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Friday, June 30, 2006


Wednesday, June 28, 2006


A soon-to-be-launched Urdu IT magazine had, for reasons best known to its Editor, decided to profile me (along with IT people) in its first issue. The initial contact required me to "kindly respond some questions so we can introduce you to give our readers a deeper sight in you".

Hmmm. Dunno if I want that.

Among the questions that I had been asked was to share the names of my favourite Book, Author, Movie, Actor, Singer, Song, and Dish. "Dish?", I asked; And was informed that they did not mean "Anteena Channel." So that kinda makes it easy... it's 'Marilyna Jolobrigida'.

I declined to be part of the magazine unless certain conditions were met. They could not be; so I am not obliged to divulge any of these highly confidential trade secrets of mine. But, seriously, how does one choose one favourite book, song, film, whatever? Maybe if you've only encountered about 3 of each, you can do so. But even then, for the choice to be easy to make, there'd have to be clear-cut distinctions. Like having to choose between Britney Spears and Billie Holiday. Or Kenny G and Charlie Parker. Or Adnan Sami Khan and -er- well - anyone else.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Here we go again ....

The headlines scream 'Present assembly can re-elect Musharraf'. I scream, too; but on the inside. Not because I dislike President Musharraf but because I realize that - once again - those amazing beings, a hybrid of leeches and psycophants, known as Advisors, have managed to send someone down the path of disaster to cover their own asses. However good the intentions, whenever someone takes over the reins of power, but does so with questionable legitimacy, he needs a coterie of people around him to prop him up. Many of these people, sooner or later, are corrupted by power and commit crimes that could, one day, be brought to trial ... by the next government. So, what could be better than delaying the possibility of a change of Government? Habib Jalib, in his Musheer (written during the worst period of Ayub Khan's reign), uses sarcasm at its best to describe this sub-human species: .

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Friendly Fire

Knowing about my passion for Classical Music does reduce the risk of friends buying me shalvaar qameez suits that I wouldn't be caught dead in, or ties that will only hang in racks to feed moths. But it still does not cover two risks adequately:
(1) that I may already own that piece of music - not a big problem, because one can exchange it in shops or with friends;
(2) that the reason I don't have it in the first place, maybe, is that I did not want it or, worse, I detest it. As a devout worshipper of music, it is difficult for me to hide my disgust in this case.

Fortunately, the CD my friends brought back for me from India, no doubt with much affection, was delivered via their driver. He seemed quite satisfied when I lied to him that the pain on my face was because I had twisted an ankle while coming to answer the doorbell.

When I called my friends to thank them, I mumbled something along the lines of "It's the thought that counts" and managed to hold back my choking sounds as they waxed eloquent about their discovery of this marvellous artiste and how I was the first one who came to their minds. Politely, while contemplating whether 'minds' correctly described anything that could have been instrumental in making such a decision, I told them I had not had the opportunity to listen to the CD yet as the KESC had - mercifully, for once - shut off electrical supply to our area (read 'all of Karachi') in the intervening hours.

Later in the evening I decided to brave it and play a bit of the CD, if only out of perverse curiosity akin to when, knowing the pain it'll cause, one lifts a scab off a semi-healed wound. You may well ask why I was so sure I wouldn't enjoy the content. Well, friends, on the cover it bore the legend 'Selected and Composed by Muzaffar Ali' - a name that sends chills down my spine.

Monsieur Ali is a quack of all trades: Film maker, Designer, Translator, Producer, Composer and an Authority on Just About Everything. He held a successful Sufi Fest once and, since nothing succeeds like excess, he has set that up as an annual event (admittedly, one must not - even in jest - negate the great service this has done on several levels. It has.) …

This Annual Festival, known as Jahan-e-Khusrau, brings together some of the biggest names in the World of Music and Sufi Poetry. That said, he dominates the entire event by directing Just About Everything. The video shoots, coming from a film maker, however mediocre, look like the work of a 10-year old who has just discovered the Zoom & Focus Controls. The booklets and the boxed-CD sets they accompany bear his design stamp, too. But what is really bad is that he also directs the compositions and the performers.

Like Death, Muzaffar Ali is the great leveller! All music begins to sound similar after a while - not a mean feat when you consider that the performers span styles and forms developed in India, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Israel and more. To be fair, bits of it remain entertaining enough (or novel enough) for an occasional excerpt to be played. Once. For me there are two unforgiveable aspects of MA:
1. He took an absolutely marvellous singer of Sufi and Folk Music from Pakistan, Abida Parveen, and has turned her into a drama-queen-cum-qavvaali-singer who has slowly lost all the authenticity she had and is now a bundle of well-rehearsed but not too convincing histrionics. I hope she soon recovers from this while she is still in voice. [Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan did not survive a similar situation at the hands of the West.] 
2. He has produced good looking boxed sets of the Khusrau Festival CDs/Videos, with booklets that are very useful and attractive. Until you start to read them and discover that, even ignoring the instances where legibility has been sacrificed for design, or form has trounced function, they are (for no understandable reason - since they are neither cheap nor produced or published by the illiterate) full of typos and textual mistakes. Annoying. Inexcusable.
(Incidentally, a similar form of carelessness has also - very sadly - marred the extremely valuable collections that the Dawn Group has published. For example, a collection of Tapu Javeri's lovely portraits, screwed beyond excusability by careless, thoughtless printing and insane binding. Also, a delightful, albeit idiotically named, Book+4CD boxed set of Faiz - with typos. Worth getting, nonetheless! What surprises me is how stuff like this gets past His Highness ...)

And FINALLY to the artiste on the CD: Zila Khan. Daughter of the great, incomparable Sitar Navaaz Ustad Vilayat Khan. Niece of Surbahaar virtuoso Imrat Khan. A few seconds into her alaap or early verses and one feels that she'd have been more aptly yclept if she'd been called Ibrat Khan. Here's a joke I made up that may serve as my view of her singing:
Ibrat Khan dies and goes to Heaven (well, she has sung songs of Love and Peace and Harmony instead of martial themes ... and stuff like that counts up there!). She goes to the GateKeeper and says "Is there any way I can meet my father?". "What's his name?", asks the chap. "Vilayat Khan", says Ibrat. "A not uncommon name. Many Vilayat Khans. You'll have to be more specific." ... "He was a famous musician", says Ibrat, helpfully. "Several of those, too ...", says the GateKeeper. "How can I find him, then?", asks Ibrat. "Oh, well, there are other links in the databases. For example the last words he spoke." "Fantastic!", says Ibrat,"He blessed me and made me promise that I'd do nothing through my performance that would bring disgrace to the Gharana or he'd turn in his grave." .... "Ohhhh ...", beams the GateKeeper, "you mean Whirling Vilayat!"

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Har baras kay hoñ din pachaas hazaar!

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

What was that question, again?

Some questions are technically (in terms of language rules) correct. But they cannot be answered, since they are either meaningless or there is NO WAY that anyone can really, really answer them.

What Colour is Round?
Where does Love go when it Dies?
How long ago, exactly, did the Universe begin?

While these range from the silly to the seemingly scientific, they have one thing in common: They can't be answered conclusively, ever!

The problem is that some people answer them and do so with necessary authority. Why necessary, you ask? Well, the rule I have postulated is:

If you ask an Unanswerable Question,
you invite an Unquestionable Answer.

Think about it!

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Table of Voices ...

Do your bit: Click above. Link. Spread the word!

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Blogword: Magic

Click on the image to see it at full size.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Once upon a midnight dreary ...

(On the midnight of 06-06-06, actually) there was a knocking and scraping on the door. Looking through the peephole I found this strange being.
  He (it's always a he, isn't it?) let me in on the secrets of the Universe. If you need to be in on them, too, please meet me at the Zamzama Espresso on Saturday at 8.00 am and pay for my breakfast.

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Where DO we go from here?

IPS News Today:

Hundreds of worshippers watched in horror as the workers, mostly Muslims, brought down the roof, pushed down the walls and smashed the deities that immigrant Indian workers had brought with them from South India to provide solace in a strange new land.
Having witnessed the government-backed stupid and disgusting acts of the demolishing of Babri Mosque by Hindus in secular India and of the Bamiyaan statues by Muslims in Talibanized Afghanistan it comes as no surprise that progressive Malaysia is heading the same way with its recent temple-breaking. Nothing, it seems, will stem the tide of fanaticism.

Although we are often told that 'education' will put an end to all this (with more than a subtle hint at Western-style education being the only valid kind), most of the neo-Cons and the American Right-Wingers prove that even education received at the most prestigious of Universities can't keep bad men down. And it's not just bad men. Even fairly reasonable people, like blogger Svend White, commenting on this dastardly act, writes:
Let's be fair to the zealots. Their actions bear a certain surface similarity to the actions of the Prophet (pbuh) when he smashed the idols in the Kaaba upon his victorious return to Mecca. Of course, the context of the Prophet's actions were utterly, categorically different. For one thing, he was the divinely inspired Messenger of Allah. Then there's the fact that he was cleaning out the greatest of all shrines to God, a sanctuary built according to Islamic tradition by Abraham himself.
I am afraid I don't quite follow that line of reasoning. What is it about religious beliefs that incites such acts of madness? I believe it is the indoctrination of an unholy trinity of concepts that teach [a] we are right; [b] they are wrong; [c] as true believers it is our duty to save them from hell-fire (or consign them to it, if they disagree).

In some cases success in this venture offers an additional bonus in the afterlife. No logical or scientific approach can win over such ideas merely by putting out parallel tracts. The concepts, themselves, in their very basic assumptions, need to be challenged head-on! 'Moderate Enlightenment' certainly won't do it (Sorry, Mr President!) because it's a flawed concept.

Gautama Buddha said the only wars in which disputes are really settled is when both sides win. Now, think: If a non-believer on one side and a strong believer on the other are asked to become moderate, wouldn't that mean that the non-believer merely has to express personal tolerance for the other view (with qualifiers like 'agreeing to diasagree' and 'live and let live')? While the believer needs to shift from a stance that is not merely personal but Divinely Ordained. He not only finds no justification for doing so, after his accepting the three points made above, but also risks a terrible afterlife. And, in any case, how long will the 'tolerance' of either party last when the other's interpretation of this truce develops scope-creep?

Sam Harris's The End of Faith provides an interesting point of view; and Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) makes a fascinating comment via his fast-paced The Religion War, for readers of lighter books — a category that could exclude English Lit Majors ;-)

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Going cheap! (Berhabs I'll Get One, Too)

(from Dubai Airport Shopping Mall)


Sunday, June 11, 2006

General :-) Comments on Education

Chief of the ISI during the PPP rule, the present Federal Minister for education, Lt Gen (R) Javed Ashraf Qazi, has said that the current curriculum is being revised and will now aim to bring uniformity in the education system, harmony in the society and meet emerging challenges in the field of science and technology.

Hmmmmm. Don't hold your breath.

This pronouncement was made at a two-day national conference on Pakistani Culture and, although the headline implied that that was what the news item would cover, it went on and on about Education (and the Minister). So I am none the wiser if the conference proposed that we ought to have a pakistani Culture.

The reasons for all these revolutionary and much needed reforms, as stated by the Minister, were: "We have to prepare the young generation according to the teachings of Islam." and "We have to boost up Pakistan's image in the world as a moderate country." Tricky for those who opine "Never the twain shall meet"... but a fair enough target. I sincerely wish him all the luck I can.

Some of the more specific utterances of the Honourable Minister are, for an uneducated person such as I, a trifle difficult to understand. So I am bringing up some points to see if any of my friends - and educators - who visit this blog can cast some light. (Hint: This means your comments are needed!)  OK ... here is some food for thought (The morsels are verbatim, courtesy News Agencies):

1. The new curriculum was being introduced from the first grade to twelfth grade, so that the intelligence level of the students could be judged accurately. Honestly, I cannot make sense of this at all. And I am seriously worried now about all those of us who were not so lucky as to have had this curriculum (which means everyone, I guess, unless certain Academies have been luckier). Can we trust such people, especially if they have been placed in powerful positions as a result of inaccurately judged intelligence, to make such important decisions for us?
2. Islamic studies will be taught from grade three instead of grade four and the subject will be compulsory up to grade twelve for Muslims, whereas Ethics will be compulsory for non-Muslim students. Starting indoctrination early is obviously a great move. I vaguely remember reading that music played to the fetus has a great positive result. But that's only possible in un-Islamic countries, of course, where such immoral stuff like music is actually promoted (would you believe it?). Anyway. To them, their way of life. To us, ours. If we plan to keep this trend going, and start in Grade Two next year, and so on, given that children ARE maturing faster, it gives us enough time to prepare fetus-friendly versions of these lectures that can then be played back to pregnant mothers (or, in Time, pregnant fathers!) on whatever audio-format is popular then. Maybe we can get the Apple-envy Brigade to look at this large potential market and pre-empt Steve by producing a womb-implantable MP3 player.
3. 'The new curriculum subjects, such as Geography and History, would reflect Pakistani culture and the deeds of the country.' For the benefit of foreign readers, that's the newspaper reporting in bad English, I presume. The NEW refers to the approach. Please note that our curriculum already has Geography and History as subjects. And, as far as I could tell from my looking at some of the textbooks used, it did reflect a great deal of Pakistani cuture. And deeds. (Admittedly, it failed to tell us, once the deed was done what we should do with the dagger!) The Minister, on the other hand, feels that it did not reflect it enough, I guess. And I must admit to frequently coming across words like 'dance' and 'women'. Oh, and one map actually had ... er ... how shall I put it ... oh well I guess I'll just have to blurt it out (especially now that the FM has taken a bold first step) ... yes, so one map showed Israel! [Sorry, gentlefolk. Didn't intend to hurt your sensitivities.] The proposed focus will, I now assume, be 'narrower' and make it easier to opt out of becoming part of world citizenry and, soon (and justifiably so by the process of extrapolation), lead to similar incentives in each of the provinces.
4. Objectionable and irrelevant materials were being removed from the syllabus in order to create harmony in the society. This is, of course, just formalizing what has been already going on. An Urdu Textbook has recently been banned. Also, I wonder if they will take more serious cognizance this time of the report on our textbooks that created a minor furore earlier.
And, now for a really sweet dessert:
5. The Minister stated that there was "no significant difference between the cultures of Hindus and Muslims because the followers of both the religions belonged to the same region." One of the few 'educated' friends I have commented via email (and I tend to agree with him, at least on this score) that, had the implication of this statement been "thought through - even at a superficial level - it would be clear that the statement negates the two-nation theory as it has been taught to the Pakistani students, even in its milder form. The whole basis of the so-called Ideology of Pakistan is the two nation-theory which doesn't hold any water if we accept this statement. From religion being at the core of the culture - it's most important if not the exclusive determinant - we are now being told to accept that its role is not significant at all. Without going into the debate of the justification of Partition, this also flies in the face of extant theories of culture." In any case, two-nation theory or not, we are here, as the utterly stupid Nixonic (rhymes with Moronic!) phrase that seems to have inexplicably caught on would state, "at this point in time". Pakistan is a reality. And if the Education Minister's view on common cultural heritages is the new party-line, it is welcome. Should lead to Confidence Building Myths really becoming Confidence Building Measures, numerous cultural exchanges in arts, music, and media, and - hopefully - a stop to the crap that our children (on both sides of the divide) were being fed.

POSTSCRIPT: My initial post had this part in it, too, under #4:

Punjab University English Department has, in the past, moved to scrap great works of objectionable literature (including Gulliver's Travels, for its sexual connotations). Interesting factoid from the linked article above, just to whet your appetite and ensure you read it: A review of the dangerous stuff that was being taught was "triggered by complaints made about the syllabus by the wife of a retired army general. She criticised the inclusion of two poems, including one by WH Auden, which she said promoted [sic] Jews..."
However, a blogger has informed me, and I totally rely upon her statement, that the story is untrue and the reports in the press were skewed or concocted. Her remarks are more reliable because she has personal knowledge of the incident. You can read her clarification in the Comments section on my blog. I could have deleted both, this and her contradiction, but leaving both in may well help - partially - in setting the record straight for the PU.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Blogword: Together

Ever since I set my eyes on her lovely figure
I've been trying together.

The Honest Rake's Dilemma
Tell the truth?
Or just lie to.get.her?

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

And a Pox on Glabrous Muslims?

A Poem by ZG

Glorified be He who beautifies women with long locks of hair
And Men with long beards
There is beauty in the beard
Aye, there is beauty in the beard!
When the lion roars all the animals submit
For the lion is the king of the jungle
The lion with its glorious mane
And a Muslim man grows his mane in pride
Showing the rest of humanity that he is to be respected
Can one imagine a lion without its mane?
Nay, thou canst not!
Then imagine a man without his beard
Woe to worldly women who mock the beards so!
Desiring husbands with clean shaven faces
Woe to women who mock the Prophets Sunnah
In the name of hygiene, neatness and smooth texture
Indeed the women of this world cannot like the beard
But she who wants Paradise adores the beard!
A beard is a gift given to man by Allah
He can grow it; a woman never can!
When he ponders, he gently strokes it;
When he eats, it stores food;
When he is with kids, they play with it adoringly;
When he is with his wife, she fondles it lovingly;
When the enemy see it, fear is struck in their hearts!
Ah! there is indeed beauty in the beard!
All the Prophets had beards - yes they did!
Muhammad (PBUH) had a beard - so big! so big!
All the companions had beards - o yes! o yes!
All the sages had beards - I know! I know!
All the wise have beards - tis true! tis true!
All the pious have beards - you see! you see!
All the Muslims have beards!? - if only! if only!
Who did not have beards? The kafirun!
Who had clean shaven faces? The kafirun!
Who grew their moustaches? The kafirun!
"And what did our Prophet order?" I hear you ask
He ordered us to lengthen the beard and trim the moustache!
Lengthen the beard and trim the moustache!
What greater reason than this can there be
The fact that our Prophet told us to see
That we make ourselves appear to the world
As full bearded men with honour untold O Muslim brothers!
Why do you desire to look like a woman
When your blessed facial hair is the difference
Between you and the opposite gender?
O poor Muslim brother! Why do you imitate the kafir
Instead of following the Prophet of Islam?
O silly Muslim sister! Why art thou so blind?
Infatuated with Bollywood actors who have no mind!
O wretched sister! Are you not scared of your choice?
You would rather have a feminine monkey
Instead of an exalted manly ape!
So indeed I love my beard
And adore the curls and tangles
Which no oil, gel or superglue can ever straighten
My glorious long, curly, messy, fluffy beard!
The playhouse for kids;
The envy of Malaysian people
And the beloved of Allah!
I maybe rejected by worldly women
Because of this hair on my face
But who cares! For my Mum loves it
And she puts all such sisters to disgrace!
Be patient Muslim brothers,
Who shun the trendy look for a Prophetic pose …
Paradise with the wide eyed Houris is our final abode!!!!!"

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Bark Worse Than The Bite

"In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words Don't Panic inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover." Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
And those words are precisely what my advice is to you when you receive a Fwd:Fwd:Fwd: Virus Warning! There are very frequent Virus Warnings that are nothing more than a hoax. In fact these are more common than the virus threats themselves. The panic actions they cause (people shutting down networks for fear of the virus and the ensuing loss of productivity and/or trade, or individuals not checking mail and missing out on something really important) are often almost as bad as getting infected by the virus. Most Virus Warning emails read something like this, anyway, so they should not be too difficult to recognize:
Worst Virus Ever! Though it exhibits all the signs of a hoax, this warning is legitimate and may foretell the end of the Internet as we know it! Subject: VIRUS WARNING There's a new virus going around. It's extremely Disastrous and has been confirmed by Microsoft and Bundu Khan to be the worst ever. AOL and Okra's IT Department say there is no cure. If you see a message with the subject line "George W Bush is the Anti-Christ", delete it right away. It will destroy all your data and cause your computer to disable your bluetooth phone. I would rather get a banana stuck in my ear than get infected with this virus. Please send this to all the paranoid people you know. I hate to say it, but this chain makes perfect sense. I have checked it out with all my usual sources and we are all astounded at how legitimate it appears to be. To be honest, it has me downright frightened. I think I will sell my computer and move to a cave in Isloo just to be safe. Whatever you do, do not Break this Chain!
However, unlike my earlier advice on other hoaxes and urban legends and chain letters, I would certainly not want you to ignore these warnings entirely! After all, one of them could be true. So, do not be complacent but do not help spread panic. DO NOT FORWARD THESE WARNINGS WITHOUT CHECKING THINGS OUT! Just follow the steps below:
  1. Visit Symantec's Hoax Page
  2. Corporate Users: Heed F-Secure's advice! They say - "Corporate users can get rid of the hoax problem by simply setting a strict company guideline: End users must not forward virus alarms. Ever. It's not the job of an end user anyway. If such message is received, end users could forward it to the IT department but not to anyone else."
  3. Cross-Check with McAfee's Website
And just in case you thought the warning example above was amusing, you can generate similar warnings by using the Virus Warning Generator yourself.

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