A Bengali gentleman’s engagement with America – Part I

Bengali Gentleman : Author

America : the geography as well as the “myth” and stories interwoven collectively by Indians from 1970s. Also the New Rome of our times – the new Rome is told as an approximation and as a shorthand.

Engagements : Mental and in-person collisions / interfacing.

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I have never stayed more than 45 days at a stretch in America though I did come many times – first time as a Federal Government of India officer and later as visitor, business or combination. I did visit many cities and many locales although all these can be considered fleeting, fragmented and highly selective. The first visit was in 1997 – a different world perhaps and a different man, some 23 year old.

I first became aware of America while I read , an adolescent boy residing in Silchar, a small-town in Assam of North East India, a short story by a Bengali author Mr. Shankar called ” Milk of New York” where an immigrant mother was irrationally pursuing her daughter to drink a glass of milk while she was going out for a date. On being asked by the author for such such insistence, the Bengali immigrant mother replied: “I mixed birth control pill in the milk. ” The story timeline was somewhere in 1970s and I read the story in 1980s.

Then I read dispatches of Ms. Alolika Ganguly in one of the leading Bengali newspapers where she described the life very nicely and in a simple prose. It provided a small-town boy the idea of the goings-on of a far away land.

Then when I was 16, I read Buddhadev Basu’s travelogue in the United States – somewhere in the 70s when he was as scholar visitor and stayed in New York with his wife for few months.  Mr. Basu, being first and foremost a poet could communicate more essence of the land to me and it was also the time, I was getting ready to enter into the hyper-competitive Indian Entrance Systems.

In my engineering college, I met Mr. Mathew who was my class-mate and room-mate and he introduced me to the novel The Godfather. I was hooked by the English prose and the prose itself told me how American soil and the environ took Queen’s English and produced something utterly different and individual. The Godfather left in me a lasting lust for New York. Even after I had watched the trilogy, the charm of Puzo’s prose retained its freshness. One of the images that haunts me is Michael Coreleone’s escape in Italy from New York harbour at the same night, he killed Sollozzo and Captain McLuskey and his watching the New York skyline with its lights and the image of a Greek hero watching some funeral fire at the coast of Carthage or that of Byron greeting English coast or I myself finding the palm trees of Dumdum airport when I was leaving for England after leaving my job for my “tryst with destiny” in England. The imagery is old but it is so portable in ages when uncertainty is embedded on a moving vehicle.

In the final year of my college days, I did encounter an acronym called GRE – the entrance test to enter America as s student. I did see many of my classmates preparing themselves for the examination. Curious, I did see the structure of the examination and I discovered how hilarious and grotesque it was when the students were supposed to know very complex, arcane English words and their meanings.

Two American men impressed me a lot – Mr. Edgar Allan Poe and Mr. Whitman. I believe Mr. Poe’s stories impressed me a lot and Mr. Whitman was talking of something that was close to my heart as a small-town boy with wide fields and less crowded spaces.

Post-college, I was working as a Federal Government of India officer in the monopoly international telecom provider and I heard many of my batch-mates were leaving the job and joining “software companies” and then taking a flight to the United States. Curious, I went to visit a “software company” in Chennai somewhere in 1999 and one in Bangalore in 2000. An old colleague used to work there and I entered the office… I did not see the space at eye-level, instead I instantly fixed my eyes in space and it looked like a bee-hive with square boxes or hives. The whole space looked like a factory with matrix of men and women. The artificial light, a hermetically sealed environment and the AC cool air – all made me feel like a prisoner. My “dot com” dream ended then and there.

I started taking more active interest in the United States as a geography when I became a business owner (not an entrepreneur).

I consider, the word a sort of insult while spoken in certain context in India and that story I shall tell in Part II.

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