Saturday, August 30, 2008

Haleem Season Cometh

Mouths have already started watering in Hyderabad as the month of Ramzan approaches. The mere sight of the brick and mud ovens coming up in front of Irani joints that would ladle out Haleem is sending our salivary glands into a tizzy. Another couple of days and the evening air in Hyderabad would be filled with the aroma of Haleem. It is also that time of the year when roughly five percent of the body weight of Hyderabadis will be made up of Haleem. It is time for foodies in Hyderabad to rejoice, for Haleem season cometh.

During this month of Ramzan Biryani will make way for Haleem as the No. I item on most people’s menu. I’ve heard of people who eat nothing but Haleem during the month of Ramzan but unfortunately I haven’t met any of them. Of course there are people who will eat Haleem and Biryani. I have a friend who does that but I am not going to tell here who that friend is. If I reveal his name he will kill me right away by dragging me along with him to Irani joints to share his fare every day for thirty days.

Whatever, I too am getting ready for it. Though a vegetarian by choice, I make an exception for a few days during Ramzan. I dig into my plate of haleem just as eagerly as any foodie. Last year I tasted the Haleem at Bahar Restaurant at Hyderguda and once at Paradise. This year I plan to sample Haleem at other joints too, wallet and stomach permitting.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

You Know What I Did Last Sunday?

There are days when I wish I hadn’t developed the habit of getting early in the morning. I don’t know how I got into this habit of waking up at the crack of dawn. My mother says it is because I was born at half past four in the morning. Whatever, but my day begins at five in the morning when I wake up and get on with my routine which consists of an hour’s reading and writing first thing in the morning. I also make myself a cup of tea before waking up my son to get him ready for school. But on Sundays this routine changes a little as my son sleeps on being a holiday for the school. But holiday or no holiday, I wake up very early. It gets a little monotonous to follow the same routine day after day. So this Sunday I did something I had been planning since quite sometime.

I left the house before sunrise on my bike, hit the Tank Bund road and reached Necklace Road. I had done this earlier too, sitting at the edge of the lake to catch the sunrise. It is a wonderful sight watching the sun’s rays light up the placid waters of the lake. There were very few people about so early in the morning. The sun wasn’t up yet so I sat on a bench and waited.

The absolute silence and the absence of people had a calming effect. I was able to come to terms with a few disappointing developments. I had been overlooked for a promotion and it had upset me. In the calm of the dawn I discovered the brighter side to it- I could be in Hyderabad for one more year.

The sun rose slowly appearing from behind the clouds. I clicked a few pictures and here’s one on this post. Later I took a walk down the edge of the path skirting the lake. There were dozens of cars parked ready for a second sale later in the day. A flock of pigeons circled above. There were people meditating in the grass and some were exercising. It was a tranquil scene on the Necklace Road.

As the sun rose higher up I left and arrived at Adarsh Café picking up the ‘Deccan Chronicle’ on the way. I sat down at an empty table and sipped the hot Irani chai while going through the paper. It was something I hadn’t done earlier, and on Sunday I enjoyed reading the Sunday papers sitting in an Irani hotel sipping Irani chai. The hotel was not crowded and no one disturbed me while I was lost in the news. It is only on Sundays that some newspapers have interesting articles in their colorful supplements.

About a couple of hours later I came back home, relaxed. I was glad I made this early morning foray. Next month again I plan to slip away in a similar fashion and experience ‘Necklace Road on a Sunday’s Early Morning.’

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Sunday Haul

This Sunday could be one of the few remaining Sundays when the booksellers would be present in full strength since the festival season is approaching with the Ramzan month only a week away, followed by Dasara, Diwali, Christmas and so on until year end. A few regular shops had already opened for cleaning and painting in anticipation of the festival rush. The usual second booksellers occupying the front of such shops had shifted elsewhere.

It was also a sunny, bright day this Sunday and there was a full crowd browsing through the wares on the pavement. I had come with the plan to buy only one book since there seemed to be more books than clothes or utensils at home. The first book I found was Martin Amis’ ‘Heavy Water and Other Stories’ which, as the title says, was a collection of short stories. The book was in a heap selling for twenty rupees so that was what I paid for it. I had read one of his books long back- The Rachel Papers and enjoyed it very much.

‘Heavy Water and Other Stories’ had nine other stories in it- Career Move; Denton’s Death; State of England; Let Me Count the Times; The Coincidence of the Arts; The Janitor on Mars; Straight Fiction, and What Happened To Me On My Holiday. I hope the stories are good but I picked up the book relying on the Daily Telegraph’s review on the back cover: ‘Amis is immaculate as a comic stylist…irresistible’ and ‘Crackling prose…Heavy Water and Other Stories is highly inventive, inimitably stylish and funny’ by The Times on the front cover of the book.

Though I had decided to buy only one book I couldn’t resist buying a magazine, one that I had not picked up last week- ‘Runner’s World.’ It was absolutely the latest issue being of August 2008, and there was a story by Bill Donahue on Budhia Singh (the Marathon boy) inside. The story was a balanced one and like the mention of our spitting habits in an issue of Conde Nast Traveler I wrote about in a previous post, there’s mention of the peeing habits of Indians. I guess that’s one of the first things that strike visitors to our country.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Welcome to 'Crater Hyderabad' - 2

I hadn’t suspected our municipal engineers to possess a sense of humor but after I read a newsitem in the Deccan Chronicle I became convinced they had a bizarre one. It was in the paper that 23,000 potholes had formed after the rains in Hyderabad. I couldn’t help thinking what a big joke it was. Only 23,000? Every Hyderabadi knows 23000 potholes are formed on our roads every day but our engineers do not seem to notice them. In fact there are more than 23000 potholes on the stretch of road under the Oliphant Bridge in Secunderabad if only one could see them in the darkness under the bridge. Or maybe they were talking of potholes of more than a meter deep and of equal diameter. Being the Olympic season I guess the municipal engineers have seen to it that we too have Olympic sized potholes on the roads in Hyderabad.

But I wonder how our municipal engineers missed the rest of the roughly half a million potholes that anyone with normal eyesight can easily spot on our roads. Or maybe our municipal engineers are not looking down but looking up and ahead- at things like flyovers that cost hundreds of crores of rupees and take decades to build. That’s where the opportunity lies, not in potholes. They know what we ordinary people don’t know- potholes come and go but flyovers are forever.

I guess the reason why they are not yet filling the potholes up is probably they are waiting for the citizens to hand out awards like ‘Pothole of the Year’ award, ‘Most Fun Pothole’ award, ‘Fall-into-This-and You’ll-Never-Come-Out-Of-It-Alive’ Pothole’ award , ‘Most-Spontaneously-Formed-Pothole’ award, ‘Longest-Existing-Pothole’ award and such awards.

It is rather unsettling to think that our civic infrastructure like roads is in the hands of engineers who cannot repair a pothole without creating two new ones. Another thing that makes me uneasy is that the Government is giving Rs 20 crores to these same engineers for the repair of roads in Hyderabad. This must come as happy news for our municipal engineers for they’ll now have fun filling up more than just potholes.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Straight From The Saucer- Beginning the Day with Irani Chai

One of my brothers is some kind of a jetsetter. He flies in and out of Hyderabad quite frequently, at least once a mont, to other cities and countries. On the days he has to catch a plane it befalls upon me to play the role of his chauffeur. But I look forward to this brief pleasure of driving his car, a Honda City. Before the GMR airport sprang up I would have dropped him at Begumpet but now I drop him at one of the starting points for the buses to airport from the city.

The day before, he was flying to Tanzania and had to catch a flight to Mumbai at eight in the morning. Which meant he had to leave home a little before six to catch the airport shuttle near Keyes High School which itself was near ‘Blue Sea’ restaurant. It gave me an idea that would have me start the day with a cup of Irani chai. It had been quite a long time since I had Irani chai into my circulatory system first thing in the morning. After we left home and until I parked the car near ‘Blue Sea’ after dropping my brother, it was a cup of hot Irani tea that was floating before my eyes all the time.

Lucky are those who get to drink Irani tea so early in the morning I thought as I sipped the delicious milky brew that the waiter brought to my table. It was a cloudy morning and the hot tea warmed up the insides in no time. I had an entire table to myself and the staff had that early morning eagerness to serve. The guy had brought the tea within seconds of my ordering it. Hyderabad must be the only place in the world where one can order a cup of tea without opening the mouth to speak. One needn’t even know any language. Just lift the forefinger and the cup of tea appears as if by magic. But this magic works only in the early mornings.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Sunday Haul

It is very unusual to find the latest issues of foreign magazines at Abids so I was very surprised when I found the August 2008 issue of ‘Outside’ magazine this Sunday. I got this magazine for thirty five rupees only which I think is quite cheap given that the cover price is $ 4.95! Though I am a file pusher I like to think of myself as some kind of an adventurer even if of the office bound variety. This issue of ‘Outside’ had a Q&A with Ewan McGregor of ‘Long Way Round’ fame. It was one program I loved to watch on ‘Travel & Living’ channel. There’s a lot of stuff in the magazine about outdoor adventures I have yet to read but it is the ads for sports shoes and the Hummer that has me drooling.

It was a ‘magazines only’ haul at Abids for I found another magazine I like very much- ‘Conde Nast Traveler’, and this Sunday I found the May 2007 issue. It was a brand new magazine that I got for only twenty bucks. The issue had another ‘Hot List’ of the best hotels, spas etc. It also had an interesting article by Lawrence Osborne about a railway trip aboard ‘The Deccan Odyssey’ in which he mentions the ‘formidable spitting talents’ of Indian men. It would take an entire post to write about all the interesting articles in this fantastic magazine. As usual, the photographs of all the places, especially the beaches and the resorts are out of the world. This magazine makes me go all dreamy.

There was another magazine, on running that I did not buy though it too was of this month. I had seen a book called ‘Marathons for Mortals’ but it was in bad shape so I didn’t pick it up though the subject inside was quite interesting and intriguing. I wonder why I am, of late, being drawn towards magazines and books about running? The only running related objects I own are a pair of running shoes though I haven’t run a mile in my entire life. Maybe there’s a run indicated in the future.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Straight from the Saucer- Chai at 'Irani Chai'

Two Sundays ago I was with Kumar, my landscape designer friend in his car, driving to the house of a politician in upscale Jubilee Hills. It was that time of the day when I needed an infusion of Irani tea into my circulatory system. Jubilee Hills was the unlikeliest place to find an Irani hotel and I had wondered very often about what anyone who lived there felt when he craved for some Irani tea. A couple of weeks ago I had read somewhere about a new hotel named ‘Irani Chai’ being opened in the area. But I did not know the address. Then, in one of those mystifying coincidences that happen we were driving right before it. He was puzzled when I told him we might get some Irani tea at ‘Irani Chai.’

I was right. There was Irani tea available in ‘Irani Chai’, perhaps the only Irani restaurant in all of Jubilee Hills. It was a quiet place, neat and elegantly furnished. There was a large hall and two rooms on either side. We went inside one that had a television screen. The waiter got us a typed menu from which we ordered the Irani tea and onion samosas, which it turned out, were nothing but chota samosas. The Irani tea came with a complimentary plate of Osmania biscuits which was a pleasant surprise.

Only the hustle bustle of the normal Irani restaurant was missing in ‘Irani Chai’ where the Irani tea tasted exactly like it did for me in other Iranis. It was authentic Irani tea without any Jubilee Hills pretentiousness about it if you exclude the price which had the Jubilee Hills touch to it. The tea was forty five rupees a cup, which was ten times that of the normal Irani restaurants. But then you don’t get valet parking there, do we?

There was also ‘Haleem’ and 'Maraq' on the menu, and available only during the weekends. This is one of the few places where it is available round the year. ‘Irani Chai’ offers the authentic Irani experience combined with a café atmosphere and the usual fare that goes with it, coffee, ice-cream and cakes.

Jubilee Hills or no Jubilee Hills, and not minding the crowd in ‘Irani Chai’, I sipped my chai in true Hyderabadi style - straight from the saucer.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Recent Haul

‘Half a writer’s work,’ VS Naipaul wrote in ‘Prologue to an Autobiography,’ ‘is the discovery of his subject,’ says Pankaj Mishra in his editor’s introduction to VS Naipaul’s ‘Literary Occasions’, a collection of (11) essays by the celebrated writer on reading, writing, and identity. I was looking for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Living to Tell the Tale’ but found this book instead.

I had picked up ‘Literary Occasions’ at the Oxford Bookstore in Connaught Place in Delhi sometime last week. I had gone around a couple of second hand books sellers there but I found the prices too high for my Hyderabadi tastes so did not pick up any second hand books there. Exhausted after a couple of hours of gawking around at CP, I dropped in at Oxford Bookstore with the plan to have coffee at one of the CCDs at Connaught Place later.

I was pleasantly surprised that the Oxford Bookstore had a café of its own called ‘The Cha Bar’ right inside the store. I bought my book and settled down in the café after ordering plain Indian tea which they bought to me in a glass tumbler. It was an interesting idea, serving the tea the way it is served in small hotels in villages. Back when I was working in rural areas I had my tea in this manner though the tumblers were smaller in size. The tea was quite good and I felt glad I had spotted the store. I wish they would open a store in Hyderabad.

That was the only book I bought at Delhi, but the Saturday before at a bookstore in Nampally at Hyderabad, I had bought ‘How to Write Movies in 21 Days’ by Vicki King. Needless to say, one of my ambitions is to write a screenplay and I am at work on one since a couple of years. I bought the book hoping I would find something in it that would help me finish the script soon.

Last Sunday, though it was cloudy and raining intermittently, I ventured on my weekly book hunt at Abids. Because of the rains more than half the guys had not set shop and only a handful of them were standing beside their books spread on the pavement. One thing I have against these booksellers at Abids is that they don’t much bother if the books get wet in the rain. I hate anything of that kind happening to my books. I did not expect to find any good book, and moreover having bought enough books in the previous week, I wasn’t in the mood to buy any. However at the end of the short trip I found Annie Proulx’s ‘The Shipping News’ for twenty rupees and bought it.

Annie Proulx won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1993 for ‘The Shipping News’ which is her second novel. I had found her collection of short stories that had the story ‘Brokeback Mountain’, sometime back. ‘The Shipping News’ is quite long at 337 pages and I plan to read it sometime later. There is high praise for this book on the back cover: ‘The writing is charged with sardonic wit-alive, funny, a little threatening: packed with brilliantly original images…and, now and then, a sentence that simply takes your breath away.’ This is by Bruce Allen of USA Today. I hope it is as good.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In the News Again

The day before (on Monday), the Hyderabad edition of ‘The New Indian Express’ carried an excerpt from this blog on the front page just like it had done a couple of months ago. I got to know about it after a friend, Kiran, called me to tell about it. Since I normally do not read that paper I went out to get a copy from the newsstands to see for myself. It was indeed true, that my blog was featured on the front page but my joy on finding my name in the paper was overshadowed by something else on the same page.

There was a picture of a man carrying the body of a boy who had drowned in the recent heavy rains, along side on the front page. I couldn’t look at that distressing picture for long as the eyes had already started to fill up. I have a ten year old son and I cannot bear to watch anything of that sort happen to any kid of his age. For a long time I was numb with shock and grief at the heartbraking image of that lifeless boy, and that picture still haunts me.

It was on my mind to write about the anguish parents of young children experience when they see other kids suffer. The anguish is more acute when the kids are of the same age as our own kids. It is as if our own children have suffered and images come to mind of our reactions. It is not possible to describe the agony parents undergo when confronted with such scenes. Last week the papers were full of pictures of tragic deaths of kids in the fire in a train in AP, of school kids drowning elsewhere, and such horrific news of cheildren dying. It makes me wonder why kids have to suffer such a fate. One cannot imagine the plight of parents who lose their kids. It is something very can few bear with fortitude.

My joy of seeing my blog in the paper seemed completely meaningless and totally insignificant compared to the anguish of the parents of that boy who drowned. Life can be sometimes very cruel.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Welcome to 'Crater Hyderabad'

Now that the heavy rains have caused the potholes on our roads to grow into ‘craters’, it is time perhaps to change the name of our city from ‘Greater Hyderabad’ to ‘Crater Hyderabad.’ Though Hyderabad is more than four hundred years old, the engineers responsible for laying and maintenance of our roads do not seem to have learnt how to do it. The government is not to be blamed for it but it is the engineers who do not seem to possess any kind of professional pride. I wonder how they can tolerate being abused everywhere for the condition of the roads they are responsible for. I feel embarassed having such colleagues in the government. I suspect either the municipal engineers must have such poor eye sight that they are unable to spot potholes that are so big they are visible from the sky or they must have done their engineering degrees through a correspondence course.

On the other hand I was extremely pleased to discover that Hyderabad is not the only city where the traffic comes to a standstill when it rains heavily. It happens in Delhi too. I was in Delhi last week and happened to be witness a traffic jam on an important road caused by stagnant water. The day after I landed in Delhi it rained heavily, and the news on television and the papers were full of accounts of traffic jams because of rainwater that had stagnated on the roads. It felt just so much like Hyderabad that for a while I felt at home stuck in that traffic jam.

Another aspect that gladdened my heart was the discovery that the roads in Delhi are no better than those in Hyderabad. Though being the nation’s capital, the roads in Delhi too had potholes. However, Delhi has a long way to go to match the sheer number and variety of potholes one sees on the roads in Hyderabad. The potholes in Hyderabad seem to be the muncipal engineers’ idea of adding variety to our monotonous lives. Not until one of them falls into a pothole and breaks his bones will the engineers realize how bad the roads are. Until then we have to drive around carefully and take care not to disappear into the potholes that seem to grow bigger with every rain.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

In Delhi

Sometimes working for the Government brings its own share of adventures, though very rarely. Though they cannot be called as 'adventures' I believe anything that takes me out of office is an adventure for me. One such adventure is this trip to Delhi I am currently on. Right now, I am in Delhi where I arrived by train yesterday morning. The reason is an official meeting I had to attend. I have actually come here in place of someone who was unable to make the trip and after eliminations I became the natural choice to undertake this trip. I actually welcomed the trip since it would get me out of Hyderabad for a couple of times and also a chance to meet my mother who is staying in Delhi.

There is a lot to write about here- last week's visit to an Irani restaurant in, of all places, Jubilee Hills, the train journey from Hyderabad to Delhi by the AP Express which turned out just the opposite of what I had expected. Then I have to write about a book I had picked up on Saturday last from a second hand bookstore in Nampally. I had thought I'd write all these posts and put them up so they would appear on designated days but due to lack of time I was not able to do it. Add to it was the internet problem at home and in the office.

I will be back from Delhi on Saturday evening and on Sunday I will begin posting about all the things I have listed above. But for now this should suffice. It is cloudy in Delhi and had rained quite heavily while I was indoors attending the meeting at Faridabad. Today and tomorrow I am free, and plan to look for second hand books in Connaught Place where I plan to hang out all day today. More about it in the next posts beginning Sunday.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Inside a Politician's House

Friendship Day turned out to be an odd day when I almost ended having lunch with a minister in the government here. I also saw a house belonging to a politician that was under construction and marveled at the imported fittings.

It was a cloudy day yesterday and there was a fine drizzle which meant there wouldn’t be many booksellers at Abids. I decided to skip the weekly visit to Abids, and being Friendship Day decided to go along with a friend who asked me if I could tag along with him. Kumar, my friend of more than twenty years is quite a busy man as he is a landscape consultant. He takes me along sometimes when is visiting a site where he is executing a project. Yesterday I agreed to go along since it would give me the chance to chat with him and also spend some quiet time sitting in a car and catching up on my reading while he was at work on the site.

The site was at Jubilee Hills where all the rich people, which includes politicians, have their million rupee homes. Kumar happened to be providing consultancy to a politician. When he asked me if I wanted to take a look at the house of the politician still under construction I did not refuse. It is not very often that one gets to see the insides of houses in places like Jubilee Hills, at least not me. It was a palatial house that was almost complete. There were chandeliers in almost all rooms. Plastic sheets covered every thing in the house.

The marble floor was covered in polythene sheets as were all the furniture like the finely wrought dining table, the beds and other furniture. There was an imported Italian Jacuzzi still in its packing. There were people busy making last minute changes. Another week or so and the house would be ready for occupation. I did not like anything in the house except a small alcove in a bedroom accessible by a wooden staircase. It seemed the perfect place to have a study. But I wonder how and from where do these politicians get so much money to afford imported fittings, teak wood staircases.

Then my friend dropped a bombshell that the politician who had arrived had asked us to accompany him to a Minister’s house for lunch. Even before I could recover from that shock we were off following behind the politician’s convoy snaking our way toward the Minister’s house. Just outside the minister’s house I recovered my wits and told my friend to go ahead and have lunch with the minister. I am not used to sit with ministers and have lunch with them. So I waited outside in the car while Kumar had lunch with the minister since he was not in a position to refuse the offer.

That was how my friendship day went.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A Year of Blogging

It feels great to know that my blog is one year old with two hundred and fifty posts on it. I have had a terrific time blogging and to tell the truth, though it was a bit of a chore sometimes, I enjoyed writing about the books I bought, the pens I write with and other things which I consider worth writing on the blog. I have had some truly amazing experiences blogging here and I will write about it shortly on this post.

Completing a year of blogging with two hundred and fifty posts is the second (third, actually) major writing achievement of this year. The first and second of course, are finishing writing my first novel and typing all four hundred pages of it, and the third and no less important, the two hundred fifty posts on the blog during the one year I had it on. That's something to be proud of.

I had first learnt what blogging was more than six years ago and since then I had it in my mind to begin a blog of my own. For some time I convinced myself that I did not know how to start a blog and run it. For some more time I told myself that I had nothing worth blogging about and that no one would read it even if I started it. So in that manner I kept postponing beginning this blog until one day last year I decided to register on Blogger and here I am. I had the same experience trying to start my novel putting off beginning it for a long time until one day I simply put pen to paper and wrote the first paragraph and wrote on for three years till I finished the book in March this year. The point is that beginning anything is always the hardest and the only place many remain struck for a long time or forever, in some cases. Luckily I took the leap and am glad to say I have landed somewhere safely.

There have been many surprises while blogging. I made a lot of friends and remain in touch with many of them. I have actually met a few of them who turneded out to be some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. I think a blog is the easiest way of making good friends with similar tastes. My blog was featured in a newspaper, it also won a prize in a local magazine which led to a fantastic experience in form of a lavish dinner at a swank hotel. I had two or three VIP visitors to the blog. I sent some books to people who asked for them. In short, I had a great time last year writing this blog.

When I started I had only a handful of visitors but now, a year later, the daily average is around twenty five which is not such a great figure. But I am happy about it. Some posts have attracted scores of visitors like the one I did the day before yesterday (30th July) on Hyderabad Traffic Blues which attracted 48 hits. The highest number of hits was fifty eight on a single day. I am not aiming for thousands of visitors though I would love to have so many visitors daily. I am blogging just for the fun of it. However it isn’t so easy but I have got used to daily posts which I began after I crossed 150 posts. I took a challenge to do a post every day for hundred days so I could have two hundred and fifty posts by the time the blog was a year old. I am glad I could achieve it.

I thank all the regular readers who visit my blog almost every day and read what I have written, whether it is good or not. If it weren’t for them I would not have lasted this long. So, looking towards another year and another two hundred and fifty or more posts. Thank you.

I will be reverting back to my previous schedule of alternate day posts from today. There will be more pictures, more reviews and some really good stuff, I promise.