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Travelogue (final) Entangled destinies

Contrary to the Mall culture booming across India, Khan Market is a high street experience. I am claustrophobic in Malls and therefore a place like this was a godsend. I hopped across various points: Bahrisons for new book titles and informative books for children, Shahnaz’s Store to buy a present for a dear friend and a chemist run by Sardarjis to procure cheaper medicines. Yes, the consumers pay much less for the same drugs we buy

Travelogue (Part III): India’s Silicon Valley

The tragedy of this first-ever visit to Bangalore was its short duration. Having said that, it is always better to have seen a city than never to have visited it. From Bangalore we were going back to Delhi to meet our High Commissioner ... Unfortunately, while the monsoons had started there were no signs or preparation for a disaster in the making – the floods of July-August

Muslimness – shifting boundaries

Muslimness is an elusive state of being. There are watertight strictures of the theological identity defined by men, interpreted as the Sharia, on the one hand; and the broad political and cultural sense of the self, on the other. Identity, in any case, is a messy affair: shifty, shifting and eventually, imagined. While 9/11 placed Muslims at the centre stage of global politics, the broth had already been simmering in the cauldrons of biased academe and pop reality mirrored through the blood-thirsty lens of corporate media.

So what is it to be a Muslim? An inflexible bag of rituals? Or a cultural sense of belonging or a deeper dogma ingrained in young minds? I have never considered myself anything but a believer, a ‘practicing Muslim’. This has never been at variance with my secular and inclusive pretensions, despite the fact that the clergy in my country considers secularism akin to atheism, a sort of mirror image of the Pakistani political foundation. The clerics translate secular as la-deen , at best irreligious, and at worst, godless.

Ironical that this business of religious identity is articulated in a land that was the crucible of the secular Indus Valley civilization, non-militant Buddhism and a peculiar version of South Asian Islam that spread via the Sufi khanqahs and was a sort of amalgam of the Central Asian with the ancient South Asian. Even more ironical is the reality, neglected and veiled, that lived Islam is located around dargahs , tribal codes and customs which are irreligious in their own way. But who cares? Referred to as the world’s most dangerous country, Pakistan, according to the pundits of global opinion, is a haven for Islamic terrorists. Collateral damage, therefore, is kosher and a necessity to undo the unstated part of the ‘axis of evil’.

Labels and more labels. On the global shelves such products sell well and work in favour of a war machine hungry for energy resources, territory and blood. […]

Fatehpur Sikri

I was in Fatehpur Sikri a week ago. I love going there again and again. The place is calm and represents architecture that can be […]

March 25th, 2009|Personal, Photo stories, Travel|6 Comments

From Persia to Pakistan, via Mysore

Zafar Hilaly recounts the history of his distinguished family, amongst whom were Sir Mirza Ismail, Agha Hilaly and Agha Shahi

Family legend has it that my great grandfather, Ali Asker, fled the court of the last Shah of the Qajjar dynasty of Iran sometime in the late 1800s. No one quite knows why he did so but he must have had good reason because he did not stop running till he reached Mysore in Southern India. And only when several thousand miles separated him from his nemesis did he pause for breath.

Alerted to the arrival of a disheveled Iranian, along with some horsemen, the Maharaja of Mysore enquired about the purpose of their visit. When told that they sought asylum, the Maharaja enquired what could they offer in return. “We will train your cavalry and supply it with horses,” Ali Asker responded. A deal was struck; and he never returned to Iran. […]

September 20th, 2008|Uncategorized|17 Comments

The sea, the sea – a holiday at the beach

I wasn’t sure if I had posted this old piece here. Just found it in my records and thought I should share it….

The end of year vacation is peculiar: it lets one sum up the changes -planetary and otherwise – of a year and muse on the year to come. This year’s finale had to be calm as the year was exhausting; and it had to be close to the sea since I had recently finished reading Iris Murdoch’s fabulous novel, The Sea, The Sea (not to be confused with John Banville’s Booker-winner The Sea, which, as the title suggests, is only half as impressive).

Murdoch’s writing and the right constellation led me to a relatively unknown beach resort at Luzon on the shores of the South China Sea. The area south of the Taiwan Strait all the way up to a point near the equator, including Hainan Island, comprises South China Sea. This was historically the beginning of the ‘oceanic silk route.’ Silk trade during the Han dynasty took place on this route that began at Southern China, crossed India and Ceylon, the Red Sea and finally, like all roads, led to Rome. I wasn’t going for the history, I must admit, I was inspired by Murdoch again, who wrote “All artists dream of a silence which they must enter, as some creatures return to the sea to spawn.” Apparently even non-artists can dream of silence, so forgive my pretensions. […]

July 20th, 2008|Personal, Published in The Friday Times, Travel|4 Comments