Friday, November 27, 2009

The Sunday Haul- 3 Books and 1 Magazine

The rate at which I’m finding the latest issues of Conde Nast Traveler I feel it is only fair on my part to pack my bags and take off to any one of the places lovingly described in it. Whenever I find the magazine and get it for not more than ten rupees I feel happy initially followed by a strange guilt. Somehow I feel that the people at Conde Nast Traveler, if ever they come to know about it, might feel bad that someone’s reading the latest issues of their magazine at such a ridiculous price. The least I could do is experience the places they write about so passionately. The problem is, with my government pay I am unlikely to go anywhere more exotic than Sri Lanka or even, Bangladesh. Last Sunday, I found the February 2009 issue of the magazine. I had not even completely read the one I found the previous week.

There are some authors whose books one can never find- neither in the regular book stores nor in the second hand ones. Ryszard Kapuscinski is one of them. Though he’s written more than a couple of books, ‘Travels with Herodotus’ is the only title I’ve seen displayed at a regular store sometime back. A couple of months ago I was lucky to find a two-in-one book ‘The Emperor and Shah of Shahs.’ Last Sunday again I found another Ryszard Kapuscinski book- ‘Another Day of Life’ which is about his visit to Angola in 1975 at the peak of the civil war there. I haven’t yet read the book I had found earlier so that makes it two Kapuscinski books that I have to read. Incidentally, this book contains new material translated by Klara Glowezewska who happens to be the Editor-in-Chief of Conde Nast Traveler, the magazine of my destinations/destiny!

Similarly, for some odd reason not one of the regular bookstores in Hyderabad stocks books of Dave Barry. I found all my copies of his books either at Abids or at the second hand bookstores. It was the same with Elmore Leonard’s books until recently. Now some of the stores especially Odyssey stock his books. Talking of Elmore Leonard, the other day I was ticking off in a list his titles that I don’t have. ‘Cat Chaser,’ ‘Mr. Majestyk,’ and ‘When the Women Come Out to Dance’ are three of Elmore Leonard’s books that I have to add to my collection. On Sunday I got lucky again. I bought ‘When the Women Come Out to Dance’ that Uma spotted first. It was a Penguin imprint and is a collection of nine stories- Sparks, Hanging Out at the Beuna Vista, Chickasaw Charlie Hoke, When the Women Come Out to Dance, Fire in the Hole, Karen Makes Out, Hurrah for Capt. Early, Teen Killer, and The Tonto Woman which is the only story I have read in another of his collection of stories. I got this book for fifty rupees after a futile bargain.

A couple of years ago, at Abids, I found Henry Miller’s ‘The Books in My Life’ that I grabbed without a second thought, the moment I spotted it. When I got home I was dismayed to discover that more than three fourth’s of the book’s pages were missing. That was the reason why I felt it was too slim a book considering the title. Anyway, on Sunday I found ‘The Intimate Henry Miller’ which is a collection of his stories, essays, and autobiographical sketches, in all, seven pieces. One of the essays, a rather lengthy one, was on Rider Haggard’s ‘SHE’ which is taken from ‘The Books in My Life.’

For a hundred rupees, this was what I hauled in on Sunday- three books and a magazine.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Small Town Snapshots- 2

One good thing about Vijayawada (apart from the fact that it is 275 kms away from Hyderabad) is that there is no dearth of buses to take you to that place. At any given time there will be no less than half a dozen buses with ‘Vijayawada’ boards waiting to leave at the MGBS bus terminal. The place where I work happens to be on the highway to Vijayawada so any bus that goes to Vijayawada will take me there. Till recently the bus service was the only one positive thing about my work place. Last week another unusual discovery took the list to two items. It is a small thing but nevertheless cheered me no end.

If one considers the great chunks of time I get to read and write, and the solitude to do it in, one might think I am fortunate to work in a place far away from home. But nothing can compensate for the absence of your loved ones around you. It is a little more than three months that I have been posted to this small town and my resentment levels have reached intolerable levels. There are several reasons for this state. I live in a two roomed house that has a shutter for a door, I sleep on the floor, I eat my breakfast, lunch and dinner in a hotel for six days a week, plus there is no running water most of the time but all the dust one can have, and the power goes off too often without warning… The list is too long and it is futile to recount it here since I have no choice but to stay on for another two years at least. But last week I stumbled upon something that might bring some cheer to my otherwise drab existence in this small town.

I was on my way to a village along with my assistant on his bike. We were on the highway and a familiar sign suddenly caught my eye. It was a CCD outlet in a petrol filling station five kilometers from my town! Though I am a diehard Irani chai fan, the sight of the red and white CCD sign made me irrationally glad. I decided to check it out on the way back. So I hurried through the farmers meeting at the village. A couple of hours later we stopped at the CCD. It was bigger than any CCD I had been to in Hyderabad. It had nice, soft seats spread out all over. There were even chairs and tables under umbrellas outside. We ordered coffee and waited. Capuccino never tasted so good. I made plans to spend at least a couple of hours in the CCD once a week. I would borrow a bike and bring along a book and my notebook. It seemed the perfect setting to spend a few quiet hours reading and writing. I plan to begin this routine as soon as possible.

Though unrelated to my place of work, another bit of news brought me cheer. I don’t know why other newspapers did not report it but yesterday (Sunday) I read in The New Indian Express that the Hyderabad Book Fair would begin from December 24. Unlike in the past when the Fair would last ten days, this year it is going to be for only four (yes, four) days until December 27. Though I am not glad about the short duration I am glad about the dates because three of them are holidays for me. But I have to wait a whole month for the feast.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Sunday Haul

On the first Sunday of this month, which also happened to be the first day of the month, I found the latest (Oct 09) issue of National Geographic Travel at Abids. This Sunday it was the turn of Conde Nast Traveler of the same month. I am beginning to wonder how such latest issues of these magazines are ending up on the pavements of Abids. It is a mystery that I hope will be resolved someday because I am getting them for only ten rupees.

The main article in the magazine was ‘Secrets of Smart Travel Now’ which is just as well because I am setting out on a two-month long training schedule that involves traveling to remote villages. The article gives tips to international travelers rather than to those traveling to villages in countries like ours. There are no secrets to traveling in rural areas of the country except stepping into the villages with an open heart. Another thing to know, and it is not a secret, is trying to remember the way back home.

I almost forgot but the magazine had one of the best articles on a city that I had not been to since twenty five years- Mumbai. I get to know about the city by reading about it here and there and also, watching it on the television. But Shoba Narayan’s article in Conde Nast Traveler was in a style that I rather liked. I was not really surprised to read about the 27-floor two billion dollar home that Mukesh Ambani was building for his family of six. But my mind really boggled when I read that there would be six hundred servants for his six member family. That was just one of the interesting things the article on Bombay is cluttered with. It also made me wonder about my own city- Hyderabad of the Half-Brained Drivers.

At last, I picked up the hardcover copy of Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather Papers’ that I had been eyeing since the time I saw it two weeks back. I got the book for eighty rupees. It was fortunate that nobody picked it up. I don’t think anybody will be interested in such books though no one who has read ‘The Godfather’ wouldn't be interested in knowing the story behind the creation of the bestselling book and movie. Apart from the piece about ‘The Godfather,’ there are many other essays in it that reveal Puzo's knowledgew of a lot of other things than the Mafia.

It is perhaps futile on my part to expect to find Vladimir Nobokov’s ‘Lectures on Literature’ that I had missed buying sometime last month. I did not find it this Sunday too and do not hope to. It is another regret I have added to my growing list. However, I keep seeing two books that I am tempted to buy. Nobody seems to be interested in picking up Elmore Leonard’s ‘Pagan Babies’ and ‘Glitz.’ If I find them next week maybe I will pick them up.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Progress of My Novel

There are writers, I’ve discovered recently, who’ve managed to write an entire novel in far lesser time than it took me to complete just one round of revision of my first novel. For the past eight weeks I’ve been slogging on, revising my draft one more time. Despite the effort and time spent, the draft continues to leave me with despair. With each round of revision I find so many holes in the story that the feeling of abandoning the book altogether becomes stronger. The story doesn’t seem right, the characters appear flat, the dialogue sounds phony, the descriptions are pedestrian- these are some of the things that bug me when I am reading the draft of my novel.

But one of the things I am happy about is that the revisions are resulting in a number of pages being cut out, bringing the number of pages down. After the current revision the page count is down to 325, which is still too high. I realize I have a lot more of cutting to do. Sometimes the cutting is easy but sometimes it is difficult. I don’t know what to cut and what to keep. I think I am at a stage where either God or a professional editor only can help me. I will keep on revising and editing until I cannot do it anymore. When I am editing I am lost in the world that I fail to notice that I am grumpy and irritated at home. I don’t think I will come back to normalcy until the book is finished. For the time being I am taking a week’s break from the draft.

I guess it is high time I revealed something about the novel that is taking so much of my time. Needless to say, like most first novels, it is autobiographical. It doesn’t take a genius to tell who the story of an advertising professional turned bureaucrat is based on. I’ve made up a story of a young copywriter who dreams of becoming a film scriptwriter but ends up in the government. I’ve blended some of my experiences as a copywriter with those as a raw recruit in the government posted in a very backward area. Not many bureaucrats have come to the government via an advertising agency. This I feel makes my novel different from the sort of books bureaucrats, especially the just retired or about to retire, churn out. Such books (by other bureaucrats) usually are self-laudatory without containing any embarrassing revelations. I haven’t read many of them but Upamanyu Chatterjee’s ‘English August’ is a brilliant exception. But then again, he is an IAS officer and English Literature grad to boot.

But I’m digressing. Coming back to my book, I’ve tried to add some humor in it. It was rather easy for me to write 500 word pieces that contained a few funny lines here and there, that I’ve managed to get published. Those who have read them have told them they are a bit humorous. But writing a funny book is very difficult, I’ve learnt soon enough. Anyway, the intention was to write a book that has a sprinkling of humor in it but I think I have fallen short.

Exactly two people, friends actually, have taken the trouble of not only reading the entire draft but also of telling me how the experience was. Being friends, they were very generous in their praise (?) of my work, despite being the sort of people whose taste in books can only said to be ‘eclectic’. Anyway, I cannot ever thank them enough for suffering the experience of reading my meandering first novel which I am yet to completely understand myself. Their feedback has been encouraging and I have temporarily abandoned the idea of throwing away the draft and forgetting about being a writer.

I’ve actually drawn up a list of people I want to give my book to for their feedback. Reading the book is the price they have to pay for making my (unfortunate) acquaintance. They are left with no other option but to read it unless they plan to flee the country. Sometime in December I will begin handing out the drafts to them. The plan is to listen to the feedback and decide whether to take the next step of contacting a publisher or give up on the book altogether.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A No Haul Sunday

A No Haul Sunday

Once in a while I return from the Sunday morning trip to Abids hands empty and heart filled with disappointment. On such days I also feel secretly relieved that I did not buy any book to bring home, books that will fill up space in the already burgeoning shelves at home. But that feeling is a rare one and also a fleeting one whereas the disappointment at not finding anything lasts the whole day and sometimes, the whole week. All through the week I regret not picking up the books I had flipped through. I had seen a copy of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Glitch’ which I did not buy since I already have the book. I had also seen books by William Faulkner that I did not, regretfully, buy.

There was more cause for regret. I had seen a nice, hardcover copy of Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather Papers’ that was for hundred rupees. I did not buy it for some reason, maybe I thought the rate was too high or the guy who had the book was one who wasn’t the bargaining sort. Only a couple of months ago I had found a paperback copy of the same book. I had been elated since I had been on the look out for the book since several years and had bought it without a second thought. Still, I thought of buying the hardcover copy last Sunday but ultimately I ended up not buying it. Next week I plan to buy it. That is, if it is still there. The other week too I had made a similar promise to myself with another book.

I had seen Vladimir Nobokov’s ‘Lectures in Literature’ that I missed buying because of its condition but later I promised myself that I would pick it up the following week. But the following Sunday I couldn’t find the book which left me heartbroken. It would have been a good book to read and I felt stupid not buying it the moment I saw it. But I realized there are other people who do more stupid things at Abids.

I’m referring to those people who buy pirated books. I can understand (though not agree with) people who cannot afford the expensive and hard to get original editions. But when people who appear well dressed and look like they can afford anything buy pirated books by the dozen I feel irritated. It is something I cannot ever fathom. Every Sunday I see people buy pirated copies of popular bestsellers. I’ve even seen people buying pirated copies of books of Chetan Bhagat! Imagine not being able shell out ninety five books which is what his original books are priced at. It is difficult to understand such people. For some reason I do not find second hand copies of his books.

Even difficult to understand is finding there are people who do not think anything about tearing a book in half. On Sunday I felt glad when I saw a heap of PG Wodehouse titles that I rarely get to see. But when I flipped the cover of one title I saw that all the pages were torn into half sideways. All the nearly dozen books were mutilated in that manner. The entire book, cover and number of pages were intact except for the horizontal tear. Nothing is more heartbreaking for a book lover than to come across books torn in that barbaric manner. I wonder who it could have been who disposed his entire collection of PG Wodehouse books after tearing the pages. I hope never to come across that person.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Three Things

The Fountain Pen
I always lose my heart to the beautiful ones, fountain pens, that is. A few weeks ago when Uma showed me his new Hero fountain pen I wanted one for myself at any cost. It was a beautiful one, quite unlike the usual Hero fountain pens, with an open nib and eye dropper ink filling mechanism which I prefer. It was sleek, light weight and wrote so well that I fell in love with it right away. It wasn’t until recently that Uma traced out one for me.

When I hold a beautiful fountain pen like my new Hero I feel like Elmore Leonard, Dave Barry and Gabriel Garcia Marquez all rolled into one. It is enough to have it in the pocket to feel like a writer. I don’t feel it is necessary to write anything to feel like a good writer. To me the feeling of being a writer is enough there are people who have written three books and don’t feel like writers, forget about being considered as writers. With a pen like that in hand I feel it isn’t really difficult to write a novel.

The Notebook
For the same reason that I pick up fountain pens I also pick up notebooks though not as often as I want to. Sometime last month I was on a training session in the company of officials from outside the state. We were taken on a sightseeing trip to Shilparamam where I chanced upon some lovely notebooks in a stall. They were of handmade paper with a soft brown leather cover. I picked up one for fifty rupees and decided to buy a few more sometime later. I want to buy at least three for myself and a couple more to give away to friends. I hope the stall is still there at Shilparamam.

The Bookmark
One of the many things that my kid handcrafts, some happen to be bookmarks. Tired of watching me use platform tickets, visiting cards, folded bus tickets and the like as bookmarks he makes them for me. But I don’t have the heart to use them because I tend to misplace my bookmarks too often. I don’t want to lose the bookmarks he makes spending a lot of time and effort on them. The one in the picture is the latest bookmark he made for me. By the way, he was short listed for the finals of the ‘Young World Painting Competion’ the finals which will be held next Sunday. Watch this space for more about the result.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Sunday Haul

Normally I hesitate to pick up any book by an author whose name I haven’t heard before anywhere. But if the book’s title has a word that comes close to magical like ‘writing’,’ or ‘Tuscany’ I buy it with eyes closed. The other thing was that the cover was quite good and it was a Penguin imprint. So it was it with eyes closed that I bought Allan Parker’s ‘Seasons in Tuscany’ for only twenty rupees last Sunday at Abids. It was the only book I bought and the other find was a magazine- the absolutely latest (Oct 09) issue of ‘National Geographic Traveler’ that I got for just ten rupees.

What they say about not judging a book by its cover seems to have a lot of truth in it. Allan Parker’s ‘Seasons in Tuscany’ did not appear as good as I thought when I bought it looking at its cover. Maybe I had expected the sort of writing Frances Mayes managed in ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ which evoked Tuscany like nothing before. SIT was too run of the mill with a lot of things happening too quickly. In the first two pages the author falls in love with a woman quite too easily. Then there are paragraphs and paragraphs of dry description about the place. With insipid prose and an insconsistent style the first thirty pages were a disappointment but I hope the rest of the book will somehow make it up.

It was surprising not to find any mention of Tuscany in the 25th Anniversary Edition issue of ‘National Geographic Traveler’ that featured the World’s Greatest Destinations in ‘50 Places of a Lifetime.’ Of course, there was Florence and another place, Salina in Italy but I was surprised Tuscany did not find a place along with Provence, which too was missing. Two places in India find a place in the list. All destinations in this issue are written by famous writers of the country. Shashi Tharoor wrote about Delhi and Amitabh Kant did the honours for Fatehpur Sikri. I don’t know why no one writes about the beautiful Andamans. There are some places in the Andamans which make you think of spending the rest of the life there doing nothing but watching the sunrise. Maybe someday I will write about it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Driver's Suicide

Such things always seem to happen when I am not around. The week before, on Monday afternoon, when I was down with fever at home I got a call from my boss. He told me cryptically that our jeep driver had committed suicide early in the morning. He took pesticide and died in a van in the office premises my boss told me. He did not say anymore but told me the news was breaking on television. When I switched it on I was more shocked than surprised because one of the channels said harassment by officials was one of the reasons for the driver’s suicide. I happened to be one of the officers working there!

Then the phone rang non-stop. One of my assistants filled me with the details. It seems the driver had left two suicide notes. The discovery of the body itself was an event he told me. The driver was supposed to report early in the morning to take a group of farmers to Hyderabad. So my assistant too had reached the office in the morning and was desperately trying to reach the driver on his cell phone. It was getting late and the farmers were beginning to get restive. When my assistant had left the office to find out, one of the farmers called him on phone to say that there was a body in the van parked inside the office premises. The driver lay on the last seat, frothing at the mouth. He had kept two suicide notes in his pocket.

Finally, it emerged that the driver had blamed an officer who had worked in the office more than a year ago, for driving him to suicide. When I reached my office five days later I got a different picture. The driver was not well, he had problems at home and was depressed. It was quite apparent that he was depressed because all day he would sit in the van and stare out into space. Once or twice I had tried to talk with him but he would give only monosyllabic replies. But now after his suicide I could realize what he would have been thinking of.

What saddened me was the role of the officer in the suicide. He had left almost a year ago but what he did the driver could not forget. I cannot write here how he affected the driver’s life but it made me angry. I could not believe that people could stoop to such levels. It was a sordid story not worth recounting here.