Monday, June 29, 2009

Ten Reasons Why Hyderabadis Don't Wear Helmets

Given the way Hyderabadis drive on the roads and behave in general, one would think there’s absolutely no reason behind it all. But we Hyderabadis never do (or don’t do) anything without good reason. Everybody knows we don’t like to wear helmets when we drive our bikes. Here are ten reasons why we don’t like to wear those blasted things:

1. Hyderabadis think they have pretty thick skulls which nothing can break.

2. Hyderabadis don’t have much by way of brains to save by wearing helmets.

3. Helmets cost money which is better spent on biryani and beers.

4. Helmets do not make it easy to spit.

5. Helmets make it difficult to talk on our mobiles with friends and family.

6. Helmets are for others to wear not for us Hyderabadis.

7. Helmets make it difficult for our friends recognize us on the roads.

8. Helmets aren't easy to wear. We haven’t really learnt to wear them properly.

9. Helmets prevent the girls from taking a look at our, er… handsome faces.

10. Helmets make us bald.

Do we need more reasons?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gobblers Paradise

Last Saturday the moment I read in the papers that not one but two new restaurants have opened in Jubilee Hills I immediately sent up prayers for the poor souls of Jubilee Hills. It isn’t even a full month since a new restaurant had opened in that area. I think hardly half the Jubilee Hills crowd must have finished checking out the food in that place before the news of the two new places popped up. They must have let out a collective groan on hearing about the opening of these two restaurants. I guess it isn’t being easy being a resident of Jubilee Hills. There are a lot of expectations and obligations that one has to be prepared for. I guess it comes with the territory.

Two hotels (Siaah and N Grill) opening on the same day in the same locality must reckon as a record even by Jubilee Hills standards. But for the crowd that lives (and works) there it must be a pretty routine thing. However, I guess the poor sods in Jubilee Hills must be weary trudging from one place to another for lunch, cocktails, dinner and so on, almost every day. It must be quite taxing for them, this daily routine but as I said earlier, it is one of the hazards of living in such localities. What with so many restaurants opening with such regularity, I guess pretty soon there will be more hotels in Jubilee Hills than homes.

Somehow I don’t feel like eating out at restaurants whose name don’t make any sense to me. (Maybe there are people in Jubilee Hills who know what ‘Siaah’ means which is one reason why the hotel was opened there in the first place.) What exactly does ‘Siaah’ mean? What does N signify? Nothing or Nitwits? I want to know before I pay the bill. Whatever the name, the Jubilee Hills crowd dutifully graces these places regularly however burdensome it might be, because they think it is their bounden duty to live up to the expectations of the hoteliers.

I’m glad I am not bound by any such obligation to drop in there. One reason why I cannot dine out at such places is my wallet doesn’t allow it. The other reason is the dread that I may be stopped at the door and asked to return only after putting on weight and growing a big enough paunch to do justice to the fare.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Sunday Haul- Two Books

In the June 2009 issue of ‘First City’ with “Writer’s Special” on the cover, Sashi Deshpande had written about her favorite writer- Jane Austen. In it she had mentioned a book, Fay Weldon’s ‘Letters to Alice’ that was about Austen’s life. By a strange coincidence last Sunday at Abids, it was the first book I found and bought for twenty bucks. But this wasn’t the first copy since I remember I had picked up one copy earlier, maybe a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I haven’t read it but this time I flipped through it and came across the following passage by Weldon:

‘Writing is an odd activity-other people have occupations, jobs; the writer’s life is work, and the work is the life, and there can be no holidays from it…There can be no time off, nor real diversions, because wherever you go you take yourself…Fear the work of a writer who says, it is my characters who lead me, they take off! They well may, but who will want to follow? It is the writer’s mind the reader wants: a controlled fantasy, very, very, rarely, the meanderings of an idle author.’

Weldon writes about Jane Austen’s life and her writing so well that I want to read all of Jane Austen’s books (that I have somehow not managed to read so far) as well as those of Fay Weldon too.

The second book I found at Abids was ‘Poetry in the Making’ by Ted Hughes, which is actually an anthology based on a radio series. It is basically aimed as an introduction to children to the point of poetry and the practice of writing. There are a couple of pieces on writing novels that got me interested in the book in the first place. I got it for twenty rupees though the book seems to have been bought twenty seven years back, in 1982 exactly, by a Superintendent in the Customs and Central Excise Department whose stamp graces the front cover as well as the inside pages.

Another interesting thing was that the Sunday Magazine supplements of ‘The Hindu’ seems to have devoted one full page to books and stuff like that titled ‘Written Word’ which I hope will now be a regular feature. It does take away some of the disappointment of the reduced number of pages in ‘Literary Review’ monthly supplement.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reporting the Progress of My Book

When I started writing the book I did not realize I would be still writing it fours years later. I had thought I would abandon it midway and had actually stopped writing it for a while after returning from the Andamans. That I am still working at it shows I am a very dogged Hyderabadi feller. It has come something as a surprise even to me that I am able to hang on to something for so long. Naturally one would come to the conclusion that a masterpiece is in the making but please be assured it isn’t the case. But then it isn’t as bad as I thought it was when I first went through the first draft.

After umpteen revisions it is finally taking shape. I have managed to reduce the number of pages from a staggering eight hundred pages to something more than three hundred and fifty pages. I am in the midst of one such revision aimed at cutting it down further. The story is just beginning to look like it is going to make some meaning to whoever is going to take the trouble to read it. I have already made a hit list of people I want to give the book to. I hope I don’t have to threaten them to read it and not just look at it every day and wonder if it is really a book that I have written.

Come September and it will the fourth anniversary of starting the book. I plan to finish the final revisions by end of July though since I am expecting a promotion at office. I want to have a final draft by then to give to friends for their feedback. Even as others read the draft I plan to go on with the revisions on another copy of the draft. I will revise until I am convinced it is something worth sending to a publisher. I haven’t really thought about all that at this stage since I want at least one reader to tell me that the writing hasn’t given him/her nightmares. As I said earlier I have already made a list of all the people I want to give the draft for their feedback. Of course, when it comes out as a book they still have to buy it.

A couple of weeks later I will post about what the book is all about. But for now I’ll just mention one of the titles I have in mind for the book- ‘There’s a Drought Here and You Want Us to Wear Ironed Shirts?’

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Writers, New Finds

One of the better ways of learning about new writers and books that you haven’t read is to read what other writers say about the books they have read and the writers they liked. A couple of weeks ago I had picked up the June issue of ‘First City’ that had ‘Writer’s Special’ emblazoned on the bright yellow cover. I am now glad I bought it. Inside were more than half a dozen pages of articles by famous writers on their favorite writers and their books. I came across a number of writers and books I haven’t even heard before. It was a sort of bonanza and I was really glad that the forty bucks I spent on the magazine was worth it. There was one of my favorite writers, Pico Iyer, talking about his favorite writer, Graham Greene apart from pieces by Anjum Hasan, Amitava Kumar, Allan Sealy, Shashi Deshpande and others on their favorite writers.

In Amitava Kumar’s piece on Suketu Mehta I read that he (Amitava K) was writing a book on non-fiction writing. Now that is something to look forward to. A couple of years ago he had done an article in The Hindu about how he came to write ‘Home Products.’ It was a pretty educative article and I remember cutting it and keeping it aside in my scrap book. It seems ‘Maximum City’ grew out of an article on Bhopal Suketu Mehta did for Granta whose editor Ian Jack gave him the advance to write the book.

In her illuminating piece on Vladimir Nobokov, Anjum Hasan wrote something about the ‘idiom of irony’ as compared to the ‘idiom of loss’ which made me look at books in a different perspective. She also wrote the reason why Nabokov’s novels give her sustained pleasure which is that they represent a literary ideal- to write as if every thing counts. I remember reading that somewhere- to write as if every thing counts. Anyway, I have Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Speak Memory’ which is his autobiography still unread. I also haven’t yet picked up Anjum Hasan’s ‘Lunatic in My Head’ though it’s been out for months. I also read she is coming out with her next novel, “Neti, Neti’ which will be out this October.

Sometime back I had picked up a book by the travel writer Ryscard Kapuscinski and there was Lloyd Jones writing about him in First City. I learnt that Kapuscinski’s fans include John Updike, Salman Rushdie and surprise, surprise, Gabriel Garcia Marquez! I still haven’t opened Kapuscinski’s book to read but after learning about the sort of fans he has then I guess I have to begin reading it soon. I was also very surprised to read that Kapuscinski had been to apna Hyderabad!! So many people have visited our city and we still haven’t learned to drive properly.

I also came across new writers and their books that I must now begin to look for. There was John McGahern’s ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’ which Jon McGregor (who wrote the piece) considered as one of the greatest late 20th Century novels of the English language. I wonder why I haven’t heard of this book before.

Then there was another book I have to find and read as soon as I lay my hands on it. It is Philip Roth’s ‘Shop Talk’ which it seems is a collection of his essays and interviews with other writers. I wonder if I will come across it in Abids or any of the second hand bookstores here in Hyderabad.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How to Spot a Dumb Hyderabadi

I guess once in a while I am allowed these short posts. I have been really busy with my book so I didn’t have time to think of something for the intelligent (!) readers of this blog.

How to Spot a Dumb Hyderabadi

How can you tell a dumb Hyderabadi without taking his/her IQ test ?

Simple. All those riding bikes without helmets, driving cars while talking on their mobile phones etc., are the dumb Hyderabadis. The dumbest, of course, are those two wheeler riders who talk on their cell phones while driving without a helmet.

Easy isn’t it? There are so many of them in Hyderabad maybe I should devise a test to find out who isn’t dumb!

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Morning of Calm

It was time for me to experience the early morning calm at Necklace Road. A month had already passed. It had been hot then but yesterday morning at Necklace Road it was pleasant and cool. Maybe that was the reason why there were more people than usual. They were every where. Two youngsters had brought their moped right upto the lake front. People were exercising. I did not feel like sitting for long. I had also reached a bit late and the sun was already up. I left after a short time and decided to spend a longer time in Phase II; at Adarsh with the papers.

Mercifully, Adarsh was just beginning to get the first of the visitors. I got a nice table for myself, one with a view of the road. I always sit in that same table. It lets me see who is entering the hotel and also look at what the others are hogging. It is quite hard for me to believe what some people eat so early in the morning. An elderly, stout person sat at my table and proceeded to vanquish half a dozen biscuits and a similar number of chota samosas which he washed down with a full cup of tea. Then there was another youngster who had two buns of bread with his tea. Some people like to get a good start to the day with a full stomach I guess.

I went through the two English papers I had bought spending close to an hour reading almost every thing. This is one part I like best- reading the paper leisurely sitting alone in a small hotel on a bright Sunday morning. The rest of the world could wait, I had the papers to finish. I had a marriage to attend in the morning so it meant I could not go to Abids not even in the afternoon. Interestingly, The Hindu carried an item about someone I see regularly at Abids, a white haired gentleman of considerable girth and who intrigued me a lot because the booksellers were very deferential to him. He turned out to be the man behind a rare books store- Haziq and Mohi, at Charminar. I have to pay a visit to that store sometime soon.

I did not want to miss another book related event- watching ‘Just Books’ on NDTV Profit. Blogger Amit Varma’s ‘My Friend Sancho’ made it to the best seller list of the program so I guess I may have to buy and read it soon. One of the interesting items on ‘Just Books’ is the one where celebrities show off the books on their shelves. Last week it was Suchitra Krishnamoorty and this week it was the turn of Chiki Sarkar of Random House. Of the five books she mentioned as her favorites, one was by Haruki Murakami- The Windup Bird Chronicle .Strangely, this is the book I am looking forward to find someday either at Abids or in some second hand bookstore.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Great Wall of China in Hyderabad

Every couple of months or so someone in the municipality gets another idea to make life more difficult for motorists in Hyderabad, as if the potholes aren’t doing an adequate job of it. He thinks up strange ideas to put more obstacles in our paths or rather, our roads. I’ve occasion to observe this phenomenon at length. My route to and from office involves passing through the Liberty circle where I guess, the world’s largest experiment involving road dividers is taking place for some years now. A couple of years ago, the municipal authorities put those metal road dividers with wheels near the Liberty circle to prevent people from crossing the road randomly, which Hyderabadis think is their birth right. After sometime the metal road dividers gave way to one actually built in the middle of the road in the form of a long train with bogies.

This train like road divider, about a foot high and painted black and white, proved inadequate as a road divider because people broke them at places to cross the road on their bikes. These were demolished after a short life giving way to portable, inverted ‘Y’ shaped cement blocks joined together as road dividers. These were about three feet high and were performing well dividing not just the road but also the locality as well. These too were inadequate since they stopped movement of rainwater as well so they were moved hither and tither whenever it rained. These too are on their way to oblivion for in their place is coming up something that is beginning to resemble one of the Seven Wonders of the World, in other words, the Great Wall of China.

If one happens to drive on the road leading from Liberty circle towards Himayatnagar one sees that nearly three fourths of the road in the middle is occupied by granite blocks, loose rocks, sand and lots of cement. It heralds the construction of yet another of those invincible, impregnable road dividers of the sort found in Begumpet. It is really a massive structure several feet in width and of equal height. One needs the sort of long poles pole vaulters use to cross the road now. I am not really surprised that it is being built since it is inevitable but what surprises is the timing. Why build it now when the rains have already begun? I wonder why they don’t pay the same attention to fixing the potholes than building road dividers. Strange are the ways of the municipal engineers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Sunday Haul & Literary Review

All of last week I was up to my ears in books crawling through four bookstores looking at books, books and more books. Sunday morning too brought with it more of books. This Sunday was something I was eagerly waiting for. It is the first Sunday of the month and Literary Review comes with The Hindu on this day. I was surprised when I opened the paper. The LR has become colorful! However it wasn’t something to be happy about for the number of pages still remain only four. I wouldn’t have minded having two more pages even if they were in black and white. Actually I think these kinds of supplements of serious (?) stuff should be in black and white only.

Apart from the color pages there was nothing interesting in the LR. Expectedly, there was a full length feature on Kamla Das. All the papers are full of Kamla Das. I had expected to see reviews of some good books but I was disappointed. An article by Karthika Nair on reading poetry and its effects was one I liked very much. There was a review of Meghnad Desai's new fiction work by Ziya Us Salam who wrote it was a good book worth reading. But I had read a hilarious review of the same book by CP Surendran in the new magazine 'Open', who said something totally opposite. It was a funny review, one that I liked a lot.

At Abids too there was a lot of disappointment. I did not find anything worth picking up. I was not yet ready to pick up Marcel Moring’s ‘In Babylon’ that beckoned temptingly. I might pick it up later. I picked up only one book- ‘Selected Essays’ by D.H. Lawrence for forty rupees. It had more than thirty essays on a variety of topics ranging from books to Tuscany. There was one titled ‘Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine’ which was one reason why I bought the book.

Luckily for me it did not rain in the morning when I was at Abids but in the evening there were sharp showers. In the monsoons it will be difficult to go to Abids every Sunday. When it rains not many of the sellers turn up. I too don’t like to go when it rains. I cannot bear to watch the books get wet.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Bookstore Crawling

Last week I found the time to visit four bookstores but ended up buying just one book though my wallet was fairly bursting with money. It is a fairly common thing with me, coming across books that I have to buy no matter what but cannot because there’s not enough moolah, and not finding even a single book when I have enough of it. The day I got my pay I set off to Jubilee Hills to pick up Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Collected Stories’ that I had seen last week. I was relieved the book was still in the same place I had last seen it. (Thank you, folks.)

‘Collected Stories’ has twenty six of Marquez’s best short stories culled from three collections. Some of the stories include ‘Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother’, ‘Big Mama’s Funeral’, ‘Eyes of a Blue Dog’ and so on. While I waited for my coffee and Hari I read one story from the book, ‘Bitterness for Three Sleepwalkers’ and was immediately lost in that mysterious world that Marquez weaves with his magical prose. I plan to savor the book by reading only one story a week.

Next I dropped in at Walden the same evening. I had planned to check out a new book reviewed in Outlook. It was Amit Verma’s ‘My Friend Sancho’ that I looked for and found. I did not buy it immediately though and planned to wait for some more time before picking it up though Outlook’s review said it was a hilarious book. City magazines are usually found in the cities about which they write but I found ‘First City’ in the magazine rack at Walden. ‘First City’, as the name suggests, is about our first city, New Delhi. It has a few pages on books and writers but the May issue was a ‘Writers’ Special’ so I took it. It had short pieces by famous writers on their favorite writers. There was Pico Iyer on Graham Greene, Lloyd Jones on Ryszard Kapuscinski, Gita Hariharan on Orhan Pamuk, Anjum Hasan on Vladimir Nabokov and several other writers I haven’t heard about talking about others writers who are unknown to me. I had another surprise in store in FC. There was a review of the book I had checked out (My Friend Sancho) and this review said was a little different (little charm, uninvolved plot, apparent artifice and so on) which puts one in a dilemma about buying the book.

I had been to a second hand book store, Unique Books, at Nampally where I saw Haruki Murakami’s ' A Wild Sheep Chase' but I did not buy it because it was not in a good condition. Maybe I will take a second look later and pick it up. There was a good copy of David DAvidar’s ‘House of Blue Mangoes’, Kiran Desai’s 'The Inheritance of Loss', Penguin Collection of Short Stories- 2 but I did not buy any of them. The fourth store that I visited was the second hand book store beside the flyover opposite ‘Lifestyle’ where the two copies of Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys I had seen in my previous visit still remain unsold. I also saw Elmore Leonard’s ‘Rum Punch’ and Paul Theroux’s ‘My Secret History’ but I was not interested in buying these or any other books.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Out of Contact

I hadn’t been to a police station for quite a long time. In fact I had been to a police station only once in my life and that was almost twenty five years ago. The night before the door frames were to be fixed in the second floor we were constructing, they were stolen. A complaint was lodged and the cops made a visit. After about six months I was asked to come to the police station. They told me to sign a statement they had prepared saying that despite the efforts of the cops the property was untraceable. It meant they wanted to close the case. That was in 1984.

Last Sunday I went to go to the police station, for the second time in my life. I wanted to lodge a complaint. My mobile phone was stolen in the night before. I was sleeping with the bedroom window open and sometime during the night a thief had made away with it. I had bought it three years ago for three thousand bucks after being told that I would get a departmental SIM. I was reluctant but I had to buy it as I had no choice. Until then I had lived without a mobile but afterwards it was sort of impossible to go without it. Not that I have a large circle of friends but it was very handy to keep in touch with them. It also served as a watch (reason why I don’t wear one), an alarm and also a paperweight, sometimes. Then suddenly it was gone, but only for a day.

Every one advised me to lodge a complaint with the police. After consulting my cop friend I went to the police station in the morning. ‘You mean you want to meet the Circle Inspector to lodge a complaint about your missing mobile?’ the elderly constable at the entrance sneered. His attitude changed when I told him I knew the CI even though I didn’t. He told me the CI wasn’t in but a Sub-Inspector was available. I went in to give the complaint to him. He was a young man, maybe a fresh recruit but he had a large pistol before him on the table. There was another fellow in the room, some kind of an astrologer with a chain of beads around his neck and a large tikka on his forehead. I wanted to ask him if he would tell if my phone could be traced but I didn’t.

Later in the afternoon going through the haul I had at Abids I got a surprise. One of my generous brothers gifted me a mobile phone. It was an LG model, a basic one but with an FM radio. I had a phone but no SIM. They’d give a duplicate one at the office but I have no way of getting back the telephone numbers of my friends that were in the phone I lost. I’m wondering how to contact all my friends and let them know I’ve lost their phone numbers. Any ideas?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Sunday Haul- One Magazine, 3 Books

It wasn’t in my normal Sunday mood (eager anticipation) that I set out for Abids. Something had happened the night before that upset me a great deal. It was with a sense of loss that I arrived at Abids hoping I wouldn’t find anything I’d be compelled to buy. Even though I looked around distractedly the first book I saw was a book I couldn’t let remain on the pavement. It was Peter Matthiessen’s ‘The Snow Leopard’ which I have already read twice, maybe thrice. Though I have two copies of this book I had another reason to pick this copy. The guy asked for only ten rupees for it which I felt was a ridiculous price for a book that had more than three hundred fifty pages and was a classic to boot. The guy did not have any idea about the book so I took it. There is someone I have in mind who might like to read the book.

I did not pick up the next book the first time I saw it. I went away leaving it behind after the guy quoted what I thought was a very high price. The book was ‘The Writer Observed’ by Harvey Breit. It was a collection of talks (not exactly interviews) the author had with several well known writers like Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Conrad Aiken, Carl Sandburg and fifty or more other writers. I went away and picked up the second book which was a science fiction book. I normally do not read Science Fiction but I had come across the name of Harlan Ellison so many times that I wanted to find out myself if his books were any good. ‘Approaching Oblivion’ by Harlan Ellison is a collection of eleven of his previously unpublished sci-fi stories. The book had an introduction by Michael Crichton and I got it for only ten rupees.

Later, I went back and picked up ‘The Writer Observed’ for forty rupees. There’s Somerset Maugham in it saying, ‘…even when a thing is difficult, if you are a writer you are never so happy as when you are writing.’ It isn’t always the case I must say though writing is one thing that makes me happy but I cannot say the same thing about the people who read it judging from the number of people who come to this blog!

Anyway, the most interesting find of the day was a magazine. It was the latest issue (May ’09) of the American men’s magazine, ‘Esquire’ that I got for only twenty bucks. I don’t much think about the men’s magazines in India which are mere copies of similar magazines abroad. They seem to have more number of photographs than articles which is another thing that puts me off. Back home I leafed through this original American edition and came across a lot of interesting stuff but the most interesting thing was reading about Elmore Leonard’s newest book- Road Dogs. I have to be on the look out for this book though not at Abids where it isn't likely to show up for another decade at least.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Almost every one describes most government servants as thick-skinned and I think they aren’t entirely wrong. I was reminded of it recently when I met a colleague I had seen a long time back. He was about my age but looked younger because he had dyed his hair and appeared to be in good health. He told me he couldn’t recognize me because I had lost my hair and also a great deal of weight. I wanted to ask him something- if he remembered what he had lost, but I did not.

Several years ago I worked in a district office whose head office happened to be in Hyderabad. This guy worked in a sub-office in a post which was said to be lucrative or in our terminology an 'income post.' He didn’t have much knowledge having studied in an obscure college in another state but he somehow managed to get the coveted posting. We came across each other occasionally and he would stop to chat with me. Then I was moved to another department after a while. Some months later I came to know that this fellow was caught red-handed taking a bribe in the office. It wasn’t surprising to learn about it. I also read it in the papers about the incident and his arrest.

Later a colleague narrated to me what had happened that day. It seems the anti-corruption cops made him remove his pants in which he had stuffed the tainted money. The pants were to be used as evidence. They made him wrap a table cloth around his waist before arresting him. It seems they led him, with the table cloth wrapped around his waist, to their jeep waiting outside and took him away to jail. Every one in the office was witness to the scene I was told. Then I had wondered how he must have felt in the face of such humiliation. It was a terrible way of losing one’s reputation. Later I learnt he was suspended for three years.

Now he is back again at work. I was feeling sort of embarrassed when I met him last week. But he did not show even the tiniest trace of guilt or shame for what he had done and what had happened to him with the cops. He behaved normally as if that incident had not happened at all. I guess that is what is called being thick skinned.