Behind the Curtains

Mehrin Mubdi Chowdhury delves into the life of stage maestro Aly Zaker

Photos: Ashraf Uddin Apu

When I entered the picturesque apartment,I was expecting a lot of chaos. Surely it is not an easy task to head a company as big as Asiatic 360. However, I was taken aback by the serenity of his residence, surrounded by greenery.  Culturally inclined, Aly Zaker has a knack for collecting artefacts ranging from oil paintings to antiquities. A few minutes into waiting for him, I was greeted by two cute playful dogs, Plato and Gogol and a cuddly cat called Bhaghu. It further relaxed the already tranquil atmosphere when Aly Zaker greeted me with his warm smile and offered tea and snacks. We decided to carry out our tete-a-tete at a cozy corner in his living room which he happily pronounced as his reading zone.

What does a day in the life of Aly Zaker look like?

I am a morning person. I love waking up early to watch the sunrise; it reminds me of all the good things in the world and keeps me positive and motivated. In fact I always prefer mornings and the glorious rays of the sun compared to the darkness of the night, which usually reminds me of miseries. If I have a book to read, I would do so in the morning, get through the newspaper then browse through Facebook.
I try to cycle and use the cross trainer at the gym that I have set up inside my apartment. By noon, I am usually ready for office and by 4:30 pm I am done at work and I come back home.

I prefer to take a late afternoon snooze and continue reading the book that I had been reading in the morning. I write regularly for a local newspaper and if I have to do any research on the writing, it is usually during this time that I do it.

How do you manage a company of the calibre of Asiatic 360?

Each of the companies in Asiatic 360 is headed by a dynamic, young and competent person who also holds ownership to that company. They are responsible for the growth of their respective businesses, so I do not have to worry about each and everything. I believe that if you want a company to grow in the long term you need to distribute the workload and authority. In case of any major issues they all consult with me. If I’m not available at my office, they can come to my house and give presentations. My doors are always open for them.
My wife Sara is the Managing Director of the the company and I would like to say that she has a keen sight for business; my son Iresh and daughter Sriya are both competent individuals who are also looking after the company.

What does the stage mean to you ?

The stage is my first love; I really wish to go back to those days. We started the process in the early 70s. We pioneered the concept of selling tickets for stage play in Bangladesh. I am currently directing the play ‘Cherry Orchard’ by Anton Chekov, which I have titled as ‘Kathalbagan.’ I took a break from this project, but I hope to return to it very soon.

Do you have two-left feet?

I will let you in on a secret, I cannot dance at all so I try to avoid parties which involve dancing. In fact, parties are not exactly my cup of tea. I have many friends and usually they come to my house and we relax and have a comfortable conversation. And when I do go, I am the odd one out. Sara loves to dance and she usually cannot attend because of me. But now, after so many years of marriage and understanding we have agreed that I have two left feet!

We all know about your stage and writing activities. Tell us something we don’t know about.

Well, there are so many things I am passionate about and to choose one from all of them is quite hard. Apart from stage and writing, I am passionate about photography, because the interest came to me quite suddenly.
In the early 90s, during every Eid vacation, be it Eid-ul-Adha Eid or Eid-ul-Fitr my family and I would go to Cox’s Bazaar. I had a classic camera and I loved taking pictures of my family. One day, I stumbled upon some wild purple flowers and instantly knew that I wanted them to be the subject matter of my photos. Armed with them, I went to see my friend Dr. Nowazesh Ahmed with them. I bluntly told him how I wished to do photography with wild flowers as a subject matter. He supported my endeavour and we both got to work on the topic. Since he was a botanist, it was very helpful. We co – authored a book called ‘The Wild Flowers of Bangladesh’ in the early 90s.

Later in 2007, I had an exhibition called ‘Balika’ which showcased photos of women in their adolescent years. I wanted to highlight the time when they were most carefree and the entire world was in their hands. A few years into the future, the tension and pressure of the world would fall on them and this innocence would fade away. So I wanted to capture that state of purity as much as possible. The exhibition was much appreciated and hence I plan to publish a photobook in the future and name it ‘Visual Monologue’ with pictures I took over the years. You may see it soon in the market.

Do you have any message for the younger generation?

I have many and I hope to come across as clearly as possible.

First, look within yourself, see exactly what you intend to do. Then start your journey of life. Avoid the apparentness of life, get into life itself.
I have told my daughter, Sriya after her marriage that success in marriage depends on how much we give to the marriage and how much we cooperate; the spirit of sharing is extremely important.
Dont hurt anyone. At the end of the day, faith in God matters; sit back and close your eyes and think whether you have hurt anybody during the day, if not then you are one step closer to the Almighty.