Thursday, December 18, 2008

Masjid al-Quba

Masjid al-Quba, Medina, Saudi Arabia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Brief Break in Beirut

On returning from Hajj I was pleased to see that my account of a short stay in Beirut earlier this year has been published in this month's Emel magazine.
A Brief Break in Beirut

We stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. In reality, it was a sore foot and some luminous yellow crutches that made us stand out. A few days previously, across the border in the Syrian capital, my wife had re-enacted her own Damascene moment at the Eastern Gate of the Old City. Rather than a blinding light catalysing a religious revolution, her episode involved a stack of paving slabs and a third metatarsal, necessitating a visit to the nearby French missionary hospital. So it was with a limb wrapped in plaster of Paris and copious pain-killers that we crossed the border, one April evening, into Lebanon in the back of a weathered Chevrolet with an equally weathered taxi-driver at the wheel.

We were advised to give a wide berth to Lebanon let alone the volatile southern suburbs of Beirut. Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Valentine’s Day in 2005, Lebanon has experienced a string of assassinations, rising political and sectarian tensions and a 34-day war fought between Israel and Hezbollah. The collective wisdom of the Lonely Planet’s online Thorn Tree Forum helped us put aside our misgivings though. As we checked into the Mayflower Hotel we drew further comfort from the knowledge that this hotel, a former hangout for seasoned journalists, had safely housed these hacks during the brutal civil war.

The Mayflower lies very near to the uber-fashionable Hamra Street (or in keeping with Beirut’s French-leaning sensibilities, Rue Hamra), the retail heart of Beirut. Fashionistas and fashion-victims patrol the street and emerge from gleaming SUVs. During daylight hours the street is thronging with shoppers and by night it transforms into an open-air catwalk. There are some gems amidst the endless clothes shops including the Lebanese branch of the ground-breaking Al-Saqi books, just off the main road. Bibliophiles can also find a cluster of bookshops near the American University of Beirut, originally a missionary outpost know as the Syrian Protestant College, locally referred to simply as AUB. Librairie du Liban, the publishing house responsible for the ubiquitous Arabic dictionary by Hans Wehr and the increasingly common place Lane’s Lexicon, is amongst them.

Soon we were drawing not only comfort but courage from the souls that had passed through the Mayflower and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves braving a freak rain shower to attend a photography exhibition in southern Beirut. We’d picked up an emotive flyer in a theatre foyer the previous day advertising the exhibition entitled Algerie: Photographies d’une guerre sans images (Algeria: Photographs of a war without images). The showing was taking place at the unassuming but outrageously named Hangar, on Haret Hreik. As we entered the southern districts of Beirut the areas’ political affiliations became increasingly apparent; forests of Amal and Hezbollah flags and insignia vied for prime position in our field of vision. The central reservation of the road we were driving along soon sprouted a column of street lamps, each hosting a picture of a fighter killed in the recent conflict with Israel.

The exhibition, hosting a decade’s worth of photography by Michael von Graffenried from the Algerian civil war, was a moving collection. The images captured the incredible human suffering, injustice and brutality of that conflict. The parallels with Lebanon’s own situation did not go undetected.

We emerged from the Hangar into yet another downpour and quickly made our way to the nearby Ramadhan Juice at the Ghobayri Crossroad to take shelter. A muscular bearded man with a neck wider than his head sat at the till and politely enquired what we’d like to drink, pointing to the framed menu behind him. Alongside the menu was a huge mural of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah looking benevolently down upon the juice drinkers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first drink on the menu was a Katyusha rocket cocktail. After much deliberation though we opted for the less incendiary and far simpler mixed fruit cocktail and watched some al-Manar as we sipped our concoctions.

The dilemma that faces amateur Arabists when travelling through the Middle East is one of language. Modern standard and even classical Arabic are far more commonly taught in the West whereas the language on the street, ‘aamiyyeh or colloquial Arabic, is a far cry from the rigid grammatical structure of its more formal counterparts. Needless to say we reduced many Lebanese to tears of laughter as we requested assistance, directions and prices in the equivalent of Shakespearean English.

The language of food (and not only love) is thankfully universal. We enjoyed some excellent meals in Beirut, none surpassing the wares offered at the longstanding Kabab-ji which has outlets throughout Lebanon. The delicious kebabs and mezze being served up were even more palatable with some sumptuous muhammara, a walnut and roasted red pepper accompaniment. Nearer to our hotel, a Swiss patisserie that appeared to be untouched since the French mandate, provided us with some tasty treats. (To the genial old lady running the store, I extend my apologies for dripping coffee all over your shop floor).

A crucial stopover in Beirut has to be the corniche, where the Mediterranean Sea laps at the Lebanese shoreline. The people-spotter buried in each of us cannot fail to be unearthed by the panoply of characters promenading alongside the coast. We wandered past Pigeons’ Rock, an outcrop of rock jutting up from the mainland not dissimilar to some of the physical geography off the Dorset coast, and our collective consciousness was suddenly invaded with the dredges of GCSE geography that we carried with us.

The much lauded Downtown area proved to be a bit of an underwhelming experience. The area was the cultural heart of the city before being destroyed in the civil war. It has been painstakingly restored but the perfect, unblemished facades of the buildings make it feel a little surreal. Several security cordons were filtering access to the area resulting in a disproportionate number of well-to-do Beirutis dining al fresco while their rotund children were chased around with spoonfuls of food by their Philippino nannies. The fact that I was frisked by one of these security cordons did nothing to endear Downtown to us. However, there is something undeniably alluring about strolling around amidst the vestiges (some original, but mostly touched-up) of a huge spectrum of architectural periods and forms from Crusader to Ayyubid and from Mamluk to Ottoman.

We hailed a taxi outside Charles Helou bus station to take us back to Damascus without much difficulty. Our apparent stroke of good fortune was soon blacked out by the cigarette fumes from the living chimney that was our taxi driver. Through the clouds of ash we struggled to see him and breathing became a little tricky until we convinced him that on this occasion, open windows was a better choice than air conditioning. He soon got talking and was elated by me underestimating his age by a decade. He disclosed that he was a father of four allegedly demanding children and as a result not a great fan of Eid.

Our driver got us safely back to the Old City in Damascus and once again we felt like we’d stepped out of a time machine.

Postscript

A month after our visit, the country erupted in yet another bout of the cyclical violence that has plagued the tiny state. A poignant extract from Khalil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ follows the title page of Robert Fisk’s Pity the Nation and it remains just as resonant.

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress.
Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.
Pity the nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins, and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and the block.
Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.
Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings once again.
Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.
Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sweet Cider

It was worth making the effort to get to the penultimate showing of Sweet Cider, Emteaz Hussain’s stage debut for Tamasha productions. It helps that I am enamoured with the plethora of Turkish grill restaurants, or mangal ocakbasis, that encircle the Arcola theatre in Dalston. (My cousin recently changed my life by introducing me to Hasan Meze & Mangal whose grilled onion with pomegranate juice, olive oil and lemon juice is simply superb).

The play itself was both charming and challenging. The audience is invited to share an unspecified period of time with two Muslim girls from somewhere near Manchester as they rebuild their lives having been forced to relocate to a women's refuge. It was refreshing to see the idiosyncratic Northern Anglo-Pakistani dialect replicated so wonderfully well on stage.

My only criticism would have to be the writer's succumbing to dealing with seemingly every single issue affecting British Muslim youth at the expense of character development. A noteworthy debut nonetheless.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Attack of the Clipboards

View episode 3 of the BMJ blog here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Iqbal on the (1935) Credit Crunch

An extract from Allamah Muhammad Iqbal's 'Lenin in the divine presence':
The towering Bank out-tops the cathedral roof;
What they call commerce is a game of dice
For one, profit, for millions swooping death.
There science, philosophy, scholarship, government,
Preach man's equality and drink men's blood.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Bundu Khan Rollercoaster

We made a surprisingly impulsive decision to eat at the brand new Bundu Khan restaurant in Whitechapel the other day. (In reality it was a neuro-linguistically programmed predestined decision as several people had mentioned the eatery in conversation over the previous fortnight.) We drove past, made the mental connections and somehow found a parking space.

The Bundu Khan phenomenon was born in Karachi. It soon spread across Pakistan (with four restaurants in Lahore) and is now truly international. It boasts branches in Australia and the US and, with this yeast-independent expansion, is probably within walking distance of where you're reading this from now.

Our experience was mixed. The decor was understated and crisp. The staff were overstated and seemed more numerous than actual choices on the menu. The poppadoms were far from crisp and were probably vestiges of the Raj. The fish curry was the best I'd ever had. The 'special Bundu Khan paratha' was essentially a deep-fried nan. We disagreed over the relative merits of our drinks as well as those of the palak-paneer. The cocktails left a lot to be desired. "Like toilet cleaner" apparently.

I'm trying hard to convince myself that this was a memorable trip. It was. But for all the wrong reasons.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Universal Strategy

Read the second instalment of my BMJ Blog here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Whole Lotah Love!

I’ve always wondered whether Iris, my housekeeper at university, ever thought to herself why on earth I had a watering-can in my bathroom despite my digs being totally devoid of any greenery whatsoever. Not even a sprig of mint or coriander for garnish. She (thankfully) asked no questions and heard no lies.

The lotah, ibreeq, bottle-shottle – call it what you will – is a utensil found in many a Muslim bathroom. In its simplest form it’s a jug with a spout that’s used as a hands-on bidet. Despite the allure of triple quilted toilet paper, we continue to prefer to combine forces, or the brave just simply wash and go. It’s an ubiquitous feature of life, reflecting religious injunctions on cleanliness and ritual purity.

Traditionally it looks like an oversized teapot without a lid and is made from metal or plastic although the variations in size, shape and colour are almost endless. Logistical nightmares can arise when you’re unexpectedly faced with a different style of lotah to the one you’ve grown up with. Left-handers seem to be at a distinct disadvantage when adhering to the left hand – dirty, right hand – clean, convention.


An increasingly common modern variant of the lotah is what the plumber recently working on my uncle’s house subtly referred to as the ‘bum-shower’. These often frightfully complex gadgets are nothing more than a modified hosepipe. Attached either side of a toilet they can be the source of epic flooding disasters if the owners don’t clarify instructions before you find yourself using one.

Equally traumatic experiences can arise from finding yourself in need of a lotah when there just isn’t one around. Spurred on by the embarrassment of always taking a bottle of mineral water to the toilets or sneaking around them with moistened toilet paper, creative individuals have found an ingenious use for collapsible plastic bottles.

On honeymoon in Malaysia I encountered a Japanese inspired toilet with a built-in retractable bidet which perhaps offers the perfect harmony between water and manual input. We can only live in hope…alongside the Andrex puppy.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Flashmob Iftar

Last Tuesday, as the sun set, I found myself sat on some tarpaulin in Lincoln' Inn Fields, one of London's soup kitchen corners, sharing some food with family and randoms. This was my first flashmob experience, and a flashmob iftar at that.

The chaotic spontaneity combined with an act of goodwill really helped to practically apply the ethos of Ramadhan that so often remains theoretical and abstract. So many people sharing thoughts and stories over food with strangers showed a wonderful flip-side to the usual tabloid typecasting.

Read the organiser's thoughts here and the Guardian's Sarfaraz Manzoor sheds some light on the flashmob iftar phenomenon here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

On the frontline as a GP registrar

From this week's British Medical Journal Editor's Choice:
New guest blogger Tauseef Mehrali is about to start a year's stint as a GP registrar in London, fully aware that his future will require the utmost in flexibility and lateral thinking: "Central London has the dubious distinction of being the epicentre of changes to primary care provision, and I'm already eyeing up a corner of my local Tesco Express to set up shop in. I wonder how many reward points patients will accrue on agreeing to see me as they wander past the frozen veg."

Yes that's right, I now have the cyber-equivalent of a holiday home. Read more here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Where have all the good sales assistants gone?

As we slalomed around several incredibly over sized pushchairs parked throughout the baby department of a well-known triliteral high-street store - the very same store that Londoners are warned to mind out for as they get on and off the tube - we noticed a dearth of sales staff. Our task was to find an outfit for a friend's now not-so-newly-arrived baby. I decided to wade through the sea of pushchairs and see if the cashier could shed some light on this.

Me: Excuse me...there don't seem to be any sales staff on the shop floor.
Cashier: [with an expression that suggested this was quite a normal state of affairs] Oh right.
Me: We just wanted to see if this [holding up a stripey baby jumpsuit] was available in the 3-6 months size.
Cashier: I don't know where they [presumably referring to her co-workers] all are.

In due adherence to shopping protocol I thanked her for her assistance.

Ramadhan in Images

Click here for a wonderfully diverse pictorial tour of the Muslim world during Ramadhan (and as pointed out by SD, perhaps the biggest jalebi in the world...ever).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Date Dilemma

In the prelude to Ramadhan, coming a respectable third in the topic of conversation league to the perennial moon-sighting debacle and what date to book off work for Eid, is the date dilemma.

Traditionally consumed at the time of breaking the fast, the wrong date can induce huge feelings of regret as a chalky, flaky, pseudo-sweet disaster destroys your palate. Thoughts of chewing the stone are usually not far away at this point.

Thankfully, such experiences have been few and far between. My earliest childhood date memories revolve around the ubiquitous almond-stuffed blocks of dates from Medina. These were soon replaced by the uniquely glossy rotab dates of Iran.

Enter the Medjool date.


A Medjool (left) and a Khadrawi (right) date.

The Medjool date represents the evolutionary pinnacle of the date species. This year's crop from South Africa, which I managed to get my hands on in Green Street, is exceptional.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Iqbal for Dinner

Between dinner and dessert at a friend's place yesterday, we were treated to a farsi masterclass via the medium of Iqbal.

A Dialogue between God and Man

God

I made the whole world with the same water and clay,
But you creater Iran, Tartary and Ethiopia.
From the earth I brought forth pure iron,
But you made from that iron sword, arrow and gun.
You made an axe for the tree in the garden,
And a cage for the songbird.

Man

You made the night, I made the lamp;
You made the earthen bowl, I made the goblet.
You made deserts, mountains and valleys;
I made gardens, meadows and parks.
I am one who makes a mirror out of stone,
And turns poison into sweet, delicious drink.


And perhaps my favourite, delightfully oblique piece:

Solitude

I went up to the ocean and, addressing a wave, said:
‘You’re always restless; tell me what is it that troubles you.
You have a million pearls enfolded in your garment’s skirt,
But do you, like me, have a heart – the only pearl that’s true?
It squirmed, retreated from the shore, and uttered not a word.

I went up to the mountain and said, "O huge heap of stone!
Can you not hear the wailing of a heart in agony?
If in your stones there is a gem which is a drop of blood,
Then speak, O speak, to a sad soul that pines for company.
If it had breathed, it breathed no more, and uttered not a word.

I travelled long in upper space, approached the moon, and said:
"O ceaseless wanderer, is there any rest ordained for you?
Your radiance makes the whole world gleam white like a jasmine field.
But is your breast aglow with a live heart whose light shines through?"
She looked round at the starry crops, and uttered not a word.

Transcending sun and moon, I went up to the Throne of God.
"There’s not a thing," I said, "I can be friends with, not a thing.
Your world is heartless, while my dust is all of heart’s stuff made.
A pretty garden, but not the kind of place to make one sing."
He answered with the smile He wore, and uttered not a word.

Commercial Cambridge

As the digressive_mind and I strolled through Cambridge yesterday, even the warm late-afternoon glow of the colleges along Kings Parade couldn't disguise the overwhelming commercialisation of the town. The preponderance of (admittedly discreet) malls and high-street franchises renders the place less quirky and more capitalist.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fasting Fast Approaching

Over at Akram's Razor, Svend captures the zeitgeist:

Gulp ye coffee while ye may, for Ramadan is but 2 weeks away.

As is the case every year, Ramadan arrives just as I'm trying to get back into some semblance of an exercise routine.

So much for that plan, at least for a month and a half or so. There's always the nocturnal walk, I suppose.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Our infinite ignorance

In today's issue of the British Medical Journal, Dr Iona Heath frames the philosophies of Karl Popper and Immanuel Kant in the context of modern medicine, in particular the widening schism between research and clinical practice.

Her assertion is that only a select band of clinicians are involved in research that itself focuses on patients whose outcomes conform with trends (rather than the fascinating conundrums posed by those that buck the trend, such as octogenarian smokers). The remaining clinicians are 'handed down' the results of such research in the form of 'guidelines, incentives and imperatives'. In Heath's opinion, this state of affairs stifles autonomous thought on the part of the clinician and she invokes Kant's 'battle cry of the Enlightenment': '"Sapere aude" Dare to use your own intelligence!', encouraging its use as a battle cry for every clinician.
It might be well for all of us to remember that, while differing widely in the various little bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal. (Karl Popper)

Khuda Ke Liye

I recently watched Khuda ke liye (For the sake of God), Pakistan's critically (and internationally) acclaimed movie depicting some of the country's deeply entrenched and divisive social issues: religious conservatism vs liberalism, east vs west, men vs women.

Shoaib Mansoor's film almost succeeded in convincing me of its merits but sadly a few things detracted too substantially from the viewing experience.
  1. It reinforces plenty of stereotypes (which may reflect the state of affairs in Pakistan) but I find it hard to accept that there is such a barren middle ground between the wildly polarised ends of manifestation and expression of religious belief. Fanatical religious zealots and unfettered libertines seem to make up the majority of the cast of characters with the odd individual in a state of transition from one state to the other or in denial.
  2. Mary (a second generation Pakistani in the UK who is forced into a marriage in Afghanistan) has the worst Mockney accent in cinematic history. It makes Don Cheadle's accent in Ocean's Eleven, 'the most preposterous Cockney accent since Dick van Dyke' seem like a linguistic masterclass. [Incidentally, Mary's father who dupes her into this awful relationship, leaves the village he has chosen as her prison before wishing her goodbye because the toilet's aren't quite up to scratch!]
  3. It was far, far too long. The point could have been made in at least 60 minutes less time.
  4. The accompanying subtitles were obviously compiled by someone with a working knowledge of neither Urdu nor English. Simply hopeless.

Still, despite these shortcomings, the film bodes well as a harbinger of what's to come from non-Lollywood Pakistani cinema.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Goodbye General

Mohammed Hanif, of exploding mangoes fame, reflects on the General's departure from Pakistani politics in The Guardian:

What a shame that America's spurned lover won't get to try his luck on America's Got Talent to win his old ally back. With no western country interested in making use of his abilities, his showbiz career will have to bloom in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, that retirement home for Muslim dictators. Give him his own daytime show. His audience there will appreciate his enlightened moderation more than Pakistanis ever did.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Whatever happened to Ali Eteraz?

The answer seems to lie here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Square Mile Coffee Roasters

I had the good fortune of chancing upon London's newest roasters in full swing the other day. Coffeegeek.com's forums are all aglow with praise for the new company that boasts the World Barista Champion 2008, Stephen Morrissey, on their staff.

Anyway, after a relatively painless drive through East London and a bit of almost-legal parking I wandered along a narrow alley until the smell of roasting coffee and enormous brown sacks signposted the way. My perseverance was rewarded by a super-fresh batch of roasted coffee (the WBC limited edition espresso blend). As it was so fresh, the staff advised to let it air for a while otherwise the resulting coffee would be too gaseous.

So I drove back with a half-open bag of freshly roasted coffee beans on the passenger seat, stopping at red lights to inhale the aroma, like a refined glue-sniffer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Channel 4 documentary: Misleading & Defamatory

Channel 4 is getting a much deserved coordinated roasting for its woefully inaccurate documentary entitled The Qur'an - specifically its portrayal of Shia beliefs.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Letter to Channel 4

Dear Sir

Anthony Thomas’ much feted documentary entitled The Qur’an was indeed a refreshing, challenging and welcome piece. However, its provocativeness belied a disappointingly naïve understanding of the chronic Sunni-Shia schism in Islam. Both communities in this country in particular have strived hard to reconcile theological differences and debunk mutual misconceptions. Thomas’ nonchalant dismissal of Shia theology, strangely echoing a Talibanesque position, as having no basis in the Qur’an will unfortunately help to dismantle the fragile bridges built between the sects and consolidate the extremist aspiration to brand the Shia heretics, Islam’s own fifth column, a barely tolerated cultish minority. The brutal consequences of such perpetual misinformation can be witnessed in the Parachahar region of Pakistan as I write.

In his book The Failure of Political Islam, Olivier Roy writes “we find Islam divided into three geographic and cultural tendencies: the Sunni Arab Middle East, the Sunni Indian subcontinent, and Irano-Arab Shiism.” While the Pentagon reconsiders its ‘Neo-Con Shia-philia’ as one commentator puts it, ‘Irano-Arab Shiism’ continues to forge an emerging political presence. The strategic importance of the Shia diaspora has never been reflected in what is generally known of them and their beliefs. Unfortunately Thomas has done little to redress the balance.

Tasteful or Tasteless?

The current 'satirical' frontpage of the New Yorker has generated a whirlwind of angry opinion.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kulfi and Gajrela - Double-hit Combo

Just got back from a friend's delightful ultra-lavish wedding reception the highlight of which was a malai kulfi - gajrela - raspberry sauce combo for dessert. Heaven on a plate.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Earlier this week I managed to pop in to the London Literature Festival taking place at the Southbank Centre and hear Mohammed Hanif read from his admittedly hilarious first novel 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes'. His laissez-faire demeanour, outrageous accent, deadpan delivery and the endless contortions of his plasticine face only added to the mirth. He also had to endure a conversation with the terribly 'high-society' Muneeza Mirza in which his rapier wit really left her reeling - a delight for the audience.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Damascus by Night

 
Damascus by Night, Damascus, Syria ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Odd One Out

 
Odd One Out, Damascus, Syria ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

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Sisters and Goddesses

William Dalrymple unearths an incredible hybridisation of Hindu and Christian beliefs in the villages of South India where among other things (and much to the vexation of the local priest) the Virgin Mary is believed to be the sister of the Goddess Bhagavati. Dalrymple also touches on the idea that the disciple Thomas brought Christianity to India, but is less convinced than Dr Beckford was earlier this year.

Bhagavati is the pre-eminent goddess in Kerala, the most powerful and beloved. In some incarnations, it was true, she could be ferocious: a figure of terror, a stalker of cremation grounds who slaughtered demons without hesitation or compassion. Some of her titles reflected this capacity: She Who Is Wrathful, She Who Has Flaming Tusks, She Who Causes Madness. But, in other moods, Bhagavati could be supremely benign and generous - the caring, loving, fecund mother - and this was how her followers usually liked to think of her. For many, she was the deity of the land itself: the spirit of the mountains, and the life force in the soil. In this form, Bhagavati is regarded as a chaste virgin and a caring mother, qualities she shares with her sister, whose enclosure lies a short distance down the road.

"Yes, yes, the Virgin Mary is Bhagavati's younger sister," explained Vasudeva, the head priest, matter of factly, as if stating the obvious.

"But, for sisters, don't they look rather different from each other?" I asked. A calendar image of the goddess, pinned up behind him, showed Bhagavati as a wizened hag wreathed in skulls and crowned with an umbrella of cobra hoods. In her hand she wielded a giant sickle.

"Sisters are often a little different from each other," he replied. "Mary is another form of the Devi. They have equal power." He paused: "At our annual festival the priests take the goddess around the village on top of an elephant to receive sacrifices from the people. She visits all the places, and one stop is the church. There she sees her sister."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Milky Mughal

Last weekend I was regaled with an apt anecdote about the blindness to reality that can arise from an inflated sense of self-importance and the individual onus of social responsibility. The two protagonists in the tale were the Mughal emperor Akbar and his Grand Vizier, the Rajput, Birbal.

One day, at the peak of Akbar's majesty and grandeur he commented to Birbal on how much his subjects loved him. Birbal expressed respectful doubt on his master's supposition but Akbar's view was unswayed. Akbar eventually decided to settle the mock debate by confirming his impression of the people's adoration for him.

"I shall demonstrate the people's love for me to you Birbal!" exclaimed the emperor. "The people will answer the emperor's call. The emperor would like some...milk."

So an order was decreed that the head of every village in India was officially summoned to gift some milk from their livestock to the emperor. A huge tank was erected in front of Akbar's pavillion to act as a receptacle for the milk.

Soon, village chiefs began to arrive with buckets in hand and scaled the ladder to deposit their villages' contributions to the emperor's milk plea.

Once all the villages had paid their dues, Birbal turned to Akbar and said, "your majesty, the time has come to sample your citizen's generosity". Akbar turned the tap to the tank and nothing but water flowed forth.

Each of the village heads had assumed that if they were to substitute water for milk it would not be detectable amidst the copious milk others would offer. Unfortunately they all thought this way. Akbar was humbled, Birbal was vindicated.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Gandhi 'near a dustbin'

One of today's Pendennis pieces caught my eye:

A bad Indian takeaway

London's waxwork tourist attraction Madame Tussauds might have declined to include the Prime Minister, but it's more sensitive when it comes to Gandhi. On a recent visit, the President of India's National Council for Civic Liberties noted that Gandhi was on the second floor 'near a dustbin' rather than in the world leaders' gallery on the floor below and complained of 'insulting treatment'. When I called, a Tussauds spokesman insisted that Gandhi is now back downstairs. 'There was maintenance work going on and it was a temporary move but Gandhi could have been more sensitively repositioned,' he says. Meanwhile, a surprise new addition to Tussauds is to be announced, with sources hinting it could be David Cameron.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Milad in the Souq

 
al-Souq al-Hamdiyyah, Damascus, Syria ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

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Dimashq al-Qadeem

 
Dimashq al-Qadeem, Damascus, Syria ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Tate Coincidence

As part of the gruelling, evidence-based, intense training to make me into a(n even) better doctor, my tutorial group went to...the Tate Britain this afternoon!

For the cynical amongst you, it may not have been particularly gruelling or intense but the visit was evidence-based...sort of.

By strange coincidence whilst on the Victoria lie down to Pimlico, the book I've been reading, Iqbal Ahmed's Sorrows of the Moon, concluded with a passing reference to the Tate.

I visited the Tate Britain a few years after my arrival in Hampstead. When I saw the dreadful landscapes painted by John Constable, it reminded me of the middle-class women in Hampstead who raved about these paintings. I could not accept Forster's description of Hampstead as 'a thoughtful little suburb of London'. It had been painful for me to live in this neighbourhood. Its landscape, like the paintings of Constable, was very gloomy. It was an area where people apologized often but showed little kindness to others.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Heliotyping Cairo

Fortunately for us mere amateurs, Heliotype's photographic odyssey through Cairo continues here.

Persian Travelogue

I stumbled across a real gem recently: a semi-fictional travelogue compiled by 'Major P M Sykes CGM - His Brittanic Majesty's Consul-General and agent to the government of India in Khorasan - Royal Gold Medalist of the Royal Geographical Society - Author of 'Ten Thousand Miles in Persia'' at the turn of the 20th century.

This is a slightly fictionalized account of life in Persia (Iran) in the 19th century, capped off by a perilous pilgrimage to the Shiite holy city of Meshed (Mashhad), in the foothills of the mountains that run up to the Zoroastrian Olympus, Damavand. The book is a rare collaboration between a turn of the 20th century English and Persian author. The narrative method presages the classic Oscar Lewis ethnographies of poor Mexican families. In both cases, a straightforward account would have been dangerous because of the repressive nature of the society being studied. This is, on one level, an orientalist conceit of an Englishman writing the life story of a (semi-fictional) Persian from the point of view of a Persian. However, Sykes manages to pull off this literary feat convincingly, even for readers at this later date. He also uses the opportunity as a perfect Swiftian setup to gently satire European civilization, which adds an entire ironic layer to the read.

This long-out-of-print (and quite rare) book is a delightful read, particularly for connoisseurs of travelogues. The Shiite, Sufi, Islamic, and Persian lore and legends which are described here will be of great interest to folklorists. The photographs and other illustrations will be of use to graphic designers, anthropologists and historians. This is obviously a primary source on the architecture of the Mashhad pilgrimage site. Largely unknown to outsiders, this complex has some very spectacular (and gorgeous) structures. Most of all, this book is an eye-opener for westerners interested in the deep culture and history of Iran.
Read more here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shooting the Messenger

Just watched the most hard-hitting documentary I've seen in recent times courtesy of Aljazeera English's presence on Youtube.

The documentary looks at the incredible bravery of journalists on the ground in the world's hot-spots striving to bring images to our screens. It also explores the trend that it is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous to report from frontlines as the press no longer enjoys the immunity it once did. Apparently the conflict in the Balkans marked a turning point with the active targeting of journalists. Reporting from Iraq, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Palestine are all explored.

More than 100 journalists and cameramen have died in action in the last 18 months!

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Old Damascus meets the New

 
Old meets New, Damascus, Syria ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Definitely indefinite

In Arabic, nouns are presumed to be indefinite until made otherwise (usually with the addition of the prefix 'al' 'ad-dukhool al-alif wa al-lam').

In Farsi, nouns are presumed to be definite until made otherwise (usually with the addition of the suffix -y).

Tube Piercings

Whilst riding the tube back home the other day I witnessed perhaps the most surreal of my underground journeys to date. Imagine a relatively packed Northern line train between Chalk Farm and Camden Town stations. To the left of me were sat two drunk middle-aged women (MAW) who, speaking in tandem, were trying to verbally restrain their even more inebriated friend sat opposite them. Directly in front of me was sat a rotund American man (AM) with a camera dangling from a lanyard around his neck. He was smiling inanely. To his left was a gentleman (GM) in a beige linen suit, holding a well-thumbed (bordering on brittle) paperback book in one hand, sharing the same hand with an arm of his spectacles which he twiddled endlessly. The seat to my right was free. The train stopped at Camden Town.

As soon as we were moving again I noticed that the dynamic inside the carriage had palpably changed. I looked up from my own book and noticed the most drunk of the women dropping her oversized aviator sunglasses to fix a gaze on my new next-door neighbour and subsequently point him out to her not-drunk-enough-to-not-be-embarassed colleagues. Everyone else was intently staring at the chap sat next to me (CSNTM). I glanced at him almost out of obligation and noticed he was sporting an incredible array of facial jewellery with almost every pore skewered by some form of metallic contraption. His mohican hairstyle and tartan clothing didn't help him blend in.

AM: (Looking at CSNTM.) Do you mind if I take of a photo of you sir?
CSNTM: (In an unexpectedly soft, almost inaudible voice) Erm...well...if you have to, but it's been a busy day...
AM: No, no. I don't have to. It's just that...you're worth taking a photo of.

(CSNTM's not impressed but too polite to refuse this intrusion. In the meantime, GM interrupts)

GM: (In a crisp home counties accent) Now hold on a moment. (Looking towards CSNTM) You're a work of art! You're expressing yourself through what you've done to yourself. You're an artist! He (pointing to AM) wants to appreciate your work. Let him photograph!
CSNTM: Well...I am an artist. Oh, ok then.

Amidst the resultant surrendering of the usual tube protocol of not making eye-contact or conversation with anyone whatsoever, the carriage inhabitants dissolved into several streams of chatter. The far-from-sober women revealed they were returning from a wake, AM was on his way to a musical, GM returned to his book and CSNTM brought a welcome reprieve from the cocoons we inhabit on the undergound.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Latte Artisan

 

 

 
Latte Artisan, Home, London ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

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A principle of psychology?

Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is.
William James, The Principles of Psychology (1890)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I like farsi

Learning farsi is such a refreshing break from the rigidity that gives Arabic its appeal but renders it incredibly demanding.

Take this construct for example:

chashm = eye(ball)
khanah = house, residence, dwelling

Therefore, chashmkhanah = eyesocket.

Genius.

Persecuting the Baha'is

I felt compelled to comment on Bahar Tahzib's article at comment is free.
SharifL - veiled beneath your rant lies something of interest: the Muslim perspective of the Other. As a Muslim (and admittedly unable, and unwilling, to represent all my co-religionists) I disagree with you imputing intolerance of other creeds to the Islamic world-view. Islam regards previous monotheistic religions as part of a progressive 'roll-out' of the Divine message by God, culminating in Islam.

I do however feel that Muslims have fundamental difficulties in how to view post-Islamic monotheistic religions, especially those with Islamic undertones, such as the Ahmadi/Qadiyani movement and the Baha'i faith. These faiths challenge one of the pillars of Islamic theology: the finality of Muhammad in God's chain of messengers. As such, they engender huge suspicion.

The Baha'is seems to be victims of circumstance in that major political and social upheavals in Iran coincided with birth of their faith rendering them convenient scapegoats for the upheavals of the 19th century.
Amidst the responses, this caught my eye:
LeoAfricanus. considering the persecution of the Zoroastrians in Iran since the Islamic conquest of Iran, islam can be just as intolerant to pre-islamic religions of the Book. The murder of the Christian Iranian archbishop by the Islamic Republic reinforces the picture.

AIDS in Central Asia

Newsnight ran an incredibly moving piece on the rise and rise of HIV/AIDS in the ex-Soviet republics, focussing on Kyrgyzstan. Despite millions of dollars of funding (probably in the form of the World Bank's notorious structural adjustment loans) rates of infection are soaring in Central Asia.

The piece looked at an alarming cause for the spread of HIV in addition to prostitution and drug use: substandard medical practice such as non-sterile procedures and needless blood transfusions (the blood bank being fuelled by unscreened donors). Children were the victims. The mothers of these accidentally infected children are stigmatised, ostracised and frequently banished from their households.

It's got me dusting off my copy of Malaysian academic, Prof Malik Badri's heavily criticised The Aids Crisis: An Islamic Socio-Cultural Perspective.

Are Horses and Giraffes Halal?

Join the debate of our times over at Ali Eteraz's.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Moths and the Flame by Farid ud-Din Attar

(Courtesy of the Grand Mufti. Or to be precise, the Grand Mufti's new father-in-law. As in he didn't have one before but now has one, rather than a different one).

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle light,
And they decided one of them should go
To gather news of the elusive glow.
One flew till in the distance he discerned
A palace window where a candle burned --
And went no nearer: back again he flew
To tell the others what he thought he knew.
The mentor of the moths dismissed his claim,
Remarking: "He knows nothing of the flame."
A moth more eager than the one before
Set out and passed beyond the palace door.
He hovered in the aura of the fire,
A trembling blur of timorous desire,
Then headed back to say how far he'd been,
And how much he had undergone and seen.
The mentor said: "You do not bear the signs
Of one who's fathomed how the candle shines."
Another moth flew out -- his dizzy flight
Turned to an ardent wooing of the light;
He dipped and soared, and in his frenzied trance
Both self and fire were mingled by his dance --
The flame engulfed his wing-tips, body, head,
His being glowed a fierce translucent red;
And when the mentor saw that sudden blaze,
The moth's form lost within the glowing rays,
He said: "He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak."
To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind,
And you can never gain the longed-for goal
Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;
But should one part remain, a single hair
Will drag you back and plunge you in despair --
No creature's self can be admitted here,
Where all identity must disappear.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Haute Hijab

Denmark's state broadcaster pushes the boundaries (and the buttons of its Muslim community) with its headscarf contest.

The 'Imam' Abbas fallacy persists

The BBC inexcusably continues to refer to the brother of Imam Hussein, Abbas ibn Ali, with the prefix Imam. The term is a multivalent one but in the specific context of Shia theology, it is reserved exclusively for the 12 successors of the Prophet. Abbas ibn Ali was, and is, never referred to as imam. The honorific reserved for him tends to be hazrat (a farsi construct).

The Review, reviewed

This week's review has plenty to ponder over. Pankaj Mishra, in his now regular column, raises his bat to 'Joseph O'Neil's beautiful new novel Netherland', set in New York, which 'so skilfully uses cricket's particular morality to dramatise geopolitical as well as interpersonal conflicts'.

Elsewhere Jhumpa Lahiri is accused of failing 'to challenge the inadequacies of this elite America - the latent racism that underpins it - and, as a result, Unaccustomed Earth isn't a truly provocative or innovative American book'. However, the Guardian's editor in the main section lavishes her with praise.

The first volume of Amitav Ghosh's trilogy is set on a ship amidst the Opium Wars of the lat 19th century and discover the uses of a spatula mundani in Tony Horowitz's account of America post-Columbus and pre-Jamestown.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Summer Time

It's June. It's raining. Radio 4's trying to convince me that olive trees are growing in the south of England. Whatever.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Towering Silence

I remember when my dad told me that Freddy Mercury was a Zoroastrian. In the naivety of youth I had believed them to be an extinct entity. I remember him telling me in pretty much the same breath about their highly idiosyncratic funeral rites as practiced in Mumbai, home to 50,000 of the world's 200,000 Zoroastrians. Needless to say I felt as if one of my lower limbs were being well and truly tugged.

The practice of dokhmenashini, the Zoroastrian method of handling their dead - carrying the body to the Towers of Silence, circular structures of stone, placing the corpse in the open and allowing encircling vultures to scavenge the body thus completing the cycle - is now under serious threat as the vulture population plummets due to the use of anti-inflammatory drugs in cattle!

Read more here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mongol

The excitement cranks up another level in anicipation of the forthcoming Russian-made Genghis Khan bio-epic.



Check it out in the magic of HD here.

(Ab)original Menu

Last weekend we were treated to a meal at Behesht, an Iranian restaurant in West London. Somehow the establishment appears to have escaped scrutiny from Human Rights Watch and the UN. A cursory glance at the menu exposed a brutal practice that would embarrass even the most bigotted Australian in the Outback.

Both aubergine-based dishes on the menu, Baba Ghanouche and Mirza Ghasemi, were described as containing grilled Aborigine!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Jesus Minaret


The Jesus Minaret, Umayyad Mosque, Damascus ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

Close Encounters

During our recent trip to Damascus we bumped into John Wreford, a freelance photographer living in the Syrian capital. His most recent project was to capture images for The Pigeon Wars of Damascus, the forthcoming title from Marius Kociejowski. An image of his also graces the frontcover of the Bradt guide to Syria.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Levantine Journey

Just returned from a burst of as-siyaahah wa az-ziyarah in Syria & Lebanon. The weather was beautiful (although a little on the cold side at night), the food was great (especially the street-side shawarmas) and the people wonderfully warm and welcoming. In fact we integrated so well that I was being mistaken for an Iraqi (a compliment?!) and The Digressive Mind for a Syrian!

We decided early on that our bargaining strategy in the souqs would be based on us pretending we weren’t from London but from Pakistan in a bid to drive down shopkeepers’ prices. This worked well with me creating a mythical Lahore existence for myself until we encountered an Orthodox Catholic shop owner who’d spent a month in Lahore (fortunately 12 years ago) which really put my powers of confabulation to the test.

Damascus still holds an understated charm and exudes a deeply engrained sense of history and holiness, despite the authorities' best efforts at wiping out the city's heritage (without even the pitiful Saudi excuse of ideology). Fifteen feet below today's street level lies the same earth that Persian kings, Roman legionaries and Byzantine emperors once trod upon. The Umayyad mosque typifies Damascus' absorbing of history: it was built over a Byzantine church which itself was constructed over a Roman temple to Jupiter!




We made it to Beirut too where in the southern suburbs you can order Katyusha fruit juice cocktails whilst being overlooked by portraits of Sayyed Hassan Nasrullah!

Retrace our steps here.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Reviewing The Review

Last Saturday's guardian review exceeded its usual quota of literary-appetite whetting. Three reviews in particular caught my eye. Firstly, the gushing praise lavished on Salman 'I actually look like the Devil' Rushdie's latest offering, a piece of historical fiction uniting the Medici clan, Machiavelli and Emperor Akbar!

Secondly, the bizarrely entertaining autobiography of Narendra Singh Sarela, former heir to the tiny princedom of Sarila in Central India.
This vibrant tale of growing up in princely India is unlike almost any other memoir in that it is so totally without personal points of reference for the reader. You never get that flash of recognition: oh yes, as a child I used to ritually behead a goat just like that! Or: how like the elephant I had as a pram when I was little! When Narendra Singh, heir to the tiny princedom of Sarila in central India, was first asked his name by a schoolteacher, he did not know how to answer: no one had ever needed to ask who he was before.
And finally, Asne Seierstad's The Angel of Grozny, an account of her clandestine return(s) to Chechnya to bring to our attention the plight of the Chechen people, in particular its forgotten orphans. The Digressive Mind and I managed to get to her recent reading at the ICA and were quite frankly completely underwhelmed by her lack of knowledge of the area and its people and her seemingly unashamed wish to capitalise on people's misfortunes. In fact, we were captivated by the person she was in conversation with - Tony Wood, deputy editor at New Left Review - and we ended up walking away with his book Chechnya: The Case for Independence!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Domestic Espressing



Domestic Espressing, London ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

Latte Art - The Holy Grail of Coffee Making

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Kingdom of Documentaries

Easter* heralds some of the best documentaries around and 2008 hasn't disappointed. The ubiquitous, anorak-clad Rageh Omaar kicked off proceedings yesterday by recloaking the Shroud of Turin in the mystery that Carbon-14 dating had apparently wrestled from it. The origin of Richard the Lionheart's legendary valour and a gritty account of the 3rd crusade followed. Richard I is portrayed as 'a man motivated by Christian duty, struggling with the problems of leading a fractious international coalition, fighting a Muslim opponent who cannot be beaten.' The nuanced battle strategies and guiles of wit between the English monarch and the Kurdish warrior-caliph Saladdin were gripping.

This evening, Dr Robert Beckford (whom I had the pleasure of listening to last week presenting his moving documentary on the injustice of trade entitled The Great African Scandal) took a detailed look at the secrets of the 12 disciples and rattled quite a few skeletons lurking at the back of theological cupboards in the process. Beckford shed light on the at times seemingly ruthless manipulation of the stories of the Apostles by the (Catholic) Church to bolster its own agenda - a particularly Pauline agenda. A few of the revelations that rocked my world included:
  • Jesus allegedly had 4 brothers (3 of whom were disciples) and 2 sisters!
  • There is scant evidence for the remains of St Peter lying in the basilica in Rome. Stronger evidence exists for his remains being excavated in Jerusalem where an ossuary dating from the 1st century was uncovered bearing the inscription Shimon bar Jonah (the Hebrew name for Peter). The Vatican played down the findings of its own archeological dig as it would undermine the basis of Rome's power.
  • Thomas is widely believed in Eastern scholarship to have spread Jesus' message to India within 20 years of Christ's crucifixion using an established trade route between Egypt and India. The Christian community in Kerala lay claim to have embraced Christianity before Rome did so. The first converts to the new faith were in fact a thriving Jewish community. Portuguese colonialists were shocked to find their subjects were already Christian and with Papal authority attempted to impose a Rome-centric version of Christianity.
  • A myth was created concerning James' remains being interred in Spain to bolster the Christian cause in its clash with Islam in al-Andalus.
  • There is substantial scholarly doubt over the authorship of the Book of Revelations, supposedly penned by John. Christian Zionism strongly backs it to be John's work in order to lend authenticity to its account of Armageddon that relies on a Jewish presence in Jerusalem to facilitate the next coming of Christ.
  • The vilification of Judas may actually be based on a 3rd century mistranslation of the Greek word 'paradidomi' as 'betrayal' rather than 'handing over'. A re-reading thus renders Judas a vital player in the Passion and not the devil incarnate.
  • Prominent women (Phoebe, Joanna, Susannah, Thecla...) in the early history of the church have been airbrushed from the official accounts. There is even evidence to suggest attempts to masculinise female apostles to avoid offending cultural mores!

Regardless of your views on religion, things'd be pretty boring without it.

* Interesting fact: 'The date of Easter varies. Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 20, the nominal date of the spring equinox.'

The Oyster Card Reject (Lat. Oysterus Cardus Rejecticus)

Several categories of social leprosy exist in London. Perhaps one of the most maligned species in the capital is 'The Oyster Card Reject'.

The Oyster card, for the uninitiated, is a blue credit card sized piece of plastic that creates the facade of enabling you to cruise the underground network at your leisure but does so by blinding you to how much it's really costing you.

At the entrance and exit to every tube station there are electronic points where you're invited to merely tap your Oyster card to open the barriers that allow you to enter or leave the station.

During off-peak hours this is nothing more than a banality permitting you to proceed with your journey. During peak hours however, this seemingly simple task takes on Biblical dimensions as hordes of sociopathic commuters desperate to craw back milliseconds of lost time wait impatiently in nightmarish queues to be granted access into yet lower levels of the Underground inferno.

Woe betide the unsuspecting passenger whose Oyster card is rejected and thereby becomes the human equivalent of a finger holding the Hoover dam at bay. The individual is immediately rendered incoherent, paralysed with fear by the baying of the now increasingly late bloodthirsty crowd.

The poor soul, drenched in their own secretions, is eventually rescued by an Underground employee and the commute continues.

Friday, March 21, 2008

God of Carnage

I had the wonderful pleasure of being treated to a surprise evening at the theatre by none other than my significant other tonight. Better still, the play itself - God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza - was simply fantastic.

"What happens when two sets of parents meet up to deal with the unruly behaviour of their children? A calm and rational debate between grown-ups about the need to teach kids how to behave properly? Or a hysterical night of name-calling, tantrums and tears before bedtime?"

"The premise that brings the four characters together is simple. In a Paris playground, an 11-year-old boy has hit another boy in the face with a stick. Alain and Annette, the culprit’s parents, played by Ralph Fiennes and Tamsin Grieg, are visiting the apartment of Michel and Véronique, the victim’s parents, played by Stott and Janet McTeer, to work out a way in which an apology might be made. As attitudes to politics, work, money, conscience and, crucially, hamsters are revealed, vast crevasses of disagreement open up, not only between the two couples, but between husbands and wives."

The star-studded cast including the uber-thesp, Ralph Fiennes, hillariously depict the hypocrisyand self-deceipt arising from the assumption of superiority felt to be inherrent in being adult and Western.

Witnessing an outrageously rotund American lady destroy her seat with the aid of gravity midway through the production only added to the guilty pleasure of seeing the social carnage on stage.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More marching in March


Marching in March


Anti War Demo, London, UK ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Maghrib in London


Maghrib, London, UK ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008


Maghrib, London, UK ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Conrad, Galloway & Somnolence

I'm midway through Joseph Conrad's 'The Secret Agent', my first foray into Conrad's works, and am in awe of the ingenuity and clarity of his prose. Furthermore, the sheer audacity and subversiveness of the book, considering it's early 20th century origins, is amazing. The depiction of late Victorian London as a hotbed of anarchist activity wherein ordinary citizens unwittingly share public transport, meals and glances with others who are hell-bent on bringing chaos to the city's streets is ominously resonant with the London of today. (Incidentally, the National Portrait Gallery has a small collection of what can only be described as understated yet statesmanlike portraits of Conrad on display in Room 29 marking the 150th anniversary of his birth that are worth seeking out).

Elsewhere, George Galloway continues to entertain. This time on Newsnight.

The Wellcome Collection's newest exhibition entitled 'Sleeping and Dreaming' is worth a visit too if only to find out just how damaging a week of night-shifts can potentially be!

Monday, January 07, 2008

The prodigal son returns...as a husband!

With rapidity equal only to the stealth with which I temporarily fled the blogosphere, permit me to bring you right up to scratch with events whilst on cyber-sabbatical.
  • I got "married, married" (fortunately to the same person I got "married" to). Having once been the "leading intergalactic contender for the coveted title of happiest man in existence", I have now fought off all competition.
  • Honeymooned in Malaysia - luxuriated in Langkawi, feasted in KL and trekked in Borneo
  • I managed to prise off my Brum-magnet and have relocated to Das Kapital itself. Sometimes I still see the Rotunda in my dreams.
  • My paediatric mantle has been placed in the wardrobe for now (not without successfully sitting my postgrad exams first) as I don the cloak of general practice.

With this humble offering I beg your pardon and resume service as normal.

Oh and for the doubters out there, I completed the 10k run (without the need for any major medical intervention).