Sunday, December 31, 2006


saddam's last day

So, saddam hussein was hanged today. He didn’t get to see the first day of 2007 and strangely, despite knowing full well his crimes to his people I can’t help feeling a bit sad. Any death is ultimately a tragedy . Will I feel equally sad if say george w bush face the same fate? Probably yes too although I feel that this guy has as much or arguably more blood on his hands and ought to have the same fate as saddam.

Currently reading Isaac bashevis singer’s “shadows on the Hudson” , a fascinating book as all Mr Singer’s books are and this fat tome is fighting to get my attention with the equally thick and fascinating ‘a fine balance” by rohinton mistry. like a polygamous household I’m trying to be fair and alternating my attention to each about equally and now into a hundred pages or so for each.

Both books are philosophical in their own ways . rohinton’s among others about the caste system and the sorry fate of the untouchables and Singer’s as all his books are about nature of evil, the jewish holocaust and why God permited it so. at one point the character Grein (or was it luria) was wondering what those Nazis felt at the point of shoving all those innocent jewish children into the oven. I too often wonder what those guys who dropped the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima felt at that exact point when they pulled the lever , knowing that they were about to kill all those innocent people, children, babies and all the rest of innocent living things… it’s appropriate that with a closure of one life (saddam’s) I discovered this last interview of Mr Singer which is full of big questions of life and no real satisfactory answers to it all….

post script : 6 Jan 06 11.46 pm

watched the grainy mobile phone recording of saddam's hanging today. it made me want to cry. it was obscene the way these people taunted him and didn't let him finish the syahadah. i guess after so much suffering it may be understandable that these people behaved in such uncivilized manner . they got their just revenge but still, it would not hurt to show some kindness and magnanimity to him in his last moment of life. that's the decent thing to do.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


in memory of dr C...

Ah, today is 25th dec. that means Christmas time to Christians and since I’m not one by a very very long shot and in fact Christian dogma is completely REPUGNANT to me… I don’t celebrate it. But there’s no escaping it (at least the commercial aspects of Christmas) but don’t get me wrong. Although the dogma per se is an anathema to me as a muslim (this over emphasis on jesus -instead of on GOD-, trinity and all that), and like Dracula I find the Christian iconography and especially the sign of a cross very distasteful and in fact I absolutely detest it, I actually have the deepest respect for Christians’ attitude towards charity, forgiveness and love. So do forgive me for my views on Christian dogma and belief and iconography which you’ll no doubt think over simplistic and wrong.

About two years ago I went to the US with this very mild soft spoken Chinese friend of mine. He was an authority on some kind of scientific discipline which is needed by my company and I impressed the people in the head quarters enough to convince them to allow me to bring this gentleman to visit our main office and research facilities. And while there I rented a car, brought him to a few places and we drove along parts of the great lakes and around some very beautiful and scenic small towns along the way. He mentioned that the huge lake which looked like sea to me is in fact filled with fresh water and I had to stop the car and went down and actually took a handful and tasted it. And of course he was right. If I were him I would get very pissed off for not believing him but he just smiled and did not even say ‘I told you so’.

Another time we stopped at a building which turned out to be a small church in the middle of nowhere as I had this urgent need to have a piss and I don’t want to be rude in America and pissing away at any old place by the roadside. And I made a comment to him and wondered why so many Chinese now have forsaken their culture, they have English sounding first names (Dr C don’t ) and behave like westerners and some even become Christians and leaving their perfectly beautiful ancestor worship, Taoism and Buddhism and start believing in some kooky mind boggling and illogical Christian dogmas. And as usual he didn’t argue but just smiled it away.

The only time he showed some excitement was when I asked him if he liked art and he mentioned that he never entered an art gallery before and as we were in Indianapolis at the time I brought him to one of the famous art museums there- that was founded by Eli Lilly – and when we entered the lady at the door mentioned something about how lucky we were as they were currently having exhibition on ‘malay’ paintings and their influence on van gogh…and I was completely taken by surprise – I don’t know THAT!- until I realized that she was referring to millet .

But I was actually pleasantly taken by surprise when I found that among the permanent collections there was this painting by one of my favorite 17th century still life painters , the great willem kalf. I told Dr C… that this genre – 17th/18th century dutch and Flemish still life paintings has been one of my favorites for some time now but he commented that he can’t understand art at all. No need to understand anything I said. Just appreciate the beauty of it all , you don’t analyze the beauty of flowers do you? Or women?, well women may be a bit, some people like big tits and some small well rounded ones and all that and I went on in that light vein for a while and I told him I’m glad that I’ve now introduced him to paintings as this is one of the things one should appreciate before one dies and the good thing is that the best are often for free as what you need to do is just visit good museums and art galleries….

Several months after coming back from the trip I was all the way up in Sapa, a small hill town in the northern part of north Vietnam, quite near the chinese border .This place is famous for it’s cool temperature, beautiful upland sceneries, colorful ethnic minorities and especially well known for the ‘marriage market’ which is held on certain days of the month among these minority people. I remembered my Vietnamese friend and I were in one minority village when I got a call saying that dr C had just passed away. The manner was particularly tragic as he apparently had a massive heart attack while in the middle of giving a paper in a scientific seminar in the Hague.

When I came back from this trip I immediately went to his house and there I was again completely taken by surprise. When I arrived they were in the middle of some Christian service and I saw his casket was decorated with a huge cross at the head. So, he was in fact a Christian after all but didn’t even say a bad word to me when I vilified Christianity when we stopped at that church in the middle of nowhere. I know only a good strong Christian can do this. Just try doing the same even to a non practicing muslim and he’ll be at your throat in ten seconds.

I now began to understand a little of Montgomery Watt’s comment when asked in one interview why he was not a muslim despite such high praise and respect he had towards Islamic theology particularly Sufism . I couldn’t remember the exact words but he said to the effect that one just don’t only look at the intellectual aspects of the religion…

And now I can’t go back and look up his exact words in that particular interview as I recently discovered that all my books on Sufism and shiism and watt’s translations of some sufi tracts and Islamic magazine on the interview were all eaten up by termites … and I’m still battling with this problem right now…but this other interview nicely encapsulates his thinking about islam and it’s relation to christianity….

and on this day of Christian holy day my memory goes to dr C. you were a good man... and incidently the rev montgomerry watt just passed away a couple of months ago so, as we muslims say…may you both be counted among the people that god favors…amen…

And as I am typing these I’m listening to Sting’s fragile …such a sad song ...

Saturday, December 23, 2006


mercy street

According to wikepedia, after discussion on the publication of her poem collection The Awful Rowing toward God and having lunch with maxine kumin her writer friend, the poet anne sexton went into the garage, put a hose into the car , started the engine and asphyxiated herself with carbon monoxide.

We all know that writing can be a very dangerous profession especially for those with manic depressive bent (and many poor writers are) and some did go to the extreme . suicide for art sake is not uncommon. And these heroics are beyond my comprehension. Why would people want to kill themselves for art? jerzy kosinski did it in 1991 hunter h Thompson in 2005.

I don’t know anything about anne sexton or about poetry and am very glad for it (not knowing about poetry i mean). this is a particularly dangerous sector of writing world. Stay away from it! And if not for the great Peter Gabriel and his fabulous but melancholic song ‘mercy street’ I would never have heard or read anything about anne sexton. (presumably this song was influenced by Anne Sexton’s posthumous collection of poems 45 mercy street (1976) – which I don’t know anything about. )

I was lucky to accidentally stumbled upon a hardback of “searching for mercy street” by Linda Gray Sexton , a memoir of “my journey Back to my mother anne sexton” - as the subtitle of the book described - in the recent payless sales and probably will get into it some times - time permitting. And that’s the good thing about these sales. You go with an open mind and you may find all kind of treasures and surprises. And I found “Passing by” Selected essays 1960 – 1991 of Jerzy kosinski. The blurb described it as ...A collection of writings , never before published in book form , that answers many questions about kosinski and his work...

And I know a bit about mr kosinski, as at least several of his earlier books were some of my favorites in my younger days. I liked his writings which if my memory doesn’t deceive me were characterized by somewhat questionable ethics and moral outlook and perhaps much colored by his own very interesting life story.

But now , a few days back I was listening to old songs which i downloaded during napster heydays (bless you shawn fanning for giving us this , and fuck you motherfuckers were some of the people responsible for the demise of this first ever free download program) with my old computer (the spanking new one with 250 gigabytes hard disc and the latest intel chip , I am kind enough to let my 85 yr old chimpanzee use it to play games and down load all sorts of things) –in my library and just grabbed a book at random and it turned out to be rohinton mistry’s “a fine balance” and now I’m deep into the world of parsi lives and had to put a few others on hold again…a real problem many books and so little time …but I’m always happy to have this kind of problem anytime…

Saturday, December 09, 2006


ali and nino

We were a very mixed lot, we forty schoolboys who were having a geography lesson one hot afternoon in the imperial Russian Humanistic High School of Baku, Transcaucasia: thirty Mohammedans , four Armenians, two Poles , three Sectarians, and one Russian.

So far we had not given much thought to the extraordinary geographical position of our town, but now Professor Sanin was telling us in his flat and uninspired way: ‘ The natural borders of Europe consist in the north of the North Polar Sea, in the west of the Atlantic Ocean, and in the south of the Mediterranean. The eastern border of Europe goes through the Russian Empire, along the Ural mountains, through the Caspian Sea, and through Transcaucasia. Some scholars look on the area south of the Caucasian mountains as belonging to Asia, while others, in view of Transcaucasia’s cultural evolution, believe that this country should be considered part of Europe. It can therefore be said my children, that it is your responsibility as to whether our town should belong to progressive Europe or to reactionary Asia’

The professor had a self-satisfied smile on his lips.
We sat silent for a little while, overwhelmed by such mountains of wisdom, and the load of responsibility so suddenly laid upon our shoulders.
Then Mehmed Haidar , who sat on the back bench, raised his hand and said : ‘Please, sir, we should rather stay in Asia.’

Thus began ‘Ali and Nino’ one of the most fascinating books I read this year. This little masterpiece, originally in German (first published in Vienna in 1937) by one “Kurban Said” led Tom Reiss to start his equally fascinating search for the real author who turned out to be Lev Nussimbaum, a jew who converted to Islam when he was 18 , a son of a rich oil baron in Azerbaijan.Tom Reiss went on to write the critically acclaimed “ the Orientalist” about him which I already mentioned in my previous post (“the good jews” July 4, 2006).

Paul Theroux in his introduction in this new edition (2000) said that "…part of Ali and Nino’s achievement is a bravura display of passionate ethnography, of life lived in a particular area. In this respect Ali and Nino resembles , for example, Madame Bovary, Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, Don Quixote, and Ulysess, novels so full of information that they seem to define a people- full of lore and peculiarities, and saturated with a powerful sense of place. And incidentally, we may begin to understand why Azerbaijanis consider this their ‘national novel’. These ambitious narratives contain everything you need to know about their time and culture."

It’s a pity that ‘Ali and Nino’ is so little known that you’d be hard pressed to find it in any bookshop so I considered myself very lucky indeed that I found one copy in the on going Big Book Shop sale at Atria PJ and I bragged about this to this American friend who first introduced and sent a copy of “the Orientalist” to me all they way from Indianapolis many months ago and now he’d be interested to have a copy of Ali and Nino if you don’t mind please, and so I scurried back to Atria to get another copy but as always happen in life, good things don’t come twice and I’ve been to the shop almost once a week for the past several weeks and pored over every single volume of books on sale but couldn’t find any more volume of this book. What is worse, every time I went I came back with another bag of books and I think I’ve spent well over RM400 in this sale alone.

Looks like I’ve to finish the book, and once finished had to sadly part with it. It’s not my way to lend people books so I either keep them or give them away and I don’t have much choice. So good bye ‘Ali and Nino’. I hope I’ll get another copy somewhere some times.


Saturday, December 02, 2006


Aural signposts of my life….

These days I find it very hard to get absolutely hooked by any songs you get to hear on the radio…may be age is really catching up with me and suddenly I realize that I’m in the wrong side of the generation gap and getting hopelessly unfashionable. But still, I believe may be the time has gone where you can get absolute gems and songs that turn to classics even when they first start to be aired. Diddy or all those rappers are hardly the candidates for this although it surprises me to no end how influential this particular brand of music -which is not my cup of tea at all- is throughout the world. These days you can’t escape this inner city music of the afro americans some of whom are bordering on the criminal side in all the world languages from Chinese to malay to thai to Mongolian to well, every other…..

But I’d be hard pressed to name one really good pop song from the last say, five years that can match say the beatle’s ‘yesterday’ which has been covered by thousands of singers and even become one of the moodiest soundtrack in one of my favorite gangster movies, Sergio Leone’s “ once upon a time in America”.

And speaking about America, one of the most enduring and perhaps the strangest song in term of how much it has been dissected, studied, analysed, commented much like a holy book is one of my all time favorite songs during my younger days- and still is now – Don McLean’s American Pie. You can see many websites devoted solely to this song and one of them is this . I’ve not yet come across a book about this song but perhaps there will be someday who knows…a book like Nabokov’s ‘pale fire’ say…

This song is one of my sign of time signature much like particular personal photographs are signpost of your passage of life….over the years there are some more classics that become signpost of my aural passage in life…. Pink floyd’s ‘dark side of the moon’ , neil young’s ‘harvest’….genesis’ (peter Gabriel days) ‘supper’s ready’, ‘carpet crawlers king krimson’s ‘in the court of the crimson king’ etc…and Uriah Heep’s ‘July morning’…. One time several years ago I passed along one of those tiny karaoke place in the seedy sector of Ermita Manila and overheard someone wailing “july morning” …very bizarre…

These days the only new things I like a bit are some of those electronica mixes that some clubs play to pill popping young people. The disc that has been in my car mp3 player for a few weeks now is one “James Lavelle’ mixes from of all place “live in Romania” . bought it at one of this small shop selling all those pirated /self produced discs of dance music at suan lum night market in Bangkok a couple of months back…..who knows may be in ten years’ time I will come to view this particular brand of music as another of my aural signpost of time….

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