Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another Gift of a Fountain Pen

I wonder why but since about six or more months my luck seemed to be getting better and better- I am traveling more often, finding good books frequently and also being presented with fountain pens more often than expected. Last week once again, someone gifted me a beautiful fountain pen which took me to cloud nine straightaway the moment I laid my eyes on it. This was the second fountain pen I got as a gift in less than a month. There are still about eight months left for the year to end…

It wasn’t a friend who gifted the pen but an acquaintance who drops in on me at my office often. He knows about my craze for fountain pens so last week he gave me quite a surprise taking out the beautiful fountain pen from its plastic box. It was a bit ornate for my taste but it was too beautiful to refuse. Actually I wanted to refuse it since he has official work with me at the office and I could be accused of taking a bribe. He told me it was a personal gift so I took it but told him it was the last gift I would accept from him. Anyway, it wouldn’t have cost more than a few hundred rupees so it was alright.

But it was really beautiful to look at and wonderful to hold in the hand. It was heavy, just the way I want my pens to be. With a heavy enough fountain pen the handwriting comes out well, at least mine does. It had a plunger type of filling mechanism which takes in little ink which I don’t prefer. I prefer pens with barrel fill mechanism because I write a lot everyday and don’t like to fill ink too often. But then, one shouldn’t look at a gift horse (or even a pen) in the mouth.

Pics of the pens are by my friend Uma Shankar Sastry who is a photographer, painter as well as an excellent writer. Thanks, Uma Shankar

Monday, April 27, 2009

Trip No. 10- On a Burning Train

I’m making many trips alright but there isn’t even a whiff of adventure in any of them. Last week I was on a trip to Warangal which could have been a major adventure but it fizzled out even before it began. I could have been on a real burning train though it turned out to be all smoke and no fire.

They say there is no smoke without fire but in our case it was only smoke. On yet another trip, this time to Warangal I caught an early morning train with another officer who was accompanying me. We got into the Intercity Express and were seated in a compartment that was like a bus with over hundred seats in it. Just when the train was about ten or fifteen minutes away from Kazipet our adventure began. It was exactly at Station Ghanpur railway station when I was blasted out of the kind of lassitude one gets on a boring train journey. We were sitting just one row of seats away from the doors. Suddenly someone barged in from the adjacent coach and began shouting, ‘Get Down! The train is on fire!’

It took some time for me to realize what he was shouting. By then half the people in the coach had scrambled to their feet and were rushing to the door. The train stopped. I collected my bag and jumped out of the door on the stones beside the tracks. In half a minute or so the train was emptied. Women and kids struggled to get down the steep steps as the train had stopped in the middle of the station. Others helped them get down. It was a panic situation except that there was nothing to panic about. There was no fire, not even smoke. Every one stood looking this way and that way at the train wondering where the fire was.

It was a false alarm. After half hour the train started again and then someone said that one of the bogies was filled with smoke and every one thought the train had caught fire. It turns out something was wrong with the brakes, the smoke was a result of some friction. It was a great disappointment. I had my camera out to capture the scenes of a burning train. It could have been quite a scoop if it had happened but fortunately it didn’t. It appears someone broke her arm jumping out of the train in panic. There was fear on the faces of some families. Some did not get into the train again and preferred to stay back.

Though I had missed the fire on the train it was no less an oven at Warangal with the temperatures reaching forty two degrees on both the days I was there. Add to it we had to inspect several dark and cavernous godowns in an industrial area where seeds were stored in gunny bags. The godowns have asbestos sheet roofs which made the insides hot as a furnace. Each bag had to be counted and we did it with sweat pouring down our faces. At first it looked impossible to count all the bags but it turns out they have a system of stacking the bags called a ‘net.’ Once the stacking pattern is mastered it becomes very easy to count the bags in a given area. I learnt it quite quickly and so was able to count thousands of bags in a matter of hours. That was one thing I learnt during my visit to Warangal. The other thing I learnt was that Warangal was no place to go in the summer.

Next Post on WEDNESDAY; Another Gift of a ...

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Sunday Haul- My Turn

When one is passionate about something then nothing can stop one from indulging in the passion. Nothing can deter them, not sun, not rain or illness. Even if it is hot enough outside to melt tar I do not like to miss an opportunity to seek what I am most passionate about- books. Last Sunday it was hot as hell when I reached Abids at eleven. Even a cap couldn’t keep out the heat but I browsed for over two hours and in the end it was worth the trip for I returned with a book, even if it was just one book that I found.

John O’ Hara’s a familiar name for me though I haven’t read any book by him. I might have read a couple of short stories that he has written but not a full length book. He seems to have written quite a number of books that have sold well. I found a book of his columns last Sunday at Abids. The book is titled ‘My Turn’ published in the late sixties, around the time I was born.

John O' Hara was a veteran journalist and hence many of the articles in the book deal with politics and administration. The articles are some of the best ones that have been published during, I guess, 1965. Some of them are delightful personal essays on topics as diverse as why he will continue to smoke no matter what to the pervasiveness of TV, Thornton Wilder and Gore Vidal but most of them are on politics and the goings on in Hollywood and the television industry. The articles are full of biting wit and most of them are quite enjoyable.

John O' Hara, with over forty years of journalistic experience has a keen, observant mind, and quite a turn of phrase. Some of the arresting lines I could find while flipping through the book are:

‘One explanation for the fact that a husband and wife who have been married a long time begin to look alike is that they eat the same food.’

‘Accidental tactlessness is one of the marks of the amateur.’

‘My Turn’ is a slim book with not more than thirty pieces in it. I got the book for only ten rupees. I plan to dip into it now and then between reading other stuff.

Next Post on MONDAY: Trip No. 10

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Back Safe from Election Duty

One of the biggest events in the country is the General Elections which involves massive coordination and lakhs of people to conduct it. For the outsiders it might seem as a smooth enough job after the elections are over but for those who conduct it the job is nothing less than a daylight nightmare. The ones who are responsible for its smooth (or not) conduct are the government employees like yours truly.

One job (or responsibility) that most government staffers are reluctant to perform is election duty. It is so because election duty is mentally and physically stressful not to mention risky. However, once you are drafted for election duty it is next to impossible to dodge it unless you have the ability to pull strings. Having no such ability I had to report for election duty last Wednesday at Masab Tank where we had to collect the election material and go to the polling station allotted. My heart sank when I learnt that I was given a polling station deep inside the heart of the Old City, in a notorious area. I was posted in a place called Talabkatta, right beside Bhavaninagar where even hardened cops dread to enter when there are disturbances in the city. The only saving grace was that it was a polling station exclusively for women voters and there were only less than eight hundred voters in all.

The ordinary voter does not know how difficult it is for the people who conduct the election. There are a million things that need to be done if every thing has to go right. On Wednesday morning I reached the distribution center along with a bag with stuff for an overnight stay at the polling station. One by one the rest of my team trickled in. Three of them were women and all of them were teachers. The other two were men- one was a young, tall Income Tax Inspector and another was from the Defence Accounts department. In all, I was leading a team of five people and on my team rested the responsibility of two Electronic Voting Machines and a million forms that we have to fill and submit after the voting is over. It took us three hours for us to check everything we were given right down to a sheet of pins. Soon it was time for lunch but there was disappointment in store.

The arrangements were chaotic and most of us did not get lunch. Some of us had to literally beg to be given a packet of food. Disgusted, I went along with the Defence guy to er…Hyderabad House which was close to the distribution center. The other choice was Hotel Golkonda but we did not have enough money on us. However, I had no time to check out the quality of the food because I was too hungry as it was three in the afternoon. In the hotel was a burly guy dressed in pure white, a politician whom I would be encountering next day. After lunch, we were herded into city buses accompanied by cops armed to the teeth in separate vehicles. Actually, men from the bomb squad checked our bags before allowing us into the building in the morning.

Late in the evening we reached the polling station which was actually a school building. It was a private school and housed four polling stations in just three rooms on the first floor. My polling station was even worse. I had to share a single room with another polling station separated by a cloth partition. We got down to work sorting out the material, sticking the mandatory notices, arranging the furniture which was nothing but benches. The floor was pock marked with holes and there were no windows except one beside the door. It was hot and stuffy in the room. The rest of my team left except the Defence guy leaving me with the EVMs and other material. As a Presiding Officer I was responsible for the safety of the material so there was no way I could leave them.

We came to the Yakutpura railway station where we had tea. For dinner we had to go to Santoshnagar. At night I put together three wooden benches and slept on it with my rolled up jeans and a towel for a pillow. I was glad there was a ceiling fan though it rotated slowly. On the walls were drawings of vegetables (Ladies ‘Fingure’), fruits and animals (horse was spelt as ‘hourse’. This, in a school!) Needless to say I couldn’t sleep in that stuffy room. The other guy went up on the terrace but I had no choice because as Presiding Officer I was responsible for the material.

Finally, I woke up at five on Election Day and got ready after a bath under a tap in the open courtyard of the school. The rest of my team arrived one by one. There was nervousness and anxiety as voting hour inched closer. We were in a tizzy as the polling agents had not arrived even by six thirty as we had to conduct a mock poll before them. Mine was a women’s polling station and already a lengthy queue had formed. Somehow we quickly conducted the mock poll before the three polling agents, sealed the machines and started the poll a little after seven. From then there was no respite for us until three in the afternoon when there was a slight lull in the voting. I had a grueling time standing on my feet for nine hours non-stop guiding the voters as well as my team.

The women assistants in my team had promised to get food for all of us and it was really sweet of them to bring dosas, bread and jam for breakfast which I had standing up. The voting went on briskly as the women voters were quite eager and enthusiastic in casting their votes. The EVMs were a novelty but most of them, even the educated ones, did not know how to operate it. I had to explain to each and every voter how to do it. It became hotter inside as the day dragged on. Sweat poured down my face, my clothes clung to my back and I longed for a cool jug of water.

Come lunch time and my women assistants took out steel tiffin boxes containing fried rice and also curd rice. At least we did not go hungry. All the hotels were closed it seems and we were saved by the women team members.

I had a tough time as there were frequent visitors asking for a million things. There were people from Election Watch appearing self-important. I had my hands full with the voters, my team members asking me for clarifications, other official visitors and here they were, Election Watch, asking questions. I very nearly sent them out for not carrying passes with them. Then came an important visitor, one of the candidates- a pahelwan. It was the same guy I had seen at Hyderabad House the day before. He too wasn’t wearing his ID card and pass but he smiled away when I pointed it out. He shook hands with all the team members and left. I had a grueling time on Thursday and when it was four I thanked my stars the polling had gone smoothly. For the next three hours we worked sealing the machines, filling up the forms and other details. At seven or so the bus arrived to take us back to the same place where we had collected the material the day before.

It was the same chaotic scene with everyone rushing to hand over the election material and go home. There were heated scenes and one polling staff was shouting at the people collecting the stuff for the delay. I had seen such scenes in the past too but I was surprised that in the city where I expected better arrangements, it was the same. GHMC which looked after the arrangements failed here too. Finally, at about half past nine, hungry and exhausted I thanked all my team members and was back home. I was glad I played a small but significant role in making the wheels of democracy run smoothly yet another time.

Next Post on Friday- The Sunday Haul

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another Haul at the Book Sale

There are a couple of types of books I buy without batting an eyelid. One type is books by my favorites- Dave Barry, Elmore Leonard, Pico Iyer, etc., and the other is books on writing. If ever I had to choose between these two types I’ll have a hell of a time picking the ones I really want to read. However, for some reason books on writing are rare to find so whenever I spot one I don’t leave the store without buying it whatever the cost.

Sometime last week I had been on a second visit to the Best Book Centre sale at YMCA and I found two books on writing which I picked up without a second thought. Funnily enough, one of the books was on my list of books to look out for. However, they didn’t come cheap. I had to shell out nearly three hundred bucks for the two books one of which was a hardcover edition.

The first book on writing I spotted was ‘Techniques in Fiction’ by Robie Macauley and George Lanning and the other was George Plimpton’s ‘The Writer’s Chapbook’ which is a delightful collection of advice, tips, and musings on and about the writing craft by several well known writers. These have been culled from the popular series ‘Writer’s at Work’ which feature interviews with famous writers. I have two such books and finding ‘The Writer’s Chapbook’ was an additional delight.

About ‘Techniques in Fiction’ the Boston Globe has this to say (on the blurb): ‘Technique in Fiction is the Strunk and White of the fiction writer’s craft.’ Sometime soon I will find out if it is true. The book mentions two other classic books on technique- E M Foster’s ‘Aspects of the Novel’ (which I have) and Percy Lubbock’s ‘The Craft of Fiction’ which Jai has and I am thinking of asking him to lend it to me.

Next Post on Wednesday: On Election Duty and Back Safe

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Night in the Company of a Skeleton

By the time this appears on the blog I would have returned from election duty, hopefully, in one piece

Not that I’m unhappy with my height and my weight but there are occasions when I wish I had been a bit taller, a bit heavier and a bit resolute, almost like a cop. One such occasion looms ahead- polling day. When I got the election orders from Jubilee Hills Constituency I was happy I would be doing polling work in a posh area. But I was so terribly wrong, like in a lot of things. It turns out I am being sent to a place that every one I talked to says is one of the toughest places to do election duty- the Old City!. I have been posted to Yakutpura!

There’s nothing to be worried about the Old City, just that come election time it takes on an entirely different hue. There’s a lot of tension in the air. This time, there’s so much tension in the air one can actually see it. So, it is in such a tense time, in a tense area I am going to conduct the elections. God help me.

The last time I was on election duty was exactly ten years ago. I was working in a place on the outskirts of Hyderabad and got posted to another place hardly twenty kilometers from the city for election duty. I had the sort of experience not many on election duty would have had. I was the Presiding Officer for a polling booth located in a government school in a small village called Aliabad. We reached there by evening and got busy arranging our material. I did not notice the hall where the polling station was situated as I was busy signing the ballot papers and arranging things. The others with me said they’d sleep in another room and went away giving me strange looks when I said I’d sleep in the polling station itself. Since I was responsible for the ballot boxes and other material I decided to sleep in the polling station.

Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up and got the fright of my life. I almost jumped out of my skin at finding a skeleton, a big, white one, hanging in a corner. I closed my eyes tightly and tried not to open them. Hoping I was in a bad dream I opened my eyes a fraction. But I saw the skeleton at the same place, the skull pointed in my direction. There was no way I could get out of the room so I decided to stay put and face whatever the skeleton had in mind for me. I joked telling myself that the skeleton must have been one of the election observers.

In the morning I was relieved to find that the room I had slept in was the school’s science laboratory. Among other laboratory equipment was the skeleton I had seen in the night. It was hanging by a hook from the ceiling hence the reason why it appeared to float in the air. That was how I spent a night in the company of a skeleton.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Morning Calm and the Abids Haul

Morning Calm

It was that time of the month again when the need for a bit of solitude becomes overwhelming. I had to clear up the mind of all worries so last Sunday I set out for the Necklace Road early in the morning. I was up too early and I guess I must be the only guy (in the government, anyway) who gets up earlier than the usual time on holidays. Anyway, it was cool enough but the roads were not as empty as I had expected. The traffic was already bustling by the time I hit the road. I had planned to spend about an hour at Necklace Road soaking in the morning’s calm watching the sunrise and later spend another hour in Adarsh reading the Sunday papers. I had in mind a peaceful time at Necklace Road. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be so.

Actually, the whole of Sunday people seemed bent on disturbing my peace for some reason. At Necklace Road I watched the sun rise and was just beginning to feel good as a peaceful calmness descended on me. Just when I began to tell myself what a good thing these early morning visits were turning out to be, there burst upon the scene The Gentleman with a Radio in his hand. I don’t really understand these guys who go around with a radio on full blast in their hands as if there were no other being on earth. If it was a young feller I wouldn’t have minded but he was a middle aged person, wearing a red tee shirt, tracks and sports shoes. I thought after a while he would move on and leave me in peace. But no, he stopped at the very place where I was sitting on the cement bench. He put the radio at the bottom of the railing and proceeded to do something astonishing right before me.

He began to exercise to the music, Jane Fonda style. I wouldn’t have minded if it was some fast number he was exercising to but it was a tragic song that was coming out of the radio. It wasn’t just any other tragic song, it was such a tragic Telugu song, a dirge actually, sung by someone in so mournful a voice I wouldn’t have been in the least surprised if the guy exercising suddenly jumped into the lake and ended his life. It was the first time in my life I was witnessing someone actually exercise to such depressing music. But I couldn’t bear the noise any longer. The song shattered the silence of the morning and also my peace of mind. I got up and looked for another place to sit. However, it wasn’t the same anymore so I left to begin Stage Two of the Sunday morning.

Hardly had I settled at a table in Adarsh and begun to read the papers that cigarette smoke began to waft towards me. Now, there is nothing I detest more than a person who smokes anywhere as if it is his birthright. This guy before me, with his back to me was smoking away merrily. The smell was awful so I told the waiter to ask the smoker to snuff it out. When the waiter told him, the smoker turned around and glared at me. I told him to buzz off and smoke outside. But he did not move and continued to glare at me. He was a short, dark fellow somewhere in his mid-fifties. He was some kind of a security guard judging by his khaki dress. He looked at me like he would have picked up an argument with me if it wasn’t an English paper that I was reading. Once again I wished I were a cop because I would have hurled that shortie out of the hotel if I were one.

I realized he wasn’t going to snuff out the offending cigarette. Rather than get worked up over it I decided to mind my own business and continued to read the paper. But he seemed very upset about it since he continued to turn around and glare at me now and then. I ignored him, not exactly wishing to pick an argument so early in the morning and further spoil my already spoilt mood. Some days things don’t always go right, I thought.

The Sunday Haul

Later in the day, at Abids I was disappointed that a book I had seen last week was gone. I had thought of picking it up this week. I couldn’t find any new book worth picking up for a long time until I came across a title that grabbed my attention. Now, there are a couple of things I cannot get the hang of no matter how much I try. Mathematics is one and economics is another subject I simply cannot comprehend. There’s a lot about mathematics and what it did to my life that I can write but I leave it for another time. Economics is dull as ditch water but when I came across the blurbs on this book that I saw I was tempted to pick it up.

‘Brilliant,’ ‘Non-stop fun’ were the blurbs on the cover of ‘Freakonomics’ I found on the pavements at Abids. I picked it up and saw that it was a brand new book and the sticker on the label at the back said ‘Rs 265-50’ which wasn’t surprising since it was a Penguin imprint. I got the book for only thirty bucks which seems very reasonable for the 242 page book that I hope to read some day very soon.

Next Post on Friday: A Night in the Company of a Skeleton

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Gift Out of the Blue

One’s passions sometimes lead to strange happenings. This post is about one such strange but wonderful experience that I had a couple of weeks ago. It can be called the kindness of strangers or the generosity of the accomplished. But whatever it is, I experienced something of that sort.

I am not much into cricket. I only watch the occasional game on TV and that’s it. However, I know the names of some popular Indian players and know just enough to understand who does what- bowling or batting. Once, I had the kind of experience many cricket fans would have given their right hands for. A long time back I was flying home from Tirupati with my parents. It was my first ride in a plane and I was excited.

En route to Hyderabad, the plane landed at Vijayawada. I was surprised to see that almost the entire Indian cricket team got into the plane. They were returning to Hyderabad after playing a match at Vijayawada. I don’t remember the exact year but it was sometime in the eighties. I remember the names of some of the players who were in the plane that day - Ravi Shastry, Vengsarkar, Kiran More, Kirti Azad, Mohinder Amarnath and Maninder Singh. I was wondering what to do about it. I was beside myself with excitement. One of my younger brothers is a cricket freak so I thought I’d collect the autographs of all those players for him.

After the plane landed at Begumpet I managed somehow to get hold of a piece of paper to get their autographs on. I don’t remember where it is now but I had all their signatures at one place. That was the only cricket related highlight in my entire life. However, there is another cricket angle to my life. Hari, who represented the Hyderabad Ranji team and was also part of the team that brought the Ranji Trophy back to the state a long time ago, happens to be a close friend. But it wasn’t cricket that brought us together. It was writing that sparked the friendship. ‘The Men Within’ is his first book that was published two years ago and became a bestseller. Being a popular cricketer it is no surprise that his other friends happen to be players and also commentators. One such friend of his is Rajan Bala.

Some of the few names of people who write (or wrote) for newspapers and magazines that I remember are of GK Reddy, Malini Parthasarathy, Arun Shourie, Harinder Baweja, Raj Chengappa, Anita Pratap, Nirmal Shekar and Rajan Bala. Rajan Bala lives in Bangalore where Hari had been recently sometime last month. One day he (Hari) called me up from Bangalore and told me Rajan Bala had offered me a fountain pen as a gift. I wondered why Rajan Bala would do that since I had never met him before or know him in anyway. And I don’t think he reads this blog. But Hari explained that after he told Rajan Bala that he wasn’t much of a fountain pen freak and had told him about me after Rajan Bala asked him if he knew anyone who fancied fountain pens. Naturally, I was the only friend he knew who was nuts about fountain pens and promptly mentioned it to Rajan Bala who it seems, unhesitatingly gave a beautiful fountain pen to Hari to pass it on to me.

When I got the pen sometime last week I was dumbfounded. It was such a beautiful pen it took my breath away. Needless to say, I was also taken back by the generosity of Rajan Bala. Only someone who is passionate about fountain pens can entrust them to others similarly inclined. That way, being crazy about fountain pens has resulted in a beautiful gift from someone who was only a name for me till date but is a friend now. Next time I’m in Bangalore I am going to look him up.

Thanks, Rajan Bala.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Midweek Haul at a Book Sale

One thing that hadn’t at all happened all of last year was a second hand book sale which had me terribly disappointed. Usually there would be at least two sales of second hand book sales organized by the big names in the trade every year but somehow last year there wasn’t a single one because of various reasons. Best Book Centre and MR Books have such sales regularly where a large number of books are put on sale and from where I usually net some good titles. However the prices are on the higher side but on the whole it is a good haul that I have gathered over the years from such sales. Anyway, after a long gap there is another such sale by Best Book Centre at YMCA Secunderabad.

The day before yesterday I got a pleasant surprise when I read in the papers about a book sale at YMCA. I had not got any hint of it when I was at Abids on Sunday because usually the BB guys give out handbills or tell their regulars about such sales. I checked it out the same evening and returned with a small haul of only two books though there were several titles I would have loved to buy if only I had got a bigger raise. I saw two books by Dave Barry- Dave Barry in Cyberspace and Dave Barry’s Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need. I also saw Elmore Leonard’s ‘Maximum Bob’ that I have. There was a book of short stories by Daphne du Maurier but I did not buy it. There was a wonderful book on travel writing over the years compiled by Eric Newby but I gave it a miss.

Sometime last year I had found Joan Didion’s ‘Run River’ that I am yet to read. At the sale I found another of her book- The White Album, that I got for forty bucks. It is about California, other women writers like Doris Lessing and a lot of interesting stuff written in exquisite prose. I am glad I found this book. Surprisingly, the other book I found was also one such kind of memoir and also about the same place- Big Sur which I read somewhere is in California. The second book I found was Henry Miller’s ‘Big Sur and The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch,’ that I got for ninety five bucks. It is a four hundred plus pages book.

A long time back I had found Henry Miller’s ‘The Books in My Life’ and I was so thrilled that I simply grabbed the book and headed home. Afterwards, I opened the book and got the shock of my life. More than half the pages were missing. I had thought it was a slim book because the seller had bound it in his way so I did not really think it was an incomplete book. I was terribly disappointed because I was looking forward to Miller’s take on the books that have influenced him. I have not opened the book again after realizing it had too many pages missing to make sense of it. By the way, there was Arthur Miller’s ‘Time Bends’, his autobiography, at the sale which I did not buy because it appeared too detailed with too many pages. If it is there when I visit the sale again soon, I might pick it up because - god knows when the next sale would be.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Sunday Haul- No Books But Many Tales

This was a Sunday I was eagerly waiting for several reasons. The last Sunday I was at the election training hence could visit Abids only for a short time late in the afternoon so I did not really feel like I had been to Abids. However I had picked up two good books last Sunday. The Sunday before that I had been to Basar so I missed Abids. Another reason was that it was the first Sunday of the month which meant that ‘The Hindu’ would be issuing ‘Literary Review’ along with the main paper.

The first thing on Sunday was the ‘Literary Review’ which, like last month, was two pages less. It looks like either recession had hit ‘The Hindu’ or they aren’t getting enough stuff to fill the pages, which is unlikely. Or perhaps what with the election fever on, they must have thought books weren’t such an important thing. Whatever it is, I hope they revert to six pages of LR. It just doesn’t feel complete even though only two pages are missing though LR is (or was) only eight pages.

The front page had a sort of interview of Pico Iyer and that was enough to set the tone of the day. Ziya us Salam, who used to review films for the same paper, seems to be an admirer of Pico Iyer for the piece reflected it. In it Pico Iyer says that ‘writers bring the world together’ and that ‘every piece of writing is inadvertent autobiography’ while explaining how he turned to writing from journalism. He talks about how he came to write the books he had written. The only disappointment I felt was reading that Pico Iyer was in India on a short visit and I wasn’t even aware of it.

Later on, at Abids though I reached early enough I couldn’t find anything interesting. Though I did not buy anything I was happy to spend a couple of hours at Abids, browsing. There was a magazine that I saw and felt like picking up- National Geographic Adventure- but did not. Then there was a book that sounded interesting, something about adapting books for movies but the guy quoted too steep a price so I did not take it too. So I returned empty handed from Abids. But there was another thing that brought on more than a tinge of disappointment- the closure of a favorite second hand book shop.

Until last month, MR Books, a seller of second hand books with three or more branches in the city, closed down its branch at Abids. It was very near to my office and there were many afternoons when I would walk down to the store to browse. If I picked up any book from there, I would sit in Bombay Bakery and Restaurant flipping through it while sipping Irani tea. I feel sad that the book store is no more. In its place is coming up, of all things, an eatery! The board I noticed was ‘Bowl O’ China’ which is the Chinese arm of ‘Hyderabad House’ which is one lousy eatery. I’ll tell you why.

Sometime last month I had been to the Hyderabad House branch at Nallakunta for dinner with a friend. It was a new branch and was quite spacious with an impressive list of items available on the menu. Though there were enough tables to seat at least thirty people only one table was occupied by a couple. So with mouth already watering we settled down for dinner. A young waiter appeared before us and told us that only chicken biryani was available and nothing else. Naturally, we were surprised but did not ask us why because we knew why.

Hyderabad House has a central kitchen somewhere in a far away corner of the city from where food is supplied to all its branches which recently have begun sprouting all over the city. We were terriblly disappointment. It wasn’t the first time I was disappointed in HH. The only saving grace was that at least the waiter appeared apologetic enough. We briefly thought of going to their other branch at Himayatnagar but instead we had dinner at a small Chinese eatery- Ryans- that I had read about in ‘Metro Plus’. Someday I am going to write about how it feels like to be the only customers in eateries.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Getting Trained for the Elections and an Embarrassment of Riches

Getting Trained for the Elections

A few things are inevitable in the life of a government servant- transfers, increments, election duty and of course, retirement, said the officer who had trained us last Sunday for the elections. It was the first of the two training classes we would be attending before the actual polling that is on the sixteenth of this month. Since the training orders had said it would start at nine I was there even before it was nine. I needn’t have hurried because the hall wasn’t yet ready. Chairs were being arranged in the community hall at Madhuranagar where the training was to be held. Some of my colleagues had already reached. There was confusion for a long time before someone took the mike and began the proceedings.

In the fifteen years of my service I had participated in nearly half a dozen elections of various kinds from the elections to the Parliament to the local body elections. It wasn’t anything new except that now EVMs were being used. On Sunday at the training some of us did not get the training handbooks as everyone picked up a copy from the heaps kept on a table. The question on everyone’s lips was where would we be posted? Though we were drafted for the Jubilee Hills Assembly constituency we were told we could be sent to any place in the city. I had visions of doing polling duty in the posh Jubilee Hills locality wondering if I could see any celebrity who live in that environs. But my dreams were too premature. We were told we would know only in the next training class (on the eleventh of this month,) where we would be posted. Until then I am keeping my fingers crossed.

An Embarrassment of Riches

Er… this is an embarrassing thing, but since it already has appeared in the papers I guess there is no problem writing about it. But still it sort of makes me guilty, that in this time of recession when people are losing jobs, their pay being cut, we blokes in the government are actually getting a pay hike. The Chief Election Officer in AP gave the green signal for the pay hike it seems so next month our pay packets would be a bit heavier. It isn’t a teeny weeny hike like the one last time but quite a considerable one, nearly ten percent. Not only that we would be getting another hike that was due this month. It was literally raining pay hikes for us government blokes. Add to it the allowance we get for performing the election duty it doesn’t appear such a bad time to be a government employee.

All my pay hikes I see in terms of how many books I can buy with the extra money. But I guess this time I should be thinking of bookshelves rather than about books because the books are overflowing at home. I have to urgently buy a couple of bookshelves to store the hundreds of books I had picked up until now. I am having difficulty locating books at home. There are some books I had picked up ages ago and which I have not yet read just because they are out of sight, lying in cardboard boxes that clutter my home. If I don’t see them I don’t remember them and also don’t read them. So now I am reading the books as soon as I buy them. Next month after the pay hike I plan to buy a book I’ve been thinking of buying since a long time- Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Living to Tell the Tale.’

Friday, April 03, 2009

Another Milestone

I had not really noticed it but a few posts back I crossed the 350 posts mark on the blog. It doesn’t seem such a big achievement but I think it still is something worth celebrating about. Another three months and this blog would be two years old. It had been my original plan to do five hundred posts by the time the blog turns two. But somewhere in the middle I realized producing quick posts isn’t the way to do a blog so I gave up on the plan. Even if I do three posts a week I may not be able to reach the four hundred posts mark. However, I might try going for the goal of four hundred posts in the next four months writing as many posts (good ones) as I can.

Even though I have been at it for more than a year and half it doesn’t fail to amaze me that I am writing this sort of stuff that some people (generous ones) are reading quite regularly. I hardly get twenty hits on the blog daily which isn’t something to boast about but what I can boast is that there are a few people who visit this blog unfailingly. I don’t have any software to know who they are but I know since they themselves have written to tell me. I am naturally grateful to them for sparing a few minutes to read the stuff I am putting up on the blog. I am encouraged by their attention and also by their comments, to improve my writing which no matter how many books on writing I read, doesn’t seem to be getting any better than this.

The biggest bonus of writing a blog isn’t something tangible. It improves one’s chances of finding good friends. I have been extremely lucky to make friends with the sort of people I normally wouldn’t come across in my bureaucratic life. Some of the friends I made through this blog have turned out to be truly amazing, highly intelligent and extremely warm individuals. If it hadn’t been for this blog I would have never met them in my life. For that reason alone, I like to applaud myself for having taken at least one bright decision in my life- that of doing this blog.

There had been several instances when I felt like giving up writing this blog. Those were moments when I was disappointed and in low moods. But when I recollect that a lot of people (less than twenty, exactly) would be disappointed at not finding my blog I overcame that feeling and went on writing the posts, good or bad. It is sort of addictive, blogging I mean. One is always on the look out for ‘blog moments’ which can be converted into posts. I am lucky in that I love books and reading which alone is enough for me to produce posts on books, authors and so on. But I also (though I am quite a boring bureaucrat) happen to have developed the habit of keeping my ears and my eyes open all the time which has led me into some fairly interesting situations that I can write about.

Next Post on Monday: Getting Trained for the Elections

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Sunday Haul- It All Adds Up

It All Adds Up Somehow

Not surprisingly, for someone who loves books I developed the habit of jotting down the titles of books others have written about so I too could read and enjoy them. But had I also jotted down the book where I had come across the title I would have now known where it was I had read about Saul Bellow’s ‘It All Adds Up’ that I found last Sunday. I wasn’t exactly expecting to find the book and I wasn’t also looking for it but the title was familiar to me since I go through my notebooks frequently. I had jotted down about Saul Bellow’s book nearly ten years ago and I found it last Sunday at Abids.

‘It All Adds Up’ is Saul Bellow’s first non-fiction collection. I find it fascinating to read writers discussing their writing and also books by other writers. ‘It All Adds Up’ promises to be a good read judging from the contents which range from essays on other writers and literature to pieces that are travelogues on places as diverse as Chicago and Tuscany. I feel quite fortunate finding the hardcover, almost-new copy for just fifty bucks at Abids when it could have been easily priced at three or four hundred rupees by a shrewd seller. The other happy thing was that it was a First Edition! It was the best find of the year so far.

I flipped through the book and couldn’t help reading a couple of pieces. In the preface I came across another literary autobiography of a writer who Saul Bellow mentioned that he read again and again- Wyndham Lewis’ ‘Rude Assignment.’ While reading Bellow’s prose I felt embarrassed calling myself a writer, writing as I am this sort of trifling (and inane, I might add) stuff. His’ was knock-down prose and no wonder he got the Nobel Prize and also the Pulitzer. If they were handing out awards for picking up good books then I guess I would have got one for finding ‘It All Adds Up’ on the pavement.

Two things I love to read about are cooking and running though I have never emerged out of the kitchen with anything more complicated than a cup of tea, and preparing tea cannot be called as cooking by any account. I had also not run for more than a few yards in my life and that too when I was young. Interestingly, I had seen a book on running ‘The Courage to Start’ only last week at a second hand bookstore but was put off by the price. It was priced at ninety five bucks which I felt was too much for the book with slightly stained pages. So it was quite a surprise to see the same copy in a heap of books selling for just ten rupees. Needless to say, I picked it up. It was by John ‘The Penguin’ Bingham.

‘The Courage to Start’ is all about how the author began to run to make sense of his life and those of others. The author John Bingham writes a column ‘The Penguin Chronicle’ for a popular running magazine ‘Runner’s World’ and also has a website. I had picked up a few such magazines in the past and I wonder if I ‘Runner’s World’ is among them. Someone used to write one such column in ‘The Hindu’ every Sunday which was quite interesting. Nowadays it isn’t appearing. I guess those who take up running never ever give it up. Some day I too plan to begin the habit of running.

Next Post on Friday: Another Milestone