Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Snake Charmers and Ruins

India may no longer fit the ciché as the land of snake charmers but that doesnt mean you don't see the men with cobras and bagpipes around. One turned up right behind my house today morning. I could hear the tune of Nagina from home and happily rushed out to take pictures.

Other pictures that have been taken are of the neighbourhood garden/park. The light was rather lovely today evening.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Edit! Edit!: My employers just called to confirm my contract details and said they were ok with me joining from 3rd September (I had told them I was available asap). So I do get to go home!!! After more than a year, so I am really looking forward to it. Shall sign my contract tomorrow and hopefully will be in Delhi by the weekend. Inshallah!




Ya Allah.....homesickness is going to be the death of me. In Nadeem Aslam’s wonderful Maps for Lost Lovers the immigrants rename the British city they live in Dasht-e-Tanhaii. The desert of loneliness. I could relate.

Last week I even happily went and saw Chak De! India. I liked it, messaging my parents to take my sister to watch it because she is the SRK fan and would no doubt enjoy it more than I did. (I am an Aamir loyalist. Have been since age five.)

It’s been a good Independence Day personally. Lots of loose threads and outstanding matters tied up. And I received undeniable proof of the fact that the only thing you need to get a job is another job. Still I kind of wish I could go home for a bit... don’t know when that will be.

Also before I end this song (one of my all time favourites) by the late great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has been playing on a never ending loop lately. Enjoy.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Veggie Goodness

In fact, red meat on a date has become such an effective statement of self-acceptance that even a vegetarian like Sloane Crosley, a publicist at Random House, sometimes longs to order a burger.

“Being a vegetarian puts you at a disadvantage,” Ms. Crosley said. “You’re in the most basic category of finicky. Even women who order chicken, it isn’t enough.” She said she has thought of ordering shots of Jägermeister, famous for its frat boy associations, to prove that she is “a guy’s girl.”

“Everyone wants to be the girl who drinks the beer and eats the steak and looks like Kate Hudson.”

Oh dear lord, how wonderful.

What about the poor women who are vegan, I wonder? Aren’t they doomed. Oh well, now that I have gone back to eating meat I really don’t care, but it is bloody unfair on all the vegetarians. Just eat what you want dammit and let others it what they want. I mean really, judging people on food choices. Sheesh.

In any case, whatever the merits of meat – it’s bloody unphotogenic. There’s nothing like taking pictures of fresh fruits and vegetables. The freshness comes across in the colours, even texture. It’s brilliant. (I prefer cooking vegetarian food as well. Easy and so unfussy. My latest kitchen experiment – yoğurt bamyalar urf dahi bhindi. Was delicious.)

Anyway, these from the Naschmarkt in Vienna. Wandering around there was wonderful, wonderful fun.
Old pictures from the Borough Market here. And one on Istanbul foods here.

Paprikas - all colours.


Fresh figs. (Are yummy).

Bright red chillies.

As it says - jackfuits.


Monday, August 06, 2007


Most bizarre dream ever. Mostly a blur of images now.

I am talking to Rashid Khalidi about amongst other things khoresht fesenjan and the general idiocy of Thomas L. Friedman.
I am telling Tom Cruise that long time back I really did like him. And then he went psycho and now I think he is probably an alien spawn. But also that Suri is the cutest kid ever.
I am also telling Ian McKellen "Sir, I really do love you and in my book you were always the first choice to play Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies – way before I saw you as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings."
Watching Ataturk make a speech where he goes on and on about how a civilized people don’t wear certain kinds of dresses and most certainly not the fez. Instead they should wear what he has on his head. "This is a hat."

I clearly need help.
I usually don’t remember my dreams. And obviously there’s a good reason for that. This might have been brought on by the most bizarre and brilliant movie, Paprika, that I watched yesterday. (Watch it if and when you get the chance – seriously).

But I did detect a pattern. Clearly my mind is an empty den and I have way too much time on my hands and so, ya I do read ONTD (thus Tom Cruise makes appearances in my dreams). So? So?
Oh and the Ian McKellen thing – I met him a while back. Hee. He is bloody brilliant and I didn’t tell him I loved him but did manage to sputter out that I loved his work and I didn’t make an ass of myself, which counts for a lot.

The rest all makes sense because I am mid way through Khalidi’s very good Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East. (Also read his The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. I have read some of his articles before usually for school work but never his books and am now on the verge of having a major geek crush on him.) I also wanted something light to read so picked up Pomegranate Soup yesterday and finished it in the duration of two train rides. Am still making my way through Turkey: A Modern History, which explains Ataturk’s appearance. Don’t know about Friedman though. I thankfully haven’t read much of him since Times Select started.

On a more serious note, I do recommend that everyone read Resurrecting Empire. It was written in 2004 but in some sense reading it now makes it even more powerful and the consequences that Khalidi laid out even more scary. Not that anyone listened. Khalidi is also a good counterpoint to Bernard Lewis who always (whenever I have read him at least) has a narrative that is too simplistic for even me, with my limited knowledge of the region, to buy (I pretty much decided I wouldn’t read any more books by Lewis when I finished the last one by him I had borrowed). Was discussing the book with TAP earlier today and he told me of his attendance at a talk by Khalidi which made me curse him. Khalidi is a very eloquent and forceful speaker. See here where he defends academic freedom and freedom of speech in the aftermath of the whole Columbia Middle Eastern studies brouhaha. Oh well. As of now I have a whole list of books that I am now ticking off and plan to read in the future. Fiction will probably take a backseat and I might put up bits here - if I’m not too lazy that is.

Another thing. I was recently told by someone (much older than me) to read The Haj to understand the Arab psyche. I had no idea how to respond. (In my defence I was just told the name of the book and it took me a bit to realise that it was the book by Leon Uris. I had picked it up in my school library when I was in class ten or eleven in school and put it back after reading some 30 pages. Need I say more?) But yes, how do you respond when people come up with such ridiculously inane and downright offensive statements? People who are usually sane? And how do you even begin a conversation where what you really want to say is "Well, I really don’t think you know what you are talking about?" Help!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Books, thoughts, links

Just finished (a few days back actually) Edward Said’s Out of Place. Thoughts while reading it were amusement at some similarities in childhood memories. Said writes about his ninth birthday gift – Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. I received the same book for my ninth birthday too. How his parents always nagged him about his posture. I am still told – "don’t slouch", "stand straight" etc. etc. Or how his father threatened to paint his nail with varnish so he wouldn’t bite them. I used to be a nail biter (gave up that habit many years back) but I used to be issued similar threats as well. Maybe everyone has a similar childhood.

Also finished Bernard Lewis’s What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. Lewis infuriates me more often than not and yet I read him. Sigh. Clearly he has vast knowledge on the topic (ummm…well he clearly has a better knowledge of Turkey than the modern Middle East, so maybe not) so I don’t understand his position of supporting the Iraq war and the other overly simplistic nonsense that he spouts. Maybe he is just getting batty with age. Ian Buruma had an interesting piece on Lewis in the New Yorker a few years back. Maybe he’s onto something there. I need to read Rashid Khalidi as an antidote to Lewis I think. I still haven’t read Lewis’s Emergence of Modern Turkey even though it’s considered a modern classic type… I am a bit wary because I’d imagine is a bit out of date and Lewis is a bit too pro Kemalist for my liking. But I’ll probably pick it up sooner or later. Current read is Turkey: A Modern history by Erich J. Zurcher.

There are also a couple of Pamuk links I have wanted to put up for a bit now. Apparently his next project will be a novel with pictures (just come out with it soon, yes?). Also a Guradian interview with him at the Hay festival where he talks about the usual but also his experiences as a member of the Cannes jury.

I liked this:
The strength of a civilization, he suggests, "is most obviously expressed by the fact that the stories of that culture spread around the world and other stories, other histories are forgotten. The disintegration of the Ottoman empire, or the weakening of traditional Middle Eastern cultures, can best be observed, perhaps, in the decay of these cultures' classical stories. If I have done anything political in a literary sense, it is to rediscover and rewrite them."
.....Everything in his life, it seems, comes second to his love for writing, which, after 33 years, he can finally call his profession. "When I was a child, when I was a student, I used to daydream a lot," he says, recrossing his legs, running his hand through hair now almost wild with continual re-scuplting. "Being a professional writer legitimises your dreams, allows you to execute them and show them to others with pride."

In Istanbul I was in Nişantaşı (Pamuks neighborhood) one day. My friend refuses to believe I did not stalk him. Considering Pamuk now roams around with and armed guard I do not think that would have been the wisest thing to do.

Talking of Turkey, ever since the whole drama of the deadlock over the presidential candidate there’s been a fair amount of coverage in the America media. A lot of it has been blatantly bad but this op-ed piece really left me wondering whether I should laugh or cry. Sample only some of the many gems:
Euro-tourists are welcome to drink themselves sick and flaunt minimalist bikinis - as long as they remain quarantined in resorts.
Ummm ok. If you say so.

Overall, though, the AKP has pursued a successful policy of creeping Islamization - instead of being murdered at high noon, Ataturk's constitution is suffering the death of a thousand cuts.
I don’t even know what that means. The present constitution is Turkeys fourth. The last two were implemented well after Ataturk died.

With Sunday's vote, Turkey chose Asia over Europe. Ankara wants to belong to the Islamic Middle East on the social side, while exploiting Europe economically. But the EU isn't obliged to subsidize Turkey's return to the Middle Ages (albeit with cellphones). Talks will drag on for years, but Turkey's hope of EU membership is dead.
Dear lord…where do I even begin.
Yes, good for laughs only I think.

Another more interesting article I read recently was on food and nationalism.

…a big discussion was held over the origins of the dessert baklava. The question was raised: "Does baklava have a national identity?" Such a question is utter nonsense. All these dishes have been transported from place to place for centuries. Different peoples prepare them in their own way and eat them in their own way. In the process, these dishes have absorbed something from every location and changed along the way.
What makes baklava baklava is not its Turkish, Greek, or Arab identity. Today, as a result of historical and societal influences, Baklava is eaten in Greece, Lebanon, Syria, and Armenia as well as in Turkey. The motivation behind the desire to account for the origins of a dish lies in the significance of nationalism in the modern world.

…These topics are not taken seriously in the media. The reports and commentaries nurture nationalism, allowing it to affect everyday life. As a result, people do not hesitate to think in the category of "We and Them." For this reason the concepts and language we use to express our thoughts about music, dance, food, and the like are very important. Consequently, there is a great potential for these discussions to become dangerous.

There’s also an interesting point raised about Turkish food in Germany.

Let's take a look at the importance of the döner in Germany. While the döner here has gained in popularity, it's obvious that it is associated with Turkishness. At the same time you can say that nobody notices what constitutes a döner, but instead who prepares it. On the other hand, what is regarded as a döner in Germany is very different from a döner in Turkey. Many Turks would doubt that the döner in Germany is a döner at all, because this dish has been completely Germanized, a bizarre snack in bread.

It’s very true. Even in Vienna there were "Turkish" stalls that sold not only döners but also pizzas and wursts. Also interestingly, the Naschmarkt is full of Turkish stalls selling falafels, baklavas, kebabs and what not… further out the Brunnenmarkt (the largest in Vienna, I think) is basically all Turkish. Everyone speaks Turkish, posters are in Turkish, Sezen Aksu plays in the background and I saw more headscarves there than I did in most of Istanbul.

By the way, the talk of baklava above reminded me that I have this great desire to go baklava tasting all over the Middle East. I have this ridiculous desire to visit Gaziantep (on route to Aleppo or Damascus ideally) for no other reason except that apparently you get the best baklavas there. (Even in Istanbul the best baklavas are supposed to be at Güllüoğlu which is a shop that is originally from Gaziantep). God knows when I will even get to visit though. No harm planning but, right?