Friday, June 30

The Guitar Effect

On entering The Mary Ward Centre this evening, I was approached by a weird, random and slightly scary woman:

Weird Random Woman:
Oh Hello! Look: you have a guitar! What class are you attending?
Me, raising eyebrow:
Erm. Well, guitar class.
Weird Random Woman:
Oh. I didn't know this place did guitar classes. How interesting!
Me, backing away slowly, indicating toward various other students that had their own instruments (including other guitarists), hoping that Weird Random Woman would become distracted or even confused by this new revelation, intending on creating a window of opportunity in which to escape:
Yeh. They do most instruments here... Gotta run.

Just goes to show: Women do talk to me now that I carry a guitar. Weird, random and slightly scary women, sure, but women nonetheless. Nice.

New Music

Tumhi Dekho Naa - Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna

I'm actually pretty disappointed with the KANK soundtrack. Tumhi Dekho Naa is the best of a mediocre bunch and even that I'm not sure of. Hopefully not a reflection of the upcoming flick.

Jassi Sidhu - Margay Margay

Slipping ever deeper into the cesspit that is bhangrarudeboyism, I'd like to present to you my first Jassi Sidhu track. Having said that Margay Margay is a bit more accessible than his usual stuff (ie it's pop), so I'll hold off on that hair gel and gold chain for the time being.

Shopping For Shoes

I find it pretty difficult shopping for trainers. I mean, anything else I can manage fine: I can pick a single day on which to go shopping and come back with numbers of trousers and tops, all of which resemble something wearable. But with trainers, I just become stuck.

I repeatedly set out to trawl though all the shoe and trainer shops of Oxford Street and Covent Garden or Ilford and Lakeside, but nothing they offer ever seems good enough. Sometimes they're the wrong colour or the wrong price but usually they just don't feel right somehow. "Nah, perhaps they'll be something at the next shop", I think. "After all I'm planning on heading there anyway". I don't buy trainers that often so it's not something I can afford to be unsure about.

But I do need new trainers and get them eventually. Most of the time I end up buying a pair when I'm not even looking for them. For example, a pair could catch my eye as I'm out wondering for another purpose, or I see something when I'm with a friend doing their shopping. The same problems as I listed above could be present here too, and in these may even be something I would not have bought on that other day. But for some reason, when in this particular state of mind, I take the risk and buy anyway.

And this risk always appears to pays off. I've never bought a pair of trainers that I've not grown to love and consider my best ever. It may be due to familiarity and the shoes moulding to my feet (ew) or something equally mundane, but the point is that there's no regret there.

And that's the gyp, I guess: that how you approach a decision might affect its outcome. Rationally it shouldn't really happen but it's kinda like a Heisenberg Principle for decision making. In effect, it means you can't directly achieve this thing you want - if I want a pair of trainers I have to stop looking for them. Perhaps the way out is to dress up the process of looking for shoes as something else? Sounds absurd, but that might just work.

On the other hand perhaps it's not that big a deal anyway; I mean, they are only shoes after all.

EDIT: Judging by the repeated offers I've received by friends to accompany me shoe shopping, it seems I may have been a bit too subtle above. Just so you know, it was supposed to be a bit of a metaphor. Tch, nevermind.

Book: Life, Love and Assimilation, Kia Abdullah Click for more info

There is little separating this story of this Kieran Ali, a young girl growing up in East London, from what we've seen previously. As usual I won't dwell on the plot detail, but there isn't much new here and anyone who attended an Asian uni or read the previous Asian writing will have heard it all before. And since I've started with a negative, I may as well get some of the rest out of the way too.

LLA is clearly the work of a young and new author. The standard of English is quite worrying for a published book. I know I'm pedantic, but using "I" instead of "me" is pretty inexcusable, although perhaps that should be the responsibility of the editor or something. Either way it's pretty important and something that can turn readers away.

There are some really corny bits too (maybe I'm alone in cringing at the idea of romance over semaphores, but I won't mention the sex scenes at all), and I can't help but suspect that the author is suffering from what I like to call Asian-Girl-With-Chip-On-Her-Shoulder-Hating-On-Asian-Men syndrome. However since there was no white hero (although a Pakistani comes awfully close) or gay best friend this time, I could be wrong about that one.

The random, dairy like presentation of the story works well though, giving the relatively short story (of 170 pages) a nice brisk pace. I think a good five or six years are covered and a lot happens overall. Curiously there are a lot of anecdotal mini-tales which at first glance seem pretty irrelevant to the main story, but do eventually serve a purpose - more on that later. I also enjoyed the oh-so-predictable ending, although I wish it had been a bit more involving.

Characterisation is one of the major things I look for in books. It's why Perdido is one of my favourites of all time, and why I enjoyed Atonement so much. And characterisation is why I found this book so gripping (as proven by my being caught multiple times jamming up the printer at work to get my next fix of a few more pages). Again, Kieran's story, or more precisely the context in which she found herself, is nothing new. But it did become unique and powerful as she, herself, came alive. I'll even admit to losing my breath at some points - and to be clear I didn't care what happened to her; I was more interested in how she reacted, how she rationalised and how she punished or rewarded herself afterwards. You know you're caught up when you start screaming at a fictional being.

Unlike the characters belonging to the stories LLA has repeatedly been compared to, the ones here seem to be balanced and sometimes even superfluous (there are eight siblings, and I had lost count of the number of best friends) and not just created to make a point or statement belonging to the author. In short, they're all real and normal and flawed and pathetic - Kieran most of all, and by the end of the book I got to know her thoughts pretty well. That's where the apparent irrelevancies I mentioned above come into play, since to know someone is to know the boring bits about them as well as the more important ones. That's an attention to detail you won't find in many other books, folks.

Going back to the writing, I think identity crisis sums up this book pretty well. The structure is as mixed up as the girl it's following around. Religious statements are regularly shoehorned in (some of which I found pretty patronising), and at times I couldn't help but frown at what appeared to be filler gluing the more interesting bits together. The author seems to have been a bit ambitious in what she wanted to include in this book but instead of cutting bits out to save for later she wedged them in anyway. A bit like this review, then.

In conclusion LLA is badly written (possibly) but manages to shine through in other, less tangible, areas regardless. This can only be a good thing; this being a debut, the technical ability of an author can only get better as time goes on. Kia Abdullah, however, seems to have already nailed the skill of giving a story spirit and character, something that is much more difficult to get right no matter how compelling the plot (cough, The Da Vinci Code, cough). And that's why I remain confident and interested in what more she has to offer us in future.

Wednesday, June 28


1 June 2006

xxxx says (16:51):
BUT.. I'll admit I did start crying after seeing your picture.. just because the idea was becoming more real...
Shak says (16:51):
oh dear


xxxx says (16:51):
I'm serious, it did happen.
i was going to tell you, just didn't know when.
Shak says (16:51):
oh its ok. a lot of people bust into tears when seeing my pic
xxxx says (16:52):
I'm really sorry.


I'm not much of a project manager. I reckon it's because I (generally) think abstractly and so end up planning a task for way too long and, even then, too rigidly. I don't take account of any variables other than the ideal ones - which is especially problematic when dealing with other people (since human nature is so unpredictable).

It's why it takes me so long to start development from scratch too, since I need to have a fine grasp of the whole design/architecture before I can begin to write anything. The same sometimes applies to creating the articles here, but if anything writing proves that if I at least start a job I stand a much better chance of finishing it.

As I gain experience and age it is something I'm becoming better at. Time constraints don't allow me to plan too much so I don't, and growing patience and understanding are helping me to tolerate the shortcomings of life, myself and other humans. I've begun to view tasks like a bungee jump: commit to that first step and then let gravity take the task to completion.

Right now I'm helping to organise a BBQ at a supplementary school I've been teaching at. I'm supposed to be organising the activities for the children to do when they're not stuffing their faces - something which seemed like a monster of a task when I had reluctantly volunteered for it (and I did write a few lists and one list-of-lists before I had made my first phonecall). However, now that I'm in the middle of it and the end goal is beginning to take shape, I'm wondering what the fuss was all about.

I guess the moral here is that at times it's better to just DO something since you may finish a task in the time it takes you to put yourself in a position you think you need to begin it. And superthinking (a made up word describing those thought processes where you wonder why you're doing something, if you're doing it the right way and how unfair life is for putting you in a particular position) is just unnecessary, unhelpful and a big fat waste of time.

The more astute of you may have realised that this doesn't just apply to programming or events management, but many other parts of everyday life - and possibly even life itself. Many people are scared of getting new jobs, forming new relationships or raising a family. Most, if not all, handle these things pretty well in the long run without even faltering. Some don't even realise the great things they manage to accomplish.

But going back to the simpler, more tangible things, I guess my stance is now to "just do it and get it over with". Chances are it's not that difficult anyway.

Tuesday, June 27

Book: The World Of The Jinn & Devils, Umar S. Al-Ashqar

The third of eight in the Islamic Creed Series (previous reviews here) . This volume, as the title suggests, covers what are called the Jinn.

The blurb boasts of the book being a relatively detailed account of these invisible living beings, but after completing it I remain unconvinced. A lot of the evidence seems forcibly interpreted at best, but even bearing that in mind the book seems a bit unfocused and confused as to exactly what it wants to talk about.

So instead of continuing to talk about the behaviour and origin of Jinn (which to be fair it does for a while), it goes on to talk about good and evil, halal and haraam and sinning and worshipping in general. It's this recurring attitude that makes the reader a bit unreceptive to some of the more amazing claims about the effects of and interactions between the Jinn and mankind, some of which have pretty big implications with regards to free-will and accountability. In short: although TWOTJAD talks about the existence of Jinn successfully it seems to do little else.

Perhaps there aren't many books about the topic is because there isn't much to say? Unfortunately instead of filling this gap, this book appears to just perpetuate it.

Saturday, June 24

Islamic Philosophy

Finding myself with a couple of minutes while waiting for my uncle to finish his Zhur at the mosque today, I started reading the June edition of their monthly newsletter. Along with the usual Hadith about how we should respect our parents more (there's an inappropriate joke in there somewhere about Baghban being more effective), there was an interesting piece entitled "Signs of Allah in Solar System". Since this was a mosque newsletter[1] it wasn't original and so I've managed to track down a copy of the text, here.

The problem I have with this stuff is how little it actually says. None of its evidence is particularly conclusive, and all can also be explained by more secular reasonings (I won't use "scientific" since I don't think science and religion are mutually exclusive fields). Furthermore, the same is also evidence for evolution, polytheism and even atheism.

Ultimately it's equivalent to saying that the blue sky being blue is also valid Proof of God (something that I don't think exists). The fact that this statement is both arbitrary and a truism makes it proof for anything else too. For example, if we were breathing nitrogen we'd be calling that miraculous instead. If we couldn't breath anything we wouldn't be having this discussion in the first place. See Anthropic Principle for more about this idea.

Perhaps it's due to my upbringing and both the religious and academic sides of my tuition, but I've never considered Islam to be particularly dogmatic. I mean sure, the eyebrow raising stories are there (the fact that it's an Abrahamitic faith kinda ensures that), but most of the alluring stories of the Prophet (for example) are with regards to his character rather than his miracles. You shouldn't need promises of virgins or even heaven to convince you to do what's (Islamically) right.

However, if one believes 'cos they've been told that the-Sun-hasn't-yet-killed-us-even-though-it-could (and I'm wondering how long that argument will last what with the Earth's temperature issues), then, frankly, I consider that to be an unsafe belief. It's like how some I know believe that the number nine holds some kind of Islamic importance - one of their reasons being that if you add the digits of any number in the nine times table they'll eventually bring you back to nine. Uh, right. What they don't realise is that we'd have another magic number if we had been created with twelve fingers instead of ten.

Dressing up an argument in science or philosophy doesn't automatically make it a good argument. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that anyone who does this (in the particular context above) is insecure about what Islam and its more "traditional" sources and methods already have to offer. Islam has a heritage full of philosophy and argument, both simple and advanced, all of which is more convincing than mere gimmicks will ever be. Why not tap into that instead?


[1] I'm being a bit flippant here. To be fair QMT is actually doing quite a good job. They offer various activities (including matrimonials), have few cultural hang ups and seem to be a pretty good model for a modern European community centre - which is all a mosque should be, really.

A Fcuking Bargain

This week we discovered a little corner in Bow claiming to be a French Connection outlet store (map here).

Now, although there's nothing particularly strange about that in itself, there are two things very wrong with such a concept. Firstly, I have never bought or worn anything from French Connection. They make some pretty vile and overpriced stuff, and in my experience it's a certain type of person who goes out of their way to shop there. A type of person I don't want to be.

Secondly, there's the whole outlet thing. These places just give me the creeps. I don't know what it is exactly, but I always feel like I'm breaking various laws just by being there. Sales and the like are fine, but I guess I'm too much of a snob to do discount.

Despite these reasons I still visited them this morning. I've been looking to restock on my linen trousers and I was told that quite a big selection were available from this place. It was exactly how I expected, but I'm still glad I went.

I got away with my linen trousers; three to be precise. I also got six assorted tops and t-shirts - nothing I really needed but still stuff that manages to both complement and complete my wardrobe. It'll take the pressure off dressing for summer anyhow.

But how much did it all set me back? The princely sum of 40 quid. Not bad, eh? Now that really is a price to make anyone wear FCUK.

Thursday, June 22

Alvida Super Mop Click for more info

Really looking forward to Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna; obviously so much so that I have to blog about it. It blatantly smacks of Kal Ho Na Ho (Or as I like to call it "No, I'm not crying, there's something in my eye"), but that's no bad thing and I'm hoping it'll be just as good.

KHNH was the first bolly flick I had seen on the big screen and also the one that brought me back to Bollywood in general. That's how much I liked it. There have been pretenders to its throne (the insanely bad Veer-Zara and more recently the disappointing Fanaa), but the makers have finally realised that whacking Preity and SRK in NY and then giving them a good soundtrack is all we really need. It's a shame about that title, though.

Unfortunately I cannot watch this on release as I have to wait for some people, but it's still a date that's been fixed in my calendar. Well not quite, since we only know that it's out sometime in August, but you know what I mean.

The Further Adventures Of Stalker Shak

You know how it is. On a regular commute you're more than likely to become familiar with the fellow passengers who share the same journey with you. This is the case even on The London Underground, where trains are frequent and full. I think it's the little things like leaving the house at the usual time, or standing on the same spot on the platform that does it.

Anyway (this blog will get interesting, promise), as usual I have a stalkee; that one girl on my route whom I think is RELLY BUFF, LOL, and makes the commute into work that much easier to bear. Who said stalking wasn't practical?

I've been a bit worried recently as I hadn't seen Victoria for a while - eleven days to be precise[1]. Thinking she had, perhaps, changed her job or country (or even, gasp, platform spot) I was just about getting over her (or quickly finding a new girl to obsess over. Whatever) when who should I bump into on the way home, but she. "Woot!" I thought, "I should say hi before I lose this chance FOREVER!". Although in retrospect that last bit may have been a bit overdramatic, espeically seeing as it's not a guy's job to make the first move anyway. Moving on.

Of course, all of my plans turned to dust when I saw the oh-so-obligatory guy that she was with. Six foot I think, and one of those types that would always have a girl (or three) like that on his arm (to be fair there was no evidence that they were an item, but I feel it's always best to assume the worst with these kind of things). She was looking good by the way. Sigh, indeed.

So, faced with this situation I did the only thing left for me to do. Whipping out my DS.Lite, I immediately settled down to play some New Super Mario Bros. I mean, who needs a girl when you have videogames? I actually managed to complete World Seven. I think it's my favourite world out of the eight; something to do with the natural "flow" of the levels in it. It really is a good game.

[1] I'll spare telling you the hours, minutes and seconds.

Shak's Choice: Kia Abdullah Click for more info

"Wot, no pics?" I hear you cry. Well no, not this time I'm afraid 'cos, well, I'm not actually sure what Kia looks like. But since she's the author of the recent paperback "Life, Love and Assimilation" (which I'm hoping isn't another Second Gen Brick Teeth yarn, despite the "Asian Writing, Romance" categorisation) I do know that she's able to put a sentence together. I don't need much more than that really, but there is more nonetheless.

She's also of a good disposition (as was proven on the AN this morning) and has some wild out-of-box abstract yet reasonable views. Not only that, but she also studied Computing (and can solve simultaneous equations, normalise databases and, somewhat unfortunately, program in Java) and lives in East London.

To be honest I'm not sure why I'm still sitting here typing.


We have an uncle and auntie (my phoopi and phoopa for all you traditional types) staying over from Pakistan for the next billion or so weeks[1]. My phoopa has actually been here before, almost 19 years ago in fact, so the memories of my hanging out with him as an eight year old have come flooding back.

Still, it's going to be strange having these guys over. I mean, the three of us have had people stay over before of course, but phoopi and phoopa are closer than most (they're usually who we stay with when we go over to Pakistan). They're also older, more traditional, less English speaking (I expect my own poo-Urdu to improve over the coming weeks) and are staying for that length of time where people become permanent rather than temporary members of the household.

So yes, things will change for me for the next month or so. Socialising will probably be family- rather than friends-oriented, schedules and timetables will have to be changed and compromises made. But it's not all bad; my room, for example, had been automagically tidied up before they had arrived - I even got brand new bedsheets! Cor blimey.

And I'm not even considering the family of five we have coming over from down-under on Sunday. Now I just can't wait for that.

[1] That's more a comment on us Asians and our extended holidays rather than contempt for these lovely folks in particular.

Monday, June 19


xxxx says (14:30):
man ... I'm feeling real old recently
short of breath
taking too long in the toilet
xxxx says (14:31):
getting tired real easy
Shak says (14:31):
thats the problem with acting young man
middle age is gonna hit us hard
xxxx says (14:32):
Shak says (14:32):
i mean when the hell am i gonan stop dressing like a student?
xxxx says (14:32):
fuck that
dressing is one thing
Shak says (14:32):
here we go
xxxx says (14:32):
I dress like a slob over here
Shak says (14:32):
yeh but still
i dont wanna be one of those old men who still wear nike and addidas
xxxx says (14:32):
yeah ..
xxxx says (14:33):
you'll be like the oild man in the club
trying to pick up girls
but you're just too old
Shak says (14:33):
xxxx says (14:33):
you need ot get more formal clothes
waer like ..
those casual shirts and shit
Shak says (14:33):
man i noticed hair on my ears this wekeend
and my eyebrows are getting out of control
xxxx says (14:33):
you've always had them
Shak says (14:33):
xxxx says (14:33):
yeha man
xxxx says (14:34):
i thought you know
Shak says (14:34):
get lost old man
xxxx says (14:35):

Saturday, June 17

Film: Thank You For Smoking Click for more info

On the surface, Thank You For Smoking is a film about a guy who can talk. He has charm and wit and uses both in his job as a pro-smoking lobbyist. Oh and it has Katie Holmes in it.

But really this is a film about spin in general. It presents the tricks of the trade, the reasons why some people do what others find despicable, and humanises something most of us would think is quite the opposite. It even touches on relativism at one point. Moreover, it presents all of these in an easily digestible manner - the film is a pleasure to watch.

The key word above is "touches" though, since the film doesn't really go too deep into the various ideas it explores. I'd even say it's more of a comedy than satire; you never take any of the characters or issues too seriously and therefore you don't take what it has to say seriously either. I guess that's the trade-off with making something accessible.

The film is clever in that it spins the concept of spin itself - you're rooting for Nick (the lobbyist) by the end of the film, and are almost happily convinced when he argues against the anti-smoking lobby. It deserves points just for that! Oh, and it has Katie Holmes in it.

So slightly disappointing then. Go watch, just don't expect it to expand on what you already know.

Wednesday, June 14

Link Of The Day Click for more info

Here's a humourous look at the psychology behind some of us blogger types.

A few of these I've complained about before: "Don't go friends-only", "Do speak in code".

A few I see examples of quite often in the blogs I read: "Do take quizzes", "Do talk trash".

I'm even guilty of some myself: "Don't reject friends" ,"Do talk trash" (again) and "Do complain about people on LiveJournal", which, on some levels, I'm doing right now. Hah.

Tuesday, June 13

Spot The Paki

Apparently, World Cup Football football broke some ground today. When France substituted Vikash Dhorasoo in for Wiltord, they also played the first ever Indian player in the World Cup Finals.

I had to be told this, and further this fact doesn't seem to have caught much attention elsewhere (although Dhorasoo has been rightly mentioned in post match reports for his almost-goal). I find this apathy odd, especially considering how often we go on about the lack of Asian players in domestic and international football.

No one seems to care. Perhaps it's not actually the issue we think it is? Or perhaps it's only an issue for English football and the fans there? I can't imagine a England cap for an Asian player passing so quietly, but being the first in Finals altogether is still quite the feat.

Sunday, June 11

Taking Drugs

Since developing hayfever symptoms ten or so years ago I've refused to take anything for it. Partly pride but mostly denial, taking medication would have been an implicit admission to having and allergy - which is a bit of a flaw and kinda weak in my eyes; a bit like needing a cup of coffee or tea at regular intervals throughout the day in order to function. I don't need drugs, dammit.

Year after year it's been getting progressively worse though, making me irritable (in both senses of the word), itchy, flushed and snotty during the pollen season. I use and carry more tissue during the summer than the winter, and I've had more than one embarrassing explosive nasal incident on the Tube. It's also a depressing feeling being scared of the Sun like us sufferers are.

My hayfever is different from that of others in that is usually starts and ends early, way before summer is over (possibly something to do with the particular species of pollen to which I'm averse to), and so far I've been able to handle it. Despite this, I feel that the time has come for me to swallow my pride and start taking something (anything!) for my symptoms, since it's not an issue that's gonna go away any time soon. In short, I can't stand it anymore, and I don't care if taking medicine is cheating.

Hopefully my symptoms, and along with it my dread of summer, will vanish soon.

Friday, June 9

Performing Again

It's been around two and half months since the first Pendon concert of the year, but the time had once again come for the various guitar schools around London to strut their stuff.

Our class also returned, albeit in a smaller number. We were also the least able of all the performers and so opened the programme this time. We played:

  • Song of the Mountains
  • Spanish Dance
  • Ukraine Folk Song
All of which were the closing pieces from The Guitarist's Way, Book One, a popular resource for guitar schools. Unlike the previous concert, these were less "toy" pieces and actually begun to sound like music played with a classical guitar!

However, once again, the nerves got to us. There were a few trivial mistakes made by all of us, and I kinda blanked out for periods. Still we had warmed up by Spanish Dance, and our performance of Ukraine Folk Song was one of the best we had ever done, including those in the safety of the classroom. All in all I think we did ok.

The guest artist this time around was Eurico Pereira. Like last time, I didn't stay for his complete performance, but what I did see was pretty amazing. Technically he was superb, and the music he produced was, finally, what I had expected from a good classical guitarist. You could almost visualise the Spanish dancers.

The day was kinda marred with the news that our class had been cancelled, and that without any warning. It seems that there hadn't been enough students attending to justify the course (even though everyone had paid up months ago and there were only five weeks left!). Its a bit of a shame, and couldn't have come at a worse time; most of us have turned a corner and without
continued tuition we may lose the progress we've made. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do, but this is something I'd like to become good at. We'll see, I guess.

Gujarati Trade

Yes, I know I've said before how I hate stereotypes. However what happened yesterday evening was so marked I thought I'd share it, even if there's a danger of being called a hypocrite.

Anyway, since buying my DS.Lite I've had my previous silver DS in the Loot, the UK-wide classifieds paper. The console itself was only six months old, so I wasn't going to settle for a rock bottom price. On the other hand, the new Lite is to be released here on the 23rd of this month, so I needed to get rid of the old version as soon as possible before its value plummeted.

Those that have seen how I treat my toys will know that it was in perfect condition, boxed and everything. Brand new DSs still sell for £90, so I thought I'd try my luck and put mine up for £80 with a game, allowing myself up to ten quid to discount at the time of selling. Yes, it was a risky price, but I had gotten calls already (albeit no sales) so I stuck to it.

Last night Ali Bhai called. He wanted to come see the unit, but avoided setting a price before hanging up - he found out that I was Pakistani, so presumably he wanted to use ethnicity to barter down. Big mistake, since someone willing to drive to the seller's house has already shown his intent of buying. And it's not like the whole "come on, we're brothers!" thing was going to work on me - I'm cold like that. This guy was an amateur, I thought and at that point I knew I'd get at least £75.

He came over. Him and his three kids, that is and after seeing them in person, I suddenly got scared. This family was obviously Gujarati. I started sweating; trading with a Gujji? The £75 seemed less likely now. Coming in numbers was just the first of the many tricks to be played.

After his son had tested the console and saw that it was working, we got down to business:

Them: We'll give you 65.
Me: Uh, no. The ad said 80. I don't mess around like other advertisers. That's the price I want. It's pretty much set.
Them: Hmm. We checked Argos before we came. You can get brand new ones for 90. One Year Guarantee!
Me: I checked Loot before I set the ad. Mine is the cheapest, and probably in the best condition. If you want brand new, I suggest you go to Argos tomorrow and get one for 90. It's a good price.
Them: We'll give you 70.
Me: Best I can do is 75. Otherwise I don't want to waste your time. Here, let me put this away...

At that point a look of realisation appeared on my adversary's face. See, our family isn't typically Gujarati, and my friend here had assumed I was something else. And now, hitting him like a bombshell, the realisation came to him that I was as tight as he was. I had regained some control. Even Ali pulling out the cash didn't faze me. He was good, but I had the same genes as he did.

So there we were bouncing our offers against each other. Either of us weren't budging and this wasn't about the money anymore. I seemed to be in the stronger position: they had come to me and would not leave empty handed and the son was busy falling in love with Sonic ("this is a wicked game, man!"). However I couldn't risk not selling the DS, not when I was so close. I was about to break.

Suddenly Ali reached into his pocket again. "Hooray", I thought, "I win! Go me!". I could only laugh when he pulled out his loose change and offered me three gold nuggets, making a total offer of £73. Ali was much smarter than I was - he managed to figure out a way for both of us to retain our Gujji pride. I cheerfully accepted suddenly realising how grateful I was for his wisdom. My ego could absorb the two quid hit, and all parties went away happy, each thinking that they hadn't crumbled.

Anyway, yeh: Gujaratis are well tight, innit?

Tuesday, June 6

City Circle: Our Values - Beyond Xenophobia and Ghettoisation, Professor Gwen Griffith-Dickson & Professor Tariq Ramadan Click for more info

Tonight's talk told of how the best way to peace and harmony between different communities is to concentrate on all of their common values.

And that was pretty much it. Other obvious statements were made too, like how racism and xenophobia are real problems in Europe despite the public loathing of parties like the BNP and how this causes ghettoism. But it seems the main reason for this talk was to raise awareness for The Lokahi Foundation. Yes, it was a bit of a publicity stunt really; I was wondering why there was a Ramadan lecture so soon after his last one.

Not that I'm complaining really, since I've been meaning to look into Lokahi (a Hawaiian word, apparently) for a while. Prof Griffith-Dickson is the director there, and she spent some time telling us what it was about. Most of what she said can be found on their website so I won't regurgitate it here, but the ideas about coming together (in a less hippy way than it sounds) seem pretty sound. She even created a new Pilau analogy to sit somewhere between the melting pot and salad bowl ones (so rice is infused with the qualities of the spices cooked with it, but is still rice at the end).

But she didn't just talk clever (or not so clever) analogies. She raised some good, concrete and marked points too, like how people are characterised by their behaviour and not their values (or how the two can be very different for a particular person) and how the current definition of Britishness may be becoming diluted with elements of pop culture (why is pub-going seen as a British trait? And why are those who don't watch Eastenders outcasts?).

Practical considerations were given by both speakers, with Ramadan telling us to concentrate on education and the rest and eventually going back to the idea that we should talk about our common values over our different ones. His reference to an "intellectual ghetto" did strike a chord though - and was ironic considering how you can usually see the same faces at CC each week. Griffith-Dickson was again more definite and talked about the usefulness of projects and institutions like CC and Lokahi (naturally).

So what's my take? Well, it's all very well talking about our common values, since they do exist and are usually unheard over us talking about our differences. But the fact is that these different values do exist. Where do the diametrically opposed values, which are still valid in their own right, fit in these common value systems? I love cheese and bananas, but I know I can't put them in a Pilau[1]. Sure, they'll get infused the same way as the rice will, but it won't necessarily make a good Pilau. You have a recipe to follow and ingredients to hand pick to do that.

Finally, I noted something that Griffith-Dickson said when explaining what Lokahi means. The example was of an ecosystem, and how the quite disparate components in one come together to form something that creates. Sounds good, but she herself recognised that the destruction and consumption that an ecosystem needs to thrive were an inherent part of the lokahi there too. I wonder if she meant to imply that the same was required for communities of people too?

[1] No, I've never made one myself. But let's stick to the point, eh?

Monday, June 5

Things That Pee Me Off #12: Porn Nails

I'm sure I don't have to explain this one. I don't know how anyone can like fake nails. They're impractical and distasteful, and I'll even refuse to believe it's a subjective thing. French manicures are bad enough (on hands that is; on feet they're just absurd), but at least they usually use what's already there.

I always cringe when seeing stick ons. No matter how pretty the girl, they're the ultimate put off and I much prefer natural nails and cuticles even if they're not perfect. It's especially worrying how much of an Asian thing it's becoming too.

Please. Don't do it, girls.

Chickens and Love

I met up with my ex-Arabic teacher tonight (yes, at 10pm on a Sunday night. Who said I wasn't hardcore eh?). She's now a friend more than a teacher though, and so we all end up talking about most of the topics that any other group of mates would.

One thing mentioned last night was the difference between the Arab (she's Palestinian) and English ways of letting someone know that you liked them. Over there, they're more direct: "I love you". Over here it takes much more time for a person to declare such things. As my teacher put it, here you go out with someone before you love them, while over there it's the opposite. Aptly put, I thought.

We then turned to the related question of when to know you have these feelings. We were split on this, with one side saying you have to see someone formally to know them in a particular way, why myself and another suggested that it's perfectly possible to know whether you like (or detest) someone without necessarily "dating" them (ie via working together, or going out socially in groups). It was kind of established that it was a bit of a chicken and egg situation - as people not interested in non casual relationships, we needed something concrete to act on, but it seemed that to get that "evidence" some kind of uninformed risk had to be taken whether that's to see the real person in them, or show them the real person in yourself.

I'm still not sure about that, though it's a common fact that in other things the more you risk the more you return. Maybe that applies here too?

Sunday, June 4

Karaoke Mein Twist

Tonight's session was with the same crowd as last time (over a year ago it seems!), and again it was good clean alcohol free fun. It was in Forest Gate to boot, not that stopped me from arriving late. Oops. But anyway, Backstreet Boys, Take That and Grease were amongst all the songs given the out of key treatment.

This time, the organisers had even managed to get a selection of Bollywood songs for us to choose from. Unfortunately these didn't seem too popular; it seems that Karaoke doesn't quite work well with anything non-English. I tried one, but struggled to find a partner for the others (they even had Aao Naa, Wada Raha and My Dil Goes Mmm. Sigh). On top of that, these ones in particular didn't seem too well arranged both musically and lyrically - on selecting Atif Aslam's Bheegi Yaadein, I got the Jal version instead. Tsk.

The English stuff wasn't as of good quality as last year's either. Spandau Ballet's Gold had the wrong lyrics (honest!), and the system didn't indicate who was supposed to sing in duets like others do. I think people had to improvise more than once to make up for these inadequacies, not that it was any less enjoyable - nothing stopped the girls from brilliantly performing Spice Girls' Wannabe/Aretha Franklin's Respect.

It must have been fun though since the last bell rang a bit too quickly for most of us, even though some had been there for almost five hours. The singing had turned into a shout-off between the boys and girls (we came up tops, naturally) so perhaps it was time to call it a day.

It's a shame that we don't get to Karaoke as much as we'd all obviously like to (although I guess part of the attraction is exactly that). Having said that, there is talk of making this a regular thing, so who knows? We might even be in tune next time.

Crossing Over

There are two main reasons for going to a wedding. The first is because it's a day to celebrate something wonderful involving friends and family. The second, of course, is to go fishing.

Today I went to a wedding. Unlike the other weddings this year I didn't really know this was happening till recently or who the bride and groom were (well actually I did since I had gone to primary school with them, but I think a 15 year gap is enough to make friends strangers again).

I'm not really used to it though. I guess it goes back to the whole lunch club thing and how I can't (won't?) go into a place with that kind of mindset. It's just too weird: "What about her over there?" I'm continually asked. Since I don't know "her". I find it difficult to reply with anything but a diplomatic "She's alright, I suppose".

Anyway, we were there for an hour (a record, I think), and I did manage to catch up with some people whom I hadn't seen for, like, ages. But pleasant as it was, I don't think I'll ever get used to the shopping bit; perhaps that's something that should change?


It was yet another uni mate's engagement party last night. The venue was The Velvet Room, Jewel Bar in Piccadilly. Now I don't usually go to bars and clubs, but when it's important I do and furthermore in this case I hadn't yet met the fiancee so I thought it was justifiable enough.

I can't remember the last time I went to a bar, but I must admit I'm still not sure I get them. Tonight the music was painfully (literally, and my ears are still ringing) loud and my throat was sore from shouting (and I have karaoke tomorrow!). Others seemed happy to spend up to eight quid per drink (cripes) and were having a good time dancing and joking around, so I'm sure it's just me being grumpy and old and grumpy. Give me a nice dinner or house party any day.

Still, there were plenty of fitties around so it wasn't that bad. It was also great to finally meet the fiancee after the 18 or so months I had known of her (and frankly, the fact that anyone from IC can attract someone like her means that there is hope for the rest of us grads who are currently single. Woot).

The best bit? Well thanks to Berwick Street I even managed to catch my Maghrib and Esha on time. Three cheers for convenience, eh?

Thursday, June 1

Just Good Friends, Honest Click for more info

I read an article in The Met recently about something called "The Lunch Club". Apparently some guy in New York got bored of eating on his own and so invited some random people from a message board to a restaurant for a meal. This then ballooned into something much more organised and formal, and now there are regular lunches scheduled all over the US for random people to meet.

These lunches are supposed to be safe and, this is the important bit, innocent and non-presumptuous (since The Lunch Club claims it is NOT a dating service). Obviously things can develop, but if they do then that would be out of the club's remit; their intention is for friends and community to meet, and that's all. It's been quite the success, with many joining the thousands who are members already.

Sounds good? Well, if you have raised an eyebrow and are British then it seems that you're not alone. Apparently the same idea was spun off here recently and did quite well - at first anyway. Unfortunately the last lunch meeting only had six people and it's uncertain whether the club will carry on here.

So why didn't it work? Some reckon it's due to the inherent reserved- and shyness of the people here. I'm not sure that's quite it though, since shy people wouldn't be interested in the first place, and I'm certain there are enough interested in meeting new people for it to be viable.

No, the more interesting explanation goes something like this: that it's impossible for random guys and girls in this country to get together without thinking about "getting together". This in turn puts some people in relationship/pulling mode making the whole thing nothing more than a group blind date. In short, it's impossible for a guys and girls to look for and be just friends with people of the opposite sex.

I actually used to believe this too (stop sniggering at the back). That was till I actually met some girls, way back in college (my secondary school being for boys only). There, I made quite a few platonic girl friends and the trend hasn't really bucked since, whether they're now introduced online, via friends of friends or through the various activities I'm involved with.

Of course, I'm not closed to the idea that things may develop further, but that's not the point. I Think I've written before how I don't go into a room of strangers or to a dinner looking to pull or find a wife. I mean, that's what things like, speed dating or a family introductions are for (although admittedly I seem to be better at making friends under those conditions too. Oops). On the other hand, I don't intentionally restrict myself to just friendship, choosing to see where things go naturally, if at all they do. And I don't think I'm alone in this mindset either.

However, there are some people who take quite the opposite stance. They socialise for a more specific reason, and for that reason alone. And if they don't reach their goal, then they'll move on and try something else. Not that there's anything wrong with this quite focused attitude, of course there isn't - if anything it's more conducive of a relationship than not acting this way. I just find it a shame that if these people don't get what they wanted, then they may struggle to keep the existing friendships going, or worse still, discard them altogether. "I have enough friends, thanks".

Anyway, yes, I think that guys and girls can be friends, provided that's all that they both want. And it seems to be the older generation that seem to disagree on this, with some younger people being (unfairly) accused of "being on the prowl" when that's not at all the case (and no, I'm not being defensive here. Well not that much anyway). After all, when making friends why should gender matter?

Going back to The Lunch Club, it's been suggested that platonic relationships don't work here since we've become a largely sexualised population, and that's all we think about now when meeting new people. I'm not sure it's quite that bad, but there may be something in the air along those lines. However if so, then the growing number of platonic relationships (I'm not the only one who has them, believe me) particularly within some Asian groups implies that there is a trend of desexualisation going on, or in other words these people don't actually need or want anything more than the friendships that they already have. But hey, that's another blog.