My Wife Said, “Let’s Have Some Indian Music.”

Ravi ShankarIs that a good title for today’s blog? Well, I believe it is. I’ll tell you why.

So, yesterday, Park Slope Food Coop — a member-run not-for-profit specializing on healthy foods — put her in charge of preparing meals for some of the longtime staff at the coop. Obviously, because of her new reputation with Mukti’s Kitchen, they asked her to cook Indian dishes.

She found a number of volunteers to sous-chef, and I volunteered as one too (!).

It’s a two-day process. The first day, yesterday, five or six coop members helped her to cut vegetables, boil and peel eggs, grind spices, and then cook some of the dishes. The second day, today, they are going to finish it all — to cap with a sumptuous lunch. They’re all looking forward to it.

So, a half hour into the preparation early in the morning, Mukti said, “Why don’t we play some Indian music?” I said to myself, “Why couldn’t I think of it first? It’s natural today.”

On my iPhone, I began playing a Ravi Shankar sitar. He is a legend I spoke and wrote about many times. Here’s a CNN story after his passing. Moni Basu quoted me in it.

Ravi Shankar’s sitar was the first thing that came to my mind. Salute to the great maestro, who along with Ali Akbar Khan had thought about bringing Indian music to America long time ago, back in the sixties, when the Beatles became his fans, and George Harrison took sitar lessons after the phenomenal concert in California.

Then, Nicholas took over. He was one of the sous-chefs.

Nicholas turned on the coop kitchen computer, and put on an incredible sitar off YouTube. I don’t know who the artist was: could be Ravi Shankar, Vilayet Khan, or Budhaditya Mukherjee — one of the new maestros. I am not exactly sure.

But it was absolutely beautiful. I could use other terms to describe it: magical, spiritual, divine. But I would leave it up to you to decide. Meditative and relaxing, for sure. The entire environment in the kitchen lit up. He left the music on for the entire day — it played from 8 A.M. to 1.30 P.M., when we adjourned.

Today, August 14, is the day when I left my beloved India, Bengal and Calcutta — out of emotional and political desperation — to come to USA. It was extremely difficult.

Looking back, I am deeply sad that I could not stay back in a place that I care for so much. Its people, its love, its poetry. Looking back, I am extremely happy that along with my wife, I built a life from zero in an alien land, and gained knowledge, critical thinking, and reputation. (Oh yes, I couldn’t speak a full sentence in English before; now I can — a little bit.)

Both countries have given me so much. I owe so much to both places. In our small ways, we are giving back to both of them.

My wife is giving back through teaching Indian cooking secrets to her American students — literally hundreds of them. I am giving back through teaching my labor union worker students — literally thousands of them. Writing and translating 24/7 about our culture.

Ravi Shankar did it in his magnanimous way. He brought the treasures of the Indian civilization to America. And Americans — like Nicholas — are still in love with it.

We are doing it in our little ways.

I’m glad she was the one who thought of playing Indian music in the kitchen, and we all loved to help her cook Indian food, for the enlightened and embracing American friends.

Today, August 14, is a good day for us — to celebrate.

Sincerely, in love and gratitude,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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MK foods
Courtesy: Mukti’s Kitchen, Brooklyn, New York.

Fascinating France and Incredible Italy!

I’m borrowing this article from Mukti’s Kitchen, a well-known Indian cooking class in New York. Visit her website and Yelp reviews from her students.

Mukti and I just came back from a trip to Italy and France. It was wonderful. This is an overview of our trip. I’ll write more in the coming weeks.

Although the vacation was too short, and both the countries have so many beautiful places you can see, it was simply great to be able to visit Paris and Rome. It is only a matter of time before we go back, and check out places we missed this time.

In Paris, we took a bus tour to see the famous sites. Of course it included the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Luxembourg Garden, the Pantheon, the Latin Quarters, and Louvre. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go inside the Louvre, and it was already very crowded in late May. But we compensated for that gap by taking a boat cruise along the Seine at night, and to see the Tour Eiffel lit up and glittering like gold was phenomenal.

Eiffel Tower

[Author and his wife Mukti in front of Eiffel Tower]

Paris is truly a wonderful, artistic city, and we had a knowledgeable, young guide who helped us to understand the depth of history that the city offers. And the cleanliness everywhere — on the street, along the metro trains, Paris can definitely brag to be one of the most well-cared-for big cities in the world. And Parisians were, unlike what we often hear, were extremely helpful and kind. Many French people speak English, and those who do not also try their best to help you out.

Our second stop was Italy, where we spent one more day than we did in France. There, we depended on our walking skills to roam through the city of Rome. Rome has incredible history: from the Colosseum to the Forum to the Pantheon to some of the oldest churches including  Santa Maria in Trastevere to the markets at Campo di Fiori. Rome was simply fascinating!

Colosseum

[Photo by author]

Our added attractions were to visit the city of Naples by a 300-kilometer per hour high-speed train, and then also take a local train ride to the ancient ruins of Pompeii. Unbelievable history, incredibly precious experience. Pompeii  was destroyed by a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius (which is still a live volcano!), and the skeletons of the little town houses, gardens, pools, markets, and streets still stand to tell us about that great tragedy. Even some of the bodies buried live in the mudslide and lava are preserved as “fossils”. A very touching, heartbreaking story we heard since our childhood in Calcutta.

Pompeii preserved body

[Photo by author]

In both Italy and France, we had many opportunities to taste their foods, beverages and desserts. Simply put, I have never tasted food so real, fresh, and delicious — outside of my own kitchen. Even at the moderately-priced hotel in Rome, the breakfast they served early in the morning was so normal and natural: the cheese and tomato and bread and fruits and yogurt were absolutely fresh.

France and Italy have done a remarkable job to keep their foods out of the clutches of food doctoring, preservatives, and artificial flavor- and chemical-producing companies. I remember when we went to Granada and Barcelona in Spain a few years ago, we had a very similar experience.

Whether it was the chicken dish we ate at a  restaurant in the Trocadero in Paris or the crêpe in the Latin Quarters, or whether it was the pizza or pasta we tasted at small streetside eateries in Naples and Rome, they were simply high quality. And not pricey at all. Very affordable: the average people eat there all the time. Even the fruit juices we tried in both countries were pristine. The orange juice tasted like real, fresh orange.

And the countless gelato (ice cream) corners in both countries — so lovely!

So glad we took the trip. Short, but memorable and sweet. We shall return.

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Farmers Market at Campo di Fiori

[Photo by author]

A Very Personal Story

My wife Mukti and me, on Long Island.
My wife Mukti and me, relaxing on Long Island.

This is a very personal story. But this is not just a personal story.

When we left India thirty years ago with a full scholarship to do a Ph.D. in America, some of our own friends and relatives thought it was a fluke. They said, “But they were never stellar students: look at their exam results. It sounds fishy.”

Some of them said, “Look, Partha did so poorly in college and university that he couldn’t even find a job in Calcutta. He ended up teaching in a God-forsaken place in a no-name college in the forests of Sundarbans.” They said, “And, suddenly, he is in America, to do a Ph.D. in science? Come on, gimme a break!”

So, when we were struggling as new immigrants in USA and going through poverty and extreme isolation, building a new life from scratch, practically nobody cared to know how we were. Then, our hard work and determination paid off: I did a Ph.D. in plant biology from Southern Illinois University, and my wife learned molecular biology and became an indispensable worker in her lab.

But these friends and relatives still didn’t care to know how we did it. So, when I switched career from science to humanities at the age of forty, and did a journalism masters from Columbia University, and my wife switched her career to start Mukti’s Kitchen here in New York City, they said, “See, I told you. They are not doing well, and therefore doing anything they can to make ends meet. See, in thirty years in USA, they should have been millionaires. But look where they are now.” And others who listened to them, nodded in agreement. Nobody even bothered to ask what our side of the story was.

Mukti's Kitchen was invited to teach at Union Square, New York.
Mukti’s Kitchen was invited to teach at Union Square, New York.

Even today, when we go to India perhaps once or twice a year, we see a look of rejection on their faces — look that tells us they have kept the same feeling of not trusting that the way we built and lived our lives in America — from zero — is worthy of anything. They don’t want to learn from us, because to them, success is only measured by how much money you’ve made, and nothing else.

This is not about our acceptance in America. This is about acceptance by some of our own people in India. We have worked hard, and made it a point to be accepted and recognized here in the U.S. My wife’s Indian cooking class has countless five-star reviews, and my students and followers have now put together a Wikipedia page on my work. Mukti is now a board member at Brooklyn For Peace.

We are both happy, and humbled.

And never I write anything only to tell my personal story, even though I title it in a way so that people actually read what I write. It is about new immigrants like me, and like my wife. And we are doing quite well in America, and we are privileged. Millions of other immigrants are going through a very difficult time, in spite of their talents, honesty and hard work. Mainstream media and the people in power do not know, and do not care to know about their poverty, isolation and misery.

Do we care how some people back in India or some friends here in America treat us? Hell, no! Then, why am I writing about it? So that others like me and my wife can relate to it, and form a wavelength of togetherness. That is really my goal: to reach out and touch as many like-minded men and women as possible. To tell them that we are all in this together. We are members of the same family.

We know each other. We care for each other.

My story is not only my story. I give up my ownership on it. Now, it’s your story too.

Sincerely Yours,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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Just this weekend, they video recorded my entire labor workshop.
Just this weekend, they video recorded my entire labor workshop.

Cook Healthy Indian Food. Live Longer.

Mixed Vegetable Korma. Courtesy: Mukti's Kitchen.
Mixed Vegetable Korma. Courtesy: Mukti’s Kitchen.

My mother cooked Indian food that was simple but out of the world. She was not a professional, but her home cooking was professional quality. She only knew how to cook Bengali Indian food. Rice, curry, greens, dal, fish, hand-made bread, lamb, prawn, and rarely, a dessert or fruit chutney.

Of course, everyone I know would perhaps say the same thing: that their mother’s cooking was the very best.

Now my wife cooks Indian food that is also out of the world. Of course, everyone I know would perhaps say the same thing: that their wife’s cooking is the very best 🙂

Plus, my wife now built a home-based small business where other than select catering services, she teaches interactive, hands-on Indian cooking to New Yorkers. In a short three years, Mukti’s Kitchen has found a nice little niche and reputation for itself.

One common thing I noticed about my mother’s home cooking and my wife’s more professional cooking is that they both focused on the health aspects of the food. They never used artificial flavor or color, they never used preservatives, and they always used fresh vegetables, fish or meat. In Calcutta back in those days, we never knew anything that was not organic. Here in New York, my wife always uses organic. It makes a big difference when it comes to the quality of her preparations. People write wonderful reviews.

Many Americans and Westerners have no idea that Indian food could be healthy and delicious at the same time. But we can’t blame them for their ignorance. Most Indian restaurants you visit — whether in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Rome or Paris — serve food that is quite tasty but high in sugar, fat and cholesterol. Plus, many of these restaurants use ingredients that fill you up instantly, and you feel heavy and overstuffed as soon as you get out of the restaurant. You do not want to do anything for the next few hours: your energy level does not keep up with you.

Problem is, if you eat this variety of Indian food, you drastically reduce your chances to live long. Your altered metabolism does not help your heart and other vital organs. Eating food made out of genetically modified crops is also a sure-shot way to get life-threatening diseases. Therefore, I’d strongly recommend that you opt for a healthy-and-delicious variety. Of course, I’m biased about my wife’s cooking and her home-based little entrepreneurship Mukti’s Kitchen. But honestly, I’m just asking that you found out the difference between a run-of-the-mill Indian and a real Indian — real, home-based Indian cuisine that helps you to keep healthy.

Kati Roll, with minimal amount of oil. Courtesy: Mukti's Kitchen.
Kati Roll with chicken, with minimal amount of oil. Courtesy: Mukti’s Kitchen.

In fact, once you master the tricks of home-based Indian cuisine, with its wonderful spices and all, you’ll know that healthy-and-delicious Indian food also helps to cut down your anxiety and stress, and creates a peaceful state of being.

And that is the key to live a longer, happier life: lifestyle free of stress, anxiety and fear. Try it.

Many Indians and Bengalis have created this strange perception themselves that their food is always hot and spicy; in fact, some brag about how hot they are. Fact is, it’s not a true perception at all. Indian food can often be spicy, but that does not necessarily make them hot. There are literally thousands of dishes — both vegetarian and non-vegetarian — that are totally mild. They are mild, any American or European can taste them, and savor them. Spices such as turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon or the exotic five-spice mix have both health benefits and wonderful flavor and taste. Once you know how to use them in the right proportions and order, you wouldn’t want to cook anything else.

In fact, some of the students passing through the cooking classes Mukti’s Kitchen offered over these three years often returned, with a craving to learn more.

The other myth that is out there is that Indian cooking is very complicated and overly time consuming. Not true at all. Of course, there are some dishes that take an inordinate amount of time, but the simpler and healthier, home-cooked dishes — and again, thousands of them — are quite easy and quick. Especially these days, nobody even in India or Bengal finds that kind of time to spend in the kitchen. Women are almost always in charge of cooking, and a vast number of these women — mothers, sisters, daughters and wives — are now working outside too. They have mastered the trick of cooking healthy and delicious — spending as little time as possible.

You can do that too — wherever you live.

Get to know the real, healthy and delicious Indian. It’s bliss. It’s also going to help you live longer.

Let us know if we can help you live longer.

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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A healthy and handsome Bengali birthday dinner. Courtesy: Mukti's Kitchen.
A healthy and handsome Bengali birthday dinner. Courtesy: Mukti’s Kitchen.

Aroma Therapy

mangoWe keep talking about how to heal the hurt soul.

We spoke about music, memories, mellow moments and their magic to make us merry.

We spoke about the good effects of the good that affect us good.

Really, there is no other way to keep out of the quicksand this new Roman Empire has laid out for us — with the relentless Orwellian war, violence, democracy travesty, vast personal data mining in the name of fighting war on terror, and global profiteering in the name of prosperity.

You and I do not matter in this game the powerful play. You and I are prone to death, despair, depression and destruction.

Yet, you and I perhaps do not want to surrender and succumb so soon. Therefore, we need our own, totally non-violent weapons of mass survival.

Those precious pre-Wal-Mart days!
Those precious pre-Wal-Mart days!

Music, memories and mellow moments are some of our personal, not-for-profit weapons of survival. We are our own psychological counseling. We use yoga. We do meditation. We walk in the park. We write poetry. We chant mantras. We look out the window to hear the train whistle by. We look out the window to hear the waves break on a stormy dawn. We hear the rain patter on a perched tin roof.

Yes, we did talk about the music for the ear.

Today, I’m briefly talking about the music for the olfactory. I call it aroma therapy. It’s another beautiful, delicate, sensitive, humane, civilized way to keep your senses sane.

The smell of a ripe mango. Just close your eyes and think about it. Or, much better, get one in Dhaka, Murshidabad, Mumbai, Malaysia, Thailand or  Trinidad — a fresh, beautiful fruit plucked right off the mid-summer tree — and hold it close to your olfactory. You are in heaven.

Samosa
Crisp samosa. Bengali singara. From Mukti’s Kitchen. Brooklyn.

The flavor of a just-cooked samosa — crisp, beautifully shaped. You can eat it later. For now, just smell it. Or, think about the last time you did.

Remember the smell of newly-stocked saris and shirts your neighborhood shopkeeper laid out for you and your family just before the Durga Puja and Diwali holidays? Didn’t you feel like you wanted to sleep there — in the middle of all the new clothes, wrapped around by the heaps of new saris and shirts? You don’t get that smell anymore since the neighborhood shopkeeper folded his business and moved out. The new clothes merchant does not speak your language, and he would not let you sleep in the middle of the new clothes, wrapped around by the heaps of the new saris and shirts.

But there is no harm thinking about those days when it was possible. The beautiful smell is always there deep inside. Just look for it.

Or, the smell of the brand-new books you went to buy with your father after getting the book list in grade school. Or, the smell of your first, pricey cup of Qwality ice cream in Calcutta.

Or, the wonderfully healthy fragrance of hundreds of pine trees on your first hunt for boletes on a nippy November morning. Here in America.

We shall write more.

Wrapping around with a soft aroma shawl,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Fresh. Fragrance. Fantastic.
Fresh. Fragrance. Fantastic.

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.

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!