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"