Durga the Demon Slayer. Question is, Does Anybody Care?

Durga the Demon Slayer. Question is, Does Anybody Care?

Read it one more time. The title. Secular. Liberal. Bengali. Hindu. Goddess. Durga. America.

Does it mean anything to you? I’m especially asking my American and non-Indian friends.

Well, for that matter, I’m also asking my Indian friends. Especially the Hindu fundamentalist type.

It’s not easy to answer. It’s actually complex. But let me make it simple for you.

Yes, there is such a thing called secular and liberal Hindu. I am one. And I know of quite a few more that would fit this phrase. In fact, I know of a few million people — living in India and outside of India — that would feel proud to be called as secular and liberal Hindu.

Now, who are they? Men with three legs and one tail? Women with five ears and six fingers?

No, none of that sort. We are just like anybody else. One, thinking, objective, calm, patient, informed head on our shoulders. We do not believe that religion stands in the way of secularism and liberalism. We do not believe in order to be lifelong followers of Hinduism, or any other religion, you have to be a fanatic or fundamentalist, going to the temple frequently, and offering prayers to God or money to the priest.

We are very happy and content to belong to our religion, without getting too emotional about it, and hating-undermining other ways of life. We feel completely at ease having dinner with a Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Buddhist friend. Better yet, we do not mind going to a three-day outing with a bunch of agnostic-atheist friends.

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Sri Chaitanya embraces Chand Kazi.

Sri Chaitanya embraces Chand Kazi.

Yet, someone like me who grew up in this secular-liberal-Hindu-ecumenical-socialist way of life, or took major pains to become one through intellectual and emotional struggles, finds it quite disturbing that in a so-called liberal and secular and diverse country like the U.S., nobody knows about Hinduism, and outside of an elite or academic group of people, nobody ever heard about Diwali or Durga or Dusserah or Dol. In fact, in my twenty-five-plus years here in America, I have NEVER seen any news coverage on some of our fascinating religious and social celebrations.

In fact, if anything, I’ve only seen and heard belittling, ridiculing and often disparaging observations about Hinduism on mainstream media. And believe me, even a non-religious man like me gets mighty irked at those observations.

One reason behind it is that U.S. media, and Western establishments in general, have created this mass-manufactured idea that “their” religions and faiths and lifestyles are superior than “ours.” There is no debate, discussion or dialogue about the true diversity of faiths. Most ordinary Americans either do not know, or do not care to know about anything outside of their Eurocentric way of life. Most do not believe anything outside of Judeo-Christianity is civilization.

Most do not know or do not care to know about history of human civilization in the first place.

The other reason behind this ignorance is that elite, academic and affluent Hindus have done practically nothing to let mainstream America know about it. They have lived a happy and content, isolated, alienated life, happy and content with their professional and personal lives, high-paid GE, IBM or Monsanto jobs, high university degrees, palatial suburban residences complete with swimming pools and Mercedes and Lexus and BMW, lush-green backyards and Ivy-League-bound children. They have decided this would be the best-safest and least-disturbance-prone life away from India. And they have decided that getting into anything political or even remotely controversial would be in their way of making more affluence and wealthy.

Yet, these are the people who could have made a big difference in their own, elite world, had they made an effort to educate and inform the American society about their history and heritage and Hinduism.

I went back and read the last paragraph. And I realized that I almost sounded like India’s Hindu fundamentalist prime minister Narendra Modi and his gang of chest-thumping, ignorant, angry men.

Didn’t I say it would be complicated to explain? Now you know what I mean.

The Fiery, Socialist Hindu Monk Who Took America by Storm.

The Fiery, Socialist Hindu Monk Who Took America by Storm.

It’s not easy. On one hand, I do want to keep my sanity and objectivity by keeping my secularism and liberalism and Bengali progressiveness and total egalitarianism. And I got it from Hinduism, Buddhism and Vaishnavism and Brahmoism and yes, socialism too. At the same time, I do not believe talking about my birthright religion in a proud way makes me one of the Modi chest-thumpers. I do not carry hate. I do not believe in hate. I am not one of them.

I am a product of Sri Chaitanya’s school of inclusion and love. I am product of Rabindranath Tagore’s liberalism. I am a product of the Bengali Language Movement and socialist political struggles that shaped my consciousness.

At the same time, I am a product of Swami Vivekananda’s proud-to-be-called-Hindu school of thought, and it does not matter to me if I am rich or penniless. My Hinduism is my proud consciousness, just like my secular-liberal Bengali identity.

Of course, it is not easy to understand. But at least, I tried to explain it to you. As simply as I could.

Now only if the American establishment and media cared to know what I was talking about.

I have doubts they would.

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Mars and the Middle East.

Mars and the Middle East.

It’s all about Mars and the Mid-East.

A scientist friend whom I respect a lot tried to impress on me that the cosmic expedition “success” of India last week was a great one, and that I’m playing negativity on it. She also reminded me that I had no business to downplay the incredible scientific achievement India just had. Moreover, she assured me that scientists had no business with politics: they were only doing their job. ISRO in India, and NASA in USA.

I respectfully disagree. Scientists and science, detached from political and economic reality, are actually doing a disservice to us the 99%, and helping the 1% big time, knowingly or unknowingly. In my own life as a scientist, I have seen extremely bright and talented scientists with zero political knowledge or wisdom or interest to get involved in anything political. In fact, my Ph.D. advisor started disliking me when he came to know about my political activity. Precisely, the people in power (the 1%) want that: they want to cajole or exploit their hard work and innovative ideas to champion their own cause — making themselves even more powerful, with motives to stay in power and strengthen themselves, and unleash more political, economic or military violence across their world.

Same with USA and its so-called war on terror. Syria and ISIS now. Iraq and Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda before. Chile, Bangladesh. Vietnam even before that. Agent Orange. Monsanto. Remember? It’s a huge, humongous military mission that mighty American science and U.S. scientists have helped their 1% to develop and grow, beyond imagination. Do these scientists not know what weapons of mass destruction they’re manufacturing, and what costs — human and economic — they’re inflicting on us the 99%? Do they not know how many hundreds of thousands of innocent people their 1% are killing, with their invented and developed science? Do they not know how many Vietnamese mothers are still giving birth to crippled babies because Agent Orange crippled them when they were children?

India's Mars.

India’s Mars.

Do scientists and engineers and IT professionals at GE and Monsanto and Northrop Grumman and Raytheon and IBM and Boeing have any social responsibility? Do they vote? Can they vote? Are they detached from the rest of the world and its 99%, with their cozy labs and fancy instruments and crystal chemicals and fat salaries and travel allowances and famed journal articles and five-star conferences? I’ve seen a lot of them and their five-star conferences. I’ve been there.

I would not say much now. But I do want to return to this subject, and ask for your thoughts. I do not believe that the people in power — the 1%– could care less about our thoughts and our alternative priorities, away from theirs. In short, their priorities are driven by political and economic profits via political and economic violence, and ours are driven by peace, justice and equality via democracy, nonviolence and collective actions. The continuous propaganda by big media — in the U.S. and India — are required weapons of the 1%, to distract us, fool us, and make us believe that they’re doing the right thing (for us), and that we should be happy and proud about “our country.” Of course, they define what the country is: we fall for their definition.

When USA dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, perhaps the greatest, deliberate mass murder in human history, it was possible because of the Einstein–Szilárd letter that inspired Roosevelt to start developing the bomb. Did Einstein do the right thing? Well, he was afraid Hitler might make it first. So, there was some political consciousness. But what happened because of that encouragement to FDR and Truman had changed the concept of human conscience, once and for all. Bertrand Russell worked to stop the nuclear proliferation. Did he get involved politically? You can bet he did.

USA's Mess.

USA’s Mess.

War proliferation continues. Who knows what is happening inside the iron wall the 1% have built, in USA, UK, India, China or Russia, and what they’re cooking up with help from science and scientists? In China and Russia, they say there is no democracy; so the ordinary people do not know. But in USA, UK or India — three biggest democracy drum beaters — do we know? We always know after the fact, and not before. Do we have a right know how OUR money is being spent, and do we have a right to participate in the policy- and decision-making process? If it is a democracy, then we do.

If people like us — the 99% — after informed education, analysis and careful consideration, decide that sending a spacecraft to Mars should be India’s top priority now vis-a-vis feeding milk to the malnourished or free the country’s air from carcinogenic pollution, or in case of the U.S., relentless bombing and making wars should be the topmost priority vis-a-vis rebuilding the falling-apart schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, libraries and a strong middle class, then that would be the right thing to do.

Problem is, we the 99% are force-fed with their views by their media, and we are allowed to voice our support only. Our role is only the role of cheer leaders. Dissent is repressed in China and USSR and Saudi Arabia, but excluded in USA and India. Nobody knows there was a dissent, and why there was one. Scientists who have dissent, however few and far between, are ostracized and silenced. Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky are not household names in the U.S.

Dissent is never heard. Only the euphoria is heard, hence. Or, a massive indifference looms large.

In my opinion, hence, hoaxes and hypocrisies flourish.

Now, if I could only impress it all back on my scientist friend. Would she care to listen?

Long Island, New York

September 26, 4 P.M.

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Not too long ago. Agent Orange, Vietnam. Monsanto.

Not too long ago. Agent Orange, Vietnam. Monsanto.

Mother Goddess Durga with Her Four Children -- Descending on Earth.

Goddess Durga with her children — descending on earth. An annual visit to her mother.

Blog originally written for Mukti’s Kitchen, best Indian food and cooking class in Brooklyn, New York.

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This is the beginning of our Hindu religious and social festivity.

Of course, because nobody talks about it on the media, very few people outside our friends’ circle know about it.

But it is truly a fascinating, colorful time for us. Because all of the religious celebrations and pujas are linked with food and fun. Food fun. And fun food.

:-)

And to me, it’s more about food and fun than religion and rituals. Although, as much as I love the F’s, I don’t mind the R’s either.

:-)

Hindu religious festivals are absolutely, brightly colorful with mouth-watering food. And what’s more, because it’s directly linked with the sacred events, the food is actually even more healthy and pious than the often-extravagant and spicy Indian dishes.

And you can’t complain about good, delicious Indian food with carefully preserved health qualities, can you?

whole-mung-beansSo, here’s some examples. Early in the morning, before sunrise, priests often offer the deities (signifying special forces) with whole, un-sprouted Mung Dal beans. With just a small dash of pure honey, or perhaps cane sugar. Bliss.

Then comes the fruits. In this autumn season, when we begin to invoke Goddess Durga with ten arms and her four children — Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi and Saraswati — tropical fruits are plentiful. This is sort of the end of monsoon, but mangoes are still available. And mangoes from Bengal and India — you can’t beat that. They are heavenly.

So, mangoes. And then, black berries, sugarcane (if you can find them at this time). Guava. Grape fruit. Lichi (perhaps too late for this summer). Papaya. Bananas (with seeds). Coconuts. And then vegetables. Eggplants. Plantains. Banana flowers. Inflorescence (bunch of banana flowers in that spindle-shaped thing, as they grow on the plant). All kinds of squashes, pumpkins and gourds. Known and unknown and less-known tropical, exotic vegetables. All natural fruits and vegetables only. No GMO fruits or artificially raised vegetables allowed in front of the deities. Priests would not accept them. Puja podium

Rice, lentils with coconut, a mixed-vegetable curry with NO onions or garlic offered to the deities first, and then as prasad (Sanskrit: prasadam) to the attending devotees. Perhaps, some chutney made out of Indian plum (in Bengal, we call it kool), tomatoes, or green papaya. Try it. I am salivating even thinking about it right now.

:-)

Lord Shiva's favorite flower wild Akanda

Lord Shiva’s favorite flower wild Akanda

Evening pujas (worship) begin with offering lots and lots of fresh flowers and garlands made out of the flowers. Marigold, lotus, lilies, jasmine, garden rose, rose, tube rose, you name it. Even the wild Calotropis (Akanda) is used to offer prayers to Lord Shiva, husband of Goddess Durga. Shiva is the destroyer god, smokes opium out of a country clay pipe, lives in the Himalyays, and wears only a tiger-skin wear to cover the bottom. And he wears a garland of wild Akanda flowers. Not a very fashionable guy, really!

And compared to his absolutely magnificent, gorgeous wife and four children, Lord Shiva is not the best dinner dance date. Well, except for the eldest son Ganesha who has the head of an elephant.

Finally, the grand feast at midnight of Maha Navami (the great ninth day of the moon), the penultimate day of the four-day Durga Puja. They celebrate it with loud country drums and gongs and bells, and they chant loud prayers, and priests and married women blow conch shells, and the puja place would be filled with smokes coming out of burning coconut shells thrown with generous amounts of resins and incense. And they would celebrate it with a sacrificed goat. Cooked with NO onions or garlic. Some people jokingly call it a “vegetarian meat” dish. Ha ha!Dhunuchi

Absolutely fascinating and fun.

Come to witness the wonderful Hindu celebration, where art and food and social traditions melt beautifully with religion.

We’ll have Indian food together.

:-)

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Vegetarian Meat :-)

Vegetarian Meat :-)

I was a part of an important history today. I witnessed the People’s Climate March.

At least two hundred thousand men, women and children walked from Columbus Circle at Central Park to Javits Center on 11th Avenue, here in New York City. It was humongous. It was massive. It was incredible!

We sent a strong, strong message to politicians, corporations and the U.N. The message was: it is OUR planet. It is OUR climate. It is our environment. Do not destroy it. We are HERE to reclaim it.

They noticed. They were not happy. They shuddered to see our united strength.

It was a divine experience.

I’m posting a few of my own photos here.

We made history today.

Partha PCM 1

What a Great Moment in Human History! And I was a part of it, walking shoulder to shoulder with 200,000 of us -- the 99 percent.

What a Great Moment in Human History! And I was a part of it, walking shoulder to shoulder with 200,000 of us — the 99 percent.

Partha PCM 3 Partha PCM 4 Partha PCM 5 Partha PCM 6 Partha PCM 7 Partha PCM 8

climate-change-ONE-

On Sunday, September 21, at 11.30 A.M., an historic People’s Climate March is beginning at 59th Street near Columbus Circle, New York City. It is perhaps going to be the biggest climate march in human history.

I am going to participate in the march, enthusiastically. I hope you do, too. 

Climate change and global warming are proving to be disastrous for the entire mankind. Greenhouse gas build-up, breakdown of the atmospheric ozone layer, rapidly-rising air pollution, melting of the polar ice cap, more frequent Hurricane Sandy-type super-storms, El Nino’s, etc. are subjects that many of us do not immediately recognize as the worst killers. But they are. In fact, if we do not do anything about it right now, conservative, scientific predictions are that world’s average temperature is going to rise 4 to 5 degrees by the end of this century.

And conservative, scientific projections are that if the world’s temperature increases only 3 to 4 degrees, places like Bangladesh, West Bengal, Assam and Orissa are going to be submerged in rising ocean waters.

That’s pretty scary for me, because I came from there, and all my extended family members, as well as hundreds of friends, students and colleagues live there. They’ll be gone. At least, their children and their children will be gone.

Worse, a very rich history of art, poetry, literature, film, drama and culinary traditions will be wiped out from the face of the earth.

And I’m only using these countries as examples. It’s going to be pan-demic.

___

Fossil Fuel burning-TWO-

Who are the people responsible for this looming catastrophe?

World’s temperature did not rise more than 1 degree in the past 100 to 150 years. But NASA scientist Jim Hansen and his colleagues attribute the current, rapid rise in global temperature to one or two things, primarily: (1) out-of-control burning of fossil fuels, and (2) post-industrial-revolution CO2 build-up. These are the two biggest culprits.

It is true that industrialization and modern civilization have given us a much faster and easier way of life: speed and convenience that we could not imagine even 50 years ago. Cars instead of public transportation (burning oil and gas), refrigerators in our homes (PCB’s), natural gas for domestic and industrial cooking, tissue papers and napkins in our kitchens and bathrooms (felling forests), McDonald’s hamburgers (raising and killing millions of cattle and grassland) and supermarket plastic bags (huge pollution source)…you name it…they all made our lives much easier.

But question is: at what cost?

And the next question is: shouldn’t there be some checks and balances, so that the ill effects of these costs do not go out of control, and destroy our very existence?

But the current, neoliberal economic model and its political and corporate pushers would not want any checks and balances. They have created an exclusively market-driven socio-economic system, one that does not take into account human costs. The sole motive for their functioning is growth and profit.

And that has proved to be purely disastrous.

___

Climate refugees-THREE-

Elite, scholarly discussions aside, what are some of problems that we can DIRECTLY connect to climate change and global warming?

Think about health and health care. Asthma and allergies and countless, mutated viruses and bacterial diseases are on rapid rise — all over the world. Whether in New York City, London, Paris, Calcutta, Brasilia or Beijing, just find out how rapid these health problems have become, in just the past decade or so. It’s scary!

Cancer has become almost like an epidemic in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Believe me!

Who is going to pay for it? And how?

In Paris only (that is Paris, France — a so-called First World country), 10,000 old people died in about a week in 2003 — the first time world health experts attributed climate change and global warming to that massive number of deaths. So, it is NOT a poor country’s problem anymore.

It is everybody’s problem. Over 1,000 organizations, including 75+ labor unions, therefore, have endorsed the march. That’s history in itself.

Think about public transportation. Does global warming have anything to do with it? Shouldn’t there be a revamping of the way we move about? Green buses and trams, car pooling, electric cars? Bicycling? Look at greener and saner countries like Norway or Belgium. Bicycling in the Netherlands. Even Calcutta has a well-functioning subway metro train line, that has saved millions from pollution-related diseases.

Here in the U.S., corporate media would not talk about it!

Think about immigration. Think about war and violence. DIRECTLY related to climate change and global warming.

World is going to be a thousand times more violent, and poor people will cross borders to flee their poverty, hunger and diseases — DIRECTLY because of climate change and global warming.

Then, think about…FOOD. What we eat, and what we drink. Who produce them, and who manufacture them.

Corporate media especially here in the U.S. deliberately bypass these critically important discussions. The U.S. government and its lynchpin corporations (the 1%) keep sabotaging global climate talks.

We are marching on Sunday, September 21, here in New York City, because two days after, the United Nations are convening a global climate summit here. Our historic rally is going to send a very strong message to them.

And then, we shall keep organizing. To reverse the disastrous climate trend.

Let us be a part of this movement.

We’re going to make history. And we’ll pass on this people’s history to our children.

Let’s join in on the People’s Climate March.

###

Sincerely,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

PCM route 92114

Photo Courtesy: Bill Moyers on PBS. What a beautiful photo, isn't it?

Photo Courtesy: Bill Moyers on PBS. Children and a Green Environment.

Just a quick, important announcement. And this is your chance of a lifetime to see me on TV, LIVE!!

(Well, sort of live.)

:-)

September 14, 2014. — TONIGHT, ON TV New York’s historic People’s Climate March on September 21. A TV discussion.

**You can watch from anywhere in the world. Visit www.mnn.org — click on MNN1.**

Watch this Sunday, September 14, 2014 on MNN 1 (Time Warner Cable Channel 34, RCN 82, FiOS 33), simultaneous transmission via internet.

Line up for the Civic Programing,

11PM – Midnight Premier Program: Roundtable of Press and Advocates Takes on Environmental Challenges in NY. Communities are taking action to challenge environmental toxins and climate change both here and in their home countries. Journalists and advocates will identify issues of environmental degradation that are not getting media attention and discuss the impact of current policy.

Panelists are:

Ogonnaya Dotson-Newman, Director of Environmental Health, West Harlem Environmental Action

Katherine Bagley, reporter, InsideClimate News; co-author of Bloomberg’s Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of NYC

Dr. Partha Banerjee, educator, blogger, & contributor to Thikana

Rong Xiaoping, reporter, Sing Tao Daily

(WITH SPECIAL THANKS to Abby Scher and Juana Ponce de Leon, noted writers and journalists.)

__________________________

Announcement almost verbatim, as received from MNN organizers.

(Photo credit: Bill Moyers dot com at PBS)

Search Light Twin TowersAnother September Eleventh is around the corner. Another year when I ask the same question I’ve been asking since the terrorism and tragedies thirteen years ago.

“Are we ready for another disaster?”

I have seen it all. I have seen two of the four hijacked planes that morning hitting the Twin Towers. I have seen ordinary, working men and women — American and non-American — jumping off the burning skyscrapers to death. I have seen the towers collapse.

I have seen complete chaos where school children were evacuated of their buildings, and driven to walk aimlessly up north, for miles without any official plans or instructions. Asbestos-dust-covered Chinese residents few blocks away mandated by our leaders not to include their neighborhood in arbitrarily-mandated disaster zones. I have seen total system failure of a Giuliani administration as well as a Bush White House, with total lack of coordination, to inform the ordinary people in New York and across the U.S. about the nature of the disaster and prevention and safety measures.

Nobody knew what was going on!

Of course, ordinary firefighters and countless volunteers and low-paid workers — American and non-American — worked in exemplary manner to save lives and property. Some gave their lives too; I personally knew a couple of these heroes.

And of course, very important, elite people were airlifted and safely shipped away as quickly as possible. That group of elite included Dick Cheney and sheikhs visiting from Saudi Arabia.

I did not forget anything.

W_HATE_0731slb.jpgBut in spite of blanket censorships and media spins and distortions for years, followed by a brutal genocide on Iraq on a phony WMD pretext, ordinary people like us who lived through the horror and its aftermath cannot forget what we saw in our neighborhoods. We saw poor, innocent people dragged out of their homes at gunpoint in the middle of the night — many on false terrorism charges — yanked from their families and loved ones, to be held in prison indefinitely, only to be summarily deported, without due process. We have seen hate crimes on Muslim and Sikh immigrants from Arab and South Asian countries, committed by violent, ignorant xenophobes. We have seen a climate of fear created by the people in power and their mouthpieces — that planted and perpetuated hate and mistrust even across the immigrant communities and people of color.

Suddenly, people I never suspected started suspecting me, as perceived enemy!

We have also seen police, FBI, Homeland Security and other powerful law enforcement agencies warning us relentlessly, sometimes on baseless, unverifiable information, to keep us on the edge — with the pink, orange and red color-codes, for years. The warnings came and the warnings went, baselessly.

Yet, we have never seen any serious, meaningful, pro-active plans and programs undertaken by the leaders — to assure us that they have learned a hard lesson, and that next time, God forbid, should another disaster happen, the damage and the deaths and the detentions and deportations would be brought down to zero.

We have had one zero action on one Ground Zero of a lifetime. We do not want to see another one, in the lifetime of our children.

In my years of intense work as a grassroots community organizer in New York and New Jersey, I have seen how poor, innocent communities — mostly immigrants and people of color — have lived in worries and uncertainties, in increased poverty and hopelessness. I have seen how in the sudden absence of the head of the family who was detained and deported on meaningless charges, the rest of the family languished in desperation, with no love or compassion received from mainstream America, in times of grave needs (ah well, those peace and justice groups were few and far between). I have seen how countless immigrant families finally ended up returning to home countries, heartbroken along with broken dreams of their U.S.-raised children.

I have seen how America, a once-inclusive land of immigrants, overnight turned into a land of non-compassion, non-tolerance, and loathe.

ToleranceI keep asking my simple question to anyone in a position of power. I ask them to make some meaningful changes. I ask them, please tell me, are we as a country different now? Have you learnt any lessons at all from the terrorism and tragedies that changed America forever thirteen years ago? Have you done anything since then — to assure us that God forbid, should another disaster happen, we the ordinary, working men, women and families — non-American or American — going to be, not punished, persecuted and prisoned, but protected and preserved? Have your began any elementary education on diversity, tolerance, and peace?

(And I already know your answer.)

In case another terrorism happens, God forbid, is America going to rise up to the occasion this time around, and reclaim the country of inclusion that it is supposed to be? If not, can you make plans now? Please? We are here to help.

Because this is our country too. We share our common beliefs, goals, and responsibilities.

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May Day Protestors March For Immigration Reform

I am reporting on the Labor Day Parade in New York City today.

I was there, walking with thousands of union brothers and sisters along Fifth Avenue. It was a wonderful experience.

I am reporting it because corporate media would not report it. 

And I am glad that NY1 did report it — in a positive way. I thank them.

For the other media organizations — TV, radio, newspapers and Internet — I hope you cover it next year. Because, you are being exposed of your deliberate exclusion of real news. You have all the time for the Kardashians and scandals, but no time for the working men, women and families and their real lives and struggles.

Your media spins and lies are exposed — in front of the entire world.

_______

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Truth is BeautyYou could also call it the Art of Labor.

Because that’s what it is. I’m going to briefly remind you on the artistry of the everyday workers. Men, women, and their families.

I could of course definitely talk about the big artworks that we see on the streets and in parks and libraries and museums in big cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco. I could talk about the Key West sculptures. I could talk about some of the legendary artists and painters such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who also worked with progressive labor movements. Or, artists like John Lennon and Yoko Ono — people who sang praises for the ordinary, working men and women. Or, Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie, two champions of labor rights.

Yes, of course, I could talk about them in this blog.

Instead, I’m going to talk about something simple and down to earth. I’m going to talk about the ordinary men, women and their families who are just doing their ordinary work every single day — around us — to make sure we have our lives go smoothly. And yet, doing that ordinary work, they’re doing extraordinary work of art — every single day.

Perhaps we don’t even realize how beautiful their artwork is. We don’t even notice.

Because, they are not sensational. Not pricey. Not sexy. They don’t bring billions in bushels.

Glass blowingBut, have your really ever noticed how the immigrant worker in the back of the fancy restaurant scale their fish? Have you ever took the time to find out how the overworked baker make their bagels or donuts — one at a time? I’m not talking about the mass-produced stuff; I’m talking about the little mom-n-pop stores, where they take care of you and me — as human beings. Have you ever noticed how carefully electrical workers splice their wires and optics, making sure nobody gets hurt? Have you ever followed the ceramic workers, potters or basket makers in action? Have you ever been present when the glass blowers make art out of their red hot flames and burning hot glass? One touch with a split-second of carelessness — and you can lose a few of your fingers instantly, melted away in that molten glass!

Have you ever seen workers working in sewers, or at the sewing machine? I have.

Have you ever gone into the forest to find out how farmers sap maple trees and make high-quality syrup to put on your pan cakes, early in the morning? Have you ever taken the time to see how corns and soybeans and grapes and apples and cauliflowers are planted, grown and harvested? If not, do it. I’d like to invite you to the area between Riverhead and Greenport on the north fork of Long Island, New York. You’ll see for yourself, and the farmers are willing to show you their crafts. Come out any time between June and October.

I could go on and on. 

Often, we overlook and ignore the extraordinary art our “ordinary and lay” working men and women are putting together. We take them, their labor, and their artwork for granted. Worse, the elite of us do not even consider them to be art at all. Because their art is not fancy enough to showcase at the pricey art museum. Their craft is not good enough to be framed — to sell to the affluent bidder or her agent at a Sotheby’s auction at a five-star hotel.

pottery-studio-in-fairfieldYet, not only their unglorified, non-sexy art high art, but they are actually art that is running the mighty global machine on the wheels of biology and economics.

I don’t know about you. But I salute these artists first.

Then, perhaps, if I have time, I’ll remember Picasso or Dali or Lennon or Braque or Brancusi or Beyoncé, or the other billionaires.

I love labor’s art of labor — the best.

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Labor Day 1This is an oped I wrote for various publications. Please feel free to share it.

I fail to understand why we do not see news reporting of Labor Day parades, rallies and marches that happen nationwide. I have always asked myself: why is labor absent in Labor Day coverage?

It is true that organized labor have lost the power they once enjoyed. It is true that a mighty forty percent labor density in the U.S. during four prosperous decades of American middle class has now come down to a paltry eleven percent, only six percent of it being in the private sector. And it is true that unlike FDR’s New Deal administration that championed rights and respect for the working men and women of America, and created massive numbers of U.S. jobs under labor secretary Frances Perkins, even Democratic presidents like Obama and Clinton have not done much to stem the low tide of the labor movement. In fact, they have pushed on the same, anti-labor Reaganomics on one hand, and passed anti-labor laws on the other – to severely damage the bargaining power of unions for equality, fairness, and justice.

Clinton passed NAFTA with more votes from Republicans than his own party’s lawmakers, an act that American workers – both liberal and conservative – remember with an acid taste in their mouth. Then, after eight years of a disastrous Bush era that saw massive tax cuts for the super-wealthy individuals and corporations, capped with a trillion-dollar Wall Street bailout, an Obama government did not do what the ninety-nine percent wanted it do – to empower the powerless. A key, 2008 election issue such as the Employee Free Choice Act slipped out of peoples’ short-lived memory.Project2_Layout 1

Income inequality has skyrocketed in America since Ronald Reagan, resulting in a situation where USA is doing the worst among developed, capitalist countries on social, academic and health issues. Republicans have actively encouraged this obnoxious inequality where today, the one percent elite have forty percent of the country’s wealth and fifty percent of the entire stock and bond market. Democrats have passively complied with the Republican onslaught on the ordinary people. Unemployment is the greatest since the Great Depression; blacks and youth unemployment is over twenty-five percent. The working men and women and their families are languishing, and struggling to make ends meet. The American Dream is essentially non-existent, because the horrible inequality has put a stop on any upward social mobility.

Far right are exploiting on people’s anger. Job outsourcing in China, India and Bangladesh, and domestic replacement of fair-paid U.S. workers with low-paid undocumented immigrant workers have only thrown more fuel to that fire.

Yet, this is precisely the time when a Labor Day celebration must remind us of the countless, important contributions labor unions have made to make this country so great – for its working people. I remember when I was growing up in Calcutta in the sixties and early seventies, I would be awestruck to see pictures of ordinary, middle-class American families and their enviable standard of living. Life or Time magazine brought us photos of glory of American capitalism – a forty-year saga from 1940 to 1980 – when the middle class had full-time jobs, could pay back their home mortgage in one lifetime, and also had free, stress-less time for their families and children. It was also a time when the income inequality was the lowest, taxes were reasonably high on the rich and low on the middle class, and the labor movement indeed enjoyed a forty-percent union strength, with New York, California and Massachusetts having sixty to seventy percent of working men and women in the union, working hard and efficiently negotiating human rights and wages.

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Share this. Please.

It was also a time when USA also passed a historic Civil Rights Act with an Affirmative Action Act that created social equality, and paved way to elect a black president in America nearly half a century later.

How quickly we forget our own history! And I’ve learned American history fairly recently.

But I learned more. I came to know that Dr. King, one of the most important civil rights leaders, was also a labor leader. I learned that his final speech the day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee was to a group of striking, sanitation workers. I came to know that Dr. King fought for income equality along with global peace and social justice. In fact, labor leaders such as him spearheaded precious movements for many decades that gave rise to an eight-hour work day, an overtime pay, weekends, collective bargaining, maternity leave, environmental and safety standards, and pension and other benefits we now take for granted.

Even people who are now blasting organized labor and helping to roll back the basic American human rights and freedom – are enjoying the rights and freedom that labor unions have fought for, and won for them.

This Labor Day, I ask America to remember its glorious history of its working men and women. I demand media and establishment to put labor, and its due rights and respect, back in Labor Day.

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