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


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.


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:


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.'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.