Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Sunday Haul and the 250th Post

It is exactly a year since I began this blog this day last year, and I am excited that I have managed to complete one year with 250 posts on my blog. (This post is the 250th post.) A sort of celebratory post will follow sometime next week! Meanwhile read on about my haul of books this Sunday.

This Sunday I had a strong reason not to visit Abids for my weekly book hunt but there was a far stronger reason that made me go. I had been feeling under the weather with mild fever and so I thought of staying at home wrapped in a warm blanket instead of going out in the cloudy weather. But the deafening noise from the loudspeakers in the temple, a stone’s throw away from my home gave me second thoughts. There’s something to be said about living near a temple but that is for a future post but for now I will just say that a local festival was on in our locality. All major festivals in Hyderabad are celebrated in Hyderabad accompanied by a lot of noise and this ‘Bonalu’ festival was no exception. Unable to bear the repetitive songs and the sound of the drums on the loudspeakers I fled home after breakfast towards Abids.

In a way it was a good decision coming to Abids because I found three good books. The first find was ‘Rules of Thumb 2’ by Tom Parker which is a collection of hundreds of pieces of interesting trivia about a lot of commonplace things. But, there’s more about the book at the end of the post. The next book I found was one by Annie Proulx, the author of ‘Shipping News’, copies of which I see every where at Abids. But on Sunday I found her ‘That Old Ace in the Hole’, a four-hundred plus pages book which I guess is a good find. But I don’t know when I am going to find the time to read it.

After finding these two books I left Abids, and on the way home I stopped at Chikkadpally where two or three sellers display their stocks. There was one near the Bharat Petroleum filling station. I was almost turning back after finding nothing of interest when a stack of books piled against a pillar caught my eye. The last book in the two feet high pile was Elmore Leonard’s ‘Unknown Man No 89’ that I pulled out eagerly and bought. I was surprised to see it was a Penguin imprint It was a pleasant surprise and doubly so since I got the book for only fifteen rupees.

In ‘Rules of Thumb 2’ which has a total of 930 Rules on various things. I found the following rules while flipping through it at random. These are all about books, by the way, the ones I am mentioning here. There are a few about writing but those I will write about some other time. Here are a few out of the twenty two Rules of Thumb about books in this book:

326. REMEMBERING A BOOK: For every worthwhile book you read there will be one statement or story you’ll remember for a decade or longer.

364. COMPARING BOOKS TO MOVIES: Comparing a movie to a book is easy when one inspired the other. The one created first will be better.

446.QUICKLY CHECKING A BOOK: A good way to get the ‘feel’ of a book is to read the table of contents, then read the index, if it has one, and finally read the first and last paragraphs of each chapter.

703. SELLING BOOKS: Ten percent of bookstore customers buy 90 percent of the books. Ten percent never buy anything.

Here’s one I found very interesting:
488. REMEMBERING WHAT YOU LEARNED: You will remember only ten percent of what you think you learned in college. (I don’t remember anything!!)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hyderabad (Traffic) Blues

Any one new to Hyderabad can be forgiven for assuming (mistakenly though) that given its reputations as a hi-tech city, traffic in the city would be zipping around at bewildering speeds on mirror smooth roads. They would get the shock of their lives when they find the traffic moving at a leisurely pace more in keeping with our Nawabi culture.

What they are not aware is that all traffic in Hyderabad is governed by a special unwritten law which states that the maximum speed of the traffic on any given stretch of road shall not exceed the speed of the slowest moving object (object, not vehicle) on that road. Following this law, traffic here rarely exceeds speeds beyond a funereal 10 kmph.

With speeds like these one never gets to shift into any higher gear other than the second gear. The second gear is the unofficially designated top gear in Hyderabad. All gears above the second gear are practically redundant in Hyderabad. One reason why Hyderabadi drivers are such expert one-handed drivers is that the other hand is almost welded to the gear stick.

Some say that one of the most appealing things about traffic in Hyderabad is that it is such a great leveler. Irrespective of whether you are driving the latest Mercedes or a spindly moped or a fancy imported bike, you have to move in tandem with several other vehicles specially designed to crawl. Out of ten moving objects on the road in Hyderabad, one can find two or more rickshaws, one auto trolley, two cyclists, two pushcarts (out of which one selling bananas), one bullock cart and one garbage truck and one city bus. Rickshaws rank as the slowest on the road.

Normally ricksaws should carry passengers but nowadays in Hyderabad they seem to carry more goods than passengers. More than half the rickshaws in Hyderabad seem to carry kilometer long pipes or iron roads and the other half carry plywood boards the size of football fields. Bullock carts rank next. In this age of CNG buses and cars with six gears, these still survive. In Hyderabad they mostly transport enormous mounds of grass or hay which gives the feeling that one is a following a multi-storied hut on wheels reaching almost to the sky. Any higher and they would have to fix red beacon lights to warn low flying aircraft.

Auto trolleys are next in slowness. These are nothing but glorified autorickshaws. But the guys who drive these ridiculous vehicles like to think that they are actually driving 20 tonne trailer trucks and hence pile it up with enough goods to fill a cargo plane. It is the most favorite vehicle of the tent house firms that supply all the articles you need to organize a function at home.

One of the s-l-o-w-e-s-t moving objects is the push cart. The perennially hot favorite of vendors, this plank of wood on four spindly tyres carries an amazing range of goods- from fruits, vegetables, flowers to consumer goods like pressure cookers, plastic goods, suitcases and what not. Incidentally, every second pushcart in Hyderabad sells bananas and judging by the number of pushcarts selling banans one sees, the banana seems to be the Hyderabadi’s favorite fruit. Quite interestingly, the banana also happens to be the favorite food of monkeys. Given our antics on the road no wonder we consume so many bananas.

All the above vehicles someow manage to be at the very front at the traffic signals. When the light goes green it takes quite a while for them to achieve critical momentum by which time the light would have changed to red again. Sometimes it takes three changes of lights to just cross the junction.

Ironically one sees signs like ‘Speed Thrills, But Kills’ almost every where in the city. They look so out of place in Hyderabad where the traffic speed is such that we don’t seem it necessary to wear helmets or strap on the seat belts.

The above article appeared in the 'Hyderabad Life & Style' supplement of The Hindu way back in 2003 and incidentally, in July!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Magical Maybunder- 2

Karmatang Beach
Avis Island
Avis Island
TheBeach at Avis Island
Continuing from the previous post....The day I was at Mayabunder there was an army detachment that had come lumbering up in several trucks in the evening. Their commandant had a drink in the lawns of the guesthouse overlooking the sea and later was served dinner by his jawans. It looked like they take every thing along with them wherever they go, including cutlery. Afterwards, they vanished by morning when I came for breakfast. I had planned a visit to Avis Island that the teacher had told me about.

When I went into the town to ask about Avis Island sometime in the late afternoon I was told the donghies were not available. But later I met Dominic who asked for four hundred rupees to take me to Avis Island. I hesitated for a while because four hundred rupees was a large amount and in the end I decided to make the trip anyway. In the Andamans, if one has to visit any island one needs a permit from the Forest Department. Avis Island was under the control of some kind of a co-operative so I had to take their permit before setting off for the island.

It was a small, delightful island that I could see as the donghie neared it. The sea was blue and my heart began to beat faster as I neared the coconut tree fringed island with a small stretch of sand. There were people working inside the trees collecting coconuts and no one disturbed me while I sat on a rock and had a nice view of Mayabunder from the sea. I returned after an hour and was again caught in the rain. The waves buffeted our donghie but Dominc manouevred it expertly back to shore. I thanked him and walked back to the centre of the town. I noticed Mayabunder had a helipad and there was a fire engine parked inside.

I took a walk around Mayabunder town and had tea in a small hotel near the bus stand. It was my last evening on the ten day trip and I felt sad for no reason. It had been a wonderful trip and I had seen scores of beautiful sights and met many interesting people. It was also one of my longest trips I made alone in a strange place. The people here may not be too friendly but they leave you alone.

The next morning after breakfast I caught the bus to Port Blair after bidding farewell to Arun Kumar Sharma who left early in the morning. He had to catch a bus to his place of work. I felt sad leaving this elderly man who was my companion for three days and who told me a lot about the Andamans that I hadn’t heard or read anywhere.

It was another exhilarating trip back to Port Blair with two ferry crossings, one at Sastry Nullah and the other at Baratang. As the bus raced back to Port Blair I was eager to be with my room mates and share with them all my experiences. I had missed Rahul very much. He was a lot younger than me but was very intelligent and was always with me. Our sense of humor matched and we were always cracking jokes about the others in the office. After another week I would be leaving the Andamans and the thought made me sad. I still had another week to go and there were a lot of things I had planned to do. That will be in a future post.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Magical Mayabunder- 1

After Diglipur and Rangat, Mayabunder was the final destination on my ten-day road trip in the Andamans. I had almost skipped visiting Mayabunder at the last minute but I was glad I didn’t because Mayabunder turned out to be quite a magical place totally unlike either Rangat or Diglipur. It was a big town, slow in the way sometimes administrative centres are, for it appeared to some kind of an administrative headquarters. Then there was the fact that the town skirted the blue sea on all sides, the water almost on the edge of the town, high up on undulating terrain and one had to look down at the sea at some places.

I hadn’t got government accommodation either at Rangat or Diglipur which people was the best places to stay. At Rangat the Assistant Engineer authorized to let visitors stay was not available, and at Diglipur all the government guest houses were full because the local Member of Parliament was visiting. As I walked through the gates of the APWD guesthouse at Mayabunder I hoped I would get a room for myself. I wasn’t in the mood to stay in dingy rooms in private hotels. When I saw the beautiful guest house and the stunning view of the sea from it, I was determined to get accommodation at any cost. I spent a couple of hours pursuing an Assistant Commissioner who had the authority to allot me a room in the guesthouse. I went to his home where I found him dressed in his banian and lungi. He asked me a few questions and then signed the requisition and told me I have to share a room with someone. I did not mind since I was happy that I would stay so close to the sea.

My room mate turned out to be an elderly vice-Principal of a school thirty kilometers from Mayabunder. His name was Arun Kumar Sharma and he had a weary look on his face. He told me he was from Uttar Pradesh and would retire after six years. He told me he had put in twenty five years of service all over Andamans, with his first posting at Baratang in 1981. He told me he had enough of the hardships and was eager to go back to wherever he came from. His lined face, his furrowed brow and the way he moved, hesitantly and slowly, told me he had seen enough of the other side of Andaman, the insider's experience. His face bore the burdens of a man with a troubled existence. He told me about one of his lady colleagues who had to watch her husband and young son swept away by the Tsunami waves before her very own eyes. She goes around with a haunted look on her face, he told me, his eyes boring into mine as I tried to imagine that horror.

While it rained outside we sat talking. He told me how difficult it is finding food or even a cup of tea, in some of the places they work. I felt sorry for him since he was so helpful in switching on the geyser, opening the large windows that opened outside to a magnificent view of the sea and telling me a lot of things about the Andamans. He told me the worst job in the Andamans was that of cops who were sometimes posted on uninhabited islands where they had to stay for months together. Only two men would be posted on an island it seems and their supplies would reach them by boat once a month. I tried to think how it would be living on an isolated, uninhabited island with only another person for company apart from the wildlife in form of deadly snakes, foot long centipedes and billions of mosquitoes.

He told me about the Hawk’s Bill nests in the lime stone caves near Baratang that were being plundered by poachers who sold it for large amounts. He told me the nests were used to prepare medicines and also were a delicacy. He also advised me the buses to take if I wanted to go to Karmatang. He told me Avis Island was worth a visit. He told me how to get to the bridge I had seen while coming into Mayabunder from Diglipur. A wide river ran under it and I was keen to take a look.

To get to the bridge I had to go to Panighat Chowk and I got there in a jeep. It began to rain heavily and I wondered if I had done the right thing but after a few minutes it cleared off. It was so typical of the rains in the Andamans, there one minute and gone the next. I decided to walk to the bridge so it took me less than half hour to the bridge. A board on the side of the bridge informed it was the ‘Austin Creek.’ It was a wonderful sight, the river flowing silently under the bridge with dark clouds closing down far away on the horizon, and the dense vegetation on the river banks seemed to touch the sky. A fisherman down below was throwing his net into the river and I took his picture. I walked back after spending some time in the lonely place.

I took the long walk back to the place where I got down from the jeep. I got back to the centre of the town and took another jeep to Karmatang beach. It was yet another desolate, lonely beach where I was the only visitor. I stayed there for about half hour and walked back to the road and waited for another jeep to take me back to Mayabunder. We took a detour and reached some kind of a college and teacher’s quarters. I wondered what this college was doing in this god forsaken place. There was no one around and it was so eerie.

Dinner was in another part of the guest house. I was totally besotted by a charming little viewing point down below that stood almost on the rocks buffeted by the sea. A flight of stairs led down and I got there and sat for a long time watching the donghies pass by. It was an incredibly beautiful sight and I sat there for a long time. Inside the guesthouse it was very beautiful, with a spacious lounge and comfortable sofas. Every meal came with a dish of the local fish. The most common fish was the ‘surmai’ but that day it was ‘khokari' and it tasted quite nice.

Not only that it put me into a deep sleep at night. I was glad I had decided to halt at Mayabunder.

Friday, July 25, 2008

At the Launch of 'Sea of Poppies'

It was not exactly a sea of humanity at the Darbar Hall in the ITC Hotel Kakatiya, but the hall was almost over flowing yesterday at the reading of Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of Poppies.’ It was quite undoubtedly the biggest gathering I have ever seen of book lovers at any book launch in Hyderabad. Amitav Ghosh must have been quite surprised to learn that Hyderabadis actually read while they are not eating biryani. Jokes apart, I was quite thrilled to be at the book reading yesterday evening, where the city’s literati gathered and listened spell bound as Amitav Ghosh himself read out passages from his latest book.

There was laughter as he read out some humorous passages and lines and applause too at the end of the reading. The questions followed and for a change, almost every one seemed to ask quite intelligent questions that had Ghosh stumped. There were questions (actually everyone seemed to ask three questions) on whether readers need to be aware of history when they read such books, whether the 19th century holds some kind of fascination for Indian English writers, how he crafted the book, comments on some of his characters, questions on his previous books and there were many questions waiting to be asked but there was little time. Jai commented on the missing pages in his copy which he discovered long after he had bought the book and also about the music of the migrant communities in various countries like Trinidad and others.

Like every one else, I too stood in line to get a copy that I picked up on a friend’s request, signed by the author. It was quite a lengthy line and one could judge Amitav Ghosh’s popularity from the fact that people in the queue had three or four copies of ‘Sea of Poppies’, and also copies of his older books in their hands for the author’s signature. After a discount, the hardcover came for Rs 540 and after half hour my turn came. It was bad timing because the moment I reached him someone started a conversation with the author forcing him to sign my copy without so much as a word to me. But I wasn’t disappointed since I had a special moment with him earlier.

As always, I had forgotten the keys to my bike on the bike itself so I rushed up the stairs hoping to collect the keys before the author arrived. However, as I was climbing up the stairs I discovered the author had indeed arrived. Amitav Ghosh was being escorted down the stairs by the hotel staff. I was looking at him and unexpectedly he happened to glance at me. I smiled and nodded at him and got a smile and a nod in return. That, and some of the dazzling smiles that the hostesses flashed at me had me on cloud 9 until I got back home

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Single Book Midweek Haul- Jonathan Raban

Tuesday afternoon turned out to be one of those days I had nothing better to do other than twiddle my thumbs. Having pushed all the files on my table ( I work for the government) as far up as I could I was feeling restless without any thing interesting to do. It was around four in the afternoon, the perfect time to have a cup of hot Irani tea. So I hatched a plan to spend an hour in a book store and then having chai. I slipped out of the office and went to a bookstore I haven’t visited for quite a while. The person in the bookstore remarked about my long absence as soon as I stepped in.

Now, when I am in a bookstore I am completely transformed. I become totally alert, eyes scanning the shelves for the titles that are on my mental list of ‘must buys.’ After a couple of minutes I chanced upon a book by a writer I had heard quite a lot while reading about travel and travel writing- Jonathan Raban. In a corner of the shelf was ‘For Love & Money’ by Jonathan Raban.

I flipped through it and found that it was a sort of memoir of his ‘Reading, Writing and Travelling’ during the period 1968-1987. Reading, writing and traveling are precisely the things I too love to do and without a second thought I bought it for ninety rupees though I was sort of saving up to buy ‘Sea of Poppies’ by Amitav Ghosh on Thursday. I hoped I would have enough to last the month but this book I had to buy and buy I did. I then left to have the Irani chai while leafing through the book I just bought.

On the back it says that ‘For Love and Money’ is the ‘part case history, part memoir’ of a modern man of letters: a selection of Jonathan Raban’s best essays, reportage, travel writings and literary criticism, linked with a narrative thread that bravely attempts the agonizing and revelatory question ‘why do you write?’

I had netted a gem I realized by picking up ‘For Love and Money’ because it is just the sort of book I love to read- about writing and writers. I returned to my office glad about the midweek’s haul. It was just the sort of afternoon any book lover would love to spend happily, hunting for and finding a good book.

I am trying to put a picture of the cover of the book that I took with my digital camera. If it appears here then I have succeeded in transferring the image from camera to the computer which I haven’t yet learnt though it is more than two years since I bought the camera at the Andamans.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Sunday Haul

I wasn’t exactly in a position to pick up any books last Sunday at Abids since I had set my heart on buying Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of Poppies’ at the book reading on Thursday later in the week. I am planning to have the book signed by Amitav Ghosh. ‘Sea of Poppies’ is priced at Rs. 599 and I have just enough in my wallet to buy that book as well as to scrape through the month. So I just wanted to take a look at the books at Abids and buy one, only one, and only if it was something I had to buy.

When I picked up the May 1989 issue of ‘Esquire’, inside I saw a write up on of my favorite writers- Peter Matthiessen. There was a picture of his enormous workshop which caught my attention. It said that his workshop in Long Island was a converted play house and it was really huge. A wide plank serving as a writing suface ran around the walls and there were papers, books and such stuff related to writing on it. There was even an ancient computer at one end. I loved the workshop and wish I could have one just like that. Matthiessen’s workshop alone is almost as big as my entire house!

Another surprise was an old, old ad for Parker pens in ‘Esquire’ that I had seen long back. It had a Parker Duofold, with the nib exposed and the cap fitted at the back, in a ready-to-write position. It was this ad that set off a longing for good fountain pens in me long back. I bought the magazine though the person asked thirty rupees for it.

I sat in ‘Light of Asia’ restaurant and flipped through the magazine while having Irani tea. This is the place where many of the booksellers of Abids gather to have tea and I see many of them at the tables. Some of them wish me and some don’t but it doesn’t bother me.

Towards the end of the browsing I saw Penelope Fitzgerald’s ‘The Bookshop’, a slim novel that I read at the back had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was only a hundred and twenty three pages long and I was getting it for just twenty rupees. The blurb at the back were impressive enough (‘ A marvelously piercing fiction’- Times Literary Supplement) to induce me to pick up the book. After all, it was only a matter of twenty rupees and also, I hadn’t read anything by Penelope Fitzgerald so far.

So that was how I ended the Sunday’s haul with a magazine and a book.

Monday, July 21, 2008

At the 'Turtle Resort' in Kalipur (Trip-within-Trip)

At the 'Turtle Resort' at Kalipur I was put in a suite named ‘Dove.’ I seemed to be the only guest in that beautiful place surrounded by tall trees through which the wind whined all through the night. I could see the sea from the open balcony outside. It was the only time I felt lonely, and far, far away from my loved ones. The roar of the wind rustling through the trees outside added an eerie dimension in that isolated place.

I got up early in the morning and walked to the beach across the road. It took me ten minutes to reach the sea. Once again, I had the entire beach to myself, the whole beach that stretched for miles on either side. I spent a couple of hours watching the waves and listening to the wind. It was cloudy or else it could have been even more beautiful. I walked back for breakfast and noticed that a young couple were also having breakfast. They appeared newly married and though I was dying to talk with someone I left them alone.

After breakfast the Malayali manager of 'Turtle Bay' took me on his bike to Arial Bay, a few kilometers away. We had a chat over tea and he told me about Saddle Peak nearby, the highest point in the Andamans that one could see from the beach. It seemed to touch the sky as clouds hung low over it. Later after he left me I went to the jetty. Somehow I am fascinated by the jetties in the Andamans which are desolate places when the ships are not docked. I went to the local market and bought a couple of locally available pineapple. The guest house manager had told me it took a eight hour trek to go up and down 'Saddle Peak.' I had no time and besides it was drizzling, hardly the time to go up and down a slippery mountain.

Later I met Sanat Kumar, one of Naandi’s field workers who took me around his fields. It was late evening and the sky was overcast. It was my last day at Diglipur. He told me there’s a place called Straight Island that is four hours by donghie, and he told me there was a light house. I wasn't in the mood to venture out anywhere that far. I had seen all these places on maps while doing the reports for the NGO. Now I have actually visited some of them and the places look so different. I was glad I made the trip and met so many wonderful people.

I spent another lonely night in the guest house with the wind howling outside. A door opened into a small balcony where I stood watching the tall trees and the 'Saddle Peak' in the distance. I had Syd Field’s book on screenwriting for company. I had not packed in any other book except a couple of notebooks which I tried to fill with details of my trip.

The next morning I went to the beach again and I saw a fisherman far away with his net. I walked on the rocky beach for sometime trying to make meaning of all that had happened in my life. It was time to take major decisions in my life. I was on the verge of quitting my job but could not summon the nerve to take the decision to quit. It was far too risky. I needed a financial cushion before taking such a major decision that would affect my small family. I postponed the decision for another time and walked back to the guesthouse to get ready after breakfast.

I got a bus to Mayabunder back at Diglipur which I reached after about an hour’s ride from Kalipur. I had reached the tip of Andamans and was now on my way back to the last leg of this ten day trip. I wondered briefly if I should cut short my trip by skipping Mayabunder because I was feeling exhausted. I hadn’t had good food for a long time and was dying to taste the stuff at Port Blair which was no better but at least I had friends for company. But I decided to stick to my original plan and so I got into the bus to Mayabunder which was a four hour drive. From Diglipur, Port Blair was 320 kilometers away! It took almost a day to make that journey on a rough tar road that wound its way through dense jungle.

I reached Mayabunder at one thirty in the afternoon, feeling damn hungry. I would stay at Mayabunder for three days and return to Port Blair.

The Second Leg of the Ten Day Trip-within- a- Trip

(Wild elephant footprints in Kishorinagar)

(Pic is of Arial Bay Jetty)

After ten days on the road visiting Rangat, Mayabunder and Diglipur, I was more than eager to get back to my Port Blair guest house where my friends were anxiously waiting. It was a wonderful trip and I was glad I took the decision to make this journey. If the decision about going to the Andamans in the middle of the monsoon season was a crazy one, then the one about the ten day road trip was an ever more crazier one. But then, I have never been very normal.

In one of the previous posts I had written about my stay at Rangat where I stayed for three days and visited Panchvati, Yeretta, Bakultala, Kadamtala and also Amkunj beach, a desolate beach. I had met the Pradhan of Kadamtala, Ravi Kirtania who told me about the areca nut cultivation in the Andamans. After three days in Rangat I took off for Diglipur early in the morning.

Mayabunder falls in between Rangat and Diglipur but I decided to visit it on the return trip. The bus to Diglipur was at seven a.m., so I was at the bus stand waiting for the bus and wondering whatever made me make this trip. I had a young Tamilian teacher for company and he told me of the horrors of working in the Andamans. He told me about a teacher in a school on a small island which is connected to Rangat or someplace only by a donghi which takes four hours to reach. He added that the frequency of the donghie is fortnightly!

We got to Diglipur via Mayabunder where we had breakfast in a canteen at the jetty. It was one by the time we reached Diglipur and the Tamilian teacher helped me get a room in a hotel, Lakshmi Lodge. Someone back at Port Blair had told me that Naandi Foundation was propagating organic farming in Diglipur so I wanted to check them out. But the first day I stayed put at Diglipur and wandered around the ridiculously small town. I visited the vegetable market where the only sound was of the areca nut cutters. One shop had air rifles and when I asked the owner he told me the farmers used them to scare off the monkeys and birds which damage their crops.

I learnt Naandi had their office at Keralapuram which the locals told me was entirely populated by Malayalis. I went to Keralapuram the next day morning by bus. Daniel Antony, an agriculture department staffer took me on his bike to Naandi which had their office a little away from Keralapuram. There I met Arun Naik and Dharma Rao who was a Telugu. Naik was from Karnataka, and I spent half the day with them visiting a farmer who was practicing organic farming. I was touched when Arun Naik invited me home for lunch. It was my first home made meal during the three month stay at Andamans and I really had tears in my eyes as his family members urged me to take more and more of their wonderful preparations. It was a small, charming family and I wondered how they spent their time in this far off place. Naik told me the government employees, doctors and others were buying the organic produce.

I left them and went to Arial Bay where I spent some time wandering the small village. There is some kind of a naval station there and also a small airstrip. I went back to Diglipur in the evening and again wandered around, feeling like a lost stranger amidst all those people who went about their lives as if I did not exist for them. For the first time I felt lonely and far away from home. Thoughts of my son crowded my mind and it was then that I felt I had to go back home. I had only two weeks left for my media fellowship to end and I was eager to return home.

The next day Arun Naik took me to another village, Kishorinagar in a Maruti Omni van along with three of their field workers. One of them told me about an elephant that had attacked an excavator. He told us elephants were a problem on that particular stretch and two wheeler riders dared not drive on that road. Later when we reached Kishorinagar, the guys showed me deep pits which they told me were elephant footsteps! We were back by evening after meeting a couple of farmers practising organic cultivation.

I was back in my room and then all of a sudden I reemembered a friend telling me about a resort at Kalipur. I decided to spend a couple of days at the tourism resort at Kalipur before setting off to Mayabunder, the final destination on the last leg of my ten day trip. I took off hurriedly by bus and got to the ‘Turtle Resort’, set on a small hillock with a steep climb.

More details about my stay at Kalipur's 'Turtle Resort' in the next post, tomorrow.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thoughts on Poets and Poetry

I was reading a book by a popular fiction writer and he had this to say about writing poems:

'Writing a good poem may be as hard as writing a good novel. It may even be harder. But any clown with a sharp pencil can write out a dozen lines of verse and call them a poem. Not just any clown can fill 200 pages with prose and call it a novel. Only the more determined clowns can get the job done.'

I entirely agree with him. There are a lot of people who go around calling themselves poets after having written a few rhyming lines. They go around with the sort of intense expressions that puts me off. Not that I don't like poetry or haven't written it. In fact I began with writing poems when I was quite young. Of course all of it was quite bad and I didn't write anymore after a few attempts. But one poem was published in a college magazine and not because it was any good but the editor happened to be my close friend.

But I love to read poetry. In fact, I began this second hand book collecting with a volume of poetry, my very first book, which was 'Twentieth Century American Poetry' which I bought in 1988 for thirty rupees. I still have it with me and dip into it now and then, especially when I am feeling low. It has some wonderful poems by poets whose names I cannot ever forget- David Wagoner (To My Friend Whose Parachute Did Not Open), John Ciardi (Elegy Just In Case), Theodore Roethke ( I knew a Woman, Lovely in Her Bones), Gene Derwood (Elegy on Gordon Barber) and so on.

'Elegy On Gordon Barber' is a haunting poem of a boy who drowns and here are a few lines of this beautiful poem:

What choke of terror filled you in the wet
What fierce surprise caught you when play turned fate
And all the rains you loved became your net,
Formlessly yielding, yet stronger than your breath?

Maraianne Moore had this line in her poem titled 'Poetry'

I, too, dislike it:there are things that are far important beyond all
this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.

It sums up most of what I feel about poetry. I love to read it but cannot however write a good poem. I am happy with my prose, good or bad, and don't ever want to call myself a poet.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Readings and Launches

There have been readings and launches of two books on Hyderabad in the past weeks but I have somehow managed to miss going to both of them. It was in the papers, yesterday as well as today, about the launch of Vanaja Banagiri’s ‘Hyderabad Haazir Hai’ at Kakatiya. I haven’t learnt about it before or I would have gone to the launch.

Anyway, there’s a mother-of-all- book- readings coming up next week- that of Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of Poppies’ on the 24th of this month. I am quite excited about it except that I am wondering from where to pool up the five hundred odd bucks to pay for a copy. It is that time of the month when the wallet appears quite light.

It was exactly this month two or four years ago that Amitav Ghosh was in Hyderabad for the launch of his ‘The Hungry Tide.’ I had gone to that reading as well, and as is usual in Hyderabad, some guy asked an inane question that had everyone cringing, but Ghosh somehow answered it with a lot of panache and also, I must add, with patience. If I were in Ghosh’s place I would have walked over to the questioner and swotted him one on the head with the wireless microphone. It was that silly, his question.

Gurcharan Das, author of ‘India Unbound’ and other books is giving a talk today evening somewhere in Jubilee Hills but it doesn’t seem to be about books or anything like that so I am not going. There seems to be a lot happening in Hyderabad connected with books except that very few in Hyderabad seem to be writing them, not counting me :-)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Another Midweek Haul- Bill Bryson and Alan Bennett

When I have a little time on hand and a little money in the wallet I make a beeline to the nearest second hand bookstore, though I may not be really interested in buying anything. Which is what I did yesterday when I found myself out of office early, having earned a reprieve after two hectic days in a conference that had me running to the airport in the dead of the night to receive someone. Anyway, that isn’t the story. At the bookstore I happened to find two books I couldn’t resist picking up.

The first book I picked up was Bill Bryson’s ‘Mother Tongue’, which I had the misfortune of letting slip out of my hands sometime last year. Try as I might I cannot shake off a bit of arrogant self-confidence when I spot some books at Abids which I assume no one would pick up. Someone always does, and that Sunday I had seen ‘Mother Tongue’ at Abids and it was gone by the time I ambled back to pick it up. Thanks to my foolish overconfidence I managed to let go of a good book. But yesterday I did not repeat the mistake and held the book in my hand until I finished combing the whole store.

The other book I found was Alan Bennett’s ‘Writing Home’ which I did not want to miss though I haven’t any idea who he is except a vague recollection that he was a playwright. The book was about his writing experiences and that was enough for me. Later when I went home and looked at the back cover I found this on the blurb:

Simply the funniest and most poignant thing I've read all year...only fools and madmen will pass up the chance to read it. Writing Home is a must.' Tatler

Since I picked up the book before I read the blurb proves I am neither of those types mentioned above.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reading in Irani Hotels

Quite possibly I could be the only guy (in Hyderabad, at least) who reads in Irani hotels. I have come to enjoy this habit that I developed about more than a year ago. One day I was walking back from a second hand bookstore with a book in my hand, and realizing it was time for tea I stepped into Bombay Bakery and Restaurant at Gunfoundry which happened to be on the way. It was around four in the afternoon and though the hotel was crowded and noisy I realized by the time I finished my tea I had read quite a few pages. It marked the beginning of a habit that I indulge in at least twice a week.

Admittedly, an Irani hotel isn't the most congenial of places to do some quiet reading but I have discovered there is a way to do it. I have found that early mornings at around nine or half past nine is the time suited to drop into Irani hotels and dip into a book. It was quite by accident that I found this out. I had to rush to office at half past nine and I was rushing when I got a call on my mobile that I could come at a later hour. I was already midway so I stopped at Adarsh for a cup of tea and then I realized I had a book with me. Adarsh isn't usually crowded at that time so I sat at a table and settled down to read for more than fifteen minutes while sipping the hot, delicious Irani tea.

I realized that on the days I read in Irani hotels I enjoy the book as well as the tea. But when reading something written by Dave Barry it is simply impossible not to read without spilling some of the tea on your clothes because he is so funny that you can't help yourself shaking with uncontrollable laughter. I am currently reading Dave Barry's 'Dave Barry's Greatest Hits' and decided not to read it in Irani hotels because I am getting curious stares as people watch me grinning to myself and breaking into guffaws while reading the hilarious essays by Dave Barry.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Sunday Haul

For quite a long time I had been wondering who it was who said 'the pen was mightier than the sword.' Last Sunday I read in the Mont Blanc catalog I had found at Abids that it was Edward George Bulwer Lytton who made that statement. So maybe that is why so many people prefer to carry pens rather than swords.

It was not such a big haul this Sunday in terms of number of books but quality wise it was quite a good catch that I netted. I found only one book and one catalog. But both were worth the two and half hours I spent at Abids in the hot neither-monsoon-nor-summer sun. This was the fourth successive week that it hadn't rained in Hyderabad which is causing a lot of worry. First thing, there will be no water to drink soon and already the power cuts have begun. Anyway, there are books to keep away those worries for me.

The first book I picked up was another book of short stories. I had earlier found short story collections by Alice Hoffman and Annie Proulx. This Sunday I found Alice Munro's 'Dance of the Happy Shades' which I got for forty rupees. But I guess the book is worth more than that since Alice Munro is an acclaimed writer. 'Dances...' has the following fifteen short stories: Walker Brothers Cowboy; The Shining Houses; Images; Thanks for the Ride; The Office; An Ounce of Cure; The Time of Death; Day of the Butterfly; Boys and Girls; Postcard; REd Dress-1946; Sunday Afternoon; A Trip to the Coast; The Peace of Utrecht and finally, Dance of the Happy Shades. I was tempted to begin reading but I am saving it for a trip.

The next pick was a catalog of Mont Blanc of 2005, perhaps. It was brand new, unblemished and had 'The Art of Writing' on the blue and red cover. As usual there were fantastic pictures of all the Mont Blanc lovelies beginning with the all time favorite, the Meisterstuck in its various models- Solitaire alone has several models. There was the Georges Solti, the Boheme and the Starwalker. There were pictures of document cases, notepads and pen cases that had me drooling. It was a good find which was another addition to the growing pile of Mont Blanc catalogs.

Of all the other quotations another that caught my eye was the one by Helmut Jahn- 'Creativity has to do more with the elimination of the inessential than inventing something new.'

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Midweek Haul

A long time ago, maybe ten years ago, I came across a book that I picked up hesitantly. It had no proper cover and only a white paper with the title scribbled on it with black sketch pen was the cover. It was fairly thick and the person said I could have it for fifteen rupees. I bought it and when I went home and read a few pages I found it was a real treasure. The book was Stephen Fry's 'Paperweight'. I had come across another copy a couple of years ago but missed buying it. But last Thursday I found another good copy of the same book and picked it up for ninety rupees in a second hand bookstore at Abids. 'Paperweight' has more than 120 articles filling up more than four hundred and fifty pages. I like the 'Trefusis' pieces in it. This is the only book by Stephen Fry I read and the others did not appear so good though I haven't read them.

Sometime last month I had written about buying 'The Vintage Book of Indian Writing' at a second hand bookstore. However, I had asked it to be kept aside because I had no space in my bike to take it back home. So last Thursday I went there to pick it up and there was a minor panic as the book could not be traced for sometime. I felt disappointed when the person told me the books are kept only for a week or so. But later, I heaved a sigh of relief when he finally took it from somewhere inside a shelf. I was surprised I got a real bargain in this hardcover book and got a pleasant shock on finding it was a first edition. Or maybe that was the one and only edition.

The book has thirty five pieces from various Indian writers including RK Narayan, Anita Desai, Vikram Seth and also GV Desani whose 'All About H Hatterr' I've been dying to read. There's an excerpt from it though, in this anthology. I felt sort of illiterate when I saw that I haven't read a single book listed in it except perhaps Manto's story, 'Toba Tek Singh'. I had missed buying Sara Suleri's 'Meatless Days' that was available at Abids for twenty rupees six months ago.

It was in the introduction to this Anthology that Salman Rushdie managed to create a furore. He had written that the work of those Indians writing in English (in a fifty year period) proved to be a stronger and more important work than that of the vernacular writers. Of course I don't agree but that's Rushdie for you. The works featured in this anthology cover a fifty year period, beginning from Independence in 1947 right upto 1997. This book needs a whole post for it so I will write about it again in another post.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hyderabad Gets A New Bookstore

Yesterday the day began on a happy note with the news in the papers about the opening of a new bookstore in Hyderabad as well as about a book reading in the evening. I had missed two book readings- one of Syeda Imam's book and the other of Anirban Sen because it wasn't listed anywhere though I knew about it. So I did not want to miss yesterday's event. It was a holiday for the office so I left at half past four from home towards Banjara Hills to Ashoka Metropolitan Mall where 'Books & Beyond' was inaugurated only on Friday by, of all people, a cricketer!

'Books & Beyond' is perhaps the first book store in Hyderabad where I found books by my favorite author, Elmore Leonard. I haven't seen any of his books at the regular bookstores so far except in the second hand stores from where I picked up many of his books. So that indicated that the new store had quite a wide range of books by several writers apart from the usual suspects. I saw Pico Iyer, Paul Theroux and other writers which I normally don't see in other bookstores, not all titles anyway. Otherwise it was pretty much like any other bookstore with lots of stationery, magazines etc. I looked for a notebook with plain paper but couldn't find one.

The newest mall, Ashoka Metropolitan Mall, is right on the main road and is yet to open up completely with all the stores occupied. There is a 'Barista' beside the elevator and I found the concept of a cafe in the open quite interesting. However, I did not sample the fare. I saw a famous face, D. Amar, a senior journalist at 'B&B' but by the time I gathered the nerve to wish him he had left the store.

At a Book Reading

Next I dropped in at Crossword, at City Centre Mall nearby, which was the venue of the book reading. I have never seen a more crowded bookstore in Hyderabad. It was full of youngsters eagerly scanning the shelves and groups of friends leafing through the magazines. I guess it is a good idea to have a bookstore in a mall because it encourages shoppers to drop in. I had difficulty moving between the shelves. I saw Pico Iyer's 'Abandon', his first fiction work I suppose and also the latest.

The book reading of Vikram Sampath's 'Splendor of Royal Mysore' began late. Narendra Luther gave his speech peppered with his usual jokes which half the crowd missed so one can guess what sort of a crowd had gathered at the reading. The talk was preceded by a documentary about Mysore, Karnataka and about how the young author came to write the book. It was interesting to know that the engineer turned MBA was motivated to write the book after watching an episode about the Wodeyar dynasty shown in bad light. It took fifteen years of diligent research to finish the book it seems. It shows in the size of the book which is like a doorstopper. Apart from the size of the book, it was the price that was impressive- Rs. 1500 only!

But it was the light eyed, graceful and elegant compere in a sari who stole the show at the book reading.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Ten Day Road Trip- Port Blair to Diglipur

After returning from the Neil Island trip, I left the next day on a ten day road trip that took me to one end of the Andaman, right upto Diglipur. It was the longest trip I had been while in the Andaman and while I had someone along with me on the other trips I was alone on this trip for ten days. I was anxious and had last minute second thoughts wondering if I should be making the risky trip. Already I was far away from my home and family, and this ten day trip would take me even further deep into the jungle. But I woke up at half past two and caught the five a.m., bus to get to Rangat, the first stop. I had planned to visit Diglipur next and on my return journey stop at Mayabunder.

I got to Rangat by one in the afternoon after crossing the Jarawa Territory. It was on the Andaman Trunk Road that I was travelling, and this time I could not glimpse the Jarawas who usually venture on the roads when the convoy is passing. I marvelled at some of the villages of the settlers deep in the jungles and it never fails to amaze me how they could spend their entire lives in the jungles uprooted from their native lands. Most of the people in Andamans are settlers from East Bengal who came after the Bangladesh war. I wished I could stay back and learn more about them but it remains only a wish.

I stayed at Rangat for three days and visited Bakultala, Kadamtala and also, Yeretta where I spent an entire afternoon sitting on an isolated jetty watching the sea. I was the only person on the jetty, and later I learnt that there is a ship that leaves for Long Island from that jetty. I got on to a bus on whim when I saw 'Yeretta' written on the bus. I wondered what place could be named 'Yeretta' and when I got there I found nothing except a kind of mangrove nursery run by the forest department.

I also visited Panchvati which shows the most gorgeous drives on Andamans as the ATR hugs the coast for several kilometers. (Picture is of a stretch at Panchvati) I went to a central school where Rahul, my room mate had studied. I took a long trek and for sometime was lost trying to reach the Turtle Bay resort. I visited a small fishing village and was surprised to find that the villagers were all people from Srikakulam and Vishakhapatnam of AP. I got quite a kick speaking to them in Telugu.

I went to a beach called Amkunj late one evening and once again felt lost when it soon grew dark. I spent some anxious moments waiting for a bus in the darkness of the jungle. The day I made a trip to Rangat bay which again is a fishing village and also learnt that a ship goes to Port Blair from there.

After three days exploring Rangat I left for Diglipur, another six hour journey. I was glad I had decided to do the ten day trip because I was seeing so many wonderful places and having interesting experiences. The picture above is a stretch of beach at Panchvati.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Holiday within Holiday- At the Neil Islands

Two years ago around this time when I was in the Andamans I returned from a two day trip to a small and idyllic island, Neil Island, an hour and half journey by ship. It was another holiday-within-holiday for me, a preliminary trip to a ten day road trip I was planning to take right to the top of the Andaman’s upto Diglipur.

I got into the ship MV Long Island and incidentally, every thing in the Andamans, boats, rooms in guest houses and resorts are named after the islands or the flora and fauna. An hour and half later we steamed into Neil Island on a perfectly sunny day. It was the middle of rainy season yet the weather was beautiful. It was off season for tourism which meant I had whole beaches to myself.

Neil Island is known as the vegetable bowl of the Andamans because almost all the island’s vegetables come from here. You will know it the moment you get down from the boat from Port Blair because you will find vegetable packed in gunnies waiting to be loaded onto the boat to Port Blair.

Neil Island is adjacent to Havelock Island. Though it lacks the charm of Havelock Island, it is no less spectacular with two main beaches- the Sitapur beach (No.5) and the Laxmanpur beach which is also called Beach No. 1. The latter is the most interesting as you have to walk through dense jungle on a narrow, winding path. You will see all sorts of shells walking around and when you look closer you will see there are snails/molluscs inside.

A peculiar feature of Neil Island is that all villages on the island are named after characters in the Ramayana-thus you will find Ramnagar, Sitapur, Bharatpur, Laxmanpur there. All these places are connected by the Island’s only public transportation – a white state transport service bus that makes a trip around every two hours. Another odd thing about Neil is that it seems to have an unusually large number of neem trees. Standing on the jetty at Neil Island you can see Havelock Island appearing to be within reach. I heard dongies (the local boats) from Havelock to Neil frequently.

Neil Island is smaller than Havelock and doesn’t get many overseas visitors that Havelock attracts. I spent the morning chatting with the farmers who had gathered in a hotel in the village square, a charming place which doubles up as the bus terminus, the autorickshaw stand and every thing else. They were disappointed with the rates they get for their copra. I met a few farmers who told me what they grow- rice, vegetables and coconuts. One farmer, Asit Roy, actually clambered up a coconut tree and threw down two (daap) nuts for me. It was a nice gesture and it made me happy.

One the second day I went to the jetty early in the morning and caught this old man hauling his net into the sea.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

At Last It's Over

A couple of hours ago I experienced one of the most satisfying moments of my life when I typed the last page of the long manuscript of my first book. I typed the 407th page at last and came to the end of a weeks-long odyssey filled with hours and hours of sitting hunched over the laptop typing out the hand written manuscript. Yesterday was another high, when I typed twenty (yes, 20) pages in a day. It was a new record and I still am not able to believe it I did it. My highest so far was thirteen pages in a day.

When I finished typing the last line it felt like I was on top of a mountain. With the completion of the typing of my handwritten manuscript I have trundled past another goal. The real writing begins now I guess as I prepare for the revisions and rewritings. I plan to do it slowly and later. I need to mentally prepare for the next phase in writing the book.

But first I want to take a break for about two or three weeks to catch up on my reading and other activities which had taken a backseat during the past few weeks. Most of all I want to read the way I used to read long time back , a couple of books simultaneously. I plan to read at least ten books in these three books before I start the revision in August. I don’t have an idea right now how many revisions I will be making so I don’t know when I will finally finish. But I want to have a final draft ready by end of October or early in November.

All these days it has been hectic all through the day waking up at half past four and beginning my daily routine and ending up at around ten after doing at least ten pages of typing. I was so busy almost every minute now it feels like time stretches out before me endlessly. I have to read to fill up all the time and also go out to a lot of places I have stopped going. Today I plan to drop in on a second hand book seller and check out the books. I have to buy Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Living to Tell the Tale’ sometime soon as a reward for myself for completing the typing.

There is so much to write about the typing of the book but I guess sometime in September I will try to put on this blog some passages from my book so others will get an idea of my writing. Typing the whole thing gave me a chance to read the story again at one go. I had resisted reading from the beginning when I was stuck in the middle worried I would stray from my original story line but now it feels quite okay. There are a lot of changes I have to do and I am eager to begin the revisions but I will wait for a couple of weeks before beginning it

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Sunday Haul- Three Mags and a Booklet

It was more of a magazine haul than a book haul this Sunday which was almost exactly like the one before except that it was less windy and sunnier. I found three magazines and a book, or rather a booklet. I had read the ‘Literary Review’ in the Hindu being the first Sunday of the month and was feeling highly literary when I started off for Abids at half past ten.

The first find was the booklet on Buddhism. It was ‘The Winning Life, An Introduction to Buddhist Practice’ that I got for only ten rupees. It was a simple booklet of not more than fifty pages with an attractive yellow cover. I loved its look and also the content inside. It says that Buddhism shows the most satisfying way to live amongst others. I have to read the booklet to know more and see if I can be a part-time Buddhist if such a thing is possible.

The first magazine I found was the August 2007 issue of ‘Men’s Health’ magazine. The men’s magazines have a lot of interesting articles on issues like managing one’s life, time, etc., apart from the usual stuff on fitness. There are a lot of small tips that one can use to learn about a lot of things. I find such magazines irresistible and I got it for only twenty rupees.

I had seen a Singapore based magazine last week that had an article on fountain pens but I did not pick it up then. But this week it was still lying around so I picked it up. It was ‘The Peak’ magazine that had the tag, ’The Finer Things in Life’ on the cover under the title. There were many of them in it- watches and loads of watches, luxury cars (a picture of a Bentley and a Rolls took my breath away), and there was the article on fountain pens. The article was on Namiki’s hand crafted fountain pens accompanied by lots of pictures of beautiful fountain pens that had me thinking of changing my reward to a fountain pen after I complete my typing marathon. The article had pictures of limited edition ‘Shishi Kmainu’, ‘Nioh’, ‘Double Dragon’ and ‘Dancing Beauty’ pens. I bought the magazine just for this article and it was worth the twenty rupees I paid for it.

The last magazine was again a surprise find. It was the June 2008 issue of Conde Nast Traveler magazine. June was only last month and I was pleasantly shocked that I found the absolutely latest issue of my favorite travel magazine for only twenty rupees. The pictures of Lake Tanganyika in it was mindblowing and so were the write ups on Villas for rent in Italy, France etc. I wonder if I can travel to at least one place mentioned in the magazine. Until then I will keep reading such magazines.

Monday, July 07, 2008

My Filmy Connection

All of a sudden two film related events popped into my life last week. One was that I was getting a chance to meet a young and famous director of Telugu movies and the other was the advertisement I saw somewhere yesterday about a weeklong 'Film Appreciation Course' at Bangalore next month. I had been for years trying to do this course because I want to know something more about films and film making though I don't watch many movies. I am wondering if I can make it to the course this year because it is in Bangalore and not at Pune which was where it is usually conducted at the FTII campus.

Sometime back, three or four years ago, I along with Hari wrote stories for a couple of episodes for a popular Telugu weekly humor show- 'Amrutham' that was telecast on Sunday night on Gemini TV. Nowadays it seems to have become a daily serial on a different channel. We had a lot of fun doing those few episodes apart from earning a few thousand rupees. The serial was the brainchild of Gunnam Ganga Raju who produced several popular films, the latest being 'Anukokunda Oka Roju' and 'Amma Cheppindi' in Telugu. So it was the nearest I ever came to meet a film personality though I would have loved to meet an actress.

But this week I will be meeting Indraganti Mohana Krishna, director of the award winning film in Telugu, 'Grahanam' and the more recent 'Maya Bazar' starring Bhumika. I had once dreamt of writing scripts and still do so it will be a wonderful chance to learn more about films from him. His new film 'Ashta Chemma' is ready for release in the next few weeks. The interesting thing about it is that it is produced by Hari's brother Rammohan, an IIM alumni. Watch this space for the post about the meeting with Indraganti. I have to watch his movies before I meet him so I can ask him some intelligent sounding questions

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Crossing Another Milestone- 350 pages

Yesterday evening I crossed another milestone in my typing odyssey, having finished typing 350 pages. It was a big relief since now I have about fifty more pages left to finish a typed draft of my first book. I am looking forward to the day (maybe Friday) when I will finally type the last line and get done with it. I had actually planned to type at a leisurely pace of six pages a day and complete the typing by the end of this month. But I am going faster, propelled by a growing sense of impatience to get over this typing marathon that is going on since more than two months.

I am able to type more pages a day because my typing speed has improved. I am able to type three pages in an hour which is a major improvement from the one page per hour that was my speed when I began the typing. I have learnt a lot of lessons during the typing which I plan to write in another post. But the overall feeling is of a sense of accomplishment. It has also boosted my self-confidence that I am able to complete a task that I had given myself, on time. I have learnt to be disciplined and I hope it spills over to my other writings as well.

In keeping with my practice of rewarding myself for reaching certain goals I decided to buy myself a notebook yesterday. I had not bought a reward when I crossed 300 pages so I combined these two rewards and splurged 255 bucks on a leather binder by Scholar. It has the facility of adding or removing pages and also has several pockets for keeping cuttings etc. It appeared quite attractive and I bought it.

At the Odyssey bookstore while looking at the scores of books by new writers I wondered if my book would join that league. I was only dreaming of course because I have a long way to go before I am in a position to send the book to agents or publishers. I have still not started thinking of sending the query letters and proposals but I guess the time has come for me to do it. I have to sit and think about it one of these days because right now the only thing on my mind is 'how many pages am I going to type today?'

I hope to give the good news on Friday that I have completed the typing. After that I will take a fortnight's break and then start working on the novel again. It seems so far away yet so near. But the reward on finishing the typing that I am promising myself is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'Living to Tell the Tale' that I saw at Walden recently. I hope Askhara has this book because

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A New Irani Hotel Opens

Finally, after coming across several accounts of famous and not-so-famous Irani restaurants folding up in Hyderabad, there's something to cheer about. A new Irani restaurant has actually been opened recently and it is somewhat of a surprise given the trend. And it isn't just a hole-in-the wall kind of an Irani restaurant but a full-fledged Irani restaurant complete with Biryani section and drive-in parking. The name is of course, just the sort one would expect an Irani hotel to be named after and it is- 'Great Bawarchi Restaurant.'

Sometime during the week I was returning after lunch with Hari when we spotted a new Irani hotel in Chirag Ali lane near the Cherma's complex and some famous hospital., Medwin maybe though I am not sure. We went past it in a blur so I couldn't really catch the name or take a proper look. But today when Raj dropped in and asked if there were any Irani joints around to have tea I remembered the new one. Luckily Lavish was full so we trekked all the way to Chirag Ali lane to the new Irani hotel that opened only on the fourteenth of last month I was told. It also looked newly opened because the garlands, though dried up, still hung on the walls outside.

We had tea, and I noticed the place was crowded though it was not even a month since it opened. The biryani parcel section was really busy with lots of people waiting for the parcels. The upper storey seemed to be the food section while the ground floor, where we sat, was the tea section. The tea, of course, tasted like regular Irani tea and was as good as any found in the better types of Irani hotels. I had particular reason to be happy about Great Bawarchi because it is within reach of my office and is the fourth or fifth Irani joint that is within walking distance for me. So I have a real choice of where to have my Irani tea every day.

But I wonder if it has got anything to do with the original 'Bawarchi' at RTC X Roads that has boards saying they have no branches in the city.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Discovering a Laundry for Shoes in Hyderabad

Sometime back while passing through Masab Tank I happened to glimpse a board on which was written 'Shoe Laundry' and for days together I wondered what it could be. I had heard about clothes laundry and the opening of laundries of sorts for cars and dogs too in Hyderabad. But it was the first time I had heard of a Shoe Laundry. A couple of days back I got the chance to check it out properly. It turns out it is a place where one can get their shoes fixed if they happen to have a problem.

As it happened, the sole of my Nikes appeared to be parting ways with the rest of the shoe so I took them to the Shoe Laundry that is located between Hotel Golkonda and Hyderabad House. One had to climb up the circular staircase to enter the store. The person assured me he'd fix the problem and he lived up to his assurance. A couple of days later I picked up my shoes with the soles glued back and also polished to perfectness. I felt happy wearing my refurbished Nikes that looked and felt almost as good as new.

The Shoe Laundry people polish and clean up shoes too so I felt they were offering a nice service to people who hesitate to approach the roadside cobblers. It cost me only a hundred rupees to have the expensive shoes fixed nice and proper but it was worth every rupee. The shoes looked like they'd serve for another couple of years. Thank you, Shoe Laundry.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

At the Havelock Island

Beach No. 5 Havelock Island

One weekend I took off to the most talked about island in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands- Havelock Island. About two hours by boat Havelock Island turned out to be near paradise for someone who hasn’t been either to Hawaii or to Bali. The two hour boat ride on a clear day under a blue sky and an equally blue sea was something to remember. We were in a blue sea with several tree filled islands in the distance. I spent the night in shacks on Radhanagar beach. Early mornings, I discovered, was the best time to be on a beach. I was alone on the vast curving beach with just a few dogs for company. The dogs followed me wherever I went. The emptiness and the silence of the beach filled me with a sense of peace I’d been looking all over till now. I spent half the day on the beach and half the day exploring the island.

The second night I spent in a hut in a resort on Beach No. 5. Once again I was on the beach early in the morning even before the sun was up only to be stunned into silence at the vast expanse of blue that stretched before me. It was the only time in my life I felt I was in a picture postcard scenario.

After breakfast, I found a group of tourists getting ready to go snorkeling and joined them. We were about seven of us in that donghie with our hired snorkeling equipment. I, who had swum only in a village well, was going swimming in the ocean, and I couldn’t believe it. If the sea appeared beautiful from the beach it was even beautiful from within. I had my first view of the ocean floor through the clear waters off the Elephant beach. It was a sight I would never forget. The gently swaying corals , the bright colored fish and other exotic marine life filled me with awe. It was like being inside a huge aquarium.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why Traffic Cops In Hyderabad Wear Dark Glasses: The Real Reason

Sometime back being a hot summer, all the traffic cops, from constables up were provided with dark glasses to wear so they'd keep their cool. They looked quite a sight wearing their cool oversized glares, just like cops in Hollywood movies. For once some of the cops appeared real stylish and natty in their white and khaki uniforms topped off by the wraparound goggles.

Some commented that the traffic cops were given dark glasses so that they wouldn't really get to see the traffic rules being broken with such impunity in Hyderabad. That seems to be the case since not many traffic offenders are being caught and fined. Breaking traffic rules seems to be fast becoming the Hyderabadi's latest passion.

However, I figured out the real reason why the traffic cops have taken to wearing the dark glasses. It is to prevent the public from noticing the tears of frustration in the eyes of the cops when they see so many people on the road, young and old, educated and uneducated riding bikes without helmets, not stopping at traffic lights and coming on the wrong side. I guess this is the real reason.

In other parts of the world, especially in the third world countries it is the cops who make the public cry, but here in Hyderabad we seemed to have managed to make the cops cry.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Sunday Haul

Incidentally this is the 100th post under the ‘Book Junkie’ category on this blog. A hundred posts on books out of 222 posts which is a little less than half the posts is okay I guess for someone whose life revolves around books mostly. In the previous post I had forgotten to list out a few books my brother had sent me and I had also forgotten to include the four books I had picked up this Sunday at Abids. Two of these books were absolute treasures that I am glad I found.

The first book I picked up was an imprint of Writer’s Workshop, the haven for first time writers eager to see their works in print. It was ‘British Mylapore’ by VG Krishnamurti which was beautifully bound and printed on pure white paper. The last time I saw it last Sunday there were two copies but now only one was left and I picked it up. The quality of the book was good though I cannot tell the same about the contents inside. Only after I read it can I know about it. I got this book for twenty rupees only.

The second find of the day was an absolute treasure. It was Graham Greene’s ‘Collection of Essays’ that I got for sixty rupees. It seemed to have come from Penguin India’ own library for there was a round stamp saying so printed on many pages. Some of the pages seemed to have been dampened but it looks okay to me. It is a 350 plus pages book with nearly fifty essays on literature, writing and other issues. I am very glad I found this book.

Within seconds of finding Greene’s book I found yet another copy of Paul Theroux’s ‘The Great Railway Bazar’ that I got for only twenty rupees. This is the third copy of this I am picking up at Abids. Funnily enough, only last week I had sent my second copy to someone in Chennai who asked for it. But I have yet to read this highly praised book.

The final book was one on an entirely unexpected subject- carpentry! The book was Sunset publications’ ‘Basic Carpentry’ and it was in such a good condition I could not let it go for only twenty rupees. Besides it might be of help when I start thinking of getting book shelves done to keep all my books which are right now scattered all over the house.

One magazine I missed buying was something called ‘Singapore’ which had an article on fountain pens and I wonder now how I could let it go. If it is there next week then I am going to pick it up.