[This owes its existence to my friend Mr. Pradipta Chakraborty, a veteran of Indian IT, a much traveled man and who has given me, a home-bound ‘owl of the flat’ in East Calcutta a pair of highly observant eyes with a philosophical brain behind.]
Mr. Hiranmoy was born in a suburb in Calcutta three years after the country of Bangladesh was born. He was from a middle class family andf by the time he was in his twenties, he was swept by the IT wave of India. First, he crossed Vindhays and went to South of India. In small barrack like rooms in Banaglore (before it became a verb ), he wanted to enjoy the cities where majority of his clients were based. When he was 26, he already clocked 3 years working for on a project for a Manhattan / NYC based bank. He was impressed by NYC in proxy and he felt an urge to go and enjoy the great city. He wanted to be an enjoy-er of NYC. As luck would have had it, the bank’s business was booming and they needed more on-site manpower (in their communication to the IT company, they mentioned only what they want. The IT company did not have clear idea about the difference between manpower and talent. So they accumulated manpower, as much as can be packed in the largest flying vessels in the air. The word manpower was not exactly correct, there were many women in the gang as well)
His boss worked on-site and he gave him plenty of tips and fed him adequate myths about the living and working in the NYC and Hiranmoy ( the Sanskrit word meaning ‘full of gold’ or ‘made in gold’) was ready to fulfill the meaning of his name as well. He had seen, his fortunate on-site colleagues sending images (Facebook, the greatest illiterate-friendly offering in human history was not discovered by that time) where they stood near cars with a hand in the glistening body which did not touch Indian roads yet. He was restless to enjoy the city.
He finally landed in the NYC. It was before 2001 and Hironmoy was breathless to enjoy the city.
Within next six months, he found out that most of his time is spent in commuting and he is forced to live too far away with a gang of his colleagues who did not offer anything interesting to him. Many ‘enjoyable’ things were out of reach either for the money needed or time to be spent or for both. For example, he found that he could neither afford nor enjoy Opera, he is not able to mix with people on equal terms and most-important – he was lonely and there was no hope of having a local girlfriend. His on-site boss was an workaholic and he was more like a furniture in the office and exhorted everyone to work harder and harder.
After 3 years, one day, as he was in a train bound for his home in Friday with his demon boss asking to come tomorrow for some work, he started to think his enjoyments. He looked around – all tired workers going home and he concluded that he is not enjoying the city. The city is enjoying him. Early morning, the city, like a monster with a long neck gulps him into underground train and pushes him to a desk in a very tall building. After 10-12 hours, he is again suctioned into the same mechanism and he lands up into his flat (he has started living alone now). He lives and socially interacts more or less with people whose only connection with him is the colour of the skin or the vernacular. By subtle and gross means, the city has made its intention clear. The subtle means his status as an immigrant worker (among uncivilized ones, this is called desi or cheapo-desi) and the gross means very steep barrier of entry for some activities which the city and only a city with the dimension of NYC can offer.
He was little sad by that time. He brought a car, not those ones he saw his colleagues are having their photos. One of his junior in Indian office asked him about on-site life and he sent him a photo, dutifully by the side of a Bentley parked by the road which was shot by a colleague of him. The junior thanked him and he also explained how is he enjoying life in the NYC.
Hironmoy is currently a 40+ man, married with children and a settled and successful man. He works for the same company. He finds that NYC has become like a wife of a middle-aged man. At the start of the journey, it seemed that the journey will be an enjoyable one but now it has become increasingly clear to him that he is being enjoyed by the City.
He has become like a satellite to a planet. The satellite, if we imagine came close to the planet to enjoy the view, the bewitching skyline, the invitations but after some time and after a level of closeness, the planet’s gravity put him into an orbit from where he can neither go away, nor approach the objects.
His precise, controlled, regulated and determined orbit was enjoyed by the City and will continue to enjoy, least bothered whether he enjoying or not.
Haridas was a contemporary of Hironmoy with the difference that Haridas was from a village, some 1400 km off Calcutta. He visited Calcutta, at least twice a year and the whole city left an indelible impression in him. Near Sealdah, he saw people in the morning and returning in the evening and he just wondered as why so much rush, so much movement. He thanked himself for being in his village.
Eventually, his Great Expectations arrived and he too was pulled into South of India (Calcutta and Bengal at this time was heavily engaged in solving the grave and serious problem of ‘how to distribute zero wealth equally and equitably’) and from there, the trans-Atlantic flight to NYC. He was working in the same area as that of Hironmoy.
In few days, Haridas found out that if things remain normal, he is going to spend his whole life like those Sealdah crowd he wondered at during his childhood. He found out that there was so much shortage of time that even if he saves money, he had to schedule his enjoyment precisely. He used to catch 7:28 train and in his dreams also he saw station clocks with minute hand at a slightly less angled and he woke up, bolt upright. This was becoming too much for him. He left the company after a year, saved some cash and returned back to India, brought a small flat in an ‘pati’ area in Calcutta and with another Calcutta based colleague started a small company.
The company did well and now Hardas is a 40+ man, married and settled and is a kind of a private citizen of Calcutta. He understood at the start of his journey as a petty-businessman (Calcutta is not easy with this word but knows the French word petite-bourgeois quite well. This is not because of love of France but because of the massive propaganda literature of the previous ideologues in Bengali where this word is directly transliterated into Bengali from Das Kapital. So much well that anything of slight, common, inconsequential, un-sophisticated is connoted infallibly by a Bengali word ‘pati’ [ the pa to be spelt as in pasta] by the proletarians and elites alike) that time is the greatest, more powerful than money, opportunity, mood and health to enjoy properly. As an arm-chair connoisseur of wining, he realized that you might have all ingredients to enjoy a fine wine but if you are in a hurry, enjoyment is spoilt. The same works for other fine and enjoyable aspect of life, for example, a conversation with a nice and attractive lady.
It is this respect for Mahakal (The Great Time), that made him take him very weird decisions – in his professional and personal life. He refused to grow his business the way start-ups grow. He chose to keep his business ‘pati’. He became an essentialist and that included enjoyments also. With a discipline, applied rigorously, he extracted time from the everydays quota of 24 hours as much as he could for his own spending.
Then, one summer in Calcutta, now a fortyish man, he felt an overwhelming urge to visit the memory of his youthful days. He felt that visiting New York City would be a great idea. He scheduled some client visits, some prospect appointment, sounded few friends and landed in NYC. It was almost 16 years after and apart from the Twin Towers, he found change everywhere although the more it changed, the more it appear to have remained the same.
He was in no hurry. He finished his business and then just roamed in the great city.
He had nowhere to go. No office, no client, not sight-seeing. Nothing,. Except the dinner and night-stay in a friend’;s house in the suburb. He just roamed and watched the skies, sat in nondescript parks watching life passing by. He took trains when they were less crowded. He found a freedom so overwhelming as if his personality was not there – he was like a leaf in the Central Park moving to and fro with every breeze.
He used to wake up late and after a lazy breakfast, consulted the papers and chose his destinations and he was as imperious as an emperor to select or de-select. The whole city of NYC was under his command to choose. He had nothing specifically to enjoy but this gave him the open-ended freedom to enjoy anything, including the most autonomous one : choosing not to choose.
The time-zone helped him conduct his ‘pati’ business, leaving the day free. He lived two nights each in dormitories in four corners of the city. Having no intention to buy ‘enjoyable’ things, his baggage – both in the back and in the mind were negligible so as not to inconvenience him. He met people who like to meet people : old people and young children in the park. He looked back and found busy bankers running hither and thither and also walked in the sidewalks of the office where he used to work and from the light he knew that midnight lamp will be burnt. He sighed and moved on.
At night, after dinner and in a dormitory with people from at least eight countries, he read The Godfather, read many times but being in New York city, the reading was different. He decided to go to Bronx next day. Near Brooklyn Bridge, he found an old friend, strange connection. They knew each other since boyhood.
The friend took him near a small storefront which used to have this prophetic name – Matchless Gifts and where some forty years ago, an old gentleman from Calcutta started an worldwide movement highhandedly – The Hare Krishnas.
As both of them were walking back to Brooklyn, Haridas remembered that during his sacred thred ceremony some quarter century ago, a relative gave the gift of the Bhagavad Gita by the same old Calcutta gentleman whom the world has learnt to call by the honorific Srila Prabhupada.
In this book, Hardas remembers, of a sloka where the Supreme Lord is telling
Aham hi sarva-yagyanam bhokra-e-prabhureba cha
I (the Supreme Lord) is the Lord and Master of all sacrifices.
Haridas reasoned, in that case, the Supreme Lord, the ultimate proprietor of the NYC city or for that matter everything is the supreme enjoyer.
We cannot enjoy alone. The more we try to enjoy alone, more we shall be enjoyed by exactly those things which we considered our legitimate prey of enjoyment. *
* If Haridas or Hironmy or anyone acquainted with our NYC days, please send a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rest all mails will be deleted.