Marking Bangladesh: A Road Trip

Ever since the news of Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus service hit the headlines, a long lost dream was peeking out of the bucket list of this wanderlust soul. How enriching would it be to actually to a tour of Bangladesh using nothing but Indian soil.

Thanks to dear Google Maps and my earlier trips to Northeast India (Shillong and Darjeeling in 2007) it was rather easy to come up with a tentative travel route.


Starting from Dhaka, I wanted to to cover the three sides of Bangladesh that are bordering India and touch all the major cities in between. The cities that popped up in my initial list are as following,

  1. Agatala (Site of the infamous Agartala Conspiracy aka. Birth of Bangladesh)
  2. Silchar (a predominantly Sylheti Bangla speaking city. Go figure!)
  3. Shillong (Scotland of the East also happens to be the Rock Capital of India)
  4. Guwahati (City of Temples esp. the one of Sex Goddess)
  5. Siliguri (A stopover unless we add a journey on Toy Train or visit Pseudo Tibet)
  6. Kolkata (Need I say more?)

The trip should be possible to pack is a 2 week holiday and ends with a direct bus from Kolkata to Dhaka. I would think the experience would be best if it is a pure road trip (with as little interference of private transportation as possible, depending on the group size). And there are established bus services for all the intercity travelling I just mentioned in the list.

So before your friend from India can actually make a Kolkata-Dhaka-Tripura trip, and complete the aforementioned road trip a reality (and for surely they will); I am inviting fellow adventure-minded folks (notice I avoided adventurers) to join in to make this trip a reality!!!

Cheers to some #souldsearching and #contemptment while enjoying one mother of a #roadtrip

PS. I am open to suggestions on the Cities/Places to visit.

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Journey of the Spirit | The Bottomline

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The earlier posts were intended to build a hype or just share the rush of blood I was experiencing preparing for such a trip. It was absolutely unexpected from me (judging by my past of even previous posts in this blog) to make a trip of such spiritual fulfillment!

Things NOT TO DO

  1. Rent a hotel/hostel/apartment beyond 500 meters off  the Masjid al-Haram .You are there to offer as many waqts of salat as possible at the Masjid al-Haram. Practically its borderline impossible to pray 5 times a day at the mosque, do tawaf as you wish and still be able answer the calls of nature and hunger frequently.
  2. Try to kiss/touch (or worse give a flying kiss) the Hajre-Aswad. This is something you learn by at least burning your tongue once. We all want to touch the famed black stone from the heavens in an effort to purify our sinful selves. Although it is encouraged to kiss the stone if you get a chance, dying while trying isn’t so. With the number of pilgrims doing tawaf any given time of the day, I believe this privilege calls for Herculean efforts.
  3. Save up on zamzam as opposed to consume it. We all have families asking for exclusive prayers and a gulp of zamzam to every possible hajis, but if all are busy saving gallons after gallons to consume it later; what’s the point of being there at the first place. For all you know, most countries sell zamzam water through various legal and illegal channels. But one mustn’t forget, a gulp of zamzam after a tiresome tawaf or umrah is a feeling unlike any other. Coming from a person who is fiercely loyal to his choice of drinks, this is a fact!
  4. Behave. Lets face it, we are there at The House of Allah to worship. There is no first or second prize tied to it, nor is there any physical measure of closeness to The Almighty. Its in our hearts and it is between you and Allah. Keep it to that and let others be. Pushing, shoving or

Things TO DO

  1. Spend as much time at the Masjid al-Haram as possible. No brainer, you are there for that reason alone.
  2. Take the VIP bus to Medinah. Just to be safe and sure, the VIP buses are operated by SAPTCO are best for travelling between the two holy cities. Unless you are too smart to take a plane ride, this is THE OPTION to take.

This is just one man’s opinion for now. But Umrah is a destination for all, so would request my readers to add more to the lists 🙂

Journey of the Spirit | The First View

They say first impression is always the last impression. And apparently that first impression is made within the first (and lucky) seven seconds. And its not like we put it in practise for job interviews or business presentations, think of love at first sight!

After we huddled and cuddled through a million pilgrims to find a place to offer our Jumu’ah prayers, we were met with a sight only a few get to experience.

Standing near Misfalah looking towards The Kabbah
Standing near Misfalah looking towards The Ka’aba

I heard a Muslim scholar say that it is only one out of every 100,000 Muslims that get a chance to perform Umrah or Hajj. Looking at the picture above, it surely gave me the pride of being amongst the select few.

As we offered our prayers sitting smack in the middle of usually busy road, the absence of a prayer mat (thanks to my stupid rush earlier) or the fact that my wife and I prayed side by side were overtaken by the sheer excitement and amazement of being at the foothills of The House of Allah .

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Right after Jumu’ah prayers

My dearest wife offered me the option to complete the Umrah rituals at night since it was Friday and just about the whole Saudi Muslim population were there at the gates of Ka’aba. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get on with it right there, right now!!!

Journey of the Spirit | The Kingdom

How long does it normally take to go from Dhaka to Jeddah? The answer would range between 7 to 12 hours; 7 if it is a direct flight, 12 or so if flying via a stopover.

We flew direct and it still took us 13 hours. And the usual culprit, Biman, was in no way responsible this time.

In fact a rather comfortable ride in a Biman plane that actually had inflight entertainment and palatable food was a pleasant surprise. The so-called Enemy no. 1 of Biman (as per local newspapers), Mr. Kevin Steele, seems to have done a good job of (trying to) turn the sinking ship around. Unfortunately for him though, a new B777-300ER with 419 passengers must be serviced not only with a good pilot and decent choice of movies, but also good inflight service. This concept of hospitality  is where Biman still has a long way to go.

The stewardesses were no less than my mother’s age and I am not bluffing when I say my mom probably looks younger :p. Ihram and unfriendly biman-balas don’t go together. While the 7-hour flight in an Ihram was hectic enough, the crew’s sheer disinterest in listening and total lack of competency was disappointing (if not irritating). Even my usually chilled-out wife got into a tussle with them after a good 45-minutes of calling for them while we heard them chatter away in the crew zone.

But still, I was very impressed with Biman (notice the absence of we).

The Jeddah Airport (not even the Hajj Terminal) looks like it was made during the Gulf War for emergency troop landing and evacuation. Ask why? Well wartime airports handle a lot of passengers in and out but don’t really need to offer any added services. Such is the case of Jeddah Airport as well. Except for one food court and 5 to 7 no-gooder outlets selling god knows what, there was nothing. Literally, nothing!

But the best was yet to come 🙂

As we quickly maneuvered through the lines we were met with a line of some sort (resembling the size of the Great Wall actually). We were both in high spirits and quickly made a few Bangladeshi friends. Previously, in Dhaka we have stood out almost an hour and a half in immigration, so a line full of noble-minded Hajis seemed like a breeze.

Four hours later, we had inched 10 steps forward when an officer announced that the women weren’t allowed to stand in this line and would have to go join a female only line at the other end. My wife and her newly made friends had to leave their Mahrams behind and reluctantly make their way to the back of yet another long line.

In our line, time just didn’t seem to pass. And after four and a half hours as I stood ten feet away from the long-awaited immigration desk an argument had started between the Bangladeshis and some Indonesians who were trying to break into the line. As the commotion attracted the attention of the airport authorities we all felt like justice would be served.

The result? This Deshi Bhai and I were asked to go back to the end of the line. Simply because we happened to be within earshot of the officer who’s idea of sorting this mess was forcing anyone closest to him to leave the line. Like literally the end of the line. By then two more flights had landed and it was longer than ever.

Wife and the other women were through by then and most of my Bangladeshi friends were almost through as well. Meanwhile I waited on; patiently counting hours behind some bullying Turks and rowdy Arabs.

I finally made it through at 10 30 am; a painful six and a half hours since I had initially stood in line.

The long road to repentance had just begun!!!

Journey of the Spirit | The Airport

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Toweled up and ready to roll!

So made it to the airport after a bit of getting used to in Ihram. The closest to this in my imagination was a Lungi, and you are right if you imagined a South Indian look for me.

After enjoying Chennai Express thoroughly and being a big fan of Rajnikanth Jokes, I felt and looked like the Mahatma as soon as I was clad in white. Although my not so progressive wife believed otherwise and kept insisting on how my current look and feel is to resemble only piece of clothing you are allowed to wear when facing Allah, the Kafan.

Enlightenment aside I am really excited about the Biman B777s. Being an aircraft enthusiast for life, finally there is a plane to ride that carries the national flag with pride.

Had a bit of an episode with this so-called international SIM service provider Matrix. To my disbelief they gave us two SIMs with 20 Riyals of talk time for FREE! Yes, FREE!!!

I was so intrigued by tier business model I actually told them my job as a telecom professional to get a conversation going. Although the sales reps didn’t know much, they surely did try to rip us off by initially saying the SIMs will cost us 200 Taka each.

But just as every other time in tho trip, wife intervened. She calmly asked, “Aren’t these supposed to be free?”. As I tried to brush her away, clearly puzzled and uncomfortable the guys at the counter yes, “Oh yes, we have that as well”.

So much for earning a cent of Sawab by not trying to cheat pilgrims :p

Well the coffee shop guy was unusually nice though. He offered a 10 Taka discount on a 80 Taka bill. Wife things these are all small bursts of blessings from above.

Let’s wait to see the plane 🙂

Journey of the Spirit | The Preparation

It comes naturally. To you, me and everyone around us.

Religion is a spiritual journey that is bound to touch our lives at some point of time. For some it happens early thanks to the surroundings, to others it is more of a self-discovery instigated by anything between curiosity to a life-changing event. The later being the most common (what were you expecting?).

Sorry to disappoint you, I somehow haven’t fully realized when my time would come. I feel connected. To the Almighty, to all His sayings an the ones of His Messenger; but that ticking alarm clock inside myself is somehow on a “snooze”. It’s like I accidentally pushed snooze while it was calling out for me to wake up. Wake up and see what I have been missing out on. The gratefulness to Allah I was avoiding to show.

Hey, I am no fundo (aka. fundamentalist). The fact I use a word like fundo should suffice for that.

I always believed I was that Progressive Muslim that really is nothing but a person in a confused state of religious belief. I didn’t realize that overnight. Nor was this acknowledgement an easy thing to admit. But as the wise men say, “better late than never”.

The past year has been one of the most fulfilling and exciting time of my life. I got married. And looking at those millions of gorgeous wedding ceremonies and suave honeymooners one might tend to believe that is it. Whereas it was quite the opposite.

Being married had more things to offer than a lifetime of companions had in stock. It was incomparable, never thought of and perhaps never to be experience that I look forward to repeat for years a to come InshAllah.

I am lucky (Alhamdulillah) to be completing a year of being with the love of my life, the woman I wanted to be with the very moment I saw her. And this is a story of the journey I took to celebrate this memorable year at the most magical of places in the most holier of manners.

My travelogue of our 1st anniversary is also where I wish my spirit would hear it’s calling.

I am going for Umrah to the holiest of all places, to be in His house. A guest, a pilgrim, a believer!

My wife and I after a lot of planning, failing and waiting could finally secure the visas for Umrah on Jan 20th. We owe a great deal to my ever-supportive father and his cousin, who’s travel agency actually got the deal through for us. From MOFA to an all Arabic visa with hyroglaphic written all over it, my passport returned in a desolate state. Visa and Bangladeshi Passport don’t seem to get along so well lately. Perhaps we should look at MasterCard :p

my bashed up passport finally arrives
my bashed up passport finally arrives

The trip planning was on for over a month now. Being the OCDed travel junkie I was, I had surprisingly left all the findings and activities to my beloved. Perhaps the reason she had been there a few times before and was far superior a Muslim and Human in every aspect of life was a game-changer.

She didn’t let me down. She panicked, chilled, complained yet at the end, I believe came up with a solid travel itinary. From Tawaf briefs to Ihram trials, she made sure it was all covered. I mean she even got the adrenaline addict out of me by offering the opportunity to climb the holy Cave Hira or Jabal al-Nour. What happened to that will be unveiled in a few days though *wink*. High on excitement for that (that’s again the progressive Muslim in me talking).

So the flight is tonight. At 1130 pm to e exact. The fact which might put a lot of you off is again making me excited now, we are flying Biman. The carrier from my childhood days. The birdy from my country, a sexy new B777!

The Uselessness Syndrome

For as long I can remember, the driving force behind all my endeavors has been a single cause. A single fear.

The fear of waking up one mine morning to realize, I am useless.

As our societies embrace the vices of capitalism, the dream of equality and justice takes a step closer to oblivion. The rich get to live in Elysium, while the poor are stuck at District 9. That is where the world is headed, and the reason my fear never burns down.

Unhealthy competition nurtured by unrealistic compensations have turned us into guinea pigs on a rat race to the mirage of success. And with my outdated degree, outspoken stance and out-of-style hairdo; I am constantly living on the edge of self-doubt.

Today we need to learn, act and earn faster than ever before, kids are the smartest in human history, dissatisfaction and divorce rates are higher than ever and listening to your heart equates to an unstable state of mind; however the absolute truth of life remain unchanged from yesteryear.

Content(ment) is king.

And in the words of Lao Tzu,

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

6 & 9

I started my advertising career in 2006 with a 9 lettered agency a positive

The 9th month of the following year I joined the 6 lettered legend Ogilvy

After 6 unforgettable years a new journey begins on the 9th month with Robi

Guess I could’ve just followed the numbers 6 & 9. Numerology rocks!

5 lettered me with 6 & 9
5 lettered me with 6 & 9

Follow the Line

It was only last week when someone reminded me how advertising was a career for mainstream rejects.
It also happened to be the week I celebrated six years in this mad world of advertising.

Graduating from one of the top B-Schools in the country with a decent enough GPA, I was supposed to be a potent force in the job market. It’s true that the share of effort in extracurriculars far outweighed that of academics (thanks to AIESEC) or time spent in meaningless banter were much greater than serious study groups. But somehow I had always known, the gift of gab won’t disappoint in a one-to-one encounter (i.e. interview).

More so the family I belong to, just made the choices quite obvious. Both my grandfather were distinguished Civil Servants. My dad was in the Army. Most of my uncles, aunts, cousins or even family friends were in some way of the other part of the fixed-income clan. And prestige jobs (civil service, social service, banking, medicine etc.) took up the majority of them.

Needless to say, the last thing my risk-averse DELL* motivated parents wanted was to see me experiment.

Yes, you read that right.

Experimenting with my dear own career is the only practical  answer I have to justify an unjustifiable decision.

I mean who takes up a career in an industry synonymous with paying less than average, working more than usual.

Today that’s just a line I tell every newcomer stepping into this alluring world of advertising.

I was reading this wonderful piece of research done by some of my brilliant juniors on NSUers Salary Indicators and not-so-shockingly realized, it’s a rarity to be in an industry that is still considered a taboo in the 21st century.

And no matter how successful you are or how valuable a resource you become; to the common eye you are just another passers-by.

*DELL = Doctor, Engineer, Lawyer or a Loser

The Ramadan Block

I had just finished writing a blog about Ramadan choir, before it vanished into thin air

Now I have lost the energy to roll out another. But the message in it was like no other

What am I writing now is unknown to me, perhaps the reader can just let me be

I know it sucks, but reality always hurts

PS. “Writing is 90% procrastination…” according some guy named Paul Rudnick, so excuse my dig at it.