Tag Archives: muslims

387 Short Stories: Day 33: Story 33: A Private Experience by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Title: A Private Experience
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Taken from the Collection: The Thing Around Your Neck and Other Stories

“A Private Experience” is a beautiful story, written by Chimamanda. The stories in this entire collection are brimming with empathy, intellect and deep insight into human beings and day-to-day living. Her characters are casual and maintain the tone of informality and stability even in times of chaos.

“A Private Experience” is about clash of cultures and how two women get caught in the turmoil and come to understand each other and themselves in the process. Chika, a medical student gets caught in a riot between Christians and Muslims. She is leaded to shelter by a Muslim woman named Hausa, to a shop. The dynamics between these two women – one Christian and the other Muslim is remarkable. One prays toward the Mecca and the other starts praying on her rosary.

The story ends on a sensitive note and yet I thought there could have been so much more which she could have said and yet did not. Maybe that is just her way of writing and communicating, which eventually works for the reader. A read which is tender and real.

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Book Review: The Moslems are Coming: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist by Azad Essa

Title: The Moslems are Coming: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist
Author: Azad Essa
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 9789350294390
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I picked up, “The Moslems are Coming: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist” when I was in a different state of mind, actually the right state of mind to read a book of this sort. I was questioning religion and how much of a part does it play in our lives.

Let me tell you something about the book. “The Moslems are Coming: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist” is a collection of pieces written by a young Muslim South African blogger of Indian origin, Azad Essa. It started off individually as articles for various publications which have now been compiled into a book by Harper Collins India.
What I liked about the book? A lot of things. The book deals more so with a mix of religion and identity in modern times. About what it is to be a Muslim in today’s times and how are you viewed or looked at, more specifically as a modern Muslim Youth. That is the core of the essays in the book. While on the surface, the pieces seem tinged with humour and sarcasm, there is a lot more to them than what meets the eye.

For instance, the way Azad has spoken about the so-called Kashmir Issue and its impact on both sides – the Kashmiri Pandits and the Muslims, who have continued to stay on in the valley and the impact of violence on them. I liked his point of view, the fact that some Hindus are living in the valley, safe, sheltered by the Muslims and yet there is an unseen divide, always hovering above them.

The book also looks at another country, whose citizens face the issue of identity on a daily basis that is South Africa. Azad’s experiences are raw, vivid, and contain a lot of cultural references, which attempt to almost appeal to a larger audience.

You will be surprised with the book as you read along, that it isn’t all about Muslims. It is about humanity at the end of it all. Azad Essa writes bluntly and does not refrain from using swear words when necessary. He covers almost every terrain of topics that we normally shrug aside. His views on world politics and cultural issues are stark and often laced with wit and black humour.

The questions that were raised in my head, while reading the book were of an intense nature. I could not tear myself from the book once I started reading it. This book is real, honest, without any inhibitions, and stays true to what the author observes and wishes to document. The Moslems are Coming is a strong reflection of the times we live in and how maybe we can change some parts of it.

You can buy the book from Home Shop 18 here

Here is a book trailer:

Book Review: Welcome to Americastan by Jabeen Akhtar

Title: Welcome to Americastan
Author: Jabeen Akhtar
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670085316
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Welcome to Americastan was a great read for me and the reason I mention it at the onset, is for you to know how good read it was. While it talks about serious issues at hand, it also does that in a manner so funny that you can’t help but laugh out aloud. Welcome to Americastan talks about identity and what it means to be a Pakistani in America in a candid and tongue-in-cheek manner and yet skillfully done.

Samira, a Pakistani-American, returns home to her parent’s house in North California after being taken by a ride and dumped by her boyfriend of eight years. But that’s not where her troubles begin. There are more but of course. Samira tried running over her ex, so now she is on the FBI terror watch list, and of course she has been fired from her job (that I found a little predictable, however will let it pass) for landing in jail. Her life is full of problems and she is home where things can only get worst.

Her father is all for the Pakistani American council (the arguments he offers are hilarious), her mother spikes the punch with rum, her cousins are living double lives and amidst all this Samira is trying to make sense of her existence and mend her broken heart.

The Pakistani community of America is vividly described in this book. From traditional to the modern – almost every aspect is touched upon. The way news spread about families to what is being cooked in whose house – the trivial details make this book what it is – a funny read. At times while reading the book, I could feel the drama playing out in my book – that’s the tone of the book – real and stark.

As a reader I was and to a certain extent still am under the impression that this book is semi-autobiographical in some ways – may be because Jabeen just like the narrator is a Pakistani American; however I am assuming that that is where the similarity ends. The dichotomy of a Muslim community in America is brilliantly portrayed throughout the book. Like I mentioned, the want to stick to a culture whose significance in another nation is not completely understood to the need to adapt to a culture that is not fully known to your family.

Welcome to Americastan is a fast read and yet it touches on issues of stereotypical Muslim-Americans and their lives led sometimes with doubt and sometimes with great confidence. The wit is biting and refreshing. The plot never fails to edge you further into the book and the characters literally speak to you. At one point, I also compared the book to The Buddha of Suburbia because of the writing. I cannot recommend it enough.

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The Arabs by Eugene Rogan

Eugene Rogan’s magisterial, though idiosyncratically selective, “The Arabs: A History” is a dense but worthwhile and illuminating read. Rogan, who spent his childhood in Beirut and Cairo, teaches at Oxford and is Director of the University’s Middle East Centre. He is a former student of Albert Hourani, whose seminal “History of the Arab Peoples,” published in 1993, this book successfully complements.

“The Arabs” is densely packed with facts and dates. It is a plum pudding of a book rather than a crème brulee; it took me about fifty percent longer to read than most books of comparable length. It is not, however, in any way tedious. The narrative has strong forward momentum and is organized (unlike Churchill’s celebrated Savoy pudding) around clear themes. While Rogan writes with a deadpan seriousness, he also enlivens his history with anecdotes (such as the story of the exasperated Algerian Pasha who could not resist striking the French Consul with his fly switch during a heated debate in 1827) and with quotations from contemporary diaries and memoirs. We thus hear directly from the likes of Budhari al Hallaq, an eighteenth century Damascus barber, Rifa’a al-Taktawi, an Egyptian imam who visited Paris in the early nineteenth century and was appalled to observe that “men are slaves to women here…whether they are pretty or not,” and Leila Khaled, a female Palestinian terrorist of the late 1960s.

Rogan begins his history in 1516 (the first example of his selectiveness), with the Ottoman conquest. He then divides Arab history into several phases: the Ottoman reign, the period of Western Colonial intervention, Arab Nationalism, the Cold War, the Rise of Oil, the emergence of Islamism, and the War on Terror. For the Arabs, Rogan observes, history has been one continuous “cycle of subordination to other people’s rules.” The colonial powers’ carve-up of the Arab map into ill-fitting states (especially the Jewish one) has had lasting consequences that will be difficult to untangle. This is his main theme, though he does recognize that “corrupt and authoritarian” indigenous regimes also play a role and that at some point Arabs need to assume greater responsibility for their own destiny if they are to overcome what Samir Kassir, the murdered Lebanese journalist, diagnosed as the “Arab malaise.”

Rogan is not merely selective in the period that he chooses to cover (two thirds of his book focuses on the twentieth century), he also dwells almost entirely on political and military history. There is little sociological exposition of who the “Arabs” are – what, for example, other than Islam and language, have Algerians in common with Syrians; there is little discussion of Arab society, the schism between Sunni and Shia, or indeed the nature of the tribal loyalties that we have witnessed in the recent conflicts in Iraq. The coverage of Saudi Arabia – surely a major factor not only in the region but in the world – is quite perfunctory as is that of Iran, which while not an Arab nation, is a major player – as much as some of the despised Western powers – in the region’s military and political balance and also demonstrates a prototype of the type of Islamic State which would likely appear, as Rogan asserts, if free and fair elections were held today. He does not extrapolate either on how his adverse cycle might be extended by the putative (or Putinative) resurgence of Russia, the emerging geopolitical projection of China, or even, possibly, of Turkey which is slowly re-engaging on the scene.

Does Rogan have an axe to grind? A critical examiner might argue that the tone of disapproval he applies to Israel and the United States (at least pre-Obama) is stronger than that which he directs at Arab strongmen and Palestinian terrorists (or “fighters” as he generally calls them), or that his distaste for British and French colonialism stands in contrast to his mild nostalgia for the Ottoman empire, but this is surely no partisan polemic. Rogan’s book is strongly fact-based, and he provides the reader with ample material and perspective from which to form his or her own judgment. It is part of his mission to explain the Arab point of view and he does this while upholding his professional objectivity.

If Rogan strikes any wrong note, it is surely in his conclusion. He claims to see grounds for hope, the “very beginnings of a virtuous circle.” This optimism is hardly supported by his portrait of precarious authoritarian regimes holding down the lid on latent Islamist takeovers, with outside powers continuing to toss banana skins into the mix and the Arabs themselves still subject to a sort of Al Sod’s law in their own efforts (witness the disaster of Dubai World). Nor is it consistent with his comment in his Introduction (admittedly some 500 pages previously) that “the Arab World views the future with growing pessimism.” This is especially true if one defines the goal, as Rogan does in his Epilogue, as “human rights and accountable government, security and economic growth.” Ha!

Arabs, The; Rogan, Eugene; Allan Lane; Penguin Press; £30.00

Jimmy the Terrorist by Omair Ahmad

I have not read “The Storyteller’s Tale” by Omair Ahmad, but now I will. I have just finished reading, “Jimmy the Terrorist” and I am still thinking about it. I have had a great year of reading. 2010 has been perfect and it just got better with this book added to my reads this year.  Terrorism has always and sadly enough will always be an intricate part of our lives. Off late, it has seized us with fear and everything that comes with it – the insecurity, the deep down scare in people’s eyes about what is going to happen tomorrow and threats from almost every religious fundamentalist group.

Books like “Jimmy the Terrorist” hold a mirror to our society and how is it depleting its values and what people stand for. It jolts you from your deep slumber and at some level makes you want to make that difference, the only bone of contention being: We don’t know how to make that difference.

Jimmy the Terrorist is set in the northern part of Uttar Pradesh, India around 1990 in a fictional town of Moazzamabad. The town speaks of alienation of the Muslim community and the people who live in it. The story is about a guy called Jamal who becomes a terrorist after stabbing a police inspector and is in the process, beaten to death. Before he breathes his last, he mouths the words, “My name is Jimmy the Terrorist” and that is where the story begins. Journalists throng in from every part of the country (I liked the way media was thrashed in the book to some extent. It also reminded me of Peepli Live) wanting to gnaw on every piece of news they can obtain.

The story then moves forward in backwards talking about Jimmy’s life and what shaped him to become the person that he was before he died. It also talks about his father Rafiq, their circumstances, the marginalization faced by the society, the bringing down of a mosque in Ayodhya, to how people are treated in a country that is supposed to be a democratic one.

The idea and what the book represents is simple: Religion is not the answer to our problems – be it any religion and it can never be.  The book revolves around a small town and its issues and how everything is defined by politics and religion. Human sentiment and emotions in such times seems to have taken a walk and quite literally at that.

Jimmy did have a life before he died and no one wanted to know about it till his death was reported. Jimmy the Terrorist is a story of today’s India and how it is pockmarked with various troubles – from communalism to riots to its own agenda set by different people separately. Jimmy is an outlier in the society – may be there aren’t many of his kind, and yet they exist or are made to exist. Democracy speaks for the majority and not the minority and may be that is a concern. We are still living with the hangover of partition and that needs to end.

 Jimmy the Terrorist; Ahmad, Omair; Penguin India; Hamish Hamilton; Rs. 350