Saturday, December 26, 2009

Do you know Sibel Edmonds?

I first learnt of her while doing research for a project.

Sibel Edmonds, a Turkish-American, was hired by the FBI shortly after the September 11 attacks. They needed somebody to transcribe for them, in English, wiretaps targetting Turkish nationals in the U.S. Sibel, fluent in several languages including Turkish and Persian, was called in, and although she had never considered such a career, she thought her country needed her and she immediately made herself available. 

During her short stint at the FBI's Translation Wing, she realised that it was the FBI's inefficiency and corruption that completely missed out or chose to ignore clear evidence, which could most certainly have prevented the attacks. For one, the FBI was deliberately asking its translators to slow down, so that they could attract more budget allocations, sighting resource shortages; and for another, some FBI officials had been bought over by moles in the State Department (having sold their country for its green paper) who were deliberately ignoring wiretaps from the American-Turkish council (ATC) - a front for sinister activities.

Turkey is a country strategically located. It connects two continents and a lot of business crosses through its harbors and borders. But instead of becoming trade giants in overt ways, they seemed to have chosen covert, illegal means, Sibel alleges. With all the money, they buy over officials in the State Department, the Pentagon and the FBI. They've even penetrated sensitive laboratories by installing their scientists there, stealing nuclear secrets and selling those to the highest bidder on the nuclear black-market. While our "national hero", A. Q. Khan did something like that in the 70s - stealing nuclear fusion prints from labs in the Netherlands - he was among the buyers (and later, a seller) many of these times.

Among other crimes discovered, were drugs-trafficking, money-laundering and more... A couple of months after Sibel started blowing the whistle, she was fired. She went to the courts; she went to the Congress; but only ended up receiving a slap because people who wanted to help were rendered impotent. Bush's Attorney General, Ashcroft, slapped the State Secrets Privilege on her. This means that Sibel is not allowed to talk about her case, the evidence she has (which was corroborated by many patriots in the FBI and the Congress) because discussing those could be detrimental to the security of the U.S! Interestingly, law experts say that her case doesn't deserve the State Secrets Privilege. If anything, letting crooks infiltrate areas bustling with sensitive information, will only harm the entire world - not just the U.S.

Sibel says that she's the most gagged person in U.S. history.

Knowledge of her case has completely changed the way in which I understand government and politics. Hers is not just another conspiracy theory, because she's got evidence which important people have confirmed, but which cannot be made public due to Ashcroft's slap. Cover-ups like those projected in The Prison Break or State of Play do not seem like fiction anymore.

To end, officials in the Obama administration haven't acted to award Sibel a hearing either - not a single hearing, which is all she asks for!

I leave you with an excellent documentary made on Sibel's case, called "Kill the Messenger":

Thursday, December 24, 2009

They're Funkier than Indie Films

The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999. I hated it. I got headaches from the erratic recordings, and I didn't find the movie all that scary; not even funny!

Fast forward 10 years, and I need to applaud that project because it pioneered a new wave of movie productions. I saw two of them this week and they've both been awesome, to say the least.

Cloverfield was my second attempt at watching movies projected through the lens of amateurs. I didn't find the monster (that takes over New York City) all that convincing, but that is besides the point. It was a well-made movie: low budget, high returns, a great storyline and a crazy boy behind the camera, who will just not leave it - not when the monster is attacking, not when his own life or his friends' lives are being threatened, not when he needs to jump from one falling skyscraper to another. Now that takes crazy to a whole new level.

Even crazier, I felt, was this sweet but in-your-face video cameria junkie in Paranormal
Activity. Before I saw the movie, I had read somewhere on the net that the movie didn't come out all that scary, and that it was just plain stupid. NO!

NO! Yes, my husband thought the guy was very irritating, but I thought he was a bit too sweet. He stuck around, didn't he? Sure, he had weird ideas, but don't we owe them this movie? Hats off, the most frightening movie I have ever seen. You might think differently, but I think it, at least, deserves a watch.

Let me know if you've seen or you end up seeing either...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Out of the Loop

Once I start a treadmill regime, there's nothing that can stop me. Day after day after day, I'm up on the machine. But if I'm forced off it - say, wedding season or summer vacations - I find it hard to get back on it. Continuing is not the problem; renewing the commitment is.

I think something on the same lines happens to blogging too. Once I'm at it, there's a kind of addiction that takes over. I need to write about stuff that's been affecting me - even routine matters - or it feels like I'm being unfaithful to my community of friends here. And yes, I got distracted. A couple of projects I needed to concentrate on, coupled with a changed routine because of guests in the house, forced me out of the loop.

Regardless, I do know that the pledge to renew can very easily be materialized but for procrastination. I wonder if that is a built-in feature of the human mind and body...

Anyhow, I've now taken the first step back into keeping this forum - and others - both active and interactive. How are you all? And can you convince me to get on the treadmill too now?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The 14th of August

The 14th of August, Pakistan's Indepence Day, was approaching, and I, as a blogger, was ducking under pressure. What do I write? What do I say? My country hasn't exactly been doing well off late. I was looking for a reason to celebrate, beyond military governments, terrorist groups, joblessness, poverty - just one reason, but I couldn't think of any. So I found myself retreating.

But then I realised, it isn't always important to celebrate the day, here and now. There is room to think of glorius days gone by (there have been many) and hope for better days to come.

There is so much that Pakistan has achieved in its 60-odd years. Of course, we seem to be taking two steps behind every now and then, but we're fighting it. Most of us continue to be happy-go-lucky people, in the face of threats to life and property brought on by the war on terrorism. But we persevere. We go on vacations. We take our children out to parks. We eat out. We frequent the movies. We speak our minds and some of us, lose their lives in the process. We are a hospitable people. We go head-over-heels entertaining our neighbours or any foreigner for that matter, from the moment they set foot on our turf.

Of course, we have a weak state and have been plagued by rogue governments every so often. And it seems, we never really trust or like our democratically elected governments either. But then, who is happy with their leaders. Look what the Americans had to put up with for 8 years prior to Obama. And a lot of them still seem disappointed with the lack of 'change'. India claims to be the biggest democracy, and just see what Jaswant Singh's published thoughts have stirred there. A man who spoke his mind has been fired from his political party and his book, banned in Modi's Gujarat. Aisha Siddiqa, with her Military Inc. too faced the music in Pakistan. So what's the difference? Everybody creates reason to celebrate anyhow. As must we.

It makes one a nice moment to think that Ayesha Jalal, a Pakistani, had the balls to say what she thought about Jinnah and we teach her work in our universities as a must. We even discuss the pros of United India in our classrooms. So we, as a nation, are anything but apologetic and certainly not whimsical. I think that calls for celebration. We are a creative people. We can manage to conquer new heights in media and the arts, despite the lack of freedom of speech that plagues most developing nations. Our news people have been able to defy fears of the rod, in effect, executing several turning points in history. Our actors and musicians have managed both national and international fame and fortune, without compromising on values. Heck, we can pull off quality entertainment without the support of semi-naked women.

If that doesn't convince, there is always hope. When so many of our youth - despite joblessness, despite lack of opportunity, despite their securities under threat - choose to stay in the country, persevere and serve, there is hope. And if I may dare, we seem to be standing stronger than how we were, a year or two years ago. We have exposed our brittle enemies in Swat, we have upgraded our stock market ratings and we feel pride in our framed religion, Islam. No regrets. No apologies. 

To end with a bitter (and necessary) dose of realism and humility, our erratic cricket team managed to crash and burn in an away series immediately after winning the Twenty20 worldcup. And then, the labourer who shirks, the deadlines that are not honoured, the work that doesn't get done without a generous donation or two, the scheduled power outage that won't let me rant much further...

Long way to go!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spiritual Travels!

I planned a trip to Europe last year, and then, much to the disappointment of some of my religious friends, I went on and planned another this year. And I have no qualms about not regretting either. I was told both times that I should either go for umrah  (Muslim pilgrimage) instead or perform it on my way back. While the reasons why that hasn’t happened are very personal, I do feel inclined to share with friends and family that traveling isn’t just fun, it is very, very spiritual too, apologetic as that may sound!

The rail tracks clamped to the Swiss landscape are just about heaven-sent. Every route they take, every inch they cover, a marvel of nature unveils itself. From the teal rivers running through quaint towns, to the still waters of turquoise lakes stretching twenty-odd miles among the lush of freshly bathed greenery, one cannot help but say, “Oh God!” Spiritual.

A train-ride from Venice to Vienna is just as much fodder for the spirit, with its winding paths, opening horizons to waterfalls, green beds of grass, densely and lovingly populated by small lakes and mellow cattle. Spiritual.

Paris is a world famous city; not for its landscape or natural beauty, but for the aesthetics of its people. The wide boulevards, the manicured lawns, the fashion statements are all mixed up for a classy combo. But then, you discover how threatened the country feels in the face of religious symbolism, and in a second, you’re willing to forego dreams of settling in a city that has so much to offer because your religious sensitivities will not be respected. The Versailles tells tales of uber-luxury that one cannot even find in modern-day Buckingham, and you instantly understand why the French Revolution happened. You shun such disparity. You rise above it all. Spiritual.

Rome is the historic city of the world. A magnum-opus in itself.  The Roman Forum, the Colosseo, the Palatine Hills are all thronged by people; few tourists throng other European cities like they do, Rome: for its cathedrals, its piazzas (and pizzas!), and most of all, its ruins. Often, the book of God tells us to take heed from ruins spread across land, and Rome – not to take away from the marvel that it is – serves as a very apt reminder. Spiritual.

Cordoba. A mosque built by the Umayyads, on the site of a church, once again, converted into a Roman Catholic Cathedral. Food for thought. Spiritual.

Time to plan my next adventure…! I’m thinking Mecca!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I feel so humbled with the messages people have been posting on my blog. Where am I? How am I? Is everything alright? And my blog isn't even that popular. But then, maybe that is the whole reason why... the very fact that I have a few followers allows for personal e-bonds to develop.

Truly, how rude and inconsiderate of me to disappear just like that. I'm sorry. Pakistan was burning, and so much was being written about that. My heart ached too much, my brain brittled in despair; but hope - good old hope - has once again been the florence nightingale that it is supposed to be.

Following the despair, I took a month to plan and prepare for another hard-earned European trip, the other month while we were at it. We returned less than a week back and I couldn't but ignore all your lovely messages. I am, firstly and importantly, going to spend time getting up-to-date with all your blogs, and only then can I consider writing more on my own. I owe that to this community.

Also, it helps that by God's grace, Pakistan seems to be doing better. And we shouldn't be asking for more than baby steps.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Shadow Hare

So goes the report, "A costume-wearing superhero calling himself "Shadow Hare" has vowed to clean up the streets of Cincinnati by fighting crime on the streets".

The best part is, he won't be generating the debate - albeit a good one - from The Dark Knight. Can each one of us get up and take the law into our own hands, if we mean well? If justice isn't served by the authorities-that-be, can we choose the lesser evil (to take control of that which isn't ours, rather than to helplessly watch people suffer)? Will Robin Hood ever be proclaimed a superhero? Is it possible not to act, if one really has a conscience? Or is dressing up as a superhero to fight crime, socially unacceptable, and best left to the big screen?

These questions seem all the more pertinent for me, as a Pakistani, when the writ of the government has clearly been broken in the northern areas of my country. But then, aren't the Taliban doing the same? Offering speedy justice?

Is there a solution somewhere in the midst of this debate? Yes, says the report, "The mysterious masked man is...armed with handcuffs, a Taser and pepper spray, which can be legally carried in the city." Good civic sense!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Squeaky. Paranormal.

So I had a paranormal experience last night.

My sleep cycle is too sensitive for me to be able to control it. One bad day, or one late night, and it takes me days to get my act together. Last night, was the beginning of another chaotic routine. I happened to catch a very interesting episode of ER - a show I used to watch eagerly with my sister, late in the night, before I got married and moved out. In the middle of the show, I heard some weird taps; the kinds that typically come from throwing rubber balls on wooden surfaces. Soft yet hard. I then heard some loud and clear squeaking that I've never heard before (and hope to never hear again). A lizard.

So I had this paranormal experience last night.

A lizard entered our room from under the door, rushed behind a curtain, and began squeaking. Not once. Not twice. A few times. In the dark of the night, it seemed like a lot. I shivered. I woke up a tired husband, just about getting ready to snore.

"Did you hear that?" I asked him. He probably thought somebody had broken in. "No. What happened?", his eyes bloodshot. Not from anger, but from sleep. Deep sleep. "Wait for it. There's a lizard, squeaking." He shuffled over to the other side instantly. But I had achieved it. I had managed to put him on high alert. The next time that damn thing squeaked, he heard it.

I lay on my bed. Scared. Unable to put my treacherous feet on the floor. I picked up my mobile phone and pointed its browser to google. "Do lizards squeak?" I found a lot. They squeak when in pain or excited. For the love of God, I thought, let it be pain. Let it be pain. Let it die. I have already had an encounter with two mating lizards this season, and I can't handle more. I can't understand how people can write about these little "harmless" creatures and oh-so-fondly. I actually found this blog: Things that go squeak in the night. I'm sorry, but I refuse to be smitten by these "little guys". That just wouldn't be normal. That would be paranormal.

So I had a paranormal experience last night. Have you ever?

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I don't normally post pieces from the web, but after Hillary's tough rhetoric, this comes as a welcome admission. Something Pakistanis have desperately been trying to tell America, since forever. They sowed the Taliban. They invested in their training and development. The Taliban are America's love-child from the Soviet War. So Uncle Sam better stop messing with us. We've weathered threats and sanctions in the past, and we can continue doing that.

I bet Bill had a class with the Mrs. after her "patriotic" speech yesterday! ;-)

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Fast and The Furious...

...leave one dead; two, critically injured. At 4:00 am in the morning, a four-wheeler - allegedly driven by an MNA's son, drunk and wasted (who immediately fled the scene) - rammed into the car of a Luminite. The collision left the boy in his junior year at undergrad school, dead.

This happened immediately behind my father's house, on the main road, here in Defence, Lahore. He instantly called Rescue 1122, who refused to respond, stating that they needed confirmation that somebody actually was injured! My father insisted that there was a very bad collision, the noise from which, woke them up from deep sleep; he could see smoke gushing out from the vehicles and the electricity pillar damaged. But Rescue 1122 refused. He then called the DHA Police.

Boys and girls from big families are above the law, it seems. Out with a license to kill. But our youth is now waking up to its civic rights and duties. Will the one who fled, be caught? Will the 2 boys in jail, be released with the force of contacts behind them? Will Rescue 1122 be admonished? Will drinking ever end, in this 'land of the pure'? Let's wait and see.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Fussy Freelancer

I have never had a full-time job. Yes, I have had opportunities to take a few up, but I’ve been too choosy about the jobs that have come my way. My father thinks I should only concentrate on writing (it is the one interest, that has stood the test of time) - to not try and make money out of it, but simply for the beauty of it. My husband thinks I can’t take up a job ever, because my interests are intense at first, but then, fleeting. “Aren’t you a bit fussy with your job hunt?”, he’d ask me. I’ve now given up job-hunting. Its not for me! 

I know friends who can’t breathe properly if they don’t get a daily dose of some social-networking at work; I also know friends who are stay-at-home moms, and wouldn’t have it any other way. I yearn for both ends of the bargain. My being, therefore, exactly and aptly defines the being of a freelancer. Our times have already been revolutionized because of the internet, which continues to weave intricate webs. Could I have asked for more? I call freelancing, the best of both worlds. I get to stay at home and I get to work. An exotic combination!

Freelancing, if one manages to continue attracting projects, almost always cuts away monotony. There is a wide variety of projects so you don’t feel like an ass, much less, a self-induced slave. There is, obviously, a lot of sympathy for those who don’t have any choice but to give in to the grit of capitalism. Granted: most of us don’t have a choice.

Of course, all is not happy and gay for freelancers either. I’ve had quite a few experiences to say that most employers - when they are not binded by a permanent contract - tear your skin apart before they pay you. And paying right, is another story!

I once had a verbal agreement with a weekly paper in Pakistan to pay me a fixed amount for every piece I published with them; in turn, it was required of me to make at least one submission every week. I held my end of the bargain, and got so excited about the opportunity that I almost wrote a full-length research paper for them, divided into four topics, to be published in parts, in the course of a whole month. At the end of the month, however, I was paid for one article alone. I argued that every part held its own, and I should be paid accordingly. They argued (regardless of the fact that this article was about 6000 words in length) that it was one article after all! Fair? I don’t think so!

Among the few companies/organizations that I am working with these days as a freelancer, is an outsourcing company. They’re paying me less than what was initially committed by their representative, over a phonecall; they keep pressurizing me about the submission of projects before the deadlines strike; I compromised on the pay, and I always submit well in time. But when it is my turn to expect a payment, they pay, but they take their time - the time in which I keep inquiring, to the extent that I’ve now earned myself a repute. I recently declined a project they sent my way: the text of the email read, “Let me know if you’re interested.” I told them I wasn’t. And here’s part of the reply I got: “Aapka nakhra zyada nahin hai?” (Translation: Aren’t you a bit too fussy?)

Copyright (c) 2009 Saadia Malik

Monday, April 13, 2009

The New M(e)ntra

Women are often blamed of being insecure; from their insecurities, it is alleged, they give way to cynicism. The weaklings from Venus are at absolute unease with their husbands' female co-workers; should the 'man of the house' come home late from work, they are looked at with meaningful glances. Do you think this is more cliched than it is real? I, for one, do.

Having been in conversation with some married girlfriends of mine, it has become alarmingly obvious that it is the men these days, who are insecure. As women discover their right to indulge in economic work, to not be shy or guilty about frequenting their own family; away from the stoves, finding independence in a stroll away from the 'need' to seek permission to go out with friends, or to simply have a life of hers (previously, there only being 'theirs' and 'his'), it is the men who now put on scrawny thinking caps, coming up with unflattering innuendos towards their other halves.

I think the male species is having a hard time letting the 'fairer sex' stand with it, shoulder to shoulder. The wife's confidence is instantaneously rewarded the status of feminism, in attempts to keep her playing on the back foot. And don't ever try saying, "This is the 21st century, man!" No wonder everybody's on the lookout for metrosexuals: men just don't cut it anymore...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The glass is half-full, and so is my patience

Family setups in the East are generally more well-knit than the West, or at least, that is the impression. There are a few places like Spain, Italy and Greece, which seem to still have a lasting fabric of familial ties, but I personally see those as exceptions, rather than the rule. Movies like 'Failure to Launch' are reflective of patterns of living in the West. If you're old enough to earn, you're out. If you're living in the same house as your parents, your market value falls sharply.

On this end of the spectrum, the opposite holds sway. If you're old enough to earn, you're supposed to tell your parents to relax and enjoy a retired life. You're not only supposed to provide for them, but to live with them as well. We, as a people, look down upon the concept of old people's homes. Not because the old should be left to rot, but because they deserve better. Of those who digress from their duty as obedient and caring children, it is often lamented, "One mother can wean and nurture 10 kids, but those 10 kids find it hard to care for that same woman, 30 years down the road."

I agree. Whether it is my conscience itself, or what it has been taught, I agree. Family is very important to me. It remains the fabric of my life. I would extend these feelings of belonging and responsibility to so many relatives. gets tricky.

It becomes hard for most people to draw the line. At what point do they start interfering and stop caring? Should Mehek's aunt keep pressing her to get married? And if she does, should her grandmother be constantly nagging her to plan a baby? When little Amir is a year old, should Mehek's mother-in-law pressurize her to seize the day, and bring Amir's little sister into the world?

We, in the East, are proud of our family systems, but we, in the East, are also too tired of the utter lack of privacy. If you like to see the glass half-full always, then maybe, we are all superstars, because we just can't be!

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Simpleton...and Lovin' It!

A couple of months ago, we tried a new restaurant in the city. Well, not so much new as new-to-us. My husband and I loved it. He loved what he ordered, and I loved the stuff on my plate. A couple of other people had highly rated the food there too. So, on my sister's birthday last week, I recommended that we all dine there. And we did. She didn't like the entrée I had so fondly recommended. Why? Because she is a cooking-show addict, which means that she can pretty much disect the ingredients of anything cooked, baked, boiled, just has to be edible. Her biopsy revealed to unwitted food-lovers such as myself, that the chicken was merely grilled in ordinary condiments; no special culinary skills backed it up, and there certainly were no signs of marination. The sauce was a simple mixture of this, that and those. Hence, not special. Bottom-line: the recipe has to be special for the restauranting experience to be fulfilling. Shucks! I didn't have the guts to say 'yummy' after that.

Are connoisseurs of this, that or those ever able to enjoy this, that and those? Just something that I've been thinking about.

Do film critics ever really enjoy a film, just for the heck of it? Doesn't it always become a matter of study for them? Is it well-directed? Is the cinematography technically correct? How can he realistically do that? Isn't her reaction too frothy for the story? Is it weird that most Oscar-winner movies aren't as entertaining as they are different? When will a movie like The Dark Knight get the accolades it deserves? Why can't such a movie ever be nominated for the Oscars?

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik
Image credits:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Visual CV: A Review

The traditional CV does not say it all anymore. The world is a dynamic bouncing ball, where people keep taking swings in all directions; they fine new ways to connect every day. The exuberance and vibrancy of it all, doesn’t always fit under ‘work experience’. We have all been feeling that for a while, but it took the folks at to do something about it. uses Web 2.0 technologies to benefit employers and potential employees alike. When putting up a CV at the website, students and professionals have the option to include their blogs, projects, previous work, writing samples et al. The idea is to show skills to companies and organizations, not just tell them. The visual CV will, therefore, link to any work you’ve done, that is available on the web. YouTube or other multimedia widgets on your page can be used to make short presentations you might want to do for potential employers.

For the employers, on the other hand, it is all about saving time and being able to choose the best, when supply is aplenty and vacancies are limited. If they hover over a university name on a prospective employee’s page, Visual CV will instantly pull out information on the school and its standing according to Princeton Review, for instance. These kinds of features save employers precious time, and account for more sound decisions.

In a pre-dominantly employers' maarket, Visual CV is a hot tool. It offers extra-ordinary features and interface, among an ocean of a million job sites on the web. What’s more, you can link your CVs to social-networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I have yet to come across a TV junkie who doesn’t think that The Simpsons is one of the best shows of all-time. It screams brilliance every minute. I can even foresee a day when ‘simpsons’ is incorporated into english dictionaries, as a word that best describes genius satire. Or the day when ‘satire’ is defined in dictionaries as ‘The Simpsons’. Err…you get the point, right! Even though the verdict for the most popular character on the show is out and out in favour of Bart Simpson, I can’t help but love the fact that Homer Simpson just is. His stupidity quotient can only be matched, and surpassed, by the one and only: George Bush Jr. (Why can’t we stop missing him?)

Three other animated shows I’ve enjoyed over time have been, Beavis and Butthead (for sheer dumbness or dubya-ness), The Family Guy and King of the Hill. But none ever got close to the kick and the thrill of The Simpsons. Till…

…till The American Dad. Its been running in the U.S. on Fox TV since 2005, but has made its way to Pakistan through satellite only now, or perhaps I’ve been slow to discover. Have you? What do you think? Viewer response has been good, but generally, the other four are rated higher. I fail to understand!

It tracks the life of CIA Agent, Stan Smith, his right-wing philosophies of America under-threat, his admiration for George Bush Jr., the Patriot Act and Karl Rove. Hilarious! Of course, it is satire, so all doves out there should enjoy the thrashing that the Republican Party and its obsessions against anybody remotely outside their white American bubble, gets on the show. [Disclaimer: I hope y’all aren’t sensitive to exaggerations and stereotyping, sport!]

Some memorable quotes:

[Stan brings home a baby to replace Hayley when she moves out]

Roger the Alien: Is that a Chinese baby?

Stan Smith: Sure is! Japanese, to be specific.


Francine Smith: We're so glad you could make it. Where's your wife this evening?

Bullock: Handcuffed to a radiator in Fallujah. She wanted to come, but I do not negotiate with terrorists. Hey, do I smell meat loaf?


Hayley Smith: You know, Steve's dog would still be alive if you right-wing lunactics would agree to gun control.

Stan Smith: You know what I have to say to that?


Stan Smith: Ah, I thought I was gonna fart.


Stanley Smith: Why can't you take a page from that bitch Hillary Clinton and let it go?


Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


A couple of bloggers here, because of sheer kindness and nothing else, have been making me feel like a superstar. They've been sending messages, pinging me again and again, to post something. Yes, it seems, the gaps are on the rise. I consider it altogether unnecessary to explain now, for their sake, since it seems to be developing into a norm rather.

My husband (a teacher) has written a couple of guest posts for me on this blog, and all of a sudden, his students - girls mostly - have started sniffing around my page. Word has gotten around campus about it, and google analytics reveal that 90 per cent of search engine hits come from his name-search alone! None from my own. I have, therefore, gotten a little wary of the entire charade. The few things I've wanted to write about lately, have had one thing or the other to do with our personal lives. Or maybe, some of my personal experiences. If I write about a recent trip to an embassy - this is just hypothetical lest some of those eager hormones make their way to a certain office in question - he'll instantly be exposed to queries about our travel plans. There have been demands of sharing wedding photographs and the sort. It is not that I do not approve of a good rappo between teachers and students; most of these lurkers have already graduated his classes, which is a good thing, but word gets around like anything, and before you know it, incoming students will have researched his personal life (and wife) to be in a place that would seem a bit too comfortable to me.

Now don't I sound like a snob? Maybe I truly am a superstar.

Please pray otherwise!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Laughing Gas

So Ramesh just pinged me a while back, asking when I'd be posting next. Yes, its been a few days. The reasons for my absence are three-fold: internet problems, lack of inspiration and a very bad response-meter to my last post (shame on everybody but me!). The first problem has been temporarily fixed, thanks to my father. The second too, thanks to him. He just emailed the following and I'm in tearful bliss. So here's some laughing gas for you all:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rome - Part II

Our second day in Rome was dedicated to the Vatican Museums. People often mistake St. Petersburg and the Vatican Museums with Vatican City itself. That is not the case. Vatican City is the smallest country in the world - the size of a room - entrance to which, requires a separate visa. I think it'd be safe to say, "Don't bother trying!"

St. Petersburg did not boast as much grandeur as the aura it generated. Memories of the much-loved, John Paul II resonated, the only one I had witnessed all my life, waving to a sea of devotees, from one of the balconies. The huge columns, lined up in concavity, were distinctly Roman, but I still insist that the entire package was not too captivitating (...unless of course, they hire me to write a review for eager travellers). My first reaction to the Swiss Guards (watching over the Pope's personal safety) was how anybody else would react. They say they come highly trained, but their uniforms spoke another story. A cutting right out of Jumbo's circus, is what I'm implying. The museums themselves were very captivating. Although I've heard that Paris' Louvre is the biggest museum in the world (?), the Vatican Museums are far more taxing on the legs and indeed, on time. For one, you need to walk a considerable distance after getting out of the subway to reach its entrance. For another, you can conveniently pick and choose galleries you wish to visit in the Louvre; that is not the case here, especially if you want to take in, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. And believe you me, you want to take it in, you want to take it all in. The Romans are a proud people. They are not humble about the history that backs them, about the art they have treasured and they definitely are not shy about scolding you should you make an attempt to try and tell your friends, "I saw the Chapel!" From the moment you enter the Vatican Museums, they keep telling you that the Sistine Chapel is just ahead. In no time, it starts feeling like an endless trail; as if you're in a jungle and you feel like somebody's playing a prank on you, or as if you're in Oz and stuck in a maze. It simply isn't around the corner but they'll insist that you are soon to witness history. I think it took us more than a 100 minutes to finally enter that historic hall, where Michelangelo took four years - lying face-up on scaffoldings, painting frescoes onto the ceiling - which is worth every strain your calf muscles take to reach it. We weren't artists; heck, we weren't even amateurs, but we could see how special it was.

The beauty of it is that one can explain it in a way that ordinary folks can visualize the spectacle, and connoisseurs of art can wink at how cute and sweet you and I can make it sound. The painting generated a three-dimensional feel about it. As if all the people and the objects were extending out of the womb that was the ceiling; as if all the people and the objects were generating shadows from the blue skies surrounding them. No sooner do you get over-whelmed and try to sneak out your camera, that an usher splurges rough Italian on you. I fear some sensitive souls might even have cried at the rude, offensive scoldings. No sir. Photography is not allowed. I recall that back in '89, we weren't allowed to photograph Mona Lisa at the Louvre. In 2008, we were. So one hopes they can answer the aspirations of a million tourists - some having saved every penny to be where they were, wanting to capture a glimpse of their experience. (Click on the picture to see the enlarged image. It is understandably blurry...but I dared!)

For those who are keen to read more about it, here's an excerpt from 'Europe for Dummies', which comes highly recommended by yours truly (others can skip it):

The pinnacle of Renaissance painting fills the ceiling and end wall of the Sistine Chapel. Originally, Pope Julius II hired Michelangelo to create a magnificent burial site for him, but then he switched the artist to another job — painting the chapel ceiling. Michelangelo at first balked at the request, saying that he was a sculptor, not a frescoist, but eventually he agreed to work on the ceiling.

After four years of arduous work, the frescoes were unveiled. Michelangelo had transformed the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the chapel into a blueprint for the continuing development of Renaissance art, developing new means of depicting the human form, new methods of arranging frescoes, and new uses of light and color that painters would embrace for generations to come. He covered the Sistine ceiling with nine scenes from Genesis (the fingers-almost-touching God Creating Adam is the most famous) and ringed these with figures of the ancient prophets and sybils, with nudes in contorted positions that show off brilliant attention to human musculature.

The walls of the chapel are covered by wonderful frescoes from earlier Renaissance biggies including Signorelli, Botticelli, Pinturicchio, Perugino, Ghirlandaio — all works that would command attention if they weren’t under such a fabulous ceiling. In 1545, at the age of 60, Michelangelo returned to the chapel to paint the entire end wall with the Last Judgment — a masterwork of color, despair, and psychology.

A couple of days later, in Florence, we made our way to the Accademia Gallery to see another marvel by old pal, Michelangelo: David. I've heard some people say that the sculpture looks quite distorted, but we were in awe of that too. So we decided to pay our respects to the great artist - buried in Florence's Basillica de Santa Croce. But for some strange and odd reason, it church was closed that day!

So back to Rome. The house of tombs was a must-see though a tad spooky place to visit, right next to St. Peter's Basillica. Pope John Paul II was being mourned by most visitors. A sobering experience.

We took the evening that day, to visit the Pantheon - another powerful ancient building in Rome. Had gelato ice-cream from a recommended ice-cream joint - one out of a million - in a nearby, pebbled street, and hated it. To the bins! Took a bus to see the Colosseum at night, and bought a tripod for the camera, from a Bengali vendor, for about 8 euros!

Photo credits:
Sistine Chapel: Mine
Swiss Guards:

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Monday, January 26, 2009

Say No to Yoga

Months back, there were reports in the papers on the "yoga controversy" in Malaysia. Muslims, it argued, were in danger of being corrupted by elements of Hinduism: the chantings of "Om". While it is to be appreciated that Islam is a strictly monotheist religion and Hinduism is not, and Muslims, by their faith, are required to steer clear of the very spirit of polytheism or atheism in their activities, this is utterly absurd. In 7th century Arabia, Muslims were asked to get rid of curtains bearing images in their homes, because polytheism was rampant in the society, and even though while offering their obligatory prayer, they were not bowing in front of these images, it was advised that they needed to leave no doubts about their belief. This obviously meant that in times when they weren't issues of concern, pictures, images and statues were taken for what they were - pieces of art - but certain kinds of Muslims a.k.a mullahs, have insisted otherwise. Hence, the declarations that pictures are haram (forbidden) in Islam; hence, the firing to dust of Buddha excavations in Afghanistan; hence, the menace of the Taliban.

Likewise, it makes no sense that Yoga should be forbidden to Muslims, but our clergy, border after border, is now beginning to wake up to these unending rays of enlightenment. The latest buzz is a ban on Indonesian Muslims. I say "these" because previous trendsetter rays have set high precedents. Much earlier, though I can't say when exactly, a decree by the authorities-that-be, declared that a Muslim woman couldn't practise - yes - yoga, because that would require her to wear pants in the company of other women, which could "lead her to have lesbian sex".

Muslim men and women are also recommended not to spend time together needlessly and without a third presence, except in the case of spouses or unmarriageable kin. Flirtations are looked down upon in Islam. But an Al-Azhar cleric has, like his "cell-mates", without effort given fodder to the mischievous to humiliate his religion. He has found an ingenious way to allow marriageable men and women to sit together, alone, in private, without guilt, and - wait for it - without chances of promiscuity. The woman can breast-feed her male friend, which would make her unmarriageable to him, having achieved an instant certificate of motherhood.

On a very serious note, I am not surprised that the average person feels disgusted at the thought of religiosity, or believes only in humanism for religious ritualism does not make anybody a better person. True, it doesn't, because it has been hijacked by feeble-minded fools who alone are responsible for giving Islam a bad name. And these kinds exist in all religions. I'm only quoting from the Muslim world lest somebody else feels insulted or doubts my intentions. I have only one thing to say to the disgruntled man of faith: Religion encourages reason!

Photo credits:

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I have noticed it not only on my blog but on people's blogs too: there are cowards who persistently hover around blogs, commenting as 'anonymous'. You 'intermittent' spy, you! Those with more courage albeit an inch of it, put a random name, not linking back to their own pages for fear of retaliation.

I wonder if cowardliness is the only reason. I wonder if adding to that, a pinch of fear, is the way to cook it. The fear that the addressee may come running to their pages and treat their posts just as ruthlessly and anonymously (read, conveniently). This truly is sad; for it projects some people's lack of belief in proper argument. The fun of it. The richness of it. The culture of it.

It becomes imperative for these Mr. Hydes to humiliate the other person, should they find something not peculiarly appetizing. I say to them, "I love to tantalize you!"

They refuse to believe that they can be loved despite their shortcomings, and they abhor the thought that we can be loved in spite of ours. I, for one, still have faith in their good nature; the ability to be Jekylls albeit an inch of it! It has been decided that comments on my blog will be allowed upon a sign-in henceforth. I hate to moderate because it creates a feeling of mistrust and snubs the flow of discussions. Fellow bloggers (or blaagers, as Momekh calls it), what do you think?

Image credits:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lovely to see 'Executive One' Fly Away

A very unique coverage of the just-concluded inaugration ceremony in Washington D.C. follows. The  key:

The event
My thoughts

Bush Jr. comes into view
The *onke* is in the house!

Obama comes into view
History is happening.

Obama stutters
Oh, he is a human and he's got a heart, which is skipping beats right now. The last one had no brain fluid; 8 years of observation showed bizarre movements of arguably the world's most-hated eyebrows. Surely, the brain directs muscles in the body, and the erratic twosome were devoid of any control.

Obama speaks to the Muslim World
Thank you!

Obama escorting Dubya towards 'Executive One'
Oh come on, kick him out, throw him...just do something dramatic. Don't stand there like a gentleman, for God's sake!

On that last note, I suppose we will not always be happy with President Obama. There will inevitably be grievances and what if's. But more than that, there are feelings of good riddance, on the one hand, and ecstacy and hope on the other. Congratulations, world!

Saadia is dizzy and going to bed
The presentation above makes complete sense now.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Movie Marathon

Internet problems and "a routine" (for a change) have kept me from the blogging world, for what seems like months, not days. The crazy routine apart, I'd been using my internet-free hours as a chance to catch up on a long-list of some must-watch movies and some random ones: The Great DebatersGhajini, RNBDJ, The Accidental Husband, Taken, Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire. It was an unusual run. I can't write off a single one of these, except maybe RNBDJ, for the simple fact that it is stupid and has an irritating lead actor! For a very deserving review, see Tazeen's blog.

Ghajini - Aamir Khan is as flawless as an actor gets. People may argue that Shahrukh is an extremely over-rated actor and a rather monotonous one at that (I agree) or that Amitabh Bachchan is all about the voice (I disgaree), but there has hardly ever been vivid criticism of the first big Khan on the block: Aamir, and understandably so. He is not only a commercially bankable star but a critically acclaimed actor too. He was honoured by the Oscars for his debut venture with Lagaan, as a producer, and in the capacity of a director for the classic, Taare Zameen Par while it continues to go places. It is quite natural then, for people to want to talk about Ghajini. The verdict of cinegoers has been "outstanding". It has been declared the biggest hit of an otherwise sombre 2008 for the Mumbai film industry. However, and unfortunately, the script seems to have its weaknesses. For one, it is predictable most of the time; for another, the climax of the movie converts the protagonist, Sanjay (Aamir) with an extremely overtoned body, into a superhero; machismo is a given by now. The accuracy and speed with which he alone fights bouncers hurling themselves at him is fun to watch - as he continues to walk, floating punches, left, right and centre - but hard to believe...till he reaches the man he's out go get all along: Ghajini. This, the man who requires protection by tens of ghundas eventually gives our superhero a fight for his life. Typical.

The Great Debaters - Denzel Washington probably is to Hollywood what Aamir is to Bollywood. So quality is to be expected. The movie is based on a true story of a black professor in 1935, urging his negro students to discover their worth, and prove their mettle through the world of debating. They're even pretty good at convincing you to resort to civil disobedience, so you need to watch this movie for a very powerful experience. The team goes on to argue for equal rights for blacks, coming up with astounding debates, white college after white college, to the point that Harvard recognises the power of the suppressed and invites Tolson's (Washington) cadres over for a final match. From the civil war (where blacks were burnt alive by mobs of white chauvinists) to the times of Obama...

Slumdog Millionaire - Talking of mobs, Slumdog Millionaire raises the issue of Hindu right-wing mobs attacking the Mumbai slums, oscillating a similar response - one of an uprise - from the victims albeit the story of one Jamal Malik. Read Id's and Haq's blogs. The movie just won a Golden Globe, as did A. R. Rahman for his music for the movie. The maestro has given great music for SM, but his genius is so much more evident in scores given in the past, so two words, "Well Deserved!"

Revolutionary Road - Talking of the Golden Globes, this movies too was a candidate for the best motion picture award. The best one won, however. But Revolutionary Road is a very off-beat, unconventional kind of a movie, and admittedly, takes time to grow on you. I had written it off in the first 20 minutes, but I'm glad I hung on. Don't watch it for its commercial value, because its got none! It brings together, Leo and Kate (who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress), for the first time after their eternal encounter in James Cameron's Titanic. Quite obviously, a second epic romance is not to be expected!

Taken - A very good entertainer on any given night. Liam Neeson keeps you on the edge of the seat for the entire 90-odd minutes of the movie. A spy. An abducted daughter. And the French connection! I must resort to some cliched appreciation: There is never a dull moment.

The Accidental Husband - If you've enjoyed movies - and continue to urge for light-hearted flicks - like One Fine Day, Only You, My Best Friend's Wedding et al, then this one won't disappoint. Machos would do better to steer clear!

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Donate for Gaza: Help the Palestinians


Do you have a credit card? Or cash for charity? Please consider donating.

Thank you Joachim for mobilizing us.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Load-Shedding: Shed It

Pakistan is in the dark. Literally. The load-shedding bug is still a far cry from being treated. After all, shortage created over a long period of time doesn't just wither away in the blink of an eye, especially when infrastructure - dams and other power projects - is either lacking or left idle. Of course, it becomes very easy to blame the government. And of course, bad-mouthing employees of local grid-stations has also become a favourite past-time of yours truly. Bad, very bad. I can blame them for not being organized in defining cut-off hours (you never know when they'll snatch away the power supply, so it becomes hard to plan chores and activities), but I can't blame them for being the vampires, having to suck our cities out of light.

We should stop wasting our time, blaming the government. They know the problem is there. Drawing-room talks and demonstrations will not achieve what needs to be achieved. They only waste the precious time of hundreds. If the will and grit is there, the men and women on top will help the country out of these troubles. Let us, for a change, focus on our ownselves, and how we can play a role - and a massive one at that. Two key words: Conserve and Energy. A combination of the two does not herald one benefit alone. Those are two-fold too. It also helps save the environment. Every switch pressed on, every appliance plugged, burns coals and stimulates nuclear power plants.

Consider this a public service message, if you may. But each one of us is capable of not just reducing our reactions to words in this matter; we can actually do something. More than our domestic routines, industry is suffering. A CEO of a well-established textile factory recently came on TV and threatened to commit suicide. The levels of worries and depression are on the rise. Machinery is lying idle, and it has become impossible to meet both local and international demand. Orders are not being delivered. This not only hurts the present, but the future of the country too.
  • Always switch off lights, fans and air-conditioners when you're leaving a room;
  • Replace bulbs with energy-savers wherever possible;
  • Do not put appliances on stand-by (televisions, dvd players, laptops, desktops etc.) at least, over the night. They use about 10 per cent of electricity in that mode; so imagine how much can be saved when trillions of these are collectively switched off everyday. Frantic computer users can put their machines on sleep mode, if shutting down is too cumbersome;
  • Switch off plugs once your mobile phones and other such appliances are charged. One does have the tendency of leaving the switch on indefinitely;
  • Experts say that washing machines use the most energy. So wait till you have a full load ready to run, and use cold or warm wash, instead of hot wash because the heating process consumes a lot.
  • And try to sleep early! (I missed this one tonight.) The earlier you sleep, the earlier you switch off lights, television sets and computers. Who knows, you might even strike the jackpot, you healthy-wealthy-wise citizen-o-da-world!

Please feel free to leave your own suggestions by commenting on the post. 

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Posts like this one are only meant to vent out frustrations. They don't serve any other purpose, but I think it still is important to have such an outlet. Please bear with me, because narratives aren't an art I excel at.

A genuine respect of time, honesty and commitment are three virtues sorrowfully lacking in our people.

First story: It is the marriage season and nine out of ten functions are conducted well into the wee hours of the night. The invitation cards usually say "9 pm" but even the hosts will tell you, if you care to call, to come just a little before midnight. I remember arrving at the venue for a wedding reception at the time stated on the card. No guest, no host, and no arrangements either. The caterers were setting up tents, unstacking chairs they had just gotten off the trucks.

Time and Commitment
Second story: I needed to have some important papers - in the thousands - photocopied, for which purpose, I had them submitted to a copier yesterday, early morning. I was supposed to get them later in the day yesterday. A visit to the shop, and no success. I was told to approach them early morning today. Once again, no success. Ma'am, come later in the day. So I went again, just a while back. Once again, the response was negative and there were no signs of an apology either. Instead, I was shocked to witness an 'I-couldn't-care-less' attitude. I've been told my prints will be available in two hours' time. Whether or not, that fourth visit will be worth its while, is anybody's guess.

Third story: I went to the tailor more than a week back, and I was told my clothes would be stitched and ready today. I went, and need I say more...

Time, Commitment and Honesty
Fourth story: Last week, while I was busy trying to burn a few calories, my faithful 3-year-old treadmill failed on me and halted suddenly, almost plunging me into a pain. So I called an electrician in the area - who I thought was an honest man. He disassembled the motherboard, the panel and the motor, and said that the stuff would need to be treated in his lab. He then called and said the motor needed fixing, which could cost me about eight-thousand rupees. I told him that that was unacceptable to me and that he should bring the stuff back, to which, he generously responded that he'd try and bargain with the technicians. Another call, and he had reduced my expenses by about two thousand rupees. I was still in shock and unwilling to budge. Eventually, we settled at Rs. 3500. A week later, he came over, fit in the equipment, and then announced that only 5 per cent of the work needed to be done for which, I'd need to contact the shop from where I purchased my machine. Thankfully, for me, better sense prevailed and I told him that he'd have to explain the problem to the technician before I could settle accounts with him; my maching still wasn't running so having no sense of engineering, I had no guarantee as yet. He was left with no choice. Today, finally, the two men came face-to-face and it turned out that he hadn't worked on any of the equipment, and what he had done with my motor was worth just a few hundred rupees!

Since the last two years, my parents have been recommending that we settle abroad - somewhere in the West - for we still have our lives to build. Depression and hopelessness have never victimized our people as they now are. Similar sounds are resonating from other households. Parents are beginning to send their children out of the country, and those who are already out, are being well-advised to stay put. I find it hard still. I can't leave my parents, as they age.

What can be done? Can people be taught the sanctity and importance of time? Can virtues like honesty be taught? Can commitment be inspired? It is scary but I think, no, no and no! What happens to a nation when ethics and morality not only take the back-seat but are crushed under the hood altogether?

It is already happening. Happy New Year?

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik