Saturday, May 31, 2008

Election Day

Yesterday it was polling day in our area for the by election. I had expected a holiday to be declared but it wasn’t so. The notification was vaguely worded and did not say if it was a holiday for all of Hyderabad. So I had to go to office. Only a handful of people turned up at the office which would be otherwise buzzing with people. I decided to leave during lunch time to vote. There was a pretty long queue when I went to vote in the morning. It was a hot day and not many seemed to venture out and remained indoors to enjoy the holiday.

I had waited to watch the nine o clock news the night before to see if the holiday would be declared. But as luck would have it there was a power cut at that time. Since more than three days the power is being cut for more than an hour in the night right at the time when people settle down to watch the day’s news while having dinner. It was highly irritating to go out without power during that important hour. I wonder how they could do it in an area where an election was being held. One needn’t be a genius to know which party is going to lose votes because of the untimely power cuts.

There were three main candidates contesting the elections from our constituency. All of them big names and representing major parties. During the entire campaigning period only one candidate bothered to turn up at our locality going door to door to ask for votes. He also promised to solve a minor problem in our area within a month if he was elected. The other two candidates or their representatives were not even to be seen. So once again, one needn’t be a genius to tell who is going to get votes. My guess is the candidate who visited our lane is going to get elected.

We will know it only on Sunday when the votes would be counted.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another Midweek Haul

Of late I have developed the habit of giving myself small rewards on reaching specific goals I set for myself. The other day I managed to cross fifty pages of typing my manuscript so I decided to get a reward. The only reward I could think of was a book so yesterday evening I dropped in at a second hand bookstore to pick up a book I had seen on a previous visit. It was a book of essays by Richard Crasta, the title of which escapes me now. They seem to have misplaced the book which I had told them to keep aside. They searched high and low while I went around looking if I could find anything else that was interesting.

Ultimately they couldn’t locate the book and told me they would look for it again later. I was not totally disappointed since I found another copy of Elmore Leonard’s bestseller- 'Get Shorty'. It was a good copy and I picked it up for fifty rupees. Prices in second hand bookstores are steep compared to the rates on the pavements of Abids on Sundays.

I already have a hardcover copy of this book and have already read it. I might read it again soon. ‘Get Shorty’ has been made into a movie. I plan to catch it on the television sometime soon. If I can lay my hands on a VCD it would be wonderful. Meanwhile, one of the blurbs in the pages inside best describes ‘Get Shorty’- ‘There’s nobody like Elmore Leonard. GET SHORTY is as fast, lively and funny as anybody would want.’ No second opinion about it.

The First Fifty

A little less than three years ago I finally decided to begin writing my first novel. Being a fountain pen freak I decided to write it with a fountain pen. Little did I know then the sort of trouble I am facing now writing with a fountain pen. Lost in the throes of composition I did not realize I would find it tedious and time consuming to type all those pages, four hundred pages no less, which I labored over for nearly three years. Writing the novel I was feeling rather pleased with myself as the pages piled up gradually and the story achieved near epic proportions. Now I am faced with an epic problem typing all those pages into my laptop.

After vacillating for nearly two months I began the laborious task of typing the pages. I write faster than I can type so it is proving to be a cumbersome task. In the beginning I could type only one page daily and it took me an hour to type just one page. Gradually it became two pages and for a couple of weeks I could type not more than two pages a day. I realized that if I continued to type at that pace it would take me more than six months to just finish typing the entire manuscript. So last week I did some calculations and resolved to do five pages a day, come what may.

For a couple of days I could do only four pages a day. I have a full time job so I get time only in the mornings before leaving for office and in the night when I return from work. Now I am doing around six pages a day since I am trying to squeeze in some typing at work whenever I find spare time. Even at that pace it would take me two months, if I type non-stop. I am attempting to type eight pages a day. Yesterday I managed it and typed eight pages feeling mighty pleased about it. Not only that, I also crossed fifty pages of the manuscript.

There are around three hundred and fifty more pages to be typed. I want to finish typing by end of July at any cost even if it means I have to do ten pages on some days. It is a challenge I have set for myself and I am going to meet it. Another challenge that is running is that of writing two hundred and fifty posts on this blog by end of July when the blog will turn one. Writing is something I love so I don't think it is much of a challenge.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Sunday Haul

It turned out to be a lucky Sunday with a couple of unusual and serendipitous finds. I got there at eleven, my usual time and it was very hot this Sunday too. The Sunday’s first find was the July 2007 issue of ‘Conde Nast Traveler’ magazine that I got for forty rupees. It was a bit on the higher side but I took it anyway after I saw some gorgeous pictures inside of places like Ibiza, Funchal, Friesland and Montenegro.

The next find was in the Bommana lane. I found Farrukh Dhondy’s ‘Poona Company’. It is a collection of stories and Salman Rushdie says on the front cover that it is ‘a beautiful collection, full of affection and an extremely funny book.’ It had the following stories: Cotton Figures, Samson, Black Dog, Boomerang, Dinsy, Confession, Chamak, Gandhiji, and Rose de Bahama. The book is slim, about a hundred and fifty pages. I got it for twenty rupees. It was the first book of Farrukh Dhondy I would be reading. Until now I had read only his columns in the Deccan Chronicle.

Elsewhere I noticed that the paperback copy of Linda Greenlaw’s ‘Hungry Ocean’ was still unsold along with Elmore Leonard’s “Killshot’ and Paul Theroux’s ‘Chicago Loop’. If they happen to be there next Sunday I will buy them. The last find at Abids was yet another copy of the Mont Blanc catalog- Expressions, that I got for only ten rupees. This is the third such copy I have with me. I plan to give it away to anyone who loves fountain pens. I had given my second copy to a friend I made recently and incidentally, through this blog.

I had finished the rounds at Abids by one in the afternoon and while returning home I stopped at Chikkadpally to check out the books here. Abids is not the only place where one can find people selling second hand books. There’s Koti and also Chikkadpally where about four or five people sell on the pavements. Here’s where I made my serendipitous finds getting two books.

The first find was VS Naipaul’s ‘The Middle Passage’, a Penguin edition which I got for thirty rupees only. It was a good copy without any damage and I was glad I found it because I had read about it somewhere described as a great read. I don’t know when I would be able to read it but I was really pleased I found it. There was William Golding’s ‘The Spire’ also but I didn’t pick it up.

The second lucky find was a book I had been on the look out for ever since some one gushingly told me that I must, must read it. It was the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams. I felt a bolt of thrill pass through when my eyes fell on the title. It was not in such a good shape though. Half the pages were sort of crumpled. Some of the pages had moisture stains on them but otherwise it was in good shape. It seemed it has an extra bonus of about 90 pages about the making of the film too. All this for only thirty bucks. It was a find that capped the day’s haul.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Another Elmore Leonard bestseller- A review

On Saturday I was assigned an unenviable task of attending to the telephone for nearly seven hours at the office. I work for the government so I do what I am told without asking too many questions. It was a welcome respite from my daily routine but it since it sounded like a boring task I took along a book to liven up things. I had Elmore Leonard’s ‘The Hunted’ that I had bought only a week ago. I read it almost non-stop for a couple of hours before the calls started coming.

‘The Hunted’ is vintage Elmore Leonard and I consider it one of the best books I’ve read of his so far. It has fast action, great dialogue plus some potshots about a lot of things. The story is of a mortgage banker Al Rosen who is hiding in Israel, and a set of killers who arrive to settle scores. Al Rosen finds an unlikely ally in a US Marine. David Davis, bumbling at first but one with the fighting brains. Tali, an Israeli girl assists AL Rosen, loves him probably, but ends up with the Marine in the end. The three killers are Ted Cass, Rashad and Valenzeula. A lawyer Mel who arrives to pay Rosen also finds himself involved in the action which takes place all over Israel. Mati is a bit player in it. These guys are all wisecracking specialists armed with bombs, guns and what not.

The beginning and the ending are dramatic and set you on the edge making one turn page after page towards the end. I wished the book would never end. It is one of the best books I’ve read in recent times. There’s another Elmore Leonard book that’s lying unread- The Moonshine wars. I will read it after sometime because right now I’m still with David Davis, the US Marine.

Of 'Comfort Books' and The Power of the Written Word

That I’ve made a few good friends through this blog is something yet to sink in though I have met two of them a couple of times. Last week I met one such friend and had a long conversation with him about favorite books, favorite writers, grammar even, and also writing. Coming home from that stimulating talk I wondered how powerful the written word is. Words havethe power to make us laugh, cry, reach out to people and entertain us unlike anything. I’ve read of books that have changed people’s lives. It is quite common that a lot of people lead their lives according to the scriptures or holy books of their religion- the Gita, the Koran and the Bible. The people who’ve written them existed long back but they continue to provide solace to all those who read them. Today, I read about a book by an actual author that someone termed as a ‘comfort book.’

In today’s (Sunday) Sunday magazine supplement I read an article by Usha Jesudasan titled ‘An Act of Discovery’ in which she writes about books that see through people through grief, loneliness, pain, fear or doubt. She calls these books as 'comfort books.' She writes about Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women’ and another book by an author I hadn’t heard before- Henri Nouwen and the book was ‘The Inner Voice of Love.’ I have read about ‘Little Women’ but it was the first time I was reading about the latter book.

Usha Jesudasan writes that ‘The Inner Voice of Love’ was actually a dairy of deep personal thoughts recorded by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, who was deeply hurt when a close friend rejected him. She writes that the book echoed her own feelings of fear and despair at being left alone. She was comforted by the Nouwen’s words and expresses her gratitude to the author for bringing her out of grief and negative feelings about herself. Such is the power of the written word!

How she got the book is another interesting tale in itself. It was given to her by her friend who gave it to her as her need for comfort and solace was more than his. It seems the friend wrote to her that the book saved his life several times and was one of his most precious possessions. It is incredibly unbelievable that a book written by someone can affect someone’s life so deeply. I am very curious about this book and now will be on the lookout for it during my book hunts.

This is the link to the essay:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Unbeatable Hyderabadi

When it comes to breaking traffic rules no one can beat a Hyderabadi in either variety or sheer ingenuity. In fact, there are very few things a Hyderabadi can be beaten at. (However, nowadays it happens to be the 20-20 cricket we seem to be getting beaten at regularly. One can say not all of the Deccan Chargers are Hyderabadis. But then, the captain is a Hyderabadi. That alone is sufficient. But that is another story for a later time.)

Here are some of the most common traffic violations Hyderabadis routinely commit. Sometimes it appears a Hyderabadi motorist feels uneasy and restless if he hasn't broken at least one traffic rule every day.

1. The most common traffic violation is driving through the red light at traffic signals. They must be color blind or in a great hurry not to notice the red light.

2. The second most common traffic violation is driving without a helmet. It is several years since the helmet rule was brought in but half the two wheeler riders do not seem to know it. Some really don't know how to wear a helmet and hence carry it with them on their bike/scooters hanging at the back.

3. The third common violation is driving in the wrong lane. Some people don't believe in the lane system. They just want to go wherever they want to go in the shortest way possible even if it happens to be a one way road.

Of course, there are several other rules that the Hyderabadi doesn't believe in- riding triples, drunken driving, driving without headlights in the night, driving without driving licence and so on.

But two habits of Hyderabadis really irk me-One is driving a two wheeler without a helmet with the entire family hanging on to the bike and not stopping at a red light. It shows how responsible parents our Hyderabadi guys are. The other is not giving way to ambulances. I really do not understand why we don't give way to ambulances. It beats me.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Jeffrey Archer - Everywhere in India except Hyderabad

Sometime back I had read somewhere that Jeffrey Archer would be visiting the country to promote his latest book- A Prisoner of Birth. I had forgotten all about it until I caught him on television yesterday evening. I had read a couple of his books a long time back and I admit I don’t remember much of them. However I plan to reread all his books especially after I heard what he said in the interview on television yesterday.

I was amazed when he told the gathering that he wrote seventeen drafts of his latest book and all of them in long hand! It is incredible commitment to writing well. Needless to say he is a bestselling author. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why his books sell in the millions. He also said that he works in two hour spells starting early in the morning with two hour breaks in between until nine in the night. He is a disciplined and hardworking writer, no doubt about that. Archer also told the gathering of youngsters that one needs talent plus hard work in order to succeed and talent alone is not enough. All that he has said in the television interview makes me feel like taking a different look at Archer. But the disappointment is that while Lucknow is on his itinerary Hyderabad isn't!

Coincidentally, today’s supplement in the Times of India also carried an interview with him where he repeats what he had said on the television interview. From his high praise of Indians and things Indian it is clear that he is out to charm us into buying his books. Even without it his books sell in the thousands in the country anyway. I look forward to more interviews and stories on him in the national magazines like The Week, India Today and the Outlook.

Talking of Outlook reminds me of a disappointing experience I had this week. In the previous issue the magazine informed the readers that ‘exclusive pre-publication extracts’ from Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of Poppies’ would be issued in form of a booklet with this week’s issue. A friend too told me about it so I went to the magazine stand to ask for it. I was informed that no such booklet was being given with the latest issue of Outlook. I read the full page advertisement in last week’s issue again. I read that the booklet of excerpts would be issued only in select towns. It makes me wonder whether Hyderabad is a city or a town. I wonder why Hyderabadis are being denied the chance of reading the extract of Amitav Ghosh's forthcoming novel.

I also wonder if the reading habits of Hyderabad haven’t impressed the guys at Outlook. Or maybe the sales figures of the magazine are so low that they thought it is not worth giving the extracts away in Hyderabad. Hyderabad has more than a dozen large bookstores. People not only buy books here but actually read them too. Amitav Ghosh himself was here a couple of years ago to promote his previous book and had a reading here. He might be disappointed to know that Hyderabadis have been given the short shrift by Outlook.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Marriott Hyderabad's Clean up Drive

On my way to office every morning, I pass the Marriott hotel that is located at a junction just before the Tank Bund begins on the Secunderabad side. Until recently, before the Marriott group took it over, it was the Hotel Viceroy. After the takeover some things seemed to have improved. Now safari clad security guys at the main entrance check cars thoroughly using mirrors, and a dog sniffs the boot and other places of the cars entering. A lot of Marriott’s own cars are parked in front of the main gate. Opposite the main gate across the road is a compound wall of a graveyard. This wall is used as a urinal by everyone including the drivers of all the cars that come to the hotel. However, yesterday I saw something very refreshing.

Now, peeing in the open in Hyderabad is a very common thing. You can see guys everywhere taking a leak in the open as if it was the most natural thing to do. Since the Marriott is a huge hotel with a large compound wall at the back, guards patrol the back to watch out for such offenders. However, they were not able to do anything about the wall opposite the main gate until yesterday. Someone in Marriott must have thought that enough was enough and something ought to be done about the wall turned urinal.

I saw a team of around thirty or forty Marriott staffers in their chef’s caps, aprons and overalls on a cleanup drive. While one team was brushing away the dust from the compound wall of the graveyard in front of the main gate, another team applied a coat of paint on it. Maybe they didn’t want their guests to witness such dirty scenes. Whatever their motive, it was a good thing they were doing. They went about the job of cleaning and painting with an earnestness that was surprising.

I was also stuck by the fact that they didn’t call the press to cover this occasion as many such establishments are wont to. There wasn’t a single cameraman of the numerous television channels in sight. I guess they wanted to do it without calling for attention which was really laudable. Whatever it was I thought if every one in Hyderabad felt the same way we’d be having a much cleaner city.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My First IPL Match

It is an odd sort of coincidence though nothing earth-shaking but within a span of a few days I visited two sports stadiums. On Sunday evening I witnessed my first IPL match at the new stadium at Uppal. Today, a little while ago I had lunch at the Fateh Maidan Club inside the Lal Bahadur Stadium. When I saw the LB Stadium after having been to the Stadium at Uppal, I realized how small it appears. It is really very small compared to the new one I had been to on Sunday.

I saw my first cricket match at a stadium almost thirty years ago. I don’t remember the year but I remember India was playing against the West Indies. The only name I remember is that of Lance Gibbs who, if I remember correctly, had a goatee and was a feared spinner. I had been to this match with my elder brother and the stadium happened to be the LB Stadium. I am not a big cricket fan so don’t much remember what that match was all about and who won or who lost. After that I never saw another cricket game again though I would catch bits of one day tests on the television now and then.

Then again, on Sunday I witnessed India’s newest entertainment spectacle- the IPL 20-20 Cricket matches. A friend gave me free tickets to the match between Deccan Chargers and Mumbai Indians. Sachin Tendulkar was playing and my good friend thought my son would find it a great experience to watch the legendary batsman in action. So I went in the evening to the new stadium at Uppal with kid in tow.

The road to Uppal was jammed with cars and bikes. There was total chaos. Everybody was parking their bikes and cars wherever there was enough space though there was a huge ground inside for parking the vehicles. We weren’t allowed to take anything, not even water bottles inside. I would soon find out why. I kept my mobile phone inside my bike.

We got in easily and had some kind of pink colored wristbands tied to our wrists. I later realized it was to prevent people from switching to other stands. Only Hyderabadis can think of doing something like that. Guys and girls dressed in pink with walkie-talkie sets rushed around all the time. The Stadium, though half complete was H-U-G-E. It was full house and the match had just begun when we took our seats.

Luckily, Sachin was at the crease but was out after a few magnificent shots. I am not much of a cricket fan so I looked around at the people while the game went on. There weren’t many oldies around. Everyone seemed to be under thirty and dressed in killer clothes. They all had that excitement on their faces that comes from witnessing something unique and wonderful.

I had read that the prices of the food items inside the stadium were high. The report wasn’t incorrect. A glass of water cost Rs 5, cool drinks in 350-ml cups cost fifteen bucks and a single roll (chapathi with curry roll) that one could get for twenty bucks at Sangeet cost fifty rupees. You had to pay for every thing. I was glad they didn’t charge me for using the toilets. Maybe they’ll get the idea to do so when they realize they need to do more to recover their investments

The local team, Deccan Chargers, perhaps in line with the Hyderabadi policy of being polite to guests lost the game to the visiting Mumbai Indians. The crowd didn’t appear disappointed that the team lost and it seemed as if it was only expected. The only excitement was when the local lad, Venugopal Rao hit a few balls into the stands and also, when Sania Mirza appeared on the screen briefly.

The cheerleaders were modestly dressed but it was the Indian cheerleaders I found to be rather good with total desi, bollywood moves. Strangely, the Indian cheerleading team had two guys and two girls compared to the all-girl American cheerleaders. So that was my first IPL match and I don’t think I am prepared to watch another game.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Two Midweek Finds and A No Haul Sunday

It was one of those rare Sundays when I returned from Abids without picking up a single book. One reason could be that I had not gone at my usual time in the morning. I had to visit my niece in hospital in the morning so it got late. Moreover it was very hot so I decided to go in the evening. I got only an hour to browse and though I saw July 2007's 'Conde Nast Traveler' and April 2008's 'New Yorker' magazines I did not buy them. I also saw 'Hungry Ocean' by Linda Greenlaw and 'Kill Shot' by Elmore Leonard. I have both books so I didn't pick them up though I was getting them for only twenty rupees each. Earlier in the week, on Thursday I found two good books by one of my favorite writers- Elmore Leonard.

There have been very few occasions when I have returned from a bookstore without a book in hand. Though the shelves at home are overflowing with books with no space for any more books I decided to buy just these two books. I couldn’t resist buying them because they were written by Elmore Leonard and they were titles I haven’t read before.

The first book was ‘The Hunted’ and according to the blurbs it is a story set in Israel and promises to be a great read if the praise at the back of the book is any thing to go by. The other book was ‘The Moonshine War’ and this book too promises to be a great read as all Elmore Leonard books are. It is about a bootlegger in the thirties and is shorter than the other book. Which makes me wonder which book I should start first. It is a tough decision!

Incidentally, Thursday's supplement in The Hindu, ‘Downtown’ carried an article on one of the biggest second hand bookstores in Hyderabad, the Best Book Centre branch at Abids/Boggulkunta. It has a large collection of books and I found several good books there but the prices are on the higher side. Still, it is a good place to browse for some real finds.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Hot Sunday and A Crow's Nest

Yesterday it turned out to be a very hot day in Hyderabad with the temperatures shooting above 40 degrees. It could have been around 42 degrees or even more given the way it felt like being inside an oven. One reason for the unusual heat could be the increasing concretisation and the felling of trees. One newspaper reported that the 'intelligentsia' in Hyderabad were very concerned about the felling of trees and the vanishing green cover. There was a meeting about it, the paper said. We are great talkers I guess and don't do much about anything other than talk endlessly. However, three years ago I had planted two Millingtonia trees in the open space before our house on the occasion of my kid's and my niece's birthday.

Now the trees have grown quite tall with branches spread out in all directions. I had chosen the Millingtonia for its straight trunk that shoots up into the air regally. But our Millingtonias seemed to have a different mind of their own. The trees offer welcome shade and visitors to our neighbors park their cars under the trees much to my annoyance. The other day I was surprised to see a pair of crows hanging around the trees which was a bit unusual. Usually the crows have their morning meetings on the roof of a neighbors house. But these two seemed to be doing something else.

I looked closely and was pleasantly surprised to notice that they were building a nest on one of the Millingtonia trees. The crows flew about with twigs in their beaks and built that nest. It isn't yet complete and I think they are getting ready to lay the eggs when it begins to rain. Which makes me wonder how they will protect the eggs in the rain? It is going to be an interesting time ahead what with the nest getting ready. I hope they build a good nest and have their babies on our Millingtonia tree. I would feel really happy that the trees I planted would have served a purpose for which trees exist in nature.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Secondhand Bookstore Closes Down

When I saw Eric Ambler’s ‘Here Lies Eric Ambler’ a couple of Sundays ago at Abids I had an inkling that something must be wrong with the second hand bookstore I had originally seen this book at. There were other titles I had seen there like Linda Greenlaw ‘s ‘Hungry Ocean’ , Paul Theroux’s ‘Chicago Loop’ and other books. Yesterday I learnt that the second hand bookstore at Liberty was shut down. So I know now why the banners and the board I used to see on the way back home weren’t to be seen anymore.

The MR Bookstore at Liberty located in a cellar was one of the biggest second hand bookstores in Hyderabad. It had a really large and wonderful collection of secondhand books that looked more like new books. I had come across this store more than two years ago and I used to drop in occasionally to check out the titles and buy a few books every month. My last purchase at this store was the hardcover edition of Linda Greenlaw’s ‘Hungry Ocean.’ They had a paperback copy of the same book too that I later saw at Abids.

I don't know why the bookstore was closed down but I can say that not many people dropped in at that store which was located in a cellar without ventilation. It was damp, dark and airless. It was also not a very convenient location without parking. No one really mourns the closing of a bookstore in Hyderabad. I feel sad that it is shut down. But these guys have a habit of popping up in a new place. This store was actually a itinerant bookstore having moved from Punjagutta twice, no thrice in the past and now it is finally closed. However, I won’t be surprised if they come up at a new place within the month.

The good news is that the guy at their branch near Lifestyle, Begumpet told me that they had received some new stuff which would be displayed soon. I am eager to check out the new stocks. I hope I find some really good books on writing as well as those by Paul Theroux and Dave Barry. I had been to the store near Lifestyle yesterday and saw they had a few new books. I saw good copies of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Freaky Deaky’ and also ‘Rum Punch’. I will pick these up sometime next week.

I had actually been to another bookstore and picked up two Elmore Leonard books, and I also wrote a post about it. But due to some virus or glitch I am unable to post it here. I will try to put it up in a couple of days. That is the reason I missed a post the other day. I was disappointed I couldn't post it.

Tomorrow is Sunday and I am all eager to go to Abids for the weekly book hunt.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bombay Bakery and Restaurant

A part of the flavor comes from the food…rest from a 55 year old living legend’ is what is written on a narrow, long board on a wall inside Bombay Bakery and Restaurant at Gunfoundry. What it says must be true since the hotel is busy almost all day buzzing with customers. This is where I drop in to have my daily dose of Irani Chai. I have been dropping in to have chai at this hotel a little more than a year ago after I moved to my new office. I had visited this hotel earlier too but now I am a regular face there. It isn’t the ambience that brings me here but the chai.

There’s a faded yellow blow up of a news item about former Azharuddin extolling the virtues of bun maska and chai at BBR. The newstem is dated September 22, 2001 and the Times of India carried it. He apparently was a regular at this hotel coming in after cricket practice to fortify himself with stuff and chai. Anyway, not only Azhar but anyone who tastes the fare here is unlikely to forget it. I had lunch here only once and not only was the stuff tasty but also inexpensive.

Bombay Bakery and Restaurant is one of those Irani hotels where you not only get tea and snacks but also the regular items like biryani and every thing in between. There’s a separate food section which is always full. The other section where you are served tea and snacks has, like the old time Irani restaurants, a large mirror covering almost an entire wall. Another feature is that one pays the waiters not at the counter. Nobody takes notice of you as they are all busy wolfing down the snacks and gulping the chai. Officer or ordinary guy, every one comes here for a most bracing cup of Irani chai that leaves you charged for hours.

Bombay Bakery and Restaurant is one of the few remaining Irani restaurants in Hyderabad running successfully. I remember there was some kind of an attempt to demolish the place sometime back but I am glad it is still around.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Monster Dad

It happened again yesterday morning at the pool. I was witness to another child’s intimidation by the parent to jump into the pool and begin swimming. A couple of days ago I had seen two kids being slapped by their mothers for a similar ‘crime’. This time it was a dad who was the culprit and the victim was his eight or nine year old daughter.

I was horrified by that father who towered above his seven or eight year old daughter pleading with eyes filled with terror not to make her jump into the pool. She was cowering before him as he held out his silent threats to jump into the pool. Gripping her by the back of her neck, he dragged her, her feet resisting, digging into the slippery tiles of the pool, to the water. He stood close to the edge of the pool with menace in his eyes as the frightened girl looked at the water and at her dad with piteous eyes. I was filled with helplessnes and a rising sense of rage at this stupid father.

What was the pressing need that made a parent hit their own kid, humiliate them publicly thus? Just because other kids are not frightened of the water and jumping into it freely? I didn’t understand why the father was so set upon making his kid jump into the pool without a tube on the very first day. It was the first time I was seeing that particular kid at the pool so I assumed it was her first day at the pool. I felt sorry that the girl was having such a hard time with her dad.

It was something I had never seen before. This dad was different. He had a menacing look on his face. I felt ashamed watching the poor kid who was whimpering and rubbing away the tears that flowed down her face. There could be no crueller treatment than this. I wonder what it would do to the poor kid’s self esteem as well as her trust of her dad.

If the father could be so cruel in public for something as silly as refusal to swim, I shuddered to imagine how much more cruel he could be within four walls of their home over other matters. It was a terrible scene I had witnessed and the sight of the girl’s face haunts me even as I write this. I can perhaps understand being a little stern with your kids to make them do something that is ultimately beneficial to them but trashing your own kid to make them play? It makes me wonder if it is play or punishment.

It isn’t the kids who need help but their parents who need it more than the kids. The sad thing is that the parents don’t realize it. The girl did jump in but the dad had the same expression and he didn't even realize the a bit of appreciation would help his kid. Poor kid. Poor dad. Poor me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Sunday Haul; Finding Three Good Books

In the essay titled ‘Welcome to the Age of Tropical Classical’ in his book of essays also titled 'Tropical Classical' , Pico Iyer writes about three authors- Derek Walcott, Romesh Gunasekara and Richard Rodriguez. He writes that these three writers represent a bold new style of writing that he terms as ‘Tropical Classical’.

Pico Iyer says that what distinguishes these three writers is ‘the ability to season high classical forms with a lyrical beauty drawn from the streets and beaches of their homes.’ He heaps high praise on all these three and mentions the essayist Richard Rodriguez’s ‘Hunger of Memory- The Education of Richard Rodriguez’, his first book. The title rang a bell in my memory because I had seen this book at Abids several times in the past.

It was the first book I picked up at Abids this Sunday from a heap of books selling for only ten rupees. It is an autobiography as stated on the cover which also has a picture of the young Mexican-American author. I was glad I found this book which one of my favorite writers has praised highly about. I had read that essay only on Friday morning at the swimming pool while my kid took his morning swim.

In the same heap I also found another book whose title seemed again, familiar. It was ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’ by Christopher J. Koch published by Minerva. The book is set in Jakarta and 1965 is the year mentioned in the title. This is what Anthony Burgess says about the book on the back cover: ‘Intelligent, compassionate, flavoursome, convincing…this book is to be prized.’ I hope it turns out to be a wonderful read.

The next and the last find of the day was Woody Allen’s ‘Without Feathers’ that I got once again for only ten rupees. I have read this book that has eighteen pieces in it including some of his classic works like ‘The Whore of Mensa’ and the play ‘Death’. I like Woody Allen’s book very much but I haven’t seen any of his movies. I already have a copy of this book but I plan to give this copy away to friends.

The last find was a magazine, the Australian edition of “Men’s Health’, of November 2007 the tenth anniversary issue. It had an article titled ‘Raise Your Kids Like a Man’ and I wanted to know how. A lot of the articles in such magazines are about fitness, health and grooming so I generally don’t buy them but this was an exception.

I was glad with this Sunday’s haul of three good books that I got cheap. Only thing is I have to plan when to read all the books I am picking up every Sunday at Abids.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday Musings

Saturday being a holiday for me and too hot to go out, I picked up a whole bunch of newspapers on the way back from home. I had planned to read all of them thoroughly but my attention span being what it is I could only skim the headlines. One thing I noticed was that the Saturday supplements of all the papers- The New Indian Express with its ‘Expresso’, ‘TV and Cinema’ of Deccan Chronicle and ‘Weekend’ of The Hindu have all gone tabloid. The latest to change was The Hindu.

There was news of two book readings in the city in the papers. One was by Anju Poddar on Saturday at the ITC Kakatiya and the reading on Sunday evening at Taj Deccan was by Shobhaa De. I haven’t read any of De’s books but enjoy some of her columns in the TOI. I did not attend either of the book readings and stayed put at home. The ‘Outlook’ magazine’s latest issue carried a rather interesting review of Shobhaa De’s latest book by Bhaichand Patel.

The constituency I live in is going to the bye polls at the end of the month and the election fever has already started. It began with a massive traffic jam on Saturday due to a procession taken out by one of the candidates. Yesterday evening one of my neighbours kept popping into all the houses in our lane to inform excitedly that a candidate he supports was visiting our lane. I have never faced a candidate on a house-to-house visit so was a bit nervous what to say. But in the end, the candidate didn’t turn up and my neighbor was not to be seen for the rest of the evening.

In the run up to election day the clamour is only going to increase so much that one will be upto the neck in posters, leaflets and banners. One happy side effect of the bye-election that it would be a holiday on election day, that is 29th of May. There are no holidays until the end of July so it comes as a welcome break.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Bank That Has Only One Branch

I have an account with a bank that seems to have only one branch and one head office somewhere in the country. When I tell others the name of my bank they tell me they’ve never heard of it. It’s only branch happens to be near my home and is a small, quiet branch manned by only a handful of staff. One would think that in this age of competition for customers, banks would be going out of their way to offer better service to the customers. The people at my bank seem to think otherwise.

I was there today morning to open an RD account. I filled up the form and gave it to the lady at the counter. She asked me if I would like to come every month and deposit the amount in my account or if I would like to have it transferred from my other account. I told her I would like to have it transferred and told her I had given that option in the form I had just given her. For some reason she asked another staff, some kind of a manager who looked up in alarm and told her, “No, let him come every month and pay. Don’t encourage transfers.’ The guy said it as if it involved digging a pipeline to transfer the money between my accounts.

It made me wonder what difficulty they had in transferring the money from one account to another on paper. I didn’t want to argue with them because it was meaningless, and they would offer a thousand explanations why they couldn’t do it. It happened in the past. They are bothered about their own convenience. It is one think I dislike about most public sector banks. They have their own convenience in mind and not the customers’.

Maybe they wanted the branch to be seen as a busy one bustling with customers. From past experience I knew the bank belonged to a different era but still I patronized it because it is a small bank. My bank has a lot to catch up with, and meanwhile I will go looking for a better bank.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Hyderabad's Only Drive-In Irani Restaurant

Yesterday I dropped in at an unusual Irani Restaurant. This restaurant located near Ravindra Bharati is Hyderabad’s only drive-in Irani Restaurant. Hotel Panchsheel just beside Ravindra Bharati on the Birla Mandir side is the drive-in Irani I am talking about. You can drive your bike straight into Hotel Panchsheel, park it and walk two steps to your table. This isn’t the only good thing about it- watching your bike while you sip your tea-for the chota samosas in this Irani are some of the best I’ve tasted in Hyderabad.

I was there yesterday evening on my way to a second hand bookstore in the vicinity. It isn’t very busy in the evenings but seems to attract a lot of people in the afternoons. It is one of those Iranis that serve food too- biryani and stuff like that. The only thing missing in this Irani is the mirror which is a regular fixture in most old time Irani restaurants in Hyderabad.

Panchsheel was quite spacious before the GHMC started cracking down on hotels and establishments that didn’t have adequate parking space. Though they have made a provision (a sliding iron contraption)for parking your bike on the pavement, they also seemed to have shifted some table from a portion of the hotel and made it a parking place. Only hitch is you can park only bikes not cars. However, there aren't many people left around who come to Irani Restaurants in their cars.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mornings at the Pool and the Tyranny of Parents

Recently I’ve discovered that the swimming pool is one place where one can learn about the tyranny of some parents. I’ve been accompanying my son to the swimming pool since his summer holidays began a couple of weeks back. While he swims in the pool I sit on the pool side and watch people which is one thing I like doing. I’ve observed that in their eagerness to get their kids to learn swimming (or learn a new skill,) parents reveal newer aspects of their personality. I watched quite a lot of parents these two weeks but what happened in the past two days made me sad.

Kids love to play in the water and should be allowed to frolick in the pool. However parents think that the kids should begin to learn to swim from day one. The parents subject their kids to unimaginable agonies. I’ve watched kids being hurled into the pool in order to force them to learn to swim. In the process I’ve seen kids too traumatized to return to the pool. Instead of the enjoyable thing that swimming was supposed to be, the parents are making it into something they are terrorized with.

At the pool the parents stand on the edge of the pool and bark at the kids to do this and that- ‘move your hands!’, ‘move your legs!’, ‘go into the deep parts’. Suitable gestures like flailing the hands and legs accompany these instructions. The more the kid shows reluctance or fear the sterner the parents’ expressions become. Some parents wag their fingers at the kids menacingly. Some stopped short of hitting the crying and cowering kids.

But the day before yesterday I saw a young mother slap her 9-10 year old daughter who was afraid to venture into the pool. It was something that made me very sad. Beating your kid in front of others is something a parent should never do. It is the worst sort of humiliation one can mete out to your kid. It filled me with horror, shame and embarrassment, watching the poor kid plead with her mother not to force her to enter the pool.

There’s a burly, sadistic coach in the pool who is gruff and rude with the kids. His style of teaching kids to swim is to hurl them into the water without any sort of protection and force them to swim. It is very traumatic to the kids and I’ve watched the kids stand in line, crying and pleading with their parents not to subject them to this kind of enforced learning. Instead of enjoying the process of learning to swim I am sure the kids will detest water all their lives. Some kids run away to the other end of the pool scared of the water.

Yesterday morning as soon as we entered the pool premises the coach was hurling the terrified kids into the pool as the parents watched. One of the kids ran away and once again I witnessed another mother hit her son. My son watched silently while I tried to tell the mother not to force the kid. Instead she glared at me. I went my way feeling sorry for the poor kid. I don’t understand when some parents will understand that you cannot force kids to learn anything in this manner.

However, I am very happy that my son learnt to swim on his own without anyone’s help. Last year when we started going to the pool, for a week he swam with the help of the tube. The coach was there last year too but taught only the kids whose parents asked him to teach. I didn’t ask him and I am glad about it because a week after swimming with the tube, my kid told me he would try to swim without it. He started hesitantly and within a few days began to swim without the tube. He is proud of having to learnt to swim without anyone’s help. Maybe that is why he enjoys the daily visit to the pool in the summer holidays.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Sunday Haul: Of Birthday Presents and Prizes

An interesting sidelight to buying second hand books is finding books that have been either won as a prize or is a present from someone. The inscriptions on the front pages reveals a minor story of the background of the book. The books with inscriptions generate a lot of questions inside the mind that remain unanswered. Why did the recipient of the present/prize decide to dispose the books? Who were they? Are they alive now? They remain a mystery forever.

Two of the five books I picked up on Sunday turned out to be books that had inscriptions. It was another hot day in Hyderabad this Sunday as I set out for Abids. I had decided to return after just an hour’s browsing because it was too hot to be in the open for too long despite wearing a cap.

The first book I picked up was another copy of Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’. It is my third or fourth copy. But this edition was a different one. It was by Pan books where as the other copies were of a different publishing house. This one had illustrations and had a different type. But it was in mint condition and I got it for fifteen rupees only. The other book I got at the same place was ‘A Choice of Words’, a book about using the right word in one’s writing. It was something I could learn from so I got it for fifteen rupees again.

A few hours earlier I had read the ‘Literary Review’ and the front page articles were on translations. Though I didn’t plan to buy any translations after reading the articles I didn’t hesitate to pick up ‘The Hunted’ by Mudra Rakshasa. It was an English translation of a Hindi novel translated by Robert A Hueckstedt from the original written by Subhash Chandra. It was a Penguin book and in good condition. I got the book for only twenty rupees.

The next book was a birthday present made in April 1984 as inscribed on the front page by the friend. The book was VS Naipaul’s ‘Mr Stone and the Knights Companion’. I got this slim novel with yellowing pages for only ten rupees.

The next book was another good book- RK Narayan’s ‘Old and New Stories’, a collection of eighteen new stories I haven’t read. It was on old edition of Indian Thought publications and the price on the back of the book said Rs 14-50 but I got it for ten rupees only. This book was presented to a seventh class student of Sujata High School in 19823-8 as a first prize in essay writing. I am not writing the name of the person for obvious reasons. But I wonder what made her give away this book now?

The Sunday’s finds had me thinking about all the books I found that had inscriptions on them. I have to take all of them out and maybe do a post. One such book I found a couple of years ago was a signed first edition of Jay Leno’s ‘Leading with My Chin’ that I got for only ten bucks. Sometime soon I will do a post on all such books with inscriptions and scribblings.

Monday, May 05, 2008

This Month's Literary Review in "The Hindu'

The Hindu Does It Again With a Front page Ad

On Saturday it was with mild irritation that I opened ‘The Hindu’. The front page was plastered with a full page advertisement that began just below the masthead and occupied the entire page. This is the second or third time the paper is springing this surprise on its readers. Somehow I do not like when the papers do things like this violating the front page. I don’t know about others but I feel damned irritated. Sometime back the paper’s Reader’s Editor had justified a full page ad on the front page citing commercial compulsions. It was quite ironic that in the inside pages of Saturday’s Hindu was P. Sainath’s lament that newspapers were giving in to the corporates' right to sell over the right to inform the reader.

It is when papers you trust do these sort of things that one feels like taking all their own sermons about others (greediness of BCCI for instance) with a pinch of salt. I don’t know if the management is aware of how much loss of credibility the paper suffers whenever it does things like it. The loyal readers having no other choice other than to continue to read the paper will esteem the paper a bit less and bunch it with other papers who have gone all the way to be fully commercial.

This is another indicator that the paper is going the same way as one paper that began the price war, reduced the size of the paper, sold out its front page including its masthead. Now only one thing is left, the sort of pictures it publishes. When those kind of pictures appear in my paper I will shift to another.

‘Literary Review in ‘The Hindu'

Yesterday, for a change, the paper was delivered on time. In fact it was delivered before the normal time taking me by surprise. I took out first the ‘Literary Review’ for which I was waiting eagerly since a week. The front page was taken up by two articles on translation. Later in the day at Abids I found one nice book that was a translation of a Hindi novel. I will write about it in the next post.

Pradeep Sebastian’s column was lifeless and I found it too commonplace a topic. Inside were two articles relating to Naipaul. One was about Patrick French, his biographer. The other article was on Naipaul by Rumina Sethi. Coincidentally, in the evening’s “Just Books” program on NDTV there was a special interview of Patrick French.

There was one interesting book reviewed in Literary Review` and that was Meenakshi Mukherjee’s ‘Elusive Terrain: Culture and Literary Memory’, a collection of her essays about various aspects of writing in India. I am going to buy it though it is priced at a wallet-emptying Rs 575.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Caught by the Cops

Being Fined by Traffic Cops

Yesterday evening I was stopped by a traffic cop near the RTC X Roads while returning home from office. Apparently, I had my bike’s number plate all wrong. I was fined fifty rupees by the traffic sub-inspector for violating Section R 80 (a) 177 (Without/irregular number) of the Motor Vehicle Act. In the twelve years that I have been driving my bike, I have never been stopped for this violation. This was the first time. I did not argue with the cop but paid the fine and drove away.

At the back of the challan receipt was a list of all the traffic violations one can be fined for. There were thirty one violations, and the fines and compounding fines ranged from Rs 50 (the minimum) to Rs 2000 ( for driving without registration papers). The most interesting violation I found was about driving in drunken condition for which one will be charge sheeted and produced in court of law. Sometime back the traffic cops had undertaken a drive to detect drunken driving but nowadays they don’t seem to be doing it.

Nowadays there is a lot of noise being made about following traffic rules and the need to educate the motorists about the rules which is a good thing. Back in the eighties when one needed a driving licence in Hyderabad one only had to tell someone and within days the licence would be yours. We didn’t have to take any sort of driving test or get tested about the prevailing rules or anything like that . It lead to a situation where many of us are ignorant of not only the Motor Vehicle rules we don’t even the know where the RTA offices are located! (That was only a joke and not to be taken seriously.)

The Direct Autowallah

While driving home from Secunderabad yesterday evening I saw this on the back of an autorickshaw:

‘No Compromise. Only Punch’.

The autowallah has made it very clear what he would do in case you happened to enter into an argument with him or get involved in an accident with his autorickshaw. I did not remember to take down the number of the autorickshaw.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Media Matters: Small Changes in 'The Hindu'

Yesterday ‘The Hindu’ daily managed to give an entirely different award – the ‘Yudhistir’ award -to Shankar Melkote in its columns. I wonder how they got the name of the award so totally wrong. It should have been 'Yudhvir' award. It could have been an oversight by the sub-editors but imagine the disappointment of its trusted readers when they notice such bloopers.

Starting today, The Hindu is coming out with a new supplement on Saturdays that is being called ‘Metroplus Weekend’ in place of the regular 'Metroplus' supplement which had more pages on Saturdays. The new supplement is in a different format, more like a tabloid and is all about Lifestyle, Food, Music, People, Fitness, Leisure, Events and Gadgets. Whatever it is, it is a welcome change from the usual broadsheet supplements.

Also, the Friday supplement for the kids, “Young World’ is now being issued on Tuesdays. Perhaps they would have learnt from their readers that Tuesdays are the dullest days with nothing much to read. It doesn’t make any difference to the kids who love to read them anyway.

Today’s supplement of ‘Property Plus’ carried a letter I wrote to the paper in response to an article in which certain dangerously toxic pesticides were recommended without any sort of caution. As I deal with that subject in my job I thought it was necessary to tell them so. My letter was much edited and published in the ‘Home Blog’ column.

Of course, tomorrow is the first Sunday of the month which brings with it the 'Literary Review' supplement in 'The Hindu'. I am eagerly waiting for Sunday to dawn to read the much awaited supplement.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Finding a Simple Fountain Pen

The same day that I had been to the sale at AA Husain at Abids I also bought myself a new fountain pen. It had been quite a long time since I had gone without buying a new one. I was walking back to the office when I decided to check out a stationer’s that I have been seeing for a long time but had never checked out. It was ‘Hina’ on the Abids main road. For all my needs of fountain pens and other stationery requirements I go to Deccan Pen Stores but that day I went into ‘Hina’.

I checked for fountain pens in the display and saw a couple of them. They were all of one brand- ‘Doctor.’ The fountain pens were lightweight but deceptively thick. They were simple, elegant and inexpensive. The one I bought cost me only forty rupees. I bought one in what can be called as a turquoise color which was the color of the cap for the barrel was totally transparent. I wanted a simple fountain pen like it for my daily jottings in the office where I am one of the few who use fountain pens.

There were two others of the same model but in a dull grey color and I didn’t fancy them. Using it would make me look like an ancient file pusher which I am not. I could hardly wait to get back to office. I got ink filled in it ( I keep a bottle of Quink at office) and tested the new pen. The nib was surprisingly smooth considering the price I paid for it. It wrote beautifully and I was glad I had picked it up. Sometimes such impulsive purchases turn out to be better than things on which you have spent a lot of money and effort.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Mid-week's Find

A couple of days ago I happened to notice that AA Husain had a sale at their store at Abids. My office is within walking distance from Abids so I ambled across yesterday in the afternoon to AA Husain’s. There used to be a shop selling furnishings etc called ‘Haji Kurban Sons (or Brothers?) beside AA Husain’s but now it seems to have shut down since AA Husain has their sale in that empty shop. Apparently, the sale had begun quite a long time ago and is up to the end of this month- May 31. The books are offered at a 20% discount.

There are a lot of titles in the sale, most of them the latest books including Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Enchantress of Florence’. I saw almost all the books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Maria Vargos Llosa, VS Naipaul and also of all the well known Indian writers. I saw ‘Granta 100’ and plenty of screen writing books, most of them by Syd Field. I also saw Che Guevera’s ‘Motorcycle Diaries.’ There were hundreds of titles on management, self-help etc on sale. I couldn’t decide which book to buy because of one practice of AA Husain’s that I dislike.

For some reason I cannot understand all books in the AA Husain stores are covered with a cellophane wrapping so you just look at the front and back covers only. I wonder how many people buy books without flipping through a few pages and sampling the writing. I just cannot buy books like that unless it happens to be a really interesting title which is what I found on the cover of one book I finally bought at the sale.

The title of the book was ‘Nosepicking for Pleasure’ by Roland Flicket. It was an unusual book that intrigued me so I had to buy it. Another reason was that the book was about a habit that a majority of my fellow Hyderabadis seem to be naturally adept at. We Hyderabadis are so focused on this activity and so good at it we can pay equal attention to our driving while at it. It is a subject worthy of further detailed research and hence the reason why I bought this book shelling down no less than two hundred rupees for it!

Of course, there will be a review here sometime in the future.