Friday, February 25, 2011

Revolutions and Roundabouts

If you've paid even the slightest of attentions to the news of ongoing protests in the Middle-Eastern and North-African countries, you must have heard at one time or another the newscaster saying, " ... protesters gathered on this day at so and so square ...". As i followed the TV coverage of these protests from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya and now to Bahrain even, it seems in all these countries there has been a "square" where protesters have been gathering: Liberation Square in Cairo - Egypt, Green Square in Tripoli - Libya, The Tree Square in Benghazi - Libya. I just had to find out for myself what is it about these squares really?

Well, guess what, these are not really squares. I mean at each one of these places there is actually a roundabout in the very middle. Yes, the roundabouts where a bunch of roads meet and the traffic can change directions without stopping. The traffic management system before the advent of the traffic lights - those roundabouts. Its just that the structures that surround the roundabout at each one of these locations give the place an appearance of a square.

Now that i know the real names of these "squares", a part of me wishes that during all the media coverage these places were referred to with their original Arabic names, and here is why:
1. Liberation Square, Cairo, Egypt is actually Maidan e' Tahrir. Maidan means ground/large open space and Tahrir means freedom or liberation.
2. Green Square, Tripoli, Libya is actually Maidan al Shohdaa. Shohdaa means martyr.
3. Tree Square, Benghazi, Libya is actually Maidan al Shajara. Shajara means tree. Yeah, there is a tree in the middle of the roundabout.
4. Pearl Monument, Manama, Bahrain is actually Dawar al-lu'lu'. Dawar meaning roundabout and al-lu'lu' means pearls. Yes, even the Pearl Monument is located in the middle of a roundabout.

A Roundabout - sounds like an appropriate enough metaphor for the events that are unfolding. An entire people are about to make their respective countries change direction, their fortunes change course, their futures change for the better and that too without so much as stopping for a breath. The situation might appear to be chaotic but, if the drivers are attentive they can negotiate all the traffic around the roundabout, and once the vehicle hits its road, its off to its destination. The same shall happen in these countries too - the people have chosen the path they wish to take, and now all that remains is for them to negotiate the prevailing chaos with the deftness of a driver in a busy roundabout and off they will go. Makes me wonder though - what if all these roundabouts had been replaced with traffic lights!

Viva la Revolution, Viva la Roundabouts.

Monday, February 21, 2011

30th - The Parallel of Strife

If there is one other aspect that is common to the strife that already is, or will soon be, tearing at many nations around the world, it is that almost all of them lie at/around 30°0′N - the northern 30th parallel. Lets go east from 0°0′E - Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, all of them lie on the 30th parallel.

In some countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya the uprisings by the masses have been self-organizing, and in some others such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan such mass movements might be in the making due to years of deliberate (and may be uncalled for) external influences which led to years of war.

Some of the other countries that the 30th parallel passes through are Morocco, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, India, Nepal, China, and Japan. On the face of it these countries might seem peaceful, but even most of these countries are facing social unrest in their own right, albeit to a lesser (or rather, lesser known) extent. Israel, and its conflict with Arabs, can easily be thought of as central to almost any conflict in the middle-east and to any lasting solution to peace as well. Saudi Arabian regime has a track record that is none-too-dissimilar from its counterparts in the middle-east and elsewhere when it comes to violations of basic human rights and dignity. In India the separatists, mostly belonging to the tribes who have lost out on the "benefits" of liberalization and are missing out on high rate of growth, are seeking statehood so they can govern themselves and theirs better. Nepal, inspite of doing away with monarchy a few years back has still not been able to form a stable government due to its failure to appease the maoists. China it seems is already trying to suppress the news from other movements and revolutions around the world from reaching its populace.

Now going across the Pacific into the Americas - the 30th passes through Mexico as well as the US. Over last couple of years Mexico has seen (and continues to see) numerous killings due to infighting among drug cartels and their ceaseless tussle with the state. In the US the political temperatures are at an all time high - the Democrats and the Republicans have been at each others throats since President Obama assumed the office of the president, and it seems it is only going to get worse, and not in the least due to an ill-advised move of a Republican Governor to take away his state's unions' right to collectively bargain.

It seems the 30th parallel is going to be the new Doldrums, Doldrums of societal upheaval and political change that is, only a few degrees north of their geographical counterparts.

Viva la Revolution, and History and Geography.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Cut Cut Bang* Bang*

Earlier today I went to a salon with my nephews for their haircut. A lot went through my head during the short while that i was there.

The cut hair on the floor around the barber's chair reminded me of the movie called 'Everyone Says I'm Fine' that Rahul Bose also starred in. The premise of the story is that a hairdresser while cutting his clients' hair is able to read their minds and see all the tumult in their lives.

While i have seen many a salon manned by women since having been in the west, somehow it was for the very first time that i saw a salon that was owned and operated by Indian women, rather, women of Indian origin, for this is Canada. It was nice to see women in a profession that till not so long ago, at least in India, was considered to be male dominated.

It was also funny to see the expatriate parents who felt like they should have a say in the sort of haircut their young ones get. The stares that are exchanged between the kids and their parents, the wry smiles on the faces of the hairdressers and the confused looks on the faces of people who are not of Indian origin, were just, what is the word that i am looking for, priceless.

This salon wasn't particularly chic but it wasn't bad either - the ambiance of the place was nice, the staff was personable and skilled, and the facilities seemed to be good. One thing that irked me however was their selection of table top magazines for clients who were waiting for their turn. All that this salon had was some old editions of Revlon, Elle, or some such fashion mags - there was nothing to read or do while my nephews got their hair cut. It reminded me of one of my pet salons - the place used to have magazines such as Popular Mechanics and Flyer RC (this one is for enthusiasts of Radio Controlled Flying). How cool is that? I still remember the day when i willingly let a couple of people have their hair cut before me just because i was reading this super article about RC Controlled Choppers. This makes me wonder - what if there were theme salons? Now that will be nice. I for one will always go to a salon for engineers.

*Bangs is a term used in North America to refer to hair, especially long ones.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Viva la Revolution: Egypt has a new pharaoh, its people

Congratulations Egypt, Congratulations Egyptians - you have done it. Hats off to you. Your perseverance, your unity, your belief, your sacrifice of limb and of life has triumphed over tyranny and over repression that you have had to bear for decades.

You have helped reaffirm humanity's faith in revolution, so thank you for that. You have given the rest of the world a lesson in non-violent activism and civil-disobedience, and how these time tested forms of protest are still as useful as ever, so thank you for that. You have also secured the beacon of hope, even if it is just for a little while longer, for people living under autocratic, theocratic, dictatorial and other oppressive regimes around the world, so thank you for that.

But, please be aware that this is just the beginning, the beginning of your journey to become a prosperous Egypt, the beginning of your journey to become an Egypt that is a role model for rest of the strife torn middle-east. So be smart about how you chart the path to your future. Come what may, do not let go of your unity and your belief.

Egypt and Egyptians, you rock. May the force be with you, for ever and ever.

Wavin Flag, by K'naan:

We have overcome:

Disclaimer: No inference about the religious leanings (or lack thereof) of this author should be made from the material that is posted - none is implied or claimed.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

For students and everyone else - the best advice you will ever get

While this post is meant for students at any level of schooling in their student life, it is as useful if not more, for everyone else as well.

Many of you, especially those who are in the US, must already be aware of this - there was this professor of Computer Science by the name of Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University. He was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2006 and he died of it in 2008. In September 2007 he delivered this one lecture as part of Carnegie Mellon's 'The Last Lecture' series. As Randy Pausch was terminally ill, this literally was his 'Last Lecture'.

Embedded below you'll find two of his lectures - The Last Lecture, and a lecture on Time Management. This is some of the best advice that a student can get.

The Last Lecture:

Time Management: