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?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Here I am

Muslims around the globe are celebrating the blessed month of Ramadan, in which the Holy Quran was revealed as a complete and thorough guide to life. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calender and is a month where fasting is observed by Muslims from dawn till dusk. Ramadan is a time of spiritual renewal and also prayer.

I recently stumbled upon this beautiful poem by the great Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi. It reminded me of how many devout Muslims around the world spend their days and nights in prayer in remembrance of Allah. I am sure majority of them have strong faith but for those few who may wonder about the answer to their calls, this is a heart warming story.

'All night, a man called “Allah”,
Until his lips were bleeding.
Then the Devil said, “Hey! Mr Gullible!
How comes you’ve been calling all night?
And never once heard Allah say, “Here, I am”?
You call out so earnestly and, in reply, what?
I’ll tell you what. Nothing!”

The man suddenly felt empty and abandoned.
Depressed, he threw himself on the ground.
And fell into a deep sleep.
In a dream, he met Abraham, who asked,
“Why are you regretting praising Allah?”

The man said, “ I called and called,
But Allah never replied, “Here I am.”
Abraham explained, “Allah has said,
“Your calling my name is My reply.
Your longing for Me is My message to you.
All your attempts to reach Me
Are in reality My attempts to reach you.
Your fear and love are a noose to catch Me.
In the silence surrounding every call of “Allah”
Waits a thousand replies of “Here I am.”

- Rumi

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rumi and Ramadan

The blessed month of Ramadan is here. It is a special month for Muslims, in which the holy book of Islam, The Quran, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The Quran is said to be a complete and timeless guide to living for mankind. Muslims around the world observe Ramadan by fasting from dawn till dusk, praying and overall following the five pillars of Islam. It is a time of spiritual renewal and also a blessed month free from satan who is caged away in hell by God.

Here are some words of wisdom on Ramadan by the wise Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi:

O moon-faced Beloved,
The month of Ramadan has arrived.
Cover the table,
And open the path of praise.

O fickle busybody,
It’s time to change your ways.
Can you see the one who’s selling the halvah?
How long will it be the halvah you desire?

Just a glimpse of the halvah-maker,
Has made you so sweet even honey says,
"I’ll put myself beneath your feet, like soil;
I’ll worship at your shrine.”

Your chick frets within the egg,
With all your eating and choking.
Break out of your shell that your wings may grow.
Let yourself fly.

The lips of the Master are parched,
From calling the Beloved.
The sound of your call resounds,
Through the horn of your empty belly.

Let nothing be inside of you.
Be empty: give your lips to the lips of the reed.
When like a reed you fill with His breath,
Then you’ll taste sweetness.

Sweetness is hidden in the Breath,
That fills the reed.
Be like Mary – by that sweet breath,
A child grew within her.

- Rumi

I wish everyone a blessed month of Ramadan. Ramadan Kareem.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Great Cloud Continents of Sunset Seas

On the eve of 2013, I look back and ponder on what an 'interesting' year it has been. It has been very over-whelming to me on a personal level, hence I could hardly find time to write and blog. As they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I for one vehemently hope this is true. On the last day of 2013, I want to share a poem I actually stumbled upon quite recently and fell in love with. Enjoy and Happy new year to you all. 2014, you better be good!

Sick of myself  and all that keeps the light,
Of the blue skies away from me and mine,
I climb this ledge, and by this wind-swept pine,
Lingering, watch the coming of the night.
'T is ever a new wonder to my sight.

Men look to God for some mysterious sign,
For other stars than those that nightly shine,
For some unnatural symbol of His might,
Wouldst see a miracle as grand of those,
The prophets wrought of old in Palestine?

Come watch with me the shaft of fire that glows,
In yonder West; the fair, frail palaces,
The fading alps and archipelagoes,
And great cloud-continents of sunset seas.

By Thomas Bailey Aldrich.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Designer Bag Heaven

Since my last post was about shoes, I thought it would be appropriate to do a post on the next best thing, which happen to be bags. I love shoes and bags, and felt like compiling a list of which I think are timeless classics in the designer bag world. If one can afford the staggering price tag on these beauties, they are definitely worth buying. For the rest of us, the appeal is still there as these are beauties to look and fun to window shop in themselves.

The first is the Hermes Birkin Bag. With a whooping price tag of $10,000 and going up until $150,000 depending on the material used, this is a favorite amongst celebrities. It comes in different colors and materials such as ostrich, leather, crocodile and lizard skin. The Birkin was elevated to star status after being seen in the arms of countless celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Victoria Beckham and Lady Gaga to name a few. Being handmade in France, the Hermes Birkin bag used to have a waiting list of up till six years, expressing its exclusivity. The waiting list however ended in 2010, when Hermes announced the bags to be available for anyone who wanted to purchase them. Though not my personal favorite, these are one of the most recognized and coveted bags in the fashion world.

My personal favorite which I would love to own some day inshAllah happens to be the Classic Chanel 2.55 Flap Bag. Ever since it was released in 1955, it has been an eternal favorite amongst fashionistas. The bag was originally designed by the queen of couture, Coco Channel herself. It was reissued by Karl Lagerfeld when he became the creative director of Chanel in the 1980s, in its original form, the only difference being an interlocking CC logo clasp that he introduced. Prices start from around $2000 for the small sizes and keep going up every year by as much as $500 per piece. This bag also comes in a variety of colors, sizes and materials, such as soft lamb skin and tweed to name a few. It is the epitome of chic and sophistication to be seen carrying a classic Chanel 2.55 Flap bag.

The bag that reached iconic fame due to being carried by Princess Diana is the Lady Dior. This again comes in a plethora of colors, materials and sizes, along with a metal charm spelling out 'Dior' attached on its handle. Introduced in the 1990's, it is said to be named in honor of Princess Diana herself, after she was seen carrying it at various social events. Princess Diana was rumored to have loved the bag so much that she ordered more in every color and size. The price range also starts from $2000 and goes up depending on the size and material you desire.

 One of the most iconic Louis Vuitton bags has to be the the Louis Vuitton Speedy. It was launched in 1932 when Louis Vuitton was trying to make a name in the hand bag industry along with being a powerful presence in the luxury luggage market. This is probably the most affordable bag on this list, with smaller sizes starting from around $650 and then of course going higher. It was elevated to iconic status in the 1960s due to the beautiful Audrey Hepburn who loved it so much she requested a smaller version of it to be made. Characterized by the famous Louis Vuitton monogram design, the speedy has been given more variety and creative touches when Marc Jacobs became the creative director of Louis Vuitton in the late 1990s. Although my personal favorite Louis Vuitton bag has to be the Alma PM, when it comes to which one is the most popular and iconic, the answer is the Louis Vuitton Speedy.

I also like the handbags made by Prada. One of their most popular designs is the Prada Saffiano Top Handle bag. It comes in a variety of different colors and sizes. Prices start from around $1500. Made from Saffiano leather, this bag is extremely durable and lasts you many years with the color not fading either, a trademark of good quality.

There are many other great designer bags out there such as those by Versace, Gucci, Burberry, Fendi, Coach and way too many others to mention. This blog post offered just a tiny glimpse of what true designer handbag heaven must be like.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Shoe Affair

There is something about shoes that enchants women. The reason why shoes can be so captivating for women remains a mystery. According to a survey the average woman own at least nineteen pairs of shoes, though they only wear about 4 on a regular basis. Women have been known to risk foot injury, bear pain and blisters for the right pair of high heels, all in the name of fashion. Maybe there can be more to a lady's shoe affair, as claimed by the glamorous Marilyn Monroe, 'Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.' 

Though the appeal to certain footwear is innate and may remain a mystery, there can be some logical reasons behind why shoes evoke such passion from women. Unlike expensive clothes, shoes do not go out of fashion so easily. Most haute couture shops provide pieces for a slim clientele, whereas shoes can fit a woman no matter her size. On a bad day, chocolate does provide relief but it is temporary and adds to the waist line so why not splurge on shoes instead. It also helps them relate to glamorous TV personnel, such as Carrie Bradshow who is a self confessed shoe-holic. High heeled shoes provide height for those not blessed with them and help with posture realignment, leading to an illusion of a slimmer silhouette.

Nowadays women are bedazzled by choice in the variety of shoes available in the market. Yet it is important for a true fashionista to be aware of the hierarchy of the shoe kingdom and which shoes are the most coveted. When it comes to who rules the roost, the brands with a cult status following are Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo. One can of course not forget Salvatore Ferragamo, given the contributions he has made to the evolution of shoes as a major fashion accessory in the mid twentieth century.

Salvatore Ferragamo has played a vital part in revolutionizing fashion in shoes for women. He has dressed countless Hollywood stars such as Sophia Loren, Marilyn Manroe, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Not only did Ferragamo study footwear in his native Italy, upon migration to the US he enrolled to study the anatomy of feet at the University of Southern California to understand how to make shoes more comfortable. We owe the comfort of high heeled shoes to him for coming up with an arch steel support system which distributed the weight and hence balance of the wearer more evenly throughout the sole. Ferragamo created the first wedge heel in 1936, came up with the idea of the famous cage heel and also the shell heel. He brought upon a revival of Romanticism in fashion in the 1930s by introducing lace on shoes for the first time. He invented the 'invisible shoes' by using transparent nylon uppers which earned him a much deserved Oscar of the fashion world, the esteemed 'Neiman Marcus Award' in 1947. When he died in 1960, he had made his mark on the fashion world by pioneering comfort of high heeled shoes, innovation of new styles and his trademark business a formidable fashion powerhouse till date.

Spanish shoe designer Manolo Blahnik had his shoes rise to cult fame status being a favorite of Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, in the hit television series 'Sex and the City'. Blahnik passionately believes his shoes are amazing and he has stated they increase a woman's power of seduction ten times! He thoroughly dislikes platforms and has instead primarily focused on the classical stilettos since the 1970s. Starting out in London in 1972, Manolo Blahnik can now boast of being sold in exclusive high end couture boutiques around the world including New York City and Dubai. One famous quote on Manolo Blahnik shoes comes from the legendary pop star Madonna, who has stated them to be 'better than sex, since they last longer'.

Christian Louboutin started painting the fashion world red ever since he opened his flagship shoe store in Paris in 1991. However he was well known in the fashion world since the late 1970s, having designed shoes for Channel and Yves Saint Laurent. Louboutin is also passionate about his shoes, so much so that he dropped out of high school to instead pursue his passion. Characterized by the trademark red sole that are guaranteed to stand out in any crowd, Christian Louboutins have been described as flirty, powerful, glamorous, sexy and a 'Must have' for any fashionista. In his aim to make women look beautiful whilst elongating their silhouette, he has designed heels up to 12cm tall. His success was recently celebrated by the Design Museum in London which held an exhibition from May till July 2012 to showcase how during the span of his career, Christian Louboutin's bold designs have 'pushed the boundaries of high fashion shoe design'.

It was much later that Chinese-Malaysian shoe designer Jimmy Choo came in to the picture. Based in London, he was hired by a woman Tamara Mellon who launched a shoe brand in his name in 1996. Although Choo had a disagreement with Mellon later, and the company has changed ownership via shares, it has grown in to a formidable name in the fashion industry, coming up with matching bags and other accessories along with the shoes. Jimmy Choo shoes have been said to bring 'good luck' on the red carpet, after many women adorning them won the Oscars including Hillary Swank, Cate Blanchett and Halle Berry amongst others.

Though I do not own any of these very expensive shoes, my personal favorite brand happens to be Christian Louboutin. All these brands are admirable and swoon worthy, considering how shoes are after all, truly a fashionista's 'sole' mate.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Mexican Festival of the Dead

When one starts to peer into the realm of different cultures and beliefs, one can not help but be impressed by the variety of contrasting festivals that are uniquely celebrated across the globe. Some festivals have transcended religion and national boundaries to become cause for global celebration. These would be the well known festivals of Valentines Day on 14th February and Halloween on 31st October. However some of the most interesting festivals are those which are not that well known to the majority of us.

I have come across quite a few festivals which have enthralled me, though I have not had an opportunity to attend them. One of the festivals which seemed really bizarre when I first heard about it is 'The Day of the Dead', celebrated in Mexico on the first of November. The part about it which astonished me was that though it sounds like a morbid, sad affair, it is in fact a bright and colorful time to party in Mexico.

I was flipping channels on the television about a year ago and came across a fascinating documentary on BBC which enlightened me about this event. Though I did miss a bit of it from the start, it was interesting enough to have me completely enthralled till the end. It gave me a glimpse into this festival and what it was like. The day is taken so seriously that it is a national holiday in Mexico. People start preparing for this festival days before it begins, since they believe that their dead relatives come to visit them on that particular day. 

This festival is quite different from the popular Halloween a day before, which though a huge global party event, is actually based on a premise of fear of the dead and evil walking the earth on Halloween eve. The way of celebration is also distinct. Unlike 'trick or treating', people prepare for the 'Day of the Dead' by holding gatherings where they remember their loved ones who have passed away. Grand altars are prepared for the deceased, lovingly decorated with their favorite things including food and beverages. The people sincerely believe that the dead do come to visit their relatives on this particular day and so want to prepare alters which represent how much they are still remembered and cherished. People write poems and give funny speeches for the deceased, keeping in line with the merriment of this festival. Colorful parades are held to celebrate the dead, and parties even take place in graveyards and cemetaries!

What touched me about this festival was that the presenter of the documentary was a complete skeptic when he started off but by the end he was so softened by the genuine beliefs and emotions surrounding the festival that he tried talking to his own deceased relatives and was moved to tears. Speaking from personal experience, I feel we all have issues which need closure with our departed loved ones. Things we should have said, or just wanting to have another moment with them for a bit before they are forever gone. I found the idea of this festival therapeutic. These people genuinely believe that their dead relatives and loved ones visit them on this day, and have an opportunity to say all the things that were left unsaid. If nothing else, they celebrate knowing that at least the deceased person is there with them spiritually. The concept of a ghost visiting someone seems quite creepy and scary but for these Mexicans it is not something to be afraid of, it is just how things are.

In Islam the maximum number of days for mourning a dead person is said to be three days. I am sure there must be ample wisdom in this, such as maybe the dead can see us and don't want us crying over their departed souls. However personally I believe that it is very difficult, for me at least, to mourn three days only and be done. So many things remind you of your deceased loved ones, memories, circumstances where you wish they were still alive. In the first few days when someone dies, one is in too much shock to mourn, or at least I was when I lost my mother and mamo (mothers brother, maternal uncle).

I don't want to sound blasphemous, God forbid. I would also like to make peace with Allah's will and not miss those who are not alive anymore, and I pray I do make that peace. However so far I am still trying. At the end of this blog, I guess I can console myself that though we do not have such festivals, at least I know that death is not the end, it is just another realm or dimension. At the end of the day, those deceased are InshAllah in a better place than they were when they were alive. And that is all that really matters.