Back in Dhaka, I attended a dinner get-together at Akber (Al) Hakim's --- CEO of Engineering Resources International (ERI) --- place, attended by former Bangladeshi foreign secretary and former Canadian High Commissioner, Mr. Mohsen Ali Khan, who impressed me with his demeanour of a seasoned, groomed and polite diplomat; a textile industry tycoon, with an eye on environment by incorporating a tea garden to lower over-all green house gas (GHG) emission for his company; a Dhaka TV business-issue interviewer; a director of ERI (Dr. Khaliqur Rahman); a senior manager with ERI; and a top executive of Petro Bangla. The host knew what I liked. Bengali dishes had been ordered. Tagore songs were playing in the background. The tastefully decorated living room, with paintings on the walls, one of which caught my attention because of its vibrant colour contrast, was comfortable and conducive to having discussions. The snacks were on the coffee table, a hand-stretch away from where I was sitting. The room light was warm. The host introduced each guest, upon arrival, to others already seated, by projecting a glowing spot-light of spoken praises that embarrassed the introverts and lit up the extroverts. The food was tasteful. The discussion was topical: what was common about successful people; how hard work was not seen as hard work who loves doing it; what skills the diplomat used to influence Canadian officials to promote Bangladeshi garment industry; garment Industry safety; and GHG emission by different countries in the world. There was a long discussion as to whether GHG should be calculated based on per capita or some other metric, so countries like China or India did not get away polluting more by having more population.
The koi fish was so fluffy and soft! It would linger in my taste bud until superseded by another superior koi. I was in the peaceful abode of my BUET friend Jahar Kar and his spouse, Anjana, in Shanti Nagar (peaceful town) community of Dhaka. Anjana prepared a Bengali lunch that was as thoughtful in menu selection as it was in careful preparation, with each dish accentuated with a specific spice, reminding me of my mother's 'best-in-the-village' creative cooking. The tea was something that tasted like real tea from Sri Mangal, Sylhet, BD, not the weeds, packed in fancy packets --- each wearing a sacred thread like I used to wear as a Brahmin kid, and a fancy tag to look dignified --- we call and drink as tea in Canada. And get heart burn and constricted oesophagus.
All heads were raised! All eyes, young and old, mostly young, were on me, from a very close range. It was a welcome I had never experienced before in my professional and cultural life, as an occasional stage-singer in Calgary. After a powerful introduction by Akber Hakim, the CEO, I made a short motivational speech to the employees of ERI, a start-up engineering firm founded by several BUET alumni, spearheaded by Dr. Zaman. In the speech, I was alluding to a very favourable Facebook comment: 'He is a living legend. An athlete and has so many patents.' by an ERI employee to a posting related to my completing seven-continent marathons. After my speech, the comment poster, a young female engineering supervisor, stood up from the left corner making others, including me, think it would be a question. Instead, she surprised all and brought down the room, with an outburst of laughter that drowned what she said before it reached my internally-aged ears. I laughed a few seconds later after hearing from someone nearby what she had just said. It had to do with my look and my 'apparent age', compared to my 'real age', which the CEO had disclosed in his introduction to amplify my feat of completing marathons in seven continents. The Pink City salon treatment on my face did cross my mind at that moment.
After being showered with compliments from a staff for my appearance and 'apparent age', I was presented a crest by the CEO, on behalf of the ERI Team, that reads: 'In Recognition of Extra-ordinary Achievements; You Inspire Us!'. I got inspired by knowing I inspired them --- by putting one leg in front of the other for hours through rain, sun, snow, thin air, among lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, and elephant. Inspiration has an element of reciprocity in it, I realized.
A good leader or a teacher is one who practices what she or he preaches. Akber Hakim, CEO of ERI, teaches a leadership course and that showed in his inviting me to motivate his staff. Akber coaches others on public speaking and that showed in his concise and energetic introduction of me to his staff. Over the past 34 years of my tenure with Imperial Oil and its owner ExxonMobil, I worked with or seen many managers, but never came across someone like Akber --- so energetic and so extrovert --- two traits many leaders or engineers from Bangladesh or 'Anydesh' could emulate.
One studio staff came and rubbed my face with a sponge of puff-powder, like a cricket bowler rubs the new ball against his trouser, to take its shine away. The camera man looked at me through his lens and came down to adjust the lapels of my jacket and straighten the tie of an absent-minded me. The blemishes from my face had already been scraped off in a Pink City salon, a week earlier. I was in Ekatur 71 TV for a live studio interview --- my first and arranged by Akber. Conducted in three segments with several minutes of advertisement breaks in-between, the interview was about how my inventions related to oil in Bangladesh, how industries in Bangladesh could take advantage of expertise of engineers living abroad, and about my running marathons. After 30-minutes of ads and Q&A, the producer came to shake my hands from a hidden room, and have me sign on a piece of paper. I looked at the amount on the right most column, made a quick currency conversion in my head to conclude it was ridiculously below the limit I was allowed to accept, according to my company's business ethics guidelines. Suffice it to say, I would need 4.5 such interviews to pay for the hairdo and the 'face-do' I had in the salon.
'How do I get back to running after not running for a long time?' an ERI staff asked during a second session with young employees only. They looked keen and inquisitive. After a few more questions and answers, I was taken to Gulshan Club, one of the exclusive clubs in Dhaka for business and social meetings. Some flats in that area were as pricey as those in Manhattan, NY City, Akber said. The down payment to apply for a new membership in the club was so high that I just did not even bother to register it in my brain, when Mr. Mohsen Ali Khan, the former ambassador, through whose membership we gained access to the exclusive club, mentioned the amount. From where I was sitting, I could see the immaculately manicured yard with flower patches. Inside, on the table, the food was great, the service was polite, and the price was reasonable. It was unusually reasonable, making it look like most of it had been paid already in the down-payment and monthly membership fees.
A mild fight broke out over who was going to pay the bill, triggered by BHG, a Bengali hospitality gene, as described earlier. Dr. Khaliqur Rahman won the 'reasoned fight' with the career diplomat over who should pay the reasonable amount on the bill. I was not in the fight, as I was the guest and it would be a sign of 'show-off' by me even to make a light attempt. The ambitious Akber, named after the great Mogul conqueror, was saving his fight for a larger cause, like securing a big joint venture with a European company. He also did not feel any internal push to get in, perhaps thinking of the extravagant hospitality he had shown already in his place two nights earlier. The ambassador lost out, but he did not feel that bad in defeat, knowing we all knew he did not even know me until the Akber party. He might have also thought he had paid most of it through his down payment or monthly fees as a member of the club. But the BHG kept working on him. In an email later, he invited not only me, but Boudi (my spouse), to have dinner in his place, during my next trip.
'I'll have to shake your hand!' the young lady from The Independent, an English daily newspaper, stood up in the middle of taping my interview at the ERI meeting room. I thought I already did that when we met. It was an encore! It was the moment when I was talking about my inventions and innovations. It could be because of how I said it. I might have learnt something from Akber watching him. By then, I had met him three times: first, at Long Beach Suites Hotel; second, at a dinner party in his residence in Gulshan, and third, in ERI office and over lunch at Gulshan Club. Good behaviours are infectious!
'Do you think we could run a full marathon, being a Bengali?' asked one of the four aspiring Bangladeshi marathon runners who came to see and hear from one of their countrymen. 'We ran half-marathons,' he continued. 'That's the longest race in Bangladesh.' 'A marathon running has little to do with ethnicity or race and more to do with training and mental strength,' I assured. 'I did it and I am a Bengali, still eating rice and fish, and singing Tagore songs to relax almost before every marathon.' Pleased with my assurance, they gave me a banner to sign for them, and gave me a banner and four T-shirts from Dhaka Half Marathon. (The concluding instalment of this article will appear next week.)
Tapan Chakrabarty, a seven-continent marathon finisher and an inventor, writes from Calgary, Canada