Friday, February 29, 2008

Paul Theroux in India

I wish I had known beforehand about Paul Theroux’s visit to India. Almost everyday there is something about him in the papers, an interview here, a write up there and a quote somewhere, and I regret I couldn’t meet him. I had read somewhere that he was in Kolkata to inaugurate the Book Fair which was cancelled at the last minute.

Then I read that he was in Chennai to conduct a writing workshop for a group of aspiring writers at the US Consulate. One of the writers was New Indian Express columnist Biswanath Ghosh who wrote about what the great writer told the lucky few in an article in last Sunday’s ‘Sunday Indian Express’. Biswanath Ghosh is an unabashed admirer of Paul Theroux and he writes about his idol in his blog-

In Biswanath’s article in the Express he writes about Theroux’s beginnings as a writer and his friendship with VS Naipaul which takes up the most space. There’s also advice from Theroux for all writers- Write in longhand, Revise, Leave home and work far away, Read (Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice and Kushwant Singh’s short story ‘Rape’) and Don’t worry about publication but express yourself.

The same day, The Hindu carried an extremely interesting interview by K.Srilata with Theroux. In the interview Paul Theroux replies to Srilata’s questions about fiction writing and travel writing, which he says is a form of autobiography. Once again the subject of Naipaul pops up and he says that Naipaul ‘s criticism is savage and provocative.

In the same week 'Outlook' weekly carried a smallish interview with him. One question Paul Theroux must have got tired of answering is his soured friendship with VS Naipaul, his former mentor. But Theroux revealed different aspects of the friendship in each interview, something only inventive writers like him can do.

In the most recent issue of 'Outlook' there was a small item about Theroux, again about his friendship with VS Naipaul and whether Naipaul liked to read his books. Theroux gently pokes fun at Naipaul in his reply.

Today’s (29/2/08) Metro Plus supplement of The Hindu carried an interesting quote attributed to Paul Theroux- ‘ I cannot make my days longer so I strive to make them better.' The quote carried a striking picture of Theroux looking every inch a writer.

In fact, The Hindu’s done the maximum number of items on Paul Theroux. Not a day goes by without reading some thing about him in that newspaper. There was a write up on him by Shonali Muthalaly sometime in the beginning of this month. Then there was a short write up by Suchitra Behal in her weekly column ‘Sightings’ in last Sunday’s The Hindu.

I guess he is still around in the country, somewhere. I wish I had the good fortune to meet him and listen to his talk about writing. It would have been a wonderful experience meeting a great writer who inspires me and also, no doubt, thousands of readers in India. I am waiting for his new book which he says is a sort of sequel to ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another Round of Bookstores and Another New City Magazine In Hyderabad

Yesterday again I dropped into two bookstores- a second hand bookstore and also a regular bookstore and came up with a good book- Pico Iyer’s ‘Global Souls’ which I found at the second hand bookstore.

At around tea-time yesterday I slipped out of office and went to Best Books Centre at Abids. I saw ‘Global Soul’ in the display and immediately had it taken out because I had a funny experience in this very shop a year or so back. I had entered the shop and noticed Syd Field’s book on scriptwriting and thinking no one would pick it up I leisurely browsed the other racks. A little later another customer entered the store and before my eyes picked up the book I had planned to buy. I tried to reason with him but he wouldn’t budge. I felt crushed at losing such a good book. I had wanted the book so badly that I had the book sent from the US by my brother.

So, yesterday I took the precaution of telling the guy at the counter to keep ‘Global Soul’ aside. After that, I looked around but couldn’t find anything interesting. I got Global Soul for Rs 195 which is a bit expensive but I didn’t mind because it was a fairly new copy and you don’t get many Pico Iyer’s books in Hyderabad. I haven’t yet finished reading his other book ‘Tropical Classical’ that I had found a couple of months ago.

Another City magazine hits the stands in Hyderabad- 'The Minaret City'
I went to ‘Walden’ at Begumpet in the evening to kill time while waiting for my friend. I found the latest issue of ‘Tinkle’ here which I couldn’t find at Odyssey a couple of days back. My kid loves to read it and needless to say I too enjoy it. (I’m a bit like Suppandi myself!)

I saw that another city magazine has hit the stands. Now the city magazine niche is getting crowded with three magazines vying for the reader’s attention. The magazine I saw yesterday was ‘The Minaret City’ and was priced at Rs 25. It looked okay to me though all these magazines are beginning to look similar with the same advertisements for jewellry stores and restaurants on their pages. It has to be seen which magazine leads the pack.

Walden is a big store with thousands of books on its shelves. It is a bit glitzy and doesn’t have the atmosphere of a serious bookstore overshadowed that it is by other items. But is the first big bookstore to open in Hyderabad back in the nineties and it remains at the top. Not my favorite though.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Another Sunday Lost

For the second successive week I missed my weekly Sunday book hunt at Abids. Yesterday I was tied up on official work and missed my Sunday hunt for books. Though my office is a stone’s throw away from Abids I was not able to go there. I feel odd on those Sundays I cannot make it to Abids. It has become a habit since nearly two decades. I always make it to Abids on Sundays except when I am sick or when I am traveling. It is such a big part of my Sunday that most of my friends know where I can be found on Sunday mornings.

I thought I would get about an hour’s time in the evening to spend at Abids but it is not enough to cover all the book-sellers. But though I had time in the evening I wasn’t in the mood to go as a crank caller was bothering me to distraction. It is odd how some people take to harassing those they don’t know with blank calls. It was a very unsettling experience. I now feel that I should have gone to Abids anyway and browsed in that limited time I had. I could have worked off the bad temper searching for a good book. It was a wrong decision and now I have to wait until next Sunday.

I plan to make up for the lost Sunday by visiting a couple of second hand bookstores during the week and looking around. There is something in a bookstore that calms my nerves.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Crossing a Milestone, and Two More Notebooks

The day before yesterday I crossed a major milestone in writing my first book. I am now only fifty or sixty pages from the end. I have been at work on this book since more than two years and at last the end is in sight. It was tough in the beginning to write every day and reach specific milestones- 50 pages, 100 pages and so on. Somewhere in the middle of writing the book I hit upon the idea of rewarding myself with some goodies whenever I reach a milestone. For reaching last week's milestone I promised myself to buy a couple of notebooks, a pair of jeans and any two books I happened to fancy.

To buy my rewards, yesterday I dropped in at Odyssey store and found three more varieties of 'rainbow' brand of notebooks called "Book Worm" displayed. One was a real beauty of around three hundred pages but of A5 size. I bought it and another of A6 size, both in plain paper. There were notebooks with color pages but I don't like to write on anything other than white paper. The notebooks were attractive though. I plan to pick up more such notebooks sometime next month. I also have to buy the jeans and the books which I plan to do early next week.

This system of rewarding oneself for minor achievements works because it motivates one to complete the task or goal. The trick is to write down the milestones and also the rewards you will get on reaching them. The only hitch is that you have to pay for the rewards yourself! Now I am looking forward to write the remaining fifty odd pages which now don't seem such a big task because I have no more than fifty pages to write. I have promised to buy an iPod for myself after I finish writing the first draft of my book. It might be mid-April when I reach the last page. Next update on my book will be when I finish it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Making the Rounds of Bookstores

Once every three days or so, I get an urge (an uncontrollable one) to visit either a bookstore or a stationer's. Last week I happened to visit three book stores, which makes it one every alternate day. And no visit is complete without picking up something to read or write in. I bought two books and a notebook during these visits. I had been to Askhara Books at Srinagar Colony, Odyssey and also a secondhand bookstore- MR Books, Punjagutta.

At Odyssey on Saturday last week I couldn't find the latest of issue of the children's magazine- Tinkle, I was looking for but I found an absolute treasure. I found the 'rubberband' brand of notebooks which made me pick them up without a second thought. The notebooks were elegant and had the pages stitched in the center so it made them sturdy. The covers were of hard brown paper and the paper quality inside was very good. The notebooks came in two sizes and I picked up a couple that fit into the pocket. The pages came in plain, checked and ruled varieties. I was delighted to find these notebooks. The small ones were Rs 50 a piece and the bigger ones Rs. 70. They are a great buy and I plan to pick up more later.

On Tuesday at Akshara I bought a book I had been hearing a lot about- David Allen's 'Getting Things Done'. I wanted to present it to my brother on his birthday. I also saw the February 2008 issue of '040' magazine I had written about in my previous post. It looks like '040' is here to stay. I flipped through the magazine and found that less than half the pages were devoted to Hyderabad topics and the rest were general in nature. But the quality of the paper is good and the magazine has a classy look about it. One can't say the same about the content inside. The content doesn't justify the price of Rs. 50, maybe the look of the magazine does

On the same day I also dropped in at MR Books at Punjagutta. At the second hand bookstore I couldn't find anything I wanted to buy then and there, but I saw a few books I planned to pick up later. Almost all of them copies of books I already have. I want to pick up the extra copies to give away to friends.

Monday, February 18, 2008

040- A New Magazine in Hyderabad, and Suicide Lake

Serious Competition for WOW-Hyderabad
Yesterday I had a hectic day and had only one hour to browse at Abids. I went there in the afternoon, an unusual time for me, and looked around for about one hour. I came across a city magazine, a new one that looked like another city magazine ‘WOW Hyderabad’ finally has some serious competition.

The new magazine was ‘040’, a Hyderabad edition of ‘080’ of Bangalore, a glossy and slick magazine. It was a ‘Special Edition’ of January 2008. I wonder how I missed it in the stands. Anyway, the magazine was good to look at but content wise it wasn’t so impressive. It has to think up of something really creative and good to beat ‘WOW Hyderabad’ in the circulation game.

I really don’t think any one in Hyderabad would shell out Rs 50 for a magazine that is all about Hyderabad. Price wise too it is not reader-friendly. It appears like the new magazine with a 'Special Edition' is testing the waters of Hyderabad before taking the plunge.

Suicide Lake
Speaking of waters it is always easy( at least for me) to tell when there is a suicide in the Hussain Sagar. One, there is a traffic jam on the Tank Bund. Two, you come across people who have hankies to their noses. The traffic jams are caused by curios people haphazardly parking their vehicles on the Tank Bund road, and rushing to take a look at the body that has been fished out of the murky waters.

On Saturday evening another body was pulled out from the lake. It was a man, face a mess so it was difficult to tell the age. It was a gory sight, watching the cops take down the details of the body. Police vehicles were parked nearby to register a case and take away the body. The expression on the faces of the hardened cops also showed that death is always unpleasant for everyone. Some women who had come to spend a quiet evening on the Tank Bund looked positively ill having accidentally spotted the body.

The Hussain Sagar Lake is a picturesque place where many people gather in the evenings to enjoy the sight of the vast stretch of the lake’s waters. It is also a place some people come to jump into those very waters and kill themselves. Being a regular on that road I can say I come across at least one case of suicidal drowning every month.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

At a Book Reading in an Art Gallery!

In an earlier post I had written that in Hyderabad book readings take place either at the bookstores or fancy hotels like the Grand Kakatiya. But yesterday I attended one that was held in an art gallery. After I read in ‘The Hindu’ that Askshara Books and Penguin India were organising a book reading of Bernard Imhasly’s ‘Goodbye to Gandhi? Travels in New India’, I decided to attend. There’s nothing like being among people who love to read. The book reading was at Kalakriti Art Gallery at Road No. 10, Banjara Hills and it took me quite some time to locate it.

It was also the first time I ever stepped into an art gallery. There was a show going on and I looked at the paintings displayed on the walls. There was time for the reading to start so I looked up the works of a female artist who had a sense of humor. The gallery wasn’t very huge but had enough space for about forty or fifty plastic chairs. The place filled up slowly with the book lovers trickling in. On most occasions one gets to see the same faces again and again but today there were new faces.

Though I normally don’t read such high brow stuff I picked up this book because it is a sort of travel book. Bernard Imhasly, the blurb says, is a linguist and anthropologist by profession and was the South Asia correspondent for several European newspapers in the nineties. He was also in the Swiss Foreign Service and was posted in India. The book is 195 pages long and is priced at Rs. 425, though I got the book at a discount, for Rs. 350, one of the advantages of attending such book readings. While waiting for the reading to begin, I flipped through the book and found a chapter on Hyderabad, rather, Cyberabad. The author read out a few passages from the book and answered questions from the audience as well as the moderator, Jyotirmoy. The questions ranged from the rigid attitude of idealists, Gandhi versus Nehru, how the author chose or not choose the people who he interviewed. It was a brief but interesting event in an unusual location.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Susan Orlean's 'The Orchid Thief'- A Review

I have never seen an orchid in my life. Which is odd considering I have studied agriculture, which, in a way deals with cultivation of orchids too. But so far I haven’t set my eyes on an orchid. I may have come across orchids but may not have not identified them. But now, after reading Susan Orlean’s ‘The Orchid Thief’, I know more about orchids than is good for me. I finished reading the book sometime last week and it is the sort of book one wishes goes on forever.

I had written in a related post that it is a book about a real-life madcap orchid collector who is caught stealing rare orchids from a tribal reserve, The Fakahatchee Strand in Florida. The thief, Laroche, is an eccentric character and the book is mostly about him and his passion for orchid rearing. It is also a book about the world of orchid collectors, their eccentricities and about their passion for this unique plant. There is a lot of fascinating historical detail in the book about how orchid collectors build their collections and the lengths they are willing to go to own rare orchids.

Susan Orlean’s writing appears simple but it weaves images that remain in your head long after you’ve finished reading the book. I liked the book very much and plan to read it again soon. ‘The Orchid Thief’ is a must read for all people who grow plants especially orchid collectors. Anyone who loves good writing will fall in love with ‘The Orchid Thief’, a non-fiction book about the world of orchids and orchid collectors.

Susan Orlean is a staff writer with ‘The New Yorker’ and her articles also appear in ‘Outside’, ‘Esquire’, ‘Rolling Stone’, and ‘Vogue’.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Sunday Haul of Books

It was a good haul of books that I had on Sunday at Abids. I found four good books. I might have found more books but for a friend who insisted on tagging along and kept up a constant chatter which was distracting. It was a sunny and warm Sunday and there seemed to be more than the normal crowd at Abids. It was just that sort of a day when one expects something nice to happen. As expected I had a good day netting fourbooks.

My first find was Peggy Noonan’s ‘What I saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era’, her memoirs as a speech writer for Ronald Reagan. (The only thing I know about Ronald Reagan is that he too was born on 6th February, the same day I was born). The blurb described that ‘Noonan writes like an angel’ and somewhere it said it was funny in parts. Being a sucker for memoirs and autobiographies I picked up this Ivy Books copy to see how angels wrote. I got this 360 pages book in good condition for only twenty rupees.

The next find was Sherwood Anderson’s ‘Winesburg, Ohio’, a book I had read about while researching for my post about writers who were copywriters. I always try to read the introductions to the books I pick up though I don’t read the books soon after I buy them. ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ has an introduction by Malcolm Cowley where he writes that Anderson was a ‘writer’s writer’ and was a sort of mentor to Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and also to Thomas Wolfe. It was this line that made me feel I was glad I picked up the book- ‘Anderson had the gift for summing up, for pouring a lifetime into a moment.’ I am eager to read the book to see how Anderson managed to do it. Another incentive to read the book soon is the blurb which says that ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ is Anderson’s best work.

The next find was Francis Chichester’s ‘The Lonely Sea and the Sky’, his autobiography. I vaguely remember he was Sir Francis Chichester and was an adventurer. It was quite a bulky book and I picked it up as it was an adventurer’s autobiography and I like to read their tales. Inside, I read that Francis Chichester was the first man to make the world’s first solo long distance seaplane flight in 1931. Chichester was also the first person to win the first solo sailing race across the Atlanctic in 1960. I got this 400-pages book also for twenty rupees.

The last find was a surprise. I found another copy of a book by my favorite writer-Dave Barry. I found a brand new copy of his hilarious book, ‘Dave Barry’s Guide to Guys’ for only twenty rupees. I gave away several copies of this funny book to friends, and I picked up this too to be given away to someone who needs a good laugh. I got all the above four books for only twenty rupees each.

There were scores of hardcover editions of new titles selling for only ten rupees. I feel sad that there are no takers for books even at such ridiculous prices.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Hilton Downs Shutters in Hyderabad'

Another popular Irani hotel in Hyderabad has downed shutters in a depressing trend that is changing the face of Hyderabad.
Yesterday I was in Osmania University campus area and stopped at Hilton to have a cup of tea. It was a favorite joint where I used to meet friends over tea and talk for hours. Though I haven't studied in Osmania colleges we used to meet there. But yesterday I got a mild shock when I noticed that Hilton was no more. The board was removed and the shutters were down. I don't know how long it has been shut. It marks the end of an institution especially for those who studied in the campus colleges. The place used to filled with students discussing their studies and their future plans. I felt sad to see it closed.
Many Irani hotels in Hyderabad are shutting down unable to face competition from swankier hotels. In some cases they are shutting down in return for a hefty amount since space is at a premium in Hyderabad and most of the good Irani hotels are in prime areas. Only true blue Hyderabadis can understand what it means to sit in an Irani hotel and sip tea. It is difficult for outsiders to understand the Hyderabadi's passion for Irani chai.
However, it is better to enjoy the Iranis while they last. Thank God there are several ancient Irani hotels still surviving and serving unbeatable Irani chai and food. There's Paradise, Garden, Bombay Bakery and several others I frequent along with millions of Hyderabadis.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Mont Blanc Experience

Yesterday was the day I was eagerly waiting for since the day I got a Mont Blanc Meisterstuck fountain pen as a gift some time back in November. I was waiting for a significant day to begin writing with it. It was my birthday yesterday so I thought there’d be no better day to take out the Mont Blanc. I lovingly filled ink in it and started writing in my notebook. The pen just flowed smoothly on the paper and I wished I could go on writing until all the pages in the notebook were filled. But I had nothing much to write about so I reluctantly put the pen back. But I carried it around in my shirt pocket all day showing it off to friends and others.

Now that I have finally started using the Mont Blanc I hope to finish the first draft of my book that is struck at a particular scene. I wasn’t feeling motivated enough to finish the draft though I am only about 50 pages away from the ending. I hope to finish the first draft by mid-March. I am already picturing myself sitting hunched over my table scribbling away with the Mont Blanc as the pages pile up on the table.

The pen’s nib is a ‘Medium’ which is a bit too thick for my taste and I am wondering if I should have the nib changed to a ‘Fine’ one. There’s a Mont Blanc store in Hyderabad at the Hotel Grand Kakatiya. I don’t know if they will agree to do it since the pen came with a warranty (?)book which had no dealer’s stamp. I hope they agree to do it since it is an authentic piece. I had been there yesterday to attend a talk with a scriptwriter but it got too late and I had no time to visit the Mont Blanc store. Sometime next week I plan to visit them and ask about it. Until then I will experience the pure pleasure of writing with my Meisterstuck.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Strange Weather, Stranger People

Nothing much is happening in Hyderabad except that the weather is acting funny. Though normally February is very cold, right now it is warm. One won’t feel like it is winter except early in the morning. Since two days it is cloudy and yesterday it actually rained a little. Not exactly rain but a slight drizzle enough to wash off the dust on the plants at home.

I had been to the numaish, the annual Industrial Exhibition that is one from 1st Jan to Feb 15 every year. This is one place where we don’t seem to be in any particular hurry (unlike on the roads) and every one seemed to be shuffling along slowly. Some just stood rooted to the spot gawking at the sights or stuffing themselves with all those snacks and drinks. There were so many furniture stalls I wonder who would want to buy huge bureaus or sofas at such places.

We went to see the show where four bikes and two cars ride in a round metal cage. The bikes go fast around the cage and though it isn’t heart stopping it appears to be quite dangerous for if any one of the guys loses his balance he will plunge down to the ground. You’d think that such dangerous driving meant the motorcycle drivers had to wear at least helmets if not other protective stuff. Surprisingly they didn’t wear helmets or anything like that. It is a surprise no one noticed it, and also a bigger surprise how the organizers of the Exhibition allow it. Strange people, Hyderabadis.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Sunday Haul

Yesterday at Abids I didn’t pick up a single book though I noticed a few I was coveting. I saw a good copy of Mary Karr’s ‘The Liar’s Club’, a hardcover edition of Sebastian Junger’s ‘The Perfect Storm’ and also another good copy of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Glitz’. I had seen William Styron’s biography but it seemed too voluminous for me to wade through. Then there were two Peter Mayle books- ‘Toujours Provence’ and ‘Chasing Cezanne’. I have 'Toujours' but I didn’t feel like buying ‘Chasing Cezanne’ because it is a novel and I am only interested in Mayle’s non-fiction.

However, I did not return empty handed. I picked up the September 2007 issue of ‘Conde Naste Traveller’ which I got for only twenty rupees. It had an article by Harriet O’Brien on a trip to the tea gardens of Assam that she made by boat on the mighty Brahmputra river. As usual, the accompanying pictures were just too beautiful to be described in words. I like it when India gets written in travel publications.
Another surprise find of the day was the magazine ‘Script’. I got it for only ten rupees and only after I went home I noticed that it was the absolute latest issue- of Jan-Feb 08! It was brand new and I felt glad I found it. I had never heard of this magazine before so it came as a pleasant surprise finding it. I had also picked up a magazine on running though I don’t run or do any kind of intense physical exercise. I picked up the magazine to learn what is happening in that field. For a writer it always helps to be curious.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Glimpses of Nagpur

I had never been to Nagpur before though a close friend who works there had been inviting me to come over. On Sunday I went to Nagpur to attend an official meeting and stayed there for three and half days. It was a nice trip which ended with a visit to Wardha where I saw the fountain pen used by Mahatma Gandhi.

Nagpur is located in exactly the center of the country I learnt. There is something called the ‘Zero Milestone’ here but I could have only a fleeting glimpse of it. I had wanted to see it later in the day but didn’t get the time.

It was cold the day I reached and colder still the next day when the mercury plunged to 9 degrees. The papers said that it was the coldest day of the season. In summer it touches 49 degrees I was told. These extremes in weather may be due to the fact that there is dense forest all around Nagpur.

Coming from Hyderabad where the traffic is chaotic to say the least, Nagpur appeared like heaven with its thin traffic and open roads. Two wheeler riders don’t wear helmets and every one follows traffic rules. The girls wrap their chunnis around their faces leaving only th eyes uncovered while zipping around on two wheelers.

Food is expensive here and a plate of upma I had for breakfast at a South Indian hotel (Brindavan) cost me twenty two rupees and a cup of coffee was twelve bucks. The other day we had been to a Maharashtrian hotel for local food and I was shocked to see two rotis and a curry (jhunka) cost me eighty bucks. Funnily enough, all the hotels were almost empty and I wonder if it has anything to do with the prices. Or maybe people in Nagpur don’t like to eat out.

I had, on the final day of my trip, found that the largest wood market in Asia, the Lakkadgunj Bazar, is in Nagpur. I hadn’t actually planned any sight seeing trips but the trip to Wardha took up all the time. This was one trip I didn’t plan carefully so ended up doing nothing touristy. I had planned to look up stationery stores to see if I could find any local made fountain pens. I wasn’t able to do this too.

Maybe on the next trip to Nagpur I will get to see all the things I wanted to see there. The only surprising thing was finding Dave Barry’s column in a local paper! It was the Lokmat Times I guess.