Saturday, December 30

Eid Mubarak!

Bo! Better get calling...

Friday, December 29


11am Saturday 30th December, Unity TV (Sky 825)

Dodgy titles aside this is a definite a must see. Prerecorded as opposed to live, I think it'll be a better example of what the schools can actually do if there were no gremlins causing havoc in the back room. Plus we'll all be able to see it too. Great!

Don't worry though: I'm sure there'll still be plenty of mick-tacking material for you all to gather too.

Thursday, December 28

Game: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Click for more info

Although a Wii launch title, I've not been able to play this till now because of a certain Xbox 360 game I had been trying to complete before my friend came back. It's a bit of a shame that I have very little holiday left from work; I will probably just about get my teeth into Twilight Princess before I have to cut down the gaming time I've had over the last week.

Anyway, TP is great. I took me two hours to get a frakkin' sword, but I enjoyed doing that. And I guess that's what makes this a bit difficult to review - there's a bit too much meat on this game to get a good enough impression of in just over two hours worth of play so I can only extrapolate really. As reported by almost everyone before me, it resembles Ocarina over Windwaker which, seeing as I thought the latter was mediocre at best, is a good thing. I just can't wait to hit my first dungeon.

But still, I'm not coming away really impressed with the game. The reason why is pretty ironic: I'm not quite comfortable with the controls used in the game. There are three main gripes here and all are fundamental to what the Wii is trying to do.

Firstly, my wrists get tired when holding a separate remote and nunchuk. This is probably just me, as everyone else seems to love how you can rest your arms how you would want to isntead of being constrained by a joypad. Secondly, you need to arbitrarily move the remote or nunchuk to attack with the sword, while modifying the move you make with button presses. Hmm. And thirdly, you aim projectile weapons with the remote (which although nice at first gets a bit boring - but at least you can turn that off and go back to joypad control).

It all just seems too tacked on; something that's not surprising seeing as this is essentially a Gamecube game. Oh, and the graphics and sound reflect as much too - I just don't really care about those here.

I guess the controls are just something I need to get used to - before I know it, I'll probably won't even realise. It's just a shame that, for the reasons above, I might have been better off with the Gamecube version in the first place!

Link Of The Day Click for more info

So just how male or female is your brain? This BBC quiz will tell you. I've only linked to it since it's relatively quick. Well it will be for the guys anyway, snigger.

I shouldn't laugh though seeing as I have a 50 point male brain (out of 100). But then I've always been told I have a strong feminine side too.


So once again, three million Muslims or so are gathering in their air-conditioned tents in Mina. I say that like I know what's going on over there, but I really don't: for me, the memory of performing Hajj has become a bit of a haze. But then again, I did perform it five years ago. Cripes.

Yes, if it isn't blindingly obvious I do want to go back and do it all over again. I'm not quite jealous but I do wish I was one of the pilgrims over there. I don't think I'll be going while Hajj hovers over the Christmas season (it's way too busy and costly for me), so it'll be at least a good few years before I do. And who knows, perhaps I'll be forced to go again by then anyway?

It's the Day of Arafat tomorrow, which kinda marks the beginning of the end of the whole ritual. For many it'll be the first and only time they'll be performing Hajj, and in a matter of days they'll be in the same position as I am in. I guess that's one of the bitter effects of Hajj - you're sorry to go since it's such a rare and unique experience.

Guilty Preaching

Looking around, there are many different practises of Islam. Some express their faith practically, some wear it as a label and some keep it private when others are quite vocal. I'm not really going to write about which one is most correct (I'm guessing they all are on some level), but there is a particularly clich├ęd one that I've seen, and I'll explain why it kind of bothers me.

Remember that person who wasn't really that religious when they were younger? The ones that didn't pray, didn't read about the religion and generally didn't have any interest in Islam? This in itself isn't a problem - I myself have many friends who aren't even Muslim (gasp) so it's not the lack of piety that I'm talking about here.

Sometimes these people suddenly decide to become religious and I'm sure you all know someone like this. The guys start wearing thobes and growing beards while the girls whack on a headscarf and minimise contact with those of the opposite sex (sometimes they start growing beards too, but this probably won't happen that often till someone decides hair removal is unislamic too). Suddenly everyone is waking up for Fajr, attending talks and events all over the UK and performing all of the optional fasts.

As an aside, it seems that many on the rishta scene have just recently taken this step too - it's as if becoming religious comes hand in hand with finding a mate for them. And, understandably, the last thing they want is someone who may make their new way of life more difficult, although it is amusing how a potential who would have been too religious becomes not quite enough so within a relatively small time frame.

But anyway, I'm not sure prompts this religious change - perhaps the guilt of being irreligious becomes too much or maybe it's some kind of rebellion. For some it's in response to recently getting dumped by a long term partner, but I think for most it's just a maturing of opinion and for them, it's the right time to become religious. Fair enough, and good for them whatever the reason I say. As a Muslim, I obviously believe that it's better to be religiously conscious than otherwise.

But this is where it sometimes does becomes a problem. You see, for some reason, these people saving oneself from eternal damnation isn't enough. You have to save everyone else too. All of sudden, these enlightened souls have decided everyone around them needs to shape up, and that all of their friends can do with the same internal religious revolution that they had.

The thing is that not everyone needs or wants saving. No one likes being preached to (not really) or made to feel guilty. In fact it's pretty ironic, since if the above person looks inside themselves, they'd know this as it would be how they felt in their previous lives. They've become precisely the type of person they didn't like before - the kind that probably drove them away from religion in the first place.

As someone who's been praying regularly since they were a pre-teen I don't need to be told to pray. As someone who's never clean shaven their mug I don't need to be told to keep a longer beard. As someone who's been reading the Quran regularly every day for ten years or whatever I don't need to be quoted random verses each time I see you.

I don't need to be told to start or dot my MSN conversations with salams (which, literally, only means "peace" and nothing more), ASAs, iAs, mAs and all the other random letters which, in the context, don't actually mean anything.

I also don't need countless hadith forwards or invites to talks half way across the country in my inbox each day. And yes, that includes GPU events and the like too. Remember: no means no.

But most importantly, I don't need to be told any of the above by someone who just got the religious clue a few months or even weeks ago. Been there, done that, have done so for the most part of my life thank-you-very-much. I don't consider myself to be the perfect Muslim and despite how it sounds above am totally open to talking about my or anyone else's religious practice; if you think I could do something islamically better, then you just need to tell me once and I'll listen and decide whether to change or not. Any more than that and I'll just get irritated. There's something grating about people trying to cash in on their newly found enlightenment by assuming everyone else needs it too. It almost smacks of a pyramid scheme.

But please, don't get me wrong: I'm not against preaching or dawah per se. In fact, I think that it's a vacuously fundamental part of any religion that advocates proselytism. But (and this as someone who did the whole knocking on doors tabligh thing when they were younger) I do think that there is better ways to do it than others - I'm a fan of dawah-by-example, and I'll never tell anyone explicitly that they need to pray, or pay more charity, or wear a hijab; I won't ever directly tell someone how to preach either. Without appearing too saintly I do like to think I've done more to influence people by being quiet than in their faces.

So I guess, once again, it's all about balance. In my opinion preaching isn't about creating religious spam or just loudly letting people know about the message and then walking away thinking that your job ends there whether they change or not. It's about propagating actual change for the better and as effectively as possible, and then allowing people the freedom to freely make the choice that's best for them (which will usually be the right one anyway - if anything these people themselves are an example of that choice).

Wednesday, December 27

Sale Fail

I managed to hit the post-Christmas sales today. Specifically Lakeside, not that it matters; it wasn't very good. At all.

I usually haul quite a bit during the Winter sale season but today was just rubbish. There just wasn't anything good. In fact, I swear I bought a certain top from Gap last year, and even then it was for less.

Sales have slowly been degrading for the past couple of years. Where they were genuine times in which to pick up the stuff that didn't happen to sell during the regular shopping season, they now seem to be manufactured specifically to exploit the mass mania of people looking for a bargain. As an example, take Next.

While I was in uni, Next had some good stuff in their sales. Nothing spectacular, and certainly nothing I would have bought at full price, but they actually used to want to shift their unsold stock as quickly as possible by slashing tag prices, presumably at a loss.

So it was pretty accidental how they managed to become the king of rack sales. Once they got their mass following, they've decided to exploit them - sale items are now manufactured especially for the period (note how much stock they have!), and as a bonus they've also made people queue up from as early as 2am to get in. This, of course, has a self fuelling hype effect, and so everyone wants to see what they can grab, and once they do they buy to justify the effort. It's quite ingenious on Next's behalf.

And it's not just Next. Gap, River Island and most of the sportswear shops are following suit. I think Top Shop is still behaving itself, but I'm not really a fan so I don't know.

All this means that there's less stuff for the discerning (read: tight) bargain hunter. If you have some self awareness and control you can stop yourself from being sucked in, but that doesn't mean the quality of the good would improve either. And that's why I've returned empty handed today.

Still, there's always the New Years' Sale. Maybe they're saving the better stuff for then, after people have already spent money over the next few days. I do hope so; for the past ten years or so, the classical Winter Sale is generally what I've been using to top up my wardrobe, so I'd be pretty screwed otherwise.

Monday, December 25

Party, Party, Party

I just realised it's going to be a bit of a hectic week, social-wise. It actually started yesterday with a dinner party around ours, but I suspect that will be the quietest affair.

Christmas Day is traditionally held for family dinner - although we usually substitute the turkey for a leg of lamb (or two). It's the only day we're all guaranteed to be free so it's usually booked as so. And of course, this time was totally dominated by the Wii.

This year, Boxing Day hosts a friend's birthday party, and knowing this lot it's going to have its own share of fun (and then some).

Wednesday has been set for a visiting friend's dinner party. It's a uni affair which doesn't happen as often as I'd like, and so I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday and Friday should be relatively quiet, with only sale shopping (ugh) and Jummah prayer respectively to keep me occupied.

Saturday will be Eid and the day will so entail the usual family and friends visitations. As a bonus it's the homecoming for a few Bengalis I know, so I'm hoping the local friends will get together - that in itself has been long overdue.

And Sunday... well it's New Years Eve and a few have organised something more than the half-arsed party-gathering thing I usually attend. I'm totally looking forward to that one.

I'm just dreading next Tuesday, when reality will final catch up and smack me in the face.

Practically Speaking

Person A is happy single. He or she is doing perfectly well on their own and they have no need to get married. But all the same, they wouldn't mind marrying anyway - should they be open to a more practical solution, and get a spouse that just works on paper?

I mean, assuming they're not holding out for anyone in particular (a soulmate say), would you advise them to just get married, well, for the sake of it? Remember that although they don't need to get married, this in itself doesn't mean that they're averse to the idea. Perhaps they just don't mind either way. There's a subtle difference there.

There are some objective benefits to being married - a few years a go I would have cited tax breaks and things, but now it's more fuzzy like being able to share household chores, having company when going to the cinema or having a dual income with which to pay off a mortgage. And for some, having a home cooked meal or help with looking after parents is a bonus too.

Of course, I'm not suggesting marrying someone who will detracts from your quality of life, but surely it's better to live how you currently are, but with these added benefits rather than without? Getting married in such a way doesn't necessarily imply unhappiness, after all.

And people have been doing just that for generations now. Marriages have been taken place for political, theological and status reasons in the past - in fact, it might have been the norm rather than otherwise. And even today, we often hear of (and accept) people, usually women, who marry for financial or stability reasons and others who marry solely to make other people happy. So it may not be asking too much to start thinking practically and some might even argue that looking for romance is something that isn't a fundamental requirement of a marriage anyway.

But we haven't yet spoken about the second party in all of this: the spouse. In any such marriage they'd have to know the score and accept their place in this arrangement (and you know, sometimes a woman doesn't mind keeping a home just like a man doesn't mind working exclusively). So if they're expecting anything more from such a union it probably wouldn't work and for this reason a marriage of convenience would only be a good idea if both sides are equally going to refrain from investing too much of their emotional strength into it.

There seems to be quite a few upsides and very little downside to partaking in such a relationship; you would also have the added bonus of having people stop asking you when you're finally going to get married. So I guess the question it this, then: why wouldn't you?

Of course, the one big disadvantage is that, by definition, a marriage is a contract where you sign away your right to look for and even accidentally find someone you actually like. And it seems that, for some, just having the potential to do that is something that's worth much more than any practical benefit available if they instead took the plunge practically.

If you think about it, such a stance is pretty bizarre - waiting for something that might not happen instead of going for something quite available, advantageous and definite. But such is the nature of marriage and relationships, so I'm not sure we can criticise too harshly those who choose not to be practical with respect to this particular topic.

Sunday, December 24

Shak's Choice: Kate Beckinsale

The recent airing of Serendipity prompted me to check and, just as I feared, it seems that I hadn't yet clocked Kate in these here pages. Appalling, I know, but hey: better late then never, eh?

It's the way she's a typical English Rose I think, sans the bad teeth of course. And it doesn't hurt that she's a tiny bit posh too...

Film: Happy Feet Click for more info

A computer generated musical about singing and dancing penguins? You can't really go wrong with that, and I'm glad to say that Happy Feet ends the recent bout of bland animations I've been watching.

The voice acting is superb, the characterisation good and very funny, the story could have been given a bit more of an effort, but that's a minor complaint really. Worth checking out if you're into this kinda thing.

Running Blind

Since it's the holiday season, my neighbour and I decided to go a bit nuts with our weekly Sunday morning run. Well that's the official story anyway, since we in fact got a bit lost.

Still it meant that we got a good 8 mile run out of the session, something I personally haven't done since Marathon training. As for the time, we completed the circuit in 80 minutes, giving us an okish average of ten minutes per mile (although we kind of battered that time during toward the end).

I was quite happy that I managed it without my breathing giving me too many problems; however as expected it was my legs that slowly ran out of juice first. I'm gonna find it a bit difficult to run up and down stairs over the next couple of days.

Saturday, December 23

Video of the Day Click for more info

I post this only under extreme duress:

So gay. Literally. But yes, do watch next Saturday.

Friday, December 22

Ferrero Rocher in "Is Halal" Shocker!

But only if made in Italy (as opposed to Germany). If you were ever bothered in the first place, that is.

Thursday, December 21

One To Watch: Serendipity

Tonight, 10:35pm BBC1.

Just like last time, I don't think I can tire of this flick. Best ever.

And it's on the same time as back then too. How strangely apt.

Playing The Game

Now I'd never describe myself as an expert of women, but I do think that it's easy enough to get on the right side of most as long as you say the right thing. I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about here. Call it charm, call it flirting well, but if you have the gift of the gab and use it in a particular way, then you have a better chance of getting whatever it is you want. And it's not just talk; you can be just as smooth and "persuasive" with your actions, demure and behaviour too.

This works both ways, of course, but it's less of a problem when going in the opposite direction, since a) all women are honest and b) they don't need to try too hard to get a guy anyway. Cough.

And so, apparently I've been saying the wrong things during my potential rishta meetings. The things I've said I shouldn't have, and the things I didn't say, I should have. I answered too many questions, when I should have just kept quiet, and generally I didn't do myself any favours by being, what I consider to be, honest and open about how I live my life and such. Instead, I should leave certain things till after, presumably till a time when it's too late. Like my honeymoon, say.

But is this the correct strategy to take? I'm not worried about it not working - in fact I would probably say that it's the quickest way to get a girl that happens to take your fancy. It's not dishonest either: possibly a bit manipulative, but there are no untruths in keeping quiet or presenting a single part of yourself, so someone who does would not be lying in a moral quagmire or anything.

There are other reasons too:

  1. Everyone manipulates in this business anyway, so you'll just be bringing parity and balance to the table. In fact, to not act in this way would totally throw people off.
  2. Guys especially don't need to bare all - most girls will assume the things left unsaid anyway, so they don't have to be made explicit.
  3. Some things don't matter in the long run, even if one or both of you think they do. In that sense, it's is your machivilian duty to keep quiet - for their sake if not your own.
Of course these are all rubbish, although the first might explain a lot, especially if people aren't expecting openness and honesty.

Playing the game in this way (indeed treating it like a game at all) is, almost by definition, the easy way, and my general feeling is that something is probably not worth it if you didn't have to sweat for it. Anyone can get a bearable marriage if they wanted to, but I think that such a stance would be missing the point.

I don't want to make do with just a marriage, you see. No, I want one that will enhance myself as a person and do the same for that other party too, one that has a basis and has been approached by everyone with their eyes wide open. It's kind of like the difference between cramming or memorising material, parrot fashion, for an exam the night before and spending many more days studying a subject from first principles - the grade you would get might be the same in each case, but I'm certain that the level and quality of real understanding would largely differ.

And I guess that's why I probably will not be changing my tact in the near future. I don't want a "strategy" or have to massage my way into someone else's life; this may have worked for others and indeed it might even work for me, but for some reason I'm pretty certain it wouldn't get me what I would want. Getting a passing grade in this case just wouldn't be enough, I'm afraid.

Video of the Day Click for more info

Oh my:

Thanks to Rubel for the link.

New Music

Leona Lewis - A Moment Like This

Yes. I know. And I'm sorry.

Food: Shere Khan's Chilli 'n' Spice

I had thought that I had already blogged about this place, but it seems that the time I had thought of pre-dated the start of my food reviews.

Anyway. Halal Chinese is slowly becoming synonymous with bad. I mean, alright, this place isn't that bad, but it's not somewhere I would call a favourite or feel the urge to go to randomly.

Yes, it serves halal duck (allegedly, anyway). But seeing as how the rest of the meat is purportedly bad, we always end up sticking to fish and veg dishes, and although those are nice they can be had anywhere really.

Price is also nothing special, hitting twelve pounds per person on this particular occasion. So a bit of a "meh" overall.

Wednesday, December 20

New Blog, Same Content

Upgrade got!

And about time too. Look out for some small, and some not-so-small, changes coming this way.

Sunday, December 17

Food: Tamrah Click for more info

This little slice of Edgware Road in the heart of Ilford doesn't really innovate; it's offers the typical Lebanese food (albeit with larger portions) along with the identikit desserts and of course the all important shisha (tut). The food was alright, and the place was clean.

Prices seem to match that of Edgware Road too, with our bill managing to hit 13 per head (although admittedly we did over order a touch).

It's not really anything spectacular, so it fits right in on Cranbrook Road. Still, if you're longing for some Lebanese and smoke and can't be bothered to traipse all the way to the other side of London, you may as well check it out. Just remember how big those portions are.

Film: Kabul Express Click for more info

Unconventional Bollywood about a pair of Indian journalists in Afghanistan seeking out that prize interview with a member of the Taliban a few weeks after 9/11.

First things first: the acting is slightly unfortunate, with Arshad Warsi managing to save a pretty wooden bunch (where Linda Arsenio is pretty and John Abraham is wooden). Music-wise, there's nothing to tell since there is none (although the soundtrack itself is pretty good). The film is very well shot and edited, with the camera regularly hanging on scenes while not over-doing it.

And you know what? As a whole, Kabul Express rarely misses a trick. It could have been so easy for it to stick to all the usual stereotypes, but instead it all manages to remain balanced. So, the Indians grow as they learn about Afghanistan, the Taliban isn't as bad as we are led to believe they are, the American is anything but a hero and the Afghan holds prejudices of his own. The film cheats a few times and creates scenarios in order to prove just how impartial it is but this happens so rarely that the film can be forgiven.

I was impressed anyway. At 104 minutes, in theory there isn't much time for much to happen but by doing away with all the fluff Kabul Express manages to give a good and seemingly authentic insight into post war Afghanistan. Much recommended.

Game: Gears of War (Xbox 360) Click for more info

My first Xbox 360 review? Well only because I get to nab a mate's while he's on holiday. And to be honest, I wouldn't have bothered if he wasn't giving away GoW with it too.

Technically, this is just a third person shooter. The camera is planted off the shoulder of your character, Felix, and you have shoot, aim, reload and "take cover" buttons. Although having said that I kinda got confused by all the different buttons and I was continually tripping myself up over them; someone's getting old, I think.

Shooters don't usually have buttons that would make you take cover, and fundamentally, this is what makes the basis of GoW's game mechanic. Ultimately, all you're doing is finding cover, popping your head out to shoot a few bad guys, and then taking cover some more.

Sounds shallow, but it's not. This simple context makes for some brilliant scenarios and set pieces - you don't work alone in this game and for one the NPCs are pretty good. If they tell you to flank, then they expect you to. Likewise, the badguys are also smart, dealing with their own adaptive strategies. It's actually pretty cool for a game that just allows you to take cover and shoot.

And of course GoW made waves with its presentation. It's been in development since well before the 360 was released, and a lot of time and money has been spent making this look and sound like one of the best games ever on a home console. And that's via composite on my SD television.

But, this game isn't about the graphics or gameplay. GoW is definitely something that is more than the sum of its parts, and well worth a go even if you have to borrow someone's to play it.

Saturday, December 16

I Have A Spam Blog

Radio Shak "requires word verification", because apparently a robot has decided that it has characteristics resembling a spam blog.

So there you have it. If you weren't sure of whether this place frequently publishes stuff no one really wants to read, it seems that it now, officially, is.

Film: Deja Vu Click for more info

Slightly confused movie about an ATF officer trying to figure out who blew up a ferry full of Navy type people.

It's tough to say any more than that without spoiling the film but, despite its potential complexity if you're into Bruckheimer then it's safe to say that you'll like this too. It has action, guns and a pretty girl (who looks a bit too much like Halle Berry to be honest), but adds something more to keep all the smarter people happy.

The cinema is pretty quiet this week, but if you really need to watch something then this'll more than do.

New Music

Kabul Fiza - Kabul Express

If I didn't know any better I'd put this as classic Pakistani Pop. But I do, so I won't. The rest of the OST is interesting, so something else from it may turn up on my playlist.

Salaam-e-Ishq - Salaam-e-Ishq

I only like this for the bagpipes, but otherwise it's nothing new. And the rest of the line up isn't all that either. Hopefully the film itself will fare better.

Friday, December 15


There's a growing trend for people to be what I like to call pseudoliberal, although going by Google it seems that this word has already been in use for a while. These are people who truly believe that they are being liberal and are considered as much by those with genuinely non-liberal views, but in reality are anything but.

An obvious and recent example that might ring with any Muslims reading is believing a woman isn't free if she wears the hijab/nikaab/jilbab. People who hold this view will insist that, in a free and liberal society, a woman wouldn't have to wear such a thing, without realising that in such a world women should be able to choose to wear what they want.

But there are other, more subtle, examples too. Throwing scorn on a playboy divorcee who wants to marry a virgin is pretty illiberal provided all said virgins are just as free to tell him to bugger off. Taking the case from my previous post, a person should be free with impunity to not give up their seat to a pregnant woman or elderly passenger. And generally, forcing someone to be liberal is a contradiction in terms (or perhaps ironic. I'm not quite sure which).

And unfortunately it seems that The Government is being just as lazy when it considers the issues surrounding liberty. We're seeing initiatives that, on the surface, seem to give us equal freedoms but are in fact taking them away (so, for example, we're discouraged to celebrate Christmas, or smoke in public places). Unfortunately, these end up being some kind of rotten carrot to complement a "if you don't like it here, then you're free to leave" stick. With emphasis on that "free", of course.

But then we have to ask, is it possible to be genuinely and totally liberal without causing chaos? After all, there would be many times when the liberty of one person would, by definition, infringe on that of another; even if we just confine this absolute liberty to that which doesn't affect others. Sometimes ideals themselves offend others (as free speech sometimes obviously does), so we end up having to, subjectively, draw the line again. Plus, sometimes it's just inefficient to allow everyone to do their own thing however harmless that might be.

So perhaps ultimate liberality is impossible? But whether it is or not isn't really relevant since with respect to us living in the UK, we don't need or even want that. What we need to figure out at the moment is the best way to be liberal within the current framework that we have - so staunchly protecting our right to free speech while not abusing it, or allowing people to live their lives as they want as long as it doesn't break the law (where I think of law being a social code of conduct rather than the stuff sometimes arbitrarily written down in certain books).

Things That Pee Me Off #15: Lazy Commuters

Why do some people (anecdotally usually women) grab a seat on a train as soon as it's free, even though they're going to get off at the next stop? The train is full as it is, but they don't think of the pain they'll cause a) getting to the empty seat and then b) getting back to the train doors in order to disembark (which is usually where they just raced from).

Take today for instance. I had a seat for a few stops already and I had a good few stops to go till I hit Oxford Circus; I was enjoying my usual nap on the way in. A seat opened up next to me, and a fellow commuter took it, forcing me to give up mine to the elderly lady behind her. Fair enough, since you can't expect everyone to want to give up their seat.

But to then get off the next stop, giving your seat to some guy who clearly didn't need it and so leaving me standing and, more importantly, losing twenty minutes of sleep? Gee thanks, you're the best.

Wednesday, December 13

As Mentioned On The BBC Asian Network

If you've wandered here off the back of the piece on the AN just now, then this post is for you.

Whether you have a look around or not, please take a second to leave a comment below. It'll be interesting to see how many came as a result of the show. If any at all. Gulp.

Tuesday, December 12

I'm Interesting, Please Read Me

I've spent the last hour or so chatting to friends, racking my brains and even, gasp, contemplating on what to write in order to make this blog look at least as interesting as it's been a few times previously. After all, the location of this place might be given to billions of people tomorrow, and I wouldn't want them to think that all I'm interested in is videogames, right?

I mean I like to think I've written some half-decent articles before, so another example of the same would do. Perhaps an article about Islam would work? Or maybe something about relationships would strike a chord with any new readers? Or how about a restaurant, book, music, film or videogame review? Or a list of rants?

But then there's the personal, honest feel of the place I'd like to demonstrate too - the whole marriage thing even. Oo, or perhaps I should write about a unique experience I've recently had? I could just stick to something for the boys, but then I'd probably have to balance that with something for the girls too. I think I'll avoid a technical post, seeing how badly they've gone down in the past.

Nope. I mean I couldn't write about a single topic since that wouldn't really reflect what goes on in this blog. If only there was a way to subtly link back to those examples I mentioned above. Oh well...

But then why do I care anyway? It certainly smacks of an egotistical need to be read that I denied I had when I spoke to that Asian Network producer earlier this afternoon. I mean, sure, these pages are more popular than most personal blogs (averaging over 1200 hits a week, 400 of which are unique if you really wanted to know), but none of that matters really. Even if no one read at all, I'd carry on writing.

I think it has more to do with being potentially misunderstood. I wouldn't mind people reading a range of posts and deciding that I'm actually a loser with too much free time, especially since they'd almost certainly be right. But for them to decide this after just reading the latest few, well, yes, I guess I'd feel a little misrepresented and, so, disappointed.

Of course this all has some pretty big implications. Assuming I do the show tomorrow, this would probably be the biggest outing my blog has had since its inception. As others have (apparently frustratingly) found out, I don't advertise this blog other than a link in the signature of a personal email account I use to mail people who know anyway, and having so many people I don't know visiting at one time is actually quite terrifying. But hey, I guess exposure comes with the blogging territory, so I'm also interested to actually see what happens. Who knows? Perhaps I'll make new friends and contacts. And find new rishtas. That last bit was a joke.

So anyway, yes, I'm totally stuck on what to write about. If you have any ideas, please feel free to suggest them.

Radio Shak, Radio Show

The BBC Asian Network is doing a piece on blogs tomorrow and have asked me to come on air and defend mine. Defend how or against what exactly I'm not sure, but they're gonna cover political and other themed blogs too, so perhaps I'm supposed to say how much better mine is over those. Apparently I'm not allowed to say that I don't actually care if people read Radio Shak or not. Hmm.

Still, I'm glad I have this post to refer to, since I'm probably going to be asked, again, why I actually blog in the first place. Come to mention it, it's all very apt going on AN to talk about my blog since if it wasn't for the rise (and subsequent fall) of the ALMBs, this place probably wouldn't exist. Like, totally full circle, yaar.

Anyway, I'm told it'll be on at around 10:30am tomorrow, so have a listen if you're bothered enough to. As for me, I'm off to write a post interesting enough for any possible passer-bys to be impressed with and latch on to. Jeez, it just had to be the Wii release day last week, didn't it?

Friday, December 8

Game: Wii Sports Click for more info

This pack in game for the Wii is all we had to play with this morning. Still, despite it's reputation as being a mere technical demo, I'm pretty sure all of us fell in love with the Wii a bit because of it. We only played Tennis and Bowling, but that's all we really needed to.

There's been some fierce criticism about some of these games, and how as they move to imitate real sport they'll disappoint more. I have to strongly disagree though. For example, although I may not have believed that I was playing Tennis, I immediately and more importantly, intuitively figured out how to put top on the ball, how to slice and lob and all sorts of other things. I guess, for me, it felt more like playing Table Tennis than the court version, but I was having fun all the same.

Bowling was the same. I can't spin balls in real life but here I was getting angles and shots I could never in reality. It's pretty amazing and immersive stuff.

While I'm here, I'll talk about the console itself too. The first thing that strikes you as how small everything is. Even having seen the remote before, it seems much more minute when you hold it. Firmware seems solid, and I connected to the Internet fine (and downloaded two updates to prove that). Technically, I seem to be having more problems pointing with the remote than twisting and shaking, but that may have more to do with my quick set up than anything else. I've yet to explore the messaging functionality.

But yes. This little box seems to be full of some kind of pixie dust. I definitely urge everyone to at least give it a go, since it really is a magical experience to play one even for for a bit. I can't wait to get home!

Wii Launch Click for more info

So yes, the time came and went. has a pretty good write up (that I've linked to above), but in short we got there at around 1030pm to be faced by a pretty long queue. There must have been around three hundred people in front of us, and suddenly we regretted not listening to Imran (the chap from Game who had called us on Saturday) when he told us to get there for sevenish. Or maybe not; the guys at the head of the queue had been there since 4pm. Pictures will be up on Picasa soon.

In hindsight, we should have really turned back then to delay buying the consoles (between us we had two on pre-order) the next morning. But we were too excited, and we figured that we'd get to the front of the line by around 1am or so. The queue was growing behind us, and as sorry as I felt for myself, I felt even more for those behind me. Still, at least the weather wasn't too bad (although I now realise how quickly the temperature drops at that time of night!).

The doors opened a half hour or so before midnight to allow those at the front of the queue to a) keep warm and b) start eating and playing. No one was allowed to actually buy (and therefore leave) till twelve, so it was only around then that the queue began to move. In the meantime, HMV down the road had no more queue - the flagship store is was big enough to contain everyone waiting, plus Game had more people in total anyway. I reckon they had around 500 units to shift.

Even so it was slow going. Those at the front were hanging around in the store, wasting time instead of leaving and allowing new customers to move in. Three of us actually considered going home; the fourth managed to convince us to stay. A good thing, since after an hour (as the food ran out and people just wanted to get home) it had begin to pick up. Staff were giving away some pretty rubbish freebies (scarves and hats), but I was pretty happy with my free Wii golf umbrella. Result! Well, kinda.

We got to the tills at around 215am. We didn't hang around, I paid for my console and waited for my friend to get his (along with a copy of Wii Play). Getting home was quick since only insane people were out at that time, and we managed to arrive by three.

Ten minutes later, we had set up and were playing two player Wii Sports Tennis. We only played for thirty minutes or so, and I was in bed by 4am, but the past four and a half hours of hassle had suddenly been totally forgotten.

Up Late With The Wii

Yes, that is the time.

I'm am so screwed tomorrow.

Thursday, December 7

Bursting For A Wii

I know some people will find it strange my counting down to the launch of the new Nintendo games console. What's probably even more impressive (or sad if you're judgemental like that) is that I'm actually going for to pick mine up at a midnight launch, tonight, in Oxford Street.

The thing is, console launches don't happen that often so it is an exciting time for some videogame fans. This won't actually be the first midnight launch that I'm attending either; I was in the line for HMV's midnight opening for the Gamecube too (along with my brother and neighbour, so I'm not alone in my madness). In that case, however, I didn't have a guaranteed pre-order and so at around 00:05 we all looked at each other, asked what the hell we were doing there at that time of night and then left for home, empty handed. My brother ordered one online the next day and it came a few days later.

But still, I am excited about tonight. I'm not alone this time either - I have a friend who has also pre-ordered (serialised serials! Woot!) and two other guys who have nothing better to do. It will be surreal shopping on Oxford Street at that time of night, but not as strange as the intention we have to play some Wii when we get back to mine. Having said all that, the weather outside is pretty scary... Oh no.

Look out tomorrow for a review of the console and its pack-in game, Wii Sports.

Wednesday, December 6

Film: Pan's Labyrinth Click for more info

Fantastic tale set in a 30's Spain about a little girl that struggles not only against a army captain step-father, but also with the possibility that she may in fact be the long lost princess of another world.

Just to be clear though: this is no tale of the fairy kind. In fact it's anything but. Graphic violence, very creepy visuals (certainly one of the more scary films I've seen this year - think Hellraiser) and some pretty adult concepts (like torture and fascism) puts this well into grown up territory.

But this cinematic schizophrenia doesn't harm the film at all. In fact it adds to it, giving it a depth that it wouldn't have achieved otherwise. Pan's Labyrinth is yet another foreign film (it's in Spanish with English subtitles) that doesn't disappoint. Go watch it.

How Long Left?

There are precisely:

  • One day, thirteen hours and twenty minutes...
  • One more night of sleep...
  • Five more meals...
  • One more exercise session...
  • Nine more daily prayers...
  • Two more showers...
  • One more sabaq-reading...
  • Two more days at work...
  • Three more teeth brushings...

... Till the Nintendo Wii gets released. How exciting eh?

Game: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice For All (DS) Click for more info

The second DS title in a row which is, in essence, a sequel consisting of not much more than the first game?

Yes, but as was the case with EBA I'm not complaining. Like the rhythm action game, PW was already perfect and all its fans really wanted was more levels to play. And since that's exactly what we got, I won't bother repeating myself here. Go read my PW review if you're new to the game.

There are small tweaks in the gameplay (you now have a penalty "bar" instead of five hits and can now also present profiles as evidence), but thankfully none of it takes away from what is still a brilliantly entertaining game.


Playing The Trains

The Central Line has been running pretty poorly lately. I can't remember the last time a full week of ten journeys have been quick. Coming in today, we had yet more Central Line blues, and the trains and platforms were equally packed with people desperate to get into work.

Now I'm used to this. Having been using the trains for almost ten years now, you learn to deal with it. There's nothing you can do and panicking or running around like a headless chicken won't get you to your destination any faster. Plus, why would anyone want to get to work on time? A delay means more time to read or play DS, so I don't suffer too much (although I must admit University was a time when I would rather get to lectures on time).

Nevertheless, I thought I'd be smart this morning. Faced with a packed platform and 12 minutes on the board indicating the wait for the next train (which I was unlikely to get on to), I thought I'd try going the other way one stop in order to get a head start on the rest of the guys. It's not something I've done before so at the very least I wanted to know whether it was a good tactic or not.

It wasn't. By the time the Eastbound train had arrived, there were only two and four minutes left for the next two Westbounds respectively. The first passed us on the way to the next stop up; the second just left as I (and the few others who had the same idea) ran to catch it. Bummer.

The next train was 12 minutes away but the board said that it was terminating anyway. However, after it had emptied, it continued travelling westbound - presumably to regulate the service at the next stop, that is the one I had deserted fifteen minutes earlier. If only I had waited there I would have been greeted with an empty train! Double bummer.

The next train had genuinely terminated. The train after that was too full to get on to (although some desperate souls did try with varying success). Triple bummer.

Finally, four trains and thirty minutes later I got on to a relatively empty train, and finally got back to where I usually depart from, already half an hour down. My only two consolations was that I got a seat for all my trouble and managed to get my teeth into Phoenix Wright 2.

So no. It's not a strategy I'll be trying again any time soon. It's a boring tale, sure, but I'm only recording it to remind myself of the lesson learned: that there's no point in playing the trains. Those in charge are probably in a better position to get you where you want to so just do as your told and you'll be fine. Just make sure you have a good book/game with you at all times!

Tuesday, December 5

Video of the Day Click for more info

Briefly annoying, but well worth sticking with:

"When you're trying to clean the nose, you really got to clean the nose!". Classic. Make sure you check out the creator's site here.

Thanks to Fuad for the link.

Monday, December 4

Imitation or Flattery? Click for more info

So it seems I have a bit of an admirer out there in the Blogiverse (and if I seem a bit upset down below it's only 'cos I've been made to use such a lame word to open this post). Please take a minute to check out the following:

  • Introductions, me vs her.
  • Looking To Get Married, me vs her (this one popped up as I was typing!).
  • Religion and Culture, me vs her.
  • Global Peace and Unity, me vs her.
And just in case they happen to have mysteriously disappeared by the time you click (I suspect that the blog's author comes here often), I've gone to the trouble of screen capping them all for posterity.

I'm actually the most annoyed with that first one, since the others have been ripped off somewhat whole and intact. I would prefer to have been credited, but then at least I'm being read by a wider audience indirectly. So yes, I'm a bit flattered.

In fact, my first assumption was that any citation owed to me had been mistakenly omitted, but then I realised that the posts had been changed in a few subtle ways (so Southall instead of Hounslow, Michael Jackson instead of Oasis and, of course, a liberal use of extra exclamation marks), but enough to make it clear that this author had tried to pass them off as her own. Still, I'm glad that I'm inspiring at least one reader, even if that is only to the act of blatant plagiarism. No doubt that there will be more similarities popping up as she travels further into the past of my blog.

Being 25 and female, only one real question remains left to be asked: is The Moonbeam Fairy fit or not? Yes, I have to admit that I'm a little intrigued. I mean, it's not often you find a single girl who thinks so similarly to yourself - it's almost like she gets me, y'know? I wonder if she's a Katie Holmes fan too...

I've added her to my list of feeds now anyway. What's more, it seems that we attend the same mosque (me vs her, although not really in the same way as above). Oooh, I wonder if she's shaking with as much excitement as I am? Gosh, we may have even prayed there at the same time already!

Alright, alright. I'm being a bit unfair now so I'll end it there. I'm sure my point has been made, and to be clear I'm more amused than angry (even though I certainly have a right to be that). But on a final and unrelated note (and, honestly, this isn't aimed at anyone in particular), that little "©Shakil Shaikh MMVI" down at the bottom of this page isn't just there for fashion you know.

EDIT: I know I shouldn't have to say this but just to be on the safe side: if you do decide to "contribute" on Fairy Dust, then I'd appreciate it if you would take a minute to think about the appropriateness of your comment before hitting that submit button. If you want to comment on this situation then it's best to do so here. If you just want to say something nasty and horrible and flamey, then I'd prefer if you didn't comment at all, anywhere. The last thing I want to do is regret writing this post in the first place.

Link of the Day Click for more info

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Oh wait. I did.

The Holiday Curse

I've had a bit of a tough time getting out of the country recently.

Since my last holiday (which was really just a city break to Amsterdam), I've tried planning trips to Peru, one of the Scandinavian countries, and most recently Australia. All have failed, although there is still hope with the last one.

It's not important why they failed, but I do wish I didn't have to rely on other people in order to travel. People have their own things to do, and holidays are quite pricey so it's surprising anyone gets away in groups at all. I guess there is money to be saved and it's also safer and possibly more enjoyable to share a trip with friends, but still, going on my own would be better than not going at all.

But so far travelling is something I've never done by myself. I did spend an extra day in Dubai on my own, but I had local friends there so I didn't really notice. Flying back on my lonesome wasn't really bothersome either. So I think a trip alone from start to finish is definitely possible for me. It seems to be pretty easy for others.

So I guess the only thing that's really stopping me is myself. Who knows? Perhaps like it is with cinema I'll eventually gain the courage to go on holiday myself. I'm certainly glad I don't miss out on films now so it's more than likely I'd enjoy not missing out on any new places to visit either.

Sunday, December 3

Media Darling

I spent most of today filming for Unity TV's next Eid show (due out New Year's day or thereabouts; the precise time and date to be confirmed). We've decided to pre-record it as opposed to broadcasting it live this time.

I think the official reason is so that we can have something a bit more polished, but I reckon we did a good enough job last time. Still, I'm interested in the new experience: recorded television is a different beast to playing live; it's certainly seems like much more hard work. And I say that as someone who's been involved a tiny amount compared to the directors and producers who have been filming for two weekends already. I guess being creative takes as much time as you want to throw at it.

So now we have takes and retakes. When we mess up, we try again (and again). If something works we improve it, and if not then we do something else to replace it. As expected, one hour of programming takes many more to actually film and produce.

Apart from the hours already spent, we also now have a bit of structure to the show. Timeslots are set, scripts have been created and shots planned. Sections are now more ambitious, but I don't want to spoil what we are planning on showing. It's all pretty hardcore in a laid back amateurish way (not to take anything away from the team - we're all working hard). Although those in charge did come across as oppressive dictators at times.

Due to the time available, I've chosen one of the easier parts to do. Me and the same co-host from last time will be introducing the show as a whole and each individual slot, which not only requires the least preparation, but also involves a minimum of working with children. We also did a bit of promotional material, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Gulp.

We finished just before 10pm, which was pretty late for a Sunday night. Still, it one of those worthwhile things that you don't mind sacrificing for - we had fun both working and playing in the course of creating the show (and we have plenty of bloopers and super secret "extra" footage to prove that). Of course the work isn't over yet as the producers have to somehow condense and present the footage down into a respectful quality show, and hopefully I'll have an opportunity to help with that too.

On a more general note, I did notice something quite a bit bigger than just the two Eid shows for Unity Television forming, and the vision, passion and excitement some have for these projects is clearly building towards something potentially very special. I'll say it again: we are all amateurs, but that doesn't seem to matter much at all.

It's definitely something I want to continue being a part of, even if that happens to be a role firmly behind the camera (fame isn't really all that, dontcha know). Watch this space, I guess.

Livin' It Large... In Birmingham

A friend and I drove all the way to Birmingham, that place you pass on the way to Manchester. Now, I've only been once before but that was pretty limited in that I was restricted to the ICC Hall for those Bollywood Star auditions, and although that day was fantastic I don't think it was because of being in Birmingham. In short, this was going to be my first experience of the real Birmingham.

We had a couple of native tour guides to show us around; they came pretty cheap at a box of Celebrations each. We even had a surprise visit from someone who didn't live there (and if you really want to know who they were, I'm sure all three will be along to populate the comments list for this post). So yes, in terms of hosts we were well looked after.

The weather was crisp but dry so we didn't have that particular worry to... uh... worry about. We hit The Bullring first (which, if you actually think about it, is a pretty absurd name for a shopping centre really), where my London friend and I begun our window shopping. I think he'd agree with me when I say we were very satisfied, with the Mobile Shop Effect clearly holding in Brum as well as London, although The Bullring in general held its own too.

We walked along some of the back street canals, visited The Mailbox (where I paid tribute to Sonia Deol's new home) and ended up lunching on pizza (and like most of the day, lunch was on our most gracious and generous counterparts). Although it was nice so far, there wasn't really anything that smacked of Birmingham.

As I mentioned we had driven down. This turned out to be pretty annoying since it meant having to travel in separate cars - this being accentuated by Birmingham's horrific Saturday evening traffic. Still, at least we didn't have to pay twice for parking; brummies seem to only have to pay for one vehicle. Well, as long as the second car is fast enough to nip under the car park's exit barrier before it closes, that is. Cunning eh?

I always like to visit a local mosque in any new place I visit, and so our hosts obliged by stopping off at one on the way to our final destination. Unfortunately it wasn't Birmingham Central Mosque, but the one we did go to had the local vibe I was looking for anyway so it was all good.

We ended up at Star City. This place had been described to me as the sleazy destination for secret boy and girlfriends to hang out in (and for others to perv), and so obviously I was eager to check it out. After three quite "interesting" games of pool, I realised that it wasn't really anything more than any other hang-out and it may have been slightly over (or under depending on your viewpoint) played. Having said that, we were there pretty early.

We had a flying tour of Alum Rock, but again this seemed to have had its much publicised rudeboys and cars missing from its streets. On returning to Star City, a couple of us (the ones who weren't cowardly chicken) went on one of the fairground rides which had been set up in the parking lot. Although the ride itself was pretty tame it was still amazing since we were able to see Birmingham at night from quite a high distance, and the view was stunning.

Alas we had to end the evening relatively short since we had to be back in London by a reasonable hour so that's all we had time to do. I must admit that, even though it was a nice day out, I'm still not quite sure what makes Birmingham Birmingham. But perhaps that's the point; that Brum actually doesn't have an identity of its own? That could be why it's such a bland forgettable place... But seeing as I have some good friends there and it's only two hours away I guess I can just imagine it as a suburb of London whenever I inevitably go back to visit. After all, in a place like that it becomes more about the people you are with than the location itself.

Friday, December 1

IMASE: Soulful Careers Click for more info

I think that today's talk, organised by IMASE (or The International Muslim Association of Scientists and Engineers), was intended to provide us, the audience, with inspiring anecdotes and tips on how to get into "soulful careers"; occupations that would bring benefit to not only ourselves but the world around us too.

there were as many in the audience as there were panellists, so what we ended up with was a more intimate discussion and show-and-tell. A few occupations were talked about, ranging from the humanities to Islamic finance to engineering. What follows in an overview of the experiences shared this evening.

Dr Abdool karim Vakil, a History professor at Kings, opened by stressing the importance of Muslims to take part in the Humanities and Social Sciences, saying that they're just as important as more regular and less "boring" areas of work, and furthermore how the under-representation of Muslims in this field is doing more harm than good.

Next up, we had the barrister Salman Hassan. Although not quite, since although he had trained in Law, he actually left the field to concentrate on more altruistic and educational projects. So instead of talking about becoming a lawyer, he stressed the importance of spirituality, and, basically, how "money and status weren't everything". The Ibn Jabal Institute is definitely something I'll be looking into.

Abdur Rahman Malik from Q-News then stepped up to talk about journalism and media. He explained how he had actually fallen into it almost accidentally (he was trained as a teacher and taught Drama for a few years) - although when listening to him it was clear that he might be one who created his own luck. He also talked about how we should be concerned about the health of our souls as well as our bank balances.

Rupon Miah from Centrepoint, a charity dealing with the homeless and surrounding issues, then took the stage. The most interesting thing about this section was how there were many ways to gain a "soulful" career - both subtle and indirect and creative, or more obvious, overt and pragmatic like in the case of joining a charity.

Imran Sharaf covered Islamic Finance. This also had a pragmatic air about it; the speaker explained how he had done his time in a bit Investment Bank to gain the skills required to help in the Muslim World. In this sense joining a profession which may be seen as hard, cold and not soulful at all might not have been the "selling out" it had seemed to be. I think a more subtle point was that it was the employee that made their career soulful, not the career itself.

Finally we ended with Dr Mahbub Gani, a fellow IC graduate, talking about how we should be looking for careers that excite and interest us, since if we have that then the soul would automatically follow - for example by giving example and dawah to work colleagues.

The low headcount allowed us all to have more of a round table than we would have otherwise. We briefly explored some of the points raised; my own question was about how realistic the panellists were being, since not everyone was in a position to leave their jobs for something else, and even if they were how nothing was guaranteed. I also questioned how likely it would be seeing how a few of the speakers had admitted how accidental their current situations actually were.

Still, despite my cynicism I was inspired. Sure, these guys were special cases, but that doesn't mean there aren't things we can do to increase the soul in our jobs; small, non-risky things joining projects outside of work or even setting a good example to our co-workers. And who knows, perhaps with that attitude those of us with less than soulful careers will "accidentally" fall into new ones too?

Global Peace and Unity

Last weekend was the second spectacularly annual Global Peace and Unity event. People came from far and wide (well, Hounslow anyway) and everyone who was anyone went. Except for me - I was too busy doing other things.

It didn't take long before someone told me how great it was, what I had missed and how it was my Islamic duty to support such events (the corollary being that anyone who didn't wasn't a good Muslim). Of course, that last bit was like waving a red rag to a bull (but I suspect my friend knew exactly what he was doing).

Don't get me wrong. I do think that the GPU event is a good thing. It sometimes gets criticised for being disorganised, or not providing what people actually want, but for something that's been going on for just two years it's pretty darn impressive. From what I've seen there's enough for even the least interested to have a passing look at, and even for someone of another or no faith it could be a nice day out. So yes, it's officially A Good Thing in my eyes, and long may it prosper.

But I still didn't want to go. And so, more importantly, I shouldn't be forced to go.

I've written before how broad Islam is, and therefore anything described as "Islamic" may not actually be that to all Muslims. And even if it was, Muslims shouldn't be expected to support everything and anything described as such. It's why we're not all members of the MCB or MPAC or FOSIS even though we may agree with what they say. In fact, to think that we should all Muslims should homogeneously act the same smacks of the particular Governmental policy or media opinion some of us take issue with.

Apart from this identity issue, there's something unsettling for me about overtly Islamic entertainment of this type. I don't need to celebrate my faith just like I don't need to celebrate the fact that I'm a man or that I develop software. Sport, music, videogames and television all don't have to have been "islamicised" to be more acceptable for a Muslim audience, so why do family days out?

And apparently it's spiritually beneficial to attend these things. However, in my opinion, £15 to charity and two days worth of private prayer/study will provide much more benefit than GPU ever will. Of course events like these are more accessible, easier to take part in and possibly even more fashionable than other traditional things. I'm sure that more than a few feel that they've done their duty after watching a nasheed concert - it's almost similar to offsetting Home And Away with an hour of Islam channel each day. At best it almost smells of over-compensation and at worst for many it's an easy-to-swallow McIslam.

And don't get me started on nasheeds. I really don't like them and they give me the creeps. I don't think it's my duty as a Muslim to like them either. And so I probably won't leave my house to listen to them. Oasis, on the other hand, I would (they rocked at Wembley in 2000, by the way).

Ok, I'm ranting now. And this isn't really about GPU, it's about being preached to. But this post is already five paragraphs too long, and so I'll leave that particular gem for another time. For now, spare encouraging me to go to GPU. I honestly, truly, have better things to do, thanks. But hey: if you feel the need to spend a weekend listening to nasheed concerts and eating halal hot dogs then please, do go nuts. I certainly don't think it's my place to stop you.

Monday, November 27

Video of the Day Click for more info

The Mario Bros. do Vice City:

And on a tenuously related note, there are only ten days left till the Wii is released in the UK!

Saturday, November 25

Film: Dhoom: 2 Click for more info

Hands up anyone who has already decided how dire this film was going to be? The flying jetskis and literally strung up fight scenes in the trailer didn't really inspire confidence, but then I never really said I wanted to watch Dhoom 2 for its class.

And so perhaps it was because of this low low expectation that I actually managed to enjoy the film after all. It's strange, 'cos I'd still say that the film was mediocre when broken down into its individual pieces; the story was passable, the direction pretty poor and I won't even talk about the stunts and special effects (let's just say flying jetskis were pretty tame compared to what else went on). The songs were a bit naff as well, but I wasn't really listening to the music anyway.

But this is where it gets a bit weird because, although the the acting wasn't spectacular either, the performances made by Hrithik, Abhishek, Aishwarya and Bipasha were all pretty awesome. Funny, serious, with action or heat they each handled in a striking, if a bit unbelievable, way. And that's saying something, 'cos although I've always liked Abhishek, I could never stand Hrithik before now. Even Uday deserves a bit of a mention.

And yes, the girls. Oh my. Bipasha made the screen first, and at the time I was happy. But then Aishwarya came and blew her away. Regardless of who I would pick first, I do believe that I've never seen either of them looking better. I'll say it again: oh my.

So yes, perhaps I liked this film for some shallow (and then some really shallow) reasons. But then I sometimes liked pantomime over theatre for the same so I don't think that there's anything wrong with that.

I don't regret watching Dhoom 2, which is a good thing for a Bollywood flick. It's probably not for those who want to watch something a bit more engaging, but for the rest of us it suits the job just fine.

Can't Cook. Won't Cook. Don't Know How to Cook Click for more info

This was my first Radical Middle Way lecture. Borne out of that Islamic Task Force thing the Government held shortly after the London bombings, The Radical Middle Way has been hailed as a success (albeit only by those involved) so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. What better than to attend a talk about marriage? Not that I cherry picked this, of course; I've just been too busy to attend the others. Ahem.

Unfortunately, the talk failed on a few counts. Logistically, the organisers had totally underestimated the numbers that would attend, meaning we had to endure a bit of a squeeze before moving to another, bigger, lecture room that was still too small. I could have told them that a talk about marriage and relationships would have been popular, but then this was a minor failing and they did good facing it.

But I go to talks for the content and not the seating capacity. Billed as an open, honest and informal discussion, we were supposed to discuss the real life problems facing Muslims and nuptials. We were going to deal with free mixing, dating and arranged marriages. We were supposed to talk about the practical problems before, during and after marriage. You can probably tell by my language that we didn't really do any of that.

The beginning was like an episode of Goodness Gracious Me. We had all the cliched jokes made at the start, about how people are using MSN to chirps (and I use that word only because it reflects the attitude of the talk), how girls were seen as being too demanding and how guys still wanted a wife that will cook and clean. Some people found this funny; I reckon it was funnier five years ago when it was first said. I mean hey: move on people. Still this was only the introduction; perhaps things would get more interesting once the floor was opened up?

Our host, Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, did say that he had originally envisaged this being a debated between 40 people or so; a bit more intimate than the 300 or so that had actually turned up, so perhaps that was the problem. Again (and I'm getting as tired of saying this as you are probably of reading it) the audience didn't help with some asking some especially inane questions ("Isn't it a good thing to go back home for our wives?", "Isn't it really about communication?" and even "How does usury effect the finding of a suitable partner?" were some of the gems tonight). I managed to ask my question, something about whether the real problem we have is the forcing of marriage down the throats of people who might not actually want it, but Dr Abd-Allah seemed to have forgotten to answer it.

But no, despite the audience, the real problem was Dr Abd-Allah himself. Now it pains me to say this because, under any other circumstance, Dr Abd-Allah would have been a brilliantly fine speaker. In fact, he did say some genuinely insightful and fresh things today; they just had very little to do with the subject matter at hand. Add to that the way he spent up to twenty minutes answering a single question (which I'll remind you most of which had been pretty inane) and you end up with a very frustrating evening. Again, perhaps the size of the audience was a problem; this might have worked out much better with a smaller group with more one to one talk time.

I'll say again that I think Dr Abd-Allah is really good, especially at teaching his audience common sense of an irreligious nature ("One of the most important things for a successful marriage is to always, always defend your wife against your parents"). My biggest regret of this evening is not having had the chance to see him deal with another topic, since it was clear I might have had quite a lot to learn from him.

However with respect to marriage and the problems some Muslims are currently facing with them, today was unfortunately a bit of an wet fish. Shame, that.

Friday, November 24

Religion and Culture

This topic has been done to death and so most of you will have already decided what you think about it. But it's also recently come up in conversation with a friend, so I'm recounting it here for the sake of completeness.

This friend said that they wanted to practise a "pure" Islam, or one that doesn't have the influence of culture that they see in the practice of others. Now, whenever someone says something along these lines I always imagine a pair of lungs. Crazy, I know, but bear with me for a second. I was once told in school that a human can never really exhale fully. There is always an amount of air in your lungs that your diaphragm just cannot get rid of - this is the latent capacity of your lungs.

And it's the same with Islam and any religion really; I think that there is always a latent amount of culture present. In fact, an extreme view some may hold is that religion is nothing but culture. And although I wouldn't quite go that far I do think it's inconsistent to, say, condemn inter-religious unions on the one had while promoting inter-cultural marriages on the other since you're prejudicing on the same lines really.

But back to Islam specifically. I guess my main evidence that culture and Islam go hand in hand is the wide range of practising that goes on in this world today. On the "macro" level we have the geographical differences: Indonesian Islam is very different to African, while Arab practise is very different to that seen in Pakistan. Closer to home, we hear about drives for a uniquely European brand of Islam. On the "micro" level we have differing but equally valid opinions on issues like the veil and hijab, or the haramness of music: is Yusuf Islam a sinner or not?

There are historical and prophetic examples too. Even after Hijrah Madinan Islam contrasted with Makkan Islam. The difference? The latent culture of the respective regions.

We all (God willing) pray and fast and pay charity - for simplicity I'll refer to these as fard (although it's important to note that even these might be influenced by culture - more on this later). And even if we don't practise as much we think we should, we do agree that there are common fundamentals shared between all Muslims. Anything else, in my opinion, is culture almost by definition and, provided it doesn't contradict the fard, totally acceptable. This includes things like local law, arranged marriages and even the finer details of prayer and ceremony, and I think consistency and the avoidance of hypocrisy is much more important than the details you actually practise.

This thinking does not back forced marriages, honour killings or anything else that is clearly prohibited in Islam, but of course this argument is a bit circular since what's fard is an interpretation and opinion which can be influenced by the prevailing culture too. For my argument to hold, these examples would have to be as valid as an opposing stance.

Perhaps culture is instead defined by the prevailing feeling of society, and so if it's acceptable to them then that's all that's required for it to be valid. The implication is that as soon as this prevailing society changes, this validity is revoked too. I think it's safe to say that, in the UK at least, there is a prevailing common culture (and one that a lot of Muslims are sharing), but to discuss how culture comes about is out of the scope of this article anyway.

It would be pretty patronising and outdated to accuse those seeking a "pure" Islam of actually wanting to imitate an Arab (or even Salafi) cultural Islam, so I won't. However, there is little doubt that the "radical" Islam portrayed in the media at the moment is an Islam that is very much that, so even if Muslims don't accept it as the only way it might be likely that non-Muslims do, especially as it's easier to see differences in culture than the similarities. Perhaps it's not just Muslims that need to realise that Islam can be (culturally) practised in more than one way.

In conclusion I guess I'm saying that there is no one pure Islam we should be searching for, but just a bunch of equally valid and equally diluted ones. I don't think that this is an incorrect or bad thing either, since an Islam that is inflexible and doesn't cater for the specific needs of a global Ummah will always fail, whereas one that can be assimilated into the local culture is bound to flourish.

On the contrary, it's the idea that there is only a single specific acceptable practice, or that one is necessarily closer to the truth than any of the others, that is anathema to the religion itself.

Joke of the Day

Q: Why can't programmers tell the difference between Halloween and Christmas?

A: 'Cos to them OCT 31 = DEC 25

Mohoho. Thanks to Kia for the joke.

Thursday, November 23

Shak's Choice: Eva Green

A bit of a no-brainer here. Bond's latest, erm, Bond Girl, Eva Green:

Pretty, elegant and, in the film, sassy and cutting.

Oh, and a warning: don't, uhh, go searching for pics of her on Google. She's done more than her fair share of boutique shots it seems.

Nemi Click for more info

Nemi appears to be my cynical cooking twin:

I feel her pain. Perhaps she should ask her mother for advice?

Tuesday, November 21

Video of the Day Click for more info

You know I've been blogging too long when I revisit a particular topic or person. In this case it's Melissa Theuriau, super-pretty French newsreader. No more words, just watch:

Yup, she's still got it. Thanks to Zubs for the painful reminder. If I was a woman I'd just give it all up right now.

Sunday, November 19

Film: Casino Royale Click for more info

From the opening chase scene to the final shot fired, Casino Royale was a wonderful film.

Before the specifics, let me cover the whole "comparison to the usual" thing. Firstly, this was not as far removed from Bond as I was led to believe. It had the gadgets, it had the cars and it had the women, and there was no doubt that this was the Bond we all know and love.

Paradoxically, however, there were many times at which I forgot I was watching a Bond film at all. Apart from the obvious disorientation you get when transitioning to a new face, there was the already reported brutal and bluntness present that was always missing from the other Bond movies (perhaps with the exception of OHMSS): this "get the job done" attitude isn't demonstrated more than in the opening chase scene. And not just with Bond himself; even the bad guys were more simple and straightforward - there were no laser satellites or weapons of mass destruction here. It was all so fresh, and all so totally welcome.

Daniel Craig did a fantastic job as the damaged spy and it's hard to see how his predecessors could have ever managed in the same way; they are all positively camp in comparison. In saying that, however, the implication is that he might not be the best bond. I think we'll only really know after a few more films with the new 007 image.

Eva Green was just plain gorgeous.

The film was superbly shot too. Cameras swooped and panned where necessary, with cut-away flawlessly used otherwise. The story and plot were not so good; this was more a series of Bond filmettes than a movie and there may even have been a few plot holes as a result with the ending appearing quite incomplete after initial consideration. But that didn't really matter - Casino Royale was more about the new Bond than any tangible storyline and I tended to forgive all the discontinuity since I was having so much fun.

So yes absolutely recommended. The film was ace even without the Bond franchise, but even so this is still Classic Bond - he still is the man we are all in awe of and I so want a DBS like he had. And after that, a Vesper too.

Last Train

I'm not sure exactly why, but I had chosen to use public transport for tonight's outgoings. That decision was a bit strange to say the least, since I know it would be a late one and on any other occasion I wouldn't have hesitated to drive. It's a shame that I did though 'cos it meant I had to rush the close of the evening in order to make sure I got a ride home from Mr Friendly Tube Driver. In fact, the rest of the party stayed well into the night.

Not that I know when a last train is, of course. The last time I took the last train home was way back in college. I had just seen Miss Saigon with some friends and had underestimated the time needed to chill out at Leicester Square's Haagan Daaz afterwards. In fact, it was worse than that since we actually got chucked off the last train at Holborn. Night buses are fun, but oh so scary too.

This time I was jammy though. To be honest, I was wondering why Oxford Circus was so busy and why there were so many people running around. When I usually use the Tube late (where "late" is around 10pm for me) it's pretty dead, so this was all very surreal for me. It only clicked after a while (oh, OK, my much more experienced cousin had to explain it to me); everyone was rushing to get the last train home. We hurried and ended up being a good ten minutes early for the last Epping train (and if you know anything about the Central Line you'll know how frequent Epping trains are. Not).

And so we got home safely. Still, it's not something I'd want to get used to. Where I live now is probably safer than Leytonstone, but I don't feel comfortable walking home at 1am wherever I am (in London, that is. Abroad it seems to be much more acceptable). Oh, and of course there is another reason why I wouldn't want to get the last train home ever again: avoiding being greeted by a massively irate mother when all you really want to do is crash in bed. I think you can already guess the last time she was that angry.

Food: Haandi Click for more info

Those of you who went to IC will know of this place already. I haven't been since well before I started this blog so haven't really mentioned it before, but this is a relatively classy Indian place in Knightsbridge. I had good memories of the food here, so it would be interesting to see how well this long overdue revisit panned out.

Rich food and nice atmosphere were the orders of the day. I went for the Chicken Chennai Special, a boneless (as usual) chicken dish with a coconut gravy. It was just as yummy as the menu had described and I hated having to share it, but not too much since almost everything we had ordered was really good too.

Price was okish; we all had eaten comfortably and hit 17 quid per head, which although isn't the cheapest Indian I've had ranks high in the value for money stakes as the food blatantly outclassed what these other places offer. My only beef was with the time taken to be served - we waited for almost an hour for the food; that was probably due to the size of our group more than the level of service itself.

If you're in Knightsbridge and you're looking for somewhere to eat you could pau much more for much worse. Recommended.

Bar Hopping

Me and a few friends decided to check out some of the more swanky hotel bars around London. The original plan was to just spend the whole evening hopping from one to the next, but that was kinda negotiated down to to bars and dinner, just to make it more accessible. It seems that some of these guys (all Muslims, by the way) weren't really comfortable with the idea. Crazy, eh?

We started the evening in The Blue Bar at The Berkeley. Now bearing in mind this was a Saturday night and how the place could only really handle 100 people maximum, and we end up with quite a cramped and awkward experience. Still, we grabbed our token non-alcoholic drinks, hung out for a bit, and then made our way. We had dinner to go to after all. Oh and on the way out we saw an SLR.

Dinner was at Haandi, which you should be able to read about in the post above. Unfortunately dinner took a while to be served, and when we were heading to our final spot it was quite late. But still, The Library at The Lanesborough was worth waiting for.

Terribly posh (sir) and full of character (I was asked if I needed help within a minute of entering. Ahah), this really was a nice place. Hell even my hot chocolate came in a little teapot thing (and I still think we should have ordered one between two). The "library" in the name is literal - the main bar had shelves of books along every wall, while the decor (wood panelling, fire places with *REAL* fire) helped the place look the part.

My only regret was that it was late, and I couldn't hang out as long as I wanted to. And on the way out we saw an SLR parked. Those Mercs are pretty common now, it seems. But anyway, it was a fun night and one we'll probably continue at another time; we still have those other bars to hit after all.

Thursday, November 16

Looking To Get Married

Contrary to popular belief, I wouldn't say I'm "looking to get married". Before you all go off and start looking for flying pigs, I don't think it's accurate since a) it's not a priority and b) I don't feel that I need to get hitched (as opposed to want, or don't mind). Sure, this state of mind is different to what I had at other times in my life, and will quite possibly change again in the future, but for now, at the time of writing, it's true.

What image do you get when someone says that they are though? It's not a trick question or anything, and if your initial impression is "desperate" then I reckon you're not alone. Personally I can't help but imagine them with a map of the town or city in which they live, with a big red "X" marking the spot. Or on their hands and knees searching for something they've lost.

But are these reactions unfair? Maybe, but I'm not sure that they're too unreasonable. Let's consider an unemployed someone who claims to be "looking for a job". Now usually, job-searching is a focused, stressful time-taking chore. The individual concerned becomes someone else, and judgement is sometimes impaired. It's uncommon for a person to be as they usually are, and sometimes they do act kinda desperate. They'll even admit to as much.

Potential rishtas are now literally interviewing for a specific role. Interviewers, as they become more frustrated with applicants, begin to search for the best that's out there; whatever will do. It becomes practical and clinical.

I think that one shouldn't be too preoccupied with marriage. As romantic as the notion might be, I don't think a marriage completes the people involved, rather it enhances them to the stage where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And, to be honest, it concerns me when people say that they're looking to get married, not because I think that they're desperate, but rather 'cos it might mean that they don't think they're whole otherwise.

I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with someone that needs me in this way, since on some level it means that, potentially, anyone else could have filled those shoes. The job example then becomes more than just an analogy.

In fact the opposite might even be more attractive: someone who is perfectly happy and secure alone, someone who doesn't need anyone else to carry on, someone who gives up an existing rich single life to try something much more risky.

I'm always raising an eyebrow at those that claim to be looking to get married. And that's why I'd possibly prefer someone who isn't looking to get married at all.

Monday, November 13

Book: The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini Click for more info

When so many people recommend a book you can't help but think it's going to be good. Unfortunately in this case I was wrong. The Kite Runner really is nothing special.

Adequately written at best, this book was never going to rely on its technical brilliance to sell copies. No, the tactic used here would be to blatantly pluck on as many emotional strings as it could - and judging by the number of people who thought this was good purely 'cos it made them cry proves how good it is at doing just that.

In that sense, it's very much like the Bollywood film Baghban. That too unabashedly used strong emotional themes to provoke a response from its audience. That didn't make it a good film though, and the same is true here for this book.

There's just a big anticlimatic feel to it - Hosseini seems to continually skim over the important bits in order to dwell on the more boring parts. I got the impression that the author had quite a big chip on his shoulder when writing this; most have I suppose and it sometimes helps in writing. But this novel was almost self-involved.

It also relies way too much on the more abstract cliches (even though the book itself warns of this). In fact, I got so used to the continual bad luck of the characters within that I became insensitive to the next. It really was as predictable and irrelevant as a Saturday morning weepy TV movie. I could almost hear the theme music in the background.

Characterisation was also below par. There was no depth to the characters here, even though it was obvious how desperate the author wanted to provide it. The trick missed by Hosseini is that it's the reaction to normal, everyday events that brings a character to life, not just the extreme ones that only happen in the world of fiction. I rolled my eyes more than once at some of the experiences in these pages.

In the end, The Kite Runner is not much more than a page turner. This in itself is only bad since it tries to be much more, so much so that I couldn't help but feel a bit conned after completing it. Unfortunate.

Film: The Host Click for more info

This was one weird film. And by "weird" I'm not only referring to the strange mutated fish-monster that's stalking the citizens of Seoul.

No, I'm talking about the stuff aside from the plot. Like the characters, from the main five (each weird in their own way) to those in a more minor role (including a Pakistani family having their own on screen conversation in Urdu). The direction is fast paced and keeps us on our toes by deliberately digressing all the time.

That's not to say that The Host is bad, of course. Quite the contrary in fact; this Korean horror manages to provide humour and frights in equal measure. And it is very straightforward and simple too (although I did notice more than a couple of plot holes). It's just not very conventional, is all.

Unfortunately "interesting" isn't really enough to recommend The Host - which is a shame, 'cos it's unlikely that this film will have the same effect if watched off of a DVD. Only watch if you've already been waiting for a foreign monster flick; I don't think there'll be one as good as this for a while.