Home Empire State of Mind Bloomberg Rationalizes Random Killing. But I Knew Sunando Sen

UPDATE 9:15PM SATURDAY NIGHT: I’ve just read Erika Menendez’s statement that she pushed Sunando on purpose, that she “hated Muslims.” She’s crazy, of course, but well enough to be convicted I hope of this hideous crime. This is heartbreaking, that her racism and “insanity” could have resulted in such a tragedy. Sunando truly is the most inncent victim of a hate crime.

Six years ago this past summer I had to remove half century old glass slides from their protective holders and digitize them. They were pictures taken in the 1950s, of my my grandparents’ anniversary, and my parents’ wedding, circa 1956. The slides were used for a 3D Stereograph which no longer worked. No one knew what to do with those slides, how to make them into prints. I called several film labs downtown. Only one person volunteered that he could give it a try. His name was Sunando Sen, and he worked at the NY Copy Center on East 11th St. and Fourth Avenue.

For two or three weeks in the summer of 2006 Sunando and I worked on this little project by phone, email and in person. What do I remember of him? He was patient, mainly. He worked painstakingly to get the pictures right– photos of my parents, then 24 and 22, cutting their wedding cake, my grandparents glowing, great aunts and uncles all the age I am now. My great grandfather is all smiles. He made a relatively complicated procedure easy, and he was happy to do it. There is now an album of photos we thought had been lost to time and technology thanks to Sunando. I never saw him again.

On Thursday night, two nights ago, I took my twin nieces, age 12, to see “Mummenshanz” downtown at NYU. We took the number 1 train back uptown around 10pm. The train stopped a couple of times and the conductor announced, ominously, “There is no number 7 train service due to police activity.” A couple of women, maybe a little tipsy, tourists, asked: “What does that mean?” I said, and my nieces remember it, “It has nothing whatsoever to do with us. Don’t worry.”

It wasn’t until Friday that I realized what had happened: the police activity was about Sunando, who’d been pushed to his death from an elevated train platform by a crazy woman. It was an act of random violence, committed against someone I had actually, briefly, known. You think of these things as remote atrocities–school shootings or theater killings in Colorado, for example. Then a whole class of small children and their teachers are killed in a Connecticut town not far from where I grew up. And a man who was once so helpful and nice to me has been killed. All for no reason.

Mayor Bloomberg says to keep Sunando’s death in perspective and remember how safe the subway is. That’s nice; Mayor Mike spends the weekends in Bermuda. Here in the real world, on the ground floor, it’s not quite so easy.  Bloomberg doesn’t have to meet actual New Yorkers. He can just read about them. For him, we are fictional characters.

Sunando Sen was a real person. I knew him the way a lot of New Yorkers know each other. We pass through each others’ lives. Sunando didn’t tell me anything about his personal life, but he was surprised that I had this family, that I knew who everyone was from before I was born. I remember telling him stories about each one. Now I know from reading about him, Sundando had no immediate family. He had roommates, and they cared about him. But I’ll never forget what good care he took of my family six summers ago. A gentle man, may be rest in peace. I’ll try to keep it in perspective.

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27 replies to this post
  1. Thank you for the excellent letter. Sunando helped our nonprofit Send A Piana To Havana, sending US pianos to Cuban schools and kids, just as he helped Roger. Sunando made a spectacular poster for our touring Cuban teenage musicians.

    I had to straighten out The Guardian. They followed some US papers, calling Sunando an immigrant. My mother too was an immigrant after decades in the US but nobody ever would have thought of calling a white upperclass Englishman an immigrant.

    Atsundo was a beautiful brilliant person and I can’t believe the hatemongers mentioned in Michael Rivero’s post above managed to kill him.

  2. I was away from home when this news was published and the sad event happened. I was very upset about Sunando Sen who was my uncle, and the family was very close until he decided to snap all ties for reasons that we all never knew about.
    It was almost 20 years ago when I wrote a letter to his Departmental head at NY University asking for his whereabouts, since his parents were agonized and sick after losing all contact from their only child who deliberately deserted them for unknown reasons. They lived with only a hope that maybe Tukun would come back home one day, but they died without ever hearing about him.We searched every possible source for him or for the reason of his complete detachment, but all in vain , he never responded, and sadly we even started believing that he was no more until this day when we read about him.
    What a waste, for he was highly talented, intelligent though a very reticent human being. I wish Tukunkaku you did let us know where you were, how were you, and what you felt , so much could be done and said, and you would not have been a nameless hate victim with no family to shed tears for you,God knows you had one.May your restless soul rest in peace.

  3. The person who did this did not only showcase her hate or sick state of mind. She showcased her ignorance of the world as well. The only connection Hindus have with 9/11 is as victims. No one deserves to be the victim of a hate crime, but few things can be as diametrically opposite to Islam as certain aspects of Hinduism. And Sunando Sen was a Hindu, and ironically from a family that escaped discriminatory laws of of an Islamic country in what is now Bangladesh.

  4. I didn’t know Sunando Sen. But from what I read from Mr. Friedman’s post it appears that Mr. Sen was a typical Bong, yes thats what Bengalis are called in India…I happen to encounter a lot of them during my stay in India..
    I don’t know how many of you are aware of Bengal, a small state in eastern India. The people from there are mostly timid, peace loving folks and would be usually the most law abiding citizens in every place they stay. They are the folks who ubiquitously associated with art and culture, music and films etc..
    To have been mistaken and murdered for 26/11 is one of the saddest thing which could happen to a member of this peace loving community.
    Infact, from what I heard, they are the ones who are also persecuted almost out of existence in the neighbouring country Bangladesh, where they are a minority, so they also would have a lot of hate against the Muslims, but they would never be barbaric enough to perpetuate something so hateful and spiteful. RIP Sunando.

  5. I may not have much experience with this media that proclaims, “Hate the Muslims” (and as a host parent of Muslim kids and also a student hosted by a Muslim family, I am somewhat culturally programmed against that idea) but it does seem to me that we need to be making it known, loudly, that attacking ANYONE on the basis of religion, race, or orientation, is just plain UN AMERICAN. And the people who encourage this need to be labeled un American in nature. Until we make it unacceptable to label people as other, or less than some of us, there will be a sadly large number of people who think that it is fine to harm others just for not being like themselves. This man sounds like a lovely and good person, and I am sorry that we have lost him. I would have welcomed him as a neighbor.

  6. Thank You Roger Friedman. Thnak you for taking the time and care to pay a tribute and to put a face to the soul whose life was lost in an act of random violence.
    I hope this will be printed in the newspapers so others can cast their eyes on it and may help understand people and races better.

  7. Dear brother Sunando,

    I did not know you, but then I knew you like my soul. Rest in peace, I pray that God of Abraham, Muhammad, and the downtrodden will be your guardian. May God bring comfort unto you, and patience upon those you left behind.

    Qur’an, [81:9-14] Upon what sin was she killed for?

    And when the Records of Account are laid bare.

    And when the heaven is torn away.

    And when hell is further inflamed.

    And when Paradise is brought near.

    Every soul will then come know what it has brought.

    Mr. Friedman, thank you for the opportunity.

  8. I knew Sunando for some 15 years or so. He was a gentle and steady young man. There never is the right person to die for a hate crime, but he was so much the very wrong person to be murdered for that hatred. He was born in India, but his family were from Bangladesh, where, as a Hindu minority, they were an oppressed people. He never gave in to anger over the events in Bangladesh, but cared, in a steady and dependable way. We who knew him will miss him for the rest of our lives. The insane in a nation, are simply the over blown expression of our societies culture. We have a culture which sends death to other nations with which we are not at war, secondary strikes to kill first responders in those nations, and many here don’t care, as they do not look like us. This apathy is part of the culture of violence expressed by the mentaly ill who kill those we don’t care enough about. Lorcan Otway

  9. Yes, I too knew Sunando. Back in 1985-87, we used to live in the same hostel in JNU, New Delhi. Our rooms were across the hall in Ganga Hostel. I believe he came to NYU for PhD in Economics. I too came to NYU later and met him once near Washington Square. I knew he had an intellectual mind but was not aware of his artistic talents.

    May his soul rest in peace.

  10. If you are looking for the real villain in this senseless death, it is the governments of the United States and Israel, the corporate media, and propagandists like Pamela Geller, who have flooded the world with but one message these last 11 years, “Hate the Muslims. Hate the Muslims. Hate the Muslims.”

  11. I remember him very vaguely, when he left for US i was quiet young … he used talk less and mostly engrossed in his own world of books and sketches ..
    May his soul rest in peace .

  12. Roger, this is THE BEST article you have written maybe ever. I live in the far away land known as Florida and am heart broken over this crime…and I have never stepped foot in NYC. I pray for the victim, the witnesses, his roomates, and of course this world which seems to be unraveling string by string.

  13. Thanks 4 this article. I wondered what type of person he was. Now I know. Things are getting worse in this world. We all have to be careful. I’m glad he didn’t suffer. He didn’t have to linger in pain. I pray for the family.

  14. Hi Roger, your tribute to Sunando as a fellow New Yorker is the kind that brings a person alive. The picture that you paint of him – as a man who knew his work and was meticulous with it – as someone who was interested in the stories of the faces that he worked with – is perhaps the kind of picture that he would have chosen to fashion his self portrait on.

    You see, knew Sunando Sen, too. He was a distant relative and a childhood friend. I haven’t seen him for more than 25 years, and now I know I never will.

    He was always known as a bright student. But more than that, he was awfully well read. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a book somewhere upon his body. And he could sketch beautifully. He’d capture your likeness on the back of a postcard or a cigarette box in just a few fluid, efficient strokes of his pencil.

    Like many others, he came to the US to study Economics. And after that I lost track of him…

    I feel shocked, and saddened and bewildered by his murder. And somehow, ashamed. I mourn his death. And I can’t believe that a hate crime killed someone whom I’ve known all my life, someone who was just 2 years ahead of me in college.

    This is a very sad, unnecessary, futile death. However, there is just one point where I think my narrative would be different from yours. He said that he had no one in the US. That is not really true. He has family in many states of the US, especially in the north east. His parents are now dead, yes. But he has an entire extended family who, along with his parents, had many hopes and dreams for him. Close family. Family who are mourning his death today, just as they are, even now,l trying to understand his life.

  15. Thank you so much for telling this story and humanizing this man. Typically anti-Muslim/perceived Muslim hate crimes are followed by media stories about the perpetrator’s sad life story or a story of how their family is feeling and no mention of the actual victim’s family’s suffering.

    Thank you so much also for including the photo and putting a face to the victim.

  16. Sunando I knew…from an erudite family from Kolkata, India.
    He did have a family. lost his parents, but an extended family did exist.
    A tragic sequence of events made him a withdrawn person…he cut himself off from the world he knew. We all searched for him…that he sustained himself, so nice to know but cut to such a tragic end….Distressed, knew him as so personally…

  17. Thanks for offering kind words about Mr Sen’s work and the brief encounter that he had with you. Your story, as others mentioned, made it personal to us. He sure as a good citizen and productive member contributed to the society. Our prayers are with his family and friends.

  18. Oh that is so sad Roger, its great you can share this about a good person who has died a senseless death…you are right about Bloomberg, he is totally out of touch with reality.

  19. http://youtu.be/OyHkqEolUng Sunando Sen was a good soul, a kind man, intelligent. The woman who murdered him found his polar opposite and she knew what she was doing….she ran fast enough to get away from her act of murder and every day once a day at least one person is murdered in NYC and how many violent people walk free courtesy of the NYPD…I speak from first hand experience — I was violently assaulted by an MD’s receptionist because she was experiencing road rage and she found the perfect human pinata so I don’t believe for a minute that Sunando Sen’s murderer first violent action was murder.

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