Monday, 30 April 2012

A Choice

A soft garment
Light in her hands
A soft fragrance against her face
Then a swish, a twirl
A pin to hold it in place
And some more just in case…
A beautiful colour draped on her head
Falling gently across her shoulders and down her chest
A peek at the mirror
She sees an image
A smiling woman, her head held high
She knows whom she has to please
And it’s not man
It’s the one above.
Lord of the worlds,
Knower of the unseen
His approval is what she yearns
So as the world turns against her and calls her oppressed
She walks out with her smile intact
Knowing one day in God’s court it’ll be rested.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Rhythms of a forgotten city

Clouds assemble and invoke the wind
Now rain drops on the window sill
A steaming cup of tea warming me from within
The familiar smell of a favourite ol' book (More dog ears than I can count!)
The feel of damp, yellowing pages against my hands as I sift through worlds beyond
Battles fought and won and regretted
Warriors killed, leaving anguished sweet hearts in their wake
Orphaned kids and mourning widows
Fate stealing the light from their eyes and twisting it into a knot
Tight. Un-knottable.
Muted laughter and an escaping sob
All this and more
Whispers caught by the wind and taken to a solitary writer's pen
Hasty words spilt on paper and sent to distant lands
And to me
So let me sit back and, with teary eyes, listen to the rhythms of a forgotten city

While this one strangles itself to death

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The not-so-delicate art of procrastination

It's that time of  the year again. Students who had forgotten their status of 'seekers of knowledge' suddenly find themselves swimming against a tide of course works and assignments. As they attempt to tame this Frankenstein they have created over a semester, some of them morph into zombies.

 You can spot one of them walking, dazed, in the library.
 Today, we follow him.

Juggling a cup of coffee (Not to mention the cans of red bull already cruising through his lazy veins) in one hand and 39487487 books on the other, he makes his way to his favourite table in the library (Near the exit), convincing himself that he can do it, that it's not too late.

*Quick status update- In the library now! It smells like Jail! Lolzzzz!*

 He sits down. Books on table, coffee on the side. A sigh. Now what? It'll be a good idea to sharpen all the pencils he has. Done. Now...colour coordinate the pens! And arrange books in alphabetical order. No, size order is better. Laptop screen looks dusty. Let's wipe it till it shines! That done he looks around and spots millions of fellow zombies around him and all of them seem to be doing much better than him. Why, one of the sly bastards even has the nerve to show him a thumbs up! Aaargh..he must be almost done with his thesis. Time to spill some coffee on his laptop under the pretence of a greeting. No, can't do that, paid 2 pounds for this ridiculously bitter liquid.

*Quick Status update- I hate the coffee here! X-( *

Decides to go and take a look at how that arrogant zombie with a smug smile is faring. 'Hey dude! How's it going?' *smug smile gets smugger* 'Not too good man, I'm still in the conclusion.' *Imaginary slap to wipe off the smug smile* 'Dude, you're in the conclusion! That's awesome!'. Reply- 'No man...I won't have time to re-edit the draft..' *Mental conversation- I hate you, you $%£%^$%$£%$* Real reply-'ll do it man. See you later (*you £$$£"$R*)

*Quick status update- I hate people who pretend they haven't done much work, just to show that they're modest. They're sooo not. :X'*

Back to desk. Focus, Focus. Breathe in...breathe out. He meditates for 2 minutes to concentrate his inner positive energy and hopes that energy will sort out his work. Opens one eye, nope, work's still there, staring at him out of the evil pages.

*Quick status update- Starting my thesis! Wish me luck peeps!*

Ok. Be serious now. Open book. Index. Introduction. Page 1.

*Quick status update- I'm doing it guys! Starting my reading!*

His mouth and hands feel sticky. Oops he dozed off! Wipes off drool. Focus. Okay, this is interesting. He finds himself drawn to the book. One paragraph up, 42454556 to go. Time to pee!

*Quick Status update- Coffee goes right through me!*

Shuts book, caps pen. Walks slowly to the wash room. Passes a guy who he met once in the cafe queue in the first year. Stops and talks to him for half an hour about how much coursework is there. Done. To the wash room. Business done. Time to check himself out in the mirror. Style hair for 15 minutes. Walk out, towards the table. Change route- go to the cafeteria. Text friend- I need a break! Come to the cafe!
Crib for 2 hours, over Lipton iced tea and a slice of pizza, the amount of work the professors expect students to do. Time to go back. Spot table, open book. *Library announcement* 'Attention all library users. The library will close in 15 minutes'

*Quick status update: Enough with the coursework! Time to sleep!*

Next Day. Repeat Cycle.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Corfu, Greece: Day 2

          Today was a little more relaxed day. We couldn’t see much in the morning as the      weather played spoilt sport. So we lazed around in the reception area over-using the  WiFi. My father meanwhile managed to start an elaborate conversation with the manager  about greek politics, economic policies and the EU. We could sense their hopelessness when he spoke about the state of his country. Their was a certain bitterness in him when he spoke about the politicians and how they're running the supposed democracy...

   Once it stopped raining we made way to the Corfu Town. There was supposed to be a performance by a marching band there, but the rain didn’t let little Johnny play. Again.
Once the rain calmed down to a drizzle we parked our car near the city center (which is no where near the center of the city) and walked towards it. The city center is actually near the sea. And this sea has the clearest bluest water I’ve ever seen. You can actually see the fish swimming underneath!

Walking through the city center and looking at all the sign boards in Greek I found myself a little uneasy. And when I knew why unpleasant memories from a long forgotten past of a girl sitting helplessly in Physics class as her teacher explained something about omega and sigma and lambda and...oh well no wonder it was all Greek to me back then! (∑∏∆∂ῼΨ- this is what it looked like to me, back then and now)

We walked around a little more and inevitably ended up at a Greek Tavern called Markas. We decided to try something new instead of sticking to the ‘safe food’ spaghetti and salad. We ordered fried kalamari (squid), chicken burger (Bilal’s order, obviously). Grilled feta cheese, chicken steak. I tried the grilled vegetables and for the first time in the past few years got told ‘finish all the vegetables on your plate’ by my parents. The fried kalamari was to die for. Fried to perfection and made a little extra spicy to please our Indian taste buds. It was absolutely delicious! And this is coming from a sworn sea food hater. So next time you’re here, don’t miss out on this heavenly dish!

After our excellent lunch we were in the mood for an afternoon siesta, but the sky
suddenly cleared up and there was sunshine everywhere! We couldn’t miss this
opportunity! So we immediately hit the highway to go to Paleokastrista (have fun saying
that aloud to yourself :D) which is a hill side point in the western side of Corfu. The drive
was as nice as yesterday. Again, a lot of wild flowers and olive trees. It was a
steep climb to Paleokastrista but the view there was so worth it! Picture postcard! The
blue waves rolling up to the huge white rocks and breaking out into white foam on
contact with the rough surface…The whole experience of looking at it from up above was out of this world. If it wasn’t that chilly we could’ve spent some more time there.

In the evening we returned to the city center and strolled down one of the market streets- Agios Spiridos. As it was a Sunday most of the shops were closed. But the ones that were open were so nice that we plan to go back there tomorrow morning. The street mostly consists of ‘Olive woodwork shops’ which are brimming with knick knacks carved out of olive wood.

 It’s amazing how much beauty man is able to bring out of a simple chunk of wood. It reminded me of something I’d heard a few years back (source unknown) ‘I don’t carve out the lion from stone; I just remove the chunks which are not lion’. The shop had everything from gracious figurines to key chains. Wooden chess sets and tiny laughing Buddhas, polished salt ‘n’ pepper sets and lovely tea coasters.
Then there were some shops selling traditional Greek sweets. We bought caramelized almonds (which I am munching on as I write this) and sesame covered pistachios, and also some mandarin oranges boiled in sugar syrup.
There was one shop which really caught my fancy. It was tiny shop with steps leading downwards. Once I entered it was as though I had stepped into the underwater world of Ariel, Disney’s own Little Mermaid. There were Sea Shells everywhere! Not a spot in the shop was empty. They even had real sea sponge! I was tempted to buy one of the tiny sea shell wind chimes to liven up my grey room back in Nottingham. But money can work as a great restrictor, and it did. *sigh*

From Agios Spiridos we strolled ahead, following the sound. We found ourselves at an open square surrounded by open air restaurants and cafes. There were hundreds of tables with lamp bowls and floating candles on them, the candles lending a warm and cozy feeling to the entire place. There were a lot of youngster sitting around these tables, chatting and laughing while they sipped on their drinks. The place seemed so different from the quiet Corfu we’d seen by the day. Apparently the ‘nightlife’ gets better as we move in towards the peak season- May to July.

We ended up at the same restaurant that we had lunch for. There we were greeted by the same waiter who’d served us earlier. He talked me into buying Mushroom pervoudes and grilled feta cheese. The cheese didn’t let me down but the mushroom did. However, I did finish the vegetables on my plate. Like a good girl.

As I’m about to finish writing this I feel like can hear the waves lapping at the beach. It’s as though I’m there right now. Happy dreams tonight…

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Corfu, Greece: Day 1

Our family, everyone says, has gone global. My dad’s working in Italy, mom and brothers are in India and Me, the wandering soul, floating from Malaysia to UK. It’s been almost 2 yrs living like this. And now, by some miracle, our holidays aligned and we got a chance to spend our vacation together.
A trip to the Greek Island of Corfu really seemed like a prayer answered.
We came with Endeavour Lines to Corfu. Travelling by ship let us take our car with us. So no travel hassles once in the island! The ship journey was 8 hours long. 8 Long Hours across the Mediterranean sea.

We spent the first couple of hours exploring the ship. This was our first time on a ship and luckily none of us got seasick. We had a nice spot on the deck, facing the sea and quite nice co passengers too.

 The families next to us were Macedonian Muslims. One of them had a cute little boy of around 4 who did a good job of keeping us entertained with his antics. We reached Corfu around 11 pm local time. We were let down by our otherwise trusty GPS navigator device as it didn't have Greece on the list of countries it can 'navigate'. Can’t believe even the navigator ignores the not so well off!

It took us one hour of driving around to locate our resort. My dad and I planned this trip two weeks back over skype. We found a nice apartment (through in Gouvia, a bayside village in the east of Corfu. Our apartment is nice and airy…and is just a stone’s throw from the beach! Finally when we reached we were greeted by a portly security man, Nikolas, who gave us quite a warm welcome (this warmth and hospitality, we later found, is a cherished Greek trait)

Today we all woke up quite early (Going by the Fazal household’s standard time). We walked down to the market area nearby and, not-so-surprisingly, ended up at a nice Greek patisserie. So breakfast was baklava, croissants, cheesecake, profiterole and buns. Yes, it was absolutely delicious!

After our sinfully rich breakfast, equipped with a full fuel tank, a map and sack full of snacks, we started our drive around the island. We wanted to drive around the periphery and stick to coastline. However, corfu  being mountainous ( The name 'Corfu' actually means 'The city of peaks'!),we ended up playing hide and seek with the coast.But when we did get glimpses of the sea, it was glorious! Even without a clear sky, the sea was a glistening blue.

 Corfu (Kerkyra in Greek) is a small island and can be covered quite fast. There are numerous shops, scattered across the island, which let you rent cars, bicycles and motor bikes. Bicycles seems to be a popular choice of transport among the tourists. Our drive was wonderful. We drove through tiny villages, with narrow streets. The architecture is not quite we thought it would be, but it settles well with the surroundings. The houses quite similar to the ones in Kerala. Small house painted in different pastel shades. What I love about these houses are their gardens. Almost all of them have lovely gardens with lavender growing on the walls, and citrus trees bursting with ripe fruits. Then there are beautiful wild flowers sprouting up from ever possible places. They grow on rocks, walls…different shades of violet, pink, yellow and red. Our receptionist told us that all these flowers were brought to the Island by the British. When this island was colonized 1000s of varieties of plants were brought by them. 

And, obviously, there are olive trees everywhere. Literally everywhere. We drove past quite a few olive farms with nets spread across and in some of the farms we saw friendly faces driving tractors loaded with sacks of olives. There are about 3 million olives trees in corfu. Some of them are hundreds of years old. These trees have hollowed out, bent and twisted with age. Apart from the olive trees there are a lot of Almond trees along the roadside which flower during May-September. The bright pink flowers can be spotted from quite far and make the drive really enjoyable. 

While my parents and I enjoyed the raw, natural beauty of the place, my brothers had already had too much  of it and were demanding to go elsewhere. Finally my dad made an impromptu stop at one of the villages. We ventured into a monastery-Monastery Pantokratoros- lured by the pretty trail leading up to a small enclosure. The monastery area is really small and is surrounded by a home grown vegetable garden. There are two buildings- one is the convent and the other is the church. There are a lot of flower patches scattered here and there, from fiery red tulips to baby pink roses. We were greeted in by some of the warmest people I’ve ever met. There are 5-6  Greek Orthodox Christian nuns living there. All of them covered up exactly like muslim women. Except, they have a tiny crucifix embroidered on their headscarf. None of them knew English, yet they held our hands and walked us in. Luckily another woman walked in and she instantly became our translator. Penelope is a nursery school teacher and visits the monastery often. She gave us a quick tour around the monastery which is about 200 years old.

 We were invited in for a cup of greek coffee by the nuns. As we sipped coffee (which was a tad too bitter for my taste) and nibbled on halwas ( A sweet not very different from the Indian halwa) our conversation flowed (Thanks to Penelope’s running translation). We asked them about Greece, orthodox Christianity and how it differed from Catholicism. They asked us about India and out life there. They were surprised when they heard that we Muslims and Christians share prophets upto Jesus with them. It was interesting to note that their painting of Jesus have him with Mediterranean skin tone.They were so warm and kind that we really felt like staying there longer and talking more. But Penelope seemed quite exhausted so we had to make a move :D

With Penelope

From there we drove northwards and hit the beautiful Sidari beach. It was quite chilly but we had a nice walk there. My dad and brothers even managed to sneak in a crazy football game. 
At Sidari beach

We left the beach to drive south and finally stopped at Agios Stefanos for a coffee break. There we met a nice English couple from Oxford (who, incidentally, were watching the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race). They were quite happy to hear that I am currently studying in Nottingham.This couple has been coming to Corfu for the past few years so they  recommended some places which we could visit in the next two days.
We left the café to go to Paleokastritsa, which is the highest point on the island. But two wrong turns and we were totally in the wrong direction. More olive farms, wild flowers and narrow streets later we decided to move Paleokastritsa for tomorrow. After asking about half a dozen people for directions we finally reached back to our apartment.
In the evening we went to a traditional greek taverna for dinner. We had a nice meal of greek salad, grilled fish and shrimp in red saganaki.
Tomorrow we are planning to start with Paleokastritsa and then visit some of the palaces and museums here. So, until the next post!