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DANYAL ZAFAR - Happy Birthday

There never was before this, and there never will be after this, a little brother as great as you my Danyal. 

Proud of you. 

Happy birthday!



My dearest Danyal

As elders, our natural instinct is to want to protect our kids; we aim to take care of them, we imagine that without anchoring them they might waver in life. As time winds down, the realisation dawns that when your children have grown up, the first thing you do is stop telling them what to do – not because they would oppose you – but simply because by stepping aside on tiptoe, you can observe them etch a forte for themselves where they would be a role model for the rest of the world to idolise upon.

The day I watched you spread your wings my dear Danny, I grasped that it was my time to tiptoe and observe, from afar, how humanity was taking to you quite like iron takes to a magnet. I found myself finding such rapture in your eminence, and it was not something that I could express via any medium: art or words. It was a feeling that an elder brother felt for his younger brother, and it was a feeling that I would want gone with me when I cease to breathe, embedded and buried deep within my heart.

However, when the world is shrouded in mist, and the atmosphere is so bloody that only the stupid are fairly untouched, whilst the sensitive wither like a bug-befouled leaf, my chest rather swells with honour when I see light at the end of the tunnel because of you my Kidd, or do I even entitle you that, because you are now an admirable young man who has acquired such a secure grasp on how to shape civilisation just by being yourself, that calling you a Kidd would be most violating that very essence, although, the fact does remain that regardless of how older you grow, you will still remain, in my heart and soul, my little Kidd . . . my little Danny. And as severe as this may sound, this is also precisely why I am rest assured that even if I were to die, my greatest treasure, you, would be the beacon who would manoeuvre the mislead to the zenith of peace and harmony that they most rightfully need to find themselves in, for god knows that the world needs a healer, and most urgently.

Thus my Dan, a man with such a gifted ability and influence to make a dent, remember that when I close my eyes never to wake up again, live so that your very presence would have made all the difference to mankind. Commit to memory that your alluring lips must speak words of kindness. Your lovely eyes ought to pursue the good in people. For an athletic structure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it at least once in a day. For carriage, walk with the knowledge that you will never walk alone. Remember that whether we elders are there with you or not, we leave you a tradition with a future that you will try your best to the tender loving care of human beings, and you will strive that it will never become obsolete. That you will keep in mind that it is not things, but people even more than anything, that have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed. Be mindful that these very people will displease you to such irksome levels, whereby you may desire to toss them before the guillotine, yet, never toss anybody out, for everyone who traverses your course does so in order to teach you something of value. Most important of all, bear in mind that if you ever need a helping hand, you must find one at the end of your arm, and the other one, you must use for helping others, always.  

While I wish you the best of everything in life and nothing more my Danny, do not think me callous when I say that I would also like that at different walks of life for you to experience defeat, suffering, struggle, loss – it is these occurrences and their responses, laterally with delight and humour that are rather responsible to provide you a way to find your way out of the depths of delirium. It is these encounters that will help inculcate in you an appreciation, sensitivity, and an understanding of life that would fill you with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen, the trials and tribulations of life make them what they are.

I am infinitely thankful that you exist, my Dan. Now go along and mend the world. It is indeed your forecourt.

In deed and thought
I remain
Your very own
– Farahdeen  

PS: I know, I know, I vowed I would step away and watch quietly, and even then I ended up giving you the longest lecture in the world. For that you officially have the freedom hereon to hold a gun to my temple and pull the trigger (as swiftly and painlessly as possible), as I mouth the last words – But, my Kidd, old habits die-hard, so do I really deserve this? 

Photographs by Izzah Shaheen Malik


Canaletto - London. The Thames from Old Somerset House Terrace towards the City. 1750-51

Giovanni Antonio Canal (18 October 1697 – 19 April 1768) better known as Canaletto was an Italian painter of city views or vedute, of Venice. (A veduta, Italian for “view”; plural vedute, is a highly detailed, usually large-scale painting, or, more often print, of a cityscape or some other vista. The painters of vedute are referred to as vedutisti. Canaletto also painted imaginary views (referred to as capricci), although the demarcation in his works between the real and the imaginary is never quite clear. (In painting, a capriccioplural: capricci; in older English works often anglicised as “caprice” means an architectural fantasy, placing together buildings, archaeological ruins and other architectural elements in fictional and often fantastical combinations, and may include staffage (figures). It falls under the more general term of landscape painting. The term is also used for other artworks with an element of fantasy.

He was an important printmaker who used the etching technique. In the period from 1746 to 1756 he worked in England where he created many sights of London. He was highly successful in England, thanks to the British merchant and connoisseur Joseph Smith, whose large collection of Canaletto’s works was sold to King George III in 1762.

London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City (1750-51) Oil on canvas

Canaletto arrived in London in 1746 and remained there for most of the next nine years. This painting is a pendant to a view in the opposite direction, towards Westminster. This pair was the last by Canaletto, and the only English views to be acquired by Canaletto's great friend and patron, Joseph Smith, who was British Consul in Venice. They are on a Venetian type of canvas with a russet ground rather than the light grey that the artist used for most of his English paintings. This suggests that Canaletto painted them when he returned to Venice briefly in 1750-1. The view is not based on the drawing, but on a slightly different view now in the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery. Canaletto adjusted the composition to suit the much grander scale of the painting.

The view is taken from the Terrace of Old Somerset House. Its New Gallery facing the river had been built in 1661-61 for Henrietta Maria, the Queen Mother and was perhaps designed by Inigo Jones. The building was subsequently the home of the Royal Academy, and part of it is now occupied by the Courtauld Institute of Art. The skyline is dominated by St Paul’s Cathedral, completed in 1709. Canaletto altered the dome so that it is viewed from slightly below, magnifying its powerful presence. Beyond it stretches a horizon dominated by the steeples of the City churches, largely built by Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of 1666. At the right is visible the Monument to the Fire, erected in 1671-77, Old London Bridge with its houses which were demolished in 1757, and part of the south bank.

The pair of views relates not only to Canaletto’s Venetian scenes, but also to the long tradition of topographical views of London dating back to the 1600s. Earlier engraved prospects of London were usually printed on several sheets to include the whole riverside from Westminster to the Tower. During the last century artists had chosen to depict the city stretched out in a line from a bird’s eye view over the south bank. Canaletto adopted a high viewpoint for his earlier views of the river but brought the viewpoint almost to ground level here. The great curve of the river dominates the composition, which also manages to include all the principal features to be seen from the terrace of Somerset House. When the two views are placed side by side they create a long panoramic view of the curve of the river, the equivalent on the Thames of Canaletto's wide-angled views of the Bacino in Venice.


François Flameng – Bathing of Court Ladies in the 18th Century 1888

François Flameng (1856–1923) was a very successful French painter during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th. He was the son of a celebrated engraver and received a first-rate education in his craft. Flameng initially received renown for his history painting and portraiture, and became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts. He decorated such important civic buildings as the Sorbonne, and the Opera Comique, and also produced advertising work. Flameng was granted France’s highest civilian honour, the Ordre National De La Légion D’Honneur, and designed France’s first bank notes. He was also made an honorary Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in the 1908 Birthday Honours.

Flameng married Marguerite Henriette Augusta Turquet on 30 November 1881.

This painting hangs in the Hermitage.



The recent accusations by women who had been taken advantage of by Harvey Weinstein, the founder of Miramax isn’t quite the nightmare it is being made out to be – women have had to battle such predators since the origin of civilisation. Only that the world has taken cognisance of it at this point in order to exploit it as a means of keeping the populace engaged in order to promote readership and viewership percentages largely because of the names of the famous people involved with the man in question. As cruel as it may sound, and despite the rallies and remonstrations, this too shall pass, and some other ogre shall be born, and history would repeat itself because at the gist, human beings remain rather animalistic in their biological bearings.

Most recently I was drawn to a research that was published in the journal, Men and Masculinities. It speaks curiously about how social scientists are warning women about the upsurge of ‘bromance’ and how these scientists deem that this bromance endangers heterosexual relationships. Dr Stefan Robinson, of the University of Winchester, says in the research that the results were ‘significant and worrying’ for women and warned there is in emerging culture of sexism and disdain in the way millennial men view the opposite sex.

“These heterosexual millennial men cherish their close male friends, so much so that they may even provide a challenge to the orthodoxy of traditional heterosexual relationships,” said Dr Robinson. “Given that young men are now experiencing a delayed onset of adulthood, and an extended period of adolescence, men may choose to cohabit as a functional relationship in the modern era.” He further elaborated, “Because heterosexual sex is now achievable without the need for romantic commitment, the bromance could increasingly become recognized as a genuine lifestyle relationship, whereby two heterosexual men can live together and experience all the benefits of a traditional heterosexual relationship.”

I mostly agree with him, yet, some of that study happens to appear a tad unconvincing. What the current generation is calling ‘bromance’ is nothing but another synonym for intimate friendships between men. And men have found an emotional union with men from the time menfolk existed.


I have had the privilege to make an acquaintance with therapist and researcher Geoffrey L Greif, Ph.D. The author of 11 books, Dr Greif, is the professor at the University of Maryland. In his book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, published by the Oxford University Press, he us tells how friendship, like love, works best when a person can be himself with another man. That being comfortable, first with oneself, and then seeking out men who are a good counterpart is the best way to have meaningful friendships. He explains how the very word friendship has been derived from freogan (an Old Goth root) that means ‘to love’. That friends have been partners in crime and in survival. That they have hunted together. They have sat around the campfires and figured out game plans. He throws light on how the very nature of friendship has changed from the Palaeolithic Age to the Neolithic Age. In the former, small tribes travelled from plain to plain in search of food (some 10,000 years ago), and in the latter Neolithic age, farming commenced, and with it a sense of stability was established in the communities. When men were on the move, men needed to be dextrous at interpersonal relationships, and that is when the start of serious friendships and relationships began to set. Barbarism gave leeway for the wise, just as existential ideas about life and philosophy grew, and side-by-side thrived friendships and relationships. Fraternising for professional requirements became the norm in the Middle Ages, and The Friendly Societies of the 18th and 19th centuries operated more like an insurance by protecting their members from natural calamities.

One-to-one bonds were common amongst men in the 18th century, wherein men would most unreservedly express their innermost feelings to each other in epistolary exchanges. One such example is from 1779 by American statesman Alexander Hamilton to a friend: “I wish, my dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words, to convince you that I love you.” Another example is U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and his close friend Joshua Speed. The friends lived in the same room for 4 years, and slept together on the same bed. Considering today’s utopian generation, who does not judge sleeping in the same bed with a man as anything sexual or deviant, some 20th century historians speculated that Lincoln and Speed might have been lovers, although both the men married and stayed devoted friends until the assassination of Lincoln.

Sex between men was prevalent from centuries, simply, it was not a subject of speculation, or considered abnormal until the 19th century. In fact, the very term homosexuality was sparingly used until then. So what exactly happened you may ask? Weaving together the accounts of historians and sociologists, it is evident that people, in order to preserve a certain code of conduct to bestrew their faith began to inject the society with the fear of homophobia. Men, in order to prove their allegiance to heterosexuality had to cease being with men as much as they wished, and occupied themselves by being primarily around women. The 19th century was the last era wherein to hang out with men was not considered homosexual.

This ‘gay’ view most rapidly infected minds, almost like an epidemic, and while it was not immediately visible, the craze remained active for the last 125 years in certain parts of the world. The result – devastating effects on the male psyche in which men began to bottle themselves up, and this schism saw men descend into a cavity of emotional turmoil, to the extent where, unable to deal with such anxiety, they even began to take their lives.


My figures are invariably caught on the move or in transition - I am fascinated by the subtle interactions of muscle, bone and sinew that come into play as a body moves. A half turn, a shift of balance, sometimes just an intention to move can animate an entire figure. As this shows up most clearly and dramatically in male anatomy, most of my figures are male.
The ordinary actions of every day present endless pictorial potential. Quite unconsciously, a man makes wonderful shapes in the course of pulling on a T-shirt, stepping into a pair of trousers or towelling himself dry after bathing. These shapes often suggest the urgency of sport or the measured grace of dance and every now and again, bring to mind the posture of a memorable figure from a great work of art. With these references in mind, even the most routine activity acquires resonance.”
I was reading that rather remarkable summation by artist Michael Leonard when a friend peeked into my phone and stared at me, aghast. “Is something the matter?” I asked him with nonchalance. “My man,” he said most mockingly, his finger pointed towards the screen of my phone, “that’s homo!’ No sooner had those words escaped his larynx, I thought it best to ignore his inanity, as I reflected that when I read or hear something like that, I am not persuaded into thinking of the male as a sexual object, but only as an object of art. What’s more? That is how I reckon any healthy mind would perceive of the same. In earnestness I wished to inform my friend that everything in life was nothing but a form of conditioning. That a child is born with a clean slate, and what you engrave on that slate is what the child will grow to accept as normal. I wished to inform him that if we were to leave ‘sexuality’ blank, it would be fascinating indeed to observe how the carnal desires of a human being, when unopposed, would take shape in the real world.

With women it is considered common to compare their anatomy in the flesh, but for a man to even compliment another man on his sense of dressing, or his carved frame raises eyebrows, and such compliments are conveniently labelled homosexual, or leaning towards homoeroticism by a certain section of the social classes, and in certain parts of the globe. It is here that I differed once again with the research published that the sharing of friendship between men is a threat to the heterosexual relationships we men share with women, and it is here, once again, that I quite subscribed to the ideologies of the utopian generation, where being a heterosexual male with absolutely no slants towards homosexuality or bisexuality, when I was quite relaxed in conveying to my fellow men that I liked how they dressed, or, how I adored their chiselled bodies, I wondered why the other men could not follow the same? A man who is confident and comfortable in his own sexuality would not find himself threatened or afraid of appreciating anybody else from his own gender.

As I dunked more into the research presented in the journal, the researchers revealed that ‘lad flicks’ have made close friendships between men seem regular and rather desirable. That the men involved in the study had had bromantic friends who they lived with, and had known for at least 18 months. Apparently, of the 30 men interviewed, 29 said that they had experienced cuddling with a friend of the same sex. One man named Aaron even told researchers: “We hug when we meet, and we sleep in the same bed when we have sleepovers. Everyone knows it, and nobody is bothered by it because they do it as well.” Another man Martin said: “It’s like having a girlfriend, but then not a girlfriend.” When asked to describe the difference between a bromance and a romance, one undergraduate called Bob answered: “Sex really. That’s all.” If that is sufficient proof that there is indeed a healthy attitude in the world today as regards feelings of the same sex, the enquiry elaborated how most men surveyed said they shared with their male friends secrets, which they felt unable to share with their girlfriends. And this is where Dr Robinson adjoined: “Young heterosexual men are now able to confide in each other and develop and maintain deep emotional friendships based on intimacy and the expression of once-taboo emotional sentimentality. There are however significant and worrying results here for women. These men perceived women to be the primary regulators of their behaviour, and this caused disdain for them as a whole in some instances. Much in the same way that women are portrayed in contemporary cinema as objects for male gratification several of the participants spoke of women they knew in a generally negative way.”


Dr Greif’s book is an eye opener about how people in the time he conducted his research thought of men and the friendships they forged with them. He elucidates how the obsession of being ‘gay’ kept these men from developing a deeper connection with their male friends back then. If only the men who had found themselves influenced by such dreadful ways of assessments had visited Asia, and some of the other cultures around the world where men connecting with men is not considered unnatural, they would have rid themselves of their prejudices to a large extent. When I discussed this with the affable Dr Greif, he did throw light on how when he was working on his book the scenario was rather different than how tolerant it is today.

In an article published on September 27, 2008 in Psychology Today, under the title Understanding Male Friendships, Dr Greif reveals: On the topic of men and their male friendships, it has long been established that people with friends live longer, healthier lives.  Men’s lives are shorter than women’s. By helping men to better connect with other men through supportive friendships, I hope to help enrich men’s lives. His initial postings were based on his research on more than 400 men and 120 women about how they defined friendships, about how they make and maintain friendships, and the suggestions they offer for enhancing friendships.  Some of these postings came from his book on men’s friendships and some came from other events and research that he came across. Two initial points, he says, to be made from the book are thus:
1. Men, from an early age, are socialised by society to have difficulty establishing and maintaining friendships.  We have been raised to compete with other men and not co-operate with them.  We have been raised to hide our vulnerabilities and have often lacked friendship role models in our fathers. Yet we have friendships with other men – do they look like women’s friendships? No.  But we have them and we value them.
2. Aristotle has written that friendships are the purest type of virtuous interaction, a giving of oneself to the other.  He observes that one can only be a friend with a peer! If you have something to gain from someone else, or that person has something to gain from you, it is not a true friendship as one must be an equal to participate in a friendship. Consider in your own life, whether your closest friends are peers.

One cannot but conclude this composition without the citation of Two Friends (2015). Written and directed by Louis Garrel, co-written by Christophe Honoré, based on the play The Moods of Marianne by Alfred de Musset, it is an intensely intelligent, yet sweetly screwed up film. What is utterly fascinating is that Garrel and Honoré have succeeded in embodying the essence of life’s lessons on what it takes to have and balance the attachments between the woman whom you love and make love to, and the man, whom you love, just like you would the woman, but do not make love to. This they have achieved in such a profound manner that at no stage in the film is it burdensome on the brain, as one would expect of such a byzantine subject.

It is a nearly faultless metaphorical illustration of life, a charming ode to the poetics of friendship, and an endearing annotation on the semiotics of relationships. It is to cinema what Keats was to poetry, Cocteau was to literature, and Goethe was to philosophy.


Sarah Knapton (2017). Rise of the ‘bromance’ threatens heterosexual relationships, warn social scientists. The Telegraph. 12 October 2017

Geoffrey L. Greif (2008). Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 29, 2008)

Geoffrey L. Greif (2008). Understanding Male Friendships. Male Friendships: Yes, we have them. Psychology Today. (September 27, 2008)

Louis Garrel and Christophe Honoré (2015). Two Friends (French: Les Deux Amis). Based on the play The Moods of Marianne (French: Les Caprices de Marianne) is an 1833 play by the French Dramatist Alfred Louis Charles de Musset-Pathay. Wikipedia.

Michael Leonard. Tonal Nudes. Under the Main Heading DRAWINGS on the artist’s website. http://michaelleonardartist.com

A special note of gratitude for my dear friend Jonathan Myles-Lea, the British artist and photographer for his continued support in hearing me out whenever I have bounced something off him regardless of the differences in time zones. Most grateful my dear, J!