Sunday, April 30, 2006

Death by Breakfast

During the midst of a wonderfully eclectic chat yesterday the conversation turned to the immensity of our respective Sunday breakfasts. So I thought I'd have a scientific look at the composition of a typical 'Day of Rest' breakfast in my household.

Sweet condensed milk (1oz/28g)91 calories
Fried egg x192 calories
Paratha x2600 calories
Clotted cream (1oz/28g)265 calories
Total1048 calories

By way of comparison, a typical English breakfast (2 rashers of bacon, 1 sausage, 1 fried egg, baked beans, 1 slice of white toast, mushrooms and 1 grilled tomato) consists of 540 calories. A Coffee shop special in the form of a Starbucks white chocolate and strawberry muffin and grande latte with whole milk would endow 843 calories on a consumer.

I'm off to the gym.

The Burger King Mosque!

The Burger King Mosque, Cordoba, Andalucia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Nicholas Gurewitch, the (admittedly disturbed) mind behind the Perry Bible Fellowship cartoon series is a genius.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Security with Style

Security with Style, Granada, Andalucia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Easter Sunday of Semana Santa - Holy Week

(Don't forget to click on the images for larger versions!)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Alhambra Arches

Alhambra Arches, Granada, Andalucia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Historical Aside

History is said to be the propaganda of the victorious party, modern Turkmenistan being no exception. The Guardian covers the recent 'Freedom to Write' awards - a ceremony to "honour international literary figures who have been persecuted for defending or simply exercising their right to free expression. As such, the vast majority of winners are behind bars or in hiding when their names are announced."

History was made at the Freedom to Write awards last week when, for the first time in the contest's history, the winner turned up. Novelist and dissident Rakhim Esenov made a surprise appearance at the New York ceremony following a week of intense diplomatic negotiations prompted by the award sponsors, writers' organisation PEN America.

Esenov, 78, had been under house arrest in Turkmenistan since 2004, when he was charged with smuggling 800 copies of his banned novel, The Crowned Wanderer, into the country.

According to PEN, Esenov was accused of inciting ethnic and religious hatred because his novel portrayed the 16th-century Turkmen hero Bayram Khan as a Shia rather than a Sunni Muslim.
Bamber Gascoigne paints a wonderful picture of Bayram Khan in his 'A Brief History of the Great Moghuls'. Khan is portrayed as the lynchpin to securing emperor Akbar's magnificent reign whilst acting as regent during Akbar's infancy by some cunning diplomacy backed up with exceptional military prowess. He was rewarded for his loyalty by being appointed Khan-Khanan (Lord of the Lords). According to Gascoigne, Khan - as a Shi'a - was outnumbered amongst the Moghul nobles but was not particularly backward in coming forwards, "appointing an insignificant Shia divine, Shaikh Gadai, to the office of Chief Sadr, one of the two highest ecclesiastical positions in the land."

However, he makes it quite clear that the mirage of religious hostility was a convenient peg upon which the gentry could hang their deeper resentment of Khan's power. Harem intrigue coerced Akbar into parting with his tutor when he came of age and Khan was offered the Moghul version of ostracism by being invited to go to Mecca for the pilgrimage. Khan was murdered in Patan, the ancient capital of Gujarat, by an Afghan warlord keen on exacting revenge from a previous military encounter.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Andalusian Graffiti

An abstract look at the beauty of Andalusia.

Whilst in southern Spain and revelling in the architectural splendour surrounding me it became obvious that a different look at the place was what was needed. It was during one of the many evening strolls, initially through the albayzin in Granada, that we stumbled on some pretty cool looking wall art.

Here we have a photographic tour of the major cities of Andalusia (Granada, Cordoba and Seville) via the medium of graffiti!

I particularly like the thinking moped.

Friday, April 21, 2006

al-Andalus - Day 7

The reconquest continues in Seville. We arrived yesterday in the midday heat (29!) providing a good enough reason (not that we needed one) to satiate our parched gullets with Seville's renowned orange juice. Please warn the grocers back home that orange prices may rocket as my dad works his way through Andalucia's crops.

After Granada we spent a couple of nights in Cordoba, the former Muslim capital. I had forgotten the strong emotions that the provocatively remodelled Mezquita (mosque-cathedral) hybrid could evoke.

Seville's April festival is in full flow - a strange counterpoint to the sombre Holy Week earlier in the month. There are bullfights every day and we visited an exhibition dedicated to Seville's Matador par excellence - Manolo Vazquez - which consisted of some wonderful black and white photography and more surreally the severed ears and tails of the bulls he 'defeated'.

I've rediscovered a previous addiction - cafe bombon. A straight espresso poured into a shot glass laced with sweet condensed milk.

Tahir Shah's 'The Caliph's House' is proving to be a good holiday read. Each chapter is headed with a Moroccan proverb. The most fascinating thus far being "Tomorrow there will be apricots".

Got to go; more of Seville to be discovered.

Monday, April 17, 2006

al-Andalus - Day 3

We spent the morning wandering through the Albayzin - the former Muslim colony built in the 13th century to house refugees (predominantly from Baeza, hence the Arabic derivation of the name) fleeing south from the ethnic cleansing campaign of the Catholic Monarchs. Early Islamic cities have a timeless feel to them and without the subtle Nasirid touches you could quite easily convince yourself of being in the old quarters of Fez or Damascus.

My attempts to build on no formal Spanish language teaching are drawing strange looks; I´m finding it very difficult to fight an overwhelming urge to pronounce every 'c', 's' and 'z' with a prominent lisp making me sound like an even less comprehendable version of Manuel from Fawlty Towers and giving my sister no end of delight.

One of Granada´s local delicacies is the churrito which consists of doughnut like sticks to be dipped in a thick chocolate drink. Needless to say we needed little coaxing into trying this particular specialty. We're planning to return to the Albayzin this evening for a meal and some inspiration - we face the daunting prospect of queueing at 7am tomorrow to secure tickets to visit the Alhambra.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

al-Andalus - Day 2

We arrived in Andalusia yesterday following surprisingly little jostling with beer bellies for seating. The plane literally bounced into Malaga confirming my suspicion that the Cockney sounding pilot was in fact a black-cab driver masquerading as a captain - perhaps there's some sort of pioneering time-share scheme between Easyjet and London cabs.

It took a little while to come to terms with the left-hand drive setup but the 2.0l TDi engine meant that I could reliably import my trusted technique of accelerating out of trouble (it's one of those glass half-full/emtpy things). Thirty seconds into our journey we were thanking each other's sagacity in deciding to hire a GPS navigation system.

Our hotel in Malaga was a lovely art-deco building located in what seemed to be...Spain to our utter disbelief - not a single tattoo or St George's cross in sight!

This morning we stumbled across the finale of the Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter Sunday. The main thoroughfare was awash with parades, marching bands and lined with onlookers. The procession is steeped in imagery, symbolism and iconography, the most visible and distinct being the garments adopted by participants - not too dissimilar to a Klu Klux Klansman's uniform! Some of the floats were of an incredible size requiring tens of young men bearing the weight on their shoulders. The whole event bore a striking resemblance to the Ashura processions held by Shi'a Muslims during their commemoration of Muharram.

Granada was beckoning though and we arrived in Boabdil's last stronghold this afternoon. The hotel is situated on the cusp of the Albayzin looking up to the alhambra itself.

The place is bathed in the most delightful sunlight enhancing the uniquely vibrant colours, the Andalusian pace of life suits me just fine and the coffee is wonderful. Off to get some sleep!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mocha Madness

Mo•cha n.
1. A rich, pungent Arabian coffee.
2. Coffee of high quality.
3. A flavoring made of coffee often mixed with chocolate.
4. A soft, thin, suede-finished glove leather usually made from sheepskin.
5. Colour. A dark olive brown.

A mocha can prove to be the perfect beverage when you can't quite face the intensity of an espresso but are in no mood to uncover the child within by ordering a hot chocolate. Unless you're in Seville.

Last time I was there, I popped into a reputable looking coffee shop with some friends and ordered a mocha. The barista wouldn't have looked more clueless had I asked for a liquidised poodle in Japanese. I proceeded to explain (via the medium of mime and my primitive Spanish) how the drink was a wonderful concoction, perfectly balancing coffee with chocolate. He repeated my instructions slowly to himself and subsequently to his fellow baristas who in turn broadcast my seemingly blasphemous order around the cafe. By this point everybody was laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of such a drink and of a person who would order it.

I ended up ordering a hot chocolate. Good Friday Mubarak!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Blogistan's State of Affairs

Kitabkhana's Babu gives us a rundown of Delhi's recent Kitabfest 2006.

Jabberwock makes Shashi Tharoor even smoother.

Hijabman makes me laugh with the Jihad Pot.

Avari-Nameh as always serves up food for thought with a very personal account.

Ninjai - The Little Ninja

The awesome Ninjai animated series continues with Chapter 12 now available.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Roman Columns

Columns, Rome, Italy ©Tauseef Mehrali 2001

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

It's the Postman I feel sorry for

As you drive/walk/crawl down Stratford Road (Birmingham's Asian thoroughfare) you'd be forgiven for thinking that the council was having a laugh - every other premises appears to be number 786.

Rest assured that this is not an elaborate tax evasion ploy. In days of old, each of the letters of the Arabic alphabet was allocated a numerical value. Words, phrases etc could thus be rendered in numerical form to prevent writer's cramp and facilitate spiritual symbolism. 786 is the numerical representation of the first verse of the qur'an.

The total value of the letters of "Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim" according to one Arabic system of numerology is 786. There are two methods of arranging the letters of the Arabic alphabet. One method is the most common alphabetical order (used for most ordinary purposes), beginning with the letters Alif ا, ba ب, ta ت, tha ث etc. The other method is known as the Abjad numerals' method or ordinal method. In this method the letters are arranged in the following order: Abjad, Hawwaz, Hutti, Kalaman, Sa'fas, Qarshat, Sakhaz, Zazagh; and each letter has an arithmetic value assigned to it from one to one thousand. (This arrangement was done, most probably in the 3rd century of Hijrah during the 'Abbasid period, following the practices of speakers of other Semitic languages such as Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldean etc.)

If you take the numeric values of all the letters of the Basmala, according to the Abjad order, the total will be 786. In the Indian subcontinent the Abjad numerals have become quite popular. Some people, mostly in India and Pakistan, use 786 as a substitute for Bismillah ("In the name of Allah" or "In the name of God"). They write this number to avoid writing the name of Allah, or Qur'anic verses, on ordinary papers.

Allamah Tabatabai - Philosopher, Exegete and Gnostic

Professor Hamid Algar of the University of Berkley, California, has written a wonderful biography of the late Allamah Muhammad Hussain Tabatabai, erudite author of Tafsir al-Mizan, for this month's Journal of Islamic Studies.

Prof Algar's lecture series on Topics in Islamic Thought and Institutions and Shi'a Islam are worth checking out.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Naipaul's Second Chance

Don't worry. I'm not gracious enough to offer V S Naipaul a second chance. His brutal demolition by the late Prof Edward Said (in amongst other places the essay 'Among the Believers' found in his remarkable collection of essays entitled 'Reflections on Exile') rendered me more likely to eat a vegetable than read anything by Naipaul. (Those of you who know me will no doubt be smiling in recognition of my carnivorous tendencies). However, I must admit to being pleasantly surprised at the wonderful dialogue in Radio 4's dramatisation of Naipaul's book 'A House for Mr Biswas' over the weekend.

I couldn't possibly end with praise of Naipaul so here are some snippets of Said's cutting prose:

"In the post-colonial world he's marked as a purveyor of stereotypes and disgust for the world that produced him - although that doesn't exclude people thinking he's a gifted writer."

"…on the basis of his being a Trinidadian, [Naipaul] has had ascribed to him the credentials of a man who can serve as witness for the third world; and he is a very convenient witness. He is a third worlder denouncing his own people, not because they are victims of imperialism, but because they seem to have an innate flaw, which is that they are not whites."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Hosni Mubarak - the Idiots' Idiot

Why Hosni Mubarak would feel compelled to utter such stupidity I know not.

The episode does bring to mind a scene from Haroon Moghul's (AKA avari-nameh) wonderful novella The Order of Light wherein Egypt disintegrates into the brink of chaos and revolution looms as Hosni makes a terrible slip on public television. He is celebrating yet another term in power and his audience, the Egyptian masses, are stuperose - any semblance of choice comprehensively wrestled from their hands. He goes on to introduce himself with the usual grandiose honorifics but when it comes to his name he pronounces it 'Khosni' rather than Hosni and the irreparable damage is done.

The masses pick up on this seemingly innocuous error and interpret it as a predilection for Hebrew over its Semitic cousin Arabic providing sufficient evidence for them to conclude that Hosni is in fact an agent of their nuclear neighbour and they take to the streets!

Capturing the conqueror

Orhan Pamuk, recently exonerated from offending Turkish national sentiment by daring to mention the Armenian genocide, wrote a fascinating piece in this week's Guardian review on a new exhibition at the National Gallery - Bellini and the East.

The article offers a scholarly insight into the friction and cross-pollination that took place between Renaissance and Ottoman-Persian art that formed the basis of his groundbreaking My Name is Red. The book touched on the rivalry between miniaturists and calligraphers for recognition as being the truest depicters of Allah's creation; the former arguing that their work was most representative whereas the latter held that miniaturism was on a par with creation itself and therefore blasphemous.

The miniaturists developed their own code of conduct and elaborate social rituals - the pinnacle being reaching the point of blindness due to the demands of such intricate work, some artists deliberately blinding themselves to reap the honour of a station they didn't merit. The Safavid court's constant presence and the artistic warfare (besides the military warfare) between the competing sultanates is yet another strand Pamuk develops.

The most striking feature of the book though is the narration of the story (a murder mystery) piecemeal, each chapter told by a different character, including animals and inanimate objects.

No other sultan from the golden age of the Ottoman empire, not even Suleyman the Magnificent, has a portrait like this one. With its realism, its simple composition, and the perfectly shaded arch giving him the aura of a victorious sultan, it is not only the portrait of Mehmed II, but the icon of an Ottoman sultan, just as the famous poster of Che Guevara is the icon of a revolutionary. At the same time, the highly worked details - the marked protrusion of the upper lip, the drooping eyelids, the fine feminine eyebrows and, most important, the thin, long, hooked nose - make this a portrait of a singular individual who is none the less not very different from the citizens one sees in the crowded streets of Istanbul today. The most famous distinguishing feature is that Ottoman nose, the trademark of a dynasty in a culture without a blood aristocracy.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Disastrous Dubai - Part 2

Since my last entry on the protests in Dubai and the Gulf region with migrant workers at the heart of the disturbances, things have moved on. Chan'ad Bahraini provides an update.

Friday, April 07, 2006


I've been twenty-six for a few days now. If I was born and bred in Sierra Leone, I would expect to live another eleven years (2.8 of which would be 'healthy') according to the World Health Organisation Statistical Information System (WHOSIS).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Lebanon - not any more

Apparently 'the foreign office funds an organisation - the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names - to decide on correct usage' of definite articles when referring to countries. According to the committee, 'the only "the"s permitted are the Bahamas and the Gambia.'

Confusion still reigns over, and possibly in, (the) Lebanon. There is nothing in its Arabic name to support the use of the definite article, but references to "the Lebanon" are so frequent in English that even one of the staff at the Lebanese embassy in London thinks the "the" is correct until she checks with a senior official.
Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Trinidadian Insight

Yesterday I was talking to a colleague who trained in Trinidad about an event, indigenous to the island, I had only read about - Hosay Trinidad. Derived from the Ashura processions that are common place in the Shi'a Muslim world commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein, the Prophet's grandson, the festival has taken on a local flavour and 'all of Trinidad's religious and ethnic communities participate in it'.

Hosay (a mispronunciation of Hussein) was introduced to Trinidad by Shi'a labourers from the Indian subcontinent who were displaced by their colonial patrons. 'The first observance of Hosay in Trinidad has been traced back to 1854, eleven years after the first indentured laborers arrived from India.'

My colleague then went on to reflect on how the Hosay festival was in fact one of many manifestations of Trinidad's love of partying and celebrating, reminiscing fondly of hurricane parties (when sinister news is received from the Met office) and curfew parties (when the troublesome Muslimeen group causes unrest)!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Inside the Alhambra

Inside the Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2002

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Swahili for Beginners

Yale University's Kamusi Project provides a comprehensive beginner's guide to Swahili. My East African heritage probably lends an innate affinity to the language but even an objective outsider has to admit Swahili exudes a certain coolness.

Sijui kama tutaweza kumaliza kazi hii leo lakini tutafanya chini juu.
I don't know whether we'll be able to finish this job today but we'll try our level best.

Rafiki yangu ameanza kufuga ndevu.
My friend has started to grow a beard

Jipe moyo, mtoto atapona.
Take heart, the child will recover.

Alivyokunja uso niliogopa kuzungumza naye.
The way he frowned I was afraid to talk to him.

Nilijaribu kufuga kuku, lakini nimekula hasara - kuku wote walifufa.
I tried to keep chickens but I have suffered a loss - all the chickens died.

Niliota ndoto ya ajabu usiku.
I had a marvellous dream last night.