Monday, June 30, 2008

The Six Month's Haul

Today marks the end of the first half of the year and it seems the right time to take a tally of the books I had picked in these six months. I may have ommitted some that I don't remember. So here they are, the books I picked up monthwise:

1. 'Handbook of Short Story Writing Vol-II by Writer’s Digest Books
2. ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
3. ‘Travel, No. 95, Granta
4. 'Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham (A gift)
5. ‘Good Earth’ by Pearl S. Buck ( A gift)
6. ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Gift)
7. ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ (Gift)
8. ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron
9. ‘Your Own Words’ by Barbara Wallraff
10. ‘Tropical Classical’ by Pico Iyer
11. ‘Art of Reading the Novel’ by Philip Freund
12. ‘Getting Even’ by Woody Allen
13. ‘From the Mothership’ by Jacquelyn Mitchard
14. 'Book Ends:Two Women, One Friendship’ by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern

15. ‘What I Saw at the Revolution’ by Peggy Noonan
16. ‘The Lovely Sea and the Sky’ by Francis Chichester
17. ‘Winesberg, Ohio,’ Sherwood Anderson
18. ‘Dave Barry’s Guide to Guys’ by Dave Barry
19. ‘Goodbye to Gandhi’ Bernard Imhasly
20.‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen
21. ‘The Writer’s World’ by Linda Woodson
22. ‘Global Souls’ by Pico Iyer

MARCH ( 12)
23.’Radical Forgiveness’ by Colin C. Tipping
24. ‘Growing Up’ by Russell Baker
25. ‘The Running Life’ by Dr. George Sheehan
26. ‘Emperor of Emperors by Ryscard Kapuscinski
27. ‘Great Railway Bazar’ by Paul Theroux
28. ‘A Postillion Struck by Lightning’ by Dirk Bogarde
29 ‘Perils of Pesticides’ by Mukund Joshi
30 ‘Run River’ by Joan Didion
31. ‘Thy Neighbor’s Wife’ by Gay Talese
32. ‘The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test’ by Tom Wolfe
33. ‘Coffee, Tea or Me’ by Trudy Baker
34. ‘The Writerly Life’ by RK Narayan

APRIL (17)
35. ‘Writing Your Novel’ by Lawrence Block
36. ‘Uncivil Liberties’ by Calvin Trillin
37. ‘Dave Barry Turns 40’ by Dave Barry
38. ‘Good English’ by Norman Lewis
39. ‘News of a Kidnapping’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
40. ‘The Old Gringo’ by Carlos Fuentes
41. ‘Liars Club’ by Mary Karr
42. ‘Black Bird House’ by Alice Hoffman
43. ‘Close Range’ by Annie Proulx
44. ‘Writing of One Novel’ by Irving Wallace
45. ‘Paro’ by Namita Gokhale
46. ‘Writing with Style’ by Scholastic Books
47. ‘Out of Sight’ by Elmore Leonard
48. ‘She & Me’ by Sasthi Brata
49. ‘Here Lies Eric Ambler’ by Eric Ambler
50. ‘Understanding Fiction’ by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren

MAY (13)
51. ‘A Choice of Words’
52. ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle
53. 'Mudrarakshasa: The Hunted’ by Subhash Chandra
54. ‘Mr. Stone and the Knight’s Companion’ by VS Naipaul
55. ‘Old & New Stories’ by RK Narayan
56. ‘Education of Richard Rodriguez’ by Richard Rodriguez
57. ‘ A Year of Living Dangerously’ by Christopher J Koch
58. ‘Without Feathers’ by Woody Allen
59. ‘The Hunted’ by Elmore Leonard
60. ‘Moonshine Wars’ by Elmore Leonard
61. ‘Poona Company’ by Farrukh Dhondy
62. ‘Middle Passage’ by VS Naipaul
63. ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams

JUNE (17)
64. ‘The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst’ by Nicholas Tomalin
65. Packrat Papers Vol-I
66. ‘Vintage Book of Indian Writing’ ed. Salman Rushdie, Elizabeth West
67. ‘Touch ‘ by Elmore Leonard
68. ‘Return to Paris’ by Colette Rossant
69. ‘ The Impressionist' by Hari Kunzru
70. ‘Keep Off the Grass’ by Karan Bajaj
71. ‘The Tax Inspector’ by Peter Carey
72. ‘Finally…I’m a Doctor’ by Dr. Neil Shulman
73. ‘The Men Within’ by Harimohan Paruvu
74. ‘Down and Out in London and Paris’ by George Orwell
75. ‘Hali and Collected Stories’ by GV Desani
76. ‘Deep Revision’ by Meredith Sue Willis
77. ‘Collected Essays’ by Graham Greene
78. ‘The Great Railway Bazar’ by Paul Theroux
79. ‘The Soul of a Chef’ by Michael Ruhlman

80. 'The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (gift)

Of these eighty books I don’t think I have read more than a ten books so far. I do not know when I will read these books and scores of other books at home that are yet to be read. I guess I should stop buying books for a while and try to catch with my reading. If it is a normal monsoon then there are bound to be Sundays when it rains and no one will sell the books at Abids so there will be some such days when nature will intervene in my book buying spree.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On The Last Lap

Today morning I reached another milestone in the writing, or rather typing, of my novel’s manuscript. I reached the 300th page which brings me almost three fourths of the way to the end. I still have a hundred and odd pages to type but I am excited since I am on the last lap. It might take me another ten or fifteen days to complete the typing. I am eagerly looking forward to the day when I will finally type the last page of the manuscript.

Everyday when I sit down to type the manuscript I begin with a bit of cursing. I curse myself for not having the sense to foresee the kind of ordeal I would get into if I don’t type the pages I had written on the same day. I am spending at least four to five hours a day typing around ten pages a day. I am waking up before the crack of dawn and beginning to work on the typing. It is difficult work but I am learning to enjoy it as I read the story I have written over a period of almost three years. So far it looks okay but I can also see it needs major changes that I am looking forward to do.

If typing the manuscript is one thing then the real and most important work would be the revision, rewriting and editing it. I plan to take a fortnight’s break before beginning the rewriting and editing work. I don’t know how the experience would be but I am looking forward to that challenge. Typing itself had been a kind of a challenge since I had set a daily goal in order to finish the typing by a particular date, which is July 31 but I will be finishing much before it. I want to be done with the revision and rewriting the book by the end of the year and also submit it somewhere. But by the end of the year I want to finish it. I am sure I can do it.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

'Deep Revision'- A Book on Revision

One of the two books I had picked up yesterday (apart from GV Desani’s ‘Hali and Collected Stories’) was a book that adds to my growing collection of books on writing. ‘Deep Revision’ by Meredith Sue Williams is the other book I had picked up yesterday in the hope it would help me in the rewriting and revision of my first book that I am typing out now. Incidentally I am nearing another milestone that I will write about shortly.

‘Deep Revision’, according to its sub-title, is ‘A Guide for Teachers, Students, and Other Writers’ which needs no explanation. Being a sucker for books on writing I picked up this book for fifty rupees at the second hand book store I had been to yesterday. The book has a total of eleven chapters divided into three parts. There are a lot of exercises to be done in this practical book and I hope reading this book helps me write a better book. I do not have many books on rewriting and editing apart from another book, ‘The Craft of Revision’ by Donald M Murray, which, incidentally, is also listed in the bibliography at the back of the book.

The author, Meredith Sue Willis, teaches writing from elementary to college levels, according to the blurb at the back. Willis has also written two other books on writing- ‘Blazing Pencils: A Guide to Writing Fiction & Essays’ and ‘Personal Fiction Writing: A Guide to Writing from Real Life’. The latter book sounds interesting but I don’t think I will come across it at Abids or in any other bookstore.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A MId week Haul

It is that time of the month when no one in his right mind would think of splurging the last of the depleting finances on something inessential as books. But that is just what I did today afternoon at a second hand bookstore, shelling out more than hundred rupees to buy two books. One of the books I picked today was by an author I had heard a lot about but never found a single book of at Abids or anywhere for that matter. The author is GV Desani.
There are a few books I have been trying to lay my hands on since more than a decade. One of them is GV Desani's 'All About H. Hatterr' that I have heard, is the best Indian English book ever written. It is said to be very hilarious and something out of the world. I have been on the look out for this book but till date haven't found it. But today, I found another book by GV Desani which is titled 'Hali and Collected Stories' which is a Penguin imprint. I was more than glad I got it and did not think twice about buying it. There was no way I was going to let it pass. even though it meant I wouldn't be having much money for the Abids trip on Sunday or for the petrol for my bike. So I picked it up.
'Hali and Collected Stories' has twenty four stories in it that I hope to begin right away. Because they are all short stories I wouldn't mind spending a few minutes away from my typing to read them.
This is what the Publisher's Weekly has to say about Desani: 'A master of subtle metaphysical comedies, a fabulist, fantasist, moralist, and keen satirist of life's follies, absurdities and ego trips.' I can hardly wait to begin reading the book.
But still, it is 'All About H.Hatterr' that I am on the look out for.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wise Too Late

There are certain books I wish I had read when I was young, restless and confused. I put myself under a great deal of stress over things that didn’t count much while ignoring major things which got me into a situation now, regretting all that I couldn’t or wasn’t able to do. If only I had someone like Baltasar Gracian as a mentor or even his book,’ The Art of Worldly Wisdom’ back then I would have avoided a lot of heartache.

I try to read one aphorism every day from his book that contains three hundred of them, all of them full of the deepest wisdom. Today’s aphorism I read was something that struck a chord in me. Here it is:

A peacable person is a long lived one. To live, let live. Peacable people not only live, they reign. Listen and see, but keep quiet. A day without contention means a night of rest. To live much and to take pleasure in life is to live twice: the fruit of peace. You can have everything if you care little for what matters nothing. Nothing is sillier than to take everything seriously. It is just as foolish to let something wound you when it doesn’t concern you as not to be wounded when it does.

Sometimes it takes a lifetime to understand and realize such truths.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In Presence of Celebrities, Alone

People who are introverted and reserved often miss a lot in their lives. Their very nature prevents them from mixing freely with every one. Unfortunately I happen to fall into that category and, due to a certain shyness I have missed out on a few terrific opportunities to make friendly conversation with celebrities. I regret not making the opportunity to chat up with a few famous people in whose company I found myself, alone. Though it isn’t a very long list of celebrities it is by no means a lightweight one, especially when it includes someone like Sania Mirza.

The reason why I am doing this post is that one such celebrity I missed talking to happened to be the comedian Mallikarjuna Rao who died yesterday. Sometime last year I was traveling from Machilipatnam to Hyderabad by train and at one station he got in or he was already on the train. He was in the same compartment I was in and there was a buzz in it about his presence. At some station someone passed on an enormous tiffin box to him and a few hours later he sat alone and had his dinner. The others with him were nowhere to be seen and he was just across my seat but I did not speak to him at all. Now when I learnt about his death I wished I had talked with him. He was a decent comedian.

Coincidentally it was another famous comedian, someone whose performances I like immensely, Brahmanandam, I missed talking to. I was in the airport on my way to Port Blair two years ago, on the 90-day trip to the Andamans. He was sitting across me waiting to board the plane to Chennai. I wanted to talk to him but there was a crowd and I thought he would just smile and look away. I was also a bit nervous about the whole trip so I did not talk to him either. I regret missing that opportunity too.

But the most exciting encounter was with the teen tennis sensation and fellow Hyderabadi, Sania Mirza. It was maybe an year ago but I remember it was a book reading at the Taj Krishna where William Dalrymple was launching his book. I had just arrived at the hotel and was waiting for the lift to take me down to the hall. Sania too was waiting for another lift a few feet away. I got into one that arrived and the doors were just closing when the attendant outside pressed the button to keep the door open. I almost stopped breathing when Sania Mirza entered the lift I was in.

In keeping with my disposition I remained tongue tied while she looked at herself in the mirror and arranged her hair. It was hard not to stare at the fair, beautiful and young player but I managed to look the other way and remained silent. The lift had mirrors all around so it was not so easy to avoid looking at her. I guess she thought I was a snob for not recognizing her. But I simply did not know what to say to someone so famous like her. Also, it was so sudden and unexpected it did not even enter my head to say hi to her. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity the lift came to a stop and we went our separate ways. I went to the reading and she went to, I guess, some kind a beauty parlour somewhere in the vicinity.

No one I told it to would believe I was alone with Sania Mirza in a lift for almost two minutes and hadn’t said hi to her. I think it is downright disrespectful not to acknowledge the presence of celebrities so I resolve to at least smile when I am in a similar situation in the future.

Books by, Chefs

There are certain things one’s obsessed about being good at while growing up. Things like being able to fly a plane, dive cleanly, jump a motorbike and so on. Two things I was (and am still) obsessed about was being able to drive trucks and being a good shot. Though I haven’t been able to indulge in these obsessions I am still optimistic I will be able to do them someday. But of late another obsession has taken hold of me, that of being able to cook.

I had even made it a new year’s resolution to learn to cook though I am not much of a foodie. But unfortunately I have not been able to progress beyond learning to light up the gas stove in the kitchen. However, I am reading up on cooking related themes especially books written by cooks, er..chefs who tell about how they ended up being chefs.

Last week I had picked up Michael Ruhlman’s ‘The Soul of a Chef’, a hardcover, second hand but almost brand-new book at a second hand store for just a hundred and twenty rupees. On flipping through it and reading about it on the net I learnt it is a sort of sequel to his first book, ‘The Making of a Chef’ which sounds more like what I should be reading before trying to learn to cook. I have to be on the look out for ‘The Making of a Chef.’

Years ago, I had picked up two books by another celebrity chef whose writing style I have come to enjoy a lot- Anthony Bourdain. I have both his books (he’s written three, the third one is a novel, Gone Bamboo) on his adventures all over the world. ‘A Cook’s Tour’ was the first book I found and also read a long back. I was hooked to his style since then. For some reason I had cut and kept Binoo John’s review of Bourdain’s most popular book, 'Kitchen Confidential’ in my file for a long time. Sometime last year I found the book, needless to say, at a second hand store in Nampally. I haven’t read it but plan to read it at the same time as ‘The Soul of a Chef.’

When I’ve finally learnt to cook, maybe I too would write a book about it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Sunday Haul

It was another cloudy, cool and windy day this Sunday when I set out for Abids sans cap. Though it is officially the rainy season there is no sign of the rains yet. The sky was overcast but it didn’t look like it would rain in Hyderabad. I had a small haul of three books all of which were interesting finds, though I have already read two of them.

For some reason I decided to look at each and every title in a row of young adult fiction books arranged at one place. Normally I don’t even look at them because I don’t read such books. But this Sunday I decided to look carefully and this decision paid off because I found another title of my favorite author to add to my collection. I found Dave Barry’s ‘Homes and Other Blackholes’ which is a totally hilarious book that I got for only twenty rupees. One doesn’t find his books in the regular stores for love or for money. I was very glad the first find of the day was a real treasure.

Over the years I have picked up several copies of books that were either presents or prizes to people who instead of cherishing them decided to dispose them off for some reason or the other. I feel a bit odd finding such books but this Sunday I had a big surprise. I found a copy of ‘The Men Within’ written by my friend, Harimohan. The surprise is that he had inscribed it to someone though he has not written the name, and the person decided not to keep this wonderful book. Whoever is that person who sold it away is some kind of a loser because ‘The Men Within’ is a book one can read any number of times without feeling bored. I picked it up for thirty rupees.

The third and last find of Sunday was in a heap of books selling for ten bucks. Almost every week I am finding something good in this particular heap. This Sunday I found another good book. It was George Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London.’ It appeared like some kind of a travelogue cum memoir of the difficult time Orwell spent in these two cities. I usually see many of his books at Abids but this book was a rare find. I got the book for only ten rupees.

I also noticed that Paul Theroux’s ‘Imperial Way’ that I had seen last week, was gone. I felt a twinge of regret for not having picked it up. I also regret now not picking up the January 2008 issue of ‘Esquire’ that the guy wanted ninety rupees for, which was the reason I didn’t go for it. Maybe next week I will buy it, if no one else has.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hyderabad House Doesn't Have It

When Hyderabad House opened years ago everyone thought it would give Paradise and other biryani joints a run for their money. But though Hyderabad House seemed to open new branches regularly (I heard there’s one in the new airport) it hasn’t exactly set the Musi on fire with its bland food and sloppy service. The food seems to be no great shakes as I discovered last Friday when a friend took me there for dinner. However, if he had asked me I would have opted for Paradise but since it was his treat he had the choice of place so off we went to the Himayatnagar branch of HH.

The first thing that struck me was that it is the place of choice for the sort of people who like to eat their biryanis with a spoon and fork. Everyone in the tiny restaurant seemed to be eating biryani with spoons and forks. We were the only ones using our hands. The place was cramped and had only few tables arranged too close for comfort. The service wasn’t great either because when we asked for the fish or prawn dishes our waiter first said it was available and a few minutes later he told us it was not available.

When we asked if they had any egg preparations he told us they don’t prepare them in HH as if it was a dish too insignificant to be prepared. Then our mixed vegetable curry came which was as bland as bland could be. There was no salt or spice in it, and when we told the waiter he told us HH prides itself in not using too much spice. I wanted to tell him it had no taste at all but waited for the biryani.

Now, in Hyderabad one can find one’s way to a biryani joint with the nose, so rich is the aroma of authentic biryani. Though I lifted the dish in HH within millimeters of my nose I could not smell the distinct aroma. It had only the appearance of biryani and had neither the aroma or the flavor. It was getting disappointing with each dish. My friend regretted his choice of venue but what saved the day was the ‘double ka meetha’ which was really good. Another saving grace was our waiter (Robin) who took our ribbing about the food with a smile and was very courteous. But waiters alone don’t make a good restaurant.

Finally, another niggling doubt remained over whether it is ‘Qurbani ka meetha’ as was written on the display or ‘Qubani ka meetha’ as I know it. As far as I know it is ‘qubani’ not ‘qurbani’, so HH, my thumbs down if you haven’t got the name of Hyderabad’s signature dessert right.
It was an experience I wouldn’t like to repeat. It is Paradise for me any day or any other joint where they don’t ask you to fill a form if you complain about the food just like we were asked to do at HH. In real biryani joints the waiters would take back your plate and yell at the cook about it and get a fresh one. Here at HH you have to fill a lengthy form including your date of birth in the form, as if they are going to surprise you with a free biryani on your birthday. I wouldn’t want to eat the biryani at HH even if it was on the house. Not even on my birthday.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

In Quest of 'Microgat'

Recently someone in the family had an eye infection and the doctor wrote out a prescription that included an ointment called ‘Microgat’. I thought I’d be able to find it at the neighborhood medical store when I set out but little did I know it would take me on a long quest over half the city. I asked at almost every medical store in Hyderabad and made some surprising discoveries. There are more medical stores in Hyderabad than there are hotels, small and big. Gone are the traditional medical shops where the shopkeeper would tell his assistant in an instant where the medicine you asked for was found, including which rack and how many were left, without moving from the counter.

But now there are the modern medical stores where the attendants wear colorful aprons and check for your medicines on a computer and can tell if it is available or not without moving an inch from the counter. I discovered there were several such stores by Apollo, Hetero, Mediplus and so on where the computers told them ‘Microgat’ was unavailable in the store.

I also learnt what some medical stores do when they don’t stock a particular medicine. Some of them write the name of the medicine in a notebook and some send out their assistants to other stores in the vicinity to get them. But even after looking in more than two dozen medical stores in the city I was unable to find ‘Microgat’. One person at one of the stores even told me he believed the company did not manufacture any ointment with that name. I was disappointed, but like a true Hyderabadi, I did not give up.

It was when I was near Himayatnagar that I remembered there was only one place where I could find it. ‘Mor Medical Store’ at Liberty came to mind and I set out immediately since it was nearly two hours since I was on the roads. Needlessly to say, my quest ended on a happy note and I got the ointment I was looking for. I returned home triumphantly like I had brought back treasure.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wading into the 'Blue Sea'

There are stretches of roads in Hyderabad that give the jitters to even the most experienced drivers. I am not calling myself an experienced driver but I have managed to reach home in one piece every evening since the past twenty five years, touch wood. The stretch in question is the road that begins from the railway over bridge near Rathifile Bus station in Secunderabad and goes towards Sangeet Theatre. It is so overcrowded sometime car drivers are surprised to find part of the handle and rearview mirror of bikes projecting into their car’s windows.
The slow traffic can be explained by the presence of a city bus stand on one side of the road where dozens of buses are parked and thousands of passengers wait on the road. The other lane on the road is also crowded and the traffic moves slowly towards Sangeet. But at one spot the crowd is immobile and in fact appears to have stopped temporarily to have tea right on the road. This is the spot where one finds ‘Blue Sea’ Irani restaurant.

I pass this way several times a week but two days back I decided to sample the tea in ‘Blue Sea’. I couldn’t believe that people did not mind standing on the road to sip the tea. This was the second such Irani restaurant I was checking out where customer spilled over into the road. Either the tea must be too good or the hotel must be too small I felt as I parked my bike in an adjacent lane and entered the hotel. It was divided into two parts, just like ‘Nilofer’. One side there were tables and the other side was the self-service section. There were not more than three tables and each was filled to capacity. The self-service section too was crowded and in fact spilled over on to the road. I found that both my assumptions were true: the tea was good and the hotel was small.

‘Blue Sea’ must be the only hotel serving chota samosas so chota you could eat them in just one bite. They were good and so was the tea, hot, brown and tasty. The only difficulty is finding a table and wading through the throng that crowds the entrance in order to enter the hotel. This wading is what gave me (the clever writer that I am turning into) the idea for the title for this post.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Day Off

I took the day off yesterday as I had reached another milestone, having finished typing half the manuscript of my first novel. There is still the other half left but I felt happy I’d got to the half way mark. I had typed twelve pages a day in the last couple of days and was feeling quite tired so I took the break, from work and also from typing. I got a lot done yesterday running here and there on errands.

Buying a Keyboard
The year is almost nearing its half way mark but my New Year resolution to listen to more music remains just that- a resolution. The same is with my other music related resolution- the iPod, which too remains a dream. However, this resolution is set to take an entirely new dimension. I am going to learn to play the keyboard! It so happens that my kid chose the keyboard as an extracurricular activity at his school. So I had to buy one for him. Yesterday we went to a store and picked up the model recommended by his tutor. It cost me three thousand rupees but I guess it is worth it since there’d be two people learning on it. AR Rahman, here I come.

Another Book
Then, in tune with my practice of rewarding myself for reaching goals I set for myself, I decided to buy a book for myself so I dropped in at a second hand book store. I found Michael Ruhlman’s ‘The Soul of a Chef’, a hardcover first edition that I got for a hundred and twenty rupees. I remember one of my resolutions was to learn to cook so I thought first reading about how chefs go about it might motivate me to put this resolution into practice. More about the book sometime later.

Another Chai Break

Before going to buy a book for myself I dropped in at another Irani restaurant in Secunderabad that too has customers spilling over onto the road outside. I wanted to see if it was because the place was too small or if its tea was so good the customers didn't mind standing on the road to drink it. It was the Blue Sea on the road to the Keyes Girls High School from Secunderabad. I will write about the experience in a later post.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

At a Reading- Karan Bajaj's 'Keep Off the Grass'

It was an unusual reading in more than one way that I attended last week. I had been to the reading of Karan Bajaj’s ‘Keep Off the Grass’ at the Crossword store inside the City Centre Mall at Banjara Hills on Friday evening. I had read about it in the papers and decided to attend it to know more about what has been described as another ‘campus novel’ by a reviewer in ‘The Week.’

What was unusual was that the author seemed to have arrived at the venue much before the audience did. I got introduced to the tall, young and smiling author in the most unexpected way even before the reading began. Hari introduced me as a writer which the author remembered, since he wished me good luck with my writing when I queued up to get my copy signed by him. I need all the good luck I need now that my own book is getting ready.

Another thing that was unusual was that there was no other literary figure or personality to introduce the author to the audience. One of the Crossword staff, a young girl did quite a nice job of the introductions and the rest of the show. Of course, being a young author of a first novel it would have been better if there was another experienced writer or someone literary present in the reading. Not surprisingly there weren’t many of those who came for the reading.

As if so many unusual things weren’t enough for one evening, the lights went out a few times before the reading began plunging the store into darkness. Mercifully it did not happen during the reading.

The author was the only person on the dais and he read out portions of his book to the two dozen or so odd people gathered. At the end there were the usual questions to the author- what is the inspiration, how did you get the idea and so on. Karan Bajaj said he was inspired and influenced by Upamanyu Chatterjee who wrote the 80’s bestseller- ‘English August.’

I haven’t yet begun ‘Keep Off the Grass’ and I will do a sort of review when I read it. Incidentally, while flipping through the book I found that one of the characters in the book was named Vinod. Quite a coincidence.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Father's Day Thoughts

Exactly twenty years ago I lost my dad and ten years ago I became a father myself. Though my kid is ten years old and a decade has passed I continue to have doubts about my capabilities or abilities as a father. I am forever thinking that I am not doing enough for him and that I might fail him as a father. I am forever trying to teach him all I can while I can.

I had read somewhere that the best way to teach a child something is by example. I do not know what he learnt from me but one thing I am certain is his love of reading. He stares at the growing piles of books in the house with fascination and has a collection of his own comics and books that he likes to read. I think I have taught him the love of books by example. This, I am sure he will be grateful for just as I am grateful to my dad for the same.

I have been thinking of how to write about a magazine I had found a couple of weeks back and now Father’s Day provided me the chance. The magazine I picked up was the July 2002 issue of ‘Men’s Fitness’ magazine. It had a wonderful article titled: 51 Things Your Father Should Have Taught You. Some of the things in the article include:

Do things hard way sometimes- it’s good practice.

Stand up straight, shake hands firmly and look people in the eye.

Life is short. Enjoy it. ( this is the best piece of advice)

No discomfort, no gain.

Don’t lose track of your old friends; it’s important to have people around who know where you came from.

Watch out how a woman treats other people; sooner or later she’ll treat you that way, too.

Watch out how you treat your mother; sooner or later you’ll treat other women that way too.

If you’re going to waste time, at least do it with your buddies.

Give your own son advice even if he doesn’t seem to be listening; he’ll remember it when he really needs to.

I guess it is easy to become a father but difficult being a father.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Sunday Haul

The weather forecast for the weekend was heavy rain. Though it did not rain on Saturday but Sunday began cloudy and cool. I feared it would rain and I may not be able to go to Abids. It did not rain when I started out yesterday on the pleasant, cool morning for Abids for the weekly book hunt. I had also decided not to buy too many books but ended up buying two books and a magazine. There were more books I missed buying than books I bought.

The first find was a sort of ‘medical humor’ book, ‘Finally…I’m A Doctor’ by Neil Shulman, M.D., I seemed to have read the author’s name somewhere but I picked it up anyway because I got it for only ten rupees and the book too was in good condition, almost brand new. Shulman has authored another book ‘Doc Hollywood’ which has been made into a hit movie, the blurb at the back of the book said. I hope it is a good book.

The next find was a surprise find. It was Peter Carey’s ‘The Tax Inspector’ that I found in a heap of books selling for ten rupees. It was a hard cover edition and I couldn’t believe it when I picked up this almost new, book ‘withdrawn’ from Free Public Library of Water Town, Mass, North Branch according to the stamp on the cover page. It even had the dust jacket and was the first trade edition. I had read Peter Carey’s ‘Illywacker’ long ago and enjoyed his writing.

The next find was the December 2007 issue of ‘Men’s Health’ magazine but more about it later. I got it for only twenty rupees. I also want to write about the books I saw but did not buy for various reasons.

The first such book was one I should have bought because it was by one of my favorite authors- Paul Theroux, and the book was ‘The Imperial Way’. It was a picture book with photographs of a journey from Istanbul to another place I don’t remember now. There were only a few pages of Theroux’s prose and lots of photographs. It wasn’t this that made me give up buying it but the fact that it was priced at three hundred rupees. I left it reluctantly for someone else to pick it up though I know I will find it next week at exactly the same place.

The other book I did not buy was Elmore Leonard’s ‘Rum Punch’ of which I have a copy. There was Peter Mayle’s ‘Toujours Provence’ and also his ‘Chasing Cezanne’, a novel I am hesitating to buy though I have ‘Toujours Provence’. Then I also saw two recent issues of ‘The New Yorker’ magazine of May 2008 but I gave them a miss.

Another Tea Break- The Chai at Nilofer

On Friday evening while on way to a book reading at Crossword at Banjara Hills, I realized I was in the vicinity of an Irani Restaurant I had only heard about. I was near Lakdikapul and felt I wouldn’t get a better chance to check the Irani tea in that joint. So I turned left deciding I would give the Irani chai at Nilofer a go than the café latte at ‘Brio’ in Crossword. Moreover, I wasn’t in the mood to shell down a couple of tenners for a mere coffee. Irani tea in Hyderabad hasn’t yet crossed the five rupees barrier.

The name of the restaurant, ‘Nilofer’, maybe comes from the fact that it is right next door to the Nilofer Children’s hospital. Whatever, one could tell at a single glance that it was a popular joint. Half of the road in front of it was packed with haphazardly parked vehicles while the customers stood on the road outside the hotel sipping eagerly from the cups. I had passed by this hotel in the past but did not have the chance to sample the chai there. But on Friday I got the chance.

I too parked (haphazardly, though) and entered the hotel. It was not very big and was actually a hall with three just tables to one side and two counters on the other two sides. One served the bakery items and the other tea and other eatables. There was self-service but I decided to sit at one of the tables and order the tea. I was disappointed to note it didn’t serve chota samosas so I settled for Osmania biscuits and a cup of tea. It was brought to me within minutes.

I guess I can say it was the best tea I have ever tasted in any Irani hotel so far. It was light and kind of rolled off the tongue straight down the throat. It was not heavy like teas at other places and did not leave any aftertaste that takes hours to disappear. The tea at ‘Nilofer’ did not seem to have any such aftertaste. I loved the light tea which was not too sweet or milky. It had just the right flavor and sweetnes. The nectar like tea at Nilofer was worth the visit and as I was leaving I was wondering how I could fit in my route so I could have the tea here at least twice in a week. I wanted to have a ‘Nilofer Chai’ day in my week

Saturday, June 14, 2008

An Irani Chai Break

Last week I had the opportunity to visit two Irani restaurants that almost every Hyderabadi perhaps knows about. I had heard about these two and had been to one long time ago but last week I got the chance to visit both. One of these is a very old restaurant and the other, I guess, is also equally ancient. One is ‘Grand Restaurant’ at Abids and the other is ‘Nilofer Café.’

One thing that strikes one in old fashioned Irani restaurants is the variety of mirrors that adorn the walls. There is a large mirror in Bombay Bakery and Restaurant at Gunfoundry, one in Light of Asia in Abids and also other Irani restaurant’s I have been. So finding not one but almost a dozen mirrors at ‘Grand Restaurant’ did not come as a surprise. The main room had mirrors on all the three walls and it gave an appearance of being full. The hotel seemed to be one of the busiest Irani restaurants I’ve seen. I was there last Sunday during my book hunt when I happened to be near the General Post Office and sauntered into ‘Grand’.

All the tables appeared full and there was the sort of buzz one finds in places where there is a constant flow of people. The most popular item seemed to be bun and butter that the person at the counter was making all the time. There was a large circular bread and it looked wonderful but I noticed it after I had my tea. The tea, by the way, is not exactly something to write about but it was good enough. The ambience was more impressive.

I saw an old man standing in a corner with a register in hand. He had a beard and a cap and seemed to keep a watch on all the waiters. There were two other rooms adjacent and it appeared to be the dining section because there was a board inside with the list of all the items available starting with the favorite, biryani.

I plan to check it out again sometime later, and also write about Nilofer Café in the next post.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Ones I Let Go

Over the years I have developed a long list of books which I subsequently realized I should have picked up the moment I saw them. I did not pick up these books either because I was too stupid to realize their value, had no money or didn’t notice them properly or was too arrogantly self-confident no one else would pick them up. It is quite a long list but there are two books that I am reminded about almost daily. Whenever I think of the time I decided not to pick them up I feel very bad. One is Paul Theroux’s ‘Fresh Air Fiend’ and the second is Dorothea Brande’s ‘On Becoming a Writer.’

I had known about one of these two books before I came across it. I particularly wanted to read ‘Fresh Air Fiend’ and was on the lookout for it. I had read about the other book after I had given it the miss. I regret both occasions but I regret letting go of Theroux’s book the most. It is something that makes me cringe every time I recollect the time I saw the book. It was at a small makeshift second hand book store in Secunderabad a couple of years ago that I saw it for the first and also, the last time.

This makeshift shop which was run by the guys who own the MR Bookstores, had a tent sort of shop on SD Road in Secunderabad. It was a vacant plot just opposite the Deccan Chronicle office. I had spotted it one day and drove right in. It must have been the end of the month for I did not have enough money. My heart gave a leap when I spotted the title- Fresh Air Fiend. It was a hardcover edition and was priced at more than two hundred rupees. I did not pick it up because I thought no one would buy it until the next day when I planned to return with enough money. But when I came back the next day the book was gone! I felt like kicking myself at that time. I am still hoping I would come across it one day but I haven’t had such luck till now.

The second book, Dorothea Brande’s ‘On Becoming a Novelist’, I saw at a book sale of Best Books at YMCA. It was a small, slim book and since I hadn’t read about it I did not feel like picking it up though I am a sucker for books on writing. It seemed an old book and appeared uninteresting. I didn’t give it a close look because I had a lot of other books to look at. Actually there were two copies and it was for only thirty five rupees I remember clearly. But though I went there several times until the ten day sale came to a close I did not buy it. Then, recently I picked up (luckily) Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’, I read her describe it as a must read. Then Katherine Paterson in an essay in ‘The Writer’ too called it a ‘classic’ and since then I am on the look out for this book. Though there have been several other book sales of Best Books after that I couldn’t find the book.
But am still confident I will come across these books soon enough.

A Waltz with Lolo the Dog

In the Andamans I was scared out of my wits not by foot long centipedes or the deadly snakes but by a dog. Yes, a dog called Lolo. If you are into Bollywood then you’d know that Lolo is the pet name of Karisma Kapoor. Karisma (aka Lolo) is svelte, fair and cute. Whereas this Lolo was just the opposite, a dark deadly beast that weighed nearly a ton, and had canines sharp as shark teeth and just as long. I know all this because I did a waltz with Lolo with my face just millimeters away from the fangs.

I neither love dogs nor hate them, it’s just that I am terrified of them. It is rather difficult to like something you are afraid of. In my case it happens to be dogs. I go to great lengths to avoid coming face to face with them whether it is a pet or a stray. If at any time it comes to 'dog vs Vinod', I hand over the trophy to dog. Though I go misty eyed when reading moving stories of loyal dogs rescuing their masters from monstrous fires or extricating them from under rubble or going to great distances to reunite with them, when it comes to dogs in real life I like to keep a healthy distance from them. What happened to me at Port Blair is one example why I like to do so.

The office of the NGO in Port Blair where I worked was located on the upper floor of a rather nice house which had a large courtyard with several plants. The first day at the office my colleague paused at the gate to look around. When I asked him why, he said there was a dog inside and told me to enter only making sure it was chained. When we hurried up the stairs I noticed that it wasn’t a dog but a beast, a jet black silent dog that would tear you up in shreds in seconds. It was a daily terror we faced when we opened the gates. We had to enter only when it was chained. Nobody told me what would happen if we entered when it was not chained. I got the answer only a week into the job.

One day, accompanied by two of my colleagues I opened the gate to find Lolo was in the garden and had its great paws on the shoulders of a girl who worked in the NGO.along with us. Now, I may be scared of dogs but when it comes to finding damsels in distress I don’t let anything come in my way. So thinking I could handle Lolo, I opened the gates while my colleagues wisely remained behind the gate.

I addressed the dog in a soft voice, ‘Lolo, Lolo’ and trying to distract it. Lolo looked at its new master and dropped to its feet. Then the fear set in as it leaped up and puts its paws on my shoulders. I am about five feet seven inches so it can be guessed how big the dog was if I said it towered above me standing on its hind feet. The girl, meanwhile, ran up the stairs leaving me to complete the waltz with Lolo. We waltzed all over the garden for what looked like half the day.

Lolo, for some strange reason doesn’t bark. So I was scared it was going to bite any moment. But it did nothing of that sort. It simply put its great paws on my shoulders and with its beady eyes gave me the sort of looks that told me my end was very near. I was expecting it to lunge forward and grab my neck in its sharp fangs the way guard dogs are trained to do. Every heart beat was like a minor explosion inside my chest as I tried to talk to it soothingly- ‘Lolo, sit, Lolo sit’. Once it obeyed and I felt I had it in my control but then it leaped up again and put its paws on my shoulders. That was how I knew how much it weighed.

With its enormous jaws just millimeters away from my face I got a good look at its tongue (pink), teeth, sorry, fangs (almost three inches) and of course, its beady eyes. It was a face I cannot ever forget because we waltzed in that manner- with Lolo on its hind legs and forepaws on my shoulders, for a long, long time. Later my colleagues told me we did the waltz for nearly ten minutes before Lolo’s owner emerged out of the house with a panic-stricken face. It was of course, an obedient dog for it let go of me and ran inside the house. The owner appeared to give me an apologetic smile but to me it was an angelic smile.

I wasn’t able to eat anything with my hands or work on the computer that day, not because I was scared. It was because my hands were shaking so violently I had difficulty holding the spoon. So that was my waltz with Lolo.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Helmet-less Hyderabadi

Some of us Hyderabadis are genetically, physically, morally, politically, and perhaps erroneously averse to wearing helmets even though the rule was introduced long ago. We are the helmet-less Hyderabadis. Bring up the topic of helmets and one of us will give you the sort of look that tells you he won’t pay for the one-by-two Irani chai you have ordered even if we have been friends for decades.

We, the helmet-less Hyderabadis live by a single motto that can be summed up in a few words: Even if our skulls crack open into a million pieces we ain’t gonna wear helmets. Never. (Which in Hyderabadi lingo is ;
Sar phuta tho phuta, helmet nai painthe apan. Naich nai.)

The helmet-less Hyderabadi is the sort of guy who will not wear a helmet even if the weather forecast says that it is going to rain boulders the size of Adnan Sami before his weight loss. Nothing will ever make us wear helmets. If we are wearing helmets we are wearing them for some other reasons I'll write about some other time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Sunday Haul

What’s the best thing that could happen to an Elmore Leonard fan? Finding a new title by the master craftsman he hasn’t read earlier. That was what happened to me this Sunday at Abids. I found Elmore Leonard’s ‘Touch’ which I hadn’t come across anywhere until then. The surprising thing was that I found it in the unlikeliest place and also got it at an unlikeliest price- ten rupees. I felt very happy on this lucky find. The New York Times blurb at the back said ‘Abounds with many of the touches that make Mr. Leonard a national resource.’ I now have two of his books to be read- this and ‘Moonshine Wars.’ I have to begin reading one of these two soon.

Another book I couldn’t resist buying was by an unknown author. I picked it up because the copy was too good to ignore and also the price was just ten rupees. It was ‘Return to Paris’ by Colette Rossant. It is a memoir with recipes it said on the cover. Colette Rossant is the author of Apricots on the Nile which I seem to have seen somewhere. I bought the book to see if I have picked up a good book. I wanted to test my judgment.

I was done with the usual Abids sellers by noon so this Sunday I decided to try out newer sellers and so went to the GPO side. There was an entire stretch of books laid out. In the neatly arranged books I managed to find the March 2008 issue of ‘Men’s Health’ magazine. I got it for only twenty rupees. Apart from the usual stuff on fitness, health tips, style guide and such things guys look for I found consolation in this magazine for something that was bothering me.

For quite a long time I had been wondering if I was doing the right thing buying second hand books. The magazine had a column called ‘7 Tips From Readers and the fourth tip in it was: ‘Buy used books’- roughly two million trees are felled each year to print new books. That appeared a good enough reason to buy second hand books.

For some reason I decided to go to Koti to check out the books there. It had been quite a long time since I’ve been to Koti. It turned out to be a good decision because I spotted Hari Kunzru’s ‘The Impressionist’. It was a brand new copy and I didn’t have the heart to leave it for someone to pick it up so I bought it for myself. I paid only hundred rupees for this Penguin imprint. Though I normally do not buy new books of contemporary Indian writers this time I made an exception. An honorable exception, I guess.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Another Missed Opportunity

The day before yesterday I missed a wonderful opportunity that would have not only made me very happy but would have also made for a great post. I had gone to attend the inauguration of an art exhibition where the famous badminton player, Pullela Gopichand was also present. He had come to inaugurate the exhibition. I somehow bungled the chance to meet him and talk with him.

One of the few blessings of my life has been a friendship that began nearly twenty seven years ago. I don’t want to mention my friend’s name but will refer to him as only K. K and I were in the same college some twenty seven years ago and we became quite close over the years. He is a very intelligent person who is now an internationally known scientist with path breaking achievements. Not only that, he is also a gifted artist and seeing him now in that position I feel proud to be his friend. His younger brother also turned out to be a good artist and it was his exhibition that I went to.

When close friends call you to be present anywhere you drop everything and go. Though it was upsetting my typing schedule I went all the way to the State Gallery of Fine Arts at Jubilee Hills on Saturday evening when K called me up. Pullela Gopichand, tall, fit and every bit the gentleman he is, was going around the exhibition looking at the paintings (which were wonderful by the way) and conversing with the artist. After sometime they all sat to have snacks. It was not a big gathering as only a handful of people, mostly friends and relatives of the artist were present.

I could have gone up to Gopichand and complimented him about his upcoming badminton academy at Gatchibowli and also told him it was rather brave of him to turn down the lucrative offers of endorsing cola drinks. The least I could have done was ask for his autograph and I forgot to do even that. Instead, I was calling up home to tell them I’d be late and worrying when no one was responding. Apart from that was the worry about the dark clouds gathering outside. I was worried it would rain and hoped it wouldn’t because I was carrying my laptop on the bike. So that was how I messed up a chance.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Riding in the Hills

Once upon a time Banjara Hills was the posh place where the rich and the beautiful in Hyderabad had their beautiful houses. But sometime in the late eighties or so when bigger moneybags arrived, Jubilee Hills became the place to be seen. Now it is home to beautiful, big houses with enormous gates and little forests inside, security guards and boards outside that warn you of the dogs inside. Being very far from Jubilee Hills and also no reason to visit the place I don’t usually go there. But I was at Jubilee Hills yesterday evening on my way to an art gallery.

Being in the Jubilee Hills area gives me a different feeling of being in an affluent place seeing so many beautiful large houses and the big cars inside which are people wearing expensive designer clothes, dark glasses who don’t even bother to give you a look. Sometimes it feels good to watch this prosperous crowd living it up as best as they can. It makes me wonder about how different things are in such places- the houses are different, the cars are different, the people are different but there was one thing I found that was the same as the place I live in. It was the condition of the road.

I really felt glad that the guys who are responsible for laying and maintaining roads in Hyderabad have seen to it that the roads in Jubilee Hills are no better than they are in other areas. I was indeed delighted to see that the roads in Jubilee Hills too have enormous potholes, manhole covers that are not level with the surface of the road and piles of rubble everywhere. I was pleased, in fact to see that the roads seem much worse in Jubilee Hills. So much for being rich.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The 200th Post

It is a great feeling to reach major milestones on the way to achieving a major goal that you’ve set for yourself. In these two days I have crossed two major milestones. The day before, I finished typing the hundredth page of my manuscript (which runs into 400 pages!) and it felt great. Today I cross another milestone with this post which is the 200th post on this blog. I have fifty more to go to reach the self-imposed target of 250 posts by the time this blog is one.

When I started typing the manuscript finally after about a month’s break, I began slowly, doing one page a day on an average. It took me forty five days to type the first fifty pages. Then in the next eight days I was able to type the next fifty pages and reach hundred. I am able to type about six pages a day which I plan to push up to eight or ten pages a day. I plan to complete typing the entire manuscript by the end of July, which is my deadline. So it is a rush for the next fifty odd days typing the remaining three hundred pages.

In addition to typing the manuscript there is the post to be done every day. The previous fifty posts have been a great learning experience. I have discovered that it is not so easy to write a post daily. But I also discovered that I am able to do it though the quality of writing has suffered a little. I have managed to write on a variety of subjects and issues. But the greatest satisfaction has been from the several wonderful people who have left comments and those keep in touch with me. There have been amazing happenings which I will write about when the blog turns one. It has been a humbling experience to find that a handful of people read the blog regularly. Though the hit count isn’t much I am not unduly worried about it.

The Rewards
Since I have set myself rewards on reaching milestones I picked up a nice Luxor brand notebook for seventy rupees. It comes with a free Papermate ball point pen. The notebook is similar to the one I am currently using- the Bilt Matrix notebook which is almost filled up. This was the reward for the typing achievement.

Then, as a reward for the 200 posts I picked up a book at a bookstore in Abids. The book I found can be called a great find. It is the ‘Vintage Book of Indian Writing’ which features writings of almost all Indian writers. The book is edited by Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West. I got this whopper of a book (it is like a brick) for a hundred and fifty rupees. Now I can say I have the works of all Indian writers in English.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Visit to Ross Island- The First Sight Seeing Trip

Since the NGO office functioned six days a week I had only Sunday free to make forays into the vast tourist paradise that is Andamans. The first weekend it rained so I had to stay at home. It is a different kind of rain here in the Andamans. It rains heavily for ten or fifteen minutes and then the skies clear up. The roads don’t have any puddles or pools of rainwater because it all drains away. But later on, it rained continuously on some days. This rain prompted me to buy an umbrella which I never got the chance to use. I also bought a digital camera.

You would think that anyone going to such a beautiful place like the Andamans would have the sense to pack in a decent camera. Not me. I borrowed a friend’s aim and shoot camera before leaving. But one visit to Ross Island I thought I had made the dumbest decision by not bringing along a good camera. Anyway, upto that point I didn’t even own a camera so I did the best thing I could do and shelled down nearly ten thousand rupees to buy a Sony digital camera. This I bought after my visit to Ross Island on the second weekend of my 90 day stay.

Now, Ross Island is just a twenty minutes boat ride from the Marina in Port Blair. It is a tree-filled island one can spot very easily. The boats leave every two hours and the ticket is sixty rupees. I got into a boat that had the name MV Rubdeep. The ticket for entry into Ross Island is twenty rupees per head and ten more if you also bring a camera. I takes about thirty minutes to reach Ross Island by boat.

There were huge coconut trees and there were so many of them that someone was actually selling coconuts. Somewhere it was written that you would be fined one hundred rupees if you pick the coconuts. Then there was another board that said that anyone touching the lights on the island would be handed over to the police. Another board said ‘No Plastic’ but it was plastic everywhere I went. However, it was a beautiful, beautiful place, the small island that was once from where the Britishers ruled the place.

There are quarters, their stores, even a church built by the Britishers now in ruins. A small museum on RI says the island was called ‘Venice of the East.’ On the other side of the island, I sat on a rock staring at the endless blue sea stretching before me. It was beautiful beyond description on the sunny May weekend that I went.

There was a cemetery with tombs of all those who had died there. There are gun turrets built into the land, long tunnels. It was quite scary entering those and you won’t stay there for long because it smells of bats. It was so beautiful, the place I regretted not having a camera and the first thing I did on returning to Port Blair was buy the digital camera.

The Sunday Haul

The Sunday haul netted more magazines than books this week. It was hot in Hyderabad as can be expected in June with the sun beating down fiercely. However there were more people this Sunday than the previous ones. There were the usual book sellers at their unique spots except one who did not appear this week leaving me disappointed because he had the two books I had seen last week. I had decided to pick them up this Sunday.

The first find of this Sunday was a photography magazine. I have a digital camera that I bought in Port Blair two years ago. Till date I have not been able to figure out some of its features so I thought the magazine would help. It was a special supplement of ‘Better Photography’ of October 2007. The cover said it was the 125th Mega issue with 125 Best Tips and Tricks. I got it for five rupees.

The second find was another was ‘The New Yorker’ magazine dated March 10, 2008. I am getting to see a lot of the latest issues of this magazine. The one I picked up was because it had a fiction piece by Hari Kunzru titled ‘Raj, Bohemian.’ Incidentally I saw his book ‘Transmission’ for a hundred bucks which I felt was too high.

The third magazine was the July 2002 issue of ‘Men’s Fitness’ which had an article I was drawn to- 51 Things Your Father Should Have Taught You. I wanted to see how many were there in it that my father taught me. Then I want to see how many there are I can teach my kid. A later post will feature this magazine and the article.

The first book find was an unusual book. I don’t know if I bought it because it was a Penguin imprint, or because it was cheap at only ten rupees or because it was a sort of travel book. It was ‘The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst’ by Nicholas TOmalin and Ron Hall. I have a feeling that I had read about this book only recently but am not able to recollect where and when I read about it. The book was about a participant in the Sunday Times non-stop around the world boat race in 1968, who faked the journey and it seems, disappeared at sea.

The last find of Sunday was ‘Packrat Papers, Volume I’- Tips on Equipment for Campers, Backpackers and Those Who Travel Lightly. I don’t travel much though I love to so I have a sort of weakness for any book on travel related stuff. I got it for only fifteen rupees. That was this Sunday's haul. The rains are likely to pour down anytime and I wonder how it will be next Sunday.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Damp Squib

The ‘exciting’ operation I had written about in Sunday’s posts turned out to be a damp squib after all, ending in an anti-climax. But I got an opportunity of watching how the long arm of the law catches up with those who think they can get away with anything. It was an anti-corruption operation I was involved in on Monday morning. It was a secret operation and was carried out early in the morning. I went with five cops in a jeep to a house on the outskirts of the city.

On Saturday evening I was asked to report at the office of an anti-corruption office as a mediator. The Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 is the law which catches and punishes those who indulge in corruption in government offices. There is an Anti-Corruption Bureau in the state (AP) which is manned by policemen.

The ACB does two types of operations to catch those who are corrupt. One is the trap where the corrupt employee is caught red handed while accepting a bribe. This is done with lots of prior preparation and in the presence of mediators who are usually government officials. The second type of operation is the searches of the houses of those who have amassed wealth by corrupt means, also called disproportionate assets. The ACB gathers intelligence about the assets, properties, cash possessed by the corrupt employee. A crime is registered and then the ACB moves into action to ferret out the assets etc.

I was part of such a ferreting out operation on Monday as a mediator. We went to the house of the in-laws of an engineer on whom a previous raid revealed disproportionate assets. But we found nothing during the search. However it was a bit of an eye-opener to see how the corrupt also manage to destroy the reputations of their close relatives and friends. When such searches take place in the houses of their relatives and friends it puts them in a humiliating position with cops all over the place, flinging open almirahs and all secret places. I was witness to the effects of such an operation.

Later, during the raid that was taking place simultaneously in four places, some assets were found and the engineer was arrested, and put in custody. I wonder what his young daughter who was present at the house where we went must have felt on learning about her dad’s arrest. I felt sad for her. Her father had managed to destroy a lot of her life by his greed and stupidity.

Monday, June 02, 2008

90 Days in Andamans- The First Impressions

I started for Port Blair on a Sunday morning, and one of the several first that marked this trip was flying in two planes the same day. After a brief stopover at Chennai, finally I was in the plane to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. While the plane hovers above Port Blair, you can see a couple of islands, full of greenery and with a rim of surf all around, from the window of the plane. It is a beautiful sight shown in all tourism brochures. One of those islands is the Sentinel Island, home to the Sentinelese tribes who shoot first and don’t even bother to ask questions later.

I arrived at noon, to a sultry day on the last day of April. The fellowship included free accommodation in an apartment that I had to share with, at various times, nearly eight persons. Only an intern seemed a long time resident there at the apartment which had a refrigerator, a television and air-conditioning in two of the bedrooms. The apartment was in Delanipur which was one name I rather liked among several quaint names of places in Port Blair- Haddo, Phoenix Bay, Chatham and my favorite, Junglighat. Aberdeen is the main shopping centre of Port Blair and can be said to be the heart and soul of the entire Andamans.

Port Blair is a quaint little town with an uneven landscape and with the sea on almost three sides of it. The sea is just minutes away from anywhere in the town. There are autorickshaws that take you anywhere for ten rupees. There are city buses also and the fare is quite cheap. I saw only one Mercedes Benz, a silver one, and though I was told there were two of them I couldn’t see the other one. Of course, there is a ferry service between other islands. That’s about transportation and I took the autorickshaw on most days and some days I just walked from the apartment to the office of the NGO.

Life begins at around half past four in the morning in the Andamans which is when the sun comes up. One of the many joys of staying in Port Blair was the early morning visit to the sea side, especially the Marina which is one of the most beautiful spots in Port Blair. It is quiet in the morning with only a few walkers and the gentle sea breeze fills one with a freshness that lasts the whole day. The Marina was the first place I visited on the day I landed. Being a Sunday, the market at Aberdeen was closed and I just took a quick walk around with another media fellow who quit the next day.

That was about the first day at Port Blair. In later posts I will write more about the places I visited during my three month stay in the Andamans.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sunday Talk, Election Results and a Mysterious Operation

It was the first Sunday of the month which brings with it “The Literary Review’ in ‘The Hindu.’ I was waiting eagerly for it since yesterday evening. There was another reason for the excitement in Hyderabad. It was counting day and fates of those who had contested the by-election would be known by afternoon. Of course, being Sunday there was also the Abids visit.

Amitav Ghosh’s latest book, ‘Sea of Poppies’ was reviewed in TLR and is described as a ‘most incisive engagement with imperialism.’ There was also a full page interview on the front page which I read avidly. I am yet to buy and read this book. The short review sparked an urgent desire to get hold of this book as soon as possible. Inside, there was another favorite writer featured in an interview- MT Vasudevan Nair. Though I haven’t yet read a single book of his I am amazed at his versatility and simplicity. I have to look for a good translation of his works since I cannot read Malayalam.

The election results that trickled in the afternoon showed mixed performances. I was disappointed to note that the candidate who had visited our lane lost the election. I happened to be pass the office of this candidate which is on the main road while returning from Abids in the afternoon. It was deserted and not a single soul was in sight. They must be all drowning their sorrows somewhere. But they have to wait for another year when the elections would be held again.

There aren’t many thrills when you work for the Government but yesterday I was told of a mysterious assignment I was being involved in. It begins early in the morning and is something I had read quite a lot about and also had wondered about. I cannot write about it here at this stage but I will do a post on it afterwards.

Meanwhile I am beside myself with anxiety and nervousness because we have only been told to gather at a place. It is all hush hush right now and nobody knows when we’d return. Some say it won’t take more than half a day and some say it will take more than two days if it is a big case. In that case, we have to remain in the same clothes until the assignment is over. I am already beginning to feel like a character in an Elmore Leonard novel.

A Sticky Hyderabadi in the Andamans

One side of his personality the true Hyderabadi doesn’t often get to show is his ‘sticky’ nature. The Hyderabadi persists with some things to the end and for as long as it takes. This side of his nature is more often on display when he isn’t in town leading to some surprising conclusions by others about Hyderabadis. Not many know the reputations Hyderabadis have built all over the globe for their perseverance even in the face of adverse circumstances. Two years ago I got such an opportunity to display this tenacity the Hyderabadi is known for, when I was in the Andamans. After all, I am a true Hyderabadi.

Four of us were selected as Media Fellow by an NGO in Port Blair, and of those, I was the only Hyderabadi, not surprisingly. Two days after I landed one of the Media Fellows, a writer from Bangalore, quietly packed his bags and left. A couple of weeks later another guy, a freelancer from Kolkata also waved us good bye. The third guy, a senior journalist also from Kolkata, gave me company for a month or so and also departed leaving me to hold the fort. I had, when packing my bags, told my friends and family that in no circumstances would I return before the three months was up. So I was stuck in the Andamans for three months.

Now, for those who do not know, the Andamans is eighty five percent of jungle. In fact, all habitations are deep inside the jungles. Needless to say, the jungle often shows up in the form of foot-long centipedes, deadly snakes and mosquitoes the size of small birds. Apart from these to contend with, there was the bad food, the unfriendly people (at least those I met appeared quite unfriendly) and the torrential rains. It was quite a struggle for me to hang on when all the other Media Fellows had fled leaving me alone to hold the fort (and also do what all the Media Fellow were supposed to do- write long and boring reports.)

I stayed there for the entire three months for two reasons, mainly. One was that I was from Hyderabad and no one from Hyderabad likes to make a fool of himself in other places. (It is, of course, an entirely different matter that we Hyderabadis make fools of ourselves all the time when we are in Hyderabad. You only have to see us on the roads to understand the levels of unsurpassed foolishness we are capable of. And that's just on the roads!)

The second reason was that the Andamans was an incredibly beautiful place. It was almost like paradise to me. I visited several places in the Andamans which had names like Billy Ground and Mayabunder. Two years ago, this day marked the end of my first month of the three month stay and later (probably in the post after the next) I will write about all the places I visited in my first month at Andaman. And also about some of the nice people I met there.