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.

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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.”

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The Coolest Men in Literature

As I’ve already written a post about my favorite fictional women, here’s one about the men. (Books are probably the main reason behind my impossibly high expectations of men.)

  1. Rhett Butler (Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)

He is by far the sexiest man I’ve ever come across in a book. He laughs at Scarlett’s pretentious “feminine wiles” and encourages her to be spontaneous instead.  I love his insolence, charm and his tendency to point out unpleasant truths at the wrong time. What’s not to like?

“Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.”

  1. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee )

He is courage and integrity personified. If I were to have children in the future, Atticus is exactly the kind of parent I’d want to be. He treats his children as equals (even letting them call him ‘Atticus’), respects their space, handles their mischiefs tactfully and leads by example.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

  1. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore (You may have heard of him.)

He is the definition of cool in my dictionary. You’ve got to admire his wisdom, omniscience, quiet confidence and power. I also love his wry sense of humour.

 “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

  1. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

Who can resist the tall, handsome, distinguished, male version of themselves?! I was really annoyed when everyone in the novel mistook his classic symptoms of introversion for arrogance.

 “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

5. Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin)

He is proof that greatness comes in small packages. He may be a dwarf, but he has both brains and Bronn, not to mention kindness, wit and chivalry.

“Let them see that their words can cut you and you’ll never be free of the mockery. If they want to give you a name, take it and  make it your own. Then they can’t hurt you with it anymore.”

6. Captain Frederick Wentworth (Persuasion by Jane Austen)

Ladies, I dare you to to read Persuasion and not swoon (figuratively) at the most beautiful love letter in literature. Even I was floored by it, and that’s really saying something.

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. ”

7. Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

That man was the first crush I ever had, at the age of eleven. Though he was pessimistic and wasted his talents, I loved him for his intelligence and constancy. Naturally, I was left heartbroken by the ending of the novel.

“I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul. In my degradation I have not been so degraded but that the sight of you with your father, and of this home made such a home by you, has stirred old shadows that I thought had died out of me. Since I knew you, I have been troubled by a remorse that I thought would never reproach me again, and have heard whispers from old voices impelling me upward, that I thought were silent for ever. I have had unformed ideas of striving afresh, beginning anew, shaking off sloth and sensuality, and fighting out the abandoned fight. A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down, but I wish you to know that you inspired it.”

8. Amit Chatterji (A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth)

He is one of the three suitors that Lata has to choose from, and my personal favourite. I have a thing for clever, sassy writers, and the character is said to be based on Vikram Seth himself. I love the poem he wrote for Lata (‘A Modest Proposal’). Another poem of his is also intense and full of yearning-

The Fever Bird

The fever bird sang out last night.

I could not sleep, try as I might.

My brain was split, my spirit raw.

I looked into the garden, saw

The shadow of the amaltas

Shake slightly on the moonlit grass

Unseen, the bird cried out its grief,

Its lunacy, without relief:

Three notes repeated closer, higher,

Soaring, then sinking down like fire

Only to breathe the night and soar,

As crazed, as desperate, as before.

I shivered in the midnight heat

And smelt the sweat that soaked my sheet.

  1. Howard Roark (The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand)

Like in the case of Darcy, I identify with Roark’s personality, especially his terseness, detachment and individualism.

“I could die for you. But I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, live for you.”

  1. Sherlock Holmes ( books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

I’ve always been a fan of Sherlock’s famous powers of deduction, but I never considered him sexy till I saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of him on the BBC show. The actor  somehow manages to be coldly indifferent and ridiculously charming at the same time.

 “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Honourable mentions- Gandalf, Edward Rochester, Gilbert Blythe, Mr. Tilney, Mr. Knightley, Teddy Laurence and Konstantin Levin.

NOTE- This list is based on the books I’ve read. If you think there are other fictional men I should read about, please let me know.

The perks of being a bookworm.

Books are not the love of my life. I completely identify with Scout (from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’) when she says, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” So I’m going to try and explore the reasons for my irresistible attraction  towards books in this post. (I sometimes think the feeling is mutual.) Image   Books take me to all kinds of places and different eras. So I’ve  suffered through the American Civil War (Gone with the Wind), visited Paris during the French Revolution (A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel) and even survived the Holocaust (The Diary of a Young Girl). I have explored the lives of people who lived in 18th century England (Jane Austen), Latin America (Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa), Turkey (Orhan Pamuk) and pre- Independence India (Premchand). Above all, my childhood would never have been so wonderful without the magical worlds of J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien. Image   Books let me exercise my over-active imagination. They let me experience life through the eyes of a variety of people coping with different situations in life. I feel so sorry for the people who have the opportunity to live only their own mundane lives and have no other imaginary world to fall back on, if the real world gets boring or miserable. Image   Books taught me a lot of stuff that isn’t taught in schools. Life of Pi taught me that we mustn’t give up on life, even if it sometimes gets really tough and the odds are stacked against us. The Fountainhead made me realize that I must live my life on my own terms and not change myself or blindly follow traditions just to please everyone else. To Kill a Mockingbird taught me about justice and compassion and to do the right thing even if the entire world is against you. A lot of books, the most recent being The Fault in Our Stars, taught me that life isn’t fair and the world isn’t always like a wish- granting factory. Image   They even taught me some stuff that I later learnt in school. I first learnt about Newton’s laws of motion and the conservation of angular momentum in The Story of Mr Sommer. I read about relativity in Einstein: The Life and Times and A Brief History of Time. Studying History was always a piece of cake for me, thanks to historical fiction and biographies.

They helped me grow as a person. The Harry Potter series has been the single biggest influence on my life, as I read the first four books at the age of ten. The Patronus Charm used against Dementors taught me that it’s possible to overcome depression by focusing on happy memories and hopes.The spell used to defeat Boggarts taught me that we can get over our fears by laughing at them. So I wasn’t afraid of sleeping alone in my room with the lights out after watching “horror movies” (I’ve always found them stupid) even as a childLuna Lovegood’s character taught me that it’s cool to be a weird person that other people make fun of. Most importantly, Albus Dumbledore who is the wisest man I’ve ever known, taught me almost everything there is to know about life. To sum it up in a few words- “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Image   They made me realize that I’m not entirely alone. Most of my closest friends are imaginary. This is probably because I hardly ever have anything in common with the people I meet in real life. On the other hand, when I read about fictional characters, I can actually look into their souls and I identify with many of them. The best thing about such imaginary friends is that they never let you down. You can have them at your side at a moment’s notice if you’re bored or lonely or need a bit of advice. Image   To end this piece with a quote by Dumbledore, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”