Category Archives: Breaking News

Best keep your hands to yourself

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Bad news has this habit of sneaking up from behind when I am relaxing in my rocking chair. Man has to wrestle with man-made laws, and high-handedness as you know is universal. Little changes from country to country except the rules of engagement. The pin hold on the individual remains the same, no matter where you live. Life, in the long run, will kill you. And then, as reliable soothsayers confirm, you die. But, what if you don’t leave the planet for good, and are left to nurse insult upon injury, as in the following report?

A Florida airboat captain, 63-year-old Wallace Weatherholt, who works for Captain Doug’s Everglades Tours, had his arm bitten off by an alligator this summer. The Indiana family, who were in the captain’s tour boat, saw the old hand dangle a fish over the side of the boat very close to water, when a pair of vicious teeth snapped.

The captain was rushed to NHC hospital in Naples, FA. Response time is used to gauge how emergencies are handled here, so a brisk investigation soon followed. According to law, the attacker must return the missing item, if criminal charges have to be dropped. Wildlife officers promptly tracked and killed the “main accused” alligator in front of frightened tourists, in order to retrieve the missing arm. News reports didn’t quite elaborate, but discerning onlookers might have even noticed alligator tears as the drama unfolded.

Getting out of hand

Weatherholt’s doctors at the hospital, so say reports, could not re-attach the arm. Killing the beast, however, was the only way perhaps to give fair warning to other animals in the area, and to demonstrate to all and sundry how far the long arm of the law could reach! Just in case you didn’t know, feeding alligators is considered second-degree misdemeanor in the state of Florida, U.S.A.

Sensing unfinished business, the law went after the hapless captain next. Collier County Jail records show that 63-year-old Wallace Weatherholt was charged with unlawful feeding, and later agreed to settle a thousand dollar bond, just to be able to stay outdoors. His next court date was set for August 22. Frankly, I’ve lost track now. U.S. law, unlike what it might be elsewhere, wants you to keep your hands to yourself, and not take things lightly should you let them stray.

Most people hate hospitals, courts, and jails. They hate bad news too. But day in and day out do they love soaking in the news, which never stops short of the good, the bad, or the ugly? Sitting in my rocking chair, rocked by the aforementioned report, I come across another twister — no wildlife, this time:

A woman named Angela Prattis of Chester Township, outside Philadelphia, may soon be fined for feeding school children in her neighborhood. She has spent the past few months handing out free lunches to kids while they were on summer break from school. The food, supplied by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is intended for low-income residents earning $19,000 or less annually.

Price to pay

The City Council has warned Angela that if she continues her philanthropy next summer, she will need a variance or pay a $600 fine per day! The variance could cost nearly $1000 in administrative fees. The Council had allowed Prattis to continue her random acts of kindness this summer on condition she files paperwork weekly, and a state worker monitors her moves on a regular basis. Angela Prattis, who is doing all this for free, was touched by the poor condition of her neighbors’ houses, with roofs caving in, months-old trash lying around, and unkempt backyards.

In America, no good deed goes unpunished, but Angela’s case may pale in comparison to the bleak future facing “alligator Weatherholt.” Disheartened as you are, your mind may be racing back and forth between the alligator and the missing arm. That was an unkind cut, I agree. But, being where you are, you’ve probably heard or seen worse. As I sit here in my broken back porch taking in the fickle New England weather, I can see clearly through the beer bubbles in my glass: Life is just not just.

Shyam Bhatya

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Durga Puja where the East India Company had gone before

Boys will be boys. A Bengali anywhere will always be a Bengali. Feed a Bengali some mutton curry cooked in mustard oil with steaming white rice and cut-up onions, green chilies, and cucumbers for salad on a Sunday afternoon, sit him or her in a rocking chair with Rabindra sangeet playing nearby, then watch his or her eyes roll heavenward and thoughts drift homeward. Nostalgia glides into the Bengali mind like monsoon mists in the Himalayas. The non-resident Bengali relives memories of childhood and good old days growing up in tradition-bound parts of West Bengal, like it happened only yesterday.

Durga puja back home is a time for much-awaited rejoicing. Every non-resident Bengali wishes he or she was there, particularly where childhood was spent. In far-flung metropolises of the world, come October, and the great grand festival of Bengal makes the heart beat faster, whether or not accompanied  by reverberating dhaks or today’s filmy geet blaring from public speakers.

Ma Durga travels faster than thought, beyond what the East India Company could ever achieve even in their wildest dreams…to Toronto, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Frankfurt, Zurich, Stockholm…wherever Bengalis call home. Bengalis, like the rest of us, pray that evil be thwarted, and promptly too! Light years ago, when the Heavens saw the forces of evil seeking to wreak havoc amongst mortalkind, the Gods gathered all the strength of earth, water, and sky, and embodied them in a vibrant, beatific-in-her-rage, savior — Ma Durga! Ma Durga is “shakti” personified, the symbol of power with a righteous purpose.

Bengalees without borders

Rarely uninspired, the Bengalees of New England, a representative non-profit community organization in the greater Boston area celebrated Durga Puja over the weekend of October 16, as did its rival group Prabasi. Weekends are suitable for obvious pragmatic reasons: to get around working weeks, sans Indian holidays, in the U.S. The puja itself, complete with traditional artisan-crafted clay images of the goddess and her entourage shipped in from Kolkata; alpana and homemade decorations; familiar Sanskrit mantras; resonating chants of anjali; fruit-laden prasad bitaran; and shindur khela is zealously performed here, just as tradition dictates. An indigenous twist to the celebrations in Boston (and presumably all around the world) are variety programs in the evenings, staged by local artists as well as popular celebrities, who travel all the way from Bengal to add their touch of class to the proceedings.

Local members work tirelessly to entertain with songs, dances, drama and the like while their children boldly stride on stage to display glimpses of “amazing grace.” The high points in BNE’s program this year comprised on Saturday of Satinath Mukhopadhyay, a household name back home, for his evocative reciting, acting, and anchoring. Satinath regaled Boston Bengalis with some brief literary gems from contemporary Bengal, transporting them into gullies and by lanes of Kolkata. He led them into Bengali homes — into bedrooms and kitchens — where the word “spice of life” took on a new meaning. Most of Satinath’s presentations — pithy, altogether delightful, and evocative — were poems and short stories by celebrated littérateurs on the current scene. One fascinatingly light-hearted love poem was penned by a lay weaver — a tanti, to be exact! Satinath’s deep, rich voice exalted these creative outpourings, further heightened by background music and sound effects. To most weather-worn Bostonians, Satinath’s presentation sailed into the auditorium like a breath of fresh air inside a dingy warehouse basement.

Soft lights, soulful sounds

Following close at heel was a sonorous and sweet 45 minutes of popular, folk, and bhatiali songs by local artist Sonia Mukherjee from New York who sang “Shaader Laau” before dinner; willfully or not is hard to tell (because that “green gourd” grows nowhere in these parts). Sprucing up such delectable fare further on Sunday was upcoming artist Sounak Chattopadhyay, mentored by none other than Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta and Pramita Mullick in Rabindra sangeet, and Ustaad Mashkoor Ali Khan and Mubarak Ali Khan in classical music.

A 400-plus audience sat entranced listening to Sounak’s melodious repertoire of Rabindra sangeet and other inspirational songs. Sounak’s numbers added much-needed value especially in the sphere of musicality, where things in Rabindrasangeet often tend to sag and drag. Next, Jhinook Mukherjee from Kolkata, tutored by the famous Bharatnatyam guru Thankamani Kutty, captivated a packed audience with her beautiful sense of bhava, raga, and taala, before dinner on Sunday. Her dances added visual spectacle to many hours of sound entertainment.

Besides prayer and good wishes, Durga puja always brings together good food, good friends, and good fun. Many BNE members who witnessed the variety programs agree it has been many years since they enjoyed Durga puja so much. Bengalis all around the world know all too well how Ma Durga killed the demon Mahishashura, and vanquished evil from the earth. She does it again and again, not just during such auspicious weekends, and we hope will go on doing it for all time to come. Meanwhile, have Bengalis (in fact, all Indians) not forgiven and forgotten the East India Company? They have indeed, because they have now settled where the erstwhile, ambitious enterprise finally left off. Omn Shakti, Omn Shanti, Omn Shanti…

Shyam Bhatya

The foregoing article appeared in The Bengal Post on October 19, 2010  and subsequent shorter versions in community newspapers like India Abroad and India New England.

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