Wednesday, July 06, 2016

A Tourist

Banglay lekhar chorcha ta onekdin dhorei seeking forgiveness in advance.

A Tourist

This happened 4-5 years ago. I was coming back home after a hectic business trip. It was an Emirates flight, which meant that things were more comfortable at economy class than many other airline's business class.

I am not the kind of person who usually indulges in conversation with strangers. My way of spending long, lonely flights is through listening to music or watching a movie or two, and only taking a break when food arrives.

However, that day, I had to change my ways. The guy who sat beside me was exceptionally chatty. He inquired about my profession, background and what not! I found him quite intrusive and started judging him a bit.

But then he told me his story. He was a US citizen and was running his own, small business. He made a fortune and was having the time of his life in his mid 30s. When he thought things couldn't get any better, he met the girl of his dreams.

Both of them felt a connection unlike anything they felt before. Things started advancing like a movie. In no time, they had their fifty first dates, moved in together and within six months, they got engaged.

Unfortunately, just like the movie their life was, one fateful day he came back early to give the love of his life a surprise; only to discover her entwined with his best friend in a very compromising and improper position. She tried giving some lame excuses, that she was sad, drunk and he was only trying to console her. He really wanted to believe her, and he believed her, too.

I don't know why this stranger was sharing his story with me, but me being a good listener, did not interrupt.

I thought there was going to be a happy ending to this story, but I also knew there won't be.

He caught her having sex with that same person just a few days before they were "supposed" to get married, and that was a very traumatizing event for him. He cancelled the wedding, sold off his business and went in to recluse.

The next few months were a blur. He was spiraling down a path of no return. Drugs and alcohol became his best friends, and his bank balance kept on shrinking.

Until one day he just couldn't do this to himself anymore. He got up, checked his remaining bank balance, and went out on a world tour.

He deliberately choose the cheapest destinations, and also places where it was, as per his own words, "difficult to stay connected".

After hearing this, the mood of the conversation changed drastically. I converted myself from the passive listener to a very active participant. I told him everything I knew about Dhaka, and Bangladesh. Places to see, food to eat, people to meet, things to do, and what not? He was asking one question and I was answering five.

In no time, the flight was over and the jet was ready to disembark. I gave him my card and ask him to call me if he ever needed any help. He wanted to stay for a whole month. He told me that "If I am not staying for a month, I cannot live the life". He did the same thing in Nepal, Thailand and intended to follow his self made ritual in Bangladesh, too.

While giving him the business card, I saw his eyes making a specific motion, and I knew he will never "connect" with me, and this was going to be the last time I will talking to him.

I advertised my country to him with a lot of heart. I believe I managed to convert his skepticism to curiosity. I gave my two hundred percent to convince him that he made the right call to visit the country which boasts places like Coxsbazar, Sundarbans, Kuakata and St. Martins.

That was five years ago. If I had this trip right now, would I be able to endorse my country like that?

Not sure, not after what happened on 2nd July. I hope I will be able to change my stance soon.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Poked By The Ball

The door has a vivid poster on it. The top line is written in a font bigger than the rest. A nice, shiny "I", followed by the not so ceremonious and yet overused word "Shit" is written. Below the I'shit, we can see "ON PEOPLE" written in all caps; giving out an air of arrogance and pride. By now, it was clear to Steve that this ought to be the office of the head honcho. 

But I'shit was not the end of it. There was this interesting graphic image which is popular and well distributed via forwarded emails. There's a tall multi-branched tree in the poster. A big bird is sitting on the top branch, and all other birds are sitting in branches below him. Each bird below the big bird has their heads covered with "white stuff", which has striking resemblance with bird excreta. 

While he was taking a good look at the poster and wondering his next step, Steve heard a loud glass shattering noise and a yelp. Before he could react, a suit clad bulky guy shoved him aside and ran past him like a rocket gone haywire. 

He didn't get enough time to recover from this "heavy" interruption. He heard someone yelling "I am gonna kill that fucking faggot." Steve quickly redirected his vision towards the source of the cursing, and found an intimidating person holding an empty glass. He was wearing a polo t-shirt, which once was dry and ironed, but now it seemed completely wet. Beneath his legs, Steve saw a puddle of liquid substance and the remnants of a broken bottle. 

Steve, being the analytic he is, quickly added two plus two and inferred that the olympic runner is the  source of this carnage, and now the t-shirt guy wants to kill him. 

"What are you looking at you dumbshit?" Boomed the t-shirt guy.

Steve, despite of being a self conscious, confident and proud person, stammered back "I err, umm....I'm here to see Mr. Randy". 

"The hell you are. He's wasted. Don't bother knocking. Wait a while and you will be called", came the reply. 

Suddenly Steve felt a poking pain in his head, and saw a small plastic ball in front of him. Once again, his analytic mind told him that he has just been poked by the ball in the head. It is like having spider sense, thought Steve! Always being conscious about the surroundings. Dad said I'd be dumb if I don't take notice of the surroundings.

He looked around and found an extremely cute young girl smiling at him from a short distance. She was batting her eyelashes and looking at him intently through the pink spectacles she was wearing. The big glasses made her look a bit comical, but her revealing clothes, enticing smile and playful looks were distracting enough to kill any comedy element in the whole situation. 

What sounded like a barking dog with a distorted vocal chord came out as another yell from the t-shirt dude--"You fucking slut, what the fuck do you think you are doing? Get your ass back to work and leave that pussy alone"!

Steve was awestruck. He couldn't recall another half an hour where he was called dumbshit and pussy in quick succession. When he used to wear the sombrero and wield the dual beretta's, he would have blasted anyone who dared insult him in this manner. He put both of his hands inside his pockets and gave the guy a nasty glare.

Then he remembered. He only wore sombreros in his dreams. While awake, he finds them stupid and he also hates anyone Mexican, Spaniard or the whole lot of Latinos. He considers them lazy, pathetic lying cheating and stealing beings whom are infesting the united states of 'merica with their silly attires and retarded gestures. All of them should die the way Eddie got eaten up. 

He didn't realize it, but his hand-pocketing made an impression. The t-shirt guy looked concerned, and his right hand was moving towards a button on the wall. Steve's patience had worn out by then. Gone, exhausted, and not to be refilled anytime soon.

He shouted in his Bee Gees voice (yeah, the voice that was common for two of the brothers, the third one had a different one)-"You stupid cunt. Don't even dare touching that button!". 

The girl with next to no clothes had her mouth open; instantly. The gaping hole created a gap through which a piranha or a baby elephant could jump inside. Well, maybe not a real elephant, but a stuffed variant would easily go through. 

At that exact moment, Steve noticed that everyone in the room was looking at him intently, and there were actually 4-5 others in the room. Every eye was fixated upon his pocketed arms, with a look of fear and trepidation, and there was actually pin drop silence. 

Suddenly, heavy footsteps were heard. What seemed like an army entering ended with the loud door crashing entrance of the "fucking faggot", as termed by the t-shirt guy. He came in and was just going to say something, and then he saw our "arm-pocketed" hero. 

His open mouth stayed open, as his slow brain slowly processed the situation. It seemed to him that someone is here to rob the bank, and he amused the audience by making another quick exit. 

At that moment, Steve got deprived of the opportunity to take a look at the I'shit poster for the first time since he entered this "office". The door opened with a loud creaking noise, and a tiny man came out of the door. He was dressed in black; a black suit, a black tie, black shoes and a black hat. He even had a black mustache.  He looked surprisingly similar to John Larkin, but this guy, the "head honcho" seemed a lot smaller. 

He gave a questioning look at Steve, and instantly realized the tensed situation in the room. He was also going to open his mouth, but Steve interrupted.

"Don't bother opening that fucking hole. I've seen my share of open mouthed morons today". 

So he complied. Steve said "Are you Randy?"

"Umm no, but my name is. Who's asking?"
"I am Steve. I have an interview with you which was supposed to start 30 odd minutes ago. These moronic cohorts of yours held me up from getting in"

Randy smiled meekly. 

"Oh, hello Steve. When can you join?"
"What the fuck do you mean?"
"Yes, I am making you the boss of these assholes. They are now your moronic cohorts. You listen up buddy! They are now your problem, I will get back to sleep now."

Leaving Steve perplexed, Randy got back to his office leaving behind a loud bang and a tough job. 

"What are you looking at, you scums? Get your asses back to work and someone fetch that fat dumbfuck that ran away." shouted Steve, and there started a new era in stark naked industries....the world's weirdest office. 

"Sigh, and I didn't even talk about the paid vacations!"

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Road To Utopia: The Peaceful One

Suddenly it started raining. Rainfall in a desert is rare, but not unheard of. As the afternoon was fading away slowly, the gas pump owner stretched his legs and yawned in his comfortable armchair. He looked at the wall clock and realized that within an hour or two, he will be surrounded by complete darkness. He knew he was supposed to get up, perform wudu and say his prayers. But for some reason, he decided to spend a bit more time listening to the drizzling rain. 

His assistant Alam did not show up this morning, which forced him to get up from his usual, comfortable seat and to go to the pump to refill the fuel tanks of peaceful and restless voyagers. But after the last restless one left, there hasn't been a vehicle for over an hour, and considering the usual trend, he doubted the arrival of any new cars. 

He closed his eyes, and peace surrounded him in all ways and means possible. To enhance the feel good factor, he extended his long arms and opened the drawer at the back of his seat. The drawer is part of a six storied archive cabinet. The ipod was not supposed to be stored in that cabinet, but he remembered putting it inside hastily when he was dozing off (just like now) yesterday and suddenly a peaceful customer arrived.

"Who am I judge whether a customer is peaceful or enraged?" He thought. 

The sweet sensation of holding the ipod touch and finding the earphones entangled with it compares to few good feelings on earth. He disentangled the entangled wire and instantly put the earphone in his ears. Years of encountering and practicing has made disentangling the entangled wires an easy task for him. He remembered spending difficult times and overusing the F word towards earphone makers during the times when he was younger and life was difficult because one had to carry walkmans and diskmans instead of ipod, zens and zunes. 

 "But then again, life never reached the zenith of difficulty where I was forced to carry a zune" 

 The sweet nylong stringed sound, coupled with the more contemporary steel string guitar playing sound filled his ear with peace, enjoyment and a nice loving feeling engulfed him within minutes. As he kept on listening to Roseland, a great, exhilarating song--he thought he'd drift off to sweet slumber. It was a sweet summer day.

Sweet summer day 
Talking about a sweet summer day
Take your troubles and let them fly away

Suddenly a whistling sound broke the trance. He was in a blissful state, the last minute before falling in peaceful sleep. His whole body jerked while he took out the ear phones and turned off the ipod. His body was mildly shaking, conscience still not clear and he was still in between the land of dreams and reality. As the whistling tune of Wind of Change kept playing, he remembered changing his ring tone last night. 

He hastily picked up the phone, and realized that the call was from Alam. He never calls from his home or his own cellphone. In fact, the gas pump owner doesn't even know whether Alam has a cellphone or not. He never saw him using one during work, and he only remember seeing his land phone number in the curriculum vitae that is stored in Alam's personnel file, which is securely stored in that same six storied cabinet. 

Even before Alam started speaking, he knew that he was going to deliver one of his famous cooked up excuses for leaving work.
"I must start paying him on a daily basis so that he can't take these casual leaves frequently"
Alam kept on speaking about the dead rattlesnake that was found in his bed this morning, and how his wife was traumatized. In his Arab like thick English accent, he kept on apologizing profusely, and let him know that only a dumb Arabian woman would confuse a loin clothe as a rattle snake and freak out. He said he can come now and make it a half day's work or give his wife company and apply for a non-paid leave tomorrow, although the major portion of the day has ended. 

"Now that's surprising", thought the owner. "Alam wants to consume one of his annual leaves. That's news to me"

 He granted his wish, and decided that he, too, should call it a day. After all, daylight will go away soon and leaving the gas pump open during sunless hours is not only pointless, but also scary. With Chris Rea singing in his ears, the pump owner proceeded to reverse the open/close signboard. As soon as he held the sign, he heard a loud, screeching noise....

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Road to Utopia: The Restless One

Sometimes he feels a terrible emptiness. As if time has stopped. He fears the next moment. He is not sure whether he is annoyed or irritated, afraid or reckless--he just doesn't want the next moment to come. He wishes he could Medusa-stare the clock and make it freeze. When communication is patterned and single channeled, things don't get resolved. The other person, being so close by relationship stays far away through their actions and chosen path of communication. You can reach the same destination by taking a peaceful walk or by continuously honking the horn and alarming the pedestrians. The end of the road might be the same for the peaceful walker and the frenzied driver, but the way they arrive to their final destination might make a lot of difference. The peaceful walker will be refreshed, recharged and happy. He will be able to enjoy the amenities of the destination he has reached with utmost peace. But the other guy will remain restless. He will not linger his break. He will continuously look at his watch, and will frantically track the ticking away of time.
"How are you brother?" "I'm so so" "How was your journey?" "It was ok" "What's your next destination?" "Do you really need to know?" "I really don't need to know, but I am curious" "Well, to hell with your curiosity. Refill my tanks and let me be on my way. I am running short of time"
At this point of time, the humble owner of a gas pump in the middle of nowhere is somewhat confused and bemused. Everyday, he meets hundreds of travelers, and this frantic one is not the first frantic one he has met. And yet, every time, a specimen like him appears, and makes him wonder. What is the true purpose of life? All this speed and hastiness, running and jumping around, restlessness and panic--how does it all boil down? No matter how active a life you live, all activities can cease within seconds. All this madness and stuff. Only bubbles waiting to burst, aren't they? But I am not a philosopher. I am just a gas pump owner.  He obliges and quickly refills the fuel tank of the restless one. He drives away with his heavy duty Ford Mustang car, leaving behind a irritating mixture of dust and smoke. As the roaring screeches of the tires die, the gas pump owner awaits his next customer.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Rude Awakening

“Almost heaven, west Virginia.”

The words seemed familiar to Allan. He yawned and tried to remember the song. Is it a Bob Dylan song? “Nah, that can’t be. Dylan has a much more nasal sound! As if the guy’s been suffering from cold forever. It can’t be John Lennon either. The lyrics seem too simple for him. But I know this song belongs to some “John”. Must be lil’ john. Lil’ John was a Robin Hood guy, and a rapper, too”.

 Allan felt a sharp pain in his head. “I’m thinking too much and too hard”. He reached for his head and felt a hat.

A magical bulb lit up and Allan suddenly remembered! The song was sung by John Denver!

“I’m a Barbie girl….like a plastic, it’s fantastic….”

“Ugh, not that song!”

Allan gritted his teeth and looked around for the source of the sound. His eyes caught sight of the boom box placed inside the shop, and before he knew what he was doing, he pointed his hand (or at least that’s what he thought) and shouted “Shut it off”. A well-endowed girl came out of the Taco Bell outlet to address the commotion—wanting to shout at the trouble maker, but she ended up bursting in laughter.

Following her gaze, Allan realized that he was dressed in a nun’s habit and he was brandishing naked Barbie doll like a sword.

“Note to self”, thought Allan—“Never mess with a nun again”. 

Rude Awakening Draft 1

WWUSF Contest--Week 4

And that is how he came to awake in the alley behind the Taco Bell, 400 miles away from where he last remembered being, wearing a nun's habit and clutching a naked Barbie doll.

“Almost heaven, west Virginia, blue ridge mountain, Shenandoah river….life is old there, older than the tree, younger than the mountain…”

The words seemed vaguely familiar to Allan. He yawned and tried to remember the song. Is it a Bob Dylan song? Nah, that can’t be, he thought. Dylan has a much more nasal sound—as if the guy’s been suffering from cold forever. It can’t be John Lennon either. The lyrics seem too simple to be penned by John. But I think this song is sung by some “John”. Little John? Or was it Lil’ John?

Must be lil’ john. Oh wait! Little John was a Robin Hood guy and Lil’ John is a rapper. At this moment, Allan felt a sharp pain in his head. “I’m thinking too much and too hard, he thought”. His hands slowly reached his head and he felt the presence of a hat.

“What the hell! I don’t remember wearing this! Hell I haven’t even saw a nun since I left Denver 6 months ago. “

As if a magical light bulb started emitting a brilliant while light and Allan suddenly remembered that the song was sung by John Denver, who shares his last name with Denver the last dinosaur.

“Damn, I feel wasted. My head is completely messed up. Otherwise, why would I compare John Denver with Denver the last dinosaur? Wait, what’s that infernal noise?”

“I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world, like a plastic, it’s fantastic….”

“Ugh, not that song!”

Allan gritted his teeth and looked around for the source of the sound. His eyes caught sight of the boom box placed inside the shop, and before he knew what he was doing, he pointed his hand (or at least that’s what he thought) and shouted “Shut it off”. A lusciously curvy latino chica came out of the shop to address the commotion—her eyes flashing with a combination of anger and amusement, but her mood quickly converted to absolute amusement and she burst out in laughter.

Her laughter seemed like the beautifully serene sound of a splashing waterfall, and she was looking at the raised hand of Allan. Following her gaze, Allan realized that he was dressed in a nun’s attire, wearing the stupid black and white colors, and his hand is brandishing a naked Barbie doll. It could have been a stick, a pole, a rod, a gun, could even be a dragonstring wand, but no, it had to be a naked Barbie doll. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Greeting, not Gritting!

Dear XYZ,

I'm sending this to ask you for a brief recommendation of my work that I can include in my LinkedIn profile. If you have any questions, let me know.

Thanks in advance for helping me out.

-Insert name of the requester here

This is a standard Linkedin template for asking people for recommendations. To be superfluous, Linkedin is the business oriented brethren of facebook with a lot less (garbage) and a lot more (networking tools). Receiving and giving recommendations is a core part of the linkedin experience, where people usually write very nice stuff about others with the hope to get the same in return.

A person has recently sent me one of these emails. I feel pity for these emails because they try to sound personal, but they aren't. Secondly, people often send these emails in batches, i.e. to everyone in their contact list which further diminishes the personal touch.

In today's era of auto completing forms, pre-made templates and bot generated emails, it is sometimes too much to expect a personalized email even from your close friends. The impersonal email phenomenon has stretched its evil aura of influence in to short messaging service, too.

Once upon a time not too long ago, SMS was treated as the most personal and surefire way of one to one communication. I remember hearing people say "the sound of SMS receipt cannot be ignored or missed by mortal beings--people might ignore calls, delete emails without reading them or burn direct marketing snail mails, but they are bound to read SMSs delivered to their cell phones.

Well, does the above still hold true? Not really. Thanks to spamming in the name of SMS marketing, people are getting bombarded with promotional short messages from dusk till dawn. However, that's not a big problem, nor is the tradition of sending SMS to the customers is unheard of. In fact, most other Asian telecom operators send more SMS to their customers than our operators send.

But the problem is, along with the plethora of impersonal SMS and emails being exchanged, we are getting used to this impersonal style of communication. Every year during festivals, I get a number of SMS from friends, colleagues, contacts and acquaintances. Not a single of them seems addressed to me. You ask me why, and I am telling you why.

A person who never addresses me anything but buddy sends a message stating "May you and your family be blessed with blessings on this blissful occasion- Mr. XYZ, doing ABC job". It's a dead giveaway--you have been hit by a carbon copy (!).

Once native to email clients like Eudora and Outlook, CC culture is paralyzing SMS now. Long time ago an operator launched a fancy service called "group SMS" which had the capability of sending 10 people from your contact list the same message in one go. Charging could be done individually (i.e. X amount per message delivered) or an overall group rate could be imposed.

But due to the arrival of advanced phones, that service has lost its charm. Nowadays one can easily CC the same message to everyone in his contact list. This means a meager 255 from the SIM or virtually unlimited contacts from the phone can get your "blissful blessings" message within a short time frame, and to make it even better, one recipient will not never know who else got the same message, which is in contrast to email CC where everyone in CC can see each other’s email addresses.

Just like the recommendation seeking Linkedin email, the content of these messages are impersonal, boring, and they give out an essence of "doing something that needs to be done instead of doing something that feels good to do".

The psychology behind these messages is mostly linked with the need to remain connected. A quick analysis of the messages I received during Eid this year tells me that the highest number of messages came from business partners, followed by lesser known acquaintances and a few stragglers, err strangers (!).

Surprisingly, I received similar messages from some family members and friends, too. I know life is busy and it’s busier during Eid holidays, but it doesn't take more than a minute to write a personal message. This year, I tried sending personal messages to some near and dear ones whom I couldn't meet. The result was pleasant.

I received wholehearted and relevant thank you replies. When I sent them greetings, I tried to make the messages sound as personal as they can be. I wrote stuff that an auto-generated or templated message can never convey.

Our life is hectic, and we are alarmingly becoming robotic as the days are rolling. To put an end to this miserable situation, we should keep no stones unturned, and every opportunity of bringing back the days of adda and casual conversations (the real Social Networking) should be availed.

By the way, what I really want to write as a recommendation to the person mentioned in the beginning of this article is this:

"I know ABC from my university days. No matter how hard I tried to avoid him by switching phone numbers and changing email addresses, he has managed to keep contact. During our brief time together as classmates, I've seen him as a slacker, a bad influence and a horribly uncouth person. He never tucked his shirt or t-shirt, and he could never avoid the influence of local dialects while speaking in Bangla or English. Despite of being a senior student, it took him more than six years to complete his undergraduate degree. He has a great skill of bragging; he never runs out of fresh new stories about his special exploitations and escapades. I wonder how he ended up as a business graduate, and to make it further amazing, he is now holding a respectable (!) job in a reputed (!!) organization. I wish him all the best, but I feel pity for the organization at who's expense the well-being of Mr. XYZ is being achieved."

I also got a blissful and blessing-filled Eid greeting from him, too, but I felt like gritting instead of being greeted.

Wrote this article a few days after Eid Ul Fitr 2011.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

After Abstinence Come Celebrations

I wrote this article on request from a good friend of mine who works in The Independent. This version (that got published) was heavily edited and it only contains 30% of what I originally envisioned. After submitting the first draft, I was asked to modify the article to a certain extent, i.e. to make it shorter and to include more happier stuff.

Thus I came up with a second version with more happier elements and less amount of doom and gloom. I was told that this version would be published without much editing.

However, when I collected the physical newspaper, I found out that 50% of the 2nd draft was modified and I can barely recognize my own writing! Almost everything, including the title has been changed. The key ideas from my original draft is still there, but the sarcasms and puns have mostly been removed.

I belief the nation deserves to know the truth, and thus I will be posting my first two drafts in subsequent posts.

No one might read these now, but I am sure 50 years down the line, someone from my lineage will stumble upon this blog and get to know how we lived our lives in Dhaka.