Saturday, August 18, 2012

An Untold Love Story, A Great Personal Sacrifice

The story was originally published in The Telegraph by Rebecca Fryan in Dec 2011

Michael Aris, Aung San Suu Kyi and their first son Alexander, in 1973

When I began to research a screenplay about Aung San Suu Kyi four years ago, I wasn’t expecting to uncover one of the great love stories of our time. Yet what emerged was a tale so romantic – and yet so heartbreaking – it sounded more like a pitch for a Hollywood weepie: an exquisitely beautiful but reserved girl from the East meets a handsome and passionate young man from the West.

For Michael Aris the story is a coup de foudre, and he eventually proposes to Suu amid the snow-capped mountains of Bhutan, where he has been employed as tutor to its royal family. For the next 16 years, she becomes his devoted wife and a mother-of-two, until quite by chance she gets caught up in politics on a short trip to Burma, and never comes home. Tragically, after 10 years of campaigning to try to keep his wife safe, Michael dies of cancer without ever being allowed to say goodbye.

I also discovered that the reason no one was aware of this story was because Dr Michael Aris had gone to great lengths to keep Suu’s family out of the public eye. It is only because their sons are now adults – and Michael is dead – that their friends and family feel the time has come to speak openly, and with great pride, about the unsung role he played.

The daughter of a great Burmese hero, General Aung San, who was assassinated when she was only two, Suu was raised with a strong sense of her father’s unfinished legacy. In 1964 she was sent by her diplomat mother to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, where her guardian, Lord Gore-Booth, introduced her to Michael. He was studying history at Durham but had always had a passion for Bhutan – and in Suu he found the romantic embodiment of his great love for the East. But when she accepted his proposal, she struck a deal: if her country should ever need her, she would have to go. And Michael readily agreed.

For the next 16 years, Suu Kyi was to sublimate her extraordinary strength of character and become the perfect housewife. When their two sons, Alexander and Kim, were born she became a doting mother too, noted for her punctiliously well-organised children’s parties and exquisite cooking. Much to the despair of her more feminist friends, she even insisted on ironing her husband’s socks and cleaning the house herself.

Then one quiet evening in 1988, when her sons were 12 and 14, as she and Michael sat reading in Oxford, they were interrupted by a phone call to say Suu’s mother had had a stroke.

She at once flew to Rangoon for what she thought would be a matter of weeks, only to find a city in turmoil. A series of violent confrontations with the military had brought the country to a standstill, and when she moved into Rangoon Hospital to care for her mother, she found the wards crowded with injured and dying students. Since public meetings were forbidden, the hospital had become the centre-point of a leaderless revolution, and word that the great General’s daughter had arrived spread like wildfire.

When a delegation of academics asked Suu to head a movement for democracy, she tentatively agreed, thinking that once an election had been held she would be free to return to Oxford again. Only two months earlier she had been a devoted housewife; now she found herself spearheading a mass uprising against a barbaric regime.

In England, Michael could only anxiously monitor the news as Suu toured Burma, her popularity soaring, while the military harassed her every step and arrested and tortured many of her party members. He was haunted by the fear that she might be assassinated like her father. And when in 1989 she was placed under house arrest, his only comfort was that it at least might help keep her safe.

Michael now reciprocated all those years Suu had devoted to him with a remarkable selflessness of his own, embarking on a high-level campaign to establish her as an international icon that the military would never dare harm. But he was careful to keep his work inconspicuous, because once she emerged as the leader of a new democracy movement, the military seized upon the fact that she was married to a foreigner as a basis for a series of savage – and often sexually crude – slanders in the Burmese press.

For the next five years, as her boys were growing into young men, Suu was to remain under house arrest and kept in isolation. She sustained herself by learning how to meditate, reading widely on Buddhism and studying the writings of Mandela and Gandhi. Michael was allowed only two visits during that period. Yet this was a very particular kind of imprisonment, since at any time Suu could have asked to be driven to the airport and flown back to her family.

But neither of them ever contemplated her doing such a thing. In fact, as a historian, even as Michael agonised and continued to pressurise politicians behind the scenes, he was aware she was part of history in the making. He kept on display the book she had been reading when she received the phone call summoning her to Burma. He decorated the walls with the certificates of the many prizes she had by now won, including the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. And above his bed he hung a huge photograph of her.

Inevitably, during the long periods when no communication was possible, he would fear Suu might be dead, and it was only the odd report from passers-by who heard the sound of her piano-playing drifting from the house that brought him peace of mind. But when the south-east Asian humidity eventually destroyed the piano, even this fragile reassurance was lost to him.

Then, in 1995, Michael quite unexpectedly received a phone call from Suu. She was ringing from the British embassy, she said. She was free again! Michael and the boys were granted visas and flew to Burma. When Suu saw Kim, her younger son, she was astonished to see he had grown into a young man. She admitted she might have passed him in the street. But Suu had become a fully politicised woman whose years of isolation had given her a hardened resolve, and she was determined to remain in her country, even if the cost was further separation from her family.

The journalist Fergal Keane, who has met Suu several times, describes her as having a core of steel. It was the sheer resilience of her moral courage that filled me with awe as I wrote my screenplay for The Lady. The first question many women ask when they hear Suu’s story is how she could have left her children. Kim has said simply: “She did what she had to do.” Suu Kyi herself refuses to be drawn on the subject, though she has conceded that her darkest hours were when “I feared the boys might be needing me”.

That 1995 visit was the last time Michael and Suu were ever allowed to see one another. Three years later, he learnt he had terminal cancer. He called Suu to break the bad news and immediately applied for a visa so that he could say goodbye in person. When his application was rejected, he made over 30 more as his strength rapidly dwindled. A number of eminent figures – among them the Pope and President Clinton – wrote letters of appeal, but all in vain. Finally, a military official came to see Suu. Of course she could say goodbye, he said, but to do so she would have to return to Oxford.

The implicit choice that had haunted her throughout those 10 years of marital separation had now become an explicit ultimatum: your country or your family. She was distraught. If she left Burma, they both knew it would mean permanent exile – that everything they had jointly fought for would have been for nothing. Suu would call Michael from the British embassy when she could, and he was adamant that she was not even to consider it.

When I met Michael’s twin brother, Anthony, he told me something he said he had never told anyone before. He said that once Suu realised she would never see Michael again, she put on a dress of his favourite colour, tied a rose in her hair, and went to the British embassy, where she recorded a farewell film for him in which she told him that his love for her had been her mainstay. The film was smuggled out, only to arrive two days after Michael died.

For many years, as Burma’s human rights record deteriorated, it seemed the Aris family’s great self-sacrifice might have been in vain. Yet in recent weeks the military have finally announced their desire for political change. And Suu’s 22-year vigil means she is uniquely positioned to facilitate such a transition – if and when it comes – exactly as Mandela did so successfully for South Africa.

As they always believed it would, Suu and Michael’s dream of democracy may yet become a reality.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

I'm sorry, Wojdan!

I cried my eyes out while reading the article written in the Los Angeles Times by Bill Plaschke on Wojdan Shaherkani and her heroism on the Olympics grounds. A mixture of feelings really. I felt the burning of defeat, the disgust of hatred, the pain of sorrow, and the grand feeling of being proud!

I felt defeated by my own government. How could they allow such mockery! Putting a young, innocent, and inexperienced girl in a world wide event like this was an act of villainy. They knew she wasn’t going to make it, they knew she wasn’t ready, and yet, they let her be. Have they no feelings? Have they no sense of common sense?

I felt hatred towards my so called brothers and sisters who have called Ms. Shaherkani and Ms. Attar prostitutes! Are they? I’m sorry, but I think you should revise the definition of prostitution yet again..These amazing girls are everything but prostitutes! At least they’re representing their country in a decent way; Not like others who go all around the world bringing shame to our country with their ridiculous actions!

Yes, I did feel the pain of sorrow to the core..Sorrow for us..for the women in Saudi Arabia. Some of you see us as wealthy brats with servants, drivers, mansions, and lots of money. Yes, you're right, some of us are brats. But is that all that matters? Is it all about money? We are humans too, we want to be treated as humans. Is that too much to ask? You can give us millions, we would refuse it in return for one look of respect..

Dear Wojdan, we are so proud of you! I do not need to tell you that you shouldn’t listen to all the pitiful howling of the disturbed psychos in this world. You have already showed us how heroic a leader could be. Lead us Wojdan! We will support every step you take.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stress Me Out, Please!

Why the hell would we want to be stressed while everybody else is trying to manage if not avoid stress? Well, if you were like me, the kind that gets to the highest point of productivity when pressured, then you’d understand. On the other hand, what exactly is stress, do we really need it, and as leaders do we need to stress our followers?

Stress is surly well known but not well understood! Stress is how we respond to pressure. It is anything that causes a change in our life. Sounds good, right? This is the bright side of stress! So lets dig deeper to check out why we need this witty side, shall we?

Does stress make life more exciting? YES! Positive stress which is called “Eustress” gives us energy! This energy drives us to throw ourselves into situations where we want to contribute, and that is exactly what we want. However, we need to be attentive enough to notice whether this amount of stress is affecting our performance negatively. If we get to a point where we suddenly feel that we are lacking the ability to handle the continuous demands in our life, then it is time to STOP! Yes, take a break from stressing yourself out..It is probably time to take a vacation, visit the spa, or just watch a good movie!     

The world is full of bright, intelligent, and clever people who live a very lame life. This is because there is no one out there to jump start their life, to inspire, and to stress them a little bit! Leaders who are willing to breed productive and energetic followers need to put deadlines to spur followers on, targets to motivate, challenges that inspire, and opportunities for followers to prove themselves. In other words, furnish them with positive emotional charge!

Lastly, if you feel fruitless, useless, or worthless and you are not able to sizzle your life up ask for help. Ask someone to stress you out!

Friday, June 29, 2012

I Am, because We Are

Every body is competing. Competition is overrated. Students compete for grades, politicians compete for votes, businesses compete for creating monopolies, and athletes compete for medals. And the chain continues. Up to the extent that competition becomes brutally unhealthy. Where we compete for egos, for food, for living and at times for just being inhumane. 

An, anthropologist was studying the customs of a remote African tribe. So he proposed a game to the tribe's little kids. He put a basket of sweets under a tree and declared that the first kid to race across gets all the sweets. 

The kids lined up… and Richard yelled "Ready - Steady - Go!" 

The kids took each other’s hands and ran together! They arrived together and sat down happily sharing the sweets! 

Surprised, Richard asked why they didn't compete? 

A kid replied: "Ubuntu. How could any one of us be happy if all the others are sad?” 

Richard discovered that, "Ubuntu" in the Xhosa culture means, "I am because we are." 

That’s a lesson essential for leadership and achieving big hairy audacious goal together as a team.

Story Courtesy RealAcad

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Exactly Happened in Qatar..

I’ve been trying for months to figure out what exactly happened in Qatar, what I learned, how it changed me, what precisely touched me...

I figured that I had walked the path warriors once took. I survived relationships that heroes had struggled with. I journeyed through time and places that have been journeyed ages before. In every path I took, in every relationship I had, and in every journey I ventured there was one everlasting quest. The quest of my own self. 

Every hero walks a path. This path never changes. It has been the same from thousands of years ago. Every hero must leave home, embark into a perilous journey into the unknown, find the courage and wisdom to survive, and return home with skills and strengths earned on the quest. I have walked that same path.

I had the courage to let go. I left my comfortable and familiar every day routine. I unlocked my insecurities. I let my defenses down. I stopped thinking of every particular way I thought of my self. I left home not because I wanted to but because I had to. There was a wall that was blocking my view. I could not see it but I felt it. I tried to break through that wall, to get around it, but I couldn’t. I was willing to take the risk. The risk of venturing into a new journey.

This led to the second stage-the quest. This was where all the adventures happened. The overwhelming challenges. Through this stage I have mounted both physically and psychologically. I climbed the hills of fear, I scrambled up the mountains of normality, and I struggled to reach the topless summits of self discovery. Ironically, through unexpected incidents, through some interesting relationships, and through diverting people surrounding me I found what I was looking for. I found the leader within me.

I persisted through this quest. Learning, absorbing, watching, reflecting, grasping, and digesting every single thing around me. At times it was overwhelming; I could not handle the diversity, the emotions, and the excitement! At other times, I was mesmerized with all the vibe. I headed home with a different me. To my surprise, home was different too! I was armed with new capacities and a deeper understanding that I could have only acquired through venturing through this quest. The quest of Mosaic. A quest for self-discovery...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Using No Way As A Way, Having No Limitation As A Limitation

Warrior, muscular, aggressive, martial artist etc. We have all known him with these adjectives. But rarely do we recognize a philosopher in him. "There are no limits", a philosophy he built himself on and later made it a core of his style called "Jeet Kune Do". Bruce Lee was not God gifted by birth, but achieved what he was through relentless training and a belief that there are no limits. A true masterpiece of personal leadership, where his colleagues rank him as one of the strongest men in the world on pound for pound basis. 

"Low aim is the worst crime a man has"

One of the Lee's students, Silliphant relates an interesting story about Lee's attitude towards progressive resistance as his refusal to let a person underestimate their own potential. 

"Bruce had me up to three miles a day, really at a good pace. We'd run the three miles in twenty one or twenty two minutes. Just under the eight minutes a mile (running on his own in 1968, Lee would get his time down to six and a half minutes per mile). So this morning he said to me, "We are going to go five." I said, "Bruce I can't go five. I am a helluva lot older than you are, and I can't do five." He said, "When we get to three, we will shift gears and it's only two more and you will do it." i said "Okay, hell I will go for it." So we get to three, we go into the fourth mile, and I'm okay for three or four minutes, and then I really begin to give out. I'm tired, my heart's pounding, I can't go any more and so I say to him, "Bruce, if I run any more," - and we are still running - "if I run any more, I am liable to have a heart attack and die." He said, "Then die". It made me so mad that I went the full five miles. Afterwards I went to the shower and then wanted to talk to him about it. I said, you know "Why did you say that?" he said, "Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it'll spread over into the rest of your life. It'll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. there are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Search Of A Great IDEA?

Ideas are dozen a dime. If you don’t give them wings, they are useless. In order to make them useful, you need to play with them. While playing, there are chances, you don’t like the game. Fair enough; change the game. 

Start again with a fresh idea. Spin it, dissect it, reach to the core – question it. If you don’t have answers to the questions, you can’t explain it. If you can’t explain it, it’s not clear in your head. If it’s not clear, there is no way you can test it well. Try again. Think more. Challenge the unknown. Branch out all your questions, and dig out the answers. Assume less and find out the ground reality. Facts are healthy for ideas, assumptions are not. Connect the dots. See if your idea is capable to take off. Don’t forget to determine its capacity; how high it can fly. Still not there; start again. That’s the only way to get to a good idea. Once there, the journey to the great idea starts. All it needs is your blood, sweat and tears spent in the effort of experimentation with your good idea.

And most important of all, you need to start and persist!

Originally posted at

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is Your Team Challenging Enough?

Mosaic 2011
Do you dare choose team members who challenge you? Do you dare build a team that is full of people who give you a hard time? 

When building your team, choosing people who are not easy to deal with, who truly challenge you is rewarding!

But why? Why should you make things harder on yourself? 

Allow me to tell you why…

When you have a diverse team, you…

Have to make a great effort to communicate your vision to different mind sets. You have to view your vision from every angle in order to make sense of it from every team member’s point of view. In addition, you have to make sure that everyone understands, comprehends, appreciates, and believes in your vision.

When you have a tough team, you…

Have to make the right decisions, and if you make a mistake you should hurry to admit it, then walk tall and strong! You have to really think before you speak! You have to make the rules even clearer! And you have to know that you should lead when there is a need. Although you have a tough team, you should not forget to celebrate their small successes and support them when in need.

When you have a vigorous team, you…

Consult, obtain, and integrate their suggestions and ideas into decision making. You invite your team members to share in choosing choices and in determining results. You also need to challenge them to perform work at the highest level of performance possible. You establish a high standard of excellence and expect them to seek continuous improvement. In addition, you need to show a high degree of confidence that your team members are capable of accomplishing challenging goals.

When you have a distinctive team, you…

Need to understand your team members’ characteristics. You’d need to change your leadership style according to the needs of your team members. You would support those who need affiliation. You would provide structure and clarity to members who are dogmatic and authoritarian. In addition, you should have the ability to jump from participative leadership to directive leadership with harmony while dealing with different circumstances.

When you're building a team, any team, to be effective, you need to help your team members by giving them what is missing from their environment and by helping them compensate for deficiencies in their abilities.

Why a challenging team? Because of their diversity, toughness, vigorousness, distinctiveness, and your unique leadership style you would reach the skies and above!

Do you dare?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

MOSAIC 2011: A Life Changing Experience - Guest Blog By Norah Jan, KSA

Norah Jan is working in the education sector as an HR-Recruitment Officer in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She is a graduate of King Abdullaziz University, majored in English Language and Literature. Norah appreciates diversity, philosophy and exchanging stories of success. She also enjoys poetry and fashion. Thanks to MOSAIC, she decided to shift her post-grad study from MBA to MA in Cross-cultural Studies.

'It is fascinating how people smoothly open up to complete strangers. Considering that you will only live with this group of people for 10 days, and then, most probably won't meet again! Something ticklish in that sense urges you to speak your heart out. Share your hopes, regrets and moments of pride and joy. Trust others with your fears and dreams. No concerns of judgement or misinterpretation.' 

I was privileged to be let in to others hearts. A roller-coaster ride of emotions. 

Dramatic shifts. Between fighting a soft lump in my throat, and letting go of a big crack of laughter: I lived in between. Lives told. Whole lives were summed up in between. And I lived in between. 

I Listened by an attentive heart, in a religious respect, to the recited dreams. Observed pure eyes as they glistened to the painful memories of failure and despair. And shivered at a euphoric lift of sensations, overwhelmed with rising hope and belief in a better tomorrow. 

I witnessed sincere tears. Some dripped down the tender cheeks, and some were firmly locked in the corners of the eyes. In both events I felt so little, humble and helpless. I felt so naked. My pride faded. I shrank in presence of intense humanity and feeling for others. 

"…To serve the Ummah." -- An eye opener. 

What a shame! 

I could not even remember the last time I heard the word "Ummah", 
and consider it as an entity I belong to. Let alone building my world around, and dreaming of serving it. 

A waking bell rang in my head. I have always been drawn to personal concerns and never had a careful look at the bigger picture. Even at the level of philanthropy, I have always considered myself in the first place instead of others. What a shame! 

"I come from a poor family…" -- 'Poor' only exists where ignorance does. 

How small I felt! 

I wondered how such a genuine heart could relate to poverty, while carrying all the richness of giving and caring for the less privileged children. How could that be poor? 

My mind drifted away. I was amazed by sincere altruism while in a similar situation; common sense would suggest 'care for me first!' 

I learnt that common sense is not common after all! Giving; despite the need, never equals losing. It actually enriches one's life, and leads to the most aspired for: Self-satisfaction. 

"…Because I have always dreamt of saving a soul." -- A Paradigm Shift. 

Nothing, ever, sounded more angelic, holy and sublime. 

I could not help recalling a Qur'anic verse: "And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind." AlMa'ida, verse (32) 

I was; and still am; utterly fascinated by the shared values among these young passionate souls, their awareness and dedication to noble causes. I walked away overwhelmed, inspired and lost in thoughts. 

10 days later I went back home… 

It has been only few months. However, I can already sense the profound positive changes in my perception, future plans, attitude and sense of responsibility towards my community, environment and the world as a whole. 

I went back home a different person: An Enlightened Citizen of the World.

Norah Jan

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Stylish Leadership

I am a leader who leads with style. 

I have the power to affect others’ beliefs, attitudes, and courses of action while using a stylish kind of power. I do not need to enforce anything. My followers are influenced by me because they like me, I am their role model, they view me as highly competent, and highly considerate. 

I am a leader who leads with style.

I am verbally involved with my followers, I seek their opinions, and I am firm but not rigid. I lead with style because I fit within my group, I am intelligent, confident, and in our group, goals are reached through realizing everyone’s needs and wants.

I am a leader who leads with style.

My leadership is stylish because I combine and mix my task and relationship behaviors in a way that influence my followers in their efforts to reach our assigned goals. I would provide them with structure while nurturing them. If I figure out that I lean towards being production oriented, I would make an effort to promote the personal worth of my followers. On the other hand, if I was more people oriented, I would attempt to use this type of orientation towards accomplishing what actually needs to be achieved. 

I am a leader who leads with style.

I know that if I do not have the so called “charisma” that this would not stop me. I know that leaders could be made. I know that leadership is a process that can be learned, and that it is available to everyone. I know that I need to be alert, responsible, persistent, confident, social, and have insight to become a leader. But what if I am not that intelligent or as confident as I should. Well, I would lead with style and create in me the drive for responsibility, I would become more self aware, surround myself with positive people, and I would build my capacity and exercise social interaction. Nothing would stop me!

Lead with style…to be cont...