Monday, May 30, 2016

Ottawa Tulip Festival

I recently spent a little time in Ottawa at the city's annual Tulip Festival.

The story goes that in 1945, the Dutch royal family fled Holland, which was overrun by the Nazis. They found safe heaven in Canada, and every year the Tulip festival in Ottawa commemorates this long lasting friendship between the two nations.

Interestingly, while in exile in Canada, Princess Juliana gave birth to a daughter, Princess Margriet. To mark the new princess’ birth, the Dutch flag was flown at the top of the Peace Tower. This is the only time a foreign flag has flown over Canada’s Parliament Buildings. Canada also temporarily declared the hospital she was born in as extraterritorial.

The Canadian Tulip Festival is also a celebration of the return of spring, with over a million tulips in 50 varieties blooming in public spaces across the National Capital Region. The highest concentration of tulips can be viewed in the flower beds of Commissioners Park, on the banks of Dows Lake, where 300,000 flowers bloom. The National Capital Commission (NCC) manages more than 100 tulip beds at 30 different sites.

You can experience the festival at various sites throughout the city. It's the largest of its kind in the city, attracting over 600,000 visitors (Source: Ottawa Tourism).

Of course, if you want to get all Bollywoodish about it, you can watch the video of the song Dekha Ek Khwab from the movie Silsila to get you all into a Tulip mood before you visit this festival! One not to be missed, and Ottawa has plenty to do in the summer besides tulips.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

IFS Spring Carnival 2016

Our local mosque, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, holds a Spring Carnival every year. This year, with the weather being really nice and warm, we decided to check it out with the kids. Yesterday, as we were driving to the venue, I remarked to my wife that we are going to a mosque for a carnival, whereas if it was for a prayer session or halaqah we would have been thinking about it! The big attraction, of course, was a Ferris wheel that they would somehow fit into the parking lot.

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative. Unluckily for all involved, the mercury chose today to dip down well below seasonal. As I am typing this today, a day after, it's actually snowing! Snowing, in May! And then a couple of days later it's supposed to be really warm and hot. That's Canadian weather for you.

It was really too bad, as the organizers had put in a lot of effort for the kids, especially getting bouncy rides and castles for the young ones. You can't plan for the weather really, but May is a tricky time for outdoor events anyways. A better time might have been after Ramadan in July, when the worst that can happen is a quick thundershower. Here, the temperature was actually in single digits with the wind chill and only a few brave souls were out enjoying the merry go round and other outdoor rides.

There was also an outdoor petting zoo, and the kids were having fun feeding the animals snacks and touching them. The sheep reminded me of Dolly, the first cloned sheep (or maybe that's how all sheep look - I have no idea).

I had an interesting thought here. In the deserts of Arabia, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers would sometimes hold prayers for rain, because it was so rare, it was always hot, and rain was always welcome. What about here in Canada? Should we pray for heat and not snow / rain? Would that be OK?

Of course, since it was too cold outside in the parking lot, we went inside to check out the bazaar (a mandatory part of any Muslim mela).

Now the bazaar was made up of the usual suspects.
  • There was a guy selling cheap toys from China.
  • There were the usual hijab vendors.
  • Some people were selling mango shakes, popcorns and cotton candy.
  • There were some vendors with "Eid dresses" and other ethnic wear.
  • Some vendors were selling desi food such as samosas and biryani.
  • Few sponsor booths such as Mina Halal giving out free hot dog samples and coupons. You take a lot of these coupons until you realize they expire in a month!
  • Finally there were some (few) unique booths selling a little upscale stuff (such as Kaamilah Boutique).
Overall it was a nice little fair, organized well. If the weather had cooperated, it would have been so much more busier and fun.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

My Liar Mom: A Mother's Day Poem.

This is a beautiful poem a man wrote out of love for his mother. His mother had become a widow in Bangladesh at a very early age, and raised her young son all alone, working hard for him, until this son got established and had a huge job in USA.

The poem is being recited by my father. I don't know who is the original author of the poem - if you know please let me know so I can credit the author. The poem is in Bengali, so I am attaching a (rough) translation here. Remember, a lot is lost in the translation.

A long time has gone by, and still for my mom I cry
For my mom used to always vehemently lie.

Lonely we became, with death of my dad
My mom aged faster, with the worries now all on her head.
My mother said, a star in the far away galaxy was my dad
He would come down if I studied and got educated.
I did study, and amongst the stars I searched for my dad,
For me, my mother’s lies started with that.

“Get married again”, friends and relatives advised her
Difficult would be the long life all alone to bear.
They said, “Select a man and get married again, and come to your senses!”
Mom said, “I have no time for such nonsense!”
“Am I alone? Look! My son is with me here,”
That was another lie she could easily utter.

On the sewing machine my mom worked all night, making new clothes in batches,
Struggling hard for my life to be a little bright, yet her own old clothes had multiple patches.
Her eyes were sleepy, she was tired when a needle pricked her hand,
“Mom! Come, leave the work alone and sleep!” Was my demand.
“I am not sleepy,” said my mom, “I don’t need rest.”
That was another untruth to which my mom would attest.

Every day after school, she would pick me up,
My mom would wait for me, standing with no shade, and in the sky the sun high up.
The hot sun and humidity made everyone huff and sag,
Yet every day without fail she used to hand me an ice cream from her bag.
I held it out to my mom, “Here … take a bite,”
To this, she would say, “oh no, it’s all right.”
“You have it all. My throat gets infected if I have something cold,”
For me, that was another lie, she easily told.

In a big city I got a job, quite good
Got married, settled down as life eventually would.
In a posh location I got a house well furnished
With an interior decorator, each room was nicely made.
My mom still lived in my village
All alone in the darkness of load shedding, trying to light up a candle.
As the lights of the city shone and dazzled.
“Oh mom”, I said, “Come! Leave the village and come here to settle.”
Mom said, “It’s so nice and open here.”
“Why should I go to your hot and crowded city?”
“Actually if I stay in a closed room all day I get asthma attacks,”
Once again my mom lied.

After this my status went even higher
Job in World Bank with lots of power
Busy all day, I met people in rows
How is my mom, I had no time to regularly check up on her and know.
A day came when I heard she is sick and bed ridden,
Hit with a sickness that has no cure in Bangladesh.
I flew out to her, it was now a long journey,
I begged and pleaded with her to change her mind.
“Come with me States I beg of you.”
“The best doctors will take care of you.”
“These types of illnesses are no big deal there,”
“In seven days we will cure you and have you back here.”
With a smile on her face uttered my mom,
“I am not supposed to fly don’t you know!”
“Nothing has happened to me, don’t you worry.”

That was the last lie she told me.
A few days later, died this extreme liar.
For my lying mom, till today I cry.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Why is Blogging Dying?

This is a surprise post as I had no plan to write on this. But I have to.

As I see the wild fires ravaging Fort McMurray (and a silent prayer goes out for them), I see why the two forces that blogging used to make fun of - traditional media and social media - come to the fore in reporting this story, while bloggers lag far behind.

There were many reasons why bloggers used to make fun of traditional media. They were the establishment, they were dinosaurs, they had an agenda, they had to toe the party line ... etc. etc. These were (at some times) valid concerns, and bloggers were at the forefront of breaking stories. They were beholden to no one and could write whatever they damn pleased.

In the 2005s, it was so. Bloggers were suddenly the new cool thing. The Liberal party leadership convention that ultimately chose Stephane Dion had a blogger outreach program and a place for bloggers at their convention. I know, because I was one of the bloggers. At that time I used to blog (actively) on Crescent Canuck.

Slowly but surely, traditional media fought back. They had more resources to cover a story, had more experience in prioritizing stories, and were actually accountable (to a degree) for telling the truth. They had more credibility. Reporters also became bloggers (or had a blog). Some bloggers became news agencies, such as Doha News.

At the same time, social media such as Twitter and Facebook were breaking ground. At first we bloggers rubbished these sites (ironically the same way newspapers rubbished bloggers). 140 characters is too small to express a complex thought on a complicated issue, we argued (true). But just like Trump followers don't care for the truth, Twitter interactions never cared for the nuances that a blog could provide.

Today, blogging is cumbersome. It's far easier to interact on Twitter or post on Facebook. Blogging platforms have simply not kept up. At the same time, the good bloggers are those who blog often, are corporate and made themselves semi professional. Amateur blogging, as blogging was mostly, is dying.

Partly it is also the sign of the times. Nowadays we simply don't have the time to read a person's thoughts in the form of a blog post. Much easier to read a small tweet, and respond. And that, in the end, is why blogging is slowly dying.

Now, please share this article on Twitter!

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Six Lessons from the Jian Ghomeshi sex assault trial

Jian Ghomeshi was a somewhat famous radio personality in Canada. In 2016 he went on trial as some (three) women accused him of sex assaults way back in the past. Since it was so far back, all the judge (and jury) had were his words versus theirs. Here was a dominating radio personality versus what could charitably be called as his former groupies. The case attracted wide coverage in Canada and shone a spotlight on sex assault trials, their flaws, and women's rights as a whole.

To add spice to the mix, the lawyer defending Ghomeshi was a woman herself, a brilliant solicitor named Marie Henein. She completely skewered the witnesses and their statements, cast doubt on their allegations and brilliantly defended her client. In the end, Ghomeshi was found not guilty and many feminists turned their ammo on Henein, calling her an anti-feminist and an anti-woman. Another case is pending trial as of this post.

Here's six lessons I drew from this whole saga.

  1. Life isn't fair.

    Maybe Ghomeshi is guilty. Maybe he isn't. We will never know. All we have is that there wasn't enough evidence to convict him based on some doubtful allegations. This is why we Muslims are taught there is a Day of Judgement at the end of Time where God will dispense perfect justice for everything that happened in this life.
  2. Be smart. Shit happens.

    Just because you are right, doesn't mean you will win (see Point #1). Ghomeshi’s accusers ignored some common-sense rules.
    • Don’t talk to the media.
    • Don’t communicate with the other complainants.
    • Try to remember every detail of the assault.
    • Comb over old emails, correspondence or interactions with the accused that could be used to contradict or undermine allegations.
    • And, most important: Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
  3. Don't be a slut, regardless of what some (extreme) feminist activists say.

    It has become common now to say being a slut is being "empowered". We have Slutwalk in Toronto where women dress provocatively (or don't dress at all) and go for a parade, and are ogled by bystanders and whistled at, and somehow this is empowering.

    You should never be sending a picture of your naked self to anyone.
  4. Do not lose your objectivity over adulation. Do not be a groupie. Have respect for yourself.

    These women did not stop corresponding with Ghomeshi even after their assault, and continued to speak glowingly about (and to) him, and only turned bitter once they were ignored.
  5. Again, regardless of what some people teach you, if you are a woman - take care of yourself. Be careful.

    Yes, we know it isn't right that a woman ever be subject to a sexual assault. No matter what she is wearing, doing, saying - it isn't her fault.

    Yet, that theoretical principle won't stop an actual assault from taking place. Be careful, be vigilant - always.
  6. Finally, just like I shouldn't support Ghomeshi just because he's a guy, as a woman, any women shouldn't feel the need to help other women just because they are women. Do what's right, always.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Which TTC Seat is the best?

I have been travelling in Toronto using the "better way" aka the subway aka TTC for the last 3 years. Since I get on at the end of the line, I have a whole empty subway train in the morning to select from as to where to sear. It's a debate that has often plagued me - am I using the best seat for optimum comfort? I present to you the options.

This is the typical layout of a Toronto subway train on the Bloor-Danforth line. A group of 5 seats in close proximity to each other.

Seat A - Good if you are a thin person (I am not). You have a whole side to lean against (on your left), so you can simply cozy up and sleep.

Seat B - Really tight. Sometimes someone like me seats in Seat A, so they are really occupying a little portion of Seat B. Then you really have 80% of Seat B. And a pillar. This is the worst seat.

Seat C - I like this seat. The empty space between this and Seat D means lots of space if you are not exactly thin. The pillar prevents the person in Seat B from occupying your space. The best seat, in my opinion.

Seat D - Once again you have a whole wall to lean on. But your leg space is tightly cramped first by person in Seat C, and second from the heating duct at the bottom. So you have a full seat till your waist, and then three quarters of a place to put your legs down. This is a seat for thin girls.

Seat E - the back up seat to Seat C. You have a whole space on the left of the seat (or right if it's on the other side) to stretch out. There's a pillar to rest your head on (not shown in this picture).

What do you think? Which seat is best?

Remember, the target is to peacefully sleep like this:

So if you know which door to enter from when the train comes to a stop, you can go grab your seat.

As a bonus, here's the seats on the smaller Scarborough RT.

The Scarborough RT's a really short ride to fall asleep (plus it's Scarborough so you really want to be awake) but I think in this case, seat C is the best. You have this whole space between the seats, so it's not just the seat, but more, and a pillar to ward off other encroachers. Good seat design.