Saturday 10 March 2012


“Grief is the price we pay for love” - Elizabeth II

I have just come back from my open window after looking at the moon. It has started to wane but its light is still bright to illuminate the garden below and the neighbouring roofs. The day has been full and I’m very tired. The clouds float across the moon and the light makes their cotton-woollen flocks silvery. I had little sleep last night, but even tonight, I cannot sleep. I wish I could just float up and lie down on the drifting clouds enveloped by moonshine and find some rest. This song from “the Snowman” came to mind…

This post is part of the Saturday Sareenity meme.

“The Snowman” is a children's book without words by English author Raymond Briggs, first published in 1978 by Hamish Hamilton in the U.K., and by Random House in the U.S. that November. In the U.S. it received a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1979. The Snowman was adapted as a 26-minute animated film by Dianne Jackson for the fledgling British public-service Channel 4. It was first telecast late on Christmas Eve in 1982 and was an immediate success. It was nominated for the 1982 Academy Award for Animated Short Film and it has been shown every year, becoming part of British and international popular culture at Christmas. The film story is told through pictures, action and music, scored by Howard Blake. It is wordless like the book, except for the song "Walking in the Air". In addition to the orchestral score, performed in the film by the Sinfonia of London, Blake composed the music and lyrics of the song, performed by a St Paul's Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty.

Thursday 8 March 2012


“A householder must give as much food as he is able to spare to those who do not cook for themselves, and to all beings one must distribute food without detriment to one’s own interest.” - Guru Nanak Dev
Today is Hola Mahalla (also Hola Mohalla or simply Hola), which is a Sikh festival beginning on the first day of the lunar month of Chet in the Nanakshahi calendar. It most often falls in March, and sometimes coincides with the Sikh New Year. The event lasts for a week, and consists of camping out and enjoying various displays of fighting prowess and bravery, followed by kirtan (chanting of eulogies), music, and poetry. The event concludes with a long, military-style procession near Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, one of the five seats of temporal authority of the Sikhs.

Special meals are an integral part of the Sikh institution (Gurdwara), and visitors sit together in pangats (rows) and eat vegetarian food of the Langars. A Langar is a common kitchen/canteen where food is served in a Gurdwara to all the visitors (without distinction of background) for free. At the Langar, only vegetarian food is served, to ensure that all people, regardless of their dietary restrictions, can eat as equals. Langar is open to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.

The institution of the Sikh Langar was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. It was designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status, a revolutionary concept in the caste-ordered society of 16th-century India where Sikhism began. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. “...the Light of God is in all hearts.”

Langar Recipe
Chole is a thick spicy curry made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Chole is often served with poori a crispy deep fried Indian style flatbread. Chole can also be served with roti or rice. Chole is popular for special occasions such as weddings or birthdays, Rain Sabaee (all night), or Asa di Var (early morning) kirtan, and communal gatherings such as Thanksgiving. Here is the recipe to make 4 litres of chole:

2 cups dried chickpeas
1/2 - 1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp cumin seed
4 medium, diced onions
2 tbsp diced ginger root
4 diced green jalapeno chilies
4 medium diced or whole tomatoes (fresh or canned)
2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp chana masala
2 tbsp salt (divided)

  • Soak the chickpeas in four litres of water overnight.
  • Drain rinse and cook soaked chickpeas in approximately 4 litres of water and 1 - 2 tbsp of salt. The chickpeas should be boiled about two hours in a stainless steel saucepan until they are soft.
  • Chop or dice four medium onions with a sharp knife or food processor.
  • Dice the fresh peeled ginger root to make up 2 tbsp.
  • Dice four Jalapeno chillies for a mildly spicy flavour.
  • Wash four fresh tomatoes. Dice or leave tomatoes whole to stew in skins. Canned tomatoes may be substituted.
  • Prepare the “tarka”, or seasoning, for the chole. Cumin seed is roasted in a dry pan until it darkens and begins to pop. Alternately, heat oil and add cumin seed and roast until releases its aroma and seeds begin to darken and pop.
  • Add the diced onions and ginger root to fry in the cumin flavoured oil. When onions are clear, add green chillies and sauté until onions and green chillies are slightly browned.
  • When onions have browned, mash the stewed tomatoes and add, heating until they thoroughly cooked.
  • Add remaining seasonings to the tarka after onions have browned and tomatoes have stewed. Chana Masala is a traditional seasoning used for flavouring chole. Turmeric and Chana Masala are essential for making chole and are used together for this recipe. Add about one tablespoon of salt to the tarka seasonings. Add the seasoned tarka to cooked chickpeas and simmer to blend flavours.
  • Serve chole with crispy poori (deep fried Indian flatbread).

Wednesday 7 March 2012


“The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
International Women’s Day is commemorated by the United Nations and celebrated in many countries around the world on March 8th. Women on all continents, who are often divided by nationality, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.  This commemorative day celebrates ordinary women as makers of history and as the foundation stone on which family is built. The idea of an International Women’s Day first arose at the turn of the 20th century, which in the then industrialised world was a period of expansion and turbulence, social and economic changes, booming population growth and radical ideologies. Following is a brief chronology of the most important events (source, UN):

In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day was observed across the United States on 28th February. Women continued to celebrate it on the last Sunday of that month through 1913.

The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women’s Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women’s rights and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.

As a result of the decision taken at Copenhagen the previous year, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19th March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million people attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, women demanded the right to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.

Less than a week later, on 25th March, the tragic Triangle Fire in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working girls, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This event had a significant impact on labour legislation in the United States, and the working conditions leading up to the disaster were invoked during subsequent observances of International Women’s Day.

As part of the peace movement brewing on the eve of World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8th March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with their sisters.

With 2 million Russian soldiers dead in the war, Russian women again chose the last Sunday in February to strike for “bread and peace”. Political leaders opposed the timing of the strike, but the women went on anyway. The rest is history: Four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. That historic Sunday fell on 23rd February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia, but on 8th March on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere.

Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point for coordinated efforts to demand women’s rights and participation in the political and economic process. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women's rights.

The Role of the United Nations
Few causes promoted by the United Nations have generated more intense and widespread support than the campaign to promote and protect the equal rights of women. The Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco in 1945, was the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. Since then, the Organization has helped create a historic legacy of internationally agreed strategies, standards, programmes and goals to advance the status of women worldwide.

Over the years, United Nations action for the advancement of women has taken four clear directions: promotion of legal measures; mobilization of public opinion and international action; training and research, including the compilation of gender desegregated statistics; and direct assistance to disadvantaged groups. Today a central organizing principle of the work of the United Nations is that no enduring solution to society's most threatening social, economic and political problems can be found without the full participation, and the full empowerment, of the world's women.

More information from Wikipedia.

Our word of the day reflects this commemoration:

matriarchy |ˈmātrēˌärkē| noun ( pl. -chies)
A system of society or government ruled by a woman or women.
A form of social organization in which descent and relationship are reckoned through the female line.
The state of being an older, powerful woman in a family or group: She cherished a dream of matriarchy—catered to by grandchildren.
ORIGIN early 17th century: from Latin mater ‘mother,’ on the false analogy of patriarch.

Tuesday 6 March 2012


“Wherefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur. Therefore for all the words of this letter, and [of that] which they had seen concerning this matter, and which had come unto them.” - The Old Testament: Esther 9:26

Happy Purim to all my Jewish readers! Purim is one of the most entertaining and joyous of Jewish holidays.  This festival commemorates the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by the courage of a young Jewish woman called Esther. The main commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the Book of Esther. The Book of Esther is known as the Megillah, which means scroll. Although there are five books of Jewish scripture that can be called megillahs - Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations, The Book of Esther is the one people usually mean when they speak of the Megillah.

The Megillah relates the basic story of Purim. Under the rule of King Ahashuerus (Artaxerxes), Haman, the King’s prime minister, plots to exterminate all of the Jews of Persia. The word Pûrîm means “lots”, from the word “pur”, related to Akkadian “pūru”. The lots referred to here relate to the casting of lots by Haman to choose the date on which the massacre of the Jews would occur, and Haman decreed this to be the thirteenth of the month of Adar. Haman’s plan is foiled by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, who ultimately save the Jews of the land from destruction.

The story of Esther is read both on the eve of Purim and also on Purim itself. If Purim falls on the Sabbath, the Megillah is read on the Thursday evening and Friday morning before Purim. The synagogue is crowded with men, women, and children. Some wear their best Sabbath clothes, but many dress up in colourful costumes and masks. Everyone in the synagogue boos, hisses, stamps their feet and uses noisemakers (called graggers) and cymbals whenever the name of Haman is mentioned during the service. The purpose of this custom is to blot out the name of Haman. Originally, when Haman’s name was read, the congregation would shout “Cursed be Haman” or “May the name of the wicked rot!” But nowadays any noise will do!

It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies (“Purim Shpiel”), and to hold beauty contests. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras. Children in particular, enjoy dressing up as the characters found in the Book of Esther, including King Artaxerxes, Vashti, Queen Esther, Mordecai and Haman. Purim is not subject to the restrictions on work that affect some other holidays; however, some sources indicate that Jews should not go about their ordinary business at Purim out of respect for the festival.

The day before Purim some Jews observe a minor fast day known as the Fast of Esther. It is a “minor” one as the fast lasts from sunrise to sunset. During this period both food and drink are off limits. As part of the celebration many Jews will enjoy a festive meal called the Purim se’udah (meal). There are no particular foods that must be served at this holiday meal, though dessert will usually include triangular shaped cookies called hamantaschen.  These cookies are filled with fruit marmalade or poppy seeds and are a treat people look forward to every year.  Originally called “mundtaschen,” meaning “poppyseed pocket,” the word “hamantaschen” is Yiddish for “Haman’s pockets.” In Israel they are called “oznei Haman,” meaning “Haman’s ears.”

One of the more unusual food customs associated with Purim comes in the form of a commandment that says adult Jews should drink wine until they can no longer tell the difference between blessing Mordechai and cursing Haman. This tradition stems largely from a desire to celebrate how the Jewish people survived, despite Haman’s plot. Many, though not all, Jewish adults participate in this tradition. As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin puts it: “After all, how often can one do something normally regarded as wrong, and be credited with fulfilling a commandment?”

Purim is an unusual holiday in many respects. First, Esther is the only Book of the Bible in which God is not mentioned. Second, Purim, like Chanukah, is viewed traditionally as a minor festival, but elevated to a major holiday as a result of the Jewish historical experience. Over the centuries, Haman became the embodiment of every anti-Semite in every land where Jews were oppressed. The significance in Purim lies not so much in how it began, but in what it has become - a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival against all odds.

The illustration above is from a painting of “Purim Shpiel” by Boris Shapiro. He was born in 1968 in Luvov, Ukraine. He completed his studies in 1985 at the Luvov Fine Art School where he specialised in antique restoration. Upon his release from the army in 1987 he began working in his field, which greatly influenced the progress of his career. Following his immigration to Israel in 1991, he enrolled in the Graphic Department of the Visual Arts College in Beer Sheva. After experimenting with different media and style, Boris began developing his naïve style based upon the 16th - 17th century Small Dutch School of the likes of Peter Brueghel. Having come from the non-humorous, non-individualistic, former Soviet Union, Boris expresses the humour, irony, and simplicity of life. His portraits are whimsical; the colors are usually earth tones, symbolizing the down to earthiness of everyday life. Even such worldly “events” like the story of Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the Whale, etc. take upon themselves simple earthly expression, as the common people of the 17th century would have envisioned.

Monday 5 March 2012


“We are linked by blood, and blood is memory without language.” - Joyce Carol Oates
Magpie Tales has presented an image that stimulated me to delve into the land of distorting mirrors in order to seek an alternative view of the photograph provided. Another view, another universe, another idea? Perhaps some commonality will be apparent in the creative process of 100 or so participants of this week’s challenge. I always look at the image provided cold and go off on my tangents without looking at any of the other contributors’ offerings. It is quite an interesting experience to then read the creative pieces of others that are based on the same visual stimulus and see what differs and what is similar.

With Eyes Closed

With eyes closed firmly, I sit and ponder,
Dreaming of you, my distant forebear;
My thoughts unhindered run and wander
Through all the common history we share.

Your name only and your date of death
Is all I know, but that little’s ample
To give your picture life and breath,
To draw new strength from your example.

You had a dream, you lived your life
Battling with dragons, just to survive;
Your children to protect, your wife –
And proof of your success, is that I thrive.

A yellowed photograph, your tattered bible,
The names of my ancestors written down,
A wooden statuette – memories ancient, tribal,
Enough to make me dive into the past and drown.

I have you in my thoughts, and give respect,
And through the ages we touch souls, connect;
Your blood flows in my veins and I bear fruits
Proud of your struggle, my heritage, my roots.

Sunday 4 March 2012


“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” - Albert Einstein
I am quite interested in children’s literature and as a consequence also interested in children’s TV programs and movies. In these times when it is difficult to get young children to read, it’s quite important to be able produce books that can engage young minds and motivate them to do more reading. Any children’s book that is read with pleasure by kids is to be commended, never mind what topic it covers, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. I remember the controversy that erupted when the first “Harry Potter” book was released, given its immense popularity with children of all ages. A certain subgroup of the population was objecting to it as being quite unsuitable for kids as it was unchristian and dealing sympathetically with pagans, witches and warlocks. And yet, the same group of the population did not object to the hundreds of fairy tales that can be regarded as belonging to the same genre of children’s literature, and are similarly unchristian. In the end Harry Potter was victorious and remained in the bestseller list. Great! As long as kids read, it is all for their good.

When it comes to TV, videos and movies, the matter becomes a little more complicated.  The visual medium is more accessible, much more easily manipulated, more likely to become the harbinger of propagandist messages and much more likely to be junk food for the mind. Where reading generally stimulates young neurones, the visual medium may more easily dull them or deaden them. Hence, I tend to be more critical of the visual media than the written word. A long introduction to introduce this film review today, in the way of a justification for what is to follow!

At the weekend we watched the 2010 Jon Turteltaub film “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, starring Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina and Teresa Palmer. We watched it and wondered if this was the Disney studios attempt to duplicate the success of the “Harry Potter” movies or the finesse of “The Chronicles of Narnia”, or the brooding darkness of “Golden Compass” or the quirkiness of the “City of Ember”? Unfortunately, the film fails on several counts to be even comparable to any of these. Plot inadequacy and irritating lead actor peppered with special effects do not make a successful fantasy movie.

In short, the plot unwinds in modern-day Manhattan, where Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) is a master sorcerer trying to defend the world from his arch-enemy, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina). Balthazar is not able to defeat Horvath alone, and he needs to find the Prime Merlinian in order to overcome the powers of evil. Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) is a physics nerd who shows Balthazar the sign of the Prime Merlinian, thus allowing the Sorcerer to enlist him as his apprentice. Together they must not only defeat Horvath but prevent him from releasing the evil Morgana (Alice Krige) from her magic prison and save Veronica (Monica Bellucci) from her unjust confinement. Teresa Palmer play Jay’s love interest, Becky, who often gets in the way of Jay’s apprenticeship, but ultimately is important in helping Balthazar and Jay save the world…

This was a pretty bad movie. It was cliché-ridden, full of predictable special effects and explosions, car chases and a woeful casting choice with Jay Baruchel as a lead. He is quite unlikeable in this role and he delivers his lines with an annoying nasal twang and the most awful grimaces, which just ruins every scene he is in. Nicolas Cage manages to salvage the scenes he is in and Monica Bellucci looks quite gorgeous as does the likeable starlet Teresa Palmer. Alfred Molina relishes his role and plays his scenes with aplomb, but even he fails to save the film from mediocrity. The storyline failed to stir the imagination, the jokes were woeful and being a Disney film there was reference to the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence in the 1940 “Fantasia” animated feature. This further annoyed me for some reason (attempt at reflected glory? Self-referential tribute? A hope that this would make the viewer accept the paucity of the plot?).

Now, I happened to find out that there is another movie called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and it is David Lister’s 2002 film that also has references to Merlin and Morgana. It stars Robert Davi, Kelly LeBrock and Byron Taylor. I have not seen this, but I am curious now to watch it and see how it compares to the film I’ve just reviewed. If we believe IMDb, the 2010 version is better as it has a score of 6.2/10 and the older version has a score of 5.1. However, I am not convinced that IMDb is always reliable – it has sometimes bagged films I considered very good and has sometimes given high scores to absolute trash. However, overall on average IMDb is more or less OK in its assessments.

Children’s movies (for children of all ages) are a dicy matter. They have to be quite good to please me and I demand that there is a point, some moral, some purpose to them (while they are engaging and fun to watch too). A simple of good vs evil will not please me and the mostly intelligent children that watch these movies nowadays expect something more sophisticated.


“The innocent and the beautiful Have no enemy but time” – William

For Art Sunday today, a painting by David Boyd (1924 - 2011). David Boyd is one of the most important and well-loved Australian artists, a highly talented member of the renowned Boyd artistic dynasty. David first studied music at the Melbourne Conservatorium until conscripted into the army in 1942. On leaving the army in 1944 he switched from music to art and enrolled at the Victorian National Gallery Art School. Boyd’s initial distinction was as a potter, exhibiting with his wife Hermia first in Sydney in 1948 then becoming regarded as one of the leading potters in Australia and during the fifties and sixties.

His first major painting series commenced with the ‘Explorer Series’, a group of symbolic paintings of the Australian explorers. Winning the Italian Government Art Scholarship Prize for Australia in 1961, he moved to Rome with his family in 1962. Paintings from The ‘Tasmanians Series’ were exhibited to critical acclaim in solo exhibitions in London and Paris in 1963. Since then David Boyd has held many major exhibitions throughout Australia, England and France. Considerable international recognition followed and in 1969 he was invited by the Commonwealth Institute of Art in London to hold a major retrospective of his paintings.

The International Academy of Modern Art in Rome awarded David a Membro Albo D'Oro Del Senato Accademio in 1998 and he was awarded an OBE in 2009. David Boyd is revered in Australian art history for his persistent expressions of social justice, his broad academic views, his inspiring representations of innocence and beauty and a deep commitment to art and music

His painting “Children Playing Under the Wattle Tree” shows a recurrent theme in his work: The innocent and carefree days of childhood. He chooses to show children in Australian landscapes playing and enjoying the beauty of nature unaware of the cares of adulthood or the threat to the fragile environment by man’s activities. It is an illustration of a personal mythology, mingled perhaps with a host of autobiographical memories. The golden yellows and azures of this painting hark back to a beautiful golden age when nostalgic memories of childhood have become a potent stimulus for artistic creation. Boyd’s highly personal style and relaxed application of paint to canvas together with the limpid colours make of this painting a wonderful illustration of the unspoilt Australian bush and the innocent interaction of playing children with it.