Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Faith and Perserverance

From yesterday's Gulf News:

Girl's true grit beats heavy odds to secure top rank in school

Abu Dhabi: Jordanian student Doa'a Abdul Raouf's joy knows no bounds because she stands top in the science stream in her school and second in the UAE in the General Secondary School Certificate exams.

And the worth of her achievement is doubled by the fact that she is nearly blind.

A student of Abu Dhabi Government High School, Doa'a is ecstatic about her 99.8 average. "I expected that I would get good results, but never that I would come first," she told Gulf News.

"I studied really hard and I thought I would come third or fourth. The physics exam was really tough and I didn't think that I did that well in it."

Nearly in tears, parents of Doa'a recounted the hardship that she had to endure because of her condition.

"Doa'a had to have all her subjects read to her because she could hardly see. Thankfully, God has blessed her with an excellent memory and she could easily memorise all her subjects," said her mother Najah Ruzieh.

Doa'a's classmates used to write down what was on the blackboard and Ruzieh would read them for her when she got home.

"A special committee was established for my daughter to take her exams. Teachers who were at her side during the examinations read the questions to her.

"My daughter has to work a hundred times more than a normal child because of her condition. Glasses can't help and she can barely see using a magnifying glass."

"I wouldn't have been able to do any of it without my mother," Doa'a added.

At the age of eight, Doa'a's parents found out that their daughter suffers from macular dystrophy, a hereditary condition that severely affects eyesight.

Ruzieh is unsure about her daughter's future. "Because of her condition she can't be admitted into any university or take up a normal job. Up till now, we don't know what to do and our choices are limited."

Monday, June 27, 2005

From God we come and to Him we will return

My friend's son passed away this morning. Please remember the child and his family in your duas.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Inside Truth

Shoaib Hashmi's column in this week's Friday magazine:

If there is a solid, red-blooded schoolkid in the household, call him and ask, and listen carefully, and you will learn that the proper pronunciation of the word is Honework - with an "N". Just as the word for the stuff ladies use is Nake-up: and the name of the pretty girl in the story is Sumbrella! Kids are clever, and their versions roll off the tongue much more smoothly and conveniently.

What one didn't know is that some of them grow up without even bothering to check. The other day, a young mother of schoolchildren was cribbing about their Holiday Honework! I slyly asked what the purpose was, and she said, They want the parents to kill themselves honing the children's skills in the holidays! Aha! She was clever too, just hadn't bothered to check.

Schoolkids are very much the talk of the town now, with the summer holidays looming. For one thing, 7 year olds, it seems, have to study 12 or more subjects! That means lugging a dozen books and twice as many notebooks to school each day in a bag the size of a jumbo. Then come holidays, they get homework.

I do not remember doing any work in the long vacation in my childhood. Summer was for goofing off and lounging around. These days, it seems, teachers, to impress the administration, require each pupil to produce a Principia Mathematica in ten weeks. It took Newton longer!

What is more, most of it consists of parents buying a specially prepared Holiday Workbook, and the child simply copying all of it into special notebooks - also sold by the school. I thought economics would raise its ugly head somewhere along the way.

Then I met a grandmother who remembered the old days. Aitchison College was a school set up to educate the children of the princely houses, and four of them lived within shouting distance of the place. The son of the Maharaja of Patiala rode to school on a shiny black steed. The scion of the ruling house of Chamba rode an elephant; and the princeling of Nabha came in a palki (palanquin) !

And the prince of Bhawalpur State took the cake! He came in a camel cart, escorted by lancers, because he wore a jewelled turban. Properly, and reverently, at the school gate he would exchange it for the plain blue turban of school, and the jewelled one, on a silver platter, would be locked in the cart and driven back to the house! Hmm? Much nicer than lugging your own hulking schoolbag, no?

Friday, June 24, 2005


We were driving back from Friday prayers this afternoon when I asked my father what time we were going to go to Abu Dhabi to see Ammi.

“About threeish,” he replied, “Usman and Hana will be coming too.”

Usman uncle and Hana aunty are two of my parents’ oldest friends. We’ve known them for about twenty years, ever since Usman uncle came from Karachi and set up a clothing outlet here. Masha-Allah, the business prospered and they were doing very well until a few years ago when Dubai announced itself in a series of grand shopping festivals and suddenly everybody wanted to shop there. The independent traders in our small town slowly started going out of business.

“Any idea what time we’ll be coming back?” I asked, hoping to catch a late show at the cinema in Abu Dhabi. The new Shahrukh-Rani Mukherjee film’s come to town. Paheli. The story of a woman who fell in love with a ghost.

“Not too late,” he replied, outwitting me. “We can’t keep them waiting for us.”

“Why don’t we just drop them off at the bus station then and go watch the movie ourselves?” I suggested maliciously.

“Behave yourself,” my father said, looking at me. “Don’t ever make fun of anyone just because they’re down on their luck.”

“Sorry? What?” I fumbled, confused.

“Why do you think they’re asking for a ride with us? Don’t you think they would already have driven up themselves if they had a car?”

I felt so ashamed of myself. I didn’t know things were this bad.

“When a person is going through a rough time he is especially sensitive to other people. Things that would normally be overlooked or not noticed at all now dig in and damage a person’s self-respect. You have to be very careful about what you say because people can be extremely vulnerable.”

I remembered the day when they’d got their Mercedes. Custom-made and especially ordered from Germany. All of us children had gathered around it reverently, admiring the sleek, elegant look. Usman uncle loved to race it on the highway, letting the engine rip as we shot over the tarmac. Sometimes it felt as if we were almost going to take off.

“Money comes and money goes. It is all from God,” my father was saying. “Never be arrogant about your wealth because it’s not yours. It is a trust that God has blessed you with. And you will be held accountable for it.”

I could only nod in embarrassment.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


By the Grace of God, Ammi's operation went well. I got a chance to speak to the surgeon afterwards and she said that it was a giant cyst, about a foot wide and as deep, but there didn't seem to be any sign of malignancy. Alhumdulillah, Ammi's feeling better now though the first night was incredibly bad. The morphine drip broke down and there was no one available to fix it until late the next morning. It's criminal, really. To have a patient with a raw surgical incision suffer so long. They should have a spare arrangement or technical staff on call who can quickly repair the machines.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Up on the city's roofs there are large fields.
That's where silence crept up to
when there was no room for it on the streets.
Now the forest comes in its turn.
It needs to be where silence lives.
Tree upon tree in strange groves.
They don't do very well, because the floor is too hard.
So they make a sparse forest, one branch toward the east,
and one toward the west. Until it looks like crosses. A forest
of crosses. And the wind asks
- Who's resting here
in these deep graves?

- Rolf Jacobsen

Friday, June 17, 2005

Long Story Short

Busy weekend most of which was spent shuttling up and down Dubai's interminable highways. Too tired to go to the concert. Rush hour traffic sucks.

Best moment: sitting in the hospital waiting room while my mother went in to see the anesthesiologist about her surgery. It was a women's hospital (please check your men at the door) and as I sat there with my walkman on, watching people, "The Look of Love" started playing in the background. It was hilarious, the sublime combination of Dusty Springfield's soulful rendition with the steady traffic of pregnant women, waddling in and out, their bellies plump with dreams.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Votre grenouille a mangé mon dejeuner . . .

So I was sitting in the bus last week waiting for it to fill up so we could start our ride home. I had the radio on and a local jazz show was playing Erik Truffaz. He's an interesting musician, a jazz trumpeteer, who likes to experiment with sounds. The first time I heard him was in a bookstore in Toronto - Bending New Corners was playing in the background. I used to visit bookstores a lot when I was there. As soon as I got off work I would get on the subway and head towards the nearest Chapters. They have a wonderful attitude towards selling books; they treat customers as readers and not mere drones to push their merchandise on. The whole store was generously provided with these warm, comfortable armchairs for visitors to sit down in and enjoy the books. The lighting was kind, soft music would play in the background and there were these large bay windows that gave you a panoramic view of the mall. You could just pick a book, find a quiet corner and read until it was time to go home. Nobody would trail you around the store, casting shifty eyes in your direction to make sure you don't sneak away with their stock. The books were electronically tagged anyways so it didn't make a difference. What made the difference, however, was the decadence with which you could sit down and get to know a book before you had to pay for it. For a third-world bumpkin like me it was heaven.

Anyways, so I was on the bus, listening to Erik Truffaz when the song ended and DJ Suzy came on announcing that Truffaz will be playing in Dubai on the 16th of June. The radio station had a few free tickets to give away and if you knew the answer to the questions she was asking, you could go see him play live. Taking a chance, I called up from my radio, which occasionally doubles up as a cell phone (Go, gadget, go!) and found a delightful DJ Suzy thanking me for my correct response and then proceeding to mis-spell my name as she tried to get contact info down for the organisers to get in touch with me. Three tries later, she finally managed to nail it and we parted on a note of happy anticipation of the smoky musical delights to follow.

That was last week. Last night, I got a call from the promoters saying that my tickets were available at the box office and would be handed over to me upon providing the password and necessary blood reports. I am assuming there are two tickets but since nobody I know has the time or inclination for jazz, I'll be going alone. If anyone would like the spare ticket, please leave a message on the blog and we can figure something out. Meanwhile I need to go practise my French. Au revoir, mes amies.

Friday, June 10, 2005

I think I can, I think I can

My apologies to Baji and knicq for a delayed response to their simultaneous tag. I’ve been a bit busy lately and haven’t had a chance to sit down and blog coherently. However, to respond to the tag and explore the dark side, what would it be like if I could be . . .

- A librarian?

There is a certain fastidious innocence associated with librarians that I find quite endearing. It’s something that belies the stereotypical image of a mild-mannered meek anemic, liberally punctuated with a heavy dose of occupational acne. In truth, librarians are gentle people. They spend most of their time indoors, silently obedient to the laws of learning. Their daydreams and coffee breaks are chastely choreographed to the rustling music of turning pages. They speak in whispers and make everything they say sound solemn; the provision of a library card can take on the aura of a baptism when performed in the sacred, hushed tones of an ancient librarian. They even chew with their mouths closed. They are a study in silent observances, in the quiet, erudite ways of an invisible and learned underclass without whom the Dewey Decimal System would be a bewildering labyrinth of Faustian proportions. We cannot live without them.

- An athlete?

I think I'd be a squash player. It's a great game.

- A marine biologist?

When I was in school doing my O’levels we had this substitute teacher come in one day and ask us what we wanted to do when we grew up. Since it was a school populated mostly by children from the subcontinent we knew that the correct answer when asked that question was, of course, medicine and, one by one, we dutifully recited it to her only to be met by a growing look of exasperation. “You can’t all want to be doctors?!” she said despairingly. “There are so many careers to choose from! How about marine biology, for example?” We looked at her and smiled indulgently. It was unpossible. We loved medicine. Our parents had told us so.

Now when I think about it, marine biology sounds like a pretty fascinating career. If the documentaries and wildlife specials in the National Geographic are anything to go by, it’s a discipline that promises the prospects of endless enchantment. I remember reading a few weeks ago about a species of fish that emits an electromagnetic field into its surroundings. Anything moving causes a disruption in the field which is then detected and translated by the fish’s brain into a spatial image enabling the fish to “see” underwater in the dark. Subhan-Allah. It’s this kind of stuff that blows you away.

- A chef?

Well then life would be just perfect, wouldn’t it? No need to go out, no need to marry, no need to suffer the trials and tribulations of inquisitive aunties and their snot-nosed hoards of vomit-colored children all for a meager fistful of biryani. No, sir. I could stay in every night, watch TV and eat to my heart’s content. And then, when I was nice and round, I could roll myself down a hill and gleefully squash all the flowers that came in my way. Again and again and again.

- A writer?

Another skill that I covet in others, if only for the quick felicity with which it allows them to compile their blog entries and then merrily run out to play (or trail Hummers or chase pygmies in the Amazon) while I have to fret and grieve over each and every word. It’s agonizing, especially if you happen to care for the language and would like to protect it from being mauled by your own inadequacies. In such circumstances, the gift of being able to actually write comes as a welcome blessing. At the very least, it means you are not up at six in the morning laboring feeble-mindedly over a post that ought to have been dispatched hours ago if only you knew how.

I think I'm supposed to tag five other people but seeing as how most people have already done the quiz and the remainder all have lives or something, I guess I'll leave it open. Anybody wishing to take up the challenge, the instructions are included below. Please drop me a line and let me know if you do.

The general rules are as follows: from the list of occupations below, select five (5), and write a post on your blog, on how you would perform each, if they were your job. When you are done, add a couple of occupations to the bottom, and ambush five other fellow bloggers to prepare a list.

If I could be a musician...
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be a painter...
If I could be a gardener...
If I could be a missionary...
If I could be a chef...
If I could be an architect...
If I could be a linguist...
If I could be a psychologist...
If I could be a librarian...
If I could be an athlete...
If I could be a lawyer...
If I could be an innkeeper...
If I could be a professor...
If I could be a writer...
If I could be a llama-rider...
If I could be a bonnie pirate...
If I could be a service member...
If I could be a business owner...
If I could be an actor...
If I could be an agent...
If I could be a video game designer...
If I could be a comic book artist...
If I could be a mime
If I could be a domestic engineer
If I could be a chimney sweep
If I could be a masseuse
If I could be a taxi driver
If I could be a priest
If I could be a fighter pilot
If I could be a homeless person
If I could be a biker
If I could be a mortician
If I could be a marine biologist
If I could be a garbageman
If I could be an astronaut
If I could be an architect
If I could be an inventor
If I could be an ice-cream tester

Monday, June 06, 2005

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

- Robert Hayden

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Sick jokes

So we're watching the test match this evening. West Indies vs. Pakistan. Kamran Akmal, our new wicket-keeper, is in to bat, facing a West Indian pace attack. He misses one, catching it between the legs and goes down, face contorted in agony. The camera shifts to the spectators and they're laughing. Like something funny has just happened.

It's unbelievable.

How can you laugh at someone in so much pain? Anyone who's been hit like that can tell you what an excruciating experience it is and yet people still smirk at the sight of it, like it's an inside joke, to be hurt so bad you feel like retching all over the place. It's unbelievable, really. It's like when people start cracking up when someone pulls out the chair from under a person about to sit down and they crash, smacking their tailbone on a stone floor. Or when someone slips on a banana peel or trips over an outstretched leg. How is that funny, watching someone hurt themselves?

People make me so angry sometimes.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Stanley and Iris

Just finished watching a really good movie called Stanley and Iris. Robert De Niro and Jane Fonda. I didn't know she could act. And De Niro. The guy's a good actor, everybody knows that, but what puts him above the others is that for all the fame he's won with films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas and Raging Bull he still goes ahead and does a small film with an inconsequential character. Stanley Cox is just an ordinary guy but the kind of dignity Robert De Niro brings to him and his struggles makes him extraordinary. And that is De Niro's art. By making the ordinary extraordinary, he helps us to see each other in a different light. It's an education of sorts.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Robber

Forth from his den to steal he stole.
His bag of chink he chunk;
And many a wicked smile he smole
And many a wink he wunk.

- Anonymous

Site Meter