Sunday, April 27, 2008

Necessary Targets

Close your eyes, and imagine for a moment, for just a moment that you are being transported back to 1995 to a Bosnian refugee camp, and when you open your eyes you come face-to-face with the after shocks of a cruel, inhumane, and degrading war.

Last evening I found myself sitting at the Repertory East Playhouse in Santa Clarita and being completely blown away by Eve Ensler's (also wrote "Vagina Monologues") play "Necessary Targets" which chronicles the story of two American psychiatrists visiting a Bosnian refugee camp and helping the women deal and come to terms with the cruelty inflicted upon them during the war by Serbian soldiers. Wars are messy, wars degrade and dehumanize and at the end of the day the cost cannot be measured in the number of dollars spent, or the number of armored tanks lost, but the number of lives they destroy, the number of souls they crush and the ripples, albeit invisible to the naked eye, that persist over generations.

Despite the play being produced at a small theater, the production in my estimate is quite wonderful. There are no gaudy sets. There are no special effects. What there is, however, is a series of energetically interwoven performances by some very talented actresses. I was invited to watch this play by my dear friend Lejla Hadzimuratovic who plays the character of Seada (pronounced see-aa-da). I won't give out the entire play here, but I will say that while the content is heavy, there are lighter moments in the play as well. In spite of all the sufferings of these war-torn women, they are able to muster up the courage to laugh, to even sing and dance and in all this try to hold on to reality, to normalcy, to sanity. I think that all the women acted superbly, but Lejla's performance toward the end send goosebumps up my spine and down to my tear ducts. I also loved Christina Rideout's portrayal of Zlata and the character of Azra played by Barbara Huntington.

The other nice thing about going to a small theater is that you actually get to interact with the actors, and the director. The director Ovington Michael Owston told me how he came to pick this play and it was an enjoyable experience talking to him.

The show runs for another weekend (May 1st through May 3rd) and I implore Angelenos to go and watch this play.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Qawwali at Royce Hall

When good music transcends language, cultural and societal barriers, it always amazes me, no matter how many times I witness this phenomenon. Last night was once again one such experience. I was inside Royce Hall on the UCLA campus listening and goose-bumping to Mehr and Sher Ali's ecstatic and devotional Sufi music, better known as Qawwali.

While one cannot put a price tag on excellent virtuoso music, my friend Matt and I, since we are both students, were unwilling to shell out $35.00 for this event, when the actual face value of the tickets was $22.00. So we decided to go to the UCLA campus a bit earlier and purchase the tickets at the box office. UCLA actually accepted our student IDs and gave us an even further discount and we ended up getting our tickets for half the price, center orchestra seats, seven rows from the stage! But since we had arrived on campus an hour early, we decided to wander around. The organizers from the Los Angeles Book Festival were putting up various booths. The numbering on the booths went all the way into the four hundred range! The campus will be very crowded on Saturday and Sunday. And of course parking will be a nightmare as usual.

Ah, but back to the music. There were nine people in the Qawwali troupe sitting cross-legged in two rows on a raised platform which was covered with woolen rugs. One of the Ali brother's was playing the harmonium while the other was leading the "qalaam" or the lyrics. Their sons were sitting and also performing next to them. There were three musicians whose sole job was to clap rhythmically and then there was a tabla maestro. The clappers and the tabla maestro occupied the back row, while all the singers sat in the front. The first half of the show featured poetry from Amir Khusrow who lived in thirteenth century India and combined Persian and Indian music forms into Qawwali. He was a disciple of Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia whose shrine I have often visited in New Delhi. I could understand the lyrics in the first half because it was mostly Urdu, though I wasn't able to understand much in the second half where the emphasis was mostly on Punjabi lyrics. The Ali brothers closed the evening with the two songs that were popularized and brought to the West by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. These were, "Mera Piya Ghar Aya" (My lover came home) and "Dum a dum mast kalandar." The brothers learned Qawwali under Nusrat's father's tutelage. If you really want to hear the uncommercialized version of pure Qawwali, I recommend going to Khwaja Nizaumiddin Aulia's shrine on Thursday and Friday evenings.

Needless to say the audience was on their feet, mesmerized, ecstatic, clapping, jubilant, and gave a standing ovation to the Ali brothers and their troupe. Virtuosity and mastery at this level deserves nothing less.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Black-Hole man dies at 96

It is a sad, sad day for physics. John Archibald Wheeler died today at the age of ninety-six. He coined the term "Black Hole", worked on the Manhattan project and nuclear fission. New York Times has an excellent article on his life.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Very Loopy Categorically Not!

I am excited about this month's installment of Categorically Not brought to Santa Monicans, West Los Anglinos, Brentwoodians, Westwoodians and Californians by K. C. Cole. There will be three talks, and each presenter is going to be talking about loops. Yes, you heard me, loops! Below is the description of the event and I highly encourage folks to come out to the Santa Monica Art Studios a.k.a. "The Hangar" on April 27th at 6:00 pm.
When you come right down to it, just about everything is loopy: planets, proteins or life stories, things have a way of coming around again, always with a slightly different spin. This month’s Categorically Not! was conceived as a tribute to Douglas Hofstadter’s new book, I am a Strange Loop, which uses mathematics, neuroscience, psychology and philosophy to present a highly personal and novel way of posing questions about consciousness. The loopy relationship between Doug, our presenter Dava Sobel and others in the program (we will explain) is one of the special charms of this evening.

Dava Sobel is the author of the best-sellers Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, and also the proud namesake of a non-threatening asteroid, 30935 davasobel." Her most recent book is a poetic guide to everybody's favorite celestial wanderers, The Planets (including our own, of course). Dava will talk about the strange nature of Pluto’s loop, and other objects in it, and how they pushed Pluto out of the loop of the major planets; she'll also tell us a bit about her new Copernicus project, which is “in the loop(s),” so to speak.

Joining Dava is her brother Steve Sobel, professor of Dentistry at USC, sometime stand-up comic, and ace model airplane builder and flyer. Steve’s Control-Line planes are made mostly of balsa wood, have wingspans of 4 to 4 1/2 feet, and fly by dint of their engine-driven propellers at speeds of 60 mph. Steve will bring 2 full size models and one small model to demonstrate the kinds of intricate maneuvers (including loops and variations of loops) he does using only two control lines.

Finally, artist Joanne Julian, a friend of the family, will show and talk about her particular brand of loop—her Zen Circle Series, which was recently on exhibit at Cal State Northridge. Joanne's circles are loops of vibrating energy, based on the Japanese enso—a round or oval figure usually painted with a single brushstroke. Sometimes her loops encompass fish, or flowers, or hanks of hair, veils, curtains, or waves. Other times they stand alone as statements of color and form, closing their own loops with beauty.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ghazal 162

دلِ ناداں تجھے ہوا کیا ہے
اخر اس درد کی دوا کیا ہے

Naïve heart, what has happened to you?

What is the panacea for my pain at last?

ہم ہیں مشتاق اور وہ بیزار
یا الیٰہی یہ ماجرا کیا ہے

I am agog and she is glum.

What is happening? Oh, Lord.

میں بھی منہ میں زبان رکھتا ہوں
کاش پوچھو کہ مدّعا کیا ہے

I too keep a tongue in my mouth.

What is my intent? I wish you’d ask.

جب کہ تجھ بن نہیں کوئی موجود
پھر یہ ہنگامہ اے خدا کیا ہے

Since nothing exists without You,

what is this hulabaloo, oh, Lord.

یہ پری چہرہ لوگ کیسے ہیں
غمزہ و عشوہ و ادا کیا ہے

What is it with these fairy-faced people?

What is all this lust, flirtation, and sidelong glancing?

شکنِ زلفِ انبریں کیوں ہے
نگۂ چشمِ سرمہ سا کیا ہے

Why this coiling amber-scented hair?

What is this dark glance from your antimony eyes?

سبزہ و گل کہاں سے آئے ہیں
ابر کیا چیز ہے ہوا کیا ہے

From whence these blossoms and greenery?

What is wind? What are clouds?

ہم کو ان سے وفا کی ہے امّید
جو نہیں جانتے وفا کیا ہے

I hope she will be faithful.

What is faithfulness? She doesn't know.

اں بھلا کر ترا بھلا ہوگا
اور درویش کی صدا کیا ہے

Yes! Do good, and good will come to you.

What is the dervish's murmur, after all?

جان تم پر نثار کرتا ہوں
میں نہیں جانتا دعا کیا ہے

I offer my life to you.

What is prayer? I don't know.

میں نے مانا کہ کچھ نہیں غالب
مفت ہاتھ آئے تو برا کیا ہے

Ghalib is nothing. I admit that.

What is the harm, if you get him free?

(Translated by Bilal Shaw & Tony Barnstone)