Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my first Murakami and rest assured I haven't been disappointed after all the crazy hype around his works even though this is a book which is far from what he's actually famous for as an author. Still, he's got a riveting style of composition.

This book is quite honestly strictly for runners or anyone planning to get into long-distance running. Murakami does state however that this could be taken as a brief biography of his life (minus the laborious details that oldies tend to get into when writing about their lives bordering senility) so it might interest his groupies from that respect but it is primarily about running/triathlons and how taking his body through such extreme forms of punishment has helped him become an accomplished novelist. I particularly enjoyed the read because of currently training for a half-marathon myself. Undertaking a full distance marathon is still a year away, at the very least but honestly this book has been such a massive source of motivation. So much so that today I ended up going for a 6km Murakami inspired run and made good time too even though it was supposed to be a rest day. Motivation can come from multiple and unexpected avenues I guess. I've already accomplished above and beyond what I'd ever expected of myself and hope to continue on this crazy path in hopes of realizing the goals I've set. The feeling of elation I get after every run is now tenfold having gone through hell pre- and post-ACL reconstruction surgery in November last year.

The book indulges in a fair bit of philosophical discourse in relation to life in general and how something as monotonous as running day in day out might help in achieving extraordinary levels of focus and resilience, and will power which comes into play more often than not when attempting any challenging feat - mind over matter.

One of the things I really loved was how Murakami touched on the social stigma that's weirdly attached to exercise and fitness in general. I've been the butt of a lot of taunts and jokes over the years since I've started taking care and listening to my body's feedback. But oh well, I guess one just learns to live with it and so have I. Very interesting quote from the book makes for a good response to all the naysayers:

"People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they'll go to any length to live longer. But I don't think that's the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the year, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life - and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree."

Another intricate detail recursive within the realm of runners and particularly very close to my heart was regarding how ordinary and mundane, dogged by similar ruts, the lives of triathletes must be outside of the competitions they take part in. They've got families and kids, and day jobs to go to hence taking time out for training must really be hard, and if I may add, absolutely impossible without support from their partners. Training for a marathon isn't only hard on the body but also on immediate relationships and social lives since the lifestyle the runner tends to follow becomes the antithesis of what generally is considered normal. Socially, my family's entertainment revolves around food with very minimal outdoor activities (BBQ is hardly an activity), therefore, declining invitations to feasts can at times have very dire consequences. These super-athletes really are a unique breed.

On a final note, this book is recommended for runners primarily. People with no interest in fitness will find the book highly pretentious and would most likely find themselves drifting away from Murakami. He's an absolutely amazing author and deserves to be read. I hope this books serves to be a source of motivation come October when I find myself nervously slipping on my running shoes for the longest run of my life until that point at time. 


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: Of Human Bondage

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

More of a mini-review!

Forgive me if I sound too much of a romantic.

Just finished reading 'Of Human Bondage' by Somerset Maugham. I'm at a loss for words. These past few weeks have been such a beautiful journey with this unbelievable work of art and a literary masterpiece in every sense of the word. This book has reinforced my belief in the sentiment, 'life is but a bed of thorns with glimpses of happiness'. I know that sounds morbid and outlandishly cynical, but is it?

Every book one reads leaves a stamp on the soul, and this work of genius has certainly resonated very close to my inner-being staying quite true to the axiom. This book, for me, is a perfect allegory of life. Every single individual to tarry down its path will not fail to appreciate the utter simplicity with which Maugham encapsulates the reader in his magnum opus; in austerity lies his genius. All of us are leading lives much similar to the undulating shades of Philip Carey's (protagonist? :)) overly mundane and prosaic life. Some people might find it a tough read but totally worth it, take the plunge, if you haven't already, and allow it to seep in :).


Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: Reasons to Stay Alive

Reasons to Stay Alive

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My first book which talks exclusively about anxiety and depression. Hailing from a country (Pakistan) that collectively suffers from all sorts of mental ailments, I could relate to a lot of details in the book, at some level anyway. Personally, I'm not depressed and have never been depressive at any point at time in my life apart from the nobody-understands-me teenage year phases. But even then, I do believe I've seen depression in people close to me, and this book has helped me put a finger on it and maybe given me some semblance of comprehension of this highly tabooed discourse in the society I was raised in.

I had never heard of PND until we had a son of our own and all our friends started having kids of their own; PND became a popular subject of discussion overnight.

Depression in Pakistan, in all its forms, is buried under tradition that has come into shape over centuries of intermingling cultures with almost all of them having rightist ideas as their common denominator. The line of thought these ideas generate tend to patronise mental illnesses equating them to weakness and lack of manliness in men, and well, women have never really been afforded much importance in the region to be considered worthy of scrutiny - they're supposed to live with it. All the more reason for the people from the subcontinent to read up more on these illnesses.

This book is a perfect introduction for anyone who wants to garner some understanding of this debilitating disease plaguing lives of millions of people around the globe. And also for anyone who might be struggling with such an ailment; Matt Haig has given an extremely personal and intimate account of his battles with the demons of depression and anxiety (now-then discussions are amazing), and it's the positivity that oozes out of his rhetoric that will definitely help people looking for reasons to stay alive!



Friday, June 10, 2016

Review: A Malaysian Journey

A Malaysian Journey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started reading this book because of an upcoming trip to Malaysia, my first. I thought it'd be a good idea to know a little something about the history of the country I'm visiting. So I googled, 'must read books on Malaysia', and almost every hit had this book as one of the recommendations. Now, I half-expected myself to labour through these 280 pages over a month and still be clueless about what Malaysia is all about. Because that's exactly how political autobiographies turn out to be, no? Boy, was I wrong!

Rehman Rashid is blessed with the beautiful gift of eloquence. His command over the English language is humbling and does not fail to render the reader speechless. Apart from the author's rich expression, account of his travels across Malaysia are fascinating, engulfing and intimately depicted. And he combines his personal life with Malaysian history expertly with not an iota of break in the flow. Overall, a very enjoyable read and should be on every tourist's to-read list!

The biggest drawback is the availability of this book. I ordered a copy from www.mphonline.com, an online Malaysian bookstore :).

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Aag

Been too long since I've sung or composed anything. Just a tune which means a lot and at the same time is completely inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things. A ramble, nothing more. And we shall call it, 'Aag'.



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Peek into the Past!

A few journeys and experiences in life have such a gargantuan affect on a person's perspective and outlook on a multitude of concepts that were ingrained, not by anyone in particular and without any specific intentions in mind but just due to the natural flow of life. This past month has been such an amazing journey for me personally. Bitten by an imp of nostalgia! The best part about the whole experience has been that the emotional whirlwind that has accompanied it was totally unexpected.

I visited Pakistan in September 2014 after approximately 4 years seeing many a hardship, ups and downs, and laughter and glee on shores afar. It was an absolutely amazing trip with Ahmed meeting his grandparents for the first time ever, experiencing that overwhelming vibe of reassurance and fulfillment from the General, seeing my mother who at one time had become extremely fragile, emotionally and physically, as hands-down the smartest and wisest of the family and pretty much the sole reason why we've survived as a unit these past 39 years and the penultimate ending to the trip with the whole family reuniting after almost a decade when Umar decided to tarry down for a 10 day getaway.

While there, it occurred to me to inquire about where all our family photographs were. One thing that I've found lacking in Australia is that visual connection to my past, and especially now that we've been blessed with Ahmed, the void and it's gaping existence had become vast bordering on being dreadful and hurting. Anyway, fortunately I found all of them stacked and rusting away in Dad's old file cabinets; standard 32-leaflet photo albums, innumerable black and white pictures with groggy hand writing at on their backs - attempts at upholding a fading family history - and decorative photo albums. These were pictures dating back to the 40's up till the dawn of digital cameras in my family in 2004-05. All in all, we're talking about 2935 pictures encompassing the evolution and progression of my family through the toughest of times to where we are now. Alhamdulilah,  Allah has been very kind to us! I wasn't really aware of the magnitude of the task I was undertaking i.e. digitizing the entire family photographic catalogue - a job for which studios charge thousands of dollars;  business idea for my budding entrepreneur friends right there!

So, it's taken me almost a month and a half to complete the entire scanning process. This has been by far the most fulfilling and satisfying job that I've ever committed to, and achieved. Safe to say that I've lived my parents' lives through pictures. From pictures encompassing my father's life before marriage, the insight into which has been utterly special - shots that reiterate the importance and potential of following one's dreams and the relentless efforts in achieving them; he is a living embodiment of this sentiment - to his subsequent marriage to Mama and setting sail to their journey together into a world filled with uncertainty and challenges unforeseen, I've had a very real glimpse into it all. As children, I don't think we're ever able to relate to our parents. We only ever see them as these grown-up super-humans capable of fixing any and every ailment faced; the thought of them being children or teenagers at one point at time in their lives doesn't even begin to cross our minds - that's the level of our self-indulgence and preoccupation with ourselves, or that's just being human I guess. The impotence of not being able to relate to their (parents) lives is one of the biggest reasons children grow up with deep antipathy and grievances directed towards them; it's plain simple intentions misconstrued - if they did screw-up, I'm pretty sure it wasn't out of malice. 

This gig has molded a different nerve in me. I'm not sure how but there is a foreign presence which wasn't there earlier. Maybe time and further reflection will iron out the incomprehensible elements in my thought process, or not. No matter what, I'll forever hold whatever I've gained out of gazing into my family's past very dear. I've become overwhelmingly emotional throughout my journey and definitely have shed a tear or two in the process, rest assured not out of sadness even though it did accompany a certain brand of melancholy, but purely out of joy and elation seeing my parents' dreams gain opacity albeit hiccups but then where's the fun without the crippling family histrionics! 
My source of enlightenment has been a month long scanning of pictures. By the time Ahmed grows up, he'll have absolutely no connection with my life in Pakistan in a very similar fashion to how I didn't have a clue of what my father's life had been like until I started this crazy task. So basically, this laborious lugging around has been in hopes of preserving family history in order to give an insight in to our roots to the cubs of the family when they come of age and if ever they'd be inclined towards garnering some sort of understanding of our origins.

There's nothing more than I'd like to tell my parents that they've done an absolute gem of a job at raising me and providing me with the best of opportunities so that I could somehow come into my own - thank you for everything Mama and Abu, I love you. 



















Friday, June 28, 2013

Kal-El is Back!!

By the time I publish this, Kulfi would've watched the movie and the tabsaras can safely commence. If you haven't watched the movie, I'd recommend against proceeding any further!

The wait has been long and painful. To be exact, it's been 7 years since the last Superman movie was released. Supes has been given a completely new look with the underwear being knocked off of him similar to DC's New 52 Superman, and I'm definitely not complaining; if I had cent for the number of times people have japed about that! Besides the undies, the weavy texture given to the suit looks pretty amazing, and the cape (minus the S) doesn't look too shabby as well. Overall, a pretty amazing job's been done with the costume. 

'Superman's March' is one of the best musical pieces ever created, and is possibly the sole element which anyone anywhere in the entire world can associate directly back to Superman. When Zack Snyder announced that a new score would be developed for Man of Steel (MoS), he literally took away Superman's on-screen identity. The job was given to Hans Zimmer, a crazily talented composer. However, the biggest difference, much to my annoyance, between John Williams and Zimmer is that the former has made a name in the industry for creating thematic tunes (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman) whereas the latter has mostly worked on composing ambient and scene-based music. I highly doubt ever coming across Zimmer's take on Superman played out on classical style guitar. Anyway, I think the character specific themes' era is past us. Hans Zimmer has done a fantastic job with MoS's title track, 'What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World?' by not drifting too far from the original Superman's March. Besides the title track, the OST blends in really well with the mood of the movie. 

I don't think I've ever been as excited as I was before MoS's release. Partly because of the team that was working on it and mainly because of it being well..Superman's return to the big screen and possibly reclaiming the throne that has been stolen by the likes of Iron Man and Batman of late. The sole reason why there are superheroes is because Superman was created in 1933! Anyway, we've had these discussions a zillion times so lets stick to the release at hand - MoS. 

I'll get right to the matter which I'm pretty sure has created a massive divide within Supes followers - HE KILLS ZOD. Superman KILLS...I mean KILLS...actually takes a freaking life! Now that is definitely not the Superman I've grown up with, the Superman that almost every single fan loves - no matter what, SUPERMAN DOES NOT KILL. But before writing him off completely, lets look at the bigger picture. In MoS, Superman has just found the answer to who he is. The truth is so recent that he doesn't even know that he can actually defy gravity and soar among the clouds. Among all the hubbub in his life already at a chaotic extreme, Earth is invaded by General Zod - a military trained genius tactician suddenly given powers equivalent to that of Superman. And not to forget, he's not alone. At this stage, I don't really expect Superman to be mature enough to foresee the repercussions of his actions and the path he eventually takes to defeat Zod and co. In Snyder's universe, this is Superman's first ever fight. But this is not the reason why I forgive Superman for the kill - that is because of his reaction after he's forced to do the act. The way he screams shows the pain and regret he feels at breaking Zod's neck; Superman understands what he's done. Based on the amount of experience he's had facing bad guys, poor Supes was not given any other option and mostly by Zod himself. Hence looking at the bright side, Snyder has an excellent plot to build-up Superman's personality on. I really hope for the sake of this reboot that Snyder and the writers have the sense to address this incident in one way or the other. If they don't, then this reboot is definitely not for me. 

The other part which I found to be a tad bit more disturbing was the extremely obvious nod to Jesus. No, I do not refer to the post-destruction of the rig but to the part where Jor-El tells him in the ship that he's the savior to which Superman glides out in to space very reminiscent of Jesus crucified. I really wish they hadn't associated the savior angle to Supes. Nevertheless, I'm willing to let this go as well since this image will most probably just go away the minute the sequel is released. Superman is past the first hurdle of breaking in to the scene by going up against the newly formed superheroes with people drooling over how beautifully they strip instead of having the cojones to criticize the absolutely crappy story lines being put forward. 

Apart from the aforementioned part, Snyder and team have nailed Supes, and MoS is beautifully poised to go down in history as the film to have finally done justice to Superman. Kudos to the writers for taking cue for the story line from one of the best comics I read a few years back - Superman Birthright. I really hope they keep going back to the comics for future projects as well. 

I will not go into the positives of the movie since, according to me, they are just too many to talk about! All in all, I'm content with Man of Steel and am intently looking forward to the sequel. Considering this to be a reboot after 7 years and potentially a much stronger one, I'm willing to forgo any resentments I might have against it. But I shall remain skeptical until the issue of Superman killing Zod isn't addressed. Please, please, please don't do this Snyder! Whether we like it or not, Man of Steel is here to stay and by next year we'll have a sequel as well. Might as well get on the band wagon and see how everything rolls out. 

To the person to whom this movie meant as much as it did to me - YESSSSSSSSSS!

Adieu!

P.S. For the record, Christopher Reeve was, is and, unless they clone him, will always be Superman personified. Period.