The Beauty of a Rose

One fine morning I got out of my bed
As the rays of the sun lit up my room
My eyes fell on a rose bush in full bloom
Smiling at me shy roses blushing red
My trance ended as a rose petal shed
The sight of fallen petals caused me gloom
Was it foreboding of impending doom?
Next week the flowers would be gone and dead!

On the table rested a silent vase
Filled with bright flowers to its brim
Flowers of plastic that forever lives
To me they seemed nothing but a disgrace
Beside the real ones their beauty dim
Doth transience the rose its beauty gives?

Writer's Note: I am writing a poem after a very long time. This is my first attempt at the Italian variant of sonnet, which is much more stringent than the English variants. Every line should have 10 syllables and rhyme scheme should be a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a and c-d-e-c-d-e. The second set c-d-e can follow any pattern except that it should not end in a couplet like c-c-d-d-e-e or c-d-c-d-e-e. 

Incarnations of Immortality

Among the authors I have read if I were to name one most unsung author, it would be Piers Anthony. I have hardly ever seen him being mentioned in science fiction/fantasy forums, nor have any of my few friends who read fantasy seemed to have read him. In libraries and book shops I have seen books of his more famous Xanth series but I have rarely seen any of the books of his incarnations of immortality series anywhere.  The series has 7 books - ‘On a Pale Horse’, 'Bearing an Hour Glass', 'Wielding a red sword', 'With a Tangled Skein', 'Being a Green Mother', 'For Love of Evil' and 'And Eternity'. I happened to find just the first book in the library. The other books in the series one of my friend downloaded for me using bit torrent and I had to make do reading the e-books. But I found the books so fascinating that I was able to put up with the discomfort of reading from my computer screen and finished all the 6 remaining books of the series.

The books can be described as contemporary fantasy. It superimposes some elements from mythology into current day. He takes the ancient myths of the Gods of death, time, fate, earth, war, evil and good and re-builds them in the current day context. He builds stories on the premise that these Gods are immortal positions occupied by mortals chosen by their predecessors in different ways. Each book follows the life of one mortal and how he/she comes to occupy the position of that particular God. The stories also involve interaction with the other Gods who we have been introduced to in the earlier books giving a sense of continuity.

In my opinion the stories had almost everything going for them. Each book has a different character as protagonist. Each one of these characters was beautifully portrayed and developed: each one with his or her unique characteristics, their different histories, the events in their life and motivations. The reader can easily relate with the characters and begins to empathize with them. The language is simple and the flow is very smooth making it a very easy read for anyone. The narrative also has sprinklings of humor all along, giving the reader a few laughs every few minutes. The plot is intricately woven. Each book gripped me to the very end never wavering for a moment. So all the key elements – plot, flow, language and characters definitely have worked in the book.

There are many other things in the series that I found really appealing. One is the unique and different story line. Another thing that immediately comes to mind is the philosophical undercurrent running throughout the story. The story is not just a hollow entertainer but makes one reflect about life as well. Last but not the least I felt he had worked the myths very well and I could not find too many strong inconsistencies in the overall narrative.

While the books seem to be having all ingredients of a runaway success, the fact is that not too many people have even heard of these books. That leads me to reflect over the possible reasons.

The first thing I can think of is that fantasy as a genre itself does not have universal popularity. Fantasy and science fiction demand a certain amount of imagination of the reader. Unfortunately not all readers are bestowed with an imagination to imagine a complete new world with laws different from our own and populated with all kinds of weird beings. But contemporary fantasy kind of bridges that gap by setting the story in the current world and introducing only certain fantasy concepts. That way the reader has feet firmly planted on the ground and does not have to take a complete flight of fantasy with the author. So I would not consider this to be a major impediment to its success.

Another possible reason that comes to my mind is fantasy is often more popular among children and succeeds as a cross over. But Anthony Piers books are loaded with sexual innuendoes that can even make an adult blush. Also his books deal with concepts of sexuality, rape etc. making it totally unsuitable for children. That is the tragic flaw of all of his books. Light hearted and humorous stories that children would have so loved made out of bounds for children. The series might also put off a good number of women with its highly sexist, almost tending towards male chauvinist world view.

That and luck is what I would ascribe to the failure of this series. But I would recommend everyone to try out the series just for the innovative story concept and a craft man like execution.

Subho's Jejune Diet

When I was a child, there used to be a physics lecturer living in a nearby flat. She used to gather the local children every Saturday evening to teach them Indian cultural values. I distinctly remember once she asked us a question, “What are the two things that you can freely give to others without any loss to yourself.” The answer was fire from your lamp and knowledge. One of the greatest boons of internet is the ease with which people from different ends of the world can share knowledge. Whereas corporates seek to erect walls, hoard the knowledge and extract their pound of flesh, one must hail the yeoman service of bloggers who spend their valuable time sharing their knowledge with the whole world. Subhorup Dasgupta’s ‘Subho’s Jejune diet’ is one such selfless blog that doles out knowledge to one and all.

Subho’s Jejune diet is a wealth of knowledge on a wide variety of topics – practical down to earth topics such as saving petrol and diet, personality development topics such as doing well at jobs and time management, more specialized topics such as blogging and photography and really deep existential topics such as philosophy of life and the right way of living.  One of the things I liked most about this blog is the way every topic is explained in a simple loving step by step manner as if to a child. Most people who have too much knowledge to share fall into the trap of wanting to show off and sound impressive. Subho clearly avoids this trap.  His catch line nicely summarizes his key message ‘Simple Thinking. Responsible Living. Joyous Being.

The blog title is highly intriguing. I had to use Google to look up the meaning of jejune. I think it is a good idea to have a title that excites one’s curiosity. However I found the meaning of jejune diet as ‘deficient or lacking in nutritive value’. One wonders why anyone would name his blog that way. I know immediate question would be fired back at me ‘why I call myself The Fool’. But see ‘The Fool’ has a positive connotation as well in Tarot and the Fools in Victorian courts were actually quite intelligent. But I could not find such positive connotations about jejune. In my opinion, too much humility is also not good.

In terms of looks, though I found the background color pleasing to eye, I do not like the background design much. I feel it looks messy and does not go with the blogger’s message of simplicity.  Also I feel bloggers should customize looks and not retain blogger templates as it is so that readers recognize one’s blog uniquely by looks. The other thing I feel is the main reading area has been kept too narrow and there is too much empty space on either side. If the reading area is made wider I feel the reader will have lesser scrolling to do. In terms of widgets, I can see widgets have been kept to the minimal and only ones that are really necessary. However I do not like the advertisement banner coming right at the top. I don’t know how much revenue AdSense brings. But even popular bloggers in their interviews say not much. So I wonder if is worth putting them up and spoiling the look of the blog for the pittance they bring in, especially for a blogger who advocates simple living and is against greedy consumerist culture promoted by corporates.

The navigation is one area that could do with loads of improvement. There is so much wealth of knowledge on various topics on this blog and there is no mechanism to help the reader find what he is looking for. The emphasis of the blog seems to be to get the reader to read only the latest posts. But aren’t tips on say time management timeless? Asking readers to go through archives is like arranging books in library by date of publication. The ‘you will also like’ is a good widget but I have found its selection are usually quite random and it hardly ever brings up anything relevant. Similarly popular posts might not always be one’s best posts.   So keeping some of these things in mind, I would recommend a thorough relook of the blog’s navigation management.

Lastly about interaction, I do not have much to say. The blogger is an expert on managing interaction and has himself written more than one article on this topic. So I need to learn from him on this aspect rather than give him any tips on doing it better.

Overall this blog is one of the best places for anyone looking for any kind of advice. I have heard it being said that common sense is one of the most uncommon things in the world. But that definitely can’t be said of this blog. It is loaded with common sense and worldly wisdom. I would recommend everyone to visit the blog and partake of the wisdom. Find below 5 selected pearls of wisdom from the blog.  

Scissor Chronicles: A pair of hair tales

I was born. That was the beginning of my hair problems. A boy! And that was the end of my hair problems! Was it? Wish it were true. But think again! Hair problems by no means are the sole domain of the women. We men have our fair share of hair problems too. Just that ‘it’s different’. I wish instead of Dove, it was Maggie Tomato ketchup who were sponsoring this contest. I would have definitely got brownie points and maybe even a T-shirt for using their catch phrase ‘it’s different’. Talking of tomato ketchup I wonder what would happen if one were to use tomato ketchup to wash one’s hair. I remember reading a story by Enid Blyton where one Mr. Meddle uses glue to wash his hair. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to use Fevicol to wash one’s hair, eh? Fevicol’s strong bond will probably keep the hair on the head for the entire life time. For that is men’s greatest hair problem - keeping their hair on their head intact.

In school, we have kids fighting for the first rank and then there are kids struggling to pass. Same is the case with women and men. Women are struggling to keep their hair silky, smooth and shiny. Men are struggling to just keep some hair on their heads. Can you say one is a greater struggle than the other? In this context, I wonder why Dove is not targeting men. Even fairness cream companies are coming up with men’s fairness cream. Possibly because they have branded themselves as a too feminine product I guess. I would then recommend they come up with an alternate 'Falcon' range of products targeting men as well. 'Falcon' sounds cool and masculine, eh? Anyways the purpose of this post is not to discuss product strategies. I have done enough of that in marketing courses at MBA. My purpose here is to share 2 stories related to hair – one from my childhood and one about my dear old grandfather.

It is a curse of being born a man to have to go under the scissor and razor every 3 months. Since childhood I used to hate my visits to the saloon. But there is no way one can stall the inevitable. Once the hair grows beyond a point the school authorities start notifying your parents. I have carried this aversion to haircuts to adulthood and have had more than one boss at work tell me it is time I had a haircut. This story is of one such occasion at school where the teacher had written a note to my parents in my diary to have my hair cut. I wanted to avoid it and my head started to work furiously to come up with a solution. And I soon hit upon an out of the box solution to my problem. Later I came to know I was not the first one to have hit upon this solution. The pirates in the Asterix comics had already discovered and patented this solution. In order to prevent Asterix and Obelix from drowning their ship, the pirates would drown their ship themselves. In order to prevent the barber from laying his filthy hands on my hair I decided to cut my hair myself.

We were having craft class that day. So I had a scissor handy. Instead of working it on the colored paper I decided to work it on my hair. The girl sitting next to me had been so focused on her work she had not seen what I was up to. When she lifted up her head she was surprised to see hair lying all around her. She noticed the hair falling from my head and she got scared that I was suffering from some instant hair loss malady. Her concern moved her to immediately report the matter to the teacher. The teacher was of course not so gullible. She had often tried to impress upon us the values of self-reliance and diligence. But I had turned out to be too proactive even for her taste. I was hauled to the headmistress’ cabin. Mother was called. By the time mother was done with me, it was time for father to come home. Father, mother, teacher headmistress all did their best to ensure any non-conformist tendencies were totally stamped out of me. This is where independent thinking lands you. So much for all the talk of out of the box thinking and stuff! Mere words! Everyone wants only mindless drones that do what they are told.

Anyways let us leave aside my tale of woe and move on to my grandfather. Grandfather was of course old as most grandfathers are. He had lost most of his hair. All the more the reason to love the few that remained! But even bald people are not spared the ordeal of visits to the saloon. The few hairs that remain have to be kept trimmed. During the time of this story, one of my uncles was working in Hyderabad and gramps was staying with him. Gramps did not know Telugu but he usually got by with the few Hindi words he knew.

One fine day he landed up at the saloon and told the barber ‘Kuch Karo’. In Hindi, Kuch means less. So gramps naturally meant ‘trim my hair a little’. But gramps was not aware that ‘Kuch Karo’ actually meant ‘do something’. The barber assumed gramps was being indifferent and was giving him the option to do whatever he liked. It is a human tendency when given an option to take the easiest path available. If one is interested in pursuing this topic further, I suggest a poem ‘The Road not taken’ by Robert Frost. But coming back to the barber, he found it much easier to swipe gramps head clean than trim hair by hair. And so ended all my gramps’ hair problems in a way he least expected. Poor gramps used to lament about being swindled of all his hair for years, even after most of the lost hair grew back.

So those were my hairy tales. Apparently dove is also jumping into the e-bandwagon and offering an e-solution for all your hair problems. You can click this link to check out their hair problem solution app.

Picture Credit :

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces