Sunday, May 23

Boy play or boy dismay

 Image courtesy: Free thinker

A recent episode of Frontline aired this program about boys in Afghanistan. Apparently an ancient practice of Bacha Bazi has been brought into life again. It is a secret (it is an illegal act under the law in Afghanistan) that was never meant to be kept. This Frontline show is called "Dancing Boys of Afghanistan" and it chronicles the lives of poverty-stricken children, either abducted or lured using money, who dress up like women to dance in front of grown men and more often than not perform sexual acts. The boys usually start off at a very young age, around 10 or so- they get trained to sing and dance and when they are ready, they begin to entertain their masters and other people. A boy who does well is quite popular and in demand. There have been boys who have wanted out and well their only way out-getting killed.
It is only in the recent times that this issue has been getting attention, not as much as it should. It is complicated by the fact that government officials and military men also engage in such a preposterous act and amongst them have a boy toy accompany, is a matter of prestige and power.
As far as I am concerned, you do not put children in harm's way, does not matter where you come from. The perpetrators should pay and hopefully the law (I am guessing it is going to be some form of international effort as we all know how well the Afghan system is working) will catch up with them sooner than later.

Thursday, May 20

The Yacoubian Building

The Yacoubian Building: A Novel

- by Alaa Al Aswany, a dentist by profession. Be prepared to be angered and saddened by the portrayal of the characters' struggles.
The story follows the some of the people living in "The Yacoubian Building"- the building constructed in the art-deco style still exists in Egypt but the description that the author provides in the book is something of a wonderful classical European architecture. The story follows the residents of this building:
Taha-el-Shazli whose frustration at not getting through the police academy makes him vulnerable and eventually he joins the Islamist movement

Busayna, Taha's girlfriend, well ex-girlfriend, enters prostitution (well she has a day job too) after her father dies to take care of the family. She, to me seemed liked the only ray of hope in the entire book!

Hatim Rasheed, a reporter of a leading newspaper in Cairo and a homosexual. His story is quite an interesting one albeit very sad one too. I can only assume that the author has portrayed the life of homosexual people in Egypt as close to reality as possible and let me tell you- I do not like what I see.

Hagg Azzam, an old guy who enters the crooked world of politics- takes a young beautiful Souad as his second wife, of course secretly. He made her leave her son back in the village- that was the deal he made and she took it because the money and gifts were good and she could imagine a better life for both her and her son.

Zaki-el-Bey, an old flirt who had no qualms about womanizing- he would sleep with anything that looked remotely like a woman! But in the end, he does deliver another ray of hope in this forsaken land- I am sorry but I do not know what else to call it. I hope it is better now than when the book was set.

The author does a fantastic job of painting a broad picture of Egypt especailly Cairo. I was really moved by the daily struggles that people go through and somehow they did not look as horrid or sad as they should have been. They seem to carry on just fine...

Read more about this book here or here.


Thursday, May 6

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather

A Lost Lady

Thanks to our book club, I got to read my first ever Willa Cather. In a nutshell, I liked the way she played with her characters and all of it in simple, plain English- nothing fancy. She does a brilliant job of bringing out the emotions of her characters! A very interesting and a courageous lady, Willa Cather- she dressed like a man most of the times and most of her strongest relationships seems to have been with women. Her sexual identity apparently is one of contention- remember she was born late 1800's.

Anyway about the book which was originally published in 1923- it is the story of Marian Forrester and Capt Daniel Forrester told to us through the eyes of Niel Herbert. The story is set in a small yet rich railroad community of Sweet Water in Nebraska (this is an almost fictional place- Cather draws most of her inspiration from Red Cloud, Nebraska for the description of Sweet Water in the book but looks like there is also place called Sweet Water in Nebraska). It is story of the downfall of the town- the local elites losing it to the national big guns- the advent of capitalism. It is also the story of Marian Forrester, while she does seem lost after her husband's death, is she really "a lost lady"? Neil Herbert, the narrator, grows up loving Mrs. Forrester- most of all he admires her loyalty to her husband.

" Mrs. Forrester was the only woman he knew who wore earrings of which, they hung naturally against her thin, triangular cheeks"- says Neil in the book.

But as time passes by, he realizes that Mrs.Forrester was having an affair with Frank Ellinger and that she was not what he had imagined- she was a survivor!

"It was what he most held against Mrs Forrester: that she was not willing to immolate herself, like a widow of all these great men, and die with the pioneer period to which she belonged; that she preferred life on any terms. In the end, Niel went away without bidding her goodbye. He went away with weary contempt for her in his heart"

You can begin to wonder at the end- who was lost?

Judgement: Thumbs up for this novella and double thumbs up for Cather!

PS- You can check this or this to learn more about the author. Interestingly one of Fitzgerald's character in Great Gatsby is said to resemble Cather's lost lady!