Class of 99 reunion

It started 4 years back between 2 friends (one in India and other in Canada) discussing about getting together for a class reunion.

What transpired between those 4 years is impossible to account for. But the end result was better than expected.

I completed my schooling at Abu Dhabi Indian School (ADIS) passing out of Grade 12 in 1999. Thus the “Class of 99″. And this year, actually the last 3 days, we celebrated our 15 YEAR REUNION.

And what a reunion it was.

Maybe that’s the reason behind this sudden feeling of emptiness. I returned home couple of hours back, settled it, and a bout of nostalgia kicked in. Did I just spend the last 3 days with all my high school buddies? Did I just meet some of them after 15 years? And that’s when it hit me.

This was exactly how I felt when I left school in 1999.

A lot has changed since. Marriage. Job. Kids. Responsibilities. But the last 3 days was like a journey through time. To relive the madness of high school. And to see a room full of guys, and this time with wives and kids, was one hell of an experience. No matter what happens from here, I will be carrying a piece of this with me for the rest of my life.

What really stood out was some relations were still the same. In some cases, the same awkwardness. In other cases, the same openness. The same passion. The same friendships. Just bigger waistlines and lesser hair.

All in all, this reunion turned out far better than we all expected. And I think the timing was perfect. Had we met for our 10 year reunion, we all would still have been fighting and striving, trying to come to terms with our lives. With our failures and imperfections. But today, it really didn’t matter. I guess as time passes by, the lesser it does.

Tomorrow morning, I will be back to my life but rest assured, I can sleep tonight with a heart full of memories and feelings of emptiness at the same time. Maybe that’s the part of me that I left behind in 1999 today.

Nostalgia.

How NOT to Sell

I just got a call from a local bank (name withheld purposely) trying to sell a credit card. If I have to rank, this has to be right up there amongst one of the worst sales call ever. I wasn’t nasty. I took the call and gave him time. Gave him multiple opportunities to back off or move on. But it had to happen.

I will try my best to replay the conversation.

Agent: Hello, Good Morning, Sir. This is John Doe (name changed) from XYZ Bank. Can I talk to you for a minute?

Me: Hi John. Sure. What are you trying to sell me this morning? *jumping the gun*

Agent: *Chuckles* Do you have any relationship with our bank?

Me: No.

Agent: Great. Sir, we are offering you our best credit card. You have to pay annual fee of Dh 1000 but you get 35000 complimentary Etihad travel points which you can redeem for a return air ticket to India. Are you from India?

Me: Yes. *This card is not for me. Not interested*

Agent: Great. So that way, you won’t have to pay anything for the card. Along with that, we provide 2 complimentary lounge access and….

*I interrupt him”

Me: Hang on. But I already have lounge access through other credit cards. Why do you think this card is of any interest to me? *Giving him an opportunity to hook me”

Agent: Sir, because you are getting 35000 travel points and you can get a return air ticket to India with 25000 points. Then we are also giving you access to Marhaba lounge. Plus you can use the remaining 10000 points also.

Me: But I already told you I have lounge access through Priority Pass that gives me access to 700 airport lounges across the world. And I don’t fly Etihad. I fly Emirates. So I ask again: why is your card of any good to me? *Giving him one more chance to do the sell*

Agent: Sir, because you can travel for free.

Me: What do you mean by free? *Throwing him a rope*

Agent: Sir, with 25000 points, you can go and come back to India for free.

Me: But I don’t fly Etihad. I am a Skywards Gold member of Emirates. And I have to pay Dh 1000 to get those points. So how is it free for me? And not to forget, I have to pay Dh 1000 again next year and the year after. *Some more rope*

Agent: Sir but you can travel with those 25000 points for free so even if you pay 1000, you are getting free air ticket. So you are not losing any money.

Me: Well, I can get a return air ticket for less than Dh1000. *The rope is snapping*

Agent: No Sir. For any return ticket to India, you have to pay atleast Dh 1500 plus during season, the ticket price is even more. Other airlines will charge a lot. With the points, you can redeem ticket any time of the year. And you can fly Etihad, which is best airlines.

Me: Can I ask you a question? *That’s it, I’ve had enough*

Agent: Yes please.

Me: Are you a credit card agent or a travel agent? *SNAP*

Agent: *Silence*

Me: John, now listen to me very carefully because there are not too many of your customers who will give you this advice. Consider this as your 2 minute free career counselling that will change your life. Do you have 2 minutes?

Agent: Yes Sir.

Me: Now let me start from the beginning. You asked me for a minute. Keep an eye on the watch. As soon as you get to about 55 seconds, say that a minute is about to finish. Can I request for a few more minutes to discuss further? That’s being professional and helps in establishing Credibility. Moving on, you asked me if I had a relationship with your bank. When I said No, you said Great. What’s so “great” about it? If you are positioning your bank to me, you should not show that you are happy that I already don’t have a relationship with your bank. You should instead just say OK, and ask me for 30 seconds to tell me more about the bank and only if I say yes, give a brief pitch about XYZ Bank. No one says no to 30 seconds. That way, you are establishing Rapport with your customer. And you get to spend 30 seconds more with him to build that rapport.

Me: Now, when I asked you why should I take this card, you gave me a story on Etihad points and lounges etc. Fair enough. But when I said I already have lounge access and I do not travel that airline, you became a travel agent and tried to convince me to travel with Etihad. I replied saying I am a Gold Skywards member which means I travel only with Emirates. Now, anyone living in UAE knows that Emirates is a Dubai based airline while Etihad flies only out of Abu Dhabi. So why will I want to fly from Etihad?

Me: The minute you realised I am a Emirates frequent flyer and already have lounge access, many more than what your card offers, you should have backed off. A simple reply like “Makes sense. This card is probably not for you”. This establishes Trust. Instead you kept pushing the same card and the same feature over and over again, not really understanding if these features mean anything to me or not. A feature is only as good as its need. If I have no need, then that feature is useless to me. So before you push any feature of your product, make sure you map out your customer. If he/she tells your explicitly, like I did that I don’t travel Etihad, that’s your cue. Stop right there. Acknowledge the fact. Your customer is not an idiot. Make him feel the same about you. Establish some trust and credibility. Then if you have anything more to offer, go for it. Or else, position a different credit card. Normally, every bank has multiple types of cards. You can always pitch a cash-back offer or free-for-life offer. Whatever you want.

Me: I know you have pressure to sell and make those 60-70 calls a day. Trust me, I have done it all. Been selling for 10 years so I know what I am talking. I am a perfect client for you. I gave you time. I gave you info. I gave you an opportunity to sell to me. Which means, I wouldn’t mind spending Dh1000 as long as its worth something to me. You need to hook such clients. If you cannot sell, then establish credibility and hang up. Call back again in a week, and sell something else. He will listen to you again. But the way you handled this call, if you call me again and tell me its John Doe, chances are I will tell you I am in a critical meeting discussing the onset of a nuclear world war and cannot be disturbed, ever. Or I am on a space ship ready to take on a manned mission to Mars.

Me: So, Mr. John Doe, I hope you heard every word I said very very carefully. And use some of this for your future reference. Trust me when I tell you it works.

Agent: Thank you so much, Sir.

Me: Any time. OK, I am already late for a meeting. Talk to you later. *And I was back to sipping my latte and waiting for 44 more tokens to go at the Saudi visa consulate*

*Smirk*

Blogging for life

After a very very long time, I feel the urge to blog today. Not because I have news to share or need a channel to vent. But to re-establish what was once so dear to me.

Blogging was an integral part of my life. A mechanism to channel my thoughts. A mode to meet new friends, likeminded or otherwise. And a passion that gave words (sometimes paragraphs) to random musings. And with my increasing absence, it remains a journey half complete.

This I refuse to accept.

What started as an online record of my public-personal life, which also was one way of fitting in, to an ever growing spectra of social networking. Slowly, it became more than that. It was my own space on the World Wide Web. My own little identity. Blogging was beginning to be fun. Slowly the number of bloggers who I interacted with increased. At one point, every post had nearly a 100 comments. The tags, challenges, awards – Blog world was buzzing. The race to be the first comment on a post was what mattered. Who cared about another rat-race called life. For me, blogging had changed. It was now about meeting new people. Making new friends. But how this impacted my blog, I only realized later. The desire to get more visitors to my blog was now the key. The unsaid rule was ‘you comment on my post, I comment on yours’. The game had changed.

I was no longer blogging for myself. I connected this blog to my Facebook account and every post was flashed there. Who was I blogging for? Time to separate both worlds. Blogging and Facebook have to live two independent lives.

And maybe that’s why, I was lost in my journey. And as a result, I lost my passion to blog. Lost some good friends along the way. Some are just an obscure memory. Others a comment on some old post. And a select few on my friend list of Facebook.

Time was my best excuse. It still is. I got busy. Work got the better of me. Life was moving on. Why wouldn’t it? Isn’t that what life does. It moves on. And so did my life.

I was only a 26 year old bloke who had just relocated to Dubai and about to get married, when I started this blog. Today, I am 33, and father to 2 lovely kids. It took 7 years to get here. Where did all that time go? Seven years! Oh well, let me leave the nostalgia for another post.

Though it was this day, 7 years ago, that it all started. So here’s what I am gonna do. This space, this little logically obscure collection of my life, will not bite dust anymore. I vow to get back. Not for any one but for me.

Time to catch up and regain some lost ground. This time for real.

A father-daughter bond to cherish

It has been more than 6 months since my last post, which some of you may recall, was a desperate plea for help. Before proceeding any further, I would like to wholeheartedly thank each and every one of you for coming forward to help us. Those few weeks were the worst days of my life. Having an accident like that at home and losing a life in such a tragic way, even the mere thought of it gives me goosebumps. At a point, nothing seemed enough to justify why it happened. But in the end, life as it is has a way to move on. Scars heal.

And in the midst of all this, what really helped retain sanity and pulled me through, was my beautiful little angel. I am a father. Been one for the last 4 years. But I cannot even begin to describe being one to my little princess.

The adorable look that she gives when I walk into the room, the way she chuckles and throws out her arms, her chubby smile, her eyes and the peace I find when I look into them and the absolute heaven-like feeling when I hold her face next to mine.

I always thought I had gone through it all with Ibrahim. And being my first born, the experience I had with him could not be taken over. But all I have to do is hold Zainab close to me, whispering into her ears, rub her cheeks against mine, and I know this moment is going to be etched in my memory forever. Just me and my daughter. Not sure if a wise man said this before, but I am saying it, you’re not even close to being a complete man till you father a daughter.

Have often wondered what is so special between a father-daughter relationship? I know my little sister totally adores and worships my dad. But I do too. My dad is my hero. So what is it about her relationship that differs from mine? She always said its a father-daughter thing. You will not understand. Till a few weeks back, I did not. Just took her word for it. But I think I am beginning to get the drift now. Don’t think I’m going to question my dad anymore for his absolutely irrevocable and unconditional preference over his sons love to my sister. That’s the kind of father-daughter bond I’d like to have with Zainab. Unconditional. Irrevocable. Absolute.

Some day, Ibrahim will be old enough to read this. Old enough to understand? I am not sure. It took me all of 31 years. Hopefully, he’s smarter than his dad. But son, if you can’t, then don’t fret it. Deal with it like I did. And if you need an ego-massage, just click on the ‘Ibrahim’ tag of this very same blog.

I also have renewed respect for all daddies out there with little princesses ruling their lives. Love them. Cherish them. Protect them. You are blessed. In every way a man can be.

Need your help URGENTLY

What started as a mundane Sunday morning could so quickly change into a scene from hell. And change our lives forever.

We all went to bed on Saturday night like any other night. I was sleeping with Ibrahim upstairs while my wife was with my 12-day old newborn baby, Zainab, in the room downstairs. Post c-section, she has restrictions on climbing stairs for a few weeks. My other brothers with their families were in their respective rooms.

At around 6.20 am, I was jolted out of my sleep with a loud explosion. Not like anything I’d heard in real life ever. The sound was deafening like the one you see in a war movie. Like something blew up into bits.

And within seconds, there were screams. I didn’t know if it was one person or many people screaming. I quickly jumped out of bed and looked out the window thinking…..actually thinking nothing! Still dazed I really did not know what to think. Just then people from across the street started shouting and pointing towards our house in the general direction of my kitchen.

That’s when I realized the explosion was in my house and the screams where from someone from my house!

My first thought was my wife and daughter. I ran downstairs towards their room and saw my wife running towards the main door with a blanket in her hand. She was OK and so was Zainab. I ran after her and saw a sight like never before. Standing on the main door was my maid, burning in flames from head to toe. She was on fire. We put a blanket around her and defused the flames. The less I describe about how she looked, the better. My mom and wife were both holding her and made her sit on a chair. Flames were put off by then. But just touching to console her burnt my mom’s fingers.

I called 999.

Next I ran towards the blast scene. My house has two entrances. The main door in the front and there is one more door on the side, through the pantry. The kitchen is located outside the house. To go there, we need to step out through the pantry door and take a few steps. The moment I looked out the pantry door, I was shell-shocked. Smoke everywhere. Glass scattered. Kitchen was on fire. Everything was burning.  My brothers were already there. One of them disconnected the gas cylinder and threw it away from the kitchen. Due to the fire, the electricity to the whole house was tripped. We could not get the water motor going. Meaning there was no water in the tap or pipe. Thankfully, there were a few 20 liters drinking water bottles. We quickly opened them and started spraying water everywhere.

Within minutes the fire brigade arrived and took over the scene.

Ambulance came a few minutes later. They started working on my maid. Gave her emergency first aid and quickly took her away.

We waited till the police completed the formalities. Forensics arrived to the scene an hour later to determine the cause of fire. After scrambling through the debris, they finally managed to find the cause. There was a leak in the gas pipe. Probably started sometime the night before. The door, window and exhaust fan was closed overnight. So the kitchen had become a literal gas chamber. As soon as she went in and ‘probably’ turned on the stove, it blew up. The intensity of the blast was so severe that 2-3 cm glass pieces from the window pierced into the concrete walls of my house. Despite our best attempts, those pieces are not coming out.

My brother went to the hospital while me and my other brother went to the police station to give our statements and finish the police report.

At the hospital, the doctor’s diagnosis was even scarier – “81% 2nd and 3rd degree burns. Patient is very critical. We have sedated her and put her on life support”. They are giving medication to keep her blood pressure up and heart pumping. She is in the ICU Burn Ward and doctors have given a very low probability of survival. Several surgeries need to be done, first one today. This is to release blood flow in her arms and abdomen. Pressure buildup has resulted in blockages in different parts of her body. Her entire body is bandaged except her face which is also completely burnt but they’ve not bandaged it.

Her name is Azeb Abebe. She is a 25 yr old Ethiopian lady with a 4 yr old son back in Ethiopia. Her mother is partially disabled with 1 healthy leg and her father is terminally ill. She has been working with my family for the last 9 months. We recruited her through a local manpower agency. Her paperwork is fine and she was working with us legally. We were so impressed with her work that within 3 months of working with us, we gave her a raise. She had adapted to an Indian household very well and was now cooking food better than us. Her room is fully furnished with all amenities. And we have taken very good care of her. She is a very warm hearted, modest and honest person. In 9 months of employment, we never had to question her about missing things. She was well behaved and very nice with our kids. There is a bible in Ethiopian language at her bedside.

And thus it hurts more to see a good woman so close to the doors of death. As her sponsor and employer, we will do whatever it takes to give her all medication attention. Her family has been informed about the mishap. We have also informed the Ethiopian Consulate about the accident.

Right now, our biggest challenge is the rising medical bills. In 4 days, the current outstanding bill at Rashid Hospital is Dh 42,150 (USD 11,472). She is in ward 23, bed 6A. The estimated daily expense is around Dh 10,000 (USD 2,721) per day and expected to increase when the surgeries start. Hoping that she survives, and we pray that she does, she needs to spend up to 3 months at the hospital. We are looking at close to Dh 900,000 (USD 245,000) in medical expenses only.

Honestly, these expenses are beyond my modest monthly paycheck and I would urge and sincerely request you to please come forward with any donation possible to cater for her medical treatment.

Please contact me on donate4azeb@gmail.com for more information (bank account, hospital reports, photographs etc). You can also visit http://www.facebook.com/Donate4Azeb.

Any assistance will be sincerely appreciated.

With hope and prayers,

Masood Salem

21/July/2012 – Edited to add:

We have already started digging into our assets to cover the initial hospital bills.  This will cover just a fraction of the cost but it all adds up. So far, we have

1. Liquidated term deposits in Noor Bank.

2. Liquidated our investment in personal gold.

3. Put up my car for sale. Had bought it 6 months back.

4. Put up property in Hyderabad (India) for sale.

I urge you to please come forward for any assistance. Thanks in advance.

24/July/2012 – Edited to add:

Donations can be made using any of the following options:

1. Directly transfer to a bank account in UAE

HSBC Account # : 001412261001
IBAN # : AE870200000001412261001
Account Name : Masood Salem
Branch: HSBC, Airport Road, Abu Dhabi (UAE)

2. Directly transfer to a bank account in India:

HDFC Account # : 00091140042150
Account Name: Masood Salem
Branch: HDFC, Kasturba Rd, Bangalore (India)

3. Pay through PayPal using the following link (managed by my brother)

https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/4LBl9?psid=21f809365560482e84359824a13ee0f5&ref=nf

4. Transfer through Western Union to “Masood Salem” and send the MTCN code to me through email.

Looking forward to active contributions towards this cause.

Nursery to KG1 and 7 years on the job

Yesterday I completed 7 years with Oracle. Often I wonder if I am limiting my career sticking to one organization for all of my early working years. Most of my mates from B-school have made atleast 2-3 moves, if not more. Some have changed 5 companies in the last 7 years. And here I am, still with the one I started with.

Well, I am getting what I want from here (career growth, learning, money etc) so haven’t seen any reason to move. So for now, I start yet another year with Oracle and just like I’ve been loyal to you, Mr. Oracle, I know you will be good to me as well.

Moving on, Ibrahim has now completed 1 whole month in KG1. We’ve moved him out of the nursery into a bigger school. Apparently, in UAE, a child can start school from 3 years onwards. So being eligible, we decided to get him enrolled into a school and get on with it. He has settled in quite well. Cried for a couple of days and been fine since. His highlight of the day is the school bus ride. That is what gets him going. And too add, my elder bro’s son also goes to the same school. All these factors have helped him settle down quite well. He wakes up at 6am on weekends and starts throwing a tantrum to go to school. Every night, he goes to bed happily when we tell him he has school tomorrow so needs to sleep early. It’s been a blessing in disguise. For all the trauma we went through for a month in his nursery, his stint at the school so far has been extraordinary. Feedback from his class teacher is excellent. Apparently, he’s already become a teacher’s pet. Hugs the attendants, gives them flying kisses, gives them goodbye kisses when leaving for home, shares his lunch etc. He hasn’t jelled too much with his classmates. But he’s getting there. Every other day, he comes home with a new name, a new friend. We’ve seen remarkable development in him. More confident. Bolder. Smarter. Speaking english words and small sentences. All in all, it has been satisfactory month.

Last week, I posted latest pics of Ibrahim on FB. We had gone to take passport size pics of him and he ended up giving some amazing poses. So much so that we made portraits of them and for a couple of pics, I blew them up into 12×14 portraits. All still on FB if you guys wanna take a look.

Eventful couple of months coming up. I hope I will be disciplined enough to update my blog regularly. Otherwise, it will all be on Facebook! Cheers.

Ibrahim’s first week at the nursery

Last week was one of our most grueling and challenging weeks as a parent. We enrolled Ibrahim into his first nursery.

It was long overdue. He turned 3 in Jan. We wanted him to attend a few months before he officially joins kindergarten. Just so that gets used to the idea of staying away from home and his parents for a few hours. Maybe gel around with kids. Just to get him into the grove.

Not easy. The first day, we just took him in, showed him around, played with him, sat with him in the classroom, introduced him to the kids, teachers, attendants. He took it quite well. And we were optimistic. So on day 2, we got to the nursery, went with him inside to his classroom. And while he got busy with the activities, we then left. All was well for about 15 seconds. The moment he looked up and did not find us, that was it. He started yelling, crying, running around the classroom, totally panicked and scared. It was madness. Every room in the nursery is fitted with CCTV  cameras. So we were in the waiting room watching him on TV. And could hear his screams. How do you react in such situations as a parent? Just because it was for his good that we managed to stay put and not rush in there and take him in our arms.

This went on for an hour. The supervisor had suggested we leave him alone for an hour on the first day. When we went into his classroom, he saw us and started crying more. It was his cry of relief. Came running into our arms and kept crying. We left from there, took him to a mall (he loves the parking areas, specially the multistory ones where the car goes up and down the ramp). After which we gave him some of his favorite stuff to eat. All in all, he was fine by the time we reached home. The only real tangible proof was his voice, which was totally hoarse due to all the shouting. To the extent that he was not able utter anything.

The following day, he was due to stay for 2 hours. We kept talking to him about how it was such a good place for him to play, make friends, color, paint, play music etc. When we finally reached the nursery, he refused to go in. After a little persuasion, he finally let go. Went into the arms of his favorite attendant, Ms. Nes, and she took him into the classroom.

Then something so unexpected happened that I will never forget it ever. He forced Nes madam to come out again where we were still standing. He looked at us and started crying, forcing her to bring him to us. When he came a little close, I told him, ‘Ibrahim, mama and baba are going to office. You have to go inside now. You should not cry and come out. We cannot stay here na. We will come as soon as Nes madam will call us’. And I started to move back. He then said, ‘Ibamin baba ko kiss karna hai please’ (Ibrahim wants to kiss baba please!). I couldn’t muster a word. I walked quickly to him. He was still in Nes madam’s arms. He kissed me on the cheek. I asked him, ‘Let’s hug?”. He said yes. Gave him a tight hug. And he said bye. And asked Nes madam to take him inside!

I was speechless. Here I was thinking he is throwing a tantrum, refusing to go to his classroom and wants to come to us. And was moving away while he was insisting on coming close. His whole intention was just to give his baba a goodbye kiss. And I was telling him to go inside and don’t cry and what not!!! This one incident reminded me how innocent a child is and how simple his needs can be. Why it really shook me was because Ibrahim is not one to kiss and hug n all. His way of showing affection is different. More aggressive. He rarely chooses to kiss someone. Even his parents. Infact, as far as I can remember, this is the first time he has given me a kiss without asking for it in over a year. I still wonder what was going on in his mind that time. Was he insecure? Was he afraid that we were leaving him there for good? Or did he just feel like giving us kiss because he was going away from us? I may never know. But that one kiss has changed me as a parent. Never again I am going to take him for granted. Nor ignore him. Yes, I will do what needs to be done for the sake of his parenting. But with renowned vigor and strength. He is my son and I am a proud father.

He has stopped yelling now. But hasn’t stopped crying. But not crying with tears. He just making sounds. Today was more challenging coz it was the first day after the weekend. He is settling in. And I hope by end of this week, he will be fully acclimatised. When I asked him today if he wants to come back again tomorrow, he said yes. And was pretty cool about it. Last week when was asked the same question, he would cry and run around as if the house was on fire. So yeah, some improvement there.

I wish this phase of his life, his first foray into the real world, is full of excitement and learning. I wish the Almighty always watches over him and give him all the success, health and love he deserves, for now and the hereafter. Ameen.