Upgrades of Life. March 2018

Late last year, I upgraded my IPhone and my car; same brands, just newer versions and different models; The IPhone X is a delight to switch from my news, to texting, and then to music, and my phone battery doesn’t die; the Audi Q5 overhead sunroof, along with Audi Pre-sense, which tells me about approaching traffic, and with Appleplay, makes my morning commute more productive and long distance driving definitely more enjoyable.

Some upgrades, in accessories, are definitely good.

When you leave your birth land, to find a my new country, is that a good upgrade?

When one leaves a boss who is described as, the bear from the movie The Revenant, scratching your eyeballs out every morning, is that an upgrade?

When one moves on, from high-school friends, who don’t really understand or empathize, to build your own new community, is that an upgrade?

Our lives are full of choices; sort of “forks in the road”. I have written in the past, of being at an intersection or crossroads – with decisions to be made. Not every decision, is an upgrade. On the other hand, if one is willing to do the hard work of research, and is committed to the investment, one can choose to make that turn in the fork, an improvement.

I made a choice, some thirty years ago, to leave my loving, warm family, and move thousands of miles away, to a whole different land – and start fresh. Many of my friends stayed behind and made their lives in Bangladesh – and then others have gone to Europe or Australia. No one ever is in the position to judge, why or how someone makes that decision to leave home – and one cannot consider these decisions upgrades or downgrades – who am I to say that my life in the US is an upgrade from my friends who chose to live in Bangladesh, or, for that matter, move to Australia. What’s most important is that they are happy and content wherever they have chosen to live.

Even since moving to the US, I have lived in some 11 homes, in 8 states in 33 years. Once, my young daughter came from school and asked if we were in the witness protection program! At least twice during these times, in Denver and Fort Lauderdale, I felt that I found my home and was going to live there forever. Then life changed; an amazing career move led me to Florida, where I thought we had built permanence. Then disease struck our family and we had to make a drastic move out of Florida.

I always wanted to live in a real city, coffee shops and crazy restaurants in every corner. I wanted a walkability score of 90+, coupled with heady intellectualism. When we moved to Cambridge, we found all that and more. Museums, a vibrant cultural scene, beautiful green spaces, and access to a coastal town, Ogunquit or Provincetown, in 90 or so minutes. I meet the most curious and intriguing people here; our dinner conversations are often about Blockchain and artificial intelligence, and the number of new fusion restaurants here are beyond my count. From late April to late October, Cambridge is a wonderful place to live. However, I also crave those blue waters of Florida, palm trees and that afternoon drizzle, soothes my soul.

January 2017, on my 50th birthday, I finally decided that however many days I have, I want some Florida in my life. So, I took the plunge and decided to build something which I could eventually call my home, at least for a portion of my life. Sometimes, in life, upgrades are necessary, and then other times, you know you gave up something good, that you just want back, even if it’s for a portion of your life.

There are other decisions, that are quite easily made, even if someone makes them for you! No regrets about leaving that annoying boss who makes you cringe every day, or puts their feet up on the desk while talking to a customer in their office. No regrets about letting friends go, when they bring you down more than they lift you up – however long that friendship maybe. In my experience, work or friends, if they are not willing to listen, or be “additive” in your life – should be upgraded quickly – without regret.

After a long day of dueling decisions, argumentative employees, fighting crazy traffic, when you return home and your twelve year old asks you, what’s the highlight of your day Daddy?, and you respond, without hesitation, dinner with you, honey!… that’s when you know, that some things in life are best just the way they are, without upgrades.

Beautiful sunrise by my new home in Oakland Park. Not upgradable

The Sunrise Last at the beach by my home in Florida. Not Upgradeable.

A “Bucket List” Concert at Red Rocks With One of My Favorite People in the World!

Going to a concert at Red Rocks is awesome; going to a Jason Mraz concert at Red Rocks is super – awesome! Going to a Jason Mraz Concert at Red Rocks with your seventeen year-old, who introduced you to Mraz’s music, is one of those super –awesome, bucket list moments!

It is a mild Monday evening, when Daiyaan and I walk towards the amazing Red Rocks Amphitheater.  This is our fourth concert together; but the first one away from home.

Daiyaan and Zain @ Red Rocks!

Six weeks ago, when Daiyaan told me Jason Mraz was playing at Red Rocks, I wanted to experience this amazing venue and event with her. Three years ago, my then fourteen-year old and I started sharing each other’s music as a way of connecting. One of the first songs I was introduced to was Lucky ; that Spring, I wrote my first blog 15 minutes of Freedom mentioning how I decided to buy my first convertible driving in the open, with Lucky was playing on the radio.

When I hear Jason sing Lucky at the concert, I have tears in my eyes – thinking about all that has happened in my life over these four years.  As if, through music, Daiyaan and I have traveled in some parallel universe that is somehow protected from everything else that happened in our real world.

The air gets chilly as the sun sets and the surrounding red rocks glow in the dark; a half-moon appears far away. We put our jackets on. Talking to your “almost-adult” child about the conspicuous smell of pot in the air, is always intriguing.  There is a certain air of festivity around us. The attractive blonde next to me offers me her drink!

Red Rocks: waiting for the concert to begin!

Christina Perri opens the evening with her amazing voice; when she sings, Jar of Hearts, I am overwhelmed;  the lyrics resonate with the circumstances of a particularly difficult time.  She also sings A Thousand Years and one of my favorites Arms;  It is the perfect beginning to a beautiful evening.

When Mraz walks in, to perform his hip-pop-nuevo jazzy-folksy songs, all  9000+ people stand up and enjoy the bright music and dance along. With every song, I feel, there is a story, a connection to some part of my life. There are more than 25 songs and each one gets better, acoustically, and through vibrant melody.

When I hear  the lyrics of “93 Million Miles”, it reminds me of my journey away from home:

“Oh my beautiful mother
She told me, son, in life you’re gonna go far
If you do it right, you’ll love where you are
Just know, wherever you go
You can always come home”

I dance when Mraz sings Bob Marley’s, “Don’t Worry, About a Thing “. He tells us to look at the person we came to the concert and tell them that “You are Loved” – sharing that moment with Daiyaan is priceless. When Daiyaan leans and puts her head on my shoulder, I know the joys of fatherhood.

At this moment – with rocks from maybe a million year ago surrounding me – I  think, what an amazing stage God built, for music lovers. I feel fortunate, to be here, to enjoy this, with one my favorite people in the world!

This morning, walking through the Denver Airport, Daiyaan reminisces about yesterday and thanks me for bringing her to this experience. Normally, she is happy to return home after a vacation. Today, she wishes that we had one more day in Denver. She also adds that after watching Jason Mraz live, no other music sounds real!

I know we will be back in Red Rocks. Maybe it’s not a bucket list thing; maybe it’s just a new family ritual; where we travel across the country to be where God intended music to be – and someone as beautiful and talented as Jason Mraz or Christina Perri sets the stage on fire.

Mraz finishes the concert with his amazing I Won’t Give Up; on this great night, in this great location, listening to this great song, I can only think of Daiyaan and Shania.

When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There’s so much they hold
And just like them old stars
I see that you’ve come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?

I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up

Tumi and I (Tumi aar Aami): October 2011

 

Tumi aar Aami!

 

Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, board meetings,  customer meetings and industry events stack up my calendar; in twelve weeks, I end up with equal number or more trips. Some may be short over-night jaunts – while others, long-haul travels to the remote corners of the world.  Traditionally, this is a busy season with long-term contracts, customer visits,  budgets and annual operating plan designs and presentations.

Two or three dress shirts (at least one white), two pairs of slacks, a suit or a blazer, enough
underwear and socks, a pair of gym shoes, shorts and Under Armor t-shirts – maybe a sweater for the cold or a pair of shorts for the warm, are packed neatly and quickly. A shaving kit with it’s translucent plastic section (for airport security) is always stocked with trip essentials.

For over four years, my constant companion during these trips have been my black carry-on suitcase and computer bag; I never check bags  and I have traveled to all continents with this “regulation size” ensemble –that I have everything I need during these getaways stored in these two companions. When some Asian or Middle Eastern airline tries to take
away my small ebony friend (too heavy or too big), I cringe and try to sneak them in, around these nasty gate agents.

Over time, my suitcase and computer bag have become really good friends that silently
carry my minimal cargo – without much conversation or drama. On a rare occasion, when I check my carry-on – I feel alone and vulnerable on the flight; as if one of my limbs is missing – I keep looking for it on the overhead compartment; I watch it come down the airport conveyor belt in dismay. I feel, I have it let down, by not carrying it on the flight. For two days, it may not respond to me solitary, silent conversations!

The wife of a very successful and wealthy professional, once told me about the last two
months of his life, battling cancer in a hospital in a far away land. Even though they had collected homes in many different parts of the world, and had every luxury at their disposal – during his last two months, he lived with the two suitcases that he had packed with his own hands. As if, towards the end, like a tree in distress, he shed his leaves, and came down to the core essentials.

Recently, I read an essay on Steve Jobs, where I learned about the minimalist Jobs and his
passion for simplicity in his personal life. The essay said that Jobs, for many years lived with very spartan and simple furniture. His forceful simplicity allowed him to concentrate on what he believed in so passionately – just the bare essentials. This forced life-style also impacted his design thinking on the miracle devices that impacts billions of people around the world.

Management Guru, Ram Charan, travels the world and doesn’t have a place to call home. His laundry is sent back to his office and he keeps going from city to city
spreading his mantra to CEOs and senior executives of the world.

At the end of the day, when we are ready to head back, most of us, take nothing with us.
Unlike historic Egyptian titans, who may have been buried their weight in gold or their favorite mistress or pet cat, most of us will be buried simply or cremated nonchalantly.

This morning, at 5:15 am, in my sterile hotel room, I re-pack my my black carry on
and all its contents quickly, to be out of the hotel by 5:30. Like a trusted friend, it yields to my pressure and squeezes in the new baseball hat that I have bought at the University bookstore.

I head outof the hotel, one hand free, one hand pulling the double-mounted black
carry-on, aptly named Tumi (in Bangla, the word tumi (with a Spanish sounding t), means “you”). Tumi and Aami (I) jump into the silver rental, and start our journey to another airport.

This simplicity of our journey, reminds me that there will come a day, when Tumi won’t be coming with me.

On this early, frosty morning, however, I have a friend journeying with me – wherever my
future takes me.

Awesome Australia!

The Great Ocean Drive

 

Not sure why I have been drawn to the Australian aspiration for years; never really read much about this land or its people; I have seen a few of those movies from Australia (Rabbit Proof Fence, The Piano) – familiar with a good Shiraz from Southwestern Australia – have watched their athletes carry their flag in the Olympics or at a cricket game. But until now, I have never had any substance to form an opinion on Australia.      

Sidney Opera House

 

What strikes me first, as we land in Sydney, is the welcoming nature of the Australian people. From the first interaction of the polite immigration official,  the gentle taxi drivers, or the servers of our meals at different cities – everyone seems keenly friendly, smiling – not in the plastic way that you see advertised on American TV; you cannot pay everyone in a country to behave this nicely.      

There is something authentic and positive in the people and its landscape – its abundant natural beauty and mineral resources.        

     

The Sydney Bridge - worth the climb

 

Our guide to the Bridge Climb in Sydney – Chris, and the two young women who are part of our team during the Bridge Climb, want us to know more about their land – visit more places. I probe about something negative (like how many people have jumped off the bridge to commit suicide) – and realize that Chris answers without concern: many – but doesn’t dwell on it – keeps moving forward.       

I learn that both the Kangaroo and the Emu – two national symbols of Australia, can only move forward – cannot move backward – symbolic of this relatively young nation – shrugs off its past, and doesn’t hold on to grudges.       

Sydney is truly a beautiful and efficient city. The Opera House (the third most recognized marketing brand in the world: after McDonald’s Golden Arches and the Coke logo) is a truly magnificent structure – any angle you see it from. A forty minute ferry ride on some crystal blue waters, brings you to Manly – the welcome sign says – a thousand miles away from care – reflects the mood of this beach resort. You feel immediately relaxed watching the surf hitting the rocks.       

Our Blue Mountain tour guide, Rob, complains about the tolls he has to pay to get on the Ring Road (AUS$20+) and dominates his conversation with a self depreciating humor. But when it comes to the topic of the Aborigine or the convict settlers, he is both funny and respectful: that’s a tough balance.       

Swimming among some of the most beautiful corals in the Great Barrier Reef, I notice a blue star fish and lots of Nemos. Our snorkeling tour guide shows us five types of Anemones (including the little pink ones), the Brain Reef and other colorful marine life. As the tour guide reminds us that we have to head back to our ship, somehow, I feel sad – unsure that I will have the opportunity to come back to this beautiful place another time; I want to enjoy this marine sanctuary for a few more minutes.        

The Twelve Apostles at Sunset

 

 The drive from Melbourne to see the remaining  rocks of the Twelve Apostles, we drive through little towns like Geelong, where the Ford engine plant produces for the legendary Falcon, a brand that is celebrating 50 years. Here you feel as if you are in a (nicer part) of Michigan. The local pancake house sells a delicious banana caramel pancake that is served up with a generous dose of Australian ice-cream and pleasant conversation.       

For an American visitor, Australia is very much like the US, convenient and friendly, with a slightly punctuated accent and wonderful landscape.       

Target, McDonald’s, Marriott, Starbucks and the morning show on TV, will make you feel very much at home. Even though Australia went through a sudden change of government (to have the first ever female Prime Minister) during our stay, most of the news is dominated by some news from the United States.       

     

Kabab at Brisbane - Better than Istanbul!

 

We find the quality of food, everywhere we have traveled in Aussieland, wonderful. Pancake on the Rocks in Sydney is unforgettable and I go back twice, for the local ice-cream store ICE ROCK for the cake batter flavor. The Dhaba by our Melbourne hotel serves wonderful Indian roadside food – with a flair. Ahmet’s the Turkish Kabab place in Brisbane serves even better Kabab then I have enjoyed in Istanbul.       

This nation loves sports. It’s either the World Cup football (soccer), or cricket, or rugby –Australians simply love sports. However, even after this passion for sports, on the opening night of World Cup, when Australia loses to England 1-0 – the feeling next morning among the Socceroos is nonchalant – there isn’t a big regret in it – just like the Kangaroo or the Emu – Australia just moves forward – we’ll try again tomorrow spirit.      

The skeptic in me questions, is this why you don’t often hear about major technological innovation or significant achievement originating from this rich nation/continent of twenty-four million people? One does not hear about many Noble laureates (ten in the history of this nation) or unique innovative business concepts that are Australian.       

I think the magic of Australia is a little bit different.       

Unlike the puritan spirit of America – where we constantly prove that we are better, faster than others and that we live on a city on a hill – Australia is comfortable with Good Life – taking it all in a stride – No Worries, Mate – no need to prove anything to anybody.       

That’s why it’s so Awesome @ Australia!     

Got my Aussie Kangaroo Hat!

Monopoly Pieces: London Re-visited: Summer 2008 and 2009

How quickly a seven hour flight transforms your perspective, completely; the food tastes different, the people look different, dressed differently than what you are used to. The sky is gray beyond belief, there is a chill of disbelief in the air… you are not in Florida anymore.

London has always been one of my favorite cities to get lost.

When you grow up reading Enid Blyton (Noddy, Famous Five or Secret Seven), you grow up with the monochromatic British life, imbued with mystery and read “bobbly” cars, without knowing that London can be any different.

My parents bought us the British Monopoly when we were kids and it was one of our most treasured board games of our time. When you play London Monopoly, the names of the streets, Mayfair and Park Lane, Oxford or Regent Street remain embedded in your memory forever. 

This great mishmash of culture, contrast, audacity of freedom, all mingled with a smell of curry and fish ‘n chips. The red double-decker buses or phone boxes (fewer than before, now, because of cellphones) are permanent parts of your memory of London.

I was fifteen when I first visited London; never had I left Bangladesh before taking this transcontinental trip. In 1982, after just taking my 10th grade exams, almost by fluke, we arrived in London. It was a summer vacation. I was going to the land of Cliff Richards because, “Everybody has a Summer holiday.”

From the first day, London was a city of mystery and familiarity, grand sensibility and pure nonchalant fun. The Monopoly pieces come alive as you walk from street to street. Every corner of the city has some sort of question mark. Bow Street didn’t have any orange (like the game).  And yes, the London Tube!  How can you not stop at Kings Church station or ride the Jubilee Line.

The native of England never make eye contact; as if looking at you would be extremely rude. But if you speak to them, they are extremely polite and invariably helpful. The traffic, on their twisty, narrow streets, actually stops when you step on a zebra crossing.

Someone told me that there are over two hundred nationalities living in London. The city is not massive; it’s congested. Living conditions, in the smaller townships are nothing grand (relative to the US). But those who live here, would, probably, detest living anywhere else. Where else could they get cloudy contrasts with the congruence of life’s colors (or should I spell colours) throughout the year?

I have been in London at least eight times since my first time; every time I am amazed by the view of the Tower Bridge (which btw is not the London Bridge) or the Big Ben. I have always found something new, something fun, something nostalgic and something eclectic.  Samosas or Sushi… you can get whatever you want, right by the train station.

Today, when I walk by the dirty, brown Thames, with my family on my side, I watch my fourteen year old, headphones in her ear, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, oblivious of the environment around her, saying “cheeseday of my life” (not a pleasant expression) to everything she sees. I was just a year older when I first came to London. I remember the Pink Floyd and Beatles vinyl records I bought; they were precious to me. I remember going to Harrod’s and affording nothing at all.

I enjoyed my first big Mac and real milkshake in London. Enjoyed one of the best Tandoori dish, went to Madame Tussaud’s and Hyde Park for Shakespeare on the Green. Enjoying a waffle or ice-cream in Covent Garden or just dropping by for a beer. They do serve chilled beer…you have to ask for it.

The Buckingham Palace always looks somber, gray and morbid.  But you always wonder that there is real royalty living inside (powerful or not)! Trafalgar Square or Piccadilly Circus is still just as vibrant with life and you can just walk around for hours just intermingling yourself with the cacophony in the air. The taxis in London still look odd and bulky and you wonder why you don’t see autos like that anywhere else in the world.

In the 1990s, I remember meeting a cousin at a London tube station, who subsequently died very young. I remember the first and last warm beer I had with him at an English pub! Once, on a different trip, a famous Bangladeshi journalist gave me a tour of BBC Bangla, which for many in Bangladesh, was one of the few sources of independent voice, under many years of military propaganda.

Sulman Rushdie, in Imaginary Homelands, talks about memories as little broken mirror pieces. Suddenly you find a piece here or there and a gush of memory comes back to you. Even though you may never put them all together and your reflection never looks the same, again.

My pieces of broken glass are strewn around London like Monopoly pieces. As a gateway back to Bangladesh my college summer holidays, every corner I step into connects me with my adolescence and transition to adulthood someway.

As we are ready to take off for another land, at Heathrow’s Terminal 3, at the central waiting area, I hear someone call out my name in Bangla. A friend, who I grew up with as a child, but have not seen for over twenty years! We exchange pleasantries and our families meet for a brief few minutes and then we move forward in our journeys in life.

Only in London, my past gets connected with my present in a chaotic, coincidental way, knowing that there are no “Grand Plans”…just memories in transition, like Monopoly pieces.

Freezing a Few Moments in Marrakech

If I could freeze this moment, I would.

My two beautiful daughters sitting next to me on a comfortable low sofa and quibbling over non-sequesters. Wasima sits across from me, watching her white Apple Notebook.

The sun is bright outside on the Moroccan patio with a fountain brimming over with the gentle noise of bubbling water and rose petals on it. I can see the patio through a Middle-Eastern style carved wooden door. There are a couple of sparrows flying around the fountain. The glass beads hanging from the chandeliers are playing their own music from the blowing cold air of the air-conditioner.

It’s almost 1 pm here.

We just finished a wonderful breakfast with light, sweet yogurt and some sweet bread (parathas), hot tea and freshly squeezed orange juice.

We don’t have an agenda for the day; should we go for a Hammam? Look for more artifacts in the Medina to carry back home? Maghreb prayers at the Qutubia mosque (a thousand year old)? A stroll through the vibrant Djema el-Fna (central square)?
Or, just a dip in the pool? Another long nap in the afternoon?

No worries, no agenda whatsoever.

Shania pitter patters over to ask for more hot chocolate…because she just wants to play… she is four.

Daiyaan is on her iTouch waking up her friends in Boca or Denver.

These are moments that make life worth living. This is why it is worth working so hard, for the whole year. Just to take in this moment. Why can’t we just freeze the moment in time?

I heard that life is all about building memories. We haven’t seen any magic mountains or “super duper” palaces here. But the warmth and hospitality of the Moroccan people, coupled with wonderful couscous or Tazin (preparation of chicken, lamb or veggies in a sauce) and the colorful markets are embedded in our memories in technicolor.

We are staying in one of the old, converted Moroccan homes. Riad Kniza, is one of the few Riads still owned by a Moroccan (www.riadkniza.com). The atmosphere is resplendent with authentic touches: antique rugs, chandeliers, silverware and paintings everywhere. Marble floors and high ceilings made of carved wood, keep the environment unusually cool.

The courtyards with bubbling water fountains coupled with the marble walls and arches with fine worked alabaster, reminds you of an old glamorous “Jomidar Bari” of Bangladesh. The narrow rotating staircase in our “Amber Suite” reminds me of the staircase in my grandfather’s house, an old home in Purano Dhaka.

Marrakech has 1.4 Million people in ~ 6 square km. 6 Million tourists visit this dry-desert city every year. Quaint, antique shops, clothes stores, thousands of mosques, the sound of Azaan five times a day, dry heat and dust in the summer (cold in the winter), snow capped Atlas Mountains (within 2 hours), eerily creates an Arabian Nights version of dry desert Denver.

There is greenery around (due to the gracious underground irrigation canals constructed over 800 years ago from the high Atlas snowcaps), but you can never forget the dry heat in June.

People here are always friendly, always respectful (hardly ever making direct eye contact) … gracious hospitality and a smile.

You can enjoy great French or Mediterranean Couscous wherever you want. Moroccan salads are elaborate: little bowls filled with amazing dishes (almost like Bangladeshi bhartas); you dip in the bread and try some of this, and some of that.

Walking through the souks in the Medina is an adventure by itself.

Pottery display at the Souks

Thousands of shops, and artisans in every alley. A little moped zips by you, or a bicycle rings its bell, and then you suddenly see an old man pushing his donkey, carrying goods from who knows where. Leather belts, silver filigreed tea pots or mirrors, clay goods, art, rugs, spices all sold side by side. You will also see the elaborate fruit stands, bakeries, fresh markets of fish, vegetable and meat. There is no identified “bakery section” or “frozen section” like your neighborhood Publix. It’s a series of contradictions, living in harmony, as if that’s all life is about.

The Berber tribes and now the mixture of Berber/Arabs live here side by side. From casual conversation, it appears that the people here love their native land; they also appreciate the King (Mohammed VI) whose family has ruled the land over 500 years.

Tolerance seems to be the key nomenclature of the day. Women clad in all sorts of clothes (tourists/locals) walk around the street and ride their motorcycles; modern cafes, bars and discotheques are everywhere. Morocco welcomes tourists with open arms. French is everywhere; Americans are just arriving (now that Brad Pitt has shot Babel in the outskirts of Marrakech). This contrast of culture, weather and the reality of co-existence, makes Marrakesh a wonderful stop for a few days.

Tomorrow we start our journey back; first, back to London for a few days, to acclimatize to the harshness of the western wind. Then, after a long flight, back home in Lighthouse Point. At least we will be back in sunshine and warmth and the blue ocean on our doorstep

I know this is not reality.

I am not complaining about my reality.

But for the sake of memories to cherish , I wish I could freeze these moments forever. These pitter patter of feet, this deep weight of someone inclining on a pillow on my shoulders, these bright cheerful petals on the fountains….

It’s time for a dip in the pool….