Saturday, September 24, 2011

Odd couples

book review

Book: Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom
Author: Jennifer S. Holland
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Excerpt: “Still, the attempt to pair the two species didn’t start out well. When first introduced, Themba [the elephant] chased Albert [the sheep] around the watering hole, flapping his ears and lifting his tail to look as large and threatening as possible. Albert fled, as sheep instinct demands, and hid for hours. Over three days of wary gestures and tentative touches, the pair finally accepted each other, and the result proved well worth the stressful beginning. ...
Once the bond took hold, elephant and sheep were inseparable. They’d nap in tandem, horse around together, and Themba would rest his trunk on Albert’s woolly back as they explored their enclosure or went in search of snacks. Though keepers expected Themba to imitate the elder Albert, instead the sheep became the copycat, even learning to feed on Themba’s favorite leaves—from a thorny acacia plant not typically part of a sheep’s diet.”

National Geographic magazine writer Jennifer Holland compiles tales of interspecies companionships in Unlikely Friendships, a collection of heart-warming stories about different animals that have unexpectedly found a friend in each other.

A treat for animal lovers, the book shares touching stories and charming pictures of disparate creatures that were willing to accept and befriend each other; even a few that are natural enemies put aside their differences to give the world a fascinating spectacle. In some stories the animals are brought together by fate, in others by human intervention; some are reluctant, others spontaneous; some temporary, others lifelong; but all of them are touching and inspiring in their own ways.

There are tales of a stray cat that regularly visits and spends time with an Asiatic black bear at the Berlin zoo; a mare that protected a newborn fawn from predatory coyotes; a leopard’s nightly visits to a cow in a village in India; an iguana that gets along with housecats; the affectionate, albeit fleeting, bond between the macaque and the dove that grace the book’s cover; as well as stories of camaraderie between dogs and owls, cats and primates, and even a snake and a hamster, among many others. You can also see genealogical information in boxes along with each account, and get to learn a little about some of the species as you try to understand the connections between these unusual pairings.

The accounts of these relationships that seem to defy the laws of nature are uplifting, although at times heartbreak seeps into some of the episodes (like the lioness who adopted a baby oryx that was unfortunately snatched up by another lion). On the whole, Unlikely Friendships is a charming collection of anomalous interspecies friendships, and it is inspiring to see these animals bond with each other, because if a cat and a rat can get along, then there must be some hope for the rest of us after all!

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 24th September, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thank you … Jimmy Fallon, for milking an idea for all it’s worth

book review

Book: Thank You Notes
Author: Jimmy Fallon with the Writers of Late Night
Genre: Humour
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Excerpt: “Thank you … Real Housewives of Atlanta, for demonstrating a universal truth: Idiots like me will always watch idiots like you fight on TV. You will forever be in my TiVo.
Thank you … ants around my kitchen sink, for allowing every day to start with murder. Every day you take the paper towel express to Toiletville, and yet more of you arrive the next morning. I don’t get it, ants. But thank you.
Thank you … DVR remote control, for your incredibly confusing response time. I push rewind five times and nothing happens, so I push it again and suddenly I’m all the way back to the beginning of the show, so I have to fast-forward again. Why won’t you just work, DVR remote? You’re so confusing. Thank you.
Thank you … Dog Snuggie®, for allowing us to embarrass animals in a way I never imagined possible. You did it. Thanks for that.
Thank you … slow-walking family walking in front of me on the sidewalk. No, please, take your time. And definitely spread out, too, so you create a barricade of idiots. I am so thankful that you forced me to walk into the street and risk getting hit by a car in order to pass you so I could resume walking at a normal human pace.”

Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon takes pen in hand and expresses gratitude for an assortment of things in Thank You Notes, a collection of tongue in cheek lines that turn Late Night’s “thank you notes” segment into a booklet. Joined by the writers of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the comedian churns out a set of sarcastic notes in appreciation of a variety of items, people, and places.

With roughly a note and a corresponding image per page, the very short book offers a compilation of witticisms, many of which Late Night viewers will already have heard on the television show. The faux thank you notes variously make fun of the little annoyances in life and quip about everyday aggravators. Fallon and his crew thank everything from haters (“for giving rappers so much to talk about”) and the F12 key (for its lack of functionality), to vegan food (“for tasting like microwaved paper towels”) and Apple (for adding a camera to the iPod Nano; “now it’s just like the iPhone except it can’t make calls. So basically, it’s just like the iPhone.”).

The entries are witty, and the humour is pretty much in keeping with the segment that spawned the book. However, if you do want to purchase Thank You Notes, keep in mind that it is very sparse. The book is a quick read – with only a line or two on each page, you’ll be done reading it in a matter of minutes, so if you’re unsure whether you’ll enjoy the humour or if it’ll be worth your money, then it might be a better idea to borrow it instead. That said, this little coffee table book is quite amusing, and while it may be too short and could have come with more artistic images and artwork, fans of Jimmy Fallon, especially of the thank you note segment of his show, will certainly enjoy it.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 17th September, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away...

book review

Book: Wishful Drinking
Author: Carrie Fisher
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Excerpt: “When I was younger, starting at about four, other children would ask me what it was like to be a movie star’s daughter. Once I was a little older and understood, to a certain extent, the nature of what celebrity meant, I would say, compared to what? When I wasn’t a movie star’s daughter? When I lived with my normal, non-show business family, the Regulars (Patty and Lowell Regular of Scottsdale, Arizona)? All I’ve ever known is this sort of hot-house-plant existence, and I could tell from watching how normal people lived — normal people as depicted by Hollywood and burned into our consciousness — I understood that my life was unusual. … It was the only reality I knew, but compared to other folks—both on television and off — it eventually struck me as a little surreal, too. And eventually, too, I understood that my version of reality had a tendency to set me apart from others. And when you’re young you want to fit in. (Hell, I still want to fit in with certain humans, but as you get older you get a little more discriminating.) Well, my parents were professionally committed to sticking out, so all too frequently I found myself sticking out right along with them.”

“My entire existence could be summed up in one phrase, and that is: if my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable,” writes actress Carrie Fisher, capturing the gist of Wishful Drinking, her memoir that sees her take a witty look at the people and incidents that shaped her life.

Based on her one-woman stage show, the book offers the post-electroshock therapy recollection of the actress’s journey, from being the product of “Hollywood inbreeding” — she is the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher (who left his wife for his best friend Mike Todd’s widow Elizabeth Taylor) — “think of Eddie as Brad Pitt and Debbie as Jennifer Aniston and Elizabeth as Angelina Jolie,” Carrie states helpfully), to her role in Star Wars and its repercussions — the immense success of the film assured that she would forever be identified as Princess Leia — and beyond.

The writer uses her caustic wit to discuss topics like being raised in the midst of the celebrity lifestyle, her marriage to Paul Simon and relationship with Bryan Lourd (with whom she has a daughter), and her struggle with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. Anecdotes from her life are weaved into the narrative, but while the book touches up on a lot of areas, it does not provide a detailed discussion of many (if not most) of them, and the focus is more on relaying the events in an amusing manner than on coming up with a proper, full-length memoir. Additionally, the book reads like stand-up comedy, and at times what seems missing is the delivery; some of the humour must’ve surely translated better in the show it is adapted from.

Overall, Wishful Drinking is an offbeat look at the life of someone who was born into Hollywood royalty, went on to portray an iconic character, and is trying to deal with her many issues. It’s irreverent, self-deprecating, and humorous, albeit with an underlying sadness. Is it candid? Yes. Is it revelatory? Not particularly. Still, the book makes for a quick, mostly fun read, and you’re likely to enjoy it, especially if you’re a Carrie Fisher fan, although those expecting a thorough, full-length autobiography are likely to be disappointed.
- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 10th September, 2011

Friday, September 09, 2011

Catching up with Chaar Payee

cover story

It was just a couple of months back that we covered Chaar Payee in Us for being selected as the best freestyle drumming band in Pakistan and taking us on an international platform. They were nervous, yet excited. They knew they had a tough competition ahead, yet they were hopeful. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, yet they were determined to show the world what they could do. And they sure managed to pull it off really well.

After winning the national qualifiers, Chaar Payee were off to Rio de Janeiro to represent their country in the World Finals of Red Bull Tum Tum Pa, the freestyle drumming competition for students. The team from Pakistan eventually finished fourth, and were the top team from Asia. Whoa! Now that’s an achievement. So we celebrate this achievement with them, as we caught up with Ahmer, Usman, Nabeel, and Talha - Chaar Payee - to ask them about the competition:

Us: How was the experience of participating in the World Finals?
Chaar Payee:
The experience was exhilarating and an extremely unforgettable one. Everything from the travelling, sightseeing, interaction, the event itself, parties, till the outcome of the competition was unbelievable. Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city and each one of us had the time of our lives. The World Final was a big stage, a big occasion, and a magnanimous platform for amateur and professional drummers alike so we felt really overwhelmed to be a part of that crowd.

Us: How do you guys feel about finishing fourth?
Finishing fourth? Awesome. Since it was a unique and somewhat alien concept here in Pakistan, we can presume that there weren’t many high expectations from us since we were pitting against the likes of Brazil, Jamaica, the United States and other teams where drumming/freestyle drumming is practiced at large. However, creativity also played a major chunk in your overall result and that’s where we feel we tapped the most points. Coming fourth out of 32 countries from all over the world, getting the exposure that most musicians yearn for, and above all, getting such stupendous recognition upon returning home makes us feel like winners already. We thank Allah Almighty for giving us this stature.

Us: Do you feel you should/could have done anything differently?
Oh, definitely. The thing is that up till the time that we were here we had a set idea and a routine to follow. Once we went there, met with the other people and exchanged ideas, there were some moments when we were all in for making last-minute changes to our composition and layout. There were a couple of hindrances regarding allowed materials that made life difficult for a number of competitors but thankfully, not for us. However, given the provision of using all the materials that we’d thought of using, we most certainly would have done something different than what we played. However, we’re all pretty content with what we did and the standing just goes on to testify that.

Us: How did you get along with your competitors?
Each individual from every country was awesome. Simply awesome. Everyone got along really well and made good friends. The Brazilians themselves were very welcoming and friendly. Since we arrived a night earlier, we were present when the majority of the teams were checking in to the hotel, so we got to meet almost everyone on the day of their arrival. So, by the time the World Finals started, we had a formidable fan base that cheered for us and really egged us on. The boys from Qatar, especially took a great liking to us as well as the Urdu language. We’d specially like to mention Andrew and Vinay, the guys from Belmont, USA, who in our opinion were the most talented individuals out of the lot, no doubt. We’ve made great friends during this trip and we really cherish the fantastic memories.

Us: Did anything interesting/memorable happen during the competition/trip that you can tell Us about?
A lot of interesting things happened but the highlight of the trip undoubtedly has to be Usman’s injury. He sliced his thumb open with a paper cutter and all looked in pretty bad shape since this happened just two hours prior to the start of the event. We all panicked and really were in sixes and sevens before Usman himself managed to stem the blood flow, patch himself up and make his way to the venue for the performance. We really didn’t think he could use his hand since it had been messed up pretty badly but all credit to him, he remained adamant upon performing and really came through on stage. Since the rest of us mainly provide the baseline for the track, it’s usually Usman’s antics that provide the top layer and that special visual element in our performances. We knew that if we took that out, we’d be bringing our overall performance several notches down. Fortunately for us, Usman realised that too and made sure that he wouldn’t bail out on us, even in that condition. Cheetah!
Don’t put down the rest of us for being selfish though; we all took him to the clinic to get his thumb stitched up afterwards. =P

Us: How did you like the trip to Rio? And Ahmer, how was the Ipanema Beach?
As mentioned, Rio de Janeiro is an absolutely beautiful city with great sightseeing spots and a comfy ambience overall. The Hanging Forest in Tijuca, the Flower Gardens, the G├ívea Stone Mountain, Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer), etcetera, are all places with breath-taking scenic views. And if all that is STILL not pleasing to the eye, we always have Ipanema Beach and its beautiful people. (Haha, I’m glad you remember this). We’d like to specifically thank Mr. Ali Haider, who accompanied us throughout the journey and who really took care of us with regards to everything and made sure that we ran into no trouble at all. We really enjoyed Rio in the fullest in the two days after the competition since we were free from that tension afterwards.
Note to fellow future passengers in Rio: Taxis are expensive. Oh yes. And PLEASE! Do not have Pizza in Rio de Janeiro. They do not know how to make it and it’s a complete waste of your precious money. Kasam se!

Us: What do you take away from the whole experience?
It was a great experience for all of us individually as well as a team. Not only did it give us the exposure that each of us could never have gotten separately, it also instilled a team spirit within the four of us and we realised that our synchronisation, harmony, and tandem was all that was going to make us successful here. We may have kept our name “Chaar Payee” out of sheer spontaneity and wit over here but we do believe that over the course of the entire competition [from the College Rounds to the World Finals], we have developed the “payee” factor.
It also gave us the opportunity to marvel at Allah’s benevolence and how he can shift anyone’s entire paradigm within the blink of an eye. Before the 12th of April, we didn’t even have an idea about such a competition, and the grand prize, etcetera. All that happened in the coming couple of months is now in front of you.
One other thing that we would like to mention is that this competition also gave us the chance to change the mindset of a lot of people who had misconceptions about Pakistan, its people and its culture. We really had people exclaiming as to how they had found us to be exceptionally nice, friendly and humble. Nearly everyone had the wrong impression in their minds, thanks to their respective media but we took it upon us to make sure that Pakistan gets the respect and dignity that it deserves. Sure, it was 2-300 odd people only, but we played our part to the best of our abilities.

Us: Will you participate again if you get a similar opportunity in the future?
After Pakistan’s success at this year’s inaugural World Finals, we’re pretty sure that the organisers would want Pakistan to be a regular part of this competition. We await their decision on whether they plan to host it again next year or not. If it’s in the affirmative, you can bet that Chaar Payee’s going to be there, with a lot more tricks up their sleeves. Who knows … we might end up going to another corner of the globe, and hopefully, with your prayers and wishes, go all the way next year and bring the title home.
Much love to all of you for supporting us throughout the entire tenure of the competition, and even afterwards.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 9th September, 2011