Saturday, February 10, 2018

Padmavati - A cinematic masterpiece

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Padmavati- a cinematic masterpiece beautifully put together by the magician Bhansali. The 3D experience made the movie more enthralling. The larger than life sets, regal costumes and powerful battle scenes took me back to a bygone era- an era where kings and Queens resided in beautiful fortresses, an era where slaves served their masters whilst beautiful fair skinned women were sought after by men in power. Ranveer Singh plays the role of the Khilji king Alauddin Khilji. He is undoubtedly the life of the movie and acted out each scene effortlessly. However Bhansalis portrayal of Alauddin Khilji is a bit flawed. The Khilji dynasty were devout Muslims who drew inspiration from Persia in terms of literature, music and poetry. Alauddin was a ruthless, treacherous king but he was definitely not a barbarian and neither did he reside in a dungeon like haunted palace. The Khilji dynasty resided in palaces that were ornately decorated with exquisite furniture surrounded by mesmerising gardens.Alauddin might have been a wicked man but he was definitely intelligent when it came to strategically winning wars. He had in his possession weapons that were totally unfamiliar to his enemies. Therefore, Bhansali could have portrayed Ranveers negative role in a more tactful manner. Reference is also made to the Khilji kings homosexual or bisexual tendencies through his most favoured ally Malik Gaffoor. I am pretty sure that conservative Muslims in India must have been up in arms about the fact that a Muslim warrior king was portrayed in this light. Well, hats off to Bhansali for having the guts and being bold enough to highlight a subject that is prevalent yet taboo in the Muslim world. Homosexuality exists in all Muslim societies yet it is a subject that is not discussed openly. In exists in our schools and in our Islamic institutions but never discussed. It is a subject matter that is swept under the carpet.In the middle east, prominent members of society are bisexual and homosexual too. If you under the impression that being a princess in a Muslim Kingdom is hunky dory, think again. I met many princesses in the Middle East who were suicidal and ill treated by their wealthy canniving husbands. They are basically trophy wives and as such treated as a commodity in the same way that the Khilji king treated his subdued wife.Deepika padukone played her role as the Rajput queen with absolute grace and finesse. Whilst many may argue that her decision to take her life by jumping into a fire is wrong I think it's debatable. Would you rather be taken captive and stripped off your dignity by the same coward who killed your husband or would you carry out this act of self immolation thereby taking your own life and maintaining your self respect and dignity. This act of jauhar was very much a part of Rajput tradition in ancient times and as such it should be respected rather than frowned upon. The soft natured demeanour of the Khilji queen depicts the kind nature of a Muslim towards a non Muslim Rajput king and queen. Her character is a total contrast to her tyrant partner but in essence reflects the true character of a muslim. She comes to the rescue of the Rajput king and queen by helping them escape and in the process she is banished to a dungeon and is then referred to as a traitor. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, but if you are a closed minded Muslim person who believes that homosexuality does not exist in the Muslim world, if you believe that women are not used and abused in the Muslim world and that all Muslim leaders are perfect ( hell no..they not.... look at the ruthless, treacherous muslim leaders we have in current times murdering and killing innocent kids) then you are definitely residing in a fools paradise and this movie is not for you..

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Siddharth Slathia - Doing what he does best

A few days ago a friend of mine sent me a music video by Siddharth Slathia. I was totally impressed and taken aback by his beautiful, melodious voice. I found his facebook page and decided to drop him a message. I never expected to get an almost instant response considering that he has a massive social media following.  He comes across as a very simple, down to earth human being who enjoys engaging with all his fans on a personal level online.  Read on to find out more in his own words.

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1. Firstly Siddharth, thank you so much for taking time out to be interviewed by me. I am curious to know, who is Siddharth Slathia? Tell me a little about your family background and life from childhood until present?

It’s my pleasure and honour. Well, I come from a middle-class family from Jammu & Kashmir. My mum is a school teacher and father works in a bank, and I am the only child. I grew up in Jammu and after my high school, my parents sent me to Jaipur to study Engineering. However, my heart was always in music. So, I quit engineering in the fourth semester after watching Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots and started learning Indian Classical.

2. Do you belong to a musically inclined family? Did you always want to become a musician or did you embark on another career first?

No, I am the only one and the first one to have chosen music as my career in the entire family. I was always interested in music but it was only after I started studying Engineering that I realised that it wasn’t for me and the only thing I wanted to pursue was music…the Aamir Khan movie “3 Idiots” inspired me and pushed me to go for my passion which has always been music.

3. Are you a professionally trained singer or is music just a hobby?

I’m trained in Indian Classical and singing is my profession.

4. Tell me more about your massive social media following on You tube as well as facebook. How did that come about? Were you surprised that so many people took an interest in your songs?

I don’t know how but I guess it’s because of all the hardwork and dedication over the past 6-7 years. It hasn’t come about over night, it’s taken a long time but as they say “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. I am thankful to all my fans who have been supporting me throughout my journey.

5. Who is your favourite singer of all time?

I listen to all the great legendary singers and try to learn from everyone but Rafi Sahab and Sonu Nigam ji are the two singers who I idolize.

6. If you could be granted one wish and have any skill or talent in the world, what would it be?

Haha, I am happy and content with the talent God has already given me.

7.  What are your favourite websites?

Have never thought about favourite websites before but I guess I use Youtube, facebook and google on a regular basis.

8. I noticed that the videos you post online are very well put together. Who assists you with the technical aspects of your videos?

I do it all myself

9. Has social media changed your life? Since you have reached a certain degree of online fame, have you received offers to perform on stage or to become a part of the mainstream Bollywood industry?

Yes, of course. I got an opportunity to work with A  R Rahman sahab and the composer duo Salim-Sulaiman. I have been getting so many live shows as well. I am also discussing a couple of Bollywood projects as a composer/singer. And this is all because of my work on social media.

10. Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I see myself as a successful Bollywood playback singer five years from now.

11. What advice would you give to young aspiring musicians out there?

Be original..originality is very important to survive in the industry for a long run. Keep on evolving. Listen to a lot of quality music of different genres. Be consistent in publishing your work on social media. 

Once again, thank you Siddharth for taking the time to answer these questions. Desert Moon wishes you all the best in your future endeavours!!! This is definitely one of the most inspiring interviews that I have ever done. I am so honored and proud to have interviewed a man who is all set and ready to make an impact globally. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Those were indeed the good old days

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During my childhood years I use to spend most of my vacations at my maternal grandparents home. The festive cheer during the December month definitely transcended into our home as well. Nana and his friend, the late Uncle Ebrahim Bhika use to drive my brother and I down town Johannesburg to take a ride on the famous topless bus to see the Christmas lights. There was never a December that went by without taking a picture with Santa Claus. To appease one of my crossy face episodes, I recall Nana purchasing a talking and singing Christmas father toy for me as a gift. It subsequently suffered a horrible death as it went flying down the flat window accidentally. Nana and Nani resided in Wynberg, a suburb that bordered Alexandra township. Whilst many viewed the area as being notorious and dangerous, for us it was home. Mom’s family resided in a small one and a half bedroom flat. The lounge area had a few arm chairs and a couch that could open up into a bed as well. Both the lounge and the master bedroom had entrances into the cosy kitchen. There was a small pantry adjacent to the coal stove. Whilst the master bedroom had an ensuite bathroom, the toilet was located outside in between two flat units. The neighbours had to share a communal toilet and mind you waking up at night to go to the toilet was actually a terrifying experience for a kid even though the main gate at the bottom was always kept locked with a chain. Despite my grandparents home being small it was always a place of love and laughter. No one went to bed hungry. During the day, Nanis neighbour, Kajja bhai use to spoil me with garam garam sugar roti. May God Almighty grant her the highest stages of paradise. The people of that time had little but they were content. They appreciated the smaller, finer things in life. As the years went by, my grandparents moved to Marlboro as the flat they were residing in was going to be demolished. Naturally, there was huge excitement when they moved into their new home. During this time of the year, nana would take us for a walk in Joubert Park. On other days, we would take a drive to Johannesburg’s Lilliputian wonder, Santarama miniland. We were welcomed by a giant statue of Jan Van Riebeeck and definitely enjoyed boarding the full scale model of his ship, the Dromedaris. With smiles and laughter we ogled at the miniature models of prominent city landmarks. No festive season was complete without visiting the musical fountains at Wemmer Pan. So what has happened to these iconic places? From what I heard, these places have been neglected and totally run down. Many visitors have also been robbed and mugged at knife point. The city of Johannesburg needs to revive these places especially now over the festive season. I am not a person who goes crazy over firework displays but I do recall Uncle Ebrahim visiting Nana's home during the festive season with a big box of fireworks that he would light for us. Believe it or not we all use to enjoy the classic Boney M Christmas carols. In fact, my colleague and I had a big laugh this week trying to recall some of the lyrics. This is how I reminisce about the festive season during my childhood. It never made me any less of a Muslim and neither did I change my faith of birth. It simply made me more aware and more understanding towards other people’s culture, faith and tradition. Those were indeed the good old days!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Letter from a prisoner - Jingle bells

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As the world gets ready for the festive season, so too do those behind bars. The festive season may be the best time of the year for most; but for prisoners, it is the worst time of the year. 
From the start of December to mid-January; prisons, nationally, run a program known as "Operation Vala." "Vala" literally means to close or lock. In context, it simply means that nothing but essential services occur within the prisons. 

During this period, the prison bells jingle much earlier than they normally do. Prisoners are locked up by noon, instead of the usual 14:30 or even later at some facilities. This means that prisoners are locked in their cells for around 20 hours a day. Wardens thus do not even work for half a day for over a month, not that they do much anyways.
Programs that usually run within the prison come to a halt, the parole board closes, social workers and psychologists are unavailable and even the doctor and dentist do not consult during this period. Unless an inmate is suffering from a , visible, life or death condition; no treatment will be available. One has to just pray that one does not get ill or for a tooth to act up. 

As many people receive bonuses at work, inmates generally receive more visits than usual during this time. Visits are one of the few things  that inmates really look forward to but during this period, even visits leave a bitter taste. Many inmates only see their families from rural areas during the festive season but due to the shutdown of services, requests to receive items from home are not processed timeously; resulting in inmates being unable to receive items such as underwear, shoes or bedding from loved ones. The increase in visitors also results in the visit time being curtailed and  the prison kiosk running out of stock. The prison kiosk also takes advantage of their monopoly by not getting caught up in the festive sales but instead increase their prices.

The worst part about this time of the year is not the physical changes that occur but the battles that inmates have to fight within their minds. Personally, I have always found it tough to not reminisce over the good times I have had during the holidays in the past. Speaking to family and friends, it is always nice to learn of their adventures but one cannot help but feel saddened at the same time. 
To mitigate the effects of the festive season, inmates take greater risk in trying to obtain cellular phones, drugs and alcohol.  This is exacerbated by the fact that wardens are looking to make extra money for their celebrations and thus bring in more contraband than usual. The really desperate wardens will bring in a phone for an inmate and then get a colleague to search the same inmate a few days later. If the phone is found, it is subsequently re-sold to another inmate. 

Those without the outside support to buy illegal items come up with plans to add some merry to their festive season. Homemade beer is brewed by some inmates and then sold to others. A brew is made using water, old bread and rotting fruit. The mixture is made in buckets and left to ferment for as long as possible. Those with tailoring skills spend the extra hours in the cell by transforming prison uniforms, by hand,  into more trendy styles seen in magazines. "Designer," prison uniforms are then sold for R200.00, for a set. The artistic inmates create greeting cards, gift bags, jewelry boxes, paintings and ornaments from whatever scraps they can find within the prison. Items are sold to fellow inmates who then gift the items to their visitors. 

As a Muslim, this time of the year is very frustrating. Muslim and other non-Christian spiritual care workers are not allowed into the prison due to the lock-down, yet Christian inmates have more services than normal with their volunteers coming inside in greater numbers than during the course of the year. Every Friday, it is a fight with management to even get to pray jummuah. One of the things I do admire about the Christians over this time of the year is that they will arrange parcels for all of the inmates who do not receive visits. 

All in all though, the festive season does signify that another year of my sentence is coming to a close. For that and the fact that I do not have to endure repetitive Christmas carols by agonizing non singing voices, I too have reason to be merry. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Incredible India - My journey part 2

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5th October 2017

This morning I awoke to the sound of zikr from the masjid nearby after fajr salaah. Here at every masjid after salaah everyone sits for a loud zikr program and it sounds absolutely fantastic echoing in all directions. The sound of the cockadoodledoo of the chickens seemed to be in competition with the zikr. I opened the door and stepped outside breathing in the fresh mountain air. As the sun began to rise the locals started their days work. The school kids made their way to the main road by hopping a ride on the shikara. 
A few minutes later the houseboat traders were out in full force selling their arts and crafts to tourists as well as to the locals. Our housekeeper Farook bhai and I enjoyed a heart to heart conversation on the balcony as we sipped a hot cup of masala chai. As the rest of the family made their way to the dining room, our personal chef miraculously appeared with a variety of eggs on a tray. After gobbling a hearty breakfast, we then enjoyed a relaxing ride on the shikara through the houseboat neighbourhood. We stopped at a few shops and showrooms appreciating the local arts and crafts like paper mache, wood carving and ofcourse carpet making. People usually go for honeymoon to Switzerland, Europe and to islands but to me Kashmir is undoubtedly one of the most romantic places in the world. This afternoon we were invited for lunch at the home of a family friend. They welcomed us at their palatial home with smiles and warmth and arranged a spread of kashmiri meals. We ended lunch with traditional kashmiri chai and cookies. As it started getting cooler, we made our way to the majestic Mughal Shalimar gardens built by Mugal emperor Jahangir for his wife Noor Jahan. In the vicinity close by is the most stunning garden in the whole of Srinagar, Nishat Bagh. This garden is noted for its beautiful sunsets. We also had the opportunity of performing prayers at the famous Hazratbal masjid. The masjid contains a relic believed by many muslims in kashmir to be the hair of the beloved Prophet Muhammed (saw). I noticed people of all faiths visiting the masjid. Many visit to take vows by tying ribbon pieces on a wall adjacent to the shrine encasing the hair. What I love most about this quaint city is the fact that everyone here resides happily with each other side by side. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, sunnis and shias all live in harmony. I would strongly recommend people to visit this part of the world. They are trying very hard to rejuvenate the tourism industry so that more jobs can be created for the locals. The ongoing political conflict in this part of the world has undoubtedly had a negative impact on the tourism industry and the media certainly do not help the cause either.....To be continued.....

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Letter from a prisoner - University of Crime

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For years now, I have been incarcerated for a crime I didn't commit. As a Muslim Indian man, one of the toughest aspects to deal with has been living with a 95% population of Black men. The cultural differences mean that I have to constantly deal with noise and a general lack of manners. The morals and values are worlds apart. It has made me appreciate my upbringing and religion tremendously. It is a part of my faith to not consider myself better than others and indeed I do not, rather I try to gain an understanding of others. 

Infinitely more worrying to me as a man who loves his country; is the blase or even non-existent attitude towards the crimes men perpetrated. It is common knowledge that South Africa is plagued by crime and sadly by violent crime. For years, I have used my unique position of living among them, to try and get a first hand understanding of the men behind some of the horrendous and heinous crimes you find out about through the media. I even studied criminology for a couple of semesters to try and understand what motivates men to commit violent crimes. Whilst many theories exist, they fall terribly short. 

As a general observation from my countless interactions, it is evident that remorse does not exist. On the contrary, inmates spend much of their time planning how they will get away with it the next time. Statistics concur that over 50% of the men in here have  been in prison for previous offences and the recidivism rate is only increasing. 

I led a sheltered, privileged life before prison and it has only been in prison that I have been exposed to the gravity of crime. As a prisoner myself, I believe that prisons are the breeding grounds for crime. 

Everyday, the average prisoner spends most of his day by chatting to fellow prisoners. The conversations regularly revolve around crime. Listening to stories, I am shocked by the pride with which they are told and dumbstruck at how listeners are quick to offer advice on what should have been done or how it could have been done better. The narratives put Hollywood scripts  to shame. 
Another of the regular daily topics in prison regards smuggling or other illegal activity. I have yet to meet an inmate that is not part of something illegal. The vast majority of inmates smoke marijuana. Marijuana is a lucrative business in prison, enriching both prisoners and wardens alike. On a daily basis, users or traders refine their skill of being able to smoke or smuggle the substance without being caught. 

Prisoners also learn or enhance their ability to deceive, lie, cheat, smuggle and hide other contraband. Cellular phones, for example, are so rife in prison that the ones without them are the odd ones out. They are illegal as per regulations but corruption means that they are the norm. Prisoners go to great lengths on a daily basis to ensure that they can "safely" have a phone. A prisoner in possession of a phone has to hide the phone every single day and find new ways to outwit wardens. 

Similarly, other criminal activity is perpetrated by prisoners on a daily basis. Crime, if it was not already, becomes a lifestyle. The basis for prison is that it is supposed to be a means whereby criminal behavior is corrected and a prisoner should be released back into society as a rehabilitated individual. The reality  is the opposite, prisoners are released having honed their skills and having had time to plan their future endeavors. 

As a nation ravaged by crime, the whole concept of prison needs to be addressed as the system simply does not work. Prisons as a place of punishment and rehabilitation is a theory that is constantly proven false; instead they are nothing but universities of crime.