We Will Carry On: April 2016

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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.

Five years ago, I blogged about Jumping into a Meandering River, because that’s how it felt.

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.

The Three of Us together Oct 2011

Three of Us Happy in October 2011

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!

 

Gifts of a Rock-Star Mom: Dec 2015

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Mom 2005

Love This Smile (Fall 2005)

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.

Day I Left Bangladesh 2 Aug 1985

The Day I left Bangladesh (August 1985)

 

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!

Mummy Photo Herman Meiner

My Vibrant Mother: In her high days of building institutions (1992)


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.

With My Dad and Sister 1985

Smiling with my Dad and Sis 1985 

 

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.

Mom with best friends

With two best friends, Dr. Najma Rizvi and Hafiza Zaman (1987)

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.

Mom With Family 1991

Her family was her source of strength: Mom with her parents and sisters (1991)

 

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!

My parents Engagement Day 1962

With my Dad on the day of their Engagement (Seattle 1962)


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.

Going to Dinner with Queen Elizabeth 1985

Heading out to Dinner with Queen Elizabeth (1984)

Questioning Authority

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.

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All That Drive and Ambition! Somewhere in NA (1962)

 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.

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Our Last Family Portrait Together (April 14, 1985)

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.

Mom in Hawai 1963

Hawaii 1962: Young Scholar on her way back home, full of idealistic dreams and aspirations

 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.

With Her Favorite People Milwaukee 1993

Love That Smile! With my sister Atiya and Brother-in-law Habib(Milwaukee early 1990s)

 I teach my children that, with a big smile, they can also make their dreams come true.

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With Daiyaan and Shania (Denver 2006)

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!

I will await to see you again, my Rock-Star!

Mummy Well Jan 2014

Last Time we were celebrating at our home (Nov 2013)

The Eternal Wish: Make Happiness Last, Just a Bit Longer

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By our hotel room in Phuket

By our hotel room in Phuket

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?

Fresh Papaya and Guava for Breakfast in Phuket

Fresh Papaya and Guava for Breakfast in Phuket

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.

And I am happy, for just a bit longer.

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Kayaking by James Bond Island in Phuket! Amazing

Kayaking by James Bond Island in Phuket! Amazing

How You Do Anything, You Do Everything: February 2015

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My Serenity: On the Blue Atlantic (Photo Courtesy of Peter Stringer and Toby Blades)

My Serenity: On the Blue Atlantic (Photo Courtesy of Peter Stringer and Toby Blades)

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.

That is how I Choose to do anything, everything.

One of my favorite places at sunset on Pompano Beach

One of my favorite places at sunset on Pompano Beach

The Taboo on Tattoos: April 2014

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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.

The Value of a ME-Cation: March 30 2014

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I just booked a one-week trip to Napa Valley.

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!

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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…..:)

Every Day is Mother’s Day

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Vintage Zain

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.

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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.

Day I Left Bangladesh 2 Aug 1985

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.

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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.

Mom 2005

An Election of No Choice: March 2016

Daiyaan, my twenty year old, is getting ready to vote for the first time in 2016; recently, she texts and asks why and how I am voting in the primaries, and I am delighted to help her with her thinking; her best friend Kimmy, is voting for Bernie Sanders and Daiyaan and I have already discussed Hillary Clinton.

I can tell that Daiyaan is not satisfied with her choice and wants more from her candidate. Welcome to adulthood, my beautiful daughter. I certainly wish we had a “lovable” candidate the first time you are ready to vote.

I have boiled my entire election choice in 2016 down to a simple litmus-test; who will protect my civil liberties and those of my children?

Typically, one looks at US elections from 3 vantage points:

  1. Who will protect my pocketbook (who will protect me from higher taxes)?
  2. Who will be a strong world-leader (who will be respected)?
  3. Who will ensure our freedom (protect Social and Civil liberties)?

If the thought was to just make a ton of tax-free money, I would migrate to Saudi Arabia or Singapore; but I chose to live in America because of its ability to re-invent and re-shape itself, over and over again. I chose the US simply to be the best I could be; to choose my own freedom, and define my own identify, on my terms. I have done the best I could – with what was available to me.

If I wanted Socialistic taxation structures (and extreme winters), I would move to Canada or Sweden. I like the balance of creativity, entrepreneurship and hard-work based independence that the US offers. At this mid-life juncture, I have accomplished what I wanted (and more); now it’s really about the future – and most importantly, the future of my two daughters.

Future cycles of elections are all about protecting their rights, liberties – to choose – to be women – to be educated and successful on their own merit and fill their lives with joy.

It’s not because Hillary Clinton is a woman.

I agree she is a flawed-imperfect candidate. However, given my choices – she is much better than anyone I have seen on the Republican side. Also, under a Democratic President, I feel my personal civil liberties and those of my children, are more likely to be protected, and possibly enhanced.

If you have a daughter, I am not sure, how you tell her that she should make 70 cents-on-the-dollar of what your son may make; or that she doesn’t have a right to choose what happens to her body, or to decide when to have children and that the state she lives in, controls this.

Under the Democratic Presidency of Barack Obama, my personal and professional goals have been enhanced; unemployment is significantly lowered  (<5%), the US Stock-markets are stable/growing and we have climbed out of a really bad recession. I don’t think the world is any safer (or more risky) than what it was when he took over – or for that matter – twenty or even fifty years ago. I was 4 year old when Bangladesh fought a bloody civil war – I have accepted that there is evil in the world, and it manifests itself in terrorists (US or elsewhere); how we stand up to them is the key.

Another thing I am especially grateful for: we haven’t declared a war on someone else in seven years; we have not militarily intervened in Syria or Libya. In my 3 decades of living here, we have had a propensity to utilize military power to police the world; I just don’t want that responsibility for my children. 

I can’t imagine Daiyaan fighting a war somewhere, for no reason; I don’t want any US parent to feel this level of disconnection toward wars they don’t understand.

If Obama was on the election ticket this year, I would vote him back into office.

However, since that’s not an option, my vote, this cycle – and probably for a few coming cycles, is now locked in the Democratic camp – however imperfect their candidate.

As divided as this nation is, at this point of history, and likely to remain this way in the foreseeable future, my main focus is the US Supreme Court.

I have complete confidence in the SCOTUS to adjudicate sound, solid legal direction based on the constitution . It’s not perfect, but it’s a much better way to upholding/rejecting laws, versus by the fickle public opinion. This is apparent from the Civil Rights laws of the 60s or the Gay-Rights promulgated in the last few years.

I am very much interested in the appointment of feminists to the court. I love both the Justices confirmed during the Obama period. I want more justices who will enhance a woman’s right and equality in this relatively biased society. Men have had their way in the US system of Government for over 300 years. Women need stronger protection and better checks and balances.

I have more confidence in the Democrats to nominate feminists to the Supreme Court.

One major frustration during this election cycle, is the feeling of helplessness from considering my options. In a country as smart as ours, I should be torn between two brilliant minds, competing on ideology, versus theatrics. Why can’t we get Collin Powell or Cheryl Sandberg to run on a ticket? 

Maybe when Shania gets ready to vote in 2024, she will have options of leaders we will love, respect and want to follow; at this point, we don’t really have a choice.

Fractured, or not, this time, Hillary it is.

Madame President, we look forward to you in the White House.

Hillary Window

A Special Birthday Awakening: January 26 2016

Family Photo

Today is no different for the Mahmood family from the standpoint of daily activities; wake up to my morning alarm, jump into the shower, start preparation for another day of work adventure and Shania gets ready for her school: gloves, headband, cap, Kumon envelope and her backpack with her collection of button pins.

My emotions, however, are all jumbled up today; partly sad, partly confused, partly worried and tense. It’s my 49th Birthday. It should be a special day to celebrate life.

Three reasons, this is a special birthday for me:

  • Last year of my rockin’ forties started today
  • Last time I saw my #1 role model, my dad, was exactly 49; my age as of today
  • For the first time in my 49 years, the first person I met on the first day of my life, my mom, isn’t going to call me; I won’t hear that “happy birthday baba” message or song to celebrate our mutual, life-exclamation kinda event!

Text, FaceBook and Linkedin messages started pouring in, the night before, wishing me a warm and wonderful birthday.

I am grateful that hundreds of people, from five continents, thought about me on this day. Reminded by their app or not, I think it’s a nice gesture. This is the symbolic recognition, affirmation and celebration of another milestone that I woke up on the right side of grass.

I turn my phone off and start the day.

Morning meetings later, I still don’t feel celebratory. A friend invites me to lunch and we get a chance to catch up. The sun and warmth (helped by a glass of wine) brightens up the day.

In the evening, Shania and I enjoy a nice Bangladeshi dinner (from our favorite corner restaurant in Cambridge) accompanied by a nice Malbec, and some artisan crafted salted-caramel gelato (coconut based!)

As one of my routine evening events, I sit back and watch Anderson Cooper on CNN; as I am chatting with a friend, I learn of some very sad news. A friend’s daughter, in her early twenties, is in the hospital with a very difficult illness.

Electricity jars my brain; I have been so worried about myself and all the “things” that were happening or NOT happening today. I was concerned that my 49th birthday was not super celebratory!

Drowning in my self-pity, I was completely losing sight of all the things I am celebrating and mile-posting today.

First, I won grand lottery of life on this day; born to one of the most distinguished and educated couples (of their time) in Bangladesh which set in motion, for an amazing and relatively privileged life of great education, friends, travel, love and kinship that less than 1% of the world can enjoy;

Second, two amazingly loving daughters, whose world revolves around me; yes we had a tragedy in our lives five years ago – but we have all come through – healthy, happy and most importantly, together. They are my North Star and keep me focused on what’s important;

Third, a super-smart, loving sister and her family, who support me, no-questions-asked; takes care of me every day and lets me know in her gentle way that at the end of the day, we are family;

Fourth, an awesome, ‘exclamatory’ career stretching five continents, working with super-smart people, solving awesome puzzles every day, beating the competition, kicking ass, celebrating and making life-long friends along the way;

Finally, understanding and having the ability of enjoying my sources of happiness; a boat ride on water, a good glass of wine, some culinary discovery in a town square, a good cup of gelato, a delicious book, searching for lighthouses in Cape Cod, endlessly lying on a hammock (of course with a drink and a book), singing in the shower, a gentle hug from a close friend….. sipping life, one sip at a time.

Another 49 years? Why not?

What if that’s only 1 more day? It is, what it is. I have no control over that.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the 211 Facebook messages, 43 texts and a few dozen Linkedin greetings today. Life’s not made with numbers, it’s made with moments. And I have great moments, and great memories.

I am grateful for my 49 years and can’t wait to enjoy what’s in store next.

I missed your call today, Mummy; I know wherever you are, that smile is always with me. Papa, I haven’t seen you for 30 years; but I remember the dream xylophone you brought me on my 3rd birthday, and I know you have magical presents stashed away somewhere, like you always did! At some point, somewhere, I will see you both again and celebrate the gift of my life.

In the meantime, for a few more years, I will celebrate it with Daiyaan, Shania,  Atiya and all those that have extended their hands or their love, on this beautiful earth.

Cupcake Eating Jan 2016

Sharing The Hurt and Pain Index of Life: October 2015

You hurt when your child is hurting

You hurt when your child is hurting

Recently, I got an interesting comment on my Facebook page, “Are you ever unhappy or do you not take pictures at those times?” Pray Tell Zain Mahmood”

I am surprised and a bit taken aback, by this comment.

Since this is from someone who went to middle-school with me, about 35 years ago, and we haven’t stayed in touch, it’s difficult to decipher the motive.

And neither does it matter. This odd comment, makes me think.

I realize that, I am not really accustomed to, nor am I trained to express my frustrations, pain or anger in public.

I know how to smile wide, and accept whatever comes to me.

When I am frustrated, angry or hurt, I go for a long walk, or just take a nap. I don’t numb with food, alcohol or rage. Most difficulties, I have found, look and feel different, after a good nap.

In the midst of crisis, I reserve my emotions aside, and assume the role of a risk and project manager;  I look for every inevitable possibility, of things that could go wrong, and try to mitigate the risk.  This creates an interesting situation, where people perceive me as an emotion-free robot. I leave my grieving for later. And in private.

Recently, I experienced pain, anguish and frustration, all at once.

One morning, At 5 am, I get a call from a nurse, telling me that Daiyaan, my 20-year-old, is being taken to the ICU for observation, because her heart rate is unusually high.

My mind goes on overdrive, arranging logistics for Shania (my 10-year-old), and my travel arrangements to get to Daiyaan quickly, all the while, talking to her physicians and friends, and monitoring her condition.

At this juncture, I see no point of howling with pain or questioning the Universe about why my child is suffering.

After all logistics are complete, and I believe I have the necessary actions in motion, I  say a silent Universal prayer: to have the strength and ability, to handle this sudden and grave adversity, and do what is required of me: stand up and be a Dad.

The pain and loss one feels in a situation like this, is tough to describe.

One has to surrender to the vulnerability that surrounds us at every minute. This is not just my anguish;  I know every parent feels this, when they know their child is unwell.

I have felt the same anguish, as I saw my father pass away in front of me, and still feel it, as I watch my strong and athletic mother, lie in bed, unable to move freely.

About 5 years ago, I felt the same way, when my beautiful marriage of 15 years, collapsed in front of my eyes; I blogged about the emotions I felt at that time: Jumping into a Meandering River.

Every time, I feel I am surrounded by opaque walls; its like watching a bad movie, in slow motion, that I am a playing a role in. I have no idea, what’s behind those walls, and who I will become, when clarity returns.

I know, something inside me is churning and changing, at that very moment. Even though, I may want everything to remain constant.

During these moments, there are two things that help me stay focused.

First, I think of one happy memory, with the person who maybe hurting – this allows me to project into the future, and think about the possibility of more happy times and remain grounded.

Second, I imagine my particular safe place at my home, a quiet, simple and serene room, with zen music, and the smell of eucalyptus.  It’s that place I feel safe, and look to go back to go, whenever the chaos ends. I can feel Shania’s deep hug, and that same sensation, when I gently kiss Daiyaan’s forehead.

I am not sure why my inconsequential friend wanted me to journal my hurt, pain and anxiety on a public bulletin board. I have never understood, nor have I been trained to share my darkness; If you believe in Newton’s Third Law, Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction – I can say, every light has a shadow.

I will need a whole different Facebook, to learn to share my pain, anguish and sadness.

For now, I am comfortable, sharing my sunshine. God knows, everyone has dark moments.

My Sunshine

My Sunshine

Continue reading

Thirty Years to Lose A Homeland : September 2015

The Crooked Roadsign of Gulshan

The Crooked Roadsign of Gulshan

I walk the side streets of a prestigious Dhaka neighborhood; large quixotic holes, stoundingly high speed-bumps and crooked road-signs litter most streets. Everything seems crumbling, misapplied, and fractured – as if someone just haphazardly shoved a bunch of dirty clothes in their closet.

There is garbage and the smell of feces everywhere. People navigate this squalor and walk-around to get to their destination, as if nothing bothers them; this filth and stench, is a normal part of their lives. Drop an hour of monsoon rains, and these same streets become a combined sewer cesspool.

The roads here are so congested that it takes over two hours to go eight miles during regular business hours. Dinner parties start around 10 pm just to accommodate the traffic fiasco.

This is the same city I was born in. From the look and feel of it, it’s hard to understand why and how one would deliberately choose to live in a city like this.

I meet several groups of friends and family during my short stays; everyone acknowledges the development in the country during the last 3 decades; however, I don’t hear a single one taking a “stay-cation” in Dhaka. They can’t wait to escape to Bangkok, Singapore, Colombo or some Exotic European city for “a breather”, as they put it. Hope for improving Dhaka, as a livable city, seems to have completely gone out of the window.

Paradoxically, property values have climbed so high that sometimes a small apartment here costs more than that of Chicago, or even some areas of New York City.

I realize, I am frustrated, upset and anxious.

The last 9 months, I have been traveling back and forth to Dhaka to visit my convalescing mother from a debilitating illness. From the moment, I land at the cramped and moldy 80s style airport with a really long name, I am not myself.

I try to cheer-up her caregivers, work with the team of people, who help orchestrate the necessary infrastructure to provide care and comfort to my ailing mom.

And then, I swiftly run back to my home in the United States.

Because, I just cannot breathe here.

As if, just like my ailing mom, I am slowly, but painfully losing my city of birth.

Nothing appears the same here as I knew it. My close friends have all migrated to Europe, Australia or North America. There a couple who chose to stay, express their remorse and regret staying back.They are now in a hurry to make accommodations for their children somewhere.

The house where my parents lived has been replaced by a 11 story unremarkable, concrete monolith.

I don’t recognize my home, I don’t recognize these people, nor it’s filth, squalor or just abstract randomness.

Definition of home always includes a safe place, a warm place, filled with peace and love.

I feel no peace in this city.

Once my Mom passes, the biggest portion of that love that I have felt here, will also disappear. I can feel it’s imminence creep on my back, like one of those spiders.

It has taken me thirty years to lose my homeland.

Or maybe, just maybe, my homeland has lost me.

Searching for Contentment: Letting Happiness Find Me: July 2015

A particular Bangla word has recently been prominent in my thinking: Shontosh (contentement), or Shontushti (the act of reaching contentment) or even Shontushto (the person who is content).

Daiyaan's Source of Happiness: Walk by the Beach on a Sunny Day!

Sources of Contentment: My daughter walks by the ocean, on a sunny day!

 

Over the years, I have written many times about happiness and trying to capture the essence and origins of this term in blog essays: Terms of My Happiness (2012), Happiness By Choice (2011), When Happiness Just Shows Up Without Notice (2013), The Discontinuous Patchwork of Happiness (2011), and even my most recent blog The Eternal Wish: Making Happiness Last a Little Longer.

The science (and art) of the search for happiness has been a recent fad and has been a rich research topic in academia and the media for the last decade. There are boutique Oprahs everywhere, doling out commandments on happiness!

My recent search has been more around that leveled field, which may not be “perfection” but a calm, steady “satisfied” place. Where I am neither elated, nor sad.

When I hear the word: happiness, I connect it with a euphoric episode – that great few minutes or hours, I feel ecstatic.  While I tried to plan for it, program it and even pray for it, under the most stringent regime, some days, that eupohoria, never materializes.

Just this weekend, I was invited to the wine social – to be with friends – at a lovely wine bar – sipping good vino – how can one not be happy in such a setting! From the moment, I stepped into this charming wine bar, I just felt meh; no euphoria, not even contentment. Something was not right!

I was not unhappy (watch double negative) but wasn’t enjoying the late afternoon wine social. Still can’t figure out why I didn’t enjoy my typical happiness setting.

We left the wine bar, went to a restaurant for a simple meal of appetizers and had wonderful conversation and the whole tempo of the evening changed.

I realized, even in the perfect setting, doing what I love to do, may not always produce happiness. Happiness really shows up wherever, whenever.

I am starting to believe happiness finds us, versus us trying to look for it.

Searching, expecting or strategizing for happiness, here or there, and orchestrating our lives around that goal is somewhat meaningless

Contentment, on the other hand, can be sought.

I went to see my ailing mother in Bangladesh recently. This amazing person has been a single parent to me over three decades. She inspired, cajoled, set boundaries and loved me, all in one lifetime. Watching her fade away, slowly, is never easy. However, seeing that she is being taken care of by loving family in her own home, in a pristine-clean environment and watching her being surrounded by constant care and affection, brought me to a leveled “contentment” with the situation.

My Vibrant Mother: In her high days of building institutions

My Vibrant Mother: In her high days of building institutions

I went to Dhaka anxious and worried; came back knowing that she is in peace and in good hands of her caring sisters.

During our interactions, I sang to her, brushed her hair and read her stories. We cried and laughed with the same sentences; this cannot be happiness; watching your strong parent fade away, is not a happy moment. However, I know I am content with where she is and understand and respect this relative peace.

Mummy Well Jan 2014

After this experience, I am convinced that I have been searching for an illusion of happiness: which cannot be found by searching– it finds us,  through the energy of the Universe.

Contentment, on the other hand, is something you can search for.

I don’t believe it’s a cop-out from excellence or continuous improvement; I think one can continue to search for excellence without sacrificing contentment. On the other hand, one doesn’t have to be content with starvation, deprivation, torture, or any other form of abuse. In those negative scenarios, we must fight back.

My current thought is more centered on practicing contentment, whenever we are at “ground zero” or in equilibrium, personal or professional.

On a late Summer afternoon in Dallas, when the temperature is still in it’s 80s, I am content with a walk in the park, enjoying the greenery and taking in all of what nature offers today. Yes, it’s not a perfect 75 degree day, a few bugs are flying around, and there is a bit of traffic noise.

Still I feel a peace around me.

At this moment, this is where I am supposed to be.

My most content moment is when I am with both of my princesses: hanging out somewhere!

My most content moment is when I am with both of my princesses: hanging out somewhere!