We watch this amazing Atlantic sunrise this morning. The breeze is perfect. Florida has beautiful summers.
As we wash our feet at the beachside shower, I notice sand stuck on my feet; I do my best to rinse my feet. As I enter my Q5, the freshly shampooed carpets import a dusting of that sand.
I have a feeling, it will irk me when, the next day, that sand attaches itself so callously to my shoes, with some sort of a romantic vision of changing Italian leather.
Like a small blemish, on perfect skin.
It’s all in my twisted thinking.
My daughters openly protest my OCD habits of cleanliness and organization. When I unload the dishwasher, the glasses need to be lined up in a particular manner. And absolutely no transparent objects (like drinking water glasses) can be in the same area with translucent (ceramic coffee) cups or bowls!
For years, I have told myself that things “out of place”, give me anxiety and I don’t correct it. I try not to modulate this expectation and just surrender. In this constantly changing and chaotic world, I organize, whatever I can organize.
This morning though, after sharing that magnificent ocean sunrise with Shania, I look at that sand and encourage my mind to think a little differently; I ask myself how often, and how many people get to do what I do? How often do they soothe their souls with the lapping of waves on their feet. How often do they get to sip their favorite latte, while listening to their favorite tunes, with someone they love! Today is a special day in my life.
I need to let the sand linger on my feet, for as long as I can.
When tomorrow that hard pair of dress shoes pick up some of that sand, its actually a good thing! It’s a reminder of a softer time in my life, when there was a perfect moment of alignment.
I saw a quote this morning that made me think: “Look around you, and enjoy, be grateful; in a year, everything will be different.”
As I look back a year, with or without the help of social media, so many things have changed, for me. Especially, in the lives of my children. But also, in my own life.
Last Spring, I was a pensive from the roller-coaster feeling from my constantly changing role at work; I was also in pendulum motion, from my home that I love, in Florida, to the cold of Boston. I had a feeling that this Boston chapter of my life, has to come to a close soon. And, by Fall, my role ended; allowing me to seek what I have wanted all along.
This Spring, I am ready to move to Florida, permanently.
Some things have become more certain, and other, more dispensable things, people or feelings, have dissipated. There is no lingering nostalgia about losing these feelings, which didn’t serve me.
My children have made tremendous strides in a year.
After a re-defining 2018, Daiyaan graduated college in 2018 and found her professional footing, bought her “dream” Jeep (that she has named Natasha, after the singer Natasha Bedingfeld) and now wants to buy her first home this Summer/Fall. She is starting to put down her own roots, in a place she loves. She has chosen a healthy lifestyle of balance. She took her first ever solo trip, and conquered Puerto Rico; she has grown up.
Last Spring, Shania, competed to become her Middle School Vice President and won! She has switched from softball to golf and today, loves basketball as her main school sports; instead of acting in plays, now she is co-directing, for the second year, a school play! She was accepted to attend the prestigious Dana Hall school in Wellesley, MA, but instead, is heading to be with family and joining the pre-law program at her new choice school in Florida.
As their lives unfold, and I see these two beautiful women take their next steps, I enjoy listening to their musings, and life interactions. The new friends they make, and the relationships those fray over time. I tell them my stories, from that particular time in my life that maybe relevant to their experience.
Even though I was raised as a teenager in a different continent, in a completely different era, with no electronic gadgets, or Google, to help answer my questions, the struggles of all awkward teenagers, or young people defining their dreams, are still the same.
Whether you are 13, 23 or 52, Constantly, we search for belonging, love and certainty; it’s tough to accept that none of these feelings are constant, and just to maintain an equilibrium, is a lot of work!
This morning, five of my close friends (same age group), are in deep pain: one from a broken hip (from a fall), another from domestic abuse, and one more, with cancer. Two of my best childhood friends lost their mothers in the last weeks – I knew these loving moms – I have eaten meals with them at their dining tables; having lost my own mom a few years ago, I know that big hole in their hearts are not healing soon.
I pray that my friends have the courage and support to bear the pain they are feeling today. When you experience pain, the depth, the excruciating nature of it, numbs us. There is nothing anyone can say or do, to make you feel differently.
Like last year, I know with certainty, this year, there will be those moments of joy, and sadness. You know there will be a Spring of hope, and the still of Summer.
I know, that whatever incremental, or disruptive changes we are experiencing, pain or happiness, it too shall pass.
It fatigues me to think that, the pain and frustration of the political turmoil we experience today in the US (and resultantly, the world) will only sharpen in the next twelve months.
In my adult life, I have seen and experienced progress, and I don’t give up hope, but I choose to take a long view on history. While things are not perfect, I see progress in health, well-being and innumerable sources of joy.
This weekend, in my little microcosm, I am again, taking a good look at everything and everyone around me.
Acknowledging and accepting that change is continuous and constant – I will do my best to appreciate all those gifts that I have in my life today. I am grateful to the Universe for the love, beauty, health and contentment that I am experiencing today.
Inspired by a movie she had seen, for her thirteenth birthday, Shania asked to go to Hawaii; we have been to there a couple of times ~ ten years ago but she was only a couple of years old, with no discernible memory. With frequent flier miles, I booked a late August trip to Maui. This would be our end of the summer 2018 father-daughter trip – as much of a gift for me – as to her!
I lost my father when I was eighteen; I have memories with him on our birthdays, and day-to-day life, him telling me about what I should my college major should be – more of the transactional stuff. One of my regrets is not having enough “happy memories” with him or, “care-free” time, where we experienced joy, together.
I decided, early on, I wouldn’t wait for these “happiness moments” to just show up! Instead, co-create, with my own children, amazing memories of joy. One day, they can look back to their childhood and adult times, and be able to say, we had some amazing times together!
We are fortunate to be born (or have migrated) to the only country in the world, where the Pursuit of Happiness is a constitutional right. Just like anything else, In addition to providing a loving and caring home, we have the responsibility to show our children that happiness is attainable by design. It may require hard work (funding), and some planning – but happiness doesn’t (have to) accidentally show up at our doorstep – we can go searching for it and attain it. By doing so, we leave our children experiences of joy – this way, later in life, they can go searching for, or designing their own happiness.
To do this, first, you need to know what makes you happy in the first place; a day kayaking on calm waters? Cooking an amazing meal together, a library full of books, hunting for food-trucks, or some dare-devil adventure somewhere! Each of us have different expectation and certain things fill us with joy (and others with anxiety)!
Once we understand and accept your own source of happines, you can be a lot more deliberate about creating opportunities to do more of that and and deliberately plan “memory making” in your life.
If we don’t plan for happiness, life, and especially work, consumes most of our time!
Hawaii, is an ideal place to go searching for and creating amazing memories! We planned eight days in the island of Maui; amazing tropical setting, sunsets, blue skies, sparkling clear seas, marine and botanical examples, amongst a super-kind, warm, easy-going and hospitable people.
Having traveled ~ 14 hours, we arrived at the hotel with fresh juice and a traditional welcome garland; within minutes, we were enjoying the infinity pool overlooking the blue ocean and ordering lunch/cocktails. Late afternoon, we took a nap and set out to enjoy Kihei and watching one of those magical Hawaiian sunsets.
Over the next 7 days, we went biking down from Haleakala volcano, experienced seven micro-climates in a matter of 3 hours, parasailed off Kahaina, snorkeled off the natural island of Mahana. On the way back from our snorkeling trip, we met a family of dophins and large sea turtles. We collected matching souvenir t-shirts, went searching for fresh coconut water, looking for island sushi, sashimi and poke bowls.
Shania marveled at Jeeps on the resout; so I surprised her with a jeep rental for a day, which she kept hugging; later, we took the treacherously winding northern track of the island which becomes a one-way road for about 20 miles – which means at times you have to back up for the incoming traffic to pass – while looking down at scary elevations at the same time! Shania said this was one of the scariest “roller coaster” rides she had ever taken. On this journey, we stopped and checked out waterfalls, bamboo forests, local artists galleries and amazingly spectacular vista, complete with ocean blow-outs, rocks, flowers the crashing waves.
Towards the end of this day, Shania told me that Maui would definitely be a choice for her honeymoon one day!
On the sixth day of our trip, as were ordering breakfast at the Kihei Café and someone mentioned a Category 5 hurricane with over 150 miles/hour wind barreling towards us and would arrive in two days. Anxiously, I called the airlines to see if we could change our tickets and get out of the island so that we don’t get stranded. Everything was booked solid and we had no practical way out.
Over the next two days the forecast for the storm fluctuated from “nothing” to “devastating.” Shania looked at me to see if I was worried or anxious. We discussed what are possible outcomes of the storm. What’s the worst that could happen – that we get stuck here for a couple of extra days – is it all the bad? We were in a safe hotel, with built-in power generators, ocean front views from our balcony, of a once in a 20 year event, on Paradise.
I guess it’s worth learning that happiness may have a darker side!
Over the next 48 hours, the storm did brace the neighboring Big Island with ferocious winds – however, left Maui – specially Wailea – untouched. We got some rain – but not even the monsoons of Florida – just a continuous drizzle for about an hour at time. We took long walks by the ocean every day, dined at the neighboring restaurants, spent quite a bit of time at the pool, watched Netflix and took long naps! Our original flight back home was canceled, and we spent an extra night at the resort and traveled back a different route. All along the way, the resort and the airline staff were impeccable and helpful in providing us information and helping calm our fears.
Today, as I look back at the pictures of those 9 amazing days, I believe, we have successfully created what we set out for, complete with a (unplanned) storm surge and canceled flights. We have experienced joy, anxiety, adventure, confusion, and a little bit of discomfort – the microcosmic cycle of life – all in one big gulp.
Upon seeing our social media posts, a friend sent a note saying that I am spoiling the girls and that no man will meet up to the standards that I am setting for them! My response: by setting out on vacations, I am just teaching them that happiness doesn’t come from anyone but from within yourself! We are creating memories of happiness that can be easily co-created, if you set a goal and put your energy behind it!
Since I have no confidence in after-life, the concept of Paradise is at best nebulous, in my psyche. Hence, an extra day of Paradise, complete with confusing weather patterns, strong coffee, a warm pool, Netflix, and gourmet Asian style is something I am accepting as a gift!
About ten days ago, on the eve of US Elections, I went to bed with severe anxiety.
I had lots going through my mind; will the economy collapse, like it did in 2002 and 2007/8 and will I have to lay people off – or conversely, get laid-off myself; will marriage equality be reversed and I won’t be able to get married next year; will my daughter’s rights to choose, in their reproductive years, be snatched away by a lopsided supreme court; will there be public humiliation of my Muslim friends or family in the hands of a McCarthy style tribunal in days to come; how will they treat me – since I carry a Muslim name – but now an atheist, cohabitating with another atheist, and raising two daughters with no religious preference.
All of these heady, very personal thoughts coagulated into bizarre, dystopian dreams and a sleepless night. I woke up with a headache the next morning. My eleven-year old daughter, who had gone to bed at 8 pm last night, woke up confused and asked me, “Daddy, is it true – Hillary lost? What happened? ”
We hugged for a few minutes. The first thing I told her, “it’s going to be ok, baby. We are going to be ok. America is a great country. I have experienced America for 31 year and I know what it’s made of” Even as my heart was heavy with uncertainty, I was doing my fatherly thing, re-assuring her that life is not about to change dramatically.
I went to work like a mechanical drone, back-to-back meetings, and flew to Los Angeles that night for work. For about 7 days, I couldn’t bring myself to watch my comfortable NBC news with Lester Holt. I felt the mourning of liberal friends on social media – it was a similar howling I had once before, from my family, on the day of my fathers death – somewhat bizarre, yet excruciating in expression. They needed to get their feelings out in the open.
The weekend after the elections, my sister came to visit from Canada, and it was easy to forget everything by wandering around beautiful Boston; she was also shocked. We tried to keep our political discourse to a minimum, and tried to take in the sunshine and fall colors surrounding us.
All throughout the week, I kept racking my brain to think, how could I be so way off in my projections – how did I completely misunderstand the American “way of thinking.”
During the Gore vs. Bush or Kerry vs. Bush elections, there were clear signs; I was actually very doubtful that a biracial man with a Muslim name would ever be President of the United States. But this time, I felt a level of certainty, that I had never felt before.
Early in my life, I lived 15 years in the rural hinterlands of Missouri, the Industrial rustbelt of Ohio, farmlands of Wisconsin and western hills of the mining country of Pennsylvania. I distinctly remember, how I always felt like an outsider there; I could feel people stare at us, as soon as we entered a restaurant – or some folks just moved a few feet away, as you walked by, at the grocery store.
It was only after I moved to Denver, and in Florida, that I felt as if I belonged there. A short tenure in Texas reminded me of the Midwest again – but then I quickly escaped to Massachusetts – the bluest of the blue states!
And of course, there were the 8 years of Obama, the unimaginable passage of Marriage Equality, the possibility of tilting of the Supreme Court.
Altogether, time and space has played a trick on my mind!
I had started to believe in this utopian fantasy of equality and morality. I felt, as if in my lifetime, I would see the transformation of America into an imaginary land of equity and equality.
While things have dramatically improved over thirty years and America, since last week, I have come to accept that there is still ways to go. The better way to think, there will always be the opportunity to improve here.
People may say it’s economic anxiety of the working class poor that drove our election results. But it’s not JUST economics. It’s definitely not one-dimensional. There is race, there is bigotry, there is misogyny, there is homophobia. It’s all kind of mixed together. In a lot of ways, it’s Malcom Gladwells Revisionist History: we voted for a black man twice, we have done our share. It’s time to swing the pendulum back for a while.
As I speak to Shania and Daiyaan today, I remind them of a day in Missouri, thirty years ago a particular landlord told me on the phone, that they didn’t have rentals available – but asked my friend with an American name/accent to come look at an open unit on the same day. I also remind them that when their grandfather, an International scholar, had a “temporary white” card so he could sit in the front of a bus, or drink from “white only” water fountains. That was only sixty years ago.
America has made tremendous progress. But everything is still not yet equal here.
I also remind my daughters, that I have traveled six continents and there is no other place on earth, where liberty and equality is respected more. Period.
America may not be perfect – but it’s better than any other place on earth.
America will always be a work-in-progress.
Thirty years from now, we will see and experience things, that we can’t imagine today. I am more confident of America than ever before.
We may have to put up with some theatrics and melodrama for 4 to 8 years. But if the government over arches and tries to scale back social progress, I know that there will be significant pushback from those 61 million voters who didn’t vote for that level of social change.
In eight years, Shania will be ready to cast her first vote; the latest, on that day, there will be another opportunity to swing the pendulum back. She will have that choice. And I expect to be there, to help her make that decision.
In the meantime, we need to remain engaged. When behaviors make us cringe, we need to speak up. When our civil and human rights are questioned or threatened, we need to understand and claim them back.
America is a continuum. A beautiful continuum where we have a lot to add
I woke up from a disturbing dream, and felt sad to the core of my heart. The dream was sweet and nostalgic; I was listening to my mother as she was talking about the good old days, when we lived in Joypahar. We were playing Uno, over a cup of milky Cha, a few Nabisco biscuits, and talking up a storm.
Within my dream, I realized, I was in the midst of a dream, and that soon I would wake up and the moment would be over. I tried to tell my Mom, but the moment was so joyous, that I couldn’t bring myself to reveal what I already knew as the truth.
I wanted us to remain happy, just like that moment, just with that cup of milky cha, over that game of cards, raising “gopshop” to a whole different level.
I am certain, we all have those moments, where everything just feels right; the lighting is right, the temperature, the mood, the music, and most importantly, the people you love, and care about. These are precious times, times to cherish, sip like a good wine – just before you know that these come to an end.
Recently, my Aunt and Uncle came to visit us from Dhaka, for a weekend. We sipped a wonderful cup of latte while walking around Harvard Square, on a sunny fall morning; took a swan boat tour on the Boston Commons lake, and discovered the magic of bonsai at the Harvard Arboretum.
I had that same feeling; I knew these few days are precious – and we took it all in the best possible Bangalee way – food, music, adda! I am grateful for these three days I got with these two wonderful people, who make me happy, every time I see them.
Over the last thirty years, as I have left religion, something else has been on my mind about these joyous moments, old and new.
Major world religions talk about the gift of reincarnation or afterlife. So therein lies this possibility of heaven (and hell). There is a small chance, they remind us, of meeting those people we love, in life after death.
However, in my non-religious views, and the lack of confidence in heavenly interactions, I feel deeply saddened by the fact that I will never, ever see my mother again – not in this lifetime, or another. She will never remind me to walk straight, or eat slowly, or ask me about how we are doing; what I had with her, is done.
I know I cannot wind back time.
But another really conflicting thought enters my consciousness. I am thinking of my beautiful daughters, my sister, or Matthew – those that surround me with love today.
Every night when I kiss Shania goodnight on her forehead – or when Daiyaan is visiting us and we have samosas together, while arguing about this or that, these moments are also limited and they too shall come to an end.
After this life, I will not see any of these loved ones again. This churns me inside and out. Suddenly every second feels so much more precious. There is so much beauty on this earth – and I have so much to be thankful for – that I really don’t want this life to end.
I realize that every moment is precious with our loved ones. This time cannot be repeated – and it cannot be reincarnated. It is, what it is; it is all about NOW. And I have only responsibility – to make it as joyous, for myself and for them.
It’s a cloudy, drizzly Sunday here in Cambridge. Shania has a sinus thing going this weekend. We decide to stay in and just chill around the house. We have left-over Italian and watch a Disney movie together. We toast some samosas, and make hot tea, to keep us company.
At the end of the movie, Shania thanks me, for being lazy today and just hanging out with her. I am grateful to her, for reminding me, at this moment, at this point of completeness.
Not looking back, not winding back time, not even looking forward. Just Now.
Five years ago, I came back from an overseas work trip and found empty card-board boxes in the lobby of our beautiful South Florida home; family pictures were off the wall, things were strewn all around the place, there was disarray in my carefully manicured paradise.
In the weeks following, my life changed forever. Unbeknownst to me, I became a FAMY (Father Mummy) that week.
Shania recently taught me this new term she learned on TV: FAMY (pronounced FAH-MEE).
Fifteen birthdays, five New Year Eves, one learning to read, and one high-school graduation, one learning to drive and one learning to ride a bike, one buying a first car, first loss of front teeth and one getting her first job, and many other “firsts” later, here we are; undeterred, unapologetic and, each of us, in our new trajectory. There is no looking back; no retrieving time with a “back” button.
Five years ago, if someone had told me that Daiyaan, at almost twenty-one, is going to school in Florida, while building her career in insurance – or that Shania, at almost eleven, is growing up to be a sparkling, amazing, foodie-movie critic-worldly-loving and compassionate child, I would have been surprised; not because, I don’t want them to be this way, but more so, because I had no idea –how to be a FAMY, what it meant and what it entails.
I also had no idea that I would be in another global business leadership role, in a major publicly traded corporation, or living a new life, in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
We started swimming in a stormy dark night with no destination in mind; I could taste the saltiness of three streams of tears, while the rain beat down on us. Fear, loss, anger and pain, commingled, all tears taste the same.
At that time, a wise friend advised me, “Remember, YOU are the pole that holds up the tent, if you fall, the whole tent collapses.” I keep thinking about that phrase, and shudder.
As a FAMY, there is really no looking back, or falling sick, or for that matter, being out of commission. The tent could fall apart. It’s a lot to digest in one sitting.
Some thirty plus years ago, on a May morning, my mother also took up a similar role. In a lot of ways, I am following in her footsteps.
When my father died, there was a discrete reason for the change, it was clean-cut. Death happens and you learn to live with that. There’s defined mourning periods for death in most world religions.
In our case, the world of mental illness is undefined, taboo, and spooky as hell. You can’t really talk about it in public. There’s shame, there’s misunderstanding and guilt. Death is explainable and you know it’s inevitable; who does one blame for mental illness?
Even in movies, they photograph mental illness with a grayish hue, a cloudy or hazy lens. They usually end the movie with someone sitting on a chair and the lens moves far away. Worldly religious books don’t provide you with guidelines on how to behave when your world is struck by mental illness.
In situations of ambiguity, you create your own rules, define that path that brings the best possible outcome you can imagine.
So we started our journey, one-step-at-a-time. Didn’t pre-plan, didn’t have time to strategize a grand outcome. One school-lunch, one parent-teacher meeting, one birthday party and one doctor’s visit at a time. Just had to get it all done.
Once I was dating someone, who asked me who was “first” in my life; my answer was simple, I am not even first in my life!
Today, looking back, so many changes and heart breaks later, I look at these two beautiful gifts in my life, and feel blessed.
We didn’t choose this life, in many ways, this life chose us.
Our lives are not perfect, neither are they festered with disaster. All we know is to make the best decision we can, with the information we have, in hand.
You do your best, every day.
If life has taught us anything over the five years, there is no single path or stream of happiness. It comes in bursts, sparkles and shows up without notice.
We have to be ready to accept happiness, embrace it.
Recently, the three of us are vacationing in Amsterdam, just after Daiyaan’s close call with a terrorist attack on the Brussels airport; Shania turns around and tells me that she wishes that she could time-travel back to my childhood and be my friend. That’s when I realize the gifts of a FAMY.
Tomorrow may not be as happy as yesterday; it may be a lot better!
We wonder about all our habits, so much, that we learn and emulate from our parents; it’s tough to put a number on the gifts that we received.
Sometimes, it’s the way they protect us with unquestioned certainty, sometimes it’s the way they cook a certain dish, or, it’s their voice as they sing or read, and often, it is their view of the world. It’s rarely discernible from one another; often a combination of values, virtues and habits, that make us, who we are.
You have given so much, and with such certainty and conviction, that to untangle this into a handful of things would be nearly impossible.
Some twenty-five days after your passing, I look back at our forty-eight amazing years together, and am filled with gratitude.
Not only am I glad that I met you, I am who I am, because of you.
Resolute Conviction of Execution
You took a five or six year old boy, stood him in front of a tall building and told him to be as tall and hold his head always straight; It was confusing and intimidating.
You built 2 institutions in front of my eyes, brick-by-brick. You raised funds, and interviewed teachers, built a curriculum, and made sure that the restrooms of the schools were clean. You once told me, if you want to see how an organization is run, first go visit their restrooms!
When you walked by a classroom, there was pin-drop silence except for the teacher’s monotone. They knew, that the Principal was walking by; there was fear, and respect, commingled with the knowledge that you set a standard of excellence that others wanted to achieve.
Today, my sense of conviction, of getting things done, of “moving the needle”, of “execution” must be something I have learned (inherited) from you.
Joy, Friendship and Loyalty
It was always fun to be around you; always a sense of newness, adventure, food, debate, a sense of crisp modernity; we discussed politics, and new topics. As if the world couldn’t go stale around you.
When you walked into a room, people noticed; they wanted to be with you, seen with you. We claimed a connection to you.
You were always doing things, running things; during the Independence War, you established a school in our home; we learned with carrots, and potatoes; did art with charcoal and crayons. You turned adversity into something meaningful.
Friendship, Joy and Loyalty
You taught me how to be a good friend; your friends are loyal to you for over 70 years. I remember, once, traveling 5100 miles, over two weeks, to see your best friend. We felt, that these friends of yours, were family.
My friends often came to you for romantic advice, they wanted to hear from you; sometimes, they wanted you to speak to their parents, on their behalf. Everyone felt safe, and protected by you.
Sometimes, at 11 pm, you would say, let’s go for ice cream; no social boundaries; pajamas, and cramped cars.
There has always been, ice-cream and smiles in our lives.
Food and Wrapping Paper
A friend called recently and reminded me that he had his first home-made pizza and the Burmese dish “Khaok-Swe” at our home in the 1970s. My friends loved our home, because we had free flowing crispy samosas, hot tea and dalpuri ready to go!
You were always making these amazing, eclectic dishes – blending the North-South-Asian-Western influences in a big crock-pot. I love your tangy orange aloor dom with crispy loochi, and that mixed vegetable you made with a white sauce. Ghee flowed easily and so did cardamom and all those “exotic” spices. My college friends would send orders for your amazing Dimer Halwa, whenever I went home for the Summer.
You poured your heart and soul into food.
Your creativity and ability to blend flavors with imagination is what we admired. I see your creativity passed on to Apu (Atiya), when she pours herself into her gourmet. I know for certain, we are both foodies, because we never had a boring dish at home!
Food was a symbol of affection, love and caring. You would not visit anyone without some flower or food!
Food was always, also served with a flair.
I remember a winter garden-party at our home in Joypahar. As those beautiful people, adorned in chiffon and pearls, emerged from their cars, I remember Kababs being grilled on one side, while the servers in white uniform were carrying out appetizers. Atiya and I, in single digits, sat in our pajamas dangling our feet from the balcony above, as if watching a movie unfold. There were pigeons released to celebrate a birthday, along with live fireworks.
You told me once, that the wrapping on a gift was just important as the gift itself; it signifies the care and thought you put into everything.
Ford Foundation scholar from the early 1960s, you questioned norms and pushed boundaries, specially for women’s rights, even before I was born. You left your own home at seventeen, to go abroad and study. In those days, from a conservative, Muslim family, that was rare.
You came home from the US, after completing your second Master’s and wanted to change the world. You were in love, and declared it publicly – again, another first in those days.
I have heard stories of bullies and how you pushed them back, in personal and professional life. At least two Presidents of Bangladesh visited your schools and told you that they had heard of stories of your courage and standing up to your conviction.
I remember how you stood hours out in the sun to get an audience with the Holy Cross nuns to get your daughter admitted to the best known girl’s school in Dhaka.
On the fourth day of my father’s passing, you came to me and asked me to remain resolute on heading out to the US for college, even as this adversity faced us.
As I talk to my daughters, today, I speak of your dealing with men in an oppressive country; we have learned about persistence from you and how you never took no for an answer.
Smile and the World Smiles With You
As I look through your photos, they are filled with smiles.
You keep reminding us that life is all about smiles. Even through disasters, and wars, you kept smiling and moving us forward.
Often, people tell me that they like me smile; I know that my ability to smile is a reflection of your ever-present smile, and acceptance of adversity with courage.
I teach my children that, with a big smile, they can also make their dreams come true.
Last week, as I am describing you to a friend who never met you, my friend states that you sound more like a “rock-star”; in many ways, you are a rock-star to many.
We rarely realized this; you’re our mother, care-giver, protector – first line of defense. Today, when we hear about thousands of people, whom you influenced in one way or another, mourning you around the world, I realize, I lived in the shadows of a rock-star mom.
Rock-Stars are not just musicians; rock-stars often change the world, for good.
You shared your kindness, warmth, knowledge and goodwill, freely. You provided food, and comfort to many, during the times of war and peace. Individually, you changed the world, for good.
When we met last, I said, Mummy, I am going back now and will see you in three weeks, when I am back for the holidays. You said, very crisply, Not sure if I will see you here or at another place.
Go bring your happiness, smile, joy, food, resolute assuredness to the heavens above. Can’t wait to hear, how you have re-arranged that place to meet your standards!
We are on a beach vacation in an exotic island; wake up late, mosey along a beautiful path adorned with pink water-lily pads on both sides, enter a beautiful open room with fresh papaya and guava juice to welcome the warm day; after a morning filled with adventures in Kayaking, retreat to our beautiful room overlooking a ravine, into afternoon siesta. Few hours later, after a wonderful head and neck massage on the beach, we jump into the pool, as the sun sets in the horizon.
There are moments in your life when you know, that you are having a truly amazing time. Enjoying life and sipping away!
These are moments, you don’t want to end.
Why do beautiful vacations end; or why does that fun party, when everyone is laughing and having a jovial time, have to come to an end.
Why does Cinderella always have to run off before the clock strikes midnight?
I have discovered that, integral to every episode of happiness is, that it’s fleeting .
On reflection, having been through some difficult times in my life, sadness is also episodic.
Neither high notes of your life, lasts forever. It cannot be permanent state of mind. Otherwise, it won’t be as euphoric or meaningful.
The key to extending happiness is realizing the temporary nature of it and letting go of our fears, when happiness shows up at our door, planned or unplanned.
For me, there is happiness in certain things: like a swim in a pool on a hot day, or a group adda with some childhood friends, accompanied with hot-milky tea; there is guaranteed happiness in a hand-crafted meal of my choice – a game of frisbee, volleyball, or racquetball. Or simply a walk by the creeks around Katy Trail. It’s those moments of happiness, when unadulterated joy takes over. And I keep wishing that these good times never end!
Every day, do more of what makes you happy; hang around people who add to your happiness. Conversely, abandon things that you don’t care for and filter out those people who add negativity in your life. This is a choice only you can make. And yes, you can detox your life from toxicity that comes from some of what surround us.
Take a piece of paper and write a list of 10 things that made you happy in the last 30 days. Next Sunday, take one-two-three (or as many as you can) from that list, and repeat. It’s really not that difficult.
This Sunday, I choose to do three things that I truly enjoy. Ok, maybe four things.
With Shania, I make Porotha (crepe like flatbread) with eggs and cranberry marmalade, and enjoy! Together, we watch the Sunday morning news shows and criticize the commentator on their botched journalism. In the afternoon we run off to a theatre to watch a great movie that has been on the wish list for a while. Later in the day, the pool beckons with cocktails. In between, somehow, I manage to squeeze in an hours afternoon nap.
Yesterday, I heard this quote mentioned in my yoga class; it makes me think about the things I do, almost in a pattern, and how they connect together to form the person that I am.
After a day of tumult at work, I seek refuge in my temple: my bedroom, where the it’s serene, flowing curtains, low-rise furniture, bubbling water-features, calm whites, greys and blues. The smell of mahagony touches my soul; soft cotton is the base for everything.
This desire to calm the space around me, has been a craving for a long time – maybe even a carry-over from quiet Joypahar, where I spent my early formative years.
I fulfill this inner need on most Saturday mornings, when everyone else is asleep.
My routine is to wake early, make myself a cup of milky “cha”, put the diffuser on Lemongrass, a mild meditation music, and wander off into the world of newspapers – searching for what happened around me this week that I missed; this is the time, when I do my best thinking, and planning.
Even during some recent, more difficult times, I never let go of that feeling that, a calm place exists, somewhere. I just have to go find it; sometimes, I may have to re-create it.
Because, I never let it go, invariably I do find it. It may not be in a very expensive home, but it’s wherever I am, at that moment.
At work, when I interview a new team member, characteristics I intently look for are, calmness and rationality. Will I get a rational, mathematical response to the problems we need to solve; or will it always be surrounded by grandiose drama.
I have figured out that I don’t work well with dramatic people. Drama is necessary at times; but I know that I do my best work surrounded by calm and stillness.
On a vacation to Santa Fe and Sedona over the last two months, I realize how much I crave this silence of my surroundings. I feel the clear air and ability to look forward in the amazing blue.
I am reminded of the time I spend on my boat, out on the calm, azure blue, with nothing but the gentle movement of the ocean to accompany me.
I know I am perfectly happy there.
Realizing and accepting that the world around is often going to be stormy and tumultuous, is the other side of this equation.
As long as there is also the ultimate surrender: at some point, I will return to this calm again.
During the last four years, after almost eighteen months of tumult, I started a new chapter in my life; as I have made new friends in this new life, I believe, that my best friends are also those that bring that calm to my life.
Deliberately, one by one, I have let go of friends (and relatives) who bring chaos and confusion to my quiet stillness. Once you “de-tox” your relationships, you find your calm space, very quickly.
No relationship is worth the tumult that creates the inner conflict with who you are.
I am learning to accept who I am. I need that calm of the ocean blue to bring out the best of me.
It’s a warm Friday evening and we are on our way to get some cake-batter flavored frozen yogurt; my eight-year old casually asks me, “Are people with lot’s of tattoos, bad people?”
She follows up, by assuring me that she didn’t think I was a bad person; because, I have only one tattoo.
As a single-dad, raising two daughters alone, this is not an unusual situation; often, I get asked uncomfortable questions – that I can’t just delegate for someone else to answer.
Someone at school must have made this comment; something she either overheard or became aware of this in a group conversation. Usually, children pick such things up from their families – most likely from parents, older siblings or extended families.
You wonder where these dogmas come from and why people would say things like this; when I think back at my childhood, I was told (and sincerely believed) that men who wore gold-chains (or pendants) around their necks, were either hijackers or smugglers (“Lafanga” or “Bokhatey” are the the words in Bangla, that I have a tough time transliterating).
We carry these harmful untruths all our life; most of the time, it’s someone in our families, who instills these values in us – to create this perception of “judgement”. Instead of getting to know the person (with the tattoo, or wearing a pendant) – just start judging them on their appearances – and somehow you will be safe!
In the 70s and 80s of Bangladesh, where I spent my childhood and teens, there are no racial divisions – but there still are atrocious economic inequalities and discrimination. You will not play with a certain type of children – or you cannot be friendly with children who don’t go to school with you!
However, in this twenty-first century America, where Shania enjoys the best of a private school education, it’s difficult for me to accept where these taboos originate from.
I have noticed similar negative biases in workplaces. We often make hasty decisions, on recruitment or results, based on outside appearances. About 10 years ago, I was surprised to know that one of our best technology leaders had an armful of tattoos and smoked a pack-a-day.
As we park at the Yogurt place and emerge from the car, I speak to Shania about not judging people by their external appearances. We talk about colors – how orange is different from blue – how we like different books or music – how some days are cloudy and others are not.
We conclude, people have different tastes; we cannot udge them on the basis of their height, weight, tastes or color. Instead we should really try to get to know the person and see how s/he behaves with others. Humanity, is at the end of the day, our biggest asset.
Filtering is necessary for survival; however, undue biases and taboos create so many negative experiences in our lives.
There is no practical way to insulate my children from all their biases or choices – I know the world is not perfect – nor that they won’t experience by themselves. All I know, on this mild evening, is that my responsibility is to keep questioning my own beliefs and helping my children see the world from a different point of view – where love is possible in forms, shapes and colors – with tattoos, or not.
Just the thought of getting away, on my own, to a place that’s beautiful and filled with possibilities – makes me happy!
I have written about my Me-cations before; I try to go away, for a few days, to explore, connect with myself, and more importantly to really NOT do anything significant. It’s almost a meditative time off. There is something about being alone for a few days – thinking, reflecting, contemplating and adjusting to our journeys.
Most of the vacations I have taken in my life, with parents, friends or immediate family – were a set of compromises. They were also happy – to observe the happiness in someone else’s eyes! I remember driving my mother to visit her Alma Mater in Stillwater, OK ! I remember every hot and sweaty vacation in Orlando to see Mickey or Minny with my two princesses. Memorable family trips – but to please someone else!
The key characteristic of a ME-cation, is that you get to plan (or not plan) the whole thing. You don’t have to carry anyone’s luggage or eat at restaurants you don’t like, or go to see museums or art galleries if you choose to do so. For those few days and hours, you get to do things that make YOU happy – just YOU!
My first such Me-cation was at Provincetown in Cape Cod. I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast, a bit away from the busy town; every morning, I woke early for a run in the misty roads of this charming New England resort town, with white picket fences and a beautiful shoreline. After a hot shower, I enjoyed a hot, home-made, breakfast– a hot cup of English Breakfast – and read the New York Times, cover-to-cover. I only talked to people, when I felt liked it.
Later in the morning, I rented a bike and explored the streets and surrounds of this charming town; I stopped and took pictures of interesting points; I rode up to see one of Provincetown’s seven beautiful lighthouses – sat there and just listened to the waves – in abandon.
Later in the afternoon, after a light, goat cheese salad and a glass of white wine, I read one of my favorite hardcover books…. and fall asleep to take a two-hour uninterrupted nap.
The most important thing about this journey is that, most of the time, I am alone; but none of the time am I lonely.
I was alone in Provincetown – but never lonely; I was with myself. And around me were lots of people who I have never met (and unlikely to meet again). What gave me peace, was to know that no one here had an agenda – or expected anything, in particular, from me.
There is something very cathartic of freeing oneself from all the expectations that we often have created for ourselves. As we grow in life, our families, children, and even (some of ) our friends, start expecting us to do certain things – or behave in certain ways.
When you go away on a ME-cation, you leave those expectations behind and decide to really explore within yourself – to test and see, if you really like who you have become.
Over the last three years, I have zip-lined in the rainforests of Costa Rica, experienced the markets of Cartagena and walked the white sandy beaches of different shores, searching for lighthouses. Sometimes, with a non-demanding friend – and sometimes, just by myself.
I recommend this concept of Me-cation to all of my busy friends and family, whom I observe getting close to exhaustion. But, I don’t think we need to get to that point, of a burn-out, to go on one of these. Instead, I recommend, once a year, to put aside a few days – just for yourself – to get away from all your chores and expectations; and do something that you really want to do.
You deserve it.
Some of us get into this mode of feeling guilty for taking this time off – for ourselves; sometimes it’s the environment that we live in that creates that un-natural pressure or guilt.
People who truly love you, will understand and encourage, your need to re-connect with yourself. In fact, every time I went on a me-cation, my focus and care for my two beautiful princesses only grew deeper. Nowadays, my eighteen-year old asks me when I am going away for a few days again!
I feel privileged to be able, to make this time for myself and the ability to get away… for a few days….to almost become a child….but without the worries of the everyday world. All that’s needed to make this happen, is planning.
I look forward to my Napa vacation with a few friends next; I want to go see the balloon fiesta in Albuquerque and maybe make it to Santa Fe again, this fall. So many places to see, so many opportunities to re-connect and re-charge.
Almost as soon as I come back from one me-cation, I start thinking about the next one; living life, one vacation to the next. That’s what life’s all about….. 🙂
Our universe is defined by the gracious shadow of motherhood of these very special people, whom we address as Mom, Mummy, Ammu or Ma.
Almost fifty years ago, my mother introduced me to this earth; for all these years, she has been a significant part of inspiration for many of my accomplishments. This is the first Mother’s Day that I don’t have her to call and wish. However, I am thinking about her, and feeling her in my silent meditation.
One of my earliest childhood memories is when we were driving from Chittagong; as we approached Dhaka, the gigantic High-Court (in the eyes of a four/five year old) appeared at a distance. My mom showed me the white steeple and said, “I want you to be as tall as that building”; the absurdity of that statement baffled me at that time. Years later, as one starts understanding the gravity of this, we know that our lives are somehow framed and re-framed by such statements.
Some 30 plus years ago, my mother also assumed the role of my father; in her strong, emotional, “fire-brand” way, she kept defending her two children against the world.
When I came to the US, I left my vibrant family back home; and missed that constant contact. Telephone conversation was expensive, and the use of the internet was at its infancy. We still wrote hand notes by mail. I remember, one of the things that kept me going was that every Thursday, I would get a letter from her, describing her week, and what had happened with my sister or grandparent. They were part English, part Bangla, the way we spoke every day. It always started with the cuddly term, Babua.
Imagining, that I am wishing my mother a Happy Mothers Day, on just one day, is not enough.
Hallmark has placed this day on our calendars and, for many years, I have enjoyed the novelty of telling my mother, Mummy, you have been that special force, that brought me to this earth and have pushed (never nudged) me along in my path to where I am today.
Today, even though, I am not calling you, I know you can hear my silent prayer.
Switching gears, the advent of motherhood for the mother of my children, were the two defining moments, turning points, of my life.
I remember those two days vividly. Those sterile hospital moments, the smell of anti-septic and fear, the taste of iron in my mouth, tears, pain, agony and anguish, all commingled into one sentiment. Then came that moment, when a new life came into our lives. There is absolutely no question that those are two of the most memorable days in my life. My daughters have re-defined, the mission of my life. That beautiful motherhood made me a father, and thereby changed the context of everything I do.
Again, just sending flowers, on this very occasion, is not enough.
Every day is mother’s day in my life. The mother’s in my life, have enriched my world, and my life. It’s either the mother who gave me birth… or that mother who changed my life forever, with the two most beautiful gifts of life.
Many years ago, I think I was in eighth grade, I went to a friend’s mother’s funeral and tried to imagine my life without my mother. This loss is so personal, that it’s almost incomprehensible. Today, as I commemorate this mother’s day, I feel the that anguish as I remember the last time I saw my fragile mother; one really does not adequately prepare for something like this.
As the day starts with another sunrise, I look out at the beautiful, red hue of the sky and remember my mother and her fierce, compassionate, conflicted style; she comes to me in my dreams, I have complete conversations with her, even though, I know, I may not see her for many years.
Today, I plan to spend the day with my special people and celebrate these moments of configured motherhood, fatherhood and life.
Today, I will go out to a mother’s day meal, celebrate ou5 lives together – I will eat at your favorite salad bar, maybe enjoy your favorite baklava, and maybe just reminisce your coo “boka jhoka”, the last late-night adda with you, and the last time when we sang together. I can still hear you humming, from far away.
Happy Mother’s Day Mummy. My life is a gift from you, and I look forward to enjoying your gift in full – in your grand way.
It’s nice to receive a simple holiday cheer in the mail: holiday cards, photographs, holiday letters, and postcards.
It’s one of those old-fashioned things in life, that I picked up from my parents; every year, around this time of the year, as children, we used to pick out UNICEF cards, and also took holiday photographs. In those pre-digital days, there was no way of converging holiday cards with photographs. We kept the photographs in the albums and sent out the cards all over the world.
Now, every year, right around end of October, we pick a day to get together as a family, and pose for photographs. Sometimes with the beautiful fall leaves of Boston Commons, sometimes on the beaches of Hillsboro Lighthouse, or as we build a new home for our selves, a place that we can call our own, and rest our souls. By routine, we create a memory, a mile marker in our lives.
As I look back at these card projects today, so many memories keep flooding back, glimpses of happiness, from a far away canvas.
We order the cards in Mid-November, create the labels, go through the list of people we truly love, or remember with love, new and old friends, born and chosen family.
Sometimes we write little post it notes, sometimes we just send them a reminder of our presence. Yes we are still here, and yes, we still remember you fondly. Maybe it’s a memory we share, or its in anticipation of some memories we want to create in the future.
Why bother to spend time and money, sending Holiday Cards? There’s so much going on, there is so much social-media and so many photographs on Instagram.
Every year, the number of physical cards keep dwindling. Some people claim environmental jurisprudence and then others just succumb to laziness and send a generic digital card. And then there are those, who don’t bother with all this fuss, or find this tradition just “outdated”.
There is something charming in a end of the year tradition to send a little hand-written cheer. There’s something about sealing that envelope, and looking at the names of people you know, remember and love.
This year, I saw the name of a friends’ widow, who is celebrating her first Christmas, without her beloved partner. That thought made me remember my friend fondly. Another friend I know, is possibly celebrating her last holidays – since terminal illness is yet to find a permanent cure.
We notice in the cards we receive, many friends have had new lives join their family; children, their loved ones, and grandchildren, dogs and cats.
It’s nice to know what you have created something special in your life. It’s nice to get a note relaying all the things that have changed in this year. In this high-pressure, digital world, it’s precious that you took the time to tell us about the new mountain you climbed, or the marathon you ran, or the new magic trick you picked up. One friend sent us a card as a fund raiser for a charity he has started. It’s warms your heart, when you see someone find their purpose on this earth.
It’s these little memories that connect us on an every day basis.
There will come a day, in not to distant future, when I will stop sending these cards to you. Maybe it will be illness, or some other reason why the cards must stop. No one really knows, right?
But today, as the sun shines, and we are grateful for completing another “calendar” year, in a manner we believe, is meaningful, it’s our turn to remind you that we are here, we are alive, and for this day, we are smiling and thinking about you.
There is always something special when you wake early on a sunny, yet chilly New England morning and head out for a double espresso and a hot bagel ‘n cheese sandwich, from the corner shop named Thistle and Shamrock.
As soon as you step out on the sidewalk, the cold air hits you like a thin sheet of ice… the sunlight is askew on the old brick walls… and the sidewalk is strewn with those leftover leaves that the street cleaners haven’t picked up yet.
These are remnants of a beautiful New England summer; we had a spectacular summer followed by a vivid and colorful fall. Bright reds, pinks, greens and yellows merged together like a colorful circus canopy.
After a beautiful summer, there are remnants; streets to clean up and bags full of leaves ready to compost. It’s that after-party feeling – dishes that linger in the sink – or that wine stained glass that needs hand washing. Memories of laughter, joy, companionship and that hint of complete contentment – even if it’s just for a few minutes.
We are on the cusp of finishing our 3 year “expatriate” life in Boston; one of my dreams of living in a big city, with continuous motion, a blue, blue city with art, culture, color, spontaneity, and the intellectual stimulation like no other, with a beautiful harbor front, amazing food, theatre, museums, and layers of history, every where you look.
Always dreamt of living in a city like this!
Also wanted to live in a renovated “loft” with a balcony, and walkability to a dozen crafty restaurants, surrounded by stores with curious, “un-retaily” things! Cambridge has given us all that and a bit more! We lived in this beautiful two-story renovated Hathaway Bakery Factory, with exposed architecture, high ceilings, a lovely balcony overlooking the commuter rail line; there was a constant reminder of a city, with the quiet of a sleepy neighborhood.
Access the to the T, getting to Harvard Square in 7 minutes on Bus 77 for a lovely brunch at Tatte’s, or a quick 4 stop-hop to Park station for a walk in dreamy Boston Commons, Steps of Beacon Hill, or the Trident Bookstore on Newbury Street. A drive around the Emerald Necklace, for a cocktail at crafty Jamaica Plain, followed by a visit to the Bonsai Garden at the Arnold Arboretum.
These 3 years have truly been a dream “expat life”. The relationships and conversations we had with people from all over the world, or from neighboring Natick or, Sandwich on the Cape , have all been fulfilling and entertaining. We have learned to say “Chowdah” or “Burgah” – learned to pronounce Wooster (Worcester) and Quinsey (Quincy). We have Watched the Patriots win again, and again; and also saw the Red Sox clench their ninth World Series Title.
Explored the Cape, spent some time in Ogunquit, ventured out to Newport and spent a lovely weekend in Providence. There’s just no end to the things you can do from Boston. A three hour train-ride takes you to the Big Apple.
As we plan our gradual exit over the next 6 months, and travel home to the eternal sunshine of Florida, we take back wonderful memories and friendships we will cherish for life. Most people get to visit a city like Boston a few times; we had the gratification of living here, with all of its magnificence for 3 awesome years.
We have taken in parts of Boston inside us. We have always known that this was meant to be a short stint. But somehow, the memories we have created in Boston, are things we will talk about, over and over.
It’s like that wonderful Summer and Fall we just experienced; with a few remnants of leaves around us. Memories of laughter, joy, companionship and that hint of complete contentment – even if it’s just for a few days!
I just left Shania at Logan; it’s the drop-off point for her Summer Camp. Twenty one days of unadulterated fun in the serene wilderness of of New Hampshire; swimming or sailing on the beautiful lake, hikes, cookouts, camp fires, yoga on the beach – I wish I could go to a camp like this every year!
As I drive away from the airport, my heart bursts in that feeling of pain, anguish, sadness, worry – all crumpled together in a dirty rag – as if, I just cleaned a kitchen.
I remember, leaving Bangladesh to come to the US, every time, even as a forty-something, my mom used to say, আমারজানটাবাইরহয়েগেলো (My soul just went outside).
This separation anxiety is probably no different than that of all other parents.
Did she take her sinus medication? What about a sweatshirt for the evenings, when it gets chilly outside? Flip Flops?
This morning, as she packs her trunk with bedding, and t-shirts, I hear her humming away in her room – simultaneously video chatting with a friend as if, she is right here.
I hear a squeal, here or there, talking about what Charlie Puth did or Ed Sheehan didn’t do! This musical waterfall flowing through the house makes me smile; It’s that music that flows through your arteries and veins.
I ask her, “Honey, do you need any help?”; “No, I got it” is probably what most parents of “almost independent” teenagers hear. In some ways, I feel useless, and in another way, I feel content.
This summer, she has been taking the T to the Prudential Center, to meet up with friends, all by herself. She is thirteen now. She texts and sends me photos of every stop – or the stores she ventures into. I know, in a couple of years, this constant journaling to Dad, will stop. Today, I relish in these little texts.
Seven years ago, when I suddenly became a single parent, she was only six. Her world revolved around me. We did everything together; our intertwined existence was often suffocating and nourishing, at the same time. I wondered often, when will she grow up? Today, she makes dinner decisions for me, even before I am home. On a stressful day, she asks me, Do you need some time to decompress first?
Last weekend, Daiyaan, my twenty-three year old, visits me overnight, before a work training, some 100 miles away from where we live. She arrives late afternoon in Boston, we watch movies and eat comfort food, and the next morning, after breakfast, I drive her this first work trip.
Leaving her behind, at the door of a Sheraton, I have another set of anxiety; will here hotel check-in go ok, will she find her new (Vegan) diet here in this little town? Will she be treated ok by her older co-workers?
I realize that I cannot do everything for them, as I used to, one day. They have wings now. And they are learning to fly.
I just want to be here, whenever they return.
When I left home, many years ago, my mother used to go into this deep frown anxiety from three days prior to my departure; I used to console her by saying, I will be back soon, just a few months….she said, বুঝি , কিন্তু মনটা তো বোঝে না (I understand, still, my heart doesn’t)