My name’s Anish Majumdar and I’m a writer of Bengali origin, raised in Canada, currently living with my Irish-German-Lithuanian wife and two mixed-breed cats in Rochester, NY. I started DashAmerican.com to answer a question: are there others like me? People who participate in the culture of their parents as well as the myriad joys, heartaches and annoyances of American life…without really feeling like they belong to either? I’m fascinated by the unique outlook possessed by the children of immigrants because I’ve spent my entire life walking that tightrope.
I grew up in a grim Montreal suburb known as LaSalle, a place memorable (if at all) for its Eastern Bloc-inspired architecture, French-Canadian rappers, and an unfortunate tendency amongst natives to refer to the place as “Texas” (examples include, “Don’t Mess with Texas” and “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” usually while spray-painting a wall). My parents, who had emigrated to Canada from Kolkata in the late 70’s, worked hard to create a safe haven in our home. There was Dallas on the television, chilli chicken on the dinner table, and, from age seven onwards, a younger brother to record improvised routines with on a battered tapedeck. I think of those long-ago times as “The Nerd Years” primarily because of the godawful glasses I wore, but there was a sense of belonging between the four walls of our home that I sorely missed in later years.
It’s hard to pin down the exact moment where I transformed from a studious painfully shy teenager into a rebellious painfully shy teenager but my parents can certainly attest to its happening. Sometime during Grade 9 (1994) I must have looked up from my homework, asked myself why I was studying subjects that didn’t interest me, what the point of working so hard was when I didn’t have any friends and hadn’t even kissed a girl…and couldn’t come up with answers. So I stopped studying everything except English and Drama, which remain passions to this day. My grades in all other classes dropped precipitously, but it didn’t matter. I’d become friendly with the popular kids, a motley group of athletes, rejects, and trust fund babies calling themselves the Crook Clan Crew or CCC. I listened to ODB and Elastica. Ingested copious amounts of herbs and psychedelics (FYI: if you’re tripping during a high school dance, it’s time to re-evaluate your life). I actually made out with a girl, which was so heartstopping I nearly passed out. My father had grown seriously worried about me, but he was in the midst of dealing with my mother’s worsening schizophrenia and that had to take priority. I acted in plays, left school three months early to tour with a Shakespeare-in-the-Park troupe, and tried to ignore the loneliness that was becoming a constant in my life.
I spent my twenties acting in movies, tv series, and forgettable commercials in Toronto and Montreal. I got pummeled by Hugh Jackman in The Fountain, played a slimy tv exec in IFC’S The Festival, and became known to Quebec’s French population as Rajiv Amitraj, a hard-up Indian man on a show called Pure Laine. It’s funny, because acting has always struck me as a fundamentally social occupation: you network, audition, take classes and generally try to stay relevant. But aside from a debauched year of theatre school in New York City, a typical day for me consisted of little-to-no social interaction. There would be DVDs to watch, books to read, bills unpaid to worry over, and a terrible fear of losing control of the reins as my mother had. Three years passed with me living a kind of hellish half-life. I got evicted from apartments. Saw my credit rating plummet. Felt soul-sick every time I had to ask my father for help (which was often). I remember asking God, over and over again: what am I not seeing? What lesson are you trying to teach me? Finally, I made the decision, at age 26, to press reset. With nothing besides a duffel bag filled with clothes and a laptop, I crossed the Canada-U.S. border and returned to the only place where I’d felt truly happy: NYC. I worked manual labor jobs found on Craigslist. And in October of 2006, I met a girl who turned out to be God’s answer.
The past five years have been defined by learning: how to put someone else’s needs ahead of my own. How to be a good friend. How to feel comfortable in social situations instead of doubting myself. Being a good Bengali-Canadian-American is a project I’ll be working on for the rest of my life. The difference is now I have someone to share the journey with.
Thank you for being a part of something truly close to my heart. Dhonnobad!