Tuesday, 15 May 2012

National Flash Fiction Day (UK)

Yellow Protest

Clad in a yellow T-shirt, 
the child walked hand in hand with her parents to her first protest. 
The theme was free and fair elections. 
She could not vote but followed anyway. She wasn’t given a choice.

The sea of yellow trembled with excitement and anticipation, 
geared for a fun-filled Saturday afternoon with a statement to make, 
but armed 
with salt for tear gas and what not to say if detained.

Peaceful almost, till hell broke loose.
Lurkers clad in black sheep’s clothes broke the cordon. 
Water cannons and tear gas exploded as promised. 

The child wondered why the stinging eyes and painful skin, 
in spite of the red raincoat.
Mama, Papa shouldn’t you keep me safe?

We are Gen Y, motivators of change. We occupy squares. It is for you.

Flash Fiction and the like

Fiction of extreme brevity 
has flown under the banner of flash fiction, sudden fiction, microfiction, 
micro-story, short short, postcard fiction, short short story and nanofiction. 
There seems to be no consensus on actually word count, 
anything from 1000 words or less. 

Nanofiction is exactly 55 words long. 
Almost prose poetry.
Its not a new concept, Aesops fables being an early form. 
Chekhov, Hemingway, Kawabata, Vonnegut and Drabble have indulged. 

The Internet, with its new age readership and the love of short quick fixes, 
has brought on new life to flash fiction.
It is addictive!

First Loves Blogfest

My first book was most likely an Enid Blyton book, probably the Noddy series. Then came the Secret Seven and The Famous Five (and dog). George was the cool tomboy I always imagined myself to be. It was a time to read yourself to sleep and dream of adventure with a tight group of friends, exploring coves and solving mysteries. 
That comes from being a single child for 6 years before two brothers came into the picture.

First Song: There are songs and there are songs, but the one that made an indelible impression and the beginning of a phase in my life. "Where have all the flowers gone?" by Joan Baez . It was the 60's, flower power, hippy movement, folk songs and a time of protest. She was the mother of the tribe. Then there was Bob Dylan, Donovan and the Carpenters. I taught myself the guitar and sang in the local radio talentine ala Joan Baez, long hair and all.

First love movie has to be My Fair lady. We had the LP Vinyl sound track and I remember amusing myself by listening to it over and over again. I knew the lyrics by heart. Imagine the delight of a girl watching the film in 1964 at the Cathay Organisation cinemas in Kuala Lumpur. The words came to life and the beautiful Audrey Hepburn was perfection. 

Anthony Perkins was my first love. I obsessed over him as a teenager. On count back, I couldn't have seen the movie Psycho when it first came out in 1960. They must have had PG ratings even then. I know that I was fascinated by Alfred Hitchcock movies and always took pleasure in watching out for his cameo moment.   

Monday, 7 May 2012

A-Z Reflections

The  A-Z April Challenge 2012 was certainly a highlight 
for me personallysatisfying to the core. 
Now exhausted but happy, 
I look forward to the next steps of getting   
a book out in print or circulating in the great electronic library out there.

At the beginning of the Challenge, the possibilities were daunting. 
A plan did not emerge immediately. I played it by ear, with this and that. 

I turned to visual prompts and worked on two favourite places. 
Malacca in Malaysia, from a historical point of view kicked off with 
E for Mista Ee, based on an ancestor and his family.

A recent visit to Istanbul and Cappadocia inspired 
the stories around F for Feriha,  the hamam masseuse and her band. 
This journey came back full circle to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
with one of the characters, Q for Quraishah. 

Characters seemed to develop one story after the other, 
each taking on a life of their own. 
I was pleasantly surprised by the flow of ideas.
My play on the choice of names and their meanings was aimed 
at highlighting how tradition and culture still 
play an important role in individual lives 
in the parts of the world mentioned. 

Positive outcomes:
  • a well organised Challenge with great support;
  • developing self confidence in publishing a story;
  • exposure to other bloggers of similar genre.

  • categorising genres eg. flash fiction, cooking, gardening, spiritual etc would make it much easier to filter through 1900 blogs and perhaps weed out the advertisers and marketing sites.
  • categorising or indicating city and country of origin. This will identify the gaps and improve participation from more countries. 

Monday, 30 April 2012

Z for Zhuhan

Zhuhan Dogan of Dogan Holdings, Istanbul was beside herself with frustration. Here she was shouldering the media empire of Turkey, but could not be herself. The pressure and stress of the job was weighing her down. She was forty something, alone and childless.

After being listed on the Istanbul Stock Exchange, her father hardly stepped into the Dogan Building. He  had taken on an Onassis-like life with his new American wife, sailing the Mediterranean most of the year.

She had many ideas for moving the company forward, but no inspiration to follow through. The wheels just keep turning. There was no fire.

A spark did light up after a chance meeting at a wedding. Political circles were full of expected intrigue and money, but the bride of an up and coming politician sent alarm bells ringing in her head. 

Zhuhan and Ruhsar became friends. They found commonalities that seem too much of a coincidence, so they called it fate. With all the good fortune at their feet, they wanted to be some one else.

Perhaps they were borne of independent genes, that is to say, the type of person who could stand on their own, do their own thing and not be accountable to anyone else. They did not feel the need to belong to another, until now.

They became close, shrouded by their existing lives as successful dutiful daughter and high fashion wife. Rushar probably travelled more with Zhuhan than she ever did with her husband. It suited the trio fine. 

Ruhsar's visit to Konya however did undermine the womens' relationship. Her one night stand with an old lover, Namuk, hit at Zhuhan's core. 

She came to the realisation that in the end one exists alone and remains alone. 

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Y for Ying

Ying, means Jade. That green gem stone that exudes beauty and energy. A name like that should bestow on its owner the same powerful positive energy, one would imagine.

The newspaper notice was looking for girls to work as kitchen hands and look after children in the orphanage. It paid little money, but better than nothing at all. Her family had too many children and they were digging for tapioca roots by the river to survive. If she brought home some money, father would regret less that she was the first born daughter rather than son.

All this time she had dressed up in boys clothes and wore her hair short. This was the general advice for girls. 

"The invaders will snatch your girls," it was whispered in the village. She didn't even wash her face everyday to appear unattractive.

To day however she washed, combed her hair and confidently turned up at the recruitment site. She crowded together with other girls of varying age, some as young as ten years old. 

She eagerly boarded a truck with the others and after an hours ride told to get off. It was a remote area with the jungle in the periphery. The wooden structure could have been a kitchen or orphanage. Secretly she hope for the kitchen job, more food available. Perhaps she could smuggle some out for her family.

She did not get the kitchen or orphanage job.

She was lucky to receive a bowl of soggy rice a day. She lived in a tent with three other girls. 

Ying was raped by the soldiers, never less than twenty a day. In two months her body was broken. She was a rag doll shaken to the end. It seemed like the fever never left her.

So much for a name like Jade. The only colour she lived with was army green and green pus.

When the war was lost, she too had lost five years of her life, all her incisors and stopped having her periods.

The liberators were sympathetic and appalled in the same breath. She returned to her family in shame.

X for Xiao Hong

Xiao Hong had magic fingers. She was a maker of beaded slippers for the aristocratic ladies of Malacca. In fact she was the only slipper maker on the Malayan western seaboard. Her only other competitor resided in Singapore, a three day boat ride via the Straits of Malacca or four days by road or two days by train.

Like clockwork, the rich ladies of Heeren Street zeroed into her shop in Jonker Street like flies, three months before Chinese New Year and a month before the Governors Annual Garden Party. 

"Xiao please remember you promised to get my shoes ready for fitting on the first of April. The Governors Garden Party is on the fourteenth. I'm giving you two weeks for readjustments because there is always something that needs fixing" Madam Ho fussed.

Xiao said nothing in reply. Her sister Xiao Meng jotted the dates on the calender.

Madam Lee, who lived three doors away from the Ho's waited impatiently for her turn to make an order. She was determined to get her slippers before her neighbour. 

"I am invited to the Garden Party too. In fact my husband is a very special friend of the Governor and was invited way before Madam Ho's husband. I want my fitting on the 28th March. Don't get the colour wrong like the last time" Madam Lee hissed.

Again Xiao Hong continued beading the slipper she was working on. Sister Meng noted the dates and  demands of the fussy tai tai.

Tai tai's were a special breed of rich men's wives with money in their pockets and time on their hands. They spent their waking hours playing mahjong, a noisy game of chance using small square wooden blocks, rather like cards or bridge. In between play, there was the untiring job of overseeing the servants who raised their children and indulging in opium smoking from time to time.

The bourgeoisie of Malacca lived on Heeren Street while the working class lived on Jonker Street and the Governor had the Hill. Such was the social structure of Malacca at the time.

The Xiao sisters rented the space above Wong's coffee shop. During the busy season, the sisters worked through the day and night and resorted to having food sent up from the coffee shop as they could not spare the time to cook.

Designs had to be drawn, leather cut and shoe lasts made. The toxic mix of glue and sharp needles would render her delicate fingers to shreds. Even so, beading was Xiao Hong's forte. From her trusty wooden frame, she wove her beautiful patterns of roses, birds, peacocks and dragons like a poet spinning poetry.

While her slippers were sought after greedily by the ladies of Heeren Street, they had a cruel streak and often passed unkind remarks about her. But Xiao always remained unfazed.

The tai tai's stopped for a tea at the downstairs coffee shop after collecting their slippers for the Governor's Party. They chatted to Wong, but in truth were after some gossip about the quiet Xiao.

"It's difficult for Xiao Hong to find a husband" Wong volunteered.

"Why?" the tai tai's asked dying to know the reason.

"She's so clever with her hands, but sadly she is deaf and dumb" Wong added.

A wave of guilt swept over the tai tai's for their unkind remarks which quickly faded. "As long as she continues to make our slippers why do we care?"

At the Garden Party the slippers were admired by all. But after the first hour, the wearers felt pinching in their feet with each step they took.

Each unkind word, though not heard, were conveyed by cruel eyes and facial expression. Xiao Hong had 'heard' everything they said. With every bead sewn, was a little bit of hurt.

Friday, 27 April 2012

W for Wong

Wong started vending dumplings from baskets balanced on a bamboo pole in the vicinity of Malacca port. His Cantonese taste buds had been triggered to localising the savoury steamed dumplings of his country to a sweet version made from rice flour and shredded coconut laced with gula Melaka.

The essential ingredient, gula Melaka, was the sap extracted from date palm flowers, boiled till thickened then poured into bamboo tubes for that extra aroma. Mixed with coconut, the result was a  comforting chocolaty treat.

As business grew, he had more money to spend on ingredients. "Why only  have coconut on the inside of the dumpling?" he thought. "Coconut has such a refreshing crunch when raw, I will coat the dumpling with freshly grated coconut." These furry dumplings sold like hot cakes.

The next generation dumplings took on a colour change. Rice flour cooked with Pandanus leaf imparted a green colouration and a distinctive herbal  flavour. The ladies were enchanted with the attractive green.

Despite brisk sales, Wong felt the dumpling had not reached perfection. He thought and thought and asked for feedback from his customers. Some admitted that being parched from a day of hauling cargo, the dumpling was rather dry and tended to stick in the throat.

A dumpling moment hit him. Fresh grated coconut outside, soft chewy green envelope: check. To avert the dryness of the bolus, he would replace the caramelised coconut centre with a liquid centre of gula Melaka instead. The result was a runaway success. People were queuing for not one or two dumplings, but packs of 6 or twelve.

Nothing missed Wong's keen eye. He noticed no one talked while eating. They stood or sat seriously contemplating their snack, waiting for the 'pop' of syrupy liquid goodness to ooze out, sensuously glide over the chewy green gelatin and then slosh onto the freshly grated coconut. Some even closed their eyes savouring the experience.

Regulars would educate new customers with a smile, "You must keep your mouth closed while you eat, otherwise  you may squirt sugary delight onto the person in front of you."

And that's the story of Wong and his dumplings and how within a year he secured the lease for the coffee shop on Jonker Street.  

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

V for Vishwalingam

The rubber estates of Malaya would not have been a success story if not for the South Indian labour force brought in by the British from the 19th century.

Vishwalingam and his cousin Raju were second generation rubber tappers, their fathers having started the family move to Malaya from Madras. The East India Company fleet not only traded in valuable spices from the Far East, but with the establishment of the rubber plantations, manual labour was transported over as well.

David loved Malaya. He was home schooled by his mother and never went to England for his studies, unlike his brother Henry. His knowledge of the people and the land was acquired from his Malayan upbringing and hands on experience in the estate.

David loved his nanny. Osman Baharom, the Malay houseboy was employed to clean, cook and look after the boys when they were young. He was David's only true companion all those long months when mother, father and Henry were abroad for months on end. He always thought it odd that his name was David Bradwall, when he felt more like a Daud Baharom.

As he grew older he found his feelings change from brotherly to not so brotherly any more. It developed overnight, almost, when he overhead his mother telling his father that Osman was getting married. His family had found him a wife in the village, a padi farmers daughter. That would mean he would have to work on his father-in-laws land. This news troubled David and kept him awake for nights aching for some form of physical consolation from his soon-to-be-lost companion and friend.

David was given the task of managing the labourers of the estate. The Indian labour line quarters, at the edge of the estate, were complete with housing, a Tamil language school and a dispensary for minor ailments.

His monthly inspection visits exposed him to the rubber tappers and their way of life. Young men like Vishwalingam and Raju had never set foot in their homeland, just as he had not, and could only rely on stories from their father and co-workers on the estate to learn about Tamil Nadu. The women folk kept the food and cultural traditions strong in the community.

One visit, he was passing the quarters towards the school. It was 7 in the morning. All the adults should be out tapping. They only get back by 10 before it is too hot, then out again at 3 to 7 before dark.

He heard heavy breathing and movement as if two people were struggling. He peeped through the louvres of the window and saw two glistening bodies wrestling on the floor. The rattan mat beneath them was awry and wrinkled, and yet this continual wrangling of bodies persisted.

He caught the side of a face. It was Vishwalingam. The other boy, was pinned down and had submitted.

David silently crept away. The visual kept playing and replaying in his head, excited and aroused as he found he savoured the experience.

He called Vishwalingam to his office the next week. "Vishwa, I want you to learn some clerical work. I need help in the office. You will be my assistant. You start tomorrow."

Vishwa visibly confused and thrown by this order asked "Sir may I ask why? I have brought in my share of latex everyday, have I not, Sir?"

"No, no it's nothing like that. You are one of the few who can read and write, and your English is not bad. So I have chosen you to help me in the office, that's all. You start tomorrow."

Vishwa turned and walked away, but David only saw the sweaty glistening tight back. 

U for Sungei Ujong

Sungei Ujong, or River's End, somewhere north of Malacca, was a busy river port for the Federated Malay States. A tin-mining centre surrounded by acres of rubber plantations kept it thriving. A railway line linked the northern part of the country from Penang down to Singapore running through Sungei Ujong, but not Malacca.

During one of his monthly visits to the Indian labour line quarters at the edge of the plantation, David Bradwall made a startling discovery.

"Raju did you do this?" he had asked in surprise when he spotted stuffed squirrels, birds and musang, a local breed of small fox, adorning Raju's room.  

"Yes Mista Daveed. Tuan, I hope I have done nothing wrong. I found the animals dead in the estate. Back in Madras, my grandfather used to teach me how to preserve the animals in their natural form as they have beautiful fur and feathers. I will bury the animals if it offends you, Tuan."  

"Raju, you gem! I have been thinking of getting someone from England to do exactly this. Now I have you! Capital!"

"Capital? Yes Madras is the capital of Tamil Nadu, Mista Daveed, but what has that got to do with my stuffed animals?" Raju recovered quickly, wobbling his head from side to side.

"No, no...I mean, jolly good show old chap. Now Raju, you will be promoted to master trainer of taxidermy for our Natural History Museum. Your rubber tapping days are over my friend."

Before Raju could say 'Madras is the capital of Tamil Nadu' in his dreams, his new apprentice, in the form of Mista Ee, arrived from Malacca. "A China man! Amma!" Raju called out to his deceased mother's spirit in vain.

"Is it not difficult enough to make Mista Daveed understand what I am saying, now I have to teach a China man who speaks no English or Tamil how to stuff animals. Ah yo yo." Raju berated to himself.  

David Bradwall was a master strategist. His regular expeditions in to the jungle had been successful and safe thanks to the aboriginal guides he used for trekking. The Orang Bukit or hill people, were the nymphs of the rain forest, familiar with the birds and animals and their habitat. 

Although they travelled with blow pipes, it was a sacred principle that they only kill when in need of food. Mostly they lived off fruits and herbs of the jungle.

David Bradwall's plan was to learn about the rain forest and all its treasures from the Orang Bukit. Following herds of elephants, tracing the paths of tigers and scouting for mouse deer, tapir and bears were exciting and informative. Dead animals found on their forays would be preserved and brought back for the taxidermists and their handiwork.  

The first Natural History Museum of Malaya was well on the way to becoming a reality.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

T for Taxidermy

Mista Ee had spent the last five years in Malacca, Malaya, working hard at making a living and finding his niche in this life he had chosen. Under the good auspices of coffee shop owner Wong, he had a smooth start. He met people from all walks of life; traders from China, India, Java, Arabia and Europe. 

There was plenty of talk of work in the tin mines up north in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. Some how, he felt a connection with Malacca and decided to stay put. He took on early morning chores collecting and delivering laundry to and from dhobi shops. Bicycle business was booming and there was always a need for handy repairmen. 

English planters dropped in at the Jonker Street coffee shop when they came to town for supplies. They had managed the rubber estates and tea plantations for many years. Some had even married local women after their English wives returned home as they were unable to cope with life in the tropics minus many of the finer things in British life they felt they deserved.

Henry Bradwall, second generation planter in Malaya, studied in Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. After training as an accountant in England, he returned to Kuala Lumpur to join the family firm. Henry had a keen interest in natural history of the rain forest. His brother, David, led expeditions into the jungles of Pahang and the Main Range, the mountainous spine running down the peninsula studying the wild life and birds. Every second month, the brothers would find themselves in the Jonker Street coffee shop catching up with local businessmen. 

The Bradwalls had decided to set up a Natural History Museum. They wanted to document the taxonomy of the flora and fauna in Malaya, as well as the birds and wild life. This visit they were looking for a couple of capable men to train as taxidermists. Mista Ee always served the Bradwalls their coffee just they way they liked it, boiling hot, no sugar. His ears perked up.

"Mista David, I want to learn taksee-dermee. What ees dat?" he asked showing interest in this word he had never heard before. When it was explained to him he nodded violently, "I see hunters in Canton province bring furs for trading. They buy for this - stuffing dead animal skins."

David, impressed by his enthusiasm and basic understanding of the process, jumped at the chance of his first volunteer. "When can you start Ee? Let me talk to your boss ok?"

To keep his important customer happy, Wong released his loyal employee, pleased that the young man could learn a new skill, taxidermy 

That night, too revved up to sleep, Mista Ee came to a realisation. It is so important to be surrounded by the right people, good people, to have a chance to move ahead in life. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

S for Song Leng

Song Leng was waiting for him at the Guangzhou dock with her parents. 

At twenty seven, Song Leng  was well past marrying age and not a prime target for a suitor. Life as the eldest in a family of four girls left her working as apprentice to her father, a traditional dentist. The younger siblings were married off one after the other to young men in the Guangzhou province.

A chance meeting with a match maker on the look out for girls who wished to travel overseas to be married set her mother in a tizzy. "Song Leng is a clever girl and has a promising future as a traditional dentist. She is beautiful in a strong way."

The match was agreed upon and the anxious parents had to wait a full year to get some sense of whether the arrangement would be accepted.

Meanwhile Song Leng completed her apprenticeship. As a farewell and wedding present, her father gave her a complete set of dental instruments and paraphernalia to set up a surgery in her new home.

Mista Ee had spent the last five years in Malacca working hard at making a living and finding his niche in this life he had chosen. It was time to get married and start a family. The match making process was a long drawn out one, but nevertheless a well tested system even in this remote port. The monsoon season brought not only traders and goods to the shores of Malacca, but also news of a successful match.

Elated, he planned his return trip to visit his parents and most of all meet his bride. He was told her name was Song Leng. A good sturdy name. He tried to put a face to the name but it was hard. He hoped she would be good looking, clean and of course fertile. He couldn't deny he was rather wary that she was a dentist. 

"Maybe she would be too smart for me and think I am unlearned" Mista Ee speculated. "But on the plus side, she could fix my teeth for free" he grinned, exposing his discoloured teeth. "It would definitely be useful to have a dentist in the house" he thought feeling pleased with himself. 

Now that day had arrived. He had imagined this day for months. He scanned the crowd. It was impossible to guess. "But wait, her name was Song Leng which means beautiful mountain. I will look for a strong beautiful girl who is to be my wife."

His eyes landed on a tall woman with a strong jaw line and large dark eyes. Her nose was flatter and wider than he had imagined, but overall she was pleasing to the eye. He marched up confidently to her father and bowed respectfully.

"Song Leng?" he ventured. She raised her lowered eyes and smiled. He knew he had found her. 

Saturday, 21 April 2012

R for Ruhsar

Ruhsar, which means 'cheeks make a beautiful face', was a fashion savvy girl from the get go, voted most likely to be a fashion designer at her high school prom. 

Well it all happened as it was meant to. From fashion design college to family textile business, Ruhsar  learnt the ropes of the textile trade from scratch and was good at it. 

A reunion with high school friends was a turning point in her life and career. Of course she did fall in love with Kopi, but she also saw the advantages. An up and coming politician in Istanbul would be her ticket out of the sticks of Konya to the high fashion metropolis. She was attracted to his serious nature and naive ways when it came to love making, refreshing after the raw country boys who craved after her.

Their whirlwind romance of four months ended in a flamboyant traditional wedding in Konya and a terse, she felt, formal reception at the Parliament restaurant in Istanbul. Political big wigs and potential donors. One guest stood out for Ruhsar, prominent media moghul, Dogan of Dogan Holdings, Turkey's own Rupert Murdoch. He had been accompanied by his daughter Zhuhan, the active spinner of the Dogan empire. 

Ruhsar made an impact on Zhuhan Dogan, by her choice of designer wear for the reception, Ice Edge of Bursa. With a name sounding more like a rapper, this young designer was the current rave and Zhuhan was duly impressed. 

The two struck up a friendship. Teas moved on to lunches and within four months Ruhsar was taken on as an assistant editor of Harper's Bazaar Turkey. 

Kopi and Ruhsar worked hard at their careers, harder than at their marriage. Both travelled frequently and separately. Their last holiday together was never. Children were not part of the equation, which was just as well.

Returning to Konya after a seven year hiatus hit a nostalgic note. Perhaps it was seeing her school friends married with a houseful of children, her parents still so much in love with each other and the old cafe where she and Namuk used to hang out, reminded her of something she was missing.

She recalled the brief but intense interlude with Namuk back in college days. It had been a summer love, memorable for its poetic walks in the plains of Cappadocia when young hearts seem to beat as one.

The fact that she had slept with her husbands' best friend never bothered her. After all Namuk was then, Kopi is now.

Namuk joined her for a drink that night, not at the old cafe, but a new jazz bar. They talked about her work, his writing and Kopi's political aspirations. It all sounded pretentious. The writer had lost his words and she had lost her flair. 

They went back to his apartment, which she knew was a mistake, feeling the way she did. They never did have that night cap in the end.  

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Q for Quraishah

Quraishah studied in a Convent school in Kuala Lumpur, got married after her Higher School Certificate when she was seventeen and a half, followed her husband to London while her studied law, kept house and had five children.

Now the wife of the Minister of Justice, five children and their six spouses and 12 grandchildren later, she was loving the hectic schedule of chairing board meetings of her pet charities, attending Ministers' wives lunches and high-teas, meeting foreign dignitaries and travelling the world.

Life became much sweeter when her husband was conferred an honorific title for his service to the country. Quraishah cherished her title Datin Seri, more than her mothers' set of 12 solid gold bangles handed down to her. The title, crudely equated to mean 'mini Lady', opened up doors to the echelons of society that would otherwise have remained closed. 

After one of many visits to Istanbul, Quraishah, decided to put her 6000 square foot space in a swanky  shopping mall to good use and earn back her investment. Malaysians love the spa experience. "We have Thai, Ayuverdic, Swedish, Chinese. Why not a Turkish hamam?"

She had done her homework and after surveying many hamams in Istanbul and Bursa, she decided to set up a business meeting with the owner of Cagaloglu Hamam, a successful hamam, only a stones throw away from the Blue Mosque.

Mr Onan was surprised to get a call for an appointment. Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur? He had seen TV advertisements of Malaysia Truly Asia and smiling faces, but it was just another place that he was not likely to visit. 

An entourage arrived at the appointed time to lay the ground rules and explain the protocol expected. Mr Onan should not offer to shake hands, but must be sure to use the correct address. Da-tin Se-ri was enunciated slowly for Mr Onan to repeat. "Dah-teen She-ree" he attempted, finding it difficult to twist his tongue over the teens and the shrees. 

Mini Lady arrived forty-five minutes later. Introductions over, the business plan was proposed. An 80-20 % partnership was proposed by the Datin Seri quoting the fact that it was her premises and that she was a prominent member of KL society.

Never under estimate a Turkish businessman. "Madam" he said forgetting the Datin Seri title, "without me, Onan, 20 years in the hamam business you have nothing. I know the design, steaming system and the skills of the girls, the masseurs, like the back of my bald head", and for effect slapped the back of his now sweaty bald head. 

Entourage quivered, waiting for mini Lady to lose it. He didn't address her as Datin Seri!

Quraishah shifted in her seat. "Mr Onan, yes, you do have a point. Perhaps a visit to Kuala Lumpur as my guest will convince you that my proposal is a good opportunity for our two countries to start a business."  

Entourage sighed with admiration. DS averted a diplomatic crisis. She doesn't have an MBA but she sure can sweeten a deal!  

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

P for Prokopios

Prokopios, Kopi for short, was Namuk's best friend. Namuk and Kopi were a good combo. They went to school together, sat next to each other in the class and, of course, played together. During the kite season they flew their grandpa-made-kites higher than any other in the village.

In the winter months the boys stayed indoors, read books and wrote stories. They took to play-acting and revelled in the mythical world of shamans with magical powers, stories spun by Nene.

Kopi, was the grandson of a Muslim Greek refugee, like many who now called Cappadocia their home. They brought along their heritage of political awareness, thirst for knowledge and progressive thinking. That was how Kopi got his name. Prokopios meant progressive. 

You could say they lived mirrored lives. As Namuk was a prolific writer, so too Kopi was an excellent debater in school. He represented Central Anatolia in the National School Debating Competition and emerged second. While Namuk studied literature at the Selcuk Universitesi in Konya, Kopi read Political and International Studies at the prestigious Istanbul Universitesi. 

With no less than 15 political parties in Turkey, Kopi worked closely with the echelons of the Justice and Development Party and their landslide victory in the 2002 general elections was pivotal to his career. Soon after he became the political secretary to the Minister of Education, a man he greatly admired and wiser than his forty years. 

The two friends last met after Kopi's graduation, when he returned to Konya to touch base. They met up with old school friends, where Ruhsar seemed to stand out. Kopi tried to recollect if he had ever spoken to her, but could not pin point a time or place. But somehow now she glowed, and those flawless high cheek bones beckoned to him with each smile she threw his way. 

Noticing the side-long glances between the two Namuk remarked "Too busy in Istanbul for girls, eh, Kopi? You don't know what you are missing."

Kopi, irritated by the remark asked Ruhsar to go outside for nargile. Kopi thought the warm fumes of shisha would relax him and give him a better chance of a one to one with this girl he could not place. When they came back into the cafe, they were shoulder to shoulder, laughing and looking into each others eyes. 

At the Ministry, his focus was on policy papers for presentation at Cabinet and every night he brought files back from work. The political journey was all consuming. The marriage was becoming routine, rather like two acquaintances in an office. No children in the picture. 

His wife, scanning through layouts on her laptop in bed for the June issue of Harper's Bazaar Turkey barely looking up at her husband, informed, "I have an assignment in Konya sourcing traditional jewellery. I will probably look up some old friends while I'm there." 

Kopi thought of Namuk and his ears felt warm. My friend, my nemesis. Maybe they were better suited for each other. His passion for his country's future was still blazing, but for his wife, it could have been better, but sometimes things don't turn out the way you want. "For how long?"

"Two weeks, maybe longer." 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

O for Onan

Onan, the properous, owner of the thriving Cagaloglu Hamam in Istanbul, was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He had worked from the bottom up, as brick layer to factory hand to supervisor to manager. 

Father was a sheep herder of the plains of Anatolia and Onan and was born to a family of ten boys. Being the youngest, he not only gained hand-me-downs, but was never short of male role models. His second brother instilled in him this proverb, a generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. 

He found truth in this. His timely meeting with a hamam tile manufacturer, who took an immediate liking to him, paved his path into the hamam industry which was booming at the time. He was offered a position to run a hamam in Bursa. 

He learnt the ropes quickly, saved every lire he earned, and taking the lead from his mentor, invested wisely. Within five years he had sourced a property at Sultanahmet Square, ten minutes from the Blue Mosque. It was in need of major repairs but once operational it would be a gold mine. His investment panned out. 

He married the sister of his ninth brothers' wife and now had a son. She had said yes as soon as she set eyes on him. "You know why I agreed to marry you?" she teased him one night. "It's those large flapping ear lobes of yours." Mother had told her that the prosperity of a man is reflected in his ear lobes. "Make sure you marry a man with big ones!"

Onan, loved women who paid attention to him. Melis was all honey-tongued and close at hand. "A man is a man; I give generously and it is a pleasure to receive in return" he rationalised.   

Monday, 16 April 2012

N for Namuk and Nene

Namuk had grown up in Konya, Central Anatolia with his grandmother. He loved Nene like a mother simply because she was there for him. His own mother worked in the city far away.

"Nene, can I go fly my new kite with Kopi? " Namuk always asked politely. "Yes my love, but be careful." Granny called out peeping over her bread-making stove to watch him strut off with a kite clasped tightly under his arm. "Come home before the sun goes down."

It was not uncommon for children to be raised by their grandparents. In some families it was tradition when it came to the first born son. He was a respectful child, diligent at school and spent every waking hour drawing or writing on any form of paper he could get his hands on; white margins of newspapers, half empty exercise books and even on the backs of calenders. 

Nene would often ask herself, "Where did Namuk get this talent for writing? His name means writer, author. It was as if Feriha had some intuitive sense of his talent."

Little did she realise that she, Nene, was indeed the planter of the seeds of fantasy in young Namuk's imagination. 

Every night they would lie in bed looking at the starry skies together; she, weaving ancient Anatolian myths of Tangri, the pure white goose with god-like wisdom and his creation, Er Kishi, whom beset by greed and power became lord of the underworld; and he, integrating and conjuring visions of this concept of heaven and the underworld.   

Then there were the shamans of the earth, with their own brand of extraordinary powers and guardian animals flying between between heaven and the underworld, attempting to enlighten their followers with their drums and rituals.

Many years later, at a book signing at Publishers Arkadas Yayinlari Ltd. Sti. in Ankara, the Barnes & Noble of Turkey, for the launch of his book The Tree of Life, Namuk recalled those magical moments with Nene, the stars and the pull of heaven and the underworld.