Extremely Useful Emptinesses

“We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.”
– Lao Tzu

The Potter, a man in his forties,
sat there on the wooden, tall stool
by a table
with a shapeless lump of clay.

He had a few kids and their parents as his audience.
Wide-eyed kids.
I’ve-seen-it-all-eyed parents.
Deep inside,
the parents wanted to mould the clay as much as their kids.

being elder to the kids, they appeared to show more restraint
and even scolded the kids for their impatience.
Potter smiled.

While his fingers and palm
moved around the wet clay,
and the people thought of how relaxed the man was,
his legs were tirelessly working.

Pushing the heavy flywheel
under the table
that held the platform
that rotated
the clay…

I wondered
how many kids must have seen the hard work
of the legs
that is needed for a clay pot?

Potter continued to smile.
Perhaps he could listen to everyone’s thoughts…


National Museum

Located in the waterfront near the Marina Club, Diplomatic Area, National Museum is one of the popular monuments with visitors. A few hundred meters away resides the newly built National Theatre. Exhibitions and cultural talks see the National Museum as its venue attracting the art lovers of Bahrain and from neighbouring countries. The entrance leads to a vast hall almost covered with the sharp aerial photograph of Bahrain.

National Museum
National Museum


National Theatre
National Theatre




National Museum, left
National Museum, left

A complete detailed visit could easily take about half-a-day. Exhibits are meticulously labelled in Arabic and English.

Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art

Visual Islamic Art excludes the depiction of realistic human and animal figures. Geometric patterns that transform one to another world often become the focus of attraction. Precise reasons for geometric pattern becoming so central in Islamic decoration remain intriguing to many minds. Predominance of aniconism within monotheistic Abrahamic religions could well be a clue towards an understanding of the prominence of such patterns.

While geometric patterns that are simple and pleasing to the viewer dominate Islamic art, calligraphy and the minimum usage of foliage patterns of the arabesque (Islamic biomorphic patterns are usually called arabesques) can be seen within private spaces of homes and palaces.

The need to defend the unique status of God’s position as the ultimate power holder against idols, which were seen as threat to the uniqueness, led to the spread of the practice of aniconic art.

Geometric patterns make up one of the major nonfigural types of decoration in Islamic art; other two being Calligraphy and subtle vegetal patterns. The extreme complexity of geometric patterns within Islamic art is generated from such simple forms as the circle and the square. These simple patterns are combined, duplicated, interlaced and arranged in intricate patterns extending almost infinitely.

Reiteration of Qur’an implies that the divine nature of God is experienced through the divine word. Therefore, the absence of icons within a mosque is justified. However, the words of Qur’an is often extensively depicted on the walls and ceilings of mosques, palaces and homes giving rise to the rich traditions of Islamic calligraphy as an elevated form of architectural decoration.

Calligraphy manages to combine a geometric discipline with a dynamic rhythm. In the Islamic world it takes the place of iconography, being widely used in the decorative schemes of buildings. Seen below is a benign wording written in Arabic.

Vegetal ‘arabesque’ compositions are as common in Islamic decoration as geometric patterns. Similar to the geometric patterns, these are found across a wide range of mediums from illustrations in books to plaster work both interior and exterior and even in carpets and textiles. Leaves and climbers are the closest one can find in this kind of art form as the depiction of any creation with a soul is forbidden.

The basic shapes, or “repeat units,” from which the more complicated patterns are constructed are: circles and interlaced circles; squares or four-sided polygons; the ubiquitous star pattern, ultimately derived from squares and triangles inscribed in a circle; and multisided polygons. It is clear, however, that the complex patterns found on many objects include a number of different shapes and arrangements, allowing them to fit into more than one category.  The basic shapes are then repeated in many ways – the process known as tessellation – to create complex patterns that are so simple at its core. A tesselation is a decoration of a two-dimensional plane using the repetition of a geometric shape with no overlaps and no gaps; generally it can be extended infinitely in all directions.


Muqarnas (system of niches and projected ‘stalactites’, used as a transitional and decorative device in architecture), Mishkah (niche for a lamp), Lazo or Band-i-rumi (interlaced geometrical pattern) are some of the unique characteristics within Islamic art.

Other than stone, brick, wood and paper, stucco or plaster was widely used in Islamic Art. Plaster, a singularly useful material that lent itself to moulding and carving in a variety of ways, became a staple of Islamic architecture. Perhaps because of its plasticity as a medium it was less frequently used for purely geometric designs, and was more often used in vegetal-arabesque arrangements.

Stained or coloured glasses are used to create a heavenly experience within homes, palaces or places of worship. Designs the permit sunlight in the morning hours to enter the room from outside while providing a beautiful window view to an observer from outside during night time was mesmerising. The glass comes in four basic colours: red, blue, green and yellow. Movement of coloured patterns with the sun from dawn to dusk creates a dynamic ambience within the living space. Glasses are also used to decorate ceiling lanterns or wall lamps.

That the intricacies of infinite geometric patterns starts from a simple straight line, a point and a circle is perhaps the most unbelievable fact in the entire gamut of this marvellous form of art.


Thatched Houses

Thatching was popular in early days as the walls were not designed or made to take enormous roof weight. While wheat straw was common in south of England, reeds were in East Anglia. As transport facilities became available, cheap slate could be brought in from where it was abundant and cheap to any part in Britain. Mechanised farming resulted in making wheat straw unusable for thatching. These beautiful houses were seen while passing a small village near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.





Hex nets can prevent some of the damages unknowingly brought in by animals and birds. But what about the natural effects? Repairing and maintaining a thatched house in a good state costs lot of money.

The Royal Enfield and a short walk

The streets of Fort Kochi, to be fully savoured, must be enjoyed on foot. Saint Francis Church was chosen as the point where the walk would commence. A small sign board “Bikes For Rent” opened up the possibility of hiring a motor-cycle to explore Fort Kochi. Decided to keep the walking for another day and use the two-wheeler.

Went back to the street where the board was clearly written with all details. Yamaha, Honda and Enfield bikes were available on rental together with bicycles. Enfield came in two options: 350cc and 500cc.

Walked up the single flight of wooden stairs where a middle-aged lady greeted with a smile. Three other tourists were in the hall enjoying beverages, probably tea. The lady called someone on the phone and then handed the receiver to me with a subtle “Go on, speak” gesture. It was Ashraf. Yes, the bike is available, Ashraf confirmed. He politely asked me to wait for a few more minutes.

While awaiting Ashraf to finalise the renting out, a cup of coffee was offered. The two seats made on the wall next to the window facing the street provided ample privacy to the onlooker to watch the street life.

The unmistakable note of the bike could be heard from afar. Ashraf’s representative wanted only the Indian driving license. Kick-starting was old fashioned and gone. The bike had an ignition switch. Enfield has done away with decompression lever and the battery key. I believe the charm of the Enfield was the two key ignition, decompression with the tiny lever squeezed, making the ammeter read zero… Gear lever and brake positions were switched. Sorry, I digress. Exploration begins…

Vasco House, Fort Kochi Vasco house, located on Rose Street, is believed to be one of the oldest Portuguese houses in India. Vasco da Gama is believed to have lived here. This house features European glass paned windows and verandahs.


A random drive through the many charming street with old European style architecture among some of the streets…



One of the earliest streets of the area, this road has European style residences on both its sides. Located here is the Loafer’s Corner, the traditional hangout for the jovial and fun loving people of Kochi.










One more coffee and its time to wind up the ride… walk, that is.


The Other Shop

The shop in Muharraq Souq (Bahrain) specialised in valve radios… working ones, among other interesting lost-in-time items. Green-tinged, thick, Coca-Cola bottles, for example. Prices for the radios ranged between BHD 100-BHD 140 (roughly USD 250 to USD 350).

Mhrq-shop (5 of 7)

Mhrq-shop (1 of 7)

The owner agreed to reopen his shop late in the evening.

Mhrq-shop (2 of 7)

Mhrq-shop (3 of 7)

Mhrq-shop (4 of 7)

He and his friend also agreed to pose for a few photographs.

A similar shop was seen in the souq in Madinat al Isa (Isa Town). The souq hosted several shops selling everything: fabrics, hardware, coins, antiques, furniture, plants, mobile phones, sunglasses, Oracle latest release, auto-parts, curtain clothes, key chains, bathroom accessories, perfumes, bukhoor, lingerie, incandescent and fluorescent and neon lamps, kites, knives, DVDs, used books, pipes, lighters, mobile Apps, abayas, local fruits, plastic toys and dolls.

Friday being an off day at work, a casual browsing along the souq had become a routine. Knew several vendors by their first name and vice versa. The shop that belonged to a Bahraini – an old gentleman – who dealt with coins and currencies and precious stones and prayer beads. He spoke in perfect Hindi about old times and how the present generation feels shy even to say the word “souq”. He spoke of his travels to Bombay (present day Mumbai) with his Father.

It was another Friday and the usual chat with the coin-shop owner went past the prayer time. The mildly sugared red tea must be the one responsible to make time pause somewhere in the 80s. The old man excused himself and asked me to be at the shop while he finishes his prayer in the nearby mosque. Before I could say anything he was gone.
He thanked me for waiting for him after he returned. I just wished such friendliness and trust last another thousand years.

Arne Hodalič

Arne Hodalič grew up and studied biology in Ljubljana (lyoo-BLYAH-nah), Slovenia. After finishing university, he was working for five years as a professional sailing boat skipper and diver and had his own charter company on the Adriatic coast in Croatia. He began taking photos, mostly of boats, diving and nautical activities. His first trip to India in 1989 changed his professional career when his photos were published in a prestigious Swiss magazine Animan. He received more than 20 assignments from the magazine and travelled extensively around the world with his camera. In Paris he joined Gamma Press agency and began working for French press as a member of several photo agencies.

f (2)

f (1)


In 2008 he received an honorary doctorate at the Academy of Arts and Design / University of Ljubljana and became a lecturer in photography and photojournalism at FDV (Faculty of Social Sciences) University of Ljubljana and at VIST (Visoka šola za storitve) in Ljubljana. He is currently the photo editor of National Geographic Magazine (Slovene edition).

SP2016 (1 of 6)

SP2016 (6 of 6)

Met Prof. Arne during a workshop conducted by the Diplomatic Protocol Society at the Downtown Rotana Hotel in Bahrain recently. The photographs are from the photo walk around Suq Manama that followed the lecture.

SP2016 (2 of 6)

The Punkah

Most places in the middle-east region are air-conditioned. While central air-conditioning is seldom in such places a window AC is a minimum. Given the harsh heat during most part of the year, this would not be deemed as a luxury but a mere necessity.

Air-conditioning is not so popular in places of worships in India. Imagine the times before electricity. People might have used hand-held fans. Then there was the Punkah.

Punkah, similar to the one seen here inside the Saint Francis Church in Fort Kochi, India, were operated by dedicated punkah-pullers. Vasco da Gama, the first Portuguese sailor to reach the shores of Kerala, was initially buried inside this church. Old movies depicted them sleeping while still one of their hands pulled the punkah incessantly lest their master would feel the discomfort of sweat.


In this case, the congregation could attend a sermon and listen to the word of God in full comfort. The electric ceiling fans came much later dealing away with the Punkah-pullers.

The Walk

Took a walk along the residential streets (Theruvu) towards the western side of Chalai, one of the oldest markets in the capital city of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram. The local market is being covered separately in another post. Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram is the place where I met my friend sharp at 6AM for the walk. After spending few minutes in the vicinity of the temple and the temple pond, Padmatheertham, we hired an autorickshaw and headed towards Aryasalai.

Before the hire, the auto driver was adequately forewarned about the possible testing of his patience with two friends who carried cameras which would mean frequent stopping and waiting. From that point onwards we became like buddies and mutually agreed that the fare meter is nothing more than an object of compliance and aesthetic. We neither negotiated the rate nor he mentioned any.


A must visit location is the back lanes which house many Agraharams where the Brahmin community live. Adorning the front yard of their homes with kolam designs ranging from simple to complex. Newspaper, most of the cases it was invariably The Hindu, a bowl awaiting the arrival of milkman, the familiar face of Vegetable-Woman, street sweepers, the prayer call from nearby temple, people who sit on the verandah or balcony with a half-smile either due to the meaningless news they had just read; the sweetness of the filter coffee they had imbibed; seeing a man with a camera wandering the streets to attain overnight fame writing blogs. Whatever said, many people stopped by to say hi and to ask the company-the newspaper-being represented by the SLR-carrying, friendly-looking, stranger.

















After the walk in the Puthen Theruvu (New Streets), which are four in number, one can enter Chalai bazaar from the other end which is opposite to the main entrance near the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. This would be an ideal time to have a hot tea and a ride in a rick. Most of the auto rickshaws in the area will have plenty of fresh flowers decorating the dashboard with many burning incense sticks and a freshly bathed, crisp, auto-driver. Up to 9.00 AM any fare being paid is considered a kaineettam which means the first fare for the day. Only few passengers seldom dare to bargain on a fare that is so preciously received by the driver.


Almost 3 hours later we decided its time to return to our respective homes for a home-made breakfast of Idli and white coconut chutney (other variety being red). Auto-driver hesitantly asked for a fare that we felt was quite reasonable with all the tiring stops and patient waiting.

Coffee in Sudan

When my next door neighbour from Sudan got a new born baby boy, a visit was made to congratulate the parents.
What followed after the visit was not just wonderful but amusing too.
Coffee was served!


Coffee preparation is an art in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Coffee preparation for guests is a ritual affair, with various spices added to the clay pot in which it is brewed.

The stove with lit charcoals was bought to the living room and coffee beans are first freshly roasted over the small fire. The beans are then crushed by hand in a mortar and pestle. The pots used to make/serve the prepared coffee are of clay with a long neck and spout – the traditional jebenas, as they are called.

The beans are put in the clay container, together with spices, usually a few cardamom pods and some pepper. This is then slowly brewed by the side of the fire – and when done, is poured over a sieve. As the room is filled with the lovely aroma of fresh coffee, the smoke from Frankincense burned rose up creating a magical atmosphere.

Very small cups are then placed on a tray – the cups, too, are traditionally round, small and cute. Coffee cups on the tray are then passed around.

The baby was still asleep.

The Stag

As the legend goes, Hubertus, born in the seventh century, seeks comfort and distraction on lonely hunts after the death of his beloved wife Princess Floribana in childbirth.

One Christmas Eve, he encounters on one of these hunts the wondrous image of a splendid red albino stag carrying a shining cross between its antlers. Through this vision, Hubert is moved to transform his life. He lays down his high ranks of office and distributes his wealth among the poor and the church.

St. Hubertus has been the patron saint of hunters and animal protectionists in northern Europe. The saint and the stag were depicted in a stained-glass chapel-window and atop Château d’Anet, both almost over an hour’s drive towards west of Paris.



The Château can be seen on the right side of the road from Vernon to Chartres. Logo of Jägermeister, the German digestif made with herbs and spices, carries the stag with the cross between.

Calligraphy and Fashion

Calligraphy can often be a rare confluence of beauty and enigma.
Strange mystery is held by each piece of calligraphic art.
Sleek trailing lines that merge with life.
Broad, bold lines that changes its shape in a graceful curve.
The pen made of bamboo with a tip that thickens and thins out the script.
In short, it was magic to watch the artist come alive with the art.

Calligraphy is an ancient art form.
Kings in the Middle East often had their personal Calligraphers
who had their favorite styles or fonts.
They send their messages through the scripts between them.

MyRefractions.com recently met an artist who excels in her forte: Njood.

She talked of how it all began…

“When I was 11-12 years old, I used to watch my Father – who is a Calligrapher – work on various designs and styles. I love art. So from that point onwards I had become a Calligrapher”.




Njood was kind enough to display many styles of writing…



“There are lots of Calligraphers in Bahrain but most are men. The support for a woman Calligrapher is less… but then I met Jassin Al Hamadi who promised to make me a great calligrapher if I attend his classes. That is where I learned Ri’qa – a beautiful style. One must never mix two styles, warns Njood with a serious face, her smile to return only too soon. I had also visited so many artists and their exhibits with Suhair… I started designing logos and other works on my own from 17”, says Njood.





Hamra added that faults and mistakes in fabrics are common in the initial stages of learning but one must be willing to make mistakes and learn. HA had taken a bold step in accepting a challenge by choosing Njood to be her designer in Calligraphy. Njood was beginning to try her designs on fabric for the first time ever and Hamra works mostly with fabrics. Usual media for a Calligrapher are paper and canvas. Hamra says she loves Njood and “she is as beautiful as a song” which makes Njood smile.

Farsy, Deewani, Thulth are her favourite styles which also includes Naskh, Sunbly, Kofe, Al Naskh Taleeq and several other free styles.

Streets of Madurai

The streets leading to the magnificent Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple was full of life with families and vendors. Children played but they were hushed by their watchful parents at the slight on-sight of mischief or a noise. After all, are they not near the most powerful deity?















MyRefractions approached a policeman on guard duty to obtain formal permission to photograph the insides of the beautiful temple. Knowing the behavioral patterns of an exhausted policeman who is almost the end of his duty, MR was taken aback by the humbleness and soft words of guidance by the guard-on-duty. A senior officer walked in and was also equally humble with the words. Do they hand pick soft-spoken officers or they change to becoming soft-spoken near the temple. Anyway, the answer was a polite negative.

Most of the captures were from the street. But the beauty of the thousand-legged tower, the sanctum sanctorum, the fragrance of fresh camphor and the flowers… all embedded in that clear bell, alive in the minds of all.