Monday, May 29, 2006

Toronto Crippled

Tourism Toronto named their promotion campaign Toronto Unlimited. Certainly not the situation in Toronto at the moment.

It took me an insane 2 hours to get to work today. Yes, the Toronto Transit Commission, a slow, cumbersome way to travel at the best of times, decided to go on a wildcat strike. TTC = Take The Car.

This was an illegal strike. In the middle of the duration of your contract, you CANNOT go on strike. The transit workers decided to cherry pick an issue and stage a strike. They should all be fired AND jailed. *rant on* If this was Bangladesh people would be calling in the army, some would be grabbing a hockey stick and beating up the striking workers (well maybe not). I do not condone senseless violence under any condition, but it seems in some dictatorships you get better public/medical service than here in Canada. *rant off*

Our elected officials seem to have no spine. Native protestors dig up a road in Caledonia and all the government can do is urge people to "be nice" (while they are tearing down hydro poles) *rolls eyes*.

The TTC union went on strike because they knew there would be ZERO consequences for their actions, except causing an inconvenience to 3 million people (but what do they care). The government should ARREST the union leaders, as well as every third driver or worker on strike (since you cannot arrest everyone). And the police should stick to their guns and remain firm, and throw those guys in jail for a month or two. Repeat for other illegal strikes.

If they do that, the next time a union decides to hold a city hostage by an illegal strike, they will think again.

I honestly cannot understand what the hell do some of those fat TTC workers do? Sit in a cushy chair in a comfortable booth and watch people pour coins through a slot. Fire the lot I say, and get automated gates and smart cards. And you want workers? There are so many recent immigrants ready to work for the TTC. And in my opinion, unlike the current seemingly good-for-nothing bastards, they will PROUDLY show up to work.


The Blind Girl's Movie

For most of us, the Plan is clearly designed. When the time comes, our parents will try and arrange our marriages. Our focus, they ensure us, should be our studies that will prepare us for a stable future. Once we are settled in life, a bevy of candidates are thrown at us, of whom we pick a few - perhaps because they look good or sound interesting from a paper known as the 'bio-data'. Eventually, it all clicks and we end up married to a person we barely know but slowly grow to love over time. That's the Plan.

With all this, there are certain rules - we can have friends of the opposite sex, but that's it. There are certain lines that we cannot cross. We cannot be too flirty, we cannot 'play the field', we cannot dare to fall in love. We must keep the honour of the family and think with our heads, rather than live for the moment. It's all OK, because it will all work out in the end.

But what if you are blind? Deaf? Dumb? Have a disability? Suddenly, the rules don't seem to make sense anymore. Who will marry a blind person? Will he or she ever experience the love of another person?

Yes, I watched Fanaa, the new big movie starring Aamir Khan and Kajol. Those were the questions that were thrown at the beginning of the movie, and some stay with you till the end. All the main characters in the movie were Muslims. Should a blind girl, who admonishes her hero for skipping work as it goes against her values, or asks her parents for permission to marry the love of her life, decide to follow her heart and break apart all rules because she knows she may never experience love again? There is one point where she tells her friend - 'this feels right. And that's all I care'.

The movie was predictable to a huge extent, but given the hype and buildup, I am pretty sure it will make lots of money. Woodside was crowded when we went, and sold out. And like the Plan, there is one more fact that is constantly in the design when I see a movie at Woodside.

A guy with a huge turban or head will ALWAYS sit in front of me.

Update: A review that hits the spot perfectly.
Shiney Ahuja. Poor Shiney Ahuja. One would think he would have offers pouring in after 'Hazaaron khwahishen aisi' and 'Gangster'. I wonder what made him accept the script that listed his part as follows: 'Play football. Answer call. Drink tea. Die.'


Friday, May 26, 2006

Mosque Candy

It was a strange sequence of events that found me at 10.30 pm on this Friday night inside a mosque rather than inside a cinema theatre watching X-men 3, or shooting some pool at a sports bar or bowling at an alley. I was at a friend's place away from the TO and he lived right next to the biggest mosque in that town. It was Isha time, the weather was nice and I wanted to go for a walk.

As I sat waiting for the prayers to start, I began to categorize the people present into groups. The older folk could have come straight from Pakistan/India/B'desh. Many still wore their shalwaar kameezes (with huge tea-stains at the corners), or were dressed in their thobes, stroking their footlong beards, their heads adorned with caps that had multiple patterned beads on it.

Then there was a group of young guys, around my age. They were seated in a circle, listening to some speaker in the center. They were dressed in long garbs, with jackets on top, and their heads covered in either caps or hoods. All had huge beards. Bits and pieces of the speaker's talk floated to me.

" ... must remain steadfast to our faith ..."

" ... be humble and kind ..."

" ... true salvation is in serving Allah ..."

Here, all this time, as I looked at those young people, I thought, 'boy, I have absolutely nothing in common with them'. Maybe it was just boredom but I was stereotyping these guys as strict conservative types.

I am used to our university crowd at the mosques - dressed in shirts, trousers or T-shirts and jeans. Beard is minimal (smartly trimmed or none at all), hair styled back, and so on. Guys who would pray and then drive off to the multiplex or mall.

I was a brown Muslim guy in a mosque filled with other brown Muslim guys and I felt like fish-out-of-water for some reason. How would a white convert feel?

Suddenly, a cellphone rang from somewhere. It was from one of those young men in the halaka circle. Frantically, he moved his hands from stroking his beard to searching the pockets of his dishdasha for the cellphone.

And why not? For the ringtone, in clear, loud, audible words to the rest of the congregation, was

I take you to the candy shop
I'll let you lick the lollypop
Go 'head girl, don't you stop
Keep goin 'til you hit the spot (whoa)

Maybe we have something in common with these guys after all.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Watched the Da Vinci Code on Saturday evening. Even though I enjoyed the movie, I wish I didn't watch it then as I was really tired (we got the midnight show as all else were sold out, and this was after a day of BBQs, dodgeball games and 'sari' races). If you have read the book, you will definitely enjoy the movie. If you haven't - well my friends who are in that category said they enjoyed the movie too. But you definitely have to be a bit smart to follow some of the plot.

And like, duh, the book is waaaay better. Obviously as you can do a lot more in the book. However, this is a very faithful adaptation of the book.

A word about Tom Hanks. Is this the same actor who was in Forrest Gump? What a lousy job he did in the Da Vinci Code.

About the protests spanning the globe - there's even fatwas issued by Indian Catholics on Dan Brown's head, proving that Muslims don't have a monopoly here - given the topic of the movie and the way the Catholic Church is portrayed, I would expect that. What I don't get is the number of Muslims (not a lot) who protested. There was even a march on Friday outside the mosque I went to for prayers.

For .. um, Chrissake, why? Given that 95% of what the Da Vinci Code says (I don't want to give spoilers here) is what Islam believes happened to early Christianity, I don't get it.


Monday, May 15, 2006

At The Bank

The smiles we wear ...

I was in the bank today during lunch, waiting to deposit a cheque. In front of me were a couple. They looked lovingly at each other, had their hands in each others' rear pockets, and informed the teller they wished to visit their safety deposit box. To the world, it was just another happily married(?) couple.

Except that the couple were two balding middle-aged guys.

Living in liberal Canada, we see a lot of wild stuff, and we become desensitized to it. However, the sight of two gay men still strikes most people as a tad too much. Yes, you have your rights, just ... stay the hell away from me, seems to be the attitude.

It was interesting watching the teller's reactions. She was a young, 20-something blond girl, and as she looked up, ready with the smile that says 'Next', her face froze ... momentarily. Then she recovered and asked 'How may I help you?' before verifying their signatures and leading them off to the locker rooms. As she came back, I saw her give an involuntary shudder before fixing her smile back into place and announcing, 'May I help the next person, please?'

The lane besides me was having an argument. An older Chinese gent was ... loudly ... yelling at the cashier (an Indian woman - do banks hire any male tellers?) that his cheques were in order. The teller was trying, unsuccessfully, to a)calm him down b)explain that the cheques needed to be countersigned by his wife c)stop herself from blowing up. My teller, seeing the situation, told the Chinese guy 'she's just doing her job, it's bank procedure', before the customer again exploded as to 'how the bank should know he was his wife's husband and why they needed her signature when he was here and why ... blah blah blah."

In the end the Indian lady just got a Chinese teller to speak with him, while she herself gave him the cold shoulder. And the look. After he left, she turned to the next guy in line, smiled and said 'Hi. How are you today?'

It was so surreal. It was as if the incident with the previous customer was already forgotten. She was all smiles and hellos and other such niceties - but I guess that's good customer service. Reminded me of those news readers who would read a shocking piece of news followed by fluff in an equally unperturbed manner.

"[with grim voice] Authorities say five people are dead, including a child as young as five, in the shocking murder of a family that has stunned the small New Brunswick town with its brutality.

[pearly white smile comes on] In another piece of news, it's Baby One More Time again for Britney Spears, who has confirmed reports of her pregnancy ..."


Friday, May 12, 2006

Making My Family Tree

They were showing the myths discussed in the Da Vinci Code on the History Channel and mentioned a document tracing the genealogy of Christ - a family tree, if you will. The mention of those words made me reminisce about a particular incident from my childhood.

It was during my summer vacations, usually spent in Bangladesh. I must have been around ten. Now, when I used to travel from the Middle East to Bangladesh, it would mean losing connection with all my friends for two months, as well as giving up my favourite TV programs. I am talking before satellite channels (and the internet), and all of Bangladesh used to have one channel - BTV (still does). The only good program on BTV was Wednesdays, 10 pm, MacGyver. And this was if I was in Dhaka, and the power was there. For three days on every trip, however, my parents would go to our ancestral village. Which meant, for me, not even TV.

I used to be quite bored while in the village. First, as I mentioned, no TV. Second, the washroomstoilets used to be ... disgusting. The elders did nothing but chew bidi and paan and have red teeth. The young kids thought nothing of playing football in the mud. And no one knew of Sherlock Holmes! And if you think I would have a fun time with my cousins, think again. All my cousins who lived in the village were a) older than me and planning to pressure my dad to get them a visa, any visa, to Dubai b) younger than me who thought nothing of grabbing a cockroach and tearing off its legs one at a time. All the cool cousins were in Dhaka, it seemed.

So there I was, at midday, sitting all alone, reading my Tintin comic for the fourth time, when my dad walks in.

"What are you doing?" He asks.

"I am BORED." Little spoilt me complained.

"Well, your Riaz bhaia's playing football." My dad offered.

I looked at him in shock. "It's raining outside. And the ball is not even Nike!"

My dad then had a bright idea. "Tell you what, why don't we make a family tree? It will teach you a bit about our family. We are descended from Isa Kha, you know.

So he asked me to get a piece of paper. Which proved easier said than done. At that time the only papers one could find there were newsprint papers attached to school notebooks, which my cousins were reluctant to part with (for some reason there was always paper when the elders were playing cards). I finally got stole one notebook.

"Ok," my dad said. "Write your great-grandfather's name down. It's so-and-so."

I wrote it down.

"Now we are going to note the names of his kids."

At that moment my uncle popped his head into the room and asked us what we were doing.

"Making a family tree." I replied. I had to explain what that was.

"Oh." My uncle popped his head out and started to shout, "Maqsud! Shamim! Faiza! Poppy! Rana! Come here! WE ARE MAKING A FAMILY TREE."

Suddenly there were 10 people in the room. I drew four lines under my great grandfather's name and asked, "so how many kids did he have?"

"Wait." My uncle interrupted. "There was 4 ... no 5 ... but that was from his first wife. From his second ..."

"He had HOW many wives?" I asked incredulously. At that age polygamy was unknown to me.

"Three." My dad replied quite matter-of-factly. I quickly added a few more lines under my great grandfather's name. 17 kids, to be precise. I was going to need the whole notebook.

And that's how it continued. It was funny how everyone 3 generations ago had 2 or 3 wives and atleast 15 kids (not counting those that died in infancy). The next generation may have children in single digits (like 9) but could still have 2 wives. The following generation had 1 wife and only 3 or 4 kids.

When we were finally done, half the village was in that room. Everyone kept reminding me of someone I had forgotten "but what about Kamal the son of Quddus the ...". It had taken 13 papers, 2 hours, and we found out we were related to the village MP's eldest daughter-in-law.

I still have those papers. And come to think of it, that one afternoon was some of the best 2 hours I had spent.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Did You Say 'Heads'?

The new Canadian quarter. I got this amongst my change today. I wonder what would happen in a cricket match at the toss were you to use to this coin and call 'Heads'? If it lands as in the first picture, you win normally. However, if it lands as in the second picture, you did say Heads (with the plural). Are two heads better than one?

Did you say 'Heads'?


Monday, May 08, 2006

Go Watch MI3

If you like action movies go watch Mission Impossible 3.

Ditto if you are a guy.

If you are a girl, Tom Cruise is in the movie. He's almost Shah Rukh Khan, right? Go watch the movie.

This was the perfect blockbuster to kickoff the summer (even if Toronto is going through a cold spell). Not once did I glance at the clock. Unlike MI-1, the plot is linear and not too complicated. It's basically an excuse to go from one action scene to the next. Unlike MI-2, the movie kept me at the edge of my seat and never lagged once. At one stage when Ethan Hunt (Cruise) was about to attempt another dangerous stunt I was like 'Bismillah Bismillah' before scolding myself 'Mezba - get a grip, it's just a movie, chill'. It was that absorbing.

I have often heard the phrase 'leave your brains at home' (usually in connection with some awful Govinda movies) but this is the first time I can say, you don't need to think too much. Just buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Three points if you can guess which other famous movie the junior male spy (the other spy besides Ethan and the black dude) acted in. As well as the villain's female bodyguard, remember where you have seen her?

So yes, go and watch the movie.

Now, on the other hand, if you hate Tom Cruise ... well, you should know people disagree with my movie reviews. I hated Rang De Basanti and enjoyed Lord of War.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Why Are You Marching?

I went to meet a couple of friends downtown to watch Mission Impossible 3. As we were walking down University Ave., I started to hear shouting and chants. We looked at each other - the chants sounded familiar. Could it be ... Arabic? And why were there so many policemen on the road, blocking off lanes?

Then they came into view. Marching straight beside Mt. Sinai Hospital, where it says "Quiet Zone", came hundreds of men in white tunic and green turbans, followed by women in jilbabs pushing prams with kids in tow, marching and chanting.

As we watched, puzzled, the march was led by a car with speakers attached to its roof, and we could see a guy inside, with a microphone in hand, screaming what sounded like nasheeds. And following the car was a marching band!

Apparently, someone forgot the memo from Saudi clerics that musical instruments are banned. Or are drums the new dafs?

But what were they protesting/marching about? As far as I could remember, the Danish cartoons were a distant issue, and we Muslims have it pretty good in Canada. Especially South Asians. Then came the banner.

Wait a minute - celebrating a birthday? Lost that memo too?

Honestly, Satan is very creative. A female Muslim ex-blogger and MSA exec of UofT once commented that the Ummah seems to have a lot of time on their hands. Looking at this march, I can't help but think she was right. We have so many issues to deal with. The lack of spaces allotted to women in the mosques. The false interpretation of Islam by many clerics. The oppression of women in our rural communities. The false cultural dogma that colours our religion. The awful treatment of expatriate workers in the Arab world.

It's hard to solve those problems. It's impossible to criticize our clerics. It's much easier to grab a 'I Love Muhammad (s)' sticker and go marching. So go ahead, pick up a placard.

As one Saudi girl who was with my friend remarked, "You know, I am an observant Muslim, but when I see stuff like this [women screaming at the top of their lungs that Muhammad(s) is protection against all evil and sicknesses - shirk in my book] and that if I were non-Muslim, I would think Islam is so-uncool."

Satan is indeed creative.

These tourists got more than what they paid for.

The Metro


Friday, May 05, 2006

Its The Month To Be Desi

I was mistaken last night for a Gujrati. I know, I looking nothing like this guy, but apparently I don't have a Bengali face. Well, I am brown, so won't be mistaken for a Nordic ski instructor soon, but there was I, in the washroom of a sports bar.

I had gone to play some pool with a few friends, and was just emerging from the washroom, when this dude walked out of one stall. Then he looked at me, and without missing a beat, started to shoot off his mouth.

Well, it sounded Greek to me, but I could make out 'kemcho', amongst others. The he stopped, and looked expectantly at me.

"I am sorry?" I had a what-the-f-is-wrong-with-you look (I perfected that look).

Then the guy got really angry.

"You!" He waved a finger at me. "You are here and ashamed to be a Gujrati! Shame on you!" [he pronounced it same as in samed to be Gujrati and same on you].

And all I could think of at this moment was dude! wash your hands!

I wanted to tell him, loudly, in my best Punjabi accent "Oye! Tusi kya bolrao? Asi jaat Panjaaban!"

Instead, ofcourse, I said. "You are terribly wrong. I am Bengali."

"Oh," The guy deflated a bit. "Hokay!"

Still shaking my head, I walked out, before starting to laugh. I wished I did speak Gujrati, so I could understand what he was saying. And why would you start to talk to a stranger, IN THE WASHROOM, before you washed your hands? Eeeeyuck.

I wonder what he would have thought had he walked into our group, which included one Gujrati guy, who was actually yakking on the phone with his girlfriend in his mother tongue.

I have noticed this fact amongst some of us desi people too. We meet a non-desi, we politely talk about the weather, the terrible effect of potholes on our cars, and whether the Leafs are going to win the Stanley Cup ... ever. We meet a desi - boom! We talk about how your father is doing, how much are you earning, how's your job, whether you are married, how the rash-on-uncle's-bum that aunty is so worried about is doing... wow. You may hardly know the guy, but you know how much his third son is earning.

Maybe it's because we don't like to talk about personal stuff with non-desis that we talk about the weather.

May is South Asian Heritage Month in Canada (h/t Isheeta). In Toronto, this would be the month desis throng to Dundas Square and Harbourfront for all the masti and fundas shows (May 20,21). During elections in January this year, I actually had MP Bill Graham, who was Minister of Defense at that time, hand me a pamphlet for the Liberal Party on the subway. And the pamphlet was in several languages, Hindi, Arabic and Chinese being some of them. The Minister of Defense! Can you imagine Donald Rumsfield handling out Vote Me in Arabic in downtown LA?

Long live desis and desi-isms.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Battle Of The Tank

My MSN nick read - 'my cichlids ate my oscar'.

I keep an aquarium of cichlids. Cichlids are usually African or South American, a bit wild and territorial, and come in pretty colours and markings. I have had my setup for sometime now, so my fish have all grown used to each other, marking their territories and so on. On Monday evening, I decided to get a new fish from the petshop and add it to the tank, after three years of no new fishes.

I was describing what happened next to a female classmate who had just come online.
FF (female friend): What do you mean they ate the oscar?

Me: Well, after I had floated the bag containing the oscar ...

FF: Oscar is a fish, right?

Me: Yes. So, I took the oscar out from the bag with my net and placed it into the tank.

FF: And next morning you saw the fish dead?

Me: No, no. I placed the oscar into the tank, and then watched as six cichlids attacked it, completely eating it live in three minutes.

FF: Gross!

Me: I wish I had taped it - it was like National Geographic.

FF: Wait wait. You lost a fish, and your ... sole ... regret is you didn't tape it?

Me: Well, I did spend 10 bucks on the oscar ....

FF signs off and may not reply because her status has changed to Offline.

So, I now have a problem - how to introduce new fish into an established tank of cichlids. I thought with the oscar's reputation for being tough it would be OK but apparently they are not very communal fish, and slow to move. All of which the salesman tells me later.

The advises I got are conflicting.

1. Add a fish that is twice as large as the largest fish in the tank. No one will dare attack it and it can take on all comers.
2. Add a fish half as small as the smallest fish. No fish will see it as a threat and ignore it.

Please feel free to add to that list.

Cichlids can be beautiful and fun fish to keep.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Metro Police Museum, Darfur

On Sunday, I was in downtown, out for a walk near the Metro Police headquarters. They have a police museum there that I had been planning to visit for some time, so I popped in. What I didn't know was, at the exact same time as I entered the place, they were starting a ceremony to honour common citizens who had helped the public and police during the past year. So as soon as I swung through the doors, this huge policeman, decked in complete dress uniform, white gloves and a golden sword at his side, walked to me, smiled a welcome and handed a paper to me.

'Wow, what a fancy museum,' I thought, as I completely sidestepped the neat array of chairs where various people were seated, much to the surprise of that policeman, and made for the exhibits. Only later, when I found out why so many people were seated there, why was the Chief of Police there, why there were cameras for three local TV channels there, did I feel foolish. I could have been on TV!

Anyways, the museum itself, while not big, is pretty interesting. If you are ever in the area, check it out. The most intriguing display were the showcases holding real pieces of evidences from past crimes.

There was an utility belt, used by one man in his disguise in an attempt to infiltrate the apartment of a young woman in order to assault her. They also had the actual tape holding his confession, as to how he planned the whole thing, stalking the apartment complex for days before selecting his victim.

There was an iron, whose utility cord was used to strangle someone to death. There were actual forged cheques, ropes used to hang a murderer, actual bullets fired during a robbery, and so on.

Other interesting display of note were old traffic lights. In olden times, the light used to be stored in a nearby shop, and the lamp had four screens, two red, two green. A police officer used to fetch the lamp in the morning, and stand all day on duty turning the lamp one way or the other (red for stop, green for go). I don't know how people lived back then.

On the way back, I walked past a rally for Darfur. I posted about it here, but I think there are some people who pick a 'protest for the month' and go attend that protest (without understanding what they are protesting). When I was a student, the closest I came to attending a protest was when they considered reducing the hours the computer lab was open - we had to do our assignments man! CS does that to you.

A police car, with working lights and sirens, that YOU can get inside and switch on or off.

Showcasing real pieces of evidence from actual past crimes.

The result of running a red light.

A replica of the original police station (circa 1800s) where the museum now stands.