On a Day like Today

The doofus that I am, I hadn’t even set up the little ‘subscribe’ thingie for my blog yet. I’ve managed to figure it out and install it. Do click on the links in the sidebar if you find yourself craving an update of my ramblings. 

Harking on to the real post now! 

Every morning Astroyogi.com proffers, by way of iGoogle, a prediction of how my day is likely to unfold. (I was almost about to write ‘unlikely to fold’ there). And every day, naturally, there is a disconnect. Today was no exception.

What my horoscope said:

This is a great day to spend with friends and having loads of fun. Kick off those shoes and just relax! A good day to rejuvenate yourself, express your ideas and be adventurous. You have not done this in a long time and when you get opportunities such as this, you must use it to refresh your mind. What a change from your usual routine! 

What actually happened:

Let’s break up the above into individual sentences. 

This is a great day to spend with friends and having loads of fun.

Without even considering the grammar side of things, this sentence holds no water. I didn’t meet any of my friends, considering it was a weekday. As for the second part, here’s all the fun I had today:

  • Designed five diagrams in Microsoft Visio
  • Documented two processes
  • Reviewed another process document

A good day to rejuvenate yourself,…

Yes I did this, by splashing water in my face every hours to prevent falling into a deep slumber at my desk. 

… express your ideas…

This, too, I did, and they were well-received. 

 and be adventurous.

I tried out a 10-pt font for a small process box. That’s how far my adventures went. 

You have not done this in a long time…

Damn right about that. 

… and when you get opportunities such as this, you must use it to refresh your mind.

My mind has been wiped clean, leave alone refreshed. 

What a change from your usual routine!

Indeed! I look forward to the day when I can draw diagrams and write boring documents 24×7.

Do you follow horoscopes in newspapers and the like?

(Blog post title inspired by Bryan Adams’ song)

The Top Ten Novels Blogfest

I stumbled upon Madeleine’s blog and signed up for the Top Ten Novels Blogfest.

Seeing as I am running out of time, I fall short of the required ten, but like Rachel, I will plead the excuse that many of them are part of a series so I’ve made the cut in numbers!

My list, in no particular order: 

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I read this book in my teens and loved it, but my love for it is also heavily influenced by the TV serial version of it. No, not the Colin Firth one, but this one. Blasphemy, I know, but I saw this one first and thought all the actors suited their roles perfectly! I loved Elizabeth Garvie’s portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett, and always picture her face when reading the book. 

2. Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith

This is one of the lesser known series by the great man. How can one resist a book that starts like this?

PROFESSOR DR MORITZ-MARIA VON IGELFELD often reflected on how fortunate he was to be exactly who he was, and nobody else. When one paused to think of who one might have been had the accident of birth not happened precisely as it did, then, well, one could be quite frankly appalled. Take his colleague Professor Dr Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer, for instance. Firstly, there was the name: to be called Detlev was a misfortune, but to add that ridiculous Mozartian pretension to it, and then to culminate in Unterholzer was to gild a turnip.

3. High Society by Ben Elton

This is the first book I read by this author, and one of the most brilliant ever. The plot: a British MP legalizes drugs. Chaos follows. One of these days I must simply quit whining about why Ben Elton doesn’t have a fan club and create my own. 

4. The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

There are tonnes of books out there about the ton by Georgette Heyer, and most of them feature balls, luxurious clothes, intrigue and adventure. The Unknown Ajax has none of that. A quiet family drama, but brilliant and biting nevertheless. 

5. Artermis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

He is the brilliant anti-hero, greedy and determined to regain his family’s name and fortune. Take a look at his skills of deduction. Not bad for a 12-year-old:

A waiter scurried to their table. 

“More tea, sirs?” he asked, head bobbing furiously. 

Artemis sighed. “Spare me the theatrics, and sit down.” 

The waiter turned instinctively to Butler, who was after all, the adult. 

“But, sir, I am the waiter.” 

Artemis tapped the table for attention. 

“You are wearing handmade loafers, a silk shirt, and three gold signet rings. Your English has a tinge of Oxford about it, and your nails have the soft sheen of the recently manicured. You are not a waiter. You are our contact Nguyen Xuan, and you have adopted this pathetic disguise to discreetly check for weaponry.” 

6. Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling

Do I really need to put spoilers here? I picked up Harry Potter only after Goblet of Fire was out. I ignored it for several years clinging to my belief that the whole thing was a mere fad that would die a natural death. Slightly off the mark, wasn’t I? 

A young neighbour generously loaned me his tattered copies of the books, which I read well into the wee hours of the morning. The next few years saw me queued up on day one for the remainder of the books. I love Harry, I love JK. 

7. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

A book about books and fiction and featuring a literary detective called Thursday Next? This one’s a gem for all readers. The most imaginative series I’ve read, and I believe his latest, Shades of Grey, is even better. 

Feel free to name your favourites as well!

Writing Compelling Characters

Note: the following post is in honour of Elana Johnson’s Great Blogging Experiment

How do you write compelling characters when you’re a complete newbie? My answer: study characters from other works. I am going to use examples from two of my favourite series, Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl.

The best characters are the ones who show the following traits: 

They are not afraid to take risks

Towards the end of Order of the Phoenix, Harry takes one foolhardy decision after another to do whatever it takes to rescue Sirius. Every step is fraught with uncertainty and risks, but he plunges in anyway. This is part of the axiom that says a character should not be passive but a person who takes hold of things and makes decisions and acts on them.

They have a higher IQ or EQ than the average person

I absolutely love the bit in the Half-Blood Prince where Harry realizes that Draco has replaced his father as a Death-Eater. This is not completely an intelligence thing, but also instinct and intuition and educated guessing. That was a brilliant piece of deduction on his part, and his conviction was amazing given that the every-brainy Hermione pooh-poohed his theory. 

They can summon up the sympathy quotient

Harry misses his parents. He’s not moping about them all the time, but he clearly wishes they stuck around to help him face Lord Voldemort. Similarly for Artemis. In the first scene of the first book, he’s all tough as he sets out to acquire The Book, but later when he reaches home we see how his heart sinks when he meets his mother, who believes his father is alive despite reports that he has died. 

They have a flaw

Or maybe multiple flaws, actually. Artemis is the perfect example of this, as he is an anti-hero rather than the traditional heroic hero. His intelligence far exceeds that of the average 12-year-old, but so does his greed. 

How do we conjure up such fantastic characters in our imagination?

Once you come up with even a basic character, to bring them to life, you can:

  • Brew a cup of the steaming and sit down to interview your character about their life and views. Just keeping throwing questions out and writing down what the voice in your head says.
  • Fill out bios for them.  Here’s one, and one for sci-fi.
  • Ask random questions of your characters. Hear what they have to say. Check out this list of 365 questions to ask your characters.

That’s all I have. What other tips can you think of for creating compelling characters?

The Hogwarts School of Wheelcraft and Blizzardry

The streets of Pune are filled, filled I tell you!, with all representatives of the families inhabiting JKR’s world. Every day, as I cruise along the roads at a breathtaking speed of 40kmph, I come across hitherto unknown species of drivers. The following is but a small sample of the vast majority:

The Potters

Their modus operandi works as follows: they buy a huge D-segment car, whiz it out of the showroom with pomp and splendour, then promptly dip to second gear and 25kmph. They potter around the roads with their broad butt occupying the better part of two lanes. You can honk at them, overtake them, curse at them as you blitz past, but they don’t care, baby, ‘cos they’re just happy to chug along at a leisurely pace.

Their motto in life: Slow and steady dims the pace. 

The Weasleys

Ah, this family! What passionate emotions they arouse when they cut into the 5 mm of space just in front of you. They love to weasel into lanes between two other vehicles. When they sidle into the slot between you and the car in front, you shake your fist at them and unleash the choicest Punjabi expletives at your disposal, but you’re too late, for they’ve blazed ahead leaving behind a trail of dust and a coughing fit. 

The Riddles

Which way will he turn? Left or right? Or will he just collapse in a heap in front? This family, unlike the wand-brandishing, skull-imprinting Dark Lord of the books, prefers to ride a cycle the same way a blind person walks a tightrope tethered between the two ends of the Grand Canyon

The Snapes

These guys adopt the reptilian approach to car-driving. If they’re in one lane for more than thirty seconds, they get jittery and switch to the other lane instead. Snake-like and elusive in their manner, they have no fear of being caught by the long arm of the law, unless said arm flags them down when they break the signal and forces them to dish out a staggering 200 Rs. fine. 

If you can think of any more Hogwarts School no-gooders, please tell me. I’ll add them to the list.

The Thin and Fat of the story

My essay ‘The Thin and Fat of it’ is up on Complete Wellbeing:

http://completewellbeing.com/article/the-thin-and-fat-of-it/

A blurb:

A year after pushing out a kicking, screaming seven-pounder from my nether regions, I stepped onto the weighing scale and keeled over in shock. According to the scale, I had put on 20 pounds [10kg] during my days of waddling around with a mammoth belly.

I blurted out the number to my hubby, who cast an eye over my figure and said, ‘Yeah, that sounds about right!’

Please do read and leave a comment if you like. Thanks!

Pining for Pete

*
As the US Open draws to a close, I simply can’t muster any interest in the tournament (with the exception of Bopanna-Qureshi’s run up to the final) because I have yet to get over this man: 

Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras

I discovered him in the sports pages of the newspaper in the summer of ’94. He had won the Australian Open and was heading out to win Wimbledon the second year in a row. This was the pic that appeared in the paper. Who can resist that smile? 

Pete Sampras Wins 1994 Australian Open

Pete Sampras Wins 1994 Australian Open

As the Wimbledon final approached, the sports pages filled with articles about the players and their preferences. At some point, Chang was asked Sampras’ weakness. He replied: ‘Sampras can’t cook.’ What did Sampras cook badly for Chang? Nothing, he said, he just knew he couldn’t cook, because he knew he had ‘someone else’ doing it for him, alluding to his girlfriend. 

This had me extremely agitated. After spending two weeks fervently wishing he would win in any manner possible (including hoping that his opponents dropped to the ground for no apparent reason), I started wishing he would lose. I supported Goran Ivanisevic throughout the first two tense tie-breakers, then gave up halfway through the third set when it became clear that Pistol Pete wasn’t about to relinquish even a single game and was going to steamroll him 6-0. 

I watched with broken heart as Pete strode up to the stands after his brilliant victory and hugged his then girlfriend, Delaina Mulcahy. 

It took me hardly a few days to forgive him for this tremendous faux pas. I guess by that time I had realized it was only natural he would prefer a tanned beauty to a girl who’d just entered her teens and was living a few continents away. 

Copping the flak
Whenever I professed my admiration for him in public circles, one of the main criticisms I had to contend with was the way he played with his tongue hanging out: 

Pete's pose

Don’t look at me. I found even this pose of his adorable. 

The second criticism arose during the 1995 Australian Open match against Jim Courier. Pete’s coach Tim Gullikson was in hospital suffering from a stroke. A member of the audience cried out something like, ‘Do it for Tim, Pete!’, which prompted Pete to do this: 

Pete Crying

Pete Crying

He returned from two sets down to win the match, albeit through a flurry of tears. I supported him through my tears too, and cheered when he won. I watched every match of his during that tournament by getting up at 5 am or some such ridiculous time when it was telecast live. My father mourned my dedication to Pete, and wished I would apply such devotion to my studies instead.

This was just the start of my lifelong infatuation with this great player. I could devote reams of pages to his skills, his temperament and his curly hair. Perhaps I’ll compose a part 2 of this, where I can tell you how his performance in a tournament affected my studies. 

Anyone else out there missing a player out of action and wishing they’d jump back in the fray?

The 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards

On Monday morning as I bustled about the house readying myself to go to office, I caught sight of the Emmy awards airing live on Zee Café. ‘Twas an unexpected treat, so I didn’t succumb to it. I simply picked up my Tata Sky remote, scrolled through the program listing for Zee Café and sure enough, found that it would be repeated, or telecast dead if you prefer, at 8 pm. 

I loved how they kicked things into gear with a Glee-style introduction and then continued in a musical vein throughout. I love Glee, and have become quite addicted to it, but that’s another post for another day. 

I have not been such a keen follower of the Emmys in years before, except for idly glancing at the winners in the paper next day. But thanks to a steady diet of primetime comedy shows like Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory, I was all set to watch this year’s show and cheer on my favourites. 

Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester winning the Best Supporting Actress award for Comedy made me very happy. What makes Glee such a riot, apart from the wonderful performances, is her act as a lethal, brutal, no-nonsense cheerleading coach. That, and Matthew Morrison who is irresistibly cute. He came arm-in-arm with Tina Fey, another comic genius. Her spoofs on Sarah Palin are legend now, I guess. 

My sister and I were pleasantly surprised to watch Jim Parsons (Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory) win Best actor for Comedy series because we were just discussing the other day about why this serial didn’t win awards. She was extremely pleased that I tipped her off about the show as they featured the great GC many times. He even received the Bob Hope Humanitarian* Award for his work in Haiti, which led us to speculate that he is contemplating a career in politics. He peppered his speech with gentle rebukes to celebrities who don’t use their power for social causes (“Don’t look around, you know who you are!”). 

Host Jimmy Fallon’s act at Elton John singing about 24 had me in splits.

Now before the show started, I didn’t remember that it was divided into five categories – Comedy, Variety, Drama, Reality and Movie and Mini-series. So around ten-thirty when the Movie and Mini-series segment kicked in, I switched off the light and went to sleep, satisfied that my favourites had won the day. 

*The word ‘humanitarians’ always reminds me of the PJ: If vegetarians eat vegetables and fruitarians eat fruit, what do humanitarians eat? How do I get this crap joke out of my head?
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