My Birthday, My Reasons to Live ‚ÄĒ the Frontal Word

Commonspeak, Calcutta, February 2013.
Commonspeak, Calcutta, February 2013.

Frontal word is a phrase in my own little dictionary.

Over the years, I’ve created a number of words and phrases, and used them in my articles and blogs. Some of them have been nearly as meaningful as Orwell, Obamaspeak, Newspeak or New York Times. You can find them in my rabble, ramble and rubble.

Here’s a few examples out of my personal Thesaurus: (1) Flesh Dancing, (2) Synchronized Jump-laughing, (3) Journalism of Exclusion, (4) Undislike, (5) Wordorgasmilistics, and (6) Englishmatics. There are some more. Call me if you undislike them.

Dashu the Crazy Kid. By Sukumar Ray. Unforgettable!
Dashu the Crazy Kid. By Sukumar Ray. Unforgettable!

They’re like, Dr. Seuss. Or, Sukumar Ray. Weird, powerful, funny.

Frontal Word is much simpler. It means word to upfront. It means word to confront. Confront the past. Confront the present. Then, first confront and then upfront the future. It’s a word that finds its roots in old Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Pali and Sanskrit…sorry…I mean…in old experience. My bad!

Old experience, then, is old memories. Lifelong memories. Sweet memories. Sour memories. Beautiful and bitter memories. Good memories, great memories. Frontal word upfronts and confronts life with use of these memories. Memories are good to memorize. And who doesn’t know Indians and Bengalis are good at memorizing? Just ask any Spelling Bee judge here in America!

From the dust of North Calcutta. Literally!
From the dust of North Calcutta. Literally! (This was an example off my Agfa Click III. I think my childhood buddy Subroto took this photo. No way to verify no more. But that’s okay. Memory lives.)

But seriously, now that I am suddenly one whole eon older at this important juncture of my life — one year older by the traditional definition of a birthday and one eon older because of the upfronting, confronting, alarming health situation with transient memory loss, confusion and all, people who love me and care for me — such as my family, friends, colleagues, doctors, Facebookers and blog readers — strongly advised that I wrote only about pleasant, personal moments of life.

They said it would be good to upfront and confront my life: with happy thoughts. They said why do I not write about some of the most pleasant, memorable, happy thoughts that make me smile even in my darkest, creepy nightmare? And you know what: I thought they were absolutely right! After all, I want to live a little more…through a few more happy experiences.

Don’t you?

The two-foot-wide balcony. Ma stood there with a smile. She was happy.
The two-foot-wide mezzanine balcony. Ma stood there with a smile. She was happy. She was proud.

So, taking advantage of this happy time — my birthday on the 25th of April — I write about some of my most pleasant memories. I wonder if you — my friends, colleagues and blog readers from various parts of the world — would be able to relate to all of those memories given the clothes they wear, looks they look, spirits they script, bricks they paint, foods they fodder, or drinks they fuel. But I do hope because the speaks they speak have some commonspeak as opposed to newspeak, and because in my upfrontal, confrontal personal dictionary, commonspeaks are first pages and newspeaks are appendices, some of you — the more caring, loving, empathizing and keeper-upper cheergivers — would manage to get at least the grist of it.

That is my hope. So, without further ado, I list a list (randomly un-ordered) to celebrate my birthday this year. Let me know if you need an expanded version. I shall provide. Just order it. I even have a half-finished memoir to circulate among my most ardent admirers.

The Randomly Unordered List

Memory 1. — I stood first in my class exam at Scottish Church School. My mother stood in the two foot by two foot mezzanine balcony to greet me when I walked back from school. I remember I was wearing a mischievous grin.

Memory 2. — I top scored in our school cricket match and won a nearly-lost game. Then my friends lifted me up on their shoulders and cheered: Hip Hip Hooray…(that was the only Scottish way of cheering we knew).

Ally Cricket in Calcutta. We called it Goli Cricket.
Alley Cricket in Kolkata.

Memory 3. — Jumping forward. — Some of my students at a remote, rural college in South Bengal got distinction in their university exam. I was their first and only professor in biology and worked overtime to make sure they passed. We had no electricity. We used kerosene lanterns for extra evening classes I offered for free. I was twenty five at that time. It was my first job and my first experience to live away from home.

Memory 4. — Jumping backward. — At a handwriting competition at primary school, I got the first prize in Bengali script, beating my friend and arch-enemy Ananda. This kid wrote like calligraphy. I also got my first book as a prize: it was a famous Sukumar Ray book. Cherished it all my life. I still have it here in my little personal library in New York.

Memory 5. — Our first family train trip across North India. We went to Benaras, Lucknow and Bareilly. I was four, and believe me, I remember most of the trip. It was winter and Bareilly was unusually cold. Having raised in pleasant-weather Bengal, I never knew India could be so cold! My aunt’s family was quite well off (and poor Ma was totally in awe to see their riches); they had a big house, a garden with beautiful flowers, a swing where my sick mother would sit once in a while, and room heaters in every room. They even had a big European dog, and mother and I were both afraid of dogs, so they would keep him inside most of the time.

Our school football team. Find me here from way back when.
Our school football team. Find me here from way back when.

Memory 6. — Scored highest number of goals in neighborhood football (soccer) league two or three times in consecutive years. Even got prizes from our local city councilor or somebody important like him. Of course, we played with rubber ball: never had the money to buy a real football. But that was just okay. In fact, it was enormous fun.

Memory 7. — Got the best student scholarship for ranking top in class exams around the year. Mr. A. B. Roy, headmaster, would call me out of my class into his teaching room and gave me the scholarship in front of all the students. Oh, what a chest expander it was!

ūüôā

Memory 8. — Shift gear and move up a few more years, quickly. — I was making a half-hour speech at a political street-corner rally in the university area of Calcutta. Given how shy and introvert I was when I was a kid (not to say anything about my feminine voice that friends and elders mocked about), it was a remarkable achievement — let alone keeping the audience to actually listen to my ramble.

Memory 9. — Shift gear and fast forward a few more years. — I was teaching a full class of American students, this time in English. Believe me, it was not easy. I never spoke in English in my life. I came to America just a week ago, I was underfed, I was ten thousand miles away from my wife and family, I didn’t know a soul on the Western hemisphere, and I was shivering in my first Chicago wind chill.

Memory 10. — Shift gear again and move up a few more years, more quickly. — I was giving a major speech at a political rally on Wall Street, to protest the domestic repression after 9/11 and particularly to protest against the visit of Bush’s attorney general Ashcroft. New York Civil Liberties Union organized the rally with help from grassroots organizations such as ours. I was the post-9/11 community organizer working against hate crimes on immigrants. I do believe it was one of the most important speeches I’ve ever made in my life, and in English too!

Go home, Ashcroft. Go home, Bush and Cheney!
Go home, Ashcroft. Go home, Bush.

Memory 11. — Marriage at a rather young age just a few months after getting the college lecturer job. Just a couple of years later, I left the job and family and friends and India behind for a very uncertain future in the U.S. It was a bitter-sweet memory given the permanent departure from a place I loved so much. Yet, the adventure of jumping into a completely unknown side of life with just a few dollars in my pocket — to show to the rest of the world that even someone like I could do it, and that too, not to be rich but to be someone with extraordinary desire to do something different and exceptional in life — was absolutely, positively special. In retrospect, with all the pluses and minuses and joys and sorrows, I would do it again.

Memory 11(a). — Birth of a child. Unbelievable experience to hold the little¬†bouquet of joy!!

Memory 12. — 2004. Getting first-page coverage in major American media including the New York Times of our immigrant rights and justice work. It happened a number of times over the years, and together with all my colleagues in the organizations I worked for, the recognition of our work and spreading the news across the country and world made it special. Very special, indeed!

Memory 13. — First book published in 1998. Ajanta Publishers in Delhi put out my autobiographical book on the RSS and BJP, Hindu fundamentalist organizations that I was once deeply involved in and went up the ladder fast. But I was definitely not a fundamentalist type, ever. I was with them for more than fifteen years mainly because my father took me there. At one point, I had to come out. So, I came out and wrote about my insider experience with the far right groups. It was not easy; the book made my father heartbroken. But for me, it was a major accomplishment: I grew up both politically and intellectually.

Memory 14. — In 2012, I recorded twenty songs of Rabindranath Tagore. It was my little contribution to the world of poetry and music lovers on the occasion of Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary. The total experience over the week of studio recording, first with the noted instrumentalists and then the voice recording for a few more days, was simply extraordinary, unforgettable.

Recording my Tagore songs at Jupiter Studio.
Recording my Tagore songs.

Memory 15. — Going back again, a whole bunch of years back to my adolescence, at my Holy Thread ceremony when I was fourteen years old, a few colleagues from my father’s factory Usha Sewing Machine Works gave me a beautiful gift: a small, Agfa box camera. It was one of my most cherished possessions. It stayed with me for many years until it disappeared into oblivion, just like many other beautiful, prized possessions I lost forever. But even though I lost the physical possession of it, I never lost the precious, beautiful memories I had with it. Nobody could take the memories away. Especially, that social ceremony left a permanent, pleasant impression on me forever.

Memory 16. — Rewinding one more time, my father threw a small, family party to celebrate my fifth birthday. I still remember, our mezzanine apartment in North Calcutta was decorated with colorful balloons. A whole bunch of friends and relatives came. My mother cooked some of her phenomenal dishes, just the same way she would cook for all my friends over the years for all my birthday parties. I remember many of my birthday celebrations in Calcutta — my special friends and my mother’s special food made them ever so special.

Memory 17. — I was stuck like glue to neighborhood Tagore birthday celebrations: legends such as Debabrata Biswas, Suchitra Mitra and Hemanta Mukherjee are singing the poet’s celestial songs — for hours. It was my first experience to be with God.

Going back a few more years, yes, going back to when I was two and a half perhaps, I would walk with my mother or aunt to our neighborhood pre-K school Shishu Niketan (which in Bengali means the house of the child), where I would learn how to sing Tagore, read the alphabet, do the elementary arithmetic, sew simple thread and needle, and play fun games a lot. The teachers would even put us to sleep in the dark and quiet sleep room for an hour or so in the middle of the day. I even had my own stitch-cloth comforter which my mother sewed my name on — a cuddly, soft comforter my sister used when she went to the same school about eight or nine years later. I was in middle school by that time; I’d drop her off at ten, go to Scottish Church, and pick her up at four in the afternoon on my walk back from school.

Shishu Niketan. Childhood. Peace.
Shishu Niketan. Childhood. Peace.

Pleasant memories…so many…so many of them! It would take a lifetime to talk about only a fragment of it. I only managed to tell a few stories, and left the many others for later. There are so many beautiful stories I want to tell you. Only if you have time for me.

But for now, it makes me so happy to remember some. I hope they made you a little happy too.

Thanks for staying with me. Thanks for smiling together with me.

Did I upfront too much? I hope not.

ūüôā

Sincerely, Happily Yours,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Ma's cooking was bliss. Mukti's Kitchen is blessing.
Ma’s cooking was bliss. Mukti’s Kitchen is blessing.

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.

____________________

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.

___________

-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.

__________________

-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.