Saturday, November 20, 2004

Comments on Maps for Lost Lovers

Nadeem Aslam takes us to a Pakistani and Indian community named Dasht-e-Tanhai, somewhere in the middle of England. Two lovers, Chanda and Jugnu are missing, and everyone in the community is adjusting to the supposed murder, or worst yet, their running away. Discontent with their surroundings in Dasht-e-Tanhai, the racism they have faced, the clash of values that they have always had with their surroundings, and how it has shaped them, are beautifully rendered in prose.
The strong undercurrents of religious belief, the induced hypocrisy, the anti-feminism (bordering on anti-humanism) that is induced by the popularized notions in Islam, all show their ugly head, and the characters are hostages to their own beleifs. And indeed, it is the same artifacts of their previous lives - these religious dogmas that they hold on to, engraved in their psyche and cherished, because it is the only link to their past, Pakistan and India.
A woman chooses to use a man, so she can go back to her child in Pakistan, a child who lives in Pakistan with his drunkard, wife-beating father, who has divorced this woman while drunk (and now wants her back). And the man chooses to use the woman, to feed on her zest, to be free of the compromises that surround his own life, and that of the community.
It is a grand project, but it suffers in a few places, where the characters manage to gross themselves out(and also the readers), metaphors that should criticize, tend to disgust. If that was the effect sought, it works wonderfuly well.

Parrish Outburst

The papers were full of it today. MP Parrish got the boot from Martin but said she had no regrets. This after she stepped on a Bush doll for a comedy shoot, and was terminated from the liberal caucus By Paul Martin.
Amazing times we live in these days. If I weren't disgusted by his policies, I might feel sorry for Dubya. But its just more of the same. He has become an icon for relief these days. Everything gets blamed on the misuderestimated Texan. And happens to be the case, he is showing up in Ottawa next month. So those, who think Parrish handed her head on the plate to Martin, aren't completely wrong. With his visit so close, and the first after re-election, any Bushism incident had to be kept quiet, or sternly dealt with.
And the papers are full of apologists, dissentful voices that don't agree with Bush, but are requesting for more respect from politicians and informing the regular Canadians that its all about the trade. US buys 90 percent of Canadian exports, and hence, we can't afford backlashes. Plus there's also the issue of Canada disagreeing with the US on Iraq, and still saving themselves from retaliatory trade disruption. And now, in his second term, he wants Canada to join in into the Missile Defense programme. With some tricky diplomacy ahead for Canada, such behaviour could not be tolerated.
I find this economic hostage situation amusing, because I have seen it happen between the IMF and Pakistan in the 90s. While in theory the free market is all equal, in global trade the bigger market players have many leverages. Even in Iraq, whether elections take place on time or not, their real need of debt cancellation will never be met, and they too, will have to pay for a long time for this enforced liberation, same as when Afghanistan was liberated from communism.
You see, bashing Bush as an icon might serve some good, but it isn't just about the neocons, or the republicans. It is the interests of the market makers that are to be watched, and they are watched by all. Even in India, when the Congress party won, the media rushed to check the beat of the market players, as they adjusted to the win of a party with socialist leanings.
Parrish just did what millions of anti-war activists have done all over the world, stomp on a bush doll.
But trade, economic outlook, market predictions and the millions of statistical metrics associated with them can not be allowed to be disturbed by a voice of dissent.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Kuj sheher de loke vi zalim san...

'On one hand the city surrounding me was easily provoked. On the other hand I was curious about ways of dying...'
'The second verse should be, "I was curious about the ways of living". Kuch mainon jeen da shok vi si...'
Maps for lost lovers - Nadeem Aslam

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A look into the future

Chastised from originality, I begin to follow the herd.
I give in to the incessant chatter around me, and get married. I brush aside the questions of love and commitment, and with much fanfare resolve to enjoy my wedding. It comes and goes, and later on, I wonder what all the fuss was about.
We fall in love, but it lasts two months. She curses me for bringing her 'Up North', where cold is not limited to the winter months. When she wants to pick a fight, we even talk about going back to Pakistan.
A child follows, and we thrust our insecurities and unfulfilled wishes onto its meagre shoulders, a burden to be born for life.
We move in our lives. Buy a bigger car and move to the suburbs. She tells me how a woman never owns anything, her childhood home is her father's, and her adult home is her husband's.
I hate the constant noise in my ears.
Its time for school, and for the life of me, I can't stop telling the child how she is blessed. My wife brings brochures for the muslim school in her new car. I tell her its her job to pick and drop. She turns into a soccer-mom complete with an SUV, albeit with a scarf on her head.
I shift attention. The discussion about the kid turns into the discussion about kids. I change jobs.
Desperate for company, we start socializing with other young Pakistani couples. When we want to be seen as progressive, we criticize Pakistan around the dinner table. When we want to feel enlightened, we criticize Canada.
Meanwhile, the kid learns to hate. She hate the crochets in her bed linen, its another explanation to give to the questions she's asked, another nuisance that makes her stand out, rather than be part of the lives of her friends. She hates the greasy food. She hates the muslim school.
But the outside is not welcome inside, and they learn to live two lives. One inside, one outside. And they blame their mom for her dogmas and their father for being a spineless jackass, who isn't prepared to interfere when the former is indulging them.
Days turn into seasons that never change, and just like seasons, they never remain still either.
I look myself in the mirror and don't recognize the face. I buy a BMW.
My wife, a nervous wreck now, feels invisible. I secretly wish that were true. Her search for meaning starts with religion and ends at her kids. And she is menopausal, so there are no excuses.
So one day, she sits them all on the dinner table, and tells the teenagers how they need to know about religion. By now, they are sick of her hypocrisy and renewed zeal towards Islam. She tells the eldest to cover her head and hands her the Koran.
-------
At this point the picture gets hazy. I hope for the sake of that child, that she picks it up and throws it back at her mom. Because otherwise, it is just a series of cliches.
Some days the images are so clear that I forget its my worst nightmare.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Ironies of eid

Celebrating eid without family is an oxymoron.
Then there's the issue of two eids everytime. Half of the muslims are ok with following the calendar as it is printed in the Middle East, the rest go for moon sightings. It used to be a big affair when I was a kid. I remember climbing up on the terrace and scoring the sky for the moon. A family frolick. I havent seen anybody do it (in my family) since 1995.
As I was saying, there's actually two eids. I mean it depends on which group you follow, so atleast one friend of mine in North America has already celebrated eid on Saturday, while the rest will celebrate it on Sunday.
So, what are my options for tomorrow? Have to make lotta calls, thats a given. I can visit family friends and risk dying of boredom and homesickness, or I can walk around my apartment all gloomy; a realization of my non-existent social life and self-pity ruling the game.
As I write this, I think I should risk death rather than self-pity.
The various eid bazaars around the city are non-issues, buying over-priced chaat and barbecues is not my idea of a good time.
And I've already watched the G3-live in concert DVD, that might have been a good solution.
My new favorite calendar shows a reading session. Maybe I can do that in the evening. So I just have to pass time till 6pm, that shouldn't be so hard, should it?

PS: I got an invitation from my colleagues after my post last night. And I made a complete fool of myself by singing Lady in Red on a karaoke mic. To my defense though, it wasn't a song of my choice.
PPS: Ranting works, period. If it doesn't, it gets you an evening with friends that is guaranteed to work.

Short note for Nadeem Aslam

Nadeem Aslam, a Pakistani living in England was nominated for the Booker prize(now the Man Booker Prize) for his book, 'Maps for lost lovers'. His book is available in the Toronto Public Library and is next on my reading list.
Google came up with a shortened interview that was originally conducted for tehelka.com. Interesting details: The book took eleven years to write, while Nadeem worked as a construction worker and a bin man.

Friday, November 12, 2004

A fictitious world - or not?

I did something today that I shouldnt have done. I took out the 70 Saudi Riyals I had stashed in a secret corner of my wallet and I converted them to Canadians. I don't know why I held on to them for this long. Perhaps as a sign of things past. But I asked myself what memories do they bring back; apart from the frustration, the anger, the confusion, the resentment, the misplacement, the unmendable relationships, the innocence and family - The answer is so tilted one way that it wasn't even debatable!
Tomorrow I sell my car.
Little by little, I descend into the hell hole of Mohsin; my character and his experiences.
A little girl (she'd be around 10, I suppose), a true lady in the making, gave me a cold stare, and waved her hand in front of her face, her olfactory lobes offended by the smell of the Colts Mild that I had lit up outside the library. I gave her a decent verbal input, as to what I thought she should do!
I walk a fine line. I have to remind myself that Daru is no role-model. He is the critique of the pretentious snobbery of our time, that is society. He is an artist's rendering, and the artist has used love as a metaphor for his irrationality, the celebration of his misfitness.
I need to remind myself of that fact, just as Mohsin needs to remind himself that Devdas is no role-model. His love too, is a metaphor for his oblique views that the feudals around him can not relate to. (Its never about love in the love story, its always the context)
There are people who live the 9 to 5, without dissent, without discomfort. They do it over and over again, for years and years. And then there's me, who was happy when his hours were reduced from a full week to a half week, even though that would mean a barely rent-cover amount. To whom the whole routine smells. And the longer it drags on, the rotten it gets!
I hope Mohsin survives for his own sake, to become the role model that Daru and Devdas are not, and I hope I survive to tell his tale.

Development at Voiceoftoronto.com

In an earlier post, I ranted on about Voiceoftoronto.com, on the lack of coverage given to two incidents where muslim clerics (and self-acclaimed leaders) were mouthing off (one on a tv talk show) and how the community in Toronto was unconcerned with the effects.
A recent visit to the site shows that they seem to have removed the link to their forums. The meaningless Ramadan musical show poll is still there, but they have put up an editorial which winds down to a criticism of both, Al-Misri and Younas Kathra, albeit in the last two paragraphs. It certainly wasn't there the day I made my post.
I'll be an optimist and say the glass is half full, but ranting about the other half helps.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Movie Time

Undeterred, Moore is continuing to work on his new movie Sicko, on the national health care industry, and there's Fahrenheit 9/11½ coming out.

And Theo Van Gogh's (who was assasinated by an extremist muslim possibly for his short movie criticizing women's treatment in Islam) Submission is available for viewing at Ifilm.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Namesake - a few comments

Just finished Jhumpa Lahiri's Namesake, the story of a child of Indian immigrants in the US, who is named after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Gogol goes through his childhood embarassed at having an anamolous name that no one can relate to, except for a literary type in school. But delving deeper into the context, the author examines the issue of parsing identity within a name, an individual's struggle to fit in, to grow comfortable with the Indianism of his parents, and the Americanism outside. Later in life, he meets another of his own clan, who knows and relates to his childhood yearnings and who, he falls in love with.
But the plot aside, its the words that fall in, one by one, as Lahiri constructs complex sentences, observing and feeling the characters, as well as moving the story along. Dialogue in the book is sparse, a mere focusing in on one scene, as if with a microscope, and when done, going back to her story-teller's voice. And it is this narrative voice of this author that stands out.
While Monica Ali in A Brick Lane is methodical in her language and choice of words, precise and faultless in her narration; And Mohsin Hamid takes a complete minimalist approach to prose in MothSmoke; Jhumpa's writing seems woven, into intricate patterns that color the mood and set the pace at the same time.
If you haven't figured it out by now, the book is a big big recommendation to everyone. Meanwhile, I am taking a break from fiction this week to go through two books, The Essential Rumi, 2004 Edition by Coleman Barks(thats for the bedside), and The Cancer stage of Capitalism by John McMurtry (for the subway ride and the rest). Although the later seems to have a very cliche title, the author does a fine work of introducing us to the current stage of political science, physication of economics and followership of the market(s) as the all encompassing paradigm of the world since the 70s- and all this in just the first chapter. Should be fun!

PS: My amazon.com links don't come out right, so you have to go to amazon or do a search to see other reviews of the books I mention. I hope I can sort it out with a favorite-books type plug-in for blogs. I have come across one, and will try to see if it works. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Limited Edition... prototypes?

Here's a grand idea. You know how musicians, artists, etc sell limited edition packs, some with interviews, extra footage or if your great enough, just a signature. So, why cant we have limited edition prototypes of gadgets selling as memorabilia. Wouldnt you like to own the first prototype of the Ipod? or the segway?
Oh wait, I already have 7 versions of Mozilla on my drive, and with their EULAs, most software is sold as a work in progress. Hmm... ok, time to get back to work now!

What is serendipity to you?

An evening of flurries after a burdensome day, the laziness of fall, a big mug of coffee, friends comfortable with your silence, and the constant outpour of emotion that is Rumi.
And the serene sleep after.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Playing handyman

Ever since the last post, I have the tele tuned to the movie network, but I havent had much time to check anything out. I have a plethora of emails to go through, something that I safely put off for gloomy, overcast days.
I mentioned a project in a previous post. Its actually a complete basement renovation. All 1200 sq ft of a basement have to be turned into two separate apartments, with separate kitchens and toilets.
When I agreed to help out my friend, I had no idea what I was getting into. You see, I am one of those people who have no mechanical intuition whatsoever. If it involves a tool other than a screw-driver, screw it and call a friend. It has been a source of amusement and embarassment for me, for quite sometime. Needless to say, it was a terrible burden on my male ego. I used to fulfill this macho, need-for-control thing by tinkering with computers, and now, everywhere I go, I can rest assured that I will bump into someone with a computer thats acting crazy. If I fix it, I feel proud, if I can't, I just blame malware and Micro$oft.
As I was saying, I had no idea what I was getting into. Dry walls, ceramic tiles, plumbing pipes were in the farthest corners of my mind... like an Aussie alligator hunter. (Thats called a bad analogy, oh well...) In my universe, if something doesn't fit, it means you need hard disk space, not a hammer and a hack-saw.
And its been loads of fun, thanks to people who are willing to help a newbie struggle through the complex rules-of-thumb that dominate the affairs. They probably have very scientific explanations for these rules, but the urgency of getting the work done, didn't give me the chance to delve into the science behind the art.
The worst part of working as a contractor, is getting paid. Working as an independent contractor in IT, it was the same thing. I know why all those big firm contracts are in such big demand, half of it is just the security of finding the money in your bank, on the day you expect it to be there. But working with small businesses, its a pain in the butt to have someone else transfer their cash-flow problems onto your trembling shoulders.
But most of the work is done, the tiling is finished, the plumbing is finished, a few dry walls still need to go in, then the kitchen and toilet cabinets, doors and then paint. And I have no idea how long it will take to get all this done, probably a week or two... lets call in an expert on that one.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Bush won

Yeah, I know its not news to me either. I watched Kerry's concession speech live (excerpts from the speech) and wondered cynically, if this is how all losers respond. And Edwards claiming the fight has just begun... sure buddy, whatever helps you sleep at night!
I was thinking of a to-do list for the next election four years down the road, and I came up with three.
1. Convince more Canadians to move to the US.
2. Setup a fund to help liberals relocate from the coasts to Ohio and Florida.
3. Convince Hillary Clinton to become a candidate.
Canadians can expect more free trade, and a huge pressure to join the US in the missile defense program.
Pakistan can expect continued (soft) support for Musharraf's regime. (He was elected by parliament to hold the top military position and the presidency). Which means the hate-hate relationship most Pakistanis have with the US will continue the same way. More conspiracy theories, more bans on the media, more terrorizing of the masses and a continued march towards modernism - it wouldn't be a bad march expect its more like a run-or-be-eaten-alive than a run-for-cancer-research.
Middle East kingships will be given a few verbal assaults along with invitations to Texas. The Iraqi quagmire will be left without definite authority being established, a model for don't-mess-with-texas rather than the promised exemplary democracy.
Defense spending will increase, meaning more deficits. You cant just print money indefinitely, you know! The puck has to stop somewhere, and in the next 5-10 years Americans will have to cough up the dough, somehow. The dollar will dive lower. Dividend and capital gains tax will be lowered permanently, meaning investors will increase their wealth.
Judges with conservative leanings will be nominated to the supreme court, giving a conservative bias to the judiciary for the next 10 years.
All in all, pretty much the same crap that the world has been putting up with for the last four years. Atleast, we will get continued coverage of Bush's mastery of the english language. (Being a bilingual nation, a Canadian prime minister can be forgiven for delivery with an accent, but what exactly was Dubya's first language again?)
When is lady hope coming back from vacation?