Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Ever since Doris Lessing won the Nobel for Literature I have been trying to lay my hands on her books but so far I have been unsuccessful. One reason could be that she is a British writer and not many of British books can be found in the second hand stores of Hyderabad. I haven’t seen any book of Irish Murdoch either here. So it has been a long search for me for books written by Doris Lessing. Another reason could be that she hasn’t written any new book lately.

The desire to read her books got more intensified after I read an article on Doris Lessing by Christopher Hitchens in ‘The Week’ dated October 28. In his article titled ‘Grand Dame of Words’ Christopher Hitchens writes about two of her well known stories - 'The Day Stalin Died’ and 'The Temptation of Jack Orkney'. He writes that 'The Day Stalin Died' deserves to be reprinted in any anthology of 20th century prose and the other ‘The Temptation of Jack Orkney’ was a tale that was very good and recommended that one should make a resolution to acquire the volumes in which these two tales appear. Hitchens writes that these two works of Lessing help one determine the gold standard in modern writing.

Such high recommendation has me frantically searching for any book by Doris Lessing. I hope I would get lucky and find something by Lessing soon.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Another Good Find of Books at Abids

Once again this Sunday too, there wasn’t the full complement of the book sellers at Abids because most of the regular shops were open. I guess this will the situation until the Sunday after next when the festival season will be finally over. However, there were enough of them to yield a few treasures as usual. I was lucky as I found two good books at throwaway prices and I also got four good magazines.

The first book I found was ‘The Lifetime Reading Plan’ by Clifton Fadiman, a hardcover copy that I got for only twenty rupees. It was in good condition and had over two hundred pages of information about the books of some of the famous writers of the day as well as the classics of the past. I had been looking for such a book and today I finally got it.

Then the second book was another unexpected find. Several times in the past I have unexpectedly found a good book at an unbelievable price. Yesterday for only ten rupees I got Paul Theroux’s ‘Kingdom by the Sea’. I was delighted to find this book because only the other day I had seen a copy of it in a bookstore and the rate was seventy rupees. I hesitated to buy it at the store and I am glad I didn’t buy it though I was on the verge of picking it up. But I am glad I didn’t. The copy I found yesterday was in fairly good condition except a missing corner of the cover. This was the first book by Paul Theroux that I happened to read. I had picked up this book at the British Library six years ago and was hooked after reading it. There was ‘Dark Star Safari’ too in the library and I read it too. Since then I am hooked to Paul Theroux’s writings though I like his travelogues and non-fiction more than his fiction.

I saw two copies of his famous novel- The Mosquito Coast- but I have a copy and have also read the book but was not impressed.

Next, I found three copies of Conde Nast Traveler magazine. One was of Dec 05, another of May 06 and the third copy of January 07 and I got these three magazines for twenty rupees each. They were worth because they were almost brand new as if they hadn’t been opened at all. The May 2006 issue had the 10th Annual Hot List and the January 2007 issue had the Goldlist of the World’s Best. Someday I hope to write a travel article of my trip to the Andamans. I had made notes but I am not finding time to write it.

The last magazine was ‘Scuba Diving Magazine’ containing the 2007 World Diving Guide. The magazine has some of the most beautiful pictures of underwater sea life. Ever since I had snorkeled at Havelock Beach in the Andamans I have been fascinated by life under the sea.

I have to go through these magazines yet and also begin the Clifton Fadiman book. I also have to make a list of all the books I had picked up this month. The pile of books I have to read is growing by the week.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pens and More Pens Again

Funny how sometimes things you are interested in keep coming back to you in some form or the other. As an ex-copy writer and also as someone who reads the papers end to end I read even the smallest and most obscure ads. I came across one in yesterday’s 'The Hindu’ and the ad was about distributors in South India for the famed Chinese ‘Hero’ fountain pens. The Hero pens manufactured by Shanghai Hero Gold Pen Factory in China are being imported into India by S.K. Impex, Chennai and Chhajer Sales & Marketing, Chennai are the authorised distributors for the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Pondicherry. I had always thought that the ‘Hero’ fountain pens that are available in India were smuggled but now I know.

Then again, there was the news item about the opening of the ‘Just In Vogue’ pen store about which I wrote in yesterday’s post.

In today’s 'The Hindu' there was another news item that Parker’s most famous fountain pen- The Parker Duofold- was available in solid silver and cost a lakh rupees. I really like the classic one and once harbored a dream of owning one but I know it is an impossible dream but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about it.

Then again I happened to be reading yesterday’s Indian Express today and read that Luxor Writing Instruments have launched a new pen range- Parker Celebration Range- and these are customized it seems.

It seems to be pens and more pens this week

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another Pen Store- Just In Vogue- opens in Hyderabad

It was on television yesterday and in the papers today that a new pen store had opened in Hyderabad. ‘Just In Vogue’, the name of the store, opened at City Centre Mall in Banjara Hills on Wednesday the reports said. The store stocks a wide collection of luxury pens of brands like Waterman, Sheaffer, Parker and Cross, according the report in today’s ‘The Hindu’.

I have been thinking of buying myself a really nice and expensive fountain pen since a long time. I have decided to buy one after completing a major writing project I am working on currently. I might finish it by the end of the year and then buy myself a fountain pen as a reward for completing the project. I do this often to keep myself motivated to write, which other wise is a tough thing to do. One wants to be a writer but without doing much writing.

I haven’t yet decided which pen to buy but I am veering towards a Mont Blanc Meisterstuck, the classic that stops hearts of pen lovers. The other day I saw a hoarding of Mont Blanc pens at Begumpet. Mont Blanc has an exclusive outlet at Hotel Kakatiya Sheraton at Greenlands. I haven’t visited the place yet but soon I will find a reason to check out the pens there before buying one. Most book readings in Hyderabad take place in this hotel so if there is another reading in the Sheraton I might check out the Mont Blanc store this time.

But, in my opinion, the best places to buy good quality fountain pens are the Deccan Pen Stores that have branches at Abids, Secunderabad and at Greenlands. Deccan Pen Stores is the oldest pen store in Hyderabad and they had their store near NTR estate at Abids but now the main store is in Metro Estate also at Abids, near Bata. I buy all my fountain pens there. The staff are incredibly polite and service is fast.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


If the previous Sunday (14th) was Ramzan then it was the final day of the ten day long Dussehra festival this Sunday (21st). Compared to last Sunday there were more second hand book sellers and I found four good books in my two hour hunt. The first book I found was an incredible coincidence.


Two weeks ago I had found the Mont Blanc catalog- Feelings 100 Years of Mont Blanc- in which I read about an Italian author, Claudio Magris who wrote a small article in it on cafes in Trieste. There was a picture of him seated in a café scribbling in his notebook. Today when I started my rounds from the booksellers near Grammar School I found a book by an author whose name looked familiar. It was the last book in a pile that was waist-high. The guy took it out and the book was ‘Danube’ by Claudio Magris! The book was described as ‘ A Journey through the Landscape, History and Culture of Central Europe’ and was translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh. I like to travel and this book was a travelogue. I paid the fifty rupees the guy asked and the book was mine, all four hundred pages of it.

Eudora Welty's 'The Optimist's Daughter'

The second book I found was Eudora Welty’s ‘The Optimist’s Daughter’ which I got from a heap of books selling for twenty rupees in the Bommana Lane. I picked up the book because it said on the back that Welty won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel. I also have Eudora Welty’s ‘One Writer’s Beginnings’. Last year I had found three copies of this book and I gave away two copies to friends.

Riding the Iron Rooster

The third book I found was yet another copy of ‘Riding the Iron Rooster’ by Paul Theroux. I had found three copies of this book in Abids earlier but I had paid more than the ten rupees I got today’s copy for. It was incredible finding such a good book for only ten rupees. At the same time it also makes me sad that books are becoming too cheap. I picked up this copy to send it to a friend in Kolkata.

Classic Westerns by Peter Haining

The fourth and the last book I found this Sunday was a collection of Westerns called ‘Classic Westerns’ which has twelve stories set in the Wild West. The first story in the book is a story by one of my favorite authors- Elmore Leonard’. The story is ‘Three Ten to Yuma’. The other stories are:

'Hopalong Cassidy' by Clarence E Mulford
'The Cisco Kid' by O Henry
'Stagecoach' by Ernest Haycox
'Destry Rides Again' by Max Brand
'Western Union' by Zane Grey
'The Virginian' by Owen Wister
'Shane' by Jack Shaefer
'Hondo' by Louis L Amour
'A Man Called Horse' by Dorothy M. Johnson
'Lonesome Dove' by Larry McMurtry

The book has an introduction by Peter Haining and I got it for only twenty rupees. Needless to say I read ‘Three Ten to Yuma’ first thing after I got back home.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Custard Apples, Sunday papers and Bike problems

Who comes first for a newspaper- advertiser or the reader?

Yesterday there was no issue of the paper I read everyday- The Hindu. There was a note on Saturday itself in the paper that due to the Dassera festival the office would be closed and there would be no paper on Sunday. It is usually the Sunday supplements I am eager to read but this Sunday I was disappointed. Even though there were other newspapers to read I felt something was missing.

All through the week I had been seeing a notice in the paper saying that the classifieds supplement of Sunday would be carried on Saturday because of the holiday on Sunday. It seemed unfair to me. The advertiser is being looked after by carrying the Sunday classified supplements on Saturday itself but the reader is not being given anything to read.

The Hindu would have gained my admiration if it had issued the Sunday magazine supplement also along with the Classified Advertisements supplement with the Saturday paper. I wouldn’t have minded the holiday for the paper on Sunday. But the priorities of the papers are different since the advertiser pays more but the reader pays nothing. But then there would be no advertisers without the readers.

A New Way to eat Custard Apples-Roast Them

It is the custard apples season in Hyderabad and the city is flooded with them. I am seeing them everywhere heaped in baskets and on push carts. The custard apples flood the markets around this time just before winter begins. I guess it is the only fruit that is free of pesticides and fertilizers because the fruit is plucked from the wild and farmers have not yet taken up commercial cultivation of custard apple.

One normally eats the ripe fruit but years ago I came across a new way to taste the fruit. I was traveling in a village and spotted a few custard apple trees with the fruits dangling. I was disappointed that they were hard which meant they had not yet ripened. It is not possible to eat the unripe fruits. But the farmer I had met in his field plucked the unripe fruits and told me they could be eaten even though they were not ripe.

The fruits were hard and the skin was unyielding. He put a few such fruits on the ground, covered them with hay and lit a fire. I watched the flames leap up and after some time the fire died out. The farmer gingerly pulled out the custard apples from the ashes. The skin had become dark black but inside the flesh was white and soft. He split the fruit and ate the white flesh. I too followed suit and it tasted wonderful. It was something that always come to mind whenever I see the custard apples at this time.

Good Service at Castrol Bike Zone

About a year ago a Castrol Bike Zone was opened near home and I got my bike serviced here in February. I was happy with their service which was efficient and fast not to mention quite economical. There were none of the hidden expenses that get added when you take the bike to a company service center. So this time too I decided to get the service done here again.

I had to get some new parts fixed- the lock set and also the light switch box had to be replaced along with the brake lining. The guys there did a good job of it though the bike was delivered late but I am not complaining. The bike now rides smoothly and it didn’t cost me much too. Once I had given the bike at a company service center at Secunderabad and after I got to office there was a call from the mechanic who said they’ve noticed smoke coming out from the engine and asked if I wanted to get it fixed. I said no when the guy told me it would take six thousand bucks. This is a common ploy with such service centers I noticed in the eleven years of owning the bike.

But I am happy about Castrol Bike Zone and their efficient service. It was money well spent.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Last Sunday's Book Finds

It was the festival of Ramzan in Hyderabad last Sunday (14th) and hence most of the regular shops were closed as also the second hand booksellers who peddle their books from the doorsteps of these shops. They too must be celebrating Ramzan since most of the second hand booksellers are Muslims. But I wasn’t totally disappointed since quite a few of them had set shop wearing new clothes. Since I was a regular there and knew almost all of them I wished them in the traditional way by – shaking hands followed by a quick hug.

I found only one book and that was Annie Dillard’s ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ which I found in a heap of books selling for ten rupees opposite Bata. I had read about this book often and so picked it up for ten rupees. The book was in good condition without any stains or torn pages.

The next two finds were magazines. The first find was the July 2007 issue of ‘American Way’, the inflight magazine of American Airways. I got this magazine for ten rupees. The other magazine was ‘Andpersand’ of April 2007 which I got for thirty rupees. It was a thick magazine and had glossy photographs of luxury goods like clothes, watches, ties and stuff like that which men buy.
More Books at a Sale

Later in the evening I happened to be in Begumpet and I went to the MR Book Sale beside the flyover near Lifestyle. I found two small books that I got for ten rupees only. They were the small booklets that Penguin issued on its 60th anniversary and they were called the Penguin 60s. I found two of them- Paul Theroux’s ‘The Greenest Island’ and Michel de Montaigne’s ‘Four Essays’ translated by M.A.Screech. Both the books were in excellent condition and I was glad I found them.

It was a satisfying Sunday in terms of the books I found at Abids in the morning and at the book sale in the evening. Leafing through the books I found that Montaigne had written an essay called ‘On Thumbs’ which was an usual topic to write on and incidentally it was the shortest of the four essays in that book. The other three essays were- On the Cannibals, On Smells and On the Art of Conversation.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Feelings- 100 Hundred Years of Mont Blanc Part- II

The second part of the Mont Blanc catalog containing Part III and Part IV contain even more interesting item with several beautiful pictures of architects, artists etc. There is one picture of a fountain pen being crafted that is breath taking. Only one who loves fountain pens will understand it.

PART III- I Like to Dream- of the catalog contains profiles of seven contemporary visionaries- Robert Wilson, theatre director; Ora Ito, designer; Tod Lippy, founder of Esopus magazine (more about it later); Zaha Hadid, architect; Ferran Adre, chef; Richard Branson, entrepreneu and Karlheinz Bohm, actor.

There are pictures of a fountain pen (StarWalker Doue), a watch (Time-Walker chronograph), a perfume (Femme de MontBlanc) a belt, a necklace, cufflinks, sunglasses and again a pen- the Boheme 1906, a watch again, a wallet and again a picture of another fountain pen- the George Solti. There’s a write up of Justus Franz’s Philharmonia of the Nations.

There are also pictures of the rough sketches and drafts of some pioneering ideas- Kennedy’s draft of his speech in Berlin, first draft by Beethoven of his Divine Symphony and the initial sketches by Pablo Picasso of his greatest work, the Guernica.

PART IV – I Like to Touch- is filled with more pictures and less words. The emphasis is on the people ( or rather masters) behind the famous Mont Blanc pens and watches who turn out the watches at the Montblanc Montre SA workshop in Le Locle.

The watch workshop is described in detail including some of the men and women behind the crafting of the best watches in the world.

But it was the section on fountain pens that had me salivating though there was only a picture with the various tools involved in making a fountain pen. However there were brief write ups and pictures of three people- Ayla Wendt who tests the quality of the nibs, Roland Vogt who sets the diamonds in the lids of some of the expensive pens and Flora Rittmann who grinds down the nibs. To me they are the real heroes.

Finally there were more pictures and write ups of people honored by Mont Blanc for supporting the arts- the Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award.

It is a collectors item, this 100 Years of Mont Blanc catalog. I am glad I found this beautiful catalog which adds to my growing collection of Mont Blanc catalogs.

Monday, October 15, 2007


We may not realize it but some of our seemingly mundane activities actually cause harm to the environment. Take for instance, writing with a plastic ballpoint pen. No one would believe that writing with it actually damages the environment. If you are writing with a plastic ballpoint pen then you maybe doing more harm to the environment than you imagine. So, exactly how does your using a ballpoint to write with affect the environment?

To begin with, lets take a look at the commonly used plastic ballpoint pen. Everything about it, from top to bottom, is plastic. Only the tiny point at the end of the refill is metal. We all know plastic is bad for the environment because it is not biodegradable, cannot be recycled and remains in the environment for several years or maybe, forever. Besides being an environmental hazard, plastic also poses enormous risk to our health. When plastic is burnt it releases toxic fumes into the air that can cause cancer.

The magnitude of the threat to the environment these plastic ballpoint pens pose will be clear once we look at some figures. Almost every one who needs to write either at the office or in school uses a ballpoint pen. India's population is more than a billion and out of these millions, about 150 million are students at any given point of time, as per government estimates.

Assuming that an average student changes the refill in his ballpoint pen once a month it means twelve refills (or say ten refills) a year, all made of plastic. No student uses the same ballpoint pen all year- being made of plastic they break easily and are also easily misplaced or lost. We have to account for these breakages and losses, and the replacements.

Even if we assume that a student buys a new ballpoint pen every three months to replace those lost or broken, then it comes to four plastic ballpoint pens every year. It means a total of twelve plastic refills, four plastic ballpoint pens a year per student. Of course, the plastic packaging these refills and pens come in is a separate component itself. The wrapping may not weigh much but it is plastic nevertheless. This also gets added to the total plastic generated by just one student per year.

Even if we assume about 100 million out of the 150 million students use plastic ballpoint pens then we have something like a billion plastic ballpoint pens, ten billion refills and their plastic wrappers. Now imagine how much plastic that could be? A veritable sea of tons and tons of plastic which probably will remain in the soil for years and years causing serious and incalculable damage to our environment.

But all is not lost. There is an alternative to the plastic ballpoint pen. It is an alternative that has passed out of fashion long ago. It is the good old fountain pen. A fountain pen (made of ebonite or celluloid) generates zero plastic because it doesn’t use plastic at all. One good quality fountain pen lasts years so one can forget about a plastic fountain pen polluting the environment.

A common fountain pen uses only ink and not refills hence its other name- ink pen. Which means no plastic refills. The ink used to fill the fountain pen comes in glass bottles. The glass bottle comes in cardboard packing that can be recycled. The glass bottle itself can be recycled. However, some fountain pens use cartridge refills made of plastic. These are expensive anyway and students cannot afford them.

So using a fountain pen to write means no plastic ballpoint pen bodies, no plastic refills and no plastic wrappers either. These advantages make the good old fountain pen the perfect eco-friendly writing instrument of choice. Another advantages is that not only writing with a fountain pen is elegant, it is also cheap and convenient to use. A fountain pen needs little care and a few simple precautions are to be followed when using a fountain pen.

Clean the pen and nib assembly with tepid water once a month. Screw the cap tightly to prevent leakage of ink and accidental damage to the nib. Check the ink level regularly and carry a spare pen during examination time. Do not lend your fountain pens to others as nibs adapt to your writing angle and may get damaged if others write with it at a different angle. If possible, keep a piece of cloth in your desk or bag to wipe off any ink.

So, if you are really concerned about saving the environment, throw away your plastic ballpoint pen and go for a fountain pen today. It is the perfect zero-plastic solution for guilt-free writing.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

My First Article- Penchant for Pens

Exactly eleven years ago, my first article was published in a local newspaper marking my beginning as a writer. Not surprisingly, the article was about fountain pens and was titled ‘Penchant for Pens’ and Andhra Pradesh Times published it as a middle on October 12, 1996. I rang up everyone I knew when I saw it in the paper and also remember buying nearly half a dozen copies of the paper which had the paper vendor giving me a puzzled look. Regrettably, the paper folded up a few years later.

Since there were no online editions of newspapers at that time I am typing down the article here as it was published.

" Penchant for Pens by Vinod Ekbote

(Published in Andhra Pradesh Times dt 12-10-2006)

I belong to that blessed tribe of people who have an irrational desire to acquire pens. I became aware of this trait in my personality when I was at school. I harbored some vague ambitions of becoming a writer of sorts and thought it perfectly natural to acquire the requisite tools to fulfill the lofty ambition. So while my friends bought kites, marbles and other such playthings I spent all my pocket money on pens.

It was in the mid-seventies. Ballpoint pens were not yet within the reach of school children and fountain pens were the order of the day. I retained a special fondness for my first fountain pen that still lingers. Later on, when ballpoint pens flooded the market I was also carried away in the wave and for some time was under the mesmerizing spell of those neat little things. Since they were considerably cheaper I could afford to buy as many of them as my pocket money permitted. Later on I rediscovered the good old fountain pen.

As the years passed by, my obsession acquired considerable seriousness and I graduated from being an impulsive buyer of pens to a habitual buyer. I couldn’t pass a shop without darting in a buying a couple of pens. I still cannot pass a pen shop without being tempted to buy one or two pens. I buy them at the rate of two or three per week to the discomfiture of my family members who are exasperated at the sight of so many pens that my house resembles a mini pen store.

I’m attracted to pen stores like iron filings to a magnet and I calm down only after I’ve bought at least one pen. I’m a regular at the pen stores and the shopkeepers recognize me the moment I step in and eagerly rush to show me the latest arrivals. One went to the extent of calling me up to tell me that he had just received the most stunning collection of pens and I would rush to have a look. It’s an obsession my family is resigned to and they can tell from the dreamy look on my face that I had just bought a new pen.

The funny thing is that I haven’t yet begun to fulfill the noble ambition of mine to write, though I have collected enough pens to write something like an Encyclopedia Indiana. All the pens I bought remain unused until some passing relatives pick one or two to give them to their kids. Strangely enough, so far no one has presented me with a pen though my fascination for pens is a running joke among my family and friends.

I never leave home without a couple of them in my pockets. Like a cop who feels insecure without his gun I feel almost naked without a pen on my person. Also, I haven’t come across anyone with a similar obsession for buying pens though I have come across a few bureaucratic types who line their front pockets with a row of pens of all colors, and I suspect it has got more to do with impressing people than with the real intention of using them.

I have only one ambition in life and that is to buy a Parker Duofold fountain pen whose ad I came across in some magazine in the British Library about a year ago and I dream of it almost every night. It haunts me and in one of my dreams I’m taken to a psychiatrist by my family and he tells them that the only cure for my obsession is to buy me a Parker Duofold fountain pen. Alas, that drastic treatment is beyond my family’s reach and so I’ve made a rather grim decision. I’m going to write this sort of stuff and earn enough to buy that Parker and be forever cured of my obsession. And that, I leave to the mercy of editors. "

I’ve used some of the lines I wrote in this article in another article that was published in an in-flight magazine in February this year. It is here at this link. I suppose I have improved a lot after I wrote my first article. However, I have written about thirty articles since then and a couple of them were about fountain pens.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Feelings- One Hundred Years of Mont Blanc Part I

In 2006, that is, last year, Mont Blanc completed one hundred years and I wasn’t even aware of it. I learnt about it only recently, last Sunday to be precise, at Abids, when I picked up another Mont Blanc Catalog, this one titled- Feelings- One Hundred Years of Mont Blanc.

I got this 92-page, magazine sized catalog for only ten rupees but it had a wealth of information, photographs, illustrations and statements from prominent writers that make this issue a collector’s item. Though I love fountain pens I hadn’t taken much trouble learning about the history of famous brands. But now I have decided to educate myself about the famous brands. But for now, to the Mont Blanc Catalog.

The beautiful catalog is divided into four parts- Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Part I is ‘I like to Write’ which contains 149 statements by prominent personalities that start with ‘I like to Write…’. Some of the famous names who’ve contributed to this section include the French actress Jeanne Moreau, Angelic Houston and the writer Candace Bushnell who says, ‘ I like to write because I always want to show people a new way to think about life’.

Part I also has a beautiful picture of the classic Meisterstuck 149 for which three designers developed a packing. The final section in this Part is by the Italian author Claudio Magris who declares his love for the Café San Marco in Trieste. There’s a beautiful full page picture of the author in the café with a notebook scribbling something on a paper.

Part II again contains three sections. The first section contains pictures of the various designs for the Mont Blanc logo that several designers developed.

The second section of Part II is an article by Prof. Robert Levine, author of ‘A Geography of Time’, on time and the need to strike a balance and knowing when to hurry and when to slow down.

The final section is about the Mont Blanc diamond and a bit of Mont Blanc’s history which is very history. It would require a separate post to write about the history. Until now I too did not know it but it seems the white Mont Blanc star represents the six glaciers found at the peak of the mountain and was first designed in 1913. There are stunning photographs of the diamonds and the cutting process involved in the creation of the Mont Blanc diamond that adorns the cap of the Meisterstuck Solitaire 100 and also some of Mont Blanc watches. It appears that the Mont Blanc diamond is the world’s first to be cut on the shape of a company logo.

More about the next two parts, Part III and Part IV in a subsequent post.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Weekly Local Kichdi

Adieu Rains

After a prolonged stay and after making life miserable for Hyderabadis the rains seems to have finally bid adieu to Hyderabad with the cloudy skies making way for a clear sky and brilliant sunshine. The changed weather heralds the arrival of the festive season with Ramzan just around the corner followed by Dasera. It is that sort of weather that comes between the rainy season and the winter.

It is pleasant weather just right to be out shopping or just basking in the glow of the perfect sun-filled days. The shops are thronging with shoppers struggling with huge shopping bags filled with goodies for the coming festivals. Also, with Ramzan just three days away the foodies seem to be having as much of haleem as possible before the ovens are shut until the next Ramzan. I too plan to have one more round of haleem sometime in the next two days.

A Shower of Millingtonias

It is that time of the year when the majestic Millingtonia trees burst into bloom showering the ground with the fragrant, slender and white Millingtonia flowers. The flowers with a long stem and a wide mouth like some kind of a trumpet form a carpet of white on the ground under older trees. There are a couple of really tall Millingtonias on the Tank Bund and one gets a whiff of the fragrance while passing by those trees.

There is one Miilingtonia tree just outside my room in the compound of our office. The flowers fall on the steps leading to the room and in the morning their fragrance pervades the air until afternoon.
The two Millingtonias in front of our house that I planted two years ago have just started putting out their first hesitant blooms. It is a delight to watch the flowers within hand’s reach from our balcony. Next year there will be more flowers and more fragrance.


With the Military Games a couple of days away not many Hyderabadis seem to be interested in them. Only the army people seem to be enthusiastic about the event and one sees a lot of army trucks going around the city preparing for the big event.

Maybe because it isn’t cricket, the Hyderabadis do not seem to be very interested in the fauji games. That is Hyderabad for you.

Monday, October 08, 2007


Yesterday was packed with books and book related stuff- ‘The Literary Review of The Hindu’ in the morning and the visit to Abids later in the day, and then in the evening it was ‘Just Books’ on television.

The Literary Review’ in ‘The Hindu’

Sunday began with a minor drama.

When I opened the door I saw that the newspaper had delivered the wrong newspaper instead of ‘The Hindu’ for which I was eagerly awaiting. An hour later when I finished reading the paper he had wrongly delivered (a bonus), he came back with ‘The Hindu’.

Literary Review featured Vaiju Naravane’s interview with Indra Sinha on the front page. Also on the front page was Hasan Suroor’s analysis of the short-listed authors and their books and his prediction of the likely winner of the Booker Prize.

There was more inside including a review of Sree Vatsan’s ‘A Countryside Album’ that I too had read after buying it at its launch here in Hyderabad a couple of month's back.

More about this month’s Literary Review of The Hindu in subsequent posts but now to the books I found at Abids yesterday.


The first book I found was Peter Taylor’s ‘A Summons to Memphis’. This was the third copy of the book I was buying and today’s copy was a hardcover edition ( A Borzoi Book of Alfred A Knopf) where as the earlier two copies were paperbacks that I had bought last year. I got this hardcover for only twenty rupees in the lane that houses the Bommana Brothers store. I pick up extra copies of such good books to give away to friends. But I haven’t read it since it is one of the books on the list of books I plan to read someday in solitude somewhere on a secluded beach. Ha Ha.

The second find of the day was Alan Judd’s ‘The Devil’s Own Work’ which I got for only twenty rupees. It is a slim book not more than 91 pages. I haven’t read about this writer but I had a hunch it would be a good book so I bought it. It was also on the cover page that it was the ‘Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize’ so that probably influenced my decision to pick this book up.

The final and the most interesting find of the day was yet another beautiful Mont Blanc catalog. It was titled ‘Feelings’- One Hundred Years of Mont Blanc. It was in a different format like a magazine, unlike the other catalogs I have with me. Inside was some truly inspiring stuff especially the pictures of a fountain pen being lovingly crafted. More about the catalog in another post this week.

‘Just Books’ on NDTV Profit

Another book related event I await on Sundays is the program on books, perhaps the only program on books on television in India. It is ‘Just Books’ on NDTV Profit hosted by Sunil Sethi. It is telecast sometime during the week but I prefer watching it at half past six on a Sunday evening.

In yesterday’s show there was an interview of Namita Devidayal who has written ‘The Music Room’. Then there was some news about India’s first literary agency- The Red Ink Literary Agency. Anuj Bahri is the CEO of this agency which must be exciting news for Indian writers. Sometime back I had read ‘Osian’ is also into this business. How they fare only time will tell.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Waiting for 'Literary Review' of 'The Hindu'

It is one Sunday I wait with the more than the normal level of eagerness- the first of every month. The paper I read, The Hindu, carries ‘Literary Review’ supplement on the first Sunday of every month.

Tomorrow happens to be the first Sunday of the month and I am all excited for it to be night so I can go to sleep and when I wake up ‘The Hindu’, with the ‘Literary Review’ tucked inside, will be at the doorstep.

The Literary Review of 'The Hindu' is all about what the title says- literature. It is one of the most intelligent monthly capsule of the literary events, book launches, reviews, writers in the news. It also carries regular columns on books by some of the best literary minds in the country like Ravi Vyas. It is a supplement no book lover can afford to miss. I cannot imagine the first Sunday of the month without it.

Last month’s Literary Review carried a lot of interesting stuff. The front page had an interview with David Davidar of Penguin. In it he talked about his second book- The Solitude of Emperors which comes after his first book- The House of Blue Mangoes. Also on the front page was a write up on Qurratulain Hyder by Rakhsanda Jalil. Hari Kunzru’s ‘My Revolutions’ was reviewed on the front page by Maitreyee S. Ganapathy.

Inside there were more book reviews both brief and detailed. Advaita Kala’s ‘Almost Single’ was one such brief review in the ‘First Impressions’ by Suchitra Behal column.

One column that I find very informative and interesting is ‘Endpaper’ by Pradeep Sebastian who writes knowledgeably about books, book collecting, bookstores and bibliophiles. In this issue he wrote a highly informative article on book search engines like ‘Alibris’, ‘Abebooks’, ‘Addall’ and other websites which help one locate rare and first editions of books that are out of print.

This six page supplement contains enough stuff to keep me occupied with literary matters for the entire month because I keep reading it again and again all through the month until it is time for the next issue.


For the second time in three days I found myself in yet another second hand bookstore. Yesterday afternoon I was in Best Book Centre at Lakdi-ka-pul searching the racks eagerly for a good book. It is in this place that I’ve found most of the books I have in my collection. This store has a large collection of books spread over two floors. In my opinion it is the best maintained second hand bookstore in Hyderabad.

Here I came upon a title that seemed vaguely familiar. It was Arnold Bennett’s ‘How to Live on 24 Hours a Day’. I hadn’t come across this book earlier and so I picked it up paying sixty rupees for it. Back home in the evening, I checked the reviews on Amazon.com and they were all highly appreciative of it. Then I flipped through the slim volume previously owned by ‘NV Wickramasinghe;’ as inscribed in two places. It was only 126 pages long. Here is what it says on the blurb:

This is one of the greatest, most treasured books of all time. The reason? It tells the secret of successful living- how to make the most of every hour of life.

About the author, Arnold Bennett it seems he wrote 4,00,000 words a year in fiction, plays and articles and also found time to enjoy cycling, yachting, billiards, painting and music. He had written the bestseller- The Old Wive’s Tale. I am embarrassed to admit I haven’t read a single book written by Arnold Bennett. But I plan to make up by looking for his books and reading them.

In the author’s preface someone had underlined these lines- ‘It is always the man who has tasted life who demands more of it. And it is always the man who never gets out of bed who is the most difficult to rouse.

More about this book after I read it which I plan to do soon.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I left for Unique Booksellers in Nampally after finishing off some work at my office on Tuesday which was a holiday because it was Gandhi Jayanti. The bookstore is a short drive from my office. It had been a long time since I had visited this second hand book store near Hotel Harsha. Two guys were sitting there and they didn’t appear the usual persons who man the store. They began dusting the books as soon as I entered, following me wherever I went.

There were lots of books on the racks but I was looking for something good and for a while it looked like I may not find anything. After looking at the books displayed in wooden racks lining the corridor of the old building, I asked the guys to let me see the books inside the rooms adjoining the corridor. The building had been some kind of a lodge but now it is not in use. It has about five small rooms on the ground floor. There were more books inside the rooms.

I saw nothing of interest in the first room but in the next room I found the book I was not looking for- Dave Barry's 'Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway'! I had not heard of this title though I have almost all of Dave Barry’s books. It was almost a brand new copy and the price was only 100/-. It was worth more than a hundred rupees and needless to say I bought it. I was glad I had made the decision to drop in at this bookstore on a whim. It yielded a book most Dave Barry fans like me would die for.


The festivals of Ramzan and Dasera are only a couple of weeks away and Hyderabadis are busy shopping whenever there is time. This Sunday too, anticipating a shopping rush the regular shopkeeper kept their shops open forcing off the second hand booksellers from the pavements in front of their shops. There wasn’t a single bookseller in Metro estate this Sunday but elsewhere there were enough of them to yield a small haul for me.

The first find of the day was Walter Mosley’s ‘Black Betty’ that I got for twenty five rupees. ‘Black Betty’ is an Easy Rawlins mystery much like his other book- ‘Red Death’ that I have already read. The ex-US President, Bill Clinton is a fan of Walter Mosley.

The next book I found was an old book by an Indian author published by an Indian publishing firm. The book was ‘Light Luggage’ by VV John and published by Pearl Publishers. I got this collection of witty essays for only ten rupees. Prof.VV John was the Director of Education in Rajasthan in the sixties according to the blurb. What was interesting to note was that there were Indian publishing houses earlier in the sixties and there is no trace of them now. I leafed through the books sipping tea in the Irani hotel- Light of India and I found that VV John's style was truly funny. I was glad I found the book. I am planning to pick up more such books by Indian writers in the coming days.

The next find was a double bonanza. I saw a Penguin imprint in a heap of books near the twin theatre complex beside the Irani hotel. The book was Stuart Mclean’s ‘Welcome Home’- Travels in Small Town Canada. I got this 450+ pages book for only twenty rupees. I picked it up on a hunch that being a Penguin book it might be good. I will know it only after I read it. But the next find caught me by surprise. It was Elmore Leonard’s ‘City Primeval- High Noon in Detroit'. I had read about this book only recently and I got it for only twenty rupees!

I got only four books this Sunday but I was happy with them. Next Sunday I don’t think there will be as many sellers at Abids as there were this Sunday. But I will come nevertheless.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Haleem- the Great Unifier

It is one month of the year every foodie worth his salt in Hyderabad waits for eagerly- the month of Ramzan. And when it comes he is restless for it to be evening when the most delectable dish- Haleem- is available. Though half of the Ramzan month has passed, the hunger for Haleem has not faded among true blue Hyderabadis.

Almost every one in Hyderabad, the rich and the poor irrespective of religion and region has a taste of Haleem at least once during this month. More than the people who fast, it is the others who devour this supreme delicacy. Hotels offering Haleem are packed to capacity from evening till late into the night with haleem-lovers having a go at the dish. It is so popular that for a month Haleem replaces Biryani as the No.1 dish in Hyderabad.

Not to be left behind I too ventured out yesterday evening with a friend to Bahar Restaurant in Basheerbagh and ordered it. The scene in the hotel was like this: guys sat at tables with bowls of haleem before them. Eyes fixed on the bowl, they spooned it silently into their mouths not pausing, not looking elsewhere but on the disappearing haleem until it all was safely inside their stomachs. Only when they were sure the bowl was empty did they lift their heads their faces filled with just one expression- of having tasted the heavenliest food.