Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mahatma Gandhi's Fountain Pen

Yesterday I laid my eyes on a famous article used by a world famous man. At Sevagram, I saw the fountain pen Mahatma Gandhi used to write with. It is a simple dip type fountain pen, with only a nib at the end of a wooden holder. But I was glad I saw it because right from the moment my friend told me Wardha was only a hour and half's drive from Nagpur where I had gone to attend a meeting on Sunday, I was curios to know if I would find the pen. I was told that at Sevagram there were displayed certain articles that Gandhiji used everyday and I was actually dying to see if his pen would be there. It was, and that made my trip to Nagpur worth it.

I had seen a letter written by Mahatma Gandhi to a pen maker, Ratnam, in Rajahmundry last year. It was written sometime in 1947, a time when only fountain pens were around. It was written in that beautiful handwriting of his and at that time, I wondered which pen he wrote with. I got the answer yesterday. The pen was displayed in a wooden display case along with his spectacles, the inkstand, two pencils and other articles. I tried to take a picture but the glass on the case kept reflecting the flash. It was a bit dark in 'Bapu Kuti', the hut where Gandhiji stayed so I had to use the flash on my digital camera which was a basic model so I couldn't take a close up of the pen. I got a picture that I hope shows the pen clearly.

Sevagram is 8 kilometres away from Wardha which is about 80 kilometers from Nagpur. The road is good and one can reach the place in an hour and half by car. I had a train to catch so I had to return early. I plan to make more research about Gandhiji's fountain pens and write them here

Saturday, January 26, 2008

An Unexpected Trip and Two Books

Yesterday I was told I have to attend a meeting at Nagpur in place of someone who was on leave. It was rather sudden but somehow I got confirmed train tickets. I was glad I was going to Nagpur because a very close friend lives there. It had been quite a long time since I had seen him and I was eager to meet him. I would be returning on Thursday and hence the next post would be on Thursday. But today, I found two good books quite unexpectedly.

I had been to Abids in the afternoon shopping for woollens because I was told it was quite cold in Nagpur. I found that the book sellers had set up their books because today was the Republic Day, a mandatory holiday for shops. Most of the shops were closed today and the Abids booksellers took advantage of the holiday. Anyway, I found Jacquelyn Mitchard's 'The Rest of Us.' It is a collection of her essays and has a subtitle, Despatches from the Mother Ship. It was a hard cover edition and almost new. I picked it up because I love to read personal essays. I got this book for thirty rupees.

The second book I found today was one of the best finds of the year so far. It was a book by two revered book collectors. The book was 'Bookends: Two Women, One Enduring Friendship' by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern. These two are the authors of "Old Books, Rare Friends", a book that is quite a bestseller the blurb says. I was glad to find this joint memoir and this too I got for only thirty rupees which is quite a bargain considering it is a hardcover edition and is in excellent condition.

I felt glad finding these two books today. I will write more about them after the Nagpur trip.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Reading Susan Orlean's 'The Orchid Thief'

Until the day before yesterday I hadn’t read anything written by Susan Orlean. After I opened her book, ‘The Orchid Thief’ I wondered why I hadn’t found her before. She writes in a wonderful style that can be only described as arrestingly simple. Her long sentences flow and I just could not stop reading until I finished about fifty pages in one go. Though I read ‘Outside’ and ‘Esquire’, magazines she writes for, on and off, I haven’t come across any articles by Orlean. Maybe I picked all those issues that didn’t have her pieces. My bad luck.

I had picked up ‘The Orchid Thief’ because a friend was searching for it. I am glad I found it because I have discovered another good writer I am planning to read more of. When my friend wrote about the book I had thought it was a novel but I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t, and it turned out to be an engrossing book about orchids, orchid collectors and a madcap thief, Laroche, and is based in Florida. Laroche is as unlikely a character I ever encountered.

I haven’t yet finished the book but it is a wonderful read and some of the sentences are so beautifully simple and funny that I am presenting a couple of them here.

‘Just then I got extremely curious but decided to wait until we were out of the swamp and in a secure government vehicle before I asked the giants what they were in prison for.’

‘He reached for a pot that held the cutest plant in the world. I had vowed that I would acquire not even a single orchid on any of my trips down here, but I thought I might die if I couldn’t have this one.’

This is a sample of Susan Orlean’s exquisite writing. I will write more about this wonderful book after I finish reading it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pico Iyer and Everyman's Naipaul, Paul Theroux

With every article that I am reading in ‘Tropical Classical’ I’m finding it difficult not to be a fan of Pico Iyer’s writing. His is such an exquisite style coupled with such startling insights that I’ve now resolved to read all his books. I’ve got only one of his books- Video Nights in Kathmandu- which I plan to read after completing ‘Tropical Classical’. On one hand is the urgent desire to read all the essays in the book and on the other hand is that sinking feeling the book will end pretty soon. I don’t want the book to end and so I’m reading it s-l-o-w-l-y, one essay after another, savoring each sentence.

In his review of ‘Happy Isles of Oceania’ (written by one of my favorite writers, Paul Theroux) which is titled ‘Richard Burton in the Peace Corps’, Pico Iyer writes more about Paul Theroux than the book. He describes Theroux as ‘Everyman’s Naipaul’ and also compares him with Thoreau. Pico Iyer writes that Paul Theroux shares many traits with Thoreau- ‘unassimilable crankiness, the same rage at bigotry, the same quirky erudition.’ It is a balanced portrait that he paints of Theroux and his failings.

One of the minor pleasures of life is discovering that you share some traits with the person you admire. I was glad to read in this review that Theroux is a fish eating vegetarian and drinks green tea. If only I could write as well as him!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Sunday Haul of Books

Yesterday, being a Sunday, I rode down to Abids after a hearty breakfast, for the weekly book hunt. It was so hot I took along a cap and a bottle of water. I was glad I brought them because the sun was bearing down like anything. In Jan it is supposed to the peak of winter in Hyderabad but it already felt like summer.

After several months I was thrilled to see that a new lot of brand new books had flooded the bazar. Unfortunately they were all books I already have. I picked up a shiny new copy of Woody Allen's 'Getting Even' for only twenty rupees. A friend had asked for it and I am glad I found it. I also saw Mary Karr's 'The Liar's Club', Paul Theroux's 'My Secret History' and other books. I also saw Peter Mayle's 'A Year in Provence' and 'Toujours Provence', good copies but I already have these books.

I finally found a book that I could profit from immensely. It was 'The Art of Reading the Novel' by Philip Freund. The original title of the book was 'How to Become a Literary Critic', it said on the cover page. For years I have been reading just for the pleasure of it and without any serious intention. Now that I am doing this blog I would like to review the books I am reading in an intelligent way, though I doubt if I can do it. Nevertheless I hope the book would help me in reading the books critically and also, maybe write reviews though not like a literary critic. I am wary of literary critics.

This Sunday's haul was small but valuable. I plan to read Philip Freund's book first before beginning to read other books this year so I can read them in a new light.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Irani Tea to Cost More in Hyderabad

Two days ago there was a report in the local newspapers that the Hotel Owners Association in Hyderabad had decided to hike the price of Irani chai. Apparently the rise in price of gas, worker’s wages and such things made it inevitable for them to raise the price of this Hyderabadi favorite. No mention was made how much the hike would be because in Hyderabad, each Irani decides how much a cup of Irani is charged. As of now the cost of a cup of tea remains what it was all the time.

The average price for a cup of chai in Hyderabad varies from Rs 3 to Rs 3. At Adarsh where I have my morning cup it is Rs 3-50 and it is Rs. 4 at Bombay Bakery where I have the afternoon cup. Only a few months ago it was Rs 3-50 at BBR. Rs. 4 is a convenient price for me because I would be left with a change of one rupee which I give to the waiter as a tip. This tip guarantees me immediate attention in that busy hotel and also tea in an unspilt cup.

In a few Irani hotels ‘single tea’ is served which costs only Rs 2. It is a little more than half cup but it serves to satisfy the palate. At ‘Light of Asia’ in Abids where I drop in during my Sunday book hunts, I drink this ‘single’ tea sometimes.

At all these hotels you will find small notice boards with ‘Tea Rs 4 with effect from 1-1007’ or something like that to remind you of the last time the price of tea was raised. Also, in the offing is a fuel price hike after which there might be another hike in chai price. Wait and watch. Until then enjoy the chai.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Day Without the Newspaper

Yesterday it was one of those days I wished I had learnt to read Urdu. Every year I experience this regret on a few occasions especially on days of major festivals. Yesterday it was a holiday for the newspapers on account of Sankranti and consequently not a single paper was to be found on the newsstands except those in Urdu

There wasn’t a single newspaper available anywhere because all newspapers had declared a holiday. Earlier, a few newspapers would declare a holiday either a day earlier or a day after the festival day so as to take advantage of the demand for newspapers from those cannot survive the day without a glance at the headlines. But this year it seems all of them chose to be on a holiday yesterday except the Urdu papers.
I can read Telugu and also Hindi but not one newspaper in these two languages was to be seen yesterday except those in Urdu. It was hell. All day I felt the withdrawal symptoms of newspaper addiction and I guess millions others too might have felt the same. Life isn’t simply the same on days I cannot get to read the newspaper.Of course there was the television and the internet to satiate the need for the news. Somehow the feeling of holding a newspaper and reading it leisurely is something the television or the net cannot give. Apart from that, I also happen to be the sort to read the newspaper from top to bottom. I read every thing, not missing a single item and hence it was more difficult for me.
Later in the year there will be several festivals bringing with them days without the newspaper. Maybe I should begin learning Urdu soon.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Dull Job and Finding Two Good Books

Mine is an inherently dull job (I am a file pusher) but it has its moments of excitement. Last week there was one such occasion for me to get a little excited to be out of the office for a couple of days. We were holding a conference and I was assigned in the support team.

On Wednesday last week I had slipped out of the office to visit a bookstore. I had just then picked up Pico Iyer’s ‘Tropical Classical’ and was feeling overjoyed at finding it when the phone rang. I was asked to rush to the airport to pick up someone arriving from, of all places, Dharwad.

I love being at airports because it affords me to do a bit of people watching. I love to watch the people walk through the arrivals terminal holding their bags, eyes searching for the person sent to receive them at the airport. The plane bringing in our guest was two hours late. I wandered around the airport which is now more like a bus terminal with so many people thronging the place.

One can always tell the regular fliers from the first timers. The regulars are the ones carefully dressed, neatly combed and an unhurried manner. The newcomers are the ones whose eyes dart around nervously and are the ones usually dressed in outrageous clothes.

I leafed through Pico Iyer’s book and it was a real treasure. It was a collection of his essays published in various publications. In it were essays on writer’s like Peter Matthiessen, Norman Lewis, long essays on books and write ups on places. Iyer’s is a careful analysis of books and people and his style is something I have come to love. I will write more about this book in a later post.
Another book I had found last week at the Best Books sale was Barbara Wallraff’s ‘Your Own Words’. I got this hardcover book for a hundred and twenty five rupees which is a bargain. I hadn’t heard of the author earlier but I picked up the book when I read that she writes a column, ‘Word Court’ in The Atlantic Monthly. I was also influenced by a blurb that said ‘Anyone who cares passionately about writing should read this book.’ It appeared to be a book worth reading and I hope the book doesn’t disappoint me. More about it later.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Sunday Haul of Books

For the first time in my life I bought something in a language I cannot read. Yesterday at Abids I found an Arabic magazine and bought it because it was on fountain pens and I cannot resist anything on fountain pens. It had dozens of gorgeous pics of fountain pens on its glossy pages. I ogled at the pens though I couldn’t understand a word of what was written in it. The only words in English were the title of the magazine- ‘Pen.Me’, and what it means I don’t know.

When I started out in the morning on Sunday I had a vague feeling I would be finding something on fountain pens but didn’t know it would be in Arabic!

I also found another magazine, the June 2007 issue of Conde Nast Traveller. In an article on China, titled ‘Magic Mountains’, there is a beautiful photograph of three fishermen on a river which seemed to be shimmering. The photograph's taken by Ken Griffiths and is one of the most beautiful photograph I’ve seen in recent times.

Both these magazines I got for ten bucks each. Last week I saw the latest issue of Conde Nast Traveller at the Odyssey Store at Punjagutta. I checked the price and found it was over six hundred rupees!
In the evening I went to the sale of Best Books at YWCA as it was the last day of the sale. I picked up another copy of Peter Mayle’s ‘Acquired Tastes’ for fifty rupees. This was in a slightly better condition than the one I had bought sometime last year. There are two days of holidays ahead and I want to read as much as I can.

Friday, January 11, 2008

'This Month's 'Literary Review' in 'The Hindu'

Last Sunday happened to be the first Sunday of the year as well as of the month and I was waiting for it eagerly. It brought with it "Literary Review" in 'The Hindu". This month there was more coverage was on poets and poetry with three articles on that genre.

The front page story was about the 'Prakriti Poetry Festival' held in Chennai recently. Poetry was defined as the art of public utterance. In the article by Renuka Rajaratnam I couldn't understand one phrase- 'passivity of objectification.' I feel daunted by the jargon used by literary academics and wonder why they don't use simple words to express themselves. Beats me.

Just below the front page article was an interview with Meena Kandaswamy, a Dalit poet. In the inside pages there is a review by this same poet. Elsewhere was a review of the works of Anjum Hasan, poet and novelist. The photograph of Anjum Hasan was nice and she looked totally different than when she was in Hyderabad sometime early last year. I have her copy of 'Street on the Hill', work of her beautiful poetry.

But the most interesting was Pradeep Sebastian's column in which he talks about his attempts to whittle down his collection of books. Wish I knew where he lives so I could ask for some of his books that he wants to give away.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Getting Four Books and a Ballpoint Pen

The week following the Sunday that I don’t go to Abids for my weekly book hunt, I usually go around feeling as I’ve missed a major dose of something essential to my well-being. Feverishly, I begin to count the days to the next Sunday. I hadn’t been to Abids this Sunday but I am not feeling that way this week.

Due to a combination of reasons, I had to miss the visit to the Abids book bazaar on Sunday. I had to take my son to the doctor where it got late, there was a big political rally that made me nervous about the resultant traffic jams and besides, I wasn’t really feeling well. I was feeling a bit low all day on Sunday missing the familiar sight, sounds and even, smell of the books at Abids. The missus was glad that for once the Sunday had been book-free. I too felt the same, though grudgingly, since I had resolved to buy fewer books this year and missing the Abids trip meant fewer books on my table. But fate had other plans.

In the evening a friend who had sold his house arrived bearing a big shopping bag. There were about two dozen books inside. He told me to choose the books I wanted. This was weird. I was getting all these books for free. I felt like a dog being offered a tray of juicy bones to chew. Who said beggars cannot be choosers?

From the pile I picked up Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, Pearl S Buck’s ‘The Good Earth’ and Richard Carlson’s ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff; It Is All Small Stuff’. The books were a real treasure and I was absolutely delighted to get them. Thank God for such wonderful friends!

I guess this is true for those who love books: If they don’t go to the books, the books will come to them.

But that’s not the end of the delightful Sunday. Later in the evening, I met another old friend who presented me with a beautiful Parker ballpoint pen. It was all steel with a gold clip. A nice ballpoint was something I was looking forward to buy. Though I love to write with fountain pens, sometimes I feel it is a real chore to unscrew the cap and write, especially when you are in a hurry or in an awkward position. This Parker was heaven-sent for me.

I felt very happy getting four books and a pen on the first Sunday of the New Year. It was a perfect start to the new year for one who loves books and pens. Lucky me!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Buying a Notebook, and Deighton's New Book

On Saturday I went to the ‘Odyssey’ bookstore at Punjagutta to buy a notebook for myself. The one I was writing in was filled up last week. It was the first notebook I wrote in all pages. I had bought it in April and it has served me well and perhaps it was one of the most productive notebooks I ever had. I was looking for a similar one- it was an Xcell brand, spiral bound with 160 ruled pages and quite conveniently sized. I didn’t find another of its kind at Odysseybut I got one by ‘bilt’ called ‘Matrix notebooks’.

It had thick black plastic covers and I consciously went in for one with unruled pages but now I don’t think it was such a good idea. It looks more orderly writing in a notebook with ruled pages. Anyway, I got this ‘Matrix’ notebook for seventy bucks and I hope to fill this too with my ideas for articles, posts and with lists of books I have to buy which is what I filled my earlier notebook with.

At the bookstore I also saw a new book by Len Deighton- ‘Blood, Tears and Folly’- and it was something about the mindless wars that took place. It was quite a thick book and I planned to buy it some other day. Len Deighton happens to be one of my favorite writers and his one liners are absolutely fantastic. I love his 'Only When I Larf'. Of course, his other books are equally good.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The New Year Haul of Books

I had thought of starting the New Year by beginning a good book to in order to stick to my resolution to read more this year. But instead I began by buying three books at the sale of Best Books Centre that is on at YWCA. The satisfaction is that I found three good books.
The first book was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’, a slim hardcover book of not more than 130 pages. The second find was ‘Writer’s Digest’s Handbook of Short Story Writing Volume-II’. I had got the first volume sometime last year and this was a welcome addition.

The third book I picked up was Issue No. 26 of Granta, titled ‘Travel’. The book had articles by some of my favorite writers:
- Bill Bryson (More Fat Girls in Des Moines),
- Bruce Chatwin (On the Road with Mrs.Gandhi, The Bey, Mrs. Mandelstam, Konstantin Melnikov: The Architect)
- Colin Thubron (The Old Silk Route).
Other writers featured in the issue were Norman Lewis, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Ian Buruma and Amitav Ghosh among others.

In a chapter, ‘Mastering the Short Story’ by Paul Darcy Boles in the WD Handbook of Short Story Writing Vol-II, I read that Stephen Vincent Benet described a short story as ‘Something that can be read in an hour and remembered for a lifetime.’ It was a wonderful description of the short story which is one of the most difficult genres to master.

Another quotation on writing was one by Scott F. Fitzgerald who seems to have said that ‘good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.’ This is another line that has one thinking.

This is one book I am going to learn a lot from and also enjoy a lot. But I’ve already decided the book I would begin the New Year with- ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’ by Marquez, another of my favorite writers.

I am eagerly waiting for it to be Sunday since it would be the fist Sunday of the month (and also of the New Year) and ‘The Hindu’ would be carrying ‘The Literary Review’. I can’t wait for it to be Sunday morning.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Books I Read in 2007

This is the list of some of the good books I’ve read this year. These are only a selection of the many books I went through until the end and these are the ones I’m glad I found and, gladder that I’ve read. All of them have given me a lot, taught me something and also entertained me no end. They are listed in no particular order and books on writing, books by Dave Barry, and those by Elmore Leonard feature prominently in it.

1. This Business of Writing
2. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
3. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
4.The Men Within: A Cricketing Tale by Harimohan Paruvu
5. On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
6. You Can Write a Romance by Yvonne Macmanus
7. Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson
8. The Rewrite Man by Bryan Forbes
9. Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard
10. Glitz by Elmore Leonard
11. To Build the Life You Want Create the Work You Love by Marsha Sinetar
12. Writers Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing
13. Random House Guide to Good Writing by Mitchell Ivers
14. How to Write by Stephen Leacock
15. Ruined by Reading Lynne Sharon Schwartz
16.‘Story’ by Robert McKee
17. ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King
18. Dave Barry Talks Back by Dave Barry
21. Moons of Jupiter by Alice Munro
22. Horse Under Water by Len Deighton
23. Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
24. Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell
25. Darkness Visible by William Styron
26. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
27. Right to Write by Julia Cameron
28 Summing Up by Somerset Maugham (nth reading)
29 Countryside Album by Srivatsan
30 Acquired Tastes by Peter Mayle
31. How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett
32. The Greenest Island by Paul Theroux
33. Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway by Dave Barry
34. 52’ Pickup by Elmore Leonard
35. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
36. Book Finds by Ian C. Ellis
37. The Big Bounce by Elmore Leonard

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

100th Post

This is the hundredth post and I am going to write whatever comes to mind. Over here it is actually the first of Jan already but as per Blogger it is still the last day of the year! I had planned to post this one yesterday itself but there was a problem with the server and I had to give up the idea. The post was about the books I had read in 2007.

I finished reading "Book Finds" and it is a very useful book to have. There is a lot of information about book collecting, first editions, how to take care of your books and so on, information that any book lover would benefit from. I am glad I found this book.

I was surprised to realize that though I have bought over 200 books during the year I have managed to read only 36 books. I had read somewhere that serious readers go through about 50-100 books a year. I don't think I can be called a serious reader by that count. I plan to read more in the new year. I should read more than fifty books in the next twelve months.

Another resolution I had made last night is to learn to cook. I am fascinated by cooking but I haven't found the nerve to begin learning it. This year however, I plan to learn at least one simple dish. I plan to learn to cook 'upma' which is the simplest dish to do. Apart from the resolution to listen to good music learning to cook is my second resolution. I plan to add another one which I have yet to think up. Meanwhile I will begin with these two resolutions.