Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Dear Friends,

I used to have some idea of who you were, but ever since I allowed anonymous messaging on my blog, I am a little fuzzier. Nevertheless, its been great writing here and receiving your responses. I have made many friends and my world is all the richer for it.

The reason this blog started was too let off a little steam and to be able to write in as uninhibited and honest a manner as I could. For reasons -some within and some beyond my control-I will not go into now, this has now become impossible as many emails, text messages and replies on this site have made it clear that my identity is known. I ignored the first few, but the stream continued. This blog was never addressed to my friends - it was intended as my own space, where I could write secure in the knowledge that I couldn't offend anybody. That, unfortunately, has become more and more difficult. There are days I have wanted to write, but have had to either edit or restrain myself altogether for fear of accidentally causing hurt. As a result I've had to resort increasingly to book or film reviews where I could be less personal.

In these circumstances, I have no choice but to sign off this blog for now. I am convinced that the itch will get to me eventually and that I will reinvent myself on cyberspace. But until that happens I must thank all of you for reading the bilge that I produced over the last couple of months. For your reactions, your humour, your jokes, your critiques and -above all- the caring. Strangers have written to me so often that I feel I have known them all my lives. To this extent, this blog has been positive and I cherish the fact that I ever started it in the first place. Finally, to anybody I may have offended- I apologise unreservedly.

Take care..

My House Speaks To Me

It seems my last post was pre-emptive. Ramzan started with the right, positive spirit as far as I was concerned. Struggled to wake up Saturday morning, 4 am, munched an apple, drank a litre of water and smoked a Montecristo. I even managed to finish the last chapter of Maya Jassanof's "Edge of Empire" and then rolled over and returned to slumber. I was awoken again just before 9. I had the distinct feeling that somebody was going through my cupboards. I looked over my shoulder to see all three wardrobe doors flailing open. Then it all broke loose. The bed shook, the fans swayed. The paintings started to shudder. The old brain went into auto pilot mode. Earthquake. I charged down the stairs remembering only to pick up the mobile and the Beast. On reaching the garden I looked up to see scores of crows cawing manically. I could still feel the ground beneath my feet moving. Minutes passed. Not many but it seemed like an eternity. Eventually the crows stopped cawing and settled into the trees. The rumbling stopped. It seemed to be over. Five minutes later the entire scenario repeated itself. This time round I heard the house groan. Houses have voices, I thought all the way.
The true enormity of what had happened struck me a little later. For the unitiated, Islamabad is in an earthquake zone, so the odd tremor is not an unusual occurrence. In hindsight Saturday's tremors were much worse than those previously experienced. I think I was trying to normalise them all along. Instant television (especially the amazing Geo network in Pakistan) started to relay the news and the true enormity of the quake began to filter into our consciousnesses. A block of flats- a self-styled "tower"- had come crashing down and provided the world's television with a ready image to zoom in on. The Tower was part of an apartment block that had been permitted to be constucted in the mid 90s. The consensus of opinion is that the construction work was shoddy. After all Government housing (which by definition equates with bad construction) survived. I spoke with two friends in the immediate neighbourhood. Both told the same story: they had charged downstairs in their pyjamas within the first few minutes of the first few tremors. By the time they arrived in their car parks, the Tower had crumbled into a series of ugly concrete slabs. The house-of-cards analogy was scaringly accurate.
Every tragedy has a positive side. Some heroes perhaps. This one was no different. I spent Saturday afternoon with a Designer Person from Karachi. As the image of the collapsed Tower played itself out repeatedly I decided I couldn't take it any longer. I marched Designer Person into a car, drove to the supermarket, picked up as many cartons of water and biscuits as we could fit in and drove off to the site. ("Our own Ground Zero" said our very predictable press.) On getting there (no mean feat) I was amazed to see civilians in control of the okace. University students were diverting traffic and residents were physically carrying away rubble. The rudimentary equipment there belonged to the private sector. The police and the khakis were there, but apart from establishing a "presence" for the benefit of television cameras or scratching their balls, they seemed to do little else. ("Hey. It took the Americans ages to get their act together for Katrina- give us a chance" they reacted outrageously.) The other set of heroes are the truly amazing British rescue teams that have managed to drag no less than 26 people out of the wreckage days after the event.
Every tragedy has its jokers. It is amazing how seemingly intelligent people can panic in these circumstances. After my Ground Zero expedition I went to have a much needed coffee with a friend. I could hear his wife talking to friends on her cellphone: "Yes. The Met Office has predicted two more earthquakes at 12 a.m and then again at 3 a.m." I froze. Met Offices the world over have no control over tectonic plate movement. Yes, they have a better idea of hurricanes. But to the best of my knowledge nobody has accurately predicted an earthquake. Another fashionista-cum-bad-taste-event-manager called Designer Person at 9pm. She had no idea that an earthquake had even happened and wanted to discuss a fashion show. Hmmm. I usually con myself into believing that I may be a little more intelligent than some people around me. Now I think I am normal and some people are just incredibly stupid.
ps: Thank you to all of those who messaged, replied and emailed asking about me. I apologise for not replying earlier.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ramadhan Mubarak

Ramadhan Mubarak! Mubarak and greetings to everyone - the fasters, the cynics, the rationalists, the post-religious, the sheepish, the indifferent, the jaded, the confused, those who believe, those who don't, those who won't, those who will, those who can't and those who can, - much love to all of you. Mubarak mubarak mubarak. May your month be filled with light...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

She Works Hard For The Money

Put the word "sex" into the title of a book, put a Rubenesque nude onto the cover and subtitle it: "500 years of adultery, power, rivalry and revenge and you're sure to have a bestseller on your hands. Sex with Kings is not for the serious historian- or even the sex afficianado. It is, however, a highly amusing, lighthearted romp into the world of mistresses. Well European mistresses actually. Naturally, the French come out tops in all of this with the English coming in a respectable second place. The Germanic states manage alright but Southern Europe gets a right drubbing. If Ms Herman is to be believed (and that is a tough call) then the Spaniards and Italians spent several centuries producing dour, rosary clutching princesses who were invariably married into the royal houses of Europe and therefore, effectively begged the Kings in question to take mistresses.
This is a gossipy account of history and I'm not sure Ms Herman has quite the right credentials for it - she was a publisher for a NATO related journal in a previous incarnation. Nevertheless, her slightly shaky rendition of history is not without its moments. You don't even have to read the book (just see the pictures) to learn that you do not have to be beautiful to be a mistress. That role model of mistressdom- Madame Pompadour- looks positively dumpy. Clearly looks were not of prime importance in being selected as a mistress. Apparently, the women in question had minds-or at the very least the ability to keep their monarch's minds engaged and away from the dreariness of running a kingdom. We also learn that many of the women were not sex godesses. Madame Pompadour was actually frigid. Her successor, Madame Dubarry, was an accomplished prostitute, so perhaps she made up for this deficiency.
In order to qualify as a vaguely succesful royal mistress, one would have to have the ability to communicate and sympathise with one's monarch. Camilla Parker-Bowles'success may have stemmed from her having a sympathetic ear for Charles (avec a gin and tonic) while Diana was puking down toilet bowls. The French "regularised" the role of the mistress- she had a title, a stipend, royal apartments and a role to play - from the usual patroness of the arts to (in some cases) a role in the cabinet or even on the battlefield. The job description isn't quite as laid back (pun intended) as it may seem. There was a fair amount of work involved in all of this though not without its rewards. Mistresses were rewarded with jewels and estates, though some fared pretty badly. Lola Montez (the mistress of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria) escaped but forgot to take her goodie bag with her. The Brits seemed to have had a penchant for performers-Nell Gwynn, Lillie Langtry- who generally got a raw deal.
In many cases, mistresses arrived with husbands who had to be given jobs, which kept them as far away from the royal court as possible. Others arrived with children and then produced more "bastards" given the general state of contraception. It seems about as far away from the sordid Lewinski world we live in today. Camilla, perhaps, is the last classic mistress in the true sense of the world. And her great great grandmother (Alice Keppel) was also a royal mistress. The French-as always-got the last word. President Mitterand kept a mistress for the longest and produced a daughter while he was at it. And there was no great mystery to it either. The French just thought it was too boring to make an issue out of it- while the Americans rabbited on about some dodgy stains on a blue dress. Sex with Kings is recommended for any wannabe mistresses- I'm waiting for the definitive frothy history of gigolos now.