Leaving Pratt & Whitney
Earlier this year, I climbed Mount Monadnock, a 400 million year old consequence of the collision between the North American and the African tectonic plates. I remember being astonished by the permanence of everything around me- of the quartzite and the schist, and of the evergreen red spruce, preserved as they had been for millenia. In that moment, I remember feeling particularly alien to the land beneath my feet. I was the only transient in an immortal plane, a raindrop being swallowed by the ocean. The mountain had always been there. It would always be there, and the leaves would always be green. Immobility was a leisure they could afford. As for me, there was a voice in my head.
“I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me I had several more lives to live and could not spare any more time for that one”
Ifthikar Muhammad Khan
Rest In Peace to an absolute legend.
My nana was the quintessential gentleman. He loved his car, his cricket, and his daily akhbaar. He wore pleated pants with a matching blazer and a golf cap. He exuded class. Iftikhar Muhammad Khan was the type of man that took a briefcase to work, the type that took the extra few minutes to make sure everything was perfect. He had travelled the world and filled our imaginations with tales from impossible lands with fairytale names like trafalgar and sharjah and sambhal. In my youthful ignorance, I had envisioned him making these voyages by ships and hot air balloons- until he chuckled and reminded me that no, he’s not THAT old.
When we visited in the blistering summers, Danyal and I would huddle in front of the old TV with our grandfather and watch Pakistan’s test matches, the 5 day marathon version of cricket that’s known to be mind numbingly boring and almost always ends in a draw. But somehow, in the shadow of the halogen glow, we bonded over Kamran Akmal’s dropped catches, Shahid Afridis temperamental batting, and Shoaib Akhtar- of whom I allowed no criticism. In the company of Nana, even this slow paced game took on a new life. And whenever I was back in the US, in comfortable air conditioned classrooms with no fear of load-shedding, I drifted through my daydreams to plastic chairs on the Askari Balcony with my grandparents, the UPS power generator humming in the background, the Karachi horns blaring from rickshaws and colorful trucks down below, and the crescent-topped minaret in the distance reminding me at every azaan, “this is home”. Reminding me that home is not a location, it is the people that you return to- the ones that calculate the time difference to call you at exactly 12:00 on your birthday every single year without fail. iA tonight I will get that call again, and this time it will fill me with sorrow.
He wasn’t excessively expressive of his love, not out of some macho bravado, but because he didn’t need to be. His love was often silent, always genuine- but silent only in the same way air is- so consistent and permanent that it doesn’t need to announce itself- its presence is never questioned. It was a love that radiated in his actions and permeated the people he cared about. My favorite example of this was when I began my job after college, and Nana came all the way to Connecticut to see me. Even my closest friends had not made the trip, but blood is thicker than water and I can’t explain the joy I felt to show him my apartment, my city, my new life. To see the pride he had, to know that I had a relentless supporter, always rooting for me from halfway across the globe- that made all the difference, you see.
He was a brilliantly well-travelled and well-read man who had two masters degrees and had seen every corner of the world but spoke nothing of it (unless to inspire us to accomplish more). To the very end, he took great pride in being a pillar of unwavering strength for this family.
Ahmed Faraz once wondered “kaun dayta hai umar bhar ka sahaara, aye Faraz? Log to janazay mein bhi kanday badaltay rehtay hain*”. To that, I have a very clear answer, and the grief that has rippled across khandaan-e-khanbahadur upon news of this tragedy bears testament to the fact that they do too.
Rest easy, nana. Your absence echoes through us
His name meant light- that resplendent energy which turns saplings into trees, which nourishes everything it touches, which brightens every room it enters.
Which guides us, and without which we feel lost.
He was the first friend I had when I arrived on Earth. And though it’s been ages since we last met, I often find myself reminiscing about those simpler times, on the marble floors in sector F-10 in Islamabad where we spent hours playing Ludo and talking about whatever it is that a four year old talks about. I remember how I used to cheat in those ludo games and pretend it was because I couldn’t count. How my grandmother would never let me get away with it, but you never said a word when she didn’t notice. Surely, Nur Muhammad, you saw right through my sly ways, but as always my antics were met with your trademark smile.
I remember sitting on your shoulders as you made parathas and the hens pecked outside in envy of our friendship. I was captivated, from my aerial vantage point, by the dexterity with which you crafted little cobras of dough, coiled them up so they were ready to strike, and dusted them in flour and oil before flattening them and throwing them on the tawa. Such an algorithmic and efficient process- one which I had committed to rote memory. It felt like sacrilege to interrupt this immaculate ritual, and so I watched, mesmerized, from my perch. Yet somehow whenever you noticed I was ready to try my hand at it- and you always did- my parathas ended up too square or too big or too small. But it was never about the parathas, and so in each batch of flawless flatbread that made it to the table as evidence of your culinary excellence, there was also an oblong, burnt testament to your kindheartedness.
I remember how I’d walk outside cowering behind you, my palms sweating into yours, because I was so scared of the roosters. How you would occasionally let go and cackle at my frightened screams, just long enough to enjoy your prank and just short enough that I knew I’d still be safe.
I remember the ruby-stained white marble of the stairs you scooped me up off of, blood gushing from my forehead, just weeks before I moved halfway across the globe with four stitches, one to commemorate each year we lived life to the fullest together. I remember my parents consoling me in a scarcely furnished room at the Schilletter University Village student apartments in Ames, Iowa when I couldn’t make any friends in this strange new country and just wished you could be there with me; just wished we could make parathas and watch the snow fall. I wondered if you’d ever seen snow like this. And I remember the goats, and the bicycle, and the Super Crisps and the Catty Chins. I remember all these things, and yet it pains me that this is the last time I’ll remember them in second person. I only wish I had taken the time to say this when I had the chance instead of writing it posthumously. I wish I had called you when I’d gotten older, after destiny separated our paths, because I also remember the calloused hands and the creaky knees. I remember the childhood you helped give me did not come for free, and I only wish I had tried to repay it while I had the chance, even if it meant just a call to tell you how much you mean.
It’s a hard name to live up to, Nur Muhammad, but you did it beautifully.
For looking after me when I was a sapling, for nourishing me with endless parathas, and for brightening my days with your sincerity- thank you for the memories.
Rest In Peace
إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ
Rocky Hill FD Recruiting Post
Thank you to the LBJ Fire Academy for preparing me for the fire service by providing me a world class education in firefighting, leadership, and emergency medicine- but most of all for connecting me to a cadre of incredible friends that I am still close to today. If you have any interest in community service, please consider joining your local fire department or ambulance.
Advice for New Engineers
I wrote this list after completing my first year of working full-time as an engineer:
1) BUY A CHEAP CAR AND AN EXPENSIVE TOOLBOX
2) GET A LIBRARY CARD (IT'S FREE). READ FICTION NOVELS
◆ They're not quite as exciting as ASTM standards, but if your employer wanted an uncreative math whiz, they would've bought a calculator.
3) ASK ALL YOUR QUESTIONS
◆ "Better to be a fool for a moment than a fool for a lifetime"
4) DON'T ASK YOUR BOSS ALL YOUR QUESTIONS
◆ Google » Coworker » Mentor » Boss » Technical Expert
5) NEVER LET YOUR COWORKERS KNOW WHAT PHONE YOU HAVE
◆ Keep it in your pocket except at lunch. Finish your work in 8 hours so you don't have to stay 10.
6) IT'S OKAY TO LEAVE WORK AT 5
◆ Bragging about sleep deprivation is tacky. Invest in your mental health.
7) IT'S NOT OKAY TO STOP WORKING AT 5
◆ Have passion projects and never stop learning. Develop skills in areas you have no experience in.
8) SET YOUR ALARM 2 HOURS EARLY. HIT THE GYM
◆ I'm not a morning person either (is anybody?), but would you fly in a plane designed by a sleepy engineer?
9) VOLUNTEER REGULARLY.
◆ Keep reminding yourself you chose this profession to make the world better.