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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ajju Dadu

I came across him on Facebook group  and the liking was instant. He is one of those people I sent a friend request to with the intent to know him better. Ajju dadu (dadu= grandpa in Bengali), as we lovingly call him,  is a fascinating person. He was born in Rangoon, Burma in 1933. After Rangoon was bombed, his family fled to Calcutta as refugees by boat, reaching in 1942.

Dui purush

When he was 11, he acted in Dui Purush (1945) and shared the screen with one of the most veneered actors of Bengali cinema- Chhabi Biswas. Fortunately, I found a copy on YouTube and played the movie for him when we had him over for lunch in October 2013. Sixty-eight years later, he still remembered how beautiful Chandrabati Devi was.

The wars
'During WWII, a lot of GIs on the Burma front got sick with tropical diseases. There was a U.S. Army hospital, close to my home in Calcutta. One evening, I was returning from a swim at the Dhakuria Lake (now Rabindra Sarobar) when I saw a lonely GI sitting by the water. I went up, spoke to him, and invited him for dinner. My mother was delighted. She had three sons in the Air Force (two had died in the war). Soon, our home became a center for lonely, young GIs. I was into pen-pals at that time and one of the GIs I connected with was from Lewiston, ME. We corresponded for several years.

In 1955, I was in Delhi. My pen-friend’s father sent me a letter letting me know that he and his wife would be visiting Delhi and they wished to meet me at their hotel. I did so and found out that he was an economist and was in India on a State department assignment. I told them that I wished to come to the U.S. and they suggested I sent them my resume.  I did so and I received a certificate sponsoring me to come to U.S. It was signed by Dr. Charles F. Phillips, President, Bates College, Lewiston, ME.

I went to the U.S. Consulate in Calcutta and the Vice Consul, a huge, affable African- American man, told me that the Indian quota was full as, until 1956, Indians could not become citizens, due to the Asian Exclusion Act.  Therefore, all the Indians in the U.S. were lined up to get their green cards. I was literally on my way out at the door when the official said, “If you were born in India, you'd have to wait six years. I told him that I was born in Burma. He said, “That quota is open”.  I got my Green Card in a week.

I spent a semester at Bates College, Lewiston ME and then volunteered for the draft.  I served two years in Georgia and North Carolina, in the then segregated South.'

His first love
'I went to Northwestern to study journalism. I worked part-time waiting at tables at the Mather Home for retired women.  One of my fellow workers and students was a young woman. We were the most unlikely couple but we became friends soon.  Karen was my first love.  We celebrated our birthdays together, her twentieth and my twenty-sixth, on July 2, 1959, as she was born on July 1 and I was born on July 3.  Our parting was bitter.  She went on to become a famous Hollywood film actress.

Three years ago, I had a dream that Karen was sick and dying and I had gone to visit her. I dismissed the dream. In July of 2013, I googled her name and found to my horror that she was dying of cancer, was broke and was soliciting donation on “Go Fund Me”. I sent some money and also wrote a message to her private site. She replied with her personal email and included her phone number. It was a warm and loving message and she asked me to call her. I did not do so, to my eternal regret, for complicated reasons. She died early in August 2013.'

I came down with a back-ache and went to an acupuncturist, who asked me if I had been under stress. I told her about Karen. She had seen her movies and knew one of Karen’s close friends, who lived in New York. The next time I went to see Abigail, the acupuncturist, I took an album of photos of Karen that I had taken in July 1959, also one of me taken by Karen.  She asked me if I had considered sending them to her family and I said I did not know her family.  By the time my treatment was over, she called Karen’s friend in NY who called her husband, who said he would be delighted to have the pictures.  I sent the pictures to Stephen, a movie producer.  He called me and thanked me warmly. He said that Karen had mentioned me often and that I was mentioned in her memoirs, that she completed the night before she died.  Stephen had been married to Karen for 24 years. He was 23 years her junior.  Karen was 74 when she died.

I left Chicago in 1963 and lived 25 years in SF. I got married and my daughter was born in 1967.  I took an early retirement from working as a Unit Supervisor in Child Protective Services for 25 years.  I have had a number of jobs since then: nine years with severely emotionally disturbed adolescents at Lincoln Child Center, two years at the SF VA Medical Center, two years at East Bay Recovery, a year counseling federal parolees, two years at Community Health for Asian American. My last part-time job was with Catholic Charities in Oakland until my program was cut short due to budget problems.  Since then I have been working part-time with family survivors of murder victims. Presently, I work with three Latina families who have been victims of violent crime. I have also worked with a French-speaking Haitian refugee family.'
Swimming with the dolphins
Dadu suggested  that we should try Wild Quest: Swimming with the Dolphins in the Bahamas. He said, 'If you don't pursue them, they'll come to you.' He was on an island named Bimini, where incidentally, most people had Hindu names like Aatma etc. Explaining his love for dolphins, he said:

When I was eight, Rangoon was bombed and we fled to Calcutta, our ancestral city, as refugees. As our boat streamed out of the Irrawaddy River into the Bay of Bengal, a school of dolphins leaped in an arc out of the water. I asked my mother, "What are those?" and she replied, "Those are shushuk (Bengali for dolphin)." "What does it mean?" It means we shall have peace in our lives from now on."


Sid said...

This was a gem of an article. You have superbly captured his life, the wars, his first love. Must say I was very impressed by the fact that Ajju Dada dated a hollywood actress in his days. Hats off to you Aparna- commendable job :)

Aparna Kar said...

I must not take all the credit. The blockquote in blue was written by him. I merely edited and added headings to make it an easier read. His stories come alive in person. Hope to do a short film on him some day.