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.

Remembering Kolkata…Mid-Monsoon

School end monsoon

Last year on this day, my father passed away. He lived a long, fulfilling life.

We were lucky to have been able to be by his bedside, a few days before his final departure. And, even though it was a very difficult time for me and my family, it was also peaceful for two reasons.

Crow on tree
One, it was mid-monsoon in Bengal. Torrential rain, thunderstorm, and then relentless rain all day…the crows getting drenched perched on that big Ficus tree right in front of our house…the streets are making noise with the pattering of the rain, wheeling of the rubber tires of Calcutta taxis…and the indescribable sound people make with their feet when they walk across rain-soaked alleys…occasionally leaping over the puddles…

Monsoon evening

And then, after a hard burst of rain, the sky gets crystal clear. The trees show their real lush green foliage. Pollution disappears. That’s how it has always been. That’s how it will always be.

Green Kolkata
And the second reason, of course, is that we could make it on time. Being in America, ten thousand miles away from there, we always had anxieties that when the time finally comes for him to go, we wouldn’t be there. This apprehension exacerbated after my wife could not arrive before the death of her parents. The news came too suddenly.

I have written about my father’s death, and I have written about our immigrant life in America — its isolation and melancholy — many times. I am linking up some of the articles I wrote on those subjects. You can click on the links, and read. I don’t wish to test your patience.

Window

Here I’m including a few photos we took on our trip last year. It’s a different type of a story. Or, it could be the same story, told in a different way.

You decide. I am a little out of it today.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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Monsoon

Bus stand

 

 

 

 

My Father Passed Away

Bapi

Back in New York. Hurt, sad, and reflecting on the experience I brought back.

It was a very different and difficult trip to Kolkata this time. Monsoon in Bengal, and the pollution-free, lush, green, wet trees and fragrant flowers calmed me down a little. It was not easy to realize my father would not wait for me anymore, with his loving, welcoming smile. He would not sit in the balcony chair looking down, when I’d return to USA.

He passed away on August 6. Yes, he was old. Very old. He was 93. But does it matter?

On August 16, I performed the Shraddha ritual for my departed father. Through this ritual, the deceased (Preta) was admitted into Pitri Loka, or the assembly of forefathers. He united with those men before me — ancestors who made me possible. I would also want to believe he reunited with my mother, who waited for him in heaven for many, many years.

Mahanirvan Math

The last hour on August 6, when we brought my father’s mortal remains from the hospital back home, and sang Tagore songs together. Very happy we could pay him respect one last time this way, with songs he loved so much. I hope people noticed this way to pay homage to him.

August 6 2

August 6, 2017, 7.40 A.M., Kolkata, India. — My father passed away. He left his uncompromising character, and a total renunciation of selfish pleasures. He lived for his ideology, and he lived for his patriotism. I am fatherless today, but I shall live his uprightness, his inimitable courage and determination. Regardless of politics, he will always be a lightning rod for me.

Empty bed

Salute to this man.

Sincerely Yours,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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How To Eat An Orange

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This is how I eat an orange. Follow me on this priceless, precious, step-by-step direction.

Do not ignore it. Do not take it as a joke. Do not reject it as a time-passing, mind-wasting, do-nothing commentary.

I am telling you this is how I eat an orange. I am asking you to follow me and do the same.

You shall be richly rewarded.

I. Buy an organic orange here in America. Make sure it is organic and not a Monsanto or Syngenta genetically modified crop.

2. If you’re in India, just get it from a regular farmer at any open-air town market. Darjeeling is a good place to get it. Or, Simla.

3. Hold it.

4. Look at it.

5. Feel it.

6. Put it down on a table and appreciate its beautiful color.

7. Touch it again with your fingers and love its roundness.

8. Smell it. Notice its fresh and soft -tingly fragrance.

9. Take a photo or two. Or, if you’re a painter like Christopher O’Handley who painted the picture above, take some time to paint it.

10. Rub the dust off with a soft cloth or tissue.

11. Gently peel. Gently is the key. Marry your finger’s touch with the soft-firm fruit. Focus.Peeling orange

12. Eat a few peels as I always did back in Calcutta. Orange peels are delicious. Chew them gently. They’re a little bitter-sweet. They’re full of vitamins and cancer-preventing cytokinins and bioflavonoids. But really, they’re delicacy.

13. Now look at the peeled fruit and savor its beauty. Look at the painting above. Look at the photo below. You’ll know what I’m talking about.

14. Lift it and hold it with two palms. Close your eyes and feel its Godly shape and weight.

15. Keep your eyes closed and bring it close to your nose. Now smell it again from a distance of about an inch.

16. Touch the beautiful peeled fruit against your cheeks: one cheek at a time. Hold it delicately against your cheek for about half a minute.

17. Slowly, very carefully, take one segment apart — really, one segment at a time. In Bengali, we call the segments koa. See the beautiful name? Koa. Like, a koa-la bear. Say it with me. K-O-A. Nice, isn’t it?

18. Put it in your mouth. Don’t chew it. Press it with your tongue. The juice will slowly come out and fill up your senses.

19. You are allowed to close your eyes again.

20.

21…

You tell me what the next steps are.

I’m looking forward to your reactions. Your feelings.

Let me know how you did.

I know you did very well.

If you do it this way, you shall be richly rewarded. I know, I said it twice.

Do it.


Sharing Life’s Simple, Divine Pleasures,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Holding peeled orange

It Rains. My Memories Mushroom.

Mushroom3Rain has a lot to do with my memories. My pleasant memories.

I promised to my family, friends and well-wishers that I’d be writing about some of my most wonderful memories — to pull myself out of this depressing time with the global war, economic tyranny, worker deaths and all. We need to talk about the good times God has blessed us with, and not just the horrid times Satan has thrown at us.

Karl Marx, Engels and Hegel and such philosophers would perhaps call this continuous conflict between the good and the bad as proof of dialectical materialism, but even without being a Marxist, I can definitely vouch that they are right: this lifelong conflict between God’s paintbrush and Satan’s smudge is that dialectics — of materialism or not. It could well be a fierce fight between spirituality of the soul and dark devilish doom.

Robert Louis Stevenson many years ago showed us how in the human mind, such a major fight goes on between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He made the hideous Hyde the ultimate victor. I’m not so sure I want to look at life that way, even though we have an ever-increasing, zillion reasons to want to believe that is the case, especially with the rise of a new, tyrannical Roman Empire.

Even though I express pessimism from time to time, I simply do not want to leave this world with the hideous Hyde having that horrendous howl.

So, when it rains, I especially reminisce my pleasant memories. It works as therapy no clinical psychologist can buy.

Having come from Bengal, where monsoon has always mushroomed our famed poetry, rain automatically turns on my memory switch. I read poetry. Think poetry. Translate poetry. Sing my favorite monsoon songs of Tagore and Nazrul Islam.Mushroom2

And then, more pleasant memories well up. Memories rush in like a pleasant, soul-soothing, mind-drenching rain shower.

Memories spring up like monsoon mushrooms sprouting randomly, in all unpredictable corners. From all unpredictable facets of life.

Pleasant memories bring back life. Wonderful memories kill off death, destruction and doom.

My Dr. Jekyll emerges as the ultimate victor.

Let’s share our beautiful memories.

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

(Writing from Chicago today. It’s raining here.)

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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).

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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!

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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.

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