Monday, December 30

Book: Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth Click for more info

The only reason I had even considered reading Portnoy's Complaint was due to a recommendation an (albeit anonymous) commenter made way back in 2011 while responding to my The Catcher in the Rye book review. In contrast to movie or music recommendations, with most book recommendations I receive I get I do put them in a list; and hence I do eventually get around to reading them.

And as with most book recommendations I get, I really did love reading Portnoy's Complaint. First of all it was pretty much purely character driven - this was almost by default considering it's written as a monologue - and there was barely any plot to be found. Secondly it's wonderfully written and oh so funny - I don't think any other book has gotten me more bemused stares from passengers on the commute due to my incessant giggling. And thirdly, as a thirty something single Asian guy (or perhaps not?) it was extremely easy to relate to - if not in the detail certainly in the family dynamics Portnoy describes as well as his expertise in being a curmudgeon.

The book was also very rude, but humorously so if such a thing is possible - at the very least it didn't make me cringe or feel uncomfortable like I was with, say, American Psycho or some of the chicklit I've had the pleasure of reading. Although some of it did get pretty graphic, I really don't think it was enough to put anyone off the book - or in any case it's worth taking the hit for anyway.

Anon.786, the commenter who recommended the book to me, actually put it quite well in describing it as Catcher for people of our age group. And like Anon.786 I can't help but recommend it now that I've read it for myself.

Film: Frozen Click for more info

Frozen was a funny film - and I don't just mean funny ha ha. I mean on the surface it had all the vital ingredients of a modern Disney film: the cute characters, the songs, the overwhelming FGF and emotional triggers (or that could have just been me being a sap). But on the other hand there was also something missing, something insubstantial about the whole thing.

Take the plot for instance. It happened to be pretty well engineered actually, with many faces and sub adventures, all of which had me guessing and kept things fresh. But this lack of investment in an overwhelming story arc made it all a little shallow too - resulting in a pretty weak ending. The same phenomenon applied elsewhere too, from the characters (all very cute, funny and interesting when considered separately, but not quite gelling together as they should in a Disney flick) to the the music (which I really liked, even though I can't remember any of them now).

Other notes: The film was genuinely, laugh out loud funny and Kristen Bell's voice acting was as awesome as she is. Oh but it may have failed the kids test overall (but what do they know anyway).

Of course an average Disney cartoon is still better than most things out there, so if you're in need of something to watch Frozen is a definite option. It's just a shame it didn't evoke the same kind of magic and poignancy that Tangled did a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, December 25


Like many other Islamic activities Hijama, or cupping, has become a bit of a fashion over the past few years. The idea behind it (essentially of using low pressure to suck out blood via some minor incisions on your skin) is pretty blunt and maybe even a little gross, but the practise is a Sunnah which for many is enough to give it a go.

Our local mosque ran some Hijama sessions today, held by Dr Sheikh Muhammad Zaenal Arifin a local cupping expert whose reputation I had already heard heard about from some friends who had already visited him separately. But more on that later.

The cupping itself was more disconcerting than painful or uncomfortable. It went exactly as expected - horns were used in this session, with an initial (dry) cupping being used to draw blood to the surface, followed by a tirade of incisions by a blade to the prepared surface, after which the horns were reapplied to draw out the blood. Any weirdness I think was due to the unfamiliarity of the set up rather than any physical reason, and I was pretty astonished by the matter which was drawn out (think raspberry jelly and you wouldn't be far off).

As well as the cupping, Dr Arifin's reputation comes from the massage he applies after his Hijama sessions. I had already seen reactions of fully grown men to his touch (which pretty much consisted of lots of shouting in pain), and although that as a challenge itself was something I had convinced myself I wanted to try one day, I didn't realise that was going to be today until saw Dr Arifin apply the cups - by which point it was too late to reconsider my options. Dr Arifin is a small Indonesian chap who instantly reminded me of Mad Dog from The Raid, although I'm not sure if I had made that connection before or after I saw him work, live, on the guy who I had been paired up with.

I like to think that I can endure most kinds of everyday physical pain. Sure, I have no problem expressing that endurance with (lots of) noise and (lots of) flailing of limbs, but I'd never walk away from something which I knew was going to pass eventually. And although today's "massage" (yes, with quotes) was very painful and perhaps the most localised, deliberate and intense activity I've ever partaken in, it wasn't unbearable - I think a great component of my own reaction was due in the main to the stories I had heard and not knowing what would happen... I would imagine the second and subsequent goes would be a more tolerable experience for all the first timers today.

But what about the after effects of the today's treatment? If I'm totally honest, I don't think I'm entirely convinced that Hijama is for me as a regular preventative medical practise. I may have felt a bit looser and lighter, but that could equally have just been my imagination too. However Dr Arifin did suggest some lifestyle changes I could make in my life based on what he saw in the blood I had let, as well as what he felt while massaging - all very sensible and relevant so I will try to take those on board. The massage was more of a novel experience and challenge than a treatment, and I'm glad I did it for the experience.

Dr Arifin and his associates currently run sessions in Ilford and a clinic Forest Gate - if anyone is interested in cupping or their other services than please let me know.

Monday, December 23

Film: Dhoom 3 Click for more info

Dhoom 3 really is a film that has everything. From the Stomp-like opening to Katrina's striptease midway and some astonishing height sizes throughout it's pretty clear that D3 covers all the bases any discerning Bollywood moviegoer would want.

It's not that Dhoom 3 is a particularly bad film - any Bollywood moviegoer would be well prepared in advance for that - it's the manner in which it contradicts itself which makes it quite hard to enjoy. Some rather shoddy special effects, a random striptease by a pretty redundant Katrina (which, admittedly, I probably would have paid the ticket price alone for) to an interesting back story that manifests itself as garbage in the narrative and even the astonishing disparity in actor heights throughout just made the whole film, well, jar a bit. It's a shame because if any franchise has proven how the adding up of parts might not matter it's Dhoom, so I can't help but feel that this flick was a loser by design.

What's really surprising (or perhaps not) is how amazing Aamir Khan was in it - I wondered more than once why the heck he had ever put his name and sheer talent to such a film. Unfortunately it's not worth sitting through even for his stellar performance and you really should wait for the DVD to watch this one.

Sunday, December 22

On Return

There's something about Pakistan that makes me sleepy, all the way till we arrive at Heathrow. I could blame the weather, or the attitude, or how I have nothing much to do there except sleep, but I think it's more than that - possibly something about finally being able to relapse to the true state of being a relaxed and lazy so an so.

Although I am always able to easily return after two weeks in Karachi, there has been a slight change in my approach to Pakistan in this trip, including the desire to now go back more often. Linked with the disaffection I've begun to have toward travel in general (I noticed that I, quite gladly, had no real "tourist" holiday in 2013) I think that works quite well and suspect I'll be returning to Karachi sooner rather than later.

But for now I return to the UK and real life, and thus the rehabilitation of my sleep patterns, diet and the soles of my feet can begin.

Friday, December 20

Karachi Transport Wins and Loses

The good:

Having your own driver while shopping.

Riding pillion from Federal B all the way to Clifton and back.

The view from the rear facing seat of an extra large rickshaw.

The bad:

Awful traffic.

The risk of death while playing chicken at almost every intersection you need to take.

Having to flush your nasal cavity each time you take a journey through the Karachi smog.

The oh so ugly:

Having to sit on a wet seat on a Kala-peela Taxi.

Tuesday, December 17

A Game of Takhts

Maybe it's just mine but Pakistani society appears to have a very organised familial structure and formalisation of heritage. You have the usual and expected sub-continent patriarchy and attitudes toward progeny and communality, but as I get older and become more aware of deeper behaviours I've noticed family names, houses, lines, relationships, allegiances and sometimes even politics and power struggles.

Marriages have bearings on ties and inheritance as houses are joined and changed. Sometimes marriages are kept within lines to influence this. Some houses are great, and some not so great, but all have their characters, personality, history and are utterly fascinating. There are no shields or sigils though which I think is a shame.

And not that I would ever confirm having done so myself, but if you look closely you might even spot the Starks, Baratheons and Lannisters too.

Sunday, December 8

Hyderabad and Tando Adam

If three years is a long time after which to return to Karachi, the 20 odd it's been since I last visited Hyderabad must be an epoch - and the even longer time I've been away from Tando Adam an eternity. The trend for relatives to relocate over the past couple of decades has reduced the reasons to go back - until now anyway. Memories of those past visits still remain vivid in my mind though, from the intercity bus trips to the way in which we oh so care-freely hung out with our cousins during our extended summer stays.

Hyderabad is more "Sindhi" than Karachi, but aside from that the Hyderabad I knew doesn't exist any more. Which is probably why our trips there now last a day and not the weeks it used to. We were back (and happy) in Karachi pretty early in the evening.

Saturday, December 7


Time flows very strangely in a place you repeatedly visit over many years.

Three years is an odd amount of time after which to return to Karachi. On the one hand, it's not enough time for a lot to have changed much - the beloved Jinnah International and its immigration was was still the same, as were the all embracing golden arches waiting for us outside. the Karachi weather, traffic and people were all the same, including my relatives who, in their adulthood, all appeared more or less the same as they did the last time I saw them.

But look more closely and things have changed. We have new flyovers, new laws (oh my gosh, guys can finally ride pillion again), new technology (WhatsApp on iPhones? Jeez) and, of course, new babies. And in this particular revisit way too many missing faces too (which is the main reason we have decided to come).

I do usually visit more often (at least once every two years), but I missed a trip earlier this year so despite the circumstances I am glad that we made the decision to come. I do love Karachi and after day one I am still excited to be here and even a little bit disbelieving that I am too.

Monday, December 2

Film: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Click for more info

It's not often that a film does a book justice. On the other hand, considering what I thought about the trilogy overall it would have been a very dire set of films to be worse than the books in this case - and the fact that I've come back to watch the second part kinda implies that I'm rather enjoying the adaptation this time around.

But it is a jolly good romp - the whole premise lends itself pretty well to film I think, with more of a focus able to be made on the visual side of things (because let's face it, the book is pretty shallow otherwise). Jennifer Lawrence is still good despite what I see as a lesser role and all in all the film is well put together; I even hated the Capital by the end of it.

Unlike the first film (and indeed, book), Catching Fire clearly leaves the door open for the final part (or rather, parts, seeing as the last book has, surprise surprise, been split into two films. Groan), so expect to be left hanging by the end. Otherwise if you like the first one you will this. Recommended