Vale Satadru Sen (1969-2018)

It is with great sadness that I make note here of the sudden passing of my friend and CUNY colleague, Satadru Sen (of Queens College’s History department),  on October 8th, 2018–he would have turned fifty in January. The news of his death came as a shock; my family is united in grieving with his family, friends, students, and colleagues.

Satadru and I met because we had to: we taught at CUNY; we were Indian immigrants who moved to the US at similar ages (Satadru in high school, I moved after my first degree); we loved cricket (Satadru wrote a few guest posts on my old cricket blog, and reviewed my book Brave New Pitch); we had a taste for Indian military history (he reviewed my book on the air component of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan); we liked traveling in the American West (he went on long motorcycle rides across its vast expanses and came back with stunning photographs.) We exchanged notes on our backgrounds and inclinations; we cursed the descent into fascism of the US and India; we fretted and fumed at CUNY bureaucracy, at the stupidity and obduracy of many of its administrative decisions; we were perplexed and enthralled by our students; as we became fathers, we discussed the trials and tribulations of parenting. (Our wives were in law school when we first met, and soon, we were the fathers of young girls–thus allowing for points of resonance between our families.)

Satadru was a genuine scholar and intellectual. As his department made note:

His scholarship was his passion; through it he sought to expose the inequities and hypocrisies wrought by colonial regimes in South Asia and in the Indian Ocean World.  His research ranged from the institutionalization of discipline and punishment to the global celebrity of a cricketer-turned-politician and its implications for understanding the experiences of subjects in imperial contexts.

Satadru’s five single-authored monographs include Disciplining Punishment: Colonialism and Convict Society in the Andaman Islands(Oxford University Press, 2000), Migrant Races: Empire, Identity, and K.S. Ranjitsinhji (Manchester University Press, 2005), Colonial Childhoods: The Juvenile Periphery of India, 1860-1945 (Anthem Press, 2005), Savagery and Colonialism in the Indian Ocean: Power, Pleasure and the Andaman Islanders (Routledge, 2010), and Restoring the Nation to the World: Benoy Kumar Sarkar and Modern India (Routledge, 2015).  In addition to these are two collections of essays and one co-edited volume.

That publication list is one component of the claim I made above; far more germane was the quality of his writing and scholarship. His writing had flair and passion–visible quite clearly too, in his blog essays, marvelous long-form ventures of analysis and observation. (I reviewed his book on Ranjitsinhji for ESPN-cricinfo; in retrospect it might have been the best academic book on cricket I’ve ever read.)

Satadru and I met infrequently, but we exchanged mails and messages often; sometimes we met for drinks or coffee in our neighborhood; after we became fathers, we met with our families for teas and play-dates. On each occasion, we found time to retire to a  corner to trade our mordant little notes on academia, cricket, history, and the like. His observations were sharp and informed; I trust he enjoyed his interactions with me as well.

I’ll miss him; so will his family and friends and all those who learned from him and were enriched by his scholarship and companionship.

8 thoughts on “Vale Satadru Sen (1969-2018)

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I took a History class with Professor Sen in 2012. Wow it’s unbelievable. May he Rest In Peace.

  2. I would like to send my deepest sympathies to Professor Sen’s family friends and students. I I am a former student of his I took three of his classes and was my graduate advisor on my thesis. He was not only a brilliant and inspiring teacher but was a caring and compassionate human being. The last time I I spoke to him was to ask him for a reference letter since I was applying to do my PhD in history . He graciously agreed and now I am so deeply saddened that I will be unable to let him know I was accepted. RIP Professor Sen

  3. Hello.
    Thank you for your kind words about Satadru, or as I called him, Bobby. We met in high school in 1986. Our school was an alternative high school created due to the over crowded San Francisco Francisco system and thus manifested into a small group of mis-fits from every corner of the city. The school was aptly named International Studies Academy and had only been operational for one year prior to Bobby and I attending and meeting. By the end of the school year, he had become one of my closest friends and confidants. He graduated that year (87) and moved to Berkley for college and he, I and a few others remained in close contact until he graduated and moved out of state. I spent many of days and nights hanging out with Bobby at his apartment or out on the town in Berkeley, usually drinking too much, eating great food, going to movies and concerts. Specifically, I recall going to see Ishtar, a film with Dustin Hoffman – I believe – and he thought it absolute shit and we walked out cracking up hysterically. I also attended my first big concert (R.E.M.) with him in Oakland and as always, we had a blast. After I graduated high school, I moved to Santa Rosa with my boyfriend (91) and Bobby would frequently visit me and explore the local food and night life of what I seemed a po-dunk nothing town but it was a lot more fun to explore the local haunts with my friend. One day he showed up at my house at 8am and said ” I want to see Lassen Volcanic Park today” , which was a pretty long drive but off we went, getting there about an hour before sunset and snapping a few photos of ourselves making goofy faces and posing on the orange rocky surface, bathed in golden sunlight. They are some of my favourite photos albeit not crazy artistic. Just fun.
    In 94, I had my daughter and after that, our contact became less and less and then he left California and we didn’t speak again until 2006. I can’t recall how we managed to get in touch or even where he was living (although I want to say Seattle but can’t be sure) however he promptly got on his bike and rode from wherever he was to pay me a visit in Santa Rosa. It was if no time had passed and we spent an afternoon on his motorcycle admiring the coast at sunset, grabbed a bite and a bottle and spent the evening engaging with the same ease of conversation we had always shared. We both passed out a bit drunk from the whiskey and when I woke up, he had gone and have never spoken again. I always thought we would talk again someday and have often looked him up on-line to see what he was doing. Of course, I found out he was a professor at CUNY and had married and become a father – which absolutely filled me with joy for him. I was devastated to read of his passing last winter and wish I’d had the chance to talk with him again. I am also haunted by an eerie feeling about his sudden departure as I was close to him during some pretty dark times in his life and I can only hope that it wasn’t his quiet demons demanding a reckoning.
    Thank you again for the things you said about him and for acknowledging the intelligent, thoughtful, scathingly funny man he was. I have little doubt that he was a loving husband and father. I appreciate having the opportunity to share a bit of my experience with him here as I have been carrying around a sadness for the past year and no way to really shake it since I don’t know anyone now who shared a friendship with him. I can feel blessed in knowing him; easily one of the smartest people I have ever known and the first person in my life who I ever felt I could say anything to (and vice versa) and taught me that I could still laugh from the belly even when choking on my tears in a moment of total vulnerability. I am sad in knowing his presence is missing from this rock on which we spin and he will not be forgotten.
    Cheers and be well.

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