Everything Will Change In A Year: April 20, 2019

I saw a quote this morning that made me think: “Look around you, and enjoy, be grateful; in a year, everything will be different.”

Last Weekend, April 13, A beautiful day in Ogunquit, ME

As I look back a year, with or without the help of social media, so many things have changed, for me. Especially, in the lives of my children. But also, in my own life.

Last Spring, I was a pensive from the roller-coaster feeling from my constantly changing role at work; I was also in pendulum motion, from my home that I love, in Florida, to the cold of Boston. I had a feeling that this Boston chapter of my life, has to come to a close soon. And, by Fall, my role ended; allowing me to seek what I have wanted all along.

This Spring, I am ready to move to Florida, permanently.

Some things have become more certain, and other, more dispensable things, people or feelings, have dissipated. There is no lingering nostalgia about losing these feelings, which didn’t serve me.

My children have made tremendous strides in a year.

After a re-defining 2018, Daiyaan graduated college in 2018 and found her professional footing, bought her “dream” Jeep (that she has named Natasha, after the singer Natasha Bedingfeld) and now wants to buy her first home this Summer/Fall. She is starting to put down her own roots, in a place she loves. She has chosen a healthy lifestyle of balance. She took her first ever solo trip, and conquered Puerto Rico; she has grown up.

Last Spring, Shania, competed to become her Middle School Vice President and won! She has switched from softball to golf and today, loves basketball as her main school sports; instead of acting in plays, now she is co-directing, for the second year, a school play! She was accepted to attend the prestigious Dana Hall school in Wellesley, MA, but instead, is heading to be with family and joining the pre-law program at her new choice school in Florida.

As their lives unfold, and I see these two beautiful women take their next steps, I enjoy listening to their musings, and life interactions. The new friends they make, and the relationships those fray over time. I tell them my stories, from that particular time in my life that maybe relevant to their experience.

Even though I was raised as a teenager in a different continent, in a completely different era, with no electronic gadgets, or Google, to help answer my questions, the struggles of all awkward teenagers, or young people defining their dreams, are still the same.

Whether you are 13, 23 or 52, Constantly, we search for belonging, love and certainty; it’s tough to accept that none of these feelings are constant, and just to maintain an equilibrium, is a lot of work!

This morning, five of my close friends (same age group), are in deep pain: one from a broken hip (from a fall), another from domestic abuse, and one more, with cancer. Two of my best childhood friends lost their mothers in the last weeks – I knew these loving moms – I have eaten meals with them at their dining tables; having lost my own mom a few years ago, I know that big hole in their hearts are not healing soon.

I pray that my friends have the courage and support to bear the pain they are feeling today. When you experience pain, the depth, the excruciating nature of it, numbs us. There is nothing anyone can say or do, to make you feel differently.

Like last year, I know with certainty, this year, there will be those moments of joy, and sadness. You know there will be a Spring of hope, and the still of Summer.

I know, that whatever incremental, or disruptive changes we are experiencing, pain or happiness, it too shall pass.

It fatigues me to think that, the pain and frustration of the political turmoil we experience today in the US (and resultantly, the world) will only sharpen in the next twelve months.

In my adult life, I have seen and experienced progress, and I don’t give up hope, but I choose to take a long view on history. While things are not perfect, I see progress in health, well-being and innumerable sources of joy.

This weekend, in my little microcosm, I am again, taking a good look at everything and everyone around me.

Acknowledging and accepting that change is continuous and constant – I will do my best to appreciate all those gifts that I have in my life today. I am grateful to the Universe for the love, beauty, health and contentment that I am experiencing today.

I know, everything will change in a year.

Hanging out with Daiyaan and Shania @Portsmouth, NH
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I Like Where I am : February 2018

Last week, preparing for a routine colonoscopy (one of those uncomfortable things one has to experience after turning 50), in the early haze of mild anesthesia, my mind wanders. For a change, there is only a light angst, making me think, what will happen to my children, if something happens to my physical self.

The curse of a single parent, with no “back-up” parents, is that you worry incessantly, in your hypothetical absence, what will happen to your minor children. You understand that one is constantly vulnerable to changes in health or external circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you stop worrying. You buy extra life-insurance, you draw up a detailed estate plan, you have conversations with your loved ones, asking them if they will look after your children, and provide them with guidance. But there is always this lingering concern, at the back of your mind.

Moments before my last such hallucinogenic state, I remember wondering exactly what an 8 year old Shania may have done, if I somehow managed to escape during a routine check-up.

But today, Shania is a teenager, and Daiyaan is over 22 and working, paying bills and making her way through this world.

When I observe them together, fighting, arguing, doing sisterly things together – but at night, leaning on each other, when watching their favorite TV show, somehow I accept that, they will be ok, if something happens to me. It’s not going to be easy; but it’s also not impossible. I have also collected enough “together” memories, to leave them Facebook reminders, and digital moments that will spark joy, love, excitement and other emotions, that we commingle to build a life.

With this sense of relative “relief” comes a sort of satisfaction; a deep breath.

As the fog settles, the mind explores. I start imagining, what if something unexpected does happen during routine procedure. At this point, I am looking for bright spots. I think about my smiling mother.

This is the first time, since her passing a couple of years ago, I am in this state of mild cognitive disrepair and I get into an imaginary conversation with her; joking, cajoling, asking me how I have been and how the girls are doing. She asks me what I had for breakfast and if I had brought her back some “Baklava” from the US. We play cards, she makes those facial gestures or little noises, that only she could do. My father, joins us, quietly, smiling – not saying much – thirty years of silence has made him even quieter in my sub-conscious.

This entire haze-filled imaginary interaction, somehow makes me relaxed and fills my heart with an unanticipated calm and joy. To believe that, one has loved ones, on many dimensions, and that escaping from one dimension to the other, may not be as ominous as most organized religions want you to believe.

I want to live forever in my current dimension, no question. But I am also neither concerned, nor sad, about going to the other dimension(s), when that inevitability arrives. A sense of relief, and calm settles in and I float along.

The nurse asks me how I am feeling and if I am ready to put my clothes back on. Outside, in the waiting room, my guardian, Daiyaan awaits to take me home. She flew from Florida to Boston last night to accompany me back from the hospital to home. We discuss lunch, what I want to eat, and the rest of the day. For this day, our roles have reversed and she has become my parent.

On a cold, wintry day, I roll down the car window and let the happy fog of anesthesia slip out, as I take a fresh breath of air. For now, I will remain in this dimension and continue collecting memories with all these amazing, loving people around me.

Today, I like where I am.

Once in A Lifetime: A Tribute to the Parkson Team: April 2011

With the Parkson Team at the January 2012 Next Wave Meeting

Once in a lifetime, one gets a chance to do something special, work with a really special team, shape the future for a small part of the world – and, on top of all that, do something truly meaningful for the world.

I got that chance in Parkson.

I got the chance to be part of the Parkson team.

My first salute goes to those, who have been with Parkson, before I came on board in 2007: Mike Miller, Russ Cook, Barbara, Mark Parker, Francisco Camargo, Marianna Novellino, Andrea Gonzales, Jorge Fernandez, Adolfo Gonzales, Dave Mitchell, Irv Rubenstein, Chuck Morgan, Steve Rothenberg, Brian Lykins, Julio Moscoso, Edna Sugden, Chris Hall, Madhavi Batchu, Marty Unger, Mike Jacob, Louise Dunevant, Jean Grenier and many others, and of course, my compass, the one and only, Janie Wintermeyer.

Your support and feedback during these “almost” five years have been tremendous; your guidance has made this journey rich, and ultimately possible.

For all others, who have joined Parkson since Fall 2007, you have shaped this journey – this moment is yours, as it is mine.

Together, we have set a tremendous foundation for Parkson: a rejuvenated portfolio, newly acquired products, new brand, new team, new white spaces,  new world regions, a fresh perspective, a fresh approach to doing business: Treating Water Right!

If there is one thing I feel the best about the Parkson team today, is the completely confident spirit – the spirit that exemplifies that we are all together in this – and, together, we can achieve anything!

I am confident you will build on this.

After completing the 200 mile Ragnar Relay with the Parkson-MiOx Water Boys at Key West in Jan 2012: A Truly Once in a Lifetime experience!

This dream, is more yours, than it is mine. I just happened to be here catalyzing your thoughts.

The best days of Parkson, are yet to come.

In 2013, I am confident, Parkson will set a record for revenues and profitability.

Once in a lifetime, one gets to be part of a journey of this magnitude.

With Antonia Johnson, the owner of Parkson in January 2011

I am privileged that, for five years, the Axel Johnson Family and Michael Milligan invited me be part of this “Once in a Lifetime” experience. I am humbled by everyone’s support over these years.

I thank you for all your feelings towards me and my family.

I expect you to keep in touch. write, email, text, FaceBook, Linkedin or blog with me, and come visit.  My mobile number will remain the same.

At the end of the day, I have learned, life’s a series of snapshots of relationships. I like the snapshots that I have taken with the Parkson Team. I think you guys are a keeper!

Thanks everyone.

Let’s not say goodbye.

Let’s just say, we will see each other soon!

I didn't wear pink on the day the Women of Parkson commemorated the Breast Cancer Day - so someone gave me a pink scarf to wear! That's the Parkson Spirit!

The Pull of Contradictions (Dotana): November 2011

It’s easy to love one thing, people, nation, religion or race; it’s a lot more difficult to
love different types of things or people, which may contradict each other.

As a child, it’s difficult to grasp the symbolism of a game of tug-of-war during a friend’s birthday. We pull, laugh and fall on the ground as the rope keeps moving in one direction or another.

On a trip back to Bangladesh, like a game of tug-of-war, I feel a tug at my heart.

The warmth and affection, from friends and family,  is addictive. When you are “visiting”,everyone loves you for these precious moments. They visit you, invite you to join them for a meal, shower you with gifts, and offer you unsolicited advice – in no particular order.

While sitting in my mother’s living room, thousands of miles away from home, I feel
the craving to play with Shania, my six-year old, in our pool or go on a sunset boat ride with Daiyaan and get a salty kiss from the Atlantic! I want to be here and there at the same time.

The classic immigrant dilemma: I want my two worlds to commingle.

At the end, though, how we sort through these contradictory urges, makes us human.

Is it, by taking the path of least resistance? Or, is it by making the most difficult path?

Many immigrants, face a trigger-decision at one point or another; give up your career goals or the interest of your children’s education, to fulfill your wish to be with and take care of an aging parent? Or – abandon the parent, to achieve your life-long goals and to ensure the future safety and security of your children?

When the heart is involved, I think it’s difficult to think about all of the options and consequences with a clear mind or perfect heart. Sometimes there is a triggering event that forces one to make a choice – a tragedy, disaster or some pinnacle event. It’s easy that way – blame it on the circumstances! “Ja hoi, bhalor jonnoi hoi (Whatever happens, happens for the best).”

Last Year, I wrote about making decisions with “No Regrets”. (https://zainmahmood.wordpress.com/decisions-with-no-regrets/)

Sorting out a dotana however, is not always that simple. There are (at least) two options to
consider.

  1. Give-in and let pre-determination, “whatever happens, happens for a reason”, take over.  Let destiny choose its course, look for divine intervention to sort out the dilemma. And pray hard.
  2. Seek an “elegant” solution that meets most of yours, and other stakeholders’ needs.

Neither path is perfect – rarely is there a guarantee of blissful happiness.

The deterministic path makes some nervous – mostly those who believe that outcomes can be managed, maneuvered.

The elegant choice path requires working hard, prioritizing, making choices and acting on those choices.

Having tried both paths, my personal inclination is to try the latter first, and if no
headway, succumb to the former! This path, if all fails, gives me the excuse, that at least, “I tried”.

In college, I knew studying Engineering was the more practical option – but passionately loved Economics as a field to study. The solution was to pursue a major in Engineering and a minor in Economics. The practical outcome-based decision overruled my heart. Clearly, that decision has served me well for twenty years!

However, not all decisions in life turn out that simple, or with a pleasant outcome.  Sometimes, one finds themselves making the decisions on which path would lead to a “lesser negative” outcome. Recently, a friend shared his personal experience of disconnecting life-support to one of his parents after many months of coma; everyone looked at him to make that decision. Even today, he wakes up in the middle of the night, crying and perspiring.

After everything is said and done, there are no perfect decisions.  As we grow older, we confront our decisions with courage and some level of moral intensity – or with a deep belief that God (or some Universal Energy) will aid and abet us in sorting out the outcome – the only choice we really have is to prepare to live with the consequences of that particular decision.

When things go haywire, we can choose to be a victim or, own up to our decision and live
the best we can, under the changed circumstances. Second guessing ourselves, “could’ve,
should’ve, would’ve, done this or that” is rarely of much use. Instead, let’s accept the new reality, learn from the experience and try to make the best, again, whenever the situation calls for it.

On a dusty Dhaka evening, outside the airport, I put my bags on a trolley, kiss my mother’s
forehead and tell her that we will see each other soon. There is lingering anxiety and questions in the air; in silence, our eyes ask each other, when will I see you again, are you going to be all-right in this alone world. I see tears in her eyes and turn away because I don’t want her to notice mine. I can hear her saying from the back, “Bhalo Thako, Baba
(Stay well).”

I wish, like that childhood party game, every tug-of-war life decision, was simple, scar-free, and didn’t involve getting hurt or hurting someone else. We could laugh, scream, pull harder and worst, fall on the ground; after the game, there was always lemonade, a nice frosted cake with ice-cream and maybe another game of hide-and-go seek.

Toothpaste and Tea Stories

My dad with my sister and I (1968)It’s still warm in South Florida. The pool water is in mid 80s; after a two hour long swim with my mermaid, I take her for a shower in the cabana. After she comes out of the shower, I feel this compulsion to dry her hair thoroughly.

My Dad used to be a compulsive hair-dryer for me when I came out of the shower and didn’t feel the need to towel my hair (yes, one day I did have hair!). It’s amazing the things you pick up from your parents or you see them do, and feel compelled to do to your children.

After shower, we enjoy some wonderful spinach samosa, veggie egg rolls and orange juice; Shania and I devour to our hearts content. It’s almost 2 pm and now it’s time for our Saturday afternoon nap; I will open a story book and we will travel the land of princesses, green fairies or tulips that hold little people. I love reading stories to my princess and watching the amazement in her eyes when suddenly the dragon of my story explodes into a hundred little dragons and take over the empire! No worries, the brave prince and his lion side-ling always wins the day with their courage and audacity and rescue the princess! I will massage her forehead until her eyes close and her face fills with a glow that you notice only when she is asleep.

I remember the times my mom lulled me to sleep in Joypahar in the afternoons with some such story in hardcover books; my father was also a wonderful storyteller. He would also massage my head and make me fall asleep instantly. He was so good that one of my sister’s friends wanted to exchange her dad with ours. We were a bit appalled by the suggestion, because it came with promises for additional goodies.

Our children are fortunate for all the material things we surround them with; however, we were fortunate for the love, warmth and security that surrounded us in our early days in Joypahar, Dhanmondi or Poribagh. The world was such a beautiful place, where no war, famine or treachery could touch us…because our parents were there – always protecting us – always shielding us from the world.

Somehow, time passes, and we recognize that we are not young princes or princesses anymore; reality of scorched earth, unfulfilled expectations, prejudice and tragedy compels us to change our world view. No one protects us from our nightmares or the stark reality of the world around us.

Sometimes, I sit gazing at the blue thinking what I would do, if I could spend a few hours with my Dad again.

I would ask him about his childhood, youth, decisions in life; how he made this transition from youth to adulthood; how he felt when he first arrived in the US in the late 1950s or whether he trembled like I did when I held my first born. I would like for him to meet my princesses and Wasima.

When you have a parent around, you take them for granted; it’s not always easy to appreciate their love, protection and care for us.

Recently, one of my friend’s dad passed; another friends mom is going for very serious brain surgery this week. I realize their generation is starting to fade away. I know it is the “cycle of life” and this will happen to us in a few years (if we are lucky).

But for a few more years, I would like to protect my princesses from this unscripted reality; if I am permitted, I would love for them to go through college without this worry of paying bills and dealing with the daily stress of making difficult choices. Their innocence and incongruence with this harsh reality of our daily lives makes me feel like I have a greater purpose, to protect them and answer their questions. I realize, it’s naïve to try and protect, but, I just love it when Shania asks me what kind of toothpaste do mermaids use!

In a few weeks, I hope to see my mother after a year. We will share good stories, great food and some wonderful memories. We will fight about innocuous and irrelevant issues like President Obama’s healthcare mandate, because, that’s the fun of a parent-child interaction – arguing about irrelevant issues. I know I cannot hold her forever either; but I want to spend this time, enjoy the creamy/sugary tea with Horlicks biscuits (cookies), for as long as I can.

Let’s cherish these toothpaste and tea stories… all wonderful times, in our short journey through this beautiful world.

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.

Picture6

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.

Last Image

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