Thursday, December 13, 2007

The big "WHYs" of my life

Why is it that the line that I happen to be in is the slowest moving one?
Sorry about the pessimism guys but I just spent twenty minutes yesterday waiting for my turn at the gas station while cars on either side of me simply rolled away. Apparently one of the valves or pump (or whatever it is they have at gas stations) at the end of my line was not working.
If this happened once in a while it would be acceptable. Annoying but acceptable, but this kind of thing happening every single time is downright freaky.
My ability to randomly pick the line that has something or the other slowing it down is now beginning to amaze me.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Kingdom of Heaven

I love history. What happened ages ago, fascinates me. How it happened, interests me even more?
But the annoying thing about historic events is that they get shrouded by the veil of time. Like age old trees that acquire a new layer each year, this veil gets progressively thicker until the details become too hazy to be clearly seen and understood. Each one of us then endeavors to locate peep holes to look beyond this thick curtain, hence each one of us sees differently depending upon the limited vision allowed to us by the unique angle of our individual peep holes.
The result: multiple versions of a single event. We often find ourselves believing in the more appealing version rather than the more accurate version.
I recently saw the movie based on one such historic event, the conquest of Jerusalem. The film was “Kingdom of Heaven”. It was not the best one that I had ever seen; still, it wasn’t too bad.
I have seen enough of Hollywood films to know what to expect. However, there were a few unexpected things about this movie. First of all, this was the first English language film I saw that did not portray the Muslims as brainless, heartless barbarians.
I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised. Apparently somebody in Hollywood has the guts to look through peepholes other than their own.
On the whole I liked the film. There was some fair bit of acting there by a number of people. Here a few that impressed me.
I have never considered Orlando bloom to be a handsome man. The only time he has looked presentable to me was as Legolas in “Lord of the Rings”. I was however, fairly impressed with him as Balian of Ibelin in Kingdom of Heaven. I read somewhere that he put on 20 pounds for the role. (That would explain the absence of all those bones and joints that always seem to be jutting out at odd angles from him) If he has any sense he would keep those 20 pounds on, that is, if he hasn’t lost them already. (Sorry Bloom I admired the acting but I did not become enough of a fan to follow up on your weight dynamics)
Seriously, it was not his physical appearance that impressed me but rather his acting skills. I think he played the role very well. During the first 10 minutes of the film he barely says more than a few words, yet you are able to feel the aggression, frustration and anger inside his character (see critics I am taking about Hollywood stars after all)
Now that is what I call acting. Not delivering the right dialogues or wearing the right period costumes, but becoming the character in such a way that the inner turmoil of the character oozes out of every pore.
Another actor that left its mark was Edward Norton who played Baldwin IV, the leper King of Jerusalem.With no part of his face visible except his eyes, he used the tone of voice to portray himself as a wretched character. For a man with an iron face (or what ever metal it was that he wore) he succeeded in allowing his pain to seep through the metallic mask and become visible to the audience. You can’t help feeling sorry for the cursed young king who desperately tries to hold on to a turbulent kingdom.
Brendan Gleeson didn't do a bad job either as Raynald of Chatillon. He is evil in a comical sort of way.
The important personality from the Muslim side was that of my all time favorite, Salahudin Ayyubi. He is shown as a dignified and righteous ruler in the film.
The part that the film makers really muddled up was the relationship between Balian and Sybella. I don’t think the two of them were ever romantically involved nor has there ever been any record of Balian's illegitimacy.
Personally I don’t care much if Balian and Sybella were romantically involved or not. We only get annoyed if our favorite characters from history get misrepresented and my favorite historical character is not Balian of Ibelin and it is certainly not Sybella either. I am just glad that Salahudin’s actual persona was not marred in any way.
As I said before, not a bad film after all.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A king among kings

Now that we are on the subject of heroes, there is one who has fascinated me for a long time and that one happens to be none other than Salahudin Ayyubi (also known as Saladin), a man of Kurdish origins who rose to prominence during the 12th century A.D.

Although he only lived to be 53 years old, (some sources state 55) he managed incredible military achievements in his brief life time

Salahudin is famous for uniting the Muslims and capturing Jerusalem from the crusaders. His military accomplishments are undoubtedly great but that is not the reason behind my keen admiration for the man.

Salahudin was a gallant Warrior, clever General and mighty King all in one, but than, history is full of extraordinary feats of all three kinds. What makes salahudin special was the unique code of honour he lived by and the innumerable acts of courtesy he displayed throughout his lifetime.

When dealing with enemy on a battle field it is often convenient to ignore or simply choose not to remember rules of civility, yet salahudin maintained a decency of character even in the frenzy of war. Whether it was sending his personal physicians to treat the ailing king Richard or offering horses from his own stables when the King’s steed died.

I have always believed that no one can be completely evil and no one a saint. We are all human and humans can never be perfect. Looking at things from an impartial view, even I have to accept the fact that salahudin, like every one else must have had his shortcomings. So it all comes down to balancing the good in a person against the evil in him. It is often not the action itself rather the consequences of actions that determine good form evil .salahudin’s antics may have been unconventional but they served a higher purpose and delivered a strong message. Principles and Ethical values can not be compromised simply because the world is falling apart around you. In salahudin’s case, I think there can be no doubt as to which side out weighed the other.

I would also like to quote here something I once read in National Geographic Magazine. It was in fact a remark by a reader. He stated (as much as I can remember) that
“We must learn not to judge ancient morality and codes of conduct by looking at them through 21st century eyepieces” Who knows a perfect gentle man today may be viewed as uncivil and his perfectly acceptable actions declared as intolerable in times to come.

That is why I admire salahudin. His goodness transcended the boundaries of time. In an era when barbarianism and butchery were the accepted norms, salahudin behaved with such dignity that even we, the 21st century dwellers, can not but help admire.

Friday, November 9, 2007

And the sword broke

A couple of days ago some one advised me that if I wanted my blog to be read by more people I should write about something interesting like Hollywood Stars.
I was initially offended by the advice. After my initial indignation with the suggestion wore off, I realized that my adviser was correct
Correct in analyzing that people have become obsessed with celebrities and get attracted to sites that provide news about them or discuss them
But this does’nt means that I am going to do the same. I would still rather write about something that pleases me more than anyone else.
Incidentally, I wrote something on Shelfari while creating my Urdu books group a few days ago. I thought I would copy some of it here as well.
So here it is
I realized a while ago that all our heroes and cult figures happen to be Westerners and not from our part of the world. Not that I have anything against admiring non Eastern personalities who deserve to be admired. My only concern is that most of these personalities happen to be celluloid Hollywood figures. We need real life inspirations, preferably from our own history to motivate us.
To accomplish this I went out and bought two Naseem Hijazi novels namely “ Moazzam Ali” and “Aur Talwaar Toot Gai”.
Moazam Ali is sequel to Aur Talwaar Toot Gai. One features Siraj Ud Daula and battle of Plassey 1757, the other Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu and the battle of Sirangapatam 1799.
I was quite impressed with Sultan Tipu’s courage and brilliance as both a ruler and as a military leader. The fact that he did not escape like most kings but chose to die along side his soldiers at the time of impending defeat tells us a lot about his personality.
He was the one who stated,
“ It is far better to live like a tiger for a day than to live like a jackal for a hundred years”.
He died proving it, his broken sword still held firmly in his lifeless hand, hence the book title Aur Talwar Toot Gai (And the Sword Broke) .
He truly was the tiger of Mysore.
So I have found at least one hero I was looking for.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Rat Invasion

We have been invaded.
No, not by aliens, by a rat
At least that is what we think it is, judging from the high speed object that squeezes though impossible crevices and non existent holes right before our very eyes.
It was most recently seen in a place that I would rather not have it seen in at all and by the last person in the world that I would want it to be seen by.
It was my son who spotted it. He went in to get a glass of water from the kitchen when he saw the little scoundrel dancing around the place.
If having a rat in the house was not nerve wrecking enough, my darling child is adding to the panic. He has simply refused to eat anything coming out of the kitchen (believe or not he has gone without food for the 24 hours) not even drinking the water which was safely placed inside the refrigerator all the time. He has been buying mineral water bottles from the market to quench his thirst and has literally been carrying them around every where he goes (If the rat wants to touch his precious bottles it is going to have to perform a vertical acrobatic feat, four feet straight up). On top of it all, he insists that we throw away all the crockery and start using paper plates and cups which can be disposed off after use. The fact that every single object in the kitchen is being regularly washed and scrubbed since the sighting is simply not good enough for him.
Only yesterday morning, when I asked him what he wanted for his school lunch, he retorted with a crisp “nothing”, informing me that he would buy himself something from the school canteen.
So much for my “home cooked meals are healthier and more hygienic then those found outside the house doctrine”
My young man is obviously beginning to form a difference in opinion.
The rat in question is turning out to be even more obstinate then my offspring, refusing to be caught in the mouse trap we lay out for it at night.
Ok, so it may be just a rat but that does not mean that it is stupid.
After centuries of having its ancestors caught by that primitive contraption, it has apparently learned to avoid the apparatus (either that or the vermin has simply developed a finer taste in cuisine to be tempted by the simple piece of bread we set as bait for him). What ever the reason, bottom line is, the empty mouse trap sits on the floor in the morning exactly where it was placed the night before, untouched, unmoved and sans rat

But we are not giving up either. Hopefully by the time I update my blog, we would have caught the cursed rat and convinced my infuriating brat that the house is once more pure and clean.
Wish me luck.

p.s: we caught the rat this morning.
The conventional mouse trap and the mundane piece of bread have proved once again that they may be old fashioned and un-appetizing to look at, but their mouse catching capabilities are not to be underestimated.

Monday, October 29, 2007

When all appreciating your dress happen to be over the age of sixty then you know what you are wearing is terribly out of fashion.
Take it from someone who has suffered the compliment.
Trust me
It is not flattering

Traveling through time

A few days back I decided to clean up my bookshelf and came upon a volume falling apart at merest touch. The pages were yellowed with age, some were even missing?
The volume itself was too far gone to be repaired. A number of relocations had taken their toll on it plus being cramped up in a congested bookshelf for ages had also not been merciful. After many years of confinement in dark cupboards, it finally came to rest on my bedside table
One night I picked it up and randomly started reading it from somewhere in the middle, like I often do books that I have already gone through once or twice.
Suddenly, as if by magic I was transported back in time to the point when I first got acquainted with this magnificent piece of work
The book in question was M.M.Kaye’s “Shadow of the Moon”
I could not have been more than thirteen at the time and had taken a sudden leap from Famous Fives and Nancy Drews to what we called in those days as “grown up novels”:
Not allowed to read such stuff yet (as if that would have stopped me) every “grown up novel” was procured and read in extreme secrecy.
I remember how I came across this particular one. It was through a more resource full older friend who had a library well stacked with books still considered unsuitable for me. I begged her to lend me one from her collection.
I remember her taking “Shadow of the Moon” out of the shelf.
Here you will like this one” she said
What is it about “I asked eagerly snatching the voluminous edition from her hands?
“It’s about a guy who goes off to war and the girl waits for him”.
Her casual answer put instant damper on my enthusiasm I was not fond of war, not even in two dimensional format and was in no mood to spend the next few days reading about death, destruction and other depressing things associated with war.
I wanted to exchange the book for something more interesting But my friend insisted that I read this particular one
So I took the book home.
I still remember the first time I opened it up and started reading
I had barely finished the first page when I realized that what I had in my hands was no ordinary run in the mill story.
I also learned a little later, as I progressed further with the book, that my friend’s statement about “guy going off to war and the girl waiting for him” was the worst and the most incorrect description of the story that anyone can possible give (still I am grateful to her for insisting that I read it ).
The war in question was none other than the famous War of Independence of 1857 (also known as mutiny of 1857).
The theme of the story was British Raj in India.
Most of the characters of the story were actual historical figures such as Sir Henry Lawrence, George Lawrence,and William Hodson etc) and the events are expertly woven together to form a beautiful epic saga.
The book evoked more than one feeling inside of me. Powerful emotions such as joy, distress even nostalgia. Distress at the brutality that took place back then: joy at the success and triumphs of love, devotion and loyalty. And last but not least, nostalgia. If it is possible to feel nostalgic about a time and place that you have never known, I felt it.
The cities described in the book such as Lucknow and Delhi ended up being on the other side of the border in 1947, hence I have never seen them. I have, however, visited and often lived in many cities described in other books of M.M. Kaye, which happen to be on my side of the border, to know that she has the capability of capturing the true essence of a place.
That all happened a long time ago.
I am no longer thirteen neither am I forbidden to read any thing anymore but it has been quite a while since something has left this deep an impression on me.
I realize that life is a journey, you acquire a lot, mostly experience, along the way but you also either use up or loose a lot of things as you move along. One of those things is the intensity of emotions you felt as a youth.
It took a long overdue cleaning spree and a torn paperback to bring back the awe and wonder a thirteen year old felt such a long time ago. And I am grateful for what it gave me.
I guess that just proves it; a good book never loses the magic it stirs up in the reader’s heart and soul

Sunday, October 28, 2007

There is one common thing about military hospitals, wherever they may be located. No matter how early you get there, you are never the first to arrive. There is always a long queue of people ahead of you waiting to see the doctor.
In spite of the inevitably long waiting periods that one has to endure, I have absolutely no qualms regarding the efficiency of such establishments, infect I have found them to be much better then many of the more renowned and prestigious health care institutions that can be found in the vicinity.
All I am saying is that if you happen to be an entitled patient, be prepared for long hours of waiting in the hospital’s most appropriately named “waiting rooms”. Better still; take a good book along to pass the time (an ipod or game boy if you happen to be a member of the younger, technically advanced generation).
It was during one such trip to the hospital when every one, including myself, was waiting in the corridor outside the doctor’s office for their respective turns. A man sitting a few feet away from me got up from his chair. As he stood up, a little green booklet fell down from a pile of things he held in his hands. The booklet fell backside up and though I could not see the emblem on top, I could still identify it because of its size and trademark green color. It was his passport (though what was he doing carrying his passport in a hospital, I have no idea). It also contained his National Identity Card wedged in between the pages of the passport. Luckily, before he could move away from the spot, someone pointed out his carelessness and the man gratefully retrieved the fallen items claiming them as most “zaroori” (important).
His mumbled statement got me thinking.
Zaroori is what aptly describes the two documents. It is the same story every where. Whether it happens to be a Social Security Number or NIC number, it is our primary means of identification. In this highly sequential and numerical era, it is not enough that we walk, talk and socialize. In order to show that we exist we must carry proof or our existence.
This incident triggered an imaginary and somewhat comical scenario in my mind.

A man walks into an office and declares “I am, therefore I exist”
The clerk at the desk retorts “you have no official papers, hence you don’t

What scares me is that a few years from now this may not be just an imaginary situation.