here i am again, under a new flag, a lot older, a bit wiser. 2017, the last time i shared anything.
i wonder if i have any followers left? let this be a thought bubble that drifts away into nothingness if not.
fuzzy the cat is now fourteen years old and has been gently groomed over the course of a week by me, in order to avoid the easier route of having him sedated and given a lion cut by someone at the vets’. Today I discovered he likes papaya in addition to melon.
mowgli the calico is almost five and has proved to be a highly intelligent cat, demonstrated by her ability to open doors by jumping up and grabbing door handles and pulling them down using her body weight.
minnie has been around for a few years more than mowgli, i forget the year we rescued her. she did get lost for a whole month two years ago, but miraculously returned, haunted and half her size. her survival remains a mystery i shall never unravel, but her return was along the same route i had visualized in my mind’s eye.
a lot more kittens have entered and gone from our lives, the most notable being georgie and mano. and there is a mommy cat who lives outside with her brood of four: emmet, molly and the two scruffies. they are the most delightful family we have the pleasure of being acquainted with.
amu is now twenty three and feels weighed down by the burden of existence sometimes. my job it seems is to remind her to keep her eyes open to the wonder of it all. she is finally working towards a bachelors degree in social sciences, after quitting college for a year to dabble in other things: a yoga teacher training in nepal, a bit of teaching thereafter, and then a job at a startup. she produced a ton of art through 2020, and thrived in lockdown as it eased her fomo.
huz is almost fifty five and continues to be a poet and an IT consultant. his biggest breakthrough over the last couple of years has been to give back to the world by making inroads in the world of activism, doing what he does best: programming and visualizing. his work has helped in mapping global inequality, and apart from being mentioned in a groundbreaking paper as well as a book, he continues to gain the greatest satisfaction in finally being able to do meaningful work, not just a bullshit job.
i am now 48, proud to declare that i have finally managed to grow tomatoes and even a melon. i have learned a lot about gardening and composting, messing around with earth and seeds. i have jumped with both feet into mother earth spirituality, transformed by the depth of indigenous wisdoms, specifically native american ones. life has been full of understanding and insight, ephemeral though they are. letting go of the pretense of hair dye was a process that did more for me than just save my scalp from chemicals. i now sport streaks of white , along with the virtual company of hundreds of women who did the same, all of us part of a whole movement of women intent on overturning the norm. we all know it wasn’t just about hair.
setting an intention here today. to tuck away some thoughts as the days go by, whatever they are, worth sharing or not, just as an exercise in flexing my unused muscles.
Ever wondered what a ‘bete-noire’ is? Let me enlighten you if you haven’t. It is a person or thing that one particularly dislikes or dreads. It is another word for enemy, who is, of course, someone who hates, attacks or harms another. An adversary, something that threatens someone or something. Literally, it means ‘black beast’.
Fuzzy, our pet, who for the last seven years has mostly just slept, keeps us as his slaves and wants for absolutely nothing (apart from the occasional bits of raw chicken as I cook and a slice of watermelon or two, or so I naively suppose)
But is the most wonderful thing about being Fuzzy ‘really’ that it seems you’re The Only One? If you have never seen another cat ever since you were separated from your sibling when you were a wee kitten (unless you count the weirdo in the mirror who got startled every time he saw you) do you recognize the yowling beyond your existence as the sound of others like you? And what is that potent aroma wafting towards you from the balcony and courtyard doors? Smells like cat-pee but not your own…
Fuzzy lost no opportunity making sure that if what he suspected was true, there should be no doubt in anyone or anything as to exactly WHO was Master of this Domain.
Every morning to our dismay, we began to find puddles near every entry or exit point in our house. We dealt with it by putting our daily newspaper to good use. Yes, he had been neutered…or at least the vet did the best he could (since Fuzzy is monorchid)
One of Fuzzy’s favourite hangout spots is also one of mine, the breezy top step of the stairs that lead down to our courtyard. A swing door separates the stairs from the rest of the house, so in the evenings when someone opens that door, Fuzzy steps out for some fresh air. He prowls around downstairs, sniffing pots, inspecting different areas, marking his presence discreetly. Guilty as we feel keeping a living thing in such seclusion, the least we could do is allow him this little bit of freedom to experience the outdoors. This little freedom expanded to such an extent that we even let him spend the night outside since he loved it so much. It’s not like he would ever be able to scale the boundary walls and actually go out to explore the Outside World. He’s just not built that way. He’s the kind of cat that ponders and dilly-dallies before jumping on or off chairs and coffee tables.
Many years thus passed and a routine established itself. Fuzzy snored under my bed in the morning and all afternoon, emerging in the late afternoon, stretching out his back legs, yawning humungously. He’ll sit outside my bedroom door, disoriented and a tad cross-eyed. Then he’ll wander over to the netted balcony door, tucking his legs comfortably under him and sit there basking in the last golden rays of the sun, ears twitching now and then at sounds of passing cars, human voices and chirping birds, eyes half-closed.
Soon, he will unfurl and walk lazily but purposefully over to his water bowl, positioning his body around it, enveloping the bowl in an embrace. He loves his water bowl.
No one could ever describe Fuzzy as a fierce cat. He is the very essence of docility, unless he’s in a playful mood. His mouth is so small that he can’t manage food that is larger than the tip of your finger. He will patiently chase a piece of kibble that drops from the bowl to the floor until he can latch on enough to be able to chew. He’s not the kind of enthusiastic cat who’ll run to his food bowl when he hears the rattle of kibbles. If he wants food, he’ll go sit by his bowl and wait with equanimity. But if he wants water, he’ll come into my room and get my attention by meowing softly till I get up. Then he’ll lead me to his water bowl , trotting ahead and looking back again and again to make sure I’m following. Sometimes he’ll swat at my ankles with his paw to hurry me along.
The only time he’ll betray any excitement is if he hears the rattle of ice cubes. An ice cube in his water bowl is like Eid for him. He’ll hover over it like he does on hot days in front of an open fridge. Such sweet small happinesses. And then of course, there is the anticipation of being allowed to go down to the courtyard.
We realized why Fuzzy had been acting extra territorial and so very eager to dash out of the house when we found him sitting on the stairs one day with a cat sitting across from him. They were staring at each other emitting low guttural sounds, not fighting but just facing each other. We shooed the other cat away and it ambled off lithely, scaling the wall and disappearing while Fuzzy looked on, unable to fathom how.
Another time we heard some fierce howling only to find Fuzzy having a face-off with the same trespassing cat, but this time, heartened by my presence perhaps, he began to chase the other cat round and round the stairs until the cat managed to jump onto the trellis from the balcony, scale the wall and get away, Fuzzy breathing in huffy bursts, fuming with prickly antagonism. This was the first time I had ever seen Fuzzy so intensely worked up.
Late one evening a few months ago, we returned after several hours spent away from home, me worrying about Fuzzy being alone and hungry. As we climbed the unlit staircase, my worry turned into a strange sense of foreboding when I noticed clumps strewn about the landing halfway up…I was almost afraid to inspect closely, but then I discerned something dark smeared on the floor and my fears turned to panic as I turned to Huz to ask if Fuzzy was inside or out. Huz fumbled with the keys (why does it seem to take forever when you’re panicking?) we all ran in and called for Fuzzy but he was nowhere to be seen. We usually find him waiting for us by the door alerted by the sound of the keys turning in the lock. Heart hammering, I stood in the balcony and called his name…it is usual for him to come dashing up like lightning. After a few seconds I saw some movement and Fuzzy came out slowly from under the stairs and started climbing with some effort. Turning on the lights, I realized the dark blobs on the stairs were bunches of Fuzzy’s hair and the smear was blood.
Horrified and shaking, and too scared to touch him in case he was badly hurt, I let Fuzzy walk into the house unaided, limping visibly and looking rather subdued. I stroked his head and checked him tentatively for wounds, but couldn’t see anything through all his fur. Huz joked that the blood might belong to the other cat and the thought made me feel a little better, but I was sad for Fuzzy and outraged at the other cat for violating Fuzzy’s territory and consistently looking for a chance to attack him. I took Fuzzy to the vet next day and was told he had a sprained shoulder which was causing him to limp, but there were no wounds anywhere. I looked at Fuzzy with a degree of skepticism. How could a spoilt, evolutionarily challenged semi-Persian defend itself against a ruthless street cat and draw blood?
Nevertheless, Fuzzy had to be protected from the wily building cat and stay withiin the house at all times from now on. As a result, he became ever more vigilant at the balcony doors. The anticipation of more confrontations was palpable…Fuzzy was alert and tense on the lookout for further trespassing, eagerly waiting for the building cat to show up and he wasn’t disappointed. The other cat kept coming back and there were further face-offs through the netting (which occur with regularity around the same time every day.) I’ll be sitting in another room and I will hear Fuzzy yowling angrily or I’ll hear the door rattle loudly and I know he has flung himself at the door with force.
I don’t know how he gets his paws so muddy but there are fresh paw prints on the balcony walls and the floor every day. I began to regard the building cat as a friendly foe since he added so much spice to Fuzzy’s life and suggested leaving a bowl of food for him in the balcony, which Huz and Amu vehemently vetoed. But I had cause to rethink my soft spot for him as a worthy adversary.
I was sitting at my kitchen table one night when I heard rummaging sounds. Fuzzy followed me as I went to turn on the overhead balcony light and open the door. On the landing were two cats this time, apparently the black and white building cat had brought along a ginger friend and they were going through our recycling heap like vandals. Ginger saw me and ran off but Black&white stayed and stared back as he squatted on a brown paper bag and proceeded to pee on it. My jaw dropped at his insolent audacity but I couldn’t help laughing a little too.
Didn’t laugh too much when a few days later he left a little pile of poop on a cushion on the bench as a little gift for us. Or this morning when Huz went to fetch the newspaper from under our front door only to find that not only did it have a yellow patch of pee on it but had been torn up as well.
Seems we have a bete-noire on our hands indeed, albeit with a touch of blanc.
About 72 km later, we stop to explore the Dambulla cave temple on a rock that towers 160 m above the surrounding plains. Though the slope of the Dambulla rock is gentle, climbing it is a task and a half for a respiratorily challenged person such as I, while my poor legs had yet to recover from the 4 and a half hour trek through the Horton Plains.. But it is worth the effort. Plus, there are monkeys. Lots and lots of frolicking, playful monkeys 🙂
Yours truly would, of course, much rather monkey-watch than appreciate a World Heritage Site!
children sitting outside the temple…
The temple complex features five caves under a vast overhanging outcrop, the walls and ceilings of which are…
Once upon an earlier time, on another occasion when my better judgment had abandoned me for a few minutes, I fell prey to colourful little dyed chicks. They were being sold ridiculously cheap and I thought Amu would get a kick out of them. At the time, I didn’t think that the chicks would eventually grow normal feathers, would stop being cute, and that we would eventually have to think about getting rid of them. I mean, chickens in a small 6th floor apartment? Really Mun?
Mazzy was shocking pink and Zally was bright green. We kept them in a little cage and allowed them to run around the house a couple of times a day, pooping wherever they went. They pecked frenziedly at their ‘bajra’ at feeding times and had the cutest way of dipping into their water and glugging it, raising their beaks to the ceiling.
To cut a not-very-long story shorter, I gave them away to eldest Sis+nephew, who in turn gave them away to their neighbour, where they were attacked by cats. Alas…the ways of the food chain.
Did I learn a lesson? Apparently not, since fast forward a year or two and I now had two ducklings on my hands.
Hill Park with its duck pond could have been perfect, but ultimately I couldn’t just leave them there. I suppose we were more concerned about their well being since they had stuck around longer and raised more hell than the chicks. I had no desire to inflict them on any of my family or friends knowing how much trouble they were. But no matter what, I couldn’t let Apple and Cherry become cat food. Even though I’m more a cat person than a duck person.
A not-too-distant memory crept into my head. The preschool Amu went to a couple of years ago (when she was 3) had a big cage in the corner of its garden. Had there been ducks in there? It was only a vague recollection, but it was worth a shot.
Mrs G was the principal, the dragon lady of the montessori circuit, known for her stern disposition and no-nonsense demeanour, since her preschool was one of the most-sought-after. This was where Amu cried inconsolably on her first day, spent a year learning her phonetics, colours, patterns and shapes. This was where she learnt to share a sandbox with other children, and where she learnt to pour water from a jug and how to colour within the line. Parents queued up to have their babies registered here while they were in the last weeks of pregnancy. This way they could at least make the waiting list. It was alleged that babies from Mrs G’s school had a greater chance of getting into The Most Sought After School in Karachi. (Amu did.)
I mustered up the bravado that propels a lot of my actions (I am intimidated by people in positions of authority) and called Mrs G to meekly ask if her bird cage would accommodate two adorable ducklings, and wouldn’t the preschoolers be fascinated by the new additions? I wasn’t sure how I expected her to respond but I am predisposed to pessimism, so when she said I could drop by and talk to the gatekeeper (who was in charge of the birds) and see what he said, I could scarcely believe my ears. I thanked her most profusely and hung up, grinning as I looked towards the balcony where Apple and Cherry cheeped nonstop.
The chowkidar was friendly and helpful and led us over to the bird cage in the corner of the garden. It was actually more of a fenced in spot with wire mesh, a roof and a door rather than a cage. It housed two ducks and a magnificent rooster. One of the ducks seemed to have laid eggs and was busy nesting. We let Apple and Cherry out of their basket to have a look-see. The rooster was long of leg and fleet of foot, and at least five times the size of Apple (the bigger of the duo.) He seemed a little edgy. I didn’t trust him one bit and kept a close watch, alert for any untoward action. Where the other ducks were least bothered, Rooster paced up and down and all around, his coxcombed head cocked dangerously towards the newcomers, his beady eye flashing. All of a sudden he darted straight at them and Apple and Cherry ran for their lives! It was most melodramatic.
In the end however, the chowkidar reassured us that our duckies would be fine and the rooster wouldn’t hurt them, apparently it just had a bit of an attitude problem. We decided to trust his experience and left them there, but all of the rest of the evening my mind kept going back to Apple and Cherry, wondering if they were alright.
We went back to visit them early the next day, and indeed, not only were they safe and sound, they had taken to their new home quite blithely, with plenty of food and space and even a little pond to mess around in. They didn’t come running to say hello though. Hmph.
Did I mention that Apple was the prettier, more extroverted of the two? Cherry always looked pale in comparison and I had read somewhere that the male of the species was always more striking, so I figured Apple must be male and Cherry female.
A few months went by, during which we were regularly given news of Apple and Cherry’s welfare through my brother in law, who went to drop his little one there every day. When I went to see them again a few months later it was startling to see how much they had grown. But what came as a beautiful surprise was Cherry, who had grown the most iridescent blue and green and sleek dark brown tail and wing feathers. No longer was she a mousy yellow. Apple still had a black patch on his head and looked more or less the same, just bigger feathers. So maybe I got their genders mixed up 🙂
When the bird flu scare hit Karachi, I heard Mrs G sent all the birds away for a while. I lost track of Apple and Cherry after that and never saw them again.
This and the last blog post are dedicated to Graham and Heather. I thought I should write about them (Apple and Cherry, not Graham and Heather!) because Graham commented on Heather’s blog mentioning a duck that tossed a proffered salad leaf back at him. Because of my alacrity, I have been gifted a cyber duck—-> (*)> for luck! Hope it makes me blog more often 😉
Harsha is my oldest blogging buddy. I didn’t do anything very interesting today, but Harsha (or H as I call her) observed something very cool outside her window. Take a look. I promise it’ll make your day! 😀
So, Valentine’s Day is here and the world – real & virtual has turned Red…the color of Love, or so the experts would have us believe 😉 I love LOVE, but I’m not so big on the commercial craziness that seems to pass for it these days…but Hey! I’m not the target customer am I?! I’m happily in my 40s’, happily married to the same guy for 21 years and happily not celebrated Valentine’s Day for most of those 😛 So yeah – I’m comfortable and secure in the knowledge and possession of a strong, deep passion for my Man – undimmed by years of togetherness; and of solid bonds with family & friends unbroken over years of disagreements 😉 It’s nice to be told ‘I Love You’, but it’s more important to mean it and to demonstrate it consistently. Love is not always ‘pretty’ and ‘wondrous’ and doesn’t…
I wrote this almost exactly two years ago, but I feel like sharing it again, just because it was brought to my attention when it showed up in my stats as a link someone had clicked on…or perhaps because someone stumbled onto it while searching for information on pani puri. Who knows?
Isn’t it fun to read something you wrote a long time ago? Personally I feel I don’t write with such detail anymore….
After raising four daughters and marrying them off one after the other, Mum and Dad were left with an empty nest, yet not a single day goes by that they don’t think of us and what we might be up to in our respective homes. They do enjoy their freedom and space I’m sure, yet they long for us to come over with their grandchildren (and one great grandchild) and spend the day with them. Admittedly, for a variety of reasons, it isn’t always that simple to extricate ourselves from our myriad chores to take out the time and effort to hang out with our parents, but when we do, we always vow to do it more often. The best intentions still find a way to go awry however, and before we realise it, once again, weeks have gone by without having made contact.
Hello dear readers and fellow bloggers! I am sharing with you today a post I was asked to write as a guest for my dear bloggy friend Kathy over at Lake Superior Spirit.
You can’t help but fall in love with her quirky spirituality. There is something almost magical about her life in the ‘Big Woods’ as she calls them, just a short distance away from the shore of Lake Superior…..I love her photographs, her sense of humour and her gracious, all-encompassing spirit.
So please do visit her blog today. You might even get to read something you never knew about me……:)
I’m reblogging this here to urge dear readers of munira’s bubble to hurry up and subscribe to my photo blog! Lots of good stuff happening there people! Go! Subscribe! 😀 (I even put a widget there for you!)
This post is for people like me who have only seen Dubai while descending and departing. I happen to be one of those geeky people who’re fascinated by geography, so (when on a plane) instead of watching a movie or reading a book or sleeping, I’d rather be sitting with my nose pressed against the window with eyes peeled for any glimpse of unusual topography. Even ordinary topography is fine, actually. Here’s what I saw while flying over the U.A.E…
(Pssst…..I had to heavily tweak the brightness and contrast to edit these photos. Otherwise they were crap)
Just a quick post to tell you this was fun listening to and watching this morning. Nice beat too. The Dewarists…..Vishal/Shekhar and Imogen Heap collaborate and sing ‘Minds without Fear’. Have a listen. And look of course 🙂
A little about The Dewarists here, where and how this particular video was filmed (That Samode Palace is unbelievably beautiful!) Very lovely and informative! A bit long, but worth it 🙂 My favourite bit is when Vishaal and Imogen visit an antique musical instrument shop and try out the various instruments.
Since I haven’t watched ‘Saving Face’ myself, I cannot possibly write about the short film, but I came across this post on Twitter and felt I should re-blog it, just to do my bit in supporting Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the first Pakistani to ever be nominated for an Academy award!
Sharmeen was a year or two junior to me during my A level stint at the Karachi Grammar School, so I feel connected in a way.
In December, she was invited as the guest of honour on Sports Day, where she turned up wearing a white kurta and chooridar pajama and a beautiful green dupatta, not just symbolizing the colours of the Pakistani flag, but also to show her support for Streeton House, of which she was an erstwhile House Captain 🙂
Amu won a bunch of medals that day (she happens to be a fine athlete!) so she got to shake the Oscar nominee’s hand 🙂
Here’s to her winning!! Just like Amu won the 200 metre race, breaking the school record!!
Do visit Kalsoom’s blog ‘Chup’ and read all about ‘Saving Face’ and what it documents.
Update! : Saving Face won!! What a proud moment for Sharmeen, Daniel Junge and ALL the people behind the making of the film! Bravo!! 😀
Tomorrow is Oscar day. If you are anything like me, you watch as many Oscar-nominated films as humanly possible (while still, of course, maintaining some semblance of a life) and hope your favorite movies walk away with the coveted trophy.
The Oscars are it, the last pit stop in the awards season, the culmination of all that was brilliant in film that year. This year, filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy became the first Pakistani to ever garner an Academy Award nomination. Her documentary, Saving Face, co-directed with Daniel Junge, is up for the Oscar in the short documentary category. The film delves into the issue of acid attacks through the lens of the women affected by tragedy and the doctor trying to help them. In Pakistan, there are 100 acid attacks reported each year, but many cases go unreported, the victims instead relegated to the shadows…
It is not often….not often at all, that I am up and out of the house driving around so early. The man who usually does these things is out of town, so yours truly must drop the offspring to school. Yesterday as I drove back home, I witnessed the most glorious sun, just over the horizon as I went around a bend on the sloping road. ‘Oh WOW!’, is all I could say, and kicked myself for not having a camera on me. Promised myself I would remember to take it with me this morning, as the sun dawned on Valentines Day, 2012. The sky was less polluted this morning it seemed, and the sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as it was yesterday. But it wasn’t bad either.
I’m not sure exactly when I witnessed my first sacrificial slaughter as a little kid, but I remember the horror and fascination. A group of men and boys, an animal tied up and made to lie on the floor, a butcher and his knife…ready for action.
We watched from where we stood high up in our balcony, me peeking over the ledge with eyes half averted, listening to running commentary by one of my more macabre sisters.
I also can’t recall when the desire to watch the entire spectacle started to fade and began to be replaced by something else, but for a few years now I’ve been trying to pretend there is no such thing as Eid ul Azha.
That’s kind of hard to do when the city is overrun with goats, sheep, cows and camels, every street corner populated with stalls selling cattle food, and banners strung all over the place advertising organizations who will gladly take your animal hides off your hands.
Qurbani, or the ritual of sacrifice is encumbent upon every Muslim who can afford to do so, thereby earning brownie points. We need every bit we can get after all, so engrossed are we in committing sins left and right.
Isn’t it just great of religion to give us these outlets?
So this time of the year makes me squirm for many reasons which not many people around me can understand.
I hate everyone for devoutly fulfilling their religious obligations, yet admire them in equal measure for not having any namby pamby hangups about keeping an animal their children can pet and feed and love….and then eat. People on farms do that all the time, right?
We are a meat-eating nation (and I am not exempt from that classification) and we should be aware of where that meat comes from and Eid ul Azha is a great reminder of that fact. Which is exactly the reason why I hate it, because it is as in-your-face as it gets.
Yes, it is an opportune time to give away meat to poor people who can hardly afford to buy it themselves, and I can’t argue with the inherent goodness in doing this.
But I fell in love with a beautiful cow the other day. It turned its head and watched me from where it was tied to a pole near my sisters house and as I got into my car, our gazes locked. I swear it was a true animal-human moment.
I drove away with a heavy mournful feeling in my chest to think of that cow’s days being numbered. It was so alive, and making eye contact with me, and I couldn’t picture that beautiful big head lying next to its body, being skinned and then cut up into pieces and cooked into haleem and nihari and biryani and paaye.
But that’s how it goes.
The big day finally arrived, and though Huz and I have yet to do our own qurbani (much to Zahooran’s annual disappointment) we went over to my brother in law’s place for lunch, having avoided all the blood and gore in their garden. They had done a cow this year, because doing six goats was turning out to be a little too much. Inflation, I tell you.
My mother in law spoke about the smallness of the cow and how pretty it was, and how nice and pink its meat was, just like mutton. My sister in law wondered aloud why we were cautioned against eating red meat if slaughtering a bigger animal earns more blessings. I dipped my piece of naan in the nihari she had made for lunch and tried to think of the meat I was eating as just meat, not a pretty cow. I also wondered how I could do this.
How could I possibly eat this beef biryani? But I did. I ate it. My stomach didn’t turn, even as I watched a plate of deliciously cooked cow brain disappear.
So despite all my anger, and resentment and skepticism and denial, I am forced to admit no matter how civilized we get, we will still eat animals.
And as my macabre sister rebelliously pronounced yesterday, ‘if I have the guts to eat a piece of meat, I have the courage to look the supplier in the eye.’
Well said Sax, well said. Perhaps this is why you could watch Sweeney Todd and I couldn’t stomach it.
But yes I appreciate the concept of Eid ul Azha, yes I do, though why must it be celebrated with quite so much gusto? I swear, if I have to respond to one more ‘Eid mubarak!’, I’ll just…..kill a goat or something!
In the meantime, I’ll just continue to feel weird and awkward as I acknowledge the fact that we didn’t offer any sacrifices….yet again. Clearly, we’re either too poor, or not pious enough.
And as I sit here dashing off this post, I can hear the plaintive cries of a lonely little goat that has been separated from its family, and my downstairs neighbours are setting up tables and chairs and grills for a big barbecue tonight.
(Check the link below for a photographic journey through the rituals of Haj and Eid ul Azha)
….was the day Israel began to bomb the hell out of Lebanon in earnest, in July 2006.
Huz was on a ‘mission’, and Amu and I tagged along as I was very eager to see what all the fuss was about as far as Beirut was concerned, ‘Paris of the East’ and all that jazz. Not to mention the taouk sandwiches that Huz raved about from the last couple of times he’d been there.
Needless to say, I fell in love with the place, and most of all, the people. The Lebanese are just gorgeous if you ask me. Beautifully skinned, beautifully dressed (skimpy for women for a country in the Middle East, I thought) and I loved the way they spoke Arabic…and French. Hearing my own name being pronounced by an Arabic speaker was pure pleasure, and considering I wear my heart on my sleeve, I merrily proceeded to fall in love at the drop of a hat.
One of the first things that floored me was the chivalry exhibited by the men. Though they are notoriously bad drivers, I found that if I was standing by the side of a road looking to cross, they would actually slow down, or even stop altogether, smile and nod courteously for me to walk across.the road. It was the most beautiful thing, especially for someone coming from a place where men actually SPEED UP to scare the living daylights out of pedestrians, women in particular. I guess Pakistanis are chivalrous in other ways. 😛
Out of the three weeks we were supposed to stay in Beirut, ten days were spent in a leisurely way, for Amu and I at least. We stayed at a hotel called the Monroe, and every morning we accompanied Huz downstairs for breakfast, waking up rather early for vacation timings, just so he wouldn’t have to eat alone. Breakfast was a simple spread of labneh, Manakesh with zaatar, foul mudammas (pronounced ‘fool’ , though there was nothing foul or foolish about it!) and of course the other non-Lebanese generic things that hotels serve up at breakfast, that I had largely no interest in.
The highlight at the breakfast table was the fact that we were served by the most handsome waiter you’d ever see, and predictably, he was my first Lebanese crush and I called him Bond….James Bond….
The second was the young lifeguard/instructor/attendant at the pool. He was curious about my Arabic-sounding name, and was stunned to see how much Urdu resembled Arabic in script when I wrote it on a piece of paper for him. I, in turn, was awfully flattered that he thought Amu was my little sister. It is uplifting to be surrounded by so much eye candy, I thought to myself, as I swam and taught Amu how to float on her back.
We managed to do quite a few things in those ten lovely days. There was Byblos close by, (Jbeil in Arabic) a Phoenician port city made historic by the presence of a Crusader castle and an ancient harbour. Nowadays it hosts an international music festival and is known as the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world.
We took a trip to the Cedars, famous for the trees which are the national symbol of Lebanon. It was a long drive by bus, but not that long because Lebanon is such a very tiny country, punctuated by Nancy Ajram songs that everyone clapped and sang along to.
As far as Amu is concerned, Nancy Ajram wasn’t just the darling of the entire Lebanese male population but also the personification of her entire Lebanese experience, and I must say I now have an affinity for Middle eastern music that I never had before this trip.
On the way, we stopped at a place called Bsharri, where Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese American artist, poet and writer is buried, and his works exhibited in a Carmelite monastery turned museum, a haunting place. If only we’d had more time to stay and explore and see everything there.
There was also a stop in Tripoli, a city in the northern part of Lebanon, 85 km from Beirut, where a sweet shop by the name of Abdul Rehman Hallab is famously located. Huz and I floundered there, since no one spoke English, and we were the only foreigners on the bus. Somehow we managed to eat baklava and a very rich dessert called halawal jeben, made of cheese, semolina, water and sugar syrup, which all the Lebanese on that bus seemed to be devouring happily.
Another day we took a short day trip to the underground caves at Jeita. An eye-opening and surreally beautiful experience, and I’m so glad we got to see it. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed cameras inside, as all those flashes going off might damage the structures inside, or that’s what they said.
So the days passed happily, walking around Beirut, looking at bullet-ridden buildings in some areas, whereas other areas like downtown Beirut were beautifully renovated and the entire area resembled a European town square, with cobbled streets and quaint buildings. It was delightfully happening to be there especially because our trip coincided with the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and the cafes and outdoor restaurants were packed with people eating, drinking, smoking nargileh, and rooting for their favourites.
We got to eat lots of hummus (with meat too!) and tabbouleh and moutabbel, and falafel and taouk sandwiches by the dozen. The food was simply out of this world, though we found the restaurants to be quite pricey, but I doubt I have enjoyed the local food in any place that I have visited more than I did in Lebanon.
I loved it all.
But all good things must come to an end, though our time in Beirut was cut short in a rather dramatic way, when Hezbollah fired some rockets across the border at Israel, killed a couple of soldiers and captured two, an event that was marked with firing in the air by some triumphant Lebanese as we wandered around an amazing mall with a Lebanese friend.
Unfortunately, Israel retaliated by launching airstrikes and artillery fire against Hezbollah targets in Beirut as well as other places of Lebanon that left a lot of infrastructure badly damaged and killed 1200 people, mostly Lebanese civilians, and displacing approximately one million Lebanese and 300,000-500,000 Israelis.
The airport had been been hit as well, as was the main road connecting Lebanon to Damascus.
It was fortunate that we were there because of Huz’s UNIDO project, so we were assisted along with other UN employees and consultants to leave Beirut for a safer location outside of it.
We had to pack our things in a hurry and leave, and in our haste, I forgot the power cord of my video camera in the hotel room at the Monroe….
We were driven in a van to a pretty posh hotel called Le Royale, further down the coast., and soon after reaching there, as we sat around in the lobby, waiting to be accomodated, who did Amu and I glimpse as he walked to the other side of the lobby and went out a balcony…?
‘Mama, isn’t that the man whose show you like watching on tv…the one who eats all those weird things?’ said Amu. And I think we must have high-fived each other, mentally at least, or with our eyes, and we debated what to do next.
Should we go over and meet him…..? My heart skipped many beats as, ultimately, I dared myself to walk over to the balcony door that separated him from the rest of us mortals…..
I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this!
But yours truly (Amu in tow) walked over to where Bourdain was sitting with two other men, and they looked over at us as we approached and smiled….
I introduced myself and told him how much I loved ‘No Reservations’, mentioning some of my favourite episodes and I wondered if he was doing a show on Lebanese food here…
He said that’s what they had been working on, and he was so disappointed that their plans had gone awry with this out of the blue war. He seemed a bit worried about how they were going to manage to get out of here, with the airport bombed. He figured they’d have to be rescued by sea…
I remember him asking what I was doing here, and how we intended to get out. I remember babbling a lot of nonsense in reply, firmly ensconced on cloud nine….
But I got a few pictures out of this episode, which are a treasure for me.
Also, the memory of him striding into the restaurant next morning and instructing the chef to make him, in that unmistakeable and oh-so-familiar voice…..”Two eggs. Sunny side up.” 🙂
The acclaim surrounding Bourdain’s racy memoir, Kitchen Confidential, led to an offer by the Food Network to host his own food and world-travel show, A Cook’s Tour, which premiered on January 8, 2002. In July 2005, he premiered a new, somewhat similar television series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, on the Travel Channel. As a further result of the immense popularity of Kitchen Confidential, the Fox sitcom Kitchen Confidential aired in 2005, in which the character “Jack Bourdain” is based loosely on the biography and persona of Anthony Bourdain.
In July 2006, Bourdain was in Beirut filming an episode of No reservations when the Israel-Lebanon conflict broke out. Bourdain and his crew were evacuated with other American citizens on the morning of July 20 by the United States Marines. Because of the unexpected conflict only a few hours of footage were available from the first restaurant on their agenda. Bourdain’s producers compiled the Beirut footage into a No reservations episode which aired on August 21, 2006. Uncharacteristically, the episode included footage of both Bourdain and his production staff, and included not only their initial attempts to film the episode, but also their firsthand encounters with Hezbollah supporters, their days of waiting for news with other expatriates in a Beirut hotel, and their eventual escape aided by a “cleaner” (unseen in the footage), whom Bourdain dubbed “Mr. Wolf” after the character portrayed by Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. The episode was nominated for an Emmy in 2007.
Today being Yaum e Ali, a day of commemorative mourning when processions block roads, Huz and I didn’t think it would be a very good idea to go to the Atrium to buy tickets for Deathly Hallows-2.
So we didn’t venture out anywhere until taraveeh prayers were well and truly over, around 10:30 pm, before Amu and I decided to go out to see if Karachi was up for some pre-Eid business.
We didn’t need to go very far…Zamzama boulevard is a hop, skip and a jump away from where we live.
I half-expected to see the street that sports a nice little collection of boutiques to be busy, but it bore an air of strange quiet. The twinkly lights festooning the street made a feeble attempt at festivity, as we got out of our parked car and marched up to the boutique where we’d purchased an outfit just a couple of days ago. In retrospect, the outfit seemed too simple to be worn in Eid, so we hoped they would exchange it for something more fun. Come what may, we must have clothes to wear.
The manager of the shop obligingly took the outfit from us (after inquiring as to the date of purchase and if the tag was still on) and shooed us off to peruse the three-storey shop to look for another.
The boutique is usually a bee-hive of pre-Eid activity, full of women busily flipping through rows upon rows of lovely mass-produced outfits, and the dressing rooms are all a-flurry. The clothes are nicely tailored with attention to detail, and are colorful and trendy, which make this place a popular haunt.
Seemed very quiet tonight, with just a handful of women, husbands in tow.
After inspecting the ground floor and not finding anything suitable or the right size, we ventured down to the basement. The place is like a warehouse, only very pretty, with lovely lighting and dark wood flooring and interiors. It has a traditional, ethnic air to it, and an artsy Sufic soundtrack playing ethereally in the background. But it wasn’t playing tonight.
We wandered through the racks, searching for something that clicked visually but everything was either too casual, too ordinary or simply not available in the right size.
I caught the attendant’s eye to ask him if a pretty ensemble in size 16 was available in size 8 and he shook his head, saying this was the last of the stock.
Perhaps it was my friendly smile that did it, but while Amu rummaged through thickly crammed outfits, the attendant seemed to be really glad to have found someone to talk to.
He was tall and wore thin, silver lobe-hugging baalis in both his ears. He told me he lived near the Tower area and narrated a story about a bunch of armed gunmen, who had stopped a minibus and told the women to get off, abducting the rest of the passengers.
The bodies of six men from that ill-fated bus had been found stuffed in gunny sacks from different areas of Karachi. Men from his neighbourhood.
I had heard about this as well as numerous other gruesome stories, and also what he went on to say–that random and brutal killings of people could only be carried out unchecked, by government agencies. How else could police and Rangers arrive on the scene only after an incident had taken place? The implication was clear in the things he left unsaid. We talked about the nonsensical destruction of so many families, with sole breadwinners being killed for no reason at all, violence for the sake of violence, to prove what point? No one really knows anything, and it seems the city is in the grip of events that are up for speculation, with daily dramas being enacted by the various ministers and leaders of political parties.
He talked quite calmly and with only a trace of bitterness, about how difficult it was to find transportation to get back home at half past 1 and 2 am, and how rickshaws put a dent in their 7000 rupee salary. The manager has a car to take him home, but no one cares about the safe transportation of the attendants in these trying times. I asked him how he managed then, and he just shrugged and said it was difficult but not impossible. He usually walked a long distance before either finding a bus or a kind person willing to give him a lift.
I thought uncomfortably about the fact that I was here with the intention to buy something worth half his monthly income, and I didn’t know where to look.
But I nodded sympathetically and hoped the management would arrange something for them or at least give them a separate transport allowance, and that the situation in the city would improve soon and peace prevail.
A bunch of fair Burqa-clad women arrived on the scene and distracted him, providing me a window of opportunity to re-join Amu and renew my guilt-tinged quest for the perfect outfit, though as I made to move away he sheepishly apologised for taking so much of my time. But after a few minutes, he turned up again with a couple of outfits that he thought we’d like. We told him to bring us anything nice in size 8 or 10, and his face turned purposeful and determined as he told us to wait while he dashed off to look.
He returned looking rather triumphant, and with good reason. Among the outfits he fetched from the store room was one that was exactly what we were looking for! We thanked him for his help (which Amu was convinced might not have been forthcoming if her mom wasn’t quite so chatty) and left him to deal with the burqa’ed women, as we looked for one more outfit in my size, paid and walked out of the store.
Outside, a bunch of attendants and various other people were having a pow-wow, no doubt to discuss the best ways to get home, and also how things would be in the city the next day, which has been declared a ‘day of mourning’ by one of the political parties.
Funny, in a macabre kinda way, how our nation has so many things to mourn…past and present.
All the rest of the multitudinous shoe shops and boutiques in Zamzama were eerily dark with the shutters pulled down, most unusual for this time of year, and there were groups of men standing around under the odd street light, deep in discussion. Two little Afghani kids were lying fast asleep right next to the door to Gunsmoke, one of them clutching a bunch of plastic-wrapped half-wilted roses to sell…..but the restaurant didn’t seem to have any customers at this time of night.
As we turned on to the main road, several men on motorbikes cut across our path, going the wrong way. Up ahead we saw a police car with flashing lights, just parked on the side, exuding an air of action at the same time as being quite stationery. A sense of urgency and expectation made me drive as fast as I could through the back streets to get home. Adrenalin was in the air, dilating our pupils, and our hearts thumped in tune to Alan Parsons Project. The area was in partial darkness, but the car headlights illuminated a gaggle of boys from Neelum Colony, engrossed in a game of street cricket, right on the main road.
Last night, on a whim, Huz and I sallied forth for something to satisfy ye ol sweet tooth. Being desis at heart, we made a beeline for Baloch icecream at Boat Basin to get ourselves some falooda. I changed my mind last minute and ordered a Milk Rose, which is also made with milk and rose syrup but without the arrow root vermicelli and ice. I’m glad I opted for that, because Huz’s falooda was a black spot (kaala dhabba) on the word. It was everything a falooda shouldn’t be….watery and unsatisfying.
For the green behind the ears, Wikipedia tells you….
Falooda or Faluda is a traditional cold dessert or beverage in South Asia made primarily by mixing rose syrup with vermicelli and tapioca pearls along with either milk or water. Falooda is an adaptation of the Persian dessert Faloodeh and was brought to the Indian subcontinent during the Mughal period. Basil seeds (sabza/takmaria), tutti frutti, sugar, and ice cream may be added. However, it is not the same as the faloodeh made in Iran and Afghanistan. The vermicelli used is often made from arrowroot rather than wheat. The rose syrup may be substituted with another flavoured base to produce saffron, mango, chocolate, and fig Falooda.
Falooda is a summer drink throughout Iran, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and the Middle East and is readily available in restaurants and beach stalls.
Huz’s falooda at Baloch last night fell rather short of the delicious vision that the above description inspires. No, to be fair, it LOOKED just fine….just TASTED like it was made half-heartedly, without a thought as to what we expect from a Mughlai treat.
We expect richness…..decadence…and delicacy…all rolled into one glass. So that got me thinking….
‘Hey Huz! How about we do some research and find out the best place to have falooda in Karachi?’ said I, barely able to contain my excitement.
‘Sure!!!’ said Huz.
And that is how we found ourselves the next night, around 10:30 pm (when the streets of Karachi are relatively clearer) driving off for a place in New Town, renowned for its milkshakes and faloodas, a place that Huz has been to before but without moi.
When we cross the Clifton bridge, Karachi becomes an unpredictable place. Traffic can be horribly unruly and it’s scary to witness such complete and thorough disregard for signals on M.A Jinnah Road where the only law that prevails is the law of the jungle….every man/motorbike for himself, and to hell with the motorists! Red lights are for losers! Onwards comrades!
Nevertheless, we managed to fight our way past the lawbreakers, and it was pretty smooth going till New Town, and then….
This post was supposed to focus on the falooda itself, but I got a tad carried away by my surroundings. We hardly ever visit this part of town, or should I say, we hardly ever visit this TOWN, because that’s what Karachi is….a whole bunch of towns joined together haphazardly, to make one big sprawling city.
But I’ll sum up this trip by telling you, the New Town Ice Cool falooda was rich and sweet and creamy and delicious, a far cry from what we had yesterday at Baloch. I’m not a huge fan of the starchy vermicelli, so I’m hoping we can come across something different….maybe a place where they use basil seeds or something….let’s see what happens.
Just to give you an idea of how short the end of the deal is for us ‘burgers’ living in Clifton, a glass of falooda and one milk rose cost us Rs 200 at Baloch in Boat Basin.
At Ice Cool we had two huge faloodas AND a big glass of falsa juice and the total came to Rs 185.
How unfair is this? Yet how delightful! I think we’re going to have some fun as we continue our research and fact-finding mission on faloodas in far flung areas…..perhaps it will spill over into milkshake and chaat territory. Maybe even barbecue and kabab rolls! Who knows?
Stay tuned for the next installment of Finding falooda! Anyone interested in joining us is most welcome to!
And if anyone from Karachi visits this page, do share your opinion and let me know your favorite falooda place!
The theme I use for my writings does not do much for the pictures I take…soo…..yours truly decided to register another blog which will show off my favourite photos. This move has been inspired by none other than the crazygoangirl whose gorgeous pics can be found here.
And if you’d like to see what grabbed my attention, you can take a peek HERE.
I call it MunZooms. I believe when one has a strange last name, one should make the most of it (: