Memories are extremely precious, and in my case, extremely haunting.
When I feel alone, very old memories take me back to those sunlit, golden days back in Calcutta. I have written a lot about it, both in English and Bengali. And I am going to write a lot more.
Memories are lovely, and memories are friends. What’s more: they are therapeutic.
Try this immigrant life in America. You’ll know.
Here’s a picture of my little notebook I carried with me all the time when I was in my early twenties in Calcutta. We didn’t have means to buy new notebooks. This one was one from 1970, which I was using in 1980.
In fact, it is still with me. (But the bed sheet in the picture — the blue one I used all the time in that little half-room in our North Calcutta home — well, it was a part of my life.)
This page in Bengali is a description of a classical all-night music program I attended in one of the public auditoriums — if anybody remembers where it was, let me know.
November 22, 1980. — The program started at 9 P.M. and went all the way through 6.30 A.M. the next morning.
Artists who performed:
1. Dinanath Mishra (vocal). sang Raga Jog, and a Bhairavi thumri
2. Buddhadev Dasgupta, accompanied on tabla by Swapan Chowdhury — played sarod. Raga Bagesree, and a Pilu thumri.
3. A dance recital by Mira Chatterjee — I have completely forgotten about it. Not a trace of memory on this.
4. Sunanda Patnaik (vocal) — Raga Bilaskhani Todi, and a famous Bhajan in Bhairon (Jagannath Swami…).
5. Sohan Lal Sharma on harmonium and Tarun Bhattacharya on santoor — Duet — Raga Hansadhwani.
6. End of the program soiree — Sitar by Manilal Nag, accompanied on table by Maha Purush Mishra. Raga Ahir Bhairon.
I could write a hundred pages on this memory. But I am savoring it tonight. I will sleep with this tonight.
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.
Brooklyn, New York
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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, 2016. Page 6. — How extremely difficult life is, here for the ordinary people! If we didn’t rise from the dust, we wouldn’t know.
The elite neither know, nor do they care. Some curse the poor, and some look the other way, passing the doomed slums in their Honda, Toyota and Tata Sumo.
In a mega city like Calcutta, with its ten million-plus people, to one from this place who went through their struggles — the extreme hopelessness and colossal status quo on one hand, and fighting spirit and inspiring dreams on the other — it seems an impossible battle to even sustain, let alone prosper. An explosive population has added to the already compounded problems, but both the ruling class and the ruled are now indifferent about it. More people added, more poverty and problems? No problem. Add more malls and flyovers for the affluent, and the poor will find ways anyhow, by opening makeshift tea shops and noodle joints under the next banyan tree on the street.
The way people are battling for themselves and their children, especially the way women are struggling both inside and outside of their homes, I wish the global community came and saw it.
To the global community, it is a city of doom that Mother Teresa once tried to save. Yet, we the informed Calcuttans all know that her missionary, its hard work to save a small fraction of Calcutta’s poor, was a baby-making machine, where the products would be baptized and turned over to the childless West.
Who is thinking about the absolutely impossible lives of Calcutta, India, or Bangladesh? I can write posts every single day, but other than some curious likes and comments, what difference does it make?
A VISITING IMMIGRANT FROM AMERICA.
CALCUTTA DIARY, 2016. Page 7. — I can take full responsibility when I say that almost all the immigrants from America or Europe or other places who visit Calcutta come mainly to escape a very difficult, if not inhumane, corporate work environment for a couple of weeks.
They come to see their old parents or ailing siblings, and they come to find a breath of fresh air, to unchoke themselves. A Bengali movie or theater, a precious visit to the annual book fair, a two-day trip to Darjeeling or Puri or Benaras, or a very precious, rare visit during the Durga Puja time frees them up temporarily from their immigrant life, which is full of stress and anxiety.
Coming to Calcutta works as therapy, even though they curse the pollution and chaos and long lines at government offices and banks, and curse the government for not controlling the street dogs barking late at night, or a ear-splitting bomb that somebody decided to explode at midnight because they thought it was fun.
And of course, there are some immigrants who visit to check up on the charity they began in a nearby village, philanthropy they created in the name of their deceased mother or wife. A few have built a temple or a mosque. I have every respect for all of them.
But an immigrant who is a lifelong activist, and has been in the thick of political and cultural movements, is perhaps a very rare, crazy find. He is always looking for activity of his like, but not finding it, because being away for years, and having experienced a more polished and structured, modern variety of activism, where time is much more precious than money, he is at a loss as to where to put his energy, and where to be warmly received and used in an honest, time-efficient way.
He knows he is able to accomplish a lot, selflessly, within his short stay, but he leaves disappointed that another expensive visit from abroad ended up in near futility.
God drove him out of his country, and God has made sure his love, passion, talents and ideas remain ignored forever.
How to Get Sick During Your Short Stay.
CALCUTTA DIARY, 2016, Page 8. — It is extremely frustrating, for one thing. You only have a few days before you go back, and you are down with a fever, cold, and a terrible cough that wakes you up periodically at night. Y
ou know you have a lot to do — in my case, promote my memoir across the literary and media circles in this city — but you are stuck at home. Friends ask you to attend their winter picnic and you have not been to such a picnic for decades and this was your chance. And now you are stuck. You thought of meeting as many family members as possible. You can’t do it. The fairs and music conferences are happening too.
How do you take it? You resign. In my case, a three-day sickness brings back a lot of memories, the foremost being of my mother washing my hair at noon, and then cooking an easy-to-digest vegetable and boneless fish soup. (Shingi fish, was four rupees then as opposed to four hundred rupees now). She would gently blow on it to make it a tolerable warm. My father would put his palm on my forehead to check the temperature before he left home for work; he would do the same thing as soon as he returned in the evening. The lazy hours between twelve and four, I would sleep a little, read a little if I felt like it, and just lay on the bed listening to passing-by blanket makers with their bow stringing, the man who buys old books, notebooks and newspapers, the dove and pigeon pack making slow and monotonous tu-u-tu and trrrrr, two crows and a lonely kite, a team of chirping chorais (city finch) quarreling, and an occasional conversation next door down on the second or first floor about how the old man their next door was taken to the hospital the previous morning. The broken-up conversation with broken details. It fades away as the woman retires from the verandah into the interior.
A sickness, however annoying, suddenly shuttles me back fifty years ago. My father is still alive. In this same-old city of Calcutta.
This Friday, October 9 at 7 P.M., I am going to read a few pages of my memoir manuscript. Location: Park Slope Food Coop, Brooklyn. The event is free and open to all. I will also play a couple of songs off my Tagore CD album. I invite you to come and encourage and support my little effort. I am posting the flyer.
২৫শে এপ্রিল আমার জীবনের একটা বিশেষ দিন। এদিনটা আমার খুব প্রিয়। আমার মা যখন বেঁচে ছিল, তখন বন্ধুরা আর আত্মীয়রা সব আসত আমাদের বাড়ি সন্ধেবেলা, আর মা তাদের ভালো ভালো রান্না করে খাওয়াত। আমার পছন্দের জিনিষ রান্না করত সেদিন। এই যেমন, ঝিঙেপোস্ত, পোলাও, কাঁচা আমের অম্বল, পাঁঠার মাংস, কিসমিস দেওয়া পায়েস — এই সব। মার রান্নার খ্যাতি ছিল খুব। এখন আমার বউ এসব রান্না করে আমাকে খাওয়ায় এদিনে। অনেক কিছু জীবনে হারিয়েছি, আবার অনেক কিছু পেয়েওছি। এখন, এত বছর আমেরিকায় থাকার পরে, আমি আমার স্মৃতিকথা “ঘটিকাহিনী” লিখতে আরম্ভ করেছি কয়েকজন বিশেষ বন্ধু ও বান্ধবীর অনুরোধে-উপরোধে। এই সংখ্যায় আমার মায়ের মৃত্যুর কথা একটু লিখেছি, যতটা সম্ভব ভাবপ্রবণতা বা সেন্টিমেন্ট বর্জন করে। আশা করি আপনারা পড়বেন। “ঘটিকাহিনী”র প্রথম খন্ড — “প্রথম জন্ম” — ডিসেম্বর মাসের শেষ দিকে কলকাতায় প্রকাশিত হবার কথা হচ্ছে। যদি সত্যি সব কিছু ঠিকমত হয়, তাহলে অনুষ্ঠানে আপনাদের আসবার নিমন্ত্রণ থাকবে।
(English text below.)
25th April is a special day in my life. I am fond of this day. When my mother was alive, my friends and relatives would gather together at our home in the evening, and mother would cook delicious dishes to treat them. She cooked items that I liked. Indian and Bengali dishes such as khus khus paste with green luffa, spiced fried rice or Polao, a sweet sour watery chutney with green mango, goat meat curry, a milk dessert with raisins, etc. She was quite well known for her cooking abilities. Now, my wife Mukti cooks these items on this day.
I have lost many things in my life, yet, I have gained a lot of things too. Now, after having spent so many years in America, upon insistence of some friends, I’ve started writing my memoir. I titled it “Ghotikahini,” or the tale of a Ghoti (or a Bengali from West Bengal). In the episode just published, I have written about the death of my mother, with an effort not to make it too emotional or sentimental. I hope you read it.
The first volume of “Ghotikahini” — entitled “First Life” — is scheduled to be published from Calcutta in late December. If it really happens as planned, I shall invite you to attend the ceremony.
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.
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.
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.
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.