Hunger Games, a trilogy of politics, power of propaganda and capitalism

What begins as an elongated and dramatized version of Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery quickly delves deeper into a clever perspective of reality TV, augmented news and politics at it’s most subtle form. The young adult series Hunger Games is the latest to join the pop culture cult where survival takes priority over human ethics. After the massive success of Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Resident Evil and their likes, comes the trilogy of Hunger Games where danger is orchestrated from no savage beasts but the mere human. Narrated in a post-civil war society, an extravagant Panem rules over twelve starving districts, where the story builds on an annual Gladiator-esque competition. Ever year a boy and girl from each district are chosen and pit against each other to fight for their survival. These Hunger Games originate as a yearly reminder for all twelve districts on the consequences they beseech for organizing a rebellion against the Capitol, Panem.

What looks more mature on screen is actually a trilogy written for young adults. Susan Collins has dared to weave characters more human than heroic with the obvious love triangle between the three leading characters, Katnis Everdeen, Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne. While the romance does surely motivate young readers, it never takes priority over the more alarming themes of augmented reality, propaganda, capitalism and political affairs weaved into three books. The Hunger Games broadcasted live on screens across the region are meant to entertain some and carve fear on the many. Narrated in first perspective, Katniss Everdeen grows more aware of the weight of the reality show and it’s subsequent significance on her survival. Her journey between the Capitol and the victims reel the discrepancy between what’s propagated and what’s real. News and media are controlled by the Capitol in the non-stop effort to regulate information among the different districts and the Capitol’s citizens.

Susan Collins does not leave the imprint of media on the rising uproar of the state against it’s government even till the last book; how broadcasted content is easily manipulated to hide the truth and regulated to prevent uproar. While both sides struggle to defeat the other, Katniss and her group are played like puppets in a never-ending game for power. An interesting perception of the Panem’s system is how shamelessly it depends upon the twelve districts for the produce. While one district is known for fishing, another prevails in textiles, and so on resources are scattered across the districts only to be distributed and handed to the Capitol while the manufacturing district starves on just a meal per day. And to Katniss’ surprise, the president of the Capitol is not oblivious to the fragile system of the government. When the districts cause an uproar, Panem will starve without it’s daily exorbitant supplies. Collins explains capitalism so easily to young adult readers, similar to the environment set in the sci-fi movie Time.

Hunger Games would be an accessible and easily comprehensible approach towards understanding a hypothetical capitalist government and it’s downfall. Definitely a recommended read for economics and journalism students. I found myself struggling to embrace the protagonist. While the movie played a very successful mature attempt for survival by Katniss, it has left out her thoughts, her narratives, her motives towards each decision. So allow me to enlighten you that besides a flicker of kindness for Rue, Katniss is neither heroic nor a selfless martyr. Her first person narrative is a wise decision on account of Susan Collins, as we find out, Katniss indeed calculates each step before making any move. Despite her iconic representation as the immortal-adapted mockingjay, she has no immediate plans of leading an organized protest against the president and taking over authority. Should Peeta or Gale ask for an easy death, her decision is not drawn by emotions aroused by memories, rather the consequences of their absent role on their mission or the advantage it would play to the Capitol should they get caught. No sobbing, no weeping, if anything, Katniss plays focused on her objectives while the boys gamble their lives to protect hers.

Is her behavior justified under the pressure of a nation-wide rebellion? Should she be wronged to mistrust anyone as an ally besides Peeta, even when they help her? Is it right to calculate saving Peeta Mellark when the odds favor his death? Only the book shall reveal, but accept my disbelief when I realize the author made no mistake in her depiction of Katniss. And this is evident when the half-asleep lady eavesdrops on Gale and Peeta’s conversation about whom she would choose. Her best buddy Gale makes it obvious “Oh, that’s easy. She’ll pick the one she can’t survive without” Ouch. Harsh words from a close friend. Who will she choose? The boy she can never deserve even in a hundred lifetimes (in her mentor Haymitch’s words), or her best friend who can protect and provide for their families? Do they survive? Does Panem intend another Hunger Games for them? Answers lie among the pages of the latest cult trilogy. As for you my dear reader, Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Coffee shop review #7: Tim Hortons

Alas! The coffee shop everyone’s been talking about! Me and my friend were excited to check out this beauty at it’s new JBR branch. So we strolled down The Walk and headed inside the most talked about café. Little did we know we had simply picked the wrong branch. I ordered a chocolate muffin while my friend called for their café latte. After receiving the bill, the staff realized their chocolate muffins were out of stock. Is it wrong to believe that when you’ve paid for an item you should receive it? Or at least be warned of its unavailability before paying for it. Nonetheless, my friend substituted the muffin with their chocolate croissant and we headed upstairs with our orders. Perhaps sitting outside would have been a more suitable choice. Let’s just say the view upstairs was nothing out of the ordinary and so was their coffee. Considering the menu, perhaps, students would appreciate the prices, the variety and their efficiency at preparing orders in no time. No wonder, my peers and colleagues have been raving about this place so much! This coffee shop is growing rapidly and is soon to open more branches across Dubai and Abu Dhabi. If you’re a coffee addict, you must check out this bustling café at Sheikh Zayed Road.

Monster Cat’s debut at Pirate Bay

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This is probably the second time I’ve noticed a band advertising their music with the portal of Pirate Bay. The first time may have been an experiment, I believed it to e an anomaly, but now that I’ve noticed the Monster Cat’s album poster, it suddenly appears as a very clever strategy. While media like Youtube, Facebook, Myspace have done well in launching many underdog talent (remember the kid on youtube who’s now Justin Bieber? Colbia Caillat anyone?) there’s also the luck factor which plays a huge role in underplaying the noise of their talent from the thousands just like them. And they had to prove themselves on a platform surrounded by millions of aspiring talent to millions of viewers.

Coming back to pirate bay, the website has been adamant on providing and sharing free content amongst internet users. The poster of an artists’ new album only de-clutters the noise to provide sole attention to the featured band. You can choose to give the band a few seconds of your time or carry on with your torrent search, but you won’t be distracted by the non-existent content of the same category. The band Monster Cat has uploaded a torrent of their original debut, making their music more accessible to everyone.

Every new entity faces an important question: to make their content free and get exposure, or make their product/service paid. Facebook faced it, and chose to keep their network free, amidst all rumors of having a paid membership access (which personally, would have been a very wrong move) and Monster Cat has decided to follow accordingly. Will the strategy deem successful? Only time can tell.

What I can say now is to give their album’s track ‘Underwater‘ a listen, all you indie band lovers, you just might love it!

Taste of Dubai: A Cinderella tale to a Prince’s appetite

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Dear foodaholics, if you missed out on Dubai’s food festival then let me inform you of how big a loss you’ve encountered. Three wholesome days of music, fun and lots of food for everyone! Pardon the excessive exclamation marks you will find in my narration since this was my first time at Taste of Dubai and I still haven’t recovered from the shot of pure-awesomeness that my appetite experienced.  For three days.

  Considering this was my debut at a food festival, I was unaware of the dress code, ethics or the table manners to be followed. So I went with casual in flip-flops and immediately realized just how wrong I was. Contrary to my belief, hundreds of people swarmed around me in the best of their wardrobe: classy and chic and there I was, standing in my jeans and Aeropostale beach slippers. So I decided to make amends for the next day. Little did I realize those weren’t the only amends to be made.

    My friend accompanied me as we discovered this food festival on foot. Stalls, more stalls, fashionable crowd, staff distributing vouchers and pamphlets, goodie bags, a live band which honestly could have performed better, live cooking stations featuring celebrity chefs (oo la la!) and people queued outside stalls on a work-free-Friday. Now that you know the summary, let’s get to the juicy details!

  The food stalls were cleverly arranged to feature retail outlets at the start, a few award winning restaurants further ahead and the world-renowned celebrity chefs’ creations at the very end. Since we were already familiar with PF Changs, Da Shi Dai, Chi Zen and other retail dining restaurants, we decided to invest in the unknown eateries. Thanks to a friend’s suggestion, we experimented with Gaucho, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Seafire and Mahek.

While we indulged in what appeared to be a samosa stuffed with minced beef from Gaucho, our curiosity drifted towards the funny steak from Ruth’s Chris. As for Mahek, I couldn’t ignore the reality behind the name of this luxurious Indian restaurant. Mahek is literally translated to aroma, and that is exactly what attracted us to this fine outlet. We munched on their spicy kebabs dipped in lentil sauce and decided to approach the lamb chops shamelessly with our hands. Which, we realized three minutes later after having sauce spilled on either shirts, was probably not the best strategy when you’re dealing with Indian food.

  And for the highlight of our day, drum roll please…….it’s Seafire! Atlantis is synonymous for having the best restaurants in the city but also the most expensive. And it took us just one restaurant to awaken the delight that such good food does exist in Dubai. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the best steak I’ve enjoyed in my existence: the Atlantis tenderloin wellington served with mashed potato courtesy of Seafire, also awarded as ‘The best steakhouse of 2011’ by TimeOut Dubai. We couldn’t ignore how absolutely delicious Seafire was and given their good customer service we came back for more, and more, until the Atlantis tenderloin was no longer served. It was now time, to move on.

  Live cooking stations were a visible success since people had queued for half-hour and some had to wait as long as an hour. And really, what’s more fun than getting your hands messy in the company of friends. Although we didn’t experience this signature event, our graphic designer Anton enjoyed it “The one-hour cooking session was most definitely the highlight of my day. Due to high demand, we had to queue for over an hour to get our space in the Miele cooking session. Luckily for us, our chef was none other than Suzanne Husseini, a celebrity Arabic chef whose specialty is creating an infusion of traditional and contemporary cooking. Amongst the lucky 30, we spent the next hour cooking meatballs in cherry sauce with honey and spices, in addition to a baklava with a modern twist. Most importantly, however, was to remember the main ingredient “Love”. And the fun didn’t end there; we got aprons and recipe cards to take home. Lots of fun, great idea, amazing utensils and a brilliant chef”

  Taste of Dubai was an interactive exhibition of what’s delicious in town, what’s coming up and where to invest for those occasions! For a noob like me, the three days were a Cinderella-ish fairy tale to a prince’s appetite!

  As published in One Eight One’s April issue. Written by Ayesha Akbar Ali-

My favorite magazines in Dubai

One can always customize the collection of magazines in Dubai. My genre leans more towards education, the youth and particularly in optimizing their potential. There are only so many publications when it comes to university, high school or education. My favs are the ones below:

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A magazine for university students, UNI is the most vibrantly designed publications in the region. As such, the graphics only attract more students towards content. Let’s admit, getting students to read is a near-impossible feat, yet this publication manages to do so and with style. Can’t get a printed copy? Why not just check their website here.

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Designed more intrinsically for high school students, ‘one eight one’ speaks on the theme ‘for youth, by youth’. The print platform has been a blessing in disguise for high school and university students to allocate their journalistic talent and experiment with it, rather than be showed the door for lack of experience. Covering all interests, one eight one also gathers more popularity in their interest to allow fans or readers to cover events of their choice on behalf of the magazine. Want to know more? Simple go here.

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Now this one folks, is a gallery of the best artsy-fartsy work across the region. A local production, this magazine highlights design, craftwork, illustrations, photography and artwork you never thought originated from the Middle East, while some content features international artists. A flashy yet original take on art (and the winner of a bronze award at Dubai Lynx 2011 for Design) I can’t help but flip through the pages with the desire of wanting more…..(The electronic reader version of this magazine is available online here)

Coffee-shop review #6: Gloria Jeans

 A rather oddly placed café inside Dubai Mall, Gloria Jeans has played modestly with brown interiors, leather furniture, and comfortable seating arrangements. We ordered a rather interesting crème brulee macchiato with Tiramisu. Yes, I’d been missing tiramisu for a while and Gloria Jeans seemed like a perfect stop! Besides the rather small portion of coffee, my bare Tiramisu was drenched in more cheese than cake. If you haven’t tried out this heavenly pastry, let me tell you, tiramisu is MUCH much more than just good cheese, it’s the perfect synchronization of coffee, cocoa, sponge cake and cheese. But the pastry that lay in front of me was NOT the tiramisu I worshipped. My friend didn’t find his macchiato any different either. Gloria Jeans, maybe we haven’t found the right combination to discover your magic. Another time, perhaps.

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Coffee shop review #5: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

Before I begin, let me say, what lovely interiors for a café located inside a mall. Coffee bean and tea leaf works on elegant interiors and classy furniture without losing appeal to a younger and vibrant customer base. My friend opted for the iced caramel mocha latte while I chose the marble cake. Our orders arrived early enough and eager as he was, sipped portion of his latte before he realized the ice hadn’t been crushed efficiently. Soon, he complained about the disappearance of caramel and the emergence of plain coffee. Considering my love for their interiors, I believed it was just that cup of iced caramel mocha latte that my friend had trouble with. So I set to explore my marble cake with the expectations of a fifteen year old whose about to receive her birthday gift. First bite: not bad. Second bite: this might be good. Third bite: it just needs to be warmed a little. Fourth bite: okay, that’s it! This cake is like a rock! How are you supposed to eat it?! And that’s the story of how the lovely walls couldn’t keep me away but the food inside it couldn’t make me stay. True story.

A slice of joy, cream and sweet tangy excitement

You say, I say, we all say cheesecake! Say hello to this lavish dessert that I discovered after twenty years. Yes, two decades of my existence lived without this delicious flavor. Let me add that my ignorance has nothing to do with living in Dubai. My ex-consciousness for healthy food denied my tongue the guilty pleasure of cheese in all its forms except for the occasional pizza treats. Yes, I’ve lived without having cheese in my burger, separated it from the pink sauce pasta, removed it from sandwiches, cheese croissants, you name it and I’ve abandoned it.

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Raspberry cheesecake from Columbiano cafe, Abu Dhabi

  My relationship with cheese goes back far to a young memory of a very…..obese child munching on a burger with cheese all over his mouth, his fingers and dropping from the sides of his exponentially-impossible-for-me-to-even-bite-that-big-a-burger. So what happened after two decades that convinced me to experiment with my new found love? First, the initial resolution that I had to quit looking like a stick and work on acquiring some muscular fat, and latter, my savior in beef, the Shake-shack burger. The New York joint that recently opened doors in Dubai and has often been described by my friends as food-gasmic, has been the best beef burger I’ve had, and yes with cheese. The burger got me started, and it only took a few days for this vital ingredient in pasta to take it’s toll on me. Let’s just say, I no longer appear to be a stick 😉

Now coming back to my affair with the cheesecake, it started on a sunny afternoon, when I arrived at my favorite coffee shop to grab my favorite tiramisu and finish up some important work. But the universe had a different plan, my sacred tiramisu was out of stock, and I had to choose between the obtuse-yet-large carrot cake, the all-too-cliched three layer chocolate cake (how different can a there layer chocolate cake be when ALL layers are of chocolate!) and the Strawberry cheesecake. Now I didn’t want to spoil the memory of my mother’s handmade carrot cake, so I really had only two options. And I didn’t want to invest 15 AED in a dessert that would only taste like all the others I’ve tried before, so I went for the cheesecake (call me frugal, but I do spend a lot of time weighing my options against cost and value).

That, dear readers, is the story of how I discovered this remarkable feast of joy, cream, and sweet tangy excitement, all boxed up in a slice. One small triangle of happiness. Sigh….makes me want to have some more. And what about you, do you love cheesecake too? What’s your favorite flavor? Why don’t you share your love for this universal dessert in the tiny box below *points to comments*

Ayesha Akbar Ali

Coffee Shop review #4: Kino Cafe

Want to surprise that special someone in your life with the little things in life? Head down to Kino Café after sunset and watch Dubai Mall’s musical fountain at its best. Yes, this humble café is the unexplored view of the famous fountain that gathers hundreds of people every night. You can choose between the elegant indoor seating and the fresh, breezy outdoors. But if I were you, I’d either eat rather spend the mandatory AED 50 and eat outside with a steady breeze flowing and the glorious musical fountain playing in the background. Alright, enough said about the venue, but our menu was beyond amusing. Coffee and tea varieties we had never realize even existed. If you’re a tea person, you’ll definitely be excited with their Jasmine tea. Our Sumiyaki arrived pretty quickly, and felt like a suitably blended aromatic cup of coffee. Little did we know that the Japanese coffee is distinguished by the use of coconut milk! If your eyes do catch a glimpse of the grey buzzer placed at the table corner, you won’t have to struggle beckoning them for your order.

What can we say about the café? Amazing view, perfect atmosphere for a quiet chat with a friend and an interesting menu that encourages you to experiment!     

 

Coffee-shop review #3: Second Cup

And another café with brown leather seating, but this modest café had a dash of bright orange infused with the dull dark brown interiors. Stretched across a pathway at Dubai Mall, the bright orange tables give away it’s location. Service? Self, again, which meant waiting for the baristas to prepare our order. Besides the usual café lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, they have a variety of signature blend espressos so my friend picked the maple espresso. We were rather inquisitive about our maple espresso. Would it be as fascinating as the vanilla espresso? How would the maple’s element be accommodated within the coffee blend? What about the portion? We watched the big mug of coffee being poured as the staff beckoned ‘Maple espresso!’ The coffee was rather thick and well blended. It was a better espresso for him, as he gulped down their signature creation. Albeit it’s housed comfortably, Second Cup appears more suitable for family gatherings or business meetings.