I Think I Can Read Faces!

Can You Read Their Faces? I Can!

In fact, it just dawned upon me: I woke up one morning to believe that I was a “Mukhiya,” and therefore, I could read faces!

In fact, I was convinced I could do it.

Now, for those who don’t know, Mukhiya is a Hindi word that can have at least two meanings. Mukhiya could mean a village elder in India who is either elected, or assumes the role of, a leader to mitigate disputes or quarrels. Mukhiya has other Indian language synonyms: in Bengali, for example, they’re called Pradhan or Morol. It’s a privileged and respected seat of power. Just like any other seat, many of these men also abuse power.

There is another type of Mukhiya that means face reader. There are places in India — primarily in the countryside — where some people claim that they can study faces of men, women and children (face is “mukh” in Hindi, Bengali or such Sanskrit-descent languages — hence “Mukhiya”), and tell their past and predict their future. According to these people who often wander around from village to village, or village to town looking for clients, it’s a scientific or at least highly credible study, and I’ve heard that some Mukhiyas make good money reading faces, just like many others across the world make good money practicing horoscope, palmistry or astrology. They all call their vocations scientific or at least highly credible. Some claim they got it from divine, early-morning dreams.

We shall reserve our opinions as to the veracity of their claims.

About my face-reading though — my new realization that I can do it — doesn’t come from any late-night, God-given, supernatural dream. It comes from studying faces carefully all my life. I observe faces. I have always observed faces. I have always loved to do it; in fact, it gives me immense pleasure to do it. And I can tell a lot about the owners of these faces: not their past or future, but rather their present. I have grown this enormous liking to watch and examine faces, and used all my education, experience and analysis to conclude what these faces are up to. It’s possible to do it if you put your mind to do it.

You’ll be surprised how much we can tell together — only if we observe and analyze carefully, together.

Now, just like any other vocation, this kind-of-strange face-reading vocation also comes with practice. If you’re serious about it, you practice a lot, and you practice with determination. With some good education, a lot of experience and God-given talent to analyze, you can be greatly successful at this vocation too.

How do you practice?

Lifelong Sacrifice the Dated, Old World Way.

Okay, let’s see. Really, you do it over many years, going through the grind of life, one year at a time. You observe people you know, you educate yourself with their behaviors, you grow with them, and you learn some and you learn some more. You experiment with known people, and then you experiment with strangers or semi-strangers.

You keep getting better at it…year after year.

For example, here’s my two cousins. The guy with glasses — nicknamed Bhaiyah — is about my age, lives in South Calcutta, works with the government tram agency, lives with his brothers and sisters (both parents passed away long ago), and takes total care of this severely crippled brother nicknamed Bachchu. The crippled brother — supposedly a victim of cerebral palsy —┬áis lifelong crippled; he is now forty five years old even though he looks perhaps much younger. He is mentally one hundred percent alert, but physically enormously challenged. Bhaiyah voluntarily took the responsibility upon himself to look after his poor brother; without his help, Bachchu could not eat, drink or go to the bathroom. He sits in his favorite wooden chair now installed with a pair of wheels, watches his favorite football or cricket game, and greets everybody with a big smile (he cannot speak). Bhaiyah remained a bachelor and gave up all other pleasures of life to devote himself to care for his brother. Without Bhaiyah and my other cousins, poor Bachchu would’ve died long ago.

[Update on October 23, 2014. — Bachchu passed away today. I just got news from Calcutta.]

I learned a heck of lot of stuff reading Bhaiyah and Bachchu’s faces for many years. I know what they’re up to. I know what their minds are up to. I can tell what kind of a personality they are. They gave me a lot of practice on my face reading vocation.

Their Smiles Can Deceive You.

Here are two faces familiar to my longtime blog readers. Bhagirathi and Jamuna are our household help back in our North Calcutta mezzanine apartment; this is where I grew up. I go back to visit this place every time I visit India. I make it a point to stay with my aunt who now lives there, and spend some time with her reminiscing about our past when Ma was alive and well, and the time when she brought me up. This is the apartment where father taught me English, Geography and Math after coming back from his factory job. This is the place where I went through my very difficult adolescent years — riddled with social and political violence, poverty and abuse.

Now, Bhagirathi and Jamuna, it seems, have stayed with us forever even though in reality, they started working for us after Ma passed away. But that itself has been some thirty-five years; therefore, for more than three decades, these two poor women have helped us every single day with cooking and cleaning; after we left for USA, they stayed back with my aunt Sova and helped her with her needs. Bhagirathi — the woman with the red shawl — is the cook and shopping help, and Jamuna helps with washing and cleaning. This is very common in a middle-class Indian household. They become a part of the family, and they share their pains and pleasures with us. They become extremely happy when we visit Calcutta; they would go out of their way to cook and clean for us, and share their life’s stories with us.

For my vocation, I got a lot of practice studying their faces, and connecting the faces with the stories of their impoverished, unfortunate lives. (Their smiles can easily deceive you).

I knew how Bhagirathi and her family became refugees after the bloody partition of Bengal; she lost everything she had in East Pakistan and came to West Bengal with her husband and holding the hand of her handicapped daughter (the daughter is now a grown woman, and could never marry because of the handicap — in India, a handicapped girl is the last thing you want to have especially if you’re poor). She actually fled to India much later; my parents in-law on the other hand left immediately after the 1947 partition when fanatic Muslim rioters butchered my mother in-law’s dad — the old man refused to leave his home and was slaughtered. Anyway, Bhagirathi ever since lived in a slum close to our mezzanine apartment in North Calcutta and worked as domestic maid at three different houses. Every morning at the crack of dawn, she would come knock at the door of my aunt’s and start her chores first by going to the government milk shop with the ration card to pick up the milk for the day.

Jamuna’s story is even more difficult; her village in the tiger-infested Sundarbans delta was wiped out of a flood some thirty years ago. She lost her family farm, whatever little of a straw-thatched roof she had over her head, and her husband was drowned in the flood (or something like it; she wouldn’t want to talk about it). Jamuna and her three infant daughters came to Calcutta and began living under the staircase of our apartment. One of her daughters was forcibly taken by a man who wanted to marry her, and Jamuna didn’t get to see her one last time before the man and his accomplices took her away. Jamuna was severely depressed and became schizophrenic. She’s gotten better over the years, but the emotional scar is still there; every mention of that daughter brings new tears in her eyes.

Jamuna’s story gave me a lot of practice into my vocation too. I now look at the face of another woman like her, and I can read her face quite easily. I can tell some past, some present, and a future too, if there is one.

I’ve become better and better at it, practicing with real-life case studies. I shall tell you more stories and secrets of my vocation.

I hope you come back. Or, as they say in Bengali, show your face again ­čÖé

Sincerely Writing,


Brooklyn, New York

Tiger-Woods of the Widows

Widows of Tiger-Woods

On my Facebook page, I wrote a status update that my blog post this time would be on Tiger-Woods of the Widows. I mentioned that it would be a personal story.

A few friends queried to know more. They wanted to know what kind of personal experience I ever had with “Tiger-Woods” and the widows.

Let me be clear, just in case. No, it’s not about Tiger Woods the media-celebrated-and-now-trashed golfer; in fact, I have no experience either with the game or the gamers. My present story is about some remote, God-forsaken forests where tigers rule and people are helpless game; these people are preys of their circumstances.

It’s about villages where desperate, hungry men go deep into the forests for fishing, honey-collecting and wood-chopping. They do it, knowing very well they’re taking grave risks. They often get killed or brutally mauled by tigers. In fact, there is an entire, vast area where all the male members have been killed by tigers. It’s a place that nobody cares about, even though it’s only about fifty miles from the bustling city of Calcutta — the so-called “cultural capital” of India, where Tagore, Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen have left their footprints. The cultured, sophisticated people, politicians, poets and press of Calcutta, India or Dhaka, Bangladesh hardly mention Deulbari, Kumirmari, Mollakhali, Baghna or Chamta. I’d tentatively say that Deulbari area is now┬á called Woods of the Widows (the picture on your top left is from Deulbari). Tentatively, because nobody really knows how extensive the problem is. There could well be other villages with the same fate.

Some twenty years ago, I actually lived on an island very close to those forests (watch a short YouTube here). I lived there for four years and taught biology to my students who came from some of those villages. Ganesh Mondol, Motiur Rahman, Pradip Das, Bina Das, Srabani Mondol and the others told me that the area indeed existed. They told me it’s not just tigers, but snakes and crocodiles that killed people regularly. They told me they personally knew families in extreme poverty — thrown in even more poverty than ever before — because the head of the family was now killed; worse, because the men did an illegal act by invading Project Tiger sanctuary areas, the families never got any government compensation. Now, on top of it, the widows with their children are social outcasts: people in surrounding villages believe the women are cursed; otherwise, why would all the men be wiped out — something that never happened before!

They Want to Trick Tigers!

So, that’s the story with a personal angle: nothing fancy, fabulous or sexy about it. Sophisticated and cultured people from Calcutta, India or Dhaka, Bangladesh of course visit the government-built picnic spots in the Sundarbans quite frequently. In fact, in the cool months of December and January, hundreds of motor launches with gleeful tourists and nature lovers rumble through the river Matla; fun trips would carry them from Port Canning to newly built resorts in Sajnekhali, now a tourist hotspot not too far from a no-electricity town called Gosaba at the tip of an islet. When I lived and worked at the Sundarban Haji Desarat College in Pathankhali, another no-electricity tip of the Gosaba islet, Sajnekhali was not really a place where you could stay overnight; I remember once I had organized a fun trip for my Calcutta friends and relatives to the forests; at night we very shakily anchored our motor launch in the middle of the wide-open Matla river, and practically nobody slept out of fear. Anyway, that’s a story for later.

Just the way these three men on this photo are wearing a face mask to deceive tigers into believing this is the front of the men when actually they are working on the ground with their bare backs exposed to the tigers (it is said that tigers only attack from the back…not sure if that’s always the case), tourists often get a chance to see on-site how the masks actually work. Additionally, they’re shown electrified barbed-wire fences fencing off work sites (at this point, tourists would really feel the chill). Then, the bravest tourists — mostly men — get a chance to climb up the watch tower to try their luck to find the wild cats from a distance. Jokes are hurled about how we would consider ourselves lucky if we got a chance to see the tiger but the tiger wouldn’t get to see us…etc. (at this point, you’d hear a lot of youthful giggle and chuckle).

Then, it would be time for the motor launch to start back its diesel engine, and gleeful tourists from Calcutta, India and Dhaka, Bangladesh would return home with thrilling stories about the dark and dense forests where daylight hardly penetrates even at noon, and where even if you couldn’t see the big cat (aren’t you lucky they didn’t see you either…ha ha…), at least you were able to see clear and pronounced paw marks six inches deep into the┬átreacherous mud.

Meanwhile, on a weekly basis, a poor man on those mangrove islets would be preyed upon because of fierce ecological competition, and his headless body or remains would later be collected by his luckier friends and relatives. There would be a new, cursed widow with fatherless children in those God-forsaken villages.

By the way, Sundarbans is now a famous, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Does Deulbari know?

Sincerely Writing,


Brooklyn, New York

The Location