July 26, 2003

Ludlum revisited …

Certain comments by people who read my last entry on Ludlum and his latest, "The Janson Directive", as well as my own perceptions on further reading the book have impelled me to write this further rant :p Laurie’s comment made me realize that I was misleading both the reader and myself when I said that the mis-portrayal of Sri Lanka was one of my concerns .. I realized I wasn’t being honest there. Yes, the mis-portrayal of Sri Lanka did tie into the problem I had with the plot for the book, but it was again concerned with the whole fact that Ludlum decided to take an existing scenario which would have served his purposes just as well and to convert it totally into a plot which would (once again) vilify Muslims. I am a Muslim, I don’t believe that one should kill anybody whether they bey of your own faith or of a different faith to justify your views and I neither does Islam preach that. In fact, Islam preaches tolerance for all religions, all races. Unfortunately, people always tend to pervert something good to their own uses and still claim that they are following the original … I would think that people can see this difference but unfortunately most people in the world can’t since they prefer to be told what they should think and so, their perceptions are moulded by what they see on the news, hear on the radio or read in a book. Which is where I have a problem with Ludlum because he has subscribed to every stereotypical anti-Muslim image he can come up with and I really don’t think he needed to here – he could have taken a different route by talking about the actual terrorist threat in Sri Lanka or moved the locale to his fictional land of Anura but kept the rest of the details the same – he borrows heavily enough from Sri Lanka for the rest of his stuff to say that he couldn’t have done that.

For instance, he refers to Cinnamon Gardens where Janson lives with his wife in Anura – this is actually an area Colombo. Then there are all the described terrorist attacks – the killing of the country’s leader by a suicide bomber (the only thing changed was the title – Prime Minister instead of President), the bombing of the World Trade Center building (renamed to International Trade Center) and even the descriptions of the terrorists with cyanide capsules in a chain around their necks – all of these are identical to what really happened in Sri Lanka. So why does he have to go and make the terrorists themselves Muslims? Is there any logic to it at all except to cash in on the existing paranoia about Muslims? Is this the way a responsible writer should behave? I don’t know .. maybe hatred and money rule in this world and there isn’t any responsibility any longer.

There are other details – such as the bombing of the American Embassy in Anura by the terrorists .. that never happened in Sri Lanka but that should really get the fires of hatred stoked shouldn’t it? After all, aren’t American lives sacrosanct? Then there are the other subtle digs – the terrorist leader has sex with an American woman and then performs prayer using her pillow-slip as a prayer mat. How low can you go? If the leader is a devout Muslim, he wouldn’t be praying immediately after sex – because there are certain rules about prayer and you cannot perform prayer just after sex … And why a pillow-slip? You mean he couldn’t find anything at all bigger than that to perform his prayers on? But then again, I guess Ludlum isn’t really interested in details – just the shock value. And of course, the terrorist leader (Caliph as he is known) has a superstition about bandicoot rats – even though he was educated at an American College mind you.

Am I being really thin skinned here? Am I protesting only because I’m a Muslim myself? I don’t know .. I usually don’t like to talk about Islam and the general perception by Muslims that Islam itself is being vilified because I think that’s a bit too paranoid. But then again, when I see something like Ludlum’s novel – especially since it would have been released soon after 9/11, I can’t but think that there is something to all that after all. I am not objective enough to judge but this is what occurred to me as I read further. Oh yes, Johan mentioned that he’s Dutch .. just had to clarify that the comment about the Dutch in the previous entry was an ironic reference to the way Ludlum might have reasoned it :p And here some history might be useful – the Dutch did rule Sri Lanka for a while but it was actually the British who ruled Sri Lanka for over a hundred years and from whom we finally gained independence in 1948 – but in "The Janson Directive" there is no mention of the British – it’s the Dutch governor who gets assassinated … I found that kind of interesting .. Anyway, my rants notwithstanding, you should make up your own mind :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:57 pm  |  No Comments

July 23, 2003

Rants and writings …

Yes, it’s been quite a while :p I’ve switched hosts, moved servers and at the same time been so swamped by real-life events that I haven’t had much time to write here or to do much maintenance except for the bare minimum on the site. I might not have written this entry either except for the fact that I’d just gotten up in irritation after reading what caused this entry to emerge and then sat down at the computer to do something else. But be that as it may, here is my rant :p

I’ve been reading Robert Ludlum for close to twenty years now and I’ve always enjoyed his work. I started with "The Bourne Identity" and was almost immediately hooked and have since then read all of his books in print (except for the last few in his collaborative "Covert One" series …) and have almost all of them in my collection. I just started reading his latest – "The Janson Directive" and I must say that the prologue left me less than impresed .. in fact, in full rant mode :p This probably is due to the fact that Ludlum struck pretty close to home in many fronts but still, I just am not amused by the tack he’s taken. The opening is about a terrorist attack in a fictitious island in the Indian Ocean close to Sri Lanka. However, what irks me is that he’s modeled this island after Sri Lanka but has made certain changes which irk me. In Sri Lanka, there is an ongoing ethnic conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese but what does Ludlum do but put the conflict in his story between Hindus and Muslims and of course, the Muslims are the terrorists .. is that because "everybody" knows that Muslims are terrorists or is that because that would sell more books? I don’t know …

Then of course, Ludlum decides to move Adam’s Peak which is in Sri Lanka, to his fictitious island and call it Adam’s Hill but with the same kind of history and here of course, he mentions Tamils and Buddhists as being part of the island’s population – though they never get mentioned anywhere else in the prologue. Then there is the whole matter of this bogus island’s history – it had been ruled by the Dutch (not the British mind you since the Brits might still object to how things go in the book – but the Dutch are safe enough to vilify I assume ..) up to fifty years ago and the Dutch governor at that time had been shot by an independence fighter. And I will not even go into the usage of the word "kurakkan" (which is actually a Sinhalese word used to describe a kind of grain grown in Sri Lanka) to mean root crops .. though I guess I just did.

I know, all of this might seem trivial things to anybody who is not from the area and who probably isn’t a Muslim but it all points to a certain type of mindset and a certain form of vilification by "established" authors. I am from Sri Lanka, I love my country and don’t want it to be used by some idiot somewhere to model his fantasy playground upon. If he wants to do it, then let him use the truth but then again, I guess that would be too much to bear … Ah well, yes, I know .. I get upset at trivialities perhaps .. but that’s just me :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:42 pm  |  2 Comments

July 2, 2003

Jacta est alea

The die is cast – the answer given … and what was the answer? Well, the answer at least to the company which wanted to hire me was a "no". They did want to know why I didn’t want to join them and what was I to tell them? :p That it was an instinctive feeling that I was at a cross-road? That I thought that this might be a cosmic question directed at me? 🙂 I decided to say the least and yet remain within the bounds of truth and so, simply said that it was a personal decision and had nothing at all with to do with their offer or the company itself. The person I spoke to seemed to accept that but he wanted me to look them up anytime I felt like changing my mind and I told him that I would.

Was that the end of it? Not really :p Well, that was the end of it as far as the job was concerned but a little bit of weirdness was left to play itself out. I got home in the evening and was lying in bed simply thinking when my phone rang – I looked at the caller ID and it was the guy from the company which offered me the job, the guy I’d talked to in the morning. I answer the phone and all I hear are voices talking and nobody says anything – it was as if the phone had been turned on in the middle of a meeting by accident. I said "hello" a couple of times, there was no response and since I didn’t want to be an eavesdropper, I decided to hang up. But being as curious as I am, I was left wondering what that might have been – images of maybe a possible hostage situation with the guy dialling his phone out to the first number he could find in memory and keeping it on so that I’d figure out what was happening and call the police, flashes through my mind. But of course, I tell myself that such a thing is just fanciful thinking and dismiss it from my mind. But then, the phone rings again!

I look, and it’s the same guy. I listen, and it’s as before – nobody says anything but I can hear a conversation going on at the other end. I can’t really make out the words but I listen for a little bit longer this time to make sure that nobody seems to be threatening anybody else – just in case that it was indeed a hostage situation since I can’t think of any other reason why I should be called repeatedly. I then think that maybe his son or daughter got hold of the phone and is playing with it. Or that it’s in his pocket and the redial button(s) had been pressed twice by accident. I’m not satisfied with any of the explanations but since there is no answer, I hung up again. And there were no more calls after that – so I guess I’ll just chalk that up to a bit of weirdness … unless I learn otherwise later on …

Posted by Fahim at 6:26 am  |  1 Comment

July 1, 2003

Galloping onwards … what lies ahead, who knows?

Life really is funny – or does that apply only to my life? :p Things happen at the oddest moments and for the strangest reasons. The latest? Well, I guess I should lay the groundwork for this one first – I came back to Sri Lanka at the beginning of 2002 and I knew when I came back that I would be joining my former employer (the employer I had before I left for the US) since I’d talked to them a couple of months before that about returning and they’d immediately said that they wanted me to rejoin them as an employee. Of course, I liked this particular company and the people there – I’d worked there for over two years before I left the first time and had fond memories of them. So I joined them when I did return to Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a mistake in a way because some of the stuff they’d told me initially "might" happen, never did – such as a major multimedia software development project to develop educational games. Of course, to be fair by them, they never said that it was a concrete possibility and they did put me in administration because I asked them to. The problem was that I’d gotten used to administration in a US company and so had completely forgotten what it was like in Sri Lanka. To me, I’d just need to figure out what needs to be done and by when and by whom and tell the people and they should be able to carry out their assigned tasks independently … guess what? That’s not the way it goes here :p You do all of the above and then keep on checking on the people to whom the tasks were assigned since they tend to get "distracted" and forget all about deadlines. This has come to be a real pain for me since I can’t really work that way – I hate having to go prod people every half an hour to get some work done since that way I can’t concentrate on what *I* need to do.

And of course, there is also the politics to be dealt with … now there is politics in almost any organization you work for but here it really becomes a personality thing. I was talking to somebody about the Sri Lankan peace process recently and he said it is all about the people involved – that the whole process hangs on the likes, dislikes and egos of the people involved … not the major players but the implementers, the bureaucrats. It is the same anywhere – even at work. I’ve never believed in pandering to the egos of people just to get stuff done and I usually bend over backwards not to do it. I don’t chitchat for the sake of chitchatting (except perhaps with friends that I *do* like) and I don’t go brown-nosing either (at least I hope not …). While I’m not disliked, this leads to me being not being considered with extra fondness by the powers that be either. And so, when deadlines are not met, I get pulled up more often than somebody else who might be a lot more liked and of course, me being me, I would try to argue about the whole thing and that doesn’t go down too well either since I *have to be* wrong :p

Of course, I digress again – the point is that I’ve not been totally happy with the conditions at work but there were compensations too 🙂 And then they dumped proposal writing on me and as I’ve mentioned before, I just hate that because it is dry as dust writing – not the kind of stuff I really want to do (though I guess I’ll do it if I must …) but I got the job because my friend Robin had decided to leave. But he changed his mind at the last moment and decided not to leave and so I thought I wouldn’t have to worry so much about the proposals but it looks as if I might get them after all since they want Robin to concentrate more on other stuff … And then I get a call out of the blue from a company that I’d talked to about a year ago about employment.

They called me yesterday afternoon and wanted to meet me as soon as possible. So I suggested later on in the evening and they say fine. It’s one of the biggest software firms in Sri Lanka and they have this large campus a la Microsoft’s Redmond campus where all their employees work. The catch? It’s way out in the middle of nowhere since you can’t find enough land to build such a campus anywhere close to the city :p It took me like half an hour to get there – on the main road through all the smoke and dust (and I kept on thinking that this would have to be something I’d have to put up with everyday if I took this job) and then arrive at the campus which is in a very peaceful area and totally uncrowded since the buildings are spaced apart and so on. They spent about two hours explaining the software they develop (they have two major projects one for the stock markets and one for telecommunications) and then wanted me to talk a bit about stuff that I’d done and demonstrate DarkStep – an old shell replacement that I’d stopped developing over two years ago.

Then I had an interview with their CEO and he seemed to want to get a feel as to what I wanted in life etc. and of course the financial stuff. I was then asked how soon I could join and when I said a month, they wanted to know if I could come in over the weekends and so on as soon as I get my letter of employment and later told me that the remuneration I wanted was agreeable to them and was asked if I wanted to come on board. I told them I needed some time since I really need to think things over as hasty decisions have never worked for me and they agreed to that. And here I sit thinking, why now? Why did it have to happen at this exact moment when I haven’t been successful at finding different employment for the last year (even with this particular company itself the first time I tried them)? Now that is the question … I feel as if this is a question being asked of me in some form and how I answer will decide the direction of my life – or maybe I’m just being fanciful :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:27 am  |  1 Comment