See Me After Class is a weekly column where a different professor reveals their variety favorites.
Dr. Sandip Sen is a professor of computer science who received his PhD from the University of Michigan. He is a legend in the Computer Science department, not to mention a thoughtful poet on the side. His work on artificial intelligence is prolific and well-respected. You can often find him moving class to an arbitrary time or even conducting class from California.
What’s your favorite book? What book would you say all undergrads need to read before they graduate?
Unfortunately, some of my favorite books are in my mother tongue, Bengali, which likely are not accessible to all but a few TU undergraduates. In particular, I view Rabindranath Tagore as perhaps one of the most gifted geniuses that was born anywhere in the world and it is unfortunate that his life work is in Bengali, a language unfamiliar to many parts of the world. His contributions in the diverse fields of literature (all forms including poetry, novel, drama, short stories, essays), music, painting, dance, philosophy, education and others is perhaps unique for mankind. In a sense, he was a one-person renaissance: for Bengalis, he is the equivalent of a Shakespeare, a Beethoven, a Brecht, a Picasso, a Martha Graham, all amalgamated into one. As for his stature and recognition in the Western World, I often say to my students in various CS courses (!), he is the first non-European and the first lyricist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913, for “Song Offerings,” a translation of a collection of his poems “Gitanjali” and possibly the least of his literary contributions (it is well-nigh impossible to match the depth, pathos, and nuances of the original). I transliterate (inept renditions of the resonance of his words in my psyche) some of his verses on my website: my tribute to him and my feeble attempt to introduce the western world to his genius and craft. If I were to recommend something in English, I would likely choose from the following: “The Story of Philosophy,” Will Durant (a very accessible and compelling book for any majors that provides a nice perspective of different influential western philosophical masterpieces). I wish, but do not have, a single book to share for corresponding, short summaries of Eastern philosophies. But I encourage students to read up on the Upanishads (the core philosophy of Indian spiritual traditions), writings of “the enlightened one” Buddha, and the Chinese philosophies of Confucius and Lao Tzu. I strongly believe citizens of the world, and hence the world, would greatly benefit by assimilating the philosophical traditions of both the East and the West.
What’s reading like for you? Is there a specific setting, mood, drink set-up?
To be honest, I read less nowadays and mostly on flights as I travel cross-country regularly. And, for a bit every night before my consciousness goes out! And I reflect on the day briefly to evaluate whether I gave myself to the day or not. Irrespective of external feedback, it is a good day if I did and a bad day otherwise.
Is there a movie/show that you always return to?
A couple of Tagore’s 17 volumes are my bedside that I go to most nights. That, more than a movie or show, is my “fixed point,” something I need to return to find understanding/motivation/inspiration/hope. But if I were to name one movie that I think about from time to time, it is “Anand.”
What was the last book/movie/show that you actually found funny?
There was a Bollywood movie “Badhai Ho” that was funny and heart-warming dealing with the cultural taboo in Indian society of a couple expecting a child when their other children are “grown ups!”
What’s your favorite Tulsa restaurant? Do you have any food/restaurant routines?
“Lanna Thai” (more my “boss’s” favorite and I concur). I savor my wife’s cooking, which extends beyond Bengali cuisine and includes various international cuisines. I enjoy “Mystic Chai” spice tea. I also lately have experimented with a salad recipe: sweet kale salad with hummus as “dressing” and canned boneless, skinless sardines as the protein ingredient.
Is there a media/pop culture/entertainment/music side to you that students wouldn’t expect?
I used to write, direct, act in plays in Bengali in the local community (from 1995 to 2019).
If you had to pick three songs for a Playlist of Your Life, what would they be?
For my personal favorites, in Indian languages, but unfamiliar to TU family: “Akash Bhora Surjyo Tara” by Debabrata Biswas, composed by Tagore, “Anandadhara Bahichhey Bhubone” by Kanika Bandyopadhyay, composed by Tagore and “Aayega Anewala” by Lata Mangeshkar, the most recorded artist in the world between 1948-1987.
And for 3 songs familiar to TU students, my list is: “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “Imagine” by John Lennon and the live performance of Adele’s “Set Fire To the Rain” (live at the Royal Albert Hall).
I hear you’re a poet … could you say more?
I write poems in Bengali. Both those and some thoughts/aphorisms I penned in English can be found on my website under the “Originals” link.