Friday, July 31, 2009

The 400th Post

The four hundredth post should be better than all the posts written earlier, it should be long, it should reflect my two years' experience as a blogger, it should be somehow related to books, it should not have any silly jokes like those in previous posts, it should be something very good and leave the readers deeply impressed by the writing, it should be this, it should be that was what I thought when I realized I was reaching a significant milestone on this blog. But somehow I wasn't able to come with anything better than this post which includes news about a second hand books sale in Hyderabad. There were a couple of things that came in the way of writing a truly good 400th post.

One reason was a very minor emergency involving my kid, another reason was my orders of promotion coming through finally, and of course, the real reason was that I was feeling quite lazy. It isn't entirely true of course, because I had started on a post that sounded quite good but it turned out to be too short to be a post so I had to think of something else. After learning that I was promoted and posted to a place very far away from Hyderabad I realized that I wouldn't be able to sneak out any more to a bookstore and browse. I promptly sneaked out of office and at the Best Books Store saw a welcome notice.

The notice read that there would be a sale of second hand books at YMCA Secunderabad from August 1-16. I was quite excited since the sale is beginning at that time of the month when the wallet would allow such extravangances. I was also glad for the reason that at last one post on my blog would be actually of help to people who love books in Hyderabad.

So, the blog is two years old with exactly four hundred posts. I cannot claim that I am no wiser than I was when I started this blog but it has been a fantastic experience. The biggest and the priceless result of blogging has been getting to know more than half a dozen absolutely wonderful people who are now very good friends. It is for them that I continue to write on this blog or else I would have winded it down long back.

For those bloggers who like to know, till date this blog has got 11,902 hits and earned me the princely sum of $13.80. I would have been unhappy if I had planned to buy a Mercedes with the earnings on my blog but I'm happy. Keep reading.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Landmark Opens/Changes Ahead and the Sunday Haul

Oxford Gets Ready to Hit Hyderabad After Landmark Opens

Only last month Crossword opened in the new mall GVK One and I thought it would be a decade before another new bookstore opens in Hyderabad. I was pleasantly surprised when I read in the papers on Wednesday that Landmark was opening its store that day at Banjara Hills. I guess not many in Hyderabad knew about it, at least I had no inkling of it. I decided to check out the store on Friday last and on the way I got another bigger surprise. At Banjara Hills I saw a small notice pasted on the glass of a building under construction saying ‘Opening Shortly: Oxford Bookstore.’ It is quite surprising why so many new bookstores are popping up in Hyderabad all of a sudden in these times of recession.

Landmark in Hyderabad is on Road No. 12 of Banjara Hills, quite a long way off for me. It is quite impressive, the floor housing the book and stationery sections. The collection of books is not any different from the other stores though I saw a lot of books on Screenwriting and movies. Maybe I noticed them because nowadays I am in screenwriter mode. The stationery section in Landmark is something to check out because of the wide range of stuff on offer. I saw notebooks, books, shelves and shelves of folders but what I really wanted to buy was the cases for carrying digital cameras and CDs.

Milestones and Changes Ahead

Two significant milestones are coming up ahead in my life. One relates to this blog and the other relates to my book. One of the next posts will be about these two important milestones. Not only milestones, some significant changes too are in the offing for me at work and in my life. I’ll be getting promoted and moved out of Hyderabad. When and where, I will write in the next post. Of course, there won’t be any change on the blog though I plan to do only two posts a week for some time until my book is finished, though one can never finish writing a book. One goes on and on.

The Sunday Haul

I do not remember now how I chanced upon Bruce Chatwin’s writing but I guess I found one of his books at the British Library. ‘What Am I Doing Here’ is Bruce Chatwin’s first book I read a long time back but I was floored by his writing sufficiently enough to look around for other books by him. The next one I found was ‘In Patagonia’ a classic travel book that I found hard to put down. During my book hunts I found ‘Utz’ and also ‘The Viceroy of Ouidah’ a couple of years back though I have kept them aside, as I do with good books, for reading them at leisure. I also found ‘Songlines’ which I had been searching for quite keenly, at a book fair. This book too I haven’t yet read.

When I found Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography of Bruce Chatwin at Abids sometime back I bought it though it was quite a tome. I got it for a hundred and fifty bucks. Sadly, I haven’t read this too though I have skimmed it and remember reading that Chatwin wrote with a fountain pen, a Mont Blanc. The day before yesterday at Abids I found another biography of him, this one by Susannah Clapp who was his editor on ‘In Patagonia.’ One could guess what a writer Bruce Chatwin was if two different people wrote two biographies.

Next Post on Friday: The 400th Post!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Sunday Haul- Four Good Ones

It is curious how certain details like book titles long encountered in sundry articles remain in the unconscious memory, floating up when the actual book appears before the eyes. Last week I was rereading a beautiful essay titled ‘Literature of Personal Disaster’ by Nancy Mairs in which I came across the title of a book I had recently bought on a Sunday. It was Molly Haskins’ ‘Love and Other Infectious Diseases’ that I got for just ten bucks. Now I realize I had picked it up since the title stayed in my memory after I had read the essay the day after I found ‘Best Writing on Writing’ sometime back. I guess it was something similar at work when this Sunday I found Sue Hubbell’s ‘A Contry Year:Living the Questions’ that I had read about in a website. Of course, I had written the title in my list of ‘must read books’ so it was easier to remember. I got this book for only ten rupees along with another I found for twenty rupees.

But the first book I saw on Sunday put me in a great state of excitement. I found Syd Field’s ‘Foundations of Screenwriting’ but was aghast when I saw the price on it. It was ‘450/’ which produced an anxiety that wasn’t quelled until I picked up the book about half hour later for four hundred, the bookseller having reduced the price for me. However, it was too high a price felt Uma who was with me. One item on my bucket list is writing a screenplay so the need to read such books before attempting one.

Another great find was Marquez’s ‘Collected Short Stories’ that I found minutes after I saw Syd Field’s book. I arrived at the seller just when he was taking books out of a carton and I fell on the book the moment I saw the title. I got it for a hundred bucks. It was the same book I had bought sometime at the beginning of this month at Odyssey paying two hundred and ninety five rupees for the brand new copy. The copy I found at Abids had a different cover and the original price at the back was two hundred rupees. If I had waited a couple of weeks I would have saved so much I thought, but then it gave me a good idea. The new Marquez copy would make for an ideal gift.

In the heaps of books selling for ten and twenty books I have found some good books on previous visits. This Sunday again I found two good ones. One was by PJ O’Rourke, someone who happens to be a favorite of my own favorite writer, Dave Barry. I found his (O’Rourke’s) ‘Republican Party Reptile’ that appears to be funny if the first essay is anything to go by. The second book was the aforementioned book by Sue Hubbell. The fifth book I picked up was actually the first book I saw but did not buy because the guy did not have change. It was a book for my kid, another one about making paper planes. I had run out of money by then and had to take a loan from Uma to pay for the remaining books. I returned home happy with the haul and wondering when I would have the time to write a screenplay when I am not finding the time to read the books I am picking up at Abids and elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Promotion Blues

It is something that I should be very happy about, but my promotion isn’t putting me in that mood. In the government, the other side of a promotion is the threat of a move out of the present post. I have grown too comfortable in my post so the prospect of being shifted out to the field is making me a little nervous. My current post has been a dream one for me after a near nightmarish one working in a different department for more than five years. With too many new bosses coming in and out it has been a virtual one man show since the past two and half years. Also, it gave me a lot of time to sneak out for an hour on afternoons to indulge in browsing at second hand bookstores, time to read a little during the lunch hour, and also to travel a bit.

This, paradoxically, is lethal to someone who has begun his career in the field. Now I am dreading going back to the field though a field posting is something I am not unfamiliar with. In fact, in a way I have been looking forward to it. I have been in an office post for too long. Eight years, in fact and it had made me complacent. Now I wonder if I can function as effectively as I did when I was new to the job.

I am slightly contemptuous of people who do not have field experience, of the sort who sit in office and talk nonsense. A stint in the field gives a different perspective to things. Though I had an urban background I worked in a very remote rural place for three and half years which prepared me in ways I did not know until I came across guys who spent all their lives in offices. My field experience proved useful in silencing them at times. Of course, it sounds a bit cocky but that is the truth. But now, after eight years in an office posting I have realized that I too am on the verge of losing that perspective. Though the postings are not finalized I have been told to get ready for a field posting.

Personally I do not have any problem with a field posting but I am worried I will be away from the family. It is going to be difficult for them. I am torn between desires to stay put in an office posting on one hand and on the other hand to go into the field and pick up more experiences. I do not know what is in store but I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for something that suits me.

Next Post on Friday: The Sunday Haul- Four Good Ones

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Miscellany

Discovering Monkeys

A couple of days ago there was a report in the papers that scientists were excited about the discovery of a new sub-species of monkey in the Amazon forests. I don’t understand why they were so excited by the discovery of just one species of monkey. Here in Hyderabad I discover hundreds of new monkeys on the roads every day. It is the most interesting part of my daily journeys, wondering what trick the motorist on the bike/car before me on the road would turn out.

Big Boss on the Prowl

A couple of days ago I was surprised to find that just when the rains have begun my colleagues in the municipality have decided to get the potholes filled up urgently. I wondered what was afoot though I felt glad I didn’t have to suffer a bone jarring ride on some stretches at least. But when I read in the papers that the Big Boss himself was touring the city I understood the zeal behind the pothole repairs. It makes me wonder if the rest of the citizens of this great city do not deserve to drive on pothole free roads. Of course, the potholes have been so fixed that the repair job lasts just one day if not a few hours.

The Necklace Road Routine

Last Sunday I was at the Necklace Road for my monthly dose of some morning calm. It was a glorious day without any rain though the sky was filled with clouds. However I felt the morning magic was missing. There were too many people around. It was my mistake because I had come rather too late. The best time seems to be around five or half past five in the morning when most of us would be under the covers blissfully asleep. But the half hour I spent looking at the placid waters was worth it. Later I sat in Adarsh restaurant leisurely reading the Sunday papers for over an hour while sipping Irani tea. This is the best part because there aren’t many people in the hotel at that hour of the day. I look forward to repeating it next month.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Sunday Haul

...and Andaman Memories

For three months in a year, physically I am at one place and mentally I am at a totally different place. This has been the case since the past three years after I returned from the Andamans after a three month stay in 2006. All through May, June and July my mind is in the Andamans revisiting all those beautiful places I had visited alone. It is something I am unable to get out of my mind however much I try though I don’t try much. My experience was too beautiful to forget. To help me remember more I try to lay my hands on as much stuff about the Andamans as I can find. This Sunday, at Abids I found a nice book about the Andamans though it wasn’t the one I was searching for since the first time I laid my eyes on it. I am talking about Madhusree Mukherjee’s ‘The Land of the Naked People’ that a friend had. I had barely started to read it when he packed up and left. I’m still looking for the book that I hope to find some day in a second hand bookstore if not at Abids

But the book I found this Sunday at Abids was ‘The Andaman Story’ by N Iqbal Singh. It is a hardcover book published in the year 1978. Iqbal Singh was with All India Radio and posted in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands during the seventies. Like all books about the Andamans Iqbal Singh’s book too attempts to give us a comprehensive history of the Islands right from the time of Ptolemy etc., to the time the book was being written, stuff about the Andamanese and other tribes who inhabit the islands. The time when the British occupied the islands of course grabs most of the attention because it was a significant period in the history of the Islands. It is an interesting book that I’m glad to have found.

Almost all the books on the Andamans I have come across (and they are only a handful) are about the history and such stuff which is covered ad nauseum by everyone. What I would like to read are stories about the people who have settled there, like the Bangladeshi refugees and others I met during my forays into the interiors of the islands. Maybe there are such books written in Bengali which unfortunately I cannot read.

One book I regret not picking up at Abids was Bruce Chatwin’s ‘What am I Doing Here’ that I saw at Abids. I already have the book but the one I saw was a hardcover copy though with the jacket missing. I guess I might buy it if I see it next Sunday. There was a new copy of a book by Ernest Hemingway but I did not buy it. Maybe I should have bought it. Surprisingly I saw another book on the Andamans but this was by NBT and a very slim book that I did not find interesting. I forgot the author’s name too. But I think anyone who has stayed for more than two weeks would feel like writing a book on the Andamans. If I had stayed a day more than the three months I spent there I too would have come out with a tome.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tribute to a Friend

One of the most sensible decisions I took in my life was to register for a course in creative writing with IGNOU. Though I did not complete the course I gained immensely from it. The most important gain was meeting people with whom I am still in touch on a regular basis- Kiran and Sailaja even after thirteen years after first meeting them. But there is one friend I miss very much- JR Jyoti.

When I got to the first contact class I met a few people- Sabina, Sailaja and J.R. Jyoti who came with a stylish briefcase. For a couple of weeks I wondered what was in it. Later I saw he was an organized person with everything he needed for his writing- a couple of pens, papers, his old articles etc., on hand in his briefcase. But it also contained one more thing we all looked forward to seeing regularly. He brought a box of sweets on every Sunday we met. Needless to say we all bonded so well that we used to meet regularly even after the course officially ended. We used to sit in the Shanbagh restaurant where now a bakery stands besides the flyover near Hyderabad Central. JR Jyoti was the glue that held us together with his elderly presence but childlike enthusiasm for writing.

JR Jyoti had just retired (this was in 1996) as a Chief Engineer in the Railways. But did not look like he was older than forty. He was not only young in appearance but also in his attitude. He cracked jokes all the time keeping us in splits. By the time we met he had already published several articles in many newspapers and magazines. In fact, he had written a book of poems in Hindi also. He also wrote in Urdu. At that time a new paper, ‘AP Times’ came out and we all had our articles published in it. Almost every week it carried at least an article that one of us had written. But the best articles in it were those written by Jyoti sab. They were very humorous and I sometimes wished I could come up with ideas like his. He wrote witty pieces on every subject and every event effortlessly.

Though the output of the rest of us waned with the years Jyoti sab continued to write. He was an inspiration to me and generously gave me advice. Not only advice, he lent me books and magazines on writing. I used to wait for him to tell me I could collect the latest issue of ‘Writers Digest’ which he subscribed to. I am very grateful to him for that small but priceless help. Another important reason I cannot forget is that he brought into my life a person who became a close friend. Jyoti sab had asked Hari to talk to us about his book. He came on one Sunday and that day onwards Hari and I became friends.

Afterwards we used to meet now and then. Jyoti sab told me he was compiling a book of all his articles. He told me to go through them and I tried my editing skills on them. Eventually, he decided to self-publish the book. This was in 2006. But he died of a lung ailment shortly afterwards. I was doubly grieved because the same day one of my uncles passed away and I had to go out of town. I missed the funeral of my unforgettable friend and benefactor. To this day I regret not seeing him for the last time.

But he remembered me. Last Saturday I was at Odyssey and was pleasantly surprised to see Jyoti sab’s book- ‘Day is Night’published by Jaico, still on the stands. I had seen it last time I was at Odyssey but by then I had already bought Marquez's book of short stories. I had thought Jyoti sab's book had died with him but happily that wasn’t the case. When I opened the book I had another surprise. In the acknowledgements he had thanked me (‘Shri Vinod Ekbote’) for helping in getting the book ready. I felt terribly sad, almost to the point of having tears in my eyes. I wish he were alive to see his book in print. There was only one copy in the store and I bought it.

‘Day is Night’ is a collection of sixty two of his wittiest pieces. They are his best pieces that reveal his zany sense of humor and his razor sharp writing. He wrote on topics ranging from Feng Shui, his meeting with Gaya Lal (Gaya Ram of Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram), encounter with a housefly, getting a wisdom tooth removed and several such topics that reflect his fertile imagination. Reading the pieces brought back to my mind the images of Jyoti sab- a nattily dressed, carefully groomed and extremely elegant gentleman writer who was more than a friend to me. I miss him.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Going By the Label

One criteria I follow while picking up a book is that the writing should appeal to me. It should be well written even if the story isn’t so convincing. Of course one cannot know the story without reading the whole book but a glance at the pages reveals the quality of writing. If it is good and appears interesting enough to me I pick up the book. I don’t bother if it is written by Amitav Ghosh or Elmore Leonard, the book should entertain. That way, fortunately I have managed to pick up several good books over the years. However I don’t always go by reviews usually though I read as many as I can. But sometimes I am influenced by book reviews and end up buying the books reviewed only to find the book is something else altogether. Sometimes it is perilous to go by book reviews.

One of the perils of book reviews is that the critics (and others) tend to classify books as ‘literary’ or ‘commercial’ which are labels some find misleading. In a well crafted article about the dangers of such classification Aditya Sudarshan argues against such a system in his article, ‘Dangerous Demarcations’ in the latest issue of ‘Literary Review’ supplement of ‘The Hindu.’ The writer says that it is the marketers who are to be blamed for such labels that are misleading both to writers as well as the readers. Such labels make us assume that ‘literary’ books are well crafted and ‘commercial’ books are written for money.

Interestingly, the writer also blames the Indian tendency of discriminating between books depending on their subject, dismissing books by the new Indian writers as having no literary merit while looking up to those Indian writers (mostly living abroad) of the previous generation. He says such discrimination undermines the talent of the new writers and is not encouraging to them. Read the interesting opinion piece here:

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Sunday Haul...

... and Other Book Talk

The Sunday turned out to quite a bright and sunny one without the threat of rain though it had rained the night before. When I set out for Abids I had in mind to buy a book that I had missed last Sunday- John Barth’s ‘The Friday Book- Essays and Other Non-fiction.’ The book was in the same place it had been last week and I picked up the hardcover, almost new book. I got it for only thirty rupees. Till date I haven’t read anything by John Barth though I have come across ‘The Sotweed Factor’ that runs into hundreds of pages. Inside ‘Friday Book’ were numerous essays on writing and various other subjects. A cursory glance revealed that the style would difficult for me to follow. It was mercurial writing with complex sentences hiding more ideas than I could find.

I had also seen an old copy of ‘New Yorker’ that had an essay by Bill Bryson that he later used in his book- I did not pick it up though I could have got it for only twenty rupees.

‘Literary Review’ in The Hindu had something I felt happy about. Navtej Sarna in an article wrote about John Steinbeck’s ‘The Journal of a Novel’ that is a sort of diary Steinbeck maintained while writing ‘East of Eden.’ I am reading the same book nowadays trying to learn something about writing a novel. Sarna mentions that it is a book every one aspiring to write a book must read. I cannot but agree with that observation. However, Steinbeck had written a similar journal while writing his magnum opus ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, that is titled ‘Working Days’ written during the period 1938-41. I have this book too with me. It would have been better had Sarna mentioned this book also. Interestingly while Steinbeck wrote ‘East of Eden’ with a pencil, he used a pen to write ‘Grapes of Wrath.’

On Saturday I had been to Crossword at City Center Mall and picked up Amit Verma’s ‘My Friend Sancho’ that I hope to read sometime soon. It is just 217 pages long and I might be able to finish it in one sitting. Since I am at work revising my own book MFS has to wait for some time.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Fay Weldon on Jane Austen

Fay Weldon, I read with interest, was a copywriter or was in advertising, anyway. So was I but that was a long time back. Somehow I am attracted to books by writers who were once copywriters- Elmore Leonard and others. It makes me feel good for no reason.

So it is with a copywriter’s deep perception (?) that Fay Weldon writes about Jane Austen’s life and writing, in her book ‘Letters to Alice’ that I had picked up from Abids sometime last month. As the title suggests, the book is a sort of compilation of letters (sixteen of them) by the author to a fictional niece, in which Weldon writes about the life and times of Jane Austen. The sub-title of the book is ‘On First Reading Jane Austen.’ Her admiration for Jane Austen is very obvious in the way she persuades Alice to read Austen’s books.

In a couple of the letter-chapters Weldon writes about the period in England when Jane Austen lived. She wrote that it was a difficult time for people with medicine yet to advance, hunger and deprivation staring at the faces of the poor. It was in such trying times that Jane Austen wrote her perceptive novels. The descriptions in the book bring to life the England back in that period.

Jane Austen was born on December 16, by the way, in a family usually described as belonging to the gentry which is a class of people below the nobility but a little above the new professional classes like doctors, attorneys etc., who lived off inherited wealth, and had servants. It is an interesting as well as an entertaining book for everyone who loves Jane Austen’s writing. I guess there are many who love her books and I plan to join the gang by reading ‘Emma’ the day I find it.

Thrown in are many observations the pleasures of books, reading, about writing and the writing life:

For many, if life provides uninterrupted leisure for writing, the urge to write shrivels up. Writing, after all, is part of life, an overflow from it. Take away life and you take away writing.

Writers were never meant to be professionals. Writing is not a profession, it is an activity, an essentially amateur occupation. It is what you do when you are not living.

(This is food for thought for all those who call themselves ‘professional writers.’)

There are a couple of rules about writing Weldon writes about. One of them is: ‘Show your work to no one, not to friend, nor spouse, nor anyone.’

I guess this has me thinking about my own book. To show or not to show?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Why I'm Glad I'm Not a Multi-Millionaire

If only Ratan Tata knew what a nervous time he gave me some time last week. I shudder to think what a trying time I would had passed through had there been enough cash on hand last week. By launching not one but two cars on the same day Ratan Tata almost put me in a spot. It was quite providential that I hadn’t the roughly two crores on person or I would have had one hell of a time choosing between the Rs 90 lakh Jaguar and the Rs75 lakh Land Rover. Of course, given my impulsive nature I would have picked up both of them. Luckily, just as I was about to put a call through to Ratan I realized that I did not have the cash.

Another factor that put me off the decision to buy the cars was the last minute realization that there isn’t enough space at home to park them. Of course, the hike in petrol prices announced yesterday was another deciding factor or I would have certainly dialed up Ratan to send me both the cars. I’m sure he would have got the shock of his life knowing that someone from Hyderabad wanted to buy both the cars. He doesn’t know us Hyderabadis or he would have opened a Jaguar showroom here before he opened one in Mumbai.

Anyway, it is just my luck that I’m not a multi-millionaire (not yet). Or maybe I’ll wait until they open a Rolls Royce showroom in Hyderabad. It gets quite tiring to drive a Rolls all the way from Mumbai to Hyderabad, even for an F1driver like me.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Sunday Haul

Just like me my son too is crazy about flying and airplanes. He makes his own paper airplanes and also cardboard models. In fact he is quite good at them. So when I found an old manual about making model planes I picked it up. It had a model that could actually fly with the help of a propeller powered by a rubber band. I had been looking out for this since a long time. I felt very glad I found it.

The next find too was another flying manual- the manual of Flight Simulator 2000. I have the 2002 version on my computer though without the manual. The manual was lightweight and not very lengthy. It seemed perfect for my kid so I picked it up as well. I still haven’t mastered FS but he flies the planes on the stimulator far better than I can. My only worry was now he would pester me to buy the joystick I am putting off buying since it would mean he would spend long hours playing.

The best find of the day was a book by someone I was inspired by- Julia Cameron. A long time back, maybe an year and half ago I came across Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ in which I read about ‘Morning Pages’ and other exercises of enhancing one’s creativity. It is a good exercise writing three pages in long hand eveery morning. It clears up a lot from the mind. A couple of months later I found another book by her ‘The Right to Write’ which too was a similar book except this was confined to writing only. I have read both the books and found them quite useful. I had read about another book by her ‘The Vein of Gold’ but did not expect to come across it, least of all at Abids.

I found Julia Cameron’s ‘The Vein of Gold’ almost hidden in a stack of books. If I hadn’t looked twice to check the author’s name I would have missed it. It was a pleasant find because I got the hardcover book for a hundred and twenty five rupees. It is quite a chunky book so I plan to read it slowly and maybe do some of the exercises suggested in the book. I had also seen another book I wanted to buy but left for the next week’s haul- John Barth’s ‘The Friday Book- Essays and Other Non-Fiction.’ It was a hardcover book and I planned to pick it up next week if it is still unsold. I saw another copy of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Stick’ but I did not buy it. That was the Sunday Haul