Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Aah... Andaman!

It was quite an odd coincidence that I finished a book that has a lot of sea in it on the day of the second anniversary of the day when I finally realized a dream of living within half a mile of the sea. Today I finished Linda Greenlaw’s ‘Hungry Ocean’ which is all about a thirty day trip into the Atlantic Ocean as captain of a boat fishing for swordfish. It is a good book and I wished I too could go out on such adventures out on the sea. Exactly this day two years ago I set out for the Andamans for a three month stay. My family and friends wondered if I had gone mad when I told them I was going to the Andamans.

‘You must be out of your mind to visit the Andamans at this time of the year’, was what a friend said when I told him I had got a media fellowship with an NGO based in Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Contrary to his expectation that I would be back within the week I stayed there for the three months of the fellowship. Those three months were some of the most wonderful days of my life and I shall never forget the beautiful memories I gathered on my trips around the islands. The trip was a sort of a wake up call to me because I learnt so many things on that trip and also met a lot of wonderful people.

Though I am not connected anyway with the media, the NGO offered me a ‘media fellowship’ that was for three months. They took me on the basis of my experience in agriculture and my insignificant writing experience. I was glad I got selected because when I applied for it I didn’t even expect to be considered. But imagine being selected and told over the phone to come over in less than a week! It wasn’t even enough time to have second thoughts. Luckily, the bosses in the department where I was working were enthusiastic and let me go.

A week later I was in Port Blair hesitant and nervous about what would be waiting for me. I had learnt that Andaman was all jungle and nothing else. Well, most of it is jungle but it is a beautiful jungle with the beautiful, blue sea all around. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I haven’t been to Hawaii, the Carribean and all those beautiful islands that people go crazy about so cannot compare Andaman with those places. To me it is the most beautiful place in the world.

During the three months I stayed there I got time on weekends to travel and travel I did. I went to a new place every Sunday and returned amazed at the beauty of the place. Port Blair itself is a beautiful, sleepy little place with the Indian Ocean on all three sides. I lived in an apartment that was barely half a mile from the sea. The day begins at four am in the morning here and on some days I went to the Marina early in the morning. A beach is the most calmest and beautiful place to be early in the morning. Though it was peak summer and also the time when the monsoon rolled into the country there was picture perfect weather. It was sunny almost all the time though there were days when the rain simply fell down from the clouds endlessly for days together. One only has to experience it to know how it feels to be in a paradise.

The highlight of my trip was a solo twelve-day road trip across the Andamans. I went up north upto the tip of the Island to Diglipur. I cannot describe the many beautiful places and scenes I saw on that trip. I will write more about the trip in other posts. I made a lot of friends on that trip. I was the oldest person in that NGO that seemed full of young people in their twenties. A lot of them must have felt puzzled to find a forty plus bald fellow with silver beard in their midst. I had strange encounters and for the first time in my life I snorkeled and found beauty even at the bottom of the sea. This trip to the Andamans marked many firsts in my life. I will write about them in another post in the near future.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Sunday Haul- Four Books and Two Magazines

It was so hot this Sunday I felt it would have been better to stay at home than suffer the risk of sunstroke. When I reached Abids at eleven with a cap and a bottle of water, I noticed there was a thin crowd, less than a third of the usual mob. But at the end I was glad I came because I found four good books and two magazines-a really good haul for less than 120 bucks.

The first find was Elmore Leonard’s “Out of Sight” that I got for only ten bucks which was the reason I picked it up though I have this book with me. It was in excellent condition and would make a good gift. I haven’t read the book yet so I cannot say what the story is. The first find was the harbinger of the rest of the day’s haul.

The second book was by an author I had read a lot about and one who was often subject to savage criticism. I wanted to see if he deserved all that criticism and so picked up Sasthi Brata’s ‘She and He’ for ten bucks in the lane that houses the Bommana stores opposite the twin theatre complex on Tilak Road. It was in an okay condition. Only last week I had picked up a book by an Indian writer- Namita Gokhale’s ‘Paro’ which I have finished reading. I will post the review sometime next week.

The third find was a total surprise. I had dropped in at the second hand bookstore at Liberty sometime back and found another autobiography by a writer- ‘Here Lies Eric Ambler’ by Eric Ambler. I did not pick it up since every time I went to the store I could see that no one was interested in the book which was at the same place on the rack. But this Sunday, I saw the book on the pavement. It was a hard bound copy and a first edition, I would notice later. I got this book for only twenty rupees. Somehow I love to read autobiographies and memoirs by writers. I feel reading such books throws some light on the way an author shaped up.

The next find was a sort of text book. It was ‘Understanding Fiction’ by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. The book had fifty stories by writers like Mark Twain, O Henry, Bret Harte, William Faulkner- in short all the big names of fiction. It was a sort of text book for readers to go deeper into the story and see how it is written. I thought it would be of use and picked the 515- page paperback for only twenty rupees. I was happy finding this book on this hot day.

The two magazines, I deliberately bought to analyse the men’s magazines scene in India. One was the very first issue of ‘&’ (andpersand) magazine and the second one was the latest ( Feb-Mar 08) issue of ‘The Man’ of the Malayal Manorama group. Sometime back I had purchased the latest issue of ‘Man’s World’ (now just ‘mw’), and a couple of weeks ago I found ‘m’ magazine at Abids. It gave me an idea that I can do a post about these kind of magazines. So, one of my posts in the future would be on the men’s magazines scene in India.

Although I saw yet another catalogue of Mont Blanc ‘Expressions’ I did not pick it up. By all counts it was a good haul and I was glad I didn’t let the hot sun deter me from my trip to Abids.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Akshara's New Store and the Yudhvir Award

I haven’t really noticed it until now but most of the posts I write here have topics that seem to be linked somehow. Today’s post is another such one. It is about a favorite bookshop of mine and an award to someone who is almost a permanent fixture at most of the book readings that take place in that book shop. I am talking about the Akshara book store and Shankar Melkote.

Shankar Melkote Gets Yudhvir Award
It was in the news that this year’s recipient of the Yudhvir Foundation Award is Shankar Melkote, the ever smiling and genial man behind the Little Theater group. Shankar Melkote gets the award for his contribution to ‘popularizing the written word through dramatization of texts.’ He rightly deserves the award for his zeal in participating in book readings since more than a decade.

I’ve seen him conduct the readings that are mostly held either at one of the Askhara book stores or organised by Askhara Book Store at big hotels. He is unfailingly present at all book readings held in Hyderabad, be it that of a big writer or a twenty something poet. He brings alive the readings by taking over from the start to the end of the readings in his inimitable manner with a mix of some fine Hyderabadi humor and erudition. One doesn’t get bored at book readings where Shankar Melkote is present, and he is present in all book readings like I said earlier.

Akshara Book Store, Srinagar Colony Shifts to a New Place
The day after I read about the Yudhvir Award to Shankar Melkote I saw an ad by Akshara Book Store about its eleventh anniversary and its new premises at Road No. 3, Banjara Hills. What the ad did not say was that the store has shifted from Srinagar Colony to the new place.

Anyway, with nearly four stores Akshara is easily the biggest chain of bookstores in Hyderabad. I love visiting their stores where you are free to browse without uniformed sales persons hovering behind you as you go around looking at the titles unlike the other stores.

I read in the small ad that they have a new branch at Gagan Mahal and I have to check out this as well as the new store at Banjara Hills soon. The store at Gagan Mahal is nearer to my office and I can drop in during the lunch time or on my way home. They have a wide collection of books and magazines in all their stores but their stationery collection leaves a lot to be desired.

It is at the Akshara Book Stores that most of the book readings in Hyderabad are held and Lakshmi, the person behind Akshara always lends support to all the writers in her usual smiling way. Right from the year Akshara has set foot in Hyderabad, there have been dozens of book readings most of which I have managed to attend.

In a future post I will write about all the book readings at Akshara that I have been to.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Simple Grammar Lesson

I am not very good at grammar and it is a major embarrassment for me. I have been trying to learn the basics of grammar and have with me several good books on grammar. But despite reading them several times I find that though I seem to perfectly understand all the rules at the time of reading, I find I am unable to recollect them whenever I need to.

In some books a grammar rule is explained with such a simple example it is difficult not to remember it. I found one such example in a common problem one encounters while writing, in a book called ‘Writing with Style’ by Sue Young that I had picked up sometime last month.

It was the rule about determining when to use ‘Who’ or ‘Whom’, one which I always find very confusing, and haven’t properly understood until I read ‘Writing with Style’ yesterday.

The author, Sue Young, explains that ‘Who’ is a subject pronoun whereas ‘Whom’ is an object pronoun. In order to determine which word- ‘Who’ or ‘Whom’- to use, she advises to

Substitute the subject pronoun he or she for who.

Substitute the object pronoun him or her for whom.
Young provides a simple example to illustrate it which I’m reproducing below.

Who or whom was yelling?

Substituting the words he or him would you say

He was yelling?


Him was yelling?

Naturally, we would choose the word he. Therefore the sentence would be:

Who was yelling?

Another example :

I don’t care who said it.


I don’t care whom said it.

We would say: He said it. Therefore, the correct sentence would be:

I don’t care who said it.

When to use ‘whom’ is a tricky question and below is the example to illustrate the use of ‘whom’:

I don’t know whom to tell.


I don’t know who to tell.

We would say: Tell him. Therefore the correct sentence is :

I don’t know whom to tell.

Simply put, it is ‘who’ when it means ‘he’ or ‘she’ and

Whom’, when it means ‘him’ or ‘her’ in the sentence.

That was one grammar lesson I am unlikely to forget so quickly. There are numerous examples in the book which I am glad I bought and read. It is a sort of primer for writing but it is in such books that you find simple examples that clear confusing doubts.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Another Paper Hits the Stands in Hyderabad

Sometime last week another daily hit the stands in Hyderabad (and Chennai too). It was the ‘Financial Chronicle’ from the Deccan Chronicle group. I am not into reading financial papers because I don’t understand anything much about finance or the economy both of which is abundantly found in such papers. I had taken to reading the ‘Business Line’ on Fridays for its supplement ‘Life’ which features some good articles. Today while I was picking up “Business Line’ I also picked up ‘Financial Chronicle’ to check it out.

While ‘Business Line’ is priced at four rupees for its twenty eight pages, Financial Chronicle costs only a rupee and a half for its twenty pages. Both have eight columns and obviously 'Business Line' is superior in appearance because of the paper quality and the print. Both the papers seemed to have the same font though Financial Chronicle's seems bigger. As for the content I really have no opinion to offer for reasons stated above. But I was glad Financial Chronicle too carried some non-financial and economy unrelated articles.

One article I had read a couple of days back in “The Hindu’, the one on Easterlin Paradox appeared in ‘Business Line’ today. In its supplement ‘Life’ there were articles on health and relationships. An article in it titled ‘Growth Story’ by Manjula Sundharam on parent-child bonding struck a chord in me because I had begun to do something recently that the article was suggesting.

I started sitting along with my son for dinner on a mat spread on the floor. He tells me about his day at school and what his friends did and that sort of talk all school going kids make. I listen patiently and I also try to tell him the interesting things that I saw on the roads. I didn’t really start it on purpose, but just as a way of spending some time with him. He leaves for school early in the morning and I return from office around seven so we rarely get enough time to talk. Of course, I do tell him a story at bedtime but with the blog and the work of typing the novel I am not doing it regularly.

Therefore, I was surprised to read in the article that a regular chat with your kids keeps them out of trouble in life. The article said that kids with whom their parents talk regularly are less likely to get addicted to smoking, drinking and drugs. It also helps them to develop a healthy mind it seems. I felt strangely happy knowing that I got one ‘parenting’ thing right.

The 'Financial Chronicle', on the other hand carried articles on the last page (called- None of My Business) on fashion and an interesting write up by Rajat Kapoor on his dad’s love for the movies. In the penultimate page there was an interesting article by Paulo Coelho on friendship. I do not know if FC carries such articles every day or only on Fridays. I might check tomorrow’s paper.

This is the link for Business Line's 'Life' supplement

This is the link for Financial Chronicle

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Writer In Search of Material

Last Sunday I had found a book of short stories by Annie Proulx titled ‘Close Range- Wyoming Stories.’ I had already read a short story in it called ‘Job History’ which told about the series of failed ventures or jobs that a character called does. The story is told in a matter-of-fact way without much dialogue. I liked the way the story ends with the son of the main character also repeating the same pattern of jobs his father did. It was full of details about various jobs and professions.

Anyway, I was leafing through my copy of ‘Writers on Writing’, a collection of essays on writing published in ‘The New York Times’. I found an essay by Annie Proulx in it called ‘Inspiration? Head Down the Back Road, and Stop for the Yard Sales’, which is all about second hand book stores, junk sales and the origin of ideas.

In the essay, Annie Proulx defines herself as a digger with metaphoric shovels carrying out research which she says is the most enjoyable part of writing. Since books are the source of many a fascinating details, Proulx says she loves to pick up books, dictionaries and how-to-do manuals details from which she incorporates in her stories. She says she is an inveterate buyer of useful books on all possible subjects scrounging libraries and second hand book shops for them.

Her desire to know the exact details has taken her to coalmines, icebergs museums and other places to find out how something looks and feels like so she can get the exact detail right into her stories. She says she also eavesdrops on conversations going on around her to get her dialogue right.

The grand digging grounds, Proulx says, are the second hand book shops from which she returns with boxes filled with books of all kinds, and she also laments the disappearance of second hand book shops, the card catalogues in libraries which have now been replaced by the impersonal internet. She also picks up bits of information from unlikely sources such as posters, hand bills and learns about new places and things by traveling on obscure lanes and roads in the country side.

It is an essay that tells of the various methods and ways that a successful writer gathers her materials for stories that sound true to life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Another Irani Cafe Folds Up in Hyderabad

Mehfil Restaurant Shuts Shop

Another Irani restaurant in Hyderabad has downed its shutters continuing a trend that seems to be catching up rather fast. Mehfil Restaurant on the busy Raj Bhavan-Somajiguda road appears to have folded up as I noticed the shutters down since a week. It wasn't one of my favorites though and I haven't been there too often. But it was such a bad restaurant because the service was lousy and the place was dirty. I had an inkling the Irani wouldn't last long a couple of months ago when I saw two waiters in the hotel quarrelling before the guy at the counter who didn't appear to be too concerned that it was causing a disturbance to the customers. Anyway, the tea wasn't great and the samosas were lousy. It won't be missed very much since there is another Irani a little down the same road near Yahoda Hospital.

Stinking Hussain Sagar

Now that it is summer the Hussain Sagar lake has started stinking to the high heavens as well as the neighborhood. The glassy surface of the lake is covered with a greenish growth which must be the cause of the obnoxious smell. I don't know how it is on the Necklace Road, but this side of the lake on the Tank Bund side people have their hankies to their noses. It is the commuters at the bus stop near the Tank who take in the stink most. From afar the lake appears beautiful but come near it and the stink will take your breath away.

It is the drainage water that flows in, the high BOD (?) and a host of other factors that contribute to the smell. No one can do anything about it except wait for the day when the lake will be cleaned up of all the filth it is right now collecting. Until then it is hankies-to-the-nose.

Deccan Chargers Disappoint

I don't watch cricket much but I too felt disappointed by the performance of our local (and much hyped up) cricket team in the IPL match held here recently. This seems to the third consecutive match that the Deccan Chargers have lost and already keen watchers of the game have started analysing the performance of the embarrassed captain.

It was just so Hyderabadi losing that match before the home crowd. Time to get recharged, guys. Maybe the Deccan Chargers players should have a cup of Irani tea before playing the game!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Sunday Haul: Finding 'Paro' at 'Close Range'

My family was understandably perturbed while I was leaving for Abids on Sunday morning. Not because it was too hot to venture outdoors but with anxiety about how many books I’d bring in this week. All available space at home- shelves, bureaus, tops of almirahs, the computer table and even part of the dining table were overflowing with books which I was bringing in at the rate of half a dozen every week. As always, I left promising not to bring more than one book. I returned with three books and one magazine.

The first find was Annie Proulx’s ‘Close Range: Wyoming Stories’, a book of short stories that I picked up from a heap of books selling for ten rupees. I just picked it up not bothering to look inside. I was surprised when I was leafing through the book later in the afternoon. It had eleven short stories and the last story was ‘Brokeback Mountain’ which was made into the award winning movie of the same name. I didn’t remember she had written the story until l read in the book.

The next find was a book I was looking for since a long time. The book was Namita Gokhale’s ‘Paro’. I had seen a copy earlier but it had the last pages missing but this was a good enough copy though faded a bit. I got it for only twenty rupees. I bought it since I hadn’t read anything written by an Indian writer since a long time. I had read a lot about this book and have already started reading it. Soon I will post a review of sorts here.

I have a weakness for books on writing and when I saw Irving Wallace’s ‘The Writing of One Novel’ I couldn’t resist picking it up though I already have a copy at home. I got this too from another heap of books selling for only ten rupees. The previous owner had covered it with a plastic jacket that kept the book in good shape though the pages seemed to be faded. I couldn’t decipher the signature of the previous on the first page but the date was 11-2-86! It was a twenty two year old book but in reasonably good shape.

‘The Writing of One Novel’ is all about how Irving Wallace came about to write his bestseller, ‘The Prize’. I love reading such books by writers who tell the readers how a particular book was conceived and written. Such books give insights into the writing process. James A Michener too has written a similar book about his novel ‘Mexico’, but it is Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather Papers’ that I am looking for.

The last find of Sunday was the Jan-Feb 2008 issue of the men’s magazine titled ‘m’. I picked it up because I had picked up the latest issue of ‘Man’s World’, which is now only 'MW', at a book store. Sometime soon I will do a post comparing these two magazines.

‘Paro’ is only 137 pages long and I might finish it in a couple of days and then do a review here

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Culture of Waste

If there is one thing I cannot bear watching, it is watching people waste water, power and fuel. These three things (though there are others as well) are precious commodities that are non-renewable. Hence these have to be used with great discretion only when necessary. In our country most people in cities especially, think that water is plenty in supply in the world. Of course, they do get panicky on those days the water supply is delayed. This concern for saving water and using it judiciously is only short lived. When the water supply resumes then it is back to square one. This is the same in our family and I get tired of explaining. It will take a long time to convince people to save water. I know because I have worked in drought prone areas for more than half a decade and have seen how everything suffers when there is little water.

Similar is the case with fuel. A lot of people don't realize that fuel is non-renewable. People travel for short distances in their cars without realizing the amount of fuel they are burning up. If they walk that short distance it would benefit the earth as well as their own health. I know this sounds preachy and trite but it is something that worries me. What will we leave for our next generations if we use up all the resources? We are destroying forests, using up fuel, wasting water and everything else that is precious. What will be left for our kids?

Apart from wastage we are also polluting the earth. Plastic is one thing I dislike. Everything is being made up plastic nowadays even things that needn't be. A visit to the EatStreet on Necklace Road for a snack and coffee showed how much plastic we generate. There is the plastic plate, if not plastic, then something close which is disposable, the plastic spoons and the plastic water bottle are what ends up after just a small snack. Then if you are having coffee there are the paper cups that are disposable but difficult to recycle. I have no idea how much Eat Street and all the fancy eateries in malls and other places generate every day but I am sure it amounts to mountains of trash.

It is time we started doing something. I was glad to realize that using a fountain pen to write is an eco-friendly habit. I get to indulge in my passion and at the same time also show my concern for the environment. Small steps lead to small results.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Two Irritating Ads

Two ads on television and also in print are irritating me no end. One is the 'Idea' advertisement with Abhishek Bachan as a guide, and the other is for the TVS Flame bike. I find no logic in Idea ad where the concept of messaging is shown in a most dumb (no pun intended) manner. It neither entertains nor educates and in fact, insults the intelligence of the users. Do we need an ad in English to tell you can communicate through SMS? Which user of cell phones doesn't know it? I see no purpose in that ad and it makes me cringe every time I see Abhishek put on his loud guide act and mouth those inane lines. I feel 'ugh' whenever the ad comes on television.

The other ad is the TVS Flame ad. While the whole ad is quite I did not understand the logic behind a word used to describe a simple part of the bike. We are told that the bike sports 'Embedded TRafficators' as if it is some kind of an aircraft component. It is that kind of too-clever-by-half we copywriters are sometime prone to. Instead of saying 'Embedded Indicators' the copy writer has chosen to tell it in a very stupid way. Whoever wrote it certainly doesn't expect sales of the bike to increase just because it has 'embedded trafficators'.

Actually it is fun imagining how the owners of the bike would go and tell the mechanics that the 'embedded trafficators' on his bike are not working. The mechanic would simply give him a blank stare. It simply doesn't make any sense to me. 'Embedded trafficators', indeed! Guys, give us a break.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Easterlin Paradox and Other Thoughts

Occasionally, the newspaper I read- The Hindu- reprints interesting articles published in other newspapers abroad, usually the Guardian of UK (on which it is modeled) but the other day there was an article from The New York Times. The topic of these reprinted articles are quite interesting- money, moving house, non-fiction writing and so on. The article I read the day before was about something called the ‘Easterlin Paradox’, which is all about money and the happiness or unhappiness it brings.

In the article with a rather long title- ‘Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, Well, on Second Thought…”, David Leonhardt dwells on the Easterlin Paradox (propounded by Richard Easterlin) which states that economic growth doesn’t necessarily lead to more satisfaction. Simply put, the Easterlin paradox says that more money is not a guarantee of happiness. It also says that relative income- that is how much we make compared to those around us- matters more than absolute income. But now it seems a new study by two young economists contradicts Easterlin. Their new study says that money tends to bring happiness though there is no guarantee. It also says that absolute income matters more than relative income, which is quite opposite to what Easterlin said.

It is an interesting topic, the link between money and happiness. Another article in December 2006 that I had cut and kept was about the link between money and behaviour. The article by Johnjoe McFadden said that thinking about money seemed to make people more independent and less likely to call for assistance. The writer also said that a survey found that studying money made people less generous and unsocial, that is, they were more unlikely to help others in need of help.

Many who don’t have enough money for every thing (especially guys like me who work for the government!) would agree that a little more money would made a lot of difference to their lives. All I need more money for is to be able to buy books, pens and do writing workshops to improve my writing. It is one thing that is bugging me no end, not having saved enough to do a writing workshop abroad.

I don’t know of any get-rich quick schemes except selling my book for a huge advance. This is one thing that I dream about every night. A publisher reads my manuscript and instantly writes a cheque for a six (make it seven) figure amount, clutching which I rush to my office and tell the boss I am quitting for good. It is at this point that I wake up and realize I’m yet to type out the manuscript.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rebuilding a Friendship

Life sometimes has an odd way of pushing you into doing things you don’t want to do, and then throw a pleasant surprise at you. I got in touch with a long forgotten friend after a gap of nearly four years thanks to one such reluctant act.

Last Saturday one of my bosses asked me to attend an official meeting at a far away place. It was a holiday for us on Saturday and I was loath to attend it. I tried to wriggle out of it putting on a long face and muttering darkly about having to forego a holiday. My boss said, “Nothing doing’ when I told him I wasn’t inclined to go as I was in no way connected with the meeting.

To make sure I attended he gave me a memo, the ultimate weapon in the bureaucracy. So I had no alternative but to fall in line. The meeting was at a far away place and we had to leave early in the morning. I had my own ideas about the meeting and prepared for it the previous day picking up a book I could read. I thought of sitting in a corner with it and whiling away the time reading.

It didn’t work out like that since the meeting hall was small and every one could see every one. There were people from all over the country attending the meeting. I asked the people from Karnataka if they knew a certain officer I knew and told them I wanted his telephone number.

In 2000 I was in Chennai for ten days to attend a training session. I was put in a room along with an officer from Karnataka and during those ten days we became good friends though he was ten or fifteen years older than me. We kept in touch until 2005 and the link was broken because I lost his telephone number, and he too did not call.

On Saturday the officer from Karnataka had told me my friend had opted for voluntary retirement and promised to give me his number after returning to Bangalore. Yesterday when I called, he gave my friend’s number promptly as promised. I was excited

I dialed my friend’s number and waited with bated breath for Amarnath to lift the phone. Finally he came on line and asked something in Kannada. When I told him I was calling from Hyderabad, he was silent for some time and then he spoke. We chatted for some time and he asked me to come to Bangalore. I was glad I finally got in touch with a good friend and thanked my stars for agreeing to attend that meeting, though with great reluctance.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'News of a Kidnapping'

Last Monday Jai helped me locate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘News of a Kidnapping’, a hardcover Knopf/Borzoi books edition that I got for only fifty rupees. I had thought of reading it later when I had a lot of free time. But I couldn’t resist and began reading it that same evening until I finished it yesterday. It is an engrossing book about the kidnapping of ten people in Colombia by Pablo Escobar, the notorious and ruthless Colombian drug lord wanted by the US.

In the introduction Marquez writes that the book was written on the request of Maruja Panchon (one of the kidnapped hostages) and her husband, Alberto Villamizar who negotiates with Escobar for the hostages’ release. His wife, Maruja and his sister, Beatrice are two of the ten hostages kidnapped. The kidnapping of ten high ranking people was to pressurize the government of Colombia not to go ahead with a law allowing for extradition of certain criminals, to the US.

Marquez, a former journalist, writes beautifully about the ordeal of the hostages in captivity swinging between the hostages and the efforts of the government to secure their release. It is a sort of journalistic masterpiece that takes you to the scene. The book tells of the kidnapping and tales of the horror the drug lords of the Medellin cartel inflicted on the Colombian people. It is also an account of the brave people who stood up to Pablo Escobar, a merciless killer who was afraid of extradition to the US, a fear that led him to the kidnapping.

The saddest parts of the tale are the deaths of two of the hostages. Marina, a senior citizen is killed in cold blood by Escobar’s people and another Diana Turbay, a television journalist is killed during a police raid on a hideout. These deaths haunted me long after I finished reading the book. The book ends with the escape of Pablo Escobar from a prison where he is lodged after surrendering due to the intervention of a crazy priest.

It is a fantastic book that made me search for the rest of the story which I found on the net. I read that Escobar was killed on December 2, a day after his birthday, in 1993 by a police colonel, Hugo Martinez in a rooftop shooting in Medellin. Right from the day of his escape from a prison, the Delta Forces of the US and the Colombian team called ‘Search Party’ were closing in after him and ultimately killed ehim. Escobar is reported to have been the seventh richest man in the world in 1989 according to Forbes.

That isn't the end of a brutal druglord for his rival gang, the Cali cartel is said to have taken the place of the Medellin cartel in Colombia.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Coffee at Then-Hilton-Now-CCD

A couple of days ago I met a new friend who had his office near the Osmania campus. When he told me CCD had opened we decided to check out ‘Hilton Ban Gaya CCD’ and have coffee there. I was a bit nervous entering CCD which came up on the grave of Hilton, a former haunt of mine. It held a lot of memories for me of the endless hours spent there talking with friends over Irani chai. I wondered how it would feel to sit in the same place but in a different (and mod) setting.

I began to compare CCD with Hilton right away the moment we stood before it.

As in Hilton where you could see inside the hotel from outside it was the same with CCD except there was a glass between.

Hilton was bright, noisy and lively, CCD is dark and silent. It was dark because there was no power and for a while it felt no different from Hilton in summer.

Hilton had enough place to seat more than fifty people while CCD can accommodate not more than twenty at a time. Of course, the seats were of different varieties- two-seater and four-seater tables in CCD.

Where the former Hilton had the cashier’s table there were tables for customers in CCD. I tried to place the layout of Hilton over that of CCD. The main seating area of Hilton was now taken up by a smoking section behind a glass partition.

We sat sweating for sometime and waited for someone to notice us just like in Hilton. After a while the English speaking waiter approached with a menu. In Hilton one only had to indicate with a finger what one wanted without opening the mouth.

The crowd was different too. There were youngsters lounging around, the sort of guys who wear expensive jeans and talk only about the internet or Hollywood. I missed the autoricksaw drivers, the working class men from the street and the student crowd dropping in for a one by two chai. This was a different experience alright but it is not going to wipe out the memories of good ol Hilton.

The coffee was good. Maybe I will be visiting Then-Hilton-Now-CCD again but not as frequently, considering the price of the coffee and also considering the fact that drinking one-by-two coffee may not be possible.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Sunday Haul

In The Hindu’s ‘Literary Review’ supplement of this month, in his column ‘Classics Revisited’ Ravi Vyas had reviewed a book by an author I had not heard about before. The book under review was ‘The Death of Artemio Cruz’, and the author was Carlos Fuentes. The name stuck in my mind because he had mentioned it along with other great Latin American writers like Marquez, Octavio Paz and Pablo Neruda. While going through the review I thought it unlikely I would be coming across any book by Fuentes here. Imagine my shock when on Sunday I spotted a book by none other than by Carlos Fuentes, at Abids. It was ‘The Old Gringo’ and it was mine for only ten bucks. The paperback was by Perennial Fiction Library from Harper & Row Publishers, and was in good condition.

The blurbs had very high praise for the book from Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times: ‘A dazzling novel that possesses the weight and resonance of myth.’ The novel is about the imagined fate of journalist and writer Ambrose Bierce who vanished during the Civil War in Mexico. The first good find of Sunday set the tone for the rest of the hunt which resulted in a good haul.

With same seller I found a brand new copy of Mary Karr’s memoir, ‘The Liars Club, for only ten bucks again. And coincidentally Michiko Kakutani’s high praise for this book of Penguin too was on the cover- ‘Astonishing…one of the most dazzling and moving memoir to come along in years.’ I had seen a copy at a second hand bookstore but it was priced at fifty rupees and the copy too was not in such a good condition. I felt glad I found this book about which I had read somewhere.

Another book I picked up from a heap of books selling for ten rupees was Alice Hoffman’s ‘Black Bird House’ which I hadn’t seen earlier though I saw umpteen copies of her other book- Practical Magic. I also picked up another book ‘Man’s Body’ more for my son than for myself, because he is forever asking me questions about how our body functions. I hope he finds the answers to all his questions in this illustrated book.

I also found a book that might help me improve my writing- ‘Writing Clear Paragraphs’ by Prentice Hall publishers. The book did not seem like an academic textbook at all though it was a textbook for high school students to help them write essays. I got this book for thirty rupees and it was a bargain because of its good condition. The only problem is finding the time to read this book.

Next was a magazine that I found, one of my favorites- Conde Nast Traveller. I got the absolutely latest issue, that of February 2008 and I got it for only twenty rupees. I felt glad for it had fantastic pictures and articles about places like Bhutan, Norway, Namibia, Maldives where I don’t think I would ever travel to unless I get a fantastic advance for my yet to be written book!

But the last book was a surprise again. It was a most unusual book, the sort which I don’t normally buy. It was ‘The Worst Case Survival Handbook’ by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, and published by. The book offered advice and handy tips about situations where you need to know how to escape from a bear or wrestle from an alligator. It also gave advice on how to escape from quicksand, how to survive an avalanche and so on. Though it dealt with the sort of situations one doesn’t normally get into in Hyderabad I bought the book for its attractive yellow cover and also because it seemed a steal for just twenty rupees.

Six books and a magazine for only one hundred and twenty books isn’t such a bad haul.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Necklace Road on a Sunday Evening

Necklace Road is one place where half of Hyderabad’s population seem to gather on Sunday evenings clogging the place with their bikes and cars. It was no different this Sunday except there seemed to be more vendors than visitors. Everywhere one went there were vendors selling everything from dinky plastic toys to chaat. We were there at Necklace Road hoping to enjoy a quiet evening but it turned out to be an altogether different experience.

It was quite unbearably hot inside Eat Street where they don’t even have ceiling fans. On one hand was the loud music from the televisions inside and on the other hand was some kind of sales promotion of a bike that involved inviting members of the audience to sing on the stage. The guy (jockey?) at the mike in the make shift stage kept up a constant chatter almost pleading with the onlookers to join in. But the gawkers that we Hyderabadis are, not many volunteered to exhibit their musical talents, mercifully.

Elsewhere outside, some kind of an consumer goods exhibition was on. As is normal in Hyderabad there were more gawkers than buyers. Hyderabadis are the sort who have to see a thing at least ten times before they decide to finally buy it after haggling for the price to be brought down to almost half. After that a Hyderabadi asks the seller a hundred questions of the sort even the manufacturers of the product may not have thought of. A Hyderabadi never likes to take a chance on anything even if it is just a comb that he is buying

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Finding Marquez's 'News of a Kidnapping'

Last Monday, by a happy coincidence, I found another book by one of my all time favorite writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “News of a Kidnapping”. On Sunday I had seen a copy of his other book,“Living to Tell the Tale” at Jai’s house, and Jai told me there was another copy at ‘Al Classic’ second hand bookstore near Sangeet Theatre.

On Monday I hurried to the store and saw Jai there again for the second time in less than twenty four hours. He showed me the rack where he had seen the book but instead I found “News of a Kidnapping” which I got for fifty rupees. I searched all over for 'Living to Tell the Tale' but in vain.

'News...' was a hardcover Borzoi edition published by Alfred A Knopf. It had no dust jacket yet was in good condition. Borzoi books seem to be printed on a different type of paper which is rough on the outer edges. I had purchased Haruki Murakami’s book ‘Blind Willow…’ in the same imprint. I felt glad I found this book and I am grateful to Jai for leading me to it.

I have started reading the book, unable to resist. It is about the kidnapping of journalists and others by Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug dealer of Columbia. The journalists are kidnapped to pressurize the Colombian government to modify a new law and prevent the drug dealers from being extradited to the USA. It is an engrossing account of the hostages stay in the hideouts. I am half way through it and just reached the point where one of the hostages, Marina, is found shot in the head. It is spine chilling, the way Marquez describes the ordeal of the hostages.

A friend forwarded the farewell message of Marquez who is suffering from terminal cancer and has withdrawn from public life. It is sad to think that the great writer is suffering. No writer has captured my imagination like Marquez and I feel depressed that he will not be writing any more. The final message makes for sad reading. Here are some excerpts from it:

"If God, for a second, forgot what I have become and granted me a little bit more of life, I would use it to the best of my ability. I wouldn't, possibly, say everything that is in my mind, but I would be more thoughtful of all I say. To all men I would say how mistaken they are when they think that they stop falling in love when they grow old, without knowing that they grow old when they stop falling in love.

I would give wings to children, but I would leave it to them to learn how to fly by themselves.

To old people I would say that death doesn't arrive when they grow old, but with forgetfulness.

I have learned so much with you all, I have learned that everybody wants to live on top of the mountain, without knowing that true happiness is obtained in the journey taken & the form used to reach the top of the hill.

I have learned that when a newborn baby holds, with its little hand, his father's finger, it has trapped him for the rest of his life.

I have learned that a man has the right and obligation to look down at another man, only when that man needs help to get up from the ground.

Say always what you feel, not what you think. If I knew that today is the last time that that I am going to see you asleep, I would hug you with all my strength and I would pray to the Lord to let me be the guardian angel of your soul.

Tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone, young or old. Today could be the last time to see your loved ones, which is why you mustn't wait; do it today, in case tomorrow never arrives. I am sure you will be sorry you wasted the opportunity today to give a smile, a hug, a kiss, and that you were too busy to grant them their last wish.

Keep your loved ones near you; tell them in their ears and to their faces how much you need them and love them. Love them and treat them well; take your time to tell them "I am sorry";" forgive me"," please" "thank you", and all those loving words you know.

Show your friends and loved ones how important they are to you.Send this letter to those you love. If you don't do it today...tomorrow will be like yesterday, and if you never do it, it doesn't matter, either, the moment to do it is now.

For you,With much love,

Your Friend,

Gabriel Garcia Marquez"

There is so much wisdom in this farewell message it is difficult not to feel extremely depressed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Making It To The Front Page, A VIP Visitor and 150 Posts

In The New Indian Express!

This is the 150th post on the blog and I have more than one reason to be happy about it. By a happy coincidence bordering on a miracle, today’s edition of ‘The New Indian Express’ carried an excerpt from a post on this blog on the front page! I was overjoyed when I chanced upon it by accident.

While on way to office I remembered it was Friday today, and of late I have begun to read the ‘Business Line’ on Fridays because of an interesting supplement called “Life”. At the newsstand, the new and attractive design of “The New Indian Express’ caught my eye and I picked up this paper too and came to office.

Until lunch time I had no opportunity to read the papers I had bought in the morning. While having lunch I looked at TNIE and got the shock of my life on finding the excerpt from my blog right on the front page. I almost fell off my chair with a cry. Incidentally, the excerpt was from the post about the dinner I had at Novotel a couple of weeks ago. Right from the day 040 magazine published a post from my blog good things have begun to happen. The post about the dinner too drew a good response. Right now I am floating on Cloud Nine.


Yesterday, the blog had a VIP visitor, an editor of an international publishing house. I was amazed she took time to leave a comment on my post about the coming deluge of three new books by three famous writers. I felt honored and privileged and, not to mention, lucky.

I felt I should begin to pay attention to what I am writing because you never know who reads the blog. I don’t think what I am writing is grammatically or syntactically correct so I plan to be more careful from now on. I'm going to revise and revise until I get it perfectly right.


I had begun this blog on the 30th of July last year, and the next day I posted my first post. In the eight months that passed I managed to write a hundred and fifty posts. After about a hundred and ten days (less than three months) this blog will turn one. It is long enough for me to do another fifty posts and reach 200 posts if I post at the rate of one post every alternate day. However, that is not what I plan to do. I plan to do hundred more posts by then and have two hundred and fifty posts on my one-year old blog. I don’t think it is impossible but it sure is difficult. I have begun to enjoy blogging so I can do it with a bit of determination.
Wish me luck

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Natural Born Spitters

One of the several hazards motorists, especially two wheeler riders, encounter daily on the roads of Hyderabad (apart from potholes the size of football stadia, non-Hyderabadi drivers, and people driving ancient Premier Padmini cars) is that of being spat upon. Yes, one faces the danger of being spat upon in Hyderabad. This is one unstated reason why the traffic cops very nicely tell you to wear helmets and you thought the helmets only protected you from crashes.

99% of us Hyderabadis seem to be born with overactive salivary glands, a factor due to which we are unable take two breaths without spitting once. This disorder seems to get acute the minute we board a bus and get a window seat. This poses a problem to all those two wheeler riders following the bus or who happen to be riding beside the bus. Today by a miracle and also by the sort of fast manouevre an F1 Motorcyclist would have envied, I avoided being in the landing range of a spitter who suddenly leant out of the window of a bus that was ahead of me. Before he could lean out again to discharge the rest of his saliva I changed lanes and sped away.

Minutes after this I faced another similar hazard. There was a Skoda before me and the guy at the wheel held his hand out of the window. He had a cigarette in his hand in the manner of Hyderabad's expert one hand drivers who either have their cell phone in their hands or a cigarette. I don't really mind the guys talking on their cell phones while driving (I do mind, of course) but it is people who smoke while driving who get my goat. These guys think they are being stylish keeping one hand out of the window perhaps to show us the brand of the cigarette they are smoking. Smokers like to imagine they are living the life similar to those shown smoking in the cigarette advertisements. The driver in the Skoda was no different and he stylishly flicked his cigarette. The ash flew straight into my face. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind and leaned across to tell him what I thought of him but at the last moment he turned into the Marriott leaving me fuming.

I am glad he wasn't chewing paan. On second thoughts I guess he should be glad I wasn't chewing paan.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Summer's Reading- Rushdie, Lahiri and Amitav Ghosh

Sunday brought with it “Literary Review” in The Hindu newspaper and I spent the whole morning poring through the articles in it. I found Pradeep Sebastian’s piece on James Wood’s ‘How Fiction Works’ most interesting. I wish I could find this book somewhere soon for two reasons. One was that Pradeep Sebastian describes the book as ‘the first truly illuminating book on the craft of a writer I have read.’ Second was a small aside he let in that James Wood was one of Pico Iyer’s literary hero which makes him a hero of one of my own literary heroes.

It seems like it is Jhumpa Lahiri everywhere these days. I had read an interview with her in AARP The Magazine that I found on Sunday. Then in Monday’s “Metro Plus” there was a front page article about the books of three biggies that we’ll get to read this summer- Jhumpa Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth) along with Amitav Ghosh ( Sea of Poppies) and Salman Rushdie (The Enchantress of Florence). There was an excerpt from ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ in today’s Deccan Chronicle in the Books Plus page. I read the excerpt and felt captivated by Jhumpa Lahiri’s exquisite style.

The latest issue of India Today magazine carried an excerpt from Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ along with a write up on Rushdie by S.Prasannarajan. Rushdie is described by Prasannarajan as ‘ a world novelist, like Milan Kundera’, and ‘Enchantress of Florence’ as ‘an exuberant celebration of storytelling.’ Can't wait to read it.

I’m feeling giddy with expectation of reading these books. It will be sometime before they appear at Abids but I wonder if I will be able to wait until then after reading all these articles about the two books.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Lunch, and a Bunch of Books on Sunday

Sunday I was at Jai’s place for lunch which stretched for almost three hours. I hadn’t eaten anything so wonderfully cooked for a long time so I ate three times what I normally eat. I also got a fountain pen as a gift, but the biggest gift was meeting a fellow blogger and a good friend. Because of the lunch, I could not go to Abids in the morning but I made it there in the afternoon around four.

The first find was Calvin Trillin’s ‘Uncivil Liberties’ which I got for only twenty rupees. Trillin is one of Dave Barry’s favorites along with PJ O’Rourke and Tim Cahill. ‘Uncivil Liberties’ is a collection of humorous essays which I love to read. The book was in good condition and I had seen this book at a second hand bookstore near Liberty for a long time. Ultimately, it seems to have made its way to the pavements. Nearly every book in second hand stores ends up on the pavements of Abids.

The next find was yet another good copy of ‘Dave Barry Turns Forty’, which I want to give to someone who loves humor. I have picked up umpteen copies of this book and have given it nearly all my friends. I got this book for only ten rupees. For the same price, I picked up Norman Lewis’ ‘Better English’ as part of my unending attempts to learn grammar.

Next, I found another wonderful book, or rather magazine. It was the ‘National Geographic Guide to Digital Photography’ that I got for a steep one and hundred fifty rupees. The guy knew it was a good book so refused to come down on the price. But it was worth the money I paid just for the stunning pictures inside. I can never take those sort of pictures with my Sony DSC 40 digital camera that I had bought on my trip to the Andamans two years ago. Someday when I finally manage to learn to upload pictures on this blog I will post some pictures I had taken in the Andamans.

The last find of Sunday was another magazine- AARP The Magazine of March-April 2008. I got this magazine for only ten rupees. There was a lot about India in this magazine meant for people on the wrong side of fifty. There was a short interview with the author Jhumpa Lahiri, who is in the news a lot for her new book- 'Unaccustomed Earth’. There were two articles about traveling to India and one of them was by the editor of the magazine, Steven Slon. The article that held the most interest for me was one on collecting titled ‘A Mass Appeal’, about collectors and the things they collect. I was disappointed to find that fountain pen collecting was not discussed. It was another new magazine for me.

Sunday also brought with it the ‘Literary Review’ supplement of ‘The Hindu’ for which I had been eagerly waiting since more than a week. That is, of course, for the next post!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Mid-week Haul

The surprise find of Thursday evening was Lawrence Block’s ‘Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print’. I do not remember where I read about it, most probably in a Writer’s Digest magazine because the book is published by them. I had added the title to a long list of titles I am perpetually searching for. At last, I could strike off one title that I found after a very long search. It is another addition to the growing list of books on writing I keep buying in an (futile?) effort to improve my writing. Whether I succeed in learning to write even moderately well after reading all these books is a different matter but I am glad I found this book. Perhaps I could learn something from Lawrence Block. I haven’t read a single book of his, though.

I got the hardcover copy of ‘Writing the Novel’ for only a hundred rupees which is quite reasonable. The book runs into two hundred pages and seems packed with a lot of advice on writing novels. It is advice I badly need especially since my first novel is in progress. I hope I have not committed too many mistakes in writing it. I plan to start typing after a couple of days and then I will know where I went wrong.

I also found two more copies of the ‘Unison’ notebooks I had picked up at the store a couple of months ago. I wonder how these notebooks meant for sale in the USA ended up here. The notebooks are made in India. I don’t have an idea about their price there but here I got these 160-page, 27.9 X 22.8 cms notebook for only forty rupees each. The Thursday evening’s outing proved to be a productive one with these finds.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Odyssey Store

I go weak in the knees whenever I see new fountain pens and notebooks in stationery stores. I go to dreamland in which I am writing my best-selling novel with that beautiful Waterman fountain pen in that new notebook both of which I would have bought were my wallet been full of cash. This is exactly the situation I find myself in almost every time I visit a stationery store. It was no different yesterday at the Vikrampuri branch of Odyssey where I landed up in the evening.
I was disappointed to see that unlike their flagship store at Punjagutta, this branch did not have a cafĂ©. This was a three-storey building with books, magazines and cosmetics at the ground level, gifts and kids’ books at the first floor with multimedia products and stationery items on the top floor. One thing I like about the Odyssey stores is the sales people greet you with a smile and ask if you need any help. They have branches in Imax, Punjagutta (the original store), Vikrampuri and now at the new International airport at Shamshabad according to a poster in the store.

I was looking to buy the latest issue of ‘Tinkle’ for my son but it hadn’t yet been stocked. I saw Paul Theroux’s ‘Blinding Light’ and also ‘Great Railway Bazar’ which I was secretly pleased to note was Rs 600 whereas I got the same book at Abids for twenty bucks sometime last month. I also saw Pico Iyer’s ‘The Lady and the Monk’, Jack Kerouac’s ‘Book of Blues’ and a lot of other books I would have loved to buy. For some strange reason Odyssey stores do not seem to stock ‘040’ magazine.

‘Eight thousand and eight hundred rupees’ the sales guy told me when I pointed out the 4GB iPod Nano securely locked in a display case. I had promised to buy myself one after completing the first draft of my book, but though a week has passed since I wrote the last page I haven’t picked up any of the three or four rewards I wanted to give myself. It looks like it is going to be a long time before I can save enough to buy the iPod.
One the way back I dropped in at the secondhand bookstore, ‘Al Classic’ inside Sangeet theater complex. I got a pleasant surprise when I chanced upon a book that was in my ‘Must buy’ list since more than a year. It is a book on writing and I will write about it in the next post. (I’m a writer, right? I’ve got to keep the readers coming for more…)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Sunday Haul

Whoever it was on that Emirates flight who flicked the March 2007 issue of Conde Nast Traveller that I found this Sunday at Abids definitely could only have been someone from Hyderabad. I can say it with certainty for two reasons. One, because I found it in Hyderabad. Two, because there was a sticker on the cover page asking the magazine to be returned after reading as ‘a courtesy to fellow passengers.’ No one other than a true blue Hyderabadi can resist doing the opposite. When we don’t follow traffic rules on the roads how can anyone expect us to follow something even sillier in the air? As for courtesy, if we were to follow such niceties then Hyderabad wouldn’t have got this far.

Jokes apart, last Sunday I had a good haul of three books, two magazines (one of them the Conde Nast Traveler) and yet another Mont Blanc catalogue. I was at Abids a little past eleven and though I realized I had forgotten to bring a cap, the cloudy weather made the browsing quite pleasant. It is the time of the year in Hyderabad when the sun blazes down fiercely and the only thing to do is to wear a cap outdoors.

The first book I found was Joan Didion’s ‘Run River’, a novel published sometime in 1978. I got this book for twenty rupees. I have been trying to lay my hands on her other book,‘The White Album’, which I missed buying sometime last year. But I am glad I found this book on Sunday. I am waiting for her latest bestseller ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ to turn up at Abids.

The next find was Gay Talese’s ‘Thy Neighbour’s Wife’, a brick of a book of nearly 650 pages that I got for only twenty rupees. I have heard a lot about this book of non-fiction.

But the find of the day was undoubtedly Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’ which I got for, again, only twenty rupees. The blurb says it is ‘the best book on the hippies’ and it is another book I have read much about. By the way, Wolfe is an avid fountain pen fan.

I found the March 2007 issue of Conde Nast Traveler and got it for twenty-five rupees. There were some absolutely stunning pictures of castles in Bavaria- the Herrenchiemsee with its Hall of Mirrors and also of the world’s most famous castle, ‘Neuschwanstein’ built by Ludwig I? It was brand new and I was glad to find a nice magazine on destinations I can begin dreaming about.

The other magazine I found was a surprise find. It was the latest, meaning March 2008, issue of ‘The Atlantic’. I got it for only ten rupees. There was the February 2008 issue as well but I felt this was more than enough for a week’s reading.

Finally I came upon the last treasure of the day- a Mont Blanc catalog of 2002 that had me salivating when I saw all those beautiful fountain pens. It was titled “Is that You?’, and apart from pictures of some stunning fountain pens it also had pictures of other MB products- watches, wallets, belts etc. I had eyes only for the fountain pens especially the brown and gold colored Meisterstuck Solitaire Citrin and the cute Boheme Vert and Boheme Je T’Aime in sterling silverm white gold and resin. All these fountain pens have begun to appear in my dreams since Sunday.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Prize Dinner at the Square, Novotel

Sometime last Friday I finally managed to muster the courage to call the person at Novotel I was told to speak to about the prize dinner. A post from this blog was chosen by 040 magazine as ‘pick of the month’ and got me a free dinner. I should have guessed from the eager voice that answered the phone how the dinner would turn out to be. The PR person who answered the phone gave the impression that they were very, very excited to have my family at their hotel. I was more than taken aback at the way I was made to feel at the Square in Novotel. On Saturday evening I experienced the true meaning of the word ‘pampering’.

Right from the moment the car entered the gates of the hotel we were subjected to bright smiles by the hotel staff which we could not match either in terms of the warmth or the duration. They all appeared to be armed with dazzling smiles. The staff appeared very pleased we had come to the hotel and short of performing a welcome dance, they did everything to make us feel truly special. All through the evening they made sure we had the most wonderful evening of our lives. The Irani chai-and-chota-samosa guy that I was, I felt a little nervous sitting in that swank, fantastic restaurant but Venkat made me feel quite at home among the foreigners who outnumbered the rest.

The staff at Novotel just redefined the word ‘Attentive’ to me. It was as if the sole purpose of their life was to be of assistance to us in every conceivable way. Almost every thirty seconds someone or the other of the wait staff would drop by at our table to ask us with a bright smile if we needed anything else. As it is, we had our plates heaped to the full by the staff who plied us with almost every thing that was laid out on the tables. Not just a couple of tables, there were more than half a dozen tables groaning under the weight of almost everything on earth that could be eaten. Everything tasted wonderful and we just went on tucking in almost everything at the buffet.

I had been to a similar meal earlier at another swank hotel a long time back but there the staff had left us alone to eat our food. But, at the Novotel every one made sure we had not just dinner but the experience of true hospitality. I am not exaggerating because I got a free meal but I am writing from the heart where all the food and the attention ultimately reached. It was one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. Period.

Thanks Venkat, Chandan and S.Sriram of Novotel and to Rajeshwari and Allen of 040. My family is in awe of me, and the dinner managed to make me into a sort of hero to my family but the only problem is that they want me to bring them to the hotel again! I promised to take them to Novotel next year on exactly the same day. Amen.