Despite the fact that I had been acquainted with Sayantan Mukhopadhyah ’12 for a few months, when we met at Tunnel City for our interview, I had to admit that I still couldn’t pronounce his name. After a few attempts, I was forced to give up.
Do you have any nicknames? Your name is seriously hard to pronounce for us Westerners.
I do kind of amass an increasing pool of nicknames. In high school a bunch of my friends randomly started calling me “Sanny,” and that’s what I was throughout high school. When I came to Williams, I was like, “Okay, fresh start. I don’t want to be called Sanny anymore. It sounds so trite and stupid.” I wanted to become Sayantan again. That lasted about two days, because as it turns out, when I was auditioning for the Springstreeters, none of them could pronounce my name when I came up in discussions. They dubbed me “Si,” which has stuck. I even refer to myself as Si. It’s still the name I use when I put in my order at Tunnel City. Another one that concurrently developed is “Saytay,” which is a play on chicken satay. That one’s totally appropriate, given how much I love Thai food. It’s very Bengali, too. You’ll have a house name and an official name, so nicknames have always been a part of me.
So you were born Bengali?
Yes. [On my mom’s side], as far back as we know anything about her family, we are from the greater region of Bengal. My parents grew up in towns on either side of the Ganges [River], north of Calcutta. It [was] only after they got married that they moved away from Calcutta, but I am Bengali-bred 100 percent.
Were you raised in Bangladesh?
I actually spent most of my time growing up in Kuwait, 15 years total. I also spent two years in Montreal when I was a kid, but really most of my school years were spent in Kuwait. So I guess if there’s a place that I would locate my childhood, it’s definitely there.
What was it like living in the intersection of Bengali and Kuwaiti culture?
Well, I think about that a lot, actually. There’s a huge Indian expat scene in Kuwait. It’s made up of 62 percent expatriates working largely in the oil industry and in business. It creates a very transient community, but there have always been Indian people around. My parents’ friends are largely Bengali, friends that they’ve known since their time in Calcutta and from when my dad worked in Assam. So it was weird because when my parents’ friends were over, I was just this little Bengali boy living in Calcutta, but then I’d go to school and my friends were from Romania and Slovenia and Somalia and Australia, and so I lived an entire alternative global existence from 8 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.] every day.
That’s actually insane. You’re very interested in languages, aren’t you? I saw five or six listed on your Facebook page.
I wouldn’t say I know a ridiculous number of languages, but languages are my passion, and if I could collect them like Pokemon cards, I would. I grew up speaking Bengali at home all the time and I went to an English school where we also had to learn Arabic as a part of the curriculum. We also later had to learn French, and I chose to also take on Spanish. I also speak a little bit of Hindi, just because it was used around the house and in Bollywood movies. Through my travels, I’ve also picked up some Italian and Portuguese. I’d love to continue learning more and more and using them as currency. It’s a good resource in this day and age to speak languages that are found in rapidly developing countries.
I wish I knew more languages! You also have an interest in writing, right? I hazarded upon your blog.
That’s extremely embarrassing, but I do.
You’re a very talented writer! Nothing to be embarrassed about.
Thank you! So I guess my parents are extremely progressive, but at the same time I’ve always had a little bit of guilt not being the perfect little Bengali boy. Thinking about the future, it was okay for me to go into arts administration or go into publishing. But becoming a writer? Well, no, I didn’t think of that as a secure career path. That’s when I realized that my ultimate goal is to be happy, and that I’m actually really happy when I’m writing. And I keep my little blog as a personal outlet for anything that might be on my mind, much to the detriment of my schoolwork. Much of that goes out the window when I’m in the groove of things and I just want to type something out. But it makes me feel so much better, and I can get to my schoolwork with a lot more oomph.
On another note, I also hear that you’re a bit of a foodie, correct? One of my sources said that you only know how to make one dish, though.
Contrary to the belief of Peter Skipper [’13], I do make more than one dish! One thing that I make a lot, though, because it’s really easy to make and really delicious, is my couscous. Cooking is one of the things that brings me the most joy. I especially love feeding people food that I’ve made; it kind of brings everything together. This past year, I started an informal cooking club with a bunch of seniors, and every Wednesday night we get together and we’ll cook on a rotation basis. There’s nothing like sitting around homemade food and feeling the love through the cooking.
I know you’re also very involved in music, with the Springstreeters and all.
When I was growing up, my parents thought it was very important for me to have a strong music theory background. I played the piano for 10 years, and I picked up the flute somewhere along the line. But I guess my heart was never into it, because when I came to Williams, I never really missed it, but I picked up singing. And it’s the fire that drives me. And singing is [also] great because it’s a transportable instrument. I don’t have to worry about checking my flute into cargo in an airport or run around trying to find a piano. It makes my mom really happy too, because she’s a professional singer, to see her son discover it with so much joy and passion, [even] if a little belatedly.
Oh, really? What kind of music does she sing?
She’s a north Indian classical singer. She’s a vocal coach and teaches a lot of the Indian and Bangladeshi kids in Kuwait whose parents really want to keep a flame of heritage alive in them as they live abroad.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I like to think that I’m really cultured and listen to everything, but really my heart lies in trashy pop. Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, bring it on. And of course I cannot survive a day without listening to Nicki Minaj. She is my savior, my one and only. She’s an artist who really inspires me because of her brash, tongue-in-cheek attitude. In this day and age, people are all about conforming, so I love her attitude. I also have a soft spot for the ’90s, because my two siblings are a lot older than me, and they were very musically active growing up and listened to a lot of music. Nothing makes me feel quite as nostalgic as putting my ’90s playlist on shuffle.
How much older are your brother and sister?
My brother is 10-and-a-half years older than me, and my sister is 14 years older than me. Apparently, when I was three (and I blame my brother for this), I went up to my mom’s best friend and told her that I was an “oops.” Which I obviously was, coming 10-and-a-half years after my brother.
That’s hilarious! Any other hobbies that we haven’t talked about?
I tell people that if I could do it all over again, I would audition for NBC. Hip hop has a very special place in my heart. I love to dance and I love to move, and I think there’s something so powerful about getting your body engaged like that. So yeah, at parties you might see me doing what look like teenage choreographed dances. I can pop, lock and drop it with the best of them.