Archive for June, 2006


Misty Recollections of Glory Past

I had always believed myself to be something of a hardened individual, a little jaded and a little cynical. Yet for the most two days, I have done nothing but cried tears for happenings of an age ago that I can not affect.. I have not sobbed but allowed the tears to roll unchecked down my face as I gazed at what had been and what it had come to in the today… or furiously ranted, raved and otherwise shaken my fist at the sky…

Spanish history would be incomplete without the mention of the the glorious role that the Muslims played in shaping so much of its traditions, culture, architecture.. The contribution that can be seen in the majestic heritage of this country in almost every part of Spain but come South towards Cordoba (Arabic: Qurtuba), the old province of Al-Andalus and further to the point of Gibraltar and you may perhaps begin to fathom just how profound Islam and its followers have been.

This was the history lesson that I had wanted ever since learning the context of the phrase “Burn your boats behind you”… In 711 CE, Tariq ibn Ziyad’s largely Berber army crossed the straits which were to be forever identified with him (Gibraltar is the corrupted form of Jabal al-Tariq – the mount of Tariq) to conquer al-Andalus. They were soon joined by Syrian Arab troops and together they undertook to push the boundaries further.

It stings though that this, which in the modern world should be a sign of one of the most
elemental Muslim conquests is a bloody British Colony and I don’t know about anyone else but it had me chomping at the bit to see the Union Jack flying in the air over the veddy British fortifications and gates!!

Although something about one of the legends of Gibraltar, says something about it being British as long as there are apes there (called Barabary Macaques, the only wild primates in Europe) And yes, I research what I write about… Sue me!! All the way through the cable car up to the natural reserve up the Rock, I was mumbling something about driving them away and extinction, even hunting just to have the snot nosed British heaved on their big, fat, bloody … only to have occasional hands being slapped over my mouth when the muttering got louder.. What can I say, I’m an emotional person..

Needless to say, the train ride back to the Bobadilla, where we changed for Cordoba was a somber affair unaccompanied by the horsing around that had been the trend till Granada, where entire tour groups actually turned around to see who was making so much noise!!

All along this route, my cousins and I engaged in debate about how it is that foundations so strongly steeped in faith, belief and a genuine thirst and hunger for knowledge accompanied with a love for development, and art could be shaken to rubble and ruin so comprehensively that we are forced to view just a glimmer of that stupendous glory and triumph as reflections in arches and rocks… And here a further debate arises for are we as descendants of such a strong and powerful race, so weak that we rely on the West to try and preserve and protect that which belongs to us and so pathetic are we that we actually trust them to do so..?

Next stop, Cordoba most famous of course for the Grand Mosque called the “Mezquita”, a wondrous ode to Muslim architecture and appreciation of aesthetics, rising against the sun with its shimmering golden mosaics and row upon row of red and white striped arches. This is the place that reflects the barbaric cruelty of the colonizing Europe, since you may have trouble visualizing the actual grandeur of the original structure which extended over nearly 23,000 square meters, thanks to the 16th century cathedral that is plunk right in the middle and the closure of the 19 doors (based on the structure of the other 2 great mosques of Islam) that when open would fill the entire mosque with light. This was an incident that caused the ruler Carlos I to exclaim rather ineffectually to the priests in the cathedral that:

“You have destroyed something that was unique to the world”

Not that he did anything about it either!! Small consolation that rulers then were too just all talk and not much else…

The Mosque of Cordoba is of course immortalized in the poetry of Iqbal:

“Ka‘ba of the friends of art! Majesty of the revealed faiths!
Through whom the Andalusian land is revered as a shrine”

In 1932, hundreds of years after Muslims had been evicted from the mosque and stopped from praying there, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, had the honour and distinction of having the Mezquita sealed while he offered supplications to the ALmighty. It is said that he was so overcome that he as in tears and fainted.

I can very honestly say that I actually have an inkling of how he may have felt…

More soon… I hope.

Some Pictures:


Spain Chronicles: Madrid Nights June 21, 2006

I have to say getting the bedclothes wrenched off me and then being unceremoniously dragged off the mattress does nothing for my mood regardless of my own strigent instructions for getting me up at ALL cost! Mayhap it has something to do with the zeal that Shahzi and Mir followed through with them that irked somewhat..

But Madrid beckons, and soon I find myself with the 2 stooges either side, exiting the 3rd floor flat that is home in one of the oldest quadrants of the city known as “Madrid de los Austrias” trooping down winding cobbleways and narrow streets back towards the Sol, equivalent of the Times Square New York, where Madrid converges for the new year countdown. (And 3 does not 3 stooges make! So, spare me the 3 stooges’ jokes… although I could get away with being Moe Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk!) Ahem!

The first landmark we pass is Plaza Mayor. Plaza or squares are busy city intersections now predictably lines with tourist attractions, bars and decorated with statues such as this one or fountains such as the Sol. We are headed to El Retiro; Parque Del Buen Retiro. And this strolling zone is gorgeous even at night. People out for a restful look at the city walk along the boulevards curving through lush lawns and trees, over and under mini bridges arching over streams of flowing crystal clear water. Head further and we come to a lake stunning in its still reflection of a clear summer night. Getting ice cream on Mir’s tab and then it’s time to fold your legs and settle to watch a puppet show in Tiritilandia (Puppet land).

It’s weird but I never liked puppet shows. I always thought them to be kind of grotesque and never forgot the irony that the puppet masters themselves are puppets in the hands of a greater power as we all are… But just for a while, watching 2 brightly painted jesters ‘bonk’ and prod each other and despite the Spanish language and not knowing a word of it, was fabulous. The fact that I ate cotton candy, peanuts and ice cream and didn’t get sick was worth celebrating which we did around midnight as we walked out of the park in search of real food.

Walking past the various bars and cafes now open and in full swing line the various walkways as we head up past a sight that has to be seen at night which is a gate known as Puerta de Alcala lit up in hues of gold and blue light against the night sky. Reminds me of the glory of the gates and doorways around the old cities back home in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Peshawar and what they look like against a sunshine day, let alone a night. Sitting down to a meal at a terraza and enjoying an array of Spanish finger food with a variety of tortillas, pasta, and tapas accompanied by a fresh, cold cana, it is time to absorb the feel of the city known for it’s night life. Half the fun in eating in such an environment is the people around you. Well dressed Madrilenos (the city dwellers of Madrid), easily distinguishable from the tourists in their casuals, mostly shorts, t-shirts and sandals. It is amazing listening to the strains of music filling the air, and watching random spins and dips of people of the street as a particularly catchy strain is heard and the applause, laughter and acknowledgement for the moment is absorbed into the style of the city.

And, all the while between noticing who’s got it and who’s not, our discussion centered on how to plan the what and where of my visit. It turns out that I have the full day Thursday to see Madrid and Friday will be spent with mamoon and mumani (Shahzi and Mir’s parents) who live some way out of the city in a town called Carabanchel, and returning to Madrid on Friday night to catch the morning train to travel south to Toledo, Granada, Gibraltar, and Cordoba before returning.

But the best part is sitting in Chocolateris San Gines for a sinfully, drippy, gooey, piece of heaven kind of hot chocolate… The kind that reminds you of the warm, comfort of pure adulterated happiness with each sip of the thick brown concoction feeling it slide down your throat… Decadence in innocence! And with them to dip into happiness, deep-fried long doughnuts.. YUM YUM YUM! And right at this moment, weight be damned! I’m happy!

And that feeling stayed with me, as the 3 stooges, Shahzi, Mir and I, walked back singing ‘Iris” off-key, sounding way times better than any version I ever heard of it, specially when Mir interjected in Spanish!

I can’t wait for morning…

And when it came…

Thump!! Cushion on target!
“Uth stupid!! Your breakfast is ready and waiting”
“Get lost…”
Toxic let loose (Mir’s new pup)
“Okay, Okay! Call him off!! I’m up.. What time is it?”
“7:00 a.m.” BIG Grin

Chasing after with a pillow in hand, and Toxic behind… Coming to a stand still at the sight and smell filling the small living room… Following my nose and my eyes to the big mug and plate sitting on the kitchen counter set for 1…

Chocolate… Heaven… Bliss! 🙂

“Kya hai..?” Kind of pissed in an artificial way..


Spain Chronicles: Arrival and Foreword

Arriving at Madrid’s Barajas Airport in stifling heat and in the middle afternoon is no way good for your orientation and your hair even if it is straight as a pin.. or so I’ve learned. But I’m here! And I’m on my own and as I reminded my mama when I called her from one of the booths as soon as the plane touched down, Dubai Airport remained standing despite my 5 hour sojourn there and I swore that all the passengers travelling with me departed from the plane with their limbs and lives intact. Oh, and I was fine too.
So, now all I have to do, is clear immigration which I managed with not too much trouble? Surprising, but maybe a Muslim girl travelling on her own is such a oddity that the guy at the counter thought it was a joke. Although it was just a little bit jarring when he asked if it was really my picture on the passport (Yes! It is abominable, horrible, Yucky!! and No! You can’t see it) and then, whether I was really a Pakistani? That caused some of the Indians, Africans and other assorted Arab nationalities in the line behind me to look at me kind of funny… U.S. Citizens and E.U. Citizens of course don’t stand in the same lines we do.
I know the airport is a little way outside the city and hence, as an afterthought and in a moment of misguided generosity had told my cousins that I would meet them at the Puerta del Sol, and get there on the metro straight from the airport. The metro is probably the most logical form of transport avilable in most European cities and their extensive networks mean convenience and a hell of a lot of fun too. I catch the Metro’s line 8 from Terminal 2 of the airport and in around 15 minutes am allowing myself to be carried out along with the other to the outside.
So, I’m there! Standing like a moron, in the heat, watching groups of tourists and backpackers amble past, tapping my foot restlessly and avoiding getting too worked up.. And ten minutes later, here come the dos senors (2 gentlemen! And I mean that in the best sense possible… not!) grinning ear to ear, one actually holding flowers. They’re still not forgiven despite their very convincing argument amidst welcome hugs, kisses, punches and slaps on the back that flights never get in on time and I’m early otherwise they would have been here.
And carry on we to walk, at least they walked tall and straight, one holding my single piece of luggage and the other the flowers while I drag along with them with the backpack on my shoulders homeward bound to a meal and some sleep. I’m tired and need sustenance and will get some 2 hours to eat, shower and sleep in that order. Why? Because the night is there to party and see amazing sights and I know these 2 brilliant people have planned my itinerary quite effectively… (They know I’ll kill them if I miss one item that I listed out for them.) And except for their occasional behavior that makes me doubt their human origins or place them as the missing link, they really are quite nice and very sweet… something that I will never admit it to them… 😀
I can’t wait!!
I’ve been in Madrid 3 days now and am now on a train on the next leg of my journey and since using a laptop and headphones is the only way to drown out the droning rumbles,snorts and cacaphony of sounds emerging rather interestingly from Shahzi’s mouth, sleeping peacefully? beside me, I thought I might try and upload something for my blog. The only thing is that I’m an old-fashioned travel writer, snapping photographs and writing down all I’ve seen in an old style leather bound diary in my own writing. To try and sum up all that online is a little hard for me because it takes away the romance of what I’ve seen, what I feel and just what the overall experience is. However, for the millions and millions of the Rock’s… I mean my blog’s fans, I shall try. So far, just the first part of my arrival in Madrid. The actually story of course started with the night… So, till later!

Summer Rain Mystique

There is something so primitive about watching thunderstorms roll in. It awakens something primal inside you as you watch clouds of white slowly sift colors into grays and blues; indigos and violets before draping the sky in a cloak of charcoal darkness. Shifting and swaying, coming together, moving apart before gathering close again in a dance as old as time. The winds and thunder are suitable accompaniments to this show of grace; lethal and potent in their beauty and power. There are those who regard storms with fear perhaps stemming from respect for the destruction that their rage can bring in its wake and would prefer to batten down doors and close the windows and wait it out with prayers for protection from wrath. And then there are those who seek to embrace that very wrath, to feel it flow from fingertip through the blood, rejuvenating, awakening every sense in a new way, bringing awareness and knowledge that power is indeed the most potent of all aphrodisiacs and indeed one of the most addictive.
What is it about nature when there is a storm about that calls out to me? Every time summer rains move in, I give in to this inexplicable urge to stand on whatever highest point is accessible; the roof or the terrace usually and just stand there at the mercy of the elements. It is as if I exist in the times of Gods and Goddesses who governed and commanded the weather to their whims. I stand there with my face raised to the heavens feeling the chaos surge through me, as the storm gathers and the winds blow, the rage and cacophony converting into jagged lightening flash across the sky, followed by a distinct rumble of thunder. My arms are open to welcome the charge that fills the very air around me.
And then falls the first drop of rain! And as the parched earth soaks it up, it releases a perfume essentially earth and a reminder of long forgotten dreams; of feelings buried in the deepest darkest corner of the mind; taking me back to the innocent days of yore, lore and fairy tales. And as each successive drop shimmers down, and I feel it course over my hair and skin, I see myself as I once was. A slight, fair-skinned, long-haired hellion spinning bare foot on lush green grass, the fancy buckled princess shoes and lacy socks to match the frilled, flounced concoction I was forced into at my mother’s behest to try and convince me I was a little lady; abandoned at the first muted roar of thunder. All this now forgotten, carefree laughter spilling out of me as I complete each dizzy circle hearing my parents calling out to me before they gave up with exasperated, helpless smiles on their faces letting me be as they stand close to each other in the verandah.
I feel cleansed body and spirit, as if each drop that falls on me, and each rush of wind that brushes by, exorcise the demons of my temper and diminish all those lingering shadows of nightmares past to replace them with this feeling of gratuitous well-being that extends to beyond the physical here and now.
Thunderstorms! What a rush! 🙂

Incongruosity of Language and New Words

“Dedicated with sincere regards and a big thanks to Olive Ream for a well written FAQ, that despite my apparent skill in language and vocabulary, forced me to refer to dictionaries and my brother’s assistance to come up with something that may remotely have some semblance of logical expression. Thank you also Omer for allowing me the right to use ‘Absquatulate’ (Such a completely marvellous word) I hope I managed it’s application without sounding like a complete and utter prat :)”
A Conversation With A Self- Righteous Me!!

“You are a disgrace! Look at yourself with your modern education and your degrees and still you find yourself embroiled in this discombobulate paranoia regarding your identity as a Muslim. Phooey! Your lamentable, inadequate, parsimonious attitude to commiserate and empathize with your brethren whose highly rectitude efforts for self governance and liberty are being so blatantly compartmentalized and categorized as deeds of terrorism. You who have so repugnantly repudiated your identity and path in the name of development unaware that any plethora sense of achievement and completeness you may feel is a sham without sentience and cognizance of antecedent roots!! And what do you have to say in the face of the egregious claims of the western media in this regard which nearly hold the entire world in a hornswoggled daze…?”

And this may continue for another hour or so, whereby I will be dashed, ditched, castigated, disparagingly vituperated to the extent that my otherwise pleasant and jovial self degenerates into a ludicrously lugubrious, dismal, sepulchral reflection of itself. All the while, I seek a way to honorably abscond, mizzle or otherwise absquatulate until finally…

“Hey Me!”
“What? You ineffectual, excuse for a pious human?
“Just Shut up!”


DeeDee and Dexter

For the completely grown up individuals who no longer have some semblance of a child in them and therefore have no idea what I’m talking about; think two siblings; A good looking, confident, outgoing, cheerful and popular older sister and a bookish, nerd, geek, over intelligent enough to be categorized as a genius younger brother; Equip the first part with blonde pony tails, a pink tutu and ballet shoes with an exuberant personality and the second with a lab coat, glasses, the weird accent and a secret laboratory which only the sister knows about and you’ll get the big picture of what this animated series is about.
My point in writing about this today is thus: I am the embodiment of this tale in living, breathing true colour *sigh*

Yes people! In spite of my overwhelming brilliance, I will forever live under the very long shadow of my taller but younger amazingly intelligent brother! Don’t get me wrong… I am as proud of him as only an older sister could and love him to bits! (Although I would deny I ever made this statement under oath in a court of law) but it is so hard to be gracious at the times I am forced to bow my head down before his apparent superiority although for the sake of my pride, I would contend that his advantage does not extend to beyond a micro-decimal. He is my younger sibling, the sheep to my shepherd, the one who grew up in my guiding light under protestations to be more like his older sister long after I had stopped being like me and for me to admit and accept without a frown that there are things he can teach me about and knows more about than I ever will! Especially when I end up feeling like the proverbial DeeDee, marveling at her brother’s latest creation:

“Ooooohhh! What does this button do?”

Take today for example: I was hitting my head on my desk in apparent frustration arising due to the fact that I could come up with no logical uses for a word I read someplace and dear bro comes along and tells me to stop causing permanent trauma to my poor desk and asks why I am overloaded with thesauruses and dictionaries. I state my quandary and he gives me a look only younger brothers can and disappears into his lab… er… room and emerges with a piece of paper with the words arranged as only those who are extraordinarily gifted or just totally weird are able to. You may at some time read what I came up with after reading this but for now, imagine and marvel at the creative intellect of my bro that could stun someone like me while I try and collect the pieces of my shattered ego and my dropped jaw from the floor…
Have a final batch of reports to check and hopefully will try and manage that during the day to compile and submit the final result by Saturday! May the Almighty give me the strength to patiently translate all the reports into English so my students may pass. Ameen

TV-holicism or Football Fanaticism?

I think I’m ill.:-( I’m in serious danger of turning into a TV-holic! What is that, you may ask? It is a phrase coined by yours truly to sum up the state of individuals who are so addicted to TV and so torn between what to watch that they rely on the phenomenon of Picture in Picture to at least try and satisfy their craving for the idiot box. And lo and behold, this is what happens to me!

My plans were quite firmly in place to watch in uninterrupted peace the FIFA world cup broadcast (Go ahead! Roll your eyes! I like sports!!!) Anyway, and what happens? First day of broadcast and the cable guy decides to be funny and turns it off just as England scored a goal. Second day and Iran’s getting thrashed and the cable guy puts on Fanaa. And yes, it was my fault for channel surfing at half-time and although I’m not much of movie person (simply because I lack the patience to sit still for so long) but with all the hype around it and one damn song, I watched it and hence sat till past 2 in the morning with Aamir Khan and Kajol singing “Tere haath mein…” and Mexican sombreros dancing in Germany without the sound of music… And you know? Football without the music and noise is just not the same!!

And yesterday, while watching Ghana and Italy take each other on and I channel surfed AGAIN (So, sue me!! I’m erratic and unpredictable!!) and saw my childhood shimmer before me. In the words of Rick Polito, (Marin Independent Journal, Northern California), the Wizard of Oz is simply:
“Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”
And hence, I was “off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of oz”, fearing “lions and tigers and bears, oh my”, waiting to click my ruby slippers when I realize “there’s no place like home”. And while the lion sang, “if he were king”, I paid enough attention to the right side of my TV screen to watch Italy, despite an impressive defense by Ghana in the first half, as predicted get the 3 winner’s points.

Speaking of yesterday, Australia’s match with Japan was totally excellent! Trailing for 84 minutes zero to one, Australia scored 3 goals in the space of 6 minutes to win the match after qualifying for the first time in 30 years! That is the spirit of sport! And that is why despite the confusion and the danger of turning into a zombie, I seriously have football on the brain. I know nothing about it, except that there’s a ball and there are 22 people running around after it with 2 referees in the middle trying to hit the ball into either one of two goals or nets set up at the ends of a field… and my knowledge so far has increased to knowing that there’s a six-yard line and when the ball goes outside the line, it’s called off-side…:-D And here’s a statement, only a foolish female would occasionally make; man! But some of the players are so “CUTE”! (And because of my distinction as being an occasionally foolish female, I am entitled to make the statement, so there!)

And I attribute the randomness of my post today to the following:
Have I mentioned I dislike summers as intensely as the sun that persists in shining down on us and regardless of the proverbial blessing it is supposed to be, I wish it would take a break. *sigh*

June 2006