He Said, She Said – A Battle of Perspectives

Eclipse-chasing young couple Kit and Laura are the ideal young couple in love, about to watch the awaited eclipse in Cornwall in 1999, with a future of excitement and fresh opportunities to look forward to after university. But while they are about to view the eclipse, Laura stumbles across a a brutal attack, which she later becomes confused about – was it rape, or did she get it all wrong? As events unfold, we see how this affects the lives of all the people involved, and how things aren’t always what they seem.

Fast-forward to 2015, where the couple have changed their name, are hiding in a non-descript house in the back-ends of London, and all traces of their identity and existence have been scrubbed clean. What has happened to make Laura and Kit go into hiding? What has made the now-pregnant and married Laura so afraid for her husband, who is still held by his love for eclipse?

The crux of this novel, which made it so interesting to read, the layering of relationships and the psychological aspects of the story, which is what really makes it a thriller. The motif of eclipses, which appears throughout the book is a clever backdrop which works surprisingly well – mirroring the shadowing of truth, reality and the reliability of a character’s narrative. What we are left with is a very tense, fascinating story which keeps us guessing while we try to figure out what has happened.

Split between the Then and Now type narrative (which isn’t something I’m always a fan of, but it works here) the story reveals secrets in each time period – as we discover what happened in 1999, we also discover another layer to the truth in 2015 which gives a whole new depth to the story. The thing which makes this story beautiful to read is the haunting descriptions and way the story drags you into an emotional rollercoaster, so that the twists in the story really are unpredictable.

I liked this book enough that I’m looking to pick up more books by this author, although there are, admittedly parts which made me question the credibility of certain things (such as the seemingly-irrational fear the couple have which make them go into hiding). However a lot of the ambiguity in this novel (such as who is the ‘He’ and ‘She’ which is in the title? What are all the characters hiding from each other?) which works in its favour, and makes this something engaging enough to get lost in.

He Said She Said is available to buy on Amazon and was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

We Are London

I have written before on my thoughts on the senselessness of violence against innocent citizens, and it’s pretty upsetting that nothing seems to have changed since then – the horrible attacks on people in London has led to an emotional couple of days – anger, worry, heartbreak and fear. I really hate that as soon as something like this happens, so many of my friends, family and I all brace for the inevitable backlash against Muslims, the same fear that we will be grouped with this tragic violence and that we tarred with same the same brush that puts us with something that we don’t believe in.

So this is me, saying this is not my faith. We have said this before and we’ll say it again. Islam doesn’t work like this and we don’t believe or condone any form of terror attacks like this. We are with London, and will remain strong, united and unafraid. London is our home. This is the city where I have had the honour to meet the most diverse and vibrant people from all walks of life and communities, and have found that unity is always better despite coming from different backgrounds.

So I say it is  now, more than every that it’s the time to stand up and speak out against the hate, ignorance and violence perpetuated by some groups, and that to isolate ourselves is not the answer. It is only this which will get us through bad times and remain strong – standing together as friends, a people and as a beautiful nation.

My prayers are with all those who have lost their loved ones: may Allah (SWT) give them the strength to bear what he has tested them with, shower them with his mercy and let their hearts find peace. May Allah (SWT) bring peace and safety to us all.

“…if any one killed a soul, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind…” – The Holy Quran (Chapter Five, Verse 32).

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King

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Mother Tongue

We are
wildflowers
with roots
still growing
in our
motherland.
-Women of Colour
by Mehrin Poetry

 

As I grow  older, the importance of my mother tongue comes more clearly into focus – although at times it feels like I have a lot to learn yet. As someone who was born and grew up in England, I have always considered English as my ‘mother tongue’ simultaneously and alongside with Punjabi, which is were I feel my roots also are. During my childhood and my teen years, I spent so much time exploring the wonders of English, the literature, and studying the words that I felt a little like I lost some of the the words of Punjabi. I have always had a passion for English, whether it was the literature, or just the pure study of words, and it’s a little embarrassing to me now that Punjabi doesn’t always come as naturally as English does.

It puts me to mind a poem I studied as a teen – Search for My Tongue by Sujata Bhatt – which I didn’t fully understand at the time, but which makes so much more sense to me now. The poem symbolises the author’s fear of losing her cultural identity and her ‘mother tongue’, and of the idea that assimilating in a ‘foreign’ country comes at the cost of losing your roots. While I can understand the fear, I think it is a little different for me as well as I didn’t emigrate to the country like the author did, but was born here.

Growing up, I was one of the only Asian girls in my school and often felt a little left out – being among mostly white children made me feel like I had to strive more to fit in, from dress, tastes, clothes and culture, and I remember at the time that I divorced myself from my culture a little – my home life and my school life were always kept separately. Don’t get me wrong – I still had chicken curries at home cooked by my mum, still spoke in half-English-half-Punjabi to my parents and relatives, and made the most of Eid celebrations and glitzy salwar kameezes sewn by my mum. But I have always felt that the culture I was educated in did not understand Pakistani culture or language in a way that I could embrace it.

One of my earliest memories is my mum taking me to nursery on my half day, holding my hand and slowly teaching me words in English – colours, numbers and letters as we swung our hands and stopped at Sainsbury’s for our weekly shopping. My dad taught us Urdu as best as he could alongside our Quran lessons after school – although I’ll admit I wasn’t very interested in learning at all (and couldn’t wait til we could run off and watch TV!) It’s always felt a little ironic to me that these days I meet so many immigrants who are slowly learning English, while I am on the other side of the coin and trying to learn Urdu and Punjabi a little better.

As I entered my late teens, my school environment changed – suddenly there was an influx of Indian, Bengali and Pakistani students at the school who had transferred in, while a lot of the white students in my class left, preferring to stop their classes and go into work. I felt incredibly out of place – here were Asian kids who were comfortable in their skins, knew in jokes in Urdu and made it normal to talk about the things we had at home. Fast-forwarding into university this was even more the case – I found myself surrounded by mostly Asians, and would sometimes self-deprecatingly describe myself as the ‘coconut’ – looks brown on the outside but white on the inside. While my friends were into British-Asian music, Bollywood and Indian restaurants, I was a self-described goth; into soft rock music, heavy black eyeliner and desserts at The Cheesecake Factory.

Over the next few years, my friends, my family and my husband have all played a part in making me comfortable with my words – I can be English and Pakistani and speak both languages without one being more important than the other. I’ve learned a lot more Urdu over the years – mostly from Bollywood films, online websites, and even an Urdu course I went to once (it was terrible, we spend six classes going over the same basic phrases because everyone kept forgetting the previous lessons). These days, whenever I need to know a word, or the meaning of a word, I’ll ask my sister or mum, and my husband is a walking dictionary for this too. I also get a lot more practice – I work with a lot of clients whose first language isn’t English and often have to translate – we all acknowledge my Urdu and Punjabi are terrible but passable, and I’m a lot less embarassed than I used to be.

This isn’t a sad story – as much as I wish my Urdu and Punjabi were more fluent than it is now, I feel like I’ll get there. I have found my own way to embrace my roots, language and culture, and I’m happy with that. I know that I’m not the only one with this issue – I’ve come across a lot of British Asians who can barely understand their parent’s language, and don’t speak a word of it, preferring to stick to English. I can also see this in second-and-third generation parents when speaking to their children in English. When I think of myself, I would love to teach my future children my mother tongue. Urdu is a beautiful language and it is my husband’s language, but Punjabi is where I feel my home and my roots are, so would always want to pass this on too. Having said that, I don’t think there is anything wrong in being fluent in, and choose to speak in English. I grew up devouring books, studying English (and blogging in English), and I think it really is an amazing language with so much depth.

My advice to others who are struggling with re-learning their mother tongue is don’t give up, and don’t feel embarrassed. When I first started learning Urdu properly, I was told by a lot of people that I was terrible at it, and that I was barely understandable. I used to feel embarassed and immediately stop trying to speak it in front of them, and feel a little unsure of myself. These days I laugh and agree with them, but I don’t stop learning. Language, culture and words will always evolve over time (which is why ‘fleek’ is now an acceptable world, when a few years ago it was a non-existent one), and there are so many opportunities to learn with the internet, media and courses.

Who knows, maybe I’ll learn to speak French properly next?

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A Mad Hatter-Books-Pastel Themed Tea

I held a tea party for my sisters this weekend, and I’ve finally manage to sit down (and rest!) to post the results, which I was really pleased with. My sisters and I decided that for Eid this year, instead of giving everyone Eid presents we’d do Eid experiences – a day out, a picnic, a tea. I love my afternoon teas so decided to organise a themed afternoon tea for the girls.

I had a little difficulty deciding on a theme because I liked so many, and initially was going to just do a Mad Hatter’s tea party. But I do love my florals and we all love books, so I decided to work these into the look as well, which worked a lot better than I thought it would – I was worried it would look really messy and nonsensical. My eldest sister commented that it also reminded her of a colourful fair or festival, especially with the colourful bunting, and thankfully the guests all loved the results of the tea!

Here’s what the table looked like, and some of the desserts:

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My favourite part of the decor and table were these – book-themed toppers for the cupcakes. I picked out a bunch of our childhood books so that we could enjoy a few fond memories of the books we used to love (including our first Urdu learning book!) – these were a hit with the ladies and I was glad I included these!

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I had various things scattered around the room  for display to implement all three themes – pastels and florals, book wallpapers, piles of books and a top hat with playing cards to tie the themes together, which I thought went wonderfully together, not to mention the ‘this way’, ‘that way’ and ‘wrong way’ arrows.

I’m sure you can tell that the most obvious theme was the Mad Hatter/Wonderland one – I loved the variety of decor which is out there and took the opportunity to scatter random quotes and prints around the table, as well as ‘drink me’, ‘eat me’ and ‘take me’ tags on the food and goody bags. I also ordered giant playing cards for us to play with, although it was quite funny to see how people would hide their cards!
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My mum also lent me this beautiful tea set which was love at first sight for me, and very apt because it’s actually a Harlequin Tea Set! These were beautiful dainty tea cups in bright colours with matching sauces, which I put on display and thought really made the whole table (not to mention actually made the tea party an actual tea party!)

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My nieces and nephews probably enjoyed themselves the most (you can see my nieces shouting and giggling through my letterbox below), although my sisters and sister-in-law had a lot of fun looking for the small touches around the room too, and putting on false moustaches, giant glasses and hats!

I was really worried about not having enough food on the day, so my menu was a little adventurous, surprisingly I managed to make more than I thought. Even better, the guests all brought some amazing food as well so we were all seriously stuffed and  from red velvet cake, cupcakes, chocolate trifle, sandwiches, pizza, samosas, chicken bites and kebabs, to name but a few of the things we had laid out.

Having said that, my nieces were the first to run to the sweet table and run off giggling with sweets in their hands!

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I had

It was an exhausting but fun afternoon, which was made better by the scorching sunny afternoon and the yummy ice-creams we finished off with. We were meant to play games but we felt pretty lazy and the cushions on the floor were pretty useful for us to laze about in!

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It was really fun (and a little challenging) planning this tea party by myself, but I had fun doing it and also learned what I can make and what I can’t. I was really happy with the decorations I made, they took me a while (hence being quiet on the blogging front!) but I was really pleased with how it all came together.

So now I’m looking forward to the next Eid experience, and also more tea parties with different themes, which I’m already planning – I just need to recover from this one and I’ll be off again!

10 Perks of doing an English Degree

So I’m one of those blessed peopledictionary-costume who spent two years at college, and three years at university studying the joys of Anglais, reading plenty of contemporary, medieval and classical literature,  and contemplating the symbolism behind storms in an angry scene and the writing int he ingredients part of a chocolate bar.

Unfortunately, in the work-world, there’s isn’t always a way to apply the lessons of Shakespeare and Chaucer to, say, buying bread from Asda or typing an email to a client saying that you need them to send in proof of their VAt registration. And stuff.

So here’s a quick list of things that only English majors (and lit-geeks) would probably sympathise with. Wave a sonnet at me if you can relate.

1. People remind you that you already know how to speak English so you just wasted a degree and three years of your life.

2. You are the office dictionary.

3. You are also the office spell-checker and thesaurus.

4. People don’t believe you when you say you have to read books for your studies.

5. Your parents don’t believe you either.

6. People think you’re weird when you say “Oh yes I’ve read that book” every time a new film comes out.

7. Everyone assumes you want to be a teacher because of the english degree. Even if you don’t really like the idea of teaching other people’s children.

8. You over analyse. EVERYTHING. One lone egg left in the fridge? Must be a sign. (To make breakfast maybe).

9. It’s YOU’RE. Not YOUR.

10. You become a little pretentious. Cos you know how something is really spelt, or the origins of a word, or you know the ending of that film cos you read the book.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Tea at The W Hotel

I had the wonderful luck if being spoiled by a few good friends this weekend, who made plans to have ‘Rock Tea’ at the beautiful W Hotel in Soho, London – made even more lovely because of the fact that I hadn’t seen these friends for some time. The hotel was beautiful and the experience even more, particularly as it provided a venue for an enjoyable experience with friends.

Being the typical snap-happy amateur photographer that I am, I took hundreds of pictures, so here are the ones I liked the most. It was a very ‘English’ tea, with about fifty billion (okay, I exaggerate, about 10) different types of tea to start off with, and several yummy goodies which were brought out bit by bit so we could savour them properly : )

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Surprisingly, the sandwiches were a mix of vegetarian, fish and halal chicken, and were honestly the best sandwiches I’ve had at a tea place yet – I could even say I almost enjoyed them more than the cake and nibbles (and I’m a real cake freak!). I also loved the fact that the service was impeccable – the waiters and staff were discreet, friendly and very non-invasive, which made our tea-experience that much more giggly and silly.

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The tea area itself is beautiful, with hundreds of decorative plates lining a huge shelf which partitioned it off from the bar and club area – the plates being printed with various celebrity portraits, icons and art. Perhaps it was the time of day, but the tea area was also pretty quiet, which created a really peaceful atmosphere and also gave us a chance to relax.

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All in all, a lovely day was had (we also didn’t have any pressure to leave after a certain period the way some places only allot you around 90 minutes or two hours before they hustle you to get off their premises!) I’ve been ooh-ing and aahh-ing at the lovely pictures because of how beautiful the set up was, and it’s made me want to go to tea again soon. I’m hoping to try a new place soon – *fingers crossed that someone (heck, anyone) takes the hint and takes me to the Ritz*

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Knights and Proud Horses

I visited Liverpool Street to have a meal at a pretty restaurant recently, and saw this in one of the Squares around the restaurant which I really liked. Created by English sculptor Denis Mitchell, this is a huge piece of metal work of a beautifully embellished horse with a knight sat atop it. It represents, apparently, King Edgar’s gift of land to his knights, which was measured “the distance a horseman could throw his lance.”

So pretty beneficial for the darts-players, really.

The blue stones in this are my favourite bit, they’re beautifully bright and really accentuate the whole piece to make it an almost romantic piece – makes me think of French courtly tales and knights from the middle ages almost. The statue itself is pretty big, standing next to it we could it was at least twice the height of one of us (if not more) but that just makes it look more majestic. It’s situated in a quiet area too, so you get plenty of people wandering around in the peace and taking pictures : )

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Superman: True Brit

Superman: True Brit is a silly, tongue-in-cheek satire about what life would have been like for Superman if he landed in Britain instead of the USA to live the American Dream. This book is a part of a series of ‘Elseworld comics which take DC Comics superheroes and takes characters out of their normal settings to theorise their alternative lives (for example, there’s another Superman novel called ‘Red Son’ about Superman landing in Ukraine to become U.S.S.R’s hero!)

Superman: True Brit is more of  a silly, light-hearted version of the story, with puns and plenty of poking of fun at the old British boys – although that’s to be expected with a graphic novel co-authored by the writers from Monty Python! So here’s a quick review-slash-recap of the graphic novel (*be warned, there’s spoilers ahead!*), I enjoyed reading this graphic novel simply because the idea was pretty funny, and it has crossed my mind a few times that Superman may have been a different person in a different country, rather than the all-American boy.

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So we start off with an alien baby landing – in all places – in the heart of the British Empire (or not quite), Weston-super-Mare, where he is found and brought up as Colin Clark; taught to mind his manners, suppress his powers and not scare the farm animals.

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His adoptive parents play their part, satirising middle-class British values (perhaps in the 1900’s, can’t say society is like this today!) with a social-niceties, paranoia about the neighbours and reminders to always wear clean underwear.

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In the meantime, Colin meets his girl-crush, Louisa Layne-Ferret, a Page 3 girl and ambitious journalist (with a convenient resemblance to her American cousin Lois Lane, who we also meet later on!), and has a fe20131117_125344w mishaps at school (such as playing cricket a little too fiercely and impaling a school-fellow with a cricket bat. Oh dear).

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Soon after (and inevitably), Colin is unable to suppress his powers and finds an outlet for them instead – in his alter-ego, Super Man, dressed in disguise to appease his parents while saving the country from disasters.

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Soon however, he is set three challenges by the skeptic public and his less-adoring fans – which of course turn out to be typical British complaints (and also satirical comments about British society!) The first task turns out to be to make trains run on time – Superman solves this by speeding up the trains and introducing the train staff to schedules (“Radical thinking!”)

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The second task turns out to be to reduce waiting times for hip operations, which Superman ‘solves’ by advising surgeons to play less gold and work more. Of course.

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The third and last task is challenging Superman to raise the quality of BBC programmes – which he resolves by scaring BBC executives into less ‘dumbing-down’ of television and more shows for  under-30s age gap.

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Despite all of this, poor Superman falls into more trouble, with the Bat Man out to get him (the previous victim of the cricket bat incident), the editor of the Daily Star out to defame him, and worst of all, his parents trying to run away from the embarrassment of their son being Superman.

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On top of this is the news that the ‘Three Impossible Tasks’ that he apparently succeeded in have had some negative results, meaning that Superman has to pay fines, gets further bad publicity, and his love life is not working out with Louisa quite how he wanted it.

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Eventually though (although slightly predictably, and in a very Monty-Python-ish way!), there’s a happy ending to be had, and Colin Clark reveals himself as Superman to avoid being black-mailed, and urges the public to stop supporting both the Bat-Man and the slimy editor of the Superman-hating newspaper. I loved this comment at the end, where Colin resolves to change his name – to Kent Clark.

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And Superman goes back full circle to say he is emigrating to the US for new opportunities (not before some references to The Rutles and a few digs at British society), changing his British-flag costume for a more recognisable one, complete with a Christopher Reeves-ish hair-curl.

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Overall, this graphic novel was certainly a lot less serious than the other DC comics I have read – and certainly, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. I liked the humour of it, but found it a little clichéd at times when it came to British traditions (I can’t help but wonder whether Americans still view us British at tea-and-crumpets-with-the-Queen types, although I did like the depiction of Queen Elizabeth in wellies and a crown!)

This is certainly something for Superman fans to read, especially if they want to get away from the dark tales that Superman sometimes comes across (and even Batman fans, which has plenty of dark humour and depressing stories!) Although this may not be to everyone’s liking, and some may find this a little patronising, it’s good for a few chuckles, and it certainly gives a good send-up of British media and culture.