Now being published as a novel. Click the picture to find out more:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Ten Fictional Characters II

Here is the complete list. It is better if you read this in conjunction with Top Ten Fictional Characters I.

5. Alex: The anti-hero of 'A Clockwork Orange' has much going for him at the beginning of the book. He is the leader of his pack of 'droogs' and is happily engaged in various unplanned forms of rapes, vandalism and the general ultra-violence. Referring to himself as 'the humble narrator', he takes the centerstage of the book which itself is divided into three parts of seven chapters each. Incidentally, the number of chapters were intentionally kept at 21 to signal the coming of age. In the first part, you absolutely despise him for the way he treats his parents, his droogs and any human in general. The second part is where the story takes an ever darker turn if that is possible. He volunteers for the Ludivico technique which uses a combination of drugs to induce extreme nausea whenever he as much as even thinks of any kind of crime. Once released after the rehabilitation, in the third part, he runs into every one of the people he had wronged before who exact revenge upon him and he finds himself incapable of defence. Believe it or not, you are conflicted in how you feel about Alex. On one hand, you think that he probably deserves whats coming to him and on the other hand, the inhuman treatment, his defenceless stand and all-powerful morality question makes you feel very sorry for him too. Soon, he finds himself in the middle of a political agenda and somehow maneuvers his way out. His therapy is reversed and he goes back to his old ways. The most important chapter is the last chapter which was omitted in the original US edition because editors wanted the book to be as bleak as possible. In the final chapter, Alex abandons his ultra-violent life and considers finding a job and a family. This was a rather dramatic hint by Anthony Burgess that coming of age and maturity is a natural process and should not be interefered with. The most impressing part about Alex's character is that in the span of just about a hundred pages or so, he moves from a despicable rapist to a victim of inhuman rehabilitation. That and his interests in classical music and Nadsat manner of speaking. Alex comes alive when you watch the movie by the same name. Malcolm Mcdowell Plays Alex brilliantly, just the way you would imagine Alex after reading the book. Anthony Burgess said that the movie was brilliant, so brilliant that it could be dangerous. He wasnt wrong. The movie went on to become a cult hit but it also inspired violent behavior and had to be withdrawn in UK.

4. Voldemort: The Dark Lord and Harry Potter's nemesis is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The most evil wizard ever to walk on earth, appeals to me because of his single-minded passion to be immortal and take over the world. He stops at nothing in his quest for immortality. He kills and kills again and in the process, splits his own soul into so many pieces that he can scarcely be called human any more. He can fly, is the most accomplished legilimens and occlumens. When the concept of Boggart and the Mirror of Erised was introduced to me, I reckoned that to really know any character, you just needed to know that person's greatest fear and the greatest dream. As JK Rowling stated that if Voldemort were to stare in the mirror, he would see himself as immortal and powerful and if he were to run into a Boggart, he would likely see his own corpse. Such combination of simplicity in ambition and yet the flaming drive to achieve them is rare. This character makes so few appearances in the earlier books, that you are starved to know more about him and when you do, you just cant bring yourself to blame him for what he does. Born out of a coerced loveless marriage and raised in an orphanage, he doesnt understand love and sacrifice which made him the greatest wizard ever but ironically which also ultimately leads to his downfall.

3. Captain Jack Sparrow: Just like Voldemort, Captain Jack Sparrow's appeal lies in his unapologetic quest for freedom. Back in 1800s, freedom meant a ship and the ability to go anywhere; an ideal occupation for a pirate. Captain Jack Sparrow is, however, arguably an ethical pirate; the argument lying in the audience' perspective. He compensates for his lesser seaman/ swordsman skills by putting on a facade of being a drunk comedian, inventing/exaggerating his swagger, slurred and albeit accented speech and almost gay demeanor. But any fan would say that he is the only one ahead of the game in the whole trilogy except that one instance when he dies in an unexpected honest streak. A tribute was paid when the lieutenant comments to Beckett - 'Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?' Not trusting his swordsplay, he relies on confounding wordplay, bargaining and misdirecting his opponents. As he explains - 'Why fight when you can negotiate? All one needs is the proper leverage.' He views his state of affairs as being on a chess-board and like a superhuman player, he can see many moves ahead, mobilizes troops and infiltrates his enemies in a climax which is so desirable but yet is so unexpected. He is the master of queen's gambit and all other forms of gambles possible. The entire credit for bringing this character alive and even redefining it goes to Johnny Depp. This character was supposed to be just a supporting cast in the first movie and when Johnny Depp played it as a rock star, it drove the studio bonkers. Michael Eisner actually complained that 'He is ruining the movie.' Of course, what happened is history as this supposedly supporting character took the centerstage and even received an academy award nomination, the first such in a fantasy movie.

2. English, August: The real name is of course Agastya but then again, the real name is really English, August. An urban lad thrust into rural India civil service. Fully occupied with marijuana, masturbation, Geetha and Marcus Aurelius, he somehow finds enough time to make a mockery out of his training. He consummately and contradictorily lies, passionately trivializes and hangs the consequences. He forever chooses to be an outsider as is evident in his observations such as - 'Eventually, he knew, he would marry, perhaps not out of passion, but out of convention, which was probably a safer thing. And then, in either case, in a few months or years they would tire of disagreeing with each other, or what was more or less the same thing, would be inured to each other's odd and perhaps disgusting ways, the way she squeezed the tube of toothpaste and the way he drank from a glass and didn't rinse it, and they would slide into a placid and comfortable unhappiness, and maybe unseeingly watch TV every day, each still a cocoon'. Most important of all, however, is his vague sense of dissatisfaction and in which he represents a generation of Indians influenced by western lifestyle and unsure of their ambitions. His journey, the self discovery, doesnt really culminates into apocalyptic climax but it does ring a familiar bell in everybody's mind, at least anybody who has stopped to think about it.

1. Joker: Although fairly intrigued by Joker throughout the comic series and the TV series, the Joker I am referring to here is Heath Ledger's Joker. I guess, I do suffer from recency effect here but the distinction is important because Joker has had a fairly varied and mutually contradictory history, not to mention various artists' portrayal. Anyhow, Heath Ledger's Joker is a highly intelligent lunatic who is not driven by money or revenge or any other conventional reasons. He commits crimes simply to have fun. He is not just Batman's nemesis, but he represents that fork wherein one became a superhero and one became an eccentric supervillain. Bruce Wayne's compassion turns him into a hero while faced with almost similar circumstances, albeit without the fortune, Joker turns into an insane mass-murderer. What is even more intriguing is that Batman cant kill Joker because that would be an admission of Joker's ultimate triumph while Joker would not kill Batman because he would, well, miss him and all the fun. Heath Ledger is inspired by Malcolm Mcdowell (A Clockwork Orange) in portraying Joker but boy, does he do a job! Ghastly, if I were to describe it in one word. He locked himself alone up in a motel for a month to understand how a loner like Joker would think. Michael Cain said that the performances sometimes turned so frightening that he forgot his own lines. Knowing that he died shortly after, as somebody said, in playing Joker as well as he did, what was he doing to himself? Despite the fact that Joker doesnt really have any superpowers, such is the iconic nature of his character that Trickster remarks in Underworld Unleashed - 'When Super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories.' Why so serious? Lets put a smile on that face!!!

Thursday, December 04, 2008


It felt that it would be overly desolate indulgence to give oneself to irrelevant rants when 183 too many people were massacred in Mumbai over an unarticulated issue. Like many others, I felt vacant too but gifted with a superior bounce-backability, I am back in business (It helped that none of my friends had as much as lost a limb). Yeah, baby!

So, like most others, I commute to work except that I commute from KL to Singapore every Monday and I go back to KL every Friday. In between, I crawl the terminals, stay at a hotel, sport a stubble and wear crumpled clothes. Even though, there are many positives, like having a full-blown regular breakfast for the first time in years or finishing four books in three weeks; you continue to look for those small irritants because you are not settled in. As Upamanyu Chatterjee would say, you are engulfed with a vague sense of dislocation, only literally so in your case. This article is my take on those tiny irritants, the missing little comforts that you otherwise take for granted at home.

Let’s start with necessities first - slippers. I belong to that elite group which feels naked if barefooted. I have to wear slippers whether it is a dirty floor or a carpeted hotel room. For my life, however, I don’t understand why the hotel-provided slippers are so difficult to figure out. The first time, you put on those little white fluffy feathery things, you almost invariably get the feeling that you are wearing them the wrong way. You immediately exchange your feet and feel a little better but the vague unease doesn’t leave you because you are still not sure if you are wearing them properly. You twist them this way and that way to make them match the exquisite shape of your foot but to no avail. Eventually, I was so agitated that I started carrying my own slippers.

Slippers are still not too bad an irritant; besides you can eliminate this bit of uncertainty by packing your own pair. But ‘The Room’, itself, can be so unpredictable. No, it’s not an error. I think these Rooms have lives of their own. Over the past six weeks, I have been put up in different Rooms at the same hotel. You would expect them to be fairly similar but they are not. In the first one, the air was ice-cold even though the thermostat was set for 21 degrees. I had to raise it to 25 degrees before I felt comfortable without a jacket. In the third one, however, I had to reduce the temperature to 18 degrees (minimum allowed) and still sweated buckets. Same was true for the shower. When I set the water to a supposedly warm 25 degrees, I smelt my burnt skin first before I felt the pain, so hot was the water. At another floor, even 33 degrees was not good enough. The differences are so stark that now on each trip, I find myself looking forward to unraveling the mysteries offered by The Room and was disappointed this week when they gave me a Room I had stayed before in.

Well, you try to make the most of what you have eg. since I am a frequent visitor, the hoteliers have been putting me at the top floor which lends itself to a pleasant view of the Singapore skyline. Now, I like coming back to a brightly lit Room with day-light flooding in. First day, I came back, opened the curtains, basked in the dying sun, read a book and slept dreamily. Next morning, I automatically woke up to a very good morning as my Room was filled with reflected natural light. The good mood carried me through the day but when I arrived back at the hotel in the evening, the curtains were…, yes, drawn. Now, they have strategically placed two heavy chairs and an even heavier coffee table right in front of the windows, so it can be quite an exercise for your back to reach out and pull the curtains. Anybody looking in from outside (A pervert with binoculars) would probably think that you are going through some kind of a fit. Anyhow, I pulled them aside and next morning, I left a note by the bed-side:

Please don’t draw the curtains. Thanks!

In the evening, I found that the curtains were, unexpectedly, drawn again. I reckoned that the cleaner probably missed the note and so left the same note next morning at the window sill, only to find the curtains drawn yet again. I second-guessed that either the person could not read English or was having a perverse kind of fun at my expense, probably testing when I exactly give up. I felt sorry for the person because this was likely the only source of fun for him/her. Not wanting to be left behind, I wrote:

If you can read English, you will leave the curtains open.

A familiar darkened Room unwillingly welcomed me in the evening. It was almost like every time I left, it reset itself (Refer the mini-series “The Room”). I reckoned that it was time to give up but not before a last jab and so I wrote:


Sometimes, insomnia leads you to look at The Room with a fresh perspective. One such night, I noticed the green leaf-shaped card lying by the bed-side. It announced:

Save the environment and leave me on top of the bed if you don’t want your bed-sheets to be changed.

Now, I have done nothing in my entire life to combat global warming. Oh yes, my upbringing forces me not to waste electricity etc. but that’s about it. And here was a chance to redeem myself. That night, I dreamt of being awarded the most environmentally conscious guest at the hotel. Next morning, I forgot about it completely. In the evening, the bed was remade with fresh sheets because I didn’t put the little green leaf on top of it. I considered suggesting to the authorities that the default option should be not to change the bed-sheets unless requested for. But I remembered my little experience with the curtains and decided against it. I told myself that I should remember to put the leaf-card on the bed in the morning. I might as well have been smoking dope. Heck, in the mornings, it takes me a few hours before I find myself. How the hell am I supposed to find a tiny whining leaf!!! Anyhow, now I have taken to sleeping with Ms. Leaf. Thankfully, I don’t have a girl friend or she might have accused me of cheating. I wonder what the cleaner person thinks in the morning when he finds the crumpled leaf in my bed. Well, at least, I am still in the running for the most environmentally conscious guest award.