Monday, September 29, 2008

Daughter's Day Special: All My Daughters

It was in a most unusual way I came to know that I was going to be the father of a son. For some reason I am yet to comprehend, the doctor who performed the scan on my wife told me it was a son my wife was carrying. I guess it was because I told him where I was working that made him reveal the information. He had a grape garden in the place where I was working at that time. I wasn’t prepared for fatherhood so at that time it did not make much of a difference if it was a son or daughter.

The gynaecologist had advised my wife to undergo a routine scan done when she was with child. I had taken her to a diagnostic centre near my house for the scanning. The centre was run by a talkative doctor and we chatted while the visiting radiologist did the scan inside. When I told him where I worked he appeared excited that I was connected to farming. He told me he owned a grape garden in the place where I worked.

After the scan was over, my wife came out and the chatty doctor went inside to speak with the radiologist. After the radiologist left, the doctor leaned over and whispered in my ears that though he wasn’t supposed to reveal it, he told me that I was going to be the father of a son. It didn’t make much difference to me since I wasn’t really prepared for fatherhood.

However, after my son was born, my joy was short lived. The doctors told me he has to undergo a minor operation under general anesthesia. We decided to go ahead with it after considerable hesitation. I felt a saw run through my heart as the nurses took my crying and bleating child from my arms. He was only eight months old then.

An hour later when he was wheeled out of the surgery, bandaged and still under the effect of anesthesia, I was a changed man. I decided not to have another child. It was enough agony for a lifetime.

But I don’t miss not having daughters of my own. I consider daughters of all those I know as my own babies. My brother has two daughters and one of them, born just a day before my own son was born, is more of my own daughter. They are together most of their waking hours. My friend Raj has two adorable daughters. Hari too has a tiny, cute daughter who comes to me easily.

But sometimes I wish I had a daughter of my own but the feeling disappears when I think of all my other daughters.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Festival Blues

One minus point of working in the headquarters in the capital shows up around this time when several festivals loom in the future. There are hordes of underlings like drivers, security people, cleaning staff and people who one usually doesn’t see every day but are around all the time. On normal days they are almost invisible, but around festival time they seem to crawl out of the woodwork. That is because it is Inam time in government offices here in the state.

Most of these underlings don’t bother with me but as a senior officer (I’ve put in fifteen years, and also appear older for my age) I get my share of salutes in the office. But when people who normally don’t even look at you begin saluting you and when those who usually salute you do it with extra eagerness, you know very soon they are going to appear before you.

Groups of these attendants are making the rounds of the rooms of officers clutching papers on which are listed names of all those who have contributed. You are also expected to match the figures in the list and your very reputation depends on it. I had no choice but to shell out even though it is painful to part with so much money at the fag end of the month when the wallet is at its lightest.

In the past few days, though the festivals are a good fortnight away, I had to give away inaams of more than a thousand bucks and I am still counting. It is a tradition so I have no major problems with it. But when one has to shell out twelve hundred bucks in two days just like that it sure is going to affect my sleep for a couple of nights.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A King in a Bookstore

Whenever I come across a book on writing I take it as a sign that my writing needs a lot of improvement, right away. When I find any book on writing I like to think that there is something in the book that I need to learn if I am to write well. Though I have bought scores of such books on writing all that reading doesn’t seem to have done any good to my writing considering the way I am writing. However I really feel I’ll come across that book that will finally show me the way. It is in the hope of finding such books that I picked up this book yesterday.

It was at a second hand book store at Nampally that I found Brenda Ueland’s ‘If You Want to Write’ which I have read about somewhere in another book, which, needless to say, was also on writing. The price penciled on the inside cover was hundred bucks, and wordlessly I handed over the money to the guy because on his card was written- “Customer is king and king never bargains’, which is pretty self-explanatory why I did not bargain. One rarely gets to be called a ‘king’ even if it is in a second hand bookstore.

Brenda Ueland wrote ‘If You Want to Write’ way back in 1938 and incidentally she lived to be more than ninety years. Inside, in the preface, Ueland writes about what Carl Sandburg said about her book, which was: ‘That is the best book ever written on writing.’ Much water has flown down the bridge since then and many books written on writing by famous writers. I rate Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Summing Up’ one of the best books on writing I’ve ever read. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is another favorite book. Elmore Leonard too has written a book on writing though I haven’t come across it here.

Some day I will attempt a review of ‘If You Want to Write.’

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Weekend Haul- A Gift and Two Finds

Sometimes I hesitate to call or describe myself as a writer. I haven’t written anything worth publishing and always suffer from the feeling that there is a long way to go if I have to publish in a good magazine. I always feel that there is a lot I have to learn if I am to write well. It gives me a feeling of inadequacy about my meager talent.

It is this feeling that makes me pick up books on writing in the hope that I will find something in it worth learning, something that would improve my writing. I am always reading something about writing all the time and last week I had started John Gardner’s ‘On Becoming a Novelist’ which has a nice introduction by Raymond Carver who was one of Gardner’s students at Chico State College, California. It was Raymond Carver’s ‘Fires’, a collection of his essays, poems and stories that I found this Sunday at Abids.

Of the four essays in ‘Fires’, one of them is the essay that forms the introduction to Gardner’s book. Three of the essays are on writing of which I can never have enough, and one is about his father. I already read the main essay – ‘Fires’ sitting in an Irani restaurant- Light of Asia- at Abids. ‘Fires’ is all about the influences on Carver’s writing- John Gardner, Gordon Lish and his own kids. I got the book for fifty rupees though it was not in such a good condition.

Another reason why I feel my writing is not up to the mark is because I am not very sure of my grammar. Not long back an editor (a snooty one) told me my grammar was practically non-existent and in fact, rewrote the whole article I had submitted so that it no longer looked like mine. Hence I am always reading up on books that teach grammar. The second book I found at Abids was ‘Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition’, which incidentally, is what Stephen King recommends in his book- ‘On Writing.’

Finally, the gift. On Saturday evening I met a wonderful new friend who presented me Elmore Leonard’s ‘Hombre’ that I was desperately looking for. Thank you, S.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Now I know the reason why our engineers haven’t filled up the potholes and kept them open (and growing) until now. They might have felt like adding another tourist site to the already existing ones in Hyderabad. I got this idea when I read about the PATA meet in Hyderabad. I guess the engineers wanted to show the tourists the depths we can reach to keep up the reputation of Hyderabad high.

The potholes so lovingly cultivated by the engineers have ensured that on one who attended the PATA ever returns to the city again. If they had seen more of the potholed roads they’d never even think of Hyderabad, forget about visiting or asking others to visit. I think that with the kind of potholes the engineers managed to create not just the delegates who attended the PATA meet, no one from their country would ever want to step into Hyderabad.

So that is how the engineers have managed to do their bit for the tourism scene in the state. But for once I am on the side of the engineers on this issue. As if it isn’t enough craziness driving on the road, what with enormous potholes on one side and totally brainless drivers on the other side, we’ll now have tourists to deal with. That’s one more thing for us to gawk as if we don’t have enough to gawk at- from hoardings to people traveling in autorickshaws. When we see tourists (even those from Africa) we gawk at them like they’re from outer space.

We Hyderabadis will never change.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sea of Poppies- A Sort of Review

Perhaps for the first time in my life I managed to read a book that eventually made it to the short list of a famous literary prize. Last week when the short list of this year’s Booker prize was announced I wasn’t surprised to find Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of Poppies’ in it. It’s the first time I had read a book from such a list. Otherwise I would scamper to find the books after the list was announced.

Since I haven’t read the other books in the Booker short list I really cannot say if SOP has a chance of winning the Booker, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Amitav Ghosh wins it.

Though I finished reading the book more than a fortnight ago almost all the characters are still alive in my mind- Deeti, Kalua, Neel, Jodu, Zikri Malum, Serang Ali and others. The story is fresh in my mind and I guess one thing that puts a good book apart from others is for how long the story or the characters stay in your memory. The first of a trilogy, ‘Sea of Poppies’ gives the back ground of the cast of people who will eventually land up in Mauritius as indentured labor. It is a fine introduction to the personal histories of all those getting into the boat- Ibis- that makes it way towards Mauritius.

The book ends up at an intriguing point and makes the reader want to know what happens next. One has to wait for the second book of the trilogy to know more. I hope the second book of the trilogy comes out soon. I too am waiting to know what happens to Kalua who kills a person aboard the ship. It is a perfectly written book with wonderful descriptions of characters and events. The character I am most interested in knowing the fate of is Neel, the Zamindar who is convicted of forgery.

But I wonder if anyone noticed this typo I found in Chapter 5 on page 90:

'Like the great medieval forts that overlooked the Ganga, the factory was so situated as to h ave easy access to the river while being high enough to escape seasonal foods.'

I guess it should have been 'floods' instead of what is printed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Recent Haul

One often picks up a good book from the cover. The few times I picked up books whose covers seemed to exert some kind of a pull, they turned out to be quite good books. I picked up such a book last week. Sometime last year I had noticed a book at Abids that no one seemed to be interested in buying. I saw it on the rack with the book seller for almost two months waiting for someone to pick it up. Finally I gave in and purchased the book myself. It was Robert McCrum’s ‘My Year Off’. I had no idea who Robert McCrum was until I read on the back cover flap that he was the literary editor of “Observer’, and author of nearly half a dozen books. It was a paperback copy and I got it for less than fifty rupees. ‘My Year Off’ is an account of McCrum’s recovery from a stroke that left him half paralysed and out of a job.

A few weeks after I bought the book, I read it. McCrum describes his stroke, the devastation it caused in his life (he had been married only two months before the stroke) and how he recovered from it. It is a very honest and searing account of a person’s suffering from a condition that even doctors are unaware of its exact causes. I found the book very engrossing and remember reading it non-stop. Later I read somewhere that McCrum had brought out a book on PG Wodehouse. This Saturday I came across ‘My Year Off’ book again at a second hand bookstore in Secunderabad. But it was a hardcover First Edition I found and bought it for only fifty bucks. So, that was the first of the week’s haul.

Yesterday I happened to wander into another bookstore near my office.
Since I hadn’t been to Abids on Sunday I felt restless and hence the decision to go to the second hand bookstore. I came across Haruki Murakami’s ‘Hardboiled Wonderland End of the World.’ I had read his ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ and was blown away by his style. Since it was a store, the guys charge more than they do on the pavements on Sundays. It was a book I did not want to miss so I reluctantly paid the money and walked out, happy though lighter in the wallet by a hundred rupees.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

90% Euphoria, 10% Disappointment, Regret etc

Every month, the general feeling on reading the 'Literary Review' in 'The Hindu' is that of a certain euphoria of having read something really good about books and literature. But there's also a sense of disappointment and regret. Disappointment that there is only so much to read about literature. The regret of not having read some of the books and writers featured in it. Of late, another feeling has begun to manifest- a feeling of regret that I have not yet finished writing my book, a bit of envy at all the young writers who are making a big splash.

But this time there was another reason to deeply regret something else. At the back of the supplement was the 'Endpaper' column by Pradeep Sebastian where this month he writes about Alberto Manguel and his books. I had read about Alberto Manguel's 'A History of Reading' several times but when I came across it at a sale sometime last year I did not pick it up. Now, reading Sebastian extol the book I realize how dumb and also stupid I had been not to have bought the book. One reason was that the books's price was Rs. 350 but now I realize it is priceless. I had also come across his other book -' Into the Looking Glass Wood' which too I did not buy. This is the sort of regret that makes me feel like kicking myself.

The only hope is that I might come across these books again. No one had picked up 'A History of Reading' as long as long as the sale lasted. I am confident I will come across it again just as I found EM Forster's 'Aspects of the Novel' last Sunday. It was a book I had missed buying a couple of years ago. The only thing I have to do is to keep my eyes peeled open when in second hand bookstores, second hand book sales and also have enough in the wallet to pick up any book without too much agonising over the steep prices.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Review of the Movie 'Ashta Chemma'

Movies don’t hold as much attraction to me as obviously, books do. I can spend hours reading a book, lost in it but the three odd hours that it takes to watch a movie sometimes turn out to be too long for me. However, last Sunday, I did not feel the time pass so quickly when I watched the movie- ‘Ashta Chemma’ which is a laugh-a-minute riot. ‘Ashta Chemma’ is produced by Rammohan who is brother of my friend Harimohan.

I rarely watch Telugu movies because of obvious reasons- they are loud, sometimes vulgar, and too melodramatic for my taste. The plots are as outlandish as the hero’s costumes in most of Telugu movies. The ‘hero’ hogs the camera because he is the one who gets to mouth almost all the dialogues, gets to sing the songs, dance, fight and do everything else except buy the ticket for you. But Ashta Chemma is unlike any Telugu I’ve seen because it is the heroine (?) who gets equal attention. In fact, to be honest I enjoyed all the scenes which had the bubbly actress, Swati, present in them.

Swati plays the role of Lavanya, an airhead of a girl obsessed with the Telugu hero ‘Mahesh Babu’ and goes ballistic when he gets married in real life. She had dreamt of marrying only him but later agrees (albeit, reluctantly in a sweet way) to marry only someone with the same name as her ‘idol’- Mahesh. That is the basic premise of the story.

A tall and lanky young neighbor ( and also friend) of hers, Anand, fed up with listening to the songs from Mahesh Babu films that Lavanya plays all day, decides to hunt for guys named Mahesh. The rest of the film is about how he finds ‘Mahesh’ alias ‘Ram Babu’ of distant Lakkavaram in a pub in Hyderabad, and how Lavanya falls in love with him, and finally ends up as his bride after many hilarious twists and turns. In the process, Anand too finds himself a bride who is none other than the sister of Mahesh/Ram Babu.

‘Ashta Chemma’, directed by Indraganti Mohan Krishna, is a rollicking comedy with funny one liners flying fast as bullets from the word go. Tanikella Bharani also plays the role of a lover boy priest with superb comic timing. The hero, Nani and Lavanya's friend played by Avasarala are absolutely natural actors considering they are almost fresh and new actors. The rest of the cast is also convincing. The music is also good and the pub song is the best and right now playing in my mind since last week.

But it is Swati who steals the film with her superb portrayal of an impish but cute and innocent girl, the sort any guy would fall for and feel protective about. I loved the scene in which she enacts how the names Mahesh and Ram Babu sound. Her expressions in those funny scenes are worth watching.

‘Ashta Chemma’ is a movie worth watching even twice. Once with family. Once with friends. Or maybe once for Swati and once for the others!!

I hope we get to see more such good films by Art Beat and Indraganti Mohan Krishna in the future.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Sunday Haul- Four Books and a Magazine

For some time now I have been compiling a list of my ‘Most Wanted’ books which includes Paul Theroux’s ‘Fresh Air Fiend’, Marquez’s ‘Living to Tell the Tale’ and so on. One of the books in that list was E.M.Forster’s ‘Aspects of the Novel’ that I had missed buying a couple of years ago. This Sunday I got it and how! A friend had accompanied me and he spotted the book long before I could and I got the first surprise of the day when he offered to buy it for me. I felt doubly lucky- finding a book in my ‘Most Wanted’ list and then, having someone pay for it!

A little before finding the book I had found the July 2008 issue of ‘Conde Nast Traveler’ which I got for only ten rupees whereas the various stickers on the cover had rates like $12.40 (Pansing) and $ 11.59 (TimesNewsLink). The bonus was that the magazine had an article on Lakshwadeep islands by someone called Shoba Narayan. It was a well written piece with nice photographs. When I was in the Andamans I had resolved to visit Lakshwadeep as soon as I could. But with the sort of pay I get as a government employee I cannot dream of such trips.

The next find was Peter Mayle’s ‘Hotel Pastis’ in a heap of books selling for twenty rupees. I had been seeing copies of this book for quite sometime now but this Sunday I picked the almost new, hardcover, first American Edition copy that I got for twenty rupees. What is surprising is that it is almost brand new and I wonder how it got here. It is quoted as a ‘Novel of Provence’, of escape, romance and adventure, things missing in my life! Elsewhere, I had seen several copies of Mayle’s two other celebrated books- ‘A Year in Provence’ and ‘Tojours Provence.’

Another lucky find was a book by the author of ‘Snow Leopard’- Peter Matthiessen, one of my favorites. Yesterday I found his ‘The Cloud Forest’ for only ten rupees. It was a small book of his trip from the Amazon to Tierra del Fuego in South America. In fact the sub-title of the book was- A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness. I was happy to find it, and almost at the same time, my friend found another copy of ‘Aspects of the Novel’ for almost half the price that he paid for the first copy that he gave to me. It turned out to be an interesting coincidence.

The last book I picked up was Spike Milligan’s ‘Goodbye Soldier.’ I was pleasantly surprised that the book was enclosed in a plastic book jacket and I paid only ten rupees for the book. The jacket alone would have been worth ten rupees and the book seemed to have come all the way to the pavements of Abids in Hyderabad from a library in West Sussex. I read inside that Milligan was born in India at Ahmednagar. The book was the sixth in a series of his war memoirs. I have never before read Spike Milligan and had come across another book of his- ‘Puckoon’ but had not picked it up. If ‘Goodbye Soldier’ is okay then maybe I will pick it up.

On the whole I bought more books than I planned and it was a really fine haul after a long time. It was almost a two Sundays haul, and coincidentally next Sunday there is the Ganesh Immersion in Hyderabad and the booksellers won’t put up their wares.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Fountain Pen Disaster

Just when I was thinking that it had been a long time since I did a post on fountain pens, than something happened that made me the opportunity to write this post. I hadn’t bought a new fountain pen (though I would love to) or lost a fountain pen but I had the first fountain pen disaster of my life involving a major ink spill.

I had been writing with a fountain pen since nearly two decades and had never been had any serious accidents involving them. The most that happened was a broken nib when the pen slipped out of hand. But, the other day I had quite a serious accident/mishap that is not uncommon to those who use fountain pens daily. The mishap resulted in a ruined shirt.

I was attending a boring meeting, sitting out of sight in a corner and scribbling away in my notebook the draft of the post I had planned to do on waiting for the weekend papers. I was busy writing and did not hear my name being called. I rose abruptly; pen in hand, to answer one of my bosses. Then I sat down and absent mindedly put back the fountain pen in my shirt pocket.

I noticed that a few people across the table were beginning to stare at my shirt. I felt embarrassed and wondered if I had worn a shirt without a few buttons. I looked down and saw a blue stain that was fast spreading just under the pocket. I took out the pen hurriedly but it was too late; the stain achieved the size of a small football. That is one good shirt ruined because I had forgotten to put back the cap on the nib.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Waiting for the Weekend

Of late, apart from Sundays, Saturdays are also the days I’ve begun to look forward to, quite eagerly in fact. Not that I do any hair raising stuff on weekends but a couple of months ago, ‘The Hindu’ started issue its Metro Plus supplements in an interesting tabloid form on Saturdays, calling it ‘Metro Plus Weekend.’ I was hooked to it from its first issue onwards. Since then the Saturday mornings have become something to wait for anxiously. If one loves reading papers then I guess others with similar inclinations can understand it. Of course, the Sunday papers are something else. Every one waits for them.

On Saturdays the ‘Metro Plus Weekend’ has a picture of a celebrity, usually a Hyderabad based one, on the cover. I’ve found that, so far, more number of women celebrities featured on the cover than men. Anyway, inside the supplement there is the interview with the same celebrity and a host of other features that make it an interesting Saturday morning read that gives the weekend a real holiday touch.

But of course, it is Sunday, especially the first Sunday of the month I am dying to hold the papers in my hand. ‘The Literary Review’ supplement is issued in ‘The Hindu’ on the first Sunday of the month and hence the almost fatal anxiety to read it. It is one supplement no one who loves to read books can afford not to read. I feel terribly glad to read the fine articles, reviews and trivia in it, but last month there was something in it that was quite disappointing. In fact it is something that was not in it that caused the disappointment.

Last month’s “Literary Review’ was something like a translation special with articles on the translations in various Indian languages. There were articles on translations in Bengali, Marathi, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam and even Oriya literature but not one about translations of Telugu works. Though Telugu is not my mother tongue but having been born and brought up in the land of Telugus I’ve come to love the language. Hence the disappointment at the glaring omission. There are classics in Telugu that are unrivalled both in content and style. I also admit that I do not read Telugu works except for the newspapers occasionally but that does not preclude me from feeling disappointed.

But what surprises me is that there isn’t a murmur of protest from any quarter that Telugu translations were completely ignored in The Hindu’s Literary Review. I wonder if any of the Telugu authors and translators read it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dial 'H" for Haleem

Except for tea I do not prefer going to a hotel alone. Food tastes better when shared with friends and family. Also, I cannot finish an entire dish of anything save stuff like idli, dosa etc, alone. So, having no friends to share the season’s first Haleem I decided to take home some to share with my kid. I thought of picking up a Haleem pack at Bahar restaurant at Hyderguda on the way home.

It was as I expected. The place was milling with people ready to drool as they stood waiting for the Haleem to be dished out at the parcel counter. The service was quite fast and the order was met in seconds. However, I had to wait for a while because the gentleman before me had ordered ten packs of Haleem shelling out four hundred and fifty rupees. A 300 gm pack was forty five rupees at Bahar. I picked up the packet and was on my way. All along the way home I noticed the Irani hotels had decked up their Haleem counters with bright lights and banners. I saw Niagara at Old MLA Quarters had a haleem counter, so did Majestic, Kabab Inn at Himayat Nagar, Bawarchi, Astoria and another place nearer home, Light of Asia.

The Haleem from Bahar was wonderful without being too spicy. It was like a soft, smooth paste smelling heavenly and tasting even better. There were a few pieces of bone but more than a quarter of it was tender meat. I couldn’t make out any of the other ingredients but it didn’t matter because the taste was what mattered. Full marks to the Haleem of Bahar Restaurant. I will taste from other places next week. This time I will catch hold of a friend to share it with.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Sunday Haul- A Mag and a Book

In the twenty five years of my book hunting at Abids I have never been as surprised as I was this Sunday. A couple of weeks back I had found an imported magazine (Outside) of the current month- August 2008. I had thought it was the ultimate but this Sunday I found the September 2008 issue of ‘Arena’ magazine. It wasn’t even September yesterday, the 31st of August which means we were still in August. But the more-than-latest issue of Arena had already made its way to Abids.

It is always a wonder to me how these guys manage to lay their hands on such magazines. I had no alternative but to pick up the magazine . I paid thirty rupees for it because the guy used a special tactic on me. He knew I was a regular and that I don’t much bargain for anything. So when I picked up the magazine I asked him how much he was asking for the magazine. He said,’ What should I tell you? You are a regular here. Pay whatever you want though I’d quote fifty rupees for others.’ Thus he cleverly put me in a position where I could neither put back the magazine nor pay him less than what the magazine was really worth on the pavement. I wouldn’t have paid him more than twenty rupees for it but I shelled out an extra ten rupees. These guys can be very, very clever.

The second find of the day was Mukul Kesavan’s ‘Secular Common Sense’ which was a slim book of essays that put me back by twenty rupees. I was intrigued by another title on the back cover- The Necessity of Corruption by Shiv Vishvanathan. Unfortunately, being a government employee myself, I am a reluctant witness to this phenomenon at close quarters almost on a daily basis, and have an idea why it happens. But the book was presenting a totally different angle to it though I can understand (but not accept) why some people think corruption in necessary. I have to be on the lookout for this book now to know more about it.