Why I Doodle?

Essays on The Education of a Bengali Gentleman –
Why do I Doodle?
Susim Munshi

Yes, I Doodle. Seriously. What I like to Doodle most are icons. I fell in love with doodling icons over the many years I have been a technology coach. Mostly I coach adults. A lot of technology or computer coaching often involves showing screenshots, powerpoint slides, YouTube videos or flipping through manuals. I like to sketch out and label the windows and screens my students are learning about and often ask them to follow along sketching and labeling. Another modality and reinforcement of learning. The other place I like to Doodle is in my journal, which sometimes I refer to as my BUJO or bullet journal.

Have you ever performed a Google image search for icons? Say, “namaste icons”. Pages and pages of results. A search for “India” reveals wonder and amazement. The small details in shape, lines, colors of icons are very attractive to me. I find it quite easy to draw icons and fill up pages with them. Often my morning routines start with making a journal entry. On the top center of the page I draw an “OM,” the purifying sound of the Hindu religion. “OM,” is internationally recognized as a signature for peace and devotion. Repeating the vibrating sound of “OM,” produces a calming and stabilizing effect which encourages meditation. I like to decorate the OM with leaves and flowers surrounding it. It becomes my own icon for the rest of the day. To the top left I enter the day, date, month and year, followed by the high and low temperatures of the day, followed by a miniature sketch of the weather. For this I use the help of the Yahoo weather app and their iconic representation of the weather. Across the top I draw mini figures of boys and girls playing in the park, chasing butterflies, leaves flying in the wind, flowers sprouting, birds and insects, a grassy field, quarterback passing the ball, a red cricket ball hurtling through space. I use colored pencils for sky, clouds, trees and objects. All together they become my page banner across the top of the page. I sit back and admire my handiwork with a smile spreading across my face.

The best doodle I have ever made was on a birthday card to my wife. At that time we were dating. One of the things we loved to do on our dates was to go for a long bus ride to the Kolkata airport, then called DumDum International Airport. At Esplanade is one of the Kolkata bus terminals where the S2 express bus leaves on the hour for DumDum. If you were in the front of the que you could hope to get window seats. Most of the times we got lucky and that way enjoyed the hour long or so ride. We brought along snacks and water. At some point the S2 bus was upgraded to air conditioned buses. As students the bus fare was a stretch but there not many safe options for dating couples. Approaching the airport you saw a huge billboard inviting you to a vacation in far away Mexico. The man in the large colorful sombrero was fascinating to watch and the rest of the Mariachi band seemed to come alive with some invisible music. So did the dark haired fair Mexican lady dancing the Flamenco. That is the same picture I doodled on the birthday all from my photographic memory. My wife was very impressed and has saved the card as one of our lives’ treasured possessions. In our family calendar her birthday precedes mine by two days. Two days later she returned my favor with one of the prettiest hand drawn cards. Of course my wife is quite the artist.

Do doodles say something about the man? In my case it is the story of an aspiring artist. I really cannot draw well at all. But doodle I can. I mean I have to look at models which are the icons I find on Google. Representations of the photographs in my head. Tiny little drawings with volumes to speak like the stick figures jumping around in my BUJO. Did you know you can make stick figures bend and stretch in all of those daring yoga poses you can only imagine performing. They run at the speed of wind and scale tall mountains in one leap. Imagine with what strength they hold the inside-out-umbrella that the storm is trying to snatch away from them. As a child I was fascinated by flip through books where the still stick figures on each page suddenly sprang to life. Today doodles have a life of their own in my journal.

Recognizing Your Angels

Essays from The Education of a Bengali Gentleman –
Recognizing Your Angles
Susim Munshi

Truly, There are Angels! You can seek all your life and never find what has always been there because you did not believe it was right there inside you all the time. When you practice the Miracle of Mindfulness you follow your breath as you breathe in deeply and breathe out gently. Teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk,  instructs you that as you breathe in you can say “I am alive”, and, as you breathe out you can say “I am free.” Mindful breathing helps you create the space you need during your busy day to acknowledge that you are alive, valued and appreciated. Without stopping or interrupting your activities, you simply take three deep breaths, in and out, consciously; breathing in you say “I am alive,”, breathing out you say “I am free.” You can do it as often as you want, when you are by yourself and others; gently, quietly so only you are aware of your respite. As you practice mindful breathing regularly you will find increasing peace and inter-connectedness which give you strength and stamina to enjoy and cherish every minute of your day. Daily practice of twenty minutes of mindful breathing will put you in touch with the God who lives and thrives in you!

Discovering your true self  and the God who lives and thrives in you is like being touched by an angel when you least expected it.  The experience opens a flood gate of peace and joy! My experiences of being touched by angels are vivid and numerous. Sometimes the recognition and acknowledgement is instantaneous, and, at other times, after some reflection. My last experience was a genuine, unexpected surprise but the recognition and acknowledgement was very powerful. My wife and I were in the Lake Geneva, WI area for Veterans Day Weekend. Now that both our children live away from home, we called it  our first “honeymoon” after thirty years. In my family we are cautious about celebrating landmarks because they have at times been followed by great family tragedy. So we were happy but reserved. The high point of our get away was going to be dinner and a Broadway style musical, Scrooge, at The Fireside Theater in Fort Atkinson, WI, Saturday night. Because we were using Marriott points we were staying the weekend in Beloit, WI. I began the day early on Saturday morning with mindful breathing, reading Teacher, writing in my blog, catching up on emails. Around 9:00 am we went for continental breakfast in the guest lounge. We had been talking about minor home remodeling projects for some time, so with an extra cup of coffee, Free Draw on the iPad, we both worked out some sketches and lulled in the heat of the fireplace. Nanda also leafed through the area attraction brochures and we planned a drive through town – Poetry Garden, Beloit Labyrinth, the new and upcoming riverfront with planned condos, casino and marina, The Angel Museum, all conveniently situated in and around River Drive and Pleasant Street.

Beloit’s Angel Museum is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s largest collection of angels. It is host to Oprah’s black angels. Oprah said on her show that she had never seen a black angel. Overnight black angels from all over the world arrived at her door. Joyce Berg, owner of The Angel Museum, contacted Oprah and offered to host her multiplying collection of black angels since she already had an angel museum equipped to handle the job. So we went to visit the museum!

We were met by two gracious hosts, Barbara and Susan, who alternate between the main museum floor and the basement gift shop. According to them even folks in Beloit did not know they had an angel museum in their own backyard. We got talking about the black angels from the the Oprah Winfrey show when I casually told them that there were not only black angels in the churches of India but there also were native impressions of Mary and Christ too. Then we were standing in front of a world map dotted with pins representing the nations of all the museum visitors. I noticed there were no pins for India. I pinned one on the exact spot for Calcutta, India.I told them I was from the city of Mother Teresa, that I had also been blessed by an angel and talked about the picture from the time Mother Teresa visited St. Xavier’s Sahibganj.

I missed the photo opportunity because I was a teacher at Loyola, Jamshedpur and could not take off from school for the historic visit pictured above. But as if  by osmosis my life had been touched by Mother Teresa and her angels.

In the front row sitting, third from left, in what looks like sunglasses, is my mother. In the furthest back row where you can notice only peoples’ heads, the nun in the nun’s outfit is Mother Philipa, the mother of all the nuns working then at St. Xavier’s. Next to Mother Philipa, a white headed man, and then next to him is my father, only his head and glasses showing. I am certain I do not have to point out where Mother Teresa is in the picture. And then there is the man who made it possible for my family to immigrate to the United States, Fr. LaGreca with his generous gift of one full year of tuition and board so I could attend Loyola University, Chicago. He is standing first from left, second row. I had taken the GRE exams and sent out applications to universities in the US. Some schools responded positively. They were interested in admitting me. What hung in balance was financing my studies in the US. I remember my mother telling me how she went to Fr. LaGreca and pleaded with him to find a donor who would fund my US degree.

That winter I didn’t come home to Sahibganj to spend Christmas at St. Xavier’s with my parents and the community. My wife and I continued to stay on in our apartment in Jamshedpur even though it was winter recess at Loyola School were I worked. We did not want to miss out on any letters regarding my admission. One day we were surprised to find Fr. Rocky Vaz knocking on our door early in the morning. He said he wanted to deliver the letters in person. One was the acceptance from Loyola University, Chicago. The other, a Christmas greeting card from Fr. LaGreca with the news that he had found a generous donor ready to finance our first year in the US. We sat down and over cups of tea discussed our trip to the US. Angels come in come in all sizes and colors. Some even without wings. Like mine. Recognizing your angels sometimes takes faith and determination and purpose. Next summer with my wife pregnant with our first child we left for Chicago.


A Place and Time for Bengali Pop Songs

Essays from The Education of a Bengali Gentleman-
There is a Place and Time for Pop(ular) Songs
Susm Munshi

For sometime I have been wondering whatever happened to listening to newer and current Bengali hits. My subscription to the Saavn music app allows me to listen to a variety of Indian, Bengali, Hindi Music. Saavn editors post their own playlists. The Bengali Chartbusters recommended by Saavn has 115 titles. I took them along while watering my gardens the other morning. I had adjusted my morning rituals to adapt to the hot days of summer. That’s real; Chicago does get several 90 degree days. It hadn’t rained either. The flowers were really thirsty after a hot night. Drench them in the morning. They love us back with fresh blossoms regularly. The Feng Shui Zen garden which replaced the aging bushes is coming along beautifully. A carpet rose anchors the garden. There are bright pink cone flowers, orange lily, yellow coreopsis. A black Buddha in his traditional lotus pose brings “chi” into the garden. An ornamental bird bath is the Feng Shui gardens’ Zen water feature. We have repurposed the Kitchen Garden. No more vegetables. It’s bathed in sunshine. Now it’s home to prospering Picasso calla lilies, hardy purple Salvia now in their second year. The Picasso’s grow to be 3ft tall and have a white bloom with a purple center. In Picasso’s 1932 painting of “Woman with a Flower”, he chose to use a calla lily to represent her face.

It is hard to depart from my favorite Rabindra Sangeet and tune my ears to newer, modern  Bengali pop music. In the list is an arousing rendition of Bengali lyricist Jeet Ganguli’s “Mon Majhi Re” by the very famous Bengali singer Arijit Singh. Arijit is a Bollywood Tollywood icon with many famous title tracks to his name. Arijit charges Rs. 1.5 crore for a concert. That’s around US $220,000. When Arijit records a track for a Bollywood or Hollywood movie, he charges around Rs. 15 lakhs. That’s US $22,000.  And some change. “Mon Majhi Re” is the title track from the 2013 Tollywood hit Bengali movie “Boss”. “Boss” grossed Rs. 6.5 crore, US $1 million in the first week it was released. An unparalleled achievement by Tollywood standards which lags behind Bollywood. You can listen to the song and read the lyrics at this link – http://www.bengalilyrics24.com/2014/10/mon-majhi-re-arijit-singh.html. It will give you a taste of pop culture in Kolkata.

Bengali Pop, Rabindra Sangeet, or Carole King – the best songs are love songs! Love whose cup is always half full. Love is maddening. Love casts such a gloom. Love dooms. But fall in love, I shall! The Bengali movie “Praktan” was a huge success, with popular songs like “Kolkata”. For lovers of Kolkata like myself I want to listen to it over and over. Then there is the other song from “Praktan”, “Tumi Jake Bhalobaso”, whose lyrics capture and summarize the plot of the movie – estranged love, lost love, lost opportunities. Suddenly warm and cozy love turns cold. Then you want to run from it. Immediately! There is no turning back. One day your paths cross again. When you least expect it. Age has made your reticent and nostalgic. Just for one more time, you long for a quiet moment, one last lingering touch. So much water has flowed under the bridge. The landscape of your love has changed beyond recovery. You have miles to go before you can go to sleep. Yes, pop(ular) Bengali songs do evoke many emotions. I am proud to listen to them.


A Sister’s Pride

Essays from The Education of a Bengali Gentleman –
A Sister’s Pride
Susim Munshi

I had a rough time learning academic Bengali in elementary and high school. Perhaps my interests were elsewhere. Like dreaming about becoming an astronaut or traveling across the world as a Peace Corps volunteer. My school subscribed to the “Span” magazine and I fought my friends to be the first to read it cover to cover. Then in July 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon and really fired up my imagination. To compound all of my good intent to at least get a passing mark in Bengali, my school required students to speak, read, write English all the time, even in our dreams. My school was a boarding school. I came home only when school was out.

My performance in Bengali deteriorated all year and my frustration increased. By the end of the school year, I feared being held back in my grade. I squirreled away time from math and science, history and geography, and made an extraordinary effort to learn my Bengali spelling.

If the reader is familiar with Bengali they will appreciate when I say I don’t remember any rules that clearly showed me when to choose between a “স, শ, ষ” all somewhat acceptable forms of “s”. How was I chose between a “র, ড়” the soft and hard sounds of “r? During the long written examination I noticed the proctor hovering over my shoulders, shaking his head in dismay. “Susim is not going to have a pleasant winter recess,” I could hear him say. I would go home for winter recess and unlike every kid my age, write Bengali spelling words over and over again. The rest of my friends were playing cricket, visiting the chimpanzees in the zoo, queuing up for a glimpse of Louis Armstrong’s moon rock.

I compensated my shakey Bengali spelling by memorising and reciting Bengali poetry and prose. After all I did win the English elocution contest since 4th grade! I would make a compact with my eighth grade Bengali teacher who really wanted our class to win that year’s Bengali elocution. I gave up my rightful place at the podium for English elocution and made a dramatic impact on the audience and judges reciting several small selections from Sukumar Roy’s “Abal Tabol.” It worked like a charm. I moved on to ninth grade where I could start a new school year studying the sciences, physics, chemistry and biology. The moon seemed within my grasp.

All throughout my childhood and youth Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate, held a revered place in my life, especially his Rabindra Sangeet.  Now that I am retired I have a lot of time to listen, study, understand and appreciate Rabindra Sangeet. And write about it. No more Bengali exams. But I wish to spell correctly.  So I turn to my female cousin who lives in Japan. First cousins grow up like brothers and sisters in India.

My sister in Japan, Arati, a homemaker, had been a teacher for a long time. We use technology to text messages in Bengali. My Bengali is getting better in leaps and bounds. She is also a beautiful singer of Rabindra Sangeet. We both have the exact same favorite Rabindra Sangeet.  She always sings it masterfully and evokes the right emotions and sentiments. The song is “গোধুলিগগনে মেঘে ঠেকেছিল তারা”, “godhuligogone meghe dhekechhilo tara.” No rules of spelling for her. Like a great teacher she plods at it every day, sending text messages back and forth several times a day, till I have it right. Recently she taught me how to write the “Bhagavad Gita Pranam Mantra” in Bengali; a prayer you recite after reading from the Bhagavad Gita. First I sent a picture of it written in Sanskrit. Then she sent it back to me written in Bengali.

Japan and the US are at two ends of the world. I like to take Rabindranath with me on my morning walks. Arati, who I address as“Fuldi”, and I video chat and sing and recite the same verses. We observe my garden bloom everyday; I by morning, she by night.  Arati says she can smell the roses too. I believe she does it all from “A Sister’s Pride!”