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

The Vicar of Putney vs The President of the World

The vicar of Putney adopts shock and awe tactics.

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 VĂ©ronique, 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