Our friend Naveed Ali is a great man. He is a handsome man, tall and pale, a native of the district of Sylhet, with a full head of hair still at age fifty, but that is not why we are presenting him this award tonight. No, Naveed Ali is worth more than his looks.

Laughter from the audience.

We should all be proud of him as a successful Bangladeshi and a shining light of our community. Only five years ago, Naveed opened a successful Bengali business, a grocery shop that was so successful that he later expanded it to a sweetmeat confectionary, restaurant, and café, where he has also given jobs to many Bangladeshi workers. Naveed started the business with a small investment of ten thousand dollars, paid by his father, a customs officer in Bangladesh. Naveed struggled a lot as a young student at the University of Houston, where his father was paying for his tuition and boarding. Naveed wrote to his father and said he was having difficulties living in the dormitory – the rooms were small and dingy and the food so tasteless that he cried himself homesick every day, so his father bought him an apartment and, also, a car, a small Hyundai Sedan to get around so he could buy his own groceries and food.

We do not know what subject Naveed Bhai studied in university, but when he got out, he asked his father to wire him a small amount of money, which he invested in a shop in a strip mall in Alief. Actually, a friend of his father suggested the business to him, accompanied him to the site and negotiated the purchase of the shop. The workers he employed, the sweepers, the cooks, and the waiters at his restaurant, were all immigrant Bangladeshis, new immigrants, students, some even without papers. But Naveed did not discriminate whom he helped with jobs. The only arrangement was that, instead of hourly or weekly wages, Naveed would pay the labor at the end of the month.

The first year, when Naveed was just starting out, the poor fellow told his workers that he could only afford to pay them at the end of the year. The workers all readily agreed to this scheme. That year, after paying his workers, he made a profit of thirty-two thousand dollars, all of which he invested in expanding the shop, which had just been a grocery store, to a sweetshop. He planned to make and sell sweets on the premises, and so he hired more workers.

Ladies and gentlemen, our friend Naveed is a genius. He created capital out of capital! He was able to use the free labor of his workers for a year to make capital with which he was able to pay them at the end of the year and expand his business. Only occasionally did he have to fire someone or let a worker go without wages for some damage they had done, like breaking crockeries or messing up an order, to make up for the loss he had incurred. His business has consistently yielded him a surplus that has allowed him to expand his business every year, a new freezer, a central air-conditioning system, an expanded parking lot, and this year, a franchise shop in Hillcroft. 

We Bengalis always think that to make something, we have to start with something, and we get discouraged thinking of the odds. Many times, I have heard some fool talking about how he would have to work one hundred hours a week to earn a living with his blood and soul, but here is our brother Naveed, who has shown us how things are achieved in a glorious capitalist country, by starting with nothing, by exchanging the free labor of his workers for a short time, to make surplus value, and get to where he is today, a shining, successful businessman that even politicians court.

Yes, we have all heard of the unfortunate incident, two years ago, in 2019, when Mr. Naveed’s oven caught fire, and the machinery, in addition to one worker, was consumed in the fire. Also, Mr. Naveed himself has told us many stories of how he has burnt out many rubber tires on his truck in this long journey to create revenue. Yet aren’t these losses expected in any success story?

The bottom line is this. Naveed believed in these workers, and his faith earned him a successful business. Who here in Houston has not eaten at Naveed’s restaurant or held birthday parties there. Thus, we can see that Naveed has shown all Bengali immigrants how to start a business, make capital, and, if they do not have capital of their own, how they can sell their labor to live (even if it is for free for a short time, in the end it works out for them).

What can be more beautiful than this kind of partnership, worker and business owner exchanging labor and capital, the worker producing for Mr. Naveed the capital he will use to expand his business so that he can hire more workers, and Naveed’s Grocery and Restaurant buying this labor from the worker to produce food for all of us that we like to eat? Naveed Ali is a shining symbol for the whole Bangladeshi community in America. We should all be very proud of him.

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we award Mr. Naveed Ali, our good friend and a good man, the prize of Man of the Year from the Bangladesh Association of Houston. He has shown us the way forward. He has shown us how to succeed, how to leave behind our backward notions of modesty and socialism. We Bengalis have a bad name of being Naxalites, communists, day laborers, just people who know how to study and nothing else. Our brother Naveed Ali has shown us all how to be capitalists, how to create money out of labor, and more money out of that, endless and endless amounts of money, in our wonderful new country, the United States of America.

Applause from the audience.

Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

CategoriesShort Fiction
Gemini Wahhaj

Gemini Wahhaj is the author of the novel Mad Man (7.13 Books, Fall 2023) and the short-story collection Katy Family (Jackleg Press, Spring 2025). Her fiction is in or forthcoming in Granta, Chicago Quarterly Review, Press 53, Allium, Zone 3, Northwest Review, Cimarron Review, the Carolina Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, Chattahoochee Review, Apogee, Silk Road, Night Train, Cleaver, Concho River Review, Scoundrel Time, Arkansas Review, Valley Voices, Bridge Eight, and other magazines. She has a PhD in creative writing from the University of Houston, where she received the James A. Michener award for fiction (judged by Claudia Rankine) and the Cambor/Inprint fellowship. She is Associate Professor of English at Lone Star College in Houston.