This August 16, I have reached a rather personal milestone: I’ve completed thirty-five years of my living in America.
I came to USA as a foreign student in biology, with no money, no relatives, no friends, and absolutely no knowledge about this country. I came alone, leaving my wife behind in India, and I had no idea what to expect. It was sort of a desperation that made me leave India, and looking back, even though I thought I would go back after a few years, I did not really create a path to go back.
It was not money that brought me here. I have seen many Indians and other immigrants who came to America with only one goal: to be rich. And some of them became enormously rich. Yet, I see them spending decades in America — some spent an even longer time than I did. But they did not learn much about America, because they never considered this country to be their own.
I did. And I learned a lot from that deep sense of belonging. I have written many articles, and even a few books about my life here, and spoke a lot about my immigrant life. My small family and I went through many struggles — through poverty, extreme isolation, racism, intellectual challenge, death of loved ones in India, changing careers from science to journalism to grassroots activism to teaching American union workers to professional writing.
I have learned about America with an open mind, and tried to understand its pluses and minuses. I have found some of the best teachers both in Illinois where I was a biology student and here in New York where I was a student of journalism and writing. These teachers — along with some saintly teachers in Kolkata and Bengal — have shaped my consciousness. Then, I came to know Noam Chomsky, the living Aristotle.
I have learned about American and global politics that very few first-generation immigrants care to learn. I have loved the bright, progressive side of America and despised the dark, regressive side — because I have always believed you must consider the place you’ve adopted to be your own…to be your own. In Kolkata, I have seen many people from other states of India settling down and making a fortune, without ever loving the city and its rich cultural and historical treasures. They have lived there for generations — practically as parasites. I have seen that here in America too. I have never believed in that way of life.
I have learned American English from scratch, and preserved Bengali in my heart with great love and care. I have made a new life along with family here in America from scratch, and we have made a new society of our own from scratch. These people — teachers, students, neighbors, colleagues, co-activists, union workers, peace crusaders, environmentalists, immigrant rights soldiers, civil liberties and equality leaders — have shown me that America is not only extreme inequality, violence, racism, Trumpism, war-glorification, police brutality, gun killing, corporate looting, or religious bigotry. They have shown me America is also about progressive ideas, a strong sense of equality, love for science and arts, movement for peace and justice, and yearning for a habitable humanity and environment. They have found us a reason to live here with a strong sense of optimism and hope.
I do not know how long I can continue working for my core beliefs, as my energy is limited, and also because of the fact that I’ve been working hard both here in USA and also in India — and it is getting now more and more difficult. But whatever happens to me, and wherever I might be, I want to thank you — my friends, colleagues, students, teachers and co-believers who have given me and my family reasons to live here in America for such a long time.
Very soon, there may be a time when our free speech and free thinking and free sharing of ideas and emotions will forcibly be taken away from us. It is entirely possible that America and India — my two countries — will fall in the hands of violent and unbelievably, unthinkably cruel totalitarianism. And these words I won’t be able to speak anymore. Therefore, whatever I have said so far — maybe, will be my last words.
In my thirty five years, I have learned how some people have kept the torch of freedom and progressivism alive. Without you, my otherwise alienated immigrant life would have been even more alienated and depressing. You have given me and my family a new lease of life. Through this note, I express my gratitude to you.
Regardless of where I am, you will always be in my heart.
Brooklyn, New York
August 23, 2020
Photo Courtesy: Creative Commons