How are you?

You Are Important photo © Copyright by George Pagan III

One great habit I learnt this year last year, is from my close friend. I have got in touch with them after 17 years – a very long time for someone who’s my childhood class fellow and a close friend in Karachi where we lived to study, once.

Having chatted to him on WhatsApp, I noticed something profoundly different in the way a chat was started, day in and day out, the very same way, almost in a profound ‘new way’, one that feels forgotten in online chat, the three golden words:

“How are you?”

So right after السلام عليكم (which is the greetings of all Prophets of Allah) and much used by Muslims today, the next sentence has always been, ‘How are you?’

There may be other forms of the same greeting, said in many ways and languages, like in Urdu we would say, ‘Kia haal hain?’, which means the same. In real life, all of us are humble and polite enough to greet one another, still at times it’s simply for formal or casual use, to forward our conversations.

Online, life can be lonely, specially when people like me who live online find themselves opening new conversations more, reaching out people more and finding very few times when someone would actually begin a conversation that really feels close and caring.

The norm often, is to endure unwanted messaging on WhatsApp or other mediums and deal with them in one way or another. My earlier post Shut the WhatsTAP should be an interesting read on the subject. I prefer conversing with people more, rather than endure a continuous feed of what excites them in the form of unwelcome shares.

‘How are you?’, is a profound opening to any chat, any conversation and I’ve begun using this with everyone who I chat to – irrespective of what or how they open their conversations. If I speak to anyone, I try to say ‘How are you?’ when it’s my turn to speak.

This has been the case even when speaking to my clients on the phone or writing emails to them. I have felt that they respond in a welcome and friendly way. At times a simple ‘How are you?’ has started a pleasant conversation.

Asking someone how they were on a day that was going too well or too glum seems to be the kindest of greetings.

So, how are you? ❤️

Friends are gems and blips…

Football outside Jakarta photo © Copyright by Robert Collins

The course of history, or the usual course of history comes to a halt when friends visit. Time as we know it, ceases to exist and the few moments we spend together are immemorial.

Living in the UAE can be a lonely affair depending on your circumstances – you may live without your family or live without your friends. One or both of these situations can be true.

When back home is same-old, same-old, purana (old – used here in reference to the movement back in Pakistan to have everything naya or new), people like me rarely travel to their home country, if at all wish of going back forever.

In all this, there are a few friends who simply travel to see you and have you among them, not for silly pick and drop service or for help in an errand here or an errand there – they genuinely come with ‘you’ in mind. Those few people, are gems. They travel to see you, be with you, to spend time with you, to talk over the many ups and downs of life and for the few reasons that life gives them, they make you feel special.

I am fortunate to know a few such beings and this post celebrates them, gems. Of course, anyone who visits the UAE, wants to enjoy and see the country or to attend its many exhibitions and festivals, yet to have a great time with them when you meet them, is an altogether lovely experience. It’s time out, and it’s time big.

There are a few others, on whose list, you’re a small bleep, a sign-off, a simple keep in touch, minor blip. They visit and leave, and while we do get to meet, you know you’re on a list of people they wanted to see, or blip. These are close friends who keep in touch on a day-in and day-out basis and they make sure you’re always a great friend, someone who’s felt loved and cared for, via a chat message here, and a share over there. Close friends, true friends, yet, while we go and meet them, time never stops, time never holds and if anything, very few memories form – most only tiny blips in time.

My extended family (cousins and other relatives) never travel to the UAE for any purpose whatsoever. The few who do, or have done in the past, came to see someone in my immediate family, just not to see me – so we’ll simply leave them out. I feel they don’t see UAE as a magnificent place to visit, to experience or that they simply have other priorities. Which I believe is true. They’re the others.

The few friends I keep, the few who really are my age old friends from times when we were just friend, are both types – gems and blips (though the use of the word ‘blippers’ is more appropriate, and that this word is entirely made up, by me). Gems love to want to come meet you and time simply stops. Blips make you want to see them, and time moves on. The others, well, stay away.

Friends are gems and blips. There are others too. Who are you?

PS: If any of my friends want to know if I consider them a gem or a blip, I will gladly tell you. Wanna know? WINK!

Once upon a time, there was a Paratha…

Anda Paratha Nashta photo © Copyright by Khadeeja Yasser

My cup of tea is ready, it awaits the first sip. We’re out of bread this morning and I’m awaiting the planned Paratha Anda breakfast so the traditional and lovely chai thos makhan protocol has broken this morning. It’s Friday, the weather’s nice, at least indoors, and I have set our pedestal fan on the ‘wind’ mode.

Paratha Anda means bread and egg, but that meaning is only literal.

Paratha is traditional bread made with bread dough similar to or the same as chapatti aata (flatbread dough) prepared on a traditional tawa (a thick disk of metal) with ghee (clarified butter) or butter (this can be tricky since butter burns faster than anything). I have known ‘some’ to use oil but that is so tasteless and rubbish.

Pakistanis are powered by paratha. I am one of them and I love it. I simply don’t eat one every day, some people do. I have a one-ish paratha every three to four weeks, but the past ten days have seen a higher frequency of these lovely home-made breads, for reasons beyond my control.

It’s been served at lunch and I have carefully had a little of these lovely parathas, some with various kinds of cheese, some with white-radish, some with aalo methi (potato and fenugreek curry) in them. The amount of ghee used was light, or that I was served ones made in olive-oil, regardless, they ‘were’ and then they ‘were not’. I may have intruded upon one a many parathas designated ‘for-kids-only!’

My son who is 10 (ten), though he claims he’s 11 (eleven) is the best paratha saikney wala. This term saikney is giving me a hard time translating it to English as I am unable to find a word for it, so let’s use this in English too. Saikna means cooking a chapatti or crisping a paratha on a tawa or flat skillet, that provides the saik (consistent heat).

So he’s a champion paratha saikney wala (expert guy at crisping a paratha on a skillet) and can prepare a paratha to perfection. We know it’s a tad risky for a kid so he’s supervised, but some talents are innate and they blossom.

Our paratha dough recipe is simple, one part of chapatti aata, one part of maida, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of butter ghee (clarified butter) made into a soft dough using lukewarm water. The technique involves letting the dough sit for some time so it rests, then small balls of dough are rolled into flatbread, followed by crisping them on the skillet. paratha recipes are many and vary by taste and culture. If I hear the word paratha, I’m in – regardless of how it’s made.

Anda in Urdu simply means egg. When preceded by paratha, the meaning changes – it implies an omelette, a Pakistani omelette at that. This involves cutting up some tomatoes, green chillies, onions, fresh coriander finely and whisking them in one or two eggs (per portion) along with a pinch of red chili powder and salt. Red-chillies taste better if we use crushed red chillies over powdered, they give that much more kick. Green chillies can be either too hot, or too placid and balancing the amount can be tricky. So try your luck with them, but don’t skip adding the greens. Oh yes,… and do fry the omelette over a medium heat using a teaspoon of butter ghee (clarified butter), about 30 seconds on each side or a bit more, but don’t overcook it.

Paratha Anda is served on a plate with the paratha at the bottom and the anda (omelette) on top. Both are best when super hot and right out of the pan. If you ask me, an early morning post-dawn Paratha Anda breakfast can suffice your hunger for pretty much the entire day. I can vouch for this, I’ve tried it.

As for the calorie intake or ‘Oh, this will make me fat’ – well yeah – it would if you consume parathas like a Panda. If you’re prudent in your paratha consumption and simply have this lovely meal every couple of weeks, you should do just fine. After all, life’s too short to not indulge in some of the blessings of Allah, moderately. WINK!

If you’ve read this far, and have done so at the wrong time of your day, you will be at the brink of dying of paratha cravings. I apologize for that but like you I’ve been writing this post for the past hour and like you crave a scrumptious Paratha Anda nashta (breakfast).

If you’re Pakistani, stop that indulgent paratha consumption for the sake of your heart, and your health. If you’re non-Pakistani and a lover of parathas, please do the same. Try a routine of having these every two to three weeks, if not three to four. One or one-ish paratha at a time. If you’ve never had Paratha Anda – oh my – please get in touch with a Pakistani friend or family and demand a Paratha Anda breakfast. You have a right, exercise that. HAHA.

Some might despise having parathas, mostly because of the meal being unhealthy or just too ‘oily’ or ‘calorie-laden’ – mute them – great parathas made traditionally are nothing but healthy when prepared with care. Overdo anything and it’s going to bite at you – at least that’s how I see it.

Once upon a time, there was a paratha … and then, I ate it. الحَمْد لله‎

Shut the WhatsTAP

The three wise monkeys photo © Copyright Rachit Tank

Since the dawn of the Internet, we’ve always had some chat program that takes the limelight and everyone, that is everyone you know uses it, and considers it divine.

A few chat programs from yesteryears come to mind: mirc, icq, msn messenger, aim, yahoo messenger – these were some of the most used and almost revolutionary chat platforms at the time. Email was the second best to them.

This was the late 90s and we had almost nothing to ‘share’ or ‘forward’, not the way you know these terms today. We had cosy, easy to remember URLs like and to remember and use. Anything else was a URL too, and we used to copy and paste these into our chat and email programs. Other forms of sharing were simply copying and pasting the text or photograph of interest and we were done. Chat was simply chat, it was one on one conversation, and it was done using a computer.

With the advent of the ‘phone in your hand’, the mobile phone or known popularly to some as the cellphone, we were introduced to another form of chat, text-ing. This suffered from the difficulty of typing messages, yet we all became accustomed to text on our Ericsson and Nokia phones at the speed of light. This wasn’t a chat platform per-say. It was pay-by-the-text, and it faded away slowly.

The years that followed saw another chat platform rise to stardom. The Blackberry. I never owned a Blackberry, it never appealed to me personally, but every person in business thought a Blackberry was the best tool for typing quick (because of its keyboard) and for BBM, BlackBerry Messenger. Many a business deals were made on the new platform. People considered acquiring a prospect’s BBM pin, a feat.

The iPhone in 2007 changed everything. It changed the way we interacted with a computer. Apple didn’t introduce a chat service out of the box. Had they, their chat platform iMessage (2011) or Messages (today) would have ruled the world.

February 24, 2009 changed chat for ever. WhatsApp came to the iPhone and the rest of its story is history and worth reading. As the iPhone grew, WhatApp grew as a platform for sharing status messages, photos, videos, voice and what have you. It became and remains the largest chat platform on planet Earth. One that was acquired by Facebook for some US$19 billion green.

I have never liked WhatsApp, there’s something about it that I despise, and I can’t figure that out either. It’s maybe it’s antisocial in some ways, it’s maybe everyone is so gaga about it or it’s maybe it’s just too well made, it’s too perfect to let people into our lives, in so many unwelcome ways.

Having said that, my current WhatsApp setup is this:

  • I have WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business, both running on my iPhone (it’s possible to set this up, even if you have a single sim iPhone).
  • I use WhatsApp for personal use and WhatsApp Business for business use.
  • WhatsApp is limited for use with my friends (including my better half). No family or extended family.
  • WhatsApp Business is for all our customers and I rather adopted this app proactively. It offers some nice features over WhatsApp.
  • As official family policy (chuckle!) we don’t allow WhatsApp on our kids’ iPhones (and employ strict Parental Controls too! WINK!!).

I do feel the main reason why I don’t like or at times ‘hate’ WhatsApp is the constant stream of unwanted, uninteresting, unintelligible, unwelcome ‘forwards’ that run like a loose tap, an almost drain on our behavior and intellect.

Having faced this menace, I have caged myself into the above way of WhatApp-ing. There are very few people who can get to me (the personal number I use for WhatsApp is known only to a handful) and the ones who have access to me on personal WhatsApp, were told and made to understand the following:

  • No groups for whatsoever godforsaken reason.
  • You are welcome to chat and share photos of interesting stuff you do. Family photos are welcome and loved.
  • Audio messages are super welcome, it makes me feel happier than chat.
  • No senseless forwarding. No jokes, no videos, no anything. If I see the text ‘forwarded’ besides your message, you will be made to regret that action. Many have! BIG GRIN!!
  • If something is really important – tell me, I’m interested in knowing – so any input on topics of interest is welcome. Any news that excites you or troubles you, is not.
  • I seldom read Status messages, and I have posted a few at times. I don’t plan to post status messages anymore.

I have strong views on the culture of the ‘forward’. It’s intrusive, it’s abusive at times and it outright ignores the fact that the other person on the line is a human being. Humans can have good and bad times, and being human requires social contact, not social nonsense.

The result is that WhatsApp is over-crowded with hundreds of unwanted groups and people, and thousands of unread messages. It’s not chat any more, it’s a tap, a never ending tap of nonsense that aims to flow perpetually, unchecked, uncontrolled.

Shut the WhatsTAP. You’ll live a happier life.

Many a castles lie in ruin…

Desert Cairo Temple photo © Copyright by Fynn schmidt

I skipped writing yesterday, I had a new design to push for our Spiderz home page and that went well. Using the tools we do, it takes about a day to refresh a web page’s design, mobile friendly and all, polished. You can see it at – it’s slick.

I’ve had my breakfast, and tea’s on my side, so the day’s begun early and on the right footing. The weather outside seems pleasant, sun’s up and I have an urge to go out for a walk. Hurray, summer ended yesterday!

I really wanted to take a small nap after praying Fajr this morning, which thanks to my commitment last night, happened almost on time. I was late by 40 minutes or so, but I prayed and I’m happy about it, of course at home, not at the local masjid (there’s one about 100 steps or so from our building). I never go to pray fajr at the masjid, if ever. Once a year may be.

I’ve been regular at my salat all my life, not in the way that praying as a Muslim is compulsory so you have to do it, but in a way that salat has always kept me functioning. There were days back in my teens when I’d miss a prayer or two purely because I had forgotten or got tied up in PC gaming or cricket, but it always remained on my list of tasks to complete and I recall completing the ones I had missed, later. Salat as we know it in Arabic and namaz in Urdu has always been a mission, a mission to report back to Allah and be amenable to the few things asked of us.

If there’s anything that keeps my thoughts and behavior in check, it’s the continuous realization that life’s going to end ‘soon’ and that soon isn’t really far – it’s around the corner. Being conscious of your reality is better than living in deceit.

I find most people have no interest in knowing, or talking about the day when this Earth shall be upon them. People love their lives and the world around them. The idea of ‘all of this’ been taken away from them is incomprehensible for some. Distant to others.

The modern man’s belief system, the so-called modern values and the ideas around the purpose of life in the twenty-first century, are all broken. They’re broken because they’re imagined and constructed on the faulty premise that life’s eternal (or that you must believe that it is, eyes shut) — a never ending recursive loop.

In reality, recursive functions are carefully constructed to end at a point in time, of which, you nor I have any knowledge, any certainly.

Many a castles lie in ruin, many a ways deserted.
I live to see the end of mine, I wish to see me live.

Chai tos makhan khain…

Breakfast 2 photo © Copyright by Steve Harvey.

An early morning, breakfast of chai tos makhan (brewed-tea, toast and butter) has returned.

After my strong tea article, one of my dear friends pointed out the risks of having tea on an empty stomach. For one, many of the articles on the subject sight black tea as the problem, while some of the articles that talk about milk tea, really talk about each individual ingredient within the tea and their risks, not the full concoction, ‘chai.’

If I cared, I would have researched the affects of chai on ourselves a bit more, but as most research goes, it’s never conclusive, until of course, it eventually is. Which it is never.

The idea of having chai early morning is not a new one to anyone in our family. You wake up, get out of bed and crave tea, demand tea and some are known to have opened their eyes only when tea was served at bedside. I’m not one of those, but this is factual and I know who of the few I refer here. SMILE.

It’s true, tea is our day-starter and there have been no noticed consequences for centuries. We sub-continentians can vouch for this, ‘tea in the morning, when brewed with the right quantities of milk, sugar and love, is harmless.’

The only thing I’ve missed from my day-start equation is this, ‘chai is always taken with nashta (breakfast).’ This when said, is the traditional position, though I know of many who take chai with no breakfast and have rather healthy and long lives. ما شاء الله

Having thought about this from another angle, having a cup of tea early morning, then breaking off a couple hours later to take my breakfast isn’t really productive. A break mid-morning is nice, but at times I just can’t take one, so breakfast gets delayed, very delayed, which isn’t good. It only makes me want to eat too much at lunch, or that it does.

The chat (not chai!) with my friend helped me dig into one of those few ideal breakfasts we have in our culture, chai tos makhan. He suggested ‘chai key sath tos ley ley’ (take toast with your tea, said with utter disrespect to a close friend, speaking in the very direct and personal, unforgiving, unmannerly tone of ‘tu, tujhey, tera’) that instantly made me recall the ‘ideal’, the ‘absolute’, the ‘perfect’ and ‘the breakfast’ I used to have, many many a thousand times, ‘chai tos makhan.’

For the past two days, I have prepared and had my chai, with a well-toasted slice of brown-bread and 10 grams of butter. I have, I must agree, indulged and added a slice of cheese to the mix. I sip into my tea a few bites into the toast, which has its own taste to it, a taste I’ve missed for a little too long.

If you’re looking for a perfect day-starting breakfast, try the chai tos makhan breakfast. It’s fairly quick to prepare and you can supplement it with cheese or an egg in whatever form you prefer.

Chai tos makhan khain, jannat main jain. (Have tea, toast and butter; ascend to Heaven.)

The pastures of yore…

Into The Horizon… photo © Copyright by Benjamin Davies

Your face is your identity. Not your hair. Neither your beard. It’s your face that every human or AI would read and uniquely identify you, as you. Facial hair is beyond unique.

There is a recent worry and an on-going trend among males of my age, among friends and family to restore what was once defyingly dense, smooth and masculine hair on their heads. After all, age like most things is taking over and for some, age is a no-no, it’s almost the kind of thing they fear makes them irrelevant, absent.

If you’ve maintained some form of a image all your life, rather than an identity, when it comes to personal looks and lifestyle, you’re probably going to want to worry about loosing hair and going bald, or thereabouts going hairless. What a hairball of fuss about something that’s eventually going to want to bug you in other areas of your physique. Age is irreversible.

At times when I look at the mirror I see a completely different person. I look at my face and pose a few ‘hero’ shots, admiring an entirely new look, one that’s been achieved by years of, and at times painful, toil at my desk. Either work, stress, the cycle of life, or that its plain old aging, going grey with time, loosing hair, wrinkling and getting old is all welcome to me. I embrace the fact that I am 43, that people from Pakistan grey early, experience hair-loss early, quite earlier than I have, that is.

I’m about 55% bald. The map unfolding at the top of my globe is absurd. I’m wondering how to explain this without sharing a photograph that would make you feel grisly, so let me explain it geographically. While most of the landscape is thinner or has thinned at the top, there remains a rather noticeable patch close to the Southern West were you to look at it. It’s mildly dense, it’s alive and however much I wish it fades away to have me achieve 100% measured, even, baldness, it just stands out defiantly. This feels like a great opportunity to grow this faithful pasture long, lay it over the rest of my head and renew my looks. Like some people choose to. It’s amusing.

Facial mods aren’t really appreciable, for one because they’re painful, and two because, they’re either prohibited completely for Muslims or that they fall in the category of being allowed only when it’s absolutely necessary to comfort injury or some form of restoration that would be permitted in special cases.

In my personal opinion, having a hair transplant is a reflection of your self-esteem and how badly it’s hurt, or that it’s the dream of an image you created, long ago, that you’re hoping to restore or maintain. It’s a poor choice.

Some of my friends went bald in their late-teens, thanks to chemicals packaged in bottles and heavily marketed to make one want to believe they’ll live with great heads and shoulders, which by the way is true, they’re left with perfect heads and if not fit, yet drooping shoulders. There are forms of wigs involved too. GRIN!

Others lost hair a bit too early, as their moms and wives would put, or attribute the early onset of hair-loss to their family’s hereditary shenanigans. BIG-GRIN!

I’m only enjoying this because, come what may, fate has a way to get to you and it does. It’s got to me eventually and when my family see my pictures from a few years ago, they simply say aba looks so different (Aba as in dad when used by your child, or when used by your spouse, meaning her kid’s dad) is the most heard of comment. My mom has suggested garlic therapy, or was it onion juice? My sister suggested garlic oil. My uncle many years ago suggested going out more in the sun. A friend I met after some sixteen years, suggested to have a hair transplant like he just had. There’ve been all sorts of suggestions over the past few years and as unswerving I am, they’ve all been brushed aside.

The problem I have is this, you can’t get 100% hair dense and no where close to where you were before. You can achieve some success with a hair transplant, risk playing with your head, endure pain (some put this lightly, but I take it’s exceptionally painful), sleep sitting for three days to let stuff settle in, and look ten years younger, you’re still going to be the same ‘please use a humble expletive of your choice in this place’ person, under the hood.

“The same #$@&%*! under the hood.” That is.

Turkey is one of those destinations where you can get a cheap hair transplant (in the range of US$ 1,500, all bells and whistles paid) or you can have one done back home, if you’re on one of those get-back-home-for-fun trips.

Is it painful? Yes.
Is it going to restore your image? It might, a little.
Is it going to help your identity? Naah.
Is it going to last? Nope, like most things, ‘Your results may vary.’

The pastures of yore bear fruit no more.
A Decree raiseth them anew, by-and-by.

الله أكبر

You can block SMS spam in the UAE

Greetings! photo © Copyright by Tyler Lastovich

In my Steak of the economy post I spoke about how you can block SMS spam on your phone.

On iPhone, blocking SMS spam is a nightmare and having tried almost every trick in the bag, from wishing for Apple to allow a simple way to let us block these messages, to testing the few message filtering apps from the App Store (at the risk of every message being filtered by a third-party processor), I had given up hope of a day when I could block SMS spam easily on iPhone.

(On Android phones it’s a piece of cake. Grrr!).

The issue has always been with SMS spam that originates without a number, and almost all of it does. So a sender with an SENDER ID like BUYFROMUSPLEASE can’t be blocked on the iPhone. There’s no number, so we can’t add it to the address book, so it can’t be blocked using the Block this Caller option.

If you save the number based on the sender id text and then try, the same result. It’s not going to happen.

On the other hand, Apple’s Unknown Senders list in the Messages app has only worked for me just once. It filtered my mom’s message into that list, considering her some sort of a threat, aptly spotting that she had sent an iMessage from her iCloud address that was not saved in my address book. Spammer stopped.

This gives you a sense of how frustrating this is on the iPhone. I’m not hopeful if iOS 13 would be of any use either. Apple simply pays too less attention to some of these nuisances.

The way you CAN do this costs you a charge for an SMS, but you can get it working on both Etisalat and Du networks in the UAE. I have finally blocked tens of SMS spammers. Here’s what you need to do.

Note the name of the spammer, in our case BUYFROMUSPLEASE – if the name has upper and lower case letters – note them that way (though it should be case-insensitive, why risk it). Once you’ve got the right spelling, send an SMS to 7726 with the text ‘b BUYFROMUSPLEASE’ or the spelling variant. You should get a nice confirmation message from Etisalat and Du.

To unblock the sender, if you ever want to, send ‘u BUYFROMUSPLEASE’ to 7726.

If you need a list of your blocked senders, send ‘get’ to 7726.

The same number and process works on both networks and it works well. I only wonder whether the feature was right under my nose and I hadn’t spotted it all along.

Yay!! You can block SMS spam in the UAE!

Where’s my lucky number iOS 13?

If you’re wondering where iOS 13’s been all day, today being Thursday, September 19 release day, the new OS is still a couple of hours away. UAE release time being 9:00 PM. If you’re in other time zones, you can google ‘10 a.m. PT.’ The update should go live right around 10 a.m. PT.

And if your device isn’t supported, well, then… buy are new device! OUCH!

iOS 13 was released at 9:00 PM UAE Standard Time.

Update: Sep 20, 2019 – iOS 13 Dark Mode is fantastic. QuickPath the new swipe keyboard by Apple is fantastic. iOS 13 is polished and refined. There are some great features in this update: