Authentic existence involves the idea that one has to create oneself and then live in accordance with this self. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous dictum, “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself” has its bearing in the very oeuvre and maturation of a renowned author, Dr Partha Banerjee. He is as much a deliberate craftsman as a self-conscious thinker. He is open-minded enough to have anatomized the whole gamut of human experiences in his colourful and resourceful writings. His passion for writing on diverse subjects has to reckon with his settled conviction. Though “in instinct man has remained to a great extent solitary,” as Bertrand Russell puts it, “by self-interest he has become gregarious.”
Dr Banerjee’s youthful propensity for social media so as to “scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth/Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind”, strongly vindicates Russell’s estimation of man.
Grown up in Calcutta, Partha Banerjee received his first training in political organizing from his father while with RSS, and later by his maternal uncle Buddhadev Bhattacharjee. Partha Banerjee, already a rising star in student politics, quit RSS out of ideological disillusionment with the organization’s militant, fundamentalist doctrine, but unlike the typical “left”, never detached himself from his roots in ecumenical and secular Hinduism. After teaching biology at a remote, rural college in West Bengal for four years, Banerjee left for USA to pursue a PhD in biological sciences. He earned his second master’s degree from Illinois State University, and then went on to earn his doctorate degree in plant biology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. In 1992, he earned his PhD with a dissertation research award, and started working as a post-doctoral research scientist with the state system in Albany, New York. Then he quit science, and did another master’s degree, this time in journalism from Columbia University in New York City. After a brief stint as a science journalist producing a number of two-minute-long stories for an ABC TV-affiliate company, he began working for a grassroots immigrant rights group New Immigrant Community Empowerment, in the aftermath of the tragedies of September 11, 2001.
In 2005-2006, New York Civil Liberties union chose Dr Banerjee as one of its five plaintiffs on a nationally publicized lawsuit to challenge against the post-9/11 subway bag searches run by the New York Police Department. Banerjee found the search to be whimsical, unscientific and intrusive, with no pragmatic method to stop terrorist violence.
In 2007, Dr Banerjee was employed by the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College in New York to teach English writing, immigration and diversity, and media to its labour union workers, and also as an Outreach Coordinator. In 2011, Dr Banerjee was hired to work as a labour educator and educational programme developer at the Joint Industry Board of the Electrical Industry; he has held the position since. One of his major responsibilities has been to design and teach an Aprilto-November, interactive, criticalthinking labour workshop on a spectrum of political, social and economic subjects – from climate change to extremism to income inequality to immigration to artificial intelligence. He has gained enormous reputation among his students and peers alike for his unique way of teaching. He often talks about the difference between a colonial education and teaching system vis-à-vis an open, respectful and intellectually challenging, futuristic education. A lifelong educator, he has mastered the art of teaching and public speaking in both English and Bengali. His talks are available on YouTube and social media.
More often than not, Dr Banerjee has been concerned with the pageant of life, as it weaves itself with a moving tapestry of scenes and figures. He has written both professional and popular articles on a diverse array of subjects in an effort to showcase life in that fashion. He has also translated Bengali short stories, poetry and songs. A Kolkata publishing house has published his Bengali memoir Ghotikahini, chronicle of his life in India that gained acclaim in readers’ circles. He’s about to begin publishing his memoir on his life in America. His translation of Bengali short stories Music Box and Moonshine from Rubric Publishing deserves accolades. Partha found a refreshing way to translate in English that is fun, conversational, and easy to understand. Noted publications such as the New York Times, CNN, the Progressive, Outlook India, Ananda Bazaar Patrika, Ebela, The Statesman and Aajkaal have published his letters and articles, or quoted him on various issues, especially his work on human rights and rights and justice for underprivileged immigrants. A number of Bengali-language newspapers from USA have published his articles and interviews. It is indeed difficult to accommodate or name all his creative works within this space.
Dr Banerjee has remained involved with the Bengali and Indian immigrant communities in the USA. Voice of America’s Bengali radio section has found him as a speaker on many of their shows especially those pertaining to immigrants and human rights. His views and opinions in his blog-turned-online media humanitycollege.org and Facebook speak a volume simultaneously about his firm faith in humanity and strong disapproval of contemporary sociopolitical scenario in India in general and West Bengal in particular. Unabashed that he has been always, he speaks to people and speaks for people in an unflattering language typically his own. Perhaps he epitomizes Tagore’s “Mind without fear, and head held high.”
Dr Banerjee is preoccupied with things as they appear. He recognizes the fact in his manifold write-ups that most people’s convictions are not the result of reason, but a mass of associations, traditions, things half-understood, phrases, examples, loyalties, whims and so on. He takes care more about the inconsistency of humanity than anything else. William James once said “It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity”. Dr Banerjee’s firm belief in positivity in humanity’s global struggle for justice as well as author-like authoritative stance acts as a strong catalyst, more so now than ever before.
In a nutshell, some of an author’s moral and emotional qualities have their matching counterparts in his style of writing. Dr Banerjee’s expansiveness, for example, may encourage his propensity for exaggeration and selfrevelation; his reticence his terseness and rhetorical parsimony. His style thus inevitably gives way his essential being. It is this revelation of intimate personality by his style that justifies eighteenth century French writer Buffon’s much-quoted generalisation: “Style is the man.”
The author is Associate Professor of English, Munshi Premchand Mahavidyalaya, Siliguri