Friday, April 28, 2006

How To Play Football (for Cricketers) - 1

As the kick-off time for the football worldcup 2006 dawns closer (41 days according to the MSN nick of one of my soccer-crazy pals), certain changes start to occur to my normally-cricket friendly friends. During the weekend cricket games, a football will emerge next to the kits. After a long game of cricket, a few people will start to kick the ball around. Slowly, the number of people kicking the ball will grow, the number overs bowled start getting shorter, until finally everyone is playing soccer.

For a month.

Now I am not a normally soccer-playing person. I would rather go to the gym and do a targeted-muscle-cardio-vascular-tension exercise (I just feel good saying that). I will watch the World Cups and the Euro tournaments religiously - but that's as far as I go. Who really cares if Arsenal beats Barcelona in Paris for the Champions League. However, this summer will be the summer of football. Based on that, here's the first post in a series of pointers on how to play a game of football (for cricketers).


When they coax you, a cricketer, to play football, a selling point will be 'you can choose what position you want to play'. And what does our normal, slightly lazy, cricketer do? He chooses the goalkeeper position. You would think, 'well, all I have to do is run around between these two posts for a few minutes for the whole game. How bad can it be?' - WRONG!

The goalie's position can be very stressful. No one remembers all the saves (close eyes and pray and fluke!) that you do. Besides, try imagining a 200 pound center-forward bearing down on you and ready to kick that huge ball at 100 mph towards your face.

No, the best position is the defender's position. Stay a few feet in front of the goalkeeper. Chat with the fellow defenders. Have a smoke if you will. You don't need to come forward or run at all - opponents will marvel at your discipline in sticking to your post.

In the unfortunate event that the other team is on the attack, all you need to do is run forward with a Howard Dean scream 'aaaaaaagh' and launch a flying tackle at the other dude's feet. If you can manage to kick the ball away, good. If not, well, you tried, right? In which other soccer position will people say well played when you kick the ball away, without any thought of direction or speed or strategy?


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Why Do You Want To Return?

"Pay the laborer his wages even before his sweat dries up."
- Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as reported by Ibn Majah on the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar.

"I want to go back." A friend confided to me. He was talking about returning to work in the Middle East. "The pay is better, no taxes, and best of all, it's a Muslim country. I can hear the azaan, I can pray and I can bring up my kids properly."

"I see." I replied. "It's a Muslim country. Really? You do remember you are a brown skinned desi right?"

"It's better than the racism I face here." He retorted. "They don't say it, but it's there."

He was ofcourse talking about Canada. A country that has given him land, citizenship, job, education, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and most of all - dignity. Return to the Middle East, and you are nothing more than a dark skinned rafik, a derogatory term used by Arabs for the desis.

I like visiting there. I like shopping there. But I will not like working there. Hearing the azaan five times a day while the imams who deliver the sermons do nothing about the plight of foreign workers there (while sermonizing the West about defending Islam from a poor powerless Afghan convert) is not my idea of a Muslim country.

The Washington Times carried the stories of few unskilled Asian workers. One cannot visit his hospitalized wife, another has seen his kids only 6 times in 26 years. According to reports by Human Rights organizations, in one of the Middle East nations there are only 80 inspectors for nearly 200,000 companies that hire foreign labourers. Racism is rampant, and open.

Classifieds ask for "US/UK/Canadian Educated Only" when looking for managers. When a brown man commits a crime, the newspapers proudly say "Asian convicted of crime ..." - as if Arabs from the Gulf are not Asians.

The fault is ours. Governments of Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka cannot create enough jobs for their millions of citizens. So they encourage them to go abroad and work in unskilled positions, and remain grateful for the foreign exchange they send back. However, they turn a blind eye to the abuses these workers have to suffer. Men who leave their wives and kids, borrow money by selling all they have, to procure a visa. They in turn work illegally and are not paid for months. They return, years later, with nothing much to show for it except broken families and lives.

Women, who leave their kids and husbands to go abroad and work as maids. They suffer from sexual abuse, rape, overwork and return to find their husbands having remarried, their children discarded and no help from their government. The cycle continues.

If I return, yes, I will get a work as a well paid manager. I will wear a suit and tie and have a Pakistani driver on call and an Indian waitor to make me tea whenever I want it. I will have an Indonesian maid to clean my house. I will have a Bangladeshi labourer slaving away at the machines. But I will be perpetuating that cycle of abuse. And the white guy next to me and who knows less than me will be earning triple my wages. And, meanwhile, the so-called Muslim country, that pays these labourers less than $4 A DAY will deduct their wages for time lost due to prayers. Yes, Muslim country indeed.

Workers stand on a plank they have used as a makeshift bridge over a stream of sewage in their camp.

Many bunkbeds in a single room serve as residences for these labourers

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Back From An Ottawa Wedding

.. with a few observations.

Why It Pays To Be The Bride's Cousins:
(and why Ottawa is bo-o-o-o-o-ring)

Gate-dhora. When the groom is about to enter the wedding hall, the bride's cousins will block his entry until he demands to pay a fee. It's usually the saalis (bride's female cousins, that too the younger ones) who do that 'blocking'. This Thursday, I was in Ottawa for my cousin sister's wedding, and I was placed as the 'overseer' of the gate-dhora. Well, we got $200 dollars. We would also have got more for stealing the groom's shoes (don't ask) but nowadays grooms are smart and wear them throughout the ceremony. It's pretty hard to steal shoes when someone is wearing them.

Well, now, it was next day, Friday night, 8 pm, and we have 13 cousins and $200 to blow. And what is there to do in Ottawa on that Friday night?

Absolutely Nothing. Hah! (sorry, just had to get that in there).

Keep in mind some cousins were young so we could not just go anywhere. Some ate Halal/Zabihah so we could not go to any restaurant. We wanted to go for Chinese but the groom (cousin's new husband) was treating us the next day to Chinese. So I suggested we watch the Indian movie Humko Deewana Kar Gaye and go for some dinner later. And what do I discover? There is NO Bollywood movie theatre in Ottawa. They did play the movie last week at some English cinema.

So in the end we all ended up going for shawarma. Shawarma?! I could have done that in some backyard alley in Toronto. We didn't scrimp and ordered the whole plates for each person, BBQ chickens, veggies and what-not, and spent 140 bucks. But seriously, shawarma? If this was Toronto, we would have gone to Woodside at 9, then Gerrard Street to Lahore Tikka for some butter chicken at 12.30 past midnight, then Timmy's for some dessert. Toronto rules.

Why It's Good To Be The Groom:

You get treated like royalty. If you are the guy, you can pretty much demand anything. Even if you are not a demander, your parents will tell you that you MUST demand, to preserve porompora (tradition), as in your sisters' wedding her groom will demand. Besides, the bride's side will get offended if you don't have any demands (huh?).

So BE A MAN. At my wedding, I am going to demand that the bride's party show up with purple M&M flavoured gulab jamuns.

PS. What's Wrong With Brown Skin?
Beauty parlors. What use are they? The desi women going to a wedding go into a beauty parlor and come out looking like Casper the friendly ghost's not so friendly friend. White as hell. What is with that obsession?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dude, Get Out Of My Car

Note to self: do NOT let a teenager sit in the front seat of your car. Ever.

I am at a party on the weekend when this aunty approaches me.

"Baba, I have to go home a bit early and my husband is still at work. Is it possible for you to give me a ride back? My place is very near."

Being the bhodro chele ('nice' boy) that I am, and calculating to myself that I will be missing at the most ten minutes of the very latest conspiracy theory of why America wants an Iraqi civil war (authored by Uncle Mo), I replied, "ofcourse aunty, I will be delighted to."

So I get in my car. As is the norm, aunty sits in the back seat. Then her teenage son gets in the front passenger seat.

"Strap your belt on." I tell him. He's less than 16 and I, in no way, want to pay his fine if caught.

"Oh it's only a few minutes." He protests. I decide to take advantage of my bhodro chele reputation (it can come in real handy at times) to tell him we must ALWAYS obey the law. His mum now joining my urging, the boy straps up.

"Oh, what a cool car!" He gushes, as I reverse out of the driveway. "Is that a Bose sound system? Wikkkked!"

And then, without warning, he presses the CD button.

Never, never, NEVER, touch another guy's sound system without his permission. And pray, what song emerges from the speakers at full blast?
What you gon' do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?
I'ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
Get you love drunk off my hump.
My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,
My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps. (Check it out)

I can see (in the rearview mirror, as I am driving down the little road) aunty getting flustered and uncomfortable. I can just imagine her thinking 'and this was such a nice boy. Such awful songs he hears. I wonder what is a hump?'

Very deftly, I reach for the radio button. Good old 24-hour news radio station 680. I can always count on you. I toggle the radio on.

".. conclusively proving that former studies regarding the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, irregular menstrual cycles, breast tenderness, loss of libido and dryness in the ...."

Somedays you just cannot win.


Friday, April 14, 2006

A Crash Of Roles

Crossposted on

I was returning from a movie with my friends. We had all taken J's car, and living on the eastern-most part of the city meant I would be dropped off last. And so, we were on the highway, just the two of us left, when J's 13 year old Civic started to sputter. Keeping a cool head, my more religiously-inclined friend J started to utter a few duas before easing the car onto the shoulder, where it completely stalled.

When we could not get it started (even after J pretended to know what he was doing and poked around under the hood, and told me his 'engine cylinder belt' was probably stalled) we called for a tow truck to take the car to J's mechanic's place. As we were waiting, J turned to me and said, "This is all a test from Allah. We needn't worry."

"I'm not worrying dude." I told him. I had already called another friend meanwhile to arrange a pickup. "It's your car."

The two truck driver was a cheery, tall, white Newfoundlander called George. Within minutes, he had hoisted the Civic onto the mount, and we were off. Both J and George's extroverted natures meant they were soon talking about many things. J casually mentioned his brother was getting married soon.

"Nice." George replied. "Do you know his fiancee?"

"Know?" J laughed. "Not at all. Actually, my brother barely knows her. And he didn't even know she existed until one month ago."

George nearly braked hard. "What? How the hell he getting married, man?"

"Oh." J decided it would be a good time for some dawah. So he extolled the virtues of an arranged marriage.

"Oh." George grunted again. "By the time I was 25, I had slept with 17 girls." And obviously, he communicated this fact via a more cruder language than I used here. Which was followed by George extolling the virtues of NO marriage, and of sleeping with 17 girls. 'Arranged happiness', he called it.

Afterwards, I thought about the whole incident. Here, we had two people, a white Newfoundlander and a Bengali, who probably knew naught about each other's culture. And yet, for the whole duration they were together, all they did was vindicate their own stereotypical views of each other. Each delighted in reinforcing the other's opinions, and each had a smug sense of superiority in their own.

Most of the desi writers facilitated by the West include those (such as Jhumpa Lahiri, a personal favourite) who promote a cliche view of their culture - such as arranged marriages ending in tragedy, immigrants not integrating well, or mysterious wise sages of the East. Or there are directors like Deepa Mehta, whose films, remarkable as they are, tell of same-old repeated mantras of the horrors of desi beliefs.

Toronto may be one of the most diverse and multicultural cities on earth, but how much do we really know of each other? Would George have had a better view of Muslims, had he known that we had just returned from seeing Ice Age 2? Would he even feel more closer to us had we told him we did try to sneak into another movie after Ice Age 2 was done (damn that brown security guard)? Or are we so comfortable in our own shells, and fearful of another, that we have defined roles for everyone, and ensure people live up to those definitions?


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cricket And Superstition

I am usually not a superstitious person. Usually. And we Bengalis have a lot of strange superstitions. For example, do you know you are not supposed to cut your nails after Maghreb (evening)? Now I don't know what led to this rule (probably in ancient times light in evening was precious and you did not waste it cutting nails, also nailcutters were not there so you could cut yourself in bad light - my theory). One of my aunts told me if you cut your nails at night you won't be rich. See, I don't believe in that kind of stuff - but I still cut my nails in the morning on the weekend. I mean, why risk it?

However, when it comes to cricket, superstition takes a whole new meaning. During the 1999 World Cup, Bangladesh vs Pakistan, every time I would check Cricinfo for the scores and keep the live score window running, Bangladesh would lose a wicket. When I closed the browser window we would do good. I was convinced it was my browser that was costing Bangladesh wickets. So I walked away from the computer and checked the scores after the game. It worked - we won.

Similarly, during India's tour of Pakistan, when Pakistan nearly chased down 350, I was watching with a few friends. One Indian was amongst them - he was pacing. I told him in jest that every time he sat down Pakistan would hit a four. At first it was funny, then it became eerily true. He never sat down. In the final over he went out of the room to pace in the next hall. It seems to have worked, as India won by 5 runs.

Currently Bangladesh and Australia are engaged in a good dogfight of a match. This is the number 1 team against the number 10 team, or as BBC never tires of reminding their viewers endlessly - the worst Test team. To have had the Aussies down on the mat for two days was amazing in itself. All across my MSN, people had various ways to affect the outcome of the match.

I am convinced if I open Cricinfo in Firefox Bangladesh will do well, but if I open it in IE they won't. Another friend warned me not to post anything on the blog about the game lest we jinx it. Another friend of mine was changing his MSN nick to reflect the scores. Last night, when Bangladesh was on 41/0, he had 'BD kicks Oz A**' - and then we started to collapse. We all messaged him to immediately change his nick back - never count your chickens and all that.

Then, religion is never behind from entering the mix.

During last World Cup final, India vs Australia, a friend's mother had promised Allah she would pray 10 rakats nafil if India won. When Australia scored near 350, then it became 10 rakats if there was rain. When there was rain, and India still lost, she was in a dilemma - pray or not - because by rain she had meant game abandoned, but she said rain. In the end, she prayed.

And that's what we all are doing now. Hoping, praying, and closing browser windows (IE only). C'mon Tigers!


Monday, April 10, 2006

Real Men Just Drive

"Wow, that's neat." One of my friends whistled as he checked out the dashboard of my car. He was looking at the motorcycle-inspired gauges and the chrome finish on the gear. "But why auto? Why not get stickshift?"

"Well," I replied, "I prefer auto."

"Tsk, tsk." He shook his head. "Real men drive manual shifts."

"Why?" Now it was my turn to shake my head. "I drive during rush hour, and just want a relaxing drive on the way to work."

"No man." His eyes had the evangelical look some Jehovah's Witnesses had when they knocked on my door that morning. "Manual is the BEST!!! You gotta feel one with the car. You've got to drive it really - if you know what I mean."

"No, I don't know what you mean," I could be stubborn when I wanted to, "and um, you are driving a CAR, not something else you have to be 'one with', whatever that means ..."

My friend just had that sad look on his eyes, the same one those Jehovah's Witnesses had when I told them, no, I was not interested in having Jesus as my savior (I had also asked them it was Sunday morning, shouldn't they be at church?).

It's not that I have not driven stick before. My father had a huge Mercedes in the Middle East and I drove it there (well, not for long, enough to stall on Sheikh Zayed highway there when I tried to rev it). I also drove in Bangladesh (if you can call moving at 20 km/hour with the guy on the rickshaw beating a car comfortably). So I have some experience in driving manual. However, with tiptronics becoming more of a standard feature nowadays, and automatic transmissions now superseding manual transmissions in fuel efficiency, it doesn't make sense (to me) in deliberately hunting for a manual car, especially if you live in the city.

Yes, I have driven a friend's RX-8, and yes, it does feel good when you shift down and floor it. The car takes off. I can however have that same effect with a tiptronic (or even my auto) - the only thing would be a little delay.

Too many people have written on why driving manual is better. Here's my riposte on why I prefer an auto:

Morning rush hour: I can change my CDs while on the highway, and sip my tea at the same time. If I am late, add eat my sandwich to that list.

While listening to music: Have a free hand to play tabla on the steering wheel.

When someone cuts you off, you have a free hand to ---

Rush Hour again: I am more efficient when I don't have to worry about shifting. Using the same route for years, I know exactly when to change lanes depending on location and time of day, so I can just concentrate on doing that.

If I may say it:
It's not how you shift your stick, it's how you drive on the road that matters.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Inside Man

We had arrived just as the movie was starting, so felt our way in the dark towards the front of the theatre. An Indian couple sat behind us. The credits rolled, and the movie started.

"Chal Chaiyya Chaiyya, Chaiyya Chaiyya ....
... chal Chaiyya Chaiyya, Chaiyya Chaiyya ...."

And we literally jumped out of our seats. What the-! A Bollywood song, playing in the intro to a big budget Hollywood movie - wow!

And just them, the Indian guy behind us turned to his girl friend and said, VERY loudly, "I told you so! And you wouldn't believe me."

I don't know if they were on a date (probably, it was Friday night) so that was probably not the tone you should use on a girl, even if you were right. Points to note down in the Things To Know Book of Life.

The movie was very good. It was a Denzel Washington-Spike Lee movie, so my expectations were very high. I don't know if they were completely met, but it was a very mentally engaging movie. Even though it was classified as action, there are not too many action scenes - it's mostly a battle of wits between the cop and the hostage taker, the likes of which used to be seen in older movies.

As with Spike Lee, you get a lot of racial topics thrown into the mix. One thing that disturbed in the movie was the police brutality. I don't know how true it is (it's a movie after all) but police should remember they are there to serve and protect. Lee also makes a comment about the existing (white) power structure, and how the anti-hero must rise above to crush the system. All-in-all, a good movie.

As we walked past the City TV studies, we saw a crowd had gathered, with police directing traffic. It was the artist Pink, who had come to Toronto.

For my fellow programmer techies - I love Java, and it's great that Bell seems to use Java too on their site. The heading reads 'NULL'. The text reads 'Enter your phone number to see if the power of null is available to your home'.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

It Must Be April

It must be April when:

- I see my new neighbour across the street for the first time in three months. The previous family had moved out in December. In Canada you hardly venture out of your house in the winter months. Coming home after work you lie in the warm comfortable cocoon that is your home and venture out only infrequently. Even when you do, you step into your car and are off.

He was yelling at the kids next door, who had let their pet rabbit loose. Supposedly it had ventured into his garden and was eating his non-existent vegetables. He was a desi too, and this is what I heard:

"Bhut vhat if I had noooo vejetabhals? If I had? Your rabhit vud hav eat them!"

This guy is going to provide me with so much blogging material.

- The return of the 'Blue Girl'. I went jogging in the park on Sunday morning to warm up for a cricket game later in the day, and there she was. Dressed in what appeared to be a shorts made of spandex, and tight fitting t-shirt with a light jacket across her shoulders, a young woman from my street, also out to jog. It was obvious she had been exercising and keeping fit for the whole of winter, and was waiting for this day to show off her body. After reminding myself that only the first glance is forgiven and that first glance should probably last a lot less than 3 minutes, here is why I called her Blue. It may be April and the weather forecast may be 19C for the afternoon, but it was still morning and a chilly 4C. Her legs were cold. And blue. With her was the Ugliest Dog Ever. Is it backbiting if I criticize a dog behind its back?

- I get an email invitation to a BBQ. In May. Last time we planned it a month in advance. It rained so hard on the day we had to hold it indoors. Thank God for Rumpa Apu's huge house.

- The weather forecasters start to get it wrong. Back in the Middle East, anyone could be a weather forecaster.
Sat - Hot.
Sun - Hot.
Mon - Hot.
Tue - Hot.
Wed - You get the idea. Then the weather forecaster will announce Prayers for Rain would be held in two weeks. We would rejoice because it would be a declared school holiday.

Here, it's a bit harder to predict the weather. "A mix of sun and clouds with slight chance of precipitation in the afternoon and overnight cold leading to below freezing temperature and chance of flurries" probably covers all the bases for April.

Ah, April. The fickle month of glorious sunshine one day and ice pellets the next. Here's to the first beautiful weekend (read: hot). May such more beautiful weekends (read: more hot) be the recurring theme this summer (Amen).


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Marriage Prenupitals - Part 2

Part 1, called Marriage Strangenesses.

Divorce By Words

"I divorce you!"

And with those words, a woman's life comes crashing down. Every woman has three simple words they would like to hear occasionally from their special someone. Many Muslim women have another three words they would never like to hear.

In the olden days of Islam, when the spirit of the laws were properly followed, such three words would not be uttered lightly. If a couple had problems, they would follow the Islamic procedure of appointing two arbitrators from their families to resolve the dispute, according to the Quran (4:35). Divorce was a last resort. If a man uttered those words, he was now liable to maintain the woman in the same standard as their marriage until she got remarried. The woman also had other rights, similar to those of a man (Quran, 2:228).

Nowadays, women's rights are a joke. The Shariah in the so-called Muslim countries are 'interpreted' by scholars who are men, through a cultural bias, disregarding the spirit of the law. Why should a man in a Muslim country, therefore, continue to have the right of divorce?

Let's assume now, you (a guy) are in Canada. You marry, and things are not working out. You divorce your wife by saying "I divorce you". But Canadian laws will not recognize this divorce. You must separate for a year before applying to the courts for a divorce. The whole process takes two years. For these two years, you are legally married according to the laws in the land you are living in. And in Islam, marriage is a legal contract. So, are you married, or not? And once again, to prevent such a legal limbo, a man must forfeit his right to divorce. And Islam, in its wisdom, has allowed such a condition to be placed in the marriage contract, which it has made mandatory on Muslims. It is a shame most brides and grooms blindly sign on the paper when sobbing Kabul Hai (each sobbing for different reasons), without giving the most important document of their life a second thought.

Islam by default appears to give men certain rights which if the women do not check via a prenup they could be the losers. Canada gives women lots of rights which if a man does not check via a prenup he will be the loser.

Premarital Property

Moving on, you (a guy in Canada again), have graduated and are working here. You have a car, and perhaps a condo or house. Your parents own property as well. You have a few investments in RRSP, pensions, stocks and shares. You now marry a girl (probably from back home). Things don't work out and you divorce. Now she owns 50% of whatever you own, by Canadian law. You worked hard for your car, your condo, your funds, and she gets them.

Unless you had a prenup, where you had listed your property that you were bringing into your marriage, on which your spouse has no claim. This situation is also applicable for women.


I once discussed the Hostage Mahr situation; suffice it to say if you are a woman who has specified a huge amount of Mahr but payable only in case of divorce, you have gutted a right Allah has given you. Demand a Mahr, payable before marriage (as is the proper Sunnah) and make it such that the groom has the capability to pay out of his own pocket.

There are a few other issues people deem important to place in a marriage contract. One of my female classmates had placed a clause that her husband would not forbid her from working, while a guy I know placed a clause that said the husband's career would take priority. Now I am no shiekh or lawyer, so take this post with a pinch of salt.

When I mentioned all this thoughts to an elderly married female cousin of mine, she looked at me for sometime and then remarked, "You know Mezba, you have analyzed marriage as a contract. You have thought of everything. But in all this, where do you find place for true love? Shouldn't that be the most important thing in a marriage, rather than clauses?"

I had no answer.