Friday, August 28, 2009

At the High Court

With the incessant rain and with nothing much to do in the evening except read and write, I was feeling homesick in the small town I am working in. So when my boss gave me a wonderful opportunity to go to Hyderabad I jumped at the chance. He wanted me to follow up with a top government lawyer about a case in the High Court and told me not to return until I finished the task. I readily agreed to do anything that’d have me in Hyderabad for a couple of days.

I’ve been coming to the High Court since two days and doing nothing but waiting. I’ve had enough experience to know that one doesn’t go to meet lawyers, especially the government ones with a blank face. So I read up on the case and was prepared in all ways for the lawyer’s questioning. Since I also knew that most of my time would be spent waiting I took along a book. I had with me Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Wild Mind’ that I wanted to reread. I sat in the lawyer’s room with the book while he was busy reading files. After a while he got up to go outside and stopped at the door where I was sitting. He asked me what I was reading. When I showed him the book he asked me what it was about. He wanted to get a copy for himself when I told him it was about writing. His room was lined with tomes of legal books and I wonder where this book would fit in.

After he spotted me with the book I got special preference on the second day. He called me first though there were scores of people who had come before me and waiting for his call. He told me not to worry about the case and asked me to sit reading the book while he looked after the documents of the case and prepared a reply. I guess my habit of reading books everywhere has at last come of use even though not for personal reasons. At least I’d be able to impress the boss that I completed the task successfully.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sunday Double Treat

Whenever civic authorities in Hyderabad undertake road repairs or pipeline laying or desilting drains they want the whole world to know. Which is why one finds trenches dug for laying pipes remaining open for days if not weeks together, material for laying roads lying on the road side for years together, silt taken out from drains piled just near the manholes and things like that everywhere. It is as if they are holding an exhibition. On Sunday I happened to see one such exhibition when I was on my way to Necklace Road to my monthly morning routine. Mounds of silvery garbage taken out of the Hussainsagar Lake was piled on the pavements on the NTR Garden side road. It looked like the mounds of trash have been lying for days together. Luckily the scene was not similar on the Necklace Road.

It was a cloudy morning at Necklace Road and I got only a peek at the sun rising from behind the towering clouds. Some kind of black birds swam in circles on the placid surface of the Hussainsagar lake. My mind too was clouded with too many things especially the minor upheaval resulting from my posting at a distant place. It would take some time for me to settle down, and also get used to the idea that I cannot be with my family the whole week.

Afterwards I sat in Adarsh with the Sunday papers and spent an hour reading them and also inhaling cigarette smoke. The same fellow who irritated me a long time back was at his usual place, sipping tea and coolly smoking a cigarette. I guess it is his morning routine so I let him be and concentrated on reading the paper while he bid good bye to his lungs puff by puff.

Later in the day at Abids, it was a near washout with a sudden shower drenching all the books on the pavements. I hate it when books get spoilt in any manner. From someone whose books were not damaged by the rain, I picked up the April 2009 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine. I had no idea that LP brought out a magazine also and it was a surprise finding it at Abids. I got the magazine for only thirty rupees. The writing in Lonely Planet Magazine was good and the photographs were great only the format was a bit odd. It was too large I felt compared to the size of my regular find, Conde Nast Traveller.

I had also seen a nice, hardcover copy of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Glitz’ but I did not buy it. I will pick it up if I find it next week.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Two Sunday's Haul

Sometimes my curiosity is greater than a cat’s. I’ve never seen an Apple Mac in my life except in the office of a film producer I briefly worked with. No one I knew seemed to work on Macs. I knew they were fast machines and expensive as hell. One of the dreams I have is to buy an Apple Mac laptop. Last Sunday I found ‘Mac World’ a magazine about everything Apple Mac. I saw pictures of Mac Pro Notebooks, the Mac Air, the thin lightweight laptop and every other Mac accessory and software that I did not even know existed. I am quite inept and also ignorant when it comes to electronic gadgets and their workings so Mac World gave me the opportunity to fill some of the gaps in my knowledge. I got it for only ten bucks but was worth the information I found in it though it was the October 2008 issue.

But another magazine I found was the July 2009 issue of Vanity Fair which had Johnny Depp on the cover. It was the latest issue which I got for only ten bucks again. It had three stories of financial fraudsters and one named Allen Stanford had sponsored an Indian golfer, Vijay Singh I read in it. It also had Part III of the Madoff Chronicles, the saga of the billionaire fraudster Bernie Madoff and the people who trusted him with their fortunes of whom Steven Spielberg is a familiar name.

Another high brow magazine I found was the December 8, 2008 issue of ‘The New Yorker which I hadn’t time to read properly. It had a short review of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ which is called ‘an old fashioned, sentimental cliffhanger’ movie. I haven’t seen the movie so I cannot tell if it is true. The cartoons in this magazine are something I love.

The other Sunday I found not one but two issues of ‘Conde Nast Traveller.’ I found the May 2006 and December 2006 issues for only thirty bucks for the two. The December issue had a story by Jeremy Hart about driving a car in Mumbai’s chaotic traffic. He would lose his mind if he ever happened to drive in Hyderabad’s traffic. The two magazines had the usual gorgeous pictures of equally gorgeous locations and dishes.

Another travel related magazine, a new one, I found was ‘Coastal Living’ that is said to be ‘the magazine for people who love the coast.’ The magazine was entirely about life of the rich, the sort who can afford million dollar homes on some of the finest coasts in the US. Some of the houses are so lavishly furnished that they would make the Jubilee Hills houses like slum dwellings.

The best buy of the previous Sunday was, of course, Elmore Leonard’s ‘Bandits’ that I got for twenty bucks. I picked it up though I have a better copy with me. I had also seen ‘Glitz’ but I reserved it for another Sunday, the next maybe.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another New Place to Eat

While the rest of the people in this part of Hyderabad worry about where their next meal is going to come from, the Jubilee Hills folks have a different sort of worry; they worry about where to have the next meal. What with scores of posh restaurants to choose from, the Jubilee Hills money bags really have a tough time deciding where to go for their lunch/dinner. They are the sort who don’t think twice about eating out at all times of the day. I really, really envy those living in that posh place. Imagine learning a new place to eat every other week. Another new place opened recently causing intense heartburn in those who don’t live in Jubilee Hills

As if there aren’t enough restaurants already in Jubilee Hills, another new one opened about ten days ago, this one- a Thai restaurant, if you please, that goes by the name of ISDA, on Road No. 92. I guess with the road numbers crossing ninety, the plan is to have at least one or two restaurants in each road and maybe that’s the reason why there’s a new joint opening every other week. Anyway, I really hope the new restaurant lives up to the expectations of the Jubilee Hills crowd and vice versa.

Meanwhile the food scene in other parts of Hyderabad is hotting up with Ramzan barely a week away. Ovens to hold the vessels used to make Haleem are coming up briskly in front of all Irani hotels worth their name. It is going to be a mouth watering wait for the Ramzan month to begin. However, the recession is making its effect felt because it is already in the news that Haleem is going to get costly by at least five rupees. Let it be five rupees or ten rupees more we Hyderabadis are going to knock off tons and tons of Haleem faster than they can make it.

Irani chai has become costlier now. The prices have gone up by at least one rupee with most Irani restaurants selling a cup for six rupees. Until last week it was only five rupees in most places like Bombay Bakery, Paradise and such famous joints and now one has to shell out an extra rupee for one cup. Now that I have become a weekend Hyderabadi I really miss my daily dose of Irani chai and eagerly look forward to Sunday to have it. That is the sort of sacrifice one has to make in government service, and people say government employees are a pampered lot. If only they knew how it feels to go without Irani chai for a week.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Small Town Snapshots

Since the past couple of days I haven’t been breathing the Hyderabadi air. Not that I didn’t want to (I’m not going to die if I don’t) but because I have finally taken up residence in my new place of posting. At last I am in the field though this isn’t exactly the kind of field posting I had expected but nevertheless I am happy I am not working in a lousy office. My new place of posting, like I had already mentioned in earlier posts, is in a small town on a busy national highway. It isn’t very small but I like it though it doesn’t have any Irani restaurants which is one thing I am missing like anything. I can hardly believe I am able to survive without my daily cup of Irani tea. I think I have to get used to the fact that I have to spend most of the week without Irani tea in this small town.

It maybe a small town but it had a nice government guest house, one of those ancient structures built in the times of the Nizams or the British rule. It became my temporary home for a couple of days. I was lucky I got a room there thanks to someone who turned out to be a friend’s friend. In fact I am amazed how helpful people living in small towns really are. I am humbled by the eagerness of these small towners to help someone who they have barely met. After I met him and expressed my accommodation problems, he took out his bike and said he’d arrange it in a jiffy but not before taking me for lunch. Afterwards he took me to the guest house where there was an attendant who said that it wouldn’t be a problem providing me a room. He said I could come over in the evening. It really didn’t turn out to be a problem finding a room in the Guest House. In fact I spent three wonderful days in a spacious airconditioned room in the small guest house. The first day in the guest house did have its moments of drama.

When I reached the guest house in the evening I noticed that it was swarming with cops of all sizes and shapes. There were cops in uniform carrying rifles, there were cops in safari suits with sten guns slung across their shoulders and there were police officers in uniforms with pistols stuck in their belts going around in that manner that I have come to know marks the presence of one of their big bosses. Then there were several vehicles parked in the large compound. I wondered what it was, but K, the bearded attendant confirmed my guess when he told me a top cop was visiting. I changed into tees and pajamas and settled down with a book after a nice cup of tea. After sometime K appeared in my room and asked me that one of the cops, a circle inspector, wanted to know if I would mind if the top cop came to my room and had a smoke. I wondered why he wanted to smoke in my room when he had one of his own. K told me he had come with family. I agreed and sat waiting hoping he wouldn’t expect me to get up and salute him.

But the cop didn’t turn up though another officer came in and briefly checked out the room I was staying. After sometime all of them left and later, much later, it stuck me that the cops had made that request because they wanted to check me out. It is a Naxalite infested area and I guess they wanted to make sure I wasn’t one of those out to bomb their boss to high heaven. These cops like to take all precautions and do not trust anyone who isn’t a cop. I know because I worked with cops long enough to understand a little about how they think.

The guest house attendant, K, turned out to be the sort of helpful guy one cannot help loving. He turned up just when I needed his help. He brought me my dinner, hot water in the morning for my bath, my morning cup of tea and a newspaper to read along with it, my breakfast and everything I needed. In short I didn’t have to move an inch to get anything. When I checked out three days later I gave him a big tip that shocked him. He was so modest he said the tip was too much but accepted it anyway. I was in a generous mood because he had made me feel at home in the guest house.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Away on the Highway- The New Post


Until last week it used to take just twenty minutes for me to get to office on my bike. Now it takes three hours by bus to reach my office at my new post, a hundred and thirty five kilometers away from home. It also means that I cannot make the journey every day, of course. Apart from the long journey, the other difference is that I miss the usual hustle bustle of working in the head office. I am posted in a different office where there are just a little more than a dozen people in a small office. There isn’t much work and I guess I will be bored beyond belief. But then, the bright side of it is that I will have plenty of time on hand to read as much as I can.

I guess there is some kind of a loss when one is posted out of the head office to a field office. There is the loss of pride of working in an office that matters. There are also other losses as well. There is the loss of authority, the loss of a feeling of responsibility, the loss of allowances etc. The biggest one is the loss of the joy of being with the family all the time. It is something I have to reconcile myself to and I think it will take sometime to get used to the fact that I cannot have dinner with my family every day. If there are some losses then there are bound to be some compensations. But as of now I don’t see any.

On the other hand there were a few things that promised adventure. Attached to the office is a jeep and also, I couldn’t believe it, a bus! It had been a childhood dream to drive a bus. Since I am almost No.2 in the new office I guess I can throw my weight around and get behind the wheel of the bus when the opportunity presents itself. Or maybe I have to create the opportunity myself which seems more likely. Another promise of adventure was revealed when someone in the new office told me that snakes have a free run of the compound where the office is located. Our new office is in a vast ground full of thorny bushes and other trees. Actually, there is a towering, reddish ant hill under a tree right in front of the office. I am eagerly looking forward for my first sighting of the hissing crawlies.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Books Everywhere

It was another of those weeks when I found books, books and more books wherever I turned. Last Saturday was the first day of the sale of second hand books by Best Books Center held at YMCA at Secunderabad. I had learnt about it only two days earlier and I was raring to drop in and check out if they had a new collection. I was impatient all through my farewell to rush to the sale. No sooner had the farewell ended than I raced towards YMCA hoping no one would have picked the good ones.

The sale was in a smaller hall so there weren’t as many books as those in the previous sales. Nevertheless, the collection was good and I found some new books. I picked up a book that I had been reading about quite frequently and that was also mentioned as some kind of a classic. After a lot of deliberation I finally picked up Don Dellilo’s ‘White Noise’ and the only thing I remember was that he seemed to have been a copywriter. It was not in such a good condition but I picked it up nevertheless.

Nowadays, I am seriously into revision and editing of my first book so anything that would help make it better would be welcome I thought when I picked up ‘Line by Line’ a book about ‘How to Improve Your Own Writing’ that I got for a hundred bucks. Anything that would help me write well and make your lives easier. These were the only books I picked up on my first visit to the sale. I plan to go again later in the week.

On Sunday there was the ‘Literary Review’ supplement in ‘The Hindu’ which I read first thing in the morning. There was another front page article by Aditya Sudershan on how young but talented writers feel discouraged by debatable opinions of older and established writers about writing not being for the inexperienced and the young. I feel he is right.

Later on at Abids, I found Hemingway’s ‘The Dangerous Summer,’ a non-fiction book about rivalry between two famous bullfighters in Spain. I took it for twenty rupees. I had missed a nice copy of another of his books last Sunday so I made up for it by picking up this slim book.

On Monday I happened to visit Walden to pick up the latest issue of ‘Tinkle’ for my kid. On a separate table I saw a pile of books being sold on discount prices. I just wanted to take a look not expecting to find any good book. But as it happened, I found a brand new copy of Elmore Leonard’s collection of short stories- The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories. It was a Penguin edition and was for only a hundred rupees whereas Rs. 329 was penciled in the inside page. I picked it up though I have a used copy with me. It has nineteen stories including the classic ‘Three Ten to Yuma’ that I read somewhere has been made into a movie.

Since now I will be only a weekend Hyderabadi I think this will be the last occasion I will be buying so many books in so short a time. I forgive myself for this extravagance, a sort of retail therapy to make up for the disappointment of a faraway posting.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Between Posts and A Government Farewell

By Government employee standards it was not an unusual venue for hosting a farewell but it sure took me by surprise. I did not even imagine in my wildest dreams that I would be getting a farewell at, of all the places, an Udupi restaurant. The Shanbagh Restaurant at Liberty had the privilege of hosting my farewell last week. If you had been one of the lunchers at Shanbagh last Saturday you would have seen my embarrassed self accepting a bouquet from fellow employees appearing glad that I had been promoted at last.

I was a tad disappointed with the venue of my farewell but I was also happy that the venue eliminated the necessity of giving farewell speeches. I am embarrassed to give such speeches where I have to say so many lies praising my fellow workers and also be the subject of similar untruthful praises. I was greatly relieved for I had been dreading the prospect of the speech and had been having jitters just thinking of the opening lines. Not that I am a very bad speaker but I have the tendency of going off tangent and talking something entirely different.

I must have been the only government servant on whose promotion the main course at lunch was, surprise, surprise, a South Indian thali. It shows how imaginative we government folks are in such matters. If the food was a big letdown then the farewell gifts that I got were quite surprising. One of my assistants who presents himself before me with an expression of awe every time I summon him gave me a nice Parker Vector fountain pen, a red one, that came with a free ink bottle. Another colleague, a lady, also presented me a nice Pierre Cardin fountain pen. It wouldn’t have taken much time or effort for them to think of a suitable gift for me since I always use a fountain pen at office.

So right now I am between postings. I have a week’s time to join at my new posting which happens to be very far away from Hyderabad. With just a few days left for me before I become a weekend Hyderabadi I am indulging in all those small pleasures that I had taken for granted all these days- Irani chai at least once a day, browsing at second hand bookstores and the occasional late afternoon walk. Next week onwards I can only dream of doing these things during office hours. But then one cannot have too much of a good thing for too long. All good things must come to an end. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be doing this blog. In fact I am glad I will have another topic to write about even if it means there will be less of Hyderabad. Keep reading for the new posts about the new place.