Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: End of the Past

End of the Past

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nadeem Farooq Paracha or NFP, as he's commonly known, is a Pakistani cultural critic and satirist who has become an important voice in the current milieu of critics sprouting up left, right and centre. Apart from the fact that he's been at it for more than two decades, his past has morphed him into a force all the more important for as demarcated a society as ours with opinions of all kinds being thrown around like monkeys flinging feces. One may not be a big fan of NFP's pompous style of prose but nobody can disagree with the power his pen possesses in delivering seemingly benign opinions with the utmost ease and immense lucidity, and how it affects the reader on at least some level.

"End of the Past" is NFP's first published book which has come at a time (seemingly Pakistan has been riding on knife’s edge since conception making everyday a bloody critical point in her history) when the denizens of Pakistan have lost all semblance of identity. What direction did Jinnah want Pakistan to take – a secular state bordering on modernism and liberalism or an Islamic Republic as it was deemed out to be soon after Jinnah’s passing? Or simply, what exactly is “Jinnah’s Pakistan” that we’ve heard every politician from Bhutto and Zia to Sharif and Musharraf use incessantly to drive their campaigns? I think NFP makes a decent attempt at reaching the roots of the issue and presents a potential solution albeit idealistic in the last chapter of the book.

NFP’s take on the subject of manipulation of religion in Pakistan and the role it’s played in the evolution of the political thought in the country’s evolution is especially insightful. He’s from that generation which faced the brunt of Zia’s oppression and the religious upheaval courtesy the influx of US Dollars and Saudi Riyals. But even prior to Zia, appeasing the religious authorities or using them for their own benefit had forever been every Pakistani politician’s key to success e.g. Bhutto did so by officially declaring the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan non-Muslim, and not to forget the conglomeration of 9 parties to form the right-wing PNA solely to fight against the socialist agenda of PPP in the 1977 elections. He delves into a lot of detail explaining the origin of various student unions and the role they played in the political evolution of Pakistan from the 50’s into the 70’s and 80’s. Anyone who wants to become a bit more politically aware with the Pakistani scenario should give it a read.

My favourite chapter of the book is, “Sound/Vision Deafness/Blindness”. This is what NFP has really been known for – the uncanny ability to decipher the complex cultural ambiance of Pakistan and present it in the most hilariously readable and lucid manner. He covers the entertainment business, Lollywood, music and theatre, and how it’s evolved with the tumultuous political happenings of the country. And obviously an NFP book would’ve been incomplete without his astute take on Cricket and how politics have changed the outlook of the Pakistani team over the years. Although reading Osman Samiuddin’s, “The Unquiet Ones”, would be a lot more helpful for the academic, NFP’s satirical discourse on the subject shouldn’t be missed!

The last chapter of the book took me by complete surprise. For the first time I’ve read NFP talking about his religious beliefs and what, according to him, the Muslims and Pakistanis need to do in order to progress. Overall, the book is a fun read and presents a load of information on the political scenario of Pakistan. The references NFP gives are really interesting and I’ve jotted down quite a few titles for future reads. Authors like Ayesha Jalal and K. K. Aziz need to be read by every Pakistani in order garner a deeper understanding of the machinations of Pakistani society. Furthermore, anyone possessing deep apathy for NFP should read it as well, as the book provides an a lot more intimate viewpoint of the much debated journalist we’ve come to love and hate.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird (To Kill a Mockingbird #1)To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Considering this book was published in 1960 and that too written by a female author, I'm surprised it actually saw print. The themes covered in the book are extremely important and are as vital to be discussed today as they were at that time.

The book is about one Atticus Finch, a practicing lawyer in a small town in the state of Alabama, and is told in the first person narrative of his daughter, Scout.

One aspect I immediately picked up on when I started reading the book was how Atticus's children addressed him by his first name instead of using the more traditional and widely accepted title, 'Dad'. Although personally I would never go so far as to address my father by his first name, this does touch on one really important idea for me. Pakistan is a country which is practically slave to culture and tradition. Every person whose older is addressed with "respect" which is generally conveyed to the recipient via a title e.g. Bhai (brother) and Baji (sister). In my opinion, the minute such a title is attached to someone whose only older in age and not necessarily in experience and mental capacity, much of the young'un's opinion is discredited and would most likely be looked at through skepticism and, in some cases, ridicule. Once individuals are past a certain age, all immediate relationships should be on a first name basis with the discourses and general banter carried out as equals. Atticus is the perfect father who gives his children the importance they deserve and hence both kids never shy away from voicing their opinions throughout the book. Obviously, there's a fine line between utter disrespect emanating from hubris and being vocal enough with enough humility.

The major theme that the book expertly negotiates is the inherent relativity of right and wrong. This sentiment is reflected in the title as well and the quote, "Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird", explains it all the more. Bob Ewell is one such character that epitomizes this statement. The circumstances he's killed in and the subsequent reaction of Atticus in bringing Jem Finch (his son) to task since he suspects his hand in the death of Bob, and how Heck Tate, the Sheriff, asks Atticus to simply lay off and to let it go because Bob Ewell's death is actually service to the society. The conversation between Tate and Atticus is wrought with ideas which one would be able to uncover the more they read and discuss it. Absorbing the whole book and what it stands for is quite difficult after just a single read. It is a piece of literature that should be read at all phases of life.

Atticus's message in the book is simple and yet one of the most difficult to adhere to, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." This one statement encompasses almost everything that is wrong with a society like Pakistan today. And a similar stream of intolerance seems to seeping back into the Western societies that have tried so hard to rid themselves of it albeit a farcical underlying rhetoric which has been all the more validated by the likes of Donald Trump. It is high time we look at ourselves and strive to make this world a better and a more tolerant place to live in for our progeny. A child is incapable of hating however they do learn. Be the Atticus in their lives and expound sound and forbearing advice to them so they can return the favor by becoming the seeds of change.

This book can be read casually or part of study. I would recommend to everyone to definitely give this book a shot; rest assured they'll take away their own version of it which undoubtedly would be positive in complexion.


Training Diaries: Melbourne Marathon 2017 - Training Week 1: Day 6

TRAINING WEEK 1: Day 6

Date: 07/01/2017
Weight: 85.2kgs
Run Type: Race - Portsea Twilight Run - 8kms
Track Type: Off-road/Road
Temperature: 33C
Shoes: Hoka One One Bondi 4
Device: Garmin Fenix 3

Details of the run are given below.




I signed up for this race last minute and was shit scared due to my current fitness levels. Nevertheless, I took the plunge and have come out of it alive! For starters, I was taken by surprise to find out on the day of the race that the Portsea track would be a trail run, not a road run as I'm used to. That got the anxiety levels spiking but oh well, had to go through with it no matter what. The weather was extremely warm all day but thankfully the heat was subsiding by the time I reached the start line at around 6:40PM with the temperature at around 33C (92F). The run was scheduled to begin at 7:00PM. 

There's something about being at the start line of a race. Obviously, with my current fitness (and future as well) I'll only be competing against myself rather than other participants. On August 13th, 2016, I participated in my first ever official race - City2Surf Sydney. That's a 14km track which I was able to finish in a semi-decent 1hr 23m. Needless to say I was stoked and still am really proud of that achievement considering just under a year earlier I was bedridden and going for an ACL reconstruction surgery. Anyway, the adrenaline rush that one gets and feeds off of other participants at the start line is a really unique experience. Every runner is seemingly nervous with smiles going around aplenty depicting encouragement and uncertainty. It's a great moment experience. 

The race commenced with the siren going off. First 1.4km were quite standard with the limbs loosening up, breathing becoming steadier and the nerves settling down. From there onward it was a constant uphill and downhill with the former doing a lot more damage naturally. We reached the halfway mark at 3.5km and started back to roughly where we'd started. The return was a lot harder as the uphill really became steep and my pace reduced significantly from a lousy 6:30m/km to a lousier 7:10m/km. The rest of the 2.5km, before we detoured towards the finish line via trail, was one of the toughest distances I've ever run. 90% of running this stretch was mental work and just coercing and begging the muscles to go on - one step at a time - while beggingly applying the age old adage, 'you conquer the mountain, the mountain doesn't conquer you' which at the time seemed a lot of bullshit than anything else. Thankfully there were water stations along the way so I kept myself well hydrated which was a good idea due to the heat. I generally avoid drinking water on runs less than 15km surviving on gels primarily for anything over 12km. At the 6km mark, we detoured and went onto a trail which was again a new experience for me. It was an absolutely lovely run from thereon. I never expected myself to enjoy the trail so much hence the reason why I'm planning to run the Melbourne Trail Series for this year. However, that depends entirely on how well I train this year. 

The best part about the run was Ahmed running the last 200m with me, absolutely hilarious; he's turning out to be a pretty toughie. Once I'd reached the finish line, I loaded up on a couple of energy bars, drank plenty of water and did my stretches. 



Right now the body is feeling great with a little bit of soreness in the thighs. I'm planning to go for a 7km run today so that'll bring out any niggles that I might be carrying. Overall, I feel great and am really motivated to carry on with the training regime. Hopefully, I'll reach a point where I can take the plunge into doing a full marathon!

Until next time :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Training Diaries: Melbourne Marathon 2017 - Training Week 1: Day 1

Holy SHIT! It's 2017 already. 2016 went by so fast, I still wake up disoriented on a few days thinking it's sometime in June/July, but oh well, 2017 it is. Anyway, down to business. I've finally decided to start training for a marathon, to be specific, the Melbourne Marathon which is exactly 284 days away bringing the date of the event to 15th of October, 2017. Just thinking about the run gives me the heebie-jeebies. The maximum that I've run is a half-marathon which is 21.1kms. Needless to say it was extremely tough and took me a good 6 months to bring myself to the kind of fitness where I could do justice to a distance that extensive. A full marathon is 42.2.kms; it's unfathomably long. Even more so for someone like me who feels on top of the world after a meager 10km run every now and then. All said and done, I believe it's time to move on and talk about what the future holds and how I intend to get there. 

There are a few goals I have to hit and if I'm able to knock them down, running a full marathon would definitely be achievable. The weight has to come down, muscle tone and endurance needs to increase, core strength has to be top notch, and one of the most important aspects of a long run is the posture which I really need to work on in order to minimize injury and overall body wear and tear. The key to success, however, resides not in excessive practice and toning of the body but solely in the mind. Come race day, if I'm strong in the head, churning out 42.2kms wouldn't be an issue. Well, relatively speaking anyway. With further ado, let's start on the training. Today, 3rd of January, was the first day. 

TRAINING WEEK 1: Day 1

Date: 03/01/2017
Weight: 85.6kgs
Run Type: Treadmill - 5kms
Shoes: Hoka One One Bondi 4
Device: Garmin Fenix 3

Details of the run are given below.



Diet:



Today's run was nothing special. Unfortunately, I'm in quite a bad shape at the moment and it'll take a good part of the next month before I'm able to do 10km runs without completely collapsing. But at least, I've been able to pick my lazy ass up from the couch and start. Now let's see how long this goes on for. 

Wish me good luck!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Best of 2016 in Books

So, year 2016 comes to an end as well. For this year, the target that I had set was of reading 50 books, almost one book a week; I ended up reading 60 which feels nice. Starting this year, I've decided to compile a list of 10 books and put them up on here. Every one of the following titles are highly recommended which would do great service to the reader.

1.  Fallen Leaves by Will Durant

2. No God but God by Reza Aslan

3. A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammad Hanif

4. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

5. A Malaysian Journey by Rehman Rashid

6.  Our Oriental Heritage by Ariel Durant & Will Durant

7. Delhi: A Novel by Khushwant Singh 

8.  A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

9. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt

10. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 

The following books didn't make the list but are highly recommended as well. 

11. 1984 by George Orwell

12. The Greatest by Muhammad Ali

13. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell 

14. Mort by Terry Pratchett

15. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Can't wait for the new year to begin so I can start on the new target I've set for myself. Due to work commitments and an extremely busy routine overall, I'll try and read 40 books in 2017. Fingers crossed. 

Good luck and Happy New Year :)!


Monday, December 12, 2016

JJ

A week has passed since Pakistan lost one of her most famous, iconic and polarizingly loved sons, - Junaid Jamshed or JJ. An individual who became the Voice of the Nation through a song which has become synonymous with the anthem - Dil Dil Pakistan. I wouldn't be surprised if more people can sing along to the the lyrics of DDP than Pakistan's national anthem. It rejuvenates passion and zealousness at a very micro level in my being every time I listen to it (which is now at this very moment). And the same is true for millions of Pakistanis as if the song has practically become a part of their genetic construct. Being a Pakistani and not having heard of DDP borders on blasphemy. 

One other phenomenon that needs to be comprehended is that DDP was more than just a song performed by 4 rockers; it was a source of identity and a breath of fresh air for millions of Pakistanis coming out of a decade-long asphyxiating dictatorship under General Zia. It was a glimmer of hope that the youth needed desperately at the time and a depiction of glee and happiness in the best way that these sentiments can be thoroughly advertised - through music. I listened to the song for the first time in 1989-90, and thence started a love affair with a band called, "Vital Signs", which continues to this day. JJ not only became the face of a rock band in the 90's but was literally synonymous with Pakistan's music industry. 

Vital Signs was one of the bands alongside Junoon that inspired me to sing and eventually become a vocalist of a little setup while I was at University in Pakistan. I still remember singing "Aitebar" at my first ever gig, and almost every single of them thereafter. One of my biggest heartbreaks also came when Vital Signs decided to split, and I must admit that JJ's style of music never impressed apart from a few tunes. My fondest memories of his voice are from the time he was with Vital Signs - 4 albums in total, and shall remain so.

The question that pops to mind is though why has JJ's demise affected me so much. Apart from his music there was little of his life that I ever followed with a dichotomous viewpoint on his take on women rights and quite a few other Islamic ideals he possessed. And the impact of his untimely death has cut in so deep that even now I tear up every time I find myself humming his tunes or listen to one of his songs. I've realised that with every person I know or follow one aspect of their personality diligently passes away, a part of my soul departs and an intimate connection that I had with the past also withers away with them. In 2012, we lost Zaigham Bhai (http://sufosblog.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/zam-bhai.html) in an air crash close to Risalpur. His passing is all the more pertinent in this scenario because he was my oldest brother's friend, and I personally didn't spend any time with him but just knew him as one of the close "Bhai's" within the Air Force community. Living in an armed forces community is a very interesting dynamic. Every single one of the Officers on a base you're residing in is an Uncle and his wife, an Aunty; even though the sentiment it dishes out is predominantly titular, a connection and kinship is established. A very similar phenomenon seems to have occurred with respect to JJ as well. His songs were a big part of my childhood and a source of new experiences aplenty. I, for one, will miss his presence dearly. God bless your soul, JJ! Thank you for all the joy you've given us.

mar bhee jaoo tau
beeti huiee baato ko
jaagi huiee raato ko
yaad karna
yaad karna aur jee lena
main apni awaaz 
aur apney saaray geet
tumhain day jaoon ga
meri sab cheezon ko
yoonhe rehnay dena

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Jungle Book: A Thought

I finished reading Rudyard Kipling's, "The Jungle Book", a while back. Before this I'd only read the illustrated versions of the book, specifically the first one with Mowgli, as a child so stumbling upon those extra stories came as a pleasant surprise.

Two stories really put me ill at ease though, "The White Seal" and "Toomai of the Elephants". The former primarily because of the premise set by Kipling where a first of its kind White seal named "Kotick" leads all the other Black ones to everlasting peace, and showing them a better way to live without constant infighting which is prevalent among its species. Kotick doesn't achieve this through peaceful means though; the Black seals acquiesce under duress after being put in their place by the White one.

I don't think I would've realized the inherent grimness of what I'd read at the time save for last night when I happened upon a reference to Kipling in the most unlikely of literature. This in the following words: 

"With that change began the period the world would most often associate with the British Indian experience, the Victorian-era. Its predominant philosophy was a concept frequently enunciated by the man who was its self-appointed poet laureate - Rudyard Kipling - that white Englishman were uniquely fitted to rule 'lesser breeds without the law'. The responsibility for governing India, Kipling proclaimed, had been 'placed by the inscrutable decree of providence upon the shoulders of the British race'."
Freedom at Midnight - Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre 

No matter what the avenue or how subtle might it be, I deplore the White supremacist agenda and find this theme so prevalent in history disgusting. All the more reason for me to revisit these childhood stories before my son is old enough to read them; maybe I'll be able to guide him a bit more knowingly reserving insurmountable praise or otherwise.