Saturday, April 30, 2005

Blowing it all out

fuck.. one of those days where no news is good news. The whole of the internet seems to be in deep mourning over one thing or the other. Somebody should have invented a happy lens by now.
On another note, Thank God the snow is gone. Now, I can get a life.
Tomorrow: Tariq Ali at the Hart House Library talking about his book,"Street-fighting Years: An autobiography of the sixties".
May 18th: Nelofer Pazira on her new memoir,"A bed of flowers: In search of my Afghanistan".
June: Junoon arrives in town.
June: The Urdu Conference by Urdu Times Newspaper.
July: A trip to Pakistan
This summer should be eventful.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

my PC

is up and running, and I can not describe how liberated I feel. I just realized while writing that line, that my computer is such a personal thing to me. I'd left it back when I had moved to my Uncle's and was using, actually sharing, his computer. And its not the same.
The keyboard is still a lil sticky from all the windex I had to use to clean it all up, but that should be gone in a few hours... And then, I can transfer all my scribes to the machine. I hate writing with a pen and paper, the editing and rewriting takes ages, and its a big deal trying keeping everything in order. Which page goes where, and the notes in the columns, and the corrections of the corrections. Now I can write in peace.
The only thing is I have to keep the friends of my cousins out of this machine. 'Get away from my baby!' Hopefully, the more paranoid I act, the more they get the message. There is one in particular that I am worried about, who thinks I am his long lost college buddy and wants to share a smoke with me. Well, the smoke thing is fine, but nO nearO my pcO.
And now, for a game of backgammon and then we hit the road.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A Warlord's Son by Dan Fesperman

For anyone not familiar with the Pashtun way of life, Peshawar and the tribal politics of Afghanistan, this book will be very informative. It is the most detailed and researched book on the subject of Afghanistan, for once getting most of the popular facts straight.
There is a lot of description in the book, from the first line the author sets out to portray the whole landscape, the turmoil and confusion (the dust), switching viewpoints to show the local version of detail and the foreigner's eye for confusion. A lot of ground has to be covered to tell the reader who is who in this part of the world. Many myths have been destroyed.
At one point the two protagonists compare notes on life and women and the author aptly asks, are we really that different? Caught up in one tradition or another, whichever stance we take, whatever the outlook on life, we go through the same turmoils and fight the same battles inside.
The war overshadow the struggle, the backdrop moves to the front as the story progresses, overtaking the personal for the political. Saying anything more would be a spoiler.
The dialogue is crisp and varied, moving from thorough to passing in the space of few sentences. The characterization is not thorough, many a holes appear as they progress. Daliya fails to impress. Her motivations seem too cliche and her connection with the protagonist needs more than just a page to develop. Similarly, her female saviour isn't helpful. Two months in Boston every year and such indecision and doubt! But the two male characters are good enough and the action keeps the book moving, ample diversion to cover the short-coming.
But clearly, I am not the intended audience for the book. I know the background, and the long descriptions and situation analysis going on inside the character's heads are overbearing for me. It seems, the author is forcing the reader to draw the conclusions that he wants, pushing rather than leading. Characters deciphering whats going on in another characters mind is troublesome to follow. And the viewpoint switches become bothersome. At some points I lost track of who is watching and who is being watched.
But the research put in, shows, and is clearly the best part of the whole narrative.
And next on my list is an author I am really excited about, Anouar Ben Malek. Hopefully, I learn a thing or two about poetics in prose from his work.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Weekend counting exercise

Over the weekend, I met yet another family (this time Indian) preparing to leave Canada for good. Lately, it has become a recurring news.
Five years ago, the latest arrivals dominated the scene. Who had applied, who had received their documents, who was expecting the red carpet and who was prepared for the one-finger salute.
There are still some fresh immigrants in my circle, but I wonder, if its my constraints or theirs that keep it that way.
One of my buddies runs a driving school. Since most newcomers need licenses, they are his customers, and he keeps track. He says nothing's changed. PIA is still running a one-stop route to Toronto which says more about this lucrative destination than the propo(ganda)-papers will speak of. But people ARE moving from Canada. Their destinations vary... US, England, Pakistan and now India but they are moving.
There was a feature in the Toronto Star about a month ago (that I finally read this weekend) regarding a few Chinese immigrants who were planning to return. That got me counting. Including this last family, I now know 28 people who have left Canada. Yea, 28 people in one person's circle in three years.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Horoscope predictions

Here's what Rob Brezsny had to say about Scorpios for this week:

" While mountain biking, I spied a white horse engaged in odd behaviour in a meadow. Over and over again, it took two steps forward and two steps back. Was it neurotic or distraught? I decided to sit and watch. Five minutes went by. Ten. Still it continued its routine. Finally I got inspired to pray for it. "Dear Goddess," I said, "please at least let that poor horse go three steps forward and two steps back." Moments later, the creature started doing exactly what I'd prayed for. Slowly, it made progress across the field. Now I'm saying a similar prayer for you: "Dear Goddess, please help Scorpios escape their treadmill-like pace, and go at least three steps forward for every two backward."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The future looming large

It is difficult for me to write. As an engineer, and a produce of the Pakistani education system, my writing is geared towards commentary. My prose is jumpy at best and at worst, sounds like an op-ed piece. But compared with the other troubles of my life, its a pre-cooked meal; the instructions are easy to read, and the results are immediate. Even if it tastes banal, it fills my stomach and lessens my complaints.
The biggest issue right now is my career. Do I stay in Canada after I get my passport? Do I move? If yes, where to - The US, Pakistan or Middle East? Will I have to change careers? Can I keep my writing alive through all of this? Should I take up writing as a full-time career? Maybe I'm better off moving into real-estate... The more options I give myself, the more confusion I have to contend with, resulting in even more inaction. And a boiling point arrives, and out of desperation I act, unsure if its the right decision, or maybe not!
I know all this because I've been here before. And made bad choices, too. And that haunts me. In psycho-babble its called fear of failure, I know this but like the rest of my knowledge, this piece of information can not will itself into action. I am 'stuck in a moment that I can't get out of'.
From time to time, my mind wanders. Concerns further off dominate the immediate. I loose focus, and dwindle from one day to another. All very cliche, but I assure you, all very true.
And as all this races through my mind, I find solace in the matters of the heart. I let it rule. Solace. Such a peaceful word, it belies the emotions to a lull, until everything feels grey.
The most difficult thing to deal with is the free advice that I get. I am thankful for it, in a very uncaring manner. I listen to what people have to say, as they compare their own situation with mine, what they would do and what I should, and how it all contrasts with what I AM doing. And once the conversation is over, I let it all slide.
My parents are desperate to intervene, but post 9/11 intervention is a word colored in the negative. Plus, the fact that in the past, whenever I have followed their advice, I have hurt myself more. Nothing against them, they are wonderful people and mean all the good for their son. But, their solutions are black and white. And what am I, if not controversial!
So, on and on it goes. The deadline is around this summer. Whatever decision I make, that is the time when I have to be firmly set on my path, with no looking back. I have promised myself that I will not feel any remorse, no matter how bad it turns out. I already have enough guilt in me to last a lifetime.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

My excuse for laziness...

this weekend is the enormous effort I put in, in following the cricket matches until they were resolved to my satisfaction. Isn't life great?

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Afridi Effect

My mammu, a conservative man, told me in the prime of his youth, 'Life is like a game of cricket. As you gain experience, you discover that the pointers you got your first day, the pointers you didn't have patience for, are the ones you have to keep relearning, over and over again.'
I hope he witnessed the 'Afridi effect' last night!
Last night, bored out of my brains, I decided that I would follow the cricket match on the internet; an arduous task, where broadband does not do me any favors. After the first innings I found which had a live feed to the Audio commentary. So I put it on, and opened up a game of Backgammon. A friend came online, and we wondered what would happen when Pakistan came out to bat.
Our amateur analysis didn't matter.
Neither did the expert opinions.
Afridi came on and he did what he does best. A show of brutal thrashing with complete disregard for the conservative strategies of the game, the time of day, the pitch, the bowler's experience, fielder positioning - Nothing could have persuaded him to stop, and that's the way its always been.
I have never been a fan of Afridi, consider him too flamboyant for the game. Ditto Akhtar. 'If you can't control your wits, don't play!'
But this was his day. And by God, nobody else could have done it. The Indian attack was clobbered and all their moves were rendered futile, all from a man who has been described as 'hardly knows how to bat'. But he does understand something about human psychology:
Fear breeds confusion, which destroys confidence, and then on, strategy can not be implemented.
I saw some commentators on the web dismiss the performance as a one-time lucky shot, and I agree. What they fail to realize is that that is exactly why he is in the team. The day he works is the day the rest of the team idles. His disregard for technique might be scorned at, but his contributions cant be overlooked.
Now, where is mammu's phone number?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Insight of the week

It dawned on me today that the only reason smoking seemed fun was because it was a big no-no. And the fun part was trying to figure out when and how to get out of people's ever-watchful eyes and light up. The drawn out afternoons in Lahore with the temperatures reaching 42c, and the only worry I had, was to find that ideal time when you can get out and get back in without being noticed.
And the excuses, oh my, don't ask. I had only a few rules about them.
Number 1: Truth is stranger than fiction, so the outrageous might actually work, provided you tell it right.
Number 2: It had to be spur of the moment, if u plan it out the story looses its elasticity. To compensate the narration has to be enthusiastic, as if you actually had fun doing what you did, which might not be suitable depending upon the story you concocted (and how can you enjoy anything in that weather!)
Number 3: If you have to involve additional characters, make sure they know about it before hand, are willing to corroborate.
Number 4: Tell it, while looking the person in the eye, and don't loose it in the middle of a sentence, just because someone's eye-brows are raised. Doubt CAN be conquered.
Interesting points, all of 'em, that I am trying to incorporate into my fiction these days.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Lost in TR

I have found that the worst part about writing in english is translating the odd word and verse. My stories are about Pakistan, if not, Pakistanis. The multitude of voices, the difference in tone associated with many of the phrases (Kithoun aaye ou sohneoun!) are clearly drawn in most people's mind, but bring this into english, and the words are no longer animated. Its just another greeting in a strange town with strange customs.
Dialogue in Urdu is even harder, the partial phrases are different from english, and a literal translation ruins the whole effect. Example, the word/phrase from Lahore, cheetaa, colloquial for cool - Would you put it in?
The technique I have seen other authors use is to put description in movement to try and capture the environment, the phrase is used in. But that means long boring descriptions of the dull of everyday life.
Or, I could avoid the whole fiasco and resort to minimalist language, capture the essence of the story, keep it in motion, focus on action rather than interaction. But that technique fails to capture richness. The difference is the difference of Nadeem Aslam and Mohsin Hamid.
Which brings me to Dasht-e-tanhai, Faiz's metaphor that captures loneliness, isolation, an unrewarding life and its bleakness in one phrase. Such phrases can NOT be shifted from one language to another, and we have to do with its translation; no matter how literal it might sound.
I guess I have to achieve some sort of balance, between capturing the scene and narrating it. I believe if I were published, or rather when I am published, my readers will be somewhat familiar with the culture. And hence, I can count on the body of literature already making the rounds, and use it as a background canvas on which images can be drawn.
But the way I see these stories, and the way someone not familiar with South Asia sees these stories would be different. I can see the red bricks, the fields passing by on the GT road, the distance from one corner of Mazang to the other, I can smell the Jalaibi as it sizzles, and I can hear the katakat of the knives from which the dish gets its name...
It becomes a question of focus on the elements that give life to the scene, and thats what I have to edit for. The scene, the angle, the distance which tells the story as it should be told.
And my background in an arcane science based on mathematics and boolean logic is of no help here.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A new dish is made

Smell it! The brew of controversy amongst liberal and conservative muslims has a new ingredient within it- Tahir Aslam Gora is the latest in a series of names that started with Manji, and was soon joined by Asra Nomani and Amina Wudood; all disgruntled with the conservative framework of religion.
Gora has issued a proclamation for modernizing Islam, and a weekly newspaper has given him ample space to bring forth his criticism and the changes he proposes. He is the founder of NewIslam, and was previously the editor of the 'progressive' newspaper Watan. I have read his views and will comment on it in another space. Meanwhile, I hope he updates his website with his manifesto, it was clearly articulated in Urdu in the paper, but the details are sparse on the website.
The post 9/11 world has challenged many (including me) to re-evaluate much of what they took for granted (dismissing the evil as merely the ugly), but the issues are still there. Extremism is desperately being chased, but poverty, literacy disparity and cultural isolation remain. The on-slaught through liberal media, conspiring think tanks and men in uniform continues.
My views on the subject aside, it gives me a certain sense of awe at just watching these new ideas emerge, these debates happen. Newspapers giving space, PEN Canada backing freedom of expression... Spectators are forced to think, to side with one or the other, to make up their god-damned minds about what and who is closer to the reality in their own lives. These are real people who have stepped forward, for peaceful dialogue and analysis of a subject dear to many. And that they are doing so with the power of debate rather than fatwaa is commendable. My only fear is that it will turn into an olympic event, with too many steroid-calls and too many medals to be chased; but we can hope, cant we?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The farce of the job fair

I was at the National Job Fair which is being marketted like crazy as the once an year chance to get employers and prospectives together.
Not so.
I went to the fair yesterday around noon. When I found out that there was a cover charge, I mean an entrance fee, my imagination ran wild.
Somewhere in a meeting, some suit informs another that they will not pay the whole amount. Another suit fires back. The first one sits down, and explains that a small cover charge would keep the place from over-crowding and atleast cover the expense of the fortune cookies planned for the event.
And as an immediate result, I was handing out $3.50 to get my five minutes of time with the hiring managers (as claimed in the very informative magazine they provided).
Not so.
Half of the floor was given to 'employment services' and education institutes, meaning I paid $1.75 to be advertised to, by government agencies and private, public institutes. When I asked a lady at one of the booths about a creative writing program, she kindly informed me that the school did have a full fledge english department, and "the details are available on our website, Thankyou, HiHowcanihelpu?"
Then came the agency booths. These are employment agencies that place successful candidates in other companies, and apparently, that is a solid money-making gig in Toronto. Anything other than sales and customer service, and you are better off "checking the website, because it has all the updated information, and it discusses the positions in detail, too." (I have resisted the urge to provide a link to their website.)
A network marketter for financial services, self-employment guides, a volunteer staffed social service booth. Where are the employers, I thought. Lo and behold, they were there, looking for sales and customer service positions... the army wanted field engineers, OPP looking for officers (weren't they short of funds or something?), A protection service showing off an officer dog (I am not being disrespectful, it was a real dog in uniform with a human master/guide/friend, watever the politically correct term is these days) on a leash. I liked the leash though, it certainly added some character.
Two hours later I stepped out, only after providing feedback (looks like they needed it too) on one of the stalls setup for this purpose. Apart from the shoulder bag I had brought with me, I carried a bag with a tremendous amount of web-site addresses, some printed on glossy pamphlets, others on simple white paper, all of which can be compressed into a single page (the technology these days), and put on a webpage on the internet...
But that would drive the fortune cookie guy out of business.
freaking trade-offs.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Small victories

The three guys that I fell out with, are now finding out that I was right.
My silence on the matter continues, let them figure out the wrong they have done. They happen to be intelligent people who can add subtract and keep track of numbers as they come and go. Let them keep the record, and learn from it. When I was shouting out that some of the documents were false in their accusations, that it was a scare tactic to get me to pay money I did not owe - all my claims were tall because they did not want to believe me.
And now, when that third party has accepted their mistake, and my stance and my memory of the records has been proven, everyone is quick to point at the other...
I remind them that I have stopped caring. You deal with what you have to deal with, I don't care about ur emotions now, and I didn't care about your accusations then. It simply wasn't worth my time.
What did bother me then and what continues to bother me, is the unease and confusion my parents have gone through because of this mess. These guys (and one of them in particular) have damaged my credibility, even though my dad has been more than understanding.
We had shared so much together and ... A part of me wants to empathize with them, still.
That, perhaps, is the only regret I have today.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The waiting game

I went to give an interview on Saturday for a technology company. On my resume, there are a coupla instances where I have done similar work for other companies. The interview went well, with yours truly first passed the HR, and then the technical panel of interviewers; everyone taking their turns with the questions and the please-be-at-ease smiles. As I write this I think, did I come across as nervous? watever, its in the past. No, use fretting over it now.
And now the waiting game begins. Its already day 1, with me calling to provide them with my references, and explaining how and when I worked with these people. And now, I sit down with my chai.
The sun is out after a miserably overcast weekend. Sea-gulls are making a show of force outside, grounding the few pigeons in my uncle's balcony. The blue carpet underneath my feet catches the sun, feels warm.
If I have to wait, I might as well feel a lil' cozy.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Falling from the edge

How do you tell a near and dear that you don't believe in the religious moral code as it exists in conservative Islam today?
How do you tell them that you are ok with living in a world full of humans? That all human beings have failings, and the compromises we make with our religious codes to make our lives easier work... that's why we make those choices in the first place?
How do you tell them that you are sorry, not for failing a sense of principles, and not for living the way you believed was right, but rather, only because of the irresponsibility inherent in such behaviour?
And what if you are sorry, but have exhausted the capacity to regret your actions and your inactions, and what if you want to say sorry but experience no remorse at all?