February 2, 1941 - April 13, 2017
Bakul Mitra, resident of 425 Main Street since 2007, died on April 13, after a battle with kidney cancer. She was born on February 2, 1941.
Bakul Mamima grew up in the small leafy suburb called Barasat right on the commuter rail line to the big city of Kolkata, India. The little house that she shared with her seven sisters, one brother, and their parents was surrounded by 12 large mango trees, eight guava trees, one enormous kaalo jaam tree, and a pond. The idyllic surroundings and strong family bonds left Mamima with cherished memories that gave her strength to battle everything that came later in life.
While in college, Mamima suddenly lost her father. Her older sister had been married by then and, immediately, the two eldest children of the family, Bakul Mamima and her brother, took it upon themselves to take care of the entire family – the youngest member of which, Dolly, was in kindergarten. Mamima took the vow to work, look after her family, and never to get married.
In 1970 however, when she was 28, a colleague introduced her to a dynamic professor visiting from New York City. Bakul Mamima broke her vow; she got married, but only under the condition that he always allow her to keep taking care of her family.
For their honeymoon, they went to far flung cities like Cairo and Paris, ultimately landing in Washington Square Village, right in the heart of New York City, where she became the wife of a Biology professor who had grown up on 74 Bondel Road in Kolkata. For years people from the extended family had found refuge there. In the bloody partition of India in 1947, my own grandfather was one of the many who temporarily brought his family to 74K Bondel Road which was synonymous with a place of refuge and a place where art and literature flourished.
Bakul Mamima landed in New York right when the civil rights movement was just a decade old and the counterculture of the sixties was at its peak. The United States had opened up for the first time in its history to minorities and other cultures. A new era had begun in both Bakul Mamima’s life and in the history of the alien land that would be her home for the next 45 years.
The man she was married to had a large circle of family and friends. Her husband’s family from India trickled in to pursue higher education in various universities around the United States. Everyone, including myself, took advantage of the gateway city that Bakul Mamima was located in. We used her home as a launching pad in our own migration.
To each and every one of us, Bakul Mamima extended a warm welcome. We landed in the middle of the day; we landed in the middle of the night; we were referred by a friend’s friend or referred by no one, and just knew it to be a welcoming home. We had alcohol issues; we had illnesses; we had adjustment problems; and we had nightmares to deal with. Through it all Bakul Mamima cared for each and every one of us and made us feel whole. She did all this while pursuing her own education – first a bachelor’s degree, and then an MBA and eventually a demanding job at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. The hospitality that she had practiced in her loving home in Barasat had never left her. Bakul Mamima recreated for her husband a Bondel Road in New York.
Thank you Bakul Mamima for your enormous courage and grit to put up with all that we imposed upon you.
Bakul Mamima’s younger sister, Dolly Mashi, came to New York, in December 2016, with the sole purpose of taking care of her sister. She witnessed her first snowfall, ate her first pizza and, at the insistence of people around her, sipped her first wine – all within the confines of 425 Main Street. Day in and day out, with courage and determination, Dolly Mashi made sure that her sister was fed and was not in pain.
Dolly mashi pran bhora bhalobasa o seba diye tumi ja korecho tar jonya amra sokole tomar proti chiro kritagya.
– Aditi Sarkar