Monday, April 6, 2015

The Poetry of Van Cleef & Arpels

Beauty is something that tends to capture your heart. There are numerous people who claim to be always keeping an eye open for beauty in life but in all honesty, one doesn't need to look for it. It commands attention to itself, demanding your eyes to open wide with awe and your lips to curl up in pleasure at the sight beholding your eyes. Needless to say, beauty doesn't have to confined to our vision. Beauty comes in all forms and senses such as in reading poetry, listening to music and even eating chocolate. I love how the wise Khalil Gibran phrases it so eloquently, "Beauty is not in the face, beauty is a light in the heart."




Nature reigns as a Majestic Queen when it comes to beauty of any form. It has hence been a source of inspiration to countless artists, poets, writers and more throughout the linear course of time. One such company that counts Nature as its muse is Van Cleef & Arpels. This company is said to be founded on the basis of love between Alfred Van Cleef and his wife Estelle Arpels after their marriage in 1895. Alfred Van Cleef came from a family of stone cutters and his wife belonged to a family of precious stone dealers. Using their combined family history and experience in jewellery making, Van Cleef and Arpels came into being. The first boutique was opened in Paris, France in 1906 as a venture between Alfred Van Cleef and his brothers in law. The company was handled by the following generations till it was bought by luxury Swiss company Compagnie Financière Richemont SA in 1999.





I absolutely adore how poetic, whimsical and artistic the above composition. The world needs more advertisements like this. Now would be an adequate time to add that I have not been endorsed to write this review. I just find some of their pieces and work magical. Though I am not one who would include butterflies or fairies as part of my jewellery, I do have intense admiration for the exquisite craftsmanship that goes into some of their pieces, especially when using the 'Mystery Setting'. The 'Mystery Setting' is a technique that was patented in 1933 by Van Cleef and Arpels where the precious gems are invisibly set, as if a part of the piece of jewellery itself, with no visible prongs or bars.  This technique requires around 300 hours of manual work per piece and adds a wow factor that few other jewellery makers can compete with.




Van Cleef and Arpels mostly deals with jewellery, watches and perfumes. I am not aware of the perfumes to write much about them. I do love some of their jewellery pieces, and I have included the pictures of those pieces in this blog piece, such as the Ruby and Diamond earrings below.




Their most recognized symbol would be the 'Alhambra', which again is inspired by Nature. The Alhambra is said to be the symbol of 'Good luck' and hence is the shape and form of a four leaf clover. The company launched the Alhambra in 1968 and it has since retained its basic four leaved clover curvature and form yet has been breathed new life into again and again in form of embellishments and multiple gem settings.




My favorite piece has to be their iconic 'Zip Necklace' seen in the video below, which doubles as a bracelet and it holds just the right balance of beautiful and clever in its multiple usage application.


With such ingenious mastery of technique, design and beauty, it is no surprise that Van Cleef and Arpels is the choice of royalty, movie stars and many others. It appeals both to the rich and not so rich random people around the globe who have an appreciation for beauty because it uses as its muse the epitome of beauty and that is free for everyone to access, our very own Mother Nature.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Facebook Page: Keeping it Surreal

I finally got around to make a Facebook page for my blog 'Keeping it Surreal'. The idea had been fluttering around my head like a butterfly for quite some time. Sometimes the fluttering would cease, as if the butterfly was resting, possibly upon some flowers of imagination in my mind. It did however take a bit of time to implement the idea, mostly because time is such a precious commodity now.



Time has always been a precious commodity but when responsibilities pile up, there is little left for yourself. And with that little comes the opportunity cost attached. If I do this, then I wouldn't be able to do that, and if I do that I wouldn't be able to do that other thing. It's like one of my first classes in Economics, where I was taught the definition of Economics. Economics is the allocation of limited resources in the most efficient way, so as to minimize the opportunity cost attached. That could very well be the definition of life itself, for everything has an opportunity cost. I guess now would be a adequate time to clarify what exactly is meant by opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is everything you forgo due to you choosing what you are going to do. For example, if I am writing this blog at this particular moment in time, the opportunity cost would be sleeping, watching TV, reading a good book, going out or working. Opportunity cost is therefore attached to each and every choice we make in life, period.

So why did I make a Facebook page for my blog? I am not entirely sure. I love writing, and I have been too busy to blog for some time. Possibly making a Facebook page would make me want to update it regularly and so would give me an excuse to be more vigilant in my writings. Writing is a way of finding joy in life for me. What I do know for sure is that I would love to help others find that joy along with me. Because life has its ups and downs. We all feel depressed and unhappy sometimes. Everyone has been hurt or lost someone. That is life and what binds humanity together. If I find something that would make me feel better and share it, I would consider it a blessing if it brings peace to others as well.


What plans do I have for my Facebook Page 'Keeping it Surreal'? I think I will just go with the flow and see what feels right. I would share my blog posts, thoughts, the surreal aspects of life, possibly some inspirational stories, and maybe even jokes. I am toying with the idea of sharing pictures there too, of nature and stars, Living in the concrete jungle that constitutes city life, we have got out of touch with nature. I miss nature. I miss stars. I used to love watching stars at night when I was a kid. Now with so much city lights, I feel lucky if I catch a star in the sky now and then. I have discovered a new found love of photography, mostly of natural elements. Maybe I will share those pictures too. From today onwards I will share everything with the hashtag #KeepingItSurreal so it is easy to find my posts on Facebook.

Wish me 'Goodluck' please and kindly like my page on Facebook 'Keeping it Surreal'. I would sincerely appreciate any support on this journey because in the words of the immortal Coco Chanel, "The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud." Here's to us all having some courage. Amen to that.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Understanding Pi Day

Everyone who has studied basic school mathematics has at one time or another stumbled upon the number Pi, more commonly recognized by the symbol π. π is calculated to be the ratio of a circle's circumference to it's diameter. What's interesting is that this ratio remains the same, regardless of the size of the circle. However the number is irrational and goes on forever till infinity. The value of π is 3.14159265358979..... and so on till infinity.




Now to be honest, I had never given much thought to the value of π because I have used it so many times in Math classes from school through university. When you get used to something, it becomes a norm, you tend to take it for granted. It doesn't occur to you that π may have any significance apart from solving various formulas like finding the area of a circle or the volume of a cylinder. Today however, π intrigued me. This is because today the world is celebrating π. How intriguing that March 14, 2015 at the time 9:26:53 is the same value as the first ten digits of π. It is as if π is indignantly proclaiming it's right to be noticed, especially when it has such an integral role in Mathematics.

So what does God want us to know about π? I have always felt that mathematics plays a mysterious role in the universe. Let's learn a bit more about π and maybe we can try to grasp it's significance. Some people claim that π is almost 4000 years old, though it only came be officially known as π in 1706 when a mathematician William Jones published his work 'A Summary of Achievements in Mathematics,' and came up with the symbol π to represent the irrational infinite number 3.141592. However much before that, Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212BC) is said to have come discovered this number for the first time while other ancient texts such as the Rhind Papyrus (1650 BC) and an ancient Babylonian tablet (1900-1680 BC) also talk about π.

Now that we have covered some history, lets analyze why Pi is so special. It is irrational, but there are other equally special and important irrational numbers in Mathematics such as the base of natural logarithms denoted by 'e', the under root of 2 and even the golden ratio 0.618.....π is unique. There is the compelling paradox that π is so random that the next number in the sequence has no pattern to the previous one, yet it is encompassed in the epitome of mathematical order, a perfect circle.Observe the image of the progression of the first ten thousand digits of π below. Logically one would expect randomness to exist in a state of chaos but instead what we stumble upon is pure symmetrical aesthetics.



π is not just confined to Mathematics. In the world of physics, it plays a role in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and the Schrödinger wave equation which explains behavior of particles on an atomic level. Then there is the de Broglie hypothesis that states all matter in the universe is actually a wave. When we look at waves, we automatically think of cycles, and rhythms. π is also present in the formula for the Fourier Series. So what all this concludes is that π is everywhere, within the helix of the DNA, within the circular orbit of the stars, within the motion of the cascading rivers to space and time beyond. 

Since we are speaking about physics, it seems appropriate to mention here that the most famous physicist Albert Einstein happened to have been born on 'Pi Day' or 14th March. Interesting coincidence indeed.

The allure of Pi is that it is present everywhere, and within it are woven mysteries which we may never be able unfold. Isn't that the beauty of the universe itself? To reveal enough that is needed and leave the rest to unfold in our imagination. 14th March is indeed a day worth celebrating.



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year Resolutions

A new year, 2015, ascends upon us as 2014 takes a final bow and becomes a thing of the past. Quantum physicists may smirk at our ignorance, citing how time is but an illusion, a figment of our imagination, and that the past, present and future all exist simultaneously. We mere mortals remain blissfully ignorant, devoting our lives to the mercy of the clock diligently ticking away in a corner of our room, our homes, our offices, our wrists and even our phones. Each moment is new and yet we wait until the Gregorian calender notifies us that a new year is about to start. Suddenly our dreams are rekindled into a bright flame, set ablaze by hope that this year may be the one when they finally come true. We all get caught into the crowd excitement of making new year resolutions.




I am one of those mere mortals who get caught up by the excitement of the new year, though it has been a few years since I have made any new year resolutions. I enjoy hearing about new year resolutions from friends and family. If our lives our governed by the clock, and it provides a moment for humanity as a whole to celebrate, how can one just stand by and let that moment slip? Add that to the fact that I think fireworks are the most beautiful and magical experience human beings can savor, I love to stare at the clock as it strikes 12am and signals the world to ignite the sky with fiery magic.

It was during this new years eve fiesta that a post my brother Mujtaba shared on his Facebook page caught my attention. It was a new years resolutions draft by an author by the name of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I had not heard or read him previously, but I really liked some points of his draft. There were some points I would disagree with so I would like to list below only the points that I liked:

 1) Call someone who has no friends, just to say hello, letting the person know that you do not need anything specific from him/her. Have coffee with lonely people twice a month.

2) Do not read more than one new book a week –if needed re-read (and read no book you wouldn’t reread). Walk 2 hours every day regardless of weather. 


3) Fast one day every week on average. Eat meat only on festivals, but then splurge.

4) Respect the janitor more than the chairman and respect those who respect the janitor more than the chairman.


5) Do not read the latest "breakthrough" experiment in psychology about, say, the effect of taking cold showers on grammatical ability. Better even read nothing about these "experiments".


6) Give to someone who needs money but doesn’t ask for it while finding an excuse to preserve his/her dignity.


7) Use courage and wisdom, not labor, for your income.


8) In the end realize that you are only as valuable as the risks you are taking for the sake of others.


Some of the above eight points written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb seem difficult to adopt but if followed, would definitely make 2015 a better year for humanity.

I wish you a very happy 2015. God bless.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hum Bhi Dekhenge (We Shall also See)

14th August has been celebrated annually with pride and fervor by Pakistanis around the globe since the year 1947 to mark the country's birth and freedom from British rule. Today marks the 68th Independence Day of Pakistan, a time when once again its countrymen are rising in patriotism, this time to free themselves from the corrupt politicians who have been slandering the country's interests. I believe this is a time for celebration and hope because it means the Pakistani people will no longer submit to slavery or accept their basic rights being abused. I am obviously a supporter of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, under the leadership of Imran Khan, because I am tired of the shameless, blatant corruption of the previous politicians. How people can sleep peacefully in the warm beds of their huge mansions after eating up money of the poor, suffering, starving masses is beyond my comprehension, and beyond the dignity of humanity. Yet this very thing is happening, and is in fact shamefully prevalent. So far only Imran Khan has had the courage to stand up to these powerful evil politicians and such leaders are rare so they should be supported. I wish their Azadi March today success and the best of luck.




To make the 68th Independence Day of Pakistan, I would like to share a poem by the great Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984).  I have previously blogged about this national hero on my blog post Behind the Magic in his Words and have also mentioned him in my blog post Poetry. His poems are great works of art, and I believe his poem 'Hum Bhi Dekenge' is aptly appropriate for today. I will share his poem in Urdu, and then provide an English translation by Mustansir Dalvi that I found on the internet. The original poem in Urdu is:

Laazim hai ki hum bhi dekhenge
Woh din jiskaa ke waada hai,
Jo lau-e-azl mein likha hai

Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garaan
Rooi ki tarah udd jaayenge,

Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale
jab dharti dhad dhad dhadkegi,

Aur ahl-e-hukam ke sar oopar
Jab bijli kad kad kadkegi,

Jab arz-e-khudaa ke kaabe se
Sab but uthwaaey jaayenge,

Hum ahl-e-safaa mardood-e-haram
Masnad pe bithaaey jaayenge.

Sab taaj uchaaley jaayenge.
Sab takht giraaey jayyenge.

Bas naam rahega Allah kaa,
Jo ghaayab bhi hai, haazir bhi,
Jo manzar bhi hai, naazir bhi.

Utthegaa ‘An-al-haq’ kaa naara
Jo main bhi hoon, aur tum bhi ho,

Aur raaj karegi Khalq-e-Khuda
Jo mai bhi hoon, aur tum bhi ho.

-Faiz Ahmed Faiz

A translation of the above poem is given below. I got this off the internet and the credits go to Mustansir Dalvi.

Inevitably, we shall also see the day
that was promised to us, decreed
on the tablet of eternity.

When dark peaks of torment and tyranny
will be blown away like cotton fluff;

When the earth’s beating, beating  heart
will pulsate beneath our broken feet;

When crackling, crashing lightning
will smite the heads of our tormentors;

When, from the seat of the Almighty
every pedestal will lie displaced;

Then, the dispossessed we; we,
who kept the faith will be installed
to our inalienable legacy.
Every crown will be flung.
Each throne brought down.

Only His name will remain; He,
who is both unseen, and ubiquitous; He,
who is both the vision and the beholder.

When the clarion call of ‘I am Truth’
(the truth that is me and the truth that is you)
will ring out, all God’s creatures will rule,
those like me and those like you.



Personally I can't wait to see the dawn of such a day. Hopefully that day will come soon and so I end this post with a heartfelt Pakistan Zindabad.


Friday, August 8, 2014

The World of No Place, No Time

Wise people from millennia have tried to decipher the meaning of life. Some have agonized upon this mystery so much that they have made their mark on history. There are those who have reached enlightenment and have been in direct contact with the Divine. The answers these people have come up with, be in prophets, philosophers, sages etc. have striking similarities and yet stark differences. Certain religions quote life to be a one time test, whilst other religions speak of reincarnation. Conventional Science explains life to be a mere coincidence due to the Big Bang and Darwinian evolution whereas new age Quantum Physics talks about energy and parallel universes. Chinese philosophy talks about how everything has an exact opposite, the Yin and Yang theory. Life does have an opposite, which is a very certain thing everyone agrees upon: Death. Yet is it really the end or is it just a transition? Why is it such a mystery? Some answers we may never know.




I remember when I was a sophomore in university, I took a course on Islamic Spirituality. My maternal uncle had died a year before whom my brothers and I were very close to. He had no children of his own and loved us as if we were his kids. My course instructor was Sheikh Kamaludin who is now quite well known for his lectures around the world, from what I hear from people. Yet at that time, he was teaching his first course in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). I remember he was a great orater, he had the power to make most students laugh or cry, with almost all of them hanging on each and every word he uttered. I just took this one course from him, and respect him for he was a teacher but I personally prefer a much more moderate view of Islam.

I asked him if people who have died can still see us who are alive. He pondered on my question for a few minutes before answering that he was unsure of the answer. He said it would be painful for the people who have passed away to see their loved ones in this world, especially if they were mourning about their death. Maybe they don't even remember the ones they have left behind. Yet he couldn't be sure, only Allah knew the truth.

I was probably seeking some comforting reference in religion that everyone who has lost a loved one would want about how people who died were happy souls flying around with the angels. So I was a bit perturbed at the answer, which on hindsight I shouldn't have been since the teacher himself didn't know. Life after death is one of the biggest mysteries in this world after all. When my mom passed away few years later, I started reading Rumi because I found comfort in his words and I have always had a soft side for poetry. I believe the positivity and hope in Rumi's poetry gave me the strength to carry on. I especially like what he has to say about life after death. I know that when my time comes, I would want my loved ones to think of me as just transitioning from my human body to eternal love, a world of no time and no place.

On the day that I die,
When my coffin is being taken out,
you must never think I am missing this world.

Don't shed any tears,
Don't lament or feel sorry.
I am not falling into a monsters abyss.

When you see my corpse being carried,
Don't cry for my leaving.
I am not leaving: I am arriving at eternal love.

When you leave me in the grave,
Don't say goodbye.
Remember a grave is only a curtain for the paradise behind.

You'll only see me descending into a grave,
Now watch me rise.
How can there be an end when the sun sets or the moon goes down.

It looks like the end,
It looks like sunset but in reality it is dawn.
When the grave locks you up that is when your soul is freed.

Have you ever seen a seed fallen to earth,
Not rise with a new life?
Why should you doubt the rise of a seed named human?

Have you ever seen a bucket lowered into a well coming back empty?
Why lament for a soul,
When it can come back like Joseph from the well.

When for the last time you close your mouth,
Your words and soul will belong,
To the world of no place and no time.

-Rumi


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Dream Within a Dream

One of the great paradoxes of life is that no matter how fully you live it, it will eventually run out of time. In that sense, it can be said to possess a dream like quality. Dreams may be vivid, seem magical  and real but the truth of the matter is that they occur in a state of slumber in our mind, ending abruptly upon being awakened. The great writer Edgar Allan Poe takes this concept and wonders if life may also be an illusion of our imagination, similar to a dream in his poem 'A Dream Within a Dream.' Ordinarily, I am not the biggest fan of Edgar Allan Poe's writings, since his work is a bit 'dark' for me. Nonetheless I admire how he has captured the irony of how time is always slipping away and yet there is nothing man can do about it. Life is finite, and that makes one question what is real, since whatever is real must be infinite. Maybe life really is an illusion and a dream. 



  
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem,
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away,
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amidst the roar,
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand,
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep,
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp,
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save,
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem,
But a dream within a dream?