Monday, August 1, 2016

Happy 51st, JKR

I was at hostel in my first year of post-grad in the year 2001, when the Harry Potter craze was doing its rounds. Pirated versions of the first four books were being shoved into my face at traffic signals, by enterprising little urchins, and I usually managed to politely smile them off. I kept hearing these books were for young adults. But I was only just learning the ropes of adulthood, being away from home and on my own for the first time ever. I wasn't going to look at young adult stuff, after having stepped out of architecture school with the Fountainhead on my mind. I was certain, whatever phenomenal success it was, it wasn't for me right now.

Then one day, I wasn't keeping well, and had to spend the entire day in bed. I asked my friend, Monica for something to read. And she lent me Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The rest is, as they say, history. I devoured the book. And when she was back from attending classes, I demanded the rest of the series (up to GoF at that point), and read through the night.

It was not about the fantasy genre. It was not the boarding school genre. It was not the breath-taking scope of her wizarding world, or the epic scale of  7 books. It was alway only about her writing skill.

*COMPELLING* is the word for her writing skills! Even if I could predict where the story was headed, even if I could see gaping plot-holes as I finished the book (the climax of GoF made no sense at all- If Barty Crouch Jr. as Moody, wanted to transport Harry to Voldy using a Portkey, as a professor he could have simply handed Harry *any* object, from a quill to a book; the entire elaborate exercise of leaving everything to chance where any of the 4 Triwizard finalists could have touched the portkey was hugely foolish) and even if I could sense the poor editing in OOTP (the largest tome, which could have easily been 150 pages shorter) that she would later confess to in an interview with BBC.

To call her a very, very gifted story teller, is an understatement.
 I *WANTED* to read what she wrote. Because she wrote everything is such a matter-of-fact way- from politics, to morality, to emotions, to humour. She was talking to her audience. She created characters ( often simply too many of them on the fringes) but every single one of them could be loved, or hated, or despised. But none could ever be ignored or forgotten. Characters like Ginny who were allowed to sparkle and then fizzle out, I wanted her to tell me more. Characters like Luna, who was lovable but honestly speaking, redundant. And Snape, the Weasley twins, Dobby, Peeves, and Fenrir Greyback, Barty Crouch junior, Peter Pettigrew, and Draco. For me, her characters ruled her stories more than her plots.

I suffer from Obsessive CRITICISM disorder, and I hated the epilogue in the end. I wish she would rewrite the last two chapters. At times, after the book series ended and she continued interacting with fans and sharing newer bits of info, I felt like she was dragging around a dead horse. But she knew what she was doing. She loves to write and she wrote. She loves the world she has created and loves sharing it with everyone who would care. And THAT is why I love her. Her flaws make her beautiful.

On the personal front, she has made herself a fabulous modern day icon for all generations and genders: From her rags-to-riches life, to becoming a true badass business woman  who negotiated into being a consultant during the making of the HP movies (writers are usually kept out by the directors), to handling multiple lawsuits, and staying up-to-date with information technology as well as social media to stay in touch with her fanbase, to raising awareness and performing charity, to raising kids and family with privacy. She has done all that and more. In fact, she has proved herself to be a better business-woman than a writer, and I mean that as an ardent admiring fan.

I could write forever about her and her books. But I will simply stop this post with an assortment of famous lines from her books. She remains someone that I will always look up to.*Always*

Happy 51st, Joanne Rowling!


In dreams, we enter a world that’s entirely our own.

Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!

“Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”

’I’m not going to be murdered,’ Harry said out loud.
‘That’s the spirit, dear,’ said his mirror sleepily.”

“Really Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time”

Indeed, your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness.

Curiosity is not a sin… But we should exercise caution with our curiosity… yes, indeed.

If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.


It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.

Thoughts could leave deeper scars than almost anything else.

THE WEASLEY FAMILY had the funniest lines of all. 

"So light a fire!" Harry choked.
"Yes...of course...but there's no wood!" Hermione cried, wringing her hands.

"And what if I wave my wand and nothing happens?" [Harry]
"Throw it away and punch him in the nose," suggested Ron.

Yeah, someone might slip dragon dung in it again, eh, Perce?" said Fred. 
"That was a sample of fertilizer from Norway!" said Percy, going very red in the face. "It was nothing personal!"
"It was," Fred whispered to Harry as they got up from the table. "We sent it."

Who's Kreacher?"
"The house-elf who lives here," said Ron. "Nutter. Never met one like him."
"He is not a nutter," said Hermione.
"His life's ambition is to have his head cut off and stuck up on a plaque like his mother," said Ron. "Is that normal, Hermione?"

Speaking quietly so that no one else would hear, Harry told the other two about Snape's sudden, sinister desire to be a Quidditch referee.
"Don't play," said Hermione at once.
"Say you're ill," said Ron.
"Pretend to break your leg," Hermione suggested.
"Really break your leg," said Ron.

"Oh Professor look! I think I found an unaspected planet! Oooh, which one's that, Professor?"
"It is Uranus, my dear," said Professor Trelawney peering down a the chart.
"Can I have a look at Uranus too, Lavender?" said Ron.

"Mr. Weasley, it's Harry.. the fireplace has been blocked up. You won't be able to get through there."
"Damn!" said Mr. Weasley's voice. "What on earth did they want to block the fireplace for?"
"They've got an electric fire," Harry explained.
"Really?" said Mr. Weasley's voice excitedly. "Eclectic, you say? With a plug? Gracious, I must see that... Let's think...ouch, Ron!"
Ron's voice now joined the others'. 
"What are we doing here? Has something gone wrong?" 
"Oh no, Ron," came Fred's voice, very sarcastically. "No, this is exactly where we want to end up."
"Yeah, we're having the time of our lives here," said George, whose voice sounded muffled, as though he was squashed against the wall.

"Mollywobbles," whispered a mortified Mrs. Weasley into the crack at the edge of the door.

"You'd think people had better things to gossip about," said Ginny as she sat on the common room floor, leaning against Harry's legs and reading the Daily Prophet. "Three Dementor attacks in a week, and all Romilda Vane does is ask me if it's true you've got a Hippogriff tattooed across your chest."
Ron and Hermione both roared with laughter. Harry ignored them.
"What did you tell her?"
"I told her it's a Hungarian Horntail," said Ginny, turning a page of the newspaper idly. "Much more macho."
"Thanks," said Harry, grinning. "And what did you tell her Ron's got?"
"A Pygmy Puff, but I didn't say where."

"There's a boy been in here crying?" asked Harry curiously. "A young boy?"
"Never you mind," said Myrtle, her small, leaky eyes fixed on Ron, who was now definitely grinning. "I promised I wouldn't tell anyone, and I take his secret to the-"
"-not to the grave, surely?" snorted Ron. "The sewers maybe...

Ron, you know full well Harry and I were brought up by Muggles!” said Hermione. “We didn’t hear stories like that when we were little, we heard ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Cinderella’—“
“What’s that, an illness?” asked Ron. 

"What are you doing with all those books anyway?" Ron asked. 
"Just trying to decide which ones to take with us," said Hermione. When we're looking for the Horcruxes."
"Oh, of course," said Ron, clapping a hand to his forehead. "I forgot we'll be hunting down Voldemort in a mobile library." 

"Oh, very good," interrupted Snape, his lip curling. "Yes, it is easy to see that nearly six years of magical education have not been wasted on you, Potter. 'Ghosts are transparent.'"

Professor Dumbledore - yesterday, when I was having my Divination exam, Professor Trelawney went very - very strange."
"Indeed?" said Dumbledore. "Er - stranger than usual, you mean?"
An unexpected benefit of having read her books, is that I jumped right back into the fantasy genre that I so loved as a child through Enid Blyton's books, as well as Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia (which I saw as a BBC series before actually reading them), and the Wizard of Oz. The direct consequence of which is that I discovered Sir Terry Pratchett when he took a swipe at her in 2005I was her furiously fanatic fan back then, and I had to look up this man who dared say something against her. It is an altogether different story that I fell in love with him once I read his books, for his sheer prolificacy, his excellent cross-referencing of political matters, history and world culture, and of course his obscure and wild sense of humour. I also discovered through her Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus (I can *never* spell that right in one attempt) Trilogy , Phillip Pullman and Susanna Clarke, and Cornelia Funke

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


So this post began in March 2016 with the usual Women's Day deluge of messages. Sincere, inspiring, witty, challenging all sorts.

And then I came across this link. 

A group of fanatics (marketing guys for a hygiene company called BodyForm) somewhere in the world came up with the idea of 'emojis' depicting the experiences of a woman undergoing her periods. And they started an online petition for it Really, now! I didn't know you needed petitions to get designs approved on social platforms!

Clearly the originator of the idea had to be clueless. Because, besides all the obvious pinkness that you see in the Femojis, it is an established fact that even women over all these eons of evolution haven't yet been able to segregate, quantify, classify and label the entire range of emotions that emerge during this.... errr... period. Let alone design for them. I've been born fortunately numb enough to not experience too many. But I completely sympathise with those who have to endure the emotions. And those on whom these emotions are inflicted. The situation is not pretty. In more ways than one. Then there is always the counter argument, about 'emojis' for men's problems down under.

But this post is not about periods or women's day or feminism. I can talk about those issues on any day. March 8 means nothing to me. Except some discounts. Surprisingly, none of the book stores seem to have discounts. And I know, for certain, more women claim to be readers than men!

And as you figured out going by the sour tone of the first few lines. This is a rant. A long, irate, incensed one. One that is about simple things in life like design, emotions, and social jingoism. One that stayed as a draft for many months.

Cut to 18th July 2016
World Emoji Day! Yes! I found that out yesterday. Don't believe me? Here! See this!

And so I am lamenting the lost art of pixel perfection and the sweet simplicity of designing emoticons that make you feel the emotion.

I cringe at the word 'emoji'. I don't know why. Age, perhaps? I am old enough on the World Wide Web, to have used Yahoo! Messenger as my primary mode of communication for an extended period (pun unintended) of time. But then, I would like to believe that smileys have been around since the times of cave paintings, when we communicated with fewer words. Ah! The cycle of life! We're going back to our primal instincts

My earliest memories of the Smiley are those of a free badge that received from somewhere and had pinned to my college bag. It did not seem like such a big deal then. Just a nice, cheery trinket to possess.

Later, I realised that this simple little doodle kept recurring in pop culture, across media.

(You can read about its origins in this article by the Smithsonian Mag:

I really started loving this little piece of design quirkiness when I started using Yahoo! messenger. With limited number of pixels to work with, the designers of these emoticons came up with a mind boggling array of expressions.

Why did I love them so much? Because:
  • They were silly 
  • They were cute   
  • They were varied 
  • They were brilliantly consistent works of design 
  • They were animated without being annoying(We're talking of the turn of the century here, when anything animated was a jerky Flash video or a horrid blinking banner) 
  • You had keyboard shortcuts. Well-thought out, and fun to learn for those who loved them! Do you realise how annoying it can be to tab through and scroll through scores of emojis before finding the one you wanted to use? Isn't it simpler to just type it, after a few days of practice?)
  • They were called emoticons. Which made perfect sense in English, because that was my primary language of communication. Emoji simply doesn't make sense, even if I try to retrofit the term into the venerable 'Ji' suffix regularly used in many parts of India.
I mean look at these! How can you not love them?
Pardon me, but I will now go to demonstrate with emoticons just how sorely I miss simplicity and minimalism from pixel perfectionism. we have moved to pixel pollution in design.

Let us do a bit of comparison (I am aware that they render differently on different apps, OSes and devices. Why they are allowed to get 'lost in translation' still eludes me):

Take for instance, the cheesy GRIN.
Smiley is in a good mood Whatsapp - U+1F600

Please tell me which of the two above packs more attitude? More 'swag'? Just looks at proportion of the teeth to the rest of the face. A grin is defined by teeth. If your idea was to appear 'cool' when using emojis, you might actually use the Yahoo! one, had you the option.

The Whatapps emojis have been inspired by the Apple emoji set. Apple sets the benchmark for anything it designs. Or so we would like to believe.

But what the hell are these?!

Are they kisses? Pouts? Whistles? When do I use which?
Isn't this animated Yahoo! 'kissie' cooler? hotter? cuter?

This infographic from Android hunk perhaps might help clueless folks like me

Now we come to the bit where we want to make emojis socially relevant. Like the Femojis mentioned at the beginning of this post. It is a noble thought. It is fair-minded. Or maybe not. Just as I was catching my breath after ranting at Fair and Lovely's shade card, Whatsapp had to launch these. Wait! My skin tone doesn't match any of these! I am offended. Deeply. Those yellow smileys for all these years. How dare they think that all of us are emotional Chinkies? Just how dare they?

The sad part is that somewhere between all the political correctness brigades and the mad obsession over the highest resolution of screens, the simplest and most essential parts of design are getting lost.

Evoking a gender/race/religion/nation agnostic response to a neatly thought out 'humane' piece of design that invites the viewer to come forth and 'use' it. That is what the original yellow smiley did. The smiley for me has now become the 'saddy', and the 'WTFy' :(


p.s. The old Yahoo!Messenger which introduced all these smileys is soon destined to go extinct. But that deserves a post of its own.

p.p.s Since I began this post on Women's Day: Here is an example of effective yet simple icons

Of course,there was no need for the blue T-shirt. In addition to making the woman look 'bottom-less', it is also worth noting that the red cape is iconic in its own right and didn't need a blue Tee at all to get the meaning across. But overall, I like the subversive cleverness of this one, despite my design OCD (Obsessive Criticism Disorder)

Monday, May 9, 2016

War of the Super Heroes, Kung Fu Panda and the love of comics in general

Okay. Here is the head to head of the head to head of superheroes.

Superman versus Batman
Capt America versus Iron Man (Civil War)
The title says it all, and that’s what the movie is about
The title doesn’t say it all, and I was hoping for something more involving the general public.
Alpha male, testosterone driven  bashing and blasting over civilian sentiments.
Of course, whoever said the pen was mightier than the sword, was not a male superhero.
Alpha male, testosterone driven  bashing and blasting over civilian sentiments.
Of course, whoever said the pen was mightier than the sword, was not a male superhero.
Introduces a huge main character in a major battle sequence who will star in her own movie soon: Wonder Woman. But what a sorry little introduction that was. Enigmatic, and even in the war, no introduction to her powers for the newbies
Introduces a huge main character in a major battle sequence who will be star in his own movie soon: Spiderman. And yes, we get a neat, compact introduction to Peter and Spidey both! The geeky little genius kid, who tries his best to impress Mr. Stark, and the web-swinging, wise-cracking rookie super hero, who talks more than he fights. An impressive little shot, where he holds back The Winter Soldier arm displaying a show of strength that is very likely to be missed, but is not. Well-played marvel
Batman goes *He killed my parents*… But I will save Martha this time.
Bash. Bash. Bash.
Iron Man goes *He killed my parents*
Bash. Bash. Bash. Bash.
The perfunctory romance angle: Clark Kent gets into the bath tub with Lois Lane, while dropping his glasses on the floor. Made me wonder if this was someone’s idea of the feminist equivalent of  the clichéd dropping of the bra on the floor. Nice. women do like looking into the eyes of the person they make love to. 
Iron Man and Pepper Potts are ‘taking a break’, Captain America shares a kiss with Sharon Carter (nooooo… I am finding this ethically perverted and amoral. Call me old-fashioned. But not Sharon! Come on, there are so many other women). The Vision and the Scarlet Witch are developing feelings for each other. And Hulk gets a fleeting mention in reference to the Black Widow.
There is a common enemy, rather invincible looking enemy that brings them together
The very human enemy uses mind games and breaks them from within. And of course, they
Primary fight sequence between Superman and Batman, Batty (the essentially human) actually manages to overpower Supey.
Primary fight sequence between Iron Man and Captain America, both are essentially human, and rather nicely matched. Both are assisted by a bit of technology and ‘intelligent’ allies: Friday for Ironman and Bucky for Cap. Love it how Friday analyses Cap’s fight patterns and plans counter moves. Love it also, how nicely Bucky and Cap toss the shield in tandem between each other. The bromance is still alive.
Plenty of additional superheroes get little teaser cameos, but nothing concrete showcasing their abilities.
The additional superheroes engage in battle, and go all out to display their prowess. Ant-man becomes ‘Giant-man’ as Vi declared and Spidey is oscillating across the screen to glory.


My fascination with super heroes began with the weekly Vetal (Phantom) comic panels in the weekly, Lokaprabha Marathi magazine.
Of course, back then, super hero comic books were hard to find. Fortunately for me, my older cousin Gautam, had a huge stash, and I would borrow from him. He is an artistically talented guy, this cousin of mine. He tended to make up his own little doodles which were extensions to the super-heroes on the sides of his pages engaged in mini-battles that he imagined. I still regret he didn't take up his hobby seriously.

He-man and spiderman on DD Metro only added fuel to fire, and AH Wheeler on the railway platforms found a regular comics buyer in my during the college days. It was impossiible to obtain any of the comics in sequence back then. And I was often left puzzled with the alternate timelines and if, or how  they were interlinked. 

The new set of movies, now appears to be bringing together and cleaning up a lot of the plotlines, making it more coherent for people like me.

After Batty-versus-Supey, we watched Kung Fu Panda-3. Sadly, the KFP franchise refuses to evolve. I wasn't particularly impressed with KFP-1 to begin with, but it had potential. 2 sequels later, Po is still 'fiding himself' and I am now sorely disappointed. Compare this, with the Ice Age movies. Every single one is brilliant. Okay, so maybe The Continental Drift was *slighty* on the mushier side, but overall, they've managed to utilise the geological phases very cleverly to create just the right amount of adventure and the assorted personalities of their quirky characters do not allow the story to become boring and predictable. And another thing that people rarely notice, is that spectacular attention to detail in the background and landscape detailing of the Ice Age. Someone has put in a lot of love and research into it. Slightly more love than research! :)