Thursday, March 31, 2005


Health warning: This is going to be a gripe-ridden, whingy, whiny, humourless piece. I've been friends with F for a long time. Its been completely platonic, although we are both gay men of "a certain age" - as the French put it, with diplomatic savoir faire. I've been through many things with F and I'd like to think that I've been a fairly good friend through it all. So has he. Till recently, things have been good. All of this seems to have changed earlier this year. F acquired a new lover. OK. The lover is not one of "us", but I have made every effort to be sociable and understanding. So far so good. The Lover lives in another city so that has meant long absences from home. OK. Not a problem. We all have long distance involvements at some time or the other- I wonder if the airlines have discovered "Frequent Lover Miles" as a marketing gimmick yet.
The problem has arisen in the cavalier treatment I feel F is dishing out to me. It may sound petty, but it is really begining to piss me off. Each time I invite F I am fobbed off with some absurd excuse. This usually has its roots in the Lover being present in town or - more usually - in his inability to wake up in time to get here for lunch. On one occasion he arrived for five minutes and then took off with one of my guests. On another he called at 5 pm to apologise for not showing up for his lunch invitation. Last sunday he called at 7 pm to apologise for not waking up in time for lunch - this despite six missed calls and as many text messages.
At the risk of sounding like a Cosmo quiz, I have a limited number of options. (A) : I continue to co exist in this situation. He's too good a friend to lose. (B) Not everyone has my refined sense of etiquette. (C) Speak to him. I have. It doesn't work. (D) Do nothing. Right now I'm in D mode, but I have no idea how long it will last. This sleeping dog has lain around for long enough.
Ok, I know I said this would not be a humourless piece. But getting all this negative karma out of my system (and into yours!) has reminded me of the wonderful Alicia Silverstone piece in Clueless - guess who's not coming to dinner!
"So like, right now for example. The Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, "What about the strain on our resources?" Well it's like when I had this garden party for my father's birthday, right? I put R.S.V.P. 'cause it was a sit-down dinner. But some people came that like did not R.S.V.P. I was like totally buggin'. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, and squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day it was, like, the more the merrier. And so if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion may I please remind you it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty. Thank you very much. "

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


My Best Friend has decided to continue with her pursuit of M. I had written earlier about how M had left me stone cold and what I saw as some of the differences in the objects pursued by women and gay men. A subtle dinner was contrived last night where M had deigned to attend. Blissfully, we were spared M for much of the time. His flight was late by several hours. There are times you can bank on PIA to deliver. While there, I ran into S whom I had not seen for eons. We hugged and repaired to the deepest recess of Best Friend’s post-modern, pre-whatever dining room and spoke and spoke and spoke, with chilled chateau margalla plonk to keep us going.

S, for the record, is one of the few Pakistani men I have met who has no problems with gay men. He is friendly, effusive, good looking and hopelessly heterosexual. Yet at the same time he thinks I am “cool”, that being gay is not really such a big deal and that despite our closeness it is highly unlikely that we are going to sleep with each other. S was formerly a pilot but has none of the machismo or the conservatism associated with the armed forces. We met at a shi-shi costume party in Karachi many years ago. Costume, in those days, allowed my gay friends to dress in drag. S went off to dance with an attractive woman with something vaguely akin to a lampshade on her head. Halfway through the dance a friend of mine discovered that Lampshade Lady was really Lampshade Boy. He went running to warn S of what lay in store. S simply shrugged his shoulders. “Who cares?” I have had a soft spot for S ever since the Night of the Lampshade.

Pakistani men of my generation do not have an overt problem with my homosexuality. It’s the little things which add up. I have heard them laugh at or ridicule some of the more outré gay men I know. Well, I’ve done so myself so they cannot be blamed alone on that front. I have heard them complain of being felt up or sized up or scoped by gay men. That’s a tough call. Yes, gay men can behave outrageously at times. On the other hand straight men can be anally paranoid. A handshake that lasts a nanosecond longer than necessary can be construed as a pass. Mistaken eye contact converts itself into a come-on. I have learned that the best way to avoid all of this is to minimize touchy-feely behavior with a straight man unless I am sure that he has the balls to cope with it.

S has the balls. I can touch him or hug him or feel him all over and I know that there will be no repercussions. Coming back to the dinner party where all this started, the dreaded M did finally arrive. By this time S was exuding so much heterosexual confidence in himself and our mutual friends that poor M was sidelined. The hapless M sat sullenly, smoked furtively and watched as S and I discussed the fallen (and tripping) women in S’ past, my hand on S’s thigh, his elbow on my shoulder. The contrast between the two men was glaringly evident. My Best Friend looked subdued. “Can’t figure out what’s happened to him” she murmured looking over at M. “Nor me” I replied. Ok. I lied.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Living To Tell The Tale

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has to rank on almost anybody's top ten (five?) list of living novelists. Living to Tell the Tale is the first part of Marquez's autobiography covering his life from the beginning (1927) till the date he proposes to his wife (1950). Do not be mislead by the neatness of this scheme- there is nothing linear in Marquez's time narrative which shifts effortlessly from one era to another in the space of a sentence.. He narrates his college days, and then comments on something Bill Clinton witnessed and then moves back to the April 9 riots in Bogotá resulting from the Gaitan assassination. Although his life lacks the drama of, say Hemmingway (no Spanish civil war, bull fights et al), there is enough material in there to keep one riveted. Be warned though: there are large doses of Colombian literature and politics.

In some respects, Living to Tell the Tale, has the classic ingredients of a writer's life - the relative penury; an absent father; the predominance of women in early life; social and political revolution; literary influences -everyone in Colombia seems to have been a poet or writer. It also seems that everyone is Colombia was shagging incessantly. GGM's father sired a number of illegitimate children who ultimately came to live with their eleven other siblings. Marquez's own encounters with women are as casual as lighting up a cigarette - redeemed only upon being discovered in bed by a husband or machete wielding lover. Like some of us, his parents forced him into becoming a lawyer (he failed the exams) while his friends led to him journalism as the next best thing to being a writer. His heart remained in writing and the genesis of many of his characters and the legendary town of Macondo are traced in some detail.

As with any literary autobiography, what is interesting is the creative process which leads to the finished product. Although the period under review predates the better known novels, Marquez does provide the background to his brilliant but later Chronicle of a Death Foretold- I told you there was no time narrative at work here. On a personal level what fascinates me about Marquez is his "magical imagination".I assumed -wrongly - that this arose from Catholicism (miracles and the like) and the native Indian influence (belief in the supernatural). The answer seems to be much simpler and less pretentious: Marquez has a fantastic natural imagination. His dreams and (more frequently) his nightmares are powerful sources. He cites A Thousand and One Nights as one of his early literary influences - the power of imagination to spin a riveting magical story. Other inspiration came from the Americans (Steinbeck, Faulkner) - Colombia being a "natural continuation" of the American/Atlantic coast. Borges was spinning magic at the same time too. The ultimate inspiration came to him from Colombian life around him expressed in a series of truly eccentric friends and family - legitimate and otherwise. In a wonderful interlude, he describes taking a bus in Cartagena, and swears that he saw a faun board the bus, sit with the other passengers and get off many stops later - indeed he smelt the faun. Predictably, nobody believed him.

Where Living to Tell the Tale does succeed is in evoking, in the least complicated terms, a life of tireless pursuit, frustration, poverty and political turmoil in honest and unsentimental terms. Unfortunately there is much less about the novels here than I would have liked, but then again, there's always the second volume to look forward to.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

The New York Times does it again! In a story printed on March 23, their correspondent did a piece on Karachi entitled "Pakistan is booming after 9/11 at least for the well-off". The last five or six words made me a little uncomfortable, but what the hell. I read on. The article begins with a reference to Limoncello, one of Karachi's new, smart restaurants. References are made to "Italian-inspired fine dining spot with lemon-colored walls and a kebab-free menu that features arugula and Norwegian salmon." Hey, this is becoming a journalistic rarity. A good piece on Karachi.
Too good to be true. A few lines later this emerges: "Dinner for four - not including wine, since alcohol is banned at public accommodations - came to $70, substantially more than a Karachi housemaid's monthly salary." Hang on. Has anyone told the writer that dinner at an upmarket Manhattan restaurant costs significantly more than a Puerto Rican maid's salary ? There then follows the usual trotting out of statistics, a visit to a slum, interviews with several extremely poor (and hard working) individuals. I have no problem with the article on that front. Yes, Karachi (like Manila, Washington DC, Berlin and Delhi) is a city with sharp divides between the rich and the poor. Undisputed. Having given a description of poverty and divides, there is no prescription at all for removing these. This is characteristic of the descriptive (as opposed to prescriptive) whinging and whining that adorns the op ed pages of any Pakistani paper. Don't take my word for it. Just read any and you'll get my drift.
But now to what's really bugging me about the NYT article. There is an implicit theme running through it - that restaurants such as Limoncello are an obscenity and should not exist in the face of such glaring poverty. Further, that the making of money is somehow wrong and should be discouraged. That, in some kind of utopian fantasy, there should be an immediate redistribution of wealth. Yes, capitalism of the kind practiced in Pakistan or most other countries will produce inequities. You don't need a ph.d to figure that out. Yes, we need to figure out ways and means of lessening such inequities. Its just that I don't see too many articles stating that Prada should be closed down because there are inner city problems in South Washington DC or homelessness in Detroit. The idea is to create guilt in the creation and spending of money in the lesser developed countries. At the same time, having scrubbed other options (the Marxist alternatives) the self same newspapers will support moves to increase foreign direct investment which buttresses the growth of capitalist enterprises. Confusing, huh ? Will someone tell me if its alright to make (and spend) money legitimately ?
On a more positive note, someone forgot to tell the NYT that Pakistanis rank among the most charitable/giving people on the planet. This is not a fiction, but the result of detailed research by the Pakistan Centre for Philanthrophy- an independent NGO. Yes, much charity is ill organised, but it does exist. So there is some consciousness of social inequality. In the meanwhile, can the rest of us get on with our lives ?
ps: the NYT article can be accessed on (site requires registration).

The X Factor

Oh yes. Spent the whole day in a workshop with X. I sat up front (as always). He snuck into a row behind. Somewhere along the line, in a (flaccid but) impassioned defence of some useless situation he used his height (6.4) to get out of it. "But I'm 6.3 " I asserted. Later, we chewed on tasteless sandwiches and diet cokes and I went up lamely to compare heights. The asshole is an inch taller. I'm sure I'd have measured up if I'd used a better hair product. And so to bed.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Vanity Unfair

I have been cleaning up my bathroom and I have discovered I use an inordinate number of products. Each morning involves most of the following:

Shampoo: Nicky Clarke Ultra Shining Hairomatherapy
Conditioner: Neutrogena-60 second Therapy
Shower Gel: Dove- Ultra firming Age Defying(!)
Face Cleanser: Clarins Doux Nettoyant Moussant (All skin types)
Clinique For Men Face Scrub
Toni and Guy Moisture Injection
Edge Shaving Gel (Aloe Extra Gentle)
Distilled Witch Hazel (Generic) Post Shave
Johnsons PH.55 Deodorant
Johnsons Buds for ears
Clinique Eye Gel
Estee Lauder Time Zone Moisturiser
Plax Anti Tartar Mouthwash
Aquafresh Ultra Clean Toothpaste
Vetiver Cologne/Lanvin or Herrera but usually Guerlain.

Ok ok . I know it looks like a lot. Actually I don't really consciously think I'm using all this stuff. Its just instinctive. I pretty much reach for it all in roughly the order I've listed. And it doesn't take me all that long to get ready so I must have perfected it all. Does it make me look any better? I don't know. You'll have to see me to figure that out. Does it make me feel better ? A million bucks. Infinitely better than the E or K or whatever that my Karachi friends are popping, the coke that my Lahore friends are snorting and the dope that my Islamabad friends are smoking. Infinitely better than botox. Hic!

Saturday, March 26, 2005


I feel wonderful. I have just paid my masseur the GDP of a small African country to pummel me into a mass of writhing flesh. There's a fresh espresso on my bedside table. I am entranced by the Marquez autobiography. There's a new stack of jazz CD's from a friend in Beirut. The Beast is in his basket fast asleep, tail quivering occasionally. I can see a big bar of Lindt extra dark chocolate from my vantage point. I cannot really think of anything missing in this frame. Or can I ?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Mango Republik

All those of you who do not live in Islamabad have no idea what the rest of us have to put up with in the name of the March 23 parade. In the old days, the parade was held in the safe confines of Rawalpindi, which is an army cantonment town and better equipped to handle such things. Some wise guy must have seen the equivalent parade in India (at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan complex in New Delhi) and have decided that we too must follow suit. The difference here is that the facilities in India were built by the colonizers to allow parades of all shape, size and colour to be watched (in amazement) by the natives. The modern designers of Islamabad had no such motive. Hence the incongruous sight of tanks and juggernauts rolling down streets lined with Dunkin Donuts and Mobilink Jazz and next week's production of Moulin Rouge.

This year was no different. The army band has been housed in a large park very near my office. I have had to bear them practicing milli naghmas while focusing on other things. Preparations start weeks ahead with the city paralysed the last few days as dress rehearsals take place right in the centre of town, dislocating traffic for miles. Finally comes parade day itself.. Unfortunately, my new house is about twenty yards away from the main parade ground. It all starts with my bedroom rumbling as tanks roll by down the road. My dog (a.k.a the Beast) does not stir even though he can hear a wrapper of Dairy Milk being ripped opened at least a hundred yards away.

When the rumbling becomes unbearable, I finally decide to go to my terrace (dragging the Beast in tow) to read the papers, while sipping my coffee and nibbling on French toast in my stripy red pyjamas. I hear a strange noise and look up. Parked stationary right above me is a chopper with two javans dangling on a rope waving the Pakistan flag. In military terms, I can see the whites of their eyes. In other circumstances I would have been quite happy to have commandoes over for breakfast. The ludicrousness of it all hit home just then. Me, PJ's, coffee, toast, chopper, soldiers and the chand tara fluttering madly.

Finally, on a PC note: Wouldn't it make better sense to disband the parade and put the (taxpayers) money which is funding it to better use - say Pakistan Day schools to be opened with the money saved. Leaving aside the inconvenience, such parades have now become the preserve of tinpot banana republics. Apart from the French (who are contrary in every respect) no self respecting Country displays its hardware quite so shamelessly. The Brits keep a handful of elaborately costumed guards on display to keep the populace and hordes of Japanese tourists happy. These are much prettier (and cheaper) than Hatf 3 and Ghauri missiles which all look the same anyway. Nahin ? Pakistan Zindabad.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ali and Nino  Posted by Hello

The Occidental Tourist

When I was a precocious teenager (see the Bookstore blog below) I bought a copy of a book called Ali and Nino by someone called Kurban Said. The paperback had a schmaltzy cover and the blurb shrieked “Guaranteed to knock Eric Segal’s Love Story off the bestsellers charts.” A and N is well crafted love story set in the Caucasus and tells a Montague and Capulet version of Muslim-Christian love at the turn of the century. One day, having returned from university in London, I ran into Anatol Lieven who was then posted as the Times correspondent to Pakistan. He mentioned that he was being relocated to cover Central Asia. I mentioned Ali and Nino and that was the last I saw of my copy.

Cut to 2005. I am rummaging at my local bookstore and I come across a copy of a book called “The Orientalist” by Tom Reiss which purports to tell the story of Kurban Said. And what a life it was. Kurban Said, it transpires, was really Lev Nussimbaum, a European Jew whose family settled in modern day Azerbaijan. Nussimbaum senior was an oil man (oil being more readily available than water in that part of the world) and did fairly well by all accounts. Lev’s hometown Baku is situated on the fault lines of several worlds – East and West, Orient and Occident, Muslim and Christian. These divisions rocketed Lev into a world of revolution. Each city he arrived at seemed to be on the point of disintegration: Constantinople, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and (via a brief stint in New York) Positano on the Amalfi coast in Italy where he died at 34. Either his luck was out or his choices extremely poor or, perhaps, that part of the world was in utter turmoil. In this time, Lev populated a world of luminaries (the Pasternaks and the Nabokovs are close friends) and wrote over a dozen books – of which Ali and Nino survives as the most well known. The new edition thankfully deletes the Segal blurb and has a respectable introduction by Paul Theroux.

What fascinates me about Lev’s life is his decision to take on a Muslim persona. This was in part derived from living among a predominantly Muslim population in Baku and partly to avoid extermination in Hitler’s Germany. However, a large part of this stemmed from Lev’s highly romanticized vision of Islam – white chargers, daggers, turbans, opium, baggy pants and all the rest of it. Perhaps this romantic picture made life seem more exciting in troubled and revolutionary times. Perhaps the image gave him exposure he would never have had as a little known novelist - the streets of Berlin were lined with unpublished manuscripts. Lev's assumed Islamic persona fell apart on occasion when zealous journalists would expose his (far less romantic) Jewish origins. Lev made a career of being a professional Muslim in terms of the trappings rather than the substance. This is a far cry from the less-than-romantic trappings available today : a scraggly beard, shalwar flapping way above the ankles and a firearm replacing the ornate (but deadly) dagger. Reiss is at pains to point out that there was a breed of “Jewish Orientalists” who insisted on their “Asiatic” origins as providing them with identity – Palgrave and Disreali among others. Lev refused to join their club, preferring the mystique which came with his fabricated Islamic identity. I recommend this as a quick but fascinating read. Available now at your local bookshop – if you have one!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Frigid Jones Diary- The horrors of Cyberdating

Number of Profile Views: 3,672.
Number of Profiles met: 0
Number of Profiles wanted to meet: 2
(but didn’t muster the courage)
Number of messages received: 1321
% of these from unattractive types: 95%
% of these from friends too lazy to SMS: 5%
% of responses from “bottoms” 50%
% of responses from wannabe tops: 50%
%of responses seeking instant sex: 97.5%
Most common words used: “sincire” “verstyle” “LOL” “hahahahahaha”
Most common body part photographed: schlong
Most common favourite book: The Da Vinci Code
Most Common Description: “I am simple boy.” “I hate liers”
Most Common Favourite Actress: Julia Roberts
Most Common Favourite Actor : Bread (sic) Pitt
Most Common long term Goal : Relationship
Most Common immediate Goal : One night stand
Picture source: GQ/Esquire/advertising
Resemblance to picture posted: 0%
Most repeated introduction: "Hello Dear"
Usual Intro: ". i prefer to meet any white man who is living if ur instrusted in an goos relationship or friendship with me u can msg me i will reply to u ... one thing there ae som thing that i need u should be ..romantic,flexible bit hunk and in 22 to 30 ... i am into younger guys only. i like bondage ,kinkysex and otherstuff. (sic)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Death of the Bookshop

The first bookshop I have a conscious memory of is Ferozesons on the Mall in Lahore. I remember being taken there often as a five or six year old with a quota of one book to buy. I recall the smell of new books and the sound of the press working in the background. It took me ages to figure out that not all bookshops came with presses attached to them. Ferozesons started my rip roaring affair with bookshops- an affair that I have managed to conduct and sustain with considerably more success than some others.

The next bookstore recollection has its roots in Karachi. The Pak American and Greenwich bookstores on Elphinstone Street (sadly renamed since) and Thomas & Thomas were haunts to which I was inexorably drawn. My parents eventually decided I was old enough to select my own books and the quota system was abolished. Having read through most of the Classics by the age of 13 I decided to embark on an “adult” reading career. This led to me a great deal of literature I, perhaps, should not have read so early on. I am still convinced that I was the only precocious 14 year old in Karachi to have consumed Gore Vidal’s transsexual fantasy “Myra Breckenridge” with a lascivious passion. As if all this was't enough, my siblings and I were members of the British Council library at Pakistan Chowk and the USIS library in the (now deserted) American Consulate.

Since then I have encountered numerous bookshops – Foyles and Dillons in London, Heffers in Cambridge, Blackstones in Oxford, Barnes and Nobles all over American, Kinokuniya in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Borders in Manila and innumerable others. When my young (then younger) friend M was going to college in DC many years ago, I couldn’t recall the name of any bars or clubs. I could remember the name of the nicest bookstore/café in town. He sent me a postcard to let me know that he’d located Kramerbooks and was working there.

Many years later I am amazed that Karachi – a city of 15 million people- does not have a single decent bookshop. My friends confess to buying books in malls and supermarkets. Some resort to Amazon or foreign trips. Islamabad fares a little better. A two floor bookstore has recently opened here and it is packed most evenings. There are also several second hand bookshops with an eclectic selection of titles. When I am at a Pakistani airport I am amazed to discover that I am often the only one among hundreds of people reading a book while waiting for a flight to be called. A few read newspapers. Most others just stare vacuously into the middle distance.

So what went wrong ? People just stopped reading books. And because of that people just stopped selling books. A quick look at web pages of the Orkut or Friendster variety shows that most Pakistanis either don’t have a favourite book or else there is a (proud) declaration that they don’t read. This is confirmed by visits to houses where the only book for miles around is a telephone directory. Clearly, there is an entire generation out there which has no intention of reading. I concede that books are expensive and are not within the reach of most Pakistanis. Ok. Point taken. But what about people who can afford to smoke Dunhills and still don’t read ?

I admit that these are all elitist arguments. They do not, for example, take into account reading habits in Urdu which may (hopefully) exceed English readership. All the major papers have literary reviews and “books” sections so I must assume that somebody reads. What disturbs me is that there are no visible signs (bookstores, libraries, readers) of a reading society. I desperately hope that anyone reading this trashes my views, shakes me out of my complacency and tells me that I’m totally wrong. I wait eagerly.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Weakest Twink

He’s done it again. My bestest friend has acquired himself a brand-new-state-of-the-art Twink. A twink, for the uninitiated, is a boyish boy or sometimes even a boyish man. The classic twink is usually this side of twenty-five, a high school or college student and homosexual. This year's model is sylph-like, has eyelashes that you can grab in a fist and bee-stung lips.

In the Pakistani scenario, twinks are usually well proportioned, good looking (somewhere between the merely decorative and drop dead gorgeous) with a budding penchant for the finer things of life. This covers everything from a perfume tester to an Armani jacket. Most twinks want to be "mo-dels" and carry their bulging portfolios around with them. Textbook twink has cultivated petulance and caprice to a degree of refinement hitherto unknown. This manifests itself in carefully choreographed expressions: The Mood, The Scowl and the The Pout. On a bad day, all three. The height of fun includes an evening at Pizza Hut, some sex and –if he’s been a good boy- an extra hour on PS2. Twink parents are notoriously negligent. Twink mom is oblivious to her son’s rapidly increasing designer wardrobe. Twink dad somehow overlooks his long absences from home –often to other cities. Finally, even the average twink knows that his indispensability is based on his youth. You will be constantly reminded of this by repeated references to the exams he is taking or the lecture he has to get to tomorrow morning. He is begging you to confess that the last time you did homework was in the early 80s.

It takes two to tango. Every Twink needs a Patron. Yin and Yang. The classic Patron is usually older (35ish upwards) with a strong sense of insecurity flowing from his fading beauty and prowess. He is amazingly bright but feels that his friends will satiate his intellectual yearnings sufficiently. He has enough intelligence for two people and is therefore willing to overlook brains in his significant other. He also has a deep yearning for youth and even deeper pockets. To him a twink is a trophy, a prize, a statement that he is still desirable despite the weathering effects of age. Play it again Bosie.

The whole Twinkology scene leaves me stone cold. Nothing can be worse than an evening where one is foisted with a twink for company. The twink usually arrives with bi’s, tri’s, ab’s and thighs testifying to a life spent in a sweaty gym. Invariably the Mood, Scowl and Pout appear when he discovers that I have no music by Maroon or Nine Inch Nails. (“What are we doing with this boring old man when we could be eating a Chicken Extravaganza with extra cheese?”) Attempts at conversation crash-land with the Patron invariably stepping in to rescue his protégé. You are regaled with stories of how brilliant the infernal child is (“He just got accepted at the LSE.”). If the blurbs are anything to go by, junior is all set for a Nobel, a Pulitzer or an Oscar – in 2072.
Twinks have inspired some great art, so all is not lost. Thomas Mann's "A Death in Venice" and Lucino Visconti's luscious film of the same name are paeans to Twinkism. On a less lofty note the Pet Shop Boys wrote a wicked song called "Rent" presenting a twink-eye view of life:
You phone me in the evening on hearsay /You bought me caviar/ You took me to a restaurant off Broadway /To tell me who you are /We never-ever argue,/ we never calculate/ The currency we've spent /I love you, you pay my rent

Don't get me wrong. I do not mean to trash all younger men in the process. Indeed I love younger men. I have been out with many truly fascinating younger men. It’s the dynamic, the power play, the money and the sheer Humbertishness of the twink-Patron relationship which scares me shitless. Fran Lebowitz (author of the definitive “Notes on Twink” in “Metropolitan Life” )said “All of God’s children are not beautiful. Some are barely presentable.” I rest my case.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Out out damned (blog) spot

Damn. I wrote a brilliant blog and it just vanished into thin air! I guess the trick is to write one's masterpiece on Word and then cut and paste it. Well. You live and learn.

Expectations- Great and Otherwise

I've been doing some emotional auditing recently. Trying to figure out where I'm headed. Its the sort of stuff "self help" book authors make a fortune out of. I refuse to help them get even richer, so I'm stuck with the skills I have. While trying to figure out my skills (or the lack thereof) I got thinking. Many of these skills are the results of being pushed/goaded/guided/cajoled and directed by my parents. I often wonder what exactly they had in mind ...what end product they could have aspired to as they brought me up.
First things first. My parents belong to the immediate post independence generation. Their lives (and those of their parents and contemporaries) were unsettled by the 1947 partition. My father may have wanted a better-and further-education but was expected to handle the family's assets (or what remained of them). My mother came from a generation where the education of women was seen as positively seditious. This lack of a serious education caused my parents to drum into the me the fact that I was going to get a university education, probably outside of Pakistan. Ok so I was to be educated. In addition to that, it was made plain to me that I was expected to work for a living. Only my country bumpkin barely literate cousins worked on the lands and I was not expected to follow in their abysmal footsteps. So I was to be educated and to be a professional.
My father's Aitchisonian education dictated that I excel at some kind of sport. This was doomed to failure from the outset of puberty. My limbs grew, the rest of me never quite caught up. To say I was ungainly was to put it mildly. I sorely lacked a spirit of competition. The only sport I enjoyed (swimming, riding) was where there was no competition involved. Even today I detest competition and am unable to understand people who live on gulps of adrenaline. This was a lost expectation and ended, predictably, when my father gave away all the gear he had collected as part of my aspiring career as a polo player. I grimaced recently when I came across some unused fishing rods and a barely used airgun which had been mine once upon a time.
It's not quite that simple though. When I returned from college they wanted me to revert- part time- to helping with the land. So not only was I expected to be an educated professional most of the year, I was also expected to occasionally transform myself into a landlord. Easier said than done. This effectively means undoing my very expensive education, putting my brain into idle and undertaking activity for which I lack the technical and linguistic skills.
But that's not all. In addition to being an educated, professional, part-time landed estatesmen, I was also expected to marry and sire a brood of children. This is where life became difficult because my sexual orientation dictated otherwise. I decided on the path of least resistance - which, in my case, was to grin and bear the conveyor belt of vestal virgins who were paraded before me, declining each without ascribing any comprehensible reason. It took about a decade for the paisa to drop and taxed my frayed sense of humour to its very limit. The alternative lay in outing myself to my parents. In hindsight, I tried to tell them as much as I could without articulating any of it. Nothing was ever locked in my room at home. My drawers and cupboards filled with incriminating objets pleaded to be opened and pried through. My friends (designers, hairdressers, artists) yelled out for sexual recognition. Although I never "came out" in the sense many of my younger friends have, there was eventually a kind of detente on the subject. Clearly, I failed on the marriage/2.7 children expectation that was held by my parents.
Finally, in their later years my parents have come to see me as some kind of general dogsbody. Although I do not live with them, everything from water bills to property disputes are passed on to me. Although this can be a real pain in the neck, it is something I have come to live with. So apart from the educated professional, part-time landlord, unmarried person that I am, I also expected to be a general troubleshooter. From the list of expectations so far, this role has provided the least hassles.
Some caveats: By listing some of these issues I am not for a moment ascribing any blame. I think I remain responsibe for myself. It is interesting though to pause and think of how different life could have been had some of these influences or expectations not existed at all - or if they had come into play in differing intensities. The ultimate accolade came in the form of a rare email to me from my father. This was a "thank you" note for having looked after him when he came to visit me. The P.S at the end read : "And thank you for always having the courage to be yourself." That said it all.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Arrivals and Departures

The last few days have been interesting. My friend B is leaving town and I am distraught. B is among the few diplomats that I meet casually - i.e. not at tedious national days. He is charming, good looking, intelligent and good company. However all this is irrelevant. What can possibly bring together 2 bright, drop-dead-gorgeous men and cement a friendship which has lasted over three years. The answer is simple: Hrithik Roshan. B (the swine!) has chased him all over Australia. I have had to content myself with his films and the odd sighting on hideous Indian television channels. It was only fitting that we have our final meeting over several bottles of something with bubbles in it and a premiere of "Lakshyaa" - the latest HR blockbuster. I don't remember much of the plot - if , indeed, there was one. The divine HR doesn't look quite as good having had to suffer an army haircut. (Oh, I forgot - "Lakshyaa" is set on the line-of-no-control.)
What is it about gay men which causes them to gravitate to one another in the most trying of social circumstances? I walked into a room of about a hundred strangers on Saturday night. It was a largely expat do ...I can swear I was the only Pakistani there, barring the waiters. After about an hour, I had the feeling I was being watched ...well not overtly, but there was a sense of someone looking over once in a while. We moved closer and closer together and eventually engaged in conversation. Our mutually shared sexuality became evident in no time. There is no attraction in the equation (he has a bf and I am perpetually in search of one!) but I was amused by the ability of the only two gay men in a room full of a hundred odd people to connect. ( Shades of Forsters "Only connect" ?) In any case we are to have dinner together this week. Who knows ? Maybe he has a Hrithik-fetish too and can fill the immense void that has been left by B's moving away.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sense and Nonsensibility

Language is fascinating. We string together words in a particular way because we want the recipient to understand us. If we are good at what we do (and choose our words carefully) we can even bring a sense of pleasure to the basic task of communication. If we are bad at any of this, we fail to convey our true meaning. And if we are very bad at what we do, then we fail to convey any meaning at all.
It is in this context that I have been searching for a piece of prose delivered by a Pakistani politician many years ago before the United Nations General Assembly. The politician in question had been asked to stick to the text that had been prepared for him by zealous bureaucrats. Our politico did as he was asked to do but, at the very end of his speech, took out a piece of paper from his pocket and diverted his speech. The prose- if it can be called that at all- has entered the annals of UN history. Translators in the official UN languages stopped translating - the words made no sense to them at all. Queues of diplomats formed the next day to collect an official copy of the speech. I reproduce below the section of the speech. I suggest you carry it around with you. Each time you feel low, just take it out and read it. I guarantee instant amusement.
"Now Sir, in conclusion, I humbly submit that the dilemma for the resolution of the conscious outlook is the only remedy. It is said that abhorrence for the learned in his infidelities and the inept in his devotions- our times are impatient of the both and especially the last. Let us not be pestered with with assertions and half truths, with emotions and scuffle. In the closing decades of the 20th century, these cannot conceivably solve any problem and indeed it is the source of positive danger to mankind- or words to that effect. It declares that this community of interest, in interests makes all men, otherwise differently interested partners in the great enterprise of replacing evil with good and and good with better so as to achieve the best possible. It is a proverb that to cut the cakes is never conducive to mankind. Also it is not humanitarian to be with farrago of twisted facts. God save us from the sprangles of cataclysm. And the scuttles of the ship should be repaired expeditiously by this august body. It is said that one man's mickle is another man's muckle. In conclusion I greatly appreciate and express my warm gratitude to you by giving me the floor of this august house. Thank you. "

Herr Doktor

Dr Mahathir Mohammad is an enigma wrapped in a riddle ensconced in a mystery. Or is the other way round ? Whatever. The former Prime Minister of Malaysia is a sprightly 80 year old, with an expression that betrays nothing. He is articulate, outspoken and fearless. His views are controversial and often betray a lack of intellectual underpinning. Indeed it is his anti intellectualism which forms the basis of his popular appeal. He has a number on non-pc blots on his record (Anwar Ibrahim, the dismal state of human rights, political repression) but it would be unfair to classify him as just another tin pot dictator. What the heck.At least the 6.35 from Kuala Lumpur to Penang does run on time.
It was with thoughts such as these that I entered a university campus on saturday afternoon. I assumed that I had been invited as part of the business roundtable with Doctor M. "No sir" said the platoon of student organisers,"You are with the intellectuals." "The whats ?" say I incredulously. "In-te-llec-chuals" came the the polysyllabic retort as though there had been an awful mistake. Basking in my new found designation, I took a seat at the square table. ("Round" was just an allusion, I assumed.)
Some highlights follow. Be warned though. I never take notes. And these memories have been distilled by some heavy duty partying on Saturday night.
* Democracy is a wonderful system. However, in the wrong circumstances it can lead to the most awful abuse of power. Leaders lie habitually to get elected. To wit, "Bush the liar" was economical with the truth and managed to get elected. Blair is likely to follow suit.
* America has one of the most debt ridden economies. The shortcut to crippling it lies in doing away with the US Dollar as the currency of commerce. Check out the Euro instead. Or the Gold Dinar.
*Muslims are in the doldrums because- by an accident of history- they have misread Islam (and the injunction "iqra" (read/recite) to be limited to theology. The decline of the Muslims has its roots in their abandonment of the sciences and philosophy.
*You cannot have economic empowerment without the full participation of women in all spheres of life. This does not mean an abandonment of tradition values.
*The art of political survival lies in knowing when to exit. Dr M's mom reminded him that even if a host insists you stay on, he really wants you to leave so he can get on with his life. There are lessons to be learned from a bad dinner party.
*Islam is a simple religion. Sectarianism arrived on the scene much later and has played a significant part in its decline.
*The majority must accomodate the minority. In Malaysia this has meant some kind of adjustment among the major ethnic groups. (Not the most equitable adjustment, but it works in an odd manner.) In Pakistani terms this can only refer to provincial/sectarian accomodation.
*Bureaucrats must be told expressly what to do. No shortcuts here. And ministers have to meet with civil servants immediately after a cabinet meeting. The day after ain't good enough. Memories are short.
Interesting, though all too brief. The roundtable was structured around Pakistan so questions about Dr M's own track record in Malaysia were understandably absent. What did I make of it all ? Well, as a newly-discovered intellectual I found myself agreeing with some of the realpolitik while dismissing the populist stuff. And deep within I found a certain arrogance in references to the "people" - the Great Unwashed. The absence of reference to "rights"(let alone human rights) was disqueting as well. Still not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


Being a relative blog virgin has certain distinct advantages. I've been skimming anonymously over other people's blogs for the last few months to get the flavour of blogging. The effort has been vaguely satisfying. It is akin to the dull pleasure one gets from reading someone else's mail or peeping through a keyhole into another life. There is one distinct difference, though - bloggers want people to read all and , occasionally, to register the "intrusion" by leaving a note or a comment.
In the course of my forays, I have discovered, that there is no distinct method to a blog. I suppose one of the joys of anarchy lies in being able to scribble one's innermost thoughts or whatever takes your fancy. In my case this has so far been confined to books and films (which take up a major part of my non-working life) people, lovers (or the absence thereof) and travels (much too rare). I do not feel confined to any one area, though I do confess the urge to start a separate much more intimate blog. As I can barely cope with one, the prospect of starting a second is somewhat remote. If I did, I'd like to start a piece of heady erotica with comments on what should happen next - or what should have happened in the previous instalment. Blogotica ?
I have also discovered that far too few people in Pakistan know about blogs. When I casually confessed to writing a blog, the unanimuous reaction was :"A What ? ". "A blog you an anonymous diary." "Oh really, what an interesting concept. Do we figure in it ? " "Sometimes." The only friend who had some idea (after I protested my anonymity) retorted :"It must be on blogspot. I'll trawl each and every one till I find it." If he reads this, he will know he has.
I have discovered that there are different varieties of bloggers out there who can vaguely be classified into different categories. There are the computer types who have apparently fascinating accounts of playing around with different types of software. These would be immensely interesting if I had any idea what they were talking about. Then you have the really smart guys (like my friend M) who know how to paste links and pictures, use fancy software and still produce something highly literate and readable. Don't take my word for it ...go to There are lots of little girls out there with blogs. Page upon page festooned with Hello Kitty characters, little girl chatter and background Midi tunes of the latest Christina Aguilera song. Power to them. Their knowledge of how to present a blog is infintely superior to mine. Then there are the diarists who record (sometimes in painful detail) the minutae of every day life - as though they would somehow disappear if they were not preserved for posterity. And finally there are scribblers like me who have a bare knowledge of the technicalities coupled with enthusisam- at least for now. Although I have had limited feedback on the site itself, I get the odd burst of email from complete strangers. Interesting. Very interesting.
Has my life changed post blogging ? A little. If something interesting does happen (and it doesn't happen as frequently as I'd like) I find myself subconsciously deciding to save it for this page. Ofcourse, the main reason why most people blog (me included) is quite simply : it's fun. Ciao.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Dial K for Kulture

Islamabad is a part of the Federal Government. Like Washington DC it does not form part of a State and unlike the other cities of Pakistan, it is not regulated by a Province. This effectively means that Islamabad is run by civil servants in the guise of a body called the Capital Development Authority or the CDA. This does not portend well given the general low levels of creativity found among pen pushing bureaucrats. Despite all of this, the city does boast some spectacularly good architecture - Edward Stone's Presidency complex and Kenzo Tange's Supreme Court building to name two. The "good stuff" was designed in the 60s when the relevant buzzword was "modern" or "aspiring modern".

There is some godawful stuff in here as well. This has its roots in the 80s when everything had to be Islamic(ate) regardless of suitability, design and creative spirit. In this vein we have the Faisal Mosque which is essentially a modern day tent. Yes, a tent. While this may be in keeping with the bedouin spirit, it lacks a relevant nexus with today's Pakistan. And then there is the truly ghastly Prime Minister's secretariat which represents a fusion of neo-Mughal and DisneyWorld. Even the relatively modern buildings have been Islamicised by adding inscriptions on their linear facades.

In order to run all of this we have inherited a gentleman called Kamran Lashari to head the CDA and to set the tone for the city. Don't get me wrong. K's heart is in the right place. He has encouraged theatre in the city - I can see "The Godfather" this week and "The Phantom of the Opera" next week. There are several rock concerts each week as well - I've passed on them so far but it feels good to know I have choices. My only problem with self appointed "designers" is that they lack any intellectual tradition in which to place their work. I shall not bash fashion designers any longer - their inability to connect with any kind of intelligent tradition is legendary. However, clothes are clothes but buildings are a little more permanent.

In his zeal to impose his own view of commercialised modernity, K has allowed billboards to be put up all over the place. Yes, these are pithy messages about saving the environment/blind dolphins/crafts etc but are sponsored by major commercial concerns who also advertise themselves in the bargain. He has allowed plastic flags to be planted advertising various cultural events. Plastic mushrooms (which glow like radioactive phalluses at night) have been allowed to sprout from a public park. And the spankingly modern Presidency complex now has street lights borrowed from 19th Century London. These are twee, ornate Victorian numbers with BALLS of light hanging like pendants. I kid you not. BALLS.

I am not so sure how public design decisions are taken for large cities. During my last trip to Karachi I saw what can only be described as mutant french fries straddling the Do Talwar roundabout. The fact that these had been designed by the Indus Valley school did little to lessen the sheer ugliness of it all. The problem with all this is that there is numbing apathy when it comes to public design decisions. There are two solutions to this: public hearings so that people who actually have to use crap design are allowed to voice their objections. And-if one has to be elitist- the constitution of dreaded committees with a wide range of architects to allow different points of view to be accomodated. The Mohatta Palace (which admittedly was a restoration and not a new design) shows how a committee can be used succesfully. Until this happens we the Masses will have no choice but to put up with hideousness in the name of architecture. OK ?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

1947 And All That

Having failed to find love this week, I resorted to the next best thing - plastic love aux Bollywood. My first choice was the star studded Veer Zara, this years winner of the Filmfare Best Film award-Bollywood's answer to the Oscars. It tells a remarkably dull (for Bollywood) story of an Indian Hindu (played by the irritatingly amiable Shahrukh Khan) and a Pakistani (Preity "Peroxide" Zinta). What intrigued me about the film was how "they" (the Indians) perceive "us" (the Pakistanis). What emerges from the film was a skewed guess at life Chez Pakistan. The star crossed lovers meet in India, and then in Pakistan (they are never shown queueing for visas- but that's willing suspension of disbelief for you). For some unfathomable reason, Zara's entire family speaks Punjabi, but she manages to get by in flawless Urdu. The affair begins promisingly enough- they both seem to be sharing the same tube of hair dye. It is, however, destined to end tragically (with Veer being imprisoned while returning from Pakistan) until (22 years later) a young radical Pakistani lawyer (ta da!) succeeds in defying the odds and reuniting the pair.

What intrigued me about Veer Zara ultimately was the virtual absence (apart from a few jocular references) to the two things that keep India and Pakistan apart- politics and religion. Political national tensions are studiously avoided.("So do you guys really want Kashmir?") Religion (which is what keeps the couple apart) is swept under the rug. Come on. Surely one of the several inlaws could have pointed it out ..."Honey, he's a hindu and you're a good muslim girl" Perish the thought. The rationale is implicit, but never articulated.
Curiously, neither V nor Z is particularly interested in the culture of the other. This is in stark contrast to my trips to India, where the curiousity levels are intense once I've been "outed" as a Pakistani. I rather suspect that the director (the legendary Yash Chopra) was trying to highlight the similarities (as expressed in never ending Punjabi songs from both sides of the border) rather than the differences. The fact is that there are differences (in the way we dress, to the way we speak, the food we eat and so on ) which could have made for good frothy comedy. But these too are airbrushed.

As with all good Hindi films, there are good guys and bad guys. The bad guys in this case are the Pakistani establishment. The Pakistan police system, the intelligence services and (i think) some unidentified men in khaki are all responsible for Veer's incarceration and the keeping apart of the couple. This can be easily by translated (even by the hard of understanding) in nationalistic terms. The good guys are the Pakistani judiciary (for letting Veer off, albeit two decades later) and the young lawyer (the husky voiced, doe eyed Rani Mukherjee) who represents the new, improved, younger Pakistani generation, which is willing to let the past go. Someone should have told her that radical young female Pakistani lawyers don't go around with dupattas on their heads Someone did, because by the time she gets to the court finale, it has been suitably dispensed with.

Is this film really a CBM (Confidence Building Measure) or a CBM (Celluloid Brainless Movie) ? I'm pretty sure its the former. I am not the target audience for this film. If the film does hit its intended audience, they will come away with a warm fuzzy feeling that the Indians aren't half bad. And that ain't half bad either.

Frame 2240-2243-Rewind

Dear Abby,
I encountered the divine X again. I was charging down the steps, there being no lift or floor lights -electricity does not work in public buildings here after 5 pm. I hear footsteps coming up- or, rather, charging up. We cross by on the landing of the second or third or fifth (does it matter?) floor and look up at each other. "I'm late" he says, breathless. Me: "Oh, you must rush". Him:(looking apologetic) "So how are things ? " Me (while patting his shoulder in avuncular, irritating manner) : "You're running very late ...hurry ..we can chat later." Him: "Ok. Will do."
I blew it. Again. The man offerred to talk to me. And I got cold feet and told him he must run. Ofcourse, read in the cold gaze of hindsight, all this seems like a perfectly harmless conversation. Its just that I get the feeling that he may (just may) be interested. Ofcourse, R has told me that X is straight. And X's website seems to veer in that general direction. But then again, he's hardly going to put up pictures of Brad Pitt out there. Damn. Do I just ignore him now till the next accidental encounter comes along ? Or do I disregard R's well meaning advice, but nevertheless persuade R to "casually" drop in with X in tow so that I can "get to know him better"- knowing that only swimming into a shoal of electric eels will cause a change of sexuality ?
Irate in Islamabad.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Notes On Country Life

I have just emerged from a whirlwind tour of the deepest recesses of south eastern Punjab, to a village so small it does not register on any known atlas. It does not even yield any results on Google. Amazingly, it does in its own way represent a very distinct microcosm of life: a social structure, a language, characters, eccentrics, morality, gossip and (ubiquituously) cattle! With the luxury of a seven hour drive there and back and with the most tedious landscape on God's earth to keep me occupied, I kept myself busy devising a kind of Social Register to understand the region. This is partly in jest - I do have a sense of humour. I also have a social conscience and I am aware of poverty, environmental degradation, social injustice etc. all of which abound in the area. I will leave these for discussion on another occasion.

Back to "Notes" :

1. I am not so sure if "feudalism" continues to exist in the region. This is not the view that is propounded by the espresso-sipping, Herald-reading, tree-hugging, liberals. Nor is it the popular view of feudalism fueled by half a century of eardrum-shattering Punjabi cinema. If feudalism is defined as the ability to control, legislate and determine at whim what will (or will not) happen to an underpriveleged peasantry devoid of any rights, then feudalism is dead in that particular region. People do not throw themselves at my feet, virgins are not ritually offerred to me and I have yet to preside over a jirga/panchayat to determine the fate of errant individuals. I am called upon to bring NGOs to the area, get people out of state jails, speak to the water and electricity authorities and to provide the local football team with their kit. Is this feudalism ? My jury is out on this one. There is a system at work - one that fits in capitalism rather than feudalism. Yes, capitalism is exploitative. The only person who seems to have understood the distinction is the brilliant economist Akbar Zaidi in his seminal work on Pakistan's economy. (See Chapter 2).

2. The "aristocracy" of the region has fallen upon hard times. Yes, they continue to have large houses but estates have dwindled over a series of land reforms coupled with inheritance laws and a large number of children. The local chieftain drives a tatty Kia. The adjacent upstart (who has discovered that snooker parlours mean big bucks) drives a fairly smart Civic (replete with Kenwood CD changer).

3. Housing styles have fallen as well. The aristos have no carpets on their floors, adorn their rooms with tacky brown "GT Road" velvet furniture and (despite the cold at night) there is only a one rod heater to keep a large room warm.

4. Mobile telephones have just hit the region. It is an ad-man's dream to see someone tending a flock of water buffaloes while connecting on a new Samsung telephone. Ofcourse, habits have yet to change. People will still drop in unexpectedly out of habit. The thought of calling on one mobile telephone to another, to see where people are, has yet to come about.

5. Long silences are OK. It is fine to run out of conversation. There is nothing remotely awkward about a long silence. Indeed a long silence coupled with a post luncheon belch is the apogee of satisfaction.

6. Sartorial stuff: The shalwar and the kameez must match. The Karachi "isstyle" Khaadi white shalwar with any colour of kurta are looked down upon. I guess there is an underlying implication that one is too poor to buy matching cloth in the same colour. This rule does not apply to the dhoti, which is always white.

7. Nobody reads an english language newspaper. Or a book.

8. Nobody shakes hands. The full frontal embrace is a work of art. It is especially difficult to accomplish with a pair of titanium sunglasses hanging around one's neck. These must be removed forthwith if visitors are to be welcomed.

9. The art of cooking chicken in any manner has been elevated to the level of a fine art. This is a pity as it ignores the wonderful vegetables growing in profusion all over the place. Again, I think there is a perception that vegetables are for the poor.

10. Urdu and English are rarely, if ever, spoken. Punjabi cuts across all classes, creeds and sexes.

11. The height of social interaction involves the local "killub". In this case it is a relic of the Raj with the mandatory "card room" and a fabulous wooden dance floor - which the locals cannot quite work out. ("What is this wood doing in the middle of the floor ?")

12. Everyone talks local politics. Local bodies are a big deal. Much bigger than in the cities.

13. Sadly, the biradari system is a big deal. The Awans talk only to the Arains, and the Arains only to God.

14. Apart from England, this is the only other place, where the weather is an obsession.

15. Nobody wears underwear. (This is based on speculation and not on empirical evidence.)

Phew. I am glad to be back in the city.

De Awful

When is Hollywood finally going to come to terms with homosexuality ?

I can scarcely think of any films in which the subject has been handled with tact, sensitivity, intelligence- or all of the above. The latest lemon which I subjected myself to is "DeLovely" a bioflick based on the life of Cole Porter. The film wavers (unsuccesfully) between straight (!) biography and a series of Porter songs put together for the film. Incidentally, DeLovely has more songs than three Hindi blockbusters collectively. It runs into deep trouble when it tries to focus on Porter's sexuality. We discover very early on that Porter is either bisexual or (more likely) gay. The film focuses on CP's relationship with his wife (Linda) who knows perfectly well that she is marrying a gay man. Despite some tension (and several songs arising from it) Linda appears to come to terms with Porter's homosexuality. Indeed, she is seen to be providing him with at least one of his male partners.

The problem I have with this film is not the naive belief that a confused marriage is OK if it produces a lot of great music. It is for their treatment of Porter's homosexuality that the director (Irwin Winkler) and stars (Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd) should be shot. Hanging is simply too good for them. If DeLovely is to be believed, Porter's relationship with Linda was the inspiration for all of his music- his gay lovers had no part to play in this. There is not even a flaccid attempt at trying to understand any of them. The gay lovers usually appear in darkness or in shadows and seem to have stepped out of a Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. One of them emerges to fill the gaping void that is left behind when Linda dies. My ironing board has displayed greater emotion than the actor chosen to play this part. Finally, to add supreme insult to injury, the Porter song "Love for Sale" is set in a gay bar - fine, except the song and the accompanying visuals are set to a bunch of male hookers. Indeed the grand finale ends with Porter handing over a stash of dollars to procure the goodies on display. Ergo, all the men in Porter's life are symbolised as a bunch of hookers who had no role to play in the creation of some of the finest songs of the jazz age.

This is truly unforgiveable. DeLovely is not only a distortion of history, but it undermines, simplifies or writes off (depending on how you look at it) an important component of Porter's life - his sexuality. I guess every cloud does have a silver lining. In this case it is the songs - rendered by a number of contemporary singers (Sheryl C, Alanis M, Robbie W, Diana K, Natalie C, Elvis C) who appear in the film. This was not enough to balance out the sheer rage I felt at the rest of the film.

Ah well. It is only a film.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

What Women Want

I'm going back to my roots. Leave Isb tomorrow morning at 7 am to go back to the "lands" as we call them here. Not an estate (too grand) or a farm (too twee). Just the generic lands. I have eight hours in which to transform myself from a gay professional into a reasonably bland "land" lord. I will get my feet dirty in dung infested fields, I will encounter extreme isolation, I will not have an internet connection, I will speak an urbanised form of Punjabi. And I will live to tell the tale.

Enough of what is to come. Something about what has transpired. Two of my bestest, greatest, attractivest women friends have come clean to me. They are infatuated with "M" who till now has remained a mystery to me. I have heard about him often enough, and given the extremely good reviews, he has become, in my mind, a hybrid between a greek god, an olympic medallist and a Cambridge don. The women in question, are attractive to the core, have had exceptional academic and professional careers and are generally good fun to be with. As friends of mine, they would have to be. Conversely, they have never bored me. I am never lacking for conversation, an idea, a thought or just pure undiluted, unconditional love when I am with them. They have come near enough for me to contemplate a conversion (reversion ?) to heterosexuality. You get my drift ? If they think M is sexy and the best thing after sliced bread, I have to take this seriously.

So I finally get to meet M. I will not go into the circumstances in which this meeting took place. Suffice to say there was enough Cabernet Sauvignon (I must find the bootlegger!) to oil the roughest patches. I was shattered. Ok. That may be somewhat of an overstatement, but (gentle reader!) the shock was undeniable. M is pleasant enough - but so is cough syrup when you've smoked too many cigars. There was no style- none visible to the naked eye. The conversation ranged from the banal to the downright puerile. There was the occasional shot of testerone/alpha male behaviour -sentences begining with "Take my advice" or "If I were you". (You will never be me - even if you enrolled for advance courses with a passion!) He was just Joe Average who would never have registered a nano-blip on my radar had my friends not been quite so complimentary in their estimates.

There is obviously a chasm (apparently unbridgeable) between what straight women and gay men perceive as the ideal. The optics are less important to women. The wrong socks, a misshapen tie, scuffed shoes ...these are minor details. Agreed. Lets cut the visuals from the script. Intellect ? Well, even an intelligent woman is willing to undergo some slumming. Yes, gay men slum majorly - but those of my acquaintance acknowledge the fact. In any case, rough trade usually lasts just one shift. It's back to life after that. So we have looks and intellects (brains and balls) out of the way. What does that leave one with ? The X factor.

I haven't been able to figure out the X factor. I do know it exists. M scores highly on the X factor. I don't have ovaries but I think he exudes a kind of hunter gatherer solidarity. If I did have ovaries I wouldn't mind his tending my child(ren). There is a quiet, unspoken confidence in his own beliefs. There is a belief in the future which is unwavering. X Factor man does not have any footnotes or second thoughts. He is decisive. He knows he is right. He exudes sincerity and solidity whipped together and baked into a wholesome souffle. All of this strikes me as dull as couscous. My kind of person must dress well, have an attitude, an intellect, a bon mot for the occasion, a sense of humour, a sense of the here and the now and the me. I want a cad, a rake, a bounder, dressed in Armani, with just a drop of SOB essence to him. I don't want comfort, security and ...well, the X factor.

In a nutshell: I pay the price of living on the edge. Ergo, I am single (for long spells). Heterofemme wants safety, security and (in particular) ovarian security. She is engaged (for long spells). Is all of this worth the angst ? I suppose levels of despair are algebraically connected to the height of one's aspiration. Would I change my life today for the comfort of cosy X-factored life ? No. But then again, Rhett darling, tomorrow is another day.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Hodgson's Choice

I am ploughing/wading/struggling through Marshall Hodgson's epic three volume historical romp called "The Venture of Islam". The introduction alone is over a hundred pages long and makes long (and sometimes unnecessary) references to terminology and definitions. One of the more interesting definitions concerns the use of the word "Islamic" as a dual definition to refer to things which pertain to the religion of Islam and also to refer to matters which derive from or are in the style of things Islamic. 2 examples. We talk about "Islamic ritual" or "Islamic prayer" which correctly refer to rituals or prayers which derive from the Islamic religion. This is exactly the same as "Christian ritual" or "Buddhist prayer. Problems arise however when we speak of Islamic art or Islamic architecture. These do not derive (directly at any rate from the religion of Islam) but, more correctly, arise from the culture that became associated with Islam at different points of time. Nobody talks about "Christian Art" except where this is associated with the Christian faith - iconography, churches and the like.

To resolve the issue, Hodgson suggests that we employ the expression "Islamic" when referring directly to matters arising from the faith of Islam and "Islamicate" to refer to things deriving from Islam. His reference point seems to be the expression "Italianate" which refers to things arising in the Italian manner or from the Italian culture. I think the expression "Islamicate" is a little awkward but I do agree with the need for redefinition. Having established the difference Hodgson himself muddles up the two in the rest of the work (or as much of it as I've read so far!)

Ofcourse, there is the broader question of the popular use of expressions like "muslim" and "Islamist". Who or what are Muslims ? In the broader framework of popular culture, they are invariably Arabs with thier distinctive form of Islam. The populists often forget that Arabs make up less than 18% of the world muslim population. And what do we make of Bernard Lewis and "muslim rage" ? Which muslims does he have in mind ? Arabs? South Asians ? Malays? Africans ? The whole lot of 'em ? The expression "muslim" has become convenient shorthand for a mass of people (an "ummah" if one is to be technically correct) which embodies a wide range of cultures, ethnicities and nations.

"Islamist" I have yet to understand. Olivier Roy says the term is populist shorthand for a wide range of Islamic organisations which are characterised by their abhorrence of the "West" (another term which needs redefinition). However, he thinks this is meaningless as there are so many entities which fall under the gloss of "Islamist" as to render the expression devoid of any sense. The Jamaat-e-Islami and the Al-Qaeda may seem superficially similar but are very different in philosophy, orientation, method, intellectual tradition and targets. Roy terms the former "Islamist" and the latter fundamentalist or neofundamentalist. I know that "fundamentalist" derives from Christianity, but whether we like it or not, it is here to stay in the Muslim context as well.

And where do these terms have their origin ? Most of them do not arise from academics like Hodgson, Roy et al. The examples above show that by the time the academics do arrive at the terminology it has already embedded itself in the popular conscience. This conscience is fed by the news services, the BBC's and the CNN's. (I don't think Fox has yet invented anything remotely intelligent- but then again, anything is possible in the world of instant journalism.)And who runs the news services - reasonably intelligent men and women who are usually not specialists in any particular area but are able to readily (and instantaneously) translate an unedited mass of image and sound into comphrehensible television. The few I know have readily confessed that they work under severe limitations having to travel at a few hours notice to cover stuff which is fairly new. (The tsunami being a case in point.) These are the men and women who seem to have to "invent" instant terminology in order to provide the sound byte/shorthand that is needed to accompany the story. The examples are innumerable ("ethnic cleansing" "muslim fundamentalist" 'Palestinian terrorist") and are now so deeply a part of the collective conscience that most people do not even bother to think when they hear them repeatedly. This, I believe, is the level at which myth becomes reality, where terminology invariably has its genesis. And this is why we need to be very careful before we turn to news reports and the language they are couched in.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Tangled Anonymity

This was intended to be an anonymous blog, with the idea that it would allow me to express and indulge myself without having to worry about which of my friends was reading it. Alas, this was not to be. F and M are now aware of this space. However, neither of them has ever cramped my style, so I think I'll be able to be as expressive as ever!

I am to host a loathesome dinner tonight. My Senior Partner has some geriatric Germans over and as he is out of town, I have been deputed to do the honours. In order to ease the tension I have invited a (relatively) younger group of parliementarians and business people. I hope that it is not an unmitigated disaster. As they are Germans, I trust they will arrive on time, eat early, and leave early. Oh yes, they have invited me to go with them on a chopper ride at the crack of dawn to see Nanga Parbat base camp. My stomach churns at the thought. Watch this space!