Unicorns, Stars and Stripes: Recovering From the Shock of November 9 2016

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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

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Turning Back Time : October 2016

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.

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Playing Uno with Mummy, Denver 2003

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.

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Hanging with out with my favorite Aunt and Uncle, Rita and Aziz, Sep 2016

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.

Deep breath.

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.

Cupcake Eating Jan 2016
Harvard Square, Jan 2016

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.

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One of those perfect moments, with Shania and Atiya, Summer 2016

 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.

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Daiyaan and I on Marco Island, 2003

We Will Carry On: April 2016

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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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!

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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

Lived, Loved…

I am looking for a third word. That word, that descriptor, that simple verb, that will encapsulate and finalize my life when I am gone.  It’s as if, at my life celebration, there will be three words that may emblazon cocktail napkins; will be part of the vocabulary that people will use that late afternoon. I know the first two words: 

Lived, Loved, …… 



What’s the third word? Adventured… Dreamt… Climbed? 



None of these truly captures the essence of everything I believe in, or want to be remembered by. 

My goal is to not leave any debris behind, when I leave. But, if I were to have an epitaph somewhere, or a brick that had my name on it at a school park, what three words would I like to be remembered by? Drank wine (too many words)? Boated? Maybe it’s Devoured?  

At the beautiful ripe age of fifty, why am I thinking of an epitaph. It’s not that I have a death wish, or have recently diagnosed a debilitating disease.  

I am at a good place where, whether its one day or another seven seven thousand days (~20 years), I want to look back and say I did these three things well and those are the best descriptors of my short time on earth.

 
I believe that what we say, think or write down, ultimately has a higher likelihood of happening. Hence, I must choose carefully and select that third word that will determine my destiny for the rest of my days. 

I believe that words are everything. 

Words are powerful. What you say, is critical and important. 

 Words can start or break relationships or wars; words can also soothe your soul and change a persons life. I have been told that words of affirmation have helped people think of their careers; in one instance, a young project manager at a place I worked, came in and resigned because he had read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which I had given to him as a holiday gift, where Coelho talks about being a Shepard or a Baker. At his exit interview, he told me he didn’t want to be the baker, or in his case, a project manager – he wanted to be the Shepard, and fly jets around the world. He went on to become a pilot.

 Hence, one of the first thing I teach my children, and at work, that we must choose our words carefully. Be selective. When it comes to verbalizing our thoughts, almost always… Less is More. 

In today’s environment, where blustering twitter feeds, insults and promulgations, some of our ephemeral leaders are bombastic and freely throwing words around, that mean nothing; they command attention for thirty seconds, and somehow take up empty space, like that extra sweater in your closet that you haven’t worn for years.

In this verbose environment, words are even more important and require even more careful introspection. Words cannot be just thrown out and expected to be forgotten. In the world of ether, whether it’s a hurtful text, or a drunken insult, it’s out there, forever.  

I would love to have the word Inspired. But that sounds self-promoting; I wouldn’t mind, Laughed. I could live (or in this case, die with that!).  Friends have suggested Cared ! I love it. 

Have you thought about your 3 words? 

I am open to suggestions.  

Serendipity, Happenstance and Toast with Guacamole


I do believe in serendipity and happenstance.

And I believe that things happen for a reason. At that happening moment, often, we don’t realize what that reason maybe; over time, we understand why this just needed to happen.

Also, I see, that the series of experiences I have had, were just preparing me for this moment of time.  

Today, I closed on my first holiday-home (and possible final home) in Oakland Park, Florida. For seven months, I have been following the construction of this home; cinderblock by cinderblock, windows, doors, electric wires and tile work. As if, I am preparing for a child to be born. 

When you talk about serendipity or happenstance, on this same date, I arrived in the US, some 32 years ago. Maybe the date is just a coincidence.  

I started my new life in this new country, bursting with desire and ambition. Even after so many years, my heart and mind are just as excited by possibilities of love, friendship, a great meal, or a bottle of wine.  

This morning, Shania, my twelve year old and I drive to sign the paperwork at the closing office; all the way, I keep thinking of the first home I bought on Merrimack Lane in Toledo, some 24 years ago. I remember the night before the closing of my first home; my mom and I kept talking about the concept of buying a “home”. She was worried that if I bought a home in the US, I would never return to Bangladesh. She was right.  

She sat with me through the signing of papers, insurance and documents. At the end she asked me, “Bujhcho, shobkichu?” (Did you understand everything?)  

Today, my strong Shania sits with me, quietly, for more than hour, while we go through some 30 signatures, deeds, titles, insurance….all of it. Later, she acknowledges, it was really boring, but she didn’t bring her headphones to the closing because she thought it was impolite. I am grateful she is here; I believe she is here for a reason more than, just that I asked her to be there. Just like my mother, twenty-four years ago, she is is providing me strength and support to nurture my dreams along.  

We get home and Daiyaan arrives; we unpack boxes and put things away. We are sleeping on air mattresses tonight, just like camping. Sheets are unfolded. New dishes are put in the new dishwasher; new towels are hung up. All to the girls’ favorite music – dancing, joyful and bright.  

In the evening, my friends Toby and Ray, bring champagne. We toast in our new glasses, nibble on tapas, listen to good music and break out into utter goofiness. I feel like I have been designing and planning for this day, all my life.  

The goal tomorrow is to make breakfast for my girls, at our new home.  

Multi-grain bread with Guacamole, sunny-side up eggs on toast, and a sprinkling of Sriracha. Orange juice, hot tea or coffee.  

This is a great day for my family. 32 years from landing in this beautiful place, to 24 years from learning to buy a new home, I am here today because I have been preparing for this day. This is no coincidence. This was meant to be; Guacamole toast for my princesses, and a hot cup of red-rose tea for me.  

Our First Drinks at our New Home

Magic School Bus and Convertible Dreams: May 2017

As a young boy in Joypahar, I had two very special dreams; ride a yellow bus to school, and own a “Noddy” car.

I am certain, both dreams were connected with seeking some form of independence of being my own person and being on my own.

In the early 70s Bangladesh,  yellow school bus service was not available; once, in the United States, I did ride a school bus and found it to be a jarring experience; uncomfortable seats and bullying kids were much more than any form of independence than I had bargained.

(The Classic Noddy Car: Enid Blyton Series)

The Noddy Car dream is more obvious. He was my favorite childhood character idol, who did good deeds and saved the world. Just after turning 40, I did buy a convertible, that looked very much like an adult version of the Noddy open hood car. And I loved every moment of owning and driving my Noddy Car around.

Consciously or not, we are shaped by our dreams, going new places, accomplishing things, and eventually, becoming who we are.

Dreams don’t have to be spectacular, world-changing or expensive, they just have to be dreams; something you desire, or think is worthy of pursuit.

I watch friends climb the K2 or run marathons, start businesses or bands, buy island properties, give all their best to a cause they believe in; all of this, pursuing a passion, changing the world or not.

Not all dreams are perfect, nor do they need to come true.

At a very young age, I dreamed of being like my Dad; wanted to wear a tie, and a suit to go to work – and to cocktail parties in the evenings. I did accomplish that dream – but soon thereafter, found ties and dress shirts to be “choking”, and prefer to go to work in jeans and a polo.

After traveling the world, having three “dream jobs”, living in “dream homes”,  and owning “dream cars”, I ask someone recently, if I have the right to dream more. One may wonder, whether one has used up their dream quotient. But if one doesn’t have dreams, how do we move forward, if you have nothing that you crave for or look forward to?

Since my mother’s passing last year, I feel like I have become unanchored from my by birth land. I speak the language and look like them – but I don’t relate to the aspirations of my contemporaries. Except for a handful of childhood friends, and a few close family members, I don’t have the urge to assimilate to Dhaka. When I land back in the US and the immigration official says, “Welcome home, Mr. Mahmood” – I get chills.

Stepping into my fifties, I have started dreaming of anchoring again. Earlier, I have written about Anchoring in An Uncertain Sea. This Anchoring has a different feel to it.

Interesting, that the young boy, who once craved independence in a school bus or a convertible, now seeks his own tether.

Today, I crave that opportunity to launch a kayak for lunch towards that café down river, and to live close to loved ones, who accept me as family, and are there when dark clouds of difficulty surround me.

Being part of a bigger whole, seems to make more sense now.

(My future kayak launch: photo courtesy Toby Blades)

Recently, I have also been gifted the opportunity to write, what I want my Chapter Three to be. The children are grown up, and I am still healthy, and in an emotionally open place to carve out what I want to do for the third quarter of my life.

Some say, start your own business, or do something truly philanthropic, or get into CEO coaching (because your’e so good at it!)

I know whatever I step into, the most important thing is that, I will have fun along the way.

I thrive in collaboration, versus confrontation. I am most present, when there is creativity and “puzzle-problem-solving” involved. I have twenty-five years of experience in a variety of environments that are worth sharing to do something meaningful. I know, that new opportunity/dream will emerge when the time is right.  Dreams are neither pushed, nor pulled.

I don’t want to ride a school bus, I want to get my (mental) convertible back.

In the meantime, the kayak awaits, the water beckons; let me feel the gentle breeze on my face, the sun on my back, the sound of the water slurping all around me.

This is good, for now.

Fear in a Father-Daughter Conversation: Feb 2017

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We find a great place in Delray for Dinner!

 

This is not the typical dinner conversation a father has with his twenty-one year old daughter on a Saturday evening.

Usually, when together, we talk about her friends, her classes, and her work. Within a few hours, we learn about each other’s worlds, and participate in our growth as a parent and a child. As my first born, she has taught me how to be a father. I experiment with her – bounce off politics, religion and familiar topics. Sometimes we roleplay in adversity and joy.

She knows that my optimism about America, borders on grandstanding; I have always been vocal about my aspirations about this nation. She knows, if one works hard and is willing to give our best, we can achieve everything possible, in this country.  I don’t compromise on this particular strain of feelings, and it’s been a consistent thread of our dialog, for life.

On this pleasant February evening, as the sun is setting, we walk west on the pretty bridge on Atlantic Avenue in Delray, and approach downtown, in search of a nice place for dinner.

I gently ask her if she has heard about Muhammad Ali’s son being subjected to harassment at Orlando Airport security for his last name and his religion. ” No Daddy, I haven’t heard of it”, she answers.

We go on to discuss that if she is stopped by the police, or any security personnel, how should she react. With a last name like Mahmood, this is more likely to happen now, than not. Most important is not to be surprised by the event – but rather to expect it.

If you expect the worst in life, and prepare for it, there are only two possible outcomes – either you’re prepared and deal with the calamity – or you’re pleasantly surprised (that the calamity never took place)!

I want her to be prepared; I don’t want her to be sad, confused or dismayed.  We discuss that if a cop stops and asks her whether she is legally in this country, she needs to be respectful and not get mad or respond angrily that she was born in Toledo, Ohio. We acknowledge that due process and the law-of -the land will ultimately protect her, but it could be nerve-wrecking and a complete waste of time.

We talk about the two Indian immigrants who were shot and (one) killed at a bar in Olathe, KS, this past week. She is stunned to hear the news; we discuss about being more aware, and not going out when I am visiting one of my plants in Middle America during the next few years.

The word, immigrant, has become such a flash point of discussion, in the land built by, with and for immigrants.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

When Daiyaan’s grandfather came to this country, back in the late 1950s,  foreign scholars often carried a “temporary white” card, so that,  they could ride the front of the bus, or drink from a “whites only” water fountain. That was only sixty some odd years ago. Things may not be perfect today, but they are a lot better than those times.

In my thirty plus years, I have seen tremendous progress in this nation, the attitude of it’s people and habits.

I saw Barack Obama get elected twice – never thought, a minority with a strange sounding middle name, would be elected as the leader (anywhere in the world).

However, now we know, even after all that, it’s not possible to let our guards down. We need to still teach our children to be aware, that there are people here (and many other modern industrialized places) where people judge you by the color of your skin, or what you wear, or how you speak, or what your last name is.

On this beautiful evening, it’s just sad that, instead sharing our joy and colorful experiences, I am scaring her into reality.

In her twenty-one years, I have never had to inject fear in our conversation to have her submit; it feels like one of those movie characters of the sixties, who taught their children, not to look into the eyes of the policemen, and to address them as “sir”.

I find my behavior and teaching method deplorable, shameful and very “un-American.”

But as a father, my first responsibility to her, is to teach her to survive, which requires moderation and modulation.

I am not proud of myself; just being pragmatic. I thought I was too liberal, too progressive for all this.

I never thought that I would need to speak to my children about the fear of being different.

I know this will come to an end one day. It doesn’t matter if its four years, or eight years. As a parent, however, you are often driven by a singular motive – wanting to see that your children are safe, happy and taken care of.

She calms me down gently, “Daddy, I know; don’t worry, I will be fine”.

I know you will be fine, Daiyaan. But I can’t be.

I am still mad, upset and just simply pissed. I want my America back where fear is not what I teach my children, but I teach them courage – to be the grand person they deserve to be.

daddydaiyaan-lunch-feb-2017
The conversation continues the next day