Maswood Alam Khan from Maryland, USA
This is the first time I have passed by (not celebrated) my birthday that was 59 years back on 27 November in America which is far away from my birthplace in Bangladesh. This is the first time since my retirement from banking career I am all by myself, living in a small rented room in the basement of a house in Maryland, an alien land, far away from the comfort of my apartment in Dhaka in my maiden bid to see whether I can really fend for myself without any aid or support from my relations. This is the first time in my life I have been experiencing in America a wonderful winter, though way harsher than any winter season I ever experienced in Bangladesh or abroad.
I am not used to getting excited about my birthday, inviting people to greet me on this day or buying or letting someone else buy a birthday cake or a gift on this occasion. But I hugely enjoy my day of birth, preferably in my solitary seclusion, if possible, not amid applauses or in the middle of a crowd cheering me and singing ‘Happy birthday to you!’
In fact my mother did never appreciate celebrating birthdays of her children in the manner the westerners celebrate by topping a cake with a lot of candles, blowing the flames of candles out in one long breath-out and then filling the room with acrid smoke that billows from the dying wick of the blown out candles. My mother rather advised us to have extra prayers on our birthdays in profound gratitude to the Almighty that He allowed us one full year more to live and enjoy the wonders of life. My mother used to say we all should enjoy each and every day as our birthday.
For the last many years I have been following what my mother had advised me on how to prepare myself for death everyday – and every moment – and enjoy the wakeup time every morning as the moment of my renewed birth. As advised by my mother, every night as I go to bed to retire I recite “Ayatul Kursi”, the crown verse of the Holy Koran, where Allah has been explained as ever-living, self-subsisting and self-sustaining, eternally awake and alert, possessing infinite power, owning everything as the Master of the Day of Judgment. After reciting “Ayatul Kursi” I whisper: “Allah, I am not getting up tomorrow morning as I may die in my sleep tonight. I have sinned, you know. Please forgive me; I beg you”. When I get up in the morning, I murmur the soliloquy my mother tutored me about 50 years back: “Thank you Allah! You have gifted me one more day to live. I am grateful.”
This morning, at dawn of 27 November 2010, as I got up I cooked my coffee in our common kitchen, filled my big porcelain mug to its brim with a well-brewed coffee, and took the courage to spend a few minutes outside of my temperature-controlled room, out on a grassy lawn in the backyard of our house in complete solitude – no movement of any living being visible, no chirping of any woken-up bird audible – to see how long I could brave the chilly weather all alone. While seeping my hot coffee I was shivering in the harsh cold that was literally biting the marrows of my bones.
Still I was on the lawn till I had finished seeping my coffee to its last drop and smoking a Marlboro cigarette to its butt while reflecting on “What a long, strange and eventful journey my living on this Earth has been for the last 59 years!” and trying to gauge the distances I have learned in my life “between trust and distrust, between sanity and insanity, between love and hate and between happiness and regret”.