Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Gifted, a book by Nikita Lalawani, provides a scary perspective to just how obsessed parents can become with their child’s grades and how being a genius is not all that cool.

All parents get after their children to study and get good grades. But what would you do, as a parent, if your child turns out to be a math prodigy? What if someone, a teacher perhaps, tells you that your child is a genius when he/she is just five years old? What will you do?

Gifted tells a story of a middle class Indian couple, settled in Cardiff, who are parents of a math prodigy. Mahesh and Shreene Vasi are the parents of Rumika, a genius at math. The discovery of their daughter’s talent turns their life into one difficult mathematical equation.

Math becomes the central of the Vasi house hold. Rumika follows strict routines and timetables. Her father keeps her hungry for long intervals because he feels that hunger helps the mind to concentrate. She is not allowed to watch television, hang out with friends, play games or read fiction books. So even though Rumika likes number crunching, all these measures and controls make her confused and frustrated which leads to rebellion.

What follows is a wonderful story of three people trying to make sense of the world. There is Mahesh, who still harbours anger over partition and it seems he wants to settle a score with the English through his daughter’s gift. Shreene, who arrives in Cardiff with Mahesh as a newlywed Indian bride, feels alienated from her husband and daughter. She pines for her home, her family and above all, her customs. And finally, Rumika, for whom her gift becomes a curse which not only destroys her own life but that of everyone around her.

This story is not just about a child prodigy but is a potpourri of various issues; racial discrimination, family values and upbringing, teenage rebellion, religion, discipline, generation gap, and life in a foreign country.  Lalwani has made really strong characters and as a reader, I found myself empathizing with Mahesh, Shreene and Rumika at different points. The end was tragic and sort of open-ended, leaving me to draw my own conclusions.

Three things I loved about this book; strong characters, simple prose and a good story. And that is what matters at the end, a good story. Read the book before the film comes out.

Photograph: Google Images

Monday, August 23, 2010

To be or not to be...thirty!

The big 0 has finally come!

Turning 10 does nothing to you except that you reach double digits. There is some excitement as only three years separate you from teen-age (an age which is seriously over-rated. By the time you start enjoying it, it’s over!).

Turning 20 does something to you. You realize you’ve grown up because now you have to do some serious thinking. You’re supposed to select a career, make a five year plan and if you’re a girl, in some cases, turning 20 = wedding bells. Somehow, we always think that the 20s will never end. But they do and as we enter the third decade of our lives, we start feeling old.

What does the arrival of the big 0 mean?

Is it supposed to mean something? I mean, why do we make such a big fuss over age? Age is important because well, it tells you, firstly, how many years you’ve spent on planet Earth. So you can do a sort of rain check on what all you’ve done all these years you’ve been around and thank HIM for all HIS blessings.

Besides, most things that we’re told come with the big 0 come much before. Whether it is white hair or wrinkles; all start making their appearance in the late 20s. So it isn’t like you wake up on your thirtieth birthday and find a different you. More than anything, I think life actually starts at the big 0. Whether you have just tied the knot, had a baby, changed your job, shifted to a new country, quit the career you chose in the 20s, started your own business or have decided to remain single; this is the time you really have the power to steer your life in the direction you want.  The big 0 is the time to ‘Just do it!’

What does the big 0 mean to me?

I think, more than anything, I consider myself very lucky that as I turn 30 I am still surrounded by all the people (and more!) who were there at my birth. All the people who have watched me grow or have grown with me have, in some small or big way, made me who I am today. I don’t know what the next decade holds for me but I’m really excited about discovering some new things about the world and myself!

And yes, it also means lots of expense on hair dyes and anti-ageing creams! Not to forget multi-vitamins, root canals, calcium supplements and lots of gym.

Happy birthday to me!

A big shout out to everyone for their wishes and love! 

Photograph; Google Images

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Ramazan favorites - II

Some amazing Coca Cola ads and our new Coke can shaped glasses which my brother, Abbas, got from Poland. Love them glasses!  Here is our (hubby dear and myself) Coke side of Ramazan.

[Our his and her coke glasses with Wonder Woman, Miss Green ( that's what I call my green M&M) and a (mini) MINI model in the background].

Coke ads: Google Images

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dahl for Adults

Decadent is the correct word to describe the short stories of Roald Dahl. And that’s not a bad thing at all!

How do you know Mr. Dahl? In all probability, as the author of children books which you might have come across yourself. He is a creator of amazing characters which include the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka, the very Fantastic Mr. Fox and the horrifying Witches. But that is just one side of the coin, for when it comes to adult writing, Dahl is playing a whole different ball game.

Switch Bitch is a collection of short stories initially written for Playboy magazine and published separately in 1965 (source:Wikipedia). It has four short stories, each more sexual in nature than the other. Coming from Dahl, it might seem a little shocking but that is what his intentions are, to shock the reader. The shock started as soon as I read the title and it grew by leaps and bounds as I turned from one story to the next.

Dahl is a great story teller and even though each of the four stories is oozing with sex, there is an irony behind each tale. Uncle Oswald (a famous character in Dahl’s writing who features in the book, My Uncle Oswald – a must read!) makes an appearance in two stories; The Visitor and Bitch. Uncle Oswald, for those who have read of him, is mostly up to no good when it comes to women and here it is no different. Oswald is the perfect Casanova and yet, as a reader, I don’t find him to be despicable. Dahl has created this character with such care that the reader enjoys his amorous adventures and is full of suspense on how Oswald would escape from a tight situation (which he seldom finds himself in!).

The Great Switcheroo is erotic, to say the least, from start to finish but it is the story that dominates.  Two friends, desirable wives, a switch, great sex, and a confession – need I say more?  The final story, The Last Act, is tragic. It also revolves around more or less the same theme with the difference being the lead who, for a change, is a female. It is the only story which leaves a slightly bad taste in the mouth.

The brilliance behind Dahl’s stories is that none of these read like a cheesy Mills & Boons novel.  It might be a little hard to digest the fact that so much sex could actually make for a very ‘decent’ read, but it does. You’ll have to read it to believe it!

Photograph: Google Images

Monday, August 9, 2010

Monsoon madness - Part III

Monsoon seems to have let itself loose on our country this year. Karachi, so far, is spared and even though the rain is playing hide and seek with us, the city has not had a damaging downpour.  Even as I write this, dark clouds have descended upon Karachi leaving us to guess and wonder when and where the rain will catch us.

So while the rain is creating mystery and the Pakistani cricket team is struggling to win the test match (or to lose it decently), I started to make a rainy list.

Rainy list – Item #1: Songs

Rain has a musical quality about it, both in its light and heavy form. Cloudy weather has a touch of romance, an effect created by the clouds blotting out the sun. A slight drizzle, especially after a hot spell, makes the heart sing. And what could be a better song than ‘Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head – and just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed – nothin’ seems to fit – those raindrops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’. The song was in the original soundtrack of the movie ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’. A classic movie, featuring Paul Newman and a very young (and very handsome) Robert Redford.

 The song I absolutely love, rain or no rain, is from my most favourite film - Pakeeza. This is one film that must be in the list of ‘films-to-watch-before-I-die’ and in my case; I’ve watched it to last many life times! Sung by the great maestro, Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Mausam hai Aashiqana’ is one of the many amazing songs in this movie. The lyrics are hauntingly beautiful and it is the ultimate expression of love!

‘Phirtay hain hum akele, bahoon main koi lay ley
(I roam alone, someone take me in their arms)

Aakhir koi kahan tak, tanhayion say khele
(For how long can someone play with loneliness?)

Din ho gaye hai zalim, raatein hai katilaana
(Days have become cruel, nights are murderous)

Mausam hai aashiqana, aey dil kaheen say un ko, aisay main dhoondh lana
(The season is amorous, Oh my heart! From somewhere, bring my beloved to me!)

Mausam hai aashiqana
(The season is amorous)

[My apologies for the crude translation of the lyrics].

Rainy list – Item # 2: Books

Rain also has a lot of drama associated with it. Some books create an element of mystery around rain. Other times rain signifies gloom and tragedy. Still, other times, rain acts as a change agent for the protagonist, steering the story and characters through unchartered territory.

The Wayward Bus (John Steinbeck), which also was a part of my 15/15/15 project, was a book in which rain played a major role. I skimmed through the book again last night and realized, yet again, what a brilliant writer Steinbeck is and the pivotal role rain plays in it. Not only does it make the journey in the bus more arduous for the passengers; it also brings out the best and worst in them.
Rain features strongly in one of my favourite books, Trade Winds, by M.M.Kaye. Kaye creates a lot of drama in the very beginning of the book using rain. As Hero (who is the heroine of the book) is travelling to Zanzibar from England, her ship is caught in a fierce storm. Hero, by some act of fate (as we realize later in the book), falls into the sea and is rescued by the crew of the slave trading ship, Virago. The captain of this notorious vessel is Rory Frost, who becomes Hero’s rescuer; both literally and figuratively.

There are many other books and stories which come to my mind when I think of rain. Somerset Maugham is another author who has made use of rain amply in his writings. One of his short stories is titled ‘Rain’ which depicts the dark side of both weather and humans brilliantly. Rain also helps to create the sombre and heart breaking atmosphere in his book, The Painted Veil.

Authors, mostly, use rain to create or accentuate sorrow. Rain, though beautiful at times, is tragic in many ways also. Too much cloudy weather makes the world blue and blue is really not a happy colour!

Rainy list- Item # 3: Food!

Food is such an important part of our lives and especially in Pakistan, food is at the heart of all our festivities. Come rain and cloudy weather and every house is filled with the aroma of spicy pakoras, samosas and at times, the mouth-watering, lip smacking aaloo ka paratha. Accompanied by spicy coriander chutney (sauce) and hot tea, having pakoras as the rain pours is almost a part of our culture! And how could I forget the warm, bright orange, sweet jalebis which are so essential to have with big, potato filled samosas.

Rainy list – Item #4: Memories

As I watched the rain form puddles on our terrace last night, memories of our rain-filled vacations flooded in my mind. It is amazing how an event (dancing in the first monsoon rain of Karachi with cousins) can come back so clearly after so many years. I remember how we would wait for the rains to come in July, during our summer vacations spent in Karachi, so that we could splash around in our nano’s garden and porch. It seems so long ago now, as if we did it in some other life time. The rain dance and play would be followed by hot pakoras, or samosas with jalebi. Sometimes we had potato chips with tea. Those were the days!

Another rainy memory that I can never ever forget is the wedding of my very dear friend, Beenish. There is an old wives’ tale in our part of the world that a girl who eats from the cooking pot has a rainy wedding. Beenish must have done that a number of times for it rained and rained and rained during her wedding! And it wasn’t even a monsoon wedding because the monsoons come in July and she tied the knot in December!

One of the very recent memories of rain is of our honeymoon. As we drove through the lovely island of Langkawi, we were greeted with rain. It was alarming, initially, because I thought the rain would spoil our trip but as the days went by, we realized that this little drizzle is a part of the island’s beauty. And in this case, rain added to the romance of the place! This picture is on a restaurant we stopped at for lunch during our tour of the bat caves and fish farms in Langkawi. 

Rainy list –Item#5: Rubber pipe for car

Actually, this should be the first item in my list! Come monsoon and you’ll find almost all cars on the roads in Karachi with one thing in common – the rubber pipe fixed on their muffler. Makes the car look ugly but it’s better to have a blemish on the car (I’m being poetic here) than to have a beauty stuck in the water on the main road!

[I would have also added my Winnie the Pooh umbrella to this list but I’ve misplaced it and haven’t used it during these rains (a fact which breaks my heart!)].

What is your rainy list?

All Photographs except ours: Google Images 

Friday, August 6, 2010

A trip to Wonderland!

I never read Alice in Wonderland. Watching a film based on a book is an emotional process only if you have read the book. And as it were not so in our case (hubby dear and myself), we sat down to be entertained when we watched Tim Burton’s, Alice in Wonderland, in 3-D.

It was hugely entertaining! Readers of the book would know that it is not based on the book, Alice in Wonderland, only but is an extension of the original and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass. This made it crisp and exciting. The film is full of metaphors and archetypes, just like almost all animated (does this film qualify as an animation?) films are. But the addition of real actors (even if some of them don’t look that real!) makes it easy to relate the figurative with the literal (if you know what I mean!).

The whole underlying message of the film had to do with destiny – Alice was destined to kill the Jabberwocky (a big flying evil dragon) in order to rid the people of the evil Red queen. If only it were this simple in real life as well. ‘Kill the Jabberwocky and get rid of Zardari’ (I’m Lovin’it!).

There were a lot of characters thrown in to aid and stop Alice in her quest to become the champion with the Mad Hatter being the most prominent good guy (and why wouldn’t he be? He was played by none other than Johnny Depp). Hatter was somewhat crazy (okay, I admit – someone who has orange hair does qualify for being completely off the rocker but he lived in Underland and maybe that was the ‘in’ thing there!) but there was more to him than met the eye.  He was brave (was willing to sacrifice his life for Underland), talented (made the most creative hats. That’s what he did for a living. Why did you think he was called Hatter?), intelligent (knew how to butter up the evil Red queen in order to give time to Alice to find ‘the’ sword to kill the Jabberwocky. I think that’s our problem. We don’t have the right sword to kill our Jabberwockys!), and sensitive. Most of all, I felt he was original. And of course, he was also Johnny Depp!
The prominent bad guy was the evil Red queen who believed firmly in being feared than loved. And she was feared all right! Her favourite line was, ‘Off with his/her/their heads! Her court was full of fearful, sweet talking flatterers who praised and agreed with her every decision. Sounds familiar? Instead of a red queen, we have a chameleon president surrounded by some dumb courtiers and knaves.

You might be familiar with the term knave if you are a card player as the jack is called by that name. The literal description of a knave is of a dishonest person who has no moral principles. The Red queen had one such knave, the Knave of Hearts, who looked quite unscrupulous with a heart shaped patch on one eye! And he had the audacity to seduce Alice and when questioned by the Red queen, he not only pleaded innocent but also labelled Alice as the seducer! His end was great; he was banished from Underland with the Red queen as a partner. She loved him and he couldn’t stand her! Such should be the fate of all the men who are knaves in the real world.

Talking of banishment, why can’t we also banish our politicians? But there are so many of them that even if we banish them someplace, they would all get together and start a new mess.

It seemed, after watching the film, that Tim Burton (or maybe Lewis Carroll also) is a feminist. Alice changed her own destiny that of the inhabitants of Underland quite singlehandedly and against all odds.  She defeated the Red queen and made the White queen (did I not mention her? She was in exile during the Red queen’s terror reign. Don’t we have such a character also? Except that the White queen was the good guy. Ours isn’t!) Empress of Underland. In the real world she not only refused to marry the man everyone else had selected for her (her late father’s friend’s son) but also suggested to her to-be-and-then-rejected father-in-law to expand his business to China and herself came on board as an apprentice and sailed off to China. Something like this usually happens in movies only and that too, in Bollywood. It can’t happen in our country. Here Alice would be charged for adultery with the Mad Hatter and stoned to death. The White queen would be sent to exile much further from Underland, in a place with better climate. She would occasionally get in touch with her underlings through a phone call or two. The knave would get the Red queen killed and become the undisputed king of Underland. And he would be much feared because the Jabberwocky would be at his beck and call.

Do watch the film!

Photographs: Google Images

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monsoon madness - Part II

This picture, although from an Indian newspaper, reflects the situation in our country also! Thanks to my student, Ali Madani, for sharing this.