Sunday, November 27

Game: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3) Click for more info

I'm just going to say it: the three Uncharted games (you can read here about the first and second) are worth the entry price that a Playstation 3 costs. I don't think that there are many unmissable games out there, but this trilogy definitely falls in that category, alongside titles like MGS and Mario.

With the gushing out of the way, let's talk a bit about Uncharted 3. It amazingly manages to provide even more than the sequel - I can count at least three or four set pieces that were so gobsmacking that I had to replay the respective chapters they were each in just to process their awesomeness. No jokes. And all the standard (and when I say standard I mean highest quality ever) stuff is still present - so some amazing graphics and music and a production quality that rivals that found in many other media forms. That a whole bunch of the game was set in the Middle East was a personal bonus for me. If Nathan Drake wasn't a contemporary Indiana Jones before, he certainly is as close as he's going to get now.

With the evolution came a few flaws. Collision detection was a little off, and the much talked about "realistic" aiming a little too realistic. The pacing of the whole game was slightly off too, with a not-so-epic ending as the whole thing finished a little too suddenly. However considering the trouble I had with the finale of the last game I think I may have secretly liked that.

Overall though the package wasn't as perfect as Uncharted 2 was; not that this wasn't a better game though; any Uncharted is amazingly great to play. Which is the real point here: relative merit makes no sense if all three become essential for all to play.

Very recommended.

Friday, November 25

Food: Dishoom Click for more info

I had heard a lot about Dishoom and its offering of the Bombay cafe scene here in London. On paper at least it seemed like a wonderful take on the already saturated indian food scene, and I had meaning to check it out for a while now.

Unlike most places, my review starts hours before we even arrived at the place. Based on the advice of those who had already been, I decided to book a table for six (which happens to also be the minimum you can reserve for). On calling I was asked for my credit card details and told that a cover charge of ten quid per head would be taken then, to be refunded on the final bill at the end of the evening. Now I'm not really the type that goes out to eat that often but this was the first time a restaurant has ever asked me to pay to reserve a booking. But hey, some places are popular (while waiting for my table I saw at least five parties being turned away) and I figured they had to do it to avoid empty covers, something probably more likely to happen considering the (brown) people the place attracts.

The place has a distinctive vibe. Crowded and noisy, it was fun and happening and alluring at first but did start to grate toward the end. It seems that the place attracted a certain type of person - you know, the young, professional, pretty "desi" type and although I enjoyed being in the company of such beautiful people the experience was kind of shallow.

And the troubles didn't end there. Due to some of our party arriving late there was a mix up with our table and five minutes after we had been seated we were asked to wait in the queue again - with no option to leave with our deposit. After causing a scene we managed to keep the table, but the experience wasn't that great. Our waiter even explicitly asked for a tip afterwards. My only guess was that the place wanted to recreate not only the food of Mumbai but the service found there too.

But eventually we got to eat some food and at last I found something to justify the trip there. The meat and chicken are halal (and cooked separately), so we had access to a large part of the menu. We picked the Chilli Cheese Toast, Calamari and Pau Bhaji for starters and the Lamb Chops, Dhaba Chicken and Black Daal for mains - I make the distinction between courses but Dishoom has a policy where food comes as it's made ready; we even received our first dish while the server was still taking the rest of our order. It was quite amazing really.

And the food wasn't bad actually. Rich and tasty, yet light, the deceptively small portions were more than enough for those at the table; we even had some left over. Even the "boring" daal turned out to be quite the hit, and my mouth is watering again just thinking of it.

The bill was a bit of a surprise, the total coming to 16 quid per head for all the food and Nimbu Panis. We couldn't quite figure out where the value came from, but there you go.

In many ways Dishoom is very much like most pretty Asian female Londoners: hot, attractive, sexy and alluring at first... but ultimately stuck up, rude, pretentious and high maintenance once you get to know them. And like with the pretty Asian female Londoner, whether the really good is worth the so, so bad is something a hungry soul will have to decide for themselves. But even though I would recommend you all give Dishoom a try, it's somewhere I'm unlikely to go back to again any time soon myself.

Wednesday, November 23

Islamic Circles presents: CAN THE OBEDIENT WIVES CLUB (OWC) – aka THE POLYGAMY CLUB WORK IN THE UK? Click for more info

First things first: I am a monogamist, or at least as much a monogamist a single guy can hope to be. And not only am I a monogamist, I am strictly and actively so. I think it is impossible for me to ever be in love with more than one person let alone marry more than once, and I'd rather be alone than in a polygamous relationship. But it goes even further than this, since I'm also a temporal monogamist; I'm one woman for life and only plan on falling in love the one time. It's possibly unrealistic and most certainly pathetic but it's my take on monogamy more than anything else (including my religion) that explains why, for example, that I've never been interested in any kind of casual relationship with a girl - it'd feel too much like cheating - and I'm always puzzled by how some guys get turned on by the idea of multiple women at the same time. I'd even be as lofty to say that to even remarry would be a big deal for me and that I probably wouldn't unless for obviously practical reasons. So yes, I'm definitely in the "lobster" camp; what's more is that ironically this obsession with monogamy is probably one of the biggest reasons why I'm not married yet - but that's for another post.

Hopefully that is enough of a pre-emptive and defensive introduction to convince even the most cynical (read: feminist) of you that this post isn't about any personal fantasy or desire of mine.

Personally, my reason for attending a talk like this one was because it's finally something different from the usual run-of-the-mill Islamic lectures that have almost dominated the social scene of outgoing Muslims (and my poor inbox) during the past ten years. It wasn't about abstract topics like Tawheed or Aqeedah (things I don't think can necessary be prescribed anyway), it wasn't the instructional stuff you're probably better off reading about in a book and neither was it jumping on a passing bandwagon (I'm looking at you Islamic Finance and Green Islam). Unlike other lectures it hasn't been designed to be summarised in a Facebook status update, or to be tagged with the name of some rockstar imam I can't even pronounce the name of. But, again, my bitter cynicism toward Islamic academia is probably something for another post.

No, this is a topic that's largely been unexplored, at least in an open-minded and impartial way, isn't fashionable (yet) and may even be more practical and relevant than the knowledge currently being sought elsewhere. In fact, I'll even say I didn't really attend as Muslim tonight (you know what I mean), and I was genuinely interested in the personal story of those we had come to see. Congratulations to Mizan and Islamic Circles for being so innovative and brave.

Despite my personal take on the issue, there's no question about it: polygamy is hot right now. Apparently on the increase in British born Asians (although the article doesn't explain what it means by "polygamous relationship", or how it compares to the number of open or unfaithful marriages in other demographics), and not, as many may like to assume, always at the insistence of the man in the relationship. Considering the often lamented loser-to-men ratio, the alleged statistic that there are far more decent women than decent men and finally how there seems to be a bit of a marriage crisis for single Muslim women nowadays, the idea of polygamy has finally gathered enough mindshare for at least the initial debate to begin - and that in a more sophisticated way than it may otherwise have been handled.

So we had a triple - a husband with his two wives, naturally - giving their experiences and insight into the issue at hand. They only spoke for ten minutes in total before the floor was opened for questions; a genius move on the parts of the organisers. During the Q&A we learned how Global Ikhwan were not polyagmists by default and how only a small subsection actually participated in the practise. We were given a bit of a background of the various clubs formed - by my understanding there are actually two separate ones serving two separate purposes: The Obedient Wives' Club and The Polygamy Club. The latter was a support group for those in polygamous relationships, whereas the the former was one promoting a particular way in which to be a good wife. The choice of name is possibly unfortunate, especially in a climate where obedience is a weak and bad thing. I do agree with the argument that an Obedient and Responsible Husbands' Club is also desperately required and I'd probably wouldn't mind joining something like that myself.

Mohammad Ali was the husband with the two wives. He explained how it wasn't him who chose polygamy but that he and his second bride were picked by his community for a wider purpose. We were told how all parties including him, his existing wife and his new bride all went through training and counselling to prepare for the change, and, ultimately, how polygamy was about choice, justice and morality and not control, lust or misogyny. Indeed, the three were here to share their lives, not convince, convert or recruit anyone to their cause.

For me the most interesting of the three was the first wife. Highly educated, she was the most comfortable of the three with speaking in English. She explained how polygamy liberated her from the impossible position she had previously placed herself in, wanting to have a career as well as look after the home and children. She said she found that she had the time and energy to focus on the things that made her happy once she was secure in the knowledge her husband and home were being looked after.

The second wife was much quieter but still had a presence in the triple. My question was to ask about the relationship between the two wives and how they considered each other and after rephrasing it to sound less kinky (that wasn't intentional, I swear), they said how it was almost like a sibling relationship. And as I watched them throughout the night this affection was quite obvious as they shared in-jokes and demonstrated a tactile level of body language. They were clearly at the very least good friends.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a lot of cynicism shot out from the audience. I think that much was fair enough - Mohammad Ali and his wives were probably prepared for a hostile crowd - but it was still a little disheartening and even embarrassing at times. There were what I can only describe as haters present, people only there to cause hassle, demonstrate close-mindedness, or just to look good in front of the other women in that faux-feminist way some guys have. Especially amusing were the couple of girls getting emotional over a comment the first wife made about how women are prone to becoming emotional. I'm pretty certain they didn't see the irony in their reaction.

Particularly disappointing was Abdul-Rehman Malik of Radical Middle Way fame. His input was to ask random questions about group sex and anti-Semitism, which if I was a cynical chap could only describe as blatant attempts at discrediting the personalities present rather than discuss the issue at hand. He himself didn't even bother to listen to the replies to his question as he tapped on his Blackberry.

Overall, the lack of etiquette by the audience (some even left as the three were making their closing statements) was a little disappointing and ironic considering how most were complaining about the lack of respect demonstrated by polygamous men by default. I wondered how many of the people throwing tomatoes were as ethical and honest in their monogamous relationships as the three on the panel were, or how they would have behaved in a talk about relationship types sanctioned-by-the-west like casual ones, homosexuality or those of mixed faiths. The media was also present in full force; I expect the BBC to report on the topic in their unique and authoritatively misinformed and inaccurate style (EDIT: and here it is. Sigh).

On the other hand we did have some genuinely curious questions and interest from the audience too, as well as the cheeky, including one regarding the challenge of having two mother in laws. My favourite was how one guy juxtaposed the distaste we were supposed to have for Islamic polygamy with the acceptance and championing of the right for men and women in the west to cheat in their marriages or be casual and promiscuous. According to him, Islam was backwards by expecting the husband to be responsible for and honest toward his multiple relationships as opposed to the western idea of the more independent and self-serving toward a partner the better. I suspect his point was as lost on the audience as it was on Mohammad Ali though.

Most encouraging however was a young female college student, adamantly against the concept before the talk started but afterwards much more accepting of it as a choice and even solution to bring happiness to certain individuals. She explained that it still wasn't for her, but that she was now able to accept and even understand why it would be the choice for others in certain situations. In that sense the triple were pretty successful in spreading awareness and understanding.

The main issue of contention for some was the doubt over a person's ability to treat more than one wife with justice. The answer to my question, about how the wives saw each other as siblings, got me thinking about the situation where a parent (single or otherwise) has more than one child, and how in that case we would embrace and even encourage the challenge of sharing our love and being just between people with equal rights to that love and justice. And yet we pour scorn and incredulity on a person who chooses to do the same with two spouses. If we think about it, the issues are largely the same if you consider a marriage where the man and woman have defined (that is different but justly divided) statuses. Of course if a couple decide to have a more "literally" equal marriage then I would say polygamy wouldn't really work for them, and they would probably be wise not to practise it. In that sense, this debate wasn't really about having multiple partners, but more about the respective position of a husband and wife (regardless of the number), and the nature of relationship between them and whether traditional and well defined marriages, even the monogamous ones, can ever be considered fair or just.

For those who cry foul at the disparity of this choice and say that men should refuse polygamy on the grounds that it's a facility unavailable to their wives - I'm not sure negative play is the best tactic in any discussion. Almost by virtue of them being so well defined, Islamic marriages are always going to have a disparity between the man and the woman who choose to partake in them, and to deny this particular right would be like relieving a man obligation to provide for his family - an obligation that the woman doesn't have. To be fair some couples do modify these rights, and that's fair enough if done in agreement and consistency. But generally if we accept an Islamic marriage to be just and fair, then we have to accept all the rights available to both parties are too, no matter how exclusive they happen to be. On a secular level I would absolutely agree that there is no reason why women shouldn't be allowed to marry more than once, and such statuses do actually exist in other parts of society.

But as with all rights and facilities, abuse does occur. And yes, there are a lot of douchebag men out there. But I suspect that there are more douchebag monogamists than douchebag polygamists; a douche doesn't become a douche once he chooses a particular opinion and neither will all douches want the same things. In short the bad qualities most people say manifest themselves in a polygamist - so a lack of character, fickleness, no sense of justice - would probably all be present even if you restricted them to monogamy, since it's certainly possible to be unjust and uncaring toward a single wife too. And even a fantastic guy might not be able to handle more than one wife - the chances are that he wouldn't want to anyway.

I'm often told how relationships and marriages have evolved, and how their nature has moved from that of the practical and well defined to a more loose and flexible "organic" one. In the Muslim community self-determined, causal and non-committal relationships are now more acceptable and even expected and encouraged as a natural consequence of progress, when before they would have been resisted and unheard of. And as we continue to evolve and change who we as individuals are, I suspect the same will happen with polygamy. As well as solving the quite real numbers issues - is half a great guy really worse than a whole loser or not being married at all? - it could also be a solution for the increasing number of independent woman who wish to marry but also, like the first wife today, to be free of certain expectations and pressures in order to allow her to focus on her own things.

If consenting adults can pull it off then you can't really do anything but praise God for allowing it to happen. As the polygamists repeatedly mentioned, their relationship - like many monogamous relationships - was mainly for the pleasure of God and they felt that the fact that they found success in it was an indication of God sending his blessings upon them. And regardless of how religious you are that's the real point here: in the face of countless accusations of polygamists being backwards or the wives in them repressed - accusations laden with ever helpful baggage and preconceptions of the accusers themselves - their specific relationship was anything but sleazy or temporary, but rather quite long term, well-founded and full of love; certainly more so than many of the monogamous marriages we come across in life.

And like all loving relationships that's something that can in no way ever be criticised or seen as a bad thing. If I ever get married and my monogamous relationship is as happy, stable and content as the one I saw tonight, well I'd be nothing but pleased and thankful for what I have.

Tuesday, November 22

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

Ah, the old space versus clinginess debate:

People call me unrealistic when I say I don't and won't need space, and I'm sure most are just waiting for reality to hit me square in the face... but until that day I will stick to my stance. And it's precisely because of that last frame that I will.

Monday, November 21

Book: Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts Click for more info

It's not often that I don't really know where to begin when reviewing stuff. And yet here I am, wondering exactly where to start with Shantaram.

I'll get the easy stuff out of the way first, and start with the plot. The story (apparently largely based in reality) is about an escaped Australian convict who, en route to Germany, finds himself in Mumbai where he decides to remain. Over the next decade or so we hear about his adventures in the Bombay city, its slums and even its Mafia, all told in wonderful and vivid first person.

Despite the pretty incredible (and almost nonsensical) plot it's a pretty thrilling ride, made all the more real by some of the best characterisation I've read. I'm still trying to figure out how exactly Roberts manages to do this since, technically at least, the book seems largely plot rather than character driven. Perhaps it's the constant almost-poetry littered throughout, talking about all sorts of things like morality, truth, life and, of course, love? Whatever the case the whole thing is so real it almost feels like you're reading someone's autobiography and as you share the journey with Lin, the protagonist, you get to feel all of his love, romance, anger and emotions.

Technically the book is very well written and extremely easy to read and get lost in. Roberts' skill is not only in the creation of the story but the story telling itself; despite being quite the epic the book is perfectly balanced in terms of pace, progression and weighting of the chapters. The book is complete in the tying of all its thread and is thus immensely rewarding to consume.

But as well as being entertaining, the book also makes a good attempt at discussing relevant real life issues like morality, religion and justice - most of the conclusions essentially saying how although things are never as black and white as we like to think they are, what is right and just is almost always obvious.

But I'm gushing now. Shantaram really is a brilliant read and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in books, India or just a great story.

Saturday, November 19

The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company Click for more info

Okay I'm going to put my hands up here: I did roll my eyes when I heard about this going on. "Oh look, another patronising and feeble attempt to reach out to The Youth in their own language".

As usually is the case I was proven wrong. Gladly so in fact; the evening was a lot of fun as we saw various members of the company perform bits for the bespoke audience made up of all kind of ages and backgrounds (although I've never felt so old and uncool in a crowd before. It didn't help that I am old and uncool).

I was partly right though in that the connection between their art and that of Shakespeare was made unclear at best, and tenuous at worst, but for me that wasn't the point. Live music is always great, and the eclectic mix I saw tonight was well worth the entry fee (which happened to be nothing). Yes, okay, there was a bit of a clever experiment at the start where we had to guess whether a quote was from modern hip-hop or the bard himself - and yes it was fun and surprising - but that message quickly got lost as the night progressed. Of course it could quite possibly have been my lack of coolness missing the point.

All in all though it was a brilliant couple of hours out and I had a lot of fun. The hip-Hop Shakespeare Company is well worth checking out if you get the chance.

Monday, November 14

Food: Papa J's Click for more info

Who knew Luton could have such nice places to eat? Sure, at almost £20 a head for a starter and main you can hardly consider this place cheap, but for once I have no complaints about the food we got. The Chilli Paneer, the Seekh Kebabs, the Chicken Tikka Masala and the Daal Makhani were all pretty awesome - enough for me to over eat by quite a margin.

Service was adequate if not polite and prompt and the place had a nice enough character in which groups, families and smaller parties could all have a good time.

Of course me being me, I have to take away points for the cost... but other than that I can't end this review without recommending the place - you know, if you ever have the misfortune of having to go to Luton in the first place.

Monday, November 7

XKCD Click for more info

XKCD in a nutshell explains the curse of the programmer, or more accurately, the abstract logician:

That right there is why I get no work done. Okay maybe not exactly that, but you know.

Saturday, November 5


[18:50:48] Shak
    there's nothing wrong with being a hermit
    only boring people need to go out and about
[18:53:20] xxxx
    only single ppl
[18:53:34] Shak
    i spend most days in now
    looking forward to xfactor tonight
    that is my life :D
    oh well. have plenty of stuff to watch
[18:55:02] xxxx
[18:55:15] Shak
    dont say it
[18:55:16] xxxx
    hurry up and get married already
    too late
[18:55:31] Shak
    so many hot girls in can wharf man


[18:56:15] xxxx
    there are loads
    i love it here
    if you're a banker
    easy to get fit *****
    wait for the economy to tank
    there will be loads
    you can 'save' the really poor ones from a life of stripping
    sounds harsh...but it's reality
    you'll be able to provide where a hot guy with big **** may not
    remember these words my friend
    great recession = hot ***** for you
    don't save this chat
[19:05:37] Shak
    ah man, i havent posted one of your quotes for ages. this is def going on the blog
[19:06:16] xxxx
    call it....
    recession *****