Fact is stranger than fiction

I discovered a new word: Mitron. It means, ‘A large group of unsuspecting people about to be hit by something they will take a long time to recover from.’ Ironically it comes from the Hindi word – Mitron (Mitr = friend. Mitron = of friends). I believe we are in a Mitron moment; the discovery of a word and an experiential understanding of its true meaning.
Demonetization has hit us all but it hit the poor the most. People who live on the knife edge of society which can change overnight from a life of dignity to a life as a beggar on the street. People who have no ‘nest egg’, no safety net, no backup. I recall two things as I write this article. One is an article by my good friend, Prof. Madhukar Shukla of XLRI who wrote about these people on the knife edge; the other is one of my own very early consulting assignments. Let me tell you about that.

In the late 80’s I was hired by The Commonwealth Trust to assess a very interesting economic development program that they had initiated in East Delhi (how many Delhiites even know that East Delhi exists?).  The program was well-intentioned in that it offered interest-free loans to ‘small entrepreneurs’ but with the condition (supposed to be a benefit) that they pair up with corporate executives so that they could teach them a thing or two about business. My first thought, as an IIMA grad was, ‘I can smell an MBA behind this from a mile away’. I say that because it was a typical theoretical approach without a clue about the reality on the ground. Let me explain.

The loans given were to ‘small entrepreneurs’. I keep using apostrophes for this term to underline what ‘small’ meant. Rs. 3000 (which wasn’t all that much even in the 80’s) was the average loan amount. It was given to the Istri-wala (mobile clothes iron man).
This wonderful picture will bring to mind the man (most cases it is his wife who works on this cart) whose services every one of us urban Indians have benefited from. We send down from our fancy apartments, our clothes to him who parks his push-cart in the street outside our compound wall. He irons our shirts and trousers, sarees and skirts; charges a few rupees which we pay in cash and he moves on to the next building or villa. What he earns that day pays for the rent of his ‘house’ (this article is getting too full of apostrophes), school fee for his children (you can’t keep people from aspiring), and food for his family. That money is what keeps him on the knife edge and saves him from falling off and coming to your house with begging bowl in hand. The Commonwealth Trust offered small loans to people like him, the vegetable vendor, the cobbler, the shoeshine guy, the bicycle repairer, the truck tire puncture repairman and similar ‘small entrepreneurs’. The biggest loan had been given to a man who had a printing press with a single machine in a small shop where you had to turn sideways to get past the machine.
As I mentioned the ‘fringe benefit’ according to the initiator of the scheme and The Commonwealth Trust was the partnership between this small entrepreneur and a corporate executive. The corporate executive with his education and presumably greater understanding was supposed to help the small entrepreneur to keep good accounts, pay tax, use technology, build a customer base, survey his market and make growth plans. The formal introductory meeting was arranged in a five star hotel with tea and samosa in an atmosphere of pretended equality between partners and the pairs were made. Three years later, the project came up for evaluation and that is where I came in.
That is also when I discovered East Delhi and that too in July. Those who have lived in Delhi in summer without air conditioning may understand what I went through. The lanes of the area of East Delhi are so narrow that even a Maruti 800 can’t drive through them. I would leave my hired car on the main road and either walk or take a local auto rickshaw. I preferred the latter because the driver knew the people who I wanted to meet and usually told me stories about them later after being a silent listener to the conversation that I had with them. I spent two weeks on this assignment and learned what every Tandoori Chicken knows; what the inside of a tandoor feels like. East Delhi was also one of the places most affected by the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the perpetrators of which still walk free and victims suffer in silence. But then in a country where to break the law with impunity is a status symbol, that’s understandable and expected.
To return to my story, I met these small entrepreneurs, every single one of them. I sat with them in (or near) their businesses. Drank tea with them (which bless our culture, our poor are those who uphold it) which they insisted on paying for and asked them how their business was going and how their partnership was doing. All conversations were in Hindi but I am translating here for your benefit.
Me: Namashkar Jee, how are you. I am Yawar Baig and have come from The Commonwealth Trust you ask you a few questions about your business.
He: Namashkar Sahib. I am repaying my loan on time. I have not defaulted.
Me: (as red in the face as someone with my complexion can get): No, no, no! I didn’t come to ask about repayment. Of course, you are repaying on time. You have a great record. The Commonwealth Trust is very pleased about this. I have only come to ask how things are going with you and with the partnership that was made with Mr. S0-and-so.
He: (relieved smile followed by eyes shifting): All is well Sahib.
Me: Please don’t call me Sahib. My name is Yawar.
He: Jee Achcha Yawar Sahib. (I gave up after trying for some time).
Me: So how is it going? Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (eyes shifting again): All is well Yawar Sahib.
Me: (persevering): Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (realizing that I won’t go away): Sahib, we have not met after that first meeting.
Me: (genuinely shocked): Why? Why didn’t you meet? What happened?
He: (hurriedly): Sahib, it is not his fault. You see I tried to meet him several times. But Sahib, I am a small man (hum chotay aadmi hain. Wo baday aadmi hai). He is a big man. I went to his Kothi (mansion – Hindi for big house – not necessarily a mansion but he calls it Kothi to honor its owner). But his Chowkidaar (security guard) turned me away. He refused to believe me that Sahib had asked me to come. Yawar Sahib, I am a small man but I have izzat (honor, dignity). I didn’t go there to ask for charity. I went there because they said that we were partners and I could talk to him any time. But if the Chowkidaar turns me away, I won’t go again and again.
Me: (at a loss for words): But didn’t he give you his phone number? Couldn’t you call him and tell him to speak to his Chowkidaar?
He: I did Yawar Sahib. He told me to meet him in his office. But there it was worse. So, I gave up.
Me: But this partnership was supposed to help you.  What did you do when you couldn’t even meet your partner?
He: Yawar Sahib, the truth is, how can he help me when he knows nothing of my reality. He lives in a different world from mine. So, different that he can’t even imagine what my world is like. I agreed to the partnership because that was a condition of getting the loan. I never expected that it would work. And it didn’t. I am most grateful to The Commonwealth Trust for the loan. I needed that. The partnership I didn’t need, so it doesn’t matter.
Me: (wondering what I am going to write in my report): What did you do when you needed any advice?
He: I went to my Mamaji (uncle or father in law) and sometimes to my neighbor (essentially his competitor) and asked them. They advised me and I followed their advice.
Me: Your competitor gave you advice about your business which was good for you? Isn’t he your competitor?
He: (shocked at my ignorance): Of course, he gave me good advice. He is my competitor but first he is my brother (from my community, extended family etc). Of course, he gave me good advice. He is easy to reach. We have a relationship, a real relationship, not only business and above all, he understands my reality because he is a part of it.
This conversation was more or less what I had with every one of those in that survey. One common factor with all of them; that their entire business was in cash. After all, when was the last time you paid the Istri-wala or the Sabji-wala or the Bai who comes to clean your home and cook your meal and the many walas our life quality depends on, by cheque? When was the last time he asked you for your credit card to swipe? All their business is in cash and so is the business of all those in the value chain they deal in; those they buy the necessities of their lives from. All cash. Out of their meagre and harsh existence it is the genius Indian woman that they save some money – again cash. They don’t bank it. They buy gold if they can or just keep the cash. It is their saving for an emergency and since the biggest requirement of emergencies is liquidity, they like cash. Sometimes this saving is done over such a long period that it amounts to a good bit; maybe three to five lakhs (3-500, 000). But that is what they slogged and sweated for over decades. Should that be taxed? Especially in a country that has no social security, no emergency services to speak of and no support for such people except what they can get from their savings and families.
Indeed, they don’t declare this income to the Government. They don’t bank it because every trip to the bank means a loss of business. They need cash and in cash they trust. It is not for nothing that even in bigger establishments you may have seen the sign, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST. REST STRICTLY CASH.’ That is not a statement of religiosity but of hard reality. Does that make them ‘black marketeers’ and thieves? Indeed, these small businessmen and women don’t pay tax but they contribute to the economy both directly by buying and indirectly by providing services. As I mentioned earlier, they add value and quality to our lives and take away the drudgery of daily chores. It is all these people who are the true backbone of the economy. It is they who spread goodness all around them because of the food chain that they are part of and support. It is they who create neighborhoods which are dynamic and alive though overall poor. Unlike dead American inner cities which are home to the poor in Western societies. And these, our poor, our small entrepreneurs, our salt of the earth man and woman who are the hardest hit in this Mitron moment of demonetization.
I was reminded of all this when I read this interview:
I was reminded about this because the demonetization move has once again underlined the fact about our society that decisions that affect millions are taken by those who are as foreign to them as Martians would be to us Earthlings. People who either don’t understand their reality or couldn’t care less. People who don’t even think of them as a ‘vote bank’, because momentarily, votes can be bought or swayed by tearful oratory. And that is enough to get elected and then it doesn’t matter what those who voted think or feel; survive or perish. People, who even if they knew that reality once upon a time, have chosen to forget it and take pride in associating with the high and mighty rather than with those who they were born among and grew up with. But then you can’t fault a person for his aspirations, can you? As long as rhetotrick (my coinage – tricky rhetoric) is in plentiful supply, facts don’t matter. What happened doesn’t matter as long as its creators can give it a positive spin. Human life is not cheap. It is priceless. Has no price. Is free. (not the usual inference of the word, ‘priceless’, I realise).
One economist friend said to me, “The economy will take a decade to recover from this move.” I said to him, ‘Economies don’t ‘recover’ in a decade. They are replaced because all those who participated in the old economy have perished.’ ‘Recover’ is a term that economists use on their neat charts. The reality is neither neat nor painless. India’s economy ‘recovered’ after the Bengal Famine. But 2 million people perished. Economists don’t care about that. Not that they are heartless. It is just that they don’t have the language to express the monetary value of sweat and tears; of life and death. Numbers are used so much because they are neat and help us to remain out of touch with reality. When our reality, that which we have jointly created, is so painful, nasty and brutal, we need tools to keep it at bay. Numbers are one. Entertainment is another. We need to forget reality. The alternative is to change reality so that we don’t need to forget it, can enjoy it and benefit from it. But that takes too much trouble. It is easier to forget.

I mention this here because in this race to garner all resources for oneself without a thought about others, we have created a society that is crying out in pain and grief. It is inconceivable to imagine that the resources of the world can possibly be concentrated in the hands of so few, but as they say, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’. I can imagine the derision or at best amused smiles if any author dared to suggest that 62 people would own 50% of global assets and the rest of the world would watch silently. But that is not fiction. That is fact.

For perspective, let me state that a bus has 65 seats excluding the driver’s seat.

Anesthetized anarchy

We, in India, are living in a state of anesthetized anarchy.
We seem to have lost it in more ways than one. In the days of the sabretooth tiger mankind needed to be totally in touch with reality if it wished to avoid being the tiger’s next meal. Since we made the STT extinct we seem to believe that being in touch with reality is not required or at least, is optional. The fact is, that it is neither optional nor unnecessary. It is as critical as it was then, with the only difference that the one who eats you now has changed; not that you will not be on the menu.
As I read what members of the present Bhakti movement are writing with respect to present conditions in India and what the wise gurus of corporate fame speak from their elevated platforms, I pinch myself to remember that the laws that run the world are not made by them and that the One who made those laws hasn’t changed them yet.
Nandan Nilekanni at the TiE Convention for example, takes his constitutional on stage and while he exercises walking back and forth forcing you to do some neck yoga, he tells you how the volume of electronic monetary transactions has gone up from the time people used to send money orders and how in the last three years more people transferred money electronically than they did via money orders for the past one hundred years. That, he declares to a rapt TiE audience, is a sign of development. Audience claps. Behold, anesthetized anarchy in action.

What he forgets to say and those feverishly forwarding the video of this wonderful speech forget to ask, is what percentage of population that volume of monetary transaction represents. What is the reality? The reality is that the total percentage that does electronic banking is 2% of the population of India.  So, whatever you want to say about how monetary volumes have increased, they are still all within that 2%. What therefore, is the real meaning of the numbers?
The problem of geeky thinking is nicely mentioned in this article as the ’empathy vacuum’; the bane of life of those who are used to binary thinking and playing with imaginary numbers until they begin to believe in their own creations. What is starkly visible in our country today is a total absence of empathy for those whose lives have been wrecked by the demonetization drive.
Secondly, comparing historical data about the health of an economy using monetary transactional volume alone doesn’t take into account the value of money itself. A person in 1900 sent Rs. 10 by money order. The same person, if he lived that long, in 2000 would have to send Rs. 100,000 by electronic transfer to cover the same expense. So, how does the higher number indicate greater prosperity? But it seems that we have pickled our brains. Statistics can be made to say whatever you want them to say. And that is the game being played. The reason that game succeeds is because we don’t think and don’t ask questions.
Behold, anesthetized anarchy in action.
I call it anesthetized because we are the only country in the world where dozens of people can simply die standing in a line to withdraw money from the bank because of the liquidity crunch that the government imposed but nothing happens.
We’re the only country perhaps in the history of the world where money is demonetized in a thriving economy. As someone said, ‘That is like shooting the tires of a racing car in a race’, but nothing happens. We’re the only country in the world which pays no attention to the opinions of Nobel Prize winning scholars, financial experts and bankers and instead applauds politicians whose understanding of economics is exemplified in the measures that have led to the rest of us suddenly being forced to take an interest in economics. Instead of protests people say that this is the price we (not them, mind you) must pay for ‘cleaning’ the economy.
So, what is our reality?

1. We are World No. 1 in absolute poverty far ahead of sub-Saharan Africa.

2. We are World No. 1 in farmer suicides. (is there a global standard for this?)

3. We are World No. 1 in human trafficking. Add bonded labor and we will be World No. 1 in slavery.

4. We are close to the top in illiteracy.

5. Our unemployment figures are mind boggling and just went up thanks to this new initiative to make India cashless. Amazing how quickly that target was achieved.

6. 80% of our graduates are unemployable which tells you something about the quality of our education.

7. Corruption is not only acceptable at all levels of society but it is aspirational.

8. Our politicians and executive (civil service) is mostly corrupt and judiciary is trying to catch up.

9. We have zero tolerance, not for corruption and lies, but for those who dare to speak out against it.

10. Our view of religion is not something that binds people and joins hearts together but something that divides and must be brutally enforced.

11. We have confused loyalty to a political party for loyalty to the country and have branded all dissent, anti-national and unpatriotic.

12. We elect politicians to office only if they belong to our caste, irrespective of everything else.

13. That our politicians are corrupt, mostly uneducated and many have criminal records (including murder), matters not at all in our reckoning. We still elect them.

14. Human life doesn’t have low value in our country, it has no value at all. From 2005 to 2015 over 300,000 farmers committed suicide in India. Result? http://bit.ly/1Lisiy3
15. To break the law with impunity is a measure of social status and an accepted status symbol and is treated as a matter of right by the high and mighty. All of them invariably get away with this, thus reinforcing the principle that some people are more equal than others.

16. Undertrial prisoners are routinely killed by police and the killers are applauded by the media and titled, ‘Encounter Specialist’.

17. Our rape, murder and plunder statistics would do credit to a war zone.

18. In terms of productivity, quality and industry we can’t even compare ourselves to Bangladesh but we feel free to compare ourselves to China. http://bit.ly/2gjOHTa  

That is why I call it anesthetized because despite all this, our Bhakti Movement is going strong. Thank god for our blind supporters. People are telling tales to one another voluntarily blind-folded to the reality imagining that if they tell the tale long enough and shout down any dissent, their tale will come true. This is because, those of us who live in cities and are in the so-called upper middle class and grace the stage of entertainment shows like Times Now and others, live in echo chambers. We shout out our opinions and then count the echoes as agreement. All our projections are based on the number of times we heard our own voice echo back to us bouncing off the walls of our echo chambers. We make the most noise. We are the most visible and others like us assess the state of India based on this.
But anyone who has travelled in rural India, where the vast majority of our people live, will tell you a very different tale. A tale of deprivation, crops left to rot in the field or fed to goats because there is no cash to harvest them. The woman who has one buffalo whose milk she sells to her neighbors will tell you that neighbors won’t pay for that milk by credit card. Buffaloes with credit card slots have yet to be born. That woman needs the money in cash that very day to buy food to eat and feed her family. If the money is paid to her bank account on the basis of monthly credit (this is the solution that our accountant friends will instantly give you because they don’t know one end of a buffalo from the other) she won’t have money to eat today and tomorrow. And long before the first month’s amount comes in, she and her buffalo will both have become history.

The Indian farmer, the man who sells bananas on a push cart, the fish seller who buys fish from the fisherman and sells it in the market, the daily wage earner on a construction site who works through a searing summer for ten hours to earn Rs. 200 with which to feed his family will all tell you similar stories. For them ‘cashless’ means only one thing – that which they are suffering today. The demonetization initiative, no matter how noble its intentions, has converted these poor people into ‘criminals’ because they don’t have bank accounts and don’t pay tax so their earning is labelled ‘black money’. Demonetization has become demonization and has converted them and us into beggars, unable to withdraw our own hard earned savings on which we paid tax, from our own bank accounts. That this violates our Constitutional Right to property is one of those things that we dare not speak of for fear of being branded anti-national, seditious and god-knows what else. So, we don’t protest. We applaud the noble initiative and thank god that the dead farmer, fisherman, milk seller, buffalo or random individual who dropped dead in a bank queue was not our mother, sister, brother, son, father, spouse or ourself. One must always be grateful.
Economies are not electric lights to be switched on and off at will. Especially not an economy as fragile and complex as the Indian economy. The effect of lost crops will not reverse until the next season. People’s lost faith in the currency and in the entire banking system will not change to trust overnight. What this will do to liquidity needs no imagination to visualize. People’s sudden fear of being literally cashless that has led to postponing purchasing decisions will not increase money supply.  Nor will that fear suddenly be replaced by confidence. Our spending has slowed or stopped, our charity has slowed or stopped, our entertaining, holidays, all discretionary spending has slowed or stopped. All these things are the lifeblood of the nation. Where will the transfusion that we need come from?

Firmans are easy to issue but their effects are not in the control of the one issuing the Firman. Neither can those effects be stopped or reversed by a counter Firman. Just as you can’t order clouds to rain, you can’t order crops to grow or the dead to come back to life. The laws of the world don’t change. The one who chooses to shut his eyes to the signs of the sabretooth tiger will surely be his next meal. So, dream on.
Never try to change your spouse

Never try to change your spouse

There are two kinds of correctional institutions. One is called prison. The other one is, but is called marriage. One has a specific term you must serve. The other one is for life. In one you get paid to be there. In the other, you pay to be there. Both specialize in trying to make you something which you don’t want to be but which the powers that be have decided, that you must become. You have two choices in both. Fight to the bitter end. Or succumb. There are those who are stupid and those who are smart. The stupid ones’ fight and fight until they can’t fight any longer. If they are lucky, they die fighting. If not, they gradually weaken and end their days in forced submission, their hearts aflame and fluttering like caged birds, yearning to be free, even if it is by death. The smart ones decide early enough that prisoners that fight can never win. They system is stacked against them. So, either they escape. Or they learn to like the smell.
The worst, most degrading, most toxic thing in a marriage is to live under the cloud that you are not good enough. Many children live this life during childhood but with the consolation that they didn’t ask for the parents they got. But what is the consolation for the adults who get into such a situation voluntarily? Living this life is a constant barrage against your self-esteem which can have only one end – bitterness and hatred. But it is amazing how few of those who have power, realize this.
That is why I called it a ‘correctional institution’.
It appears when you look at some marriages that the only reason one person married the other was to change them into something that was compatible to their imaginary model. I say ‘imaginary’ because I have yet to come across a spouse who had a model which was both positive and negative. All models that spice want their spice to become are all- positive as defined by them. That is like wanting a ‘white Christmas’, in the Sahara Desert. It is by nature and definition impossible. Trying to do something which is impossible, is to set yourself up for failure. The results are always, without exception, catastrophic. Yet we continue to do this, generation after generation.
Why does this happen?
I believe it is for two reasons; arrogance and ingratitude.
Arrogance because one of the spouses considers themselves to be superior to the other and makes it their life goal to ‘improve’ them and bring them on par with themselves, and so make them worthy of being their spouse. What they forget is that they married someone they liked. They forget what they liked. They are only conscious of what they discovered after the honeymoon; that which comes with the packing and which they didn’t realize because they didn’t read the fine print of the Creator. So, they set about trying to change that. To do that, they must necessarily be dissatisfied with what they have because it is dissatisfaction with status quo that drives every improvement or correction initiative. They thus condemn themselves to ignoring the good that is also in the package because they are so focused on the ‘bad’. That they have cursed their own life, they are oblivious to. That they have become the curse in the life of the spouse, they don’t care because they consider themselves to be a blessing and not a curse. And since they are neither interested in ‘customer feedback’ nor are inmates of correctional institutions empowered to give feedback, the opinion of the subject of their attention is immaterial.
Ingratitude because every person has both positive and negative qualities in them. This hardly needs reiterating but it is so often forgotten or ignored that I must state it upfront. Imagining that something in the spouse is negative because you don’t like it, is arrogance. Ignoring the positive in them and treating it as something that is your birthright is gross ingratitude. Both these attitudes are damaging for the other because it is as if his/her entire existence is being judged worthy or not on one parameter alone – does it please the other person. Before the 18th century that used to be called ‘slavery’. I would submit therefore that if you find that some of what I have said applies to you, please reassess your marriage and ask yourself if you are in a marriage or running a correctional institution?
To be brutally frank, marriage is actually a ‘honey trap’ that exists for the propagation of the species. It exists for one reason only, that children may have a stable nest in which to grow to fledgling-hood. All the rest is fluff to make it look attractive to those who are going to do the work and pay for it. Anyone who thinks that marriage is for companionship, supporting each other and so on can easily see that all that costs less to do by itself without signing your warrant for lifetime incarceration. A friend, your therapist, a one-time gift, all cost less, have no complications and leave you feeling good and positive. I have yet to see someone unhappy after meeting a friend or giving a gift.  
So, children come into the world with two parents to care for them, change nappies, pay their bills, buy them the latest gadgets and set them up in life to believe that the world owes them a living. Children born without two doting parents imagining that their piece of meat is God’s gift to mankind never learn this lesson and live in the world knowing that they must struggle to succeed. Hardship that doesn’t kill you always strengthens. So, those who suffered while growing up always beat the living daylights out of those who lived the sheltered life; just as the tree that grows in the crevice clinging to the rock weathers every storm while the one with a lush canopy and shallow roots, is knocked flat by the first gale. If children were not in the equation, marrying someone and pledging to care for them all your and their lives, subjugating yourself to their demands and considering yourself and your life a success or failure based on their subjective judgment, makes no sense at all.
So, what must you do?
Go look in the mirror and tell yourself that the only one in the world who thinks that you are an unqualified blessing is perhaps your mother and that too, perhaps. Tell yourself that you married your spouse because you liked them, not because you found them when they lost their way to their shrink. They didn’t come to be changed. They came to be friends, to share their lives, to slog their butts off to keep you in the style to which you have become accustomed. Surely that deserves a ‘thank you’? Look at their good side. The side you married them for. 

Get a selective memory that doesn’t stockpile all the garbage that every human relationship generates. Remember the good. Get amnesia about the bad. Ask not what your spouse can do for you. Ask what you can do for your spouse. Thank you, President Kennedy. And finally remind yourself that your spouse is human and whatever he or she came with or without is what any other human would come with or without. If you don’t believe me, ask Elizabeth Taylor. And if you don’t like what human beings come with, marry a gorilla.
Does that sound crazy? You bet it is. So, pray that your spouse remains crazy and never gets cured or he will wake up to the fact that your correctional institution has no walls or gates.
Negative or positive, the choice is ours

Negative or positive, the choice is ours

Negative people look for things to complain about and find them. 
Positive people look for things to be grateful for and find them. Make your choice
I’m sure you’ve heard this before that every day we wake up, we have a choice. We can choose to see the day as positive or negative. And guess what, the way we choose is the way it turns out.
This is not magic.
The reality is that the way we expect the day to be drives our own behavior and that produces the positive results for us.
I had a friend who was my mentor and continues to be an inspiration every time I feel that life is tough. He was my manager, my first manager when I lived in Guyana in 1979; my boss, my friend and as I mentioned, my mentor. In Guyana, he was the BOSS. He ran the whole Kwakwani Mining Operation and I was his assistant. New, foreigner, wet-behind-the-ears, first job, zero experience. Yet in the five years that I worked for him, he made me a man. He took what I came with – the training and upbringing of my parents, the mentoring of Aunty Mohini and Uncle Rama, of Nawab Nazir Yar Jung and Nawab Habib Jung and K. Kuruvila Jacob and my teachers in school and life – and gave it a finish. Learning is never finished but it goes through stages. One of the major thresholds that I crossed was when I worked with Mr. James Nicholas (Nick) Adams. I have written about these years in my book, ‘It’s my Life’, so if you are interested, please read it there. I left Guyana in 1983.
I returned to Guyana in 1997 when I was invited by the Prime Minister, Mr. Samuel Hinds, who was an old friend from my days there when all of us worked in the same company. My dear friend Arjun Reddy and I spent a very pleasant week in Guyana as guests of the Prime Minister. God bless Sam and Yvonne’s hospitality. Nick by then had retired to Linden and we spent some lovely days together. Nick told me that he was planning to migrate to the US as his family was there. I didn’t think that was a great idea because he had his own house in Linden and had a very nice and comfortable life. But life has its decision points and only those who live it can make those decisions.
I next met Nick in 2009 when I was in New York and discovered that he had a job as a doorman in an apartment building in Brooklyn, New York. I almost wept, until I saw the big smile on his face and he said to me, ‘You know Yawar, I am so fortunate. I sit in a cool air-conditioned lobby all summer when New York is sweltering and in a nice heated lobby when it is freezing. I get paid just to be here. I am so grateful to God for this because at my age I still need to work and if this job wasn’t there, what would I do?’ I took a deep breath and said to myself, ‘Boss, this is about you. Not him. This is Allah telling you something. Nick is the means by which this message is coming to you.’ In the course of conversation, he said to me, ‘There is an old Jewish lady who lives in a small but very nice flat on the top of this building. She lives alone. Every once in a while, especially in winter, she calls me and requests me to get her a sandwich from across the street. She is old and it is difficult for her to wrap herself up and go across the freezing and often slippery street, so she asks me. I always do this for her. My colleagues, other doormen, object. They tell me that I must not do it as it is not part of my job description. How to get the sandwich is her problem, not mine. But I don’t listen to them. I just do it because that is the right thing to do.’
I am listening to him and saying to myself, ‘This is what he taught me all his life – that life is a bank account. Deposit into it when you don’t need it and you will have it when you need it.’ Here was a man who radiated positivity in situations where others would have given up and curled up, ready to die. At the age of seventy-five, he lost his job due to cancer and had hip replacement surgery and so couldn’t work any longer. His lovely wife Kathleen was working but they needed a home. Then the old lady in the apartment died. A couple of days later, her son comes to Nick and says, ‘My mother wrote in her will that you should live in her apartment as long as you live. I have come to inform you and to make a request.’ Nick says to me (on the phone, when I called him as I did from time to time), ‘I was overwhelmed with thankfulness for what God did for me. I needed a house and He gave me an apartment in Brooklyn in one of the best apartments, rent free for life. So what was the man’s request. The man says to me, ‘My mother had her furniture. I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t need it and to store it would be prohibitively expensive. So, can I please leave it in the flat and you are most welcome to use it?’ Nick says, ‘Every time you think God gave you something and are grateful, He gives you more. I needed a home. He gives me a furnished home, free for life.’
I am saying to myself, ‘Here is a man who is living the Ayaat of the Qur’an where Allah said exactly the same thing – if you are grateful to me I will enhance my blessing.’ Nick’s cancer continued and towards the latter part of his life it became very painful so he was mostly sedated. But on the occasions when I could talk to him and asked him how he was feeling, he always replied, ‘I am very well. I can’t thank god enough for what He has done for me.’ I thought to myself, ‘Here is a man who has the option to think of so many negative things that have happened in his life, but he chooses to think of the positives things and is grateful for them and not a negative or ungrateful word from him.’

Allah appreciates those who appreciate His blessings and refuse to complain about the trials that are also part of life. I saw that in the life of Nick Adams. Two weeks before he passed away, he accepted Islam and died a Muslim. His memory illuminates my own life, especially when things are difficult. And his mention and story do the same to many others all over the world. May Allah who gave him Islam, give him Jannah.
Meet real people – not labels

Meet real people – not labels

Someone sent me the Amazon Prime Ad about the meeting between the priest and Imam which is here..

A dear friend asked me, ‘How did we become like this?’ …meaning, ‘How did we become so mechanical, bigoted, hatred driven?’

I answered, ‘That is because we have given up the world for others to run for us. We don’t meet neighbors any more. We watch TV instead.’ That may sound simplistic but the reality is that we don’t know people as ‘people’ any more. Our relationships are purely transactional. We don’t share our thoughts, fears, hopes, aspirations with others. We don’t laugh together. We laugh at each other. We don’t share in each other’s joy and sadness.

How then can we understand and appreciate one another. We need to change the way we live. In most cases, go back to how we used to live. In other cases, invent a new way to live where we relate to people as people. Not as labels.

We need to remember that we are human first. Everything else afterwards.

A simple question: In homes which have grandparents ask how many grand children spend time listening to them? Terrible waste of life experience and loneliness for the elderly.

We’ve lost the art of conversation and need to get it back urgently. We have no space in our lives for real people and meeting and talking to them without any material need. Just to meet and greet and talk. Our gadgets meant to make communication easy and free and social media which is meant to connect us to the rest of the world has actually enclosed us in sound proof capsules, isolated, lonely, desperate for contact; getting stressed if a reply doesn’t come in two seconds; forgetting that all we have to do is to go out and meet another person face to face to get full multimedia, instant response. 

 That’s why there’s stereotyping, prejudice and hatred. All breed like lice in the darkness of ignorance. We are a generation which has lots of information but very little if any, wisdom. We need to cure this sickness.

So now that you have reached this place – stop reading and go out and meet someone.  Don’t call, don’t WhatsApp, don’t email, don’t do any of that. Go out and meet. Meet your family. Meet your friends. Meet even strangers. Greet. Smile and speak to them.

Will you do it?