Cuba, the Final Frontier

imageTo use Star Trek language, imagine Captain Kirk of the Enterprise relating his mission in 21st century Cuba. “This is the story of Cuba, the final frontier, where modern man has never been. Our mission is to enter it, hunt for archaic humans, modernise them and change the culture to modernity. Our goal is to make profits out of that modernity, by bringing consumerism.”

That is the sort of briefing which must have been given in the White House a few weeks ago, as Obama flew across to meet Raul Castro. The first US President to visit since almost ever.

The BBC was recently running a series of pictures from Cuba. It is fascinating. Garish coloured cars from the 1950s, probably shipped across from US, in the days when this was a US backyard. Old men sitting smiling, chewing on their cigar. Old women dancing and younger school children studying in schools, which could well be from early 20th century. This is a place which has no money, an infrastructure which is minimal and whatever is available, is abysmal. There is no consumerism, no malls, no retail giants. The television is archaic and the internet almost non-existent. So, it carries all the pain which poverty brings. But, they seem happy and their lives belong to them. The rat race has not descended on this last bastion of antiquity.

There is a blue print of just such a place. Pre 1975, Hunza, a region in Northern Pakistan, was remote from the world. Some millenia ago, roaming bands of Greek army (invading India) or maybe Albanians or Eurasians, wandered past the Hindu Kush range and entered the Hunza valley in the Karakorum Mountains. They settled there and were remotely administered from the world. When civilisation finally caught up with them in 1975, they found people over a hundred years of age working out in the fields. They were blessedly happy, totally ignorant, healthy (there were no recorded cases of cancer for instance) and lacked stress. They lived long and did not prosper in terms of commerce. Our assessment? Of course they needed to be helped and brought into modern life! It was our mission to do that. Today, they are not as happy, live shorter, catch all the modern diseases and while they have some of modern life’s trappings, are still not prosperous. They have lost a lot and gained little.

My fear is that this is what is going to happen to Cuba also. A place of poverty and happiness, is going to be converted into a modern commerce centre, where no one will be happy and once the worlds great MNCs have taken their share of profits out of it, will be in debt and not prosperous either. Sadly, the final frontier will be conquered, and much that is human will be gone forever. It has been so for successive civilisations, including the Red Indians, Mayans and tribes in Africa. Look what happened to them. Allah forfend!

As a footnote. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones visited Cuba to do a free concert in Havana. Chanel and Lagerfeld have held fashion shows, with Paris haute couture on display, along with the stick thin modern models. That is what I mean. They are bringing happiness to the Cubans and will go away with their souls. Cuba, the final frontier! Wish they would let them be as they are.

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My road-stops to fulfillment

imageRemember how in Star Trek, the older Mr Spock visits his younger version and advises him? That is a luxury not afforded us humans, but if it were, I would go back to myself, maybe forty years, and give a list of ideals. Maybe I might have applied them. Anyway, here they are, for the benefit of those who are curious about such a list.

1. Vision, have a personal goal

If you get in a car and drive without knowing where you are going, you will waste a lot of fuel and time. Know the lighthouse in the far distance, see it, desire it and then let Allah guide you there. Who knows, you might even get there.

2. A value system, be honest to yourself

There is no point in living your one and only life, being someone else. Why exactly are you acting your way through life? So, when you are yourself, then you must have a set of values. Apply them. They are driven by your belief, which then drives your vision. To get to that vision, you need your value system. Hopefully, you will be an optimistic person and have a great value system.

3. Stand by your principles, but it does not have to be a hydrogen bomb decision

Through life you will have to stand behind your principles, which are set by your value system. But, here is a secret. It does not mean that you are forever fighting and beating people. Use the art of persuasion, a sweet mind and tongue. A hydrogen bomb decision is very rare. It should not happen, Allah provides an honest way out, if you desire it.

4. Opportunities are few! Take risks, but don’t need to be rash

Every now and then an opportunity will come whistling by. Do not avoid them. Look them in the eye. Be calm and do not rush. If you absolutely cannot, then let them go. There will be others. But mostly, you will prevail and you should look at it as an adventure and take the risk. A hit rate of 50 per cent is a good figure for a benchmark.

image5. Have fun

This is an absolute must. Life will be very boring and serious otherwise. Even take tough assignments as an adventure and laugh your way through. You can always move on to your next opportunity and its not the end of the world.

6. Have some passions

Definitely! Otherwise one becomes a boring fuddy-duddy. Like your sports, or music or outdoors. Have something to discuss with people other than your work. Please!

7. Don’t take yourself too seriously, better still laugh at yourself

As we become senior, we begin to believe we are a gift to mankind. You are just one breath away from extinction. So chill and laugh. Be human to everyone, they will actually like you. Otherwise in their secret chamber, everytime they see you, they will see an evil looking gorilla. You are better looking than that, so just laugh.

8. Life is not about yourself, think of others

Always think of the effects of your actions. There are people connected to your decisions. They are human. So behave like a human and look after them. Do not be a machine, especially a corporate one.

9. Give time to family and friends, before its too late

My own biggest failure and not surprisingly many CEOs say the same. Travel is the biggest culprit. When your children have stepped out of the door and gone to live life, then its too late to reverse the decision. Travel less; leave work behind when you come home. You can pick it up tomorrow again.

10. Give back as much as you can, you will be happy and content

In the end this world does not belong to us. Its leant to us, to carry to the next generation. Leave much of yourself in this world. Especially in the hearts and minds of people. You will be happier and life will be better fulfilled, based on the goodwill of others.

We all experiment and make errors, but I do wish someone, somewhere had taken a younger me and told me these things. Life would have been easier. In the end we all eventually find our path and culmination, regardless.

*the pictures are from dreamstime.com

Mr Spock of Star Trek

imageFor a young kid, logic had no meaning. But when it was portrayed as the next best thing to sliced cheese, by a pair of slanting eyebrows and warped ears, it certainly fitted into a space in the brain. Since that time, many decades ago, its remained there and has played a part in my life. Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock to hundreds of millions), the purveyor of this logic has died. There is a strange sadness worldover, for he touched the lives of many around the globe.

Few will remember so far back, to a sultry Karachi evening in 1970, when Star Trek came to town. A black and white TV – I think it was a Philips make- and there on the screen was one of those dramas from the serial. It was immediately more than just a scifi show. It took over life. Kirk, Spock, Doctor McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty and Chekov became a part of all of us. It also finished too quickly and was gone. But repeated shows all around the world and later, the Star Trek movies revived it. And bore it through the decades of various off shoot series and movies. Till today.

In those years it became a constant of life. These great fictional travellers, again and again, came into our lives, portraying the best of humanity. Whether, they were exploring the universe, or fighting for survival, or taking on the Klingons, it taught us great lessons on teamwork, living in adversity and about a greater cause. It embodied our dreams of goodness.

Central in that theme were two characters. A leader extraordinaire Captain Kirk, who life long has stood as the model of leadership for many of us. But the character who carried the embodiment of goodness, of selflessness and of doing things the right way was Spock of Vulcan. This Spock with his logic, his strange powers and dry humour. He won the heart decades ago of almost all who watched him. Mr Spock also taught us lessons which we carry through our daily lives. I too try to think logically when making decisions, for teams and for greater good and when I do so, sometimes the lessons taught through childhood by Mr Spock subliminally pop up in my brain.

Sadness is a lot of things to a lot of people. To me just now, sadness is the end of something that counts in my life. For me and hundreds of millions others, in this present world, Mr Spock is one who counts. Leonard Nimoy who so ably over five decades, portrayed Mr Spock, is gone to a more permanent abode, and with him has finally gone one of the most enduring fictional characters in history. It will not be possible to replace him, who has been there in our lives for so long and taught us so much.

So now who will take the starship Enterprise on a journey, where no man has ever been? And who will teach us logic? A personal thanks to Leonard Nimoy, for having been such an important one in so many lives.

Parting from close ones

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One of life’s ultimate emotional stress comes through in the form of parting from close ones. Recently, on a Sunday morning visit to my fathers grave I recalled his last day and various other goodbyes which have occurred during my life. This is probably a blog to myself to assuage a personal need.

I was living in London during my professional study years. Coming from a school where we were together right from Prep to our A levels, school relationships were very strong. We had been together for fourteen years and when we ventured forth at eighteen, the bonds remained. Mind you, these were the non technology times and communication was an issue.

In London, a whole lot of us would meet regularly. However, many of us ended up in the universities in the US. Every early summer, these friends would drop in and at the end of the summer some would come back again. These were short two day visits of friends returning to Pakistan early summer and then going back to US in late summer. I came to look forward to these visits, but at the same time to dread them. The Tube link to Heathrow was made in the early 80s, and one would go to the airport, either via Tube or drive, to leave the departing visitors. The times when I have hugged old friends at the airport and felt that the world was ending were countless.

Is not a parting something like that? How does one know if you will see or hear or talk to this person ever again. Life for either party is uncertain..is it not? Now, I am not sure if everyone feels the force of this, so some out there would say this is nonsense. But, throughout the early and late summer I would be depressed. The loss of a company of friends and the effect of bidding these adieus would really shake me up. It was as if the departing people had taken away ones happiness.

In later years in the 90s, I was working abroad and would come back to Karachi couple of times a year. Enjoyable holidays, where friends and relatives would entertain one, coupled with a bit of nostalgia. During one of my short visits, a close relative was diagnosed with late stage cancer. On my last night here, she came to see me, as we were packing and friends were floating in and out. I still remember her traditional last words, as we hugged. “acha tou zindagi rahi tou phir millain gay” (if life allows we shall meet again) and in saying this she faltered when our eyes met. It was obvious to both of us, that we will not meet again. A month later she had died and I have been left with the haunting memory of those words. Awful; enough to shake the soul. A memory which has remained with me, these last 19 years.

Another form of parting is when people go away from a work place. My own resignation from Engro Foods in October 2011, was a traumatic experience. While I expected some sadness from colleagues – we had grown the company together and start up operations have a family sort of bonding – but was totally unprepared for the adulation and tears which I encountered in various farewells. So the last large good bye event at the Boat Club, which ended with me giving a speech, was extremely emotional and traumatic. It felt like multiple friends and family had been surgically removed and I was bereft of a huge part of myself.

Lastly comes the ultimate departure. This is the genuine final one, when we leave this world. Most have faced this. My father’s death was earthshaking, but he went in his sleep. So while the particular day will be etched in my memory, this was not, in a classical sense a parting. In one other case, a close relative died in my arms, while I was trying to get a heart pill into his mouth. That was an experience which shall remain in my mind. One literally saw life ebb out. Totally. Death is so final and such a significant event. It shapes our lives and we should never forget it.

So goodbyes, separations and partings, whether short or long term or permanent, are a serious examination of ones emotions. The particular person is gone, out of our lives for a period or forever. It is one part of our existence being physically taken out of our souls. Its a form of death! The closer the links, the greater the examination and hurt. In todays world, with family and friends spread all over the world, this has become all too frequent. One almost wishes for those “beam me up Scotty machines” from Star Trek, so that we would never have to part for a significant period from loved ones and friends. Alas, we come here alone and go out alone, with other smaller partings in the middle. Sadly, a process we have to live and thrive within, like it or not.

*Picture is taken from dreamstime.com a free picture stock

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