Hot Head

The empowered courtesans of old

As a teenager in the Lucknow of the mid-’70s, I recall cycling once to the older part of the city famous for Awadhi cuisine and high culture. Accompanied by a friend who claimed to know the area well, we set out on a quest to find Lucknow’s famous red light locality. “That’s where we have to go,” my friend gestured enthusiastically towards a dark lane choked with the random clutter of small-time traffic.

The creeping Saudi tendril

When Cairo’s Tahrir Square erupted against President Mohammed Morsi’s attempts to usurp all powers, the divide was clearly visible. On one side were the Islamists, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, and on the other were the secularists, animated by Muslim liberals, Coptic Christians and many of those keen to protect the secular ethos of the Gamal Abdel Nasser era. Women provided the spine to this opposition to Morsi as they feared losing their rights once the sharia laws began to sideline existing ones.

The culturing of cuisine

“Your staple diet must be idlis and dosas?” was the rhetorical question from a cheery young waiter at Lahore’s Pearl Intercontinental when he learned I was from India. My prompt protest that, being from Delhi, I ate food similar to what was being served in the expansive breakfast buffet failed to convince him. “This is what we have been told. Try our nihari and halim. I am sure you would not get it in India, which I hear is vegetarian,” he went on.

Quintessentially London

It needed fiction writer and a purveyor of phantasmagoria to reiterate to a world audience why Great Britain ran such a vast empire. So it was in the fitness of things that the organisers of the London Olympics deployed the creative skills of Oscar winning director, Danny Boyle, to cheerfully and unapologetically locate Imperial Great Britain as an Isle that changed the world. His interpretation of the industrial revolution had shades of both Charles Dickens and Adam Smith, which meant toiling working classes juxtaposed with adventurous mercantilists.