days? Your government has detained and deported more undocumented immigrants — many of such poor workers — than even Bush and Ashcroft government did.

Question 4. — Why did your administration let Goldman Sachs, one of the biggest corporate criminals in the history of modern human civilization, off the hook even after their criminal activities were exposed beyond doubt at bipartisan Congressional hearings?

Question 5. — Why did you include people such as Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Jeff Immelt, et al.  — some of the worst-known corporate elements responsible behind the financial disaster — in your administration and would not purge them in spite of repeated pressure even from the pro-people sections of your own party? Why did you not stand behind the Overturn Citizen United campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders — 100 percent?

Question 6. — Why did you not take up, let alone pass, the Employee Free Choice Act when labor unions have always been such an ardently faithful ally? Isn’t that one of the worst examples of not keeping your 2008 campaign promises?

Question 7. — President Jimmy Carter has condemned your drone attacks and hit lists that killed thousands of innocent civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan (and recently in Yemen too). Isn’t that one of the grossest violations of international peace treaties and human rights laws? (And we all know you also backtracked on closing down Guantanamo.)

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Post Script. — This is from New York Times tonight (click for the news story here). Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod, said, “We’re in a better position than we were four years ago in our economy.” But Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, a Democrat, answered “no” on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” though he blamed Republicans. Other aides equivocated.

I’ll tell you this. Martin O’Malley and the other aides are honest. David Axelrod is dishonest and arrogant with his answer. And that is my problem with this Democratic Party and its top people who run the show. If you tell me we’re better off than four years ago, you’re kidding me. If you tell that to an ordinary American voter — Democrat or Republican or undecided — you’re going to lose their vote. Remember, many of these people didn’t watch Bill Clinton last night: they were working a late-evening shift to make ends meet.

We, the ordinary people who live and work in the U.S., who lost their jobs, health care, life’s savings and houses, and who can’t afford to play the stock market, are not better off. People like us do not see light at the end of the tunnel. President Obama and Mr. Axelrod, you must face the truth. You must tell the truth.

Most importantly, tell us why should we vote FOR you, and not just against your bigoted, lying, racist, sexist opponents?

Thank you, Sir, for your valuable time and kind response.
Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

Youth Unemployment Hit a Record 30%.

So Many I Knew Left So Early…Why…Why?

Ma Ganga…Save Us from Doom and Destruction.

You could read this as a depressing note. I wouldn’t blame you if you did.

Because this note is about death (yes, again I’m writing about death — as if I can’t let go of it, ever). And death is never fun and writing about death is never fun either. It’s especially depressing if it’s about premature death. It’s about people I knew — so many of them — who died early; and they didn’t have to. They could’ve easily lived, and I could’ve easily been with them for some more years, and I didn’t have to feel so miserable that they didn’t live, and that I didn’t have the simple, ordinary pleasure of a simple, ordinary man to spend time with them and see them growing old, and grow old with some others who I wanted to grow old with.

But this is also a note to let my steam go, as if in a psychological therapy session. If you read it that way, it may not sound nearly as depressing.

In this little note of reflection, I’m trying to find reasons why they had to die so early and why I didn’t get the simple privilege of life to spend a little more time with them. Obviously, as you can see, I am hurting. And I don’t want to hurt so much.

You could call this a philosophical reflection. After all, discussing death is often philosophical. Talking about death with a heavy heart must always have an element of philosophy. An afterthought of dying early, prematurely, when these men and women were in the middle of us…with a full life that there was supposed to be…a life that was taken away from them…and a life that was taken away from us — must be philosophical analysis. If not a scholarly analysis, then at least it’s some emotion-framed rambling that may or may not make sense to others. But for someone like me who cannot simply either forget these deaths or brush them aside as harsh but unavoidable reality — this discussion is important.

Like they say in compassionate, educated discourses, it’s critical to close the chapter. Without closing these chapters, life hurts more and life hurts always. And you can’t hurt incessantly. You must move on. I have hurt incessantly, and I want to move on.

I could’ve titled this note “Why So Many I Knew Left So Early” instead of the title I chose — that would’ve been simpler, more prosaic and less emotional. People always charge me that I charge with emotion too much and it affects them negatively. They tell me I need to be more progressive and objective and less sentimental and old-fashioned. (In fact, they tell me that I should not dwell on the subject of death so much.)

But my dilemma about the title was that if I chose “Why So Many I Knew Left So Early!” as the title, it might have sounded as if I was merely complaining about these deaths. Or, come to think of it, it may have read (without the note of exclamation at the end) as if I was actually narrating the reasons about the deaths with absolutely confirmation that I indeed knew the reasons behind these early deaths. Choosing the title would always be quite difficult for such a note — a note that most people would not want to read more than once and if they read it at all, it would be quick and cursory only because the readers simply could not not avoid the urge to know what I had to say (thank you, brothers and sisters from all over the world).

No-name bloggers like with no pedigree or media or publishing house sponsorship have even more difficulty to choose the title of the blog and its length or format because there is always fear that these global, friendly readers might get turned off by depressing subjects and lengthy discussions, and may not return (and I want you all to return, believe me!).

Crossing Life’s Bridge into Neverland…Perhaps.

Then, I couldn’t simply be disingenuous about what I had to say about these deaths. I neither knew the real reasons they had to leave so early, nor did I mean to complain-only about these untimely deaths. Of course, I knew why they died if you asked me the physical reasons behind them — like, my mother’s ovarian cancer when she was forty-two, or my childhood friend Subroto’s untreated clinical depression and his suicide at the age of forty-six just a few days after his father’s death, my brother in-law Ashim’s death at forty when a drunk driver hit his bicycle on the morning of Holi a few years ago, my big-brother-like maternal uncle Buddha’s death at the age of thirty-five when someone shot him in the head and left his body on his office floor, death of my wife’s most jovial uncle at the age of fifty or so when he had his early-morning breakfast and left for his neighborhood tea shop only to be electrocuted of live wire submerged in waterlogged street, my mother’s closest sister who loved me just like her own child died of meningitis when she was perhaps thirty or so leaving behind three little children, or my mother’s oldest brother Biswanath who out of poverty had a severe, untreated anxiety disorder only to die of a cerebral aneurism when he was in his forties and had to leave four young children behind, etc. I always knew the physical facts behind the deaths. I also saw some of them dying close up — like my mother and my uncle Biswanath; I remember seeing this uncle in his death bed at the Calcutta Medical College hospital emergency ward, breathing his last out of a bunch of tubes.

I could’ve seen them growing old and dying at a mature, normal age. That did not happen.

Or, two of my Scottish classmates Anjan and Nikhil — whom I met through Subroto — died so suddenly when Anjan, then a newly-graduated doctor, fell on the street one fine morning and died of a massive stroke. Nikhil was killed with his whole family — his parents, wife and child — when he was driving back to Calcutta from Delhi and an out-of-control supply truck crushed the entire family to death.

Then I can think of some other deaths that I never thought would affect me at all because they were neither my friends nor relatives; they were only people I knew from a distance. But looking back, they all touched me deeply one way or the other. Like, the death of a young, happy boy Suranjan whom I saw the day before his last, who was playing basketball in our Scottish Church School’s courtyard when a mismanaged, poorly-built chunk of cement that held the basketball basket fell on him and one other kid to kill them instantly. Or, the other young man from Buddha’s alley whose name I cannot remember now — whom I saw acting in an amateur play with Buddha who a phenomenal actor and director, just days before his death; one morning, on his way to work, he fell off an overcrowded no-door Calcutta bus pedestal and got run over by the dilapidated, double-decker bus. He was the only earning member of his large family with a number of unmarried sisters. We were in college at that time and had enough courage and desire to go see the remnants of his body and blood strewn on Beadon Street.

All of it is real. I did not make anything up.

Or, like, when I was five or six years old, a young man Ranjit, I think sixteen or seventeen  years of age, who happened to be the elder brother of a boy I used to play alley football and cricket with, hanged himself to death (or did he take poison?). I was the only child then: my sister wasn’t born yet. My parents were so concerned that the incident next door might hit me hard — they did not let me see the dead body laying on a wooden cot before the funeral procession. I remember I only heard some subdued wailing of Ranjit’s poor mother. Or maybe, I’m only imagining. I was too small. That I think was my very first encounter with untimely, shocking death.

Why did Ranjit kill himself? I don’t know. Maybe, he failed in love? Maybe, he failed in his high school exam and could not find a way out of their poverty; I knew for the fact that they were extremely poor. His younger brother Rabin who played ball with us, I remember, would always be overly cautious that the ball we played with would be lost and then he’d have to come up with the money-share for the lost, thirty-paisa ball. Therefore, every time he bowled in a game of cricket, he would yell, “I’m not responsible if the ball’s lost!”

I still remember that so vividly!

In a few years, when I was a high school student and doing well in my exams and all, I saw Rabin working as a part-time usher at our local, North Calcutta theater halls where my parents would take me for a weekday evening, discount show of Satyajit Ray or Charlie Chaplin.

Rabin never finished school.

Ranjit killed himself. Many years later, Ganesh, another friend from the same North Calcutta alley who set up a small grocery shop in our Calcutta neighborhood to make ends meet, only never to be able to make ends meet, killed himself. On top of their humiliating poverty, he also had to come up with expenses for his old parents’ health care, costs that recently went completely out of control in post-socialism India. I was not in Calcutta when Ganesh died; I was already in the U.S. studying journalism at Columbia University (and already considering myself to be a part of the elite U.S. media). It was incidentally about the same time when Subroto stood in front of a speedy commuter train only to be cut up in half.

Ganesh, Subroto and I played and gossiped together back in those romantic Calcutta days. We could grow old together. That didn’t happen either.

Didn’t I say I must tell these stories to close some chapters?

Help me do it.

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Yama, our Hindu God of death.

One Last Tagore Birthday Before My Death

Satyajit Ray, an agnostic, thought Tagore was like a God.

It took me a long time to decide on the title. I thought about it and thought it over.

I read it once. I read it twice. I paused and read it again. Finally, I decided. This is it. This is the title.

No, I don’t want to make it sound corny. That’s not the purpose. I truly feel that it could be one last time I get to live on the 25th of Baisakh — Tagore’s birthday — which normally falls on the 8th of May. This year, it’s the poet’s one hundred fifty-first birth anniversary. This year, just like any other year, much fanfare is happening in West Bengal and Bangladesh, various Bengali neighborhoods of India, as well as cities across the world wherever there is a community of Bengali people — big or small.

There will be Tagore’s songs. There will be Tagore’s plays. There will be Tagore’s poetry. There will be Tagore’s dances. There will be talks about the poet-philosopher’s poetry and philosophy. More resourceful Bengali communities in places such as Calcutta (Kolkata) and Dhaka and London and Toronto will put out special literary publications to observe the special day. Some will try experimental music — using Tagore’s songs. Some will stage Tagore’s famous plays — Post Office, Land of Cards or Red Oleanders from a new, refreshing point of view. Some will perhaps have an exhibition of Tagore’s paintings.

I know here in New York, a group of Bengali musicians and artists is putting together an audio book of Tagore’s short stories — the Man from Kabul, Return of the Little Boy, the Postmaster — with help from young-generation, college-age Bengali-American boys and girls. Kudos to them.

I have no doubt there’s going to be countless other events, programs and performances all over the world to celebrate this occasion. Especially, Tagore’s 150th birthday was particularly celebratory; it is likely this year many places are perhaps completing their year-long observance with special wrap-up celebrations.

Tagore Dance Drama in U.K.

I could not be a part of any of the numerous gatherings — either in America or Bengal. I am not a part of any of the numerous Bengali clubs, societies and organizations — either in America or Bengal. I do not live in India anymore. I live in a Brooklyn neighborhood where there is a small smattering of immigrants from West Bengal; I know once they had an association that held Durga Puja and therefore, perhaps, Tagore Jubilee as well. But I know the group slowly dwindled, some old inhabitants left this unsung corner of New York City and some others went back to India. In any case, we never hear from them.

There is a large Bangladeshi community within walking distance of where we live in Brooklyn. In fact, working as an immigrant rights activist especially among the South Asians, once I had made an estimate that only this community counted about 30,000 people. It is a large community that has associations from many known and unknown districts of Bangladesh; they frequently host their picnics, street fairs and Eid dinners. But I am not sure if they ever hosted any Tagore birthday celebration. I learned from various friends that most of them came from conservative-Muslim areas in Bangladesh where “Hindu-liberal” Rabindranath Tagore was not such a household name. That is not to say all conservative Muslims are anti-Tagore or anti-Hindu.

In some other West Bengali and Bangladeshi communities in New York and New Jersey, there will be programs and performances. But these days, after working with and for especially the Bangladeshi community, it has dawned to me that inviting someone like me who is not from political Bangladesh is not a priority. After living in New York City for so many years, my family and I have accepted the fact that in spite of our desire to belong with a larger, undivided Bengali diaspora, we are not, in any real sense, part of either a “mainstream immigrant” Bangladesh or West Bengal. (Apologies for using an oxymoron.)

Chances are, we will not know if there were Tagore celebrations in New York or New Jersey where my long, post-9/11 activist experience once had an estimate of some two hundred thousand Bengalis — over eighty percent of whom were from Bangladesh. Practically all the weekend Bengali-language parochial schools and practically all of the two dozens of weekly Bengali-language newspapers and magazines operating and publishing out of New York are Bangladeshi.

The Land of Bengal: a Glorious History of a Thousand Years.

For a long time, my family and I were actively involved with one of the weekend schools where I taught advanced-level Bengali to just-graduated students, and my family members participated in their cultural programs. For a number of years, especially after 9/11, as an important part of my immigrant rights activism, I wrote columns in a number of Bengali weekly newspapers and magazines — Thikana, Ekhon Samoy, Bangalee, Sangbad, Porshee.

With the schools and publications alike, I always did what I always do: educate the community about the difference between culture and kitsch, and speak and write about human rights and justice. When I worked professionally for two immigrant advocacy organizations — one in Jackson Heights, New York City and the other in New Jersey, I also worked with Bangladeshi immigrant families who bore the brunt of a terribly unjust and primitive immigration system here in the U.S. Among other activities, I worked with a few men and women who were in prison for a long time for minor immigration violations; I also worked with some others who were spared from prison detention or deportation because of our work.

I have many friends and acquaintances. I built precious connections with journalists, activists, writers, singers, playwrights and music teachers. I always felt proud to have thought I was a member of the larger immigrant Bengal and immigrant South Asia.

Tagore Festival Toronto

Yet, there is a strange disjunct — an insurmountable wall — between me and my family and the societies both in the Bangladeshi and West Bengali community. West Bengali immigrants do not know us well: we live in a not-affluent area in Brooklyn mostly inhabited by African-Americans, Jewish people, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. Bangladeshi immigrants do not think we are one of them because we came from India — a country they do not know anymore. The conservative-Muslim Bangladeshis (the variety I mentioned above) do not like or understand a liberal-progressive, one-nation Bengal that Tagore and his predecessors from Bengal Renaissance envisioned. The young-generation, liberal-educated Bangladeshis do not know the common history and heritage of two Bengals shared over one thousand years before the British cut the land of Bengal in halves, erecting insurmountable, blood-soaked borders.

Yet, a very large section of Bangladeshi Bengalis (it’s a very strange term, in my opinion) — most are Muslims — are moderate in their religious and social views, avid music, theater and literature lovers, and are the biggest consumers of music and movies from Calcutta and West Bengal — even today. Strangely, however, some of them have a general apathy, indifference, ignorance and often anathema about political West Bengal and India. When they find out I am from India and not from Dhaka, Sylhet or Chittagong, they talk to me differently. Again, I’m not generalizing. How can I, when I have so many special friends from Dhaka, Sylhet or Chittagong?

New York’s Bengali paper Thikana published a nice review of my Tagore album. I keep working with them.

There are quite a few other Bengali immigrants both from Bangladesh and West Bengal — highly educated, scholarly and erudite — who are satisfied with the small society they have and therefore do not feel any particular urge to invite outsiders like us. New Jersey or Long Island — where most of these more affluent, educated West Bengalis live — is like a group of islands only connected by long-distance, car-driven highways, creating more distances between people. We do not have the time or desire to go out of New York City to see either a Durga Puja or a Tagore performance, and return more depressed that we never felt truly welcome.

All of the above — the entire, personal, true story I told here — is a slow but sure recipé for death. If I was not a high-energy, activist, never-say-die-type personality who would go out of his way to find new friends, colleagues and communities and stay involved with newer and ever-challenging, creative activities — immigrant movement or labor education or Brooklyn For Peace or Durga Puja or Bengali New Year celebration (or even the Tagore-150 we organized in Manhattan last year with help from New Yorker) — death would have come much faster. In my twenty-five-plus years of living in the U.S., I have seen a number of people — a few of them being highly talented but decidedly loners — falling victims of this extreme alienation followed by depression, dark diseases and death. I always, always carry that fear deep inside that one day, I’m going to be a victim of a similar alienation and die untimely.

My new Tagore album: maybe you’ll like the songs — I hope you do

Every year, therefore, at this time when the rest of the world is celebrating the life and work of this incredible genius named Rabindranath Tagore, the question comes to my mind: am I going to live one more year to see the next Tagore birthday celebration? Which song would be the last Tagore song I hear before I die? Which Tagore poem would be the last one I read? Which short story would I translate the last before I perish — and perish prematurely?

I hope I didn’t make you too sad or perturbed and I certainly hope I didn’t make it sound too corny, as if I was trying to draw your sympathy — sympathy for a forlorn soul.

If you feel that way, I am sorry. I do not have anything to offer you to compensate for it — other than the two dozens of Tagore songs I recorded. I also have a few translations of these songs as well as translations of a few Tagore short stories.

I also have a YouTube of one of my talks on culture and Tagore — a talk I gave recently at an Indian university. And if I may say it, I have recently managed to compile a whole host of my essays on Tagore in relation to cultural erosion and globalized kitsch. I’m actually in the middle of writing a book on the above.

I hope you receive these gifts I leave for you, and forgive me for my personal, not-so-cheerful rambling.

Celebrate Tagore. He showed us an educated, modern, progressive way to live. He was not a perfect man. In fact, he had many flaws. I do not consider him a God. I consider him a very important, humanist philosopher-poet teacher who taught us human spirituality, universality and peace.

Tagore taught us the message of emancipation: in Bengali, the word is Mukti. It means inner freedom: liberation of the soul. Nandini showed us the way in Red Oleanders.

If this is the last Tagore birthday before my death, I want to remember him that way.

I hope you get to know him.

Sincerely Writing,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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