Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What kind of cosmopolitan city is Dubai ?

Dubai is a cosmopolitan city. So is Newyork. But the kind of 'cosmopolitan' city that Dubai has become is different from a conventional cosmopolitan city. Dictionary.com defines the word as "free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world". In the western context of a cosmoplitan city, it is one which does not define itself in nationalistic or partisan terms. There is no scope for domination of a community or over-bearing chauvinism from anyone.

By this definition, Dubai does fall short, though not totally.The city is home to a few million expats, who have come from all corners of the world to make a living.

What the city has managed to do well is that it has provided a level playing ground for all communities, and people of all nationalities. The city provides equal opportunities for anyone who is willing to work hard to make a good living. It provides unmatched quality of life this part of the world and is considered a heaven in the Middle East. One can see Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Americans, French, British, Africans of various nations in Dubai living and working together. There seems to be a natural melting of cultures and influences. But, look closer and one will notice that this melting is not really taking place. There are very clear boundries, barriers which are keeping people away from each other.

"Filipana bed space", " Indian living space" read some of the ads in the prominent newspapers when one looks for accomodation. Space has taken on nationalistic connotations. People of certain nationalities do not want to share space or even consider living with others. When one of my friends recently came to Dubai, i had a very hard time finding accomodation for her - since there werent many places available to begin with and also a lot of people backed off when they heard she was british. This seemed to be a case of reverse racism.

What is going wrong ?
I believe what is going wrong is an almost ghettoisation of Dubai. Satwa, Karama and other areas in Dubai are ghettos of Philipinos and Indians. There are huge clusters of people of the same nationalities living in their own world in Dubai. Walk down Karama and you will feel it is little India. There is a sense of nostalgia and perhaps even longing in the people who live here. The concept of space is also skewed here, with Indian style shops dotting the streets.

The other European and Arab expats seem to live in their own small groups, not mingling much with Asian communities.

Is it healthy ? one may ask Well, to begin with, it doesnt help to have this segregation based on nationality and race when one is living in such close proximity.

I believe there can be more inclusiveness built into the system and this can begin with making the areas which have become ghettos more open. Make them more inclusive, open and accepting of other people.

Dubai is a great place to live. It can be a better place if people start looking beyong their nationalities and start thinking of themselves as denizens of Dubai.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Jihad against terror

The last few weeks have been filled with bad news. Bad news about the global economic downturn, the falling price of Oil, the gloomy scenario in Dubai's real estate market and more. As if all these werent enough, there was the terrorist attack in Mumbai; which killed more than 170 innocent people. And yet again, the same people turn out to be the culprits, Al-Qaeda, LeT, Deccan Mujahideen - what is in a name ? They are all the same - filth and degraded souls out to exact revenge against innocent people.

Caught amidst all this confusion is the average muslim. Muslims like me. We dont go around carrying guns and bombs. We dont intend to kill ANYONE, we have dreams; ambitions and aspirations like anyone else. Yet, when it comes down to being a suspect, we come first on the list. A comedian named Ahmed Ahmed ( who is wellknown for his show " Axis of Evil" which does packed shows in UAE and US put it well when he joked " My name appeared on one of FBI's list when travelling and they would not let me travel. Perhaps there is an ACTUAL terrorist out there whose name is Ahmed Ahmed and he is having the last laugh".

How muslims in India and the rest of the world deal with this will determine their future. Muslims in India today are a passive lot. Of the millions who live in the country, few are in positions of leadership. Fewer are in real positions of power; where they can change the course of their destiny. With others including the media, the judiciary, the executive branch of the government driving the agenda; how can this group of people hope to ever be in-charge ?

There seems to be hope amidst all the darkness that surrounds us. I was happy to learn that there is a group organising a " Jihad against terror" - a peaceful demonstration of thousands of muslims at the Victoria Terminus - the point where the shooting happened. This is scheduled for Dec 7, at 3 pm in Mumbai and simultaneously across 10 cities in India.

In this context, the Darul Uloom Deoband issued a fatwa against terrorism. The excerpts of which are given below :
"Islam is a religion of Peace and Harmony. In Islam, creating social discord or disorder, breach of peace, rioting, bloodshed, pillage or plunder and killing of innocent persons anywhere in the world are ALL considered most inhuman crimes.

There are several verses in the Quran that strictly prohibit the breach of peace. For example: “Do not spread discord on Earth…”

The Quran clearly states that the killing of (even) one innocent person is equivalent to massacre of all humankind because its like opening the floodgates that creates a situation beyond anyone’s control; while saving one life is equivalent to the rescue of all humankind".

This is just one of the steps that are being taken by many of the rational and well-informed muslims in India.

I believe there needs to be a aggressive campaign to de-toxify the image of muslims and Islam. One must start with the perception first. In today's day and age, perception is bigger than reality. The possibility of Pakistan engineering the whole episode ( as made clear by the US government's announcement yesterday) cannot be ruled out.

The ordinary muslims must come out openly and speak out. Speak out against these acts - and not only the massacre of muslims in Gujrat. These killings in Mumbai are as real as the ones in Gujrat. They are as real as the ones in Kashmir. Killing innocent people cannot justify the anger and hurt that the community feels.

I believe that the Darul Uloom should go a step further and make these terrorists outcasts. They must be treated as renegades who have given up religion. Since religion is the cause of all this conflict; deny them the privilige of belonging to Islam. The problem with Islam is also that the "entry barrier" is so low. The religion is open to anyone who believes in one god and the prophet Muhammad. May be we should make the rules of staying in the religion stronger. Make it harder for people to mis-use the privilige of belonging to this great religion which has given the world a lot. Perhaps its time our Mullahs start giving this a serious thought.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Flow, creativity and life..

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

How the stockmarkets work - very funny

It was autumn, and the Red Indians on the remote reservation asked their New Chief if the winter was going to be cold or mild.

Since he was a Red Indian chief in a modern society, he couldn't tell what the weather was going to be. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he replied to his Tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect wood to be prepared.

But also being a practical leader, after several days he got an idea.
He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked "Is the coming winter going to be cold?"
"It looks ike this winter is going to be quite cold indeed," the meteorologist at the weather service responded.

So the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more Wood.

A week later, he called the National Weather Service again.
"Is it Going to be a very cold winter?" "Yes," the man at National Weather Service again replied, "It's definitely going to be a very cold winter.

"The Chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of wood they could find.

Two weeks later, he called the National Weather Service again.

"Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?"
"Absolutely", the man replied. "It's going to be one of the coldest winters ever."

"How can you be so sure?" the Chief asked.

The weatherman replied, "The Red Indians are collecting wood like Crazy."

This is how stock markets work!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Where are you from " ??

You can be asked this question anywhere. In Dubai, this rather innocent question can have several layers - sometimes with hidden meaning. It can become an existential one too, determining your fate in more ways than one. One can pop this question to you anywhere : In a taxi, at the super market, barber's shop, at your work place, at a restaurant - well virtually anywhere. Dubai offers one the opportunity to indulge in asking such personal questions as " Where are you from" rather easily. Simply because most of the residents are not from UAE and are expats.

There are various shades of this question though. One may ask this question to :
1) Genuinely know where you are from, in which case it is an innocent enquiry
2) "Place you " so that he/she knows where you are from - in case you are negotiating for a salary etc..
3) Judge you ( or rather Pre-judge you)

This question can be one of the most important questions that can decide a lot of things for you, including :
a) Your salary - Yes, you guessed it right. For the same job and qualifications, two people can be paid totally different salaries simply depending on where they are from. Call it what you want, but this "differential" exists in the Gulf, not only in UAE.
b) What your friends circle will look like
c) Whether you will be considered " cool" ( some nationalities are naturally "cooler" than others.

While there are many ways to tackle this often loaded question, the simplest strategy often is to make a joke of it and say that you are really an Arab wearing a mask. I have tried this a few times - with a good comic effect and if the other person has any sense of humour, he/she would appreciate the reply and perhaps join you in the laughter that will follow.

The power of saying thank you

Thursday, September 18, 2008

on books..

Books talk to us. They are the voices of the authors, sometimes dead and gone. They are the best chance we have of conversing with some of the most wonderful minds of our times without ever meeting them. Wouldn’t we like to converse with our heroes, our role models and those we look upto ? Isn’t it great to take part in their adventures, journeys without “moving an inch” as Gogol said. Books offer this chance at no great cost and in the comfort of our home. But one thing that really irks me is what to do with books that one has finished reading ? Does one keep them, and attempt building a library or give them away or just junk them ?? The answer is not simple as I found out - while I changed residence 5 times in the last 3 years. And with each move, I shed more books; like a snake changing its skin, and discovered the really important ones in my collection - the ones that may stay with me till the end of my life.
Books are a monologue. A one way conversation which we can cannot control. There is no chance of disagreeing, debating and arguing, because the author is not present before us to refute us and defend his/her point of view. Sometimes I wonder which are my favourite books ? Clearly, it has to be the non-fiction ones - give me essays, commentaries, analysis anyday and I will devour it and only of late have I developed a liking for certain novelists ( Orhan Pamuk, Rushdie, Turgenev) among others and have taken to reading their works seriously. Among middle eastern writers, Naguib Mahfouz clearly stands out as a giant among writers. His “Arabian days and nights” caught my attention and I could not put it down till I finished it, in about three sittings.
There are books we love, books we hate and books that we don’t bother even finishing. Quite a few books catch our attention because of the cover or what the blurb says and at times because one is impressed by the author and assumes that he has something interesting to share; while this time he may not impress us as much as the last book. The ones we love, we treasure jealously, like a lover we do not want to lose. I remember guarding my “Jack and the beanstalk” illustrated book when I was about 6 or 7 years old that my uncle from the US had sent me. I would not let anyone borrow it ( it was ok to read it at my home). Then this obsession grew and as I started buying and collecting more books; it almost became a passion. Seeing my books ( a few hundred) neatly lined up in my book shelf at my parents home gave me a pleasure I had not known earlier. It was my treasure, my possession that I was proud of. “Thou shalt not lend” was my first rule . I learnt this from my very good friend Azeem, who had let me photo-copy his “Tao of Jeet Kune do” by Bruce Lee ( both of us were into martial arts then and Bruce Lee was a role model in many ways). I remember reading this book several times and making sure that even though I did not have the original, the copy was neatly kept and no one got to borrow it.
As I graduated out of Engineering school ( and I had accumulated about 50 odd Engineering books apart from the text books), apart from all the other books ; books on philosophy of science, Management, Business books, marketing related books etc.. I decided to give this chunk away to my juniors at college. The logic was this : These books are expensive and should be passed on to those who cant afford them and if they make good use of it; then it would be great. If not, they would sit on my book-shelf and serve no purpose anyway.
Then came the move from my parents home. My first shock. As I moved homes, I realized that about half the books that I had went missing during the move. They were either lost or not brought to the new apartment. I took some time to recover from this, and realized that it is ok to lose books. Nothing stays with us for ever, so if one lost a few hundred books; it was ok .
Subsequently, due to various reasons; I moved three times more in less than two years. I had become a nomad of sorts within my own city - shifting homes and shedding my belongings. I gave away many of my old clothes, belongings, and of course books. My strategy was simple : Instead of moving around with the baggage ( I like to travel light ) and even when moving homes, this habit sort of rubbed off on my attitude towards belongings. I told myself that I will not have more than what I really need. The rest went to my friends ( some of them were very very happy ) about the stuff I gave them. A computer table, Couple of chairs, an expensive Teak dining set ( was I crazy ?? ) , several books ( lost count of them) , all of them were gifted to well-wishers and friends. I realized I did not need these and could live with out any of these comfortably. I had made good use of them and now it was time to give them to others.
During my most recent move to Dubai, the decision was simple - I again reminded myself that I don’t need more than 10 books on me, ( also practical considerations came into picture) . The ten most important ones - that would stay, and I would build myself a collection in Dubai. I stuck with this decision and landed with fewer than 12 books on me. I gifted several of them and some of the favorites, I kept at my parents home; just in case…

So, what is the best strategy to deal with books one has finished reading ?? Pass them on, I would say. Pass them on only if you have enjoyed it. Let others share in the joy and exhilaration of a good conversation with the author. Pass on some goodness because sooner or later; it will come back to you - in one way or another.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cherishing ones parents

Cherishing ones parents while they are alive
My parents are divorced. They separated about four years ago, in one of the most dramatic ways possible. My mother suffered a lot after the separation, and almost died in the process, but by gods grace recovered. As a diabetic, she developed a chest infection and related cardio-vascular complications and was in the ICU for a long time before she recovered totally. And my father re-married in the meanwhile.
I could not forgive my father for a long time, and refused to speak to him for many months. The anger I felt for him during that period was real and justified. How could he walk away from my mother, who had spent the best 35 years of her life with him, given him two sons ( who turned out pretty ok) and stood by him in times of trouble ? How could this man be so ungrateful and run after a younger woman ? I simply couldn’t understand what the hell he was thinking ? Had he lost his mind ?
My elder brother, who is a good five years older than I am to this day does not speak with my father. He is bitter, angry and upset with the way my father dealt with my mother. It wasnot just the way in which we had to leave our home - in which both of us grew up; lived for more than 20 years, but also the way in which my father constructed arguments about how he was “tired” of life with my mother and wanted some freedom.
Ramadhan reminds me of one particular year ( a few months before they separated) when we would all sit down for our pre-dawn meal ( suhoor) around 4 in the morning, with dad waking us all up; mom following him into the kitchen sleepily and us preparing for the meal. Not much was said, but we could all sense that this Ramadhan was different. Earlier, there would be some jokes, conversations during the meal. But this year, it was tense. The atmosphere in the dining room itself was quite tense and one could feel it in the air throughout the month. I sensed that something was wrong. And one of the days during Suhoor, my dad announced that he wanted a divorce. My mother started to cry inconsolably and my brother took charge of the situation, trying to mediate between my parents; trying to make sense of the madness that was going on.

It is strange when one is asked to judge one’s parents. And also stranger when one is asked to choose between them. No matter how grown up we feel we are, no matter what age - the affection that we feel for our parents remains the same. With age, we may be able to rationalise a bit more, we may be able to put things in perspective- but the fact remains that we still love and care for them as much - if our relationship with them has been good.
I was in Chennai in April of 2004 when my brother called to inform me that my mom had to be admitted to the hospital, followed by prolonged fever. The doctors kept her in the ICU for a week, before shifting her to the general ward. They informed us that she had developed acute Cardio-vascular problems and had to be kept under observation. I was in Chennai promoting a friends work. It was the year of the Tsumani and we were there organizing a charity show for victims of the terrible tragedy - with my friend Akumal Ramachander playing the good Samaritan. He had invited me to be part of the show, and though I did not really have much of a role there, I invited a few friends from Chennai to come and visit the exhibition and partake in the “live painting” that Milind Nayak, the artist did. Milind produced an amazing work of abstract art, a 8 feet by 6 feet in just under two hours, live in front of us. Using un-conventional tools such as toothbrush, a Saw and many other implements which have nothing to do with painting, he produced a breath-taking piece of art which was auctioned for over Rs.100,000 immediately after the show. It was bought by a New Zealand based Psychologist.
Ravi Candadai, the Consul General for Public Affairs, US Embassy who was our host ( and a friend of Akumal) invited us home later for lunch ( and the painting exhibition moved to his bungalow later on ). Ravi, a career bureaucrat and a multi-linguist ( he spoke over seven languages with ease), and I can definitely vouch for his Urdu ( much better than mine). While having lunch, he shared a few interesting anecdotes about his life and work in the US. When I got the call from Bangalore and informed him that my mother was sick, he insisted that I go home, despite my commitment to stay in Chennai till the end of the show and see it through.
He insisted that I leave as soon as possible and said “ You must cherish your parents while they are alive, because once they are gone; you will never have the opportunity to do anything for them”.
I thought this through all along my journey to Bangalore and finally got home to Bangalore and went straight to the hospital. My mother was doing better, though she was sick.
The next day I went to meet my father. The silence was broken, and I spoke to him after nearly six months of ignoring his existence. Ravi’s words had had their effect.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Caramel - lebanese film

A beautifully crafted movie about five women and their lives as it revolves around their beauty salon. The Lebanese film maker Nadine Labaki has put together a beautiful portrait of women in Lebanon(and modern Middle east society in general). It is a story of love, betrayal, longing, desire, and of course fun. The story spans two generations of women, and their quest for love and their everyday struggles.

While Layale ( Nadine) is caught in a triangle between a married man and his wife, Aunt Rose is looking for companionship in her last phase of life. The film moves between joy, jubiliation, betrayal seamlessly. While one of the girls is engaged and getting married, she is also anxious that she is not "pure" and that having lost her virginity; she may face her husband's ire. The women plan to "stitch" her up and prepare her for the wedding. One of the other girls ( Rima) is attracted to a female customer and tries to find joy in her presence.

Jamale is a wannabe actress who is constantly worried about getting old and puts up ridiculous make up all the time. Her paranoia about age is reflected in her behaviour and her constant comparison with other women obviously younger to her.

The mad woman Lillie ( Aunt Rose's elder sister) is lovable in her madness. she adds a bit of comedy to the movie with her crazy antics and demonstration of possessiveness towards her younger sister. Aunt Rose eventually gives up her plans of finding companionship with Mr Charles, one of her customers probably because of Lily. They are inseparable even in their sorrow.

what i liked about the movie is how the director has brought together the intersecting stories of these women and how they negotiate with their lives to find happiness. While none of their lives are picture perfect, they are all striving for happiness and love.

This is perhaps one of the best movies i have seen this year and would highly recommend to everyone. And did i mention the amazing cinematography ?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Grace is gone

Saw this movie last weekend at a friend's place. Very well made film on the relationship between a man and his two young daughters, who lose their mother.

Highly recommend this movie and would suggest you keep a few tissues handy. This stuff can make you cry.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Who pays the price ?

Who pays the price for all the madness and hatred that a few create ? Why should I be held responsible for the acts of some crazed lunatic who goes around hurting others simply because i belong to the same community ?

Incidentally i got a "hate call" from India ( Bangalore), the city which faced a few bombings recently. This person, called me up - abused me for a few minutes and practically stopped short of blaming me ( and other fellow muslims) for the violence - since inherently "Muslims are violent people". This, coming from an educated person, who is well travelled shocked me to say the least. I believe this is not an isolated incident; but many people out there feel similar things, though many would not be as honest as my "friend" was.

The whole issue of culture talk, of the use of "Islamic fundamentalism" or "Islamism" or "Muslim fundamentalism" is warped. prefixing a religion to any sort of madness does not take the blame away from the individuals. It simply tranfers it to the community they represent and that is pretty damaging. Damaging to normal, regular people who have normal, regular ambitions.

Get an education, find a job, find the love of your life, get married, have kids, watch a movie, complain about the traffic, worry about the family. These are issues which concern any average Muslim in any part of the world. I am sure this does not vary much if you were to ask the same question about "What are the most important issues which concern you" to a Muslim in Indonesia, or USA, or even in the Middle East. I am pretty sure at least 80% of the issues i have listed would figure in his/her list ; unless the person is a die-hard peace activist and names " World peace" as the chief personal goal that person would work for.

The whole culture talk about "Good muslim, bad muslim" de-humanises people. It not only paints them as evil, but distorts the image of an entire community of over 1 billion people ( yes, there are over 1 billion muslims the world over). And i can assure you, we are all pretty "normal" people - except for may be 0.0001 % of them who are crazed nut cases. They are giving us all a bad name, making our lives difficult, causing embarrasment and sullying our reputation.

We have our issues. Yes, of course. Our societies are as diverse as the world is. Islam is a global religion as much as Christianity is. This means the ways the religion is interpreted and practiced is also very different. But this does NOT mean that we are a bunch of crazy people who mean harm to others.

Incidentally, the level of debate has come down to such a level that one starts by first defending oneself. It is as if you are guilty unless proved innocent. I was reading this interesting survey conducted by Pew international in 2004 showed the following attitudes towards muslims in USA and Europe :

Country favourable attitude unfavourable

USA 35 32
Germany 36 46
France 48 29

The rest of the percentage is for "somewhat favourable" . These figures say something about the attitude of people towards Muslims. It is about time the community itself took stock of these negative attitudes that others have of them and did something about it. Instead of blaming others for our ills, blaming the governments, the zionists, the media and everyone but ourselves, the community is doing itself no good.

The first step, i think may be to face up to the problem that we have a problem. We seem to be in a slumber throughout the world. A slumber so deep that we dont care or arent even bothered to worry about what our reputation is. We are not incharge of it. May be we are too self-absorbed in our past successes as a "great civilisation" which invented Algebra and laid the foundation for the European renaissance that we forget that it all happened a long time ago...and in the last 6-7 centuries, our report card doesnt show much progress. We need to smarten up, wake up to the new world around us and do something about our reputation. And this starts by taking a close look at who the bad apples are. And controlling them or ejecting them out of the community if need be. This way, the 99.9999% of those who are innocent dont get the blame for the 0.0001% who are responsible for acts of madness.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

klezmer music

Klezmer music originated in the 'shtetl' (villages) and the ghettos of Eastern Europe, where itinerant Jewish troubadours, known as 'klezmorim', performed at joyful events ('simkhes'), particularly weddings, since the early middle age till the nazi and Stalinian prosecutions.

It was inspired with secular melodies, popular dances, 'hazanut' (Jewish liturgy) as well as with the 'nigunim', the simple and often wordless melodies intended by the 'Hasidim' (orthodox Jews) for approaching God in a kind of ecstatic communion.

In (mutual) contact with Slavonic, Greek, Ottoman (Turkish), Arabic, Gypsy and -later- American jazz musicians, the 'klezmorim' acquired, through numerous tempo changes, irregular rhythms, dissonance and a touch of improvisation, the ability to generate a very diversified music, easily recognizable and widely appreciated all around the world.

Through its artistic copiousness and its distinctive sound, Klezmer music is unique, easily recognizable and universally appreciated, both by 'ethnic insiders' and larger audiences all around the world. Klezmer music is also an invitation to dance and goes nowadays through a real revival.

( Source : http://borzykowski.users.ch/EnglMCKlezmer.htm)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

25 words of work and life wisdom

Got this from a fellow blogger...so passing it on...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A case of fiction shaping the facts...

The National has an interesting story today on the frontpage. It announced the capture of Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic. "The Bosnian Serb wartime president Radovan Karadzic, wanted for some of Europe's worst atrocities, has been arrested" announced the newspaper.

Incidentally, just two months ago i remember watching a movie based on the same theme " The Hunting party" starring Richard Gere. The movie is based on the real life escapades of a journalist who tried to hunt down Karadzic. Wikipedia has more on this " Although The Hunting Party's trailer announces it as being "based on a true story", the Bosnia-set movie is actually very loosely based on the events depicted in an Esquire magazine article[1] by American journalist Scott Anderson. Published in October 2000 under the title "What I Did on My Summer Vacation"[2], the article talks about a group of five Western war-reporters (in addition to Anderson, the group consisted of two more Americans, Sebastian Junger and John Falk, as well as Dutchman Harald Doornbos and Philippe Deprez from Belgium) who reunited in Sarajevo during April 2000 and over some drinks at a local bar one night decided to make a half-hearted attempt at catching the accused war criminal and fugitive Radovan Karadžić.

In addition to alcohol, the starting point for their "manhunt" was an article in local weekly newsmagazine Slobodna Bosna notorious for sensationalist reporting that claimed Karadžić, along with his heavily armed security detail, had been spotted in the village of Čelebići in Republika Srpska (Serbian entity in Bosnia) near the border with Montenegro "

This is one classic case of facts following fiction.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Joke about psychologists

Q: What do two psychologists tell each other as they pass in the hallway ?

Answer : You are fine. How am I ?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saudi female human rights activist driving a car..

In a country which bans women from driving, there is a growing movement to give women the freedom of movement. In this video, Wajeha Al Huwaider from Saudi Arabia drives a car. This has become quite popular on youtube and shows another side of the Saudi society, which is undergoing a slow but sure transformation.

And yes, have you heard of the graffiti park in Jeddah ? And did i mention the rave parties ?? Yes, its all happening in Saudi.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Donnie brasco

A purposeful life

Safruddin, our office boy earns a little over $650 a month. Of this amount, he sends home $500 ( to his parents in Kerala, India) and lives on $ 150 a month ( that includes his food, transport and entertainment). The other day, i was quizzing him about his commute to the office etc..and he shared details about his salary ( i wasnt trying to be nosey i admit)..but he volunteered the information and what i heard shocked me. It also made me feel that he is infact more purposeful in life that many of us are ( including myself).

He has been in Dubai for close to two years and is very clear why he is here. He shared his ambition with me. It is all very simple and clear. No complications.

1) Help his parents build their home in Kerala
2) Help his parents to marry off his younger sister. We all know how expensive weddings can be.

This seems to be his goal in life and mission. And he sweats it out for over 9 hours each day, day in and day out - for a salary, the amount which i normally spend in a week on food, entertainment and commute.

Timeout Dubai also has an article in this issue of a Security guard who works for a pittance, but is proud of the fact that he is able to send money back home and is able to "contribute"to his family. This young man, whose name i forget came to Dubai after several failed attempts to find a decent job, and finally found a "decent" job in Dubai, which takes care of his living ( he shares a single room with 10 other people), and gets paid a pittance. But for all practical purposes, he seems to be happy. Genuinely happy that he is in Dubai and sweating it out in 50 degrees heat; while many of us sit in AC rooms and complain about everything under the sun.

Something is wrong here. Something seriously wrong. I was distrubed for a while when i read this - and also disturbed each time i see construction workers working in the desert heat during the day. While most of us cant stand five minutes of the heat, these workers spend 12 hour shifts in this heat, often for very little salaries. But something keeps them here. It is not the money alone ( though it translates well when you convert Dirhmans into Indian or Pakistani Rupees). There is something more than that. Something compelling which makes them stay here - thousands of miles away from their families, doing what they are doing.

I guess the reason is that they have a purpose. They have a very clear goal in life. For some it could be saving up money to start a small business ( as many Taxi drivers from India and Pakistan would tell you). For some, their job gives them an opportunity to send money to build a home, help with family occassions such as weddings, engagements etc.. and perhaps also contribute to the family savings. This purpose makes everything bearable. The heat, the terrible living conditions, bad food, at times abuse from employers. They put up with everything to fulfill their purpose.

This continues to amaze me. It is surely a sign of character, no less. A positive trait that many of us can learn from. Now, each time i feel like complaining about sharing a flat with three others ( at least i have my own room for myself , i share only the kitchen and the living area) ; i think of Safruddin and others like him - who are not so priviliged and yet carry on, because what they are here for is bigger than their comfort. It is bigger than themselves in many ways.

I believe there is a lesson to be learnt from Safruddin and others like him. A lesson that if one has a purpose, life can be beautiful and enjoyable; despite all the shit. Despite low pay, bad conditions and everything else. It is our purpose in life that really determines the quality of our life, not the paycheck.

Forrest Gump - I ran ....

Scene from one of my all time favorite movies..

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I have been tagged :)

Which means that i have to share 12 random facts about myself....hmmmm ; lets see where to start ;). This is the part i dont like too much - talk about myself.....but will do anyway...

1) I love to read - can sit days on end with books, curled up in bed, in the study, garden, beach, where ever : reading - anything from science fiction, history, literature, physics ( remember Feynman's lectures ??) and anything that is remotely related to any of my interests. Of late, I have started spending more time with my books - it definitely is therapeutic :)

2)I love coffee .

3) I NEED my 7-8 hours of sleep a day. Cant function without it

4) I can be extremely lazy when not driven by the project at hand or bored. But when fired up, can work like a maniac

5) I hate arrogance or any semblance to it

6) I love the desert and the sea ( Lucky me gets to live in a place which has both ;)

7) I think we should all consume less of everything - food, chewing gum, coffee, paper, water, Internet....

8) I have almost always dated women older to me ;) . Cant stand silly girls. My tolerance level for stupid women is lesser than it is for stupid men. I believe women by default are smarter than men.

9)I love to travel - though havent done much of it yet..have been to Dubai ( Twice before i started living here), Thailand, Kazakhstan ( Yes you read that right - land of Borat :) and Turkey ( my favourite place in the whole world). I can live in Istanbul for ever. Love the city and its people.

10)I believe good manners can take one a long way in life.

11) I am a bit mad. Frankly, the kind of crazy things i have done in my 26 years shocks the hell out of me each time i sit down and look back at my life. Passion drives me more than reason and if i believe in something, I usually end up following my heart till the end.

12) I generally dont like to talk about myself :)

communication gap ?? :)

This is a real e-mail exchange between my colleagues in Dubai and Saudi offices. What was meant to be a joke from Yehia was not really understood....hence the rather hilarious reply ! ( Pleo is a toy Dinosaur that our Saudi office is promoting).

Yehia ( from Dubai office)

Dear Wael

Please find the Arabic prl

sana want to know price and where can buy it
yehia needs 2 PLEOs for his son and Hayyan will buy one as his roommate. Sabith asked if u have female PLEO.


Dear Yahia,
Thanks a lot for your effort & support in the Arabic draft, regards the team inquiries, the price of PLEO is Dhs. 1800 & it's available in Dubai in many stores, I saw it in a toy store in the mall of emirates, second floor, beside the food court. Regarding Pleo, it could be male or female, it starts as a baby & you teach him everything & Pleo learns so fast & grow up to the level of 15 years old kid, also you can upload many voices or interactions to him to be a typical human animal.
If you were serious to buy, I can get you some discount from SPS.

Best regards

Skit by Pleo

Pleo is a robotic dinosaur designed to emulate the appearance and behavior of a week-old baby Camarasaurus. It was designed by Caleb Chung, the co-creator of the Furby, and is manufactured by Ugobe. Chung selected this species of dinosaur because its body shape, stocky head, and relatively large cranium made it ideal for concealing the sensors and motors needed for lifelike animation. According to Ugobe, each Pleo will "learn" from its experiences and environment through a sophisticated artificial intelligence and develop an individual personality. ( Wikipedia)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Song of the day

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What not to do when in Dubai

Ok ! this one was inspired by a headline in The National today - about a british woman in her 30s arrested for having sex on Jumeirah Beach. While this is not something that happens everyday, tourists and expats living in Dubai do end up doing things which offend the "cultural and moral sensitivities" of the emiratis. And trust me, they are pretty strict in this part of the world.

Though Dubai is positioned as a melting pot of the east and west, UAE is still a very conservative society. It is ruled by Islamic moral ethos, which respect modesty, personal space and perfect civil behaviour when in public. One can be jailed for three months for drunken driving. Public Display of affection ( PDA) can earn you a slight reprimand to begin with, but if it involves sex in public like the british woman mentioned earlier, it could be a jail term upto six years.

Based on my experience of living in Dubai for nearly six months now, here is a list of things one must absolutely NOT do in Dubai.

1) Drunken driving - forget about driving if you want to go out for a drink. Even if it is just a pint of Beer, take a taxi back home. jail terms of upto 3-6 months are common for drunken driving

2) Public Display of Affection - ( PDA) - definitely not on. While it is ok to hug and kiss ( not smooch really :) discreetly, it is definitely not good to bring attention to yourself.

3) Walking out in the sun without sunglasses - This is an innocent one. But the first few weeks i was here and thought i didnt need them, i was punished for being too brave and audacious. The sun in UAE can be harsh !

4) Pick a fight - For those with a short temper, i would highly recommend an "anger management course" before you come to dubai. I know of a french girl, who lost her job, was almost jailed and deported. Her crime : punching the security guard who refused to let her get into an office.

There are still others who routinely get into brawls with the taxi drivers ( who are an unruly lot).

5) Go out for long without water at your disposal - Imagine 50 degrees centigrade and extremely high humidity in the summer.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chak de India..

Peppy song from an interesting movie by king Khan :)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Iam the toughest..

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

show me the money...

One of my fav. PR movies..

Friday, June 27, 2008

A joke about Indian politicians

This was told to me by Souvik Chakraverti, a well known economist ( who was with CCS, a think-tank in New Delhi). Souvik is considered a maverick econimist despite or rather because of his credentials - an LSE grad and a former civil servant.

Souvik : Do you know that the average life expectancy in India is about 65 years for a male ?

Me : Yes. I know that

Souvik : And did you know that the average age of our politicians in the cabinet is 70 yrs ?

Me : Nope, didnt know that .

Souvik : Doesnt that mean that all our politicans are technically dead ???

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

some fundamental questions

Why do we treat each other so badly ?

Why are we so competitive ?

Is there a need to be so competitive ?

Why is there so much violence in our hearts ?

Why cant we love one another ?

What makes us so jealous of others ?

Why dont we remember our death more often ?

Why have things become more important than people ?

Why is money so important ?

Cant we have more compassion and kindness in our hearts ?

Why do we define ourselves in terms of race/ age/ wealth. Are we not all human at the end of the day ?

Why do we speak so much ?

Cant we learn to just shut up and listen to the other person ?

Why do we love ourselves so much ?

Why are we so class-conscious ?

Why are we so hateful ?

Why are we so fake ?

Where do those fake smiles originate from ?

Why cant we be more sincere ?

Why dont we give more than what we take ?

Can one learn to be honest ?

Khudi by Junoon

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

On Israel’s 60th anniversary

As Israel celebrated the 60th anniversary of its formation, most of the Middle East looked the other way. There may not be any other country in the world which is as reviled, hated and despised as Israel. A country formed by victims of Holocaust has become the perpetrator of unimaginable scale of violence. It is an irony that victims have become perpetrators of the same kind of violence which they were subjected to.

Younus ( name changed) my colleague from Palestine is not a happy man. Though he holds the Palestinian passport, he has never been to his homeland. Having grown up in Syria and having lived in Lebanon for years, he is very keen to visit his “home” . A home he only knows in his imagination and is part of his heritage. A home which has more than 500 checkpoints, all controlled by the Israeli army in a humiliating control mechanism which denies the inhabitants of Palestine the most basic of human needs.

Another friend Albert ( a catholic ) had been to the holy land a few months ago. As a pilgrim to the holy land, he asked me if I wanted something; and I requested him to bring me some holy water for a friend. In his own words, Israelis live in a constant state of fear. Fear of death, violence and mayhem. He said that in his week long stay, he witnessed one suicide bombing. “Muslims and Christians live peacefully even in Jerusalem. While the Jews may have some problems with the others, by and large the Arab culture binds them together. Ultimately, we are all cousins from the same Abrahmic family”, he said. Only if the ultra-orthodox Jews and the Hamas were to internalize this and the US lobby would work towards making some sense of the madness.

BBC recently reported that Condolezza Rice is perhaps the only Secretary of State to have spent so much time and effort in the region with so little tangible results. She seems to have set the clock moving backwards instead of forwards when it comes to the Palestine issue.

While Israel conducts ongoing drills for possible terrorist attacks (as reported by BBC), and the citizens of Israel continue to live in the mirage of having found their holyland, one question remains to be answered : What have they really created ? Have they created a land which offers peace, prosperity and well-being to its citizens or have the Israelis created a state which is constantly under threat and will probably never see peace in our lifetime ? A state which is not in peace with itself, nor with its neighbours.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

letter to a young muslim by Tariq Ali

I read this long back, but re-visited the same today...felt that i must have it here too..the source is Counter punch mag.

Letter to a Young Muslim
by Tariq Ali

Dear friend

Remember when you approached me after the big antiwar meeting in November 2001 (I think it was Glasgow) and asked whether I was a believer? I have not forgotten the shock you registered when I replied "no", or the comment of your friend ("our parents warned us against you"), or the angry questions which the pair of you then began to hurl at me like darts. All of that made me think, and this is my reply for you and all the others like you who asked similar questions elsewhere in Europe and North America.

When we spoke, I told you that my criticism of religion and those who use it for political ends was not a case of being diplomatic in public. Exploiters and manipulators have always used religion self-righteously to further their own selfish ends. It's true that this is not the whole story. There are, of course, deeply sincere people of religion in different parts of the world who genuinely fight on the side of the poor, but they are usually in conflict with organised religion themselves.

The Catholic Church victimised worker or peasant priests who organised against oppression. The Iranian ayatollahs dealt severely with Muslims who preached in favour of a social radicalism. If I genuinely believed that this radical Islam was the way forward for humanity, I would not hesitate to say so in public, whatever the consequences. I know that many of your friends love chanting the name "Osama" and I know that they cheered on September 11, 2001. They were not alone. It happened all over the world, but had nothing to do with religion. I know of Argentine students who walked out when a teacher criticised Osama. I know a Russian teenager who emailed a one-word message - "Congratulations" - to his Russian friends whose parents had settled outside New York, and they replied: "Thanks. It was great." We talked, I remember, of the Greek crowds at football matches who refused to mourn for the two minutes the government had imposed and instead broke the silence with anti-American chants.

But none of this justifies what took place. What lies behind the vicarious pleasure is not a feeling of strength, but a terrible weakness. The people of Indo-China suffered more than any Muslim country at the hands of the US government. They were bombed for 15 whole years and lost millions of their people. Did they even think of bombing America? Nor did the Cubans or the Chileans or the Brazilians. The last two fought against the US-imposed military regimes at home and finally triumphed.

Today, people feel powerless. And so when America is hit they celebrate. They don't ask what such an act will achieve, what its consequences will be and who will benefit. Their response, like the event itself, is purely symbolic.

I think that Osama and his group have reached a political dead-end. It was a grand spectacle, but nothing more. The US, in responding with a war, has enhanced the importance of the action, but I doubt if even that will rescue it from obscurity in the future. It will be a footnote in the history of this century. In political, economic or military terms it was barely a pinprick.

What do the Islamists offer? A route to a past which, mercifully for the people of the seventh century, never existed. If the "Emirate of Afghanistan" is the model for what they want to impose on the world then the bulk of Muslims would rise up in arms against them. Don't imagine that either Osama or Mullah Omar represent the future of Islam. It would be a major disaster for the culture we both share if that turned out to be the case. Would you want to live under those conditions? Would you tolerate your sister, your mother or the woman you love being hidden from public view and only allowed out shrouded like a corpse?

I want to be honest with you. I opposed this latest Afghan war. I do not accept the right of big powers to change governments as and when it affects their interests. But I did not shed any tears for the Taliban as they shaved their beards and ran back home. This does not mean that those who have been captured should be treated like animals or denied their elementary rights according to the Geneva convention, but as I've argued elsewhere, the fundamentalism of the American Empire has no equal today. They can disregard all conventions and laws at will. The reason they are openly mistreating prisoners they captured after waging an illegal war in Afghanistan is to assert their power before the world - hence they humiliate Cuba by doing their dirty work on its soil - and warn others who attempt to twist the lion's tail that the punishment will be severe.

I remember how, during the cold war, the CIA and its indigenous recruits tortured political prisoners and raped them in many parts of Latin America. During the Vietnam war the US violated most of the Geneva conventions. They tortured and executed prisoners, raped women, threw prisoners out of helicopters to die on the ground or drown in the sea, and all this, of course, in the name of freedom.

Because many people in the west believe the nonsense about "humanitarian interventions", they are shocked by these acts, but this is relatively mild compared with the crimes committed in the last century by the Empire. I've met many of our people in different parts of the world since September 11. One question is always repeated: "Do you think we Muslims are clever enough to have done this?" I always answer "Yes". Then I ask who they think is responsible, and the answer is invariably "Israel". Why? "To discredit us and make the Americans attack our countries." I gently expose their wishful illusions, but the conversation saddens me. Why are so many Muslims sunk in this torpor? Why do they wallow in so much self-pity? Why is their sky always overcast? Why is it always someone else who is to blame?

Sometimes when we talk I get the impression that there is not a single Muslim country of which they can feel really proud. Those who have migrated from South Asia are much better treated in Britain than in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States. It is here that something has to happen. The Arab world is desperate for a change. Over the years, in every discussion with Iraqis, Syrians, Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and Palestinians, the same questions are raised, the same problems recur. We are suffocating. Why can't we breathe? Everything seems static: our economy, our politics, our intellectuals and, most of all, our religion.

Palestine suffers every day. The west does nothing. Our governments are dead. Our politicians are corrupt. Our people are ignored. Is it surprising that some are responsive to the Islamists? Who else offers anything these days? The US? It doesn't even want democracy, not even in little Qatar, and for a very simple reason. If we elected our own governments they might demand that the US close down its bases. Would it? They already resent al-Jazeera television because it has different priorities from them. It was fine when al-Jazeera attacked corruption within the Arab elite. Thomas Friedman even devoted a whole column to praise of al-Jazeera in the New York Times. He saw it as a sign of democracy coming to the Arab world. No longer. Because democracy means the right to think differently, and al-Jazeera showed pictures of the Afghan war that were not shown on the US networks, so Bush and Blair put pressure on Qatar to stop unfriendly broadcasts.

For the west, democracy means believing in exactly the same things that they believe. Is that really democracy? If we elected our own government, in one or two countries people might elect Islamists. Would the west leave us alone? Did the French government leave the Algerian military alone? No. They insisted that the elections of 1990 and 1991 be declared null and void. French intellectuals described the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) as "Islamo-fascists", ignoring the fact that they had won an election. Had they been allowed to become the government, divisions already present within them would have come to the surface. The army could have warned that any attempt to tamper with the rights guaranteed to citizens under the constitution would not be tolerated. It was only when the original leaders of the FIS had been eliminated that the more lumpen elements came to the fore and created mayhem. Should we blame them for the civil war, or those in Algiers and Paris who robbed them of their victory? The massacres in Algeria are horrendous. Is it only the Islamists who are responsible? What happened in Bentalha, 10 miles south of Algiers, on the night of September 22, 1997? Who slaughtered the 500 men, women and children of that township? Who? The Frenchman who knows everything, Bernard-Henri Levy, is sure it was the Islamists who perpetrated this dreadful deed. Then why did the army deny the local population arms to defend itself? Why did it tell the local militia to go away that night? Why did the security forces not intervene when they could see what was going on? Why does M Levy believe that the Maghreb has to be subordinated to the needs of the French republic, and why does nobody attack this sort of fundamentalism?

We know what we have to do, say the Arabs, but every time the west intervenes it sets our cause back many years. So if they want to help, they should stay out. That's what my Arab friends say, and I agree with this approach. Look at Iran. The western gaze turned benevolent during the assault on Afghanistan. Iran was needed for the war, but let the west watch from afar. The imperial fundamentalists are talking about the "axis of evil", which includes Iran. An intervention there would be fatal. A new generation has experienced clerical oppression. It has known nothing else. Stories about the shah are part of its prehistory. These young men and women are sure about one thing if nothing else. They don't want the ayatollahs to rule them any more. Even though Iran, in recent years, has not been as bad as Saudi Arabia or the late "Emirate of Afghanistan", it has not been good for the people.

Let me tell you a story. A couple of years ago I met a young Iranian film-maker in Los Angeles. His name was Moslem Mansouri. He had managed to escape with several hours of filmed interviews for a documentary he was making. He had won the confidence of three Tehran prostitutes and filmed them for more than two years. He showed me some of the footage. They talked to him quite openly. They described how the best pick-ups were at religious festivals. I got a flavour of the film from the transcripts he sent me. One of the women tells him: "Today everyone is forced to sell their bodies! Women like us have to tolerate a man for 10,000 toomans. Young people need to be in a bed together, even for 10 minutes . . . It is a primary need . . . it calms them down.

"When the government does not allow it, then prostitution grows. We don't even need to talk about prostitution, the government has taken away the right to speak with the opposite sex freely in public . . . In the parks, in the cinemas, or in the streets, you can't talk to the person sitting next to you. On the streets, if you talk to a man, the 'Islamic guard' interrogates you endlessly. Today in our country, nobody is satisfied! Nobody has security. I went to a company to get a job. The manager of the company, a bearded guy, looked at my face and said, 'I will hire you and I'll give you 10,000 toomans more than the pay rate.' I said, 'You can at least test my computer skills to see if I'm proficient or not . . .' He said, 'I hire you for your looks!' I knew that if I had to work there, I had to have sex with him at least once a day.

"Wherever you go it's like this! I went to a special family court - for divorce - and begged the judge, a clergyman, to give me my child's custody. I told him, 'Please . . . I beg you to give me the custody of my child. I'll be your Kaniz . . . ["Kaniz" means servant. This is a Persian expression which basically means 'I beg you, I am very desperate'.] What do you think the guy said? He said, 'I don't need a servant! I need a woman!' What do you expect of others when the clergyman, the head of the court, says this? I went to the officer to get my divorce signed, instead he said I should not get divorced and instead get married again without divorce, illegally. Because he said without a husband it will be hard to find a job. He was right, but I didn't have money to pay him . . . These things make you age faster . . . you get depressed . . . you have a lot of stress and it damages you. Perhaps there is a means to get out of this . . . "

Moslem was distraught because none of the American networks wanted to buy the film. They didn't want to destabilise Khatami's regime! Moslem himself is a child of the Revolution. Without it he would never have become a film-maker. He comes from a very poor family. His father is a muezzin and his upbringing was ultra-religious. Now he hates religion. He refused to fight in the war against Iraq. He was arrested. This experience transformed him. "The prison was a hard but good experience for me. It was in the prison that I felt I am reaching a stage of intellectual maturity. I was resisting and I enjoyed my sense of strength. I felt that I saved my life from the corrupted world of clergies and this is a price I was paying for it. I was proud of it. After one year in prison, they told me that I would be released on the condition that I sign papers stating that I will participate in Friday sermons and religious activities. I refused to sign. They kept me in the prison for one more year."

Afterwards he took a job on a film magazine as a reporter. "I thought my work in the media would serve as a cover for my own projects, which were to document the hideous crimes of the political regime itself. I knew that I would not be able to make the kind of films I really want to make due to the censorship regulations. Any scenario that I would write would have never got the permission of the Islamic censorship office. I knew that my time and energy would get wasted. So I decided to make eight documentaries secretly. I smuggled the footage out of Iran. Due to financial problems I've only been able to finish editing two of my films. One is Close Up, Long Shot and the other is Shamloo, The Poet Of Liberty.

"The first film is about the life of Hossein Sabzian, who was the main character of Abbas Kiarostami's drama-documentary called Close Up. A few years after Kiarostami's film, I went to visit Sabzian. He loves cinema. His wife and children get frustrated with him and finally leave him. Today, he lives in a village on the outskirts of Tehran and has come to the conclusion that his love for cinema has resulted in nothing but misery. In my film he says, 'People like me get destroyed in societies like the one we live in. We can never present ourselves. There are two types of dead: flat and walking. We are the walking dead!'"

We could find stories like this and worse in every Muslim country. There is a big difference between the Muslims of the diaspora - those whose parents migrated to the western lands - and those who still live in the House of Islam. The latter are far more critical because religion is not crucial to their identity. It's taken for granted that they are Muslims. In Europe and North America things are different. Here an official multiculturalism has stressed difference at the expense of all else. Its rise correlates with a decline in radical politics as such.

"Culture" and "religion" are softer, euphemistic substitutes for socioeconomic inequality - as if diversity, rather than hierarchy, were the central issue in North American or European society today. I have spoken to Muslims from the Maghreb (France), from Anatolia (Germany); from Pakistan and Bangladesh (Britain), from everywhere (United States) and a South Asian sprinkling in Scandinavia. Why is it, I often ask myself, that so many are like you? They have become much more orthodox and rigid than the robust and vigorous peasants of Kashmir and the Punjab, whom I used to know so well.

The British prime minister is a great believer in single-faith schools. The American president ends each speech with "God Save America". Osama starts and ends each TV interview by praising Allah. All three have the right to do so, just as I have the right to remain committed to most of the values of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment attacked religion - Christianity, mainly - for two reasons: that it was a set of ideological delusions, and that it was a system of institutional oppression, with immense powers of persecution and intolerance. Why should we abandon either of these legacies today?

I don't want you to misunderstand me. My aversion to religion is by no means confined to Islam alone. And nor do I ignore the role which religious ideologies have played in the past in order to move the world forward. It was the ideological clashes between two rival interpretations of Christianity - the Protestant Reformation versus the Catholic Counter-Reformation - that led to volcanic explosions in Europe. Here was an example of razor-sharp intellectual debates fuelled by theological passions, leading to a civil war, followed by a revolution.

The 16th-century Dutch revolt against Spanish occupation was triggered off by an assault on sacred images in the name of confessional correctness. The introduction of a new prayer book in Scotland was one of the causes of the 17th-century Puritan Revolution in England, the refusal to tolerate Catholicism sparked off its successor in 1688. The intellectual ferment did not cease and a century later the ideas of the Enlightenment stoked the furnaces of revolutionary France. The Church of England and the Vatican now combined to contest the new threat, but ideas of popular sovereignty and republics were too strong to be easily obliterated.

I can almost hear your question. What has all this got to do with us? A great deal, my friend. Western Europe had been fired by theological passions, but these were now being transcended. Modernity was on the horizon. This was a dynamic that the culture and economy of the Ottoman Empire could never mimic. The Sunni-Shia divide had come too soon and congealed into rival dogmas. Dissent had, by this time, been virtually wiped out in Islam. The Sultan, flanked by his religious scholars, ruled a state-Empire that was going to wither away and die.

If this was already the case in the 18th century, how much truer it is today. Perhaps the only way in which Muslims will discover this is through their own experiences, as in Iran. The rise of religion is partially explained by the lack of any other alternative to the universal regime of neoliberalism. Here you will discover that as long as Islamist governments open their countries to global penetration, they will be permitted to do what they want in the sociopolitical realm.

The American Empire used Islam before and it can do so again. Here lies the challenge. We are in desperate need of an Islamic Reformation that sweeps away the crazed conservatism and backwardness of the fundamentalists but, more than that, opens up the world of Islam to new ideas which are seen to be more advanced than what is currently on offer from the west.

This would necessitate a rigid separation of state and mosque; the dissolution of the clergy; the assertion by Muslim intellectuals of their right to interpret the texts that are the collective property of Islamic culture as a whole; the freedom to think freely and rationally and the freedom of imagination. Unless we move in this direction we will be doomed to reliving old battles and thinking not of a richer and humane future, but of how we can move from the present to the past. It is an unacceptable vision. I've let my pen run away with me and preached my heresies for too long. I doubt that I will change, but I hope you will.

Tariq Ali is an editor of New Left Review and a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. This article is extracted from his new book The Clash Of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads And Modernity, published by Verso.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Starting with a clean slate...

Is it possible to start with a clean slate ? Does life give one the chance to forget the bitter experiences and start all over again ? How many of us get such chances and how many of us make use of the chances given to us ?

As an expat, living in a foreign land and trying to "start all over again", I often question myself. The answer is both yes and no. One cannot undo what time and circumstances have done, but can definitely re-construct our version of reality to ensure that this vision is not clouded by this past.

The past of every individual’s life, like the history of a nation is important. It defines who he/she is. Without a historical memory, we are nothing but beasts, going through the motions of living.

While this past defines us, it shapes us and in most cases shapes our future; it need not be a baggage that we carry around. If it has not been pleasant, one must be strong and brave enough to move on with one’s life; while putting the past behind.

Some nations have been able to put their past behind quite literally. Take Japan post WWII. The nation and its people conceded defeat after the war and put themselves heart and soul into re-constructing themselves. Their efforts were rewarded in a few years, Japan emerged as a vibrant economy known for its technological prowess. Japan to this day continues to be a leading Asian country among the developed nations of the world.

Turkey tried to do the same, but I am not sure how successful this process of erasing the past has been. Ataturk tried to do away with everything that was Islamic and often with disastrous consequences. While Turkey today is seen as a progressive country, the people seem to be asserting themselves and their identity, contrary to what one would expect. I saw more women in hijabs across Turkey than perhaps in India ( with the second largest muslim population in the world). The ruling AK party in Ankara is very conservative and seems to have the full support of the majority. Perhaps there is a message here that Ataturk wasnt totally right in his reading of the situation. He was a visionary, but he also mis-read how people would react to this forced secularisation.

Like nations, even individuals have to make a conscious choices to interpret their own history in a way that will best prepare them to move forward. Move with confidence, pride and compassion.

While we may not have had a perfect past, there is no reason why our future cannot be aligned towards an orderly life. A life of balance, order, discipline, love and above all, compassion.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Unlikely conversations...

In the last three months that i have been in Dubai, I must have had tens of conversations with an unlikely group of people - the taxi drivers. While the idea of using a taxi is to get from point A to point B quickly without hassles, travel by a taxi can turn into a very educational experience.

Some vignettes that i received from the well-meaning taxi drivers :
1. Buy a car as soon as you can - dont use taxis ! They are expensive :) - this is the funniest advise i have received...the taxi guys seem to be on a self-defeating mission of sorts.

2. No matter how others live, we must mind our own business and live a pious life.

3. You seem to be a young chap new to town, dont waste money on women and clubbing. Be good and save up money. This came from a pakistani gentleman.

Almost all these conversations start within minutes of boarding the taxi. I guess they almost feel obligated to share their wisdom and experience of life with me. At times i find it intrusive, but most of the time; do not mind their curiosity. With a 12 hour shift that can break the spirit of the most hardy of us, these taxi drivers are a classic example of immigrants in search of greener pastures.

Most of them seem to be unhappy with their lot. What keeps them from going back is the money. The 3,000 to 4,000 Dirhams that they earn here translates well when sent home. A Dirham like a dollar goes a long way back in India/ Pakistan/ Bangladesh.
Poverty has strange effects on people.

What is surprising is that most of the drivers seem to have strong political views. Views which defy their background and education. While they are aware that they are living a monotonous life which is nothing but a grind, there is a sense of purpose to the mere existence. In most cases it is providing for a family, taking care of the parents or a wife who is waiting.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Turkish instrumental

Something i am addicted to since my visit to Istanbul

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The next level philosophy

While all of us desire and expect positive outcomes in everything that we do, and look at the end result; we often miss out on what we need to do to reach the next stage of our endeavour. It could be setting up a new company or a new job, a new relationship, start of a new phase of economic reforms in a country or starting from scratch. I believe to achieve any measurable output, we must start focusing on the 'Next level'.

The Next level philosophy if you may call it is simple. Instead of focusing too far into the future on the end result, we must focus all our energies on reaching the next level. If a country hasnt won a single gold in the Olympics, there is no point setting up a goal of winning ten golds in the next one;but rather reaching the next level of winning at least one bronze. Small incremental steps add up and as cliched as it sounds, a thousand miles journey begins with one step.

Where are the applications of this 'Next level' philosophy ?

I believe this approach to thinking can be applied to any task/ activity where we are trying to achieve a positive outcome :

a. At work : Are you stuck in a rut ( as many of us are ) and dreaming of that dream job ? Financial independence and money enough to retire ? The approach to take i believe is to focus on the next level of job. Focus on doing the job well or move if one is truly dissatisfied and find one that is more akin to one's temparament and that may take you closer to your dreams.

This next level in your career will help transition to the next level and then to the next and hopefully before you know it; you would have reached a stage in life where you would reach a stage in life and career where career growth will happen by itself and one need not worry about it.

b.Relationships : one step at a time. Jumping to conclusions in relationships is fatal. From experience, i can testify to the disastrous effects of rushing into things when they are not right. Living one day at a time, one tiny baby step to the next - both in terms of where the relationship is heading and where you want to take it to is the way. Women dont like despo guys - and this is something which every guy must remember. Even when one has found "THE WOMAN", its advisable to play cool, take it easy and test run the relationship before jumping the gun and making big promises and commitments.

c. Personal growth - Even when it comes to personal growth and enrichment, we aim too far too fast. While the mind works wonders in imagining best possible scenarios; there is a time-lag between what we want and how fast and how far we can go in a certain span of time. It helps to focus on reaching the next level of growth. Be it learning a new skill, a new language, getting into shape; the focus should be at the very next step and all one's energy and focus should be on that.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bringing people together..

Interesting project undertaken by Film makers around the world...chk out the videos of people of one country singing the national anthem of another...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Notes to self : Letting things come to you...

There is a certain charm in letting things come to you...of not rushing to grab anything...in not being greedy and letting life tell you what there is in store.

Many a time, when we are in a hurry, we tend to grab, grasp and rush towards things and people. This may have the opposite consequence of what we wish...

Haste can really be a killer. It can kill the smooth flow of life, the natural progression of how things should move...

If something is meant to come to you, it will. There is no need to rush towards anything and grab it with both hands...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Building an inclusive Dubai

Dubai - the city of the future has some serious flaws. It is definitely a world-class city with unmatched infrastructure and possiblities in this part of the world. At the same time, the city has some obvious missing links. some obvious shortcomings which reflect the lack of planning to include all sections of people in the city.

Consider pedestrians. It is almost impossible to walk in Dubai. Unless one is risking being run over by a car speeding at 100 km per hour, one cannot walk safely in Dubai. As someone who lives close to his place of work, often i walk to office. Apart from being an exercise, it gives me a chance to feel part of the city. But each walk can be a potentially hazardous experience, with cars zooming past me. Besides, half the roads do not have pedestrian paths; so one is forced to walk on the road.

Secondly, there is virtually no public transport to speak of. The almost invisible public buses never arrive on time and in no way a reliable means to commute. Once that i actually tried to use the bus, i was late by over two hours for a meeting. That was my first and last attempt at catching a bus. It simply isnt worth the time and effort.

Also, there seems to be no space for poor people in Dubai. Those with low income jobs have no place to live. With sky-high rentals, most of the poorer people are pushed to the fringes of the city and often un-hygienic conditions of living. This is indirectly telling people that there is no space for the poor in Dubai. with the prohibitive cost of living and rentals, many people commute from Al Ain and sharjah (a good two-three hours commute one way) to work.

Hopefully, with the upcoming Metro things should look up slowly...but the needs of a larger section of society must be kept in mind while planning the growth of Dubai.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Role of religion in the world

Is organised religion a curse ? Does belonging to a faith make one hate those who dont share the same views ? Has religion been the cause of all major conflicts ? I believe the answer to all of these is a NO. For starters, the two major wars World War I and WW II both were political in nature and not religious.

The more one examines the nature of the arguments that religions cause conflicts, the more one realises that they are driven by ignorance more than informed opinion. Yes, there are terrorists out there killing others in the name of religion and modern day imperialists occupying land which they claim belonging to them; but their chief driving force is not religion but politics and power.

In this illuminating talk, Karen Armstrong, well known author of all things religious speaks of compassion as the chief force which drives all the three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She rightly says that unless there is compassion, there is no religion and those who claim to be violent and religious are just opportunists using religion to their advantage.

Watch this to gain an insight into some complex issues and understand that peace and compassion is the only way forward. There must be a concerted effort by those in power to build bridges of understanding rather than divide people in the name of religion.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Innocent office exchange

My GM, walking into the office space : Guys, does anyone here have my calculator

Me : Sorry boss, i dont earn enough to need it

COO : Neither do i :)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bangalore Autos and Dubai Taxi

THe only solution to end the "Auto menace " in Bangalore is to impose very heavy fines on autodrivers who refuse to take passengers to their desired destination.

I remember the constant harassment faced by commuters on their way to work or back home. I have been in Dubai for two weeks now and only ONE taxi driver refused to take me to where i wanted to go. This is quite a pleasant surprise for me and part of the reason as we are told is that the Dubai Transport Authority is barring drivers for ten days if they refuse to take people where they want to.

THe system seems to be quite hard on Taxi drivers, but it works. And considering that the Taxis are there to serve people and not the other way around; to me it seems to be a fair system. Its time Bangalore does something similar. Its time for some strong action.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Learning to say good bye...

Saying goodbye is one of the hardest thing in the world. I always have mixed feelings about moving on. While it is obvious that everything in life is temporary ( including life itself); we tend to get attached. Attached to people, places, situations and this attachment causes a lot of grief.

I am moving on from my current job and also from Bangalore. The city in which i have lived for 26 years. I am also leaving behind many friends, my family and many memories - both good and bad. The last time i had to say goodbye was to Istanbul, a city i fell in love with. Just after five days in the city; i had started to feel that i belong to the city. There was a certain sense of attachment that i developed for the city and as i was boarding the flight to return to India, i felt strange, almost melancholic about leaving the city i had started to like so much.

When one is saying goodbye, a few things are happening : firstly, one is sad that the familiar is going away. One is moving away from the comfort zone. There is nervousness about what awaits us. Perhaps, some anxiety too. I think it is a state of mind. If one looks at it objectively and is able to visualise what the future holds - and try to look at the brighter side of life; saying goodbye isnt such a hard thing.

I also remember the day when I had to move away from my parents home ( when they divorced), I was not too young; but young enough to feel the impact of the move. I remember crying almost the whole day. It was such a jolt to imagine not living in the same home where i had grown up. But i mustered the courage to hold on, imagine that all that happens is for the good; and that there is a much larger plan that all of this is leading to; and in the end, everything will be ok.

It can be a positively enriching experience. Even where people are concerned, if one is able to say goodbye graciously and with no bitterness ( even if they have hurt you or been mean), it reinforces the faith that one has in humanity and in goodness. This can also be an act of discipline.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Intellectuals, pseudo-intellectuals and ignoramuses

Someone called me a pseudo-intellectual the other day. This person said i was a phony, passing off as an intellectual. I was not offended, but piqued about what she meant. I started to wonder what or who is this animal called an "Intellectual".

Infact, that is the last thing that i try to come across as. My self-image is that of an ignoramus. An intellectual is the last thing that i consider myself. I have no "intellectual " inclinations ( though i do read and write quite a bit). I think this word ( much like Advertising) has been over-rated. These two areas of human endeavour ( intellectualism and Advertising) are often mis-understood and often over-rated. Both cannot change the world. Both are supposed to be confined to higher mortals who have god-given talents and hence in some way superior to others.

Let us first look at who an intellectual is. To me, an intellectual is by definition who is in love with knowledge, to whom truth is paramount and all other temptations ( power, wealth) are of no significance. By this definition, most of our "intellectuals" alive today would be ruled out as "anti-intellectual".

Also, i abhor the types who are so full of themselves, bitter, angry at someone/ something and so arrogant with their supposed knowledge that nothing is bigger than themselves.

Does education have anything to do with being an intellectual ? Well, I suppose yes, but these are mutually exclusive. One does not have to be educated to be an intellectual. The prophet Muhammad was illiterate but considered one of the greatest intellectuals. Consider his contribution to feminism : He is the first who suggested in 7th century arabia that women have the right to divorce and the right to property. The so-called enlightened Europeans were grappling with these issues until recently and are still not sure about these issues.

Anyway, more later.

Basis of a healthy relationship

Read an interesting article a few months ago about the basis of a healthy relationship. It said the five questions which will help one decide if a relationship ( between a man and woman) is healthy are:
1) Do we share a common purpose in life ?
2) Do i feel safe expressing my thoughts and feelings to this person without being punished ?
3) Is the person a mensch - a refined and sensitive person who seeks to grow on a continuous basis ( and not just comfort seeking)
4) How does he/she treat others ? ( especially those below their status)
5) Is there anything that you would want to change in this person ?

A critical look at these questions will throw light on the kind of relationship that one has and how healthy it is.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Jacques Derrida on Forgiveness

Derrida on Love.

Fidelity is threatened because of the difference between who and what

Naom chomsky vs Foucault

Hilarious - Ali G interviews Naom chomsky..must watch !

Ali G is the fictional character by Sacha Baron cohen - the guy who did the Borat movie.

Naom Chomsky on Clash of Civilisations

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim

Interesting video of a brilliant intellectual who has written some path-breaking books about Islam's relationship with the West. Mahmud Mamdani.

sending money out of India

While it is very easy to receive money from outside of India, it is virtually impossible to send money out of India through money transfer companies. Western Union is one company i have dealt with several times and have personal experience of their efficiency( or lack thereof). They are ok. But i trust the hawala dealers ( illegal money launderers) more.

A few years ago, i had to send money ( a few hundred dollars) to a friend stranded in Thailand. Boy ! did i have to go through hell. Western Union simply turned my request down. So did many of the local money transfer companies. It was as if they were telling us all "Indians are good at receiving money, but not good at sending it out". Though i dont understand macro-finance and banking laws, I am assuming this has something to do with the RBI guidelines for money transfer etc..

If India really wants to join the global community ( which it claims it wants to do), then it better get in tune with the way other countries function. The core of this is putting the citizen as the focus and ensuring that his/her life is safe, comfortable and worth living. This focus seems to be missing in Indian policy making. Hope better sense prevails over our Bureaucrats and policy makers and they start thinking of these small but annoying details and synchronise our systems with that of other countries so one does not have to deal with "illegal" people.

In the meanwhile, if you have to send money out of India - to your friend/ relative or anyone, urgently then your only hope today is through the hawala. And i speak from experience.