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