Hit me with your rhythm stick

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conductor and orchestra sketch

He strode onto the stage straight from the pages of a Jilly Cooper novel. Drainpipe trousers with a sweeping fin-tailed jacket  topped with a luxurious mop of wavy black hair.

The orchestra were covering versions of pop songs from the likes of Micheal Jackson and Madonna. And whoever chose the playlist must really have been a fan of the King of Pop, as three out of fifteen songs were his.

The conductor’s pedestal was about 3’x3′, and looked even smaller from seats high up in the auditorium. He made use of every inch of it.

At times he lunged forward so far I feared he would slash the face of one of the front row violinists. At others, he ranged so far back an embarrassing backwards tumble and possibly a broken ankle seemed inevitable.

Yet neither happened.

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Fragility’s strong metaphors

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A fragile peace…

The turn-to phrase for the media when describing a ceasefire that has seen violations in the initial hours or days. Peace is referred to as an object that needs careful construction. Maps are drawn up by consultants before any ceasefire is contemplated. The initial discussions between the main parties and usually a superpower or two are referred to as the ‘foundations’. When delegates are asked to comment on their progress at peace negotiations, they face the cameras and with an appropriately serious/determined visage, they parrot phrases used in these situations about ‘building towards a lasting peace’. Just how much commitment is behind all these useful catchphrases will only be seen later… and perhaps explains why peace remains such a fragile entity.

Self-confidence can often be just as fragile as peace. Confidence is also something that needs to be ‘built up’, or can be ‘shattered’ easily. Trying to construct it in adulthood is tremendously difficult, though age does seem to kill off the need to cave in to peer pressure or to conform to societal norms. Maybe age is like ivy growing up the walls…it can help hold together a facade that would otherwise be pretty fragile.

Building confidence without strong foundations is like building on a former chemical dump or an Indian burial ground… the bad stuff underneath will just inevitably seep upwards. Peace within is necessary to exude confidence instead of arrogance. They say “Fake it till you make it”, but from my own observations in life, fake confidence is extremely fragile. Shaking it leads to a release of those toxic fumes from the chemical dump underneath… which is perhaps another reason why peace has such a reputation for fragility.

Inspired by Daily Prompt: Fragile

A few questions for the sister-strangling honourable brother…

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What’s it like to strangle your own sister to death? Did you feel your honour grow as her strength ebbed away? How long were you planning it for? Was the idea geminating in your head even before she became ‘Qandeel’? What were her last words to you? Can you still hear them? Did you watch her face swell and discolour as she smother? Or did you have to turn her face away from you to be able to go through with it? Did you get second thoughts half-way through?

Was this the only way you could compete with her fame? Are you pissed off that you are still only known around the world as ‘the brother of Qandeel’?

Where did you learn that you were entitled to do this? Who else in the family supported you? Was she a bad sister? Eat the last mango perhaps? Where did her courage to be different come from? Why don’t you have it? What do you see when you look into your mother’s eyes now? Your father’s?

Will you put it on your CV? Have you any friends? Genuine friends? A wife?

Were you confident of being excused by your family? Would you have had to guts to do it otherwise? What reward are you expecting in the afterlife for committing murder?

Do you remember anything in the Koran about love? Respect? Tolerance? The sanctity of human life? Are you sure you were reading the right book? Why couldn’t you have just let her leave the country?

Are you aware you have brought shame on your entire country, your culture? That the global media are now churning out figures of how many women are murdered every year in Pakistan? That you helped make your culture look mediaeval, backward, pathetic?

So who do you think should strangle you for bringing shame on your country?

RIP Qandeel Baloch

Hindsight

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Hindsight

On my way to the shops to buy the most mundane of groceries, I encountered a woman walking backward down the street. I immediately assumed it was a temporary measure on her part: she had dropped something and was returning to get it, or maybe she was dragging something heavy. But she just kept coming. Her head was twisted back over her right shoulder, with a look of glee and pride on her face. She took each step with deliberation, but with an attempt to inject speed. I began to worry about her. She walked smoothly enough, but she was an old woman. There was a stiffness to her gait. She needed to be careful ‘at her age’; any tumble backwards could cause serious damage to her brittle bones.

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Oolonging

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Teahouse dragon

It was my first visit to a Chinese tea-house. The rumours of scams that left foreigners with a massive bill at the end of their experience had kept me out of chaguan till now, despite my deep curiosity about the places.

But then a chance to join a meditation group that met in a proper teahouse came up, so I thought it might help me get into one of the buildings without being fleeced. This teahouse was away from the central areas, the tourist hotspots. It was in a secluded courtyard off one of Beijing’s main traffic arteries to the north of the city. The stares at the laowai had an extra tinge of surprise up here. I almost didn’t see the teahouse in the courtyard, its front façade was so narrow. It was unobtrusive, not showy at all, but the simplicity of the façade gave it an elegance that still made it stand out from its more unrefined neighbours.

Because of this narrow front, I had expected a small compact space inside. But a wide staircase inside the door led to an upper floor, which opened up back into a cavernous space, with private compartments to the sides, an arched bridge over a trickling ‘stream’, and a labyrinth network of passages. There were glass display stands with various types of tea, sets of teacups, and many types of kettles and instruments for making tea. The walls were covered in a burgundy-coloured wallpaper, lightened by gold leaf Oriental designs. The furniture was heavy wood, providing generous seating and sturdy as the tree it came from. The floor was tiled in stone, with beautiful mosaics in ceramic and sections with broken crockery set beneath glass plates so clear your heart skipped a beat when you stood on them. There was classical Chinese music playing gently in the background: you only noticed it when there was no conversation.

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Rainy days

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IMG_1523

It was the first wet morning for a long, long time. The weather has been dry, if not particularly warm, and you could almost hear the plants gasping for water. But this morning, rain was falling steadily and wind was whipping the tree-tops from side to side. My square window was filled with luscious deep greens and gentle greys. The wind was whooshing, the rain pattering on the ground, or sometimes being pelted against the window. But from the comfort of the bedroom, with a cup of tea, a newspaper, and a curled up cat for company, and the knowledge that you didn’t have to go anywhere or be anywhere, it was all incredibly soothing.

I did nothing

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Adults myopically view all groups of children at play as something sweet and innocent. They do wish to see that cruelty, spitefulness and bullying tendencies can be fully formed even in a half-grown child.

I made the same mistake myself while working my stand at the market. It was a quiet period for me, as most punters were milling around the dog show circle. I was passing the time by people and dog watching, the queues for the toilets alone providing enough entertainment for an entire season’s worth of TV shows.

I had registered the group of four young boys playing intently in a circle directly in front of me, but only in a ‘aww, look, isn’t it great to be young’ sort of way. I had seen them all separately at various times during the day with their parents: two brothers, each with a mop of bouncy curls crowning their heads and matching their personalities; a quieter cousin with straight, mousey-brown fly-away hair; and the outsider, an only child with a sleek helmet of thick black hair. All were the same general size, except for the younger brother who was an inch or two shorter.

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