Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ali Sethi's The Wish Maker. A Review.

My review of Ali Sethi's debut novel The Wish Maker for

During a book reading, Ali Sethi said he wrote The Wish Maker, his debut novel, in order to record his memories of Pakistan and the Pakistan of his parents and grandparents; in this endeavor, then, Sethi has done a fine job. The novel begins with college going Zaki Shirazi arriving at the new airport in Lahore and being met by two servants, Naseem, a long time retainer, along with a new driver. Indeed this duo encapsulates The Wish Maker’s thematic concerns between old and new, past and present, memory and remembrance, themes the twenty four year old Sethi tackles, to his credit, evocatively and unsentimentally.
read the rest here

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tahmineh Milani's 'Two Women', a film from Iran

Two Women follows the lives of friends Fereshteh (Niki Karimi) and Roya (Marila Zarei) over a decade. As college students, Roya approaches the academically above average Feresteh for tutoring sessions and their friendship develops rapidly in a lovely montage; paradise, however, never lasts. Feresteh is being stalked by a frighteningly violent young man (there is a thoroughly satisfying scene on a bus where she berates him), the university shuts down, and thanks to her small minded father her once promising future takes a downward turn all too real.
As such Two Women should not conveniently be categorized as a mere film about women's rights; it is so much more and Tahmineh Milani, the writer and director, has done a beautiful job without resorting to male bashing or melodrama: there are decent men and there is no chest beating, hysterical weeping, or long diatribes of 'woe is me'. Instead, simple acts convey heartbreak such as a mother patting the empty bed of her kidnapped children, and Niki Karimi’s stellar expressions whenever her screen husband insults her in front of her children. In each scene be it back story or present day, the camera lingers just long enough to deliver the intent and then briskly skips on without a single misstep or lag thanks to Mostafa Kherghehpoosh’s excellent editing skills.
Two Women was released to acclaim in 1999, and ten years later it could be set in Pakistan scene to scene with the added detail of helpless/unhelpful neighbors watching from doorways as desperate women run down the street towards literal and symbolic blind ends. The end reminded me of the adage 'better late than never', and why it's not always true. This is a film which should not be missed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle the Kingsolver family eat homegrown as well as locally grown foods for a year in order to reduce their carbon footprint. However there are some items which they cannot do without even though they grow very far away such as olive oil and coffee. Barbara pens the chapters on the vegetables in season and how the Kingsolvers grow or buy them and how they prepare them, with end caps by husband Steven Hopp and college bound daughter Camille.

My favorite passages were, by far, those concerning their six year old daughter, Lily's, egg business, as well as the bits about the heritage turkeys. I had no idea that turkey sexuality was bred out of them, and therefore turkey females did not necessarily know how to be mothers. Reminded me of women fumbling and foiling at breast feeding because it really is a learned art, and often there is literally no one at home to correct what they may be doing wrong.

I was hoping to learn from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle how to grow more local (except for tomatoes I don't do much else), but this is not that type of book. In fact, there were times when I felt hopeless at ever being able to grow foods and sustain myself let alone my family in the style of the Kingsolvers. Barbara and Steven have both grown up on farms and so have the added benefit of knowing what peg goes in which hole much as I do when it comes to Pakistani recipes and knowing which ingredient should be added when by sheer dint of belonging to the culture. I can no more 'teach' someone how to grow local by telling them how lushly the turmeric and cumin and onions grew in my garden, how their colors flowered in my kitchen, or how their smells added to my dreams, then Barbara does in her chapters be they asparagus in March, zucchini in July or pumpkins in October.

Also I would have liked to know how much cleaning, and preparation, and cleaning was involved in growing, scrubbing, canning, freezing, storing, slaughtering; an awful lot of cleaning, I dare say, which might put a woman like me, if I had no domestic help, in a very bad mood. But Barbara breezes through the menial chores in so far that they do not crop up in the book much, and certainly not as something bad mood inducing. If I remember correctly, she even says at one point that all the preparation and cooking is actually soothing because her other job i.e. writing, is so cerebral.

The last chapter 'Time Begins' is beautiful and Barbara's writing is at its profound, heart stirring "The Poisonwood Bible' ish best.

Here are some quotes I want to remember:

So when people refer to this (actose intolerance) as an illness, I'm inclined to
point out we L.I.'s can very well digest the sugars in grown-up human foods like
fruits and vegetables, thank you, we just can't nurse. From a cow. Okay?
from the chapter Six Impossible Things
Before Breakfast

But spending every waking hour on one job in drudgery, however you slice it. After an eight hour day at my chosen profession, enough is enough. I'm ready to spend the next two or three somewhere else, preferably outdoors, moving my untethered limbs to a worldly beat. Sign me up on the list of those who won't maximize their earnings through a life of professionally focused ninety hour weeks. Plenty of people do, I know, either perforce or by choice-- overwork actually has major cache in a society
whose holy trinity is efficiency, productivity, and material acquisition.
Complaining about it is the modern equivalent of public prayer. 'Work' in this
context, refers to tasks that are stressful and externally judged, which the
worker heartily longs to do less of. 'Not working' is widely coveted but harder
to define. The opposite of work is play, also an active verb. It could be tennis
or birdwatching, so long as its meditative and makes you feel better afterward.
Growing sunflowers and beans is like that, for some of us. Cooking is like
that. So is canning tomatoes and making mozzarella. Doing all of the above with
my kids feels like family life in every happy sense. When people see the size of
our garden or the stocks in our pantry and shake their heads, saying "What a lot
of work," I know what they're really saying. This is the polite construction in
our language for "What a dope". They can think so. But they're wrong.
from the chapter What Do You Eat in January?

I once read a pioneer diary in which the Kansas wife postponed, week after week, harvesting the last hen in her barren, windy yard. "We need the food badly," she wrote, "but I will miss the company." I've never been anywhere near that lonely, but now I can relate to the relationship.
from the chapter Time Begins

...we've learned that some of our favorite things like DDT and the propellants in aerosol cans were rapidly unraveling the structure and substance of our biosphere. We gave them up, and reversed the threats. Now the reforms required of us are more systematic, and nobody seems to want to go first. (To be more precise, the
U.S.A. wants to go last.)
from the chapter Time Begins

Christmas music fills our ears with tales of a Palestinian miracle birth, a generous Turkish saint whom the Dutch dressed in a red suit, and a Druid ceremonial tree...
from the chapter Celebration Days.

The Prophet Muhammad recommended it (garlic) for snakebite. Eleanor
Roosevelt took it in chocolate covered pills to improve her memory, and Pliny
the Elder claimed it was good for your sex life. I wouldn't bet on that last
from the chapter Smashing Pumpkins

What a pleasant, refreshing surprise to find the Prophet Muhammad in a book on eating locally!!
I am so used to the Prophet, indeed anything related to Islam, being mentioned only and only in context to the usual veiling and failings that I reread the above lines twice before trusting mine eyes. Why am I not surprised that the author is Barbara Kingsolver :)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More Good News for Wives and Mothers and the Injured in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands' sexual demands.
The new final draft of the legislation also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work.
It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying 'blood money' to a girl who was injured when he raped her.
Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband's reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband's permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient"
read the rest of the Guardian article here
A hell on earth for women; for men, a heaven.
I suppose I should say 'some' men.
Khaled Hosseini's novel 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is a page turning read for how women manage to live within laws like the above.
Live is the wrong word. Die is right.
There is the rapist, but what is the person raped called? I'm beginning to hate the nomenclature 'rape victim'.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New Story- Darning Blue Sky

Urhalpool, a Bengali-English webzine, invited me to contribute a story. I sent Darning Blue Sky.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Doraha-- Pakistani TV Play

Doraha is a fourteen episode drama telecast by the Geo channel. Doraha means two roads/decisions leading in different directions. The story by Umera Ahmed explores a love triangle between a guy and two girls, the girls both coming from very different social classes, and the push of individual desires against duty to family. The subject matter may not be unique but Ahmed's sensitive, character driven story telling and Mehreen Jabbar's steller direction and editing take it too a whole new level. The actors have also done fantastic jobs. Unfortunately, Doraha is not the flawless production it could have been. Despite the momentum created by the first many episodes, the last few falls prey to the usual brain dead flashback filler montages Pakistani dramas seem to not be able to do without; this brings down an otherwise excellent serial. Mehreen Jabbar's blog has viewers comments on the play. Here's a site where the episodes are available for free. Furthermore there were many loose ends left untied: who does Omar's sister get married to? Why don't we see much of Omar's mother regretting the role she's played in the whole mess? We want to see her eat some major crow, we need to see her eat some major crow but in ommitting this catharsis, Doraha makes a major blunder. Next, considering how headstrong and likeable Omar is at the beginning, his wimpiness in the latter episodes is perpelxing as well as cringe worthy, especially the callous way he's ready to leave behind (spoiler alert) his wife and daughter. And that brings me to the biggest conundrum of all: what exactly makes Omar so attractive to these two women. In Shehla's case perhaps obsession is the more apt adjective and all too likely given that she comes from a background and culture where one's first love is supposed to be one's one and only till the day she dies. In Sara's case, even though she belongs to the same culture, her background and innate intelligence ultimately render her final decision a bit specious. It is interesting though that, no matter that their backgrounds, both girls are expected to get married and have mothers hounding them to this effect. Like I always say, marriage is Pakistan's religion, with mother being the Generals sending their daughters to the front lines often ill prepared and no matter what the cost.
Doraha is definitely worth watching despite the glitches in the last few episodes, in fact inspite of them it is still heads and shoulders above most other Pakistani dramas.

Friday, January 9, 2009

risks of an early -c-section

I'm not fan of c-sections, and having my second C on the fifth of Dec for my third kid (2,5,3 are the magic numbers) has left me even less so. My baby was breech, and I started contractions in the 38th week, but here's some latest info on why even supposedly 'full term' c-sections are not a good idea.

The earlier deliveries had a higher rate of complications. Among babies
born at 39 weeks, 3.4% had certain breathing problems, including one called
respiratory distress syndrome. The frequency of such problems rose to 5.5% for
babies delivered at 38 weeks, and to 8.2% at 37 weeks. An infant's breathing
problems don't usually cause lasting effects, but such babies are more likely to
have to be admitted for intensive care.

read rest here

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gaza and Israel-- home, clothes, name...

The situation is crippling to watch. And the cable news (CNN, MSNBC, FOX,) coverage in the U.S. is abominable. No doubt the Israelis fear of Hamas and thier rocket fire is mentally debilitating but, based on the U.S. news coverage (though some would call it propoganda), one would assume that the civilians in Isreal are suffering the same number of casualties as are those in Gaza. 760 deaths to 4 Israelis. Not that any are acceptable be it Palestinians or Israelies.
But the Isrealis are playing unfair: for all thier dropping of leaflets to warn Gazans to get out before the bombs come, where are the Gaza civilians supposed to go for cover? One one side is the deep sea, on others the borders are closed, and there is no 'country house' to flee to from the cities. So basically, leaflet or no leaflet, they're stuck. Damn Hamas for putting its people in this situation to begin with. And yet...even this uneven 'war' will come to an end, though too late for those dead or maimed, physically and emotionally. Days of constant bombing, of constantly being reminded of the precariousness of life. Imagine the nightmares those kids, adults, will have...

Americans are still subjected to Fox “News” and CNN propaganda piped into
airport waiting rooms, doctors’ offices, and exercise centers. People ask me
where they can get reliable information. I tell them that their goal cannot be
reached without their commitment of time. People who have access to
television services that provide English language foreign broadcasts, such as
Iran’s Press TV, Russia Today, or Al Jazeera, can get get news and insights from
those parts of the world demonized by the US media. The BBC World Service still
reports facts while covering itself by providing the views of the US, UK, and
Israeli governments.
read rest here


from The Christian Science Monitor
"I was forced to leave the house that I worked 30 years for," Abu Khaled
told me. "I took my clothes and underwear and ID cards so I could be identified
if killed in one of the explosions."
read rest here

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Day One of the New Year

400 dead in Gaza, Palestine
4 dead in Israel

and cholera, amongst other killers, kills in Zimbabwe

I'd like all sickness and disease and war to end... but that's not happening any time this year's resolution is how to learn to live with it.

But then that's every year's resolution.