Monday, May 29, 2006

Balkan Diaries - Day 2

We've had a day to acclimatise to our new surroundings and to be honest it's taken surprsingly little effort, despite being unable to understand a thing. Sarajevo is an easy going city with a refreshingly genuine, 400,000 strong, population. The sunny weather and cool mountain breeze has undoubtedly helped.

The only disappointment thus far was at German hands: Lufthansa served up the single worst airline meal in the whole of aviation history. A 'cheese' sandwich which even the most famished, emaciated mouse would refuse to partake of. Sarajevo's food scene has more than compensated though. Our first lunch here consisted of a platter of a year's worth of barbecued meat (served in extravagant fashion). Coupled with some of the best coffee (and cafes) I've come across, the combination is verging on heavenly.

The city is remarkably compact - an illusion stemming from the incredibly steep (and inhabited) slopes surrounding it. Today's stroll enabled us to view Sarajevo from almost every vantage point and involved some bizarre interactions with the locals. Whilst ascending the streets north of the old Ottoman quarter we bumped into a elderly gentlemn who was waiting with his family for a bus. He caught sight of us and greeted us with an eleborate salaam to which we accordingly replied.

"Jordan?" He enquired.
"No. England." We responded.
"Birmingham?" He emphatically asked.

Further on during our knee shattering climb we met a Professor of Russian studies (who later admitted to not knowing any Russian) who gave us directions to the Goat Bridge (the traditional departure point for Bosnian pilgrims embarking on the hajj) and animatedly reenacted Serbian tendencies whilst sporting a dollop of mustard in his moustache.

The tranquility of the Gazi Husrev Begova mosque in Ferhadija, Sarajevo is unrivalled. It dates back to the early 16th century and has undergone several facelifts from the time of the Austrio-Hungarian invasion to the recent Balkan conflict. The mosque neatly encapsulates the essence of Bosnian Islam - understated, tolerant and heart felt.

Tomorrow we'll head further afield and see rural Bosnia.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Carnivores Unite

It took me just under a couple of hours to recover from one of my aunty's stinging comments about my carnivorous tendencies 'making my stomach a gaveyard for dead animals'.

However, having taken (partial) heed of her rather direct advice and adopted a perpetual jihad to meet the government endorsed five-a-day fruit and veg quota I wake to read this!

It is a fact universally acknowledged by health advisers the world over: consuming more fruit and vegetables is A Good Thing. After all, they are the only foods to feature in the nutritional guidelines of all major countries, and everyone agrees that eating more of them may help to reduce the risk of heart diease and some cancers. But that is where the consensus ends. Although in Britain we are told to live by the five-a-day maxim, the Danes must aim for six, the French 10, and Canadians are urged to get through between five and 10. The Japanese government, however, now recommends up to 13 portions of vegetables plus four of fruit daily.

Kebabs and a replica kebab. I know which one I'd rather have

Monday, May 22, 2006


Leaf, Cambridge Botanical Gardens, UK ©Tauseef Mehrali 2003

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Czech please

It was recently my turn on the rota to spend the best part of a week performing baby checks - a routine examination that all newborns are subjected to before they make their way home.

I picked up my next set of notes and noticed the obviously Eastern European sounding name. As I introduced myself to the mother she asked if she could feed her baby before its MOT. I obliged and agreed to return after I'd seen the other babies.

On returning I noticed that the respectable, bespectacled mother had now been joined by an imposing looking, frankly brutish character who I assumed to be the father. He sat in the corner of the room, looking around menacingly. Clad in a white vest, exposing his heavily tattooed (and enormous) biceps, he was obviously a devotee of the Bruce Willis school of fashion. The tattoo on his right bicep was alarming: a full-length depiction of a tribesman in bushman dress holding a spear.

Anyway I re-introduced myself and started examining the remarkably cute baby boy. As is my manner, I asked the mother a routine set of questions while putting the baby through its paces.

"Did you experience any complications during pregnancy?"
"Do you suffer from any medical conditions?"
"Did you take any medications over the last 9 months?"

Dad was silent throughout all of this. His silence was intimidating. His hulking presence, even more so.

"Is there a family history of any medical problems?"

Before mum could even answer, Mr Willis sprang into life.

"VOT?" he boomed
"erm...Is there a family history of any medical problems?"

He mumbled an incomprehensible sequence of consonants to his wife and replied,


In a desperate bid to connect with the family patriarch I nodded and enquired about the tattoo.

"ME. HUNTER." he eloquently replied.

I continued the examination now under Mum and Mr Willis' gaze. As I drew things to a close and reassured them both as to their son's health, dad had a question for me,

"Blue", I responded.

He smiled broadly as if my medical skills were only now confirmed.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Rustic Door

Rustic Door, Granada, Andalucia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hot off the Press!

William Dalrymple has finally unveiled his new book; The Last Mughal: The Eclipse of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857 – will be published by Bloomsbury on the 16th October.

Read a preview here.

You'll never walk alone

Liverpool FC. FA Cup Winners. 2006.

Friday, May 12, 2006

My Deuteranomalous Life

I was diagnosed with red-green colour deficiency at about the age of eight. During a routine eye check at a Boots opticians, the optician produced a mesmerising book consisting of pages and pages of coloured slides, each of which was made up of a circle composed of randomnly sized and arranged dots of slightly different colours. (Later to become known to me as the Ishihara Test). The optician merely asked me to say what I saw. It rapidly became obvious that the test was exposing some hitherto silent trait within me as each slide was passed before me, eliciting little more than "erm...some more coloured dots?" My dad gradually became more and more animated during the encounter, exclaiming his surprise that I couldn't see the blindingly obvious numbers contained within the dot-mosaics. He was eventually asked to leave the room by the optician! My red-green colour defiency was sold to me as better than being colour blind.

Deuteranomoly is the most common (and mildest) form of colour blindness (or to use the correct term, congenital colour vision deficiency), affecting 5-6% of the male population.

The cause of the disproportionately-high numbers of males affected is that the most common form - red-green colour blindness - is an 'X-chromosome sex-linked recessive' disorder. The 'recessive' part means that a person must carry two copies of the defective gene to develop the condition. 'X-linked' means that the gene is on the X-chromosome. Women have two copies of the X-chromosome, and so they may have normal colour vision, even if they carry one copy of the defective gene. Men only have one X-chromosome, and so will be colour blind with only one defective copy of the gene. Men inherit the X-chromosome from their mother, so a woman with one copy of the defective gene (and therefore normal colour vision) can still pass colour-blindness to her sons - she is a 'carrier'.
Click here to see the world through my eyes and here to see some professional implications. (Don't worry - I can tell that blood and the top traffic light are red).

On the plus side:

Colour blind people have a tendency to better night vision and an ability to be able to distinguish hues that remain unseen to those who do not have the disorder. In males, this may result in improved hunting skills in low light levels.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Malagan Men

Malagan Men, Malaga, Andalucia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Monday, May 08, 2006

Lament for Seville

Wondering through Cordoba over a fortnight ago I was surprised at the feelings of nostalgia and sadness stirred up within me.

I recently stumbled across some poetry that perfectly captures the allure of Andalucia. The first couple are relatively contemporary pieces by Allamah Mohammed Iqbal penned in the 1930s after visiting the cities of Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Cordoba, and Seville. The second is a classical work by Abu al-Baqa' al-Rundi, a poet from Ronda who died in 1285. 'The poem was written in the hope of gaining aid from Muslims in North Africa to help battle Christian armies. Although the fall of Seville is its theme, the text was actually written in 1267, after the Nasrid ruler Muhammad ibn al-Ahmar surrendered several cities to Alfonso X. The poet refers to events in ancient Arabian and Persian history as well as to the capture of Seville in his attempt to inspire military support.'

A Prayer: Written in a Mosque in Cordoba - Iqbal

Whose lofty, inspired vision blessed the East and the West,
Whose wisdom was a beacon in Europe’s Dark Ages;
Who left an abiding imprint on the Andalusian mind:
A cheerful spirit and warmth, a simple, genial soul.
Abundant in this land today is gazelle-eyed beauty;
So are the shafts that pierce the heart from those gazelle eyes.
Wafted on its breeze still is Yemen’s aroma sweet;
And in its sights and sounds is the holiness of Hijaz.
In the eyes of the gazing stars thy earth is exalted as heaven;
Alas! for long thy walls have not echoed with the sound of azan.

Spain - Iqbal

Treasure the Muslim blood,
That sanctified thy soil;
Thou art pure and holy,
Like the holy precincts.

Buried in thy dust are imprints
Of heads that bowed in prayer,
And thy breeze at dawn
Echoes the sound of azan.

Granada, the eye of the world.
In the twilight of time,
Pierces the heart that bleeds
For glories that are no more.

(An extract from) Lament for Seville - Abu al-Baqa' al-Rundi

Therefore ask Valencia what is the state of Murcia; and where is Jativa, and where is JaƩn?

Where is Cordoba, the home of the sciences, and many a scholar whose rank was once lofty in it?

Where is Seville and the pleasures it contains, as well as its sweet river overflowing and brimming full?

[They are] capitals which were the pillars of the land, yet when the pillars are gone, it may no longer endure!

The tap of the white ablution fount weeps in despair, like a passionate lover weeping at the departure of the beloved,

Read the full poem here (and in Arabic here).

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Alhambran Relief

Alhambran Relief, Granada, Andalucia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Breakfast Blues

I've upgraded to Oatso Simple instant porridge for breakfast and still feel hungry before lunch.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Over a year ago I expressed a wish to watch the Iranian film Marmoulak (The Lizard). Lack of availablity, the absence of subtitles and sheer laziness on my part did not help matters. However, I finally got round to watching the film recently and it didn't disappoint. Peter Bradshaw had the following to say about it as his usually frugal hand dished out 4 stars:

Not many Iranian films look like this: part caper, part satire. It's a world away from the opaque style of Kiarostami or Makhmalbaf - think Billy Wilder. Reza (Parvis Parastui) is a cat-burglar nicknamed the Lizard for his ability to scale walls, who walks out of jail by stealing a mullah's gown. He's immediately mistaken for the new head of a local mosque, a pretence he brazens out with such spontaneity that he sparks an extraordinary moral revival in his community.
It's a wonderful film that avoids the tangential confrontation with authority adopted by others in favour of some genuinely funny (yet poignant) comedy. In addition to his clerical robes, the Lizard's eponymous protagonist steals a concept from the same man of the cloth: there are as many paths to God as there are people. Sceptical of the notion himself he nonetheless peddles it to great advantage amongst his host community and the idea serves to catalyse their spiritual rejuvenation as well as his own eventual transformation. He is forced into giving ingenious answers to tricky legal questions regarding the technicalities of life in outer space by mesmerised youth. His first attempt at leading the congregational prayers is a visual delight as is his scaling of walls in full clerical garb.

A refreshing and challenging film. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Peering into the Plaza de Toros - Bullring

The Plaza de Toros, Seville, Andalucia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006