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.

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'. Speedy now, Speedy forever :).