Sunday, June 25, 2017

Looking For The Light

 
 
Hari Raya Puasa, Eid ul-Fitr; 1 Syawal 1438

10.55
Woke for the dawn prayer with a worryingly painful back. At that time I despaired of attending Raya Prayers since any kind of movement was potentially painful and I felt vulnerable in the extreme. However, I'm pleased to say that, with Fuad's help, I managed to get across to the small masjid opposite where we've been putting up for this visit at Rachid's place at Cheng Heights. I needed to use a chair for assistance, but I got through somehow and felt the better for it. Now wondering what the day will bring but reconciled to getting on with things and hoping some kind of recovery kicks in.

In dark times you've got to keep an eye out for the lights; and so for all who struggle to keep them in view: Selamat Hari Raya! Eid Mubarak!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fast Approaching

29 Ramadhan, 1438

17.57
I'm sitting on the floor in the living room at Mak's house in Melaka typing this, having finally succeeded in getting on line and connecting with the world beyond. Lots of activity going on around me, though happily passing me by so I can type in relative peace, as preparations are afoot for the final breaking of fast for Ramadhan this year. It will be nice to drink tea whenever I wish to tomorrow, but it's equally good to enjoy the control and simplicity of the fast as I've been doing today.

Had a long chat with Hamzah earlier on the current state of affairs regarding the economy and running of the government here in Malaysia. There is much to pray for, a reminder of how petty one's own concerns are set against the needs of a nation.

Happy to report reasonably clear roads going south from the capital yesterday evening when we made our way down. Just what we needed.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Bad Dream

28 Ramadhan, 1438

I'd been wondering whether I've ever had 'eating dreams' in fasting month. I'm talking about the kind of dreams in which you suddenly realise you've been scoffing away at something when you shouldn't have been and feel appropriately guilty. Well, now I know the answer as I had precisely such a dream in the early hours of today and still feel the strange guilt of it.

I had the dream after going back to sleep after the sahur meal before dawn. In the dream I was rummaging in a box below the sink in the kitchen here, looking for something that Noi said she needed, when I realised I'd been munching at a chocolate wafer that had been left inside the box. I woke with the actual taste of the wafer in my mouth, and deep regrets that I'd failed in the fast so close to the end, having some awareness in the dream that we are into the final days of the month.

The relief I felt on realising that the wafer wasn't real was considerable, but, as noted above, wasn't quite considerable enough to completely wash away the feeling of guilt. I suppose this is all useful in some way, but I just don't know quite how.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Going Wrong

27 Ramadhan, 1438

As ever Noi has put and kept the house here in tip-top order since our arrival, but modern life presents so many opportunities for things to go wrong that it was unlikely we'd get away without having to deal with at least one or two problems. And it just so happens that two irritations in the smooth running of the household have made themselves felt the day before we depart for Melaka and our forthcoming Raya festivities. 

We've already had a few days without the air-conditioning functioning in our bedroom and we thought we'd got this fixed. However, the cold air it was blowing has managed to turn warm again and we'll need to get the workmen back again (after just two days.) Not sure they'll be able to come tomorrow though, so this is one problem that looks set to run for some time. At almost exactly the same time as becoming aware of our non-functioning air-conditioning we found ourselves unable to get any tv service though our less-than-trusty Astro box, so poor Noi will miss one of her favourite dramas tonight. Somehow we got through to customer service earlier and they say they'll send a technician tomorrow morning, so we live in hope of effecting a cure before moving on.

And to put a tin hat on it (as Mum would say) in the middle of all this I managed to tweak my back, whilst standing shaving (of all harmless activities!) Sitting here typing, I'm feeling the ache big-time. As you may imagine, I am not a happy soldier. All the more reason for reminding myself that things could be worse and that from certain perspectives this has been just another day in a paradise of sorts.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Within Reason

26 Ramadhan, 1438

Continuing to make headway in Nikolaus Wachsmann's devastating history of the Third Reich's Konzentrationslager. In some ways it's an easy read, being written with great clarity and never losing sight of the human stories amidst the formidable analysis of the development of the camps. But it's so overwhelming in its evocation of the unbearable suffering endured by so many that I can only manage a few pages at one time before feeling a deep need to get away from the twisted world within its pages. The problem is, though, that this is very much our world and there's so much that's easy to recognise despite the historical distance involved: the ease with which a culture can surrender to the irrational for one.

The sick twisted logic of the camps is simultaneously enraging and frightening. The guards find confirmation that the prisoners are less than human in the the physical degradation they suffer as a result of life in the appalling environment of the typical camp created by the guards. There seems no way out of the madness, and, of course, for the majority of the victims that was tragically the case.

But I suppose a way forward can be seen in the very publication of a book like this, in which reason and humanity shed some light, dark as it is, on what took place. Wachsmann's work, and the painstaking research on which it draws, does some honour to the despairing epigraph of the book, drawn from a letter written by one of the victims found buried in the Auschwitz crematorium: may the world at least behold a drop, a fraction of this tragic world in which we lived. We're frequently reminded in these pages of the choices which were never real choices given to the victims of the camps. Fortunately we have real choices and can pursue truth, can choose to reason in an honest fashion, can follow the light insofar as our limitations allow.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Not The Final Countdown

25 Ramadhan, 1438

There was a time when I'd mark off the final days of fasting in any given Ramadhan by thinking: This is the last Monday I'll need to fast on; this is the last time I'll have to fast on Tuesday - and so on. Childish, I suppose, but comforting. I don't do this anymore, not because I've miraculously grown-up, but because I've come to understand that, with good fortune, these will not be the final days of fasting for me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

In Detail

24 Ramadhan, 1438

Main reading of the day has been Nikolaus Wachsmann's KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps. The KL in the title is from the German Konzentrationslager, a term that before I read some of the reviews of this monumental study was entirely unfamiliar to me, in something of the same way that I'd never heard the term Gulag prior to reading Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. I  wonder, in the light of the publication of Wachsmann's work whether KL will become as definingly familiar a term.

I'm roughly a third of the way into the book and already overwhelmed by its astonishing detail, astonishing both in the sense of just how much detail exists regarding every aspect of the camps (this is a text that Holocaust-deniers would do well to avoid if they wish to cling on to their pathetic illusions) and in the darker sense of its relentless revelation of the human capacity for extreme cruelty. Wachsmann skilfully blends accounts of individual behaviour involving both the perpetrators and the victims of the evil of the camps with a broader sense of the general development of the KL against the unfolding events of the 30s and 40s so that you're never allowed to lose sight of the horror in human terms. But the horror is never played up - I suppose because it simply doesn't need to be. The bare details are quite enough.

But the implications of those details are devastating in terms of how we look at ourselves. On the page I'm reading at the moment, dealing with the development of the Nazi euthanasia programme, known as Operation T-4, in relation to the camps, Wachsmann's flat statement regarding the physicians involved, Mass murder seems to have come easy to them, is massively troubling, and it's backed up with ample evidence. The doctors who singled out prisoners for execution in the first, experimental gas chambers enjoyed their work and the prestige, and chances for career advancement, involved.

I'm not sure exactly why I'm reading this, I just know that at some level I have to.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

On Balance

23 Ramadhan, 1438

Can I really write about the rigours of fasting month now that I'm so adjusted to its demands that those rigours have generally dissipated? Perhaps talking about the minor inconveniences of Ramadhan would be more to the point? Yet it's wise to remember that the demands of the month extend well beyond the merely physical and living up to all of those demands, each and every day, is rigorous indeed.

But sitting here feeling extremely full and extremely satisfied after scoffing Noi's chicken in a bag dinner doesn't seem in the least bit rigorous. Rather it puts me in mind of the need to go easy on the edibles for the next couple of days and to keep in mind how incredibly lucky we are to live at a time when for so many folks in this part of the world a luxury diet can be taken for granted. There was an article in today's paper about some fairly major research indicating that one in ten of the world's population is obese, with a good third being classified as overweight. I didn't find that surprising at all.

Yet another reason for meditating upon the not-so-simple good sense of the fast and just some of its many purposes.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Paranoia

22 Ramadhan, 1438

Finished Patricia Cornwell's Chaos this morning. There was enough of a story to keep me going to the end, but not enough for me to feel the experience of reading the novel was worthwhile. Except, I suppose, there's some interest in seeing a writer getting it all wrong and somehow managing to get published. I suppose there are enough fans still around to make on-going publication of even the weakest Scarpetta novels financially worthwhile? I can't see how any reader new to Cornwell would even consider reading on. Everything in Chaos is predicated on familiarity and interest in the increasingly unlikely backstory of the forensic pathologist and the characters around her such that a good quarter of the text is spent clumsily rehashing that story. 

One thing that jumped out on me in this reading is the weirdly obsessional sense of hysteria generated by the central character in almost every sequence of the novel. Ms Cornwell's various personal problems are not exactly well kept secrets, but it wouldn't be difficult to guess their nature from a reading of this novel. I suppose the corrosive paranoia inherent in the Scarpetta world view worked to the advantage of the stories built around her in the early novels as a nobody caught up in events beyond her control. But she arrived as a heavyweight player a long time ago. The depiction of her as a victim of pretty much everyone and everyone thing around her is just very, very strange.

Friday, June 16, 2017

From The Ridiculous To The Sublime

21 Ramadhan, 1438

Bloomsday

This time last year I vowed never to read another Patricia Cornwell novel after thankfully putting aside, though not before courageously completing, the dreadful Isle of Dogs. My feeling then was that it qualified as the worst novel I've ever read and, in retrospect, I think that was an accurate judgement. So it's an odd and unlikely coincidence that exactly one year later another Bloomsday should see me reading yet another Cornwell, this time the latest in the Scarpetta series, featuring the hotshot forensic pathologist (or whatever she is) from Virginia. Why have I reneged on my vow? you may wonder. Basically because Karen, recalling our joint affection for the first four or so novels in the Scarpetta series, made me a birthday present earlier this year of a rather fine and distinctly hefty paperback edition of Chaos, the novel in question and I felt obliged to read it at some point, setting it aside for the June vacation.

The good news is that it's nothing like as bad as Isle of Dogs; the bad news is that it suffers from exactly those faults that made me, and I suspect many other readers, fall out of love with Dr Scarpetta. It would be tiresome and ungentlemanly to list the faults in question but I will say that Ms Cornwell seems to have no sense at all of how comic it is to constantly insist on how deeply wonderful her central characters are - especially the tiresome Benton (Scarpetta's perfect husband) and even more tiresome Lucy (Scarpetta's perfect niece) - whilst failing to give them the slightest sense of realism, beyond letting us know what wonderful cars they drive, what fabulous food they eat, what wonderful clothes they wear and how good they look in them. The fact that these brilliantly accomplished characters generally behave with a level of emotional intelligence that would embarrass the average ten-year-old seems to escape their creator. Or, perhaps, this is all intended as subtly satirical?

Anyway, I decided that I couldn't let this Bloomsday go by without treating myself to a little bit of the greatest novel of the twentieth century. I chose to accompany Stephen, walking into eternity along Sandymount strand, and was glad I did. Never quite realised before the degree to which Chapter 3 of Ulysses echoes, reflects and sheds light on Stephen's glorious epiphany in Chapter 4 of A Portrait. Really must read the whole novel again (and again!)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Making Tracks

20 Ramadhan, 1438

12.59
Now girding tired loins for the journey north. Hoping for clear roads and to be breaking our fast in Kuala Lumpur - but there are never guarantees.

Postscript: It turns out I was girding my loins somewhat earlier than necessary. In the event we didn't set off until after the prayer for Asr and we then encountered a tumultuous un-policed jam at Tuas. We broke our fast in the car, on the Singapore side. It was gone midnight before we touched down gratefully at Maison KL. So a bit of trial all in all, but only a bit.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Distinctly Unimpressive

19 Ramadhan, 1438

Got out to the gym after breaking the fast earlier this evening, most likely for the last time in fasting month since, all being well, we're off to Maison KL tomorrow. Thought I might put in a good performance having posted quite good numbers on Monday evening on my previous visit. However, this was not to be. Despite feeling reasonably chipper as proceedings began, I quickly realised there was precious little energy in whatever reserves I could muster up and elected to just keep going in a dignified manner, not worrying too much about lack of pace and pizzazz generally.

Funny things bodies. Disappointingly unpredictable. Especially this one of mine.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Looking Back

18 Ramadhan, 1438

Came across the following in my journal from this date in the Ramadhan of 1422. Gosh that's 16 years ago - when Ramadhan fell in December:

22.49

My back is aching pretty savagely despite my having taken two panadol tablets but we managed to have a good time at Geylang. Fithri bought a balloon, or rather we bought a balloon for Fithri, we got the twinkling lights (which I must put up tomorrow), Noi bought for me my Hari Raya outfit (in navy blue), and we ate well at the market - a delicious bowl of sup kambing in my case. A newly and cheaply purchased Khaled CD is pounding away at the moment and we also got Zubir Abdullah's CD which I am looking forward to playing. This sounds like an orgy of conspicuous consumption but I would have been quite happy just to wander round without buying anything. Fithri put some money given by Noi in the charity box "for poor people" so that helped balance things a little.

There's a wonderful sense of atmosphere at the bazaar. The crowds are dense, suggesting the stall-holders are doing rather well. It only takes a few moments for me to get completely disorientated once I'm amongst the stalls.

Things haven't changed too much. I'm still thinking much the same thoughts, insofar as I'm thinking at all, and still disoriented much of the time. Can't imagine Fifi buying a balloon anywhere these days though. But the girls did put their money in the charity box at Geylang the other night, so Mak Ndak's tutelage can be said to have borne the right kind of fruit.

Monday, June 12, 2017

In The Light

17 Ramadhan, 1438

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We had a fine old time last night amongst the glittering particularities of Geylang & environs. I think it's a fair argument to make that markets and the way they bring disparate peoples together in search of common comforts are one of the great signs of civilisation. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Fast And Loose

16 Ramadhan, 1438

18.40
Looking forward to breaking the fast soon, and then we're off to Geylang with Rozita, Fafa and Fifi, to trip the light fantastic. What larks!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Real Strength

15 Ramadhan, 1438

We're just over the halfway stage in our fasting. It's arrived very quickly, though paradoxically we seem to have been fasting for a long time, long enough to have settled into a reasonably comfortable routine. Is that a sign of strength of character? Not really. More a sign of the mercies that make themselves mysteriously available at this time. I'm quite sure that any disturbance in that routine would have me floundering - which is not such a bad thing. Reminders of one's fundamental vulnerability, one's dependency upon the efforts and goodwill of others, are an essential of this experience.

I've been thinking about issues of strength and weakness in particular relation to the notion of leadership today, in the light of yesterday's UK election result and the light it shone on the perceived strengths and/or weaknesses of the leaders of the various parties involved, especially the party that sort of won but managed to lose at one and the same time. They made an issue of what they saw as the obvious strength of their leader in a way that makes one wonder at just how wrong they managed to be. But reading some reports about the bullying and abusive behaviour of her top aides (who've now resigned) shed much light on this wrongness. These are people who have no understanding of real strength of leadership, operating within a culture that seems to promote all the wrong models of behaviour associated with the concept.

I say this simply because I can't imagine myself not calling such people out big-time if they behaved that way with me, and I don't count myself as particularly strong or brave. Why didn't these guys get the feedback from those they abused they needed to become better people? I can only suppose because of the cowardice of those around them who let them behave like playground bullies. No wonder these people are obsessed with the notion of strength in the rhetoric they peddle: they have none and at some very deep level they yearn for it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Bit Of A Turn Up

14 Ramadhan, 1438

I hadn't been paying that much attention to the General Election campaign in the UK, but I knew enough to be aware that the triumphal progress predicted for the PM was likely to be a lot less triumphal in the final outcome than originally expected. So I quite enjoyed the obvious discomfiture of Mrs May and her supporters as the results came in. Suddenly the obviously strong and stable leader looked weak and wobbly, or rather, not so suddenly. I've seen little real evidence that the politico in question is strikingly impressive and the way in which the right wing press has talked her up always had an air of fragility about it.

In contrast Mr Corbyn has had so much mud thrown at him that there was something impressive simply in his determination to keep going, and his essential decency and honesty was always likely to win over a lot of folks when he was given reasonable air-time. There are many things on which I'm not in agreement with him, and I'd prefer a more centrist Labour Party (simply because it's the only way to actually win an election outright) but the man has real character. That's more than can be said for those of his detractors who unsuccessfully tried to turn him into a figure of comedy. I bet they're not laughing now, eh?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lighting Up

13 Ramadhan, 1438






We've had this set of twinkling lights for some years now, so putting them up is something of a routine. A happy one.

It's a dark world. But there can be light, however temporary.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

No Surprises

12 Ramadhan, 1438

Didn't feel in the least like getting on with the necessary June cleaning of the books in Hall today, which was a sure sign that it was the right day to start. And so I did, and got most of the job done. By 6.00 pm I felt drained and so when Noi asked me to get something from the shop across the road every part of me said no, no, no except, fortunately, for my mouth that sensibly said yes and left me to get on with the job.

It's strange to make a simple trip when you have zero energy. The zero, as ever, turned out to be misleading even if close to a kind of truth.

Oddly enough once I'd broken the fast in our traditional way with a bowl of longans, four small dates, four pieces of jemput jemput, a glass of cold water and four mugs of hot sweet tea I was more than ready to get to the gym and sweat my forty-five minutes.

Every time fasting month comes round I find myself surprising myself in ways that are no longer quite so surprising.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Wider World

11 Ramadhan, 1438

Had an appointment with my back doc this afternoon. Pleasingly I continue without medication, though some stiffness in the spine was detected.

Funnily enough I proceeded to generate a noticeable case of backache as we went from the doc's (located in the East) to Geylang for our first saunter of this year's fasting month around the bazaar. As always I was amazed at the hardiness of those who serve at the food stalls, often with the heat from their cooking adding to the sultry sweatiness of the day. I was very happy indeed to get back to some air-conditioning to accompany afternoon prayers.

We came away with some kueh to accompany the breaking of our fast, but nothing like as much as we would once have burdened ourselves with. So things change even as they stay the same.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Getting Simpler

10 Ramadhan, 1438

We eat well when breaking the fast, but not elaborately. Considering how wonderfully different we are from each other in so many ways it's striking how Noi and I share the same high regard for the excellence of simplicity in practically all aspects of life.

Ramadhan is above all a simple time, or, at least, a time to seek simplicity. No wonder it's so difficult to commercialise the season.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Loosening Up

9 Ramadhan, 1438

Another shameless day of glorious wallowing in the remarkable fact that I didn't have anything urgent to do. I proceeded to do nothing with great efficiency, eating up great chunks of the day in deep, deep naps.

Aside from that, I read about half of the first novel in the Rebus series by Ian Rankin and a fair slab of Christopher Ricks's Milton's Grand Style. The latter is part of a conscious effort to do reasonable justice to works of genuine merit in the world of lit crit, being my follow up to Moody's very fine Pound bio; the former is the contrasting roughage in my reading diet, a choice somewhat inspired by our Edinburgh jaunt of December. Rankin's stuff was understandably prominent in the bookshops there and since he's so highly rated in critical terms it struck me as positively churlish that I've never paid him any real attention.

I'm now mapping my reading ahead for the rest of June. There's plenty waiting on the shelves - a good reason not to keep falling asleep all the time.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Undriven

8 Ramadhan, 1438

An un-packed day, for which I am deeply thankful. Attended a wedding celebration in the morning and that basically that was it for the day. I happily filled the blank hours doing nothing, an activity for which I believe I have quite a talent. It comes easily, anyway. So much for all those deeply mistaken folk who regard me as something of a driven type. They've got the wrong man, I'm afraid.

We spent the evening, post breaking the fast, at a Turkish restaurant at Kampong Glam, where we did little but eat. And very jolly it was, I can tell you.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Good Taste

7 Ramadhan, 1438

A packed day, so I only found time to realise how completely exhausted I was in the 30 minutes before breaking the fast. I conked out on the sofa as Noi was pottering about in the kitchen and, I suspect, had she not woken me to break the fast I would have remained solidly conked until well beyond Isha'. Incidentally, I only discovered just how incredibly thirsty I was in the minute or so before being able to consume the glass of iced water so fortunately prepared for me on the table. Looking at the glass I rediscovered the almost infinite wonder of common or garden H₂0 and, believe me, it tasted good. I actually felt it going down my throat and doing various wonderful things around my stomach.

I suppose the thirst was the result of doing a fair bit of yapping during the day, what with a lecture in the morning and rehearsing in the afternoon. But there was a nice break for Friday Prayers in the middle of it all at which, to my delight, the Imam turned out to be the inestimable Ustad Haron. His voice sounded in much better nick than mine. I suppose it's all the ice-cream he consumes.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Time To Spare

6 Ramadhan, 1438

Having just completed my stint of marking for the IBO and with just one more day to go of rehearsals before a bit of a break from Lady M, I'm looking ahead to what might just be a reasonably relaxing time in the three weeks ahead. That's not to say I won't find plenty that needs to be done, but the hyper-busyness that has been characteristic of the past month or so will be distinctly, wonderfully, moderated - and suddenly so.

The funny thing is that I'm wondering if fasting might feel that little bit more onerous once I've got some time actually to spare to think about it.