To be or not to be, an Introspection

To be or not to be, an Introspection

In recent months whenever I have gone to society gatherings, I have received two sorts of reactions. There are those who meet warmly and perhaps more so than normal. Then there are those who are more withdrawn, maybe embarrassed to be in the same space. That is fine, as it is the destiny of life to divide all things into pros and antis. The warm handshakes denote respect and in some cases envy. The withdrawn ones indicate perplexity and contempt at the voluntary abdication of an influential position.

My decision to walk away from corporate life a few months ago, from what people would consider a peak of career in the early 50′s, has been examined and conclusions are drawn according to the inclination of each individual. It is not as clear to people, like another friend’s very recent departure into politics. That is dealing in blacks and whites as he is going to correct the wrongs of Pakistan, Inshallah; much more cut and dried and with a clear goal in mind.   My decision has tones of grey in it and therefore is less palatable. Is this the musings of a wandering minstrel?

Well, as a first benefit of my decision, take this fact, that I would never be able to write in Borderline Green so openly, if I was CEO of a large corporate. The value of that freedom alone is something which I have not tasted these past 28 years and makes life worth living again. At least I am not a hostage to fortune anymore.

My career went through its chronological mental stages, best described as:-

– “need to do this because everyone does it”

– a feeling of importance and finding one’s own feet

– interesting work, I am mentally engaged

– “I need to do this for my family”

– “oh I am a CEO” (very short satisfaction period!)

– then “what a burden of responsibility this is”

– to “why am I doing this?”

– “my work is done; others will do the job now and I will live a better life Inshallah”

– Lastly, relief at a job finished and freedom

The problem was the feeling of “I am in this for myself only“. I think it was prevalent in the background throughout this 28 year period. It was a battle within, fought continuously and never overcome. For all one can imagine a larger purpose to one’s career, the reality is that you are doing it for yourself and not for society, country or other altruistic reasons. Unfortunately, there exists a very human tendency to fool oneself into thinking that it is worthwhile, because “I am doing it for others”.

Not for long though. Eventually the dreaded question comes back in the silent beat of the night. Why? Why this soul-killing regime of travel, meetings, hours of useless discussions, putting on a mask, and acting a role. And if you happen to work for an MNC, it becomes worse. At best I found MNC, as real phooey work. The most senior of CEOs operate within a strict band of authority. It is like that dog who uselessly runs besides a speeding car, barking at it. All bark no substance.

You are actually serving a master called the international stock exchange and you will never humanize that in a millennium. Profit and share price are the only operating goals, though you might think it is CSR or building capability or globalization etc. You are fooling yourself and others. What you are now applying is another bugbear, which is ever present at various stages of a career. Our ability to provide “spin”, to this lifelong exercise. Many do it expertly, others reluctantly and some are never good at it. But the truth is that your career prospects improve, if you have learned to apply “spin” to your corporate presence.

So good citizens who are reading this diatribe, sometime in the night over your career you will hear a call, and that voice will ask in ever more urgent terms: “why?”

You can choose to fool yourself, stay addicted to social edict or you can start the intense self examination on whether you should open the door and walk out to something more fulfilling. If you choose not to do anything, then it is no different to 99% other humans. Fine! But know that when you are 80 and look back, there is almost certain to be massive regrets at not taking action. A life uselessly spent in the search of the legal tender and position in society.

If you do decide to do something, don’t kid yourself by putting bandages on your wounds. That is time and money spent on a fool’s errand. Better to do it wholeheartedly. It could be that the eventual result is failure. That is always a possibility. However, if you succeed, then also understand that there is no better feeling one can have in this life. To really live for the larger good is the true purpose of existence, as shown by Prophets, religions and great reformers.

I know there are many of you out there, as you speak to me regularly. Open the gate and go out. Inshallah you will be in an adventure and will not regret it. Just reclaim ownership of your life.

An Alternative Reality?

It all started when Bismarck was sent some quality English ice cream by Queen Victoria. Apparently she used to love the man, but because of Prince Albert they never prospered. Bad storage facilities meant the ice cream was not quite the thing, when it arrived. But Bismarck suffered from a sweet tooth and was greedy to boot, so he ate it regardless. Things really got bad after that. I will not even relate how bad.
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The Kaiser Wilhelm seeing the state of his Chancellor demanded an apology from Queen Vic. This was not forthcoming and war was declared. The French being the route of the ice cream to Germany were also dragged into the net. In the meantime, the Russian Nicholas secretly admired a spritely ballerina in London, so he declared on behalf of the English. Lastly, the Pasha of Turkey disliked ice cream and came on the side of Germany, even banning the item in Ottoman territory.
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WW1 went against English expectations and they lost. They would have been fine, but the American President Wilson fell for the Kaisers niece (to ensure supply lines of sugar and gum from Africa) and joined the war on the German side.  Wilson obviously had expansive designs. The Germans and allies ruled for the next 20 years and the Americans took over India, hence the plethora of American culture today.
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In these 20 years things were not good for the British. They had lost their empire and were hurting. The Communist Party now ruled Britain, their values centred on the elimination of ice cream, as the root cause of problems. The Russians naturally felt that ballet was the source of problems, decided to ban it. Due to this Nicholas was ostracized and removed and the Russians kept their pro art policy. While the Pasha went into decline when despite his orders, ice cream flourished in his country.
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Meantime Germany struck a deal with Japan to create a colony in the Middle East for them, to increase supply of gum and sugar. However along the line, they transferred their Jews to this colony instead, because they were consuming too much ice cream in Germany, depriving others from the item. This mass migration made Japan mad and they decided to attack the interests of the German ally America. The Americans were annoyed at the role played by the Germans in this and so the 20 year alliance came to end and the WW2 began.
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The Americans now distrusted ice cream and decided to sponsor chewing gum and candy. They ordered that the manufacturing facilities should be given to all future allies. The Russians, British and French sensing a financial opportunity, joined the Americans. Specifically Churchill, a strong communist, was ready to expand facilities of gum in Britain to help the American effort. Eventually, the war was won, when the Americans dropped huge combustible gum over Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The Japs could not take the sweet, sticky exploding stuff and surrendered. Germans ruled by the artist Hitler, were distraught at this betrayal and surrendered. Hitler committed suicide, as he saw a future bereft of art.
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In the Middle-East, the Jews sensing that the American sweet tooth will prevail declared that candy was the next best thing and supported America. The Palestinians being less worldly declared for dates and olives, for which there was no American support. Meanwhile the Russians feeling that art had been betrayed with the defeat of Germany went into cold war with America. In India, two parties emerged. One declared for American candy, while the rebels had a penchant for meat and took independence as Pakistan.  Lastly the Americans set up support within the Arab world, which would guard their supply lines, provide useful raw material for the candy and also be a good market for their gum and candy.
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Over the decades this game of consumerism is being played out. The American candy has generally prevailed, with West Europe, Israel and Japan exploiting the opportunity. Latest entrants China and India watched with interest for decades, as the WW2 allies weakened, and then used the same consumer demand for their benefit. The Arabs have remained as support for the western effort and provided them with supplies. While Russia, which supported the artistic side, has not progressed as much, Pakistan which loved meat has had a really rough time and the poor Palestinians with dates and olives are de-franchised.
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In my alternative reality, ice cream is basic raw materials, sugar and candy are consumer goods, meat is ideology, art is a totalitarian system and olives and dates are basic rights.

From Enemy to Friend – Ikrimah bin Abi Jahl

Yarmuk Valley

Yarmuk Valley

When Ikrimah looked up at the sky, as the storm raged and called on Allah the one to help, the shades fell from his eyes. Two decades of virulent opposition to the Prophet (saw) turned into belief in Allah. The flashes of Badr, his father’s body undone , the triumph at Uhad as assistant to Khalid bin Waleed, the retreat from Khandaq and his flight from Mecca all cascaded by. What a waste! So let him go back to Mecca and profess the shehadah.

This seminal event was to change history, resulting in hundreds of millions of lives being influenced in these past 1400 years.

On arriving at Mecca, Umm Hakim, his wife, took Ikrimah to the Prophet (saw). Already the Prophet (saw) feeling the momentous event, had told his companions Ikrimah approaches with belief in his heart, so do not revile his father. The meeting was close and Ikrimah asked for forgiveness and promised to devote his life to Islam.

Six years later, the Muslim armies positioned in Yarmuk valley, north of Jerusalem and east of Lake Tiberius, were barely clinging on with their finger nails across a broad front of 7 miles. The Romans outnumbering them – some say 5 to 1- had been pushing them back for four days. Favourable ground and higher numbers had taken toll.

Vahan had decided that today was the day to break the enemy lines and encircle the Arab armies. Heracles orders were clear, destroy these Arabs and drive them into the desert, so that they never return. A march further south into the Arabian heartland was also conceivable.  Having done a feint on the Arab right, he had forced Khalid bin Waleed to send the reserves into action.  Then, putting together all his strength Vahan focused on the Arab left centre, attacking Yazid’s (not the same one!) divisions. The Muslims outnumbered and without reserves, were spread thin. During this attack, Abu Sufyan and some 100 others lost an eye under a barrage of arrows- also known as Day of the Lost Eyes. Under pressure, the Muslim left centre was in wholesale retreat, the Arab lines were about to break.

Left facing the approaching Roman cavalry was the sole regiment (400 strong) of Ikrimah, son of Abu Jahl – former great enemy of the Prophet (saw).

The situation is clear. If Ikrimah’s men break, the battle is lost and the future is bleak. If they hold, there is hope yet. Not since Uhad, has Islam faced such a cataclysmic moment. Ikrimah decides to use the Arab tradition and take baith from all 400. Today, no one will retreat, rather they shall die. The Roman ranks crash against the Arab 400. As the day drags, Vahan intent on victory throws lines after lines on the enemy, only for them to stand firm. Losses are heavy, but the Arab lines hold and as the night falls, a perplexed Vahan withdraws.

Lying somewhere in the middle of the carnage is the broken body of Ikrimah, his triumph complete and his debt to Islam paid in full. His regiment have achieved shehadat and also forced the Romans to withdraw. Not only the Roman strength has been used up, but the enemy is exhausted and demoralised, they have let victory escape out of their grasp.

The rest of the story is recorded as a gory tale, when the Roman armies in retreat are boxed in and slaughtered and are never able to recover. Khalid bin Waleed’s resounding victory leaves the road open west and north. One of the greatest victories of Islam leads to massive conquests over the next century. Not till Tours – just 18 miles from present day Paris- and some 96 years later were the Muslim armies to be stopped.

Khalid’s maneuverings at Yarmuk are taught even today in various military academies. But in those few hours, Ikrimah and his companions made that success possible, where otherwise defeat stared in the face. Yarmuk changed history and while today European historians using their own logic (rather than facts) try and review numbers, even they agree to the significance of the event.

Above all stands the phenomena of belief, where one man went from being the most persistent enemy to being the saviour of Islam. May Allah accept the sacrifice of Ikrimah and his companions.

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