Why are there Tears in Bengali Eyes?

By Amitava Sen

Have you noticed that the City of Joy has turned out to actually be a City of Billboards? The skyline as viewed from the roads is plastered with huge hoardings. If only they were placed somewhat lower, they could hide the squalor directly below. The displays for luxury apartments hang directly over the shack dwellings; advertisements for purified drinking water cast a shadow over the polluted cesspools that are the byproduct of cleaning and washing by the shanty dwellers. Then there are displays for fancy snacks and beverages, frowning directly on the people down below who live on less that one dollar a day. But the advertisers have a point in placing their billboards here, for they are not meant for the pedestrian hoi polloi, you can only view these displays from a distance if you are riding an automobile. In addition to the billboards, Calcutta has a tradition of roadside walls and building facades covered with paper posters, to be on the eye level of the passers by. The billboards are gaining in prominence as the car population in Calcutta is climbing exponentially every day. Continue reading

Click For Boi : Online Bangla Boi Subscription

Click For BoiIf you are a book lover in Kolkata or any other part of West Bengal or India, your options for reading books are quite limited. The local books stores have a limited stock and they may take days to get you a copy of the book you are looking for. Your next option would be to go to the College Street book stores which is an uphill task during these hectic days and traffic congestion. Your local libraries can stock only a limited number of books constrained by their meager budget. ClickForBoi resolves all that problem by allowing you to get your favorite books online. Continue reading

The How and The Why – A New Play by Sarah Treem

New York City has always  been the launch place for successful American plays. Plays by newcomer playwrights launch their life from off-off Broadway  and gradually filter to Off Broadway and then the lucky few goes to the Broadway. However, recent trends have shown that many new plays now premiere at Regional Theaters around the country and gradually make their way to the glitz and fame of Broadway if they get noticed. Recently, I had the opportunity of watching the premier of Sarah Treem’s new play “The How and the why” at the McCarter theater in Princeton New Jersey. The play was directed by Emily Mann and performed by Mercedes Ruehl (the Oscar winning actress) and Bess Rous. Continue reading

Rabindranath Tagore and America

Rabindranath TagoreThis year we are celebrating the hundred fiftieth birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. In America several organizations are busy in preparing for the celebrations around the year. In New York and New Jersey, Cultural Association of Bengal (CAB) is joining hands with multiple organizations to hold multiple events in New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Amidst all this excitement, I was trying to look at this myriad minded genius from a different perspective – from the perspective of an expatriate Bengali, more specifically a Bengali American. And when I say Bengali American, I do not imply any national significance, rather I mean a Bengali speaking person living in America.  I have been looking into this subject for more than a year now, and during the course of my so called research I have been fascinated in knowing a great deal about the history of expatriate Indians in America and their relationship with Tagore.

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Parenting Asian Style

Amy ChuaRecently Amy Chua is in the news. Her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” has raised a storm in American households. Although many may not have read her book, but the excerpt published by Wall Street Journal was enough to enrage many parents who challenged Amy in all forms possible.  To us, Indian parents, Ms. Chua’s parenting style is nothing new at all. Rather the western parenting style of protecting the delicate and fragile self-esteem of our children seems more foreign to us. We remember how we trembled to bring in our report cards that had less than 80% scores in front of our parents (well during our times 80% was a great score – letter marks, as we used to say). But after we came to this country, we learned that we should never exhibit our dissatisfaction when our child fails to deliver their best.   We should keep encouraging them, tell them that they are doing great, even when their grades keep slacking. Positive reinforcement, we learned, was the key to success. Continue reading

New Jersey Saraswati Puja

Devi SaraswatiSaraswati puja is a major Bengali religious and cultural festival, especially for the Bengali youth. Although Saraswati puja celebrates knowledge, learning and the fine arts, but it also had a romantic touch to it.  The spring time weather, the mild warmth of sunshine, the red Krishnachura and Palash blooming all around – it is the perfect time for romance and Saraswati Puja. In this country (especially in the north east), Saraswati Puja is celebrated in the peak of winter – and just like the Goddess, the landscape around covers itself in white.  We would have to cover our nice festive dresses in heavy winter clothing and trudge through snow, ice and slush to visit our revered Goddess of learning. But we the expatriates, many of whom are indebted to  Maa Saraswati for her blessings, carry the warmth of spring in our heart.  Just as we enter the Puja venue, we feel transported back to those days when we used to go around door to door to collect contributions for our club Puja, building and decorating the pandals, waking nights to decorate the venue and have a great time. We also had several rules that needed to be followed – like, we couldn’t eat “Kool” (the sweet and sour berry), no studying on the day of the Puja, and after the Puja write Saraswati’s name on the “Bel” leaves. No such restrictions need to be followed here, but sometimes we feel a small tinge when we see our kids missing out the fun. Continue reading

From The Tagore Kitchen

Thakur Barir Ranna by Purnima ThakurThe other day, while rearranging the books in my tiny library, I chanced upon a tiny book titled “Thakur Barir Ranna” (Foods from the Tagore Kitchen) written by Purnima Tagore (daughter of Pramatha Choudhury and Nalini Devi). This year being the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, anything related to Tagore generates special interest. Hence, after a long time, I started leafing through the book and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of cuisine and recipes listed in the book. In the preface, the author says that these recipes are collected from a recipe book handed down to her by her aunt, Indira Devi Choudhurani. Indira Devi, the favorite niece of Rabindranath Tagore, had never entered a kitchen or cooked on a regular basis. But whenever she liked a dish, she would make it a point to collect the detailed recipe from the cook and note it down in her book. Purnima Tagore has also included some of her own recipes in the book. Hence, it is not that all the recipes were from Jorsanko Thakurbari, but of course they are from the Tagore kitchens in general. Continue reading

Facebook – Not a Place to Hide Your Face

Mark Zuckerberg of FacebookTime magazine chose Mark Zuckerberg as the 2010 person of the year. A film on the life of Mark Zuckerberg is a strong contender for Oscars next February. He is twenty six years old and is worth 7 billion dollars. He drives an Acura TSX and rents a house. And he is the creator of the phenomenon called “Facebook”.

Yes, Facebook is no longer a website, it is a phenomenon. Social networking sites are nothing new. People on the internet started to commune together since the early days through bulletin boards, news groups etc., long before MySpace, LinkedIn, Orkut and Facebook came into existence.  Newsgroups were there (remember soc.cult.etc.etc?) even before web browsers and web servers were invented. People have always tried to use the internet to connect and to share. Social networking sites like Facebook has given the people the ideal vehicle to connect and share. And of all the social networking sites, Facebook has become the most popular platform primarily because of its ability to evolve continuously.  People have been able to connect with their friends after ages, they share their thoughts, their likes and dislikes, their photos and memories. It allows many to get their moments of fame and recognition from their friends and peers that was never possible before.  It has become such a powerful attraction to many that some psychiatrists are considering Facebook addition as a diagnosable ailment. Continue reading

To Criticize or Not to Criticize, That is a Question!

I often have this dilemma, is it okay to criticize? Often people ask me, how did I like a book, or a play, or a movie – and I find it very difficult to answer. First of all, if it is my opinion they are asking for, I can possibly try to answer quite diplomatically. My answer would also depend on who is asking me, and about what my opinion is sought for. But expressing an opinion and making a criticism of some work are two entirely different ball games. Opinions are personal, but criticism should be based on a solid foundation of theoretical and practical understanding of the craft. We often tend to confuse between the two and sometimes give too much weight to personal opinions as valued commentary of a piece of artistic or literary work. Continue reading

Two Plays in Kolkata

Kaachher ManushWhenever I go to Kolkata, I make it a point to see as many theaters as possible within the short breaks that I can manage from the hectic schedule. This summer too I had the opportunity of watching two plays in Kolkata, “Kaachher Manush” by Gandhar and “Srinwantu Comrades” by Nandipat.

“Kaachher Manush” is based on a Marathi play by Dr. Sirish Athwale (translated by Kamal Sanyal) and directed by Gautam Haldar. The play tells the story about how two people from different social backgrounds can come close together through a metaphoric process of healing.  Dadaseheb (a Marathi Brahmin played by Debshankar Haldar) is suffering from a paralysis of his right side resulting from a head injury and needs physiotherapy and occupational therapy to recover. Savitribai, a senior dalit lady (performed by Bijoy Lakshmi Burman), has been appointed as a nurse to provide him with his daily therapy and help him during the day with his household chores. Continue reading