Friday, January 18, 2019

The Chennai Haul

In the ten years that I’ve been attending the Hyderabad Literary Festival here at Hyderabad it remained the only lit fest I’ve attended. I’ve never been to any other lit fest in the country though I wanted to go to the Jaipur Lit Fest. I never got the chance to go to Jaipur all these years but last week I attended the Lit for Life 2019 literature festival of The Hindu at Chennai. Apart from attending the many sessions and listening to some of the wonderful writers talk about their books and other issues, I also managed to attend the Chennai 42nd Book Fair and also dropped in at a second hand book store and returned from Chennai with a haul of ten books.

The Haul at the Chennai Book Fair

An online friend whom I’ve never met and wanted to meet at Chennai informed me that the Chennai Book Fair was on. It was wonderful news for I had a lot of time on hand on the day I reached Chennai. The venue of the Book Fair, YMCA Grounds at Nandanam, was not too far from where I was staying and after lunch I started for the book fair. I had read that that there were more than 700 stalls of which, I discovered, there were fewer than a dozen stalls stocking books in English. In the handful of stalls selling second-hand books I managed to find three titles.

The first title I found was a copy of ‘Master Georgie’ by Beryl Bainbridge that I got for a hundred and fifty rupees. The next find was a beautiful copy of ‘The Dain Curse’ by Dashiell Hammett that I bought along with a copy of ‘Tar Baby’ by Toni Morrison for two hundred and fifty rupees. It was more than what I would normally pay for second hand books at Abids in Hyderabad but since it was a book fair I did not think twice.

The LFL Haul

At the LFL, I had decided beforehand, that I would buy the latest titles of Amitabha Bagchi (Half the Night is Gone) and Anuradha Roy (All the Lives We Never Lived) and get them signed by the authors. I had read ‘Above Average’ by Bagchi only recently and was quite impressed enough to think of buying his latest title that is getting rave reviews everywhere. Though I have almost all of Anuradha Roy’s titles I haven’t read any till date, though I know they are all outstanding works. I managed to buy these two books and also get them signed. What I had not planned was buying a copy of ‘Virtual Realities’ by Neelam Saran Gour that I bought after hearing her talk.I also got it signed by Neelam Saran Gour who, later next day , was awarded the Hindu Prize for fiction.
On the second day of LFL I had sat in a session in which Abdullah Khan was on the panel and I was impressed by the candour in his replies to the moderator’s questions. After the session I bought his ‘Patna Blues’ but forgot to get it signed. The next day I sought him out and he signed on the book and chatted with me for a while over coffee. The only thing I regret is not getting my copy of ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ that I carried from Hyderabad to Chennai, by Vivek Shanbhag. I had thought he’d be around for some time but apparently he had left soon after his session on the first day itself.
Amitabha Bagchi doesn’t appear anything like the person shown in the photograph on the book. He had a ponytail and a long beard and many people couldn’t recognise him until he was introduced by the moderator.

Another Chennai Haul

I had long been thinking of visiting Chennai’s Moore Market, where I was told, were booksellers who stocked used books. At last I was there last week but since it was festival time the market was closed. But I wasn’t prepared to give up. I had read about Govindaraju’s ‘Rare Books’ in RA Puram which was where I was headed soon after finding that I wouldn’t find a single title in Moore Market. ‘Rare Books’ turned out to be some kind of a garage store with thousands of books stacked haphazardly. There were books, magazines, tattered tomes, and loose papers scattered around. From this mess I managed to extricate three titles. The first find was a hardcover copy of ‘The Gutenberg Elegies’ by Sven Birkerts that was in my ‘must-buy’ list. I had read about this title somewhere and so remembered it.
Two more titles that I bought here were copies of titles that I already possess. One was a nice copy of ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg and the other a copy of ‘The Instant Enemy’ by Ross Macdonald that I also read again in the plane back to Hyderabad. I got these three books for four hundred rupees. I had seen a book by Jai Nimbkar and a hardcover book of Rainer Maria Rilke that I now regret not buying.

The visit to Chennai yielded ten titles and with these my total haul in the first fortnight of the first month of the new year comes to eleven.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Sunday Haul ( on 06 -01-2019)

The haul at Abids on the first Sunday of the year was just one good title and I am perfectly okay with it. The reason is I had bought 250 books in 2018 and this year I want to keep that tally to something under hundred if I can.
I found a copy of ‘The Haunt’ by A.L. Barker, an author I hadn’t heard about before. But I bought it based on the high praise for Barker in the blurbs on the back and front covers. I don’t know how it would be but I bought it nevertheless. I got it for eighty rupees only. This was the only book I bought at Abids and I am now thinking if it would be a good idea to buy just one title every Sunday at Abids.

This Friday I am at Chennai until the 15th. I came to know that the Chennai Book Fair is going on and will end on the 20th. I am looking forward eagerly to drop and see what I can pick up there.

Friday, January 04, 2019

2018 Books

After adding the five titles that I picked up on the last day of the 32nd Hyderabad National Book Fair on Christmas Day, the total number of books I picked up last year comes to a perfect 250. I do not think I have bought so many books in the previous years. I guess it is a record. While it makes me happy that I possess so many books it also makes me worried that there’s not enough space for more books in the future unless I begin culling my collection.

While I appear to be ambitious in buying books I am not so in reading them. Last year I have read only 85 books, some of which I am yet to finish reading. Out of these eighty five books listed below are some that I enjoyed reading.

‘Disgrace’ by JM Coetzee
‘Havanas in Camelot’ by William Styron
‘The Story of a Brief Marriage’ by Anuk Arudpragasam
‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ by Nora Ephron
‘Dreams in a Time of War’ by Ngugi Wa Thiong O
‘The Great Gatsby’ Scott F Fitzgerald
‘Ants Among Elephants’ by Sujatha Gidla
‘Woman in the Dark’ by Dashiell Hammett
‘We Need New Names’ by Noviolet Bulawayo
‘The Forgotten Waltz’ by Anne Enright
‘African Laughter’ by Doris Lessing
‘Through the Narrow Gate’ by Karan Armstrong
‘Home Fires’ by Kamila Shamsie
‘Longing Belonging’ by Bishwanath Ghosh
‘Out on the Rim’ by Ross Thomas
‘The Long March’ by William Styron
‘Among the Believers’ by VS Naipaul
‘A Bend in the River’ by VS Naipaul
‘Above Average’ by Amitabha Bagchi
‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl
‘Sydney’ by Jan Morris
‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ by William Maxwell
‘Goat Days’ by Benyamin
‘Missionary Stew’ by Ross Thomas
‘Republic of Caste’ by Anand Teltumbde
‘Arabian Sands’ by Wilfred Thesiger

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Bookfair Haul-2

Within an hour after reaching home after a long six day trip to Arunachal Pradesh I got ready to go out on another journey. This was a journey into the world of books. It was the last day of the 32nd Hyderabad National Book Fair and I did not want to miss visiting it since I had not visited after the second visit on the second day of the fair. I had picked up a total of five books on those two initial visits and I knew there were many more books I had not spotted. The visit on the last day of the book fair yielded another five titles taking the total number of books I had picked up at the 2018 Book Fair to ten. It is far less than the number of books I had bought at the book fair in the previous years but I am not complaining.
In the stall where I had picked up two titles on the earlier visit I managed to find two more titles I had not seen earlier. The first title I saw was a nice copy of Doris Lessing’s ‘Walking in the Shade’ the second volume of her autobiography. Though I do not have the first volume I picked up this copy in the hope that I would find the first volume someday. Besides, I cannot resist autobiographies of writers and so I made it the first find of the day.
In the same stall I spotted another book with a vivid cover with the title-‘The Virgin of Flames’ by Chris Abani. I have not heard or read about Chris Abani but I picked up this book solely on the strength of the blurb by Guardian on the front cover. I really hope this book is as good as it looks when I finally get around to reading it sometime soon.
Sometime earlier in the day I had come across a tweet by Uma Mahadevan Gupta who writes about books in ‘The Hindu’ where she had praised ‘Old Filth’ by Jane Gardam. Somehow the title stuck in my mind and imagine my wonder when I spotted the very book in another stall. I did not hesitate too long and picked it up. I thought it was a sort of minor miracle finding a title that someone had praised not too long ago.
Now I have been looking for a title, any title, by Elena Ferrante since long but wasn’t successful in finding them. But yesterday at the book fair I got lucky and came across an almost brand new copy of ‘The Lost Daughter’ by Elena Ferrante. I wanted to buy it whatever the price but the book seller was the friendly book seller who gave me a free pass this year also, and who reduced the price for me to a hundred and eighty rupees. I was glad at last I now have an Elena Ferrante title to read.
There are very few foodies who do not know about the famous ‘Moti Mahal’ in Delhi. It is an institution by itself because I have read about this eatery so many times that I plan to visit it on my next visit to Delhi. The butter chicken and tandoori chicken were two of the several creations of Kundan Lal Gujral who founded ‘Moti Mahal’ in Darya Ganj. I did not know that there’s a book on it until I spotted a hardcover copy of ‘Moti Mahal’s Tandoori Trail’ by Monish Gujral in a different second hand book stall at the book fair. It is an interesting book with an introduction by Uma Vasudev interspersed with photographs of Kundan Lal Gujral with various celebrities like Sam Manekshaw, Nargis, Zakir Hussain, Nehru, Indira Gandhi and others. Of course, there are several recipes of the dishes served in Moti Mahal. I felt very glad finding this unique title that was the last find of the five book haul on the last day of the 32nd Hyderabad National Book Fair.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Book Fair Haul

The only event in Hyderabad I look forward to very eagerly is the Book Fair that is usually held in the month of December. This year is unique since the 31st Hyderabad National Book Fair was held in the month of January, 2018 and the 32nd is being held in the same year. Anyway, I was there on the very first day even before it was officially inaugurated. However, since it was the Vice-President who was inaugurating the fair I had to wait outside for some time before the cops let us in. As soon as I entered I went straight to the second hand book stores from out of town and managed to find two interesting titles on the first day of the Book Fair.

The first title I found was ‘The Opposite House’ by Helen Oyeyemi. I had read about Helen Oyeyemi somewhere and the name rang a bell when I saw it on the cover of a book. The other title I picked up was one I had found recently elsewhere. But I did not want to leave ‘Havanas in Camelot’ by William Styron behind so I picked it up. I did not get them cheap though for I had to pay three hundred and fifty rupees for the two titles.
There were about 350 stalls out of which the second hand book stalls were more than a dozen, almost of all of them Hyderabad based sellers, the ones I see in Abids every Sunday. Sadly there were only two or three from other places. Another disappointing thing was that the collection of second hand titles did not appear to be as good as those in the previous years.
But on the next day, Sunday as it happens, I found some more interesting titles after a careful search. There were huge crowds which was a heartening sight to watch as people went around with several bags filled with books in their hands. This must be the only occasion when one sees so many people who love books at one place. Quite unusually, I couldn’t spot anyone who I see regularly at Abids on Sundays.

I found a nice copy of ‘The Music of Love’ by Dorothy Green which turned out to be a collection of essays on literature. I picked it up since it was a Penguin title and also because the author was an Australian. There are nineteen essays in this collection and I hope to read them one by one leisurely. Then in the same place I found another collection of food writing and this was again by Penguin. The copy of ‘Out to Lunch’ by Paul Levy that I found was in good shape and I picked it up because while leafing through it I found there was a lengthy piece about the author’s visit to India titled ‘India diary’ in it.

When I visited the stall owned by a friendly bookseller at Abids who gives me a free entry pass every year I saw him seated but couldn’t find any title worth buying. I did not want to leave without buying anything from him so I looked all over once again and found a beautiful copy of ‘A Lesson Before Dying’ by Ernst J. Gaines that I bought. I paid him more than what he asked for it and that seemed to make him happy.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Sunday Haul (on 09.12.2018)

With the 32nd Hyderabad National Book Fair just a week away, on Sunday I was wondering whether to go to Abids and saddle myself with some more books. But I went more out of habit than a real need to buy more books. It was the second Sunday of the month and so The Hindu had the Literary Review supplement in which Uma Mahadevan Dasgupta had written about her visit to Sri Lanka in an article where she had also mentioned some lines from Sri Lankan author Ashok Ferrey’s ‘Serendipity.’ Quite coincidentally ‘Serendipity’ by Ashok Ferrey was the first title I spotted at Abids. I did not need much persuasion and so I picked it up for just thirty rupees.
Another good title I found was a nice copy of ‘One Thousand Nights on a Bed of Stones and Other Stories’ by K.A. Abbas which was published by Jaico in 1957. The book has ten stories: Wheat and Roses; Maharaja’s Elephant; Cartoon; Evening in Paris; Dead Letter; Sparrows; The Mark of an Indian; Ajanta; and Five Faces of Mother India. I got this book for only twenty rupees from a pile.
I usually check out old copies of hardcover titles in the hope of finding something rare and interesting especially if they have no covers and one cannot tell the book unless it is opened. I spotted one such hardcover bound in brown with a seller who sensed I was interested in it. On the inside page was the title- ‘Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me’ by M.A. Sreenivasan, another memoir by a civil servant. I try to avoid such books because they are usually dry accounts of their service in some posting they think is interesting and write every minute detail of each and every incident as if they were earth-shaking events. But this title appeared different because the publisher was Ravi Dayal there were beautiful old black and white photographs inside and the language too was very different. M.A. Sreenivasan was an ICS officer and from what I read while randomly turning over the pages he seems to have had some interesting experiences that I wanted to read more about. So I bought it and added it to the growing pile in the Sunday haul.
The find of the day was a beautiful copy of ‘The Big Sleep and Other Novels’ by Raymond Chandler. I already have a copy of ‘The Big Sleep’, a copy of ‘Farewell, My Lovely’ and also a copy of ‘The Big Sleep’ but ‘The Big Sleep and Other Novels’ had all these three Chandler classics in one place so that was enough reason for me to pick this up. However it did not come cheap and I had to pay more than two hundred rupees for this lovely title.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Haul at New Delhi

After a long wait last week I managed to visit Pahargunj in New Delhi to check out ‘Jacksons Books’ that I had read about several years ago. Barely a fortnight after visiting Kohima I got the chance to visit New Delhi last week to attend a five-day training course. The venue was YMCA on Jai Sing Road which made it easy for me to explore many places in the evening after the training sessions of the day ended.
Last Monday, the very first day of the training course, as soon as the sessions ended I started for Paharganj with two things on my mind. I couldn’t do the first thing which was to have the chole bhature at Diwan Chand Sitaram of which I had read about recently. The place was closed by the time I reached there at around half past five in the evening. I was a bit disappointed about it but Jacksons Books was open which lifted my mood greatly.
‘Jacksons Books’ is a small roadside store but it is a minor treasure house. The titles are mostly those that foreign tourists visiting India would read up before landing in the country. There were books on spirituality, yoga, and travelogues on India by Eric Newby, Paul Theroux mostly. There were several copies of ‘The Pillars of Hercules’ ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’, ‘Dark Star Safari’ and other Paul Theroux titles that I almost bought but for the prices.

The first title I spotted in Jackson’s Books was a beautiful copy of ‘Simon Winchester’s Calcutta’ by Simon Winchester. The copy I found was almost new. I had recently read ‘Longing Belonging’ by Bishwanath Ghosh before visiting Kolkata briefly a fortnight ago, and wanted to read more about Kolkata so I bought it. I really hope the book is good because I had to pay quite a hefty sum for it.

The next find was another new looking title-‘The Ghosts of Meenambakkam’ by Ashokamitran. Ashokamitran happens to be one of my favourite writers so I picked it up without a second thought. For this too I had to pay a big sum but I did not mind because it was an Ashokamitran title. I read the slim book on the flight home from New Delhi and somehow I did not find it as good as other Ashokamitran titles.

A long time ago I had picked up a book by Laurens van der Post on a hunch. It was a copy of ‘Venture to the Interior’ that I read soon after and was found it interesting. So when I found ‘A Walk with a White Bushman’ by Laurens van der Post I added it to the haul. This book didn’t come cheap though.

There were more books in another room in a lane just beside the store that I decided to check out another day. On the last day of the training course just before leaving for the airport I once again went to Pahargunj. Though it was not yet five in the evening I was once again disappointed to see that there was no chole bhature left at Sitaram Dewan Chand that had downed its shutters.

I finally got to see the other stock of Jacksons Books kept in another room a few steps away. Here too there were books in almost all the languages of the world and in the large section of books in English I managed to spot a beautiful new copy of ‘Journals of John Cheever’ by John Cheever. It is one big tome and the kind of book I like to read and I bought it though I had to shell out four hundred rupees for it.
With four books making up the haul at New Delhi the visit was more meaningful than some of my past visits to the capital.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Friday Double Post- Post 1 of 2: The Haul at Kolkata

Last week I had been to Kohima in Nagaland to attend a workshop there. I had planned my return trip in such a way that I would get to spend about six hours in Kolkata. I wanted to visit College Street that I had been dreaming about after reading a lot about the book sellers there. Last Thursday finally I was at College Street. It was a momentous occasion for me as it has taken several year for me to be here.
After landing at Kolkata from Dimapur around three in the afternoon we rented a cab and took off for College Street. I had been told that there would be heavy traffic and was advised to start for the airport about three hours before my flight. So I had an eye on the time and another eye on the books in the numerous stalls on College Street. I hadn’t done much research so missed out on some things. For example I did not know that India Coffee House was somewhere around where I could have stopped for a cup of coffee.
However, I managed to find five good titles after looking around for a couple of hours. Almost all the book stalls in College Street seemed to sell only textbooks so I had to search for stalls that sold general books. Luckily I was guided to such stalls sporting boards that said ‘English Literature’ where I picked up the books. In all the articles I read about the book sellers of College Street the sellers were described as people who knew a lot about books and would be able to get almost any title that you asked for. They may have been more knowledgeable than the book sellers in Abids here in Hyderabad but they were not as knowledgeable as I thought they’d be. I had a list of titles and also authors whose books I wanted to read and that I thought I might get at College Street. In my list were Kapuscinski, Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis, and others. But other than Arun Joshi’s ‘The Foreigner’ they did not have any title in my list which was a big disappointment.
In one stall I found two titles on writing that I already have. I found a paperback copy of ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami, and yet another copy of ‘The Summing Up’ by Somerset Maugham. I got the two titles for a hundred rupees each. The next find was a copy of ‘Collected Lyrics’ by Edna St Vincent Millay. The first ever book I had bought in my life way back in 1993 was a hardbound copy of ‘Twentieth Century American Poetry’ edited by Conrad Aiken. One of the numerous poets featured in this book was Edna St Vincent Millay. It was my first serious encounter with good poetry other than the stuff I read in school. ‘Renascence’ was one of the three poems by St Vincent Millay that was in this collection. I was glad to buy the copy of ‘Collected Lyrics’ by Edna St Vincent Millay but I think I made a big mistake not buying the mammoth copy of Allen Ginsberg’s verse that I saw at the same stall. It wasn’t in such a good condition and it was one reason why I did not buy it apart from the fact it was rather too heavy.
Another interesting title I found was a nice copy of ‘Which Lie Did I Tell?’ by William Goldman that was a sequel to his famous ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade.’ I had bought a hard cover copy of this many years ago, long before I began this blog. I bought the hardcover copy of ‘What Lie Did I Tell?’ for a hundred and fifty rupees in the stall that also had many other movie-related titles. Unfortunately a few days later I read about Goldman’s death.
Another interesting find was a copy of ‘Etruscan Places’ by DH Lawrence that was one of the travel titles that I had been looking for. I was overjoyed to find this title that I got for a hundred rupees. It was this book that I started reading this book in the plane taking me to Hyderabad.
At College Street I did not bargain much and shelled out whatever the sellers asked for. I found these sellers to be very polite, and deferential after they realized that I was a serious buyer. I wish I had more time to see each and every stall but that would require at least one full day. I had someone with me who wasn’t very interested in books and was impatient as I hopped from one stall to another. I did not want to make him unhappy so I reluctantly stopped midway and got into the cab satisfied that I had been to College Street. I wonder when I will get to visit it again. After having been to Darya Ganj in New Delhi only recently, College Street in Kolkata last week it is Mumbai’s Flora Fountain that I want to go next to look for more books.

Friday Double Post- Post 2 of 2: The Sunday Haul (on 18-11-2018)

Barely had three days passed since returning from Kolkata with a haul of five books at College Street and I was once again browsing in Abids on Sunday for more books. I bought four books from a seller who keeps aside titles he thinks I might like. Though they weren’t something I really wanted to buy and read I did not have the heart to tell him because he is such a nice person. I ended up buying all these books from him paying him more than he asked because it was his first sale of the day and I did not want to bargain with him.
The first title in the lot he had kept aside was a copy of ‘The Price of a Wife’ by G.D. Khosla that appeared quite interesting for it was by a little known (at least to me) Indian writer and that the book was a collection of 22 short stories. Of late I had begun to adding books by Indian authors published in the late fifties and sixties to my growing collection of such books. This was the second GD Khosla title I have with me now after ‘A Way of Loving’ that I found recently and about which I have yet to write here.
The next book in the lot of books the seller had kept aside was one which I would never find the time to read in this lifetime because of its length. It was an almost new copy of ‘Chaplin- His Life and Art’ by David Robinson which is almost nine hundred pages long. To think I got this book for just fifty rupees just amazes me.
Another interesting title in the lot was a nice copy of ‘Collected Essays’ by Aldous Huxley. This has about forty five essays on various subjects under different sections, such as Travel which includes a piece on Jaipur, Psychology, Music, Painting, History, and so on.
The last title was a beautiful copy of ‘Fasting Feasting’ by Anita Desai that I almost did not take. At the last minute I added this book to the Sunday haul. With this book the total number of books I’ve bought this year is an astounding 230. There’s still December left, and the Hyderabad Book Fair that I am told is from 15th December to 25th December. By the end of the year I would have bought more than 250 books.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Sunday Haul (on 11-11-2018)

With Diwali and the Diwali shoppers out of the way Abids was back to its old self last Sunday with the second hand booksellers at their usual spots when I went as usual to look for good titles. Since I rarely return from these trips empty handed last Sunday I managed to pick up a lot of five interesting books.
Sometimes I come across books that I somehow feel are special in some way. Either it is because of the title or the name of the author or the way the book is, one gets the strong urge to pick it up. When I saw a hardcover copy of ‘The Mouse and His Child’ by Russel Hoban I felt that I had to take it though I don’t (unfortunately) read much fiction meant for children.
Then next find was a title I remembered having read about long back which was ‘I Never Promised You a Rose Garden’ by Hannah Green. I spotted this title in a heap of books selling for twenty rupees and picked it up. A few minutes after I picked it up I found a nice copy of ‘Love and Friendship’ by Alison Lurie. I bought it mainly because it was a Penguin title and I trust Penguin to publish only very good books.
The next find, the fourth title of the day, was a beautiful, old cookbook, one of a collection of foods from different regions. I picked up the hardcover old book with the title ‘Foods of the Orient-India’ introduced by Sharmini Thiruchelvam, on the cover. I bought the title published in 1978 more for its looks than the recipes inside.

The fifth and last title was actually more of a booklet than a real book. I spotted a copy of ‘Kate Humble’s Guide to 100 Birds of Britain’ by The Telegraph in a different heap of books selling for just ten rupees. I hope it gets me into some keen birdwatching though I may not find the birds described in it.