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Olfactory Obsessions

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This is the first time, nay the only time I didn’t have to agonise over what to title my piece, which is indeed an achievement for a person who spends a considerable amount of time over titles for even academic papers. But this time the title emerged from my mind fully formed, just like Athena from Zeus’s head.

So what is that about the olfactory sense that I obsess over? Is it the fact that I have a sensitive nose that triggers nausea at any sweet strong smells? Men and women who walk in a cloud of perfume and deodorant are the bane of my life thanks to this. But no, I am not chronicling the lists of fragrances that nauseate me. This is more about those scents that hit the chord of nostalgia in my mind.

I had been mulling over this post for a while when I came across the Awkward Yeti cartoon that I have featured here, it perfectly captured the essence of what I wanted to convey, the special relation between our sense of smell and our memories. Material sentimentality is something frowned upon in my household because there is no space for sentimental knick knacks when you have to move houses and locations every two years; as a result I have collected an incorporeal box of keepsakes in my head.

These keepsakes include songs that trigger memories of people, places and times in my life and more importantly smells and fragrances that lead me straight to particular memories. The easiest smells for me to remember are the fragrances that people around me wear, certain perfumes that my mother wore only to parties that take me back to my those days when I watched my mother get ready for parties, perfecting her make-up and coiffure. My association of smells to people is so strong that I get seriously disconcerted when I smell the same perfumes that I or my loved ones wear on other people, of course it is irrational to expect that these scents are exclusive to me and mine, but what can I say it is what is it.

My close friend is a connoisseur of cologne’s, she always notices if a person within sniffing distance is wearing a good cologne and often associates them with certain men in her life. Most of you will agree with me on the fact that how a man you’re attracted to smells is something that doesn’t fade from your memory easily. There was one such moment in the recent past where one such man wore a fragrance disturbingly similar to what my father wore, a scent that I loved because thanks to my nauseous tendencies my father always takes my sniffed approval for body spray or perfume for himself. But associating a similar smell to a guy I found interesting? Stuff of nightmares, but to my utter relief I did find differences between the two scents that convinced me to stop feeling uncomfortable about it.

Turn back the time machine to a few years ago, to my first and last official college crush that lasted well, half my college life and maybe more, that sounds more pathetic once it’s written down. This boy-man wore a particular scent that reminded me of a subtle spicy version of the desi gulab i.e. the Indian rose. But the plot twist is that none of my friends who have been around him have ever smelled the same, not even my cologne connoisseur friend! It was even suggested that I was having olfactory hallucinations; do they even have an official name for this? Must Google it, also I love how Google has become a verb since the noun has become so popular, but I digress.

Coming back to this phenomenon known as Phantosmia, meaning phantom smells which I generally experience with respect to food. I know I am really craving something when I start smelling the aroma in the air without this food item being anywhere around, like the smell of cheese omelets in the middle of an exhaust smoke full road, or the smell of pav bhaji when I was fed up of hostel food. So when I crave for certain foods strongly enough, my brain pulls these memories out and starts playing them for me, sweet isn’t it.

It is not just mine, but all our brains are a repository of all the smells that we ever experienced and that made a mark on us, remember all those Facebook posters about petrichor, the smell of rain on dry soil? That never really did anything for me, rain is not something I like so things reminding me of impending monsoons are memories I want to revisit.

On the other hand the smell of wood smoke, accompanies by a slight nip in the air that marks the beginning of winter holds a special place in my memories. For this smell reminds of the festive season that replaces Autumn in India, Dussehra, Diwali and all the colour, beauty and simple happiness that accompanies it. Fast forward a few months to late February- early March, the Indian spring is pretty much done and so is Maha Shivratri, the mark of winter ending, this time the smell is of dusty gardens and roads along with the prickle of sweat the beads my neck as even the evening sun makes the environs considerably warm. You will ask what is so memorable about the hellish heat that Indian Summers bring; it’s not the season of summer that is so appealing, but all the interesting times of my childhood that it reminds me of.

Summer season meant a new school session, new school books to read with fascination, the possibility of new friends being posted in and of course Summer vacations. Roughly two months of uninterrupted naps, reading and occasional games of teacher-teacher and other immersions into the world of make believe. If we were to play the word association game in smells, summer would also remind me of my brief visits to the swimming pool and the accompanying smell of chlorine, you all remember it don’t you? Did it make you smile? Swimming pool memories must make most of us smile, unless there were some traumas like near drownings or bullying attached to them. Negative memories attached to smell aren’t as rare as we would like, who can forget the smell of spirit from hospitals, or the smell of your teeth being ground down by the drill at the dentist’s, not something I would like to remember but these associations are also retained by the brain, such is life.

But the point is that smell is one of the all-important five (or six if you ask some) senses of the human body that tell us more about the world around us. Inferior beings that we are, our sense of smell is not of practical use as that of our canine friends (unless you are a perfumer or a winemaker) but it’s not completely without it’s uses, it does give us the gift of relieving some memories that could possibly bring a smile to our face and elevate our spirits. Candle makers have started making scented candles with all sorts of interesting scents like those associated with the Harry Potter fandom, which in itself values scents greatly due to the existence of the notorious love potion “Amortentia” which smells different to each person depending on what attracts them. If it were up to me, I would make capture all my memories in vials but instead of silvery memories directly visible in a Pensieve, they would be swirling scents that would take me back to moments from the years passed.

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Of Wants and Wishes

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Why is that I feel like writing only when I have lengthy papers pending or the sword of exams hanging over my head? Or maybe it’s just the after effects of reading a favourite book.
So this book is something I have written about previously, and no I shall not go into a litany of praises for it, all I shall say is that it has sent me into a dreamy state where I randomly grin and chuckle while putting my cynicism and worries aside.
And no this post is not even about my tendency to be what my friend termed as a hapless romantic.
Anyone who knows me enough to know my eccentricities knows that I dream of writing a full length novel, most probably a fantasy or a romance, probably a combination of both. I am just biding my time till that one brilliant idea strikes my cluttered brain.
I often brainstorm ideas regarding the above (I apologise, legal drafting has permanently damaged my writing and I know not what to do about it) and these ideas range from stories that took birth in my subconscious mind during dreams to notable moments from my friends lives. But what will that incredible inspiration be that will make my lazy self churn out pages rather than ideas that can’t be copyrighted?
As I read one of my favourite Indian authors today, I came to the realisation that while I don’t know what I will write about, but what I do know is that how I want it to make my readers feel.
I want my readers to experience the fascination that Enid Blyton’s fairy tales filled me with, the complete absorption into the a world like the one woven by J.K. Rowling and the feeling of being gloomy in rainy Yorkshire before discovering a secret garden.
I don’t want to write an epic romance, au contraire I want it to be an everyday one. What I will strive to do is fill pages with the feeling of familiarity which makes the reader feel, “Hey, I know THAT!”, something that makes the heroine seem a little like you and me, the hero like that boy who was the star of our lovelorn dreams. The romantic interludes need not be in expensive restaurants, elaborate gardens or fancy mansions but in everyday places like doorways, elevators and stairwells.
No matter what I write, I hope to make it bring a smile to my readers face, a chuckle on their lips and tearful trembly chins when the time calls for it.
I realise that there is a reiteration of a lot of “wants”, “hopes” and “dreams” in this post, it seems my parents were clairvoyant and foresaw my cynical yet dreamy and wishful disposition.
Kyonki iss lekhika ki akanksha  bas itni hai ki she can transport her readers into a shared dreamscape that fascinates them like it did her.

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The Cynical Dreamer

Image Last night I sat watching the romance drama film “Mohabbatein”, I agree that it is embarrassingly illogical and dramatic, but well, a case analysis of case law in special contracts sucks the life out of you and extreme measures like viewing non-intellectual films is the only recourse. I had mainly three observations which I would like to proceed to enumerate. Alas, the language of my case analysis assignment is leaking into my leisurely late night writing too. But my first two observations on the movie are from the point of view of the somewhat mature, logical law student. If you are bored by now, wait for three seconds and read the next line, if you have absolutely zilch interest in a young girl’s comparison of her view of the world as a child and as a young woman, then please do close the tab, I shall not be wounded by your rejection I assure you.

The biggest flaw that leapt out of the movie, that had caught my attention once before was the character of Preeti Jhangiani, Mrs Kiran Khanna, who is the 19 year old widow of a retired Major General’s Pilot son , who was pronounced missing in action 2 years ago. I used to wonder that at what age did she get married in the movie and today when I patiently watched the entire film, my question was answered; she was brought into her marital home at the age of 17. I can’t fathom how the script writer thought that it was acceptable and okay to portray an underage, minor bride in the year 2000, the millennium, that tpo in the family of highly educated people as shown in the movie? The law student in me itches to point out the illegality of it all, my sociology major roommate might even point out that how it re-enforces the message that underage marriages are okay and there is nothing wrong with them. But I guess the audience was not expected to give such deep thought to details of this nature.

Another fact that irks me a little is one that is central to the plot of the film, i.e. Aishwarya Rai’s character Megha committing suicide because the man she loves has been kicked out of college and sent away to a place she knows not where. While I do not dis-respect people who have the misfortune of taking their lives and highly scorn people who call them weak, I really don’t think the movie should be glorifying her “death for love” and using it as a tool to teach her father, the strict Headmaster of the college the importance of love, art etc. etc. I mean let me get this straight, suicide is not a nice thing; it should be avoided at all costs right? A greater part of the population frowns upon the “Twilight” series and its second book, where the heroine Bella becomes first catatonic and later an adrenalin junkie because her boyfriend broke off their relationship, everyone agreed that a man’s love or for the matter of fact even a women’s love or the lack thereof should not make the other person lose interest in life. There are myriad of things and emotions that add quality to life, romantic love is not the only validating factor, after all who knows if one love is lost another might come your way. My questioning of the movie is on the exact same lines that the message that if romantic love is lost then life is irreparably damaged and listless is not one we want to send to people. Of course Shahrukh Khan’s character Raj Aryan is more gutsy and admirable, as after his girlfriend kills himself and his professional prospects are bleak, he still manages to make something of his life and even spread love, music and joy among his students. The feminist in me wonders if the portrayal of the female as the one who could not bear the separation was deliberate and purposeful, but then I am probably micro-analysing it and the sole purpose of the girl to kill herself was to give the hard-hearted headmaster some heart-ache.

These two observations are my opinion and everyone is free to differ, I might even agree and concede to them if they can be convincing enough. But these thoughts were what came to me at the last, my first and foremost thought was on a more whimsical note.

This movie released when I was barely 5 years old, in Upper KG, having the time of my life. I grew up on YRF romances and till date enjoy them from time to time. Slowly I began understanding Hollywood romances, albeit the censored versions on TV. Then finally at the appropriate age [don’t worry my mother was aware] I graduated to the mainstream fodder for romantic souls, Mills and Boons and Harlequin romance novels varying from fantasy, historical to mystery. Books were always a joy to me and when I discovered them to have romantic themes; I predictably got interested in them. I am now realistic and cynical enough to know that relationships are not all flowers and dates, they are painful and difficult. Observing the individuals around me I know that people one could fall in love with are not without faults, and we ourselves are ridden we faults big and small, lack of common interests or even time are the undoing of relationships. But at 5 I had more rose tinted view of the concept, the TV was full of movies that showed how people fell in love in college, like in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, or High School students with exciting love and social lives as in Hip Hip Hurrah. Years later as teen I have to still absorb all these fictional stories about American schools and colleges where apparently all students care about it is love, or better yet lust. Now of course I am aware that this isn’t so.

Having finished schooling without seeing any remarkable romances around me I am pretty sure they aren’t all that common. But as a young child between the ages of 5-10 I used to wonder if my later years of schooling would be that glamorous, after all if Gabriella Montez the nerd in High School Musical could have an epic romance why not me? But as it so happened that neither the environment nor the people around me in High School were conducive for an epic romance. The little girl I was had even seen romances based in college, like in this movie, a boys college, a close by girls one. Or other movies like Pyaar mein Kabhi Kabhi where Dino Morea is the lover boy, and finds his girl in college and they too playfully fall in love. But hello! I am through a year and a half of college and nothing like this is happening to me, it might be happening around me though so the 5 year old version of me isn’t as disappointed as she was in High School.

They say romance in fiction makes people unrealistic and makes their relationships unsuccessful, but it makes me all the more cynical as I am sure that these are just stories and highly unlikely to happen. I know that college romances often don’t last, I know that there are many more things to concentrate on like the future and friendships, and I also know that I am not just small fish, but phytoplankton in the big pond, nay the sea that my college is. So I don’t keep my hopes up, after all there still are movies and books where love is found by adults in their 20s! I still have hope, on a philosophical note, right now my motto is “Don’t search for love, it will find you if it has to.” But of course my motto will definitely change when in a decade or so societal pressures, the ticking biological clock or my own romantic nature when compel me to actively search for it.

Romantic movies like Mohabbatein or new ones like “Shudh Desi Romance” [I just can’t hide the fact that I am looking forward to it!] are a heart shaped lantern in this dark world where women and children are raped every few minutes somewhere in the country. They prove that somewhere someone has pleasant thoughts in their head and put an indulgent or wistful or even an annoyed smile on someone’s face. But till then realistic as well as whimsical fiction that is indulged in between lengthy essays and case analysis will keep my satisfied and sane. By whimsical I do not mean of the nature of Wizards, Werewolves or Vampires, I mean those stories of love-at-first-sight, uncontrollable passion and beaus who are perfect for each other without and character flaws. So I have rambled on about how differently the logical and romantic sides of me perceive the same thing, I guess the psychologist was right about this one, my Left and Right side of the brain are indeed balanced, and this regularly causes problems in decision making. So off I go to make another decision hinged on fact and fantasy…

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Homesick!!!

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Now whoever is from the place that has been home to me for the past 5 years will recognise the above photo with ease as a part of their daily life and travel. As I stay up listening to music on the internet, I had sudden urge to listen to Kannada songs, now I confess I don’t know many, just a few that I heard on the radio in 10th grade (a very interesting part of my education). In fact I haven’t paid much attention to Kannada songs after that year ended. But the purpose of the last sentence was to say that, I ended up looking up these songs on Youtube, had a difficult time as I could barely spell the names…but in the end it was worth it. Beautiful songs that were a culmination of feeling homesick for quite some time. I knew I was homesick…not mum-sick…but proper home-sick, I even got sentimental seeing pictures of my school. When on the way to college while I listened to the radio, the jingle of 94.3 Radio One started playing, instead of the hindi lyrics that play up here, I found myself mentally singing along with the Kannada lyrics. I still do not remember what is the hindi version, but I most definitely know that the Kannada one goes along the lines of…Namma station nalli navu, haku hadu, baby super nodu…[forgive me for any blunders in the roman script spellings] thus cementing my opinion that I indeed am homesick. I miss the crazy windy days when a tiny person like me can get blown away, when sweaters come out in the middle of the summer and the rains create mini lakes everywhere. I was particularly missing my room in my grandpa’s house, where the large windows air-condition the room too a frosty temperature, the same windows where I used to sit and hum when I couldn’t fall asleep, too bad my hostel room window doesn’t bring any breeze in. Now that I have moved away, I regret not having learned the language spoken, every time my Kannadiga friends in college talk to each other in their mother-tongue, I get further home-sick and wish I had learnt the language so I could identify with the place a little more. I was never that attached to the city as I never saw much of it, but I guess you can’t not be attached to a place in which you cross the threshold of adolescence and live for almost half a decade. Take my advice and appreciate which ever place you live in, trust me, it could be worse and I have seen places worse than my home and my current place of residence.
So I am going to continue being homesick, plan to badger my friend from college for Mysore Pak and listen to songs I do not understand and heave wistful sighs, remembering my school days, when assignments were few, sleep was plentiful and food in my lunch box tasted good…

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Not just a Pricey book!

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As the exam fever rises, so grows my so called creative streak wider, prompting me to write this book review of the book I just recently read and greatly adore! So here it goes…my inconsequential opinion on the latest addition to the chick-lit bookshelves- Those Pricey Thakur Girls by Anuja Chauhan. I can practically hear my friends who have read the book shout with glee and the ones, who haven’t, groan in unison as I have been bombing them with spoilers since the night I finished this book. But I shall promise to keep spoilers to a minimum as my friends might bludgeon me to death with my own law books!

This book is shorter than Chauhan’s earlier ones, [and more expensive!] a mere 400 pages to Zoya Factor’s 500, but definitely faster moving than 450 in Battle for Bittora. Those Pricey… is about Debjani alias Dabbu Thakur, the 4th daughter out of 5 alphabetically named daughters of a retired Judge, she lives in a posh locality, is a champion of the feared wild dogs and cats of the colony and has aspirations to overcome her clumsiness and shyness and step out of her eldest sister, the posh Anjani’s shadow, escape the dramatic criticisms of Binodini and is supported it in this scheme by her youngest sister Eshwari. Well it won’t be an Anuja Chauhan book if it did not have a hunky male protagonist would it? Enter Dylan Singh Shekhawat, son of Brigadiar Shekhawat of the proud 14 Rajputana Rifles and Juliet Lobo, a Mangalorean catholic lass who dared to elope with a Rajput officer. Dylan has the best of the both worlds, the Rajput courage [I do not claim authorship of this stereotype!], the southern brains [stereotype x2] and sensitivity that his Maama inculcated in all her 3 sons.

The book is set roughly in the 80s and is not just a love story, it is about family and the trials they put you through, it is about taking the risk of standing up for the truth, of not letting pride come in the way of happiness. I would call this book my favourite out of all the three books by Chauhan, it will make you chuckle at odd times [so make sure no one is sleeping near you] but not send you into guffaws like the previous two. On the other hand, it deals with a topic which is at odds with the cheery goody-goody note of a romantic novel, where Zoya Factor dealt with India’s obsession with Cricket, Battle for Bittora dealt with electoral politics and the corruption in it, Those Pricey…takes on a further serious topic which I shall not reveal to you…but this does not take away from the book its humour, sweet moments and over all charm. Characters like the dramatic Chachiji who laments about her husband and curses people with termite biting their derriere, a cousin who would rather open a gym than study law, twin nephew and nieces named Monu and Bonu and a mother who tries to keep everyone happy without being walked on remind us of all our families and distant relations as every average Indian family have either one or all of the above!

The female protagonist Dabbu is like most women a little low on self-esteem but high on dreams. She is not quick to judge nor is she coy and afraid to abuse and does not live just to have a love story. She is a woman who tries to rise above her weaknesses as a human and try to keep peace in her family full of oddballs. Don’t ask me how I got so much seriousness out of a chick-lit novel, I just did!

Moving on to dear Dylan, out of all the male protagonists Chauhan created, he is the most described. Nikhil Khoda and Zain Altaf Khan had an air of mystery around them and there wasn’t much to clue the reader about whom they were as people, at least to me. But Dylan is shown as a multi-faceted man who might run from commitment like most men, but still retains his sensitivity, he loves his mother and family but is most definitely NOT a maama’s boy. He makes the mistake of trusting the wrong people in his zeal for his work but he also knows how to love and forgive slights to his ego. He is not the traditional macho man, but someone who would also appeal to a sapiosexual person!

I seem to have developed a soft spot for the book as like Dylan I too am a product of crazy genetics, as my friend calls me, a state Hybrid. I am second generation mixed-marriage progeny and tend to imagine my Grandad and Grandmom on my mum’s side in the position on the Brigadier and his wife, of course there is some tweaking with regards to who is from where in my family’s story, but none-the-less I see the similarities. Dylan and his brother’s find their relatives on both the sides a little strange from their little family, the southerners have preconceived notions about the northerners and the Hindus actually believe the stereotypes perpetuated by Bollywood movies like Julie about Christians. These are things I can attest to.

The book best described in one word is REAL. Maybe not to so much my generation but definitely to our parents’, Campa Cola, warm summer nights spent on terraces with the family, DD being the only TV channel aired. Ask your parents will definitely agree nostalgically to them.

If you want to “ooh!” and “aah!” about a hot guy and make dreamy eyes while reading a book, then get your copy of Those Pricey Thakur Girls as soon as you can! But kindly don’t bring your brain along for the ride as this is no mindless mushy romantic novel, if you don’t understand Hinglish, keep a friend who does handy and lastly get ready to finish the book in one sitting for you will not be able to put it down!

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Of Hearts and Bones

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She serenely sat on the swing under the flowering mango tree, looking at all the faces surrounding her. Happy faces, tired faces, envious faces, glad faces. The aromas of early spring wafted up to her, the sun kissing her skin, not sharp enough yet to warrant the use of an umbrella. To a ninety-three year old woman a wedding celebration was nothing new, many such occasions had come and gone in her life, but this one was different. It was not because the bride was her forty-three year old grand-daughter or because it was happening after overcoming the great difficulties of unavailability of venues. This wedding was special because someone had an important goal to reach it. She had reached the wedding, a feat she hadn’t been sure she would ever accomplish; not because society thought that her erstwhile spinster grandchild would never get married, nor because she thought that she wouldn’t be around in the world in this day and age. No sir, she was sure she would be around for a long time to come; she was still in her dotage you see! The only reason that could have held her back would have been her knees. After a self-imposed imprisonment of nearly twenty-five years, where she left her prison, the confines of her home only for brief trips to her doctor. Her old creaking painful knees made her miss many a bright occasions in her life, a book release, a baby shower and even her teachers training school’s reunion. Her Doctor kept asking her to get her hurting knees operated upon, the knee cap had worn out you see. But who would help her rise above her fear of hospitals? After seeing a number of terrible deaths in her family occur in hospitals, did she have the strength to have herself at the mercy of a scalpel and its wielder? The deciding factor in her decision yet again, her grand-daughter; there was the matter that who would give away the girl? Do the “Kanya Daan”, the girl’s mother was no more, father estranged; all they had were each other. So she tried to rise above her fear of surgery, they had to sedate her much before the actual procedure because she almost had a panic attack, but she managed to persevere.

So finally with her brand new knee caps, she sat down in the “mandap” and watched the child of her child move towards happiness, with a companion who brought her joy, not replacing sorrow, but making it easier to deal with. As she sat and looked at the reception party, people were dancing and eating like it was their last meal because after all, free food was the best cuisine in the world wasn’t it! She touched the petal of a bright shimmering Dahlia, its deep maroon flecked with white, complementing the bride’s attire, and knelt to pluck a pansy from its carry, thinking that yes, panic attacks, anesthesia and all, she had done it, given herself the birthday gift that was long due, after all your nineties were not very different from your teens if you thought so…

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Artist or Heretic?

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The latest post of eonline on my Facebook page happened to be the announcement of the news that Kim Kardashian was blissfully 3 months pregnant, this got my room mates and me talking about the Kardashian family and them having Armenian heritage, one of my room mate recollected that we had a lesson in Grade 11 English about an Armenian immigrant boy, the story was “The summer of beautiful white horse” by William Saroyan, who himself was an Armenian immigrant to the United States of America. This roused my curiosity and got me too search the big wide world of the internet for information on him. According to the omniscient  wikipedia, Saroyan was hired to write the script of the 1943 movie “The Human Comedy” by MGM, the producer rejected it for its length and Saroyan took this story and made it into his novel, sounds a little sketchy in my book. His ex-wife Carol Grace claimed in her memoir that he was abusive. So you can imagine my opinion of the late Mr Saroyan, okay maybe you can’t imagine. But let’s just say that it did not paint a pretty picture in my mind. So what is the purpose of my rambling? I just thought to mention that many times in the field of art-be it music, literature, acting or music, we might not approve of what the artist does in his life, but the art they create can be marvelous.

When Chris Brown in all his anger committed battery against his that time girlfriend Rihanna, everyone was aghast and angry, but that didn’t take away the rhythm from his music, or stopped us  from swaying to his Turn Up the Music and Till I Die.

Pablo Picasso has been lauded for his paintings, his artwork, but his personal life scandalized the world with his numerous affairs. That did nothing to reduce the awe inspired for his work. Rememeber Ted Hughes? Beautiful poetry, who allegedly cheated on his wife with her friend, probably exacerbating her depression which ultimately caused her to commit suicide. Doesn’t sound like a good person does he?

Numerous example of talented people who did things which didn’t show them in good light. But how can I forget our beloved Charlie Sheen? Wonderful entertainer, most of us laughed heartily during Three and a Half Men episodes, I definitely did! But he has done all the strange things possible, from going on drug induced, drunk binges, having a relationship with 2 adult actresses and making them spend time with his infant twin sons and even hired an escort [that is me being polite]. The world was shocked at his decisions and the police force got used to seeing him at their work places.

So after all this rambling, what was my aim? Simply to say that the negatives of a person don’t cancel out the positive. Think before you judge someone and thinking that they can’t do things the right way. Before labeling the hard core partying girl a slut and denying her the credit for any talents she has. Life is not black and white, don’t let your inclinations and judgments hamper you from enjoying the art and talent of people around you…

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