Living Legends

If you’ve heard of the revered mystic Rumi, you would have heard of Shams too. If you haven’t, have a read of this http://www.rumi.net/about_rumi_main.htm Whilst trailing through the mountains of Pakistan as one does, I had the pleasure of being hosted by a gracious family who I will call the Khans. One day, whilst soaking in the afternoon sun, the beautiful birds singing in the distance, Mr. Khan mentioned that his friend, Michael, who would be staying at his house. Upon arriving back from one of my escapades, I was introduced to Michael.

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A professional mountaineer, Michael who hailed from Germany had been mountain trekking for the last 35 years in Pakistan. Michael had achieved legendary feats with those spiky nailed boots and a heart of steely determination that only people like him who could weather that storm carry. Having scaled to the summit of unconquered peaks, Michael would then arrive at the national geographic survey and provide the coordinates for his new achievement. He would then have his new mountain named. That’s like astronomers naming a new star. Only they haven’t trekked all the way!

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Anyhow, when I came back from my epic journey following the silk route to china, I happened to meet him again. As I was recounting the many experiences in Kashgar and beyond with excitement, he happened to ask a question that made me halt in my tracks. In his German accent, he probed with great interest as he stroked his beard. “Young man, whilst you trailed down past Sost from the Chinese border, which way did you go to come back”. I replied “straight of course”. “Ah. Then you missed something worth stopping for, near a village not far from the trail” he replied. My mind raced as my heart dived south. “What did I miss and where was this place I exclaimed”.

And then Michael related the story like a grand story teller of old. What seemed like a few lines were worth a book. “There is a village called Shimshal. Legend has it that Shams of Tabriz used to meditate there in a cave. After Shams had left, the local villagers would make a visit to the cave each night to light a candle in his memory”. “Let the light flicker upon your soul I exclaimed under my breath”. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. Here I was on a journey of discovery, meeting such legends and listening to such amazing stories that I felt so humbled. There was so much to discover. As the thought sunk in that I had missed the cave of Shams, my imagination wandered off to new heights of thought. Had Shams meditated there before or was it after meeting Rumi at which point Rumi’s life would be transformed forever making him one of the greatest poets that ever lived. It felt like an archeological nightmare. Something right under one’s nose, so close and yet so far away. Looking back, I pause in reflection. Sure, I would like to have discovered that cave on my route home. However, I felt a sense of contentment knowing that I had the great pleasure of being in the company of living legends that had lived many a lifetime. The legacy of Rumi and Shams would live on forever too. It is important that we pay homage to the living legends amongst us who spur us on to embark on unimaginable feats. As for the cave, everything has its appropriate time. Maybe next time i’ll visit the cave too.

And with that ladies and gentleman, I introduce you to an article of the people of Shimshal. Legends who absorb the storm of modernity and yet retain their ancient practices. There is so much we could learn.

http://herald.dawn.com/news/1153748/the-changing-life-of-shimshals-wakhi-people

Khan Sahib

On my travels through north-west Pakistan near the tribal area,   I was honored to meet an elder of the Pakhtun community. I will refer to him as Khan Sahib. He was so strikingly similar to my father that for a minute, I thought it was him. What struck me at first was his distinctive features; his greyish/ whitish beard wherein each strand held a story to be told, the creases on his face endured from the unforgiving environment.

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The hat that Khan Sahib donned also known locally as the “Lungay / Pagrai” towered above like a dome.

Growing up in the UK, my father would wear this at occasions and that was a spectacle in itself. I referred to it as “the crown of kings”. The crown had characteristics of their own and not everyone could wear one.

In this part of the region, elders are respected with great authority and reverence. I could sense the people dotting around him very much like my father. This was the Khan. This was akin to my father.

Calm and collective, Khan Sahib spoke very little but when he did, he spoke with conviction full of wisdom. I could picture Khan Sahib at a Jirga (Council of the Elders) listening to village matters whilst he stroked his beard in contemplation. Uttering his words, I could imagine him stating:

“Listen and listen well. Heed my words for I may not be around for very long. We are again at a crossroads in our lives of which our forefathers have experienced many over the millennia. The winds of change are upon us and it is important that you adapt to the scenario. Competing geopolitical forces are meddling in our affairs. Our very way of life is being hijacked. Adapt to the changing dynamics so that you may stay above. Stay firm in your resolve and stay true to yourself. Do what is right even if the outcome may not be in your favor. It takes courage and discipline to stay the course amidst times of uncertainty. Those that heed my words and ponder on them would do well.”

This was the Khan. This was my father. Khan Sahib.

Gulf Sustainability & CSR Awards 2016

Recently I had the pleasure of being invited to the Gulf Sustainability and CSR Awards held at the Creek Jumeirah Hotel, Dubai.

An array of topics was being presented by contestants by a number of reputable organizations ranging from banks to retail outlets as well as UAE government institutions. There were so many variations of topics on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to choose from that one almost felt like a child in a candy shop! Some of the topics being presented were of great interest to me. Unfortunately, all were being presented at the same time. Topics ranged from “Best workplace and HR practices/ Best community development programmes to “Sustainable initiatives” etc.

Under the watchful eye of the judges, each presenter competed to get their point across in their most compelling way. One participant in particular danced to her own tune as she opened the stage with a video. I don’t know if it was the caffeine or the nerves that were kicking in for an early morning! Whatever the case, one could sense the passion and energy oozing out of the contenders. The judges on their part were equally nervous having the responsibility of observing each case noting down points for their final verdict.

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Taha Al Hamr – CSR specialist at DEWA answering questions

The day passed by relatively quickly and before one could absorb the information.  It was time for the grand ceremony and the results to be announced. A sumptuous lunch the likes of which Dubai is renowned for was offered to the guests. Roars of applause went throughout the ballroom as the names of the winners were called out. Many a congratulatory praise were in store. The list of participants and winners can be found here

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Winners of Sustanability Team of the Year

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Iftikhar Hamdani from Ramada Hotels  – Winner of the Waste Manangement award

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Reem Al Ghaith – General Manager of Desert Group – Winner of Best Community Development Award

img_4173Elena Cruz and Emirates NBD recieving two accolades – Employee engagement programme and CSR Professional of the year

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Winners of the CSR Awards

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Panelist/Judges of the CSR Awards

Which brings me to an important point of discussion.

The case for CSR/ Sustainability company’s overal strategy

The case for CSR as a main component in a company’s overall strategy should be taken with paramount importance. With the advent of millennials in the workplace, it is increasingly becoming the norm for employees in wanting to “give back” and “seek a higher calling” as illustrated in an article written in the Huffington Post. It is therefore vital that companies tap into and channel employee’s unique and uninhibited passions/energies and consolidate this into productive employee engagement programmes as an example.

In these uncertain economic times with a combination of the “millennial” viewpoint, it is also important for companies to work with a purpose as opposed to seeking higher profits. This is further reinforced in an article I recently read by Bob Patterson, Americas Vice Chair of Advisory Services for Ernst and Young. Patterson states “Purpose engages employees, and motivated employees move companies forward”.

Furthermore, Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in the article further reinforces this stating that with “Economies being uncertain, societies being restless and traditional institutions being challenged, business leaders have a responsibility to lead with a higher calling and to work to provide social as well as economic stability”.  If a company’s approach is to keep the employees engaged, it is only natural that this will cascade onto better customer engagement leading to a more profitable outcome.

The question arises: What is your purpose and what type of strategy are you implementing towards your Corporate Social Responsibility in your organization?

I would like to take this opportunity in thanking one of the judges, Mr. Anas Al Marie, Director of Social Media at Focus Training Academy for inviting me. I would also like to thank Mark Hamil, M.D of Awards International as well as his team for organizing such an amazing and informative event.

Dubai Cares Annual Education Walkathon 2017

The 2017 Dubai Cares Walkathon kicked off at Dubai Creek Park with full fan fair over the weekend. What looked like stormy clouds that were about to burst into an avalanche of rain did not hamper the participants from flocking in. Whatever the weather, the entrants from all walks of life turned out in droves; some 14,500 of them. Men, women and children participating in unison with the children across the world as part of the “Year of Giving” and in line with Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum Global Initiatives highlighting the need for children’s education. Imagine having to walk 3-5 km daily to school to learn! I knew personally of villagers who would walk the 3 kilometers’ trek. One only has to recollect the trials of childhood and having memories of not wanting to get up for school!

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As the crowds trickled into the park in preparation, we encountered a chorus of people who were warming up to the sound of the beat emanating from the speakers. What looked like a warm up session turned out to be aerobics! A combination of Yoga followed by a dance routine had the crowd ecstatic. From the cha cha to two-step, the crowd followed suite. Out of shape and out of step, we giggled away at each other as our steps were out of synch. One couldn’t help but join with the contagious crowd. It was all fun.

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Our very own presenter from Virgin Radio, Maz Hakim, engaged the audience in particular the many sponsors in recognition for their participation. “Shout goes out to …we love you….” could be heard far and wide as the sponsors waved back in appreciation. The scene was set as the army of walkers gathered in formation including two Storm Troopers from the First Order!

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And the walk began. School children, parents, drummers, practically people from all walks of life marched to their own tune. This was a journey for those fortunate to tread the steps of those less fortunate. Watching a trickle slowly form into a river of people and the camaraderie of the different groups walking together made it all the more special. I witnessed a flurry of wind send granules of sand in the face of those marching which amazingly did not hinder the flow. Such was the enthusiasm of the crowd. Droplets of rain came cascading down and for a moment, I thought the clouds could no longer sustain their weight and would pour their load.

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It’s not every day I wake up to walk to this type of iconic British weather. The feelings of nostalgia transported me back to good ole England. That feeling resonated with me even more so as to why I walked in solidarity with the nameless children in far-flung lands. I could have been one of those children walking to school every day. Any of us could have. I am forever grateful. And yet here we were back at the finishing line.

Acts like this bring back the joy in humanity. It is the year of giving. Every year should be the year of giving. Give your energy, your resources and above all your time however small an amount it may be. This is our future we have to consider. Our children. Education is key to brighter prospects and harmony. Pay it forward.

Last but not least, I wanted to give a big congrats to the participants, volunteers and above all, the organizers for contributing and making this event a success. We appreciate what you do. We all care. Hats off to Dubai Cares.

A time for contemplation: 2017

 

The aftermath of fireworks bringing in the new year. Much to contemplate on. It’s been a roller coaster ride for me as I’m sure it’s been for all of you out there. One of the most challenging years of my life. Like most of you, I came through and here to fight on. I look back at this picture that Yasin Valimulla took and pause for a moment.
 
A prayer. May the scars of our challenging moments drift away akin to the plumes of smoke emanating from the fallout. May the moments that challenged you become your force to wield with. For as Rumi has said “The wound is the place where the Light enters you”. What does not break you can only make you stronger. I want to thank all of you for being there. You know who you are.
 
What do you aspire to achieve for 2017? In order for you to acquire something you never had, you need to do something you never did. Im going to do just that. Will you?
 
Here’s to all of you out there. May you shine and go beyond the boundaries. I pray this year brings happiness and prosperity to all. Peace and much love to all.

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Gateway to the unknown

A scene from my travels in Northern Pakistan through passages of the ancient Silk route. There is more to this picture than meets the eye. A sense of hope and desperation intertwined. Seldom have I come across places where I witnessed humans go to lengths to either succumb or be victorious in such a remote place as this.
Behold! The gateway yonder to the unknown. Therein, beyond the white clouds emerges a host of mountains, the greatest of them all – K2 also known as “Savage mountain”. For every four that summit, one perishes in the process. I wonder what makes a human go to great lengths to venture into the unknown.  

On the left straddles the weather beaten road that we meandered through in our 4×4 to meet the legendary “Little Karim” (see previous post). 

On the right, beyond the overarching jagged mountains lays the disputed Siachen glacier. This is home to the highest battle ground in the world between both Pakistan and India. Many a soldier stationed at the behest of their respected army perished without a shot being fired. I wonder what goes through the minds of these people who succumb to the elements. What were their last words? Was it freedom from the bonds of the bitter cold that howled through their pores? A tragedy upon itself.

The green pastures further on are inhabited by villagers that succumbed to a landslide behind me. Courage over fear to start over where the elements lay siege upon them rolling rock and ice. And if you were to meet them, therein you would witness the Ray of hope of humanity. For amidst all that had been taken from them, they would offer their hospitality to those that cross their path with angelic reverence. Such is the case through these lands. The land of the ancients. The land of the mountain people.

This pic is a testimony to the grandness and the spectacle of earth and all she has to offer. Such rawness, depth and beauty. And a reminder to us all that what we tread on we must respect. Always.

Do you see what I see

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. If I was to tell you that you could hear your own heartbeat and be one with nature, would you believe me?

Amidst the chaotic adventures traveling through Northern Pakistan, I came across a place where time and space I felt stood still. This for me was a place of solitude.

What a mesmerizing sensation this was looking back. The richness of the myriad of colors was a sight for sore eyes. Hues of green, blue and brown intermingled with an artistic effect on the canvas. The ripples in the lake felt in unison with my heart. A feeling of elation, of peace and tranquility beyond measure. The lingering sound of the breeze intoxicated my mind into a trance. The outer elements seeping into my very pores shredding all conflicting thoughts. I felt at one with the universe.

To be calm and one with nature is key. One aspect we need to do properly is breath. I hope this picture will allow you to stop and do just that. BREATH! Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Slowly. Let the waters settle and you will see the moon and the stars mirrored in your own being…. Rumi. We become one.