Pictures From My India Trip

Dear Friends and HumanityCollege.org supporters and sympathizers:

Happy New Year (in February!).

🙂

I just came back from a trip to India, and brought some fascinating pictures back with me. I’m sharing them with you.

India is a beautiful country, and my city Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) is a fascinating city. It’s progressive, it’s vibrant, it’s warm, it’s inclusive and secular, and its’ friendly.

On this trip, we had a gathering of family members and friends to celebrate our daughter’s wedding. About two hundred people came to the reception held on January 21. Our daughter and son in-law also brought a few of their American and Indian-American friends along with them. They loved it too.

“Kolkata changed my perception of India,” one of them said later.

Enjoy the photos. Any questions or comments, please write.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York
ashirvad-1
The blessings of Ashirvad ceremony happened here in Brooklyn, New York. Here, the Hindu priest is performing the ritual with the father of the bride.

partha-in-kolkata-1
I am standing on the sidewalk shopping complex at Kolkata’s popular Gariahat area. Thanks to Indian prime minister Modi’s scandalous demonetization, the bustling market is barren. Small businessmen and businesswomen are suffering badly.

north-kolkata-1
Our old, mezzanine apartment in North Kolkata. This is where I grew up. A very precious, scared place for me and my family. I am glad we still have this place with us.

father-with-kids
My father, 93, loved the company of our daughter’s friends visiting Kolkata from USA. He is fluent in English. Therefore, conversation was not a problem. You just have to speak loud…a lot loud 🙂

old-kolkata-house
Our old, North Kolkata home. We lived for twenty-five years on the mezzanine floor, before I came to USA as a foreign graduate student. This place is haunting for me, with memories.

bengali-indian-food
And finally, who could resist the temptation of Bengali and Indian food? All the guests were amazed. They all want to go back 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Calcutta Diary, Page One

Calcutta busJust came back to New York from India. Had another incredibly rewarding time. I am posting here my experiences from the city I grew up in. I hope you read and reflect. Comments much welcome.

This is my first blog post of 2016. Hope you return, and be in touch.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partha_Banerjee

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Calcutta Diary 2016. — Page 1.

Life’s routine items that have lost their meanings in the midst of an indifferent, diverse crowd, where society is so overly present that nobody thinks about it twice, an exiled Bengali finds them as precious as a pearl in a plastic shop.

We the exiled collect those experiences the way a doomed prisoner writes letters to his daughter he will never see again. It’s the ordinary pictures on a daily, urban landscape: a mother walking her son to elementary school, rehearsing possible questions to appear on the class test.

Or, it is somewhat out of the ordinary: like last night, when we just arrived at a dinner invitation, urgent call came from home that my father is seriously sick again and that we needed to rush back home.

When we return to our new home in America, we will carry these stories with us, and reminisce them over and over again, because that’s what is left with us, contrary to those we leave back here who will be immersed in many more such stories on a daily basis.

Their pearl necklace is thus one of the several to choose from, to adorn life. To us the exiled and the immigrant, however, one small gemstone is all we have. We don’t have their abundance. We only have savored preciousness.

Thus begins a new year, unfolding like a mist-covered, mysterious tulip.

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Singara rosogolla

India’s Mega-Billion Cricket Scandal


Dhoni Bindu Dara
Wife of India’s cricket captain often seen with a lead bookie cum Bollywood star


Two years ago, I wrote that India and Pakistan had fixed their world cup cricket match — for billions of dollars through bookies and bribes.

Nobody paid any attention to what I had to say.

Now, a new episode of India’s cricket scandal got exposed during the IPL tournament, and some small investigation got some small cricketers and Bollywood stars arrested for spot fixing. And even though we all know how big cricketers and big Bollywood stars are involved in this mega-billion-dollar betting industry, and how corporate India, politicians and media and law enforcement will soon hush it all up, especially well before the 2014 national elections — to save and protect the ruling class and their lynchpins, we need to revisit how the game of cricket that we had once loved so much has now become a matter of mafia, muscle and money — disgracing our souls and shaming our identities one more time.

Center of cricket power and conflict of interest
Center of power and conflict of interest: board chairman

I thought I should bring back the article I wrote two years ago on a very scandalous episode involving the people in power — both in India and Pakistan. Now, with the meteoric rise of the IPL tournament, the scandal has become global and all the participating countries with their players, officials and politicians have now become suspects.

Would an international low enforcement body investigate this international crime?

You decide.

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Friday, April 1, 2011

India-Pakistan World Cup Cricket: Fixed?

India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal match: fixed?
FYI. (Please make a note that I’m not doing it because I’m anti-India, anti-Pakistan, or anti-anything. I’m only asking people to think calmly and objectively about the scandals and lies that cheat us and our children; there’s NO difference when it comes to India, Pakistan or any other big power.)
It deeply troubles me, and keeps me awake. Here’s my two cents on this. I hope you do something about it.
Were a billion-plus people (and especially children and youth) cheated by the people in power and their cronies on the field? Was there small or big-time fixing, group politics, gambling, spot-fixing, fancy-fixing, political pressure, personal rewards, threats or intimidation to sway the game and the overall outcome of 2011 World Cup Cricket?
Can we investigate, and prove or disprove the allegations?
I’ve played a lot of cricket in my years, and always kept in touch with it. Here’s my “evidence” to bring a prima facie case with an allegation that the match could well have been fixed.
(1) Pakistan strike bowler Umar Gul’s huge run giveaways in the first few overs; and yet, captain Shahid Afridi gave him the ball in the final overs when he gave away many more runs to give India a respectable total (completely unnecessary: Abdul Razzak who only bowled a couple of overs, was not given the ball, and he looked grim).
And was it true that Afridi refused the final bowling power play, making it even easier for India? (Personally, I’d want to believe that he was a helpless onlooker of group pressure and politics.)
(2) Pathetically slow batting by Pakistan batsmen: it was a pain sitting through watching it (especially by aggressive batsmen like Misbah and Younis), yielding an impossible asking run rate (it went up from 4 or 5 per over in the beginning of their innings to almost 9 in the middle of the innings; and India’s bowling was truly below-average). The way some of the Pak batsmen threw their wickets away was horrible: couldn’t possibly happen in a normal scenario.
(3) Pakistan players’ body language was very suspicious: especially of Umar Gul, Kamran Akmal and Younis Khan; they looked face stiff even from the start of the game. Why?
(4) Pakistan constantly excluded star bowler Shoaib Akhtar even in the India match (who announced retirement after World Cup, expressing “disgust” the way he’s been treated). Maybe, he knew something? Can we ask him?
(5) India played three ordinary pace bowlers especially Munaf and Nehra who bowled miserably; yet, star Pakistani batsmen would not make strokeplays against them.
(6) Pakistani wicketkeeper and other Pak players’ gestures after dropping “Man of the Match” (?) Sachin four or five times were telling (and this wicket keeper is notoriously unscrupulous, many say). Come on, was it Sachin’s Man-of-the-Match game? Why not young Riaz?
(7) Pakistan’s recent political troubles are massive and it extremely needed to mend ties with India by any means; beating India in India would not go well with that fence-mending, and India would also perhaps be thrown in a Shiv Sena type turmoil (SS had already warned of dire consequences of a Pakistan win). ICC or BCCI would not want something that would cut into their profits and reputation (or whatever is left of the reputation). India govt., for that matter, needed something big for a diversion: India’s economic situation is scary, and opposition is gaining ground.The April 3 New York Times article said Sonia Gandhi got what she asked for: diversion from major IPL, Commonwealth and 2G scandals that rocked India.
(8) Pakistani minister’s prior warning to players “not to fix” the India match was ominous. Maybe, it’s time to have an interview with him?
(9) Pakistan’s recent-past wicketkeeper Zulkarnain Haider’s new allegations (and some other individuals’ action including the Lahore court petition to investigate fixing) that the match was set up must be followed on.
All conjectures? Could be. But it’s a question of thinking critically, and finding circumstantial evidence.
I have no doubt that you’d understand the gravity of the situation.
I’d be very happy if after investigation (a real one), it turns out to be all clean.
(Then we’ll talk about the billion-dollar bookies in IPL and T-20, but we’ll save it for now).
Thanks for listening.
Partha Banerjee
Brooklyn, New York

April 1, 2011

(Revised on April 4)

India, Bengal, Calcutta…February 2013

Image

I just returned from a short, two-week trip to India.

It was way too short. Two weeks in India, especially when you’re visiting only once a year or every other year, is not enough time at all.

But new responsibilities at work do not allow for more than two weeks of away time. Plus, traveling by yourself and leaving your family behind here in New York, in this extreme, February cold when temperature is always below zero, it does not allow you to relax. You always have anxieties and worries about the people you left behind.

But India is always fun. Calcutta is always fascinating. Two weeks or one week. Meeting old and new people. Walking down the street — North to South, East to West. Crossing the Ganges over the two big bridges. Calling friends. Getting calls from friends you haven’t seen in thirty…even forty years. Attending weddings. Visiting someone in distress. Sharing stories of a friend of a friend who poured his heart out for you…just because nobody else wanted to hear his story anymore.

Waking up at three in the morning…for the first couple of days because of a terrible jet lag, and then followed by barking of street dogs…followed by crowing crows at four thirty…followed by the same-old old man whom you’d forgotten over the past twelve months since you came here the last time…the man whom you never saw but heard every morning at five to five fifteen before he disappeared rambling strangely…to himself. He had a strange, deep, eerie voice. Or, it could be that because you heard him in those strange hours, he sounded so.

Then the sound of the Hindu household dawn worship…the conch shell or sankha followed by soft, tinkling hand-held bells…and you know it’s about time to wake up…and ask for some early morning tea…and stroll off to do your early morning green vegetable and fish bazar at the open, country-style market…fish is now very expensive…fish is out of reach of a middle-class, lower middle-class Bengali family…and you know Bengalis couldn’t eat their rice without fish…in fact, everything is so unbelievably expensive…you can feel it even though you came back only after a year!

Image

I went to the famous annual book fair. Books are expensive too. But I went twice. I had to. It brought back so many memories from those wonderful, romantic, youthful, Kolkata days. I couldn’t possibly miss the Boi Mela, as they call the fair in Bengali.

I went to see Sandipta Chatterjee’s grieving parents. I was by their side for two hours. I had to. It was too precious of an experience. To know how she died. Why she died. How careless her own people had been. How brutal the so-called, modern Indian medical system had been…how cruel they had all been to her!

To find some peace back, I went to our Scottish Church School alumni’s Saraswati Puja and saw old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in forty years. And they spoke with me with an incredible affection and love…the typical Calcutta way. And some others called to find out how my twenty five years of American living had been. And some of those I met asked me sing a few Tagore songs…just the same way they asked me to sing a few Tagore songs forty years ago…

Tired. Will write more. This is just the start.

I hope you come back and stay with me. This is a new, fascinating journey.

A journey into humanity.

Sincerely Writing Again,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Calcutta, where ordinary people still save money to buy books.
Calcutta, where ordinary people still save money to buy books.

Swami Vivekananda at 150: the Socialist Saint

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THE MASTER AS I SAW HIM. — “He believed that the one thing to be renounced was any idea of birth as the charter of leadership. He believed that the whole of India was about to be thrown into the melting pot, and that no man could say what new forms of power and greatness would be the result.” — Written by Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita (aka Margaret Noble).

__________________________________________________

Today, January 12, Swami Vivekananda turns 150.

For us who grew up knowing him, reading him, idolizing him — it’s a very special day.

For those of us who grew up in Calcutta, India, and that too, within half a mile of his residence, within quarter of a mile of the college he studied — it gives us goosebumps to imagine how this young monk who passed away at the age of thirty nine, turned Bengal and India upside down, by his rousing call to young India — to get rid of superstitions, castes, and all forms of social and religious dogmas.

Swami Vivekananda, a Ramakrishna-ordained Hindu saint who relinquished mortal pleasures to work to uplift the Hindu religion, used the religion to uplift the morality and soul of Indians. He dared to say: It’s better to play football than to study the Vedas. Indian revolutionaries who fought back against the British colonial tyranny idolized him, emulated him.

No wonder he was often fondly called the Socialist Saint.

Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita (aka Margaret Noble, an Irish woman) followed his footsteps, and worked among the poorest in Calcutta until her death at the age of forty four. She was also responsible for co-founding a major socialist movement in India — a “crime” for which Ramakrishna Mission (a nationwide, now international, organization her guru created) ostracized her.

India, unfortunately, did not follow the religion-based morality-upliftment lessons Vivekananda and Nivedita preached. Social patriarchs — including missions and monasteries — took their religion part and forgot about the upliftment part. Media selectively glorified some of their “innocuous” teaching and conveniently excluded the “controversial” ones. As a result, Vivekananda’s India is now one of the most corrupt, violent and immoral places on earth. The recent developments in the land of Tagore, Gandhi, Vivekananda and Ramakrishna are truly catastrophic, calamitous, ominous.

I want to say more about this great man whose life and teaching we can perhaps compare with those of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Both used spirituality to teach the downtrodden how to rise up and walk straight and tall. Both died at the age of thirty nine.

I’m including a famous poem Swami Vivekananda wrote and Sister Nivedita used in her writings on the guru. It may bring some special reflection on this dark and depressing time. At least, I hope it does.

Let us invoke the Holy Mother. Come, Mother, come!

_______

Kali worshiper Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the Swami's "illiterate" mentor.
Kali worshiper Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the Swami’s “illiterate” mentor.

Kali the Mother

The stars are blotted out,

The clouds are covering clouds

It is darkness vibrant, sonant.

In the roaring, whirling wind

Are the souls of a million lunatics

Just loosed from the prison-house,

Wrenching trees by the roots,

Sweeping all from the path.

The sea has joined the fray,

And swirls up mountain-waves,

To reach the pitchy sky.

The flash of lurid light

Reveals on every side

A thousand, thousand shades

Of Death begrimed and black —

Scattering plagues and sorrows,

Dancing mad with joy,

Come, Mother, come!

For Terror is Thy name,

Death is in Thy breath.

And every shaking step

Destroys a world for e’er.

Thou ‘Time’, the All-destroyer!

Come, O Mother, come!

Who dares misery love,

And hug the form of Death,

Dance in Destruction’s dance,

To him the Mother comes.

###

Sister Nivedita. Know her.
Sister Nivedita. Know her.

Late Breaking News!! IMF Just “Bought” A New India President!!

The Three New Stooges!

Allegedly, an unprincipled, corrupt political system with an unprincipled, corrupt media just elected an IMF-nominated and Corporate-America-backed career-partisan politician as the new president of India — a man who as the longtime finance minister has brought the country’s economy to the brink of doom. 

I hope you read this little blog and the accompanying blog on IMF and Wall Street’s global politics and terrorism, and share them with your friends, family and colleagues. Thank you for your time for reading and sharing.

__________________________

Background:

The Indian president has always been a nameplate: a rubber stamp for the prime minister. But there’s a strong possibility that Pranab Mukherjee’s (the person in the middle — see photo with Sonia Gandhi) incumbency will change this because (1) he is the current finance minister of India and ALSO the current IMF director of India (very few know this); (2) in all likelihood, through putting him as the next India president, IMF will perpetuate its economic status quo that began during Rajiv Gandhi and his then-finance minister Manmohan Singh (India’s current prime minister: the bearded man on the left); (3) media do not mention, let alone discuss in-depth, the role of IMF and its Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) that turned a once-egalitarian (egalitarian compared to what it is now) economy upside down — both in India and elsewhere such as Argentina, Greece, Italy and Spain; (4) Sonia Gandhi, India’s de facto queen mother, is completely unchallenged by India’s so-called democratic political hegemony and media establishment when in actuality, she’s been a part of the country’s catastrophic and historic corruption, inflation and violence; and (5) Sonia Gandhi is obviously transferring power from now-prime minister Manmohan Singh so that she can put her son Rahul Gandhi, a political neophyte just like his father Rajiv Gandhi, as the next prime minister in 2014 (or 2019), and that her handpicked president Mukherjee can expedite that process. Of course, this is all assumption based on the current scenario. It might change as the political landscape of India is changing fast.

Foreground:

Fascists and bigots are now supporting a new, scary, global economic fascism!

India’s far right Shiv Sena, a Hindu outfit originally created in the 80’s allegedly to violently break down a legendary textile workers’ strike in Bombay, just threw their support behind Sonia Gandhi’s handpicked presidential candidate. Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray said: “Islamic terrorism is growing and Hindu terrorism is the only way to counter it. We need suicide bomb squads to protect India and Hindus.”

Indian media that often brandishes secularism, does not say a word. The liberal pundits and political parties do not cry foul either.

International Monetary Fascism — also known as IMF — is playing their scary, scandalous game to take India over. It’s the beginning of a long, dark era of recolonization.

History Repeats Itself!

Lord Clive’s East India Company, with sabotage from a bunch of their paid spies and operatives, took India over in 1757. Then they ruled, looted and destroyed the country for the next two centuries before they broke the country in three pieces, created famines, killed millions, and made millions more permanently destitute. Now, two hundred and fifty years later, their new reincarnate IMF,  World Bank, the global corporate puppeteers and their notorious intelligence agencies, with help from their Indian operatives, are going to take over the country of 1.2 billion people — eighty percent of them haplessly poor — for the next number of centuries.

The Barbaric, British Partition of India, 1947.

Sounds too much of an exaggeration? Okay, quiz me on it. I’d love to take up on your challenge.

IMF is almost there to put its own man Pranab Mukherjee — the current finance minister of India and ALSO the country’s official IMF director (never disclosed by media)– as the next president of India. The “democratic” process is almost complete. Billions of dollars have changed hands underground to bring necessary votes to the table. Those few still bargaining for a better deal will be dealt with — in cash or kind. Media will be euphoric, vindicating Indian democracy.

You can quote me: you shall see eulogies in New York Times soon. I’ll come back and tell you when it happens.

New IMF “Renaissance” in Italy. They Got Spain Too!

The new colonists have just recently put their own men on top of two other major democracies Spain and Italy. India — the largest democracy in the world today — is their latest kill.

And the entire takeover is happening in broad daylight — in a nonviolent, bloodless, even invisible coup!

It might sound like I’m staging a major drama and scaring off people on unfounded allegations. First of all, I am a small, powerless Indian-American man sitting in New York — 10,000 miles away from New Delhi.  Secondly, I have no political or monetary stake here: I do not belong to any of the political or non-political parties that are busy playing the game. Plus, I can’t do much damage to anybody — let alone the mighty IMF or Sonia Gandhi family — by writing a small, no-name blog.

Don’t worry: I cannot upstage anybody’s game.

But I still want to write and talk about it because I am convinced this is exactly what is happening, and I just cannot be silent about it. I may be poor and powerless, but they could not YET take away my education, analysis and conscience, and my decades of grassroots political experience, both in India and America.

I believe what is happening in India right now is absolutely horrendous and this silent, bloodless coup can bring India to at least another century of miserable slavery. I know this takeover will kill countless poor people and families in the subcontinent.

I told you before that IMF’s New Terror in India is Going to Kill My Family. I’m telling you again: it’s going to be a genocide where hundreds of thousands of innocent and poor people will lose their lives and dignity. Women will lose their honor. Children will die of new starvation. Workers — men, women and children — will be thrown into even more brutal subjugation and violence.

A horrendous inflation and price rise for oil and essential commodities — we see it happening right now — will devastate millions of poor and middle-class Indian people.

I said it before, and I’m saying it again. You decide.

I’m inviting you to read the other recent posts I wrote here on my blog — on this subject. Please let me know what you think. Please let me know if there’s anything we can do to stop the International Monetary Fascists before they reoccupy India with their invisible and media-overlooked weapons of mass destruction (you can call it WMD or SAP): (1) permanent economic policy change by opening the floodgate to multinational, corporate investment, (2) drastic devaluation of Indian currency, (3) total privatization and deregulation of India’s economy, (4) destruction of India’s social welfare system, (5) obliteration of the nationalized banks and financial systems, (6) repression of labor union and workers’ rights, and (7) drastic cuts in taxes for the rich.

This is IMF’s new “Shock and Awe.”

I am NOT crying wolf. I am warning you about the violent, grotesque wolf that is about to start mass killing. I told you this before and I’m telling you this again, now.

The New IMF Terrorism in India Can Kill My Family. Read it here. Click on this link. Let me know what you think. Let others know about it too. Please.

Let’s do something about it. Can we do anything about it?

If you decide not to, let me tell you: YOU ARE NEXT!

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

###

Horrible, Old Wine in a Horrible, New Bottle!

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

Land of Cards

My Very Special Birthday Wish

A Reason to Celebrate: My New Tagore Album. Please visit, listen and download (click on the picture).

Today I’m writing to celebrate my birthday. But today is not my birthday. It’s tomorrow.

I’m writing today because tomorrow I won’t have any free time. Birthdays here in the U.S. do not wait for a free day (or a day when you can make yourself free), and just like some other days I love to celebrate — such as Durga Puja or Tagore Jubilee — they often fall on a busy day in the middle of the week, and I cannot celebrate them the way I want to.

That’s not what I call a free country. (But that’s a different story.)

I also want to celebrate those days I love to celebrate with a lot of people and family and friends, and that don’t ever happen either.

(But that’s a different story too.)

I really love to celebrate my birthday. I’ve always loved to do it. I’ve done it in our small, limited-means way both in Calcutta, Kolkata — where I spent the first half of my life when Ma cooked some of the best Indian-Bengali dishes you could ever get anywhere in the world (ask any of my old friends); and then here in the U.S. — where I spent the second half and where my wife cooked some of the best Indian and Bengali dishes you can ever get anywhere in the world. Believe me: I’m not making it up.

So, great food is not a priority no more on my wish list. I’ve been blessed with great food — homemade and heartfelt — all my life. I seek something else. My mind asks for something more. It’s a spiritual yearning.

Perhaps, my very special birthday wish this year is: would you be mine? (Now, I know that’s cheesy 🙂

This is a very special note at this very special time. I want to smile. I want to chime.

Would you remember today to smile and chime? Mr. Bright? Ms. Bright? (That’s also perhaps again not so cheesy, right? 🙂

I need to see a lot of smile. I need to hear a lot of laughs. I want to hear a lot of songs. Happiness has been in seriously short supply. Seriously. Recently, it’s reached a critically low level.

Yeah, that’s it!

My family and friends — especially those who I know deeply care for me — often tell me these days that I have changed slowly but surely from a sprity, forthrighty, frothy, fizzy, frolicky, fun person always with a big smile and grin and loud laugh and sense of humor to a rather sad, glum and grumpy old man. Now, that’s major bad news. I want to change it.

This is a major tipping point.

So, on this very special day (like, starting from tomorrow), I want to remember the good things that happened to my life and be happy thinking about how lucky I am that those good things indeed, actually happened to me — things that do not happen to most people I know (and I know a heck of a lot of people — like, thousands, literally). I’ve sort of decided to come to a resolution that I shall, in my mind, focus on those positives and ignore, delete and de-focus the negatives.

Now, I know it’s easier said than done.

I also know it sounds like one of those Deepak Chopra books — comics that people actually buy and read and make-believe they are happy now. But Deepak Chopra or not, I know I ain’t got no more choice. Or, it’s gonna be fast and painful death for me. I don’t want to die fast and painful. More importantly, I don’t want to die and be remembered a sad and glum and grumpy man. Oh, no no no, man! Because, I am not a sad and glum and grumpy man. I never was. I never will be.

I’ve actually thought about it long and hard: what is it that pulls me down and makes me sad and angry?

I could perhaps post a long laundry list of those things in layman’s terms — events, experiences and feelings all of which happen to be true and raw and depressing and dirty — that could pull any human being with a heart and brain down. Like, deaths of loved ones — and way too many of them too untimely. Like, leaving India practically for good — out of compulsion. Like, being born too poor and seeing too much poverty and starvation too up close. Like, going through a hell of a lot of physical and mental injury and insult. Like, extreme verbal and physical abuse…like, sexual abuse. Like, hiding them all…way too many of them…and pretending they didn’t happen.

Then, there is more. Like, being forced to go through a social, educational, economic and political system that absolutely, totally, unquestionably cheated you. Like, not being able to use your delightful, lovable, warm personality and sprite, blotting-paper-like desire to learn and respect for your teachers, God-given talents, knowledge, experience, analysis and proven leadership to put to use to change the society and system in a significant way…and at the same time helplessly witnessing one of the darkest and dumbest and most exploitative and violent chapters in human history unfolding in your own life…one event at a time…like a bad, obnoxious movie…acted, directed, produced and promoted by some of the most corrupt and inefficient-yet-arrogant crooks in human history. Compared to them, yes, Caligula or Nero or Kissinger or Cheney is like child’s play.

I’ve come to a major resolution. I can never be president of the United States. Heck, I know I can never even be the chief minister of West Bengal. Only people with tons of money, a Bush-like one-of-a-kind predecessor, a major-media-sponsored genocide or a despondent-hopeless-pathetic regime and equally hopeless electorate could make you a president of the U.S. or a chief minister of West Bengal. I’ve therefore given up on those secretest desires.

That’s sarcasm, as you can see.

My parents-in-law became destitute refugees, overnight. Thanks, Gandhi.

But truly and cross-my-heartly, I’ve resigned to believe a few other not-so-idiosyncratic thoughts. Like, the two Golden Bengals will never be reunited and Bengalis will forever be blasted and looked-down-upon by the West and East alike as a failed race (and nobody will read the history book and know either the Pala Dynasty, Sri Chaitanya’s Bhakti movement, Raja Ram Mohan Ray, Derozio, Vidyasagar, Lalan, Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita, Tagore…and of course, on the flip side of history, the British barbarism). Nobody would ever know how prosperous Bengal was where after the Battle of Plassey, Lord Clive and his women looted so much gold and jewelry that they went absolutely wild berserk. (Read about Clive’s atrocities here.)

I’ve resigned to believe that at the London Olympics of summer, 2012, there will be no demand from the millions of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants-turned-British citizens for an official apology and reparation for the British Raj’s two centuries of occupation, brutality, mass-killing and mass-looting. I’ve resigned to believe that in India, the same illiterate and feudal-chauvinists who were responsible for a bloody partition, riots, refugees and famines will keep in power for many years to come. I have resigned to believe that very few people even in the so-called enlightened West would ever care to know exactly how many hundreds of thousands of Bengali women were raped and killed by the Kissinger-backed Pakistani army in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

I have resigned to believe that people who I thought would care would not care. I have a number of examples of that disillusionment. Obama has been the latest example on that list.

My Alma-Mater Speaks Loudly.

I have resigned to believe that Tagore’s Nobel Prize, stolen from his own Vishva Bharati University’s national museum, would never be found. I know the British monarchy would never return Koh-I-Noor and numerous other treasures they looted from India. I now know the British government would never tell us how Subhas Bose — whom Gandhi sabotaged — perished in exile. (Am I digressing too much?)

Okay then. I’ve come to realize that nobody in the elite academia in the “free-thinking” West — especially those in the seat of power — would ever care to learn or promote philosophers and intellectuals outside of what Harvard, Columbia or University of Chicago asks of them to freely think. They would not want to know Tagore. They would not know Bengal Renaissance. They would refuse to know or teach anything majorly un-Euro-American.

I know for the fact that none of the above would ever read my blog.

So, as you can see, I have my reasons to slowly but surely transform from sprity, fun, frolicky to sad and glum and grumpy. But at this rather critical juncture of my life, I refuse to be a victim of their doing and die and be remembered a sad, glum and grumpy, bitter man. I shall not give in to their grand plan: destroy the thinking mind, dumb-down the non-thinking others, keep the trouble makers on the edge, and kill all the smiles.

No, I won’t die their prescribed death.

I want to celebrate this birthday. I want to celebrate it with a smile. I shall live on the many positives that happened to me.

I hope you do too.

Smile with me.

Let’s celebrate life. Let’s celebrate it together.

That is my very special birthday wish today…and tomorrow.

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

Another Reason to Celebrate: Teaching American Labor Rights!

Nightmare on Boyhood Street

A special note: I’d like to take a moment to thank all the readers especially those who read it from places I otherwise have no way to reach. It is a matter of great comfort that this post was read in countries — other than India, USA, Canada and U.K. — such as Austria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Spain and Thailand (and some more). I believe the cruelty and violence I described in this blog is global, and there is enough reason to believe that we are trying to find solidarity here — to stop this brutality. Thank you, readers. I hope you take a moment to share it with others. -Partha

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Nightmare on Boyhood Street

Today, I remember a day from my school life. I was thirteen at that time – an eighth grader. It was Calcutta, India. It was perhaps a late summer day.

Calcutta’s name has now changed to Kolkata. Bombay has changed to Mumbai. Madras is now Chennai. A lot has changed in India since then…a lot…especially with the invasion of new shopping malls, MTV, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut.

Has child abuse changed in India? If your answer is yes, show me how. Give me some examples. If your answer is no, tell me why not.

Here is a real story from a real life.


Bang, bang, bang…

Punch, punch…

Whack, whack, blow…

Slap, slap, kick, thud…

A stout, muscular man in his forties held a young boy by the hair. He held him down with one hand. With his other hand, he beat up the boy mercilessly. He beat him up continuously. He punched him on his head and upper body. He slapped him fiercely, repeatedly, on his tender cheeks. He pulled his hair so hard that the boy was almost airborne. He pulled his earlobes so strongly that they were blood red. The slaps made reddish pink finger marks on his cheeks.

Along with the beating, the man groaned, ground his teeth, and grunted, “Huh, huh, huh…”

The boy took the abuse…the horrible beating. But he did not fight back. And he did not cry out, or ask for mercy. He did not ask him to stop. He did not show any visible sign of pain.

That made the man even angrier. He became more violent. He forced the boy to sit in an animal position, with his palms and knees touching the floor. The man then climbed up on him, and started to hit his back with his bent elbow. He also kicked him…or did he?

The violence went on for nearly ten, fifteen, twenty minutes…maybe, half an hour. The man lost his sense of time. The boy did too. He was nearly unconscious at this point.

The entire episode happened in a classroom. It happened in front of some forty or fifty frozen, traumatized, eighth-grade students. They watched it with horror;  some covered their faces. A few of them fell sick. Another boy urinated in his pants. One of their teachers was doing this to one of their classmates: they couldn’t believe their eyes! But none of them stood up or said a word against the barbarism. They watched it in complete silence…for the entire time.

Ashu Kar, a teacher in our famous, 150-year-old, missionary Scottish Church Collegiate School, was famous for his bad temper. There were a few other teachers who were even more notorious than him. They were never known for their quality of teaching or love for the students; they were only known for their dexterity to mercilessly, violently beat the kids.

But luckily, these men would not teach us, some of the best students. Back then, Scottish had merit-based promotion; they would always place us in Section A because we topped in the final exam. The abusive teachers would not take our classes. We were privileged to get some of the phenomenal educators of Calcutta whose presence in the classroom was like a gentle breeze coming off the ocean. Shyamadas Mukherjee of Mathematics, Bijan Goswami and Amiya Roy of Bengali, Rev. Santosh Biswas and Sudhendu Deuri of English, Nitya Sengupta of Chemistry, and Tarun Datta of Biology. Then, there was our famous headmaster A. R. Roy, known for his personality and poise. They were great teachers. We learned from them as eagerly and as fast as blotting paper would soak up water or ink – through every possible capillary of our young, inquisitive minds. We’d look forward to their classes.

The horrible hangmen would get the poor, “backward” students in Section C, D or E. We’d often hear horror stories from them. Even in elementary school, in fourth grade, there was severe student abuse. And I’m not even talking about the verbal abuse that was commonplace: teachers would make personal, intrusive, insulting, snide, negative remarks, constantly on a daily basis, to students that did not do well in tests or failed to turn in the homework; particularly, students who came from underprivileged families. Indian boys and girls were used to verbal abuse. At home, they got it from their fathers, uncles or neighbors. At school, they got it from teachers. The verbal insult and undermining would dash their self-esteem once and for all.

Now I’m talking about the more serious, inhumane, physical abuse. We the “good” boys from Section A came to know about them in middle school, since maybe, when we were in sixth or seventh grade.

Police beating a child

There were two men named Mr. Jana and Mr. Dafadar who took Section E classes only: boys who did the poorest in last year’s finals. They brought in class their own special teaching methods and tools. Every day, they’d enter the classroom, and before doing anything else, call out some students they decided the worst backbenchers. They’d line them up outside the classroom facing against the wall, with their arms all the way up, the length of the arm touching the wall, as if cops doing a shakedown on them. I’m convinced these teachers were cops or military men before they became teachers; they did it to their sixth, seventh or eighth-grade students exactly the way cops did it to suspected, frisked criminals. Or, in case of today’s India or USA, anyone the cops or military might suspect to be trouble makers.

Jana and Dafadar – I don’t remember which one was more dangerous – would then return to classroom, take attendance for the remaining students, give them some meaningless work to do – maybe, a bunch of arithmetic or English grammar problems from the textbook without showing them how to do it, and return to their “favorite” students waiting outside. Now, they’d stick out their personal, two-feet-long, wooden ruler scale or a long, bent cane, and spank the students real hard until they all cried out in pain. Some diehards would not budge; some of the kids were so used to it that they’d look the other way, and chuckle while the bad cops kept beating the others. If they’re lucky, they’re spared. If Jana and Dafadar caught them chuckling, they’d have some more special treat that day.

Some E or D students regularly cut classes. They also nicknamed the abusive teachers: Jana and Dafadar were called Jharudar or something, meaning the sweeper; alternately, it could mean the one who beats badly.

That was them. Then there was our Ashu Kar. In between, there were some more child molesters – big or small.

Why do people get so violent? Why are some people so cruel? What pleasure do some big, powerful men get out of beating young boys or girls who can’t resist or fight back?

Sigh…tears…sigh…tears…sigh…

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

Owner beating child worker at a textile factory

Tracking Tagore in a Trance

Tagore Music His Way

So, my Tagore recording began, the esraj and flute and sitar and piano churned out the great poet’s music from paradise, and I couldn’t hold back my tears in front of some unknown people sitting in the studio.

Embarrassing! Geez! I said. Then I thought, heck, so what, I’m not doing anything wrong! In fact, I’m doing it just right. This is exactly how it should be. Anything else would be disrespectful and phony.

Yeah. But that was later. Early in the morning, when it was quite unusually cold and foggy, I arrived right on time at the doorstep of the North Kolkata studio — only to find out that the local cable company already had dug a long trench off the concrete alley to repair some faulty fixtures underground; they said it would take at least a week to finish the work and cover up the trenches. Dirt and debris piled up on the two sides of the trench, and you’d have to walk like a rope walker over and along the hill, balancing yourself every step of the way to reach your destination.

In the Trenches…

Which meant that the musicians and their instruments would have to walk the entire length of the alley — about a quarter mile off the main road — to enter the studio; given some of these musicians and their instruments are very expensive and famous (and heavy too), they would not like it a lot. Great! I’m definitely in Kolkata now, it seemed.

My friend, brother and director of the entire recording project Alak Roychoudhury took me inside Jupiter Studio — a few ground-floor rooms remodeled and insulated out of an old-fashioned, half-dilapidated house on Beniatola Street — and to our surprise, we found out that the lead composer of my music accompaniment was already waiting, along with his chief hands. Astonishing! (And they always complained that Kolkata was sloppy and Bengalis didn’t know professionalism!)

Rahul Chatterjee — the young lead composer and an eminent sitar player — and I had a phone conversation a couple of nights before on some of the ideas I had for my Tagore singing. I found his thoughts on arranging Tagore music to be overlapping with mine. I was brimming with confidence; I was settled down with reassurance.

In a few minutes, defying Kolkata’s infamous lack of punctuality, all the musicians showed up right on time: the keyboard, tabla, percussion, sarod, and the flutist who was probably a teeanger (at least he looked like one — the second day, another noted flutist took his place). Alak whispered to me that the kid was now one of the top three flutists even in this culturally light-years-ahead city where you could find at least one famous musician almost on every other block. The tabla and percussion players, they said, were regular accompaniments to celebrity singers like Swagata Lakshmi Dasgupta and Ajoy Chakraborty. The keyboard player frequently worked on major TV shows.

Now, I was feeling a little bit…like…you know…nervous.

And then, the bespectacled, young, modest, I-mean-business-looking owner of the studio and digital sound-recordist-cum-editor Mintoo Babu took his seat at the console, and after a small message of greetings to me, Alak and the group, turned on his complex equipment.

Click…tick…tock…Click…tick…tock…the 3×3-Dadra…at a 148-clocked-speed…the electronic click to keep the perfection rhythm set off, the humble esraj player put his head down, and pulled his wow-bow across the strings; then, Rahul Chatterjee immediately assumed his commanding position on the floor of the studio, and Alak flipped the pages of his Swara-Bitaan (Tagore’s own musical scores) because he would initially dub the songs along with the tracking of the arranged accompaniment. It was decided that I’d rest my voice for the actual dubbing when the tracking would be all done. (That was in itself celebrity status for me).

It was decided that the first song would be Tagore’s “Amar je gaan tomar parash pabe…” (the song of mine that touches you). Alak, Rahul and I pre-selected twenty Tagore songs, out of which four would be ad lib. The rest were more structured based on various talas (beats): three-three-beat Dadra, four-four-beat Kerwa, three-four-beat Tewra, or six-six-beat Sashthi. You could of course exercise a small latitude of poetic freedom even in his more structured songs (and eek out a few unscored voice modulations), according to liberal exponents like the famous maestro Debabrata Biswas…or…me; however, there is major controversy and debate on that. Ask anyone in this Tagore-loving city.

Anyway…

So, here it is one more time. Now, my Tagore recording really began, the esraj and flute and sitar and piano churned out the great poet’s music from paradise, and I couldn’t hold back my tears in front of some unknown people sitting in the studio.

I have heard and sung these songs many times…practically since my childhood. But sitting here in this studio, with these fantastic musicians going out of their way to arrange and play the accompaniment for …ME (!)… so that I could sing my best possible rendition of Tagore music…and that it would be a lifetime privilege for someone like me who lives twelve thousand miles away from this city of art, music, culture, society and friends…who would die for a reason to die for art, music, culture, society and friends…but there’s no reason to do it over there…at least not for Tagore or Bangla language…and therefore, now it’s a pressure-cooker emotion ready to “explode” any time…

So, it “exploded.” But it was restrained, subdued, subtle. Because we had already been simmered, cooked and softened in Tagore. We could not be wild, extravagant and loud. We were not Bollywood or Hollywood. We were civilized and progressive and humane. We refuse kitsch. We embrace the soul.

Tears flew freely. I took a dip in that sacred river of emotion.

And then, I was ready to interpret and express the celestial music and message of Tagore…musically…with love…with great care…with respect…and passion.

Here’s my first song…I hope it touches you…

Mintoo Babu and Alak…thank you brothers

Click…tick…tock…Click…tick…tock…there begins a deep, voluminous, heart-wrenching orchestra with the deep tabla and soft percussion…the vibrant vibe off the keyboard…the essential chord off the esraj…rising up and above from the studio floor…filling up the air…completely overwhelming mysenses…

Oh God…how can I thank you for this moment!

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

(Now in Kolkata — the city of Tagore, Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita, Ram Mohan Ray, Derozio and Satyajit Ray)

The Great Poet and Musician