Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Book Review: The Poison Tree - Planted and Grown in Egypt

A friend sent me the link to this yesterday. The book is legally donwloadable for free from Marwa Rakha's own website. While currently available in English, she promises that the Arabic translation too will soon be online.

The book is written in a semi disjointed "part blog-part diary-part letter" fashion and someone who is used to a structured flow when reading, may start out feeling a bit disconcerted. But if you persevere you can gain some insights into Egytian culture, sexuality, morality and society. The unifying theme of the book revolves around gender stereotypes, dating and marriage and how men and women are held to different standards in society. While this may be true across the world, it is more pronounced in Egypt.

I often wondered how so many Egyptian friends and acquaintances kept ending up divorced within barely a year or two of marriage, sometimes with new born kids who were not even a year old. Some have ended up remarrying men who had been unfaithful to them during their first attempt at marriage. This being a very sensitive and private matter, I have never felt comfortable enough to actually ask them the question directly. But Marwa's book has shed some light on at least some of the reasons, which seem to lie in Social Conditioning.

There were parts that I skipped over, but there were also parts that are really insightful.

This book is worth reading if you are interested in human behavior or are visiting Egypt and would like to know a little more about people you will encounter.

But, I would highly recommend the book to any non-Egyptian girl/woman/lady planning to get herself an Egyptian boyfriend or Egyptian husband. Most Egyptian men think and operate differently from "Western" men and its important for a female to know what she is getting herself into before she gets in too deep.

While the book may also be guilty of stereotyping men and women, there are a lot of grains of truth behind the characterisations.

The book could be classified as chick-lit, but there is a lot you can begin to understand about Egyptian society and how it operates through the eyes of a Single Independent Woman

If you would prefer to read the book as a paperback or on kindle, they are both available via Amazon.

Also published on desicritics.org

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Harassment Of Women On Cairo Streets

Warning: While most of my posts are General Audience, this post has some material that you may not want young children reading.

Sexual Harassment on the streets of Cairo is a common topic that comes up whenever a couple of women here in Egypt meet up, online or in someone's home.

There are those that say that it isnt really bad, incidents of rape are so low compared to the US, what's the harm in a little cat calling? The problem is that if you ignore the cat calling, it then turns to men masturbating at the sight of a women (I've had friends who said they saw their taxi drivers masturbating with one hand while driving with the other, simply because a foreign looking woman got into the back seat of their car), groping (which happens in a lot of cases) and could eventually by progression lead to rape if this malaise is not stopped in its tracks.

I've posted before, about Sexual Harassment but its mostly been newspaper articles or other people's experiences. Few women choose to detail their own humiliation for dissection to the world (its a different matter between close friends who understand and have gone through the same - that is in a way, slightly therapeautic)

When I last traveled to Dubai in March, most papers were filled with the news of 2 construction worker immigrants who were facing court proceedings for cat calling/ whistling at a South East Asian maid.

Points to be noted about Dubai.
1. Women (foreigners/expats) here cover far less than the majority of women in Egypt. (think tank tops and shorts to the maximum, but off shoulder, backless, low necklines are pretty common too)
2. This is a muslim majority country and local Emirati women are predominantly dressed in the black abaya type hijab. Fully covered black robes and heads/hair covered.
3. There is a high number of single men - men who have left their wives behind in home countries because they cannot afford to bring them over when they are here on long work contracts/ unmarried men.
4. There is a large population of hired labour living in what would be considered as Below Poverty Line status in the rest of the world.

All of these have been used as excuses to brush away sexual harassment in Egypt, yet Sexual harassment in Dubai overall is not even 0.1% of what "I" face in Egypt on a daily basis.

Why? Mainly because authorities take action about any such complaint. The law is tough and it is applied without fail. No excuses.

I'm not saying that everything about Dubai culture is perfect or everything about Egypt is imperfect (I've lived in Egypt for 3 years) but harassment on the roads makes me tend to avoid going out unless absolutely necessary or in a large group of friends. I know a lot of expat women in Egypt who are here on husbands postings, who do not visit anywhere that is not an expat dominated location for fear of being assaulted. While such fears may not be justified, it is a real feeling that these women live with daily.

A closer look at my wardrobe, shows me much higher necks and back lines than 3 years ago. Sleeves below the elbows, loose fitting semi-shapeless clothes. Visiting Lebanon and Dubai makes me realise how much I have changed my own style of dressing to suit this country. (Not that I ever wore plunging necklines to work in India, but they didnt all end above my collar bone either) Changing the way I dress, was just one of the adaptations to blend into the culture and surroundings in Egypt.

My husband and I both love traveling around the country/city and discovering hidden gems of cultural, architectural and historical interest which takes us into sometimes weird areas. Our driver/translator despairs when 'Madame' wants to visit Souk al Gumma (The second-hand Friday market) and other such areas, which he tells me even his mother and sister who have lived in Cairo all their lives, avoid.

But a part of the charm and beauty of living in another country is to explore its nooks and crannies. Unfortunately in Egypt, exploration into some of these nooks and crannies brings a lot of unwanted attention and in many cases, especially if my husband isnt with me, harassment both verbal and sometimes physical. So one has to be extra careful about where one goes, with whom one goes and what kind of clothes one is wearing.

Fortunately, not being cursed with blond hair, white skin and blue eyes, the harassment that I face is less than those who look "foreign" even if they are conservatively dressed.

Yes, making a scene helps and you don't need to speak in Arabic. I remember generally strolling around the pyramids alone when my husband went inside one of them (I'm claustrophobic and chose to not go in) one of those camel ride guys was persistently trying to get my attention. As is the case with most touts in the pyramids area (I have visited over 25 times in the last 3 years) I continued to ignore him, as though I couldn't understand him and refused to make eye contact. (this may seem rude, but works in most cases of persistent touts) Usually after 3-4 tries they leave me alone. This guy actually touched my hand and attempted to give me the riding whip/stick for the camel. While his gesture was not sexual, he was still "touching" me without my permission and when I had given him absolutely no reason to believe I was interested.

In Egypt, Egyptian women will never permit a strange man to ever touch them, so why do they think it is ok with tourists/foreigners? Anyhow I screamed at him in English "How dare you touch me, what do you think of yourself, what gives you the right to even touch me?" Nothing abusive, nothing indecent. In English and loudly. It was enough to make the people around stop and look and stare at the man. There was nothing confrontational about my attitude. I just made a noise to attract the attention of other people around to what was clearly something this camel guy should not have been doing. He immediately apologised and slunk away. The incident shocked him (I train people in NLP and Body language, so I KNOW he was shocked) and I doubt he will be touching any women any time soon.

But why do foreign women coming to/visiting Egypt allow these men to touch them, hand on shoulders, holding hands (not shaking hands) People whom they have just met in a shop, not people they know. They would not allow men in their home country to impose on their personal space this way, but yet some of them are perceivably ok when it happens to them in a new country. Any theories?

Point to be noted. Most of the harassment, my friends & I have faced, has been in Cairo. Men in Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria (unless during the Cairene summer invasion), Dahab, Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada, Abu Simbel, Bahariyya, Siwa, Sinai have been way more respectful of women.

Published on desicritics.org

Monday, 15 June 2009

Monday, 8 June 2009

Obama in Cairo

I wanted to write about it the moment I started to hear him speak, but life has an irritating habit of getting in the way. What is normal after such intereference by life, is that I shelve the idea. But this particular event is just too important to be lightly tossed aside in my "expired" folder.

The fact that a US President would be visiting a "Muslim Majority" Country before Israel, was in itself a huge departure in recent practice. There was speculation as to where he would speak from. Options ranged from Al Azhar Mosque (which I personally think would have been an excellent, yet impractical location) to Sharm el Sheikh. He settled on Cairo University.

The whole city of Cairo virtually came to a standstill on June 4th. Rumors abounded of 10,000+ snipers, 20,000 troops coming in on their own helicopters from the US and other such fantastic numbers were bandied about.

Passes to the event were carefully distributed by the American Embassy from what I gathered, to ensure an appropriate balance of profiles. 15 students from each major university were invited.

The Government declared a holiday for all its offices. A lot of Universities postponed exams to cope with this extra holiday. A number of private companies too decided to give employees the day off, fearing that they may be stuck in one of the road clearance drives. People who had parked their cars in certain areas along the route, were told to remove them the day before the President was due to arrive. (Now if we can only get similar celebrities to visit different parts of Cairo each day, we may be able to get those broken down heaps that masquerade as cars, that take up precious parking space to get towed away - How's that as a long term solution to Cairo's parking woes?)

But I digress. Coming back to the speech.

It was absolutely brilliant. There was no fault that an unvested interest could find in that speech except perhaps for him mis-pronouncing hijab and Al Azhar. But given the content and message, those are errors that can be easily overlooked.

The greatest strength of his speech was that he identified with his audience on a personal level. Compared to his predecessor whose speech writers made assume a superior and supercillious tone, Obama came across as "one of us". He drew attention to his Indonesian and Chicago life experiences amongst muslim communities.

He gave them praise where it was due, for their innovations in printing, algebra, architecture and then came to his main point. That he would fight negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they may appear. A statement that was greeted with loud applause, that almost died down with his following sentence "But the same principle should apply to Muslim stereotypes of America" This did not seem to be what the crowd wanted to hear. Until then, Obama had seemed to be a cheerleader for the Muslim world, but this statement showed that he wasn't going to unilaterally support the Muslim world. There was going to have to be some give and take.

Once the audience reconciled themselves to this idea, things improved again.

I will not get into the rest of the content of his speech, as it has been discussed ad nauseum on multiple fora.

It was a wonderful bit of speech writing to include references from the Torah, the Bible and the Quran. When he said "Jerusalem - is a place for all the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully", I had goosebumps and I know many Americans who have made Egypt their home, who were moved to tears by this sentence.

His body language was firm yet conveyed his openness to change. He came across as determined while engaging the public through eye contact and clear speech. Again, notable when compared with the last guy to hold his post.

He changed the terminology from the aggressive posturing of the previous government to one based on mutual understanding and dialogue. Instead of general nonsensical terms like "War on terror", he firmly stated that "America is not at War with Islam"

Another firm departure from previous policy was when he clearly stated "America does not presume to know what is best for everyone" If he can follow through on this and not have American Foreign policy and their idea of Democracy being stuffed down the throats of unwilling citizens of countries that aren't ready for the American idea of Democracy, it will go a long way in building bridges that had seemed burned and irrepairable a year ago.

The speech was transmitted live on Facebook and was texted as sms in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. Thus upholding his campaign strategies of involving the younger generations by utilising media more familiar and accessible to them. It has also been uploaded onto Youtube.


The reaction to his speech by most locals that I know, has been "Let's wait and watch" "We want to see actions, not words" This guy is talking about change in policy, so maybe we can stop suspcecting the littlest sneeze. But to start trusting the Americans, we need to see concrete proof. We need to see steps being taken in the right direction. Words will not be enough.

It is undeniable that the US has a large role to play in World Politics. We can only hope and pray that instead of mindless wars and Nuclear arms races, we can at least have dialogue and hope for a future of peace.

In Obama's Words "All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings"

Also Published on desicritics.org

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

FlyDubai, Dubai's First Low Cost Carrier Starts Operations

Flydubai, Dubai’s first low-cost airline began its commercial operations on June 1st.

The inaugural flight took off from Dubai International’s Terminal 2 at 10:30 bound for Beirut.

FlyDubai is currently flying to Beirut and Amman. They will start flights to Damascus and Alexandria next week and plan to expand rapidly to countries in the Middle East, GCC and India. The evenutal plan as stated on their website is to extend to Iran, Eastern Europe and North & East Africa.

Fares are really low. For eg there is currently a flight from Alexandria to Dubai for 825(LE) Egyptian pounds. When I checked a week ago. A return flight between Cairo and Dubai was roughly costing about 3000LE on Emirates airlines and 2100LE on Egypt Air.

How does flydubai keep its fares low?
1. The tickets are one way tickets for one person, priced on a system based on availability, demand, time of day etc etc. Quoted prices include all applicable taxes. Prices will be quoted in the currency of the country of departure of the flight
2. You pay to change: If for some reason, you need to change your flight, you pay 100dhs per ticket plus the price difference from your original ticket if upwards and get a voucher refunded to you if the price moves downwards. You do have to pay the 100dhs charge per ticket, no matter what the scenario. (There are "free to change" tickets too, but these are normally priced higher than "pay to change")
3. Changes or cancellations can only be carried out 24 hours prior to the flight. Any later than that, you lose the whole amount.
4. Children above the age of 2, pay full fare.
5. If traveling with a child below the age of 2, there is a service charge of 50dhs plus taxes.
6. Fares are lower if you book from the website. A service charge is levied if you book via their dedicated call center (35dhs) or through an agent.
7. The quoted fare allows you upto 10kilos of hand baggage. You have to pay higher for more luggage. If you pre book your extra luggage on the website, it will be cheaper than just arriving at the airport and then paying for the luggage.
For eg: Your 1st piece of checked in baggage (upto 32 kilos) if pre booked online will cost 40dhs, but if you do it at the airport, it will cost you 150 dhs. The 2nd piece will cost 100 and 150 respectively.
8. If you want to select your seat, you pay 5dhs.
9. If you want a seat with extra legroom, it is 50 dhs.
10. A boarding pass is issued as soon as you book your ticket.

In these times of Recession, this airline could really take off, if they find a large enough market segment.

As I see it, business and holiday travelers without much luggage could find this airline cheaper than its competitors.

For those people I have often seen in the Dubai airport ahead of me, trying to check in 5-7 suitcases each on Egypt Air flights back to Cairo while trying to semi-conceal another 4-6 pieces of hand luggage, this would not be an economical choice.

Nor would it work for people who travel to Dubai with the primary purpose of shopping. I have seen so many piles of new clothes and childrens toys unceremoniously dumped in heaps at Dubai's airport, because paying the excess baggage fee on Emirates airlines does not make those clothes and toys worth it. People seem to find it cheaper to just dump the stuff (some with tags not yet removed) than pay the excess baggae fee. These people aren't going to be travely FlyDubai any time soon.

This will work for people who just carry their laptop and a change of clothes or two. Its also just 40dhs more for 1 piece of checked in baggae provided you book it online at the time of booking your ticket. So this option will work for a weeks long travel.

I wonder if the airline allows toiletries in hand luggage with the above restrictions that they have placed. If they dont, it would be cheaper to buy and discard toiletries on arrival than pay 100dhs to check it in.

They must have researched their pricing before coming out with this strategy. It will be interesting to see how full their flights go. There is a large market, given that it is still impossible to get a ticket on a Thursday evening Emirates flight from Dubai to Cairo, if you haven't booked well in advance.

You can book tickets directly on their site:
http://flydubai.com/


Also Published on desicritics.org

Monday, 13 April 2009

Weekend Breaks from Cairo

Living/working in Cairo can be an extremely stressful experience. Weekend breaks with family and friends are an ideal way to de-stress and Egypt has plenty of options for every kind of weekend break, no matter what your interests are, or how hot or cold the weather is. This list is equally useful for travelers to Egypt who are trying to budget their time around the country.

If relaxing on a beach with a book or building a sand castle is your idea of a holiday, you can choose from a range of options. Ain Sukhna is the closest beach retreat from Cairo. If you opt for Alexandria, you can also catch up on some Greek history while visiting the catacombs, the Roman Theater and the museum. The Bibliotheca Alexandria is definitely worth a visit and the kids may love the planetarium.

Marsa Matrouh is a bit of a drive away, but has the calmest lagoons and softest sand of all the beaches that I have visited in Egypt. Halt midway, at the International memorials in Alamein where soldiers from all over the world who died here during World War II are buried.

If you have even the slightest interest in diving and snorkeling, Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Hurghada, Nuweiba and Taba offer a range of diving spots of varying difficulties. There are PADI institutes at these areas which can train and certify you for dives. But do check their credentials and equipment before entrusting your life in their hands. While these spots may seem a bit of a distance from Cairo, you can easily drive there Thursday evening and be back by Saturday evening. Some of these towns have their own airport and you have the option of catching a domestic flight from Cairo.

Whether you are a history buff or not, you cannot leave Egypt without doing the mandatory Luxor-Aswan Nile cruise. There are 3, 4 and 7 day options to this cruise and cruise ships to fit a variety of budgets. Normally all meals, entry tickets, transport and guide fees are included in the package and this is a convenient way to visit all the main Pharaonic monuments in Egypt

If sailing is not your thing, but you still want to catch up on some history, then a 2 day trip to Luxor (the largest open air museum in the world) is a wonderful appetizer. Spend one day on each bank. The East Bank has the must-visit Karnak Temple and Luxor temple. The Luxor museum is exceptional: uncluttered, well lit and with short printed descriptions to accompany most of the major pieces, it is easy to navigate on your own.

On the West Bank you can choose between the Valley of the Kings, Queens, Nobles or Workmen and visit underground tombs that are beautifully decorated. Deir el Bahri (Hatchepsuts Temple) is a popular attraction as are the Ramesseum and Medinat Habu.

If you have an extra day free, you may like to make the trip to Abydos and Dendera where the reliefs and construction are in much better condition than those in Luxor.

There are direct flights from Cairo to Abu Simbel, but in case they are booked, you can fly to Aswan and then travel by the 4am or 11am convoys. The original temple itself was a marvel, but combined with the international relocation effort to higher ground, it makes the very existence of these temples nothing short of a miracle.

If you would like to get back in touch with nature, then desert camping is an option that you could explore. Egypt has 5 Oases in the Western Desert: Bahariyya, Farafra, Dakhla, Kharga and Siwa. Follow basic precautions when offroading or camping in the desert. Always travel in more than one car. Have someone familiar with the desert in your group. It is very easy to get disoriented when you can see the horizon 360 degrees around you. Carry enough fuel, food and water.

Having a good guide to the desert, will make the difference between you enjoying your camping trip and wanting to return again and again. Sleeping in a 5 star can never be compared to sleeping under a million stars with the occasional shooting star or comet.

If a quick day trip to an oasis is all you have time for, then Fayoum is the place for you. Bird Watchers will revel in the multitude of birds which hover around Lake Qaroun. Fayoum also has a number of hotels and eco lodges, if you would like to spend the night. The water wheels, ancient Pharonic temples and pre-historic fossils at Wadi Hitan are just some of the sites you can visit at this oasis.

The Sinai Plateau offers hiking and trekking opportunities aplenty no matter what difficulty and stamina level you are looking for. From the colored canyon to Gebel Musa.

Towns like Port Said, Suez, Damietta and Rosetta are great options for picnics from Cairo if all you have is one day off each week.

If you are interested in Monasticism and Coptic History, the monasteries of Upper Egypt and Wadi Natrun are worth a visit. While it may be more difficult to organise permits to visit Upper Egypt on your own, Wadi Natrun is a day trip from Cairo. Just be sure that you don’t visit during one of the many fasts in the Coptic calendar, otherwise you may just find everything closed.

Egypt offers a wealth of travel opportunities for every kind of traveler. There are tour agents who can manage every aspect of your travel, so you don’t have to worry about anything. With a little planning, you can ensure that you recharge your batteries in different locations regularly, to help you face the coming week in a better frame of mind.

Published on desicritics.org

Oasis - Weekend Breaks from Cairo





Saturday, 4 April 2009

My Favorite Time Outs in Cairo

Visiting Cairo and want to see something other than just the Pyramids- museum - Citadel tourist route?

Here are some ideas for Cairo which are slightly off the beaten path. Places to visit, places to shop at and places to eat.

Take a walk through Al Azhar Park. You will be surprised to find such a vast green oasis in the midst of the madness that is Cairo. Catch the sunset that is heralded by the calls from the muezzin from multiple surrounding mosques. At just 5Le entry, this is great value for money. If you would like to jazz it up a bit, there is a wonderful restaurant on the premises that you can sit at to catch the sunset and a wonderful dinner surrounded by the twinkling lights in the distance of the multiple monuments around the area.

Climb the gate/minarets of Bab Zuwayla. This is one of the three surviving main gates of the Khan el Khalili and the only one that can be legally accessed. The view from the top of the gate is marvelous and for the more adventurous, both the minarets can also be climbed. It is easier to access the pinnacle, in the minaret on the left (when facing the tent makers street). Entry is just 10Le but the view is worth much more than that; and if you are lucky, you may be the only people on this edifice.

Catch a Sufi Performance at the Wikalat al Ghuri. This is a free performance at 8pm every Wednesday and Saturday. The performance here is more devotional and less commercial than those on the Nile cruises and can transport you into a mystical world. Just watching the whirling dervishes can put you into a trance. (Turn right after accessing the street adjoining Al Azhar Mosque in Khan el Khalili) Go early for good seats.

Sakiat El Sawy and Makan are 2 other places to catch a performance. While the former has different performers at different locations within their compact premises, the latter has traditional Egyptian and African performances every Wednesday at 8pm.

By now, the weather should have improved enough to take a picnic basket on a felucca. Hire a felucca on the strip adjoining the Grand Hyatt hotel. They charge around 50Le per hour (if you bargain hard) plus tips. The charge is for the felucca itself, no matter how many people get on board, so it’s a great option for family outings too.

If you want a more luxurious option then you may want to take a Nile Cruise aboard the fancier cruisers. These are available as sunset cruises or dinner cruises. Our personal favorite is the Golden Pharaoh (opposite Four Seasons, Giza). They offer open buffets and 3 course meals served at your seat. Golden Pharaoh also allows you to opt for an Indian menu if you book at least a day in advance. This works out to approximately 200Le per person with meals included.

For a truly extraordinary experience, I would highly recommend a meal at the Revolving Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt. The food is not outrageously priced. This is one of the 2 locations within the hotel where alcohol is still being served. The ambience, food, service and view all combine to make this one of the most wonderful places to enjoy a leisurely dinner in the city.

Christo’s is a lovely sea food eatery opposite the Mena House Oberoi. They offer a wonderful sea food spread (where you choose your sea food and tell them how you would like it cooked) during dinner. The reason, we keep going back here is not just for the food but the wonderful color bathed view of the pyramids while the Sound and Light show is on. Do try their salads and sea food soup too.

Sapporo at the Sheraton (opposite the Opera House) offers a special kind of dinner theater. The Master Chefs prepare Teppenyaki at your table and watching them at work is to view poetry in motion. They offer combinations of meats and seafood and can customize the seasonings to your taste.

For a less pricey meal but one with ambience, chose one of the many eateries on the stationary boats in Zamalek for lunch. They are reasonably quiet at this time and you can gaze at the Nile as she flows past in her eternal journey to join the sea. The Fish Market, TGIF, Chillis, Maharani. . . You have a choice of cuisine and budgets among these boats.

The various bookstores in town are an interesting place to catch up on the latest in the literary world and enjoy some peace and quiet in serene surroundings. Some bookshops have cafes attached where you can sip a cup of coffee while perusing your latest purchases. Diwan has opened at many more locations outside of Zamalek. Kotob Khan on Lasilky road and The BookSpot on Road 9 in Maadi are 2 other locations which offer extremely friendly and non obtrusive service. The AUC bookstores offer a great variety of English books on Egypt that make for great gifts.

Other places that offer unusual gifts while contributing to a worthy cause, include Tukul Crafts at the All Saints Church in Zamalek (products created by prison inmates, Sudanese refugees and other disadvantaged groups), the Fair Trade Center on Yehia Ibrahim street in Zamalek (where the artisans are given fair prices for their creations), Touch Her World Inc (017 280 0756 - products made by young Egyptian women seeking self sufficiency)

Published on desicritics.org

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Book Review Comdex : Computer Course Kit - Windows Vista with Office 2007

The Comdex - Computer Course Kit - Windows Vista with Office 2007 written by Vikas Gupta costs 229INR with the CD. Vikas Gupta has earlier co-authored books for Wiley, McGraw Hill and IDG.

This book, comes with a CD Training kit and the book aims to help you master Windows Vista, Internet, MS Word, MS Excel, MS Access and MS Powerpoint.

The book is developed with the premise that the qualification of the person using the book is "ability to read" hence it is extremely simple, straight forward and easy to follow, with step by step instructions accompanied by appropriate illustrations.

The book provides explanations, with screen print outs to demonstrate the described functions. The CD provides an audio video demo and a self practice mode.

The book starts out with the first 24 pages outlining the types of computers, the hardware units, and the basics of software and networks which is an excellent preface for someone not well versed with computers. This took me back to our ITC (Introduction to Computers) course, but this book was much simpler.

At times the language in the book dips a bit into the formal, flowery, government office kind of English, but it soon recovers and gets back to the simplicity, that is its selling point.

It even covers new features like Windows Aero, Windows Meeting Space, Internet Explorer 7.0, Windows Mail.

My only feeling of discontent with the book is that the paper quality is not the best and it gave me the feel of a pirated cheap reprint.

The book and the CD may be used completely independently of each other.

The text instructions on the CD are in English only, but the audio has the option of Hindi too. The audio can be turned off, if you feel that it is slowing you down during the audio-video demo mode. The voice on the audio is pleasant and not robotic or irritating except for a few mis-pronunciations(/heavily accented pronunciation) like "appears" and "adjust". This is an ideal method for auditory learners.

The Hindi version, still uses a lot of English words in the voice over and some Hindi words that aren't common vocabulary.

In some modules, The control panel at the base of the screen, takes an inordinately long time to follow instructions. You can increase or decrease the speed of the verbal instructions and the demonstration time during the demo module.

This is a wonderful book for someone who is just starting to learn about computers. Quite a good book to gift your parents and preserve your own blood pressure from escalating. Or if you are looking to brush up your knowledge or upgrade your software and need a quick primer on the subject.

Also published on desicritics.org

DIVA - January 2009



Friday, 16 January 2009

Book Review : The Jewel of Medina

I had heard of the controversy surrounding "The Jewel of Medina" a couple of months ago, but it hadn't really inspired me to go out and buy the book immediately. Of course there was the other matter of it not being available in a Middle Eastern country. But when a friend of mine told me she had the book in case I was interested, I decided to see what the fuss was all about.

The book was initially quite ho-hum (compared to some of the other books I have read on the subject) while it covered the childhood politics around a little girl growing up in a polygamous family where her own mother was the second wife. The girl just happens to be Aisha Bint Abi Bakr, herself an extremely controversial character in Islam. After the Prophets death, she led an army against his Son-in-law Ali, which was the cause for the Sunni-Shia split.

Sunnis claim Aisha was the favourite wife of the Prophet, while Shiites believe that he disliked her for her disobedience. Sunni accounts put the Prophet in Aisha's embrace at the time of his death and Shiites believe that he died in Ali's arms.

Why is The Jewel so inflammatory?

Conservative Catholics across the globe were vociferously against "The DaVinci Code" as it was based on the anti-thesis of a non-negotiable fact - that Jesus was married and sired a bloodline. This questioned the foundations of the Catholic faith and the vows of celibacy taken by priests and nuns.

"The Jewel of Medina" portrays each edict passed by Mohamed as being one for personal gain. It also caricatures him as an old man in constant sexual overdrive, whose only interest was in finding the next beautiful young bride. Drawing conclusions and elaborating on the fact that, when his male followers were allowed only 4 wives, the limitations did not apply to him. And other such incendiary conclusions.

For someone who is not familiar with the basics behind the Islamic teachings, it is a disastrous book to read, because it will completely distort the idea of Islam and its foundations. Ms Jones in her interviews has claimed that she wrote this book to make Islam more accessible and understandable to the general public in USA.

If this is her target audience, it will only serve to further aggravate the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims in America where a majority of non-Muslims already look upon Muslims with suspicion and in extreme cases, even hatred. Among the non-Muslims in America, there is a wide spread belief that women are completely dominated by men in this religion, they are forced to cover up from head to toe by overbearing fathers and husbands. This book will only serve to deepen and worsen those beliefs. I do not see any "understanding" coming out of this book.

The problem with writing fiction with characters from real life is that very few readers actually have the ability or knowledge to distinguish the line between the blurred lines of fact and fiction in a novel. And how much of this book is fiction? As a non-Muslim with basic information about Islam from my Muslim friends, I was quite riled up about certain injustices being described in certain sections of this book. This is a normal process when reading a book, the skill of the author is in making you feel for the characters. But the way it is portrayed as fact, brings these feelings out back into the world beyond the reading of a book.

What Ms Jones has written is a piece of fiction and not even a well researched one at that. Friends of mine who are scholars in Islamic studies, say that the inaccuracies are innumerable.

Geraldine Brooks (who has extensively researched the history of this era), author of the 1995 nonfiction book, "Nine Parts of Desire" whom Jones has cited as one her initial inspiration, says this in her review of The Jewel of Medina, "if you wish to claim that your novel is "extensively researched", why lurch around in time and space, grabbing at concepts such as hatun, or leading wife, which Jones knows full well belongs to the Ottoman empire of centuries later, or purdah, which exists in Persian, Urdu and Hindi but not Arabic? Why refer to an Islamic veil by the modern Western term "wrapper"? Why have Muslims bowing to Aisha, when bowing is an alien custom to desert Arabia and to Islam's egalitarian ethos?"

Is "The Jewel of Medina" a good story? - Well, it manages to keep your interest going after the initial chapters, wondering what is going to come next? and How will Aisha manage this latest calamity?. But in most parts it reads like Mills & Boone/ Silhouette kind of Soft Porn.

I ask a larger question : "Is it ethical to write a book like this, which caricatures a person who is the cornerstone of a particular religion?

Disclaimer : I do not want to get into a debate about death threats, riots and fatwas that inevitably follow a book of this kind.

Published on desicritics.org

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