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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: Undying Affinity

I Came across this book as an Amazon recommendation. I found it very unusual that Amazon was recommending me a romance novel, I am not sure how Amazon's algorithm works, usually I am a reader of Non Fiction, however I am some one who has always encouraged Pakistani writers by reading and recommending their books. I always seek out fiction written by Pakistani writers, be it by more well known writers like Kamila and Mohsin, or the slightly lesser known one's like Saba Imtiaz and Shazaf Fatima Haider. Our English language writers alongside their Urdu language counter parts are very talented and have tremendous potential to impress their readers.

I was initially skeptical of this book, firstly it being a romance novel and secondly the author's very young age, also the Amazon sampler before downloading the book did not impress me so much. The first chapter or 2 that you can read as part of the free preview slightly disappointed me with  a slightly under developed use of good quality vocabulary, there were moments when it felt the English language wasn't freely flowing as it should. But then again it is the author's debut novel and unlike her fellow Anglo Pakistani writers does not come from a back ground where she holds a degree in English or Creative writing so I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and downloaded the book.

The book is about a young early 20's something girl named "Zarish" who hails from an upper middle class business owning family in Lahore. She is no different from any other girl in her age group, living a laid back care free life style that involves going to University, socializing with friends and just taking life easy. We are introduced early in the novel to her childhood best friend, a young man by the name of Haroon, who she has grown up with and has spent the most time. Their parents always assume, that their close friendship will blossom into love and eventually marriage.

 It seems everything is going according to a standard scrip, this is until one evening while she is out with her friends for dinner, she has a by chance bumping into some one who unknowingly to her would change her life in the weeks and months that were to follow. That person being "Ahmer Murad", a young man in his late 20's who has returned to Pakistan leaving behind a life abroad to be with his ageing father. Little did Zarish know that the man she had an brief interaction with at the restaurant would be one of her professors and mentors at the university in the coming semester.

Considering the embarrassing nature of their first interaction, Zarish is shown as some one who is drawn to her professor's good looks as well as engulfed in a sense of discomfort whenever she sees Ahmer Murad around. It doesn't take Ahmer long to develop a good bond with his students, as he becomes a much loved instructor at the university with students showing significant interest in the finance class taught him. As the semester goes by, circumstances move in such a way  that the amount off out of close interaction between Zarish and Ahmer increases and they see a side to each other beyond the teacher-student relationship, they start seeing each as the other person behind the curtains with a glimpse into their lives and how their families have crossed paths in the past.

As their paths cross more and more, they start developing a friendship that involves a trusting relationship as well, which blossoms into love with Zarish being the first one to confess her unconditional love to Ahmer and the 2 are left with hard choices, some moral self questioning about going beyond a student-teacher relationship and the challenges, some expected and some unexpected that will test them and tear them apart.

There are many beautiful moments in the book, many intimate moments shared by Zarish and Ahmer, such as the first time Ahmer confesses her love for Zarish, and the first time they kiss. The chemistry and bond shown in the book between Zarish and Ahmer reflects the innocent nature of our two characters which if you ask most people is a dying trait one rarely finds, that makes it the book's unique differentiating point that it is a simple innocent love story with innocent characters whose love is tested by norms, limitations and tragedy. Saying anything further would be spoiling the book for would be readers, I highly recommend it, especially if you are under the age of 25. For her debut novel Miss Naveed has done a very good job and I look forward to reading her next book.

I am giving the book 4 stars, because of some minor short comings in the book, such as the quality of English used in some of the earlier chapters is not off a very high standard, secondly the writer has not made use of the odd humour that some writers use to keep their audiences engaged in the book this may bore some readers though personally I did not experience boredom while reading this book and thirdly the length of the book was almost 400 pages, an ideal book in South Asian literature should be under 300 pages, their were some things that seemed like repetitive in the book and could have been left out, while some minor characters were not given their due justice and coverage. It would have been nice to know a bit more about Ahmer's past in particular especially his youth.

I wish Sara Naveed all the best in her future works, I am already eagerly awaiting her next book. For those in Pakistan this book has not been officially launched nationwide, it is available on the Amazon Kindle if you are a Kindle user, alternatively you could contact the writer on her Facebook page and order a paper back (In Pakistan) with an option of Cash on delivery. For readers in Karachi, not yet available at Liberty books. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Travel Diaries: Choose your Travel Companions Wisely

The desire to travel, Wanderlust, is inside so many of us, so many of us yearn for that freedom that travel brings along with it. This is in addition to the many wonderful things that travel enables us, it gives the opportunity to unwind and refresh, explore new culture, meet people and also taste some great food along the way. Some of us feel that freedom as solo travelers, while some of us love to have company around while we travel and can never even imagine getting on that plan and visiting some place new without companionship. The benefits of solo travel maybe plenty, such as freedom and flexibility to do whatever when you want, while traveling in a group or with friends, comes with benefits such as better bonding between you and your travel companions, you always have some one with good fresh ideas, some one to talk to, and not to mention of course some one to take that all important photograph in front of a landmark, which was previously not possible before front facing camera's in mobile phones and of course the horrible invention the selfie stick. I wish the latter would just get uninvented some how. There was an April fool's day joke about the Selfie Shoe coming up, boy did that cause quite the stir.

Coming back to the main essence of this blog, travel companions, I can not for the love of God emphasis enough that one must choose their travel companions wisely. Sure it sounds great to be spontaneous and make a random holiday plan with a friend, but traveling together could make or break the bond in pretty much the same way living together can also make or break a relationship. The following are some things that you need to be mindful off before going on a trip with some one, unless ofcourse their your significant other than most stuff gets completely overlooked.

1. How close are you to that person, and to what extent can you really trust that person? Have u had a history where at any point trust issues, mutually or from a single side did sprout up?

2. Do routine habits and life style choices of the person you travel with annoy you or at all make you comfortable? For many after a certain age habits and life style choices are some what fixed and no power can undo that. If your even mildly uncomfortable, it would be best to avoid traveling with that person. For example for some Muslim travelers, eating only Halal is a priority, while for some it isn't. Even though it is not a big issue, it is a cause of discomfort for many Muslim travelers when their fellow Muslim travelers are not big on Halal.

3. Alcohol consumption. In most parts of the world alcohol consumption as a social lubricant is second nature to people, kind of like having tea in some parts of South Asia, so if this social lubricant causes you discomfort, plan your way of meeting and bonding with people alternatively. In the case of your travel companion, do learn about their alcohol consumption habits, do not judge them over drinking, but if they are a good friend please facilitate them in keeping consumption to a moderate level.

4. Never ever travel with some one who takes pleasure from lighting a match, we all have atleast that one friend who loves petty gossip and lights matches for that petty gossip, it gives them a feeling of power over the other person. Lighting a match and rubbing salt on old bounds under the guise of no one else being around. On that note, never travel with some one who has a history of breaking your trust even once, unless of course they have mended all the bridges involved.

5. Never travel with any one who has bad hygiene. That one is obvious, no need to go into details.

6. Never travel with some one who has a history of being reluctant to share. While on traveling, it is not uncommon for you to forget some stuff in the hotel room or forget to pack some stuff in the luggage. Personal hygiene stuff like tooth brush apart, If your travel companion can not share with  you stuff such as let's say a mobile phone charger or a universal adapter or even toiletries such as Shampoo or Sunscreen, yeah the holiday won't exactly go according to plan.

7. Do not travel with some one that does not respect you enough to let you have a say in your holiday, it is best to avoid travel or part ways early with a travel companion who is always bossy, and tries to dominate how the holiday should proceed, from landmarks which need to be visited, from places for food, some one who doesn't cooperate with u slightly to put it simply. Last thing you want to do is get into a fight.

Just Some Food For Thought, Speaking from personal experience

Happy, safe and memorable travels every One.

We Need To Talk About Bullying (Part IV)

It must be extremely difficult being a teenager today, I am sure no matter how hard I try I really can not imagine the true extent of what young people today have to go through. Today I am talking about bullying again, because it is a topic that needs to be spoken about as much as we can because bullying isn't declining but thanks to developments in technology and social trends it is going out of control and out of proportion. We live in an age and era where offline bullying is now accompanied by digital bullying which makes things a lot worse than they already are.

Some weeks ago, it was early in the morning and I had switched on SBS in my Melbourne hotel room. SBS Australia is one of the few free to air TV Channels alongside 7, channel 9 and the ten network. They were running a program on how bullying in the digital age is effecting children particularly teenagers leading to an academic, social and emotional down fall of the next generation of young people walking towards adulthood. According the documentary the attention towards the impact of digital bullying was first noticed in many high schools with a decline not just in grade work of young students but also a significant decline in their push towards physical fitness and athletic agility. Having personally lived in Australia for 4 years I personally know the importance on good physical health, fitness and a good active life style put forward by most Australians. This is also reflected upon the agility and competitive mindset of their athletes and sports persons. In Olympics Australians always feature in the ten best performing nations in terms of medal counts, while in other sports such as Rugby and Cricket, their a force to be reckoned with.

The documentary that I was fortunate to see was set in urban Queensland, where PE or Physical Education teachers or instructors noticed a decline in confidence and a drop in motivation for being competitive towards physical activities such as sports and fitness during the school hours. Upon investigation it turned out that students who were terrified off showing their potential or making daring efforts to exert themselves in physical challenges had become conscious of themselves, their bodies, their physical appearances as a result of not just real time bullying, but a lot of digital and cyber bullying that they had to be subject to. Aggressive comments like 'O Shes a Fat Cow' or 'He is a Fat Pig' or 'He/She is a midget' were being labeled at them by their peers, and thanks to the power of social media, they had been going viral and had played a great role in shaping opinions of others who otherwise wouldn't have had any. Long gone are the days, when the bully was out of your face, you did not have to think about the bully or attempts of bullying, now considering everyone as a smart phone and easy access to social media, it seems their is no escape. Young people today are always subjected to bullying. With limits to how to manage what goes on in the world of social media, it will become even harder and harder for parents as well as teenagers to manage circumstances.

Realistically bullying could never be prevented, bullies have existed since the dawn of civilization, technology has just presented everyone with a whole set of new challenges no one ever expected. One thing that can be done is to create awareness among people as how to identify bullying when it happens and what to do in what circumstances should they be on the receiving end of bullying or on the spectator end. Part of the problem lies with people's apathy, this I was witness to when I was in school, and I witness this in the lives of young people today, its the apathy of by standers, witnesses, who not only fail to even blink an eye when they see some one being subjected to bullying, but often at times, they take the side of the aggressor and entertain the idea that maybe the victim of bullying is some one who actually deserves the treatment thrown towards them. We see it as a natural course, a natural order, we see the aggressor from the vantage of a first mover, the first mover is well within his or her right to act and must be acting right, we seem to automatically dismiss alternatives. The dismissal of alternatives comes down to our inability to feel empathy for other human beings, realistically it is impossible to feel absolute empathy for another or be absolutely sensitive as to feel for the other person, but it is totally worse on a whole different level we see the victim of aggression as a lesser being than the bully or the aggressor. It is no different from how we look down upon victims of abuse, back of our mind we want to be impartial, so we end up making things worse by giving even some benefit of the doubt to the aggressor. There can be no 2 ways about it, an aggressor is an aggressor, some one who makes the must move must be in the spot light.

When was the last time so many of us actually took a stand for some one getting beaten, harassed, socially ostracized or character assassinated because of one or just a handful of people. Standing up is far fetched, I haven't even seen people show compassion for the person getting bullied, even compassion is far fetched, I have seen people believe the image of the victim as portrayed by the bully as some one who deserves it. Just some food for thought for everyone, considering we live in a digital era, next time any of us is witness to digital or cyber or social media bullying, we should entertain the idea that okay maybe this is not right, and maybe the bully is wrong and not their victims.

Just Food for Thought.