The sophomore (second-year) engineering student sitting in front of my desk is sharp and confident. But being a typical Bangalee, I can't get rid of a parallel train of thought: what's up with his rather unusual circumstances of applying for the position of a summer intern? Ok, that's not the unusual part; what strikes ME as unusual is that he is perhaps old enough to be my dad.
But of course, I don't ask any questions to help me from losing sleep over others who are actually sound asleep. After all, Holly Koss, the HR Head at Takata Corporation, Farmington Hills, Michigan told me specifically of four absolute haraam questions/topics during any interview with regards to the candidate: his/her age, marital status, religion and sexual orientation. Not only out of respect, but also as an insurance policy in a litigious society.
This is a trump card I play well too. As a straight, brown-skinned, unmarried Muslim (this is pre-9/11 America) in his 20s, I can literally get away with murder. During one of my momentary lapses, I kick MY manager, Mike O'Boyle (himself a thin fused Mike, oh, boil over), out of MY office (yes, I have my own office instead of a plebeian cubicle, perhaps so that the minority me doesn't feel discriminated against) through a barrage of colourful exchanges. Mike is surprisingly, but obviously, restrained, based on Holly Koss's Four Commandments, while I am obviously ARMED with those same Four Commandments. If it was a purebred Californian Nathan Morris instead of the purebred Comillaian Naveed Mahbub, the former NM would have discovered his badge not working at the entrance of the office within a span of 30 minutes.
But this is America, the land of the free, where those like us originating from places where freedom is really 'f'reedom, i.e. an 'f' word, take full advantage of a host country turning that f-lettered word into 200 percent of what it really is meant to be.
Coming back to the intern. He is hired. He is working in the lab with a bunch of other sophomores and juniors (third-year students), all as summer interns. And by interns, I don't mean running menial errands or making photocopies (remember those machines?), not unlike many interns with full-fledged degrees in our country, but doing actual, serious, mission critical work.
But my desi curiosity, despite the risk of the cat getting killed, makes me take him out to lunch to hear out his story. All it takes is a seven-dollar all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant to waterboard the truth out of him. He is a former Warrant Officer of the US Army. His helicopter was shot down over Iraq during Gulf War I (1991). Severe back injury. Ten months of hospitalisation. Then honourary discharge with full payout from the GI Bill. The lump-sum amount helps him to finally attend college. He had joined the army after high school for lack of money to go to college. Now, in his early 40s—a married father of two—he is fulfilling his dream of becoming an engineer. And I can bet my Ascot that he already is a damned fine one.
Of course, nobody at Takata, let alone his cohort teenagers who he not only works with but also hangs out with after work, finds it odd that their granddaddy is going to college with them. It is “odd” only to me, bred of a society with zero tolerance towards odd, while being obnoxiously odd at all moments about not being odd. After all, it is not only not odd, but oddly enough, completely acceptable, that I get this message from a recruiter, to be shared in public so that he (the recruiter) can make a fast buck through some horse-trading.
And I quote verbatim, with all its errors in grammar, syntax, punctuations, spacing…not to mention the inherent flaw in the thought process and attitude of our workplace that, oddly enough, are not considered odd: “One CLIENT company needs the following: 1. Office Support Officer (Female with MBA & unmarried) good communication skills. Salary Tk 18,000/mo¬–23,000/mo, three bonuses yearly.”
After catching my breath, I contemplate sending this to Holly Koss. Nah, she is 25 years older than when she first narrated her golden Four Commandments to me. I don't want her to get a brain stroke…
Naveed Mahbub is an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA and CEO of IBM & Nokia Siemens Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club.