Friday, February 29, 2008

Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

In All The World, I Choose You Alone...

Only you
I choose among the entire world
Is it fair of you
Letting me be unhappy

My heart is a pen in your hand
It is all up to you
To write me happy or sad

I see only what you reveal
And live as you say.
All my feelings have the color
You desire to paint

From the beginning to the end
No one but you.

Please make my future
Better than the past

When you hide I change
To a godless person
And when you appear
I find my faith

Don't expect to find
Any more in me
Than what you give

Don't search for
Hidden pockets because
I've shown you that
All I have is all you gave


... Mevlana Jalalludin Rumi

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Grow Old With You

As the best-man and MC of a good friend's wedding last year, I remembered singing this song (with others) and then making him sing it to his wife on stage ... nice :) [oh, but he was aweful ... lol - but it doesn't matter]. This wonderful song was taken from the movie The Wedding Singer. Romantic lyrics.

Billy idol (speaking): Good afternoon everyone. We're flying at 26,000 feet,
Moving up to thirty thousand feet, and then we've got clear skies
All the way to Las Vegas.
And right now we're bringing you some in-flight entertainment.
One of our first-class passengers would like to sing you a song
Inspired by one of our coach passenger, and since we let our first-class
Passengers do pretty much whatever they want, here he is...

Robbie hart (singing):
I wanna make you smile, whenever you're sad
Carry you around, when your arthritis is bad
All I wanna do, is grow old with you

I'll get your medicine, when your tummy aches
Build you a fire, if the furnace breaks
Oh it could be so nice, growing old with you

I'll miss you
I'll kiss you
Give you my coat when you are cold

I'll need you
I'll feed you
Even let ya hold the remote control

So let me do the dishes, in our kitchen sink
Put you to bed, if you've had too much to drink
I could be the man, who grows old with you
I wanna grow old with you

Forbidden Colours




Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Happiness


Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness;
it is generally the by-product of other activities.


... Vedanta for the Western World, Aldous Huxley

Friends

For various moral, psychological and social reasons, people need good company and close friendship. The type of friends you have, often indicate the type of person you are. 'Show me your friends and I will tell you what you are,' says the well-known proverb. The noble Prophet (saw) pointed to the value of good company when he said that it is better to be alone than in the company of the wicked, and it is better to be in the company of the good than to be alone. Good company can be a great source of help and support in leading a virtuous life, while bad company can lead to sin and ruin.

The Prophet (saw) was asked: "What is the person that can be the best friend?" "He who helps you when you remember God, and he who reminds you when you forget Him," the Prophet (saw) replied. Then he (saw) was asked, "And which friend is the worst?" "He who does not help you when you remember God and does not remind you of God when you forget," he replied. Then he was again asked, "Who is the best among people?" He replied, "He who when you look at him, you remember God."

When Zaid ibn Harithah (ra), the friend of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), was killed at the battle of Mu'tah, the Prophet (saw) said: "Zayd strove in the path of God sincerely as he should. Today he has met his Lord, and he is serene." Thereafter, Zayd's daughter found the Prophet (saw) weeping over the dead body of her father and said: "What do I see?" The noble Prophet (saw), with tears in his eyes, said: "A friend weeping for his friend."

Through such actions and sentiments, the Prophet (saw) showed his gentleness and brotherhood. "

Food, Rope and Light

Abdullah Ibn Masud (ra) related that the Prophet (saw) said:

"Verily, the Qur’an is the food from Allah, so come closer to it if you are able. Verily, the Qur’an is the rope of Allah, bright light, good medicine, and a guide for those who hold on to it. When he strays, the Qur’an will remind him of the path; and when he is misguided, the Qur’an will correct him. Its miracle lasts forever, and will not be reduced by rejection. Read the Qur’an. Allah will reward each word of your reading tenfold ..."

... [al-Hakim]

Our Fingerprints

The Quran speaks of the Day when the earth will "yield up her burdens". She will then "tell her tales". "On that Day", we read, "mankind will issue separately, to be shown their deeds. Whosever has done an atom's weight of good will see it then, and whosoever has done an atom's weight of ill will see it".

It might be said that we leave our fingerprints on everything that we touch, and they remain in place long after we have gone on our way. But this is only one side of the relationship we have with everything around us, a relationship of reciprocity. We are not insulated from our surroundings. We are, so to speak, porous and soak up elements from what ever we see, hear or touch. When we treat the natural world only as an object to be exploited and conquered, we are damaging ourselves. Environmentalists predict that our abuse of the earth will have disastrous consequences for humanity as a whole, but that may be the least of our worries. The consequences are on many different levels; the higher the level, the more deadly they are likely to be. "Work not confusion in the earth after the fair ordering thereof", says the Quran.

The Muslim is assured that the whole earth is a mosque for him. The walled buildings to which he is summoned to prayer are simply a convenience. The fields, the forest and the desert are equally fitting as places of prayer and therefore demand the same respect that is accorded to a conventional mosque. To show respect for everything that God has created is a part of faith, for everything bears the imprint of His hand. The man or woman who stands, bows and prostrates in the midst of nature is a member of a universal congregation, joining in a universal prayer. "All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies God", says the Quran.

The beauties of the earth are, the Quran tells us, a "reminder to mankind", a reminder to those who are disposed to remember their origin and their end. For such as these, the natural world sparkles with light. It is not some chance agglomeration of atoms, unrelated to our innermost being. It gives, if we are receptive to the gift, and it receives if we, in our turn, offer it the care which is its right. The objective world around us and our human subjectivity might be compared to two circles which intersect rather than float, separate and divided, independently of each other. This is implicit in the Islamic principle of Tawhid, the Oneness of God and the unbroken unity of all that He has created. It is implicit also in the word "cosmos" (as opposed to "universe", a neutral term that implies nothing. The "cosmos" is, by definition, an ordered and harmonious whole, in which the parts are inter-dependent. "No man is an island", as the poet Donne said, and the human creature - totally dependent on God, but dependent also upon the environment - is for ever in the bonds of need and the net of love.


... Islam, Nature and the Environment by Gai Eaton. Broadcast by BBC on 1996

Forgiveness

On the authority of Abu Harayrah (Radhi Allahu Ta'ala Anhu) from the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wa Sallam), who said:

"Allah (glorified and exalted be He) has supernumerary angels who rove about seeking out gatherings in which Allah's name is being invoked: they sit with them and fold their wings round each other, filling that which is in between them and between the lowest heaven. When [the people in the gathering] depart, [the angels] ascend and rise up to heaven.

He (the Prophet p.b.u.h.) said: Then Allah (mighty and sublime be He) asks them - [though] He is most knowing about them: From where have you come? And they say: We have come from some servants of Yours on Earth: they were glorifying You (Subhanallah), exalting you (Allahu akbar), witnessing that there is no god but You (La ilaha illa llah), praising You (Al-Hamdu lillah), and asking [favours] of You.

He says: And what do they ask of Me? They say: They ask of You Your Paradise. He says: And have they seen My Paradise? They say: No, O Lord. He says: And how would it be were they to have seen My Paradise! They say: And they ask protection of You. He says: From what do they ask protection of Me? They say: From Your Hell-fire, O Lord. He says: And have they seen My Hell-fire? They say: No. He says: And how would it be were they to have seen My Hell-fire: They say: And they ask for Your forgiveness.

He (the Prophet p.b.u.h) said: Then He says: I have forgiven them and I have bestowed upon them what they have asked for, and I have granted them sanctuary from that of which they asked for protection.

He (the Prophet p.b.u.h) said: They say: O Lord, among then is So-and-so, a much sinning servant, who was merely passing by and sat down with them. He (the Prophet p.b.u.h) said: And He says: And to him [too] I have given forgiveness: he who sits with such people shall not suffer."


[Bukhari, Muslim, at-Tirmidhi, an-Nasa'i]

O Son Of Adam!


On the authority of Anas (Radhi Allahu Ta'ala Anhu), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wa Sallam) say:

"Allah the Almighty said: O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great at it."

[at-Tirmidhi, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal]

Circuit Training

Plans to enrol in a muay thai class was shelved. Instead, I have been put on rigorous circuit trainings since the beginning of this week and trust me ... it is truly demanding and challenging. Such trainings involved almost every major muscle group of your body - from sprints to weights to seemingly mindless games ... and it is non-stop, rapidly repeated (and I really mean rapid) over a few cycles. But at the end of the day, when you are finally sipping that glass of water and catching your breathe, you will realise that the pain is somehow ... pleasurable :)

Taken (with modifications) from wikipedia:
"Circuit training is a type of interval training in which strength exercises are combined with endurance/aerobic exercises, combining the benefits of both a cardiovascular and strength training workout. 'Circuit' means a group of activities and refers to a number of selected 'stations' positioned around the facility that are to be visited in rapid succession. It refers to a number of carefully selected exercises arranged consecutively. In the original format, 9 to 12 stations comprised the circuit. This number may vary according to the design of the circuit. Each participant moves from one station to the next with little (15 to 30 seconds) or no rest, performing a 15 to 45-seconds workout of 8 to 20 repetitions at each station (using a resistance of about 40% to 60% of one-repetition maximum (1RM). By adding a 30-seconds to 3-minutes (or longer) aerobics station (normally treadmill for me) done at a very high speed between each station, referred to as aerobic circuit training, the method attempts to improve cardiorespiratory and muscle endurance as well.

The range of stations includes those comprising resistance equipment (e.g. hydraulic equipment or free weights), as well as allocated spaces to do squat thrusts, pushups, jumping jacks, sit-ups, and other exercises. Each person should complete the activity in one station before they proceed to the next station. They then continue the circuit until they have passed through all stations (normally by 3 cycles), or until a certain time requirement has been met.

The program may be performed with exercise machines, hydraulic equipment, hand-held weights, elastic resistance, calisthenics or any combination. Themed circuits are possible, for example with boxing exercises (boxercise)."

So come on ... get up and sweat it out :)

Why Do I Love You?

"Why do I love" You, Sir?
Because—
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer—Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.

Because He knows—and
Do not You—
And We know not—
Enough for Us
The Wisdom it be so—

The Lightning—never asked an Eye
Wherefore it shut—when He was by—
Because He knows it cannot speak—
And reasons not contained—
—Of Talk—
There be—preferred by Daintier Folk—

The Sunrise—Sire—compelleth Me—
Because He's Sunrise—and I see—
Therefore—Then—
I love Thee—


... Emily Dickinson

The Matrix


Trinity: I know why you're here, Neo. I know what you've been doing... why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit by your computer. You're looking for him. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn't really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It's the question that drives us, Neo. It's the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.

Neo: What is the Matrix?

Trinity: The answer is out there, Neo, and it's looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

************************************************

Mouse: To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.

*************************************************

Morpheus: Neo, sooner or later you're going to realize just as I did that there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.


Whispered Prayer of the Utterly Poor

In the Name of God, the All-merciful,
the All-compassionate

My God,
nothing will
mend my fracture but Thy gentleness and loving care,
free me of my poverty but Thy affection and beneficence,
still my fright but Thy security,
exalt my abasement but Thy sovereignty,
take me to my hope but Thy bounty,
remedy my lack but Thy graciousness,
accomplish my need other than Thou,
relieve my distress other than Thy mercy,
remove my injury other than Thy clemency,
cool my burning thirst but reaching Thee,
quench my ardour but meeting Thee,
damp my yearning but gazing upon Thy face,
settle my settling place without closeness to Thee,
allay my worry but Thy repose,
cure my illness but Thy medicine,
eliminate my grief but Thy nearness,
heal my wound but Thy forgiveness,
remove the rust on my heart but Thy pardon,
banish the confusing thoughts from my breast but
Thy command!

O Utmost Hope of the hopers!
O Ultimate Demand of the askers!
O Furthest Request of the requesters!
O Highest Desire of the desirers!
O Patron of the righteous!
O Security of the fearful!
O Responder to the supplication of the distressed!
O Storehouse of the destitute!
O Treasure of the pitiful!
O Helper of the help-seekers!
O Accomplisher of the needs of the poor and the miserable!
O Most Generous of the most generous!
O Most Merciful of the merciful!
To Thee is my humble subjection and request,
to Thee my pleading and imploring!
I ask Thee
to let me attain
the repose of Thy good pleasure,
and to make constant toward me
the favours of Thy kindness!
Here am I,
standing before the gate of Thy generosity,
opening myself up to the breezes of Thy goodness,
holding fast to Thy strong cord,
clinging to Thy firm handle!

My God,
have mercy upon Thy lowly slave
of silent tongue and few good works,
obligate him through Thy plentiful graciousness,
shelter him under Thy plenteous shade!
O Generous, O Beautiful,
O Most Merciful of the merciful!

Adventures In Wonderland

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

******************************************

"Tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where—" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"—so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

... Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Caroll

Monday, February 25, 2008

The English Patient

In the weeks following up to the Oscars, instead of keeping up with what has been showing on the telly, I chose to snug up to my favourite movies. And amongst them, is this absolutely wonderful movie based on the book of the same name by Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient. This movie belongs to my list of one of the best-ever!

It has wonderful cinematography where every scene is an art, aesthetically beautiful soundtrack, romantic script and most of all, the best actors in the business. My ever-favourites Ralph Fiennes (his presence, charm and diction), Kristin Scott-Thomas (ahh .... fell in love with her since Four Weddings And A Funeral - that beauty, talent and gorgeous accent), Juliette Binoche (eversince The Three Colours movies), William Dafoe, Colin Firth ... the best!

Commencing from the tagline on the cover: "In love, there are no boundaries" - the story is a heavy and emotional one. There is really no point in iterating them here. If one is not affected by it, one will surely be wrapped up in emotions by the end of the movie where Kristin was dying alone in the cave waiting for Fiennes to return to 'save' her. She wrote these last words in her diary... pages where I used to even memorised back then :)

"My darling. I'm waiting for you. How long is the day in the dark? Or a week?

The fire is gone, and I'm horribly cold. I really should drag myself outside but then there'd be the sun. I'm afraid I wasted the light on the paintings, not writing these words.

We die. We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we've entered and swum up like rivers. Fears we've hidden in - like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. Where the real countries are. Not boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men.

I know you'll come and carry me out to the Palace of Winds. That's what I've wanted: to walk in such a place with you. With friends, on an earth without maps.

The lamp has gone out - and I'm writing in the darkness..."

So Close




Falling Slowly




Wilderness


"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"


... Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

... W H Auden

Light My Fire


Opposites

God created suffering and heartache so that
joyful-heartedness might appear through its opposite.
Hence hidden things become manifest through
opposites. But since God has no opposite, He remains hidden.
For the sight falls first upon light, then upon
color: Opposites are made manifest through opposites, like
white and black.
So you have come to know light through light's
opposite: Opposites display opposites within the breast.
God's light has no opposite within existence,
that through its opposite it might be made manifest.
Therefore our "eyes comprehend Him not, but He
comprehends the eyes" (Koran VI 104): Learn this from Moses at
Mount Sinai.
Know that form springs from meaning as the
lion from the thicket, or as voice and speech from thought.
Form was born from speech and then died. It
took its wave back to the sea.
Form comes out from Formlessness: Then it
returns, for "unto Him we are returning" (Koran II 156)


... Mathnawi, Mevlana Jalalludin Rumi

Sunday, February 24, 2008

CN Tower

In another series of landmark achievements (hahaha), I "did" the CN Tower on Saturday. It has altogeher 1,776 steps. With all the climbing I have been doing since my trainer was on his honeymoon, I hope he will notice the 'dramatic improvement' in stamina this evening during our training session.

Defining the Toronto skyline, the CN Tower is Canada's most recognizable and celebrated icon. At a height of 553.33m (1,815 ft), it is Canada’s National Tower, the World's Tallest Building, an important telecommunications hub, and the centre of tourism in Toronto. On September 2007, after holding the record as the tallest building for 32 years, the CN tower was surpassed in height by the still-under-construction Burj Dubai.

Each year, approximately 2 million people visit the CN Tower to take in the breath-taking view and enjoy all the attractions it has to offer. The CN Tower was built in 1976 by Canadian National (CN) who wanted to demonstrate the strength of Canadian industry by building a tower taller than any other in the world. In 1995, the CN Tower became a public company and ownership of the Tower was transferred to Canada Lands (CLC) Company, a federal Crown corporation responsible for real estate development.

Although the CN Tower inspires a sense of pride and inspiration for Canadians and a sense of awe for tourists, its origins are firmly rooted in practicality. The construction boom in Toronto in the 1960's transformed the skyline characterized by relatively low buildings into one dotted with skyscrapers. These new buildings caused serious communication problems. With its microwave receptors at 338m and 553.33m antenna, the CN Tower swiftly solved the communication problems with room to spare. As a result people living in the Toronto area now enjoy some of the clearest reception in North America.

The CN Tower is situated on Front Street which is located in the heart of the Entertainment District. The CN Tower is easily accessible from Union Station as well as many major streets and highways. For a broader sense of the CN Tower's location, it is located on the north shore of Lake Ontario.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Birches

... And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.

I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.


...Robert Frost

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Dreamworld

"The world that we experience during dreams is a world of imagination. In dreaming, the soul perceives images. These images are neither the soul itself nor other than the soul, and they are neither the things that are perceived nor other than the things that are perceived. The whole domain is one of ambiguity and wonder.

Are dream images embodiments of the spiritual, or spiritualizations of the bodily? They may be either, or both, depending on how we look at them. Inasmuch as they are embodiments of your own awareness, the spiritual has become bodily. But inasmuch as your mind has taken perceived images from the outside world, they are spiritualizations of the bodily.

Both the Qur'an and the Hadith make a close connection between death and sleep. Muslims have traditionally understood sleep and death as two manifestations of a single reality. In both cases, direct awareness of the outside world is cut off, but in both cases, the self-awareness of the soul continues. The basic difference, according to the Qur'an (39:42), is that after sleep, God puts the soul back in control of the body.

How do we understand dreaming? Anyone who has reflected on his or her own dreams knows that they are normally confused and confusing. In Islam, dream interpretation has been considered a gift that is given to the prophets. The most famous example is provided by the story of Joseph and his imprisonment in Egypt, which is retold in Chapter 12 of the Qur'an as "the most beautiful story." Joseph's whole adventure began because he dreamed that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars prostrated themselves before him. When he was finally released from prison in Egypt, it was because he was able to interpret the dream of the king. And only then, once he had saved Egypt from famine and rescued his own family, did God make clear to him the meaning of his own dream: His parents and his eleven brothers prostrated themselves before him in gratitude.

Many ahadeeth tells of Prophet Muhammad's expertise at dream interpretation. His companions would come to him and tell them their dreams, and he in turn would explain the meaning of the dreams to them...

This is not the place to continue expanding on the Islamic understanding of dreams. It is sufficient to grasp that all Muslims knew that dreams were not to be taken at face value. Dreams had to be understood in terms of some appropriate correspondence between the image and the meaning that had become embodied through the image. And everyone also knew that sleep and death were somehow similar in their characteristics. Hence, to many Muslim thinkers, it was self-evident that we can throw light on the nature of experience after death by investigating the nature of dreams and the correspondences that exist between the perceived images and the meanings that appear in the images."


... The Vision of Islam, Sachiko Murata and William C Chittick

'Til Kingdom Come

In Coldplay's latest X&Y album (a very long time ago, in the music industry's life-span), the penultimate song for me would be 'Til Kingdom Comes. It is the album's final (hidden) track and was originally written by the band to be recorded by Johnny Cash, but Cash died before he could record the song. Personally, it is the only worthy song in the album.



'Til Kingdom Come

Steal my heart and hold my tongue.
I feel my time, my time has come.
Let me in, unlock the door.
I've never felt this way before.

The wheels just keep on turning,
The drummer begins to drum,
I don't know which way I'm going,
I don't know which way I've come.

Hold my head inside your hands,
I need someone who understands.
I need someone, someone who hears,
For you, I've waited all these years.

For you, I'd wait 'til kingdom come.
Until my day, my day is done.
And say you'll come, and set me free,
Just say you'll wait, you'll wait for me.

In your tears and in your blood,
In your fire and in your flood,
I hear you laugh, I heard you sing,
"I wouldn't change a single thing."

The wheels just keep on turning,
The drummers begin to drum,
I don't know which way I'm going,
I don't know what I've become.

For you, I'd wait 'til kingdom come,
Until my days, my days are done.
Say you'll come and set me free,
Just say you'll wait, you'll wait for me.
Just say you'll wait, you'll wait for me.
Just say you'll wait, you'll wait for me.

Answer



Answer

I will be the answer
At the end of the line
I will be there for you
While you take the time
In the burning of uncertainty
I will be your solid ground
I will hold the balance
If you can't look down

If it takes my whole life
I won't break, I won't bend
It will all be worth it
Worth it in the end
Cause I can only tell you what I know
That I need you in my life
When the stars have all gone out
You'll still be burning so bright

Cast me gently
Into morning
For the night has been unkind
Take me to a
Place so holy
That I can wash this from my mind
The memory of choosing not to fight

If it takes my whole life
I won't break, I won't bend
It will all be worth it
Worth it in the end
'Cause I can only tell you what I know
That I need you in my life
When the stars have all burned out
You'll still be burning so bright

Cast me gently
Into morning
For the night has been unkind

...Sarah McLachlan

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Muse

I have made an entry on this before, but when I revisited this poem this morning, I was "brought to flight" with its gorgeous visuals, simple and beautiful language but yet, deeply profound in its message - and wish to share this wonderful poem again - yet now, in its full version.

When she approaches, her immortal presence wakes me
To feel unearthly motion made upon the air,
And like an aspen to reveal it: she is there,
Come, gone, elusive as the wind - thus she forsakes me.
Yet following after with my voice, I give her these,
Which I have written in my youth, upon the edge
Of man's affairs, and make beyond recall the pledge
To pour my strength out in her service to the less.

Many have sought what now I seek, and few have won;
Yet not the less I am driven to pray: pause in thy fleeing
While I have breath; and call to me, and lead me on
Into that garden where the Muses sing and dance,
That I may fill mine ears with sound, mine eyes with seeing,
And make for men some deep enduring utterances.

... The Muse, Martin Lings

Gardens

Many times in class, we have spoken about such concepts as will be iterated below - and we are conscious of the reasons thereof. It would be senseless for us if rewards are described as they really are - as humans are not capable to envision the True Reality waiting for them. Similar as to God, such matters are beyond our human comprehension. Thus, God issues parables to symbolise the opulent manner such rewards will be, representing earthly things to enable Man to imagine what could be - when in truth, they are really not as it were. While reading Martin Lings' Collected Poems this morning, I came across a succint explanation of this concept.

In reference to the Qur'anic descriptions of the celestial Gardens, he explained: "To speak of the Gardens and Fountains of Paradise, as also of its Rivers, Fruits and Consorts, is to speak the Truth, whereas to speak of such blessings in this world is only a manner of speaking, for the Realities are in Heaven and what we see here-below are only the remote shadows of Reality ... The shadow returns to the Substance and, for those with eyes to see, the best things of this world - and that is the criterion of their excellence - are already as it were winged for return to their celestial Source. It is the function of art, in portraying earthly objects, to portray mysteriously at the same time something of their 'wings'".

Welcome Advice

A summary taken from Fons Vitae:

The Heirs of the Prophet is an extraordinary book representing one of the many streams of traditional Islamic scholarship. In addition to huge multi-volume compendiums, many scholars also composed shorter treatises that focused, for example, on one particular hadith. This volume is such a work. Imam Ibn Rajab, who is considered one of the foremost authorities of Prophetic tradition (hadith) of his day, wrote this deeply inspiring and ever-relevant commentary on one hadith of the Prophet (saw) in which he said, "The scholars are the heirs of the Prophets." Ibn Rajab was able to bring together the ethics, authentic stories, and penetrating insights that relate to the noble enterprise of true learning.

This book achieves two major triumphs that speak to the modern Muslim intellectual condition. First, it deeply inspires in the serious reader, like very few books of human origin, the love and desire to gain true knowledge.

It enlightens people as to what realm of knowledge holds firm sovereignty over all the rest and is most vital for a true Islamic renaissance. In the haze of unbounded access to information, it is especially important these days for people to be clear about what is beneficial knowledge as praised by Allah and His Messenger.

This knowledge refers mainly to that which leads men and women to the pleasure of Allah and salvation in the Hereafter. What worldly expertise can possibly compensate for the loss of knowledge concerning divine guidance to and along the straight path? What possible intellectual success can cover up for an ignorance that lures people into darkness and moral morass in this life and Hellfire in the next?

The Heirs of the Prophets is an eloquent and persuasive advocate of restoring our sense of priority when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge and, as a consequence, the conduct of our lives.

As for the second achievement, The Heirs of the Prophets unabashedly strips away any pretension as to what measures as true scholarship within the realm of Islamic learning itself. These pretensions have had uninterrupted breeding seasons over the years, to the point that it is difficult for most people today to distinguish between a preacher and a scholar, between technique and deep comprehension.

The great scholar Imam Ibn Rajab in this book composed in the eighth Islamic century has fired a silver bullet that slays the superficiality that stubbornly persists today. He says, "The uninformed person cannot conceptualize the essence of knowledge nor its sublimity. One who fails to conceptualize something, its significance will never become rooted in the heart."

The Heirs of the Prophets is a push-start to conceptualizing the utter importance of gaining beneficial knowledge so that it can be rooted in the heart of the Muslim body.

Here, I would like to quote a passage from the book - with the intention of welcoming students of knowledge and urge them to act on what they learn. In this quotation, Hasan al-Basri greeted his students as such:

"Welcome, may Allah extend your life in peace, and may He enter us all into Paradise. Your seeking knowledge is a good act, if you persevere, are truthful, and are absolutely certain of the reward Allah has prepared for you. May Allah has mercy on you! Do not let your share of this good be such that it enters one ear and passes out the other. One who hasn't seen the Prophet Muhammad (saw) should know that the Prophet has seen him moving to and fro. The Prophet (saw) did not erect tall buildings, rather, knowledge was given to him, and he dedicated himself to it. Do not procrastinate, salvation is at stake. What will make you heed? Are you hesitant? I swear by the Lord of the Ka'abah, it is as if Judgement Day will come upon you this very moment."


... Kitab al-Zuhd, Imam Ahmad, taken from The Heirs of the Prophet, ibn Rajab al-Hanbali

The Language of the Birds

"There is often mention, in different traditions, of a mysterious language called "the language of the birds". The expression is clearly a symbolic one since the very importance which is attached to the knowledge of the language - it is considered to be the prerogative of a high initiation - precludes a literal interpretation.

The Qur'an for example says (XXVII, 15): "And Solomon was David's heir and he said: O men, we have been taught the language of the birds, and all favours have been showered upon us". Elsewhere we read of heroes, like Siegfried in the Nordic legend, who understand the language of the birds as soon as they have overcome the dragon, and the symbolism in question may easily be understood from this. Victory over the dragon has, as its immediate consequence, the conquest of immortality which is represented by some object, the approach to which is barred by the dragon, and the conquest of immortality implies, essentially, reintegration at the centre of the human state, that is, at the point where communication is established with the higher states of being.

It is this communication which is represented by the understanding of the language of the birds and, in fact, birds are often taken to symbolise the angels and thus, precisely, the higher states.

That is the significance, in the Gospel parable of the grain of mustard seed, of "the birds of the air" which came to lodge in the branches of the tree - the tree which represents the axis that passes through the centre of each state of being and connects all the states with each other. In the medieval symbol of the Peridexion (a corruption of Paradision) one sees birds on the branches of a tree and a dragon at its foot."

... Fundamental Symbols, Rene Guenon - taken from The Eleventh Hour, Martin Lings

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beyond All Reckoning

When half a thousand years and more
Had passed, and men allegiance swore
To the Arab Prophet, beneath the tree,
My willing hand was still not free
From bonds of time and space to be
Between his hands in fealty.

Such blessings missed, time was when I
Within myself would wonder why,
Half quarrelling with the book of fate
For having writ me down so late.
But now I no longer my lot
Can question, and of what was not.
No more I say: Would it had been!
For I have seen what I have seen,
And I have heard what I have heard.
So if to tears ye see me stirred,
Presume not that they spring from woe:
In thankful wonderment they flow.
Praise be to Him, the Lord, the King,
Who gives beyond all reckoning.


... Collected Poems, Martin Lings

The Songs Of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

... W B Yeats

Maria Callas - La Divina

This is a tribute to my favourite soprano - Maria Callas. I have heard so many in my life, but personally, no one sings as passionately as Callas. Her songs were sang with as much colour as her life was lived. One cannot but be drawn into her world through the passionate laments of her songs. I remembered as a child, I used to sacrifice my meal to purchase yet another recording of Callas, all the way from an odd music shop in Centrepoint (the shop is no longer there). And as I was listening to her belting Bellini's Norma and Bizet's Carmen in the background tonight, I realised that I have not written anything about my favourite soprano in my Blog.

Maria Callas was a legend who lived for her art. She was quoted to have said: "I don't need the money, dear. I work for art." She died in Paris on September 16 1977 when she was merely 53 years: a virtual recluse, dependent, at the end of an unhappy life on cocktails of uppers and downers to give her some sense of emotional wellbeing. She was also regarded as the greatest soprano of the 20th century, though paradoxically - and much about Callas is genuinely paradoxical - some have wondered, and continue to wonder, whether the personal price she had to pay for success was too high.

Thirty years on, we know much more about her from the vast numbers of biographies, sensationalist or otherwise, that have been written. Her reputation as the greatest, however, remains untarnished. Her discs still sell in the millions. CD issues of her live performances, whether authorised or otherwise, remain central to any collection. Earlier last year, a poll of opera critics, published in Gramophone magazine, voted her the most influential soprano of the recording era. Though there was heated discussion of which other singers should be included in the list, no one questioned that Callas should be anywhere other than first.

Although she left us more than thirty years ago, we hardly feel that she was gone, judging from the stream of CDs flowing from her record company. There was even a new 70-CD box set out last year to commemorate the soprano's passing. All of the re-issued music is a testament to an artist who lived, and possibly even died, for her art.

"Vissi d'Arte, Vissi D'amore" - which in Italian means, "I lived for art, I lived for love." Those words, from Puccini's Tosca, could have been a most apt epitaph for dear Maria Callas.

With her vivid interpretations, Callas succeeded brilliantly at living for her art. Soprano Aprile Millo once said, "Listening to Callas is like reading Shakespeare: You're always going to be knocked senseless by some incredible insight into humanity." Millo also called Callas a "huge bonfire," referring to her explosive performances, but also to the fact that Callas burnt white hot, then fizzled out, with a voice left in tatters while she was still in her 40's.

As far as living for love, well, Callas was much less successful in that role. A meaningless marriage ended in divorce, and the small taste of love she did find with shipping mogul Aristotle Onassis soured when he dumped her for Jackie Kennedy. Her spiral into depression was manifested when she said: "First I lost my voice, then I lost my figure and then I lost Onassis."

The only love Callas really knew, it seemed, was the stage. She said: "I don't know what happens to me on stage. Something else seems to take over." Her relationships were with her characters. Callas breathed fierce drama into roles like Tosca, Madama Butterfly and a troubled but strong-willed Druid priestess named Norma.

For ages, roles like Norma were prime territory for twittering sopranos who could hit all the high notes, but missed most of the drama. Callas pumped life's blood into these characters, giving them hearts, minds and even souls. Veteran critic John Steane says you needn't have seen the great Callas on stage; the proof is all right there, on the shiny silver discs.

"What we have on the records is an incomparable richness of this fusion of singing and characterization," Steane says. "You actually do see her act; you do see her as it were on the stage. The sound of her singing was visual."

Even as a teenager, Callas was passionate about learning opera. She sang complete roles at the Athens Conservatory where she studied. Her professional debut came in 1941, at the tender age of 17. What followed was a legendary, but relatively short, career. Callas made her final stage appearance as Puccini's Tosca, in 1965.

As Callas's voice diminished, so did her zest for life. In the end, she lived as a recluse in her Paris apartment, increasingly dependent on the sleeping pills that may have caused the heart failure that ended her life 30 years ago.

Callas remains "controversial". Even today, opera buffs (who don't and obviously can't sing themselves) argue over the finer points of her voice, its 'defects' and why it came unraveled. But most agree that her genius far outweighed a wobble here or there. That her greatness was achieved through a self-lacerating perfectionism and a need to express emotion through the vicarious assumption of figures other than herself, was the product of the private tragedies that are also part of her myth. It makes her a difficult role model to follow, though some have tried. "I prepare myself for rehearsals like I would for marriage" - such discipline and dedication to her work is truly unparalled.

Callas's quest to express emotional truth through music has, however, influenced generations of singers and musicians way beyond her chosen field and even beyond opera itself. That is perhaps the most important aspect of her tremendous legacy and the reason why she will always rank among the greatest singers of all time.

The great soprano referred to herself as two distinct beings — 'Callas the artist' and 'Callas the woman.' Perhaps it was fate, but Callas never really found the tools to fulfill 'Callas the woman', so she poured all of herself into 'Callas the artist.' And that is the Callas who lives on today.

And personally for me, I have long been inspired to be the teacher that she once described: "That is the difference between good teachers and great teachers: good teachers make the best of a pupil's means; great teachers foresee a pupil's ends."

La Divina Maria Callas ...


In her favourite role as Bellini's Norma


In Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" singing "O Mio Babbino Caro"


Empire State Building

I am on a roll ... and am enjoying it. I managed to 'conquer' another landmark yesterday. I 'climbed' The Empire State Building - which consists of 1,576 steps, dragging on and on and on ... until it was completed. The Empire State Run-Up has been an annual tradition since 1978. Every year, runners race up the 1,576 stairs to the 86th floor. The record time of 9 minutes and 33 seconds was set in 2003 - but at this moment, that timing is way out of my league. Hey trainer - where are you? :)

New York's famous Empire State Building, a New York City Landmark and a National Historic Landmark, soars more than a quarter of a mile into the atmosphere above the heart of Manhattan.

Located on the 86th floor, 320m above the city's bustling streets, the Observatory offers panoramic views from within a glass enclosed pavilion and from the surrounding open-air promenade.

Since the Observatory opened to the public in 1931, almost 110 million visitors have thrilled to the awe-inspiring vision of the city beneath them.

Each year over 3.5 million people are whisked to the 86th floor to be where Cary Grant waited in vain for Deborah Kerr in an "Affair to Remember" (such a romantic movie - I love it!), while Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had their fateful meeting in the movie "Sleepless in Seattle." The observatory is handicap accessible.

The building, one of New York City's main tourist attractions, offers a variety of activities for its visitors. One can tour the Observatory 365 days per year, day and night, rain or shine for breathtaking views of Manhattan and beyond. Also, there are two restaurants, a sushi bar, three coffee shops, a drug store, a Hallmark card shop, a post office and two banks, in addition to the plethora of restaurants and nightlife activities in the surrounding area.

For the family, there is the New York SKYRIDE, an independently owned and operated simulated helicopter ride and virtual-reality movie theater. There are also several art exhibits for all to view in the lobby, including the addition of items from Fay Wray's private collection of photographs, posters and "King Kong" memorabilia permanently displayed in two lobby showcase windows. Many concerts and holiday-based shows/decorations are scheduled year-round as well as special annual events such as the ESB Run-up and Valentine's Day Weddings.

All in all, the feeling and spirit of New York City is embodied in the Empire State Building. From the people who fell in love here, to the ones who have returned with their children and grandchildren, everyone recognizes the building not only as an awe-inspiring landmark which offers one of the most spectacular views on earth but an unequaled symbol of American ingenuity and Art Deco architecture.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Anywhere Is Possible

What I did watch last week was the movie Jumper - and Diane Lane connected the past few days (see my entry on A Thousand Chances).

This science fiction thriller begins the epic adventures of a man who discovers that he possesses the exhilarating ability to instantly teleport anywhere in the world he can imagine. From New York to Tokyo and from the ruins of Rome to the heart of the Sahara desert, anywhere is possible for David Rice. That is until he begins to see that his freedom is not total and that he is not alone. Instead, he is part of an ongoing, global war that threatens the very survival of his rare and extraordinary kind.

The film LOOKS great, but at a brisk 88 minutes, there is no time to fill in back story, from the epic history of paladin persecution to the deeply personal mystery of David's mother, and the cliffhanger ending is so abrupt that the movie seems bizarrely truncated. And all this simply means: that there will definitely be a sequel. I did not bet on this movie, and I would not be waiting anxiously for its sequel.

But this movie has few saving points: there are some questions that makes one think (again) - although it really does not need such an expensive movie to bring it up :) In one of the scene, Samuel L Jackson asked: "You think you can go on like this forever? Living like this with no consequences? There are always consequences."

This point and the above (about having no absolute freedom) is a concept we are very familar with. Islam teaches us both of these. Our belief in the Last Day and the Day of Judgment would answer the question by Samuel Jackson. In the natural order of things, every decision made will have consequences. It is in the fitrah of creation that there is a cause and effect. Hence, The Hour is a day of reckoning for us to be accountable for all that we have done while being a khalifah of God on Earth, or for that matter, for things we have not done.

Whilst Man have been endowed with the ability to make choices, such choices are never absolute. In the theological sense, because our lives have been scribed by The Almighty and His Ink has dried, we are merely playing out the destiny set out for us. Everything related to His Creations, us included, are at best, relative to His Absolute nature.

Deep down, we know this.

For You, A Thousand Times Over

I was told by a friend that I should read this book, The Kite Runner, prior to watching the movie... and so I did. I lapped it all up in one night. I am now ready to brave myself to watch the movie version.

The novel is more than a typical coming-of-age story - rather, it is about friendship, betrayal, personal salvation, redemption and healing on a very personal level. It is very rare for me to do so, but I need to set the "stage" by quoting from the first pages of the book:

December 2001:
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they say about the past, I've learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.

One day last summer, my friend Rahim Khan called from Pakistan. He asked me to come see him. Standing in the kitchen with the receiver to my ear, I knew it wasn't just Rahim Khan on the line. It was my past of unatoned sins. After I hung up, I went for a walk along Spreckels Lake on the northern edge of Golden Gate Park. The early-afternoon sun sparkled on the water where dozens of miniature boats sailed, propelled by a crisp breeze. Then I glanced up and saw a pair of kites, red with long blue tails, soaring in the sky. They danced high above the trees on the west end of the park, over the windmills, floating side by side like a pair of eyes looking down on San Francisco, the city I now call home. And suddenly Hassan's voice whispered in my head: For you, a thousand times over. Hassan the harelipped kite runner.

I sat on a park bench near a willow tree. I thought about something Rahim Khan said just before he hung up, almost as an afterthought. There is a way to be good again. I looked up at those twin kites. I thought about Hassan. Thought about Baba. Ali. Kabul. I thought of the life I had lived until the winter of 1975 came along and changed everything. And made me what I am today.

The Kite Runner, a novel by Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, is the first novel to be written in English by an Afghan, and spans the period from before the 1979 Soviet invasion until the reconstruction following the fall of the odious Taliban. The themes are universal: familial relationships, particularly father and son; the price of disloyalty; the inhumanity of a rigid class system; and the horrific realities of war.

In Afghanistan, young Amir's earliest memories of life in Kabul are blessed with a cultural heritage that values tradition, blood ties and a deeply rooted cultural identity. Upper class Pashtuns, Amir enjoys the luxury of education, material comfort and a constant playmate, the son of his father's longtime Hazara servant, Hassan.

Twice in his lifetime Amir is morally tested in his relationship with Hassan. The first time, he is a victim of his own arrogance. Amir is cruel to Hassan, just as much as he values his friendship and loves him in his own way. Hassan stands up for Amir time and again, but Amir fails his friend, and on one particular day, the day of the famous kite flying contest, he fails him in a way which haunts him for years to come. Hiding behind the superiority of class, Amir chooses the path of least resistance, but the scar of betrayal cuts through his soul and never heals. That first failure dictates Amir's inner dialogue throughout his life, even in America, until he is offered another chance at personal redemption. Returned to his homeland at the request of an old family friend, the second challenge is equally perilous, and Amir recognizes the very real implications of his decision. This internal struggle is the underlying theme of the novel, which spans Afghanistan's history from the peaceful 70's to the repressive rule of the late '90s.

Played out on the world stage, a desperate battle to preserve the cultural heritage of Afghanistan spans Amir's life in Kabul and America. While Amir and his father reside safely in America, their homeland is decimated by constant warfare - streets lined with beggars, fatherless children whose future is marginalized by poverty: "There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood." The sweet simplicity of youthful winters spent "kite running" with Hassan seem light years away, illuminated by the boys' unfettered innocence.

Against this stark landscape, the adult Amir is challenged as never before, charged with the protection of a young life already scarred by the random violence visited upon the disenfranchised. With inordinate compassion and stunning simplicity, Hosseini portrays Amir's impossible dilemma. Complications abound, but the answer lies in humanity's capacity for kindness. The grace of acceptance heals the wounds of brutality, for with forgiveness anything is possible, even the wild joy of soaring kites against a winter sky.

Though we are told the story entirely from Amir's perspective, the "ghost" of Hassan lingers throughout the book. While Amir takes us primarily on a journey of redemption, Hassan takes us on a journey of love. He says to Amir, "For you, a thousand times over!" and these lines echoes twice more in the book, connecting Amir's destiny with Hassan's. Hassan is completely selfless; he never stops giving, even after he and Amir have parted. This is the path Amir struggles to find - the road that will lead him to forgiveness, peace, and eventually a changed heart that only wants to give, the kind of heart that he first experienced in knowing Hassan.

In the end, Amir, who grew up being served, has learned how to serve others. He knows that the mistakes he made in the past have been forgiven, and this allows him to be able to forgive himself.

This book resonates deeply with the messages of loyalty, love and forgiveness. Such things can never be too often written about, or talked about, or read about. Most of us are probably more like Amir than we would care to admit, but we constantly struggle to become like Hassan. Sometimes giving of ourselves hurts, and sometimes it seems like what we do is of no consequence anyway. But there is always a reason, because God has it all worked out in His Plan. And we can only stand in wonder - carrying out those plans, and with our arms opened, say to Him and to those around us: "for You, a thousand times over!"

At our human level, do we have our own "Amir" whom we would selflessly do anything for him "a thousand times over"?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

The World is three days:

As for yesterday,
it has vanished,
along with all that was in it.

As for tomorrow,
you may never see it.

As for today,
it is yours,
so work in it.

... Hassan al-Basri

Every Moment

a voice
out of this world
calls on our soul
to wake up and rise

this soul of ours
is like a flame
with more smoke than light
blackening our vision
letting no light through

lessen the smoke and
more light brightens your house
the house you dwell in now
and the abode
you'll eventually move to

now my precious soul
how long are you going to
waste yourself
in this wandering journey
can't you hear the voice
can't you use your swifter wings
and answer the call

... Mevlana Jalalludin Rumi

Under The Shade

In these past couple of days, this same theme kept cropping up in the different classes which I was conducting. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the ahadeeth, the following is a reference. For the general reader, treat it as a hadith for guidance, insya-Allah.

"On the Day of Resurrection, the sun would draw so close to the people that there would be left a distance of only one mile. The people will be submerged in perspiration according to their deeds, some up to their ankles, some up to their knees, some up to the waist and some would have the bridle of perspiration and, while saying this, the Messenger of Allah put his hand towards his mouth." (Muslim)

"There are seven whom Allah will shade in His Shade on the Day when there is no shade except His Shade: a just ruler; a youth who grew up in the worship of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic; a man whose heart is attached to the mosques; two men who love each other for Allah's sake, meeting for that and parting upon that; a man who is called by a woman of beauty and position [for illegal intercourse], but he says: 'I fear Allah'; a man who gives in charity and hides it such that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives in charity; and a man who remembered Allah in private and so his eyes shed tears." (Bukhari & Muslim)

Petronas Tower

In the spirit of discipline and consistency, I decided to climb another milestone this morning since it was the weekend. After cycling for 13km as warm-up, I "climbed" 1,318 steps of The Petronas Tower. Once you have overcome your own mental barrier, it seems easier to conquer your potential. And once you have realised this, you become addicted to achieve higher objectives. And there are lessons in life in this ... Alhamdulillah.

World renowned architect Cesar Pelli of Cesar Pelli & Associates, and former dean of Yale University's School of Architecture whose remarkable works include the Canary Wharf, London, World Financial Centre, Manhattan and Carnegie Hall Tower, New York City, was tasked with building a masterpiece that would embody the strength of Malaysia, the culture of its people and the corporate aspirations of PETRONAS.

Interestingly, it was never specified that the conceptual proposals be for the "tallest buildings in the world", simply only distinctive. While striving to be in the forefront of technology, PETRONAS takes pains to nurture the nation's cultural heritage to serve as a link between the past and the future through the PETRONAS Twin Towers.

As a new Malaysian icon and symbol of a great leap forward, the building possess an essentially modern overall character. However, the judicious application of traditional art and craft embellishing the interiors gives the buildings a distinctively Malaysian personality. The skybridge that links the two towers symbolises a gateway to the future and physically, into the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC).

The KLCC development is itself a city-within-a-city, a 103-acre cultivated urban environment of commercial, retail and recreational facilities – including a 50-acre park. Located at the north-west corner of KLCC, the PETRONAS Twin Towers have taken Kuala Lumpur into the realm of world cities whose skylines are instantly recognisable.

Years after completing the project, Cesar Pelli was quoted as saying "I never pretended to be a Malaysian architect. I was a foreign architect working in Malaysia with respect and love for the country."

At the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2004, in New Delhi India, where Pelli was honoured for producing a building concept that successfully addresses the needs and hopes of Islamic societies, he remarked, that architects should react and respond to places, people, circumstances and needs and interpret them artistically.

"For the PETRONAS Twin Towers, I tried to express the essences of the country. The building is rooted in tradition, but it is mostly about Malaysia's aspiration and ambition," said Pelli.

A Thousand Chances

Life offers you a thousand chances ... all you have to do is take one.

That was the tagline for the movie Under The Tuscan Sun showing on the telly this lazy Saturday evening. I have always wanted to watch this movie when it was released about 5 years ago - the major attraction being the beautiful and romantic Tuscany which I hoped to visit one day and of course, the attractive Diane Lane :)

Under the Tuscan Sun is a 2003 film directed by Audrey Wells based on the 1996 memoir of the same name by American author Frances Mayes. The movie tells the story from a woman's heart but with a breadth of humor and drama that should appeal to anyone who wants to believe, or needs to hope, that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel of marital infidelity and dissolution.

The story is about Frances who entered a wondrous new world when she began restoring an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. There were unexpected treasures at every turn: faded frescoes beneath the whitewash in her dining room, a vineyard under wildly overgrown brambles in the garden, and, in the nearby hill towns, vibrant markets and delightful people. In Under the Tuscan Sun, she brings the lyrical voice of a poet, the eye of a seasoned traveler, and the discerning palate of a cook and food writer to celebrate the pleasures of Italian life.

The Tuscanic view was so breathtakingly beautiful - with cottages, sprawling hills, spring and flowers in myriad colours, romantic pathwalks, space, space, space - that anyone should be entranced by it's sheer visual assault on the senses. It feels like I have taken a trip to Tuscany for that short moment.

This beautiful movie and memoir about taking chances, living in Italy, loving a house, and, always, the pleasures of food, would be a perfect gift for me. But it is delicious, you have gotta see it for yourself.

The only thing more surprising than the chance Frances is taking, is where the chance is taking her...

Friday, February 15, 2008

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack,
the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for
you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths- for you the shores
a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

... Walt Whitman

To One In Paradise

Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine—
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! on!”—but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!

For, alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o’er!
No more—no more—no more—
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!

And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams—
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.

... Edgar Allan Poe

The Daffodils @ I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud:
That floats on high over vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars
that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

... William Wordsworth

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Space Needle

I have been without a trainer for the past week while he is currently away on his honeymoon and am somewhat feeling lost about my development. But I have achieved yet another milestone yesterday and I think even he will be proud: I cycled for 13km and surpassed my next target (The Great Pyramids) on the stairs master and went straight to "climb" the Space Needle instead - all 915 steps. And the best thing was - I did not take as long as I had expected. Alhamdulillah!

So, a bit of history lesson about this iconic structure:

The Space Needle is a tower in Seattle, Washington. It is a major landmark of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and the symbol of Seattle. Located in Seattle Center, it was built for the 1962 World's Fair, during which time nearly 20,000 people a day used the elevators — 2.3 million visitors in all for the World Fair. The Space Needle is 184m high and 42m wide at its widest point and weighs 9,550 tons. When it was completed, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. It is built to withstand winds of up to 320km/h and earthquakes up to 9.5 magnitude (which would protect the structure against an earthquake as powerful as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake) and has 25 lightning rods on the roof to prevent lightning damage.

The Space Needle features an observation deck at 160m, the SkyCity restaurant at 152m and a gift shop. From the top of the Needle, one can see not only the Downtown Seattle skyline, but also the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and surrounding islands. Photographs of the Seattle skyline often show the Space Needle in a prominent position, even appearing sometimes to tower above the rest of the city's skyscrapers. This occurs because the Space Needle sits roughly four-fifths of a mile (1.3 km) northwest of these skyscrapers, and photographers must capture the city with the Space Needle in the foreground in order to include both it and the rest of the tall buildings. At 60 stories. it is not remarkably tall, and it is not as close to the cluster of downtown skyscrapers as one might think judging only from the typical angle from which the skyline photographs are taken. Visitors can reach the top via elevators that travel at 16 km/h. This trip takes 43 seconds and some tourists wait in hour-long lines in order to ascend to the top of the tower. On windy days, the elevators will be slowed down to ascend at a speed of 5 mph.

In my simpler circumstance, on the other hand, "climbed" it all by stairs :)

It was designated a historic landmark on April 19, 1999. On May 19 2007, the Space Needle welcomed its 45 millionth visitor.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I Think, Therefore I Am (?)

That famous phrase by René Descartes - to be exact - "I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am" ("Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum") established the philosophy for the existence of man.

Descartes is often regarded as the first modern thinker to provide a philosophical framework for the natural sciences as these began to develop. In his Discourse on the Method he attempts to arrive at a fundamental set of principles that one can know as true without any doubt. To achieve this, he employs a method called methodological skepticism: he rejects any idea that can be doubted, and then re-establishes them in order to acquire a firm foundation for genuine knowledge.

Initially, Descartes arrives at only a single principle: thought exists. Thought cannot be separated from me, therefore, I exist. Therefore, Descartes concluded, if he doubted, then something or someone must be doing the doubting, therefore the very fact that he doubted proved his existence.

Descartes concludes that he can be certain that he exists because he thinks. But in what form? He perceives his body through the use of the senses; however, these have previously been proven unreliable. So Descartes concludes that the only indubitable knowledge is that he is a thinking thing. Thinking is his essence as it is the only thing about him that cannot be doubted. Descartes defines "thought" as "what happens in me such that I am immediately conscious of it, insofar as I am conscious of it". Thinking is thus every activity of a person of which he is immediately conscious.

In the middle of the 17th century, a Dutch philosopher, Baruch de Spinoza took on Descartes and lost. He disagreed with Descartes' famous dualist theory, human beings were composed of physical bodies and immaterial minds. In The Ethics, his masterwork, published after his death in 1677, he argued that body and mind are not two separate entities but one continuous substance. Reason, insisted Spinoza, is shot through with emotion. More radical still, he claimed that thoughts and feelings are not primarily reactions to external events but first and foremost about the body. In fact, he suggested, the mind exists purely for the body's sake, to ensure its survival.

For his beliefs, Spinoza was vilified and - for extended periods - ignored. Descartes, on the other hand, was immortalized as a visionary. His rationalist doctrine shaped the course of modern philosophy and became part of the cultural bedrock.

Lately, scientists have begun to approach consciousness in more Spinozist terms: as a complex and indivisible mind-brain-body system. Back then in the 17th century, Spinoza had anticipated one of brain science's most important recent discoveries: the critical role of the emotions in ensuring our survival and allowing us to think. Feeling, it turns out, is not the enemy of reason, but, as Spinoza saw it, an indispensable accomplice.

Thus, the emergence of the current phenomena of what is known as the Emotional Intelligence. Perhaps, instead of "I think, therefore I am", it is now more apt to say "I feel, therefore I am".