Sunday, 21 May 2017

Malfuf wa Malik*

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
        ‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax –
        Of cabbages – and kings –
And why the sea is boiling hot –
        And whether pigs have wings.’

This is a bit of a departure from the usual poetry trip that characterises this blog. Though I do realise it is not an auspicious start to begin a non-poetry post with a quote from a famous poem. It is inappropriate to appropriate verses from a renowned writer to do the work of your prose. Inappropriate and ironical and cheeky. Not a good beginning. Let’s start over.

Monday, 15 May 2017



She no longer knows voices on the phone
you had to say your name last time you called
faced with a blank pause - this too a milestone
of growing up and away and growing old.
A tremor perhaps, but quickly controlled
and the conversation curled but went on -
reset somewhere in the depths, overhauled
minds and meanings, the smallest shifts unknown.

Years knit up things and years unravel too -
the threads meshed together day after day
till the weave’s a habit you’ve slipped into;
but one thread snags, it all stops running true
and puddles at your feet, whichever way
you go on, the knot’s formed, and it’s here to stay.


You wish the memories were yours to choose
and keep in a glass vase like bunched orchids.
As she loses her bearings you too could lose
the high recall of tremors and get rid
of the blanks in telephone calls, and visits
when she asked your name, but the residues
chafe under your eyelids like sand and grit
and the orchid’s face twists into a bruise.

That’s all you have in your hand to display -
some bruised flowers, the colours imperfect.
You can choose just the vase, don’t have a say
in the composition of that bouquet
fresh or faded, the long stems whole or wrecked,
the deviant petals not yours to correct.

Double dose and regular forms today, as least as regular as I can get - 2(8x6). Last month I met an elder with Alzheimer's - it's a difficult disease for the victim, for the caregivers, even more so when they are family members taking care of sick elders without any support far away from home. Last month also we had the local poetry festival, which I don't think I've mentioned.  We did, had great fun there too, I presented two of mine. Read and/or view.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Back in the groove


As May isn’t spring everywhere, there are
some days of different shapes and perfume.
A few miles down this road, not all that far
a different season of an endless war -
no daffodils there, only the guns in bloom.
But you may light a candle in this room,
a change of smoke masks scorched flesh and burnt tar.

You may turn the page and let chapters close,
may press the required key and work the knob
till it’s spring again and the daffodil grows,
everything here pleases the eyes and nose.
Just a couple of tweaks will do the job -
turn up the sound and drown out the faint throb
and phantoms of smoke outside these windows.

Okay, April has zapped, zipped, zoomed past taking A-Z with it and boy, was it a continuous funfest blogparty or what? My head barely stopped spinning - too much merrymaking - exhausted by the end of it, but in a good way. Took some time to get my breath back, but now I'm back in the usual poetry mode in my usual whingy avatar, and all is proceeding towards sunshine and drawstring PJ's and comfortably smug n snug here.  And no wonder. Because - 119. That's the wordcount of this 7X7 sonnet.  You just can't beat poetry for teeny-tininess, you can't! 

Hope your May is going well too, spring or autumn.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Long And The Short Of It : A-Z Reflections

First off, keeping the music handy might help, in case you want to fortify yourself :) Because for all you know another mini-dissertation-length post is waiting...

Tadaa! Surprise! not quite. You pays no money, but you gets your choice! Take your pick -

The short version

The A-Z went list-free this year. I went poetry-free for the first time here. I wasn’t sure if I could swing it this time, but I did. 

List-free made no difference to the level of viewer activity on my individual A-Z posts, they remained roughly the same as last year. I know. I'm as baffled as you. It doesn't add up. But when do blogstats make any sense anyways? :) 

In the final analysis my takeaway seems to be, and not for the first time - lists and numbers are not the determinants of the fun that can be had at the Challenge. I had great fun this A-Z, as always. Happy to claim my fourth survivor badge. Congratulations to you too if you managed to complete the Challenge!

As the Arabs would say – ‘Kol sanaa wento tayyebeen, ya nas! Ashoofkum sana il gayi, nafs il waqt, nafs il makaan!’ (All year and you keep well, people! See you next year, same time, same place!)


The l-o-o-o-o-n-g version

My A-Z this year was different from last year, from any other year. Firstly, 2017 was always going to be a difficult year anyways, a weird combo of unavoidable surgery and school leaving exams and sundry horrid things like that. To make life more complicated, a series of awful events back in India turned the year ghastly early on. I was buffeted by continuous bad news from every side. In short, 2017 was on its way to become an annus horribilis on the personal front. I wasn’t sure I had the concentration to participate in the A-Z, and when I found it was going list-free - it was another uncertainty to contend with! But the A-Z in April is like plan A for me, has been for the last few years. Once I get a plan A going in my head, I don’t have enough head left to wrap it around a plan B. April without A-Z? How was that even possible?

Every event has its own lessons and its opportunities. And one of the opportunities was to change my approach to my own A-Z. Opt for something flexible instead of having to elaborately work things into poetry, which is what my A-Z themes have always been. So I did just that. 

So. How did the list-free bit go? In short, brilliantly! The whole A-Z felt tighter, neater to me. No dead links, no strident sales pitches, nothing that lowered the tone of the Challenge.  List-free made no difference to the level of viewer activity on my individual A-Z posts, they remained roughly the same as last year. Overall views here were nearly double that of April last year. The number of commenters also remained at similar levels as last year on a post to post basis, even though the total number of A-Z participants felt way lower this year. I know. I'm as baffled as you. It doesn't add up. But when do blogstats make any sense anyways? :) 

While I was quite sure from the start that I didn’t mind the two-second work it took to paste in my links, I do think they tended to get lost, maybe because I am not on Twitter, or prefer not to know the right end of a hashtag from the wrong one :) But as I said, it didn’t affect the views or comments as compared to 2016 when there was a list. Some people managed to land up from the A-Z page, some people came in from the FB links, more from FB than the A-Z blog, to my surprise. I should take FB more seriously :)

For my part, I reconnected with some old A-Z buddies, I found some cool new blogs, I read some awesome posts, learned a few new things both in reading and in researching for mine. I love the sense of community and camaraderie that happens during the A-Z for those who participate in the true spirit of the blogfest. 

The music that bloggers put up this year was a joy, Yvonne and Debbie, I’m looking at you :) and also Mary. I've listened to Debbie D's music more than once as I've gone around reading the other bloggers' A-Z posts. I've borrowed her idea of a playlist to keep the music I put up in one place. And the actual and fictional places some bloggers took me to, wow! - marvellous! (Hilary, Keith, Eva) and scary!  (Nick, Tamara, Arpan

The thought that bloggers put into their posts and the quality and variety were generally très magnifique (Hercule Poirotese can say it much better than plain English sometimes :)  I came away with ideas/tips for my writing. Oh, and book recos galore! (WordDreams, So Much to Choose From) And learnt a swathe of new stuff about 40's films (The Old Shelter). 

However, I didn't get around to as many blogs as in the previous years, this I think tops my personal teething problems of list-free. Last year I made it to over 25% of the linky list, but this year - my feeling is - no. I couldn't quite get to grips with visiting from the individual letter lists because of the time-zone/weekend differences. By the time all US/last time-zoners posted, my day was nearly over and it was time for the next letter, and going back to the previous day's posts was an impossibility given the returns and current letter visits I had to make. I think I managed to return the visits/comments of everyone who visited me. 

Some exceedingly kind A-Z participants read my overlong posts and did not tell me off.  They all have my gratitude.  (How do folks manage that 300 word limit? How?? I need to take a precis course or something!!)

Thanks also to the entire A-Z team for the huge work they do to keep the challenge fun for people like me, year after year. Some bloggers who I think of as dear friends were away from A-Z 2017 for various personal reasons, and I want to let them know they were missed! And some blogger friends who didn’t even participate were with me throughout for each post, however long. Thank you! - Elephant’s Child, Joanne, Martin Kloess and The Silver Fox, I cannot begin to articulate how much I appreciate it! 

To sum up, I wasn’t sure I could swing it this time, but I did - fistpump! In the final analysis, lists and numbers are not the determinants of the fun that can be had at the Challenge. I had great fun this A-Z, as always. Happy to claim my fourth survivor badge. Looking forward to the fifth already. Congratulations to you too if you managed to complete the Challenge!

As the Arabs would say – ‘Kol sanaa wento tayyebeen, ya nas! Ashoofkum sana il gayi, nafs il waqt, nafs il makaan!’ (All year and you keep well, people! See you next year, same time, same place!)

Friday, 5 May 2017


Listen, I’ll be late back on Monday.
No, it’s not what you think.
I’ve an interview.
I didn’t know you were looking for a change, dearest.
Well, no. It isn’t that kind of interview.
Really? What kind then?
It is a job interview, but I’m not a serious candidate.
What? Then why are you going?
Oh because I’m a filler.
What’s a filler?
There’s this big shot over to recruit some fin props for his company. Anupam has to line up some authentic looking candidates, he asked me to help out. So I’ll be dropping in after work. Can’t refuse a friend in a spot.
Oh I see. Pity.  There was this play on…
I’ll tell Anupam to wiggle my name in early. Don’t want to be stuck there forever. But I might be late.


There’s a bit of a problem.
Now what?
My name’s got through to the second round.
So? Why’s that a problem?
It’s a waste of time. His and mine. More his than mine.
I thought you were doing it for Anupam?
Yeah, I am. But it’s a pain all the same.


Why are you looking like a nuclear disaster?
Dreadful thing’s happened - I got the job! Soon as I walked in he made me an offer. Asked if I had a passport. I was dumbfounded! What am I going to do now?
Did you call Anupam? It’s his mess. He ought to get you out of it. Hang on, passport?? Where is this job?
I’ve never even heard of it.  Have you? Some place called Bahrain.
Yeah, vaguely. Don't know anything about it though.
I don’t know where in the world it is!
Well, look it up in the atlas then. What are you going to do? Accept?
What do you think I am, crazy? How -? Never thought about going abroad at all. Not plan A. Not B or C even.


So naturally, six month later we were here.

Best-laid schemes o’ mice and men. Gang aft agley. 
We were experts at agley. 
Still are. 

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Z is for...Zaghareet...and...Zellige....

is for

Zaman, a band from Palestine. Their music is a fusion of Arabic and Spanish and Roma. More about them here

Zahraa Berro, a child artiste from Lebanon, with Mawtini, which you’ve heard from Elissa and Faia before in this A-Z series.  Zahraa has a crystal clear voice, and her rendition is moving.  Though I don’t like the drama with the rose and the sound effects – imho they are redundant and a distraction. Anyhoo. I liked this version, children singing always move me, whatever the level of talent, and this little girl is talented beyond doubt. Have a listen

Zaghareet - (singular zagharout) meaning ululation.  Performed as an expression of joy, to celebrate an occasion and/or welcome/felicitate a person, all through the MENA region. 

As an interesting aside, Bengalis also ululate at weddings and religious/celebratory events just like the Arabs. Common practice in some other parts of Africa also. I understand both ancient Egyptians and Sumerians ululated, the practice really goes back deep into antiquity.


Zellige is the name given to Moroccan decorative ceramic mosaics. The patterns are abstract and repetitive - in accordance with Islamic principles. Most of them are based on the geometry of the circle. Mosaics are nothing new, of course, used well before the advent of Islam.

Roman mosaic from the 2nd century found in a wealthy urban
residence.  Villa of the Birds, Kom al Dikka, Alexandria, Egypt.

Detail of Byzantium era mosaic. Madaba Archaeological Park.
Madaba, Jordan.

The use of glazed ceramics in architecture was established in Persia by 6th century BCE.  Mosaics existed in pre-Islamic Persia by the 3rd century, and in Rome/Byzantium even before that.  

Zellige mosaic in the Alhambra Palace. Note the strapwork weaving
over and under each other. Complex! Granada, Andalusia, Spain.

Moroccan zellige was first developed around a thousand years ago – the Almoravid rulers introduced these mosaic tiles in mid-11th century.   The colour palette was broadened under Merinid rulers in the 13th century and the zellige mosaics reached unsurpassed heights in Andalusia, in the buildings of Granada and Cordoba, by the mid-14th century.   

Detail of zellige mosaic. Royal Palace, Seville. Spain.

Zellige making is incredibly fiddly – a mind boggling combo of art and science and inspired.  First the tiles are made in a range of colours/glazes.  Then a master-cutter wields a heavy hammer-chisel hybrid (menqash) with supreme finesse to cut out the tiny pieces (tesserae in English, furmah in Arabic). 

Detail of mosaic. Note the strapwork radiates out from a central
eight point star. Alhambra Palace, Granada, Andalusia, Spain.

Floor inset, based on Moroccan Zellige. Beit al Quran Museum, 
Manama, Bahrain.

Detail of above, showing geometric pattern. Note the presence
of the 8-point star in the interstices.

The required pieces are then assembled face down from a central point onwards to ensure a smooth, even surface for the front of the finished mosaic. Not a single mismatch in colour, not one wrong placement, otherwise the pieces don’t fit, not the slimmest margin for error.  Takes the phrase “working blind” to a whole new level, doesn’t it?

Once the mosaic pattern is assembled, it is moistened, a mixture of backing material is poured into the frame and left to set.  When set, the zellige is removed from the frame and taken for installation. This clip illustrates the process -


So that completes my A-Z 2017 - as in all other years, I have had a super duper fun time, both writing and reading. I hope you too have had a pleasant time here.

An apology on the length of the posts is in order. I did try some major culling though, oodles of stuff left out - a heap of musicians, all literature, mother-of-pearl inlay, the internet, woodwork, parks, the importance of water, the month of Ramadan...uff, chop chop chop the whole time and even then my posts were humongous. But I hope I've been able to get across at least a part of the vibrancy and beauty and diversity of this culture I'm privileged to see up close.

Leaving you with this song by Oum, "Here" from her album Zarabi -

'Here, my eyes have seen grace...
Here, we found peace...
Here, the Eden where we got lost,
Here, we got lost...'

A tad melodramatic in ordinary convo, but you get my general drift...

To each one of you who came along with me on this exploration, for a few steps, or the entire way - a big, fat thank you for your patience and your support! Or as the Arabs would put it ~

Alf shukr! wa ma'a salaama! 

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2017 with a final round of thanks and applause

for the Creator of the Challenge

Arlee Bird @ Tossing it Out



Alex J. Cavanaugh @ Alex J. Cavanaugh

eremy Hawkins @ Hollywood Nuts

Heather M. Gardner The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Zalka Csenge Virág @ The Multicolored Diary

John Holton @The Sound of One Hand Typing

J Lenni Dorner @ Blog of J. Lenni Dorner

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Y is for...Yalla bina!...and...Yellow...and Youthful

is for
Yalla bina!

is an expression that translates “hurry up” or “C’mon, let’s go”, yalla not to be confused with Ya Allah, which literally means “O God” and is used as an invocation to God. 

Ykhalili Albak 

by Najwa Karam, the phenomenally popular, multi-platinum artiste from Lebanon. Najwa has been singing for almost three decades, and has sold millions of records. 

And here is a brand new Middle Eastern star Faia Younan – amazingly expressive voice! Some quality in her voice reminds me of Fairouz. She rose to stardom after this video, created by her and her sister, went viral. She has subsequently released an album and performed at many events in Europe and in MENA. Read more about her at her site


Time for some random snaps and random facts!

Yellow limes on the Yellow Alley - Darb al
Asfar. This area of the old city was restored 

in the 90's. The vendor was a woman, she did 
not permit me to photograph her. So I got her
basket instead. 2011, Islamic Cairo. Egypt.

Middle-Eastern munchies.  Arabs snack on a wide range of roasted 
nuts and seeds - sunflower, pumpkin, pine nuts, peanuts, etc. Many 
local dishes use nuts as ingredients as well. Display in a shop near 
the Archaeological Park. 2013, Madaba, Jordan.

Bahrain National Theatre. The metal clad roof was specially treated
with a closely guarded proprietary substance to achieve the golden
yellow colour. 2014, Manama, Bahrain.

Embroidered Coptic Cross on velvet drapery at St 
Anthony's Monastery, one of the oldest in the world.
Some of these desert monasteries have been continually 
functional for around 1500 years, given a special dispensation 
of protection by Prophet Mohammed personally when the Arab 
armies conquered Egypt. St Anthony's Monastery. 2012, 
Zafarana, Egypt.

Tanoura performer in yellow. Wikala al Ghouri. Al Azhar Street,
Cairo. 2014, Egypt.

Tableau depicting Bahraini society of times past. Dates and
coffee are still an important part of Arab culture. Bahrain
National Museum. 2015, Manama, Bahrain.


The profile of the Arablands is youthful.  First off, the demographics in these countries – the population is overwhelmingly young. Arabs are a tender young bunch, the median age in the Arab countries varies from a low of 19 years to a high of 29 years. 

Secondly, most of the 22 countries which make up the Arab League, are themselves quite young - they have become self-governing nations only a few decades ago. Except for Oman, all countries in the MENA became independent in the 20th century. All Arablands, except Oman, are less than a century old.

Many of the conflicts and challenges that these countries face can be at least partially laid at the door of foreign occupiers. Let me make it clear here - I'm totally not in favour of former colonies/protectorates looking back and forever playing the victim card, pick yourselves up and get a move on, folks! But equally we must be aware of facts.

The general public outside the Arablands knows or cares little about the origins of Arab problems and what role the Europeans have played here. I wonder if European/Western teenagers learn about the Sykes-Picot agreement in their history classes? Or about the history of colonialism of their respective motherlands? About the past roles of their governments in slavery or Apartheid? The Holocaust is shocking beyond words and we must never ever forget its lessons, but it is regrettably not the only huge injustice perpetrated in history! 'Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.' 

Is the new generation being made aware of peoples/nations who've been grievously wronged apart from the Jews?

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2017