Letter from Dhaka
A personal matter. I’m sure that’s how I responded five plus years ago, or used words to that effect. Glass of lemonade in hand, I gauged the crowd with passable accuracy, and decided not to explain why I came back to perhaps the only place where I shouldn’t be asked such questions. I didn’t need a visa to get here, so why ask a question that you don’t really want the answer to? Hence the use of a typical phrase without playing too many notes not too many people have the time for. At least not with the casual verve of dinner party chitchat before the so-called conversation waltzes over to better, less demanding pastures across the room a couple of awkwardly stretched minutes later. Conversations certainly easier on the fashionably inattentive mind, minds perhaps also a little on the tipsy side, are always on menu around here, and a real answer to the question, let’s just say, will complicate matters a little.
Strangely, that’s what I’m still saying five years after moving back to Dhaka. Ambiguous enough to be a good answer, and loaded enough to be a conversation stopper – in a pleasant, gentle, uncomplicated sort way of course. That’s important, now even more so because there seems so be something different in the air around us, and nobody thinks that they’re just making all this up anymore. Something much anticipated yet somehow a little unexpected now that it’s finally here. Something that tells us that the time has finally come for the input to match the expectation, meaning what’s in the news these days may actually be the beginning of the much anticipated reversal of our misfortune. The misfortune of being led by the iniquitous and the wretchedly shortsighted for the past twentysomething years. These are exciting times because the proverbial chicken of our collective discontent has finally come home to roost.
So, why did you move back? was the question and it continues to be despite the five plus years since the first time I heard those exact words. Five plus years in a wild place where you have to tame the beast yourself before daring to ride him off to that picturesque tomorrow. Definitely not a place for those wish to simply walk into an air-conditioned showroom with a bag full of credit – deserved, ill-gotten or inherited, doesn’t matter as long as that bag is full – and drive off into that promising sunset in a comfortable vehicle of their choice. I knew that when I decided to come back. After ten plus years of surviving in the American corporate jungle, spending money after work and waiting to spend more on the weekends, and feeling hurried into savoring the last few drops of squeezed out freedom on Sunday afternoons before plunging into the next workweek just around the corner – I felt ready for the new frontier that I owed to myself to come back to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing my career there. I learnt a lot about the job, about myself, and my ability to like, even feel passionate about the job in order to keep my sanity not too far from where it should be. I felt it was time for me to try and apply my professional skills here, where they can make more of a difference. I watched a couple of decades pass by in suburban DC, Paris and Northern California, and it was time to come home. In retrospect, I was not entirely delusional despite some setbacks, now chalked-up as a weird sort of culture shock you overcome easily – it’s your original culture after all. Good things also happened, and an unbreakable optimism, quite common amongst my fellow Bangladeshis, kept re-igniting hope whenever that hope seemed extinguished because of the wide variety of unexpected gusts of the local wind that no longer surprise me as much as they used to in the beginning. It still does with the promise that this optimism will always accompany reasoned faith in God, and willful submission to God’s will. No, like most Bangladeshis, thank God, I’m not one of those guys who wants to silence other voices in Islam, or deny non-Muslims, a tricky concept indeed, justice and equal treatment under the law. Playing the intermediary between God and man’s salvation, exercising unilateral power over others without the possibility of a role reversal, not understanding the inherent indignity in speaking for someone else, and using religion as cover to avoid treatment of neurological disorders – definitely not my cup of tea. Just wanted to clear that up.
If anything, those unexpected moments and easy deceptions ultimately led me to that honest look in the mirror of one’s own limitations. A little detour, though unwanted at the time, I’m glad I took the time to take. The hustle, the bustle and not a single dull moment since, I’d say. Maybe not too many sweet moments in there either. At least not the kind of sweet moments that fall on your lap on their own, the kind that don’t require peeling, plucking and more often than not – decoding and deciphering. I’m not really bitching about life here in the Dhaka Metropolitan Area. Far from it, I like living here. I’m just talking about a question that continues to find new life in small talk whenever I, or other returnees like myself are around. The question, much to my annoyance, doesn’t seem to get old. That’s rare in my neck of the woods right here in the Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara ghetto for the obscenely privileged and sadly, the equally irresponsible to nation, community, and ultimately to one’s own existential essence. Five plus years and still not old in a place where trends and the average attention span fluctuate with greater frequency than electricity in less affluent neighborhoods in Dhaka. Now that’s really something.
Dusty, clogged up streets overdressed with gas-guzzling SUVs and posh European, or European-type, Luxury Sedans and turbo-charged Sports Cars with nowhere to go and flex their muscle, more often concealed than exposed nowadays – fear rather than a moral epiphany at work here – among other gloating, grotesque examples of personal inadequacy and blissful ignorance of fundamental social graces. Not a bad first impression of the mean streets that don’t take too much time to render things passé, or God forbid, uncool before they invariably make their comeback in the not-too-distant future as something new and improved. The mantra seems simple: what we don’t know can’t hurt us, and what we do know we can simply ignore until we believe that it’s getting bored, and will soon fade away and out of our busy-being-busy lives. Besides, why think when you’re local cable operator is taking care of that little function rather affordably? So why did you move back? is perhaps a more polite way of asking, how come you’re still here when we don’t wanna be?
Interesting, I can’t see them living in such deskbound, careless, and easy black money-steeped lap of luxury anywhere else. Definitely not in the US, being as far removed as we non-WASPs are from the Mayflower elite discreetly tucked away in pretty little resort towns named after their ancestors, or people their ancestors knew intimately before killing them off after Thanksgiving dinner. Relegated to a second-class, minority status no matter how white you train yourself to be, or how carefully you try to breed that whiteness into your own life. US of A – a place like most places where, with the colossal exception of the Junior Bush, you still need minimal qualification to take over the family business, including running the country.
Fact: no other place will be as hospitable to the spoilt-rotten party crowd returning to Dhaka with nothing other than an inexplicable air of superiority to show for their academic hiatus abroad – perfectly termed in Bangla as FUTANI – as our good old Dhaka. Mind you, FUTANI has nothing to do with the comical zeal of the Romanized barbarian back to enlighten the hordes. It is the air of shallow superiority for its own sake, displayed more often than not, to conceal the ugly truth about oneself buried not too deep inside a riot of attitude and flash. Often entertaining once you’re in a good mood, irritating when you’re not.
I suppose it doesn’t matter when you’ve got the job no matter what. Blood is thicker than, well, anything else when it comes to inheriting the sins and accomplishments of one’s father. The story is simple enough: he’ll learn on the job, thinks the father who, to his credit, remains entrepreneurial despite the darker alleys he must now navigate across, again by trampling over his own moral, ethical and civic sensibilities. Our boy, however, has different priorities before learning to do the bare minimum in order to keep his nose above water. His credo: party as hard and as often as you can, come back to a place where the dishes are done for you, and lord over a low glass ceiling keeping men and women more qualified than you at bay. Men and women who even without having had the chance to squander great opportunities to study abroad, are still better suited to take the company to the next level if what daddy built for me was in fact a company, and not just yet another family fiefdom slash soap-opera masquerading as one. I guess it’s easier not to care too much whose money it is or where it is coming from as long as you’re the one signing the cheques now, and from a variety of accounts with more money than you know what to do with. Brave new habits like hard currency gambling and other types of upscale debauchery beckon, as always, just on the other side of the workday’s tedium filled with deftly executed spacing-out, paper pushing, and the occasional micromanagement of a crisis that real corporate accountability could prevent without too much trouble. This is the life, you think – I have arrived. Easy thoughts as long as you’ve trained yourself not to think too much. Easy thoughts as long as you can hide behind a wall of Deshi-style Corporate Culture of suits, ties, magnetized nametags and embarrassing, for the rest of us that is, adulation for the crown prince, to run daddy’s little store. A store now big enough to warrant arrogantly managed scams that fatten those Caribbean, Swiss or Southeast Asian bank accounts where money is hoarded for the sake of hoarding and hoarding alone. Before long, he too can easily fit into the moody non-chalance that casually blurts out: to hell with the country’s foreign currency reserve, let the Bangladeshi Taka perish where it has been around the bottom of the foreign-exchange pond while we swim around in five-star waters both here and abroad. Let the twenty million or so at the cusp of the middle-class stay behind the carrot, and let our annual growth stagnate at five and a half percent when it can easily be eight plus. We don’t care because we’re getting ours. Crypto-feudal moods light years away from bourgeois refinement of everyday life, and the enlightened cultivation of those refinements because we don’t gotta farm no more, we don’t gotta row that boat, or cast that heavy net.
Such moods are not entirely unexpected once you think about it. Quite the contrary, they should be anticipated in a community where class is something to be simply purchased, rather than the refined practice of kindness in everyday life. Purchased, among other outrageously priced places, in sub-standard English medium schools where the better than thou environment of thoughtless style thrash the substance out of our real roots with its grass must be greener on the other side lure, right out of a hip new lifestyle channel broadcasting from the emptiest recesses of the easily malleable mind. Those roots are buried under other things we are conditioned to hate about ourselves without understanding what they really are in our own terms. Therefore, before an alarmingly obese, rudely class conscious and sulky little Bangladeshi child, often seen gorging on imported and outrageously priced junk food, has had the time to consider whether the ability to speak English and Bollywood Hindi as first languages in a culture where they traditionally are not, really makes him the better, more modern human being that his complex-driven parents so desperately covet – he develops a distaste for most things Bangladeshi. Can’t blame him much when his parents, oblivious to the effect of MSG, mono saturated fats, and self-contempt will have in the life of their little Babu, cannot quite connect the dots between driving ultra-luxurious gas-guzzlers – in an unemployment slash underemployment saturated, road and space-challenged city like Dhaka – and being vulgar. Talking consumer rights with a pocketful of money from highly questionable sources of income in an economically polarized society, in order to somehow justify those choices is the type of dodgy, lame, delusional, macabre excuse that needs to be treated with serious anti-psychotics, not the Y by any other name being passed around like candy in the weekend P’rdee (party). A lie, semantics and deep philosophy notwithstanding, doesn’t become a truth just because you’ve managed to get yourself and others to believe in it. SHALINOTA is a great Bangla word that can be roughly transliterated as the ability to demonstrate good taste reflective of a kind soul. So much for SHALINOTA and good traditional values.
Such infuriating moods in fact should be quite expected in a community where class is not the gentle cultivation of time-tested ethics and social behavior, but the ability to get away with whatever ethical two-step one finds himself dancing by pretending that the ever-convenient exception to the rule is indeed something other than the bullshit we all know it to be deep down. A community of appearances where this class can be sipped from outrageously priced goblets in smoke-filled rooms, or from inside duty-free bottles filled with socially more acceptable chemicals before sending one’s once spoilt, now rude and hormonally charged child off to one those classy, and outrageously expensive rehab-joints abroad for trying to find a similar kind of class and misguided physiological solace in socially not-yet openly acceptable kicks. More often than not, we reap what we sow no matter how unpalatable the fruits of our efforts – and that goes for everyone irrespective of intent. Another story for another time.
You know who you are. Show a little gratitude I say, and not only because your *** is finally on the line. In no other city of twenty million miraculously packed inside this city built for perhaps less than two, can your mind stay so blissfully uncluttered of justifiable mob violence and the wrath of the chronically exploited. Be thankful that the don’t have a lot in our city convey a nobility in their desire for peace that is perhaps beyond your grasp. Maybe you just don’t get it because the it is not a pill to be popped, or a outrageously-priced choice to be purchased to instantly gratify your rather avid need to escape the truth about your otherwise empty self, filled only with the pursuit of overcoming self-induced boredom, and a mundane life scheduled around banal shopping trips to actually overcome that boredom while the so-called excitement of a new purchase lasts. An arrested existence keeling over with the boredom of passing time generally devoid of moral and social responsibility. Making way through the daily torrent of smiling garment workers, and clusters of homeless children lost in their own joyous laughter should inspire you to rediscover what you’ve lost, and realize that Dhaka is not boring after all, maybe you are. A town without glitzy casinos and glitzier brothels sucks only to those who’ve never been ashamed to show-off in a culture where showing-off, by all reasonable accounts, is not a virtue. Because showing off, like vanity in general, is nothing but a rather unbecoming glorification of an inflated ego born of deeply buried inadequacies, and a pathetically low, leg-shaking, accent-faking self-esteem.
You know who you are. God gave you wealth, power, opportunity, and in some cases, even talent. What you do with those wonderful things is what you give back to God. You can break the pattern and do the right thing not because of state induced fear – but because you want freedom from such fears in your heart and mind. Keep your profit margin on a short leash, and you can actively invest in meaningful national development and socio-economic empowerment of our people through education, wealth creation and equal opportunity – without waiting for executive directives, or tax subsidies and other incentives to do so. You can fix those roads and build those schools with quality teachers, and give our marginalized working compatriots profit-and-loss-share based interest-free loans to supplement their income through small and mid-sized enterprises of their own. Be proactive in the success of those enterprises by providing your business expertise, rather than waiting for them to fail so that you can put away the targeted equity. Give those who work for you a fair wage and the training that gives them the chance to move forward. Do the right things, go public, and make your overnight millions when you’re listed in the Dhaka Stock Exchange. Give your employees performance-based stock options and a real sense of ownership, so that they’re as committed and productive as an owner should be. You can stabilize and enhance the value of the DSE by increasing people’s participation in it, and let that stable DSE and not banking scams be the primary source of capital for Bangladeshi business. Bring ordinary Bangladeshis into the stock market creating and managing small portfolios at a price the average Bangladeshi can afford – a great business to get into instead of robber-baron private banking – and start building a marketplace of hundred and fifty million, about half the population of the US, densely packed in a place the size of just one of their smaller states, and watch them line up to invest in our future. You can bring your money back to Bangladesh where it belongs and dramatically increase the power of the Bangladeshi Taka. You can invest in our culture and traditional values that have stood the test of time, and make them evolve by having everyone freely participate in that deeply enriching new dynamic, instead of rejecting and being ashamed of what you never tried to understand like a moron – because your spiritual dysfunction, despite all the spectacles to the contrary, comes from that rejection and apathy alone. In the immortal words of a great American President known more for his potential than actual accomplishments, start fulfilling your potential by asking not what your country can do for you, but by asking what you can do for your country. You’ll be wealthier than you possibly can be now, and sleep better without those pills and misguided prayers devoid of faith. Without Autobahns or the wannabe X-gamer’s death wish for actual off road adventure, SUVs and other such penis-mobiles are the eyesore they should be in a country like ours. So wake up and lead from the front by driving a fuel-efficient, eco-friendly vehicle. Come clean and grab that opportunity to leave a legacy hoarded money cannot buy even if you’re buried with it. Come clean and give yourself the opportunity to die with a clear conscience.
Whether or not the regular and always beautifully metrosexualized people of the hood, as opposed to the now on the run and burnt extra crispy people of yesterday’s bravado, choose to see it that way is not the point. The point is that cosmetic upgrades and scratching the ultimately interminable itch to gratify oneself as instantly as possible, are not sufficient to bring about peace and real joy in one’s life, even in a world defined by appearances and surface values more than they perhaps should be. I, along with, I’m sure, many others – whichever little bubble they may be residing in at this moment – have been trying for years without anything other than an unhealthy fetish for the futile act of trying for its own sake to show for it. Why? Simple because we were raised that way by men and women who never made that deal with the devil no matter how temping the offer. We are grateful not to have fallen too far from the tree.
As flawed as we may be, and as readily accepting of those flaws as we are, we have their example to guide us through difficult times, and give us the wisdom to learn from our mistakes and accept expiation without shortcuts. The current government, we pray, is made of the same right stuff.
We pray that they’ll include the disenfranchised, give voice to the silent, give opportunity to the victims of greed, and start building a future in our lifetime where everybody can dream of a better day because everybody has a fair shot at bringing his or her aspirations to life in a Bangladesh we want Bangladesh to be. We want them to ensure that the producer and the consumer, not the middlemen, benefit from fair commerce, meaning a maximum 30 rather than a minimum 300% profit margin. We want them to take a firm, proactive, biased stand on public housing, utilities, meaningful education for the poor and the middle classes. We want them to firmly deal with the unholy trinity of corruption, involving corrupt lawyers, Sub-Inspectors and Magistrates, in the lower echelons of our law and order, so that they can move on to bigger and better things, and leave a legacy for all the generations to come in the future. Easier said than done, but looks like we may have the right people in charge since 1971, give of take a few years here and there before 1981.
As proud citizens of Bangladesh, we want this government of brave men and women to do away with our political culture of pathological liars and run-of-the-mill, disposable heroes, all too often stewing in the type of intellectual mediocrity that flatters no one, and lead us to a vibrant, new, and unassuming culture of genuine democratic practices in all levels of national politics through an innovative structure born of our own historical realities, and our own cultural fabric. We want leaders who ask for solutions from those who actually face the problems, and make those solutions more feasible with their genuine leadership abilities. We want politicians who represent their constituency at the national level by actually having their lives inside the borders of that constituency, as opposed to the usual suspects in Dhaka and Chittagong, venture Capitalists waiting to get theirs in the business of politics. We want internally democratic political parties of community activists who run sustainable community development projects – not the thugs, goons and opportunists posing as political activists in order to extort the limited resources of those communities like Soprano-styled, or the crass FDC version thereof, Mafia earners who want to be made into media kingpins, bank directors and land development Supremos in the not too distant future. We want our education institutions to be cleared of machinations of “traditional” politics that make a mockery of those institutions. A student can always join the youth wing of a political party – an additional student wing, as clearly demonstrated by the Bangladeshi experience of the last three decades, is a perversion whose time has come to be shelved and preserved for posterity inside the glass cage with other such painfully terrible ideas.
We want runoff elections so that nobody can win with 35% of the vote anymore. We want local governments to be genuinely empowered by establishing them as a separate and equal branch of our government. We want the nomination and the recall process of the local government representatives to be petition based for grassroots development of democratic culture and public accountability. We want to see them further empowered by directly giving them, not Parliamentarians, the responsibility to manage the resources allocated for the development of everyday life in our communities.
We want Parliamentarians who advocate and legislate what they were elected to bring into national focus. We want nationally televised, multi-party Parliamentary Committees that scrutinize all government functions not in the spirit of adversity, but in order to bring public transparency and accountability to those functions without compromising operational efficiency. We want Parliamentarians courageous enough to speak out against the anti-democratic Section 70 of the Constitution, so that as elected representatives of their constituency rather than the shameless, ***-kissing financiers of particular families, they can vote their individual conscience on particular issues.
We want a Government of real checks and balances where additional, and necessary, separation of powers is a reality. We want the future President to be a permanent extension of the Chief Advisor during the Caretaker, now Caretaker/Interim government. Like the CA, he or she must be an impartial person of good repute, as determined by the elected representatives of the people, and exercise executive power over revamped and modernized civil, defense, and law-enforcement services so that those essential services, along with the Anti-Corruption and the Election Commission, can never again become the tools of corruption or the means to that end. How about a well-trained, well-paid, all-officer Police Force that can publicly police itself? How about civil servants who can stand tall with the best of them all over the world because that’s how they’ve been set up for success? How about a National Defense Force that is allowed to participate in our lives as proactively it does around the world for the UN? We want a charismatic President who can lead such endeavors in the future, and we still have many such qualified persons in the ranks of the Civil and Defense Services, the Academia and even amongst Social and Community activists to assume that important responsibility. We need to continue to develop more such leaders in the future not by osmosis or personal charisma, but through institutions and value-added, compulsory national education and other development services that manufacture the traits, attributes and skills necessary to do the job right. Institutions created perhaps away from the seat of traditional money and power, and in small towns and rural areas where our parents grew up being proud of who they were and never let ephemeral trends, or greed dictate what they should become. A hundred and fifty million is an amazingly large number that once empowered, can only bring amazing benefits.
We want a Prime Minister leading all other government operations with the right number of ministers who are strictly technocrats and professionals motivated to do the right thing because it is the right thing, rather than because it may be the politically expedient thing to do in order to get re-elected. We are tired of being driven by the moral flexibility of political expediency so aptly demonstrated by our politicians over the past fifteen years of transgression, or the “good ones” tolerating that transgression for the sake of a rather more dubious political expediency not entirely lost on those of us on this side of the divide. These merchants of our national infamy must not be allowed to chuckle, charm, spin, and wiggle their way out of their betrayal of the public trust, or the indignation of the law. The long-overdue wrath of the humiliated people of this country must be allowed to bear-down upon those who believed themselves to be above the law, within the bounds of that law.
And last but not least, we want an independent and qualified Judiciary that protects individuals from the tyranny of the majority by upholding their fundamental rights as human beings and citizens. We want a system where the law is neither subverted nor undermined by the frivolity of money, influence or hearsay without probable cause, in order to settle personal scores by further plundering the public’s faith in a system already in desperate need of restoration – but a system that is characterized only by diligent adherence to the letter, the spirit, and the due process of the law that attract the best, the brightest and the most public service-minded to its duly modernized institutions. The law must guarantee freedom from those who wish to deny us of what is not theirs to give, and not take that freedom away for a few bucks here and there.
Quite a wish list. We should be ready to do our part.
You can beat ‘em, or join ’em if you can’t. We can always choose to survive trying to beat them and die trying, because that’s what we owe to the silent and the unseen, without whose generosity of spirit, we’d be busy trying to crawl out of the dark, deep well of being held to a higher standard, perpetually being dug deeper by Punjabi cultural arrogance and the ruthless military violence that sprung from that arrogance. Being a sideshow of a sideshow would not have presented the opportunities we have been blessed with. We must play our part and give something back. If we don’t, we’d never be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and like what we see, because we’ve turned our back on the people whose supreme sacrifices have given us the choice between doing the right thing and floating aimlessly upon the murky waters of ethical relativity and moral bankruptcy. If we don’t do the right thing, we’ll live with the knowledge of bailing out when the going got tough, and the illusion that the selfish time away from that responsibility is anything but borrowed time ticking, before it explodes as the kind of unhappiness that, no matter how skillfully glossed over it may be, will haunt us in our nightmares. The shock of being rudely awakened to a justifiable indignity no extra sessions of purely ritualistic, faithless prayer sessions can possibly mitigate – is desirable by no one, because those nightmares are always increasingly more difficult to live with. So why on earth should we want to?
So, people still asking that question with a freshness-coated mock surprise totally undeserved by something with five years of soot on it – makes one think how annoying something like that should be but somehow isn’t. Maybe I should go back and miss this incredible drama unfolding right before our eyes, and along with the show, miss the opportunity to be a part of our nation’s history at such a critical juncture.
Perhaps it’s genuine concern I’m simply not seeing. Perhaps my predictable setbacks are things that need to be dusted off like unsightly specks scattered across an otherwise perfectly solved puzzle, with no pieces of the jigsaw missing. Perhaps I should go back to Northern California for the next 20 years of feeling like living in someone else’s house. I’m grateful that I don’t pay more rent there than I have to, but that’s only because the landlord’s a really swell guy, like a foster parent who decides to adopt you after a while. The trouble is you didn’t think you were up for adoption, yet now find yourself having to make a choice that is only as difficult as you make it to be.
Sure I can go back and tune myself back into the American Dream and the daily, remarkable human decency that nurtures that dream. I can go back and hangout with my dearest friends and bask in their genuinely multicultural human warmth once more without too much difficulty for an inbetweener such as myself – while knowing that there is a path to deeper intimacy we can never be on together, and we would want to. Knowing that Lalon’s transcendental words and grooves coming alive in Farida Parveen’s layered, soulful, deeply nuanced vocals, can never stir them the way it stirs the best I have to offer to my fellow man, and that the descriptive magnificence of Tagore can never enrich their breath quite the way that breath can add to the meaning of my life, and the ever-present potential of a Mohammad Ashraful century in the World Cup, or Mashrafe Bin Murtaza rampaging through the opposition’s batting order, and the endless possibilities in Ornob’s music and Sahana’s poetry, can never intoxicate them the way they can drizzle priceless blessings in our lives simply because we are Bangladeshi, and cannot be, do not want to be anything else. Knowing that is a burden I don’t want to be strong enough to bear anywhere except here. Those things that make us Bangladeshi and make Bangladesh the best of what we have to give, bring us closer to our God from the depths of our collective soul.
Being a global citizen, other things move me too, but not like this. Sure they strike different cords inside and reverberate just about as deeply, but the sound of Bangla and the timeless comfort of belonging to certain ancient moods and everyday gestures because we speak Bangla, our language – is in the blood. Our people’s at times absurd refusal to give up on a national triumph, any national triumph, despite having only hope renewed from an indomitable spirit to hold on to, and the easy ability to be gracious, kind, not at all in a hurry, and make noble sacrifices for their families with a smile that battles back all that is unfair in life, and laughter rising wholeheartedly from the margins of despair – are things I could no longer pretend didn’t matter, because they do. They do because it, the very thing that makes us Bangladeshi, makes Bangladesh what we are and what we want to be. It makes us whole, and that mattered to me personally more than anything my gracious, but nevertheless adoptive community in Northern California could ever offer.
Off course I miss the places where I grew to become who I am. Jazz, the easy availability of meaningful conversation and great music and books, the great education, the doomed youthful first marriage to a native, the great Fortune 500 career, the trophy girlfriend at the back of my KZ1000 snaking along Highway 1, tearing across the muffled ferocity of the sound of Pacific waves lashing against the ancient rocky cliffs of Big Sur, the unconditional love of friends, and the agile, effortless grace of my trio of cats who loved me just the way I was – were hard moments to leave behind and store as only memories, however cherished they may be. But never an economic refugee, I couldn’t simply morph into a spiritual one by turning my back on something that continues to give more than what it’s capable of taking away. I came back not to brood over what has been left behind, but to embrace what is to come. Besides, if we really want all the good things that the world outside has to offer, shouldn’t we at least make the effort to start building our own visions of those things right here, if only to look ourselves in the mirror without the uncertain comforts of the mask that conceals the truth of our wrongdoing and slack?
Like most of the Bangladeshis I’ve met since I’ve been back, all too often outside my ghetto where I pray things black can no longer turn white with the simple stroke of the pen, I like myself here and this is where I want to pursue happiness, not at the expense of my fellow Bangladeshis I can effortlessly share those experiences with, but with them. Like them, I am here because this is home, and this is where my heart has always been. So, why did I come back? Like I said before, it was a personal matter.
Dhaka, April 2, 2007.