I have a heart now.

Dear readers, I am no longer a heartless witch. Today, I made myself an origami heart inspired by the one made by the artist Alex Yue on NBC’s Hannibal. Naturally, I made it in honor of my favourite fictional couple- Hannibal Letter and Will Graham. It’s not as good as I hoped it would be, but I guess my origami skills will improve with practice.



Hannibal initially made this heart out of the body of a dead poet and displayed it in a museum, to signify that Will had left him with a broken heart. (He does tend to be a little melodramatic.)

He then made a replica out of paper, like the one I have made. (I had to use paper because I don’t know any poets I’d want to kill.)


If you want to make one for yourself, the instructions are given here.


I’d choose Tolkien over Pullman any day.



I read ‘His Dark Materials’ by Philip Pullman after reading an interview in which he said that his books were a reaction against the religious messages in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’. According to him, Tolkien’s books are ‘trivial’ and ‘infantile’, and fail to answer all the big questions. After reading HDM, I feel that Tolkien answered the big questions much better than Pullman did. (I haven’t read anything by C. S. Lewis.)


Is there a God?

As an atheist, I never found LOTR particularly religious. Eru Iluvatar created Middle Earth with his angels, but he never seems to have a role beyond that. He never interferes with whatever’s happening in the world, much less the actions of individual beings. Nobody worships him and there is no religion for people to fight over. Evil flourishes and good people suffer, like in the real world.


In HDM, there is no real God, but an imposter angel directly controls the world through the evil, dictatorial Magisterium ( the Church). I don’t support organized religion, but I think that if Tolkien divided his characters into good and evil, Pullman did exactly the same. I don’t recall coming across any redeeming qualities in any of the characters who worked for the Magisterium.  We always know exactly which side we should be rooting for.


What happens when we die?

In LOTR, the elves have immortal souls, so they are reincarnated after they go to Valinor.  Men, on the other hand, have the ‘gift of mortality’, which probably means that they cease to exist when they die. In the movie, Gandalf tells Pippin about a paradise that awaits him after death, but I think he was just trying to give Pippin some courage before the battle (because only Eru knows what happens to mortals when they die). In general, everyone who does the right thing in LOTR is following their own conscience, and not hoping to be rewarded with a place in heaven.

In HDM, all the people who die are trapped in a ruined, overcrowded city for eternity, in spite of having obeyed religious authorities in hopes of going to heaven. Terribly depressing, isn’t it? Of course, the protagonists, Lyra and Will, come to set them free, so that the dead souls disintegrate into atoms and become one with the universe. (That was the saving grace of the final book .)


“Tolkien is not interested in the way grown-up, adult human beings interact with each other.”

There are a lot of adults interacting in LOTR, so I think he means the lack of sexual content. Such things were probably not described in mainstream fiction in Tolkien’s time. If anyone wants to read about Aragorn and Arwen ( or for that matter, Frodo and Sam) having sex, I’m sure they’ll find good fanfiction on the internet.

I think Pullman and the Church give too much importance to an obsolete method of producing kids. The Bible made it the origin of all sin, while in HDM, the world is saved by a make out session between two 12- year-olds.


Tolkien had more progressive ideas about gender equality.

The main female character in LOTR is Eowyn ( Arwen was only a footnote in the books), who shows that women have as much spirit and courage as men. She defies everyone ( including Aragorn) to go into battle and ends up saving her uncle from a Nazgul. She stands up to him even after he threatens to torture her and boasts than no living man could kill him.

“But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.”

And Aragorn did not have to save her from an orc in the book.

In LOTR, females don’t have to act like males to be considered strong. The elves don’t even have well-defined gender roles. Galadriel, one of the most powerful beings on Middle Earth, is the essence of feminity, and she’s wise, gifted with foresight and strong enough to resist the temptation of Sauron’s ring.

The main protagonist of HDM is Lyra ( derived from ‘liar’), whose chief talent lies in telling lies. You see, she’s Pullman’s version of Eve. She is independent and resourceful in the first book, but as soon as Will appears in the sequel, Lyra takes a back-seat and starts following his orders like pet dog. Apparently, he’s the only one capable of making intelligent, logical decisions. The LOTR heroines may be too flawless to be human, but why does Lyra have all the stereotypically feminine flaws like dishonesty and impulsiveness?

Mrs. Coulter is powerful only because she uses her sexuality to ensnare and manipulate men. Serafina Pekkala and the other witches may seem powerful but they spend centuries pining over their dead human lovers, and finally die of grief. The only decent female character is the physicist, Mary Malone.


Considering that Pullman was actually trying to write a series to counter the sexist ideas in the Bible, I think he failed to do what Tolkien did more than 50 years ago.

As much as I enjoyed reading ‘Northern Lights’, with it’s daemons and Dust and armoured bears, I will probably not be rereading it again and again, the way I read LOTR.

On what really makes us human.

Imagine a beautiful young woman standing on a beach, alone except for a couple with their baby and a dog, who are a long way off. As she is looking at them, the dog swims far out into the sea. As the mother tries to bring him back, she is swept along by the waves. The father goes to rescue her, but he himself is unable to swim against the strong current. The young woman watches with perfect indifference as the parents drown, and the baby is left alone, crying.

This is a scene from the movie ‘Under the Skin’, and the ‘young woman’, an alien sent to our planet to hunt humans. I think the scene was crafted just to show that she isn’t one of us, as she’s incapable of compassion.

In the movie, the alien chats up her (male) victims, takes them to ‘her place’ and lures them into a black void, where their skins are stripped off.

In the beginning, she seems to consider her job as routine as farming, but after a few victims, she starts to empathize with her victims. The last victim is a man with elephantiasis, who’s never been with a woman before. The alien actually tries to make him better about himself, and after he dies, she can no longer bear to kill anyone.  It was as if her own skin was being stripped off, making her more vulnerable and human.

Another film that explores this theme is ‘Ex- Machina’ , which is about artificial intelligence. Caleb is invited by an inventor, Nathan, to perform the’Turing test’ on his latest AI. The AI is named Ava and has the appearance of a young woman. Caleb is won over by Ava’s looks and personality and even develops feelings for her. Ava seems to reciprocate his feelings and warns him that Nathan can’t be trusted.

But of course, the real test is whether the AI is merely manipulating the human, or actually capable of returning his affection.

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It’s interesting to note that in both these films, the Other is a beautiful female who can take advantage of a male’s weakness for her.  Of course, empathy has traditionally been considered a ‘feminine’ quality, and women are supposed to show it more than men. Hopefully, it’s more mainstream now, thanks to Will Graham on ‘Hannibal’.

A letter to Jon Snow.

Dear Jon,

I was rather pleased to read of your untimely demise in ‘A Dance with Dragons’. Now, rumours suggest that you’ll be resurrected from the dead. The whole fandom seems to be overjoyed at this news. So I’d like to explore the reasons behind your universal popularity.

You are the mediaeval version of Holden Caulfield. When I read the first chapter from your point of view, I thought I’d end up rooting for you. Like Tyrion, I have a soft spot for the underdog. But then you turned out to be increasingly whiny and annoying like the popular protagonist of ‘Catcher in the Rye’. (Personally, I always felt like bitchslapping Holden to shut him up.)

You’re utterly lacking in interests or ambition. You are like a breath of fresh air in  a series full of people who want things desperately. Daenerys wants the Iron Throne, Arya wants revenge, Sansa wants love, Petyr wants power, and so on.  You, on the other hand,  are happy to drift about following orders and giving in to the circumstances. It wasn’t your idea to get into a relationship with Ygritte or become the Commander of the Night’s Watch. Things just seem to happen to you by accident.

You don’t have a personality that overshadows those around you. You are not a fiery idealist like Daenerys, witty like Tyrion, mysterious like Petyr or quietly confident like Tywin. You’re like a shell into which readers can  project their own traits and feelings. Sansa has a similarly bland personality, but thankfully, she’s usually surrounded by interesting characters.

You have a pretty face. There may be people who think that you look like a gormless twit or a fish out of water, but they’re probably just jealous. After all, you’re prettier than all of them (and their daughters).

There are interesting rumours about you. The only thing I find interesting about you is the rumour concerning your parentage. I suppose GRRM couldn’t let you die without finding out who your parents were.

As far as the other rumours go, I’m quite certain that you’re not Azor Ahai, because Daenerys has already fulfilled most of the prophecy. I’d like to see Daenerys turn up in Westeros to laugh at Melisandre’s presumption in claiming that title for you and Stannis.

By the way, the ‘Battle of Hardhome’ was the most painfully boring fight sequence I’ve seen on TV. I hope your new, improved version will be a little less dull, my dear.

Looking forward to your return from the dead,

Cattily yours,

A girl who was bored to tears by your chapters.

Perfume: The story of an evil genius.

“People could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they couldn’t escape scent… He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.”

‘Perfume’, by Patrick Suskind, is a novel about a boy who’s gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell, but lacks a scent of his own, unlike other people.The boy, Jean Baptiste Grenouille, is so obsessed with the idea of creating the world’s best perfume, that he begins to murder young women to extract their fragrance.

In the movie, the descriptions of scents and stenches are replaced by rich visual imagery. Here’s what I found interesting in both the versions.


Nature vs. nurture-  From the moment of his birth, Grenouille is picked up and quickly discarded by all kinds of people, who find him repulsive because of his lack of scent. He grows up without receiving any kind of affection or forming any attachment.
So the real question is this- did the boy become a serial killer because of the way people treated him, or were they justified in treating him that way, because he was born a psychopath?
I think the blame lies with both nature and nurture (or the lack of it, in this case). It’s as G.K. Chesterton said-

“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”

Demonstration: The best way to win an argument- When Grenouille seeks work as an apprentice with a master perfumer, the man laughs at him and says-

“…talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.”

Grenouille simply proceeds to create a wonderful perfume right then and there, proving him wrong. Why waste time on words, when you can prove your point through actions?

Sympathy for the devil- In the book, Grenouille is a pure psychopath who thinks of people as mere vessels carrying scents. He despises people but wants to have power over them.

“Grenouille was fascinated by the process. If ever anything in his life had kindled his enthusiasm- granted, not a visible enthusiasm but a hidden one, an excitement burning with a cold flame-then it was this procedure for using fire, water, steam, and a cunning apparatus to snatch the scented soul from matter. That scented soul, that ethereal oil, was in fact the best thing about matter, the only reason for his interest in it. The rest of the stupid stuff-the blossoms, leaves, rind, fruit, color, beauty, vitality, and all those other useless qualities-were of no concern to him. They were mere husk and ballast, to be disposed of.”

You still can’t help feeling sorry for someone who’s so lonely, hated by everyone because of something he can’t control.In the movie, he’s a much more sympathetic character ( played by the sensitive- looking Ben Whishaw) and appears to have some tender feelings and regret associated with the first girl who died by his hand.

The scent of a woman- Most women in the book (and movie) are shown as victims or objects of desire. But I don’t consider it sexist at all. After all, Grenouille sees all humans essentially as objects, and chooses his victims purely based on their scent. Besides, there’s the character of  Madame Arnulfi, a shrewd and competent woman who runs her own perfume business.

The two acts of passion- I won’t spoil the ending for you, but the last few scenes are quite astonishing. (It must have been incredibly awkward for the actors.) There are two completely different scenarios in which crowds of people are driven by a passion. I’m not sure if the difference was because of the nature of the people involved, or the extent of their passion.

“He would be able to create a scent that was not merely human, but super human, an angel’s scent, so indescribably good and vital that who ever smelt it would be enchanted and with his whole heart would have to love him.”



Life lessons from Dr. Lecter

I’m left heartbroken by the fact that the  TV show ‘Hannibal’ has ended. (And what a gorgeous ending it was! Sheer perfection. )

‘Hannibal’ is oddly life- affirming for a show about a manipulative psychiatrist who’s also a cannibalistic serial killer. Hannibal Lecter is like the old Greek gods; our human standards of right and wrong just don’t apply to him. But  there are some things we can all learn from him.

To thine own self be true.  Dr. Lecter always encourages his patients to follow their natural instincts and embrace their uniqueness. Unfortunately, many of them turn out to be murderers, but that’s not the point.

Empathy is a superpower.  Will Graham uses this power to catch criminals, while Dr. Lecter uses it to connect with (and later control) people. I think the best way to cultivate empathy is by reading lots of fiction.


Always be courteous. The show’s tagline is ‘Eat the rude’. Dr. Lecter only ever eats discourteous people because he considers them to be pigs. Can we all mind our manners as a tribute to him, please?

Don’t be a victim of your circumstances. I think we all have the power to make choices and create our own life. Dr. Lecter says this when someone tries to psychoanalyse him-

“Nothing happened to me. I happened.”

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Live as if you were to die tomorrow. No one does this better than Dr. Lecter. He loves his job, but always finds time  to pursue his hobbies, like going to the opera, sketching, and cooking delicacies out of human meat.

“I’ve always found the idea of death comforting. The thought that my life could end at any moment frees me to fully appreciate the beauty, and art, and horror of everything this world has to offer.”


Love is understanding and acceptance.  ‘Hannibal’ is actually the most beautiful and tragic love story ever shown on TV. The entire show is about Hannibal revealing his true self to Will Graham, craving the friendship of someone who can understand the way he thinks.

Hannibal thinks of himself as a superior being, but he thinks that Will has the potential to be more than an ordinary mortal too.

“No one can be fully aware of another human being unless we love them. By that love, we see potential in our beloved. Through that love, we allow our beloved to see their potential. Expressing that love, our beloved’s potential comes true.”

I could feel his pain and heartbreak when Will betrayed him in the season 2 finale. He said something that anyone who’s extremely introverted ( like me) will immediately identify with-

“I let you know me… see me. I gave you a rare gift, but you didn’t want it.”



I end this post with these lovely lines that Hannibal says to Will, when he realizes that he cannot change him beyond a certain point-

“With all my knowledge and intuition I could never entirely predict you. I can feed the caterpillar, I can whisper through the chrysalis, but what hatches follows its own nature and is beyond me.”

No wonder the ending of season 3 choked me up.

The Power of Fairytales

I remember having my mother read fairytales to me when I was really small. Apart from giving me blissful childhood memories, I think those stories kindled my imagination and made me more open minded about possibilities. My favourites were ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and the stories by Hans Christian Anderson, like ‘The Snow Queen’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ because they were of all kinds- happy, funny or achingly sad.


As much as I love fairytales, I never liked the animated Disney movies. I wonder why anyone would want to watch countless retellings of stale old stories that everyone and their grandmother has known from childhood. (To be fair to them, I did enjoy ‘Brave’ and ‘Up’.)


A couple of years ago, I heard of the Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and his inventive anime movies. They have interesting characters without the silly stereotypes often found in Disney. Since then, I’ve seen some amazing films like ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Princess Mononoke’, ‘Ponyo’ and so on. But if I were asked to pick my favourite fairy tale, it’d be a tie between these two-

Whispers of the Heart

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The perfect coming of age story, it’s about a dreamy bookish girl named Shizuku, who notices that a boy named Seiji has been reading all the books she borrows from the library. As they become friends, Seiji’s ambition to become a violin maker inspires Shizuku to realize her own dream of writing a fairy tale. There’s a beautiful scene where Seiji plays his violin as Shizuku sings these modified lyrics to ‘Country Road.’


If I had seen that movie when I was younger, I might even have taken up literature instead of science.

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This is the story of Sophie, a shy young girl who falls for a vain, self – absorbed wizard named Howl. A jealous witch puts a curse on Sophie, turning her into an old woman. So Sophie runs away from home and takes up a job as the housekeeper in Howl’s castle. She changes the lives of everyone around her with her compassion and even helps Howl find his heart, which he had apparently lost many years ago. (She doesn’t do this by dancing with him in a low- cut gown like Belle in ‘Beauty and the Beast’).  Sophie’s appearance keeps changing throughout the movie; she looks young when she’s excited or angry and old when she’s placid or tired. I simply love the scene where Sophie and Howl first meet, and they walk on air- that’s probably what falling in love feels like.


The story has a beautiful message- that we needn’t fear the inevitable loss of beauty and onset of old age. You are as young and beautiful as you feel.

If you haven’t come across a fairytale that makes your heart sing, it’s not too late to start looking. Remember, fairytales are not just for children.

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