Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An Immigrant's Story -2

From that Bay to this…
(published in New Global Indian)

He used to call himself Sam Gosh. Rina masi-his mother, who lived next door to my ancestral home in Ballygunge, Calcutta would always reiterate “Shondeep Ghosh” while introducing him. Sam, however, would perk his brow, let go a quirky smile, tugging at the hip pockets of his Louis Vuitton jeans, would repeat nonchalantly, “…but I prefer Sam”. He would say that to anybody and everybody. Also to Partho dadu, who was about 82 years old that time. We tried to touch his feet whenever, if not, then at least bow our head and keep our eyes down in his presence. Talking to him with hands in pant pockets was blasphemy! Who wants gang rebuttal from family and all the make-believe extended ones in the locality! Not Sam. He didn’t seem to care much about elders.  He didn’t seem to be caring about anything at all, barring his appearance. Rini di, Jhuma di-all the senior eligible girls’ bandwagon would go cooing seeing him jog in his trunks in the morning. His glowing skin, the smell of his foreign deodorant, the texture of his designer ensembles, the accent of his parlance…there was something intriguing about him. He listened to Eminem that none of us ever heard of and once he even tried to switch on a device that later I came to know was his cell phone. It definitely looked very different from the one I saw dad using. That black, robust uncouth instrument weighing like a pile of bricks! Sam’s cousin Shona was my classmate so I was amongst the privileged few to be able to gorge upon chocolates filled with liquors, to savor the sweet smelling body mist on my skin…to taste a slice of America in my drawing room. America—the land of opulence, and that of elegance and where dreams come true. That was the year 1999.

Much water passed through Bay of Bengal since. My fetish for designer outfits was satisfied to the brim within couple of years. Forum-a state of the art mall with upbeat multiplex rose from the rustic ruins of Elgin Road. The  depleted residence of Netaji Subhas Bose located opposite to it resembled the haunting edifice of the bygone era, overshadowed by the wave of novelty, glitz and gizmo; liberation and liberalization and the new age phenomenon called the Americanization.  Soon, fluorescent billboards stirred the unrealized dreams from the long forgotten contours of people’s minds. Buy this. Buy that. Be desirable. Chic. Live life as if you’re going to die tomorrow!  The long, winding queue at the Mac D, CCD, PVR pushed aside the few who still cared for an endless chit chat session on the wooden benches at the dingy tea stall round the corner, smelling of earth, hearth and sweat. Suddenly, it was fad to hold hands in public. In private, you could touch the infinite by eloping to another time and space. The cyberspace.

Soon after, I left for Delhi and then for San Francisco Bay Area in US.  Finally, I was able to get a first hand experience of the American way of life. What was that, you would want to know. I found a lot of  space: barren lands, grasslands, highways that intersect in the horizon, deep blue sea turning green in daylight, some concrete structures reminding me of Salt Lake-sector 5 back home, and a lot of spacious car parking lots. More space between me and my neighbor. But the most striking aspect was the passersby(s). People with diverse features, skin colors, speaking different languages, coming from places known and unknown, all together dreaming of a better tomorrow. In the cacophony of multiplicity I found a familiar touch. It said Chaat House! Udupi Palace! Khubsurat beauty parlor! Probashi Bengali Association! It couldn’t have gotten any better! There I saw, a woman clad in saree holding her daughter’s arm, reaching for that evergreen fresh coriander leaves, to be put in next day’s meal. I know her! I’ve seen her all my life! Then I met this man in grey beard, smiling eyes hovering on Zee TV, praying for those eleven cricketers in blue to cause a miracle once and for all. I can’t remember when was the last time I visited a temple in Calcutta, yet, the chaste atmosphere in the spotless clean marble floored Livermore temple promptly incited a spiritual awakening in me. A sense of belonging, a touch of coherence that was so absent in my life till then. I discovered something else too. A genuine pride in my own kin. The dozen Indian names on the cubicle doors in the ninth floor of Oracle building warmed my heart like “a thousand splendid suns”. Was I so naive, not to see the splendor of my nascence till now?

I happened to chance upon Sam once, here, in San Francisco. On Ashtami during Durga Puja. I didn’t recognize him at first. How could I? He was clad in sherwani, busy managing his tiny tot from making a mess with flowers. “Kamon achho”? (read: how are you)he asked me in fluent Bengali…! His four year old daughter ran toward us and upon getting introduced to me made an effort to kneel down to touch my feet. Standing, in the confluence of prime and senescence, I wandered through the overwhelming state of revelation. Like touching an old piece of thread smeared in fragile antiquity, I embraced the moment with cautious, astute anticipation.   Time stood still while winds of change resonated in utmost urgency…

“Bahu klesh kori, bahu poth ghuri, dekhithe gyechi porbat mala, sindhu;
Dekha hoi nai shudhu chokkhu meleya, duar hoithe ek pa feleya, ekti ghasher shisher opor ekti shishir bindu" –Rabindranath Tagore
"Much have I toiled, many roads have I traveled to see mountain ranges and the ocean. Only I have not cast my eyes to see, one step away from my door, one drop of dew on one blade of grass"

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Immigrant’s Story - 1

She wakes up sweating. The heat inside the room has gone ablaze. Before the walls close upon her, she hastily removes the comforter. Her eyes adjust to the bare whiteness all around - the walls, the closet, the comforter that covered her and the one underneath, on the carpeted floor. No, the carpet isn’t white. There is a hint of grey in it. The only furniture in the room, a two shelved brown pantry stares back at her. There is a laptop lying there, half open. A modem on the rack below over couple of boxes. And a whole lot of ugly black wires. All entangled. She gets up and touches it. The machine springs to life. Her day begins too, opening a window to the wider world. 

There, outside her window panes, snows start to gather. Soft balls of virgin flakes come pouring on the grey buildings, empty parking lots and the withered branches of bare trees. Soon, everything is wrapped up in a snowy cocoon. The winds stream down the alley once in a while making hushed whispering noise. Silence prevail rest of the time. You may call it bliss. She calls it bereavement.

Far away, in another part of the world, sun sets slowly. Weary passersby wipe the sweat off their foreheads.  An old man gets down from a rickshaw, holding multiple plastic bags filled with everyday items. As he stooped to pay the rickshaw puller, a few stray potatoes spilled from his bag and scattered on the cracked pavement. He looks at them with exasperation and moves on to climb the long steps of his humble apartment complex. On the third floor, sits his wife, waiting in anticipation for his return. The house seems empty and quiet, devoid of the vibrant cacophony that characterizes the city outside. The only mood-changer is the television that never ceases to amuse it’s fellow inhabitants. While the old man was climbing up and the lady sitting down, the television announced the birth of quadruplets in a suburban hospital, death of a Maoist rebel in the jungles of central India, rise of a new hegemony in Belarus, merger of two Wall Street corporations. The last one evoked most reaction from the couple. That’s the corner of the planet that means the whole world to them. That’s where their only daughter resides. Clad in good fortune and glory, she accompanied her husband to America a year back. They say, it’s the place of boundless dreams. Glistening in pride they wait in the mellow lights of the sordid apartment, if she would call today.

While the clock keeps ticking, marking morning to noon, she walks from the bedroom to the kitchen, taking small, lazy steps, fatigued of the stark nothingness that gapes at her in awe. What will she do now? Maybe make a cup of coffee. Maybe try organizing and rearranging the scanty furniture that disturbs the spartanism of the abode. There isn’t a picture somewhere. None on the walls or the small white tea-table or the antiquated wooden television set. She has been thinking about it for some time now. She wants to bring in a plant too, to add a little life and color to her lackluster sustenance. At least she would have a living being to talk to. She doesn’t seem to be seeing any whole day other than her husband who remains so preoccupied in his pursuit of professional wellbeing that she seems almost like an after-thought in his life. She wished he made her busier, even if it was routine work.

She sits on the sofa that they just fetched the weekend before from a bargain showroom. The cushions were from another shop and to her utmost glee the tag mentioned, ‘Made in India’. The cushions are bright red in color with patters in orange and yellow. They transport her back to her old days. Days that were warm, filled up in lights and sounds. Laughter. And a meaning to life. The times with her numerous cousins and friends, of abundant energy, reckless candor and that of hopes and aspirations for a better tomorrow. Her university days, when they would work hard to find a place in the sun. She thinks of the moments with her parents who had lofty dreams about her. They opened all doors for her always, to usher new opportunities her way. They wanted her to hold her head high and make her mark in the world. She thought of her days and nights now. It’s been a year in here; yet, she has no idea what lies ahead, in her new life with a new man in a foreign land with complete unknown prospects and possibilities.

She looks at the snows outside. Out there amidst the white heap sits a tiny little black bird. It nods its head and flies off with utmost urgency. She gets up too, coming out of her daze, strolling down the winding corridor, out of the building in a jiffy. The cold winds splash against her face, watering her nostrils, numbing her senses for a while. She blinks at the dazzling new sun. From there, on that auspicious day she makes that journey.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Internet Apparition

Peter Delevett reports on Mercury News: In an IPO certain to further turbo-charge the social networking industry, LinkedIn on Thursday notched the most jaw-dropping Wall Street debut for an Internet company since Google. The glorious rise of it’s share-price from $32 at it’s debut to $120 certainly sweep the silicon valley with frenzied optimism.

Outside the glares of the stock markets, Social Media, apparently also hijacked the pivotal heights of our socio-political breathing. Nicholas Kristof of New York Times remarked on the 2009 Protests in Iran:The quintessential 21st century conflict…on one side are government thugs firing bullets…on the other side are young protesters firing ‘tweets’.

Almost half a billion people worldwide were watching live Internet streams of Kate and William’s wedding with 400 million viewers tuning into Youtube alone.

It’s very symbolic that the only significant speech on ‘freedom’ coming from Barack Obama’s administration was Hillary Clinton’s speech on the freedom of the Internet in January 2010!

However, before we let ourselves washed out by the torrents of globalization spill, we must take a pause to realize that like that of globalization, the impact of Social Media too is often blown out of proportion, perhaps unknowingly, by Cyber-Utopians.

Journalist and social commentator Evgeny Morozov writes in his avant garde book The Net Delusion: The cyber-utopians belief that the Internet would turn us into uber-tolerant citizens of the world, all too eager to put our vile prejudices on hold and open up our minds to what we see on our monitors, has proved to be unfounded. In most cases, the only people who still believe in the ideal of an electronic global village are those who would have become tolerant cosmopolitans even without the Internet: the globe-trotting intellectual elite. The regular folk don’t read sites like Global Voices, an aggregator of the most interesting blog posts from all over the world; instead, they are much more likely to use the Internet to rediscover their own culture—and, dare we say it, their own national bigotry.

The truth about the Green Revolution in Iran is that the revolutionaries who could be identified on social-networking sites were put behind the bars by the Ahmadinejad regime and the despotic government took virulent measures to curb cyber freedom. They also went a step further to use technology in their favor to promote Islamic fundamentalism.

Another truth is: As per The Economist, only 3% of people live outside their country of birth.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Linking the past with the present...

I could bury my legs till my knees in the fall leaves then. The leaves had so many colors. Some golden, some brown, some deep green. They would settle on one another to form a deep leafy bed covering the whole of  hill trough. When night settled, the rustle of the leaves would keep me awake. In the morning, the wet, musky smell would tickle my nostrils, my mind absorbing the earthen rot. I could tell who's coming by the sound of the footsteps they made on the leaves. The tribal cook at his regular visits with tea, breakfast, cigarettes. His dog in search of the remnants. Sharp at 8, my father's surveyor would come and wait in front of our tent; All decked up in his field boots, hat and with the sandpaper colored bag on his back. My dad will immediately pick up two of his treasured possessions: the hammer and the torch and off they'll go to delve into the bottom of the earth. To look into the cracks an crevices, faults and mineral beds, walking endlessly through the virgin forests.

Sometimes he would take me along, mostly I was left behind. The moment I'll see their jeep disappearing around the corner, I'll jump into the wild terrain, starting my own geological excavations. I'll dig out a piece of glistening mica or find a perfectly round shaped basalt. Once I found a beautiful piece of rock all engraved in golden stripes which later I found out were copper striations. They all went to my collection. The stones- all shapes and sizes, the pine cones, the rustic leaves and the most exquisite of all, the wild flowers.

As night would descend, the sounds start reverberating with great elan. The tiny living beings which were hiding most of the day, comes out in open. A lone mammal would heave a big sigh, some other a lingering shriek that would mess up with the monotony of the jungle. Every forest has its sounds. The constant humming that keeps it alive, murmuring of the cricket, stems tweaking, winds hushing the just awakened inhabitants.

The sounds, the smells, the feel of its vast entity, the calm of the moonlit night serenading the ancient Eucalyptus trees, the not knowing and discovering - there's so much to a forest and living in it. Kuchai, in the lap of Chhotanagpur plateau called me time and again. But I could never go back. I had to go pursue another way of life while some other people started inhabiting there in ways that are considered un-social by many now.

That was 18 years back. I could relive my childhood memories, however. Just last week. After all these years and crossing all those miles, I felt the same calling, the smell of earth, the sound of dropping leaves in another piece of untamed nature. Awakening to another wishful wood. Or was it the same? We change but the forest don't.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's still the same. The dull, wet morning, smeared in the smell of earth, the moisture in the air caressing all, the leaves, the brick red walls, the dusty cushions of the patio chairs, the contours of my mind. I sit, waiting, warming my hands at the painted tea cup while the steam and the aroma of its content awaken my senses. I try to fathom the fading darkness through the huge glass door that separates me from the world. It acts as the perfect guardian, shielding me, protecting me from the turbulence outside. Yet, it never ceases to get me intrigued by the stuff out there. The motion. The commotion. Colors and clouds.

Somewhere out there you would be going to sleep now. Nestled in the comfy of your home, with the people who define your life today. Maybe you would brush your unruly curls, or pick on your teeth. Perhaps you'll quickly turn the pages of a journal or just sit there, calm and composed with the Buddha smile. For you always had an air of calmness in times of utmost chaos. Times, when you'd drive me mad with your calmness. While the lava inside me would come exploding in torrents, you would keep looking at me with wistful glum. Deep sensitivity in your eyes that would just see, not speak. Not heal. But only linger to read the visible and the underlying.

Yet what remained with me still, is the feel of the steaming tea in earthen cups at the dingy tea stall near the winding university road...the blissful moments of sipping it, and gulping the lures of life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wiki Leaks, Net Neutrality and the future of the Internet

Yesterday, I was having this conversation about whether any discussion can really be called an ‘objective’ one, as our opinions are based on our personal perception and experiences. So much so, that there is always a shade of biasness (overt or covert) when we analyze something. The media, being the extension of human voices and creativity also subscribes to the same principles. Result? We see a Republican loudspeaker in Fox TV, a Democratic middleman in MSNBC, a worshipper of the ruling party in NDTV. Some publications do it in the guise of honest retrospective reporting to cover-up messy operations carried on by the government. For instance, one of the TIME July issues has a horrid cover picture of an Afghan girl with her ears and nose chopped by the Taliban. It says that if it’d be appropriate for the US troops to leave Afghan women to such atrocities? Now you decide whether it’s a true concern or a propaganda mechanism to defend US military presence in Afghanistan amidst fiscal drainage and massive criticism of the Obama government.

The partial, selective highlight of the truth often clouds the genuine message in its entirety.

When it came to what to believe and what not to, the Internet with its uninhibited platform, however flooded us with choices. We no longer had to depend on that colored news at 9 or to listen to the rants and coaxing of the ever popular news anchor. The Internet though much global in its reach and scope, is also that niche for personification. You and I, we all could have our corners to voice our perspective. And for free. It’s simple, economically viable approach epitomized individual triumph in the sheen of collectivism. It got the world to your doorstep and also took your little ideas across the globe. Wiki Leaks founder Julian Assange, however, took it to the next level. He claims to have founded a system that tackles press censorship. You get the story just like it is. Uncensored. An ex-hacker, he stunned the world by some gory revelations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. How he decoded the secret anecdotes, nobody knows, but he did come up with some investigative journalism that we don’t get to see on print and TV these days.

Not anymore, it seems.

With the surprise deal between Google and Verizon on net neutrality, that specifies Google’s certain privileges on Verizon network, one can’t help but wonder what would be the fate of individual Internet users when the big network corporations hijack search engines and other popular portals under their wraps. Will there be a price tag for every click? Is the common man going to get penalized for connectivity, effectively and figuratively? The Internet which served as a level playing ground for people of all nations and credibility might just be the next caste system of the virtual world.

Let’s see what happens!