La Belle Sauvage – A Watery Adventure

Philip Pullman’s latest The Book of Dust trilogy come after a long period, 17 years after the original His Dark Materials epic story was released, along with all the  controversies and praise that it brought with it. And it’s not surprising really – there’s layers of complex ideas about theology, science, magic and just great story-telling which makes it so much more than a children’s story. Having said, that, when Pullman announced this latest prequel-slash-sequel trilogy, starting with La Belle Sauvage, I knew I’d have to re-read the first books before I could get started on this one because I wanted to get a sense of context to follow on from.

I’m glad I did re-read it all – there’s a lot of things I had forgotten about (is it just me, or are there just some books out there which are different with every reading? Sign of a good book, I say). There’s also a lot of technological, science-y and theological things which I’m sure went over my head when I read it as a 13-year-old, and which made a lot more sense to me now after reading HDM. It’s fascinating to see how many strands which make up the whole story; the idea of dark matter and Dust, of love, of the concept of dæmons and soul as well as the more biblical side to it all (whether literal or metaphorical) which entwine to stand together behind the vibrant character of Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon.

So one of the first things I would say is if you don’t remember the HDM trilogy, I’d recommend a read – you could read La Belle Sauvage to start off with (as it is a prequel, technically) but things make a lot more sense when reading the His Dark Materials trilogy first. The story of La Belle Sauvage follows a young protagonist a lot like the first trilogy, and set in ‘Lyra’s Oxford’ – plucky young Malcolm and his dæmon Asta, caught up in espionage, secrets and the oppression of the authoritarian Church and its oppressive rules. For the first time, we see the mechanisms behind the events leading to Lyra’s adventures, as well as creating an interesting back story to a few familiar characters.

Malcolm is a young, intelligent, curious boy who helps his parents at their tavern, has adventures on his boats, is friends with the local nuns and scholars. Things begin to change when he hears about the nuns looking after a baby named Lyra Belacqua, and when he sees a strange man drop a message on the ground, only to pick it up and get mixed up with a whirlwind of secrets and shady characters.

I won’t give too much away, but I will say that although the start of the story drags on a little, it is still a good read. I can see that the author didn’t want to make it too similar to Lyra’s adventures in HDM, and that details are need to establish a different story, but it felt a little stale at times . Malcolm and his life at school, working in the tavern with his parents and sailing his little boat seems a little too ‘Boys’ Own’ style at times, and there were a few parts which dragged a little.

Contrastly, just as the first half drags, there is a flood introduced to the story which requires Malcolm and his boat (sounds biblical at all?), the second half is almost chaotic and slightly confusing at times. Malcolm discovers a lot of new, fantastic things and worlds which almost feel hallucinogenic and pretty surreal, with several characters which feel like they came out of fairy tales – but in the context of the larger story, it is a hint at the idea of alternative worlds and the idea of magic.

What makes Pullman’s stories work are that they are cleverly written, and the characters are interesting. There’s no annoying obvious ‘mysteries’ (which we all guess pages before) and there’s enough of the fantasy to keep us gripped to the pages. Reading La Belle Sauvage felt like a nice throwback to my younger years, and it was interesting to be back in Lyra’s Oxford, with new characters and more intrigue. It’s certainly readable for adults, and this start to the new trilogy is certainly noticeably darker and violent, to emphasis how terrifying this world can be. Malcolm is pretty likeable in the story, although I will admit that I am a little worried that Pullman is tempted to re-write a couple of things to make them fit conveniently into HDM. Some characters such as Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter, both strong characters feel a little less charismatic however – however i have heard one argument that this could be because we are seeing them from Malcolm’s perspective.

Despite the slightly messy second half of the story (which was interesting despite it being a little crazy) I am looking forward to the next installment of this trilogy though. I love books which do world-building well, and especially it will be interesting because it seems that Lyra herself will be continuing her adventures as an adult – and it will certainly be interesting to see if she crosses over to our world ever again!

Bridging the Gap

It used to be the case that there was a conflict, a ‘us v them’ relationship with our parents and us – they, the first generation who settled here in the 70s and 80s, and us, the second generation who were British-born and Asian who had to balance religion and culture with being in the West. I know of course that everyone’s experiences are different, and as a child of first-generation immigrant parents, I have certainly had my own experiences and conflicts with my parents. I do find it interesting that my elder sisters’ and brother’s experiences in the 90s slightly differs from mine – they were the earlier, ‘first’ generation who forged the way, while we followed behind. I also have a lot of friends who are in fact third-generation children, whose experiences are certainly very different although not without their own struggles.

These days it feels like the balance has shifted – our parents have mellowed out and are trying to be more understanding. I won’t say the days of emotional blackmail, culture clashing and Asian dramas (wedding traditions, anyone?) are over but this has definitely changed and evolved over the last decade or so. I think that a lot of the first-generation parents are beginning to understand that they cannot just force their children to follow a route that they think if right for them, especially as we are becoming more independent, more integrated and as we settle into our marriages, careers and parenthoods.201503141663531835

As these second-generations (and even some third-generations!) are beginning to or already have become parents themselves, I think a lot of them understand better the struggles that come with being a Muslim parent, especially when you have your own culture, British culture, religion and your own personal values to add to the mix. Ironically, I feel like there is beginning to be a gap between these parents and their children, who are definitely becoming part of the emerging middle-class Muslims, whose parents are determined to make the most of their education, lifestyle and social opportunities.

As someone who isn’t a parent yet, I was a little hesitant about adding my piece to this. But then I realised that my view, while it may not be the same as everyone’s, is still a voice to add to the conversation about the generation gap. I’ve been thinking about this for a while for several reasons – partly because a lot of friends and sisters of mine who are parents, have noted that bringing up their own children is a huge difference compared to their own upbringing, which has naturally brought to mind my own values and plans for bringing up children, as well as my own relationship with my parents.

I come across it every now and then – in my nieces and nephews, in my friend’s and sister’s children, and even when I meet young girls, younger bloggers and even younger people in my job who have a different mind-set to the ones we had as we had at their age. Those kids are fully immersed in society, with less identity conflicts about whether they’re from the West or the East, confident in their religion rather than being hindered by culture, with the knowledge that they have every right to education and a career. In contrast, it feels a little like my generation precariously fumbled our way through into jobs we weren’t sure of, studying as far as we could afford – I myself have always wanted to do a Masters and Doctorate, but couldn’t afford to after I finished university and went straight into work.

It brings me to mind a book I read when I was younger by one of my favourite authors – one of the things the young hero in the tale bemoans is the fact that all the adults he comes across constantly expect him to be grateful, that he is should know how lucky he is, but instead feels like the emotion is being forced on him. I think of this because sometimes when I speak to the younger generation in my family, or when I speak to younger girls who complain about the banes of their lives, I try to explain to them that they don’t realise how lucky they are, that it could be worse, and that we older generations did in fact have it worse. Unfortunately, most of them don’t seem very impressed when I tell them that and usually retort that actually, they have it worse because they have XYZ problems that we never did.

And you know what? They’re right, in a way. They do have problems that we never did – I’m constantly thankful that social media, makeup, designer brands and technology weren’t a big thing when I was a teenager the way it is now, the constant influence and distractions it would have had on my education, my social life and definitely my self-image, which means I would be a different person with Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Periscope at 13. There’s so many things that children these days, and young adults too, have to learn which we didn’t. My generation raves over Panda Pops, 5p ice-poles and 1p pick-n-mix sweets, Friends on Channel 4 on Friday nights, brown lipstick (with the dark brown lip liner outline) and family holidays ‘back home’. Meanwhile the newer generation have smartphones, iPads, Adventure Time, holidays in Dubai and Morrocco, global warning awareness, and River Island handbags and sushi for lunch. It’s easy to call them spoiled, and it is the case that they may have more opportunities, but they also have just as many challenges which are easier to ignore by us.

Just as our parents needled us about being grateful for opportunities (studying further in school, having a job, buying a new pair of shoes), it seems like the younger generation sometimes get the same thing from us. While my parents drilled into us the importance of marriage, good jobs and keeping good relations with our relatives both in Britain and back home, the younger generations have their own issues too – balancing friends and social lives with building careers, education, social media issues, even spending on luxuries. That’s not to say we didn’t do the same thing, looking back, it feels like everything was less overwhelming and busy – to sound like an old fogey, things just seemed simpler back then.

I‘ve also noticed a big difference when we had to deal with, and when the younger generations have had to deal with and differentiate between following religion and culture. My siblings and I were lucky enough to have parents who didn’t force too much culture down our throats, or follow traditions which didn’t align with our religion. A lot of the silly things that come with culture I was pretty unaware of until I got older, because my father emphasised the importance of religion with us, and my mother never forced us to do anything we didn’t want to do because she always wanted her children to be happy. This meant that while we have the still had pressure on us to study until a certain age, marry ‘suitable’ people and follow certain social guidelines (eg. curfew and going out), we still didn’t have it as bad as a lot of others that we know.

I think because of this, the British-Asian parents of today have recognised the importance of having awareness and choices in their children’s lives – such as choosing a partner, jobs, and following religion without all the hindrances of culture. We know the right things to do to help our children and push them, and we also get to choose the good parts about culture – knowing our roots and traditions without letting these dictate our lives. The younger generation now are able to understand current affairs, be more involved with their society and communities, and look towards bigger things even if their parents couldn’t.

I don’t think there is a real right or wrong way to deal with the conflicts with our parents – as I have gotten older I have appreciated more the things my own parents have taught me, and really am grateful. I was fairly lucky because I was pretty sheltered as a child, so I didn’t have a lot of the problems that some of my friends had, although I will admit, I did resent feeling that I also missed out on things, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m sure it’s pretty universal that parents always want for their children what they never had, our parents wanted success, happy marriages and financial stability for us where it was a struggle for them, and we want happy lives, careers and identities for our own children. I don’t mean to belittle the struggle our parents had – they came to Britain as youngsters themselves and struggled to maintain their culture, faith and way of living, and they constantly worried that their children would lose their roots. Meanwhile, although the later generations have less of guilt about being Westernised, there’s still that worry that they may be too influenced by things which their parents disagree with – whether it’s being a One Direction fan or being okay with belly button piercings.

I guess we can only do what we can, which is our very best. Most of the friends, sisters and brothers I know are excellent role models, and although they may find it difficult sometimes, they are able to encourage their children without pushing them, praise them and give them the knowledge and confidence to go out and do their best.
I only hope that I can do as well as that : )

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We had a fab Eid this last few days, which was spent with the close family – great food and good company!

I didn’t get to take too many pictures of the day as I didn’t bring my camera, but I did take a few on my mobile (so apologies for grainy quality!) but thanks to my sister Everyphototunity for sending her shots of the day!

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Every year we always take Eid as a great opportunity to put on mehndi on our hands the night before Eid, which looked great on my sister and on the nieces. I wanted to put some on myself but was too tired to by the end of the night – but there’s always next Eid!

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A little snap of our outfits – Eid always gives us a chance to channel the fashion bugs in us, and we all looked pretty colourful together on the day; I loved that there were different styles and colours while looked fab together. I think the toddlers in the family probably out-dressed us all in mini outfits from Pakistan, I wish I had taken a picture of their dresses with matching embroidery!

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And of course Eid wouldn’t be Eid without the scrumptious food, which was cooked by my eldest sister, and later by my aunt. We were all pretty stuffed by the end of the day (which is why I don’t have a lot of food pictures – we were all busy stuffing our faces.) It was also really nice to spend lunch and dinner with all of the family, after a month of quiet iftars between myself and my husband!

And of course, after the main course, we finished off with amazing chocolate cupcakes from my talented baker sister, as well sweet-dishes like rice-pudding and mithai for everyone.

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My sister knows we all have a sweet-tooth, and gifted us all a sweet-tub (adults and children!) to enjoy, which were a mix of chocolate and halal sweets, prettily decorated.

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There were also plenty of presents and chocolate for everyone (including a 1kg slab of Dairy Milk given to my husband by my sister, which I am now ‘looking after’ for him!). I remember when we were kids, my parents used to make visits to several friends houses within the day, and still cook a 3 course meal and have every extended relative visit the house – it was hectic and manic but fun because of all the family friends and cousins we would see. These days as we get older, our Eids tend to be a little more chilled out, and we spend our Eids with close family and the kids (and see our friends later on in the week!), which makes Eid more intimate and easier for some of us. It’s also always a treat to see how much the little children enjoy Eid – it’s one of our few religious holidays which really mean something to us, and it’s great to see this celebrated across the world by all generations and in such beautiful ways.

We spent about 3 days celebrating Eid (before the inevitable return to work, although my work colleagues and I are still having Eid samosas on Monday!), and it was a really nice way to end a blessed Ramadan month.

 

Journal Your Ramadan – Day #17: Q is for Quran

As we have 30 days of Ramadan, there are 30 chapters of the Holy Quran which we try to read over the course over the month. It’s also so important for us because this was the month that the Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W.) during this time, which gives it special meaning to us and brings its own rewards.

This is the copy of the Quran I have, bought for me by my mum to take with me to my new home when I got married – I think she knew  I’d like the rainbow edges! I’ve been keeping it around the house so that it reminds me to keep reading it through the week and make the most of my free time : )

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Our Eid-al-Adha – Flowery dresses, twirling babies and rainbow balloons

We celebrated Eid-al-Adha this weekend, which was a special Eid for me as it was the first one for me after marriage, and meant that I could spend time with the family and also with my husband. We were invited to dinner at my eldest sister’s house, and also for lunch at my mum’s house the next day, so we had a busy dance card!

One of the best things about celebrating Eid is that it’s always a fun day, the family gets together from all over London (and Luton!) and there’s always good food. I love the spirit in the air as well, the younger children are excited about presents, sweets and new clothes, and the bigger kids (i.e. us) are excited about dressing up, good food and seeing all the babies!

Below is just some of the decor from my sister‘s house, which she always makes an effort to put up every year for Eid – I love the fairy lights and the rainbow balloons!

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The highlight of the day as usual was the beautifully cooked food, from both my mum and my sister (my husband left both houses rubbing his stomach and eyeing up more helpings he couldn’t fit into his stomach!) My mum makes it a rule to always have a feast for Eid every year, and she didn’t disappoint this year either – there was plenty of variety and plenty of curries, starters and sweet dishes!

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And of course, for Eid isn’t complete without some beautiful dresses, which I was spoiled with this year, as my mother-in-law sent me a beautiful set of outfits and my mum bought me a new outfit for Eid. My sisters and sister-in-law looked amazing on the day with their new outfits, and the nieces even more adorable in their party dresses which they spend the day twirling around in (I won’t bother mentioning the dress code of men of the family cos…frankly, we don’t look at what they wear) Here’s a look at some of the beautiful outfits we wore on Eid:

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My husband and I ended Eid day with dinner at his best friend’s house, followed by a sneaky late-night movie at the local cinema (which was actually very good!) The whole day was a warm, low-key gathering which was perfect for us, easy to relax followed by a vain session of taking photos in various angles!
I hope you all had a wonderful Eid and weekend, and if you don’t celebrate Eid then I hope you still see the beauty I do in Eid – not only an opportunity to spend time with friends, family and have good food, but also a chance to reflect on the year to come and to remember how lucky we are.