Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Iron Marshall by Louis L'Amour: a book review


L'Amour is the gold standard for novels set in the American West. His prolific output and his masterful storytelling endear him to any reader interested in the 'Wild West.'

It is therefor no surprise I have list track of the number of L'Amour books I have read over the years. I started reading his novels as a teenager and even after several decades his books don't disappoint.

To be sure, a classic Western story follows a formulaic model almost as predictable as a Bollywood movie. There is the hero – an almost bad guy who is at his core a good guy. The love interest who makes but fleeting appearances. The villain and his (or her) accompanying posse of bad guys (and gals).

However, it is L'Amour's ability to surprise within this formula which makes his novels entertaining, easy reads. Perhaps L'Amour pulls the reader so deep into the savage yet noble world of the Wild West that we forget the plot is simply a fairy tale of Good versus Evil.


The Iron Marshall is no different. A 'bad' good guy from 'civilized' New York city finds himself entangled in a small Western cowboy town. Before he knows it, our hero is the town Marshall and trying to unravel an intriguing criminal conspiracy. During his detective work, our hero deals with some 'real' bad guys. On his way to saving the town he also finds time for a 'love at first sight' encounter!

It all sounds rather unbelievable though when told by an experienced wordsmith the story is not only believable but also entertaining. For the un-initiated L'Amour reader The Iron Marshall may not be the best place to start. However, for those of us running out of L'Amour works to read this novel is as good as place as any to lose oneself in rough and tumble of the Wild West.



Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Lemmy: White Line Fever the Autobiography (with Janiss Garza) a book review


White Line Fever is vintage Lemmy (1945 - 2015): candid, sarcastic and blunt. No ifs and buts, just Lemmy. And Lemmy's personality shines through his autobiography like a prison searchlight setting ablaze a high security facility in the dead of night!


Love him or hate him, the bassist front-man of Motorhead has to be admired for what he is (was): a talented songwriter / musician and an 'in your face' rock star with a sneaky intellectual streak.

Lemmy is not a Life Coach. His 2003 autobiography White Line Fever is not a self-help book either. Nonetheless there are many nuggets of common sense interspersed throughout his book.

We'd [Motorhead] been in worse situations … you just have to keep going and everything will sort itself out. It always does. You can't run around panicking and giving up; you've got to have the strength of your convictions.”

Lemmy was a self-made man. He probably succeeded in life and the music industry more through persistence than anything else. He was a larger than life personality who inspired intense loyalty in his fans. To his fans, 'Lemmy is God' was not a statement of adulation; rather it was simply a statement of fact.


White Line Fever reveals insights into the (incestuous?) British rock music scene of the late 1960s and 1970s. It is a must read for any rock music historian or for a Motorhead fan. It is a funny, entertaining and opinionated statement from a High Priest of Rock. 


Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The 786 Cybercafe: book review


Bina Shah's book was a nostalgic read for me. As a (Singaporean) Karachite the novel's setting in late 1990s Karachi was a reminder of my own time in Pakistan's commercial capital. The author's descriptions of city streets, shops and even its beaches all evoked special memories for me.


As literature, The 786 Cybercafe is a good effort. The story was realistic. It gives unfamilar readers an insight into Karachi. Thankfully, the author refrained from turning the novel into an explicit political commentary. Ms. Shah refrained from making judgements about Pakistan's urban social values. Instead, the reader is left to make up one's own mind about these traditions.

The characters - mainly young people reflecting the city's youth population bulge developed well as the story progressed. Surely, they were at times stereotyped but I guess it's to wrote a novel without some degree of stereotyping.

The plot was enjoyable, especially the latter half of the book where I found myself wishing to rush ahead to learn the fate of Nadia – the book's main female character. Indeed, through Nadia the author makes an understated yet powerful feminist statement. (It is entirely possible that many readers may not even grasp these serious feminist undertones.)

The 786 Cybercafe is time well spent. The novel particularly resonates with readers curious about Pakistan's social milieu. While at its heart the book is a simple story, the author does weaves subtle social messages into the plot.



Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Singapore’s reserved Malay Presidential elections or 'Affirmative Action' in disguise?


Presidential elections are scheduled in Singapore for September 2017. As most are aware Singapore's next President must be ethnically Malay. The Parliament deemed it so through amendments to the Presidential Elections Act passed in February 2017. The changes also establish a mechanism for the state to determine the ethnic community to which each candidate belongs, i.e. Ms. Yacob and all other candidates for next month's elections must be certified 'Malay' before their candidacies are accepted.

To the relief of many Singaporeans Madam Halimah Yacob has decided to stand as a candidate for Singapore's next president. As a 50 percent Malay woman – her father was Indian and mother was Malay - it is likely Madam Yacob is 'sufficiently' Malay and will pass the government's 'Malayness' test. Hence, she is expected to be accepted as a Malay candidate. Indeed, it will be very inconvenient if she is deemed 'not sufficiently' Malay?

Race and ethnicity are nebulous concepts and categorizing people into defined boxes can be an imprecise organizational tool
The appropriateness of ethnicity criteria tests to evaluate an individual's race is one difficulty. However, for many the real problem is not determining a candidate's race; rather it is the idea that Singapore has seemingly sacrificed a long held belief in meritocracy at the altar of political expediency.

For the last five decades the government has preached the creed of meritocracy almost to the notion of fanaticism. Meritocracy trumped all else, including race based politics. The desire to maintain societal meritocracy was even a factor in Singapore's 1965 expulsion from the Federation of Malaysia.

Suddenly, however, meritocracy is no longer sacrosanct. On the contrary, the country's Constitution was amended to promote a 'race based' presidency.

To be sure, there are supporters of the government's policy of a 'reserved' (affirmative action?) presidency. Nonetheless, the policy does open the door for 'affirmative action' in other areas where minorities are proportionately underrepresented. 

For example, anecdotal evidence suggests Malays are proportionately underrepresented in Singapore's armed forces. Does the government's new policy stance indicate the government may soon start reserving places for Malay officers in the military? Does the government’s new policy stance indicate it may soon start reserving places for Malay officers in the military? If so, which ethnic community (ies) will have to sacrifice in the implementation of such a policy? Undoubtedly, there are many questions without any clear answers.

Is it possible to distill each human's DNA into race and ethnicity categories without fuzziness? 
The government's policy 'adjustments' to the presidential election system calling for candidates based on race contradicts the country's founding principle of meritocracy.  After 52 years of independence one would expect authorities to encourage deeper integration by gradually and incrementally dismantling the CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others) system – a colonial race based legacy – rather than strengthening an world-view filtered by ethnicity.

Meritocracy or allowing the most qualified to naturally filter upwards has served Singapore well since independence. One hopes the concept of 'ethnic fairness' will not further permeate the Singapore system through quotas and reserved seats but will cease exactly where it started: at the presidency.



Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide: a book review


A good book to learn more about an under-researched war: the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war which led to the creation of Bangladesh. 


The author puts the war /crisis in the context of global politics and the US - Soviet Cold War which was raging in the 1970s. He also attempts to provide a balanced view though he often fails. Indeed, the book focuses more on the crisis as it plays out on US domestic politics. 

The books adds to the academic literature on the short war but is aimed more at the student of US politics rather than those interested in the minutae of South Asian politics. 

Only for the very interested.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Fault Lines: Stories of 1971 [Pakistan - India war]: a book review


For those of us are old enough to know there once existed an East Pakistan but young enough to know little other than the nightly air raid blackouts there is a paucity of literature about the 1971 war, at least in the 'remaining' wing of Pakistan aka West Pakistan. 




Fault Lines is a collection of short stories from several authors: Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani. The stories help provide some color to the war experience from several perspectives. Most importantly, these are stories about the 'human' experience of what must have been a brutalizing period in South Asian history. 



To be sure, the authors paint good guys and bad guys but mostly through the eyes of the characters themselves. I imagine for many Pakistanis some of the stories make painful reading - perhaps why this critically important event in the country's history is papered over as if it didn't exist? 



Undoubtedly, the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh are two subjects screaming out for more literary examination. It's been almost five decades since the war ended - suitable time for at least the most painful wartime wounds to have healed; and the birth of a new generation searching for meaning in the country's historical evolution. 



Fault Lines is a valiant effort by the editors to collect short stories about the 1971 war. History and literature are not the only beneficiaries. The book adds one piece to the puzzle for those trying to unravel the mysteries of the 1971 war.



Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Singapore by way of Ipoh, Pattani and the Thar Desert


It has been ages since I updated my blog. No excuses, my bad.

It's not that I have nothing to report. Quite the contrary, my life has been full and the world has entered a new and more tumultuous state (who knew that was even possible).
Indeed, the last several months were full of new adventures and worthwhile happenings. Here's a list of some of my more interesting travel related activities during the period:
Karachi, Pakistan to China. Yes, I traversed the north-south axis of Pakistan all the way from the southern port city of Karachi to the 4,700 meters high Khunjerab Pass border between Pakistan and the People's Republic of China (PRC). The entire 2,400 kilometers long journey (and back) was done on land, i.e. railways and road. The journey took in many stops along the way, including Multan, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Naran, Hunza, Skardu, Gilgit and Abbottabad.

My journey from Karachi to the Khunjerab pass took my all the way from the shores of the Arabian Sea to the Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges, including to the doorsteps of K-2 (the worlds second highest mountain at 8,600 meters).

The restored Khaplu Fort or Palace located in eastern Baltistan, Northern Pakistan. The palace was originally built in 1840 and now operates as a conserved luxury hotel. 


A view of a remote village located of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Gilgit-Baltistan province. The KKH is the main road artery connecting Pakistan with the southwestern Chinese city of Kasghar, Xinjiang. The KKH is a central part of the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which runs from Kasghar, China in the north to Gwadar, Balochistan in the south.

The Pakistan Monument located in Islamabad's Shakarparian Hills. The complex contains a heritage museum and expansive gardens which are a popular picnic spot for visitors from Pakistan's federal capital. 

Pattani, Thailand. Ok, conventional wisdom suggests travellers stay away from Thailand's Muslim majority deep south because of the 'low level insurgency.' Nonsense! Pattani was about as laid back and peaceful a place to de-stress as an idyllic beach in Zanzibar. What's not to like about an area which blends the Malay and Thai culture into one! Even getting to Pattani is a happy adventure. Take the overnight train from Bangkok to Hat Yai. Rent a  car in Hat Yai – GPS required – and drive along the coast to Pattani. There is little doubt I will be back in Pattani as soon as I can fit it into my travel calendar!

The journey from Bangkok to Pattani is best done by overnight train to Hat Yai in Songkhla province. From Hat Yai to Pattani is a short drive of about two hours. 

The Pattani Central mosque in Pattani city (Pattani is also the name of a province). The mosque was completed in 1954 and has beautiful gardens and a pond in its complex. 
Pakistan's Thar Desert and interior Sindh. Few are aware that in many areas of Pakistan's Sindh province Muslims are a minority – these are Hindu majority regions. Towns (cities?) like Mithi, Umerkot and Islamkot are places where Hindus and Muslims have lived together side by side for centuries. As one (Hindu) resident put it to me, "We [Hindus and Muslims] share in each others' happiness and sorrows. We attend each others' weddings and funerals." As a result of the demographic mix one finds a unique cultural heritage not found anywhere else in the world. The two communities share graveyards (Hindus here often bury not cremate their dead) and worship together at colorful shrines of holy men. Restaurants offer vegetarian menus. It's a world where religious harmony and common space – albeit shrinking - still exist.

My travels around Sindh province took me right to Pakistan's eastern border with India. I covered many towns during y travels, including Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Islamkot, Nagarparkar and Mithi.  

Hindu - Muslim bhai bhai! A Hindu religious symbol and an Islamic crescent and star symbolically tied together on a pole which hung outside a Hindu temple in the Tharparkar district of Sindh, Pakistan. The area has a large Hindu population, one which outnumbers Muslims in many regions.
Ipoh and Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Some suggest Ipoh is Malaysia's next Melaka. Given how commercialized tourism has become in Melaka there is much truth in the statement. Until today, Ipoh exudes the authenticity of a Chinese city in the heart of Malaya. This means old Chinese neighborhoods, temples and even cemeteries. Additionally, Ipoh is a nice stopping point for the journey to Cameron Highlands. Cameron Highlands is more than simply the home of BOH tea. It is one of the few places on the Malayan peninsula where one may escape the searing heat and humidity of the tropics. Cameron Highlands has a cooler temperate climate relative to the typical heatstroke inducing temperatures of Singapore.

The colonial era Ipoh railway station stands majestically in the city's colonial district. Ipoh has a nice mixture of Malay, Chinese and colonial heritage all blended together into a compact city.
Nanjing, Tianjin and Beijing, China. China has a charm of its own. Unlike Singapore's history which is measured in decades, China's history is measured in centuries. So there is always something historic to experience in China, no matter which part. As former and current capitals of China, history flows from Nanjing and Beijing like sweat flows from one's body in the tropics of Malaya. Tianjin? As a port near Beijing it has a special place in China's history, especially in the country's more recent colonial history as symbolized by the Treaty of Tientsin 1858 which ended the first phase of the Second Opium War.

A Chinese guard near a beautifully manicured flower display in Beijing, China. 

A view of the Niujie Mosque courtyard and minarets located on Cow Street, Beijing. The mosque is Beijing's oldest and traces its origins to the year 996. A newly wed Hui Chinese Muslim couple are taking photographs in the mosque courtyard. Note the Han Chinese design and features so clearly visible in the mosque minarets (pagodas?) and roof designs. 
Now that I am back I hope not to be so lazy in the future. Fingers crossed. I will update my blog more often; I will share my thoughts more often; I will keep you informed of my travels (and opinions) more often. Trust me .... 

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.