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Friday, October 27, 2006

Oh, shit!

Cleaning up my clothes cupboard today I came across a plastic bag hidden away under some winter-clothing, presumably as the first step to it's 'disappearance', by my wife. She does these things. Checks out to see if I have not remembered some stuff for months (I am a terrible hoarder, I admit!) and, once satisfied, zaps it with a raygun or something since i never see it again. Generally this last act takes place about two days before the time that I absolutely need the stuff, of course, and sets the scene for a 60-second replay of WWII, but I quickly take solace in the fact that there are other things strewn all over that she hasn't quite got to. Yet.

A quick look in the bag revealed a rather faded and stained photocopied document gifted to me by an Indian friend (a scholarly gentleman who has been an Ambassador in several countries and a Vice Chancellor in a well-known university. Name and other details will be revealed, unless he agrees to cough up money in unmarked bills). It's an edition of Deevaané Chirkeen.

For those of you unaware of this great poet, he was a grand-master of the Hazal - a term now loosely applied to all humorous verse forms. Originally the Real McCoy was poetry with 'unprintable' content. Often explicit and sexual in nature - but always satirical - every major poet has tried his hand at it. Allama Iqbal included. In recent years the greatest of all poets in that tradition was Rafi Ahmad Khan, friend and contemporary of Josh Malihabadi who, himself, had several verses of this nature to his credit - but, for once, accepted someone else as his superior (at least in this niche field).

Being unprintable, such poetry is generally passed - with obvious difficulty - to the next generation (hardly the kind that fathers share with sons) via stages of 'in-betweeners'. Young uncles to eldest nephews is how it seems to usually flow. The problem is that most people today can't tell between a correct or incorrect shayr. A quick run through even the best of Urdu poetry websites will reveal tons of couplets/poems, wrongly attributed, misquoted, without any sense of metre, qaafiah or even radeef ... Vazan to khaer door ki baat hae! (For this situation to have been reached, our Education system must bear part responsibility --- but that calls for another post.) Even the Al-Hamra Calendar that contains a ghazal for each day of the year, brought out with much love, contains scores of mistakes. And this is when there are printed deevaans and recordings and videos available to check many of them against. But in the case of Chirkeen and Rafi Ahmad this is an obvious impossibility.

While sexual explicitness is slowly losing some of its taboos, Allama Chirkeen's speciality seems to still be unacceptable. A poet from Lucknow, he rarely, if ever, used sexual content in his verses. His great love was excreta! Legend has it that, in earlier days, he wrote beautiful 'regular' ghazals, but his bayaaz was stolen by some people who had some of the poems published under their names in Hyderabad and elsewhere. At one mushaaerah in the Deccan capital, unaware of this fraud, he recited a ghazal and was booed by some people who assumed he had stolen the ghazal from one of the books. In anger, he swore never to write a line of verse that any persons would steal and be willing to call their own ... and went on to write hundreds of shayrs, each one containing some scatological term.

I do recall seeing a reference or two to him on Chowk a while ago ... and a few 'giggly' references among some internet groups which did not really appreciate the technical perfection of his shaaeree, despite the constraint he had placed on himself. I also realize that many will turn their noses away from this post (although smells are not yet easily embedded into eDocs, since the only ones seemingly ready to pay for it are Japanese aromatherapy enhusiasts) ... but the fact is that all languages have a great tradition of such humour. Mark Twain, Rabelais, and many Victorian writers revelled in it just as much those in our region. The difference is that the West has printed a lot of these works but - a pity - that such works of our classics in this genre will get lost.

One note before I close. Please do not add hazals/shayrs in the comments section. If you really think you have a good example - and only from from either of the above poets, checked for authenticity - email me and we can set up a website to honour them.

Oh ... and in case you are wonderiing what got me thinking about such an oddball topic today, get a load of this serious shit!

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Kuchh to kahiyay keh loag kahtay haeñ

Yooñ sajaaee kisee nay eed ki bazm
Dil yeh chaaha keh kaash ghar hotay
Lütf inn kaa dobaala ho jaata
Shayr mauzooñ bhee sab agar hotay

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

We live in amazing times

Scarcely had I finished recounting our 2-Eed history in an earlier post, when along came the first 3-Eed occasion. Imagine. Peshawar and Karachi will now celebrate Eed 2 days apart ... with parts of the country observing it in the middle, too. Wow! So, we've pretty much had a 5-day Eed Festival, if we start with the Bohris, who celebrate all the religious occasions 2 days before the rest of the Muslims in this part of the world. Well, to be fair, from their point of view everyone else is 2 days late! (The jury is still out on whether they'll get zapped two days before everyone else, come Doomsday.)

Work - such as it is during Ramzan - came to a grinding halt just before Noon on Friday the 20th, in Lahore (which I happened to be visiting), as people started getting ready for the Jum'ah Prayers (it was the Al Vida' Jum'ah ... the last Friday of Ramzan). Many of them were trying to reach the Badshaahi Masjid to join the large congregation before traffic got heavy. Then there was a weekend, followed by the ill-timed Monday-Wednesday holiday. Eed was expected to be on Tuesday, but the traditional Eed+2 days have now been replaced by the 3-day vacation starting a day earlier, giving out-of-station people time to reach home before Eed.

Of course, as luck and stupidity would have it, Eed has now fallen on Wednesday for most of us. So Thursday is a holiday, too. On Friday the 27th, as often happens in such circs, many people will phone in sick - a few will actually be suffering from the after-effects of over-eating and having their mealtimes disrupted again after Ramzan. Admittedly, the more decent (and the gutless) will dodder in, slightly late, and spend the better part of the morning holding a hugathon, calling up a few friends and then getting up around noon to prepare for prayers. Back for a couple of hours, after a leisurely post-prayer lunch, and they too are away for the weekend again!

But the decent are in a minority, anyway. For the majority, after their departure on the 20th, their first day in office will be on the 30th and their first day at work will be the 31st . You really can't expect people back in unfamiliar work suroundings to get in the groove on Day 1, can you? Thank Almighty Allah that we are a rich country and can afford such 11-day breaks ...

A serious question is How (or even Why) does the owner of a small-to-medium business pay a workforce that's been on half-speed for 15 days, on holiday for the rest of the month, and has obviously fallen short of its deadlines and has caused financial losses connected with this idiotic behaviour? Why should the burden of an individual's beliefs fall on anyone but him (or on the State, if it officially subscribes to the philosophy)? Do Muslims in the USA or UK get half-days off? Or do they not fast? Are there any Hadeeses that support this half-day tradition? The Qur'an certainly does not.

The principal of Fasting - I imagine - is to try and get through a normal day, with the additional hardship of shunning all temptations. Where are the temptations if you spend your time sleeping all morning at your desk - The Sehri Süstee Syndrome - and all afternoon at home? Reminds me of Mirza sahab:

Saamané khor-o-khaab kahaañ say laaooñ?
Aaraam kay asbaab kahaañ say laaooñ?
Rozah mera eemaan hae, Ghalib, laykin ...
Khaskhaana-o-barfaab kahaañ say laaoñ?

Anyway, coming back to the moonsighting disasters, let me end on a more cheerful note. We are not the only Muslim country to mess things up. The grand-daddy of them all, good old Soddy Arabia, has had it's share of faux pas this year, in mixing up heavenly bodies (and I am not referring to Angelina's).

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Monday, October 23, 2006

To each his own, but ...

I'm not sure kite-flying qualifies as a tehvaar.

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A Tale of Two Eeds

In Pakistan, Eed has almost always been plagued by controversies on the matter of when to celebrate it. But that's really a pessimistic view. Think of the joys connected with Moonsightings that would put UFO sightings to shame, Official and Unofficial Eeds, Ramzans that overstay their welcomes, enforced Eeds and enforced non-Eeds. I can think back to some examples from the days of that arch-Dictator, Ayub Khan, and cite references to them by misraas/shayrs from my favourite humourous poet of the time, Syed Mohammad Jafri (SMJ).

If memory serves me well, the President ordered Eed to be held all over the country after some of his province-mates claimed that the moon had been sighted, while the mullas of the province that detested him the most ruled that the method of sighting was unIslamic, insisting that the Ruet-e-Halal Committee (SMJ: Ae ruet-haraam kamaytee tujhay salaam) had to get evidence of a 'natural sighting' and the mehod of going up in helicopters to see the moon behind the clouds was unacceptable. Karachiites, for the most part, and many others scattered over the country, therefore fasted the next day (SMJ: Hua rukhsat nah jo maahé ramazaañ eed kay din) - while Ayubi mullas roared statements about the kufr of fasting on Eed.

(As an aside, some laughingly claim that this was the occasion when Maulana Ehteshamul Haque opposed Ayub and was locked up in a thaana, from which he emerged with the Thaanvi bit added to his name.)

Ayub forcibly decided to have the country observe Eed in accordance with the NWFP decision (SMJ: Khaalis pathaan chaand hua arzé paak par) that emanated from the committee's Peshawar office (SMJ: 'Peshah var' mullaaoñ nay ramzaañ ko dhakka day diya). Most mullas in Karachi refused to lead Eed prayers and the major (official) congregation had to have the Imam of the Karachi Jail forced into leading the Namaazé Eed (SMJ: Jail say maulvi bulvaaya pa∂haanay ko namaaz / Nah koee bandah rahaa aur nah koee bandah navaaz).

Worse was to come the next day, when the 'faithful' gathered with their imaams to offer prayers only to find that some mosque gates had been padlocked by the government supporters, forcing the crowd to say the prayers on the road. ( (SMJ: Talvaar kay zareeyay say manvaaya eed ko / Sharmindah kar kay rakh diya roohé Yazeed ko!)

All that was years ago. Later, the 'Eed split' took on completely a different meaning as we amalgamated Western customs (under misguided concept of upward mobility) and gave up some of our traditions for 'modernity': Sivaiñyaañ have given way to those disgusting butter-cream laden blobs known as Eed Cakes. (I often wonder if, on some Baqr-Eed we will receive hamburgers instead of the more traditional piece of raan.) The freshly 'bhoonoed' sauñf-ilaechee-naaryal concoction, with its tantalizing odor is a thing of the past; in it's place, satchets with drug-laced meethi supaari and candied aniseed jostle with toffees. Itr, of course, had long lost to Perfumes and Colognes - with names like Passion, Tonite, Sin, and the oddly named male deodorant Hard Luck trying to capture, through mere words, the purported aphrodiasical effects of Itr's heady and erotic aroma.

Eedee - still around, thankfully, in most homes - is also beginning to be replaced in a handful of homes with Eed Gifts. Aaargh. In one Islamabad house, in a well-meant tip-of-the-hat to their American bahu, the elders hung those gifts around with strings (their socks were too smelly, I guess) on a plastic replica of a Palm. The Tree, not a Punjah (in case you think they were making their alam do double duty).

Please. Don't sicken me further by saying "Awww ... Shweeet!" ...

My suggestion to the Lord and Master of the house was to go 'totus porcus' (a Wodehouse phrase that always makes me guffaw) and localize Father Christmas by having Abba Eeedoo appear, too. But he was not amused at the image I painted of his potbellied body coming down the chimney (they have one in his house!) dressed in a green dhoti, with a miswaak in one hand and a lota in the other.

Eed Mubaarak!

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

A really fun debate!

"Devout Catholic" Stephen Colbert vs "Devout Atheist" Richard Dawkins, on The Colbert Report:

Colbert: My guest tonight is a scientist who argues that there is no God. Well you know what ... he'll have an eternity in hell to prove it! Please welcome . . . Richard Dawkins! Thank you for coming on . . . I'm so excited to have you . . . I have to admit, I thought I was getting Daryl Dawkins.

Dawkins: [Laughs, puzzled].

Colbert: Chocolate Thunder . . . I'm not sure if you're familiar with . . . ah, no, okay..

Dawkins: Usually they say they were expecting a man in wheelchair who can't talk.

Colbert: Oh.

Dawkins: They confuse me with Stephen Hawkins.

Colbert: Stephen Hawkins. Oh, Stephen Hawkins. Okay. Is he going to hell, too?

Dawkins: I reckon so.

Colbert: Yeah, maybe so, maybe so . . . God doesn't like black holes. Alright. Um. Your book started off great, okay? It's got a shiny silver cover, and I can see my face in it. But after that, I got pretty upset, okay? You say that God is . . . it's called "The God Delusion." Alright, and you say that there is no God. That God is a myth, and that religion is corrosive.

Dawkins: Well, I say that God is very, very improbable. You can't actually disprove God . . .

Colbert: RIGHT!! 'Cause He exists! No matter how much you fight, there's still a little bit of Him left.

Dawkins: You can't disprove anything. You can't disprove the Flying Spaghetti Monster, you can't disprove Thor with his hammer, you can't disprove Zeus, or Poseidon . . .

Colbert: Oh, those are Pagan Gods. They don't exist.

Dawkins: Yeah, that's right.

Colbert: They don't exist.

Dawkins: You're an atheist about all those Gods . . . everybody here's an atheist about all those Gods. Some of us just go one God further.

Colbert: Wow. Bold. Alright, so let's hear it. There is no God . . . our belief in Him is a delusion . . . the world and the universe was created by a series of random acts . . .

Dawkins: Oh, no no no.

Colbert: . . . we're all just monkeys and we should fornicate and throw our feces.

Dawkins: Well, you're right. That's up to you.

Colbert: Those are your greatest hits, right? I've encapsulated the book basically right there, right?

Dawkins: It's up to you. But you mustn't say that it's all due to random chance. That's the one thing it isn't. Because Darwinian natural selection is the exact opposite of random chance. It's a highly non-random process. The big thing that everybody misunderstands about Darwinism is that they think it's chance, they think it's an accident. It's not an accident.

Colbert: It's too complex for us to perceive . . . you know, it's like, I know a Pachinko machine isn't an accident either, there's a reason why it bounces from nail to nail, but it looks random to me, right?

Dawkins: Nothing in nature looks random. Nothing in nature looks random.

Colbert: I want you to address my Pachinko analogy.

Dawkins: I've never even heard of it. What is that?

Colbert: Never heard of Pachinko? Oh, it's like Japanese pinball.

Dawkins: Okay.

Colbert: They're great. They make pornographic versions of it over there.

Dawkins: We call it bagatelle.

Colbert: Bagatelle?

Dawkins: Yeah.

Colbert: Who, biologists or English people?

Dawkins: English people.

Colbert: Okay. Alright. Um, obviously I've already played my hand here. I believe in God. And you don't believe in God. So I've got that on you. So this is kind of unfair, because God's on my side in this argument. But 95% of Americans believe that there is a God, okay? So doesn't that disprove your argument, or else you don't believe in democracy.

Dawkins: Well . . .

Colbert: Really . . . the people have spoken.

Dawkins: Democracy is fine for policy, but democracy is no good for science. You'd never . . .

Colbert: Oh, I'd disagree. I'd say the President would disagree also.

Dawkins: Well, you've got a point there. I have to give you that. You're right there.

Colbert: Now you're not a big fan of intelligent design either, I'm imagining.

Dawkins: I'm a very big fan of intelligent design for for man-made things, but I'm not a big fan of intelligent design for natural things.

Colbert: What do you mean? What's the difference between those things? Aren't we natural? We're part of that natural order of things.

Dawkins: Yeah, that's right. There's no intelligent design in the natural order of things. There's plenty of intelligent design in computers, and cars, and telephones, they're all intelligently designed. And we are so stupid that we think that just because telephones and computers and cars are intelligently designed, that means we are too. Well, they're not. And . . .

Colbert: Well, I'm more complex that my computer.

Dawkins: You certainly are.

Colbert: Right, so how could I be here . . . I mean . . . it's either . . .

Dawkins: Well I'll tell you . . .

Colbert: I'm lost. I'm lost. I'm lost. It hurts when I think. See, if I just think that God just (clapping hands) did it, that I can understand.

Dawkins: And who just did God, then?

Colbert: God is outside of time.

Dawkins: Ahhh . . . that's so easy. You get away with that . . .

Colbert: No, it's hard, it makes my brain sore.

Dawkins: . . . you can get away with that, and then you can explain anything.

Colbert: I can't explain anything.

Dawkins: I can explain it. I can explain it by saying you get to complex things like you, by slow, gradual degrees. And that's the only, ultimate explanation that will work. You can't just suddenly magic complex things like God, into existence.

Colbert: But, if this is intelligent design, like say your book is intelligently designed . . .

Dawkins: It is, by the way.

Colbert: . . . but the universe is not intelligently designed, then you're saying the universe just naturally came into existence, continues existence, through natural laws of nature, through physics, thermodynamics, the laws of gravity and energy, produced you, eventually, and then through you produced this book that proves that it has no natural intelligent design.

Dawkins: Okay, let's take that step by step.

Colbert: Oh, I don't think we have time for step by step. You can either surrender or we can go.

Dawkins: You were right as far as when you got on to life. Life's a very special thing. Life starts naturally, and then it increases in complex by slow, gradual degrees, that's Darwinian natural selection.

Colbert: That's because God breathed into it.

Dawkins: Oh no. That's at best a superfluous hypothesis, and at worse, a highly unparsimonious one.

Colbert: Do both of those mean that you surrender? We've got to go, I'm sorry. Richard Dawkins, thank you so much for being my guest .. The book is The God Delusion.

Did anybody win, you think?


Saturday, October 21, 2006

PH on Steroids [aka "A Tale of Hoods"]

Thursday, October 19th, was a special day for two girls. Ex-Blogger Maleeha and her friend Saima got an opportunity to meet - at close range - their hero, Pervez Hoodbhoy (or Saheeh Pervez, as some now call him). They had arranged an informal evening with Pervez in Lahore. It was held in a hall designated to be a Gym adjoining the Athena Café (situated at 7A Main Boulevard, Gulberg - and a great place, small, intimate, secluded!) despite torrential rains that not only caused a delay in his arrival at the venue and but also affected the numbers who could turn up. Despite the small group - or, perhaps, because of it - the evening was enjoyable.

After explaining, briefly, what Science - especially Physics, the starting point of all sciences - covers, Pervez went on to compare the major role that Muslims had played in the development of scientific thought in the early years of Islam, in contrast to the almost total absence of their involvement with Science in the later centuries, reaching its nadir today.

Citing statistics and examples of how little is spent upon the sciences in Muslim countries and the dismal quality of the people we do produce (an obvious result of the former), Pervez had us all feeling depressed. He also quoted shocking figures for related things, like the number of books translated from Western sources to languages spoken in the entire Muslim world being a fraction of those that are translated in Portugal alone. Finally, as the main body of his discourse, he offered what, in his opinions, were the reasons for such a decline, a matter that he has covered at greater length in his brilliant book "Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality". [This Pervez wrote his own book, btw.]

The audience had little to debate with him on the main theme of his talk, but he hit a couple of raw nerves - one being that of that delightful 'master of evil genius', Gorpy, who has posted her comments - when he chose to describe wearers of the naqaab as 'abnormal'. Pervez held - not unreasonably at all - that communicating with a person was more difficult if facial expressions were hidden. He compared the effect to talking with someone in a box and opined it was not natural for people to want to hide their faces.

For me, this part of the discussion was of special interest. One, because just that morning I had sat in on a debate among some educators on whether teachers (especially at the Nursery and KG levels), with naqaabs or burqahs, should be inflicted upon children. The supporters felt that it was bigotry to exclude someone who was, after all, only excercising her personal 'freedom'. The opposite camp used arguments similar to that of Pervez and also felt that the little children would find it difficult to relate to a teacher who was hooded. While Gorpy has pointed out that it seems to be males who are talking about these issues more, the objections in my morning discussions had come from females. Two, because ever since I've read Sam Harris's excellent book, The End of Faith, I am less given to tolerating the intolerant.

I grew up, like many of you, in an environment where, although no immediate member of my family wore a burqah, some fairly close relatives did. I cannot recall, ever, seeing either side raise an eyebrow about the wearing or the shedding of this form of dress. It was a non-issue, at par with some of the women wearing ghararas while others wore saris. Today, because of the increasing presence of Fundamentalists and Terrorists, and the consequential stupid viewing of all Muslims as belonging to one of those two groups, the reactions of many non-Muslims (and also of some Muslims) is more extreme. The veil has now become an issue, further feeding crazy Huntingdonian ideas, with people often interpreting its rationale in ways that even the wearer may not have considered.

What has gotten even more muddled in this heat is the fact that most people assume the veil to be an essential of Islam. This week's Friday Times contains an excellent article ('Ladies as Hooded Bandits' - by Khalid Hasan) - but since the weekly insists on asking for money for its web-based edition (unlike India's Tehelka) - I cannot provide a link. But you know me ... Why would that prevent me from offering you a chance to read it through my favourite device, the free download?

What else was fun for me that evening? Meeting someone I had been anxious to meet for a while: Ms Kauser Sheikh, whom all of her Kinnaird College students have always spoken of in respectful and affectionate terms (and I have met quite a few of them over the years, starting with Sabeen and ending with Sabizak, who - by a strange coincidence got to know about blogs by stumbling upon Sabeen's).

You're obviously wondering, what's the steroid connection? So, here it is before I put an end to this post: Pervez had arrived exhausted, stressed, and red-eyed ... with most of us assuming that the last bit was caused by the first two. But things got worse during and after the heavy meal that Saima and Maleeha took us to, at the rather imposing and very elitist Polo Lounge. And Pervez had to see an eye doctor the next morning, who diagnosed a condition that was/is a bit scary. He is now being treated with steroids. Imagine the power with which he would have pushed forth the point about 'abnormality', had he taken his steroids before the lecture.

[Get well soon, Pervez. We love you!]

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

In the Line of Ire

Much criticism has been levelled at President Musharraf's memoirs - In the Line of Fire - from specifics, like Retired General Ali Kuli cclaiming passages of the book to be total fabrications, to generalizations, such as questions being raised everywhere on whether a sitting president should have the right to write about things that are - in the view of some - State Secrets or the public washing of our dirty linen.

Others are annoyed at his using state money to travel, with a large entourage, to promote his book at state expense, a point countered by his supporters saying that the book has caused tremendous excitement internationally, in political and book reading circles, and has managed to have the Pakistani view on matters such as Kargil, Kashmir and other issues, read for the first time by millions of people. One writer in the Urdu press - always off at the most delightful of tangents - has asked that if the book were to win The Best Fiction Award would the money go to the President or the ghostwriter.

My feelings are that much of the hoohah in Pakistan can be settled through a simple process. Following the line of reasoning the the President is paid (for all the positions he holds) by the national exchequer from monies that belong to the people of Pakistan, and that the nature of his employment demands that he is on the job 24/7, I think he really can't really be writing books, parrying with Jon Stewart, staying away from his desk on promotion tours, and making additional money on our time. On the other hand, I also understand that Pakistan has, arguably, benefitted from this exposure and, in any case, folowing a tradition religiously, the writing was done by someone else.

So here's a suggested compromise: Maybe the President should share some of the benefits with us. I don't expect him to give us all a part of the earnings, but one thing he can do is make the book free for Pakistanis. Since that cannot be a practical solution in terms of the costs of publishing and distribution involved, the very least would be a token bow to the concept via a free download of a pdf version, don't you think?

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Site for Sore Muslims

MEMRI's Islamist Websites Monitor No. 5 recently reported the following, causing embarrassment, anger, laughter, and disbelief among Muslims, MacUsers, and others:
Apple's "Mecca Project" Provokes Muslim Reaction
On October 10, 2006, an Islamic website posted a message alerting Muslims to what it claims is a new insult to Islam. According to the message, the cube-shaped building which is being constructed in New York City, on Fifth Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets in midtown Manhattan, is clearly meant to provoke Muslims. The fact that the building resembles the Ka'ba is called "Apple Mecca," is intended to be open 24 hours a day like the Ka'ba, and moreover, contains bars [an entirely misrepresented reference to the advice-offering counters, dubbed Genius Bars by Steve Jobs - Zakintosh] selling alcoholic beverages, constitutes a blatant insult to Islam. The message urges Muslims to spread this alert, in hope that "Muslims will be able to stop the project."
The very next day a more reliable - and certainly a more balanced website than people would expect from one presenting an obviously Islamic viewpoint - offered this piece (from which the excerpt below is taken) by its Editor-in-Chief who writes brilliantly: What if a Muslim in a forest complained about a New York retail outlet he'd never visited? Would it make a sound? If MEMRI weren't around, it wouldn't.
Muslims Aren't Offended By Apple Store
By Shahed Amanullah, October 11, 2006

Recently, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) stated that an anonymous Islamic website in the Middle East urged Muslims to show their outrage at the Apple Store in New York City, which built a pavilion coincidentally resembling the cube shape of the Ka'aba, the ancient structure in Mecca towards which all Muslims pray (the actual structure is glass, though MEMRI referenced a black plywood cover during construction). Predictibly, the post brought out cries of indignation from people upset that Muslims would be offended (yet again). But missing in the report was the name of the purported website, why it was considered authoritative on the matter, or any actual offended Muslims (our straw poll garnered a collective shrug, along with much respect for Steve Jobs, himself the son of an Arab). It's not the first time the controversial organisation has selectively framed an issue to show Muslims in a less than positive light.
Among the various comments on the post is this hilarious one, from Zahed: "It is transparent glass with an Apple logo in the middle and looks as much like the Ka'ba as the Pompidou Centre looks like the Great Pyramid. We have heard reports of Apple fans swirling around the cube hoping to touch the sacred symbol in the middle, but that is nothing to do with Islam and is entirely a different sort of creed."

Bookmark if you are interested in well-written News and Views, often even considered fairly controversial among Muslims (who, contrary to popular belief, do not come in one flavour). Read one such piece on the Ahmadis. Or, for a sprinkling of what the site offers, start with a look at its gender section.

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Almost full circle

Although Sabeen and I were there on business, the thrill of meeting our friends was always an overwhelming thought. And what a wonderful time we had. Four-and-a-half hectic days, working with some of the best people in Journalism, loads of Idli & Dossa at Sagar, great - and sensibly priced! - Espresso at Barista, interspersed with mad rushes through Mercury Records, FabIndia, PeopleTree, and - ooooh - those adorable and intoxicating little bookshops!

However, for me, this trip to Delhi had a very special meaning. [C'mon guys, change the name: You have Kolkata and Mumbai ... why not Dehli, at least, if not Dilli!] ... We landed there on the 4th of October, almost 60 years to the day when Ummi (my mother) and I had left to visit her sister in BudgeBudge - an oil-bunkering station near Calcutta for ships on the Hooghly River - where my uncle was posted by the Indian Customs. I was just 6 ... and totally unaware that we were leaving our house for the last time, to become an unintentional part of the frenzy that was the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan.

Before setting out for Dilli, this time, I had decided - very firmly - that I would formally begin writing my memoirs on that day ... even if it meant jotting just the first few lines. And, so, this is just to report that 'Ships and Shoes and Sealing Wax' has now DEFINITELY begun. One chapter will deal with a child's view of the 1947 chaos and may be of interest to more than just the immediate and extended family for whom these memoirs are being written.

To whet your appetite I just want to say that my family ended up here not of choice but by fate. Abi (my father) came in from the Middle East - where he was posted as a doctor in some medical Camp for recovering soldiers - and went to Dilli to see how things were and judge if Ummi and I could move back there, because my uncle had 'opted' for Pakistan and would soon be sailing out to Karachi. He found that the house in Dilli where we lived, and had hoped to continue living in, was burnt and razed to the ground during the insane riots that accompanied the Partition ... so, we left with my uncle for Pakistan (after a whole series of adventures and dangers between Calcutta and Bombay - but, for that, "Buy the book!") ... not without almost an assurance by Abi's Muslim friends and leaders in the Congress Party, including my wife Nuzhat's grandfather, Dr. Syed Mahmud, that the madness would soon settle, that the two countries and communities would forget and forgive - there were even rumours that Gandhiji was planning to move and live in Pakistan - and we could shift back 'home' in a few months. Haah!

My parents never did go back to the city they loved and had decided to make home - away from the qasbaat of Lucknow where they were originally from. Here is a poem Abi wrote. I did want to keep it in his own handwriting. It's been difficult to scan, but I hope it is, for the most part, readable. You may need to use the magnification tool in some browsers.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Birthday Blues

Watching a movie in a cinema-house in Calcutta with a bunch of cousins, the day I turned 4, I recall that when Gandhiji's picture appeared on the screen on a slide before the film, with a hideously painted garland on the photograph, everyone stood up and clapped. I asked my mother why this was happening and was informed that it was Bapu's birthday, too. Puzzled - as my friends have been repeatedly told over the years by elders who seem to revel in such embarrassing anecdotes - I am alleged to have said, "Maeñ to itnaa chhota rah gaya aur Gandhi Chacha buddhay ho gae ..."

I admit that I still feel a childish thrill, knowing that my birthday is a national holiday in India. And don't ask me where the chacha came from ... but it's immensely better than the "Unkil" I have become, to people whose aunts I have never had anything to do with, I swear!

This year, on October 2nd, I became 66 ... The unexciting number countered by celebrations lasting much longer than usual, beginning with Vickram and Jehan Ara landing up with a huge cake on the evening of the 1st (because they were both flying out the next day) ... and ending with a really gorgeous dinner, on the 2nd, put together by Mahenaz and Sabeen, who has now been promoted from COO to COO[K].

While I am dreading my birthday three years from now when I know that all my male friends will send me pornographic birthday cards - underscoring the age old old age problems associated with being on the verge of 70 - I must admit that I wasn't expecting some of the stuff I did get this year.

In the name of what is now called CRM, a bank sent me a box of chocolates. As a diabetic, if I do have to break my parhaiz, I do it for something worth the trouble. This stuff was from a shop that probably specializes in dog biscuits ... for dogs with no pedigree. I remember getting these home (from a restaurant that offers them gratis, after meals) for Lady, our late Dachsund who adored chocolates, and seeing her spit it out after the first bite. Of course, the banks have your DoB from the various forms you fill in. Given that their obnoxious telemarketing campaigners call you up at really odd hours on the most relaxed of days when you are asleep for the first time in weeks after a hectic project, it is unlikely that they'd even understand my annoyance at getting a gift! The fact is that I do not accept sweets from strangers.

However, here's something I'd like to warn all bloggers about: Please do not fill birthdates on your Profile, unless a blogging tool allows you to omit the Year. The more popular ones insist upon it, not accepting just the month and date. [Blogger/WordPress: Are you listening?]

Tricky thingies, known as spiders, crawl around the web, gathering all this info and passing it on - for greenbacks - to all and sundry. Once they know your age, the wonders of modern-day computing allow merchants to spam you with loads of 'targeted' email they consider 'suitable'. Thus, I received 32 wanting me to try Viagra, Cialis, etc.; 11 trying to sell me contraptions that would make my love life more 'interesting' - a word that, in this context, could mean almost anything! 2 were rather rude and commented upon my physical attributes, suggesting ways to 'enhance' them (although I do not recall providing info on that to anyone ... unless the spiders also visit sites of really close friends and use AI to make connections).

However, dear Bloggers, if you do want to enter your birthdate in your profile (in the hope of winning some strange lottery or something), make sure you enter your Gender, too. Unfortunately, I had not disclosed mine. Mere oversight, I promise you. I know what I am ... and if I ever forget, my eyesight is still OK! As a result, I received this message: Men will whistle at you. Even at this age your breasts can regain their natural firmness, in Rs. 990 only, through Ayurvedic Joban Paste. [Update: Save your money. It doesn't work! Z]

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Yaqeené Mohkam ...

The ad below appeared in the Dawn (October 8, 2006). It was brought to my attention by The Loan Ranger, Naeem Sadiq.

Yaqeen Curriculum Development urgently requires female composer for institutes of high repute in Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Gulshan-e-Jauhar.


  • Education...intermediate
  • Typing speed...60
  • 2 years experience in composing graphics
  • Command over Inpage, MS Office, Corel, Photoshop
  • Fully SHARIA & SUNNAH compliant
  • Practicing Muslim with correct AQIDA
  • Purdah observant with NIQAB
Some of the readers of this blog may wish to take issue with Yaqeen if they find such requirements to be discriminatory. Others may wish to apply for the job. I understand that the cream of the chosen candidates will be assigned to work on the organization's forthcoming magazine, Prayboy.

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