I lived in Rome from 1980 to 1984. Those were the golden years of my childhood. My first crush. My first real bicycle, Italian at that. My first time playing soccer for the school team. Learning Italian for the first time. I can go on and on …
My father was sent to Rome by Bangladesh Airlines to open the first offices of the airline. He single-handedly navigated this new land without speaking a word of Italian and successfully brought the first flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines home to Rome. I am amazed at what my father achieved in his short life of 49 years. Wow. I am sure I have impacted many people with my positions – as an engineer in Silicon Valley, as a math professor at a community college and as a yoga teacher. But the uniqueness and complexities of what my dad was able to achieve blows my mind to this day. I only knew him for 18 years. He passed away a few months before my 19th birthday. But those 18 years were worth a lifetime.
There is a little place where, tucked away, I keep these memories of my father. Now, I have added new memories to this special place, for my mother has passed as well. We are supposed to be tough in this world. Endure things. Act a certain way. Show no signs of weakness. But truth be told, it’s all nonsense. Live your life, feel what you feel. Acknowledge it and share it with people you love. Be real.
The loss of my mother was devastating. She was both a father and mother for the last 30 years. She was the ultimate sacrificer. She didn’t get remarried for the sake of her children. She did not want to make us feel an ounce less loved. Looking back I wish she would have gotten remarried. But you know what? She had to be happy making her decisions, the way she wanted. Ever since my nieces were born my mother was in heaven. She loved those two girls like nothing else. Uncle Nabeel would have to compete for her love. Not really. She had that amazing capacity of loving everyone. Although that never stopped me from teasing her that she loved her grandchildren the most! 🙂
I hadn’t been to Rome in 35 years. I was going to Rome. This was all very sudden. I am taking some time off to heal after my mom’s passing and headed to Bangladesh soon to deal with logistics of property management as well – half way around the world. This feat has taken its toll and worn me down. But now I had this great opportunity to stop in Rome and to take a walk down that special road – memory lane – and relive my golden years with my parents and sister.
It’s not that easy as it sounds though. I was a bit nervous about the emotions that would surface? How would I feel? Would I feel any better? Or may be worse?
They were not necessarily ALL good, the things that happened in Rome. I crashed a car when I was 12. Yes I was 12. It’s a long story – but in short the Hassan family came to visit the Atique family. The adults decided to go to Lake Bracciano using our car. Mr. Hassan decided to leave the keys to their car with his 16 year old Ehsan (bad move number 1). What did Ehsan do with those keys? He decided to let 12 year old Nabeel drive their Toyota Corolla (bad move number 2). And like most 12 year olds who don’t know how to drive – I crashed it!
Luckily we were OK and there was no bodily harm. The car was totaled. I crashed it into a pillar a few hundred meters down the road. I was wrought with fear – my whole 12 year old world crashing down on me. As luck would have it, I managed to crash it on the one property in the neighborhood that was run-down and the owners very Godfather-ish. We didn’t get any horse’s heads under our beds, but they tried to extort money out of my dad (unreasonable amounts). Funnily enough the house is still there and it is still the most run-down house along the road. I guess crime doesn’t pay after all 🙂
Fast forward to September 29th, 2019. I had just spent an amazing September 28th in Rome with Marco, my bro from Argentina who is half Italian. We had just met 9 months ago in Buenos Aires. He is childhood friends with Leo one of my other brothers in Buenos Aires. I would do anything for these kids – they are like my family. And Marco did EVERYTHING for me.
He was at the Termini Train Station to receive me.
We had real Italian pizza right away and I had the fullest day on the 28th. In a nutshell, I saw the Vatican, St. Peter’s, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi fountain and more…
But in the evening is where Marco shone bright. Marco took me to dinner at Ditta Trinchetti – the Pasta was killing me with every bite. I tried his lamb dish and was like WHY??? I wanted it all 🙂 The pana cotta was to die for.
And the staff – Francesca and the crew were the nicest you can imagine. That added to our experience.
Next we went to Meccanismo a bar not too far … and we had a few beers … and we even made it out clubbing. After some heavy taxi/uber drama I hit my pillow at 6am (do not count on getting a taxi in Rome – you have been warned!).
September 29th, 2019. It’s the day of the big reunion. I am going to meet my past. Besides meeting Marco, this is WHY I am here in Rome. I am going to go to my childhood home, Via Giulio Galli 99, out in the countryside on the outskirts of Rome. My perspectives as a child were … that of a child. I envisioned a place super far away and difficult to get to. Marco and I got over our respective hangovers, met at 1 pm and were at Giustiniana by train in 30 minutes! I don’t think this particular train stop existed back then.
From the train station it was a short 20 minute walk to my home. Down busy Via Cassia for a bit and then a windy walk through the country road of Via Giulio Galli.
We were hungry and walked into a restaurant by the train station. I was surprisingly relaxed and did not feel the urge to rush to this grand reunion with my past. The courtyard at this restaurant was magical. The sky was blue with patches of white clouds dancing and the wind ever so lightly grazing my face. An Italian family with kids was having lunch too – and their kids were running around exploring the garden – in true Italian lassez-faire style. I was already transported 35 years into my past.
Marco could have been an observer in all of this. Heck, he wasn’t even born in 1984 when I left Rome. But no…Marco’s heart was with his brother. I felt the excitement, the anticipation, the curiosity in him. Sometimes I have to remind myself how blessed I am. God has given me some of the best friends anyone could ask for.
Marco and I walked down via Cassia – I remember riding my bike down this road all the way to my school one day, down this busy road. I was a crazy cyclist from the start – may be this Italian influence explains a lot of my antics on two wheels! My dad got me an adult size bicycle when I was 11. My parents had no idea what I did with that machine – I would roam all over the countryside. I would even chase beautiful girls on vespas – knowing that as a 12 year old on a bike, it was utterly futile. But the chase is always fun … 🙂
We are fast approaching my house. We pass a building. It’s a bit run down and looks familiar. Wait! It’s that house! Where I crashed the Hassan’s car. Not much has changed.
This is where I crashed the car when I was 12
There is that breeze again as I approach our building. We were on the 3rd floor apartment. I am amazed that the whole building looks exactly the same. The same blue paint. The moment was magical. I could literally feel my parents and had visions of them. They were there. My mom in the kitchen whipping up delicacies. My dad giving her a kiss, right before heading to work. I, scooping and devouring this new manna called Nutella. I even remembered my grandmother visiting us when I was 12.
Marco and I closed our eyes for about a minute. No yoga-posing here. This was real. This was meditative. We both felt the energy. I was fulfilled.
There came a sense of closure with this visit. I felt happy. Happy for the life I have lived. The circle of life is such – there will always be the inevitable. Death is a reality. But to be reminded of how good life has been to me and how much love I got from my parents was pivotal. And what a moment in time I am living – the love of my friends – back home in the San Francisco Bay Area, London, Paris, Milan, Como, Rome – has been nothing but extraordinary. Wow. I am blessed and lucky to have you all in my life.
Paula and Sofi in Cali; Stefano and Silvia in Milan
I found a new tribe in Colombia as well – Paula and Sofi, you have a special place in my heart. My dear friends Stefano and Silvia in Milan, I also met in Colombia two years ago!
And I would be amiss to not give a huge shout out to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Let’s see how this magical web works.
Miguel in London, Bastien in Paris, Mathew in Normandy, in Milan, Clelia in Como, and Marco in Rome – I met ALL of these rockstar friends in Buenos Aires.
The journey is not over … it never is … life is fluid, malleable, full of surprises … but I say … hold on to your memories … those will never change and are the only things that are permanent … a beautiful thing …
I spent that evening full of joy – Marco and I strolled the streets of Rome and I marveled at the beauty of the world and humanity. So much so that I chose to look at things upside down – the same beauty, but with a different perspective. Life is often what you make of it, but more often how you choose to view it.
Peace and Love,
October 3rd, 2019