Saturday, October 30, 2004

Birthday's over

I wasn't expecting anybody to remember, but almost everyone did. Phone calls from friends, as far away as Texas and UK, a treat of bihari kababs and a project to keep me busy for the next 2 weeks. What more could I have asked for?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The news from Toronto

There is a controversy brewing in Toronto these days. Or rather a few controversies.
The first is the incident with Dr. Misri, and the second, the remarks of Younus Khatrada, both accused of anti-semitism, with the former also being investigated for hate crimes. And as always, except for a few heated letters to the editor in various newspapers the muslim community lies silent... well, thats not quite true either.
Pakistani-Canadians are busy in another heated exchange, this time on an internet forum. An Urdu website that launched a few weeks earlier VoiceofToronto.com, advertised in a few urdu-language weekly newspapers that they are holding a debate and a poll. The question that is igniting their passions and rage is:
Should musical nights and melas be organized in the holy month of Ramadan?
The framing of the question is questionable at best, and an eerie reminder of the question posed to the public by a late General to extend his rule on the land of the holy. An arrangement of words, such that the holy is pitted against the unholy, the good and the bad clearly separated. Havent the zealous heard of voting with their dollars? Can it not be solved with individuals deciding for themselves that they will not attend music nights in Ramadan, refusing their money to the attendees, and hence, killing the money machine altogether? Can letters not be sent to the sponsors to convince them that this is not the way to spend their advertising budgets?
And why is a damn mela more of a community issue than the hateful remarks of religious leaders? Or are we too scared, too unconcerned of the yet-another-accusation-against-Islamists?
Why should I be surprised? or disgusted? History is bound to repeat itself. If our elder generations are trapped in a spiral of authoritarian behaviour, relentless dogma and wishful thinking, why should I, even bother to mention all this?
Its a question that I find myself trying to answer these days. The premise of existentialism is that those who do not wish to be helped, can in fact, never be helped. Maybe I should stop caring, give up on the old, and pin my hopes on the young. 'They are past the age where they can change', I can convince myself. Or maybe 'They have never experienced true democracy, debate, dissent and the concept of living with a difference of opinion is alien to them', I can certainly reason well enough. But reason, as Iqbal kept reminding us, is good for the 'how' of the later stages, not the 'why' or the 'what' of the early ones.
Am I, like my predecessors, too willing to give up on the improbable? Scared of the enormousness of the task, will I too, criticize all plans indiscriminately as being partial, and mock efforts to bring change?

The last juror by John Grisham

What do I expect when the Grisham name appears on a novel? In two words: courtroom drama.
The jacket of the book, The last juror, reads as following.
'... The trial came to a startling and dramatic end when the defendant threatened revenge against the jurors if they convicted him. Nevertheless, they found him guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
But in Mississippi in 1970, "life" didn't necessarily mean "life,"[Observe the misplaced comma coming inside the quotes! They can pay millions to the author, but reading the jacket text...] and nine years later Danny Padgitt managed to get himself paroled. He returned to Ford County, and retribution began.'
The two paragraphs appear together, giving the feel of a thrilling revenge plot. Not so!
As badly written as the book is, getting from the guilty sentence to the retribution, Grisham takes an amazing 15 chapters. Yes, for 15 chapters I read about how blacks were treated in Mississippi at that time, integration issues, the hospitality of the south, a character named Sam who escapes the draft by running to Canada, corn recipes, a growing publishing business, a drunk falling down a window, and other crap that had nothing to do with the story. Infact, all of it can be summed up in one line: During the next nine years, I mixed in with the locals, expanded the newspaper empire, bought the house I lived in, and worried about Danny Padgitt's release. That wasn't so hard, was it? So print that line out, and staple together chapters 23 through 36.
Infact, the novel would be a good example to use when teaching how not to write.
1. The biggest fault as I mentioned was the irrelevant details of the life of the protagonist that have no bearing on the court case, on the killings, on the lawyers. It reads like a rant of a Northern boy living in the South. I can live with a rant, but if that is what the book was about, why was it called 'The last juror', and why does the jacket cover fail to mention that the setting of the novel covers 15 chapters while the story covers the rest?
2. And who is the main character of the novel? The guy who is telling the story (the novel is written in first person) or the last juror? If its the protagonist why do we need to know about a plethora of characters and how they behave at town meetings and lunches, and whether they agree with the vietnam war or not? If its the juror, why do we need to know about the guy's publishing business, and what stories he prints?
3. The protagonist is a Northerner, who only cares about most of the issues (other than the trial) in only a passing way (i.e. wants to sell papers and these stories sell papers). If the protagonist doesnt care, why does the reader need to be reminded, event after event, that the protagonist didn't care about the meetings?
4. Specifics is good when they form a part of the plot, or are used as triggers. A good example is the opening of another Grisham book 'The summons'. Specifics are not good when they are irrelevant to the story. In four dreadful pages we read about the different kinds of churches in the south that the protagonist visits, and the atmosphere in them. And I thought it was about a murderer killing some jurors. Hmph!
Thanks to the Toronto Public Library, I didn't pay to learn these writing lessons. But the baffled look that I wore as I read the book in the coffee shop is enough retribution for this juror. No more Grisham from now on!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Ramadan and October blues

Lets see now, what ails me today?
The sweet melancholy of changing weather, summer disappearing and the winds getting colder. The accompanying flu, that strikes me in this best of weather increasing my yearning for home. Espacially in Canada, when the maple leaf turns yellow, rustic and red, the streets are covered with leaves, and the winds blow them into your face for a rude awakening. October is really beautiful around me, and yet I suffer... with a runny nose and sore throat.
Birthday blues; Soon, I will turn an year older, and worry about health, happiness, career, job, parents, marriage, my meaning in this universe, my childhood; in short, the whole shebang. (Off-topic, I found an article that seems to sum up my childhood nostalgia. Gratitude to the writer. *bows*)
The Ramadan blues; Everybody seems to suffer from it, yet no one is willing to classify it as such. And dont worry, I'm not going to launch into a criticism of Islamic fasting, the ramadan blues are a gastronomical concept.
You dont eat the whole day. Accompanying this fact is that you (try to) ostracize the bitch in you, observe righteous behaviour (euphemism for not staring at women and denying the pleasures of colorful language), and the mathematics of virtue echos deep within all muslims (someday I will define that phrase). When you finally break the fast at sunset, it ends up being a feast of super-size me proportions (And I have seen this in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but a few muslims from other countries have assured me that its a similar undertaking for them, too). With so much rich food going down, the blood flow re-adjusts, pumping more to the stomach, resulting in reduced flow to the other important areas. I dont understand the whole science, but the results are clear. You crave cigarettes like anything and you feel like the whole world has launched a psychological attack on you, reducing you to a state which is half knocked-out, half awake, a low that will chill the leftist in you into submission.
So while I prepare for the next iftaar, be very very nice to the people around you, espacially muslims. In Ramadan, we deny ourselves everything, and as a direct consequence, we crave everything, too.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Its the wind, stupid

A rationing of thoughts handed out to her,
ingesting glitter from plastic lights,
A small son of Ahura orders,
'bring 'em forth from the darkness'.
eloquence finally personified,
her self-esteem, dignified.

Day-in, day out, as she tells herself,
that she is good and getting there soon.
Dreams, deceptions, works of art,
these words, relics of times past,
they heal, they cure, they fill,
empty voids in me and her,
I give, she takes, and we all feel better,
until the morning-after.

Its the wind, stupid!
seeping in with the light,
it greets and stabs in the same flow,
rocks the shadows and lights alike,
and the floating words ride dust specks,
lost until we meet again.

Toils, rinsed with hot water, repeats,
Until Ahura himself speaks.

Friday, October 22, 2004

My existential anger

I saw Dustin Hoffman on Letterman yesterday, promoting his new movie 'I heart Huckabees', the premise of the movie revolving around an existential investigator to cure people's problems. Have the psychiatrist follow the patient rather than the other way around. The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star reviews arent raving, but still its on my watch list.
And I went through the day thinking about my own existential being and the frustrations I have been through - all in very comical ways I assure you. Like my 'nakaam aashiq' role that comes out late at night, and the 'pedagogue to the world' role that was firstly my mother's right, and now forms a part of my inheritance.
Coming back from work, I dropped off at the Albert Campbell Library, and on my way home, I bumped into my own room-mates at a coffee shop. Trust me, when the only people you keep bumping into are your own room-mates, you desperately need some change in your life!
So I walked into the coffee-shop, and I noticed her following me with her eyes. And surely, I had her classified even before she uttered a word. She looked South Asian, the dark skin contrasting with the cream-colored man's shirt that she wore. Since the owner is a Sri Lankan, I assume that she is Sri Lankan, too. She looked young, probably still a teenager in high school. Standing behind the counter, she dealt eagerly with her customers, me included. Probably her first job, and a nosy employer.
When she served me my coffee, I stared into her eyes. Big white sockets with black holes in the middle. I had seen these eyes before. As I sat down with my room-mates with my own cup, I wondered about that.
And all my demonized anger, my frustrations, my confusion; that I had been laughing about in the day, came running back. The humor of it all had suddenly evaporated.
Those were your eyes that I had stared into. Those whites, contrasting with the dark skin, the perfect rounds of black swinging here and there, watching everything, noticing everyone. Pure eyes, taking in the contaminated world around them, worthy of preservation, worthy of praise, fragile yet bold, curious yet knowledgeable.
She swung back to another lady, breaking the spell, and I was left mesmerized. My roommate AJT remarked about my paleness. I shrugged.
And as she was dealing with her customers, I felt pangs of jealousy rise again. 'Too soon, too soon', I tried to reason. 'Too far, too far' someone replied. I swallowed, plunging down whatever had been trying to rise.
I wanted a smoke. I desperately wanted a smoke. I mumbled something to my friends and ran to an acquaintance who worked at the library. I grabbed two from his pack, and I raced back.
Back at my seat, I realized I couldn't smoke inside the coffee shop, I had to get out again.
She looked, and I tried not to stare. But it didnt work.
And how she looked... divine, once she was your shadow. The cream colored shirt glowed in the yellow light, paling even her eyes, your eyes in the glow. The starched collar was suddenly brittle like a metal ornament, it would break but it wouldn't bend. The shoulders rested back signalling reassurance, and the eyes were audacious, staring at me, a woman's eyes staring at a man, a resolve not be deterred, a childish curiosity and intelligence, a tamed anger that wouldn't come out through the mouth, it was overflowing from her eyes.
And all my claims at fire, earth and water diffused into a tension that sprang from my gut, and ended in my throat.
Having lost my control over my surroundings, I exited her territory, and lit my cigarette. My roommate suggested groceries, and I wandered in the chinese store trying to make sense of what had just happened, and what had happened then.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Just... disappear. - '21 Grams'

It came and it went, another day of my days, as I break this habit of mid-october. I draw lines to keep it out, but it seeps in, perforating me in its chill.
A moments silence for the missing emails, chats, poetry, debate, jokes, naughtiness, shivers, highs, fear.
---
A chilled fanta sweats in the heat,
as it relishes its' coldness,
Like an artifact of war.

Plaque colored walls that breath down from all sides,
another moment, another second,
An hour.
Fears that quell fears,
and yet stand shivering on the edge of the door,
one step here, one step there,
A mile.

My filtered thoughts as I rationalize,
my existential angst,
into love unreal,
as I chase down alleys in my head,
and wander amongst the stars.

Distant chants of tibetan monks,
as they light burnt-out fires,
And the silly old moon that never smiles,
trapped inside my skies.

Engraved,
a flying feather on thin air,
an ode to time eternal,
a mask of a pragmatic fighter,
a face beyond my own.

And so I faltered and so I found,
And so I faltered and so I found.

Dearest,
Happy 24th.
M. Zee.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Friedrich Nietzsche killed Jim Morrison

The history of rock music is an amazing tale of legends, guitar gods; their conquest of culture, undermining political authority and giving the proverbial finger to the forces of conformity. Their excesses made them a living critique of the times they lived in.
While most canadians cooked turkeys this thanksgiving, I read Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend. I have not read any other account of Jim Morrison, I havent even seen the 1991 movie by Oliver Stone on the band, so I cant say what this book contributes that the other works left out. But even then, it's a great read. Most of the facts regarding his childhood are sealed by the family, and his life is so short that a complete biography isnt even possible. Most of his poems have never been published and some are only part of private collections. (There is a book out called The Lost Diaries of Jim Morrison, hopefully I get my hands on it soon)
But I found out a lotta facts that people might already know. The title of the post is quoted from another member of the band. The name 'The Doors' stems from the writings of (surprise, surprise!) Aldous Huxley's The doors of perception, who writes
'If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite'.
His father was an Admiral in the Navy when Jim was singing 'The Unknown Soldier', a tragic depiction of the vietnam war. His authoritarian ways might have had something to do with his son's rebellious nature, but the family won't talk about his childhood. He was a great poet and surprised a few people by reciting whole poems from memory. As a philosopher, he was impressed with Nietzsche and even before he had a band, he said to his friend, 'We gotta get to the fringe, and then we gotta get beyond the fringe'. Rolling stones magazine said something to the effect of 'Rolling stones and Beatles are for blowing your mind away, and The Doors is for those who have already blown their mind away', a pun on his annoying, bizzare and oft outrageous stage antics. He would fall to the floor in the middle of the concert as if he was having a seizure, and wake up screaming minutes afterwards. (Kurt Cobain might have been paying him a tribute when he came to a concert in a wheel chair, only to jump out and start rolling.) Mick Jagger, when he was in the US, met Jim and asked for his help in stage craft. (The doors were one of the first bands to outgrow the club stage, and perform in sport arenas)
His grave is in Paris and is the most visited landmark in the city after the Eiffel Tower. The tombstone reads in greek,
'True to his spirit'.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Afghanistan, Iraq, US and lastly Pakistan

Afghanistan went through with its first election in a long long time. And as expected they ended in a lot of controversy. Having witnessed elections in Pakistan, I know that when the international media calls it controversial, on the ground it's outrageous. Lots of candidates are calling for a re-election, the chances for which are slim. International donor agencies won't be interested in the plight of local candidates that have no foreign friends. Get out on the first oppurtunity without giving a fig about what is left behind; nothing new there, Afghan people have seen it before.
And in it somewhere, there is also a lesson for Iraq. For any government to be accepted as legit, the security situation has to improve dramatically. What will stop the widespread terror from keeping people in their homes rather than come out to vote? Will America be able to guide Iraqis to refuse the calls of insurgents and vote, considering this is the population's first foray with democracy?And if Iraq's own security forces are not ready enough to curb violence, everyone disgruntled with the administration will come out with accusations of foreign manipulation.
Kerry proposed that he will put pressure on the Middle Eastern governments for more cooperation in Iraq. It sounds really good in a speech minus the word coalition, which has been thrown around so much, it has morphed its meaning to co-conspirators. Why would the ME governments get involved in a quagmire, that the world's best military cant get out of? And how would he pressure them when they are riding the high of current oil prices? Saudi Arabia can comfortably claim that it is busy with internal matters (i.e. the hunting down of Alqaeda, not the municipal elections that they readily promised while sweating under American pressure).
Doesn't make a lotta sense, and if you've been following the Democrats-Republicans musical chairs game, nothing does. With slow job growth and heat running out of consumer spending, the US economic revival doesnt seem like a long term trend.
Meanwhile, General Musharraf has put the bill to parliament for extension of his uniform duties and the civilian charge. A civilian parliamentarian putting forward a bill to extend an army general's command. Who says One man cant accomplish much... In Pakistan, our generals seem to single-handedly guide the nation towards posperity, religion and (this time)modernism. Whatever the flavor of the day might be, served with a straight face, no thank-you's, by men in uniform. If they added friendly smiles & milkshakes, McDonalds would get a run for its money.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Books I read

Away from the cyberworld, I have been getting an education.
After reading Mohsin Hamid's Mothsmoke, I thought about reading other South Asian Writers. I had already covered everything from Salman Rushdie, Bapsi Sidhwa and Arundhati Roy. This time I read, Monica Ali's Brick Lane, the story of a bangladeshi woman who moves to London when she enters an arranged marriage, and wrestles with the concepts of free-will, fate, love and destiny.
I read The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini, describing the life of a privileged Afghani and his childhood friend, in the surroundings of Afghanistan as it goes from one catastrophe to another.
I still have to read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azfar Nafisi and the works of Kamila Shamsie.
Going through the library's list, I was struck by the fact that there is no website, no bookclub dedicated to south asian authors. I found sasialit, short for south asia literature, offering an incomplete listing with the last update in 2002. Ironic to the extreme, considering the expansion of the market for such authors in the last few years.
So I am putting together a list on amazon.com for South Asian Writers only. (technically, a list exists but mentions only ten titles. Ironic to the extreme, considering the incomplete list at sisialit has more than that. Hmm...
I found a link to Ibn-e-Safi (remember him? The guru behind Imran series & x-2), but the domain ibnesafi.com leads to a generic search page. And interestingly, the domain is registered to a Tidewinds Group Inc in Marblehead, MA. Google does not have any pages indexed that might have existed on this site.
I wonder what this corporation is upto that required the ibnesafi name.