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.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

La Marioneta

I stumbled upon a beautiful poem in my email recently. It is a poem that gained fame not only because of how heartfelt it is but also because of a misunderstanding about who had composed it. The Nobel Laureate and famous author of 'One Hundred years of Solitude'(1967) along with 'Love in the time of Cholera'(1985), Gabriel Garcia Marquez was undergoing treatment for cancer in 1999. It was during that time that this poem mysteriously showed up and gained popularity as a farewell message he had penned for his friends and family.

It was only much later that the true author of this poem, called 'La Marioneta' or 'The Puppet' was revealed. It was written by a Mexican ventriloquist named Johnny Welch. He had written it for his puppet 'Mofles' and had no idea how the poem got confused to be penned by Marquez. Obviously he was a bit disappointed that he had written the poem and someone else was getting the credit. Marquez also denied being the author of the work and finally credit was given where it was due. Truly it is indeed a touching and sentimental piece of work, and the kudos for the true author, Welch to have penned such intensity and emotion to reveal his view of life as a gift in just a few scribbles. The translation of the poem is given below:

'If God, for a second, forgot what I have become and granted me a little bit more of life, I would use it to the best of my ability. 

I wouldn’t, possibly, say everything that is in my mind, but I would be more thoughtfull of all I say.

I would give merit to things not for what they are worth, but for what they mean to express.

I would sleep little, I would dream more, because I know that for every minute that we close our eyes, we waste 60 seconds of light.

I would walk while others stop; I would awake while others sleep.

If God would give me a little bit more of life, I would dress in a simple manner, I would place myself in front of the sun, leaving not only my body, but my soul naked at its mercy.

To all men, I would say how mistaken they are when they think that they stop falling in love when they grow old, without knowing that they grow old when they stop falling in love.

I would give wings to children, but I would leave it to them to learn how to fly by themselves.

To old people I would say that death doesn’t arrive when they grow old, but with forgetfulness.

I have learned so much with you all, I have learned that everybody wants to live on top of the mountain, without knowing that true happiness is obtained in the journey taken & the form used to reach the top of the hill.

I have learned that when a newborn baby holds, with its little hand, his father’s finger, it has trapped him for the rest of his life.

I have learned that a man has the right and obligation to look down at another man, only when that man needs help to get up from the ground.

Say always what you feel, not what you think. If I knew that today is the last time that that I am going to see you asleep, I would hug you with all my strength and I would pray to the Lord to let me be the guardian angel of your soul.

If I knew that these are the last moments to see you, I would say “I love you.”

There is always tomorrow, and life gives us another opportunity to do things right, but in case I am wrong, and today is all that is left to me, I would love to tell you how much I love you & that I will never forget you.

Tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone, young or old. Today could be the last time to see your loved ones, which is why you mustn’t wait; do it today, in case tomorrow never arrives. I am sure you will be sorry you wasted the opportunity today to give a smile, a hug, a kiss, and that you were too busy to grant them their last wish.

Keep your loved ones near you; tell them in their ears and to their faces how much you need them and love them. Love them and treat them well; take your time to tell them “I am sorry,” “forgive me, “please,” “thank you,” and all those loving words you know.

Nobody will know you for your secret thought. Ask the Lord for wisdom and strength to express them.

Show your friends and loved ones how important they are to you.

Send this letter to those you love. If you don’t do it today…tomorrow will be like yesterday, and if you never do it, it doesn’t matter either, the moment to do it is now.'

God bless.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Islamophobia and Huma Abedin

This article has also been published on the Express Tribune website at the following link: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/13135/islamophobia-and-huma-abedin/

Islamophobia is mounting in the developed world, with a big contributing factor being ignorance. Instead of looking at the millions of Muslims who are practicing the actual religion, the western media has focused on a fraction of so called 'Muslims' who are misunderstood extremists and believe in the believe in killing innocents all in the name of Jihad. While Jihad is a part of Islam, it is widely misunderstood and killings of innocents is not allowed.

The case of Islamophobia is becoming more pronounced particularly in the USA. A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that only 30% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Islam in 2010, and that number has been declining over the past years. This is not surprising since most leaders of America itself make sweeping attacks on Muslims. A stark example would be how five prominent members of the Republican Party and congress recently sent a letter to the Deputy Inspector General of the State Department, accusing Hilary Clinton's aide Huma Abedin of ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Huma Abedin is a Muslim woman, who is deputy chief of staff to Hilary Clinton. From the members of the Republican party who signed this letter, the most prominent is Michele Bachmann, who was being considered by the Republicans as a presidential candidate. The Muslim Brotherhood is a political Islamic organization which was founded in 1928, particularly very active in the Arab world and has been accused of an 'international plot to overthrow governments of Arab countries' by many, including the Dubai police.

According to the letter sent, Abedins three family members specifically her late father, mother and brother were directly connected to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The inclination given is that Abedin has influenced the softening of policy in the White House towards the Muslim Brotherhood which can produce hazardous for the US since the Muslim Brotherhood intends to destroy western civilization from within.

However, according to Global Post, the US government does not view the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, given that it had not carried out a violent activity for the past fifty years. That said, the US government is very thorough when conducting research on potential employees of the White House, so obviously Abedian was not viewed as a threat. On being asked about Huma Abedin, the Muslim Brotherhood responded with a confused 'Who?'

Not all Republicans have attacked Abedins reputation, with Senator John McCain amongst others rising to her defense. It does seem a bit preposterous that Abedin would be connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, or have an extremist Islamic agenda. The woman dress sense isn't very modest according to Islamic standards as seen by her photoshoot in Vogue Magazine in 2007, where she wore a daring low cut red dress (picture above). She is also married to a Jewish man and has a baby with him. Jon Stewart does a hilarious refute to this accusation by Bachmann on Abedin which can be viewed here.

That said, the issue is deeper than just one person. The letter actually accused quite a few people indirectly, and the reason why Abedin was brought to the limelight is that her name was specifically mentioned. There is an underlying fear that Islam poses a threat to the western style of life without realizing Muslims have been living peacefully in the west for hundreds of years. This is due to ignorance and it is this ignorance about the true meaning of Islam which is in dire need of being addressed in order to avoid such fear and misunderstandings in the future.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Poetry is an art form that goes back thousand of years, with one of the first poems discovered around 18th Century BC in ancient Mesopotamia, known as 'Epic of Gilgamesh'. It is an art form that has transcended time, cultural and lingual barriers with many poems forming the basic backbone of folk songs around the world. In the words of the famous poet Allama Iqbal, 'A mathematician cannot but a poet can enclose infinity in a line.'

When looking at the history of poetry of our subcontinent, particularly of the Urdu language, many names of famous poets spring to mind. In Urdu language, poetry is known as 'Shayari.' One of the most popular poets or 'shayars' is Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869). It was during his lifetime that the great Mughal empire fell into the hands of the British. Ghalib wrote about these events, society, and also wrote many ghazals which went on to being sung by numerous musicians.

Sir Muhammad Iqbal, popularly known as Allama Iqbal (1877-1938), was a prominent politician, philosopher and poet who proposed the 'Two Nation Theory' on the basis of which Quaid-e-Azam led the independence movement which culminated in the formation of Pakistan. He is treated as a national hero in Pakistan, has been given the title of 'National Poet of Pakistan' and his birthday on 9 November is a national holiday known as 'Iqbal Day.'

Another great Pakistani poet that deserves mention is Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984). In 1936, he joined the Progressive Writers' Movement and was a proponent of Marxism, going on to win in 1962 the Lenin Peace Prize awarded by the Soviet Union (USSR). Faiz used his poetry as a non-violent way to encourage the case of Socialism in Pakistan, believing it to be the solution of Pakistan's problems.

Hamds, Naats and Sufi poetry have also formed a popular part of subcontinent culture.A 'Hamd' is poetry sung in praise of Allah. A 'Naat' is a piece of religious poetry which is sung in praise of Holy Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) in Islam.  Sufi poetry is one that concentrates on the concept of Divine love for Allah. Some famous Sufi poets include Bulleh Shah (1680-1758) and Baba Farid (1173-1266). A worthy mention is of Maulana Jalalludin Rumi (1207-1273),  who though of Persian heritage, has captured the hearts of many not only in the subcontinent but around the world.

Zahid sharab peene de masjid mein beth kar,
Yaa woh jagha bata jahan Khuda nahin..
(Mirza Ghalib)

Masjid khuda ka ghar hai, peeney ki jagha nahin,
Kaafir ke dil mein ja, Wahan khudaa nahin..
(Allama Iqbal)

Kaafir ke dil se aya hon mein yeh dekh kar,
Khuda maujood hai wahan, Par usey pata nahin..
(Ahmad Faraz)

On a personal level, I have always loved poetry. I was probably introduced to poetry through the ever popular nursery rhymes, though I can't be sure. I loved writing poetry when young as well, and still have copies of my poems published in  'The Young Nation', a weekly children's magazine published by the most popular newspaper of Pakistan back in the day, 'The Nation.' I harbor fond memories of reading and dissecting stanza by stanza 'The Dragon Book of Verse' in English Literature class back in fifth grade. Later on in O Levels I was introduced to all the great poetry of the subcontinent, with my favorite being 'Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa' of Allama Iqbal. There are also great memories of my mother who would sometimes quietly sing 'Hamds' (religious poetry in praise of Allah) whilst going on about the usual house work.

I believe there is a poet in every one of us, and even if we choose to ignore that, poetry plays a prominent role in at least one part of all of our lives, be it history, culture, religion or even music.