Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year's Haul of Books

This is the haul of books I made during the year. In all I bought a hundred and thirty books which is about fifty books fewer than the previous year. I guess there are far too many books in my house than there are in a small library so I am planning to cut down on book buying in the next year and restrict myself to buying only very good books that I simply cannot avoid buying.


1. ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
2. ‘Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing’ edited by
3. ‘Travel’ by Granta
4. ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron (3rd Copy)
5. ‘Your Own Words’ by Barbara Wallraff
6. ‘Tropical Classical’ by Pico Iyer
7. ‘The Art of Reading the Novel’ by Philip Freund
8. ‘Getting Even’ by Woody Allen
9. ‘From the Mothership’ by Jacquelyn Mitchard
10. ‘Two Women, One Friendship’


1. ‘What I Saw at the Revolution’ by Peggy Noonan
2. ‘The Lonely Sea and the Sky’ by Francis Chichester
3. ‘Winesberg, Ohio’ by Sherwood Anderson
4. ‘Dave Barry’s Guide to Guys’ by Dave Barry
5. ‘Goodbye to Gandhi: Travels in New India’ by Bernard Imhasly (New)
6. ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen (New)
7. ‘The Writer’s World’ by Linda Woodson
8. ‘Global Soul’ by Pico Iyer


1. ‘Radical Forgiveness’ by Colin Tipping (New)
2. ‘Growing Up’ by Russel Baker
3. ‘The Running Life’ by George Sheehan
4. ‘Emperor of Emperors’ by Ryscard Kapuscinski
5. ‘Great Railway Bazaar’ by Paul Theroux
6. ‘A Postillion Struck by Lightning’ by Dirk Bogarde
7. ‘Perils of Pesticides’ by Mukund Joshi
8. ‘Run River’ by Joan Didion – 20/-
9. ‘Thy Neighbor’s Wife’ by Gay Talese- 20/-
10. ‘The Electric Cool Aid’ by Tom Wolfe- 20/-
11. ‘Coffee, Tea or Me’ by
12. ‘The Writerly Life’ by RK Narayan 100/-


1. ‘Writing Your Novel’ by Lawrence Block- 100/-
2. ‘Uncivil Liberties’ by Calvin Trillin- 20/-
3. ‘Dave Barry Turns 40’ by Dave Barry (my Nth copy) 10/-
4. ‘Good English’ by Norman Lewis- 10/-
5. ‘National Geographic Guide to Digital Photography’ 150/-
6. ‘News of a Kidnapping’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez- 50/-
7. ‘The Old Gringo’ by Carlos Fuentes- 10/-
8. ‘The Liar’s Club’ Mary Karr- 10/-
9. ‘Writing Clear Paragraphs’- 30
10. ‘Survival Handbook’ – 10/-
11. ‘Blackbird House’ by Alice Hoffman- 10/-
12. ‘Close Range’ by Annie Proulx
13. ‘Writing of One Novel’ by Irving Wallace – 10/-
14. ‘Paro’ by Namita Gokhale- 20/-
15. ‘Writing with Style’ Scholastic- 20/-
16. ‘Out of Sight’ by Elmore Leonard- 10/-
17. ‘She & He’ by Sasthi Brata- 10/-
18. ‘Here Lies Eric Ambler’ by Eric Ambler- 20/-
19. ‘Understand Fiction’ by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren- 20/-


1. ‘A Choice of Words’ by David King and Thomas Crerar- 15/-
2. ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle (multiple copy)- 15/-
3. ‘Mudrarakshasa: The Hunted’ by Subhash Chandra- 20/-
4. ‘Mr. Stone and the Knight’s Companion’ by VS Naipaul- 10/-
5. ‘Old and New: 18 Stories’ by RK Narayan- 10/-
6. ‘Education of Richard Rodriguez’ by Richard Rodriguez – 10/-
7. ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’ by Sebastian Koch- 10/-
8. ‘Without Feathers’ by Woody Allen- 10/-
9. ‘The Hunted’ by Elmore Leonard- 50/-
10. ‘The Moonshine Wars’ by Elmore Leonard
11. ‘Poona Company’ by Farrukh Dhondy
12. ‘Middle Passage’ by VS Naipaul
13. ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams
14. ‘Nose Picking for Pleasure’ by Richard Flickert (yuck, and sorry I had to mention it)


1. ‘Strange Adventures of Donald Crowhurst’ by Nicholas Tomlin & Ron Hall
2. ‘Packrat Papers’ Volume- I
3. ‘Vintage Book of Indian Writing’ Ed by Salman Rushdie, Elizabeth West-100/-
4. ‘Touch’ by Elmore Leonard- 10/-
5. ‘Return to Paris’ by Colette Rossant-10/-
6. ‘The Impressionist’ by Hari Kunzru
7. ‘Finally…I’m a Doctor’
8. ‘The Tax Inspector’ by Peter Carey- 10/-
9. ‘Soul of a Chef’ by Michael Ruhlman- 120/-
10. ‘Home and Other Black Holes’ by Dave Barry- 20/-
11. ‘The Men Within’ by Harimohan Paruvu
12. ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ by George Orwell- 10/-
13. ‘Hali and Other Stories’ by GV Dessani
14. ‘Deep Revision’
15. ‘Collected Essays’ by Graham Greene- 20/-
16. ‘Great Railway Bazaar’ by Paul Theroux- 20/- (2nd Copy of the year)

The second half of the year yielded fewer books than the first six months of the year. Or maybe I picked up fewer books considering that my house was being filled up with books everywhere. Maybe next year I will buy only one book per week or else I may have to buy a bigger house, which looks impossible unless I get a massive advance on my book.


1. ‘Way to Happiness’-10/-
2. ‘Paperweight’ by Stephen Fry- 90/-
3. ‘I, Gracias’ by Henri Nouwen
4. ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ by Alice Munro- 40/-
5. ‘Writing Home’ by Alan Bennett- 65/-
6. ‘Mother Tongue’ by Bill Bryson- 65/-
7. ‘The Bookshop’ by Penelope Fitzgerald- 20/-
8. ‘For Love and Money’ by Jonathan Raban- 90/-
9. ‘Rules of Thumb’ by Tom Parker- 10/-
10. ‘Old Ace in the Hole’ by Annie Proulx- 30/-
11. ‘Unknown Man No. 89’ by Elmore Leonard- 15/-


1. ‘The Practical Writer’ eds Therese Eiben and Mary Gannon- 135/-
2. ‘If You Want to Write’ by Brenda Ueland- 100/-
3. ‘How to Write a Movie in 21 Days’ by Vicki King- 100/-
4. ‘Literary Occasions’ by VS Naipaul (New)- 225/-
5. ‘The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx- 20/-
6. ‘Heavy Water and Other Stories’ by Martin Amis- 20/-
7. ‘Secular Commonsense’ by Mukul Kesavan- 20/-


1. ‘My Year Off’ by Robert McCrum – 50/-
2. ‘Hardboiled Wonderland and End of the World’ by Haruki Murakami
3. ‘Fires’ by Raymond Carver- 50/-
4. ‘Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition- 50/-
5. ‘Kafka on the Shore’ by Haruki Murakami- 100/-


1. ‘Trading Reality’ by Michael Ridpath- 25/-
2. ‘London Walks’- 30/-
3. ‘Lost Continent’ by Bill Bryson- 10/-
4. ‘Wild Mind’ by Natalie Goldberg- 50/-
5. ‘Groucho and Me’ by Groucho Marx- 20/-
6. ‘Portrait in Sepia’ by Isabel Allende- 20/-
7. ‘Stick’ by Elmore Leonard- 50/-


1. ‘Age of Kali’ by William Dalrymple- 55/-
2. ‘Being Indian’ by Pavan K. Verma
3. ‘The Last of the Savages’ by Jay McInerney- 10/-
4. ‘For the Time Being’ by Dirk Bogarde- 50/-
5. ‘Switch’ by Elmore Leonard- 50/-
6. ’84 Charing Cross Road’ by Helene Hanff- 30/-
7. ‘Bachelor Brothers; Bed and Breakfast’ by Bill Richardson 10/-
8. ‘The Art of TS Eliot’ by Helen Gardner- 30/-
9. ‘Behind the Wall’ by Colin Thubron- 90/-
10. ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote- 10/-


1. ‘A Writer’s Notebook’ by Somerset Maugham- 75/-
2. ‘Arabia: Through the Looking Glass’ by Jonathan Raban- 25/-
3. ‘Reservoir Dogs’ by Quentin Tarantino- 10/-
4. ‘The Writer and Reader’ by Neil Ewart- 25/-
5. ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle- 10/-
6. ‘Hands of a Stranger’ by Robert Daley- 10/-
7. ‘Ordinary People’ by Judith Guest- 10/-
8. ‘The Hotkid’ by Elmore Leonard- 10/-
9. ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King- 100/-
10. ‘At Random’ by Bennet Cerf- 100/-
11. ‘Double Vision’ by Rudy Wiebe- 20/-

Gifts of books I got during the year from my (good) friends:

‘Hombre’ by Elmore Leonard
‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham
‘The Good Earth’ by Pearl S Buck
‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ by Richard Carlson
‘By the Lakeside’ Garison Keillor

Monday, December 29, 2008

On Another Trip & the Year That Was

As the year begins to fade away my travel stars seem to be shining brighter. I’m setting off on another trip, the third one this month. I haven’t been anywhere this year for a long time and suddenly as if to compensate for it I am being sent here and there. This time I am being sent to Visakhapatnam. Vizag is infinitely better than the other two places I have been in the past couple of weeks- Guntur and Zaheerabad. Apart from many things in its favor Vizag is a seaside place and I simply love being near the ocean. I will be in Vizag on New Year’s eve so I plan to spend the last day of the year watching the sunrise by the sea. It would be a nice way to end the year which has been a mixed one for me so far.

The one major highlight of the year was that I finally managed to complete writing my book. I guess it brought me within inches of being a published writer. However I haven’t been able to stick to my deadline of completing the revisions by the end of the year but that’s okay. I will do it in the first two months of the coming year. Other than that, writing the blog regularly has been another source of satisfaction. I’ve managed to write two hundred and twenty two posts in 2008. Though I did not have anything published in papers and magazines (as if I do it quite regularly!) I am satisfied with the posts on the blog which has brought me more friends than I could make otherwise. The blog has brought in a haul of friends I am happy to be in touch with regularly.

As far as books are concerned I found plenty of them, a hundred thirty to be exact. My friends are envying me for finding some really good books. I picked up many books by my favorite writers- Elmore Leonard, Dave Barry, Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer and others. I have listed all the books I have found this year somewhere on the blog. But when it comes to reading I haven’t read as many books I should have for various reasons. Whatever books I have read have been good so far, books that changed something within me. I will continue to read more books though I might be picking up fewer of them owing to a space constraint at home.

Of course, the high point has been getting a Mont Blanc fountain pen as a gift. I also found a couple of nice fountain pens the latest being the ‘Swarna’ black fountain pen I picked up at Guntur about a week ago.

On the job there haven’t been many highs though I have learnt a lot of people in a particular industry hate me for sticking to rules. I am glad I had the opportunity to show these greedy and rapacious industrialists how it feels when the government flexes its muscle. The surprising thing is that there have been no attempts to shift me from my post and instead there’s a new respect for being unbending and straightforward. But it is very tough to remain unruffled when there’s wholesale corruption all around you.

I made a few trips on the job and had excitement at the end of the year in form of the anti-corruption operations in December. I will remember the one where I was part of an operation to trap a corrupt cop. It felt like I was in a movie chasing someone through heavy traffic. The low was that I was not promoted this year too and maybe next year I will move a step up the ladder.

I am not making any resolutions for the next year because I haven’t been able to keep the resolutions that I had made last year. I wasn’t able to listen to music and was also not able to buy an iPod. The other resolution was that I wanted to learn to cook but I was nowhere near the kitchen. I just ate.

So that was a little bit about my experiences in the year that’s gone and I hope none of you have fallen asleep while reading this post which is one of the lengthiest I have done so far. I hope and am also confident that 2009 will be a better year bringing every one success, happiness and lots of money which is something I badly need. Why? I have to buy bookshelves! Where else can I keep my books?

Wish You all a Happy New Year. Keep reading the blog. Thank You very much.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Book Fair Haul

The Haul at the Book Fair

There’s one book I never fail to pick up whenever I spot it. There are multiple copies of this book with me and some of them I have given away to friends. It is a book that sort of helped me begin writing my book about which I had been thinking for quite sometime. The book is ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. All the copies of this book I had picked up till the other day were paperbacks but at the 23rd Book Fair last Saturday I found a hardcover copy at a second hand book stall. I was quite thrilled to find it and I got the almost new copy for only a hundred rupees. In fact all the three books I bought at the Book Fair, all of them second hand, I got for hundred rupees.

The other book I found was one I had missed buying a long time back at the second hand bookstore in Lakdi-ka-pul. I had seen it once and had thought no one would pick it up and did not bother to buy it myself. When I went there again a month later the book was gone. It was Bennett Cerf’s ‘At Random’, his reminiscences of the publishing world, of famous writers like Truman Capote, Moss Hart, Ayn Rand, William Styron and others. It is a first edition and I am thrilled to have found it at last. While flipping through the books I noticed Cerf had mentioned a writer and his book that I have- Moss Hart’s ‘Act One’ that I found at Abids sometime last year.

The first book I had found at the Book Fair was one by one of my favorite writers- Elmore Leonard. I spotted his ‘The Hot Kid’, a book that I had not read or known about because it was published in 2005. This book too was a hard cover edition and was almost brand new. I was pleased to find one of Elmore Leonard’s latest books and am now eager to begin reading it. I have almost all of his books except a few that I hope to find sooner or later.

The surprising coincidence about the above three books is that they were all first editions and that makes them special. I don’t usually collect first editions but when I find them I do pick them up. I had been only once to the Book Fair this year and I might go once again before it is over. The reason why I am not going again is that I’d be tempted to pick up more books than I can afford or store.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2nd Interesting Experience- Catching a Corrupt Cop

When I joined the government a long time back I never imagined I’d have anything to do with cops. To my surprise I got to work alongside cops for almost six years in an investigating agency, and only last year I got out of it. It was an interesting experience but the most interesting experience was one that I had last Thursday with another set of cops. I actually participated in an trap operation that led to the arrest of a senior policeman caught red-handed accepting a bribe.

A day after I was involved in searching the house of a corrupt municipal official in the company of the cops of the Anti-Corruption Bureau last week, I was at their office signing away documents since morning. I must have signed something like a thousand papers when one of the cops told me that his boss was calling me. I thought the boss must be thanking me for the success of the operation and went along to his room jauntily. But when I was shown in, I had a big surprise in store.

I was just told to carefully watch someone demonstrate a procedure that showed how corrupt people are trapped and caught red-handed while accepting bribes. The money that is given to the corrupt person is first coated with an invisible chemical (Phenolpthalein) which sticks to the hands when the cash is handled. When the hands of the person are dipped in a Sodium Carbonate solution it turns pink.

I was shown a stack of currency worth fifty thousand which was kept in a bag. We were then told someone had approached the ACB cops that a person was asking for a bribe. A formal complaint was filed and then the next act began. There were more than twenty people involved in the operation, most of them cops. We started for the place where the trap was laid. I was with an Inspector and half a dozen constables in a Tata Sumo. More cops followed on bikes and other vehicles. We reached a court building where the person would accept the bribe in the office room of a prosecutor. Much later I was told it was a cop who was being trapped. The person carrying the money to give the cop went in. We waited tensely for him to come out and give the pre-arranged signal of wiping his face with his handkerchief. It was a very long wait.

The inspector was in touch with his boss over phone. Then finally after a three hour wait we learnt the cop had shifted the venue to another place. Every one scrambled to follow an autorickshaw in which the complainant (the guy giving the bribe) and another person (the prosecutor) who negotiated the bribe were going to meet the cop who asked for the bribe. It was a scene straight out of a movie. We were just behind the autorickshaw that was being followed closely by two more cops. The traffic was heavy and so it was difficult following it. Yet we did keep it in sight. Every one was tense and I was the tensest. I had not been in such an operation before. I was both excited and also a bit scared. What if the cop took out his gun and shot me (I am a witness, remember?) to bits?? But all such fears vanished when we reached Chaderghat where the cop was waiting in his official vehicle.

All of a sudden there was a commotion as the ACB cops rushed to the waiting Sumo vehicle. The person who was to give the bribe was told to give a signal that the bribe was accepted. Three senior cops held the corrupt cop on either side immobilizing him. The crowds watched as the cops swiftly moved away in their vehicles, half a dozen vehicles following behind. The operation was successful but some more procedures remained. The inspector with me was tense because another person with the corrupt cop had got away. The corrupt cop turned out to be an Assistant Commissioner of Police who had asked for fifty thousand rupees. He was trapped successfully and was arrested right on the spot. He was in uniform and he had a revolver (gulp!) with him which was taken away.

It was both a terrifying sight and an interesting sight to look at his face. The tall, balding and elderly cop was shocked and his eyes darted around as he looked at us while he was being led up the stairs his hands held on both sides by the cops of the ACB. I can never forget the sight of his face as he gave me a baleful look. Later he was made to sit beside me while I wrote the mediator’s report narrating the entire operation that would be later produced in court. It was the third case I was a witness in and it meant that I would be making the rounds of the courts for years to come. That would be another entirely different experience.

The entire operation wasn’t without its moments of fun. The cops of the ACB were of all senior rank- DSP and Inspectors. They were very deferential towards me calling me ‘Sir’ all the time and getting me whatever I wanted. They buttered me up saying my handwriting was good and they said they were lucky they had me as a witness because the statement was without any mistakes! I had a bet with the inspector who was with me that he would treat me to biryani if the operation was successful. So he owes me one. But it took a long time to write the reports. Meanwhile the media hawks landed but they were in a separate room. It was half past two in the morning when we completed writing the reports.

The trapped cop was later taken to a lock-up in a police station which must have been a terrible irony. A cop who is supposed to put others behind bars was himself behind bars in the company of criminals. The next day he was sent to jail by the magistrate and I wondered if there’d be any criminals there who he might have arrested. I wondered how humiliated he and his family must be feeling. I also felt a bit sad being part of his humiliation. The cops even introduced me to the corrupt cop while I was taking down his statement. It was the first time we met but I guess we’ll be seeing each other in the courts when his trial begins. Meanwhile, I was glad I had the experience of a life time being involved in three cases within two days. Every one was saying it is a headache that lasts for years until the cases are decided. I don’t know if it would be a headache or not but I am feeling light headed having witnessed live that crime never pays.

Monday, December 22, 2008

An Interesting Experience

Knocking on the doors of a complete stranger at half past five in the morning is something unusual, but when one does it with a dozen cops in tow it becomes something very unusual. That is what I did last Thursday. I was asked to accompany a team of anti-corruption cops as a witness to search the house of an official accused of being corrupt and amassing wealth. It was a hush hush operation right from the word go and ended up in an arrest and lots of drama. I was in the news, this time on television, for something not related to my writing.

A colleague in the office who was supposed to report for the operation the previous evening asked me to go in his place. When I agreed to go I didn’t know that it would be a three day operation with enough drama to last me a lifetime. I was asked to report at five am the next day and I arrived promptly after spending a sleepless night. We left in a Tata Sumo, the standard vehicle of cops, all six of us and six more cops on bikes. We reached Madhapur in the darkness and waited for a signal from other cops who had gone ahead on bikes.

We parked the Sumo and got down even as the sky began to light up with the approaching dawn. At a signal we rushed to a five-storeyed building under construction and knocked on the door of a flat. A middle aged lady opened the door only to be bewildered to see all twelve of us at her doorstep. Even before she could realize what was happening a warrant was thrust at her to read. Then the search began. The cops went through each room, each cupboard, each drawer taking out bills, articles and every thing out. They heaped all the stuff on a mat spread on the floor and methodically sorted everything in separate piles. They filed something like a million documents that were seized.

The lady was a municipal official working in a section responsible for giving building permissions. Someone had tipped off the anti-corruption cops that she was taking heavy bribes. What we came across was appalling. The lady was building a five storey structure that had eight three bed room portions and a penthouse. She claimed that they had spent around sixty lakhs rupees on it but could not account how she came to earn so much from her small job. The ultimate irony was that the lady built the structure without any permission in an area where the municipality was not issuing any building permissions! The market value of the completed flats could be a couple of crores.

A couple of hours into the search the news reporters swarmed the place with their cameras and hand held mikes. The lady shielded her face with the edge of her sari. Later we saw it on television as ‘breaking news’. It was an educational experience. The cops were polite with the house owners and offered them breakfast, tea and lunch to them in their own house! The search went on until late afternoon and at the last minute the cops found something that led to an arrest.

The husband of the lady had hidden eleven bottles of whisky in an attic of a store room. The bottles were CSD issue, that is, only defence personnel are authorized to keep them. The Excise officials were summoned and they arrested the man despite the pleadings of the lady. He was taken in a jeep to be kept in a lock-up overnight. I felt very sorry for the guy.

It was quite a revelation about how corruption takes a toll. The lady seemed to be totally unconcerned about her corrupt image. Her husband seemed to be fond of liquor. In fact, when we entered the building the first thing we noticed was a glass and a packed of peanuts on the table. Their twenty one year old son seemed to be going the wrong way though he was a national level skating champion. There were cigarette butts every where. It wasn’t a well kept house. Their daughter was married only a couple of months ago and staying in the United States. The cops were triumphant about the success of the operation. I later learnt that I have to keep appearing in the courts for years together until the case is heard to the end. This is just the beginning of my court experiences.

The second experience was even more dramatic and I’ll write about it in the future posts. It is about the arrest of a top cop in a most dramatic manner. It was an experience I won’t forget so easily.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Sunday Haul and News of the Book Fair

The Sunday Haul

One book that most books on writing recommend aspiring writers to go through is Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones.’ Needless to say I have managed to get hold of this book sometime last year. I have started reading this book last week but did not pay much attention to the introduction which was by another writer. At Abids I came across a book by an author whose name seemed familiar. It was Judith Guest’s ‘Ordinary People’ and I picked it up after reading on the front cover that it was a bestseller and such praise by the Washington Post. I got the book for only twenty rupees. I found that the introduction to Natalie Goldberg’s book was by Judith Guest. It was quite a coincidence.

I don’t know why I picked up the next book. It was an uncorrected proof copy of Robert Daley’s ‘Hands of a Stranger’, a yellow covered book with strange markings on it. I wanted to see how an uncorrected proof looks like so I picked it up. It was in a heap of books selling for only ten rupees. It was more than three hundred pages long and looked quite hefty.

The next book I found was one I have several copies of and one that I recommend others to read. It was Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’ but the copy I found was a hardcover edition that I was getting for only ten rupees. Not one to let go of a good bargain I picked it up and added it to my growing collection of second copies.

More Books Ahead

One annual event I look forward to eagerly is the annual Book Fair in Hyderabad that is usually held in the month of December. The 23rd Hyderabad Book Fair begins on the 18th, i.e., the day after tomorrow at Necklace Road. Last year I had found a few good books including a magnificent copy of the jeweler and penmaker Cartier’s ‘Art of Writing’ that I got dirt cheap. This year too I hope to land some good titles and I hope to stop buying any more books after the book fair if I can help it, that is. The fair is for ten days and I read only today that a special stall this year is for Writer’s Stall where writers who have written only one book can display their work. It seems a very good idea.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On the Road Again

Even before I had unpacked completely after the trip to Guntur and got into my normal routine, I was told I had to march again. This time it was to Zaheerabad I was asked to go. While Guntur is in one corner of the world Zaheerabad falls in the other corner, right near Bidar in neighboring Karnataka. I had no option but to tag along one of my bosses. I admit I love to travel but not to places like Guntur and Zaheerabad. Not after I’ve started reading Conde Nast Traveler. The only saving grace was it was just a day trip though it was almost one a.m. when I got back home.

We were dispatched to Zaheerabad to look into something that came in the papers. We started a bit late and reached the town around lunch time. Lunch at a hotel called ‘Milan’ turned out to be a pretty nice affair. Not only the hotel was good but the food too was hot and tasty. After lunch we set off to a village in the interiors. We went around fields of a farmer who claimed to suffer some damage to his crop due to the pesticides that he had sprayed. It is tricky dealing with farmers. I know from experience because I have worked in rural areas for almost seven and half years. The villagers were taken aback that there was such prompt action from the Government. The local reporters came and took out pictures. Maybe we have already made news.

There was so much I thought I’d check out at Zaheerabad. Zaheerabad is where Deccan Development Society, an NGO is based. They have an ‘Ethnic Restaurant’ serving foods made from local grains. I wanted to check it out and also a ‘Millet Complex’ that I spotted on the way to the village. The streets were full of pushcarts filled with a variety of fresh vegetables- carrots, tomatoes, brinjals and even ginger. The place is well known for ginger and other spices. I was told they grow even potatoes which I wanted to see. There was a centuries old temple somewhere on the way I planned to visit. Besides it was the weekly shanty at Zaheerabad and the place was buzzing with activity. But we were so busy I couldn’t get the chance to do anything. The only thing I could do was sit in a hotel in a village- a sort of Country CafĂ© Coffee Day, and have tea. I also got a picture of the setting sun.

The visit to the village and the meeting with the farmers set off a longing to be in the rural areas and work among the farmers. The seven and half years I had worked in villages was a major learning experience. I learnt so much about life in the villages and the way our hard working farmers eke out their living. Incidentally some of the experiences and the friends I made in the place where I worked form a major part of my book. I feel like beginning the revision with renewed interest and finish it very soon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Officer on Tour Meets Black Beauty

Someone up there must have heard me whine about not getting any opportunity to travel anywhere here forget about places described in Conde Nast Traveller. Two days ago I was dispatched on a trip and I returned only today. It is a sort of huge letdown reading about Majorca and Provence and instead arriving at Guntur. Yes, it was Guntur where I was sent on just a day’s trip. As it is, there is nothing much to see at Guntur but I wasn’t there on a sight seeing trip. It had something to do with my job and was an official trip.

I was so desperate to leave Hyderabad for a day at least so the prospect of going to Guntur held a lot of appeal. But I missed the opportunity to observe the country side by making wrong travel plans. I chose to travel by overnight train which had me in Guntur at the unearthly hour of three in the morning. One of the advantages of working in the capital is that one carries a lot of clout in the districts. There was a small retinue to receive me at the railway station. I had told them specifically not to take the trouble of receiving me and that I was perfectly capable of guiding myself to the guest house but they did not pay any heed to it.

I was there to attend a meeting and as government meetings go it was pretty boring. The department I work in is a boring one so it was no surprise. The only bright spot was the lunch which was good so I had a rather heavy meal. Later I had great difficulty suppressing yawns which is sort of tricky when one is seated on the dais facing a small crowd. I tried to appear attentive though my brain had gone to sleep long back.

With the meeting taking up the whole day I had no time to go anywhere. The only thing I was glad about Guntur was that the roads appeared to be extremely smooth without any potholes worth falling into. All the potholes in the state seemed to have concentrated in the capital city only.

A little before dinner we went to a few stationery shops near Hindu College where, in one shop called ‘Raynar’ I bought an elegant black fountain pen. It was a new brand ‘Swarna’, the person at the counter told me it was their brand. Whatever, I was glad I found something to carry back to Hyderabad.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Happy Sunday's Haul- Two Books and a Magazine

Last Sunday I had more than one reason to be happy about my weekly visit to Abids. The first reason was, of course, the haul of two good books and a magazine. The second reason, was the company I had on Sunday at Abids.

First, the haul. Only the other day I had copied into my notebook a list of ‘Travel Literature Classics’ given at the back pages of ‘Lonely Planet Travel Writing’ that I read time to time though I don’t travel much. The first title in that list of eighteen books was Jonathan Raban’s ‘Arabia Through the Looking Glass.’ This book was my first find at Abids and I was thrilled to spot it on the pavement. I got it for only thirty rupees. All of Raban’s books seem to have almost the same cover design since his other book that I had picked up sometime ago had a similar design.

The next find was once again a lucky one. I picked up the absolutely latest (Dec 08) issue of ‘The Sunday Times Travel Magazine.’ It is one magazine I had been trying to locate and finally I got it on Sunday. After reading several issues of Conde Nast Traveller this comes as a welcome change. I got the brand new magazine for only twenty rupees.

Two celebrities who are fans of Elmore Leonard are Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino. (I’m also a fan though not a celebrity. Not yet.) I have read books by Stephen King but haven’t seen any movie of Quentin Tarantino, not even ‘Reservoir Dogs.’ I know it sounds a little odd but I’m not such a movie buff. But now that I’ve found the entire screenplay of ‘Reservoir Dogs’ by Quentin Tarantino at Abids on Sunday I might watch the movie. For someone thinking of writing a script I guess it is a smart thing to do it this way. I got Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ for just ten rupees.

Now, for the second reason why I was happy on Sunday. It isn’t everyday that Abids has a visitor who is not only drop dead gorgeous but also well read. This Sunday there was one such visitor to Abids who looked like she stepped right off the cover page of Vogue. I was the one who had the pleasure of showing her around the place. We went around for more than two hours picking up some really good books and magazines. After netting a good haul herself she said she’ll be back again. I hope she does.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Looking Forward To...

Looking Forward to Literary Review and the Book Fair

The reading life is one of looking forward- to new chapters in books one that is reading, to new books, to new authors and to events that fill the life with words. There are some things I look forward to - Sundays because I get to go to Abids to hunt for books, the first Sunday of every month because of ‘Literary Review’, and Decembers because of the annual Book Fair.

Today is Saturday and tomorrow happens to be the first Sunday of the month which is one day I eagerly await. On the first Sunday of every month ‘The Hindu’ comes out with ‘Literary Review’ that has some of the finest reviews of books and news about the world of books and writers. It is something I look forward to pore through leisurely in the morning on such Sundays. There are just hours to go for the paper to be delivered and I am counting them.

Another welcome news is that of the annual Book Fair being held from the 18th of this month. The Hyderabad Book Fair is one annual event I wait for even more eagerly. Though only the usual publishers and book stores put up their stalls at the Book Fair, almost every year there is at least one stall of sellers of second hand books. Most of them are Hyderabad based stores but of late there are second hand book sellers from Mumbai, Ahmedabad who are having their stalls. Sometime back, a long time ago, Select of Bangalore had a stall and I found several titles that I happily bought. I wish they come this year too.

This year the Book Fair is at Necklace Road and is for ten days. I hope to visit at least three times and hope to pick up some good titles, of course, second hand.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

When Somerset Maugham Came to Hyderabad

Had I been born about a hundred years ago, I would have certainly met Somerset Maugham when he was in Hyderabad while traveling the country. (I probably would have asked him how he happened to write so well.) I discovered this fascinating bit of information that one of my favorite authors, Somerset Maugham, actually came to Hyderabad in 1938 while I was flipping through his ‘A Writer’s Notebook’ that I found the other day at a bookstore in Abids.

One of the few books I had taken along to Andaman was a copy of Somerset Maugham’s ‘A Writer’s Notebook’ that I wanted to read at leisure. But even before I had read past the preface I gave it away to a friend I made at Port Blair. Shamik must have got quite a surprise when I gave this book along with Paul Theroux’s ‘Traveling the World’ the day he was leaving for Kolkata after spending a little more than a month in our midst as a Media Fellow. Ever since that day I have been on the look out for another copy of this book, and finally on Tuesday I managed to lay my hands on it.

I was very thrilled to read that Somerset Maugham had been to Hyderabad. He writes about meeting a simple Sadhu who healed people, and later a Sufi, both of whom he describes quite beautifully without any sarcasm or cynicism one finds in the descriptions of such people by other foreigners. Maugham writes about meeting Sir Akbar Hydari and staying with him. I wish there were more accounts of this visit elsewhere too. Maugham’s visit to Hyderabad, and indeed to the country, is too fascinating to be treated as trivia.

Elsewhere in the book I came upon a piece of advice Maugham gave to a woman who wanted to know what training he would advise to her son who wanted to be a writer. It is interesting to read what Maugham told her. He writes that he advised her to give him enough money to enable him to travel and see the real life. Maugham writes: ‘A writer does well to place himself in such conditions that he may experience as many as possible of the vicissitudes which occur to men. He need do nothing very much, but he should do everything a little. I would have him in turns tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor.’

I guess this is where John Le Carre must have got the idea for the title of one of his classic novels- ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.’ Somerset Maugham’s ‘A Writer’s Notebook’ is full of such anecdotes, character profiles and incidents that tell a lot how he observed human nature and used it in his stories and novels. This book, along with his other book- ‘The Summing Up’, is great education for anyone aspiring to be a novelist.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Sunday Haul- One Magazine

Those who subscribe to or buy Conde Nast Traveller, I am sure, do so with the intention of making at least one trip to the sort of places described in great detail in it. There are detailed write ups on destinations that are almost always picturesque beaches, palaces or beautiful cities in all the issues. Then there are also articles on the wonderful food and wines that such places offer to the visitors. It would require one to be earning in millions to be able to afford trips to such exotic destinations and to indulge in all that food and wine.

But I don’t have to worry about it since I am neither a subscriber nor a regular buyer of Conde Nast Traveller. I buy my copies second hand at Abids. This Sunday’s lone find was the June 2008 issue of ‘Conde Nast Traveller’ that I got for only ten rupees. It was a special issue on destinations in Europe like Paris, Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and such places I’ll never get to visit as long as I continue to work for the state government which has sent me no farther than New Delhi. In these times of recession I have to be thankful the job pays me enough to be able to afford books and magazines even if they are second hand.

Almost in every issue, Conde Nast Traveller has something on books. In this issue I found a short piece by Julian Evans, biographer of the famous travel writer Norman Lewis, in which he says that Lewis made up some things in his travel books. What else does he expect writers to do?

A regular column about books in the magazine is ‘Shelf Improvement’ that has short write ups on books and travel writers. I read about Rory Maclean’s ‘Stalin’s Nose: Across the Face of Europe’ that has an introduction by Colin Thubron. I had recently read about this book in Lonely Planet’s ‘Travel Writing’ that I have. Another of his book mentioned is ‘Under the Dragon: Travels in Burma’ that I plan to look out for. This is how I go on adding titles to my list of ‘To Buy’ books.

Of course, the descriptions of the restaurants and the food served in it are what I love to read about though I am not much of a foodie. Almost always I come across new and interesting names of dishes. In this issue I read about ‘chorizo’ and ‘quenelle’ that, to my ears, sound like something no Hyderabadi would want to put in his mouth even if offered free.

The most interesting article in it was about the filming of ‘The Edge of Love’ which is about Dylan Thomas. The lovely Keira Knightley plays a role in it and I read that the scriptwriter, Sharman Macdonald, is none other than Keira’s mom. Keira’s picture in the magazine was a plus but the bonus was that of Laetitia Casta inside. I’m glad I found the magazine and gladder still that I got it for only ten rupees.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Joy of Potholes

Unlike other cities where they have potholes only on inner roads, we in Hyderabad seem to prefer having them on our main roads. That maybe because we don’t want visitors to Hyderabad to miss out on our fantastic potholes. We want them to know that we Hyderabadis too are pretty deep into potholes as well. Also, having potholes on main roads is one way of revealing the Hyderabadi character- we don’t mind a few bumps in our lives and on our roads as long we get to have our daily dose of Irani chai.

The municipal engineers in Hyderabad seem to have forgotten that November is already over since there is no sign of any sort of road repairs which, if I remember correctly, they promised to take up sometime for the middle of November. I wonder what their excuse is this time for not taking up the repairs. Maybe they feel the potholes aren’t deep enough to warrant filling them up. Or maybe it is the rains. It looks like the potholes are going to be around for a long time.

Whatever, I feel the potholes in Hyderabad are just like Hyderabadis- big, like their hearts and empty, like their heads.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Magical Morning

It was time for the monthly dose of morning tranquility that I have become addicted to. I could have gone on the last Sunday of the month but there was the Hyderabad 10 K Run scheduled. Also, there was a lot in my mind that had accumulated and that I wanted to get rid of. Saturday night I went to bed eager to get up early and drive to Necklace Road before it was sun up.

It’s winter already in Hyderabad and I had expected it to be cold early in the morning. But it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be as I took the bike out. Though it was only six in the morning the streets were busy with traffic. I reached my usual spot only to find it occupied. I walked further ahead and sat down waiting for the sun to come out. The sky was cloudy adding to the silence of the morning and the chill. Just sitting watching the calm lake seemed so soothing.

After a while the sun broke out of the clouds, a golden orb that was reflected in the placid waters. I sat for about an hour immersed in my thoughts- another month and the year would come to an end. I had nothing to show in this year except completing the draft of the book. I had a month more to do something in the direction of completing the revisions or write an article for the papers. I had begun a travel piece about my visit to the Andamans. I am halfway to finishing it. If it comes out well then maybe some newspaper will carry it next month or later.

The next phase of the morning was in Adarsh Cafe. It was quiet in the hotel as I sat poring through the Sunday supplement of the Deccan Chronicle. Inside were two articles on two women who had lost something in their lives. Chitra Singh, the wife of Jagjit Singh, the ghazal singer talked about the loss of her teenage son in a road accident years ago. Mona Singh, divorced from Boney Kapoor talked how she picked up the pieces of her life after her divorce. It made for inspiring reading, these two stories.

There were only a few people in the hotel and they all seemed to talk in quiet voices. The mild winter sunlight streamed into the hotel through the tops of the trees gently swaying on the other side of the road. Lost in reading the paper I did not notice it was already half past eight and time to return home.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The SundayHaul- A Magazine and a Book

Among the thousands of people who read the latest issue (November ’08) of ‘The Atlantic’ I must have been the only one in the whole world to have bought it off the pavement, and at a fraction of its cover price. (No matter how many times I checked I couldn’t find the price on the cover.) Some well-read soul in Hyderabad must have already gone through it and decided to sell it off though there is still a week for the month to end.

It was a lucky find given the fact that the brand new magazine lay there on the pavement since morning without anyone buying it until I arrived at Abids sometime late in the afternoon and picked it up the instant my eyes caught the title. I got it for only twenty rupees. The issue was also special in that it is a redesigned one and also has two good articles- one was by Andrew Sullivan (Will Blogs Kill Writing?) and the other, a review by Christopher Hitchens of- The World Is What It Is - Patrick French’s biography of VS Naipaul.

But I found only one book on Sunday and it was one I had already read. The copy of Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ was too good to miss at just ten rupees so I picked it up. I got this 384 page paperback for just ten rupees. I also saw a book of poems by Raymond Carver as well as a book by John O’Hara, both of whose titles I am now unable to recollect.

I was intrigued when I came across a new prefix, twice in two different articles I skimmed through in ‘The Atlantic.’ The prefix was ‘ur-‘ and was used in these sentences: ‘Forget the male ur-reader’ and ‘…to think Johnny Mercer wrote ur-American songs he didn’t….’ I wonder what the prefix means.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hyderabad's Smallest Bookstore

Sometime back, about a month ago, Odyssey opened the biggest bookstore in Hyderabad in the upscale area of Jubilee Hills. With more than a couple of floors the store is really the biggest bookstore in our city. Almost at the same time it also seemed to have opened what can be called as the smallest bookstore in Hyderabad- the Odyssey Express bookstore. In addition to being the smallest bookstore it also is located in a rather unusual location- a filling station in, of all places, East Marredpally

Not until a friend told me about it I did not know about the Odyssey Express bookstore inside a HPCL outlet in East Marredpally. Last Saturday I checked it out and was surprised with the neat and compact store. It had just a couple of racks filled with a choice of books for all tastes- fiction, non-fiction, management, classics etc apart from the latest bestsellers. There were racks filled magazines, racks filled with music and movie CD/DVDs, racks filled with stationery including greeting cards, plenty of toys, gift items and also premium pens- something for every one. That sounds like a lot for a small store no more than a few square feet.

I picked up a bottle of ink and the latest issue of ‘Tinkle’ which I don’t usually find at their main store. The sales person at the counter told me they have two more similar stores- one at the new airport at Shamshabad and another at Prasads Imax. It seems a good idea to have such mini stores in places where space is at a premium but where there is demand for books and such stuff. I expect others to follow this welcome trend.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Straight from the Saucer: Crazy Tourist in Irani

One cannot really tell what a Hyderabadi will do at any given time or at any given place because Hyderabadis, by nature, are so utterly unpredictable. How we drive on the roads is one perfect example. This unpredictability also seems to affect those who visit the city. When one is in an Irani one expects every one to have chai whatever the weather outside. When it is chilly one cannot imagine drinking anything else (in an Irani anyway). But the other day I had a glimpse of a different type of unpredictability.

Last Monday morning I was in Adarsh. The weather had been quite different with dark clouds of the cyclone on the coast still hanging over the city. It had rained the previous night which added to the morning’s chill. Every thing appeared wet and cold. The sun wasn’t out – just the sort of weather to drink something warm, like Irani chai. Though it was half past nine in the morning it appeared like it was still early morning what with the cloudy weather and the chill.

I ordered my tea and waited for it. A young fellow, well dressed, with a small bag in one hand and a bottle of mineral water in the other hand sat opposite me. When I am in Irani hotels I like to play a game. I try to guess what people at the table would order. He looked like one of those visitors who come to the Birla Temple and stop at Adarsh for breakfast. I thought he would order something to eat. But when he ordered Limca I was slightly taken aback though the waiter did not seem very surprised. This was weather to drink something to warm your insides, not chill them I thought of telling him.

When the waiter brought the bottle of Limca the young man told him to bring a straw. So there he was, drinking Limca through a straw while I sat drinking my tea from the saucer. I wondered where he was from- perhaps from one of those places where they don’t sell any soft drinks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Midweek's Haul

I like to read travel writing a lot I rarely get to travel and much less write about my travels. The Andaman trip was the only long trip I made anywhere. However, I like to read travel literature to compensate for the lack of adventure in my own life. I've read Bruce Chatwin, Ryscard Kapuscinski, Peter Matthiessen, Pico Iyer- those kind of writers and also travel magazines like Conde Nast Travel. But Paul Theroux continues to be a favorite. Sometime back I had picked up Theroux’s ‘Riding the Iron Rooster’ which is about his journeys in China by train. It is more than a year since I found it and I am sort of treasuring it for a time when I will be free to do some solid reading.

But when I found another book on China I felt glad I had not yet read ‘Riding the Iron Rooster’ since I want to compare it with another book on the same place. The other day I had been to a second hand bookstore and came across Colin Thubron’s ‘Behind the Wall’, an account of his travels in China. It would be interesting to see what one writer noticed and what the other has missed. This book too is a tome with hundreds of pages. I want to read the two books one after the other. But I am wondering which to read first.

The other books I saw but did not buy at the store were Pico Iyer’s ‘Tropical Classical’ which was a better copy than the one I had, Kazuo Ishiguro, a book of poems by Joyce Carol Oates, a book by Sanjay Nigam and several others I would have unhesitatingly bought had my shelves been empty and the wallet full.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stranger in the Irani

A long time ago, in the eighties, I happened to live in the Malakpet area. But not for so long for people to recognize me and wish me almost twenty years later. That’s what happened when I was in Hotel Niagara at Chaderghat one fine morning sometime last week. I thought it was someone I knew who wished me but it turned out to be a strange but not unusual experience for me.

Saturday morning I was in Malakpet to attend a conference which turned out to be terribly boring. I left midway and stopped at Niagara for a cup of Irani chai. Maybe it was the Elmore Leonard book (Stick) that I was reading or maybe something I picked up from my cop friend but I knew what the white haired, shabbily dressed stranger who wished me as he passed my table, was up to. He had spotted me long before I noticed him.

Sure enough, he appeared before me again. I was engrossed in the book. There’s something about Elmore Leonard’s books that makes me feel very sorry- sorry for a lot of things- for not being able to write snappy dialogue like him, sorry for not being able to think up the kind of stories he does, sorry, sorry… Then when the stranger sat on the chair before me I knew what was coming. Perhaps his shabby dress gave him away but I wasn’t very startled when he extended his left on the table bringing his fist for my inspection. He uncurled his fingers to reveal a few coins. When I looked at him he asked me for five rupees because he wanted to have lunch. Only five rupees. He made a gesture of putting food in his mouth with his other hand.

I wasn’t exactly in a generous mood that morning though I was reading a book by one of my favorite writers, Elmore Leonard, had a plateful of chota samosas in front of me and a cup of hot Irani chai was on its way. I had walked out half way through an official conference, the sun wasn’t out and it was a long ride back to office. Then pay day was a long way off. But he had got me at a wrong time. No Hyderabadi sitting in an Irani restaurant and shoveling chota samosas into his mouth can afford to be not generous. On top of it, I work for the Government (our motto: we serve all). He looked at me longingly.

I did not know if he’d have lunch with it or a drink but I hoped it was something for his stomach as I gave him a tenner and gestured him to buzz off. I needn’t because he was gone even before I had shut my wallet. It wasn't exactly a smart thing to do, but then we Hyderabadis are like that.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

300 Posts

I had not realized it when putting it on the blog but the previous post was the 300th post. However, it wasn’t something to be very excited about. Blogging has become a routine now after nearly a year and half at it. It has also become a source of worry. I begin to think of what to write next as soon as I post something here. It is another worry in addition to those already teeming in my mind all the time- Is there enough petrol? Is it going to rain? Is my head going to come off if I take that pothole at sixty? Are we Hyderabadis really that dumb? And so on.

When I had done about 280 posts in October I thought I’d try to do three hundred by the end of the month and try to do fifty more to touch three hundred and fifty by the end of the year which would have been a rather neat way of ending the year. But a post a day seemed daunting and besides, there’s the fact that there aren’t many people exactly dying to read the posts here. So it didn’t seem worth the effort.

Also, a post a day would take too much time away from my work and the revision on the book. So I gave up the idea and spared a few people the daily bother of checking what I had come up with since the last time they had been on the blog. I guess I might be able to reach three hundred and twenty three posts or so by the end of the year which is just as good as 350 considering no one out there is handing out awards for prolific bloggers, especially to those from Hyderabad.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Sunday Haul

Bargaining is something I am not very good at. In fact, it is one among a long list of things I cannot do without breaking into a sweat. But bargaining is perhaps somewhere at the top of the list. It is something I am trying to master by making sporadic attempts that usually end in failure. However, on some days I surprise myself. Last Sunday turned out to be one such day when my uncertain bargaining skills yielded two good books.

Normally I don’t like to bargain with the booksellers at Abids. I like to think they are doing a great service bringing good books to our notice. I don’t grudge them the small profit they make on the books. After all, they have to make a living. I don’t expect them to buy personal jets on the profits they make on the books. So I pay them whatever they ask and if they reduce a bit I am more than happy.

But when I bargain I try not to lose. That way I landed the first book which was ‘The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner which the guy quoted for seventy rupees. I told him I was not prepared to pay a rupee more than twenty five rupees. He asked me to quote a second price. I didn’t. So when he put the book in my hands saying it was mine I was more than surprised.

The second find was in a ten rupee heap. It was ‘Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast’ by Bill Richardson. It seemed to be connected with books as the blurb on the cover showed a quote from Publisher’s Weekly- ‘This quiet charmer is a bibliophile’s delight’ which seemed a good enough reason to pick it up.

The third and last find was a book I had seen a couple of weeks back. It was a book that was reviewed in ‘The Literary Review’ of the ‘The Hindu’ last year. I hadn’t forgotten the review and I don’t know why but the title stuck in my mind. It was Helene Hanff’s ’84, Charing Cross Road which, as the blurb at the back said- ‘ a must for all who worship books’. But I had to bargain for it. The starting price was seventy rupees but I got it for less than half that amount- thirty rupees.
Here's the review in 'Literary Review' - http://

That way I ended up with three more books on Sunday.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Midweek Find of Two Books

A few years ago I was working in another department and the office was situated very close to the British Library. My boss, who happened to be a cop, had a membership there. Another colleague was also a member. The enjoyable part was that though I was not a member I could go into the library and browse to my heart’s content, and also borrow books. It was in the British Library that I found my first Paul Theroux book- ‘Dark Star Safari.’ I also happened to come across Dirk Bogarde’s ‘For the Time Being: Collected Journalism’ which had a selection of his book reviews.

I borrowed the book on my boss’ card and read it. I liked the way he wrote and enjoyed his reviews of some good books. I found his other books over the years such as ‘An Orderly Man,’ A Postillion Struck by Lightning’, ‘Backcloth’ and ‘Snakes and Ladders’ that I found at a second hand store in, of all places, Goa. I was looking for ‘For the Time Being’ for a long time and at last on Thursday I chanced upon it in a second hand book store in Secunderabad. I also found another book by one of my favorite writer, Elmore Leonard’s ‘Switch’.

Leafing through ‘For the Time Being’ I was surprised to find there were reviews of some books I too had read. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ was Bogarde’s choice as Book of the Year in the year 1988. About Marquez’s book he says ‘He has written the most gloriously heart-wrenching story of love that I have, perhaps, ever read…It haunts, lingers in the mind and in the mind’s eye, long after the covers have been reluctantly closed.’ I must say Bogarde got it exactly right.

The book that was Bogarde’s choice the following year was another book I have, Bruce Chatwin’s ‘What Am I Doing Here.’ This is what he says about the book : ‘It gave me intense pleasure in the very spareness and beauty of its prose, its astonishing, and deceptive, simplicity and the detailed pictures which it set before my eyes.’

There were two more books, in the several books he has reviewed, that I have also read. One is Peter Mayle’s ‘Toujours Provence’ and the other, by a writer who was here in India not so long , and hailed for his writing. Here’s what Bogarde says about Jeffrey Archer’s ‘A Twist in the Tale’- ‘This is no Maugham, no Dahl, no Saki…not even a Capote. A bundle of little stories with all the bite and crispness of tinned asparagus. I fear that I guessed the so-called twists in the tale pretty quickly.’

Dirk Bogarde was a famous British movie actor who also happened to be a good writer as well. He was struck down by a stroke and was confined to a wheel chair but that did not stop him from writing. Out of his seven volumes of autobiography I have yet to find ‘A Short Walk from Harrods’, ‘Great Meadow’ and ‘Cleared for Take Off’.

The other book I found on Thursday was by an author whose books get made into movies. ‘Switch’ happens to be my latest Elmore Leonard find not so long after getting ‘Hombre’ as a welcome gift, and finding ‘Stick’ just a couple of weeks ago. There’s a long list of his books that I have to read. I got ‘Switch’ and ‘For the Time Being’ for a hundred rupees which isn’t much for a midweek’s find.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Literary Review... Just Books

At last, on Sunday, The Hindu brought with it the much awaited ‘Literary Review.’ As I expected, there was Arvind Adiga on the front page. Amitava Kumar wrote a scathing (?) article about the Booker winning title calling it ‘inauthentic’ and lot more. His argument and reasoning seemed valid but unless I read the book I cannot tell. One can expect a lot more of such fireworks in the future. Below, was an article on the Nobel prize winner, Le Clezio by Shelley Walia.

Inside, there was an interview of C.K. Meena whose latest books ‘Dreams for the Dying’ is out. I haven’t heard of her and haven’t come across her books anywhere. Also, there was an item on the Kollam Literary Festival held sometime back at Kollam/Kovalam. If ever I decide to attend any Literary Festival it will be the one at Kollam, which, the article says is going to be a regular feature. Kerala is one Southern state I haven’t traveled to. Maybe next year I might be in a position to say 'Kerala, here I come.'

The first Sunday of every month is one that makes me happy because it is filled with books all day. The Literary Review with several interesting articles, interviews and reviews makes for enjoyable reading but I still feel something is missing. I wish they could carry something about writing. There could be a column wherein famous writers could discuss their technique, talk about they came about to write their books, and stuff like that which could be of interest to aspiring writers. Among the millions of readers who read The Hindu could be several people who aspire to write. Such a feature could be of great help to them.

Later in the evening I watched ‘Just Books’ hosted by Sunil Sethi on NDTV Profit. A regular feature on this program is the one where celebrities talk about the books on their bookshelves. This week it was the playwright Mahesh Dattani and incidentally, he was recommending CK Meena’s book I had read in ‘Literary Review’ in the morning. It was an odd coincidence.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Sunday Haul- Three More Books

About two years ago William Dalrymple was in Hyderabad to read from his new book- The White Mughals, at the Taj Krishna, where incidentally, I had an encounter with Sania Mirza in a lift. It was an interesting event, and after the reading was over I resolved to buy and read ‘The White Mughals.' However, I never got to buy the book though I read his other writings here and there. But this Sunday I got lucky. I found an almost brand new copy of another of his books- 'The Age of Kali.' I got the book for fifty five rupees which was a bit steep for my budget.

Lying next to ‘The Age of Kali’ on the pavement was a book by another writer I had not yet read. It was Pavan K. Verma’s ‘Being Indian’ which again, I got for fifty rupees. The bookseller seemed to have figured out from something about me that I was eager to buy the two books so he quoted the high figures. I did not want to bargain and paid what he asked for. Both the books were in extremely good condition. I was pleased I landed a nice haul so early in the day.

The next find was in a heap of books selling for only ten rupees. The book was by a writer I had read about only very recently. I tried hard to remember but I was unable to recollect which writer was mentioning Jay McInerney in an article on writing. I had found ‘The Last of the Savages’ and from the reviews on the back of the book it appeared to be a book not to be missed. Plus it was also for only ten rupees. So I bought it taking the Sunday's haul to three.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Going Chinese in an Udupi

The only thing I look forward to eagerly (apart from exiting as quickly as possible) whenever I eat at an Udupi hotel is the scented saunf that comes with the bill. That pretty much sums up the way I feel about the food in Udupi hotels. With so many Irani joints in Hyderabad to fill me up when I am hungry I try to avoid eating at Udupi hotels except at gun point.

Nine times out of ten I cannot eat the stuff they serve. It is uniformly bland for my taste. It isn’t just the food but the waiters I have a problem with. The waiters in the Udupis make you feel unwelcome with the kind of snooty expressions they have on their faces, eyebrows raised and not a hint of a smile. The upmarket the hotel the more snooty they are. I guess they are specially trained not to smile at customers at any cost. Maybe they are afraid we would begin to ask for extra chutney or sambar if they smile, especially in Hyderabad. They all (from the waiter to the guy who sits at the cash counter) have that look that says it is a favor they are doing us by running an Udupi hotel. Any other hotel would be grateful for the customers for patronizing the hotel. Not Udupi guys.

However I must agree that they are some of the cleanest eating joints one can find in Hyderabad. Someone or the other is always wiping the floor when I am in an Udupi hotel. They could easily conduct surgeries on the floor in Udupi hotels. They have a fetish for cleanliness though I wish they show the same fetish when it comes to the food. They all seem to assume that just because they are all from the Udupi area anything they cook will turn out to be worth eating. Even Chinese fare.

I had lunch at the Shanbagh hotel in Basheerbagh with Raj on Saturday. For some reason we decided to try out some of the Chinese fare listed on the menu. Knowing well the way their regular stuff tastes I thought I had made a mistake ordering Chinese food in an Udupi hotel. An Udupi hotel isn’t exactly the place to get adventurous about food. Luckily there was nothing more adventurous than noodles on the menu so we went for soft noodles and fried noodles. I half expected them to bring Maggi noodles on a plate but we got what we asked for. But even after literally dousing the stuff with generous spoonfuls of the various sauces, the food did not appear to have any kind of taste.

Afraid that the guys, especially the cook, would get upset if we said anything about the food we quietly spooned it into our mouths. The Udupi hotels aren’t the sort of places where they ask you how the food was after you finish it. That’s probably because they too know how it is.