An Afternoon in Paris

The year was 2017.

The month of February, or maybe early March.

It was a cloudy day in Paris.

There I was, a lost soul in more ways than one. I was doing just fine at my internship, but I had no clue what was next. I spoke French, but not well enough so there was a considerable language barrier between me and the French people around. My diffidence did not help things either. So, every weekend so far had been spent wandering the streets alone, mostly around the Seine and St. Michel.

This weekend was no different. I had wandered off and reached the Pantheon somehow. I had gazed at the graves of the greatest sons (and the few daughters) of France. On the way back, grey clouds and thunder took over the sky and I desperately wanted shelter and a hot drink. And so, I entered a café named ‘Comptoir Meditarranee’. It was empty, save for an older gent I assumed was the owner, a young waiter, and another customer who was dressed in a way that while simple, made him look distinguished and bohemian simultaneously. From how he chatted with the others, called them by their first name, and how comfortable he was in his seat, I could tell that this man was a regular here.

I took a seat at the table next to him and ordered a hot chocolate in broken French. Moments later, he started humming a tune that drew me out of my reverie. A vague memory was brought back to life: of a man and a woman dressed in black. I looked at the man and smiled.

‘It is an old Argentinian tune. Called Por una cabeza’ he told me.

‘Gardel, non?’ I replied.

‘Brava’ came the reply. He asked me where I was from and how did I know the composer.

I told him I had loved the tune after listening to it in a movie, and so I had made the effort to find out who the composer was.

‘This Indian young lady knows Gardel’, he told the owner. Then he turned to me and told me that it was a song about betting on horses during a race.

At this moment, the young waiter arrived with the hot chocolate. As he placed the glass on the table, he told the gentleman he had danced to this tune in his Tango class. Listening to this, the older man gave the younger man his hat to wear to his dance classes.

As this scene played out in front of me, I wondered if I had somehow taken a turn and entered some portal to the past to an era where people were regulars at a café, and where there was a conversation amongst fellow patrons and no one cared to look into their phones.

He turned to me and asked me what brought me to Paris. I am a student of biology, I answered. And you, Monsieur? Surely you are a Parisian?

‘Ah no. I am from Belgium. I could never be like these people.’, came the reply.

And then I discovered his profession from him: an opera director who had worked on the French stage for many years.

After this, to my great regret, a lot of the conversation that followed is lost to me. But I will try my best to recreate it.

M. Director told me that he had spent considerable time in India. He had spent a few months in Kerala exploring Kathakali and Ayurveda. He had enjoyed learning about something entirely different from what he was accustomed to.

That, he told me, was the joy of being an artist or a scientist. There was always a chance to remain curious throughout life and learn something new. At that time, I needed to hear those words and they remained with me.

Time had passed by rather too quickly and we were finished with our respective beverages. He asked me what my future plans were. I told him I would love to get to know the city, with its numerous museums and interesting places at each corner.

I asked him the same question and he told me he was off to Mauritius for a few months to enjoy the warm weather. If fate meant it, he said, we would maybe cross paths somewhere soon.

I smiled and thanked him for the company and conversation. Sometimes I wonder why did it not occur to me to ask for a name or a card. I guess maybe because all of it happened so unexpectedly and rapidly.

A few years have gone by since that day. The café closed down a year later and moved elsewhere. And I have had a few cups of hot chocolates in the company of many others, but it is the memory of the cup I had in Paris that stayed with me. On that day, I felt like a part of that busy city. I think it was there that I realised the joy of being a flaneur (or shall I say, flaneuse?). It gave me the courage to venture out more on my own and look forward to the stories that exploring brings.

And that is why despite all the cliches, Paris remains the city of love for me. It gave me a love for life which has persisted despite all.


Movie of the week: Khuda Kay Liye (In the name of God)

Religion is such a complex matter. However, it is sad that something so personal has now become a tool for political manipulation instead of being a path towards love and peace. While I identify as an agnostic, I won’t deny that I often struggle with my religious identity. Plus, the more I read, the more confused I am! (For example, Hindu philosophy had a sect called the Lokayata, which rejected the very idea of Vedic rituals and the supernatural. So am I still Hindu if I am a skeptic? It baffles me!!)

So, I was extremely curious when I came across this Pakistani movie from the year 2007, which tries to explore the question of Muslim identity, faith and its place in the modern world. So, here is what I thought about it!



Storyline: The story follows the lives of three young Muslims: Mansoor, Sarmad, and Mariam/Mary.

Mansoor (Shaan) and Sarmad (Fawad Khan) are two bothers from a liberal Muslim household in Lahore. Moreover, they are successful musicians who perform at local events. Sarmad steadily falls prey to the teachings of the local Maulavi, who convinces him that music is against Islam. Convinced, he decides to stop and starts following a radical form of religion.

The story then shifts to England, where Mariam’s (Iman Ali) father is unhappy that his daughter has decided to marry Dave, a white Christian boy, as women are forbidden from marrying into another religion. He dupes her into thinking that she has his blessings, and tells her that they can get married once they come back from Pakistan, where they must go to meet his family. There, Mary is forced into marrying her cousin Sarmad.

At the same time, Mansoor shifts to Chicago to pursue his passion for music, where he falls in love with an American girl whom he proceeds to marry. All seems blissful until the events of 9/11 occur and he is detained by the CIA at Guantanamo Bay.

What happens to Mary? Does she escape her forced marriage?

Will Sarmad see the error of his ways?

Is Mansoor freed from his wrongful imprisonment?

For this, watch the movie. While the story is available online, I have tried to keep this post spoiler-free. ( It is available on Youtube and despite my many attempts, I could not find a legitimate copy.)

Why should you watch this movie?

1- Portrayal of religious zealots.

When you think of it, it seems absurd that an educated person could ever fall prey to propaganda, religious or otherwise! But, the movie attempts to show how zealots like Moulana Tahiri can use scriptures and sweet-talk to manipulate people into following their teachings.

2- Naseeruddin Shah’s role as Maulana Wali

Towards the end of the movie, he gives a stirring speech on how religion has been misinterpreted to lower the status of women, and how it is shameful that externalities like clothing and behaviour have become more important than what is within the soul.

3- Relevance

While the director has focused on his religion and country, the story could be true anywhere, and for any religion. The world we currently live in is so bizarre, and this movie made so much sense to understand the different points of view people have.

Why should you not watch this movie?

1- Shoddy screenplay and acting

The director and cast try their best, but the acting could have been better and the screenplay could have been crisper. Plus, the dialogues in the English version are not as good as the Urdu/Hindi one.

2- Violence

If you are someone who is unable to tolerate even a minutely violent scene, this movie is not for you. There are many scenes depicting torture and other forms of violence. Refrain from watching this movie on a day when you are already in a bad mood.

3- Ending

If you are someone who likes their movies to have a happily-ever-after, then this movie is not for you. The ending can be described as bittersweet at best. However, this seems to be intentional, to show that the damage caused by bigotry and hatred is often irreversible.


Verdict: Despite its flaws, I found it to be a soulful movie and a brave one too. It is not easy to handle such topics, and the director and writers have done their best to handle every aspect sensitively. Thus, I would say that while it is not a must-watch or a classic, it is still a unique film and puts forth a new perspective

If you watch it, let me know what you thought of it!

Note: I understand that the topic I have posted about is a sensitive one, personally and politically. However, I would appreciate it if hateful/attacking comments are kept out of the discussion. The world-both real and virtual is filled with enough strife and hate, and I want this blog to be a positive space (even if its writer is not exactly a positive person :D)