Archive for the 'Thoughts' Category


Trick Or Treat

Today is Halloween. With four days left for the United States Presidential election, anyone can surmise that unless something goes drastically wrong, the conservative right will lose the race. It is evident from the speeches on television that the Republican Party is beginning to feel increasingly desperate. After all, McCain has been outspent and out-endorsed. Colin Powell, Billy Joel, McClellan and Bill Clinton have all fervently expressed their support for Senator Barack Obama.  Does McCain really think that Joe-the-plumber’s voice will be heard against that of these political and cultural heavy weights? Can the American people really lack any sense of discretion? The answer to both these questions, fortunately or unfortunately, is yes.

By using an ordinary middle-class god-fearing white American blue collar worker as a symbol of America’s work force, McCain’s strategy is to win over a majority of the votes from people who are more or less in the same occupational status as Joe. From people who more or less share his love of god and an unabashed sense of pride that supports the reasoning that a citizen of the most powerful country in the world can and should afford to be not-apologetic. To paraphrase Joe, “Why must we be so apologetic dammit! We live in the world’s no.1 country”. Yes, the sad truth is that the no.1 country in the world or at least the people who run it (Guess who? Not Joe-the Plumber, Joe-the CEO) can wreck all the havoc they want wherever they want in the name of patriotism. Or worse still, under the guise of freedom. After eight years of throwing tax-payers money down the proverbial drain, you might think the nation has finally opened its eyes to the truth. You might think that the dawn of realization has finally arrived to awaken the slumbering masses lost in the miasma of deception-it is now more probable for SETI to locate alien signals in space than for the US army to locate any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

And yet, there is a significant section of the population that firmly believes that the war can still be won. Yesterday, Sarah Palin urged her listeners to vote for a candidate who will not shy away from a war that is on the verge of being won. Really, who is she kidding ? The answer is obvious – that significant percentage of the population that is kidding itself.

The United States is at present in an economic crisis; apparently the worst since the great depression. While greedy bankers are largely responsible for the steep decline in interest rates by doling out an excess of sub-prime mortgages, the war on Iraq has no doubt played a major and devastating role in emptying the country’s coffers. And yes Joe, that is one amongst several hundred other reasons why an American must be apologetic. If someone doesn’t understand the language of humanity- a hundred thousand civilians dead, half-a-million children crippled, no food supplies for three hundred miles, no water supply for six months (I am sure Joe understands this part about the water supply at least, he is a plumber after all), speak in the language of money- $2 billion a week. Even Bill Gates cannot afford to finance this war for more than 6 months. A year into the war and he will be on welfare – and you don’t need to take my word for it, ask him yourself. In a recent interview with Larry King, Michael Moore was asked how Obama can manage to stabilize the economy in just 6 months and in a reply that shouldn’t have been surprising at all but nevertheless was as I have rarely heard anyone put it so bluntly; Michael said, “How about stopping the war on Iraq? That is $40 Billion an year”. If only all voters thought as rationally as Mr. Moore. But many of them are in fact so stupid that John McCain and Sarah Palin are counting on it. They are depending on every cross-carrying, cheeseburger-chewing yank to fall for their lack-luster, dressed-up policies. People slip into costumes on Halloween. Policies slip into costumes every day.

The most important question looming over this nation right now is whether the people of America will be tricked or treated on the 4th of November. Assume a scenario, however hellish it might be, where John McCain and Sarah Palin make it to the White House. There are two obvious consequences. 1. The War on Iraq continues.   2. Greed flourishes unchecked. Less obvious is the fact that this nation will lose, from what we know so far,  an eminent leader unlike any seen in the history of America. And I am not talking about race here although Obama’s win will at least set a precedent for an African American (albeit only 50%)  to occupy the highest office of the, no doubt, most powerful nation in the world. Now is it possible to ignore this nagging and utterly unpleasant question about race? The answer is a definite No. It has hardly been 50 years since segregation was the de facto standard in many institutions. And a little more than 50 since Rosa Parks refused to shift seats from the white section of a Montgomery Bus in Alabama to the black section. True, 50 years is a long time in politics and culture. True, America has left the era of segregation long behind. That said, Obama’s presidency will be a brutal and sanctifying slap on the cheek of White supremacist groups (By the way, the KKK site proudly asserts that “We do not endorse Obama”).  Only last week or was it this week, two white supremacists had been arrested for plotting a shoot-out in an African-American school. Eventually, their plan would lead to the assassination of Senator Obama. Now is race an important factor to consider in this presidential race?  Consider that a rhetorical question.

Focusing again on Michael Moore’s interview with Larry King, Moore asked a great question. “Even if he (Obama) is a Muslim, how does it matter?”.  Surely, it shouldn’t matter to a country that has separated state and religion. It seems ridiculous to the utmost degree to assume, especially in this case, that Obama’s supposed Islamic faith might interfere with the interests of America. I said supposed because Obama is an avowed practitioner of Christianity. But even if he were a practicing Muslim, it would be retarded to assume that he is a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is a religion by itself that parasites on all religions of the world- Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christanity. But Palin and McCain are counting on the people’s ignorance of that, aren’t they? Treat that as another rhetorical question.







The Cairo Trilogy

Palace Walk (1917-1919)

Palace Walk

We are introduced to Al Sayyid Ahmad Abd Al Jawad, a conservative patriarch and his family-Amina, the subservient wife who doesn’t dare lift her eyes to her husband despite his debaucheries and iron rule that keeps her in house arrest. Fahmy, the law student whose nationalistic fervor makes him stand up against the British and who, when the novel is about to reach its conclusion, breathes his last. Kamal, a courageous young boy with the spunk to make friends with the enemy and who is devoted to his sisters. Yasin, Al Sayyid Ahmad’s first son, whose mother he divorced. Aisha and Khadija, sisters with temperaments and looks that are very different and in contrast to one another. Khadija with her mediocre looks, acerbic tongue and petulant ways. Aisha, with her god-given beauty, impeccable manners and mellow nature. Umm Hanafi, the servant of the Al Jawad household who has been with the family long enough to become an inseparable part of it.

Al Sayyid Ahmad is a devout Muslim whose hypocrisy permits him to set different rules for the women of his household and for the courtesans who add to his bacchanalian revelries characterized by music, wine and promiscuity. During the day, he manages a grocery shop that permits him to flirt every now and then. Seldom does a harsh word or an inappropriate phrase pass his lips when he is with anyone who is not a family member. In him we see something of a split personality: A reticent and short tempered disciplinarian who in his house, will not brook nonsensical or unnecessary talk and outside, a witty and loyal friend whose eloquence with language and passion for life endear everyone who comes into contact with him. Although a thick wall prevents his family from taking part in this lighter side of his personality, they nevertheless greatly revere and love him and just as love of god doesn’t make them less god fearing, love for Al Sayyid Ahmad doesn’t make him less fearful in their eyes.

When Al Sayyid Ahmad leaves on a business trip to Port Said for a day, Amina is torn between her desire to visit the mosque of Al-Husayn, a descendant of prophet Muhammad, and her obedience towards her husband. On the insistence of her children, she eventually succumbs to her desire and decides to visit the shrine with her son, Kamal. On their return from the mosque, a car knocks her over and she is brought back to the house, unconscious. With one arm in a cast, she is afraid that Al Sayyid Ahmad will find out about her secret excursion to the mosque but her children persuade her to cover up the incident with a small lie that she broke her arm in the midst of a household activity. Unable to bear the lie, whose magnitude is magnified to gargantuan proportions by her conscience, she confesses to Al Sayyid Ahmad, telling him everything that happened. At first, Al Sayyid Ahmad doesn’t respond. He at once seems forgiving and large hearted but once Amina recovers, he sends her away, much to the children’s’ grief, to her mother’s house.

Meanwhile, Aisha receives a proposal for marriage and this intensifies Khadija’s jealousy and fears that she will remain a spinster forever. The occasion however, gives Al Sayyid Ahmad a chance to forgive his wife’s grave misconduct and invite her back, though not in so many words and Amina, whose love and respect for her husband only increase due to this sudden act of benevolence, is only very happy to be restored to her children at Palace Walk. Soon, Khadija receives a similar offer from the brother of the man who proposed to Aisha and the two sisters become destined to live under the same roof for the rest of their (which is however not the case owing to a tragedy at the end of Palace of Desire, the second book in the trilogy) lives.

Yasin, who resembles his father the most in having inherited his looks and his interests, suffers from an unquenched lust. Seeing him suffer, his father marries him off to Zaynab, the daughter of a friend. For a while, Yasin savors marital bliss but when his nightly wanderings and spirit of celebration upset his wife, making her pour out her frustrations to him, he is soon disillusioned and confides this to Fahmy, his half-brother. What seems unfair to Yasin is the discrepancy in the treatment accorded to him by his wife, Zaynab and that accorded to his father by Amina, his step-mother.

After Aisha’s marriage, not unintoxicated, he makes a move on Umm Hanafi on the terrace and owing to the latter’s screams, is discovered by Al Sayyid Ahmad before he can fulfill his mission much to his terror and shame. This serves as a catalyst to precipitate the collapse of the already weak molecular structure of his matrimony and soon, Yasin finds himself divorced. Amidst this, Zaynab bears his child in her womb.

Fahmy meanwhile, is crushed by his desire for Maryam, the neighbor’s daughter, with whom he carries on a secret affair consisting of glances and expressions as meaningful and promising to him as intermittent light signals are to a firefly in search of a mate.When the terrace is out of bounds to either of them, Kamal plays the role of a messenger in that he passes on Fahmy’s requests to Maryam and takes back Maryam’s innuendos to the anxious Fahmy. Al Sayyid Ahmad however refuses peremptorily when Fahmy asks for his permission to request her hand in marriage, an action which the former would regret for the rest of his days.

Despite his father’s protests, Fahmy continues to take an active role in protesting against the tyranny of the British rule. Here is the suggestion that Al Sayyid Ahmad is a metaphor to the British occupation of Egypt and Fahmy, just as he couldn’t assert his freedom in his house, couldn’t assert it in his country either and the loss of Maryam is an apt harbinger of the loss of his life.


July 2018
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