Tower of Silence



Some books are fascinating for their content; some for the way they are marketed. I found the positioning of the book ‘Tower of Silence’ especially interesting. To start with there is a fascinating story around the book itself: a zealous editor discovering an incomplete script written by an obscure gentleman many decades back and his dogged pursuit of the identity of the author and the complete script and his final triumph against odds. All makings of a cult hit. In some ways it reminded me of how the works of Ed Wood became a hit many years after his time.

Then we have a well designed cover giving an early twentieth century feel. The name also is quite intriguing and makes the reader want to pick up the book. The book as such also does not really disappoint. It is not the conventional detective story though. There is really not much of a mystery as such. Overall the book gave me a feeling as if I was reading a Tintin comic. I had not heard of the detective Saxton Blake. So I searched on the internet to find out more about him. I discovered he was a comic book detective. So that was I guess the story is consistent with the lead character chosen.

The story has lot of action and very little depth. The story is fast passed and moves like a see saw with balance of power shifting from the detective to the criminal and back. The narration is a detached third party narration that does not follow a single character but keeps shifting to different scenes of action. Therefore it lacks the intensity of narratives that follow a single character closely.

The thing I liked most about the book is the insights I got about the Parsi culture. The mystical feeling the author, himself a Parsi, creates is indeed fascinating. It was interesting to learn about the Parsis’ rituals to see off their deceased, their holy fire, their obsession for purity and cleanliness and how their choice of clothing enforces the same. The name 'Holy Tower' itself is the name for the structure where the Parsis leave their dead to be eaten by vultures. The story follows the story of how a few English men desecrate this place by photographing it and publishing in a Newspaper. The protagonist is a Parsi, who seeks revenge for the sacrilege. The detective Saxton Blake serves as his adversary trying to foil his plans.  

I feel the author had much more scope to build upon the main character of Beram.  There is lot of scope to re-write this story with much greater depth to the characters of Beram and Saxton Blake and stronger mystery element as I find the basic premise very interesting.


Overall I would say it is a light, quick and a different kind of read. It is definitely worth a try for novelty.  As I close, let me mention I got this book as a free review copy through a joint initiative of Harper Collins and Indiblogger. The details of the initiative can be found here

Keeping the Wolf from the Door

After a short gap, I am back with another of my blogger reminiscences posts, moving on to the third phase of my blogging - a long period of 13 months with very few scattered posts.

Keeping the Wolf from the Door (Mar 2009 - Mar 2010)

Fame goes to the head and can be addictive. I thought my blog had come into its own after the success of the bride hunt series and things seemed to be going well for sometime. But with time, readers began to dwindle and even though I continued to have a decent readership, it was a far cry from the earlier success. Loss of motivation coupled with some changes in life such as marriage and retrenchment brought my blog to a grinding halt in Oct 2008. After things began to stabilize a bit, I tried to resume blogging and keep the blog afloat for over an year. I could not find enough humorous personal life incidents. So I began to explore what other bloggers write about. So I tried writing about current affairs and also tried a hand at book and movie reviews. I also made feeble attempts at blog promotion but did not see too much foot fall. I have seen quite a few blogs shut down after running successfully for a year or two. So the most notable achievement of these period was just hanging in there despite lack of readership.

MBA and the CEO
An attempt to make a satire out of some of my work experiences. Preferred to write it as an imaginary satire post rather than describe actual incidents as washing corporate dirty linen in public can be dangerous for someone planning to continue in corporate world. Tried to bring humor by using some lines from Tamil Superstars.

The Socialist Agenda
Another attempt at satire: this time based on some outrageous statements made by a politician. But I am generally of timid disposition and did not want to take the names of influential people. So tried to bring humor by taking on things at an ideas level and avoiding reference to people.

Man Biter of Rajajinagar
I tried to resume the old series of posts narrating my childhood experiences at different houses I have stayed in, in a humorous fashion. This was about an incident wherein I was bitten by a neighbor's dog at the age of 10.

A Historic Perspective of Chinese Strategy
I was running out of humorous personal life incidents. So I had to diversify. I did not want to write on current affairs situations unless I have something unique and different to contribute. Here I found I had a radically different view on the topic of China's motives leveraging some of what I had studied in my history of international relations course as well.

Alice in Wonderland - Book Review
After current affairs, I found another popular topic for bloggers was book reviews. But most of the popular books had already been reviewed. So I had to come up with my own unique review style focusing on my personal reflections. So I decided to take on the niche of all genres of speculative fiction: fantasy, satire, science fiction and children's fantasy.

Gulliver's Travels - Book Review
In spite of lack of response for my first book review, another attempt at review, this time of Gulliver's Travels, again trying to give my unique personal reflections on the book.

Is Flat the best shape for the World
Once again I could come up with a radically different view on a current affairs topic - this time on globalization. I tried to present an unconventional view pointing out the disadvantages of globalization. But I did not find the response these kind of analysis encouraging. Most people tended to ignore the arguments in the post and just strongly express their own set views.

Center Stage at Baldwins
After forays into other genres, back to humorous narration of incidents from childhood. This was an incident at school. Typically most of the humor comes from events that were of unfortunate nature when they happened. Looking back after years, one sees the funny side.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Book Review
I continued with reviews of my favorite books to keep by blog rolling. Response though was completely lackluster not even garnering as single comment.

The Magic Faraway Tree - Book Review
Yet another book review - one of my all time favorites during my childhood. I usually try to weave my personal experiences with the book in these reviews. But somehow the reviews were not finding takers.

3 Idiots - Fools Review
After trying my hands at book reviews, I decided to try a hand at movie reviews as well. Movie reviews usually work best when movie is new. But I was not in the habit of seeing new movies. So I tried to present an off beat view of a popular movie.

The Aman ki Asha Paradox
Again a current affairs topic, but not an offbeat view. More a popular view which I also felt strongly about but I tried to see it with a level head and give a logical basis for the views. As expected post was popular but for wrong reasons - not so much for my arguments but for agreeing with the populist views.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Day Time
This was again something new I attempted - a random musings post. I have been a fan of popular authors who reproduce streams of thoughts randomly jumping from idea to idea. I attempted to do that here with a sprinkling of elements of humor and satire.

Chicken Soup for the Soul from Bollywood
Another attempt to write on Bollywood, inspired by year's top 75, all time top 75 movies etc. published close to year end on commercial website. My top 4 Hindi movies with reasons for the same. Somehow Bollywood is a very popular topic among readers but then almost everyone knows more than me. So I realize this is not really a topic where I can really make my mark.

Swami Nityananda Incident: Uncomfortable Questions
My offbeat views on a very popular current affairs event of the time. This is again a general view point post and not really one of my best ones. More to just keep my blog rolling during the lean period.

Gold Fever

Genre writing is a highly personal thing. Some people find humor tough to write. For me, humor and fantasy is easy. It is romance, action and horror that are tough for me. Thanks to publisher's romance contests, I attempted romance. I attempted action in a joint writing venture I am planning with a few friends. And now I get a chance to attempt horror. Thanks to this month's exercise for Indifiction Workshop. Even though one may not become am expert in every genre, every genre teaches you something that helps you improve your writing in general and gives you some skill that may come in handy while writing the genre of your choice.

Click here to read my take for this exercise. Would love to know what people think of my attempt. The credit for framing this time's exercise goes to Jayashree Srivastan. The exercise can be found here.

For people who are hearing about Indifiction Workshop for the first time, we are a  group of aspiring fiction writers who are trying to jointly hone our fiction writing skills. If you want to join, here is the link to our Facebook group. It is a closed group and membership needs to be approved. To avoid spammers, we allow only known people. So if I do not know you personally, please leave me a comment on this post expressing your desire to join in and I will approve your request for the group.

Anunoy's bLa BLa and some cLiCk Click

A line from Hamlet has stuck to my head and I never miss an opportunity to quote. Here I take the liberty again.

LORD POLONIUS
What do you read, my lord?
HAMLET
Words, words, words.
LORD POLONIUS
What is the matter, my lord?
HAMLET
Between who?
LORD POLONIUS
I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.

So what is this doing in a blog review? Well many of the blogs are just what Hamlet said: “words, words, words” that leave the readers asking “what is the matter’. This is especially true in the case of quite a few poetry blogs.  Anunoy’s blog ‘justforsuzan’ is one of those that stand apart from this motley crowd. The words create a powerful imagery, the metaphors are distinctly original without seeming ludicrous and overall his words leave a strong impact. Even some of his fiction reads like poetry. However his blog is definitely not one of those blogs that can be quickly skimmed through. If you try to glance through his blog, you will find no difference between his blog and some of the more banal blogs that just peddle words to sound impressive.  

I have started out about the content. So let me finish all I have to say about content before moving on to the rest. I do not feel qualified to give any feedback on his literary content as such. He also shares a few photos which again are in my opinion out of the world. His pictures are not run of the mill pictures and are usually accompanied by an interesting commentary that makes them fascinating indeed. He also has some very interesting informative posts, mainly written for contests. They are very lucid and convey the point very well. He has also linked his photos section to his travel blog and often this blog leads to his travel blog. Last but not the least most of his content has a sprinkling of humor.  I however will limit my review to the literary and photos blog alone and not comment on the travel blog to avoid losing focus.

In terms of look and feel, my feelings are quite neutral. There is nothing wrong as such but it does not look as if he has really put any effort into thinking through the background theme either. Maybe it will help if he thinks what kind of first impression he wants to convey to his new readers and tries to explore a theme that can convey that. On a similar note the blog does not seem to have a name. There is a nice tag line and the title section describes in a succinct way what the blog is all about. But a catchy name helps in top of the mind recall. The url of the blog has a name ‘just4suzan’. But the name is not mentioned anywhere else on the blog nor is an explanation given for the name.  

In terms of navigation, he has followed my favorite method of creating separate tabs for fiction, poetry and photos and giving links to all the posts manually instead of the label based one which requires much more scrolling. But I feel he could have used the labels as well separately to provide an alternate method of navigation. The latest link section on the side bar has too many links. In my opinion, if any section has more than ten links, people tend to skip it.  The archives and the popular post widget have been placed right at the bottom and it is doubtful if people will scroll down so many posts and find them. He should either bring those to the side or have only the latest post in the home page. One thing I would recommend is to create a separate tab for more informational posts. Right now the excellent informational and nostalgic posts are scattered among the contemplative posts.  It will be nice to call them out separately for the low attention span reader starved of time to rush through, while the more relaxed reader can recline on his arm chair and sip through the more contemplative posts.

In terms of interaction, he replies to comments regularly and has a contact section. But in general readers do not seem too responsive if one were to go by the comments. But I guess in general readers don’t tend to say much on contemplative posts as it is not easy to put up some shallow comment on them without looking stupid.

Overall I would strongly recommend readers to take out time and go through his writings. In my opinion they have literary merit.  In case reader is not able to get it one reading, it is highly advisable to read it a second and third time and I can give assurance that it will be worth the effort. Find below a small sample of writings selected by the blogger for a new reader’s perusal.

Robots of Dawn


Toyota Partner Robot - front (AMLUX, 2007)

Robots and aliens are the most popular clich├ęs of science fiction. In fact they are slowly moving out of the realm of science fiction and becoming part of main stream action genre as well. It is highly possible, we may actually see robots in our life time. Robot is however too broad a term and can mean mechanisms that do not look even remotely human. These already exist. The right technical term for what popularly comes to our mind when we say robot is android – a machine that has lot of human mental and physical characteristics. It is androids that really fascinate us. Whereas an android in itself is not a novelty, what can indeed be fascinating are the social ramifications of their existence. And nobody has dealt with this topic in as much detail as Isaac Asimov, the grand master of science fiction.

The primary phenomenon that Asimov foresees is fear. He even has a term for it: Frankenstein complex, based on the famous novel by Mary Shelley. Though conceptually robots might be fascinating, a machine taking complex decisions that might affect our lives may actually be scary. That too a machine that is physically stronger and computing power way beyond our puny brains would indeed seem like a monster. This is where the ‘Robotics Corporation’ brings in the 3 laws of robotics to allay the fear of humans.

Law 1: A robot may not hurt humans or by inaction allow a human to come to harm

Law 2: A robot must obey humans as long as it does not contradict with Law 1

Law 3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as it does not contradict with Laws 1 and 2

Once we have these laws, they throw up fascinating possibilities. Isaac Asimov goes on to create a whole bouquet of short stories around different contradictions and paradoxes that robots would encounter in adhering to these laws. We also see situations where laws have to be modified for practical situations and the impact and the same. The stories read like whodunit mysteries with Robopsychologist ‘Susan Calvin’ playing the detective.

Another aspect is the relationship between humans and robots, ranging from friendship and enmity to romantic and erotic. It is interesting how Asimov has explored all these themes within the framework of the three laws of robotics. In some cases humans mistakenly attribute human like motives to robots behaviors subscribing to the three laws. On the other hand in one of the longer stories ‘bicentennial man’, a robot wants to be human but humans refuse to grant the robot the rights due to humans. The story has philosophical ramifications as it raises interesting existential questions on the definitions of life and intelligence.

It will indeed be interesting if humanoid robots become a reality in our life time and most of these issues become reality. Isaac Asimov will then join the ranks of Jules Verne and HG Wells as a visionary who predicted the future of human technology.

Related Post: Psychohistory

A Biographic Sketch

The full form of blog is web log, some kind of an online diary. I never really meant my blog to be my online diary. But I realized over time it has managed to pick up so many personal experience posts (with some creative license taken of course) that when put in chronological order almost reads like an autobiography. I present below the posts in chronological order of events. Where the post covers multiple events, I have considered the earliest event. Along with post title I have mentioned the dominant mood in the narrative.

The Idi Amin of Malleshwaram [Humorous]
Scissor Chronicles [Humorous]
My First Book [Descriptive]
The Hunchback of Ernakulam [Humorous]
Ganesha Ushers in a New Beginning [Descriptive]
Man Biter of Rajajinagar [Humorous]
From Dog Bite to Sanyas to Cigarettes [Reflective]
In Quest of a Steed [Humorous]
Museum of Memories [Sentimental]
A Birthday Celebration [Descriptive]
Faded Memories of a Diwali gone by [Sentimental]
Center Stage at Baldwins [Humorous]
Cricket and me [Descriptive]
A Game of Fools [Descriptive]
A Vintage Village Vacation  [Sentimental]
A Journey to the Land of Rice Fields [Sentimental]
Teacher's Day Special - [Sentimental]
First Plunge into Chilly Waters [Descriptive]
Wanderlust [Descriptive]
The Cursed Credit Card  [Humorous]
Buffalo on the Dutch Plain [Humorous]
The Girl on the Train [Humorous]
Escape to Victory [Descriptive]
The Last Night [Sentimental]
Great Indian Bride Hunt Series (6)  [Humorous]
A Day at the Police Station [Satirical]
A Fling with Fate [Humorous]
Blast from the Past [Sentimental]

A Comedy of Errors

This is the second post of my blogger reminiscences series. Still not a single comment for my first. Nevertheless I move on.

A Comedy of Errors (Aug 2008 - Oct 2008)

Sometimes you suddenly get these brainwaves out of nowhere. I got one when I happened to be reading about one Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, a blogger turned novelist on a news website. I perused through her blog and noticed humorous posts about relationships tended to become popular. I did not have much experience in this area but the closest I could think of were my bride hunt stories that my friends loved to listen to. So I thought of penning them down. That turned out to be the turning point. for my blog. A popular site called 'Desi Pundit' showcased my post and it lead to a phenomenal inflow of traffic - nearly 1000 hits a day for a week. It set me on fire and I went on to make a complete series of my bride hunt experiences. But then the bride hunt ended and I had to look for other pastures. I tried to start a series on my brief but unsuccessful trysts with romance but they did not seem to find similar response. So I decided to leave relationships and tried to present other current and childhood experiences in a humorous light. They had reasonable success and kept me going for a while.

The Great Indian Bride Hunt
A series of 6 posts - a comical narration of my attempts to find a bride through the Indian arrange marriage system. This has been my most popular set of posts to date. It has been liked universally and have often drawn comparisons to Chetan Bhagat. Every post in this series has the link to the next one.

Software Engineer Life cycle
Buoyed by the success of the bride hunt series, I wanted to start a series on my attempts at romance on a similar tone of narrative. But after 2 posts, somehow it just did not feel the same and I abandoned it. After a couple of years, I deleted the posts since I attempted to write a fresh set of posts on the topic. But I felt some musings on software industry in those posts were interesting and reworked the post to retain just those.

Wizard's Day Out
Tried a different kind of humor - a humorous fantasy fiction. This was based on a concept I had earlier used for a humorous speech contest organized by Toastmaster's Club.

The Cursed Credit Card
An attempt to bring out humor through the trials and tribulations of modern day living. The name was based on the Lemony Snicket's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'. I wanted to build this as a series but I could not get further ideas to get this off the ground as a series. This post was well appreciated though.

The Idi Amin of Malleshwaram
An old Hindi movie about life stories of different tenants at a house triggered an idea. In my childhood, I and my parents too have stayed in many houses as tenants. So I hit upon the idea of a series of comic stories based on events during the stay in each of those different houses. This is the first one based on events when I have 7-8 years later.

The Hunchback of Ernakulam
This was the second post in what I wanted to call the 'Lands and People' series. This is a story that I have oft repeated to my friends and it has never failed to entertain them. It was also used to good effect at a Toastmaster's Club speech.




New Kid on The Block

I have completed over 5 years of blogging, posting close to 250 posts, a traffic of over 1,50,000 and 5000 comments. So I thought it would be good to reflect over what I have written over the years.

New Kid on the Block (Apr 2008 - Aug 2008)

This is when I started blogging. I had heard about blogs for quite some time and one fine day I decided to take the plunge. I had no idea what I was going to write about. I started off by choosing a fancy name for the blog and an explanation for the same. Then I replicated 2 works by famous writers in public domain that supported the concept behind the name of my blog. Then I went about blogging on a sporadic basic sharing a couple of musings and some of my pet theories, replicating one more work in public domain along the way. I also put up a poem I had written a couple of years back and a post about some of my experiences drawing from an e-mail I had written to one of my prospective brides. This was a time of scampering around aimlessly for content. There was hardly any readership except some of my old school and college friends. This is usually the toughest phase for a new blog.

Why Lucifer House Inc. ?
This is the first ever post on my blog and explain the reasons for my choice of name for my blog.

In Praise of Idleness
To get my blog started, I have replicated a famous essay from Bertrand Russell that is available in the public domain. This I posted in support of the concept behind the name of my blog.

Leisure
This was one of my favorite poems extolling the importance of leisure. I replicated this poem on my blog as well in support of my blog concept.

The Best Government for our Country
Actually when I started my blog, I had an idea it might be my vehicle for expressing my offbeat views on human society and political organization. So I started off with one such post.

Philosophy Lesson during an Auto Ride
An experience during an auto ride got me thinking. I came home immediately and recorded my thoughts on my newly started blog. One of the posts that just came out quite spontaneously.

Song of the War Spirit
To keep the blog rolling, I put up a poem I had written a couple of years back. It is a free flowing poem where I tried to metaphorically present the evolution of war and the associated horrors.

Psychohistory
This is about a concept from Science Fiction that totally captured my imagination. I finally decided to write about it, linking it to things I have read from other fields to support the feasibility of such a science.

Godse's Trial Speech
A replication of Godse's speech during his trial. I put this up on my blog as a precursor to an article I was writing about Gandhi. This is the last occasion of me putting up content that is not my own.

Revisiting the Mahatma
An article I wrote presenting my new understanding of the father of our nation after reading his book 'My Experiments with Truth'.

The Message of Christ
I was inspired on seeing the movie 'The Last Temptation of Christ'. It also reminded me of a similar inspiration a couple of years back on seeing 'The Passion of Christ'. I combined both to write a post.

From Dog Bite to Sanyas to Cigarettes
I had written a deeply soul searching e-mail when telling about myself to a prospective bride. The match did not work out. So I thought I may as well use the content to make an autobiographical post on my blog.

Bridging the Rural Urban Divide
For some reason on buying my first mobile phone, I fancied myself a photographer of realism and made a photo blog post. Even I myself could not appreciate it. But I just let the post remain for sentimental reasons.

Indianomics

The primary utility of internet is to find information. Now internet has grown much beyond being just an information engine but still the primary focus does not seem to have changed. That is evident in the popularity of websites giving information on technology, cookery, travel, books etc. These are more specialized topics. However there will be lot of people looking for answers on generic topics. There are very few blogs I have come across that give you answers to some of the simple questions regarding this complex world. And Indianomics run by Hemal Shah is one such blog.

Indianomics is an excellent name for a blog giving useful information that Indians are likely to look for. It would have however been good to have a catchy tag line conveying the blog’s mission. The layout and background have a nice, structured and dignified feel to it. That goes well with the theme of this blog. The widgets have been managed well and they blog does not look cluttered and none of the widgets feel unnecessary. I especially liked the related posts widget. The one used here is better than most similar widgets I have found and actually seems to throw up relevant results.

Coming to the content, I liked the simple and concise way he explains things. He has taken up relevant topics and manages to get his points through very effectively. However I found his articles related to stock markets a bit technical. I feel it would help a lay man if he avoided jargon and explained things in simpler terms. The other thing I felt is that there should be a bigger plan to the range of topics covered. Right now the topics have been randomly chosen. So if a reader is looking for information on a specific topic, she can’t be sure she will be able to find it here. It might be more helpful if he started covering topics with a broader plan in mind.

In terms of navigation, the blog has an excellent navigation structure consisting of static pages and tabs with options and the archives. The side bar has been used effectively to point readers to relevant pages. I am not too fond of label based navigation as such. But it works quite well here as short and appropriate summaries come up for the posts under each label. Possibly label based navigation is much more advanced in Wordpress. One area I have feedback is the tab titles. Some of the items seem to have been just put there to fill space. There are tabs titled ‘Sharepoint’, ‘Wild Life’ and ‘X/HTML’ that I find quite irrelevant.

The Contact and Testimonial sections on his blog promote really good interaction. I really liked the idea of Testimonials and am thinking of having one for my blog as well. He is prompt in responding to comments and general interaction on the blog is pretty good. One nice thing to add would be to have a section where readers can suggest topics they want explained by him. That way he can engage the reader better in the content creation.


Overall I would say a great blog for simple answers to questions we always wanted to ask with a sprinkling of nice personal reflections and poetry. Please do sample these 5 posts handpicked from this blog.


For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces