The Early Years (Sri Lanka & Pakistan)

        

I was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka. At that time the country used to be called Ceylon.  Ceylon/Sri Lanka is a gem of an island off the southern tip of India.  I vaguely remember some of the things we did when I was in Ceylon.  I remember putting lime-stones on the rail-road tracks and then rubbing the crushed powder on my face after the train had passed.

By the way, I am the youngest of three sons. My oldest brother, Mehboob, is only 2 years older than me, while, Rafiq is one year older than me.   I can't imagine what my mother went through with an infant, a 1-year old and a 2-year old, all at the same time.

After a few years in Ceylon, I moved to Karachi, Pakistan.  Karachi is the largest city, business center and major commercial port of Pakistan. The humid climate of Karachi was not suitable for my dad, so, in 1959, we moved north to Rawalpindi.  Rawalpindi is located at the base of the Himalayan mountains and was the capital of Pakistan at the time.  Later on, a brand new city, Islamabad, was built about 15 miles from Rawalpindi and named the new capital.

When we first moved to Rawalpindi, the King of Hunza (a district in Northern Pakistan) graciously allowed us to stay in one of his palaces while my dad was able to get established and find a house. The King himself, lived in Hunza and occasionally came to Rawalpindi.  His sons, the princes went to school in Rawalpindi. So there we were. living in a palace with princes.  My brothers and I used to play (cruel) jokes on the princes.  The back yard of the palace, with a lot of trees and bushes, provided ample room to play cowboys and indians. I liked making my own bows and arrows out of the tree branches.

I went to Central Government Model School, St. Mary's Cambridge School and then to Gordon College. I got my Fellow of Science degree from Gordon College.  These two years of college are somewhat equivalent to High School in the United States.

While in school and in college I participated in a lot of sports and athletics like football (American soccer), cricket, track & field, gymnastics, volleyball and field/grass hockey. My friends and I formed a club, where we pooled in our money to buy the sports equipment. One of my good friends, Hanid Mukhtar, provided his house as the club head-quarters. On rainy days we would play chess or checkers.  We even had a chemistry lab where we did some experiments with chemicals stolen (er.. I mean, borrowed) from our school.  When Hanid was studying pre-med in college, we would capture frogs and he would show us how to dissect them.  Since we didn't have any chloroform to knock the frogs out, we used a big stick and whacked them unconscious. Thinking back on it, I can't believe how barbaric we were.

I used to get into a lot of trouble at school and often got beat up by the teachers.  Never-the-less, I did quite well in my studies and my parents never had to tell me to do my homework.  All three of us brothers did excellent in school. Once I got to college, my trouble-making days were over.  I became quite studious and really enjoyed studying chemistry, physics and mathematics.   The books for our course did not satisfy my thirst for knowledge so I'd go to the United States Information Center or the British Library and read books on science.

In general, I loved to read.  St. Mary's Cambridge School had a great library and I made good use of it.  My favorites books at the time were the Enid Blyton and the Hardy Boys mystery series.  Later on, while in college, I got into the James Hadley Chase series of murder mysteries as well as Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes' series.  I also read all of Ian Fleming's James Bond books that had come out by that time.

In 1970 I went to Bangkok, Thailand via Colombo Sri Lanka. The airfare and my hotel in Bangkok was paid by my friends who needed an extra "body" to bring back clothes and shoes etc to sell in Pakistan. I was in Sri Lanka in time for the New Year's celebration. I went with my aunt and uncle to a grand hotel for the New Year's Eve dance gala. It was a lot of fun. There I met Mona, the daughter of one of the middle east ambassadors in Sri Lanka (I think she was from Iraq or Jordan). The next couple of days Mona took me around Colombo as a tour guide and companion.

Also in 1970, I moved to Karachi, to study Electrical Engineering at N.E.D. Engineering college. I had almost completed my first year when there was a scholarship offered to study Metallurgical Engineering in the Soviet Union.  I was among 1,500 applicants who applied for it and the 15 that were chosen.

 The Soviet Era  

I left for the Soviet Union in 1971. I was almost nineteen years old. There was very little information available in Pakistan about Russia. It was just known as the country behind the "iron curtain". My mother was very reluctant to let me go, but my stubbornness and some advice from my uncle convinced her that it was for the best. And I was off to the greatest adventure of my life. A lot of it I can't write here for the illegal nature of the activities and because there's enough material there for a whole book (and who knows, someday there may be one).

I spent one year in Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg) to study the Russian language. Languages come very easy to me and Russian was no different. In a couple of years I was speaking it with hardly an accent. My mastery of the Russian language allowed me to travel undetected into areas where foreigners were strictly forbidden.

After the one year of Russian language I was transferred to Moscow to study Metallurgical Engineering at Moscow's Institute of Steel & Alloys (MISIS, in Russian).  While at MISIS, I had access to (and was involved in the black-marketing of) a lot of western  record albums. I started DJ'ing for the college dances. These dance gigs became quite popular and people would come to them from all over Moscow. Often, we would have a hundred people outside that could not get in because the hall was filled to capacity.  A couple of times they broke down the glass doors to get in.

Along with entertaining the Russian students with my DJ'ing, I started a Pop Information Club to bring information to them. The Russian students, and the people in general, were like a dry sponge when it came to information from the west. One a month, I would pick a popular band to do a "report" on. I had magazines from London that had articles and pictures about current bands. I would translate the articles into Russian. A friend of mine would photograph the pictures and convert them into slides. Then, while I played that band's songs, I'd read the translated articles while my friend would display the slides.  I also made my own posters announcing the dance, using photos and such, cut out from magazines, and my own art work. These posters became collectibles. I had to make a plea that the posters not be stolen until the end of the dance.

While studying in Russia, I took the opportunity to travel in Europe (and to buy and bring back record albums to sell). Couple of times, I took a train from Moscow to London. It's a two-and-a-half days journey each way and a great way to see all the countries. The train ticket allowed me to get off and get back on at any station so I took my time getting to London. I stopped in cities like Warsaw (Poland), Berlin (East & West Germany), Cologne (West Germany), Amsterdam and Rotterdam (Holland) and Brussels (Belgium).

Also, while in Russia, I took a year off from my studies to really see Europe. I went to Sweden in the hope of getting a job. Very soon my money ran out and no job was to be found. They all wanted someone who could speak Swedish. I had to resort to going to the Hara Krishna temple to get free food as I was running out of money. I had to chant with them and listen to their philosophy before they served the food. Finally, a job came through at a potato farm outside Stockholm.  I worked there for about 3 months and then for a month at a home for disabled and elderly people. When I went to Sweden, I had the full intention of trying some drugs to see what it was like. But when I saw young people lying in the central square with needles sticking out of there arms, it turned me off so much that I have never tried drugs.

After saving my money, working in Sweden, I took a bus from Stockholm to London. The bus went through Denmark, Germany and Holland. Then it was driven onto a boat to Andover, England and then on we rode to London, where I stayed for a couple of weeks and then took a train back to Moscow. That was 1976.

 Back from the USSR

I came back to Pakistan in 1979 and started proceedings for my immigration to United States.  While I was waiting for my immigration, I took jobs that would keep me in Islamabad. Well, there  were no metallurgical jobs in Islamabad so I worked various odd jobs. My first job was as an interpreter for the Director of a Bulgarian trucking company. He was looking for freight  for his trucks that were going back empty from Pakistan. I traveled with him to various industrial cities and talked to many manufacturing companies that exported goods to Europe. When the translating job was coming to an end, I was offered a job with a Freight Forwarding company. As a sales person for them I had to visit various embassies to get the business of packing and shipping the house-hold goods of the diplomats. That's when the people from the Pakistan Intelligence agency started following me around. They forced my boss to fire me as they thought I was working for the Russians and was using the job as a cover to visit their embassy. 

After that, I worked for a manpower recruiting company that sent people to work overseas, mostly to the Middle East. We would go into small towns, interviewing people for overseas jobs. These poor people would pay huge sums of money to get jobs abroad so that they could send money back to their families. One person working as a laborer in Saudi Arabia could provide for 20 people back in Pakistan.  Many of these small villages were flourishing due to the money sent back by the people working abroad. People had color TVs and appliances and were waiting for electricity to get to their village! Some used diesel generators to run the appliances.

 United States - The Land of Opportunity

In 1982 I got my immigration visa to the United States and landed in New York on October 10, 1982. I felt the anticipation and excitement of the "land of opportunity" as did many before me who came by boat, ship, jet or crawled across the border. United States has lived up to all my expectations and more as a country where intelligence and hard work does pay.

I stayed in New York with my aunt and uncle for a week and then moved on to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, I had to get a job quickly as my money ran out so I got a job as a cashier at a gas station for $3.50/hour. I shared a 1-bedroom apartment with 5 other boys from Pakistan. Luckily we worked various shifts so all 5 were never in the apartment at the same time.

I then a got a job a little more in line with my metallurgical background. I worked in the quality control department of a high-tech company called Rotoflow that made unique turbines for export all over the world. While I was working there, I enrolled at the Computer Learning Center (CLC) and did a 11-month course in Computer Programming. I would work during the day and go to school at night. CLC had a very tough study schedule, but it paid off for me. As soon as I graduated (cum Laude) from CLC, I got a job offer from Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and they moved me to Dallas in 1985.

I got my U.S. citizenship in Dallas in 1989. I bought my first house in Grapevine, a suburb of Dallas, in 1991.

I started working as a consultant in 1995, in the Network/Systems/Database Administration field. In 1998, I joined Mannatech as a consultant Database Administrator. When Mannatech opened a site in Australia, they sent me to Sydney for 5 months. I stayed in Sydney from October 1998 until March of 1999.

I really liked Sydney. The weather was just wonderful. The people were very friendly. The city itself and the beaches around it are beautiful. The cultural life is rich. I was lucky to be there during the Sydney Festival which happens during the month of January and various entertaining events go on all over the city. Many of these events are free to attend, like the 'Symphony in the park' and the 'Jazz in the park'.

I was in Sydney also for New Year's Eve, to witness the fabulous fireworks in The Sydney Harbour with the Harbour Bridge on one side and the Sydney Opera House on the other.

When Mannatech opened a site in UK, they sent me to London for 5 months from October 1999 to March 2000. I lived and worked in a small town called Basingstoke, about 50 miles south-west of London.

In London, I celebrated the dawn of the new Millenium on the London Bridge, along with thousands of screaming and partying Brits. It was freezing cold that night, but I dressed up warmly. I had booked a hotel in London for 2 nights so that I wouldn't have to go back to Basingstoke. On New Year's day, after making the necessary checks on the system for the Y2K bug from Mannatech's London Call Center, I went to see the New Year Parade.

While working in London, I traveled to several countries in Europe.

I went to Helsinki, Finland for Christmas, to visit with friends who had studied with me in Russia.

I made several week-end trips to Europe. Twice to Paris, once the trip included a tour of the Versailles Palace and gardens. A trip to Amsterdam, Holland, one to Barcelona, Spain and a trip to Brussels, Belgium.

While I was working in London, my dad passed away after a prolonged illness. I went to Pakistan for a week to attend the funeral. My brother Mehboob, who came from California, stayed behind to help sell off the house and move our mom to live with him in Huntington Beach, California.

After I came back from UK, Mannatech and I parted our ways and I left Dallas on a two-month exploration of all the western and mountain states. I had been ready to move from Texas (at least from Dallas) since 1998, but the working trips to Australia and UK satisfied my desire to be somewhere else for the time being.  This road/camping trip was a part of finding another place to move to.  I visited New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. I really liked Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. After getting back to Texas, I took care of some things, including a triple hernia operation, and headed back to Colorado. I tried to find a job in Colorado Springs, but wasn't too successful (I don't think I tried that hard). Anyway, I ended up finding a consulting job in Denver and moved there in September 2000.

I worked at Gates Rubber Company in Denver from September 2000 to March 2001. I really enjoyed working there. The people were very nice. Many of them had been with the company for over 30 years. I found a furnished 2-bedroom townhouse to rent in Lakewood, west of Denver. From Lakewood, I could be in the Rockies in 10 minutes. I loved it.

When my contract ended at Gates, I decided to head back to Texas to visit with friends and to look up some documents that were in my storage, that I needed to do my taxes. The other thing was that I was itching to be on the road again. While living in Denver, I had made one road trip and that was to Las Vegas to celebrate my mom's birthday. She and my brother drove up from Huntington Beach, California. We had a great time.

From Denver, I went to Colorado Springs to see the Garden of the Gods in winter. I tried to go to Pikes Peak, but could only go up part of the way as the road was closed due to snow.

I had planned to take the Loveland Pass to go to Aspen and from there on to Utah. However, when I reached the entrance to the path there was a sign that said it was closed for the winter. I had to take a small mountain highway (highway 40, I believe) to get back to freeway 70, going to Utah. It started snowing heavily and it got dark. On the way, I saw a couple of bad accidents. I was driving very slow as my car had skidded a little a couple of times when I was trying to stop. Even though I was taking all precautions and driving less than 20 mph, on one turn, my car lost all traction and it went skidding across the road and went off the side of the mountain. The last thing I saw, as my car car went off the road, was my headlights pointing into the darkness. I thought this was the end. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Then I saw the snow rushing up and the car hit with a big thud. At that time I had not realized that I had hit a tree on the right corner of the car.  All the stuff from the back of the car came flying to the front. I scrambled through the knee-deep snow onto the highway. Just at that moment a tow-truck was coming up. Talk about luck. I waved him to stop. He had me sit in his tow-truck, to stay warm, while he called for the police as they had to file a report before he could tow us out. The tow-truck driver said that I was very  lucky I didn't go off the road on the other side (the side we were driving on), because it was a 1500 foot drop. He said "But, you wouldn't have dropped all the way. The trees would have caught you". He told me that if I drove by that road in the day-light, I'd see many crosses on the road, indicating people who had died there. Anyway, when the car was pulled out, it was still drivable.

I continued on towards Las Vegas as per plan. I stopped in Utah to visit the Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. They are absolutely gorgeous.  Bryce Canyon is one of the canyons that forms the "Canyon Ring", of which the Grand Canyon is one of the canyons.

From Las Vegas, I headed back to Texas, stopping to visit the Grand Canyon. At El Paso, I parked our car and walked over into Juarez, Mexico for a couple of hours.

In Houston, I visited my good friend Ramesh and his wife Praveena. I met Ramesh while working at Mannatech.

I arrived back in Dallas, Texas around the end of March and stayed with my friend Aziz, while I had my car fixed and did my taxes.  At that time my mom was visiting her sister, who lives in Dallas so I was able to spend some time with her.

I found a consulting contract in Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C. On the way to Maryland, I stopped in Atlanta to visit with my friends Chuck and Karen. I met Chuck while working at EDS. We were room-mates for a little while and he was the one who got me interested in American football. I had not seen Chuck and Karen in many years. I really enjoyed the visit. We watched the final episode of "Survivor - The Australian Outback" together.

I arrived in Silver Spring, Maryland in the afternoon, in early May. As soon as I got there, I bought a newspaper and started calling people about renting a furnished apartment or room. Within 2 hours, after seeing two place, I had a place to live. I rented a room from Heidi. I had a great stay at Heidi's. I met her boy-friend and her parents and her sister. All wonderful people. Heidi even included me when she and her sister took their mom to Baltimore for Mother's Day. Heidi's dad had worked in the foreign service and had studied Russian so we would talk in Russian.

In Silver Spring, I worked at Verizon Telecommunications. I was supposed to work there for at least 3 months with a possibility of an extension. However, due to budget cuts, several contractors were let go at the end of June. So, I had worked there for only 7 weeks.

My friend Noelle (we met while working at Fidelity Investments) invited me to come up to Boston for the July 4th celebrations. She also rented a house in Newport Rhode Island. I stayed for a couple of days in Newport and a couple of days in Boston. When I was leaving Boston, I discovered that my car had been broken into. They ripped off the amplifier from under the seat, stole several items , including all my music and software CDs, radar detector, a back-pack and an old laptop that Noelle had given me to try and fix.

After making out the police report, we taped up the smashed window and I headed back to Maryland. On the way, I stopped to visit my friends Rick and Cathy in Rhode Island. I had worked with Rick at EDS. I also stopped to visit with Lucy in Connecticut, whom I had met through chat.

After coming back to Maryland, I got the window repaired and left for Texas. My tenants had vacated my house and I wanted to see what condition it was in and to do the necessary repairs.

I arrived back in Texas on July 22, 2001. The day I arrived my uncle passed away. He had a stroke before I left for Maryland and I had visited him several times in the hospital. Then he had slipped into a coma.

I spent time with my aunt and cousins as relatives and close friends arrived to express their grief.

I finally got around to getting my house fixed up and renting it again. Then I left for Colorado.

I had plans to do some business with a friend in Colorado but it didn't work out. I looked for a job there and wasn't very successful. This was not too long after the September 11 attack on The World Trade Center in New York and the economy was in a recession. Companies were laying off people by the tens of thousands. I decided that it was too expensive to stay in Colorado without a job so I came down to Albuquerque, New Mexico and took up residence in a motel. I had an internet connection in the room so I setup my computer and continued to search for a job from there.

I was lucky to be in Albuquerque just in time for the annual hot-air balloon fiesta. That was quite a sight. It went on for about 10 days. I went to the balloon fiesta several times to attent various events. I have posted many photos from the balloon fiesta in the "Photo Album" section.

I stayed in Albuquerque from early October to late November 2001. I finally got a 3-month consulting contract in Orlando, Florida. I got this position because of a recommendation from my ex-boss at Verizon, with whom I worked in Maryland. Thank you, Todd.

I set out from Albuquerque, stopping in Dallas for a couple of days. I was just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends in Fort Worth. And then I was off to Florida.

On the way to Florida, I stopped in Bay St. Luis and Biloxi, Mississippi. These are towns on the Mexican Gulf coast. The weather was gorgeous and the coastal towns looked beautiful. Of course, I had to stop at several casinos that litter the coastal highway. I was lucky and won enough to pay for the gas and more.

I arrived in Orlando on November 25, 2001 and started work on November 26th. For the first couple of weeks, I stayed with my good friend Mary McManus, whom I met while working at Fidelity Investments. Then I got myself a room at Homestead Village, a tourist-class hotel that offered weekly and monthly rates. Since the whole tourism industry was hurting, I was able to negotiate a very good rate.

My contract in Orlando got extended a couple of times and I ended up working at GoCo-Op for just over a year.  I ended the contract on December 23rd, 2002 and headed back to Dallas to go on a 2-month overseas trip to Turkey and Pakistan.

I stopped in Istanbul, Turkey for 3 days on the way to Pakistan. In Karachi, Pakistan, I briefly visited with my mom and then continued on to Lahore. I had been having occasional chest pains while in Orlando and had decided to get it checked out and treated in Lahore. My brother had researched the facilities available and we both felt good about it. The next day after arriving in Lahore I was in a cardiologist's office. A thalium scan and an angiogram revealed two blocked arteries. An angioplasty was performed on January 30th and both arteries were repaired.  The surgery went without a hitch and I was only in the hospital for one night.

I left Pakistan on March 21, 2003 - the day the United States attacked Iraq. I am not sure, but I might have flown over Iraqi air-space to get to Istanbul, Turkey on the Turkish Airlines jet. I stayed in Istanbul for 5 days. It was still pretty cold and it snowed almost every day, but I was lucky to have some really nice, sunny moments to get some good pictures.

I arrived back in Dallas, Texas on March 26th and started looking for work while staying at my cousin's house. Towards the end of April, I worked out an agreement with my ex-boss, Warren, from my consulting days at GTE, to stay at his house. he was very nice to only charge m a nominal amount to cover the utilities.

I finally got a 6-month contract to work at Microsoft in Las Colinas, a suburb of Dallas. I started work on May 19th.