Friday, May 30, 2008

'Horrifying' headgear

So according to this story, I am showing support for Islamic extremism.

Gimme a break.

Background on the picture: I was wandering about the old streets of Oman where I grew up, and immediately tried out a traditional Middle Eastern scarf that I'd always seen but never worn. It was hot as HELL that day in 'wintery' February, but the cotton scarf immediately cooled my poor old head down. It's not a terrorism garb, it's a very practical cooling device that has been perfected over thousands of years in that region.

PS - Even Perez Hilton has been seeing wearing it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Prophets of Doom

Sharon Stone's recent comments about the 'karmic' earthquake in China has prompted this informative article. Personally I found the reasoning behind her comment to be similar to that of the people who said that God sent the tsunami in South-East Asia to wipe out the Muslim terrorists hiding there and Hurricane Katrina to punish the social dysfunction in New Orleans, Louisiana - well-intended but too simplistic and irresponsible.

Word to the Mother

The more research I do for my children's book about India, the prouder I feel about my country. Largest democracy, oldest continuous civilisation dating back to 10,000 years, thousands of years of religious, cultural, political cohabitation and growth, a ridiculous amount of everyday busy diversity. I barely remembered any of the ancient and medieval history we learned in primary school, although I am pretty much well-versed in the modern history part of it (thanks to our frantic 10th standard board exam mugging). I spent the past decade in foreign lands, oddly disconnected from my identity, so I'm so glad that I got the opportunity through this book to review India as a grown-up. This seemingly simple book ended up being a godsend. Like Che Guevara on his motorcycle trip across the South American continent, like Khushwant Singh researching for his books 'The History of the Sikhs' and 'Delhi: A Novel'. Not only do I suddenly feel connected to my identity, I now feel connected to all these great thinkers, known and unknown, in that timeless dimension where we are all still sharing our thoughts and inspiring one another from across the ages.

Also the more I research, the angrier I get at the chaotic state India has fallen into. This is not what we dreamt of in 1947. But all is not lost - members of the diaspora are trying to change things from within the country and from without. Hail to the Ganrajya. :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Once upon a time in India

What can you say about an old man who died?

That he aged before his time? That he died on a charpai far from where he was born? That his funeral was attended by more than he ever thought would bother?

Ejaz 'Baba' Ahmed was born in Kanpur, India. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by the family of his mother's good friend. He was from a Sunni Muslim family, and his Shia foster family respectfully raised him according to his background. Baba grew to become a soft-spoken well-educated young man, and over time, became a successful businessman. He had an arranged marriage, but no one told him that that his wife had long had psychological problems. Misery embraced him as he realised the deceit. His wife's family frequently lied to him, and after a while, temporarily took in his wife and their 2 sons. His wife, in an effort to escape mistreatment at the hands of her brother's wife, leapt to her death in a well. Baba's sons mistreated him so that he refused to see them ever again. In the meanwhile, Baba lost all his textile goods in post-Indira-Gandhi-assassination India when an angry mob set fire to the truck that was carrying the cloth that was his livelihood. The truck was owned and driven by a Sikh, and the Sikh driver perished in the national retaliation alongwith Baba's future. Baba ended up on the street, and he eventually moved to Lucknow where he started pulling rickshaws. My aunt began to regularly hire him for her trips to her school where she was a teacher. She trusted this tall thin quiet man who never really looked like the other crude rickshaw-pullers. His polite manner and long white beard hardly seemed fitting for the physical exertion of the dirty hot Indian roads. Under his sunburned squint, he didn't look like he belonged on the street. My aunt hired him for all her transport needs, and after learning about his story, began helping him to set up a paan shop and give up the strenuous life of a rickshaw-puller. My aunt lived alone in our big home in India, so she began to involve him in helping her run errands, and that's how Baba began to leave his life on the street. That's when I met him 10-15 years ago. After my aunt died in 2000, my family asked Baba to move into our empty house in India and help run things there for us from Oman. Baba humbly moved into a small room on the terrace and graduated to handling everything from our finances to providing protection to Marjeena, the little orphan girl whom my aunt had taken in many years ago.

2 weeks ago, Baba discovered that he had cancer. My doctor brother's contact in India examined him and discovered that his case was terminal. Baba's health took a sudden turn for the worse and he was put on dialysis as his kidneys failed. He was unable to speak and was only able to gasp for breath. He wasn't even able to walk the stairs up to our house so a charpai was set up for him in the garage where he lay, weak and dying. I called him last week and he was unable to speak, but I spoke to Marjeena and she told him I was calling for him. I heard him struggle to breathe, and I told Marjeena that I'd call again later. 2 hours later, I received an email from my parents on their visit to the US that Baba had passed away in the middle of the night. He was buried in Lucknow around noon that day, and 150 people attended the final farewell. None of them were related to him, but they were all the people from the nearby galis and crannies who had had exchanged salaams with him as he quietly passed them by.

Baba never informed his sons or his family about his illness. He had severed all ties with them many years before. He never talked about them. In the beginning when he started living in our house, my brother had told him to think of us as his family. In his last few days, when my brother spoke to him over the phone from Oman, he asked him to let his sons know about his illness. Baba refused and told him that we were all the family he had.

6 months ago when my mother was visiting India, Baba hired her a taxi to see the new big mall in Lucknow. He was surprised when my mother asked him to not wait in the taxi out in the heat. He had his first ride on an escalator and at first was afraid to get on it. My mother says he had a wonderful time and was very happy at the mall.

At the end of my last trip to India, Baba saw me off as I cried all the way from the house to the taxi. He was crying too and said he didn't know when he would see me again. He used to call me bitiya ('little daughter'). 10 years ago when I was crying after a big fight with my brother, he told me that this stuff happens and I'd be okay. I only found out Baba's real name after he died. He was just Baba who always quietly laughed at my dumb jokes and arranged for any snacks or things I ever wanted on my trips to India.

So I remember Baba, the seemingly ageless tall thin quiet man in the corner with the white mop of hair and equally white beard. I remember his trustworthiness and his trials, and his bare-essential chappals and not-quite-white qurta pajamas. I also remember the surprising hurt he always carried with him.

I wrote a poem a few years ago, and now I realise that I had written a eulogy for Baba. Here you go, Baba, I am so glad you're in a place now that's free from this hurtful existence called life:

The Good Man

There once was a man,
Who, in his life span,
Did nothing but pure real good.

Helped others in pain,
For no personal gain,
He did all that he knew that he could.

And while he was living,
Most misused his giving,
They hurt him with blows and with leers.

But one day he died,
And then those men cried,
So his soul stayed to wipe all their tears.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Sight for Bloodshot Eyes

As I perused through the different stalls in a ladies restroom on a mission to delicately pick the one that was just-right for this Goldilocks, I came across one with splatters of blood on the toilet seat and on the floor.

In all my years as a mentrual pre-teen, teen, and semi-adult, I have NEVER come across such a scene. It must've been a startling experience considering I'm even talking about it here. What kind of a female could it have been? A frightened first-timer? A (very) sloppy repeat offender? Someone in a hormonal hurry?

Bizarre, bizzare, bizzare.

Friday, May 9, 2008

2 fortnights later

It's been 1 month since I've started incorporating 10,000 steps into my day, and I am happy to report that I'm feeling great! My energy level has gone up, I feel fleet-footed, my posture has improved, and yesterday I discovered that I'd lost 4 pounds. That sounds about right because you should be losing about 1 pound per week (remember, you need to burn off 3500 excess calories to lose 1 pound), but that's honestly just a side to the overall emotional/physical feeling of well-being.

Here's some good information about walking.

I feel like a little pixie!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Something to seriously think about

Is it just me or is the trinity that is the Powerpuff Girls a mirror image of the Nancy Drew, Bess Marvin, and George Fayne troupe? They both have the main all-American redhead, girly blonde, and tomboy brunette.

Thursday, May 1, 2008