For he was a man

For he was a man

My house in Kwakwani, Rio Berbice (1979-83)

I started my corporate career in Guyana with the Guyana Mining Enterprise in Kwakwani, on the Rio Berbice. Kwakwani was a small mining town, hanging on the bank of the Berbice River trying not to get pushed into its deep and dark waters by an aggressively advancing forest. Living in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest with no family and only a Scarlet Macaw and sundry chickens, turkeys and a series of wild animals as pets may not be the normal youngster’s dream job, but it was mine. I lived on Staff Hill, in a small bungalow with three bedrooms, a living/dining room and kitchen and a veranda on two sides. Facing the bungalow was an orange orchard that ended in the brooding mass of the wall of the rain forest. Behind and surrounding the bungalow was a large open field ending in the wall of the rain forest once again. Living in the middle of the rain forest meant just that; you had the forest surrounding you.

Me in my hammock in my yard, with the orange orchard and forest visible

I would sit on my veranda in the evenings after the sun had gone down and I had had my dinner. In the days and places without TV or mobile phones, you had time to relax, watch the world go by and simply be in sync with your surroundings. The forest is not a silent place. Forests breathe and speak and are visibly and audibly alive. Even if you don’t know their language – and it differs from place to place – you can still hear them. I could hear Macaws talking to each other as they headed home. They pair for life and have great conversations. Lesson: conversation is essential to a good marriage. Then there are the smells. The smell of the first rain after the dry season. The smell of the markings on trees of territorial creatures which are meant to warn away potential threats. The smell of vegetation, growing or decomposing. When you sit quietly in a forest and let it talk to you, it does. Gently and gradually. Naturally, it takes a little while because first our ears must stop buzzing with the residue of our own noisy, raucous sounds of so-called civilization. They try to drown out everything that the forest is trying to tell you. But if you are patient and give it some time, then gradually the buzzing fades away and you start to hear the breeze rustling in the leaves. You hear water dropping from the top levels onto the canopy below. You hear the occasional ripe fruit or dry branch fall to the floor, to become either food or manure. You learn to tell the difference between a sound made by a living creature – which may be potentially dangerous or useful – and the sound of something that is not a living creature. The forest speaks to you in the voices of the Howler Monkeys announcing that the dawn has broken and, in the evening, that the night has fallen, and they are signing off for the day. Toucans, Parakeets and Macaws talking to each other as they fly, feed and roost. It speaks to you in the rustle of the oncoming deluge which you can hear advancing towards you, not threatening but announcing its progress so that you can take shelter. The wind rustling the treetops sometimes sounds like the waves of the ocean. You will hear all this, and more will happen if you give it some time, are observant, and are willing to learn. I was thrilled to be there. There was nowhere else that I would rather be.

Nick and I on the Kwakwani Trail in Prime Minister Sam Hind’s car (1997)

My first boss, Mr. James Nicholas Adams (Nick Adams) was the Administrative Manager of Kwakwani and I was his Assistant Manager. Nick was my manager but even more he was my mentor and guide. Although he was technically in charge of the whole operation, he let me run it the way I wanted and that was a tremendous learning opportunity for me. Nick had a unique way of teaching by delegating responsibility and then periodically calling me to do a participative analysis of my own performance. He would then reinforce the strengths and achievements and encourage me to draw lessons from my mistakes. I remember my first ever appraisal in 1980. Nick gave me the form and told me to fill it in myself. I was shocked because I thought appraising was something that the boss did of your work. But Nick said, ‘You know what you did better than I do. So, write it up.’ I returned with what I thought were my achievements and then Nick and I had a long chat about them. Thanks to my Indian cultural upbringing, Nick ended up adding several things that I had left out feeling that they didn’t really count. I still have that form with Nick’s signature on it, decades later.

In Kwakwani, I was the youngest member of the Management Team, sometimes by decades. As the Assistant Administrative Manager, it was part of my responsibility to look after the logistics in the entire mining town. There were department heads over whom I had no formal authority, but whose cooperation I needed to get anything done. Some were twice my age and Guyanese and members of the PNC (People’s National Congress – the ruling party in Guyana), while I was a young foreigner. I learnt, very practically, that the best way to make progress was to develop a relationship based on sincerity as that would be the only thing that you could count on, especially in hard times. I remember how Nick Adams used to put it. He’d say, “A relationship is like a bank account. You only have in it, what you put in. And when you need to draw on it, you only have as much as you put in.” That is one of the lessons I learnt in my life and which has stayed with me all these years. That is one of the many lessons that I owe to Nick. Another was in hospitality and consideration. The first time it happened I was astonished. Then it became a regular feature. One weekend Nick called me and asked me to go over to his place. When I walked over, I saw that he had a pen full of live chickens (about 10-12 in all) and a knife. He said to me, “Ya-waar, can you please slaughter these in your way? I will put them in the freezer so that we are sure we give you these when you come over to our place to eat.” Nick and his lovely wife Kathleen knew that I was Muslim and would eat only meat that was slaughtered according to the rules of Halal. So, they made sure that not only was what they gave me Halal but that I would have total confidence in that. What better way than to let me do it myself? 

One of Nick’s biggest strengths was his communication; both its clarity and wisdom. I recall an amusing but very instructive incident which illustrates the challenges we faced and how Nick dealt with them. Guyana had recently become independent and was ruled by the PNC (People’s National Congress) which was socialist/communist. The President of Guyana was the very powerful and iconic, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (1923 – 1985). Communism/socialism was the prevalent ideology. We addressed each other as ‘Comrade’. I was Comrade (written Cde.) Baig. Bauxite mining was the major economic activity in Guyana and just before I landed there in 1979, the government had nationalized the bauxite mining and calcining operation. One inevitable and tragic result was that people were appointed and promoted more for ideological loyalty than for professional competence. Another result was that the Guyana Mine Workers Union became very strong. Guymine (used to be called Guybau) had 5000 workers and all were members of the GMWU. The Union was run by its General Secretary, Stephen Louis, a huge big man with a voice to match.

One effect of the nationalization and heightened union activity was frequent work stoppages on all kinds of frivolous matters. Then we would meet to discuss Terms of Resumption and arrive at a settlement. The meetings were contests of will, to see who would break down first. The meetings were very important because if we couldn’t arrive at a settlement the issue would go to Arbitration before the Minister of Mines whose other role was as the President of the Union. The typical Terms of Resumption meeting would go straight through for anything ranging from 24 – 72 hours, with short breaks of usually an hour or two to stretch our legs and eat something. Naturally patience was tough to maintain, and tempers would get frayed. This incident relates to one such meeting.

I can’t recall what the issue was, for which the Union had called for a Tools Down. We started the meeting at 8.00 pm and it continued through the night into the next morning. We took a break of about 2 hours to take a shower and have breakfast. Then back in the meeting until 8.00 pm that night. Then a break for dinner and back again through the night. Stephen Louis was holding forth at full strength, his voice resonating and bouncing off the ceiling and walls; my first experience of surround sound. The only option we had was to listen. Our team had Nick as its head and me and another young man from IR (Industrial Relations), who we shall call Jacob (not his real name). Late that night, well past midnight, Jacob’s patience snapped. Stephen Louis had been going on and on about the ideological differences between socialist and capitalist ideologies and why the socialist ideology to which the PNC and the GMWU were committed was superior. Jacob said, ‘Man! Stephen, talk sense man.’ It was as if he had shot Stephen in the head. Stephen stopped in mid-sentence. Turned slowly to face Jacob and said, ‘Boy! (pronounced Bye) Jaykie, waya seh! Talk sense. Like me na takin sense? Ya tink a-we takin nansense? All dis time we bina trying to come to a settlemen and dis Bye seh we bina talkin nansense? Eh!’

The situation was as close to sitting on a powder keg with the fuse burning as I care to remember. In another two seconds, the Union would have walked out and hours and hours of work would have gone down the drain. We would have had to begin again with the additional problem of dealing with bruised egos as a result of good old Jaykie’s comment. That’s when I saw how quick thinking and experience makes a difference. Nick called out, ‘Hol-an, Hol-an man Stephen. De Bye na seh, Leh we talk sense. He seh, Leh we talk dallar and cents. Leh we talk moe-ney! Leh we do dat man. Nof-of dis ideology thing. Leh we decide and go to bed.’

I swear, I saw relief on Stephen Loius’s face. He say, ‘Ah! Ya, leh we do da.’ And we did. We finished as the day was breaking and as we left the room, Stephen came up behind Jacob, affectionately grabbed him by the back of his neck and said, ‘De man Nick don save yar aas. You know waya seh, eh! And I know wa I hear! But Nick don save a-we. If not, dis meeting was gonna go on for noder two days. Watch ya tongue Bye. It can geh you into trouble. And you won’ have Nick to bail you out next time.’ That is where I learnt human relations. In a very tough environment but where even our antagonists took time out to unofficially mentor youngsters.

My last story about Nick. I heard this story from his son Owen Shaka Abubakr Adams. When Nick was a young man, and lived in Linden, Demarara, he received a summons from a court in Corentyn which is at the northern border of Guyana, with Suriname; a distance of about 400 kilometers. To go there in those days (1950’s?) must have been an expedition. Nick had no idea why he had been summoned. But he went. When he arrived at the court, his name was called, and the judge asked him to come forward. As Nick was walking down the aisle, he heard a woman’s voice, ‘He is not the man.’ Nick turned to see a young woman with a baby.

The judge told the lady, ‘Look carefully at him. This is Nick Adams. Is he the man?’ The lady said, ‘He is not the man. This is someone else.’

When Nick asked, the judge said to him, ‘A man by your name, got this lady pregnant and now that she has a baby, he has disappeared. Anyway, this is not your problem, so you can go home.’

Nick said to the judge, ‘Your Honor, I would like to request you to please arrange for the maintenance of this child to be deducted from my salary.’

The judge was astonished. ‘Do you know this lady?’

Nick said, ‘No, Your Honor, I don’t. I am seeing her for the first time today.’ ‘Then why are you offering to pay for the maintenance of the child?’ asked the judge. ‘It is not your responsibility. This matter doesn’t concern you.’

Nick replied, ‘But the child needs to eat, Your Honor. Someone must pay for that. I am willing to do that.’

For the next 18 years, Nick Adams paid maintenance for a child that was not his own. He saw the mother, that one time in court and never saw the mother or child again. But month after month, year after year for 18 years, Nick Adams paid for a child because he had compassion in his heart.

His Rabb was no less compassionate. So many decades later, maybe even 60 years later, Nick Adams who was by then suffering from cancer, one week before his death, accepted Islam along with his wife and sister in law.

The happiest ending; or I should say, the happiest latest story, to my Guyana times was when I got the news in 2011 that Nick Adams and his wife Kathleen had accepted Islam. Nick was terminally ill with cancer at the time and died a couple of weeks later. I hope one day to meet my friend once again in Jannah. He died sinless and pure and I ask Allahﷻ for His Mercy and Grace for my dear friend to whom I owe so much. 

Confusion about kindness

What is kindness? Is it accepting substandard work or is it insisting that only the best quality is acceptable? There is often a lot of confusion about this and people think that they are being kind when they say nothing to their group members, family or friends who routinely over promise and under deliver. …

https://www.yawarbaig.com/wherearetheleaders/confusion-about-kindness/

Become a rock in the foundation

I want to begin by saying that today I am truly proud that my nation, India, is still a democracy and that we the people of India are people with courage and the willingness to stand up for each other. Frankly, going by our recent history and the rapid polarization of our society and proliferation of hate speech and hate politics, I never thought I would see the day when Hindus, Sikhs and Christians would stand shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brothers and sisters to protect them and their rights.

https://www.yawarbaig.com/wherearetheleaders/become-a-rock-in-the-foundation/

Mentoring is a contact sport

Mentoring is the in-thing today. There seems to be a profusion of those who want to or believe they can mentor others. The interesting thing is the name for the one who wants to be mentored. It is ‘mentee’. I tell anyone who wants to be mentored by me, ‘If you are demented enough to want me as your mentor, you will thenceforth be known as ‘mental’. I say this only partly in jest. Partly because most of the people that I have met in this context live under all sorts of romantic notions about what mentoring is and what the ‘ideal’ mentor should be like. Then, when they encounter someone like me, who may not fit their imaginary model, they are dissatisfied and try to change me to fit their fantasy. Needless to say, that never happens, and we part company. …

https://www.yawarbaig.com/wherearetheleaders/mentoring-is-a-contact-sport/
Become a rock in the foundation

Become a rock in the foundation

I want to begin by saying that today I am truly proud that my nation, India, is still a democracy and that we the people of India are people with courage and the willingness to stand up for each other. Frankly, going by our recent history and the rapid polarization of our society and proliferation of hate speech and hate politics, I never thought I would see the day when Hindus, Sikhs and Christians would stand shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brothers and sisters to protect them and their rights. Truly it is said that injustice can’t be removed until those who are not affected by it are willing to stand up against it. Injustice to one is injustice to all. The people of India have demonstrated that they are willing to stand against injustice even when it doesn’t affect some of them directly. The biggest and most powerful message in all this is that it is our youth, students in our universities who have taken the lead and shown us the way to go. This message is primarily addressed to them, to students, to youth, to the millennials and their children. Because the future is theirs. They inherited the world that we, my generation, created. They are the victims of our follies, greed, shortsightedness and ignorance. But all power to them, they decided to take their future in their own hands and break the vicious cycle that we bequeathed to them. They did what we (at least I) never dreamt that they would do. The best that we can do is to stand with them, so that when history is written it will at least be said that we tried to clean the mess we made.

The first thing to understand is that this CAA+NRC is the best thing that could have happened to India at this stage. We had become a rapidly polarized, fascist, extremist society with the voices of the ‘silent’ majority conspicuous by their silence while the strident and raucous screech of hate speech was echoing off the walls of our collective conscience. Then came the law; CAA and the threat of NRC to disenfranchise those who are already dehumanized and demonized. Liberals felt bad about this. But the problem with all Liberals anywhere is that they have no clear cause; no point of focus for their energy, intellect and emotion. They are just a bunch of ‘nice people’. That is no good because in today’s politics and especially in hate politics which feeds fascism, they are rendered totally ineffective. CAA+NRC gave them a focus, a rallying point, a goal to achieve. It suddenly made speaking out worthwhile. And we are seeing the result.

If you study the South African freedom struggle you will see that it is only when Apartheid became law with all its draconian elements that the struggle started. Whites have always discriminated against people of color from the time Allahﷻ gave color to some and took it away from others. But how many ‘freedom’ struggles do you see against that? Except when there are laws created to legitimize and legalize the crime that is Apartheid. That is what has happened today. The BJP/RSS gave us, the People of India, a goal. And that goal is to abolish this and all such laws, to abolish hatred, to abolish all those who preach hatred. Never lose sight of that. Never allow anyone to divide you ever again, or you will sink back into the cesspit and your oppressors will rule the roost. Remember, that they will never make the same mistake again. This is your chance. This is your only chance. This is your last chance before the abyss of darkness.

This is like a staring match. Whoever blinks or looks away first, loses. If you never tried a staring match, try it. You will see that as time passes it gets more and more tough. Your eyes start to water, then burn and it is so easy to look away or blink. But remember that it is also getting tougher for the other person. So, you don’t have to be the toughest in the world. You just have to be tougher than your opponent. In this case, only if civil society is relentless and opposition parties join in will something happen. Force the hands of the opposition parties. You voted for them. This is collection time. Don’t let any sit on the fence. They must choose between you or the BJP. Meet their leaders. Demand that they meet you. No games. Let them declare that they are against CAA+NRC. Many opposition leaders have done so. Force those who have not done so yet, to do so right away. Don’t rest and don’t let them rest until they declare that they will not implement the NRC in their states. These are YOUR states. Not THEIR states. They and all our politicians must be made to realize that they are elected representatives of the people, who remain where they are at the whim of the people. They are not hereditary monarchs, though they like to act like that. Remind them.

The rulers have initiated the NPR which is the first step. They will implement NRC at an appropriate time later. Make no mistake about that.

Another very important thing: Get the police who are trying to break up the peaceful protests, violently, to understand that you are fighting for them also. When they beat you, they are beating the only friends they have in the land. Tell them (let your posters say that and say this in your speeches; address them directly) that when the NRC is implemented, it is their families, brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts who will also have to stand in line and if they have no papers, they will also go to detention camps. Just because someone in their family is a cop, won’t save them.

A screenshot of a cell phone  Description automatically generated

Final important thing and maybe the most important: Keep repeating the fact that the people who this NRC will harm the most are the Hindu majority. It is their tax money which will be (is being) used to build the camps. It is their taxes which will feed the detainees forever, because they can’t be deported anywhere. The disruption to the economy and the loss of jobs, investment, production, services and peace that is happening is harming them the most because they are the majority. The myth of a Muslim Mukt India where every Hindu will be a king is rubbish. Total nonsense which is taking the lives and livelihoods of Hindus and Muslims alike. Emphasize this.The most critical thing to do is to keep the protests going for the next four years and ensure that hate mongers lose the general election. Meanwhile they’ll up the stakes and become more draconian and tighten the screws to try to break all resistance. No mercy will be shown because they want to make an example of whoever resists to discourage and break the spirit of others. Your main challenge will be to convince the wealthy that they’re in a life-threatening situation and need to invest in their own safety. They need to change their lifestyles and need to spend on funding the fight for freedom instead of their holidays, weddings and gana parties. That’s the biggest challenge.

Don’t look to your elders for leadership. They’re the reason you’re in this mess. They have no clue what to do. All our traditional leaders have failed. They’re a part of the cancer. You need new leaders who are untainted by the diseases of deliberate ignorance, cowardice, selfishness, corruption and greed. There may be exceptions among your elders, but exceptions prove the rule. So, don’t waste your time with them. If you follow them, they’ll squander your lives, and energy to save their own skins. You’ll get nothing from them that can be of any use to you.

Your great strength is that you are alone, unencumbered, unfettered. Rejoice, chart your own path, make mistakes, fall, but get up. Always get up. Alternatively, look to your elders, get infected with their fatal diseases, pick up their baggage, struggle for their ends, and die a futile death, knowing in your last moments that you did it to yourselves. You had a chance, but you blew it away. Your choice. Learn to stand on your own feet. Learn to think. Curse your own stupidity about not reading, especially history, not reflecting or thinking, being addicted to social media and being more interested in cricket and football than in your own future. That’s why your future is a football for others. You and your generation are not innocent either. You’re fools but not evil. So, wake up before it’s too late.

The critical thing is to keep the students on the street long enough to make a difference. It’s a battle of attrition in which the one who can take the loss wins. It’s that simple to define. It will be brutal. No quarter will be given. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it will be easy or quick. It won’t. You’ve seen nothing yet. But if there’s consistency and perseverance, you students will win. That also I have no doubt about.

Get students across the world enrolled into your cause. Let there be demonstrations in global universities; not once but every week. They live in countries where they can protest without fear. Tell them to let their voices resound across national boundaries and wake up dead consciences. Let questions be asked in Parliaments and Assemblies across the world. Let cases be filed in the International Court of Justice. Let voices be raised in the United Nations. Let international media raise their voice. Let Heads of State who like to talk about justice summon the Indian Ambassadors in their countries and ask them what is going on. Put pressure on Indians abroad to stand up for justice. It is international pressure that won freedom from apartheid in South Africa. CAA+NRC is Apartheid. NPR is the first step towards it.

Let people everywhere understand that these steps to create a fascist, apartheid state based on Hindu supremacy calls for crucial funds to be spent in useless exercises to divide, discriminate against and oppress people instead of on education, production, creating employment opportunities and well-being. That is what the world must know and realize. Remind them that a nation which is embroiled in controversy and turmoil is a dead duck for investment and development. A nation which is spending money on building concentration camps instead of homes for the homeless is not a safe place to invest. Nobody cares about justice. Everybody cares about money. So, speak to them in the language they understand.

The time has come to face the brutal facts but never to lose hope. Take charge of your lives. The one who controls the narrative, wins the debate. Never give up your ethics and values. You must never do what the others do or act or speak in the way they do. They must not drive your narrative. They must not direct your behavior. They’re not your teachers. Think of any great revolution and try to name ten people who participated in it. I bet you, you can’t. But you and I know that it succeeded because there were a lot more than ten people involved. What happened to them? What did they gain? How did they continue to work even though many or most never saw success? It succeeded because they were the foundation stones. Without them it would have failed. If every stone wants to be on the façade there will be no building.

The question is, ‘Do you want the building, or do you want to be on the façade?’

Get ready to go into the ground like the stones in the foundation for the building to be built over you. Nobody will know you lived except the One who created you. And that’s enough.

Or get ready to spend the rest of your lives as slaves. The future is yours, not ours. Make of it whatever you wish, because you are going to live in it. You and your children.