Books & Reading, Uncategorized

Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence

I’ve only managed to read a measly eight books this year. Just eight. That’s three less than the 11 books I read in 2014. One of the reasons for the slump in my reading statistics is the time I devoted to each of these books. Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Museum of Innocence’ has taken me the longest – a little over seven weeks to get through 728 pages. The large capital letters of his name have been by my bedside as a constant reminder that I have long neglected the bourgeoisie memoir.

The truth is; the novel didn’t suck me in the way I thought it would. The maestro’s 700 page story of a man’s obsessive love for a younger woman wasn’t exactly riveting. The first half of the story is a classic tale of reckless passion colliding with bourgeois standards. The latter is far more interesting and as the political upheaval begins to rock Istanbul, the book and the protagonist both undergo radicalization and change, as the neurotic kleptomaniac makes his way through the stations of his doomed love affair.

The love saga of Kemal and Fusan gradually becomes grandiose and unrealistic and makes the narrative a slightly difficult read. I literally forced myself to finish the book but only because I was reading Pamuk and I refused to give up on him.

For me the hero of the book is not the compulsive lover caught between his fiancé and his mistress. The true star of the book is Istanbul and Pamuk masterfully captures the essence and intricacies of the beautiful city as he chronicles the oddly timed love-affair. The novel masterfully captures a panoramic view of life in Istanbul and the identity crisis experienced by its upper classes who find themselves caught between all things traditionally Turkish and on the other hand the westernized way of life they were just getting used to. Istanbul is almost like a character in itself – it mirrors the characters’ own conflict as a city torn and ravaged by political upheaval. The vistas Pamuk paints are like monochrome reminders of conflicted people in complicated situations.

Reading the lavish descritpions of the city, I found myself closing my eyes to re- imagine the biting cold of January 2011 as I stepped out of the Atatürk Airport into the chilled winter air. Minutes later my minivan speeding through the serpentine roads and finally onto the magnificent Bosphorus bridge as the bejeweled skyline came into view alongside. Pamuk’s descriptions of the romantic city are exquisite and a delightful sensory journey not to be read but rather – experienced. I hope to go back to Istanbul some day and I’ve promised myself to read his novel with the same title when I’m there.

Coming back to the novel, it can be read and interpreted in multiple ways. It’s a love story, a political chronicle and a social commentary all rolled into one. At the end of it all, though Kemal does somewhat resemble the emotionally fraught Miss Havisham s the objects Kemal collects and adds to his ‘museum’ seem to pile up in his attempt to compulsively ‘freeze time’ – something that is not all that strange for the average person. There is something to be said for memorabilia, we value little things because they represent a connection with something important in our past. Many of us keep all kinds of memorabilia around and while I don’t believe those things intrinsically represent a threat to your present, they are part and parcel of who you are and what you have experienced.

A few months ago I blogged about my own ‘Cardboard box’ full of keepsakes and mementos that are vital scraps of my life. So much of who I am and what made me this way is confined therein. Kemal found love a little too late – he was an ordinary man placed in some extraordinary circumstances and his museum became his sanctuary. You and I may not obsess over memorabilia the way Kemal does in the novel but we sure do know what it represents and how much we value those memories when the real thing is long gone. Perhaps a book about objects of desire, so to speak, will make more sense to a reader who has had the pleasure (or displeasure) of being in love. Read it, you’ll understand why.

In conclusion, Pamuk’s novel is (if nothing else) a saga to the value of our memories and the place they hold in our lives. Having said that, there is one last thought I cannot shake  – the funny thing about memories is that they only last as long as you remember them, don’t you think?

Uncategorized

‘Outstanding’ – Simple but not easy!

I lay on my sofa a couple of minutes ago staring mindlessly at the TV set and allowing the sounds and images to wash over me. My body and mind are in a state of sheer exhaustion and all I can think about is having the luxury of sleeping late this Friday and Saturday morning – my first free weekend in 3 weeks!

Among all the Arab soap operas and rehashed talent hunts that seem to dominate my screen these days I landed on a programme that immediately grabbed my attention and struck a chord with me.

The programme was the pilot episode of ‘The Inspectors’ a show in which inspectors visit restaurants in the U.S.A to warn people about the hazards of eating out. Normally, I wouldn’t have any interest in hearing them dismiss the modern-day blessings of fast food and free home delivery. However, the reason for my keen attention to the hosts prowling and prying was that I am currently going through inspection week at my school and in spite of the differences; it really is quite the same.

Though the inspectors have only been around for two days, in reality the inspection began three weeks ago, the minute our Principal announced to us that they’d be coming!

Long hours, stress, working weekends and severe sleep deprivation notwithstanding, we were ready for them and waited for them to arrive.  Anyone who knows me well will know, I’m more skeptical than most people but even I see the real benefit of school inspections.

Neither the frenzy that seems to engulf the teaching community in the lead up to inspections nor all the documentation, paper work and overflowing evidence files could ever match what a teacher does in a classroom. Inspections are stressful, and that’s putting it mildly. But nobody can argue the fact that they make us better teachers. Even if it means pulling out every single trick we’ve learned and packing it into every single lesson for one entire week.

Is there any such thing as the perfect lesson or the perfect teacher? Probably not. But what matters most is when teachers show up, well prepared, well planned and consistently reminding themselves and the children in their rooms of the high expectations they have and the conviction with which they know that the children will meet and sometimes even surpass those expectations. There will be children who fall behind, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Teachers are always there to make sure that they catch up eventually!

Outstanding teaching doesn’t come from charismatic delivery alone. It takes planning, study, knowing the children (this is so crucial) and lots and lots of heart!

Yes the inspectors will make us bottle our best practices and package and advertise them well but that alone will never work. It doesn’t work. The only thing, in my opinion, that can guarantee outstanding teaching and learning is a thorough knowledge of your lesson and an excellent relationship with your class. If you know what they know you almost can’t help but make them make progress. Sounds simple, right? It is. But it’s definitely not easy.

Uncategorized

Moving Up!

This week, while working with some senior children, I’ve had ample opportunity to reflect on what makes the UAE so special. My first glimpse of Dubai was at night after I moved here from India four and a half years ago. I was amazed by the dazzling bejeweled skyline as my flight descended towards the city. But since settling down here I’ve realized that it’s not just the steely skyscrapers that sparkle, there are countless other aspects of a life in the Emirates that are dazzling as well.

In the west, Romney and Obama continue to fight it out with promises to revive America’s challenging job market while the UK continues to claw its way back up from the quicksand of recession. But despite testing global conditions, the UAE seems to be sizzling, both literally and in terms of its unparalleled growth in the region.

The Shamal winds which have started to sweep over the Emirates each evening, bring with them the promise of cooler days and comfortable nights and for now it seems as if the Emirates’ dark days are long gone.

In the four and a half years that I have lived here, I have seen the UAE being written off and have watched with pleasure as it rose right back up to be the kind of beacon and inspirational success story that it continues to be for this region of the Middle East. The Emirates are synonymous with progress and prosperity and for anyone who is willing to risk a life in these desert lands; the opportunities for success are limitless.

I know I grumble about work sometimes and I whine about how little I’d have to do if I were teaching in a small missionary school in India, but the truth is I’m a better teacher today than I was four years ago and that’s only because of the kind of opportunities and exposure I’ve had here in the UAE. Living alone in the UAE is liberating in so many ways and yet it has its challenges too. But a stimulating work culture provides routine, a sense of daily achievement and a network of colleagues who sometimes become friends.

Like any other modern metropolis, the UAE’s story is incomplete. It is a work in progress and its modern and progressive leadership will undoubtedly ensure that the Emirates don’t become complacent with their regional success. I am certain that in the future, the UAE will transform itself from a regional power to a global force to be reckoned with and that will make all the difference.

Sure there is a lot that the Emirates can do differently and yes there are high expectations that they must live up to. But this is the place of dreams and if I’ve learned anything here it is that, no dream is too idealistic to be achieved. I’m unsure if I’ll still around to be a part of all the changes that will help transform the Emirates into a global giant but one thing is certain, for the UAE the only way to move, is up!

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I just wonder…

Every day, I wake up earlier than I want to and work longer than I want to, in a profession that I’m sure is my calling. But, sometimes I find I have to do things or find, that I’m part of stuff that were never really on my radar for things I want to accomplish in my life. So, why do I still do it?

This past week, I felt the need to rise above the blurry fog of my day-to-day just for a little while, to get a wider perspective on my life and why I continue to do what I do.

I recalled that I’m here in Dubai to gain the experience of living abroad, living independently and to learn and grow. This is meant to be a learning life-experience for me; it is supposed to be a challenge. And it is. It so is!

I could very well stick to the well-worn grooves of the teachers who have come before, but then I wouldn’t grow. It would be very easy to go to work every day, do my job, teach my kids, collect the paycheck, and get by. I could go home to the India or wherever the fates take me without ever having changed or learned anything in the process.

But the scary thing, you see is this, sometimes I tend to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day because it’s tempting to just duck my head and plow forward, doing all the things that I need to do to make my days run smoothly. But there are moments, sudden flashes of realization that I’m gradually forgetting what it is that I had originally set out to achieve.

So, the questions I’m asking myself today are simple, really simple. What kind of life do I want to live? How does this day, this evening, this hour, this minute, fit into that big picture and into that larger scheme of things? Am I just spinning my wheels, following directions because I didn’t bother to give myself directions, or is it part of the grunt-work that needs to get done to make my dreams a reality?

What do I do if I find that my daily life isn’t in line with my larger purpose or the higher calling that I know is meant for me?

I just wonder…

Life Musings, Uncategorized

Rewind. Reflect. Renew.

 

Over the last year I’ve journeyed around my skull and I’ve been happy to invite many of you on that journey. I’ve spouted pearls of wisdom that I’ve picked up along the way. (Thanks to Dr. Brian Weiss and way too many Oprah re-plays) Sometimes I’ve pondered and mulled over the things that concern me or issues and causes that I am passionate about and there have also been numerous times when I’ve tapped away on my key board boring many of you with intricate details of my daily life.

A year ago, I was a blog reader. Today, there are 163 posts on my blog with 11,320 hits, and that means so much to me. It means that people care to read what I think, it means that in spite of how busy people are they take a couple of minutes to read and respond to what I’m thinking out loud.

This morning, a young lady who had recently stumbled across my blog asked me, ‘What is the most difficult thing to write about?’

It took me a couple of minutes before I was finally able to answer, ‘Writing honestly about myself.’

I find it very tough to write about myself. I don’t find it so difficult to write about my past or my present experiences in a sometimes humorous – sometimes serious manner, a kind of distortion that gives me a sense of detachment, of being able to look at life critically. But writing earnestly about myself in the present is the most challenging exercise for me. I struggle to be completely honest in my writing. I’m such a sucker for diplomacy and tact.

Sometimes I wish I was a better blogger. I wish I could write about what I am really thinking at times and not have to tip toe around issues or wrap it in a garb of euphemisms and tactfulness. I wish I could be more honest, more open, gutsier even and I was beginning to beat myself up over it – till I read this on another blog that I follow:

‘For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this… We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. The important thing is to know you’ve started something good and you will get better in time.” – Ira Glass

That’s so true of anything we put our heads and hearts to. Blogging has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me this past year and I’m so glad I had all of you to share it with. I promise…I’m going to work really hard to get better at it, so stick with me.

Life Musings, Uncategorized

Egypt’s Uncertain Future

Growing up, I looked forward to attending Sunday school each week. Every detail of the stories I heard and the lessons I learned lingered in my sub-conscience right through the week. Of the many stories and parables I heard over the years, one in particular has stayed with me – the story of Moses and the Pharaoh. The tale of the oppressive Egyptian ruler, who was overthrown by God and rejected by his own people, continues to enthrall and fascinate me even today.

However uncanny it may seem, this story is not just an ancient myth. It is an accurate vision of what happens, again and again, when despots and tyrants become addicted to power and are at first unwilling and then simply unable to change themselves or the lands they rule over. The biblical story of the tyrannical Pharaoh, the plagues, the rebellions and finally the Exodus, are still being played out today in various renditions all across the Arab world.

In the last few years we have witnessed how profound and relevant this story is all over the Arab world and particularly in Egypt. And now in a symbolic show of solidarity, Egypt’s new President-Elect Mohamed Morsi has taken an oath of office right in the centre of Tahrir square, the epicenter of recent mass protests. He has vowed to be the voice of the people, he has promised to be their hands and their unbiased and unprejudiced representative.

I’m sure that Mohamed Morsi is well aware of the fact that the people of Egypt and the rest of the world will be watching his every move. All over the world, Egyptians young and old are looking to him to deliver on the promises he has so eloquently been making. His mandate is of mammoth proportions. Not only does he have to form a government but he must also find resolutions to a variety of burning issues that Egypt is yet to deal with.

So many questions arise. Will he accept restrictions on his power? Will he be the voice of the people who have elected him to office? Will he be the force that shakes the pillars of the state and catapults the country out of its present disarray? Will Egypt become the Islamized state that the Muslim Brotherhood had once envisioned? The questions remain unanswered, there are still lingering voices of skepticism and the future is still quite uncertain. Only time will tell.

There is no doubt that these are historic times for Egypt. Years from now little children will open their history books to read about the changes that swept through this desert land. The people have proved that they can move mountains. They have shown what collective will and fortitude can accomplish. And just as quickly as this breath of fresh air has brought relief to her millions, uncalled for military interference or another incompetent leader can lead to prolonged periods of civil war and unrest in Egypt.

Morsi’s free election is no doubt a monumental and significant milestone for the modern-day Pharaoh but his task is not an easy one. Egyptians may have successfully put years of persecution and unrest behind them, but it’s the future they need to cultivate carefully. Their fight for freedom is not over yet. In this confused political climate of our world, anything is possible…and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Uncategorized

R.I.P Trayvon Martin

In yet another case that continues to defy logic, surprise and anger the global community, a 17-year-old boy, Trayvon Martin, was killed last month in Florida, U.S.A when a neighborhood watch leader with an unregistered weapon shot the teenager to death after deeming him ‘suspicious looking.’  The young African-American boy, it was later found, was simply cutting through a gated community to make his way home.

This killing which is now mired in controversy continues to garner widespread media attention. The perpetrator, George Zimmerman is yet to be arrested and continues to enjoy his freedom. He claims that the shooting was in an act of self-defense. This is clearly another case where adrenalin and testosterone of a pseudo-cop overshadows all forms of logic and reason.

As the evidence continues to trickle in, one thing remains certain. Trayvon was killed for being black and ‘suspicious looking.’ Law enforcement officers, have clearly failed to investigate the case properly. I wonder if their reaction would be different if the boy killed had been Caucasian.

We all know that U.S big wigs claim this is America’s post-race era. Yet race plays such a significant role in the cases reported each successive year. Imagine the number of cases that go unsolved or worse still- unreported. In a country like the U.S that has such intense racial biases and lax laws on the acquisition of arms and weapons, is anyone really safe?

My heart goes out to Trayvon’s family. I cannot begin to fathom the sense of loss or deep-rooted pain they must be experiencing. For them, it’s not about race or about controversial politics. They’ve lost their son. For that alone they deserve justice. They deserve closure. They need to heal.

Through the darkness and negativity that surrounds this entire case, it is my hope that a light will shine through on issues that people are so uncomfortable discussing: race, stereotyping, violence and prejudices.

We claim our world has changed, we claim to be citizens of a global community, Dr King’s famous words still reverberate in our minds, and we were all overwhelmed when Barack Obama became president. But in moments like these, our faith is shaken. Have we really changed?

Uncategorized

Sydney Atkins is now friends with Sheikh Mohammed

I just discovered that Sheikh Mohammed has a Facebook page! Everybody else seems to have known all along but I just discovered it. He seems to be quite a tech savvy ruler, doesn’t he? Of course it’s more than likely that the page is being run on his behalf, by a group of dedicated minions who want to make the ruler seem approachable and with the times. But what a cool idea. The visionary that he is – Sheikh Mohammad has his finger of the pulse of everything modern…everything now!

I am not quite sure what to make of all this , but I’m certainly amused by the notion of the ruler of Dubai, opening up a facebook page, especially when the rumour mill is always abuzz telling us that facebook might be banned just like the host of other websites and that we’ll be forced to use proxy’s with funny names all over again.

I like his page now and even comment on his pictures and like his statuses, but I’m not so sure of the entire thing. I don’t doubt for a second that the page will be watched carefully with eagle eyes. Also the last thing I want is a group of officials reading MY facebook page and my silly updates and notifications – ‘Sydney Atkins just checked into Paradise with…’ can you imagine how that could be misinterpreted? Sheesh….the next thing I know…I’ll be loaded onto a cargo plane deported to India as a criminal!

But kudos to him for putting himself out there and allowing an entire country and people from all over the world the opportunity to poke him…albeit virtually of course!

Life Musings, Uncategorized

My Work-Life Balance

This afternoon I heard someone say…

“If you don’t put your life before your work you will never be happy.”

Come on! Life is hard – that’s a given. Work is tough and takes up a huge chunk of our time as well. But this idea of needing to separate work and life implies that your career is something you simply try to struggle through so that you can eventually go home and do what you really enjoy. What a terrible way to live.

When I decided to become a teacher, way back in my teens, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that- teaching is what I wanted to spend my life doing. I wholeheartedly believe that teaching is my purpose in life. I didn’t jump into teaching because of a lack of options, I am a teacher by choice and I know that I will make a difference in this world somewhere along the way. So isn’t my career a major component of my life? One, in my opinion, cannot take a backseat to another. I don’t want to choose one of two. I want a blended life.

More often than not things are crazy hectic. In our insatiable need to excel, we push the boundaries, work long hours, burn the midnight oil, carry work home and work around the clock. There are even plenty of times where tempers flare, tantrums are thrown, words are exchanged and burn out symptoms begin to raise little red flags. But doesn’t that happen in every other sphere in life? Isn’t that how people all over the world function, irrespective of what their line of work? Sure, we grumble and complain when things become stressful and yes some other careers would probably pay much more, but I truly believe that inspite of all of that pressure, one can still have a very fulfilling and wholesome life. One can still be happy.

Take me for example. The majority of week you can find me in front of the computer chatting with friends or family, watching TV, on Twitter or Facebook, reading a book, cooking, having dinner with friends, blogging and what not. I may not devote hours to these pursuits but the fact that I take time out to do something proves that I can take time out to live a little. I may have to send out some emails or finish up a pile of work before bed time but that doesn’t mean I can’t be happy.

The lines between work and life have been blurred for many many years. I have decided to embrace this fact and work on the best blend for my life. Whether this means working hours that I’m comfortable with or even if I have to work long hours to get the work done, I believe I can do whatever it takes, because this is a path that I chose for myself. I’ll work and read and tweet and blog and work some more and I will keep searching for this blended life, while everyone else continues to run in circles failing to achieve their so-called balance.

 

 

 

Life Musings, Uncategorized

Of Music, Melodies and Lyrics…

From as far back as I can remember, music has played such a significant role in my life. From the time I was about three, I was humming along to the tunes of Anne Murray, Bob Dylan, Abba, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, Boney M, Allan Jackson and Dolly Parton. As I grew up I learnt to appreciate melodies, the stories that played out as the songs stretched out, the rhythms and the sheer beauty of the creations.

For most people, music plays a social role. They like music when they’re young because it’s something they share with their friends, or because identifying with a particular type of music (and the fashion that goes with it) helps them to define who they are. When they get older, music becomes nostalgia, and they’ll keep listening to the same kind of music in order to relive the memories of being young and sharing that music with their friends and loved ones.

A change in one’s taste in music is only natural. We each go through phases where we experiment with different genres, different sounds and different artists. We seek new sensations and that’s fine, really. Stagnation I think would be terrible. However, my concern is that some of the most popular music today is built on commerce and clichés. It lacks soul! Let me give you an example. The song ‘Party in the USA’ by Miley Cyrus is an upbeat, teenybopper song that went straight to the top of the Billboard charts. While the song was very popular, it was also simplistic and did little to stir one’s emotions. Does it have staying power like say songs by Alicia Keys or Norah Jones or Joss Stone? Absolutely not!

Music is indefinable by words. It’s an outburst of the soul. It is not only something you hear but what you feel. It is something your soul can reach out and touch. And eventhough it originates from all over the world, the feelings it can evoke are the same no matter where you are on the globe.

So what has gone wrong with the music business? People will argue that more people are listening to music than ever before and through many more media than ever before. And they’re right; the music industry is a booming business. However, a lot of the music that comes out of it is, all show and no soul. It lacks heart. It lacks passion and does nothing to tug at ones emotions. It’s fast becoming about making something that you can just record, manufacture onto a CD and sell. That’s just how I feel.

I know that when I like a song, it’s mostly because some part of it sticks with me after I’ve heard it. And, part of this, is that it does something new, or it does something old with particular force and conviction. I can like something for being over-the-top and peppy in a pitch-perfect way or just being something I can relate to. The only thing is that there has to be something there.

There are different things to like about different types of music. I adore country music because the lyrics are so meaningful and can be identified with so easily. I do not like the music of Miley Cyrus because I find her computerized voice kind of annoying and her public persona even more so.

Don’t over think this too much, all I’m saying I this – the joy of music is that you can let it take you wherever you want to go. No matter what your taste is, music is your own experience. For me however, it’s been a while since I last heard a song that made me sit up in my seat or gave me wild goose bumps. You may have had a different experience. But you see, that is the beauty of artistic expression- people can continue to have whatever opinions they like. Love it or loathe it  but, as music evolves it will continue to be a significant part of our culture and our lives and it will keep garnering varied opinions.