Friday, 28 June 2013

A quote by that Froggie Prezz, Sarkozy

I have started reading Season of Rains - Africa in the World by Stephen Ellis. It is a slim volume and, it seems like it is going to be interesting commentary. 

My Facebook status today was an excerpt from the first chapter:

"'The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has never really entered history,' France's newly elected president, Nicolas Sarkozy, told an audience in Dakar on 26 July 2007 during his first trip to Africa after his inauguration. His speech provoked fury among intellectuals both in Africa and France. He continued: 'The African peasant, who for centuries has lived according to the season, whose ideal is to be in harmony with nature, has known only the eternal renewal of time via the endless repitition of the same actions and the same words. In this mentality, where everything always starts over again, there is no place for human adventure, nor for any idea of progress.'"

President Sarkozy and his speechwriters are probably not the only people who believe that Africa south of the Sahara never made any progress until Europeans proclaimed their formal rule over most of that vast area in the later nineteenth century and that even now Africans are reluctant to contemplate change and self-improvement. It is quite likely that many Europeans and Americans still hold fairly similar views, although few historians today would support views like Sarkozy's."

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The "new" Royal Hotel's coffee shop

The "new" Royal Hotel's coffee shop and restaurant are delectable. 

As we walked into the revolving doors, I felt transported into a shiny, new world. The coffee shop is stylish and boasts an impressive selection of desserts, croissants, sandwiches and drinks - all priced very reasonably. One can feel everyone's excitement at finally being able to experience the coffee shop in Monrovia : a daily ritual of the modern urban dweller. The restaurant on the 4th floor has a sushi and "European" menu. After you finish comparing it to the original Living Room and shake off the nostalgia and give the new place a chance, you realise that the new space has managed to create an ambiance that will soon get under everyone's skin. With its unique views of Monrovia, its comfy seating on the balcony and, its very elegant and demure dining space, Diablo is going to be THE place to splurge in town. The food is top-notch. And, not to mention, they had some great smooth jazz playing in the background. 

I'm constantly reminded of the stark contrasts one can experience in Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world, making a come back. I am always amused by the meeting of the different worlds in this teeny, tiny tropical West African country: aid worker types splurging in fancy restaurants, the extraction industry types, the Liberian returnees, the missionary types, bushy tailed youngsters coming to save the world, and the local business types (that includes me!). 

Monrovia is a unique melting pot. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

About to finally finish IQ84

I'm almost to the end of IQ84. I'm relishing these final few pages of this epic novel. So, instead of writing down my new favourites lines and passages, I just snapped a picture! In fact, I am so engrossed that I was reading and giving Kavita a bath at the same time. 

These few passages are from when Tamaru is interrogating and finally murdering the Bobblehead, Ushikawa. 

"'Cold or Not, God is Present'" he intoned, quietly, once more."

Shakespeare said it best," Tamaru said quietly as he gazed at that lumpish, misshapen head. "Something along these lines: if we die today, we do not have to die tomorrow, so let us look to the best in each other."

I love the detours in this novel. Almost all the characters in this novel make highly detailed and rather intellectual references to music (Janaìcek's symphony), short stories (one about a Cat Town), personal histories (like Tamaru describing his time at an orphanage and a boy who made rat sculptures), or Jung making an intricate stone house and inscribing it with a mysterious phrase, and so on.   Come to think of it, I think my favourite detours are those made by Tamaru. He is a bodyguard but his intellectual wealth is quite impressive. 

These detours are what makes this fantastical novel so rich. It is almost like discussing life in general - while we try to grapple with its mysteries or illogical or unfair twists, we try to understand them by referring to literature, art, and philosophy. While things are actually happening quite fast, these philosophical lapses bring the madness to a halt for a while.

You know how you never want a book to end? That is exactly how I am feeling right now! 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Duckworth-Lewis Method

Haresh comes down after 2 hours of playing chess on the terrace with the University of Liberia champion. "Did you win?" I asked. "Yes, I won!" he beamed. Of course, during the post-game dissection, he revealed he lost the first 3 games. Apparently, in a chess championship, whoever wins the last game is the champion. I guess he used the Duckworth-Lewis method to figure that out.

You can also use the Duckworth-Lewis method to settle Remote Wars. When one party wants to watch sports and the other movies, the best way to diffuse the Remote Wars is to put on the news channel. It is possibly the most neutral territory between the two different camps. Often times, news channels devote some time to sports news and, all good news channels boast of a movies programme. For instance, BBC has Talking Movies and Al Jazeera has The Fabulous Picture Show. 

So, yes, even though, the Duckworth–Lewis method (D/L method) is a mathematical formulation designed to calculate the target score for the team batting second in a limited overs match interrupted by weather or other circumstances in that pretentious unmanly game that is cricket, it may be applied to any pretentious aspect of your life

Morning Walks

The newness of everything that is at 6 AM

I'm really enjoying the morning exercise and, even more than that, the newness of everything that is at 6 AM. One's senses are quite alive at that time. As I walked to Benson hill, I could smell perfume lingering mid air, long after who ever it was had walked past. 

There are children who go down Benson Hill to throw away trash in the dumpster at the bottom of the hill. 

I see little girls walk down the hill, in their school uniforms, who linger for a few minutes to watch me huffing and puffing. 

There is a little boy who sits on the pavement on the top of the hill on the side of the Masonic Lodge observing with great interest the boys who are seriously training across the road. 

There are the women who are sweeping the road. I say hello to them whenever I see them, thanking them for cleaning the street. 

And, of course, there is the queue of visa applicants patiently waiting for the US Embassy open its doors for the first appointments of the morning. 

Speaking of, I noticed a mother with 2 toddlers asking for the address of the new US Embassy by the road block. I told the very smartly dressed lady to follow me as I was going there. I actually told her to take her time and, I would be briskly walking. I realised that without even working up a sweat, holding one of her little ones on her hip, she was keeping up with me and making small talk! 

It amuses me to no end that everyone is so fit! 

This post has some pictures I took of the old buildings at the bottom of the hill. They are quite magnificent. If I had lots of money, I'd buy them up and renovate them. One would be a boutique hotel. One an art gallery. Another a coffee shop. 

Meanwhile, I can take more time out to take some photographs of other old buildings in central Monrovia. I hope they eventually are preserved for future generations. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Click! Post! Share!

The ability to take pictures with a digital camera or your ordinary mobile phone and, then to be able to instantaneously share them with the wider world via so many different mediums is truly re-defining communication.

Every single moment of our lives can be captured and, shared with everyone we know and beyond. That is thanks to social media like Facebook. I constantly see my 'Friends' sharing pictures of what is going on with them on a average, daily and instant basis! What are they eating for lunch and where? Bam! A picture of their salad taken at a supposedly artistic angle, Instagrammed, and uploaded immediately. Everyone is 'Liking' it! What'd they do on holiday? You can see the whole trip recorded in style. What do you see today while walking down the street? Click and post! Did you just see some weird bug crawling across your desk? Take a picture! Did your baby just do something cute? Click and post. Is the view from your window especially dreamy? Take a picture. Do you think your feet are beautiful? Take a picture and make it your profile picture. Are you tired of your profile picture? Pose and take a picture and replace your older profile. Do you feel like showing off your new outfit? Pout and pose. 

Capturing the moment is one thing. There is also the creative captioning. Everyone wants to be clever and or really gushy mushy. 

I am not disparaging any aspect of social media: be it the spontaneity or the amateurish photography. I certainly used to make fun of people who took such bad photographs and their content until I started doing it myself. I used to think people were weird for wanting to photograph every single moment of their boring lives but lo and behold, here I am posting pictures on Facebook and trying to update my blog every day.  

I have whole heartedly embraced Facebook and, love updating it with personal, business and random stuff. What I do with my personal photographs is customise who is able to view them. So, for example, I have an entire album of Kavita's pictures but these can be viewed only by a select few of my friends and family instead of my whole list of 600+ contacts on Facebook. My other every day photographs of my life in Monrovia is shared with everyone.

What I love about being able to instantly capture an image is its powerful potential to convey information. There is nothing banal or useless about what you are choosing to share. You are trying to convey a place, a time and even a mood. You can caption it and, record life. It is pretty extraordinary. Where a few years ago, photography was quite an expensive hobby, now everyone can do it! We can all be photographers, capture life and record moments. 

I often take lots of pictures of my every day life and, if there's a good one, I post it on Facebook with a relatively brief caption. But I find myself wanting to write even more and, then, I decide to blog about it. The blog allows me to talk about something at length. 

I experiment with my photography all the time, sometimes using a camera or a phone. I play with the edit tools on Preview or iPhoto before uploading photos. And of course, I love to talk about the image. 

I hope to get a more powerful camera eventually and, really experiment with my photography. Meanwhile, let's continue to click, post and share. 

Sweet Bendu

Bendu with her daughter, Mercy, and son, Lamin.
As I was skipping and hopping back home after my morning work out this week, I passed by Bendu on Randall Street as usual and, ordered some fresh cakes for my office staff. She told me it was her birthday and, I hugged her in happiness.

Bendu has been my friend for years: her little tea shop is situated right below Wesley's former office. I used to merely pass by her and utter a cursory "hello." After Wesley's death, I really got to know her. When I had just returned to Monrovia after news of his murder, I was up there in Wesley's office, trying to organise his funeral and, had already half decided to try my hand at running an IT company. She used to send me tea and coke. 

Our friendship deepened over time and, I used to escape to her shop for a coke and a chat. She would refuse to take money for anything! I would sit with her, sip coke, and ask her "How's business?" And she would ask me the same. 

I do not do it as much as before but it was fun to watch Randall Street go by. It gave me a teeny tiny peek into life in Monrovia. There is a law firm right next to her building and, it was interesting to see a lawyer come by her place, buy a $ 25 LD soft drink and a $ 10 LD sweet bread. And, that was lunch! There were the cigarette smokers who would buy singles for $ 10 LD.  

I would also observe the various traders selling all kinds of goods from baskets balanced on their heads or on their arms: perfumes, rat poison, medicines, toiletries, shoes, or hand towels. Then there are the fellows who go around painting toe and finger nails! 

As Bendu and many other small businesses will explain to you, business slows down in the rainy season quite a bit. So, while I enjoy the much cooler temperatures, every day life is more of a struggle for ordinary Liberians. Cold water and soft drinks do not sell so much. With the kind of torrential rain we get here in Liberia combined with a lack of public transportation and congested roads, going to and fro is even more of a nightmare. Structures in poorer communities often get washed away. 

She's unconditionally supported me during my business stresses, including when 4 staff committed mutiny and tried to take me to the Ministry of Labour. In fact, a much older friend of mine, took my staff's side and, tried to accommodate their nonsensical behaviour. It is nice to  have a friend who supports you. 

Another thing I really love about our relationship is how if I am ever going out of country, Bendu sends me a bucket of sweets to take as gifts for family and friends. She makes this tasty peanut brittle and sesame seed brittle which make for delicious tea time snacks. 

Right now Bendu's tea shop is wedged in an alley between two buildings. The shop is pretty much exposed to the elements, especially in the rainy season. I have offered her to help her with rent if she finds a suitable shop. Until then, I'm hoping to help her spruce up this space itself. So, watch this space until then. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Morning Exercise

Three wrinkly old men overtook me this morning, two of them joggers and one a brisk walker like me.

"Don't be disheartened," I said to myself. "You're still recovering from surgery."

Went on to have a great work out this morning and, mingled with the morning exercise crowd.

This one fellow was whizzing up and down the hill and, would break it to do furious one-arm push ups. When I asked him whether he was training for the marathon, he said, "Nah, I participated last year but this year, I ain't feeling so well." My head reeled from his casual remark.

I also saw another serious guy, buff as hell, and doing yoga-like stretches with a serene look on his face. Yes, I was oogling 

Sunday, 2 June 2013


Ami posted this picture on Facebook:

She has put the pictures of her mother, herself, little Komal Kavita and myself together. It shows the four generations together. 

Look forward to visiting Islamabad soon so Ami can finally see Komal Kavita. 

The suffragettes

I recently read an article on The Guardian on the inspiring suffragettes: "Nine Inspiring Lessons the Suffragettes Can Teach Feminists Today."

I read the article with enthusiasm, amazement and utter awe. I don't even remember reading about the suffragettes since school. We only make passing reference to the heroic efforts of women in the Western world who fought for equal rights these days. We responded in shock to the rather Taliban-like views spewed by the Republicans during these recent US elections, especially regarding rape and abortion. We went around saying, "But look at what was achieved by the suffragettes in the US and Europe and, look how far back society has gone back. 

It good and rather necessary to read in detail about the utter bravery of these women. 

I look forward to teaching my daughter about these heroines as she grows up. 

These are my favourite bits:
"There's often tension today between those who deliver feminism with humour and those who prefer unfiltered anger – the suffragettes showed that both are necessary." 
"In a male-dominated society, women are often brought up to identify with men, to see men's views and rights as paramount, and so it's not surprising that many women oppose their own liberation. In the suffrage era the most prominent was Queen Victoria, who once wrote a letter stating she was "anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad wicked folly of 'Woman's Rights', with all its attendant horrors, on which [my] poor sex is bent". 
"Their detractors were often very powerful. Winston Churchill described the militant movement as a "copious fountain of mendacity", while Arthur Conan Doyle opted for "female hooligans". The only useful response was to take strength from the insults. The current deputy editor of the New Statesman, Helen Lewis, has written that today "the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism", which mirrors Rebecca West's reflections on events of a century ago. "The real force that made the suffrage movement was the quality of the opposition," wrote West. "Women, listening to anti-suffrage speeches, for the first time knew what many men really thought of them."
 "Nothing has done more to retard the progress of the human race than the exaltation of submission into a high and noble virtue," he wrote. "It may often be expedient to submit; it may even sometimes be morally right to do so in order to avoid a greater evil; but submission is not inherently beautiful – it is generally cowardly and frequently morally wrong."