Friday, December 31, 2010

Back from the Break

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy goes the saying and as a dull government bloke I’m in danger of becoming more so if the pace of the work at the office is anything to go by. Since the past two months, especially in the past three weeks, I’ve been working non-stop on all days from morning until almost midnight. Needless to say, it includes holidays too. I don’t mind it but when I cannot go to Abids on Sunday something in my life goes missing. I haven’t been to Abids since god knows when from November first week. On one Sunday I managed to be there for an hour in the afternoon but it was barely enough to do a quick round and not surprisingly I did not find anything.

Not only did I miss my Sunday visits to Abids I missed a lot of other things too, like being with the family, the Hyderabad Literary Festival and a couple of book readings I badly wanted to attend. The only consolation was that I was able to make it twice to the Book Fair where I picked up a couple of good books. Ever since I had missed picking an old copy of Carson McCullers’ ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ I had been on the lookout for this book. At the Book Fair sometime last week I found a copy of the same that I got for a hundred rupees. Another find, also a second hand copy, was that of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Up in Honey’s Room’ which I suspect I had bought earlier. Nevertheless I picked it up for hundred bucks.

I had thought that during the break from the blog I would be able to catch up on my reading and also complete the revisions of my first novel. I was so busy at the office that I was not able to do either of these tasks though I was able to steal a few minutes to read a bit now and then. One of the best things I had read during the break was Edna O’ Brien’s essay in ‘Best Writing on Writing’ where she writes about emotions in writing. It was a beautiful essay that immediately made me resolve to read all of Anton Chekhov’s works. As for the revision on my novel I have just completed one rough revision and sometime in January I might begin to send queries to publishing houses.

For a long time I had been thinking of writing a post about the best finds of 2010 on the lines of similar posts I did in the past two years. But I haven’t been able to find the time do so. I’ll write only the names of the books that I think are the best ones I found at Abids and other second hand bookstores during the year.- ‘The Gathering’ by Anne Enright, ‘Lucky’ by Alice Sebold, ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen, ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing’ by Lajos Egri, ‘African Calliope- A Journey into the Sudan’ by ‘A Place I’ve Never Been’ by David Leavitt, ‘What I Talk When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami, and ‘The Simple Art of Murder’ by Raymond Chandler.

Deccan Chronicle Sunday Supplement carried an article about what Chandrahas Choudhury, Anjali Joseph, Mridula Koshy, Advaita Kala and so on expect to read in 2011. There is no book common to their lists so there are quite a few books by known and unknown writers to look forward to. I too hope to read some of the books especially Joan Didion’s ‘Blue Nights’ that Tishani Doshi mentioned as one she was looking forward to read. I plan to buy Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ before I read her latest book. I think I have her ‘White Album’ with me somewhere in my collection of books that I have yet to read.

More in later posts

Friday, November 26, 2010


I've decided to take a couple of weeks' break from posting on the blog. I shall be back sometime on or around December 15.

After the break I plan to focus only on books, and maybe, fountain pens which means I can post only once a week

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Unusual Book Launch

Last Thursday I attended a book launch that was not only unusual but also special to me in more ways than one. Unusual because it wasn’t just one book that was launched but, simultaneously, two books (Urban Shots and Another Chance) were launched. Unusual again because there weren’t the usual frills, drama and big names associated with book launches and readings in Hyderabad. Another unusual thing was that one of the books- Urban Shots- was a collection of short stories written by more than a dozen writers half of which were people I knew since long which was one special thing. Another special feature was that one of the names was that of a writing friend - Vrinda Baliga who happens to be a member of ‘Writing India’ group on Yahoo. There were other familiar names too- Kunal Dhabalia (fellow blogger), Abha Iyengar, Hasmita Chander (founder of Writing India), Paritosh Uttam, and Biswanath Ghosh, journalist, blogger, and author of the bestselling travel book ‘Chai, Chai.’ The other special feature was that this was the only other book launch where the author or one of authors happened to be a friend of mine. Since this was such a special launch I couldn’t afford to miss it at any cost and so ended up at the Crossword Bookstore in City Centre Mall in Banjara Hills to root for Vrinda along with Hari, Rasana and Umashankar.

In Hyderabad, book launches in bookstores are rather different affairs. First, there isn’t much of a crowd. Second, half the crowd melts within ten or fifteen minutes of the launch or reading. But on Thursday, the crowd stayed put until the event after almost an hour which was something of a record. I couldn’t see any familiar face I see at book launches or readings here. Everyone in the gathering was a new face. It began without much fanfare though the three writers- Vrinda Baliga, Kunal Dhabalia and Ahmed Faiyaz appeared a bit nervous which is expected of first time writers. They launched the book and soon got down into an interesting discussion with Vinay Verma of Sutradhar about how they wrote the stories featured in the book.

Published by Grey Oak and edited by Paritosh Uttam, ‘Urban Shots’ is a collection of short stories by thirteen writers. The 28 (not 29 as mentioned on the cover and elsewhere) short stories are arranged according to theme in five categories- Relationships, Love, Friendship, Angst, and Longing. I have read only a few stories in the book so can’t make a general statement about it. The first stories I read were Vrinda Baliga’s ‘Stick Figures’ and ‘Dialects of Silence.’ Both stories are well written proving that Vrinda is a short story writer to look out for. Then there was ‘Liberation’ by Malathi Jaikumar which was also good. Of course, I also read Biswanath Ghosh’s stories too and found them interesting enough though the topics are those that he writes about on his blog.

Though the quality of some of the stories in ‘Urban Shots’ is uneven with some stories sounding amateurish it is a welcome change from the slew of books being written by just about everyone. I feel that it will trigger the publication of many such collections of short stories. It will not only add to the growing list IWE but also give the necessary exposure to many writers whose talents have not yet been recognized.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Sunday Haul

On one hand there is the satisfaction of having found and read books of some of the great travel writers like Pico Iyer, Paul Theroux, Peter Matthiessen, Ryszcard Kapuscinski, Jonathan Raban, Bruce Chatwin and others but what outweighs this satisfaction is the disappointment of not having yet read many other and equally great travel writers like Eric Newby, Wilfred Thesiger, Rory MacLean and also Jan Morris. A couple of years ago at Abids I had found something that was really a treasure- ‘Wanderlust’ of edited by Don George. Among the forty one articles in it that I read one by one over a period of several weeks was one by Jan Morris titled ‘The Meaning of Gdansk’ after reading which an image from it stayed in my mind for a long time after. It was that of an old red and white model of a paddle streamer that Morris brought to Wales all the way from Gdansk. After reading the article I wanted to read more of this superb writer but it proved to be quite a long wait to find a book by Jan Morris. The wait ended last Sunday.

Owing to bad weather one Sunday and Diwali on another Sunday that followed I could not make it to Abids for my weekly book hunt. I was more than excited when I started out for Abids this Sunday hoping I’d find a good book at the end of the day. Within minutes of starting my hunt I came upon Jan Morris’ ‘Travels’ that I picked up without hesitation for fifty rupees. The hardcover book is worth more than what I paid for it. ‘Travels’ had eleven different articles on places like Singapore, Dublin, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Washington D.C., and on people like Ibn Batuta. I read the article on Singapore ‘The City State’ and found it written in a different style. Jan Morris’ writing is a satisfying mix that combines the personal, the historical and the factual observations about places and people. The articles are not something that one can zip through like articles in travel magazines. They have to be read quite slowly in order to taken in the richness of the prose and the factual information. One may have to (at least people like me) read them again and again to fully comprehend what is written.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mind Boggler

For quite sometime now I’d been wondering if we in this part of the city could come up with something that would blow the socks off the Jubilee Hills crowd. That crowd appears to me a self-centred lot that believes that Jubilee Hills is where all the action ( and, not to forget, the money) is. They think nothing happens this side of the city. But not anymore. On Saturday the Falknuma Palace Hotel opened its doors to the public and I have no doubt there will be a lot of people who are going to keel over from the sheer opulence of it. In case you are the easily awed type I suggest you take along someone when you go to FPH.

I am very excited because all this time I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen. Now no matter how many fancy hotels open in Jubilee Hills I am not going to feel envious at all. In fact sometime last week I read that yet another new boutique hotel (the Ridge) had opened in Jubilee Hills and I did not even bat an eyelid. That’s because the mother of all hotels- Falaknuma Palace Hotel to beat every hotel in the city, nay the country, has come up. From what I’ve heard of it and read about the FPH it is the sort of hotel that will leave even the Jubilee Hills crowd gawking with mouths open. FPH is the kind of hotel where the cost of a night’s dinner will buy you two entire hotels (and their owners and staff as well) in Jubilee Hills. FPH has got the style no amount of Jubilee Hills money can buy. They cannot ever imagine having a hotel like FPH in Jubilee Hills even if they pool all their millions. This is ‘shaan’ nothing can hold a candle to.

Of course, it isn’t the sort of hotel ordinary Hyderabadis like me can afford to drop in for dinner. Only those with deep pockets will be able to dine here and needless to say though FPH is halfway across the city it will be the Jubilee Hills crowd who will be flocking to the hotel in droves. FPH will give them an excuse to venture to those parts of the city they never know even exists.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Midweek Haul

Back in 2008, I came across an article in the New Sunday Indian Express (which is one of the many papers I read on Sundays) in the month of February. It was about the Man Booker Prize Winner of 2007 so naturally I cut it and kept it in my scrap book. The writer of the article was Bob Thompson and the subject of the article was Anne Enright whose novel ‘The Gathering’ fetched her the ‘Booker’ that year.

No other Booker winner captured my imagination as much as Anne Enright and I very badly wanted to read ‘The Gathering’ as soon as I could lay my hands on it. A couple of weeks later the ‘The Gathering’ appeared on the bookshelves in Indian book stores. The book, if I remember correctly, was priced somewhere around six hundred and fifty rupees. I wished I could come across a second hand copy for which I don’t have to spend in the hundreds. It was until last week, more than two years after learning about the book, that I found a second hand copy.

Last week at the second hand bookstore where I had spotted a minor treasure consisting of a handful of books that I planned to buy one or two books at a time, I found Anne Enright’s ‘the Gathering’ and had to pay only seventy rupees for it. The book is almost in new condition. Though I waited more than two years to find the book, now I cannot seem to wait any longer to read it. I am fighting off a strong urge to begin reading it right away. But I’m biding my time until I get a full day without any distractions or demands on my time. I flipped through the book and read a few lines at random and found that the book was of a kind I had never read before.

Maybe that was why Colm Toibin’s blurb on the back cover of the book made out Enright as a combination of Joan Didion, Alice Munro, Alice McDermott and Edna O’Brien. I cannot wait to discover for myself how true it is.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Storm Watcher

There are very few jobs, particularly in the government, that occasion frequent adrenaline rushes. Such occasions were there in my career too but for not more than a day or two. Rarely had there been times when I had to put in long hours for an entire week in a state of high excitement. Last week was one such occasion thanks to the ‘Jal’ Cyclone that had us all in a state of high alert. As a small cog in the enormous Government machinery I saw how the government functions when there’s a disaster looming around the corner. Sometime in the beginning of the week when we were already busy with the visit of the Central Team and with heavy rains in other parts of the State came the news about a cyclone making its way towards the State.

For almost a week every one in the office and the government as well waited with bated breath as bulletin after bulletin from the weather office (IMD) gave us the movement of the cyclone. With each day the cyclone seemed to gain strength and inch closer towards the State. The status of the cyclone was being upgraded from depression to cyclone to a severe cyclonic storm in two days. It was enough to make all of us terribly nervous. We dreaded the next bulletin wondering what news it would bring. There’s a Standard Operating Procedure that we follow when it comes to cyclones, like what needs to be done 72 hrs, 48, 24 hours before it crosses the coast. Every one was busy doing their own jobs that they are supposed to do. It reminded me of my copywriter days in the advertising agency when we were close to the deadline of a major campaign. The office buzzed with people rushing to and fro, the sound of the constant ringing of mobile phones and landlines, of the fax machine, of the printers and so on. Every hour we were sending messages to the district officials about what to do. Apart from these were the almost hourly reports to the Ministers and the press. Journalists with mikes in their hands with cameramen tagging behind them were a common sight in our office the whole of last week.

At no time in one’s life does one get a chance to ask the three Defence forces to be ready to move in to help. A couple of days ago I sent one of the many messages to the Army, Air Force and the Navy to be in a state of readiness as news of the cyclone gathering strength trickled in. We sent messages to have people evacuated from low lying areas to safer places. We asked for coordinates to help choppers land in case of necessity. People from other offices trooped in to help. Every one in the office pitched in the work. I never knew that the government staff would be so responsible. Everyone was anxious and some even prayed that the cyclone would go away to some other place. Though I had only an idea of what damage such cyclones bring veterans in the department told me that though the cyclone lasts only a few hours it would mean weeks of work for us afterwards.

Yesterday came the merciful news that the cyclone had weakened into a depression. Nevertheless it brought a lot of rain, killing about fourteen people, bringing down houses, marooning thousands of people and flattening crops in thousands of acres. It is something to lose one’s belongings and something else to lose one’s only source of income. No one except farmers can understand what it feels to see the fruit of one’s labour get washed away before one’s eyes. No amount of compensation can bring back the crop so whenever there are floods and cyclones the most miserable people are the farmers.

About the only good that a cyclone or a calamity of this scale brings is the sight of the government staff working tirelessly round the clock to see that not much damage occurs. I saw several people in my office stay late in the night, come early in the morning, volunteer to do night duty and put in a lot of effort to make sure every one was safe.

The whole week I felt like I was in a different world. I did not read anything but only managed to do a couple of posts on this blog. I reached office early in the morning and left late in the night. The only thought on my mind, like everyone else in the office, was about the Jal cyclone. But now mercifully it has gone but there is still a lot to be done. It looks like I might be making another trip to Delhi after a couple of weeks as the Government of India has to be informed about the damages the cyclone has caused. Maybe in the last week of this month I’ll be winging away to Delhi.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Another Delhi Haul

More than the excitement of flying twice in less than a month (at government expense!) to Delhi was the excitement that I’d get to buy two books I had recently come across. One was a book that I had rather unwisely chosen not to buy just because the cover was torn. Another was a book by a new writer I read about on the same day I was told to go to Delhi once again sometime last week.

There are times when something that you wish for becomes a reality even before you’ve completed dreaming about it. Sometime last week I came across Ankush Saikia’s ‘Jet City Woman’ in a blog of the same name while searching for literary agents. When I read on the blog that he lived in ‘A’ Block, CR Park I was a bit excited. CR Park ‘A’ Block was where I normally stay with my brother whenever I visit Delhi. Reading that information I wondered when I would next visit Delhi. I’d been to Delhi not more than a fortnight earlier so another trip seemed unlikely. I could hardly believe it when I was told to pack up and be ready to fly to Delhi the next day. As soon as my visit was finalized I began to make my own plans to meet Ankush Saikia if possible. I wanted to ask him how he managed to get published by Rupa & Co and other writerly questione after getting him to sign on a copy of his book. On the face of it the plan appeared pretty doable until I began to look for a copy of Jet City Woman.

At the Odyssey store in the airport at Hyderabad I couldn’t find the book. I thought I’d definitely find it at one of the bookstores in Khan Market where I had to go on work. Bahrison’s didn’t have it and Faqeerchand too did not stock it though they offered to get me a copy the next day. I decided to try out the shops in Janpath but I met with no success. There was some hope when one of the shopkeepers told me he would call his distributor and get a copy while I waited. It turned out the distributor too did not have a copy. It was getting late into the evening and somehow I decided to check out Oxford Bookstore two streets away. I had a hunch I’d get a copy of JCW there. I felt relieved when I spotted it on the racks and picked it up. It was then I called up the author expecting him to be in Delhi and agreeing to meet me. When he told me he was away in Assam I was disappointed. The bright side was that at least I could read the book before meeting the writer. Now I have to wait until it is time for me to make another trip to Delhi.

On my previous trip to Delhi I had seen a copy of Edward Albee’s ‘Stretching My Mind’ at a bookstore called ‘Nanda Book Service’ in Nehru Place. I did not buy it because the cover was torn and later while returning to Hyderabad I felt a bit stupid about my decision. I realized what’s inside is far more important than the cover and for a day I felt like a total idiot. But I got a second chance to look for it again. However it appeared unlikely that I'd find the book because more than a fortnight had passed since I last saw it. I couldn’t believe it when I found the book on the top of one of the piles of book in the store. It looked like someone had checked it out and had made the rather unwise decision not to buy it. Another smaller and pleasant surprise was that the price was only fifty rupees.

‘Stretching My Mind’ was another additon to my collection of books on writing. Now to finish reading ‘Jet City Woman’ and wait for the call to Delhi. I have a feeling that in another two weeks I'll be winging towards Delhi

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

To Delhi, Again

A little more than a fortnight ago when I flew to Delhi (in a plane, naturally. I haven’t yet sprouted wings) I did not expect to make another trip for a long time to come. I hadn’t even finished telling everyone I knew that I had actually been to Delhi by plane when I was told I had to make another trip. It was quite a dramatic decision to send me to Delhi again so soon. I was busy with a report when out of the blue, late in the afternoon, I was told to be ready to leave the next morning. Any trip at such short notice leaves me a bit jittery about things like tickets and accommodation but luckily my tickets were arranged by the office so I only had to pack a few things and leave.

It isn’t much fun traveling anywhere on work even if it is by plane. Though it wasn’t a very critical mission I was going on nevertheless I was anxious about doing it right. So it was in a somber mood that I started out for the airport. This time I was booked on a late morning flight on Spice Jet. I had the mission worked out in my mind. I would visit two offices before having lunch at AP Bhavan. Afterwards I planned to visit another office which, by a happy coincidence, is located in Khan Market. I was looking forward to go around gawking in Khan Market after finishing my mission. I would be free until the next day until eleven in the morning so I made my own little plans which included looking for a certain book that I will write about in the next post.

Unlike in a bus where you can look out of the window to make out which place you are passing through you cannot do it in an airplane. Unless one possesses telescopic vision that can penetrate through cloud cover it is impossible to know where one is. On my previous trip on an Air India plane there was this screen that showed the plane’s trajectory that also displayed in how many minutes the plane would land at Delhi. The only discovery I made about Spice Jet is that they serve rice items on the flight which wasn’t the case with Indigo on the return trip.

The cab my brother booked for me at Delhi was driven by a Sardar. Tejinder Singh would have been at home on the roads of Hyderabad given the way he drove the cab. He was muttering under his breath at driver blocking him, passed through the red signal a couple of times, glared at drivers who did not let him pass and did all the sort of things that we Hyderabadis do as a matter of habit. Tejinder Singh's driving was making me extremely nervous. As it is I was already nervous about accomplishing my mission in time and the Sardar’s driving wasn't exactly making me glad I was out of Hyderabad.It did not also help that Tejinder did not appear the sort to be told to drive safely by someone out of town and sitting in the back seat. Anyway it wasn’t until I had a sumptuous lunch at the crowded restaurant at AP Bhavan that an idea struck me about taming Tejinder.

After lunch I quickly finished the last leg of my official mission and made my way to Khan Market like I had never been there before. I went around trying my best not to look out of place in that posh market teeming with the chic and the fashionable crowd of New Delhi. It wouldn’t have been difficult for anyone to make out that I was an out of towner given the way I was gawking at everything and everyone like a true Hyderabadi. I’m exaggerating a bit but I find it hard to believe that there are people don’t mind spending a couple of lakhs on one’s footwear or a bag. I know there are a lot of super rich people in the country just that I haven’t seen any of them in person. There are a lot of such rich folks who come to Khan Market to splurge on things. Luckily for me there was nothing to splurge on. I couldn’t even find the book I was looking for. But I did see something that made me wish I was a millionaire. It was a book that will feature in my next post.

On the way back to my brother’s house in the peak evening hour traffic I tested my idea to calm down the Sardar. I had noticed that he had put on the car stereo that was playing Punjabi songs. I asked him if he had a CD of Gurbaani. ‘Yes, sir,’ he whispered in a hushed voice and put the CD on. As the mellifluous Gurbaani filled the cab Tejinder seemed to calm down. He drove in a manner that in turn calmed me and convinced me I would reach home in one piece.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Sunday and Midweek Haul

One problem common to all people who love to read and have to contend with is that of lack of time to read all the books that they have picked up by the dozen. I do not know about others but I pick up books from the pavements and elsewhere at the rate of at least two books a week. At that rate I end up with over a hundred books on my shelves every year. This is normal for me but what is not normal is that only half the books get read what with the demands of the job, family, friends, writing taking up most of the time leaving little time to indulge in the pleasure of reading.

On an average I manage to read five or six books a month which means that there is a very large mountain of books waiting to be read. One book of the many that make up this mountain of unread books in my house is Malcolm Muggeridge’s ‘The Green Stick’ that I happened to find at a second hand bookstore a couple of years ago. Though I haven’t found the time to read ‘Green Stick’ by Malcolm Muggeridge I found and bought another of his books last Sunday. I picked up his ‘Tread Softly for You Tread on My Jokes’ for only twenty rupees at Abids and that was the only interesting find of Sunday.

No one who is serious about his/her passion for reading and books can claim not to know Anne Fadiman, the superb essayist, bibliophile and also fountain pen lover. I don’t really remember where I read about her and the book she wrote- ‘Ex-Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader’, but the title remained in my mind. I was desperately hoping I’d find it in a second hand bookstore or on the pavements of Abids though it appeared quite impossible. But then, like I said several times I am quite lucky when it comes to books, so on one magical afternoon a couple of years ago I found the book. It was in the Best Books Store at Lakdi-ka-Pul where I had gone one afternoon when I had a lot of time on hand. I saw the book on one of the racks and my heart gave a jump. I grabbed it immediately and was ready to pay any amount but seventy five rupees was what I paid for it. All the essays in it are wonderful but one that I read again and again is one about fountain pens with the title ‘Eternal Ink’ which I think everyone who loves fountain pens must read. Anne Fadiman doesn’t seem to have written many books but last week I got lucky with another of her book of essays.

Last week I happened to be at a bookstore where I came upon a treasure trove of books that I hope to pick up from at least one a week. I have a list of half a dozen good titles I plan to buy and the first book I picked up from the trove was Anne Fadiman’s ‘At Large’ that I got for a hundred rupees. Anne Fadiman is one of those rare souls who loves books, writing with fountain pens and also writes extremely well which is where I realize I am different from her. 'At Large' is a hardcover book with twelve essays on nature, coffee and other topics that really seem everyday ones until you read them. I haven’t read all of them except ‘Coffee’ which is really good but I think the essays in ‘Ex-Libris’ are the ones I love more which maybe because they are all about books and the love of reading. Next week maybe I will pick up a title on something slowly becoming a passion with me- cooking and chefs.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The New Pen

Among many memories of my father is one of waiting anxiously until late into the night for him to return from Hyderabad to the small town where we stayed then. I wondered what he would have brought for us from Hyderabad. I knew, along with my elder brother, that there would be the latest Amar Chitra Katha comic in his suitcase along with toys. The suitcase would be opened only in the morning and so I would go to be bed wracked by anxiety. Sometimes we would sneak into his room and take a peek inside dad’s suitcase while he was in another room. On every trip to Hyderabad or some other place he would invariably get something for us kids. Now I am doing the same for my son, getting something for him whenever I go on long trips. This time I bought a fountain pen for him as he has started showing interest in writing with fountain pens.

It had not been in my mind to buy a fountain pen for my son but when I walked into a stationery store at Nehru Place to look for notebooks my eye as usual fell on the fountain pens displayed. I asked to look at a blue Pelikano school fountain pen. I almost returned it when I saw it had a cartridge filling system but the man at the counter said he had a piston mechanism that could be fitted. The pen was for one hundred and eighty rupees and the piston cost me another hundred. I put it in my bag and forgot all about it until I returned home. The first thing my kid made me do, after giving me a brief hug, was to open the bag and show him what I had got for him. Later when he gave me the pen to write with after filling ink in it I was amazed. The nib was so smooth I couldn’t believe it. To use the exact word, the nib was 'smooth as silk' just like the nib on my Meisterstuck. This was the second branded pen I was writing with after my MB. I am so besotted with the Pelikano school fountain pen that I am planning to buy one for myself. Or maybe since I can always write with my son's Pelikano I might go in for a Lamy fountain pen. There was an ad for Lamy in yesterday's papers. Uma has a Lamy pen that he speaks very highly of. Of course, it is beautiful and writes fantastically which is why he bought it in the first place. I plan to buy one, a basic model which is not too expensive, sometime in the near future.

However that wasn’t the only pen related stuff that happened on the Delhi trip. On my way to the Capital from the International airport at Hyderabad I looked into the William Penn store in the departures terminal. Actually I did not know they had a store in Hyderabad so it was a pleasant surprise coming across it. I spent about quarter of an hour ogling at all the beautiful fountain pens displayed in the store and wishing there was some way I could earn a million rupees in a day. I also tried to imagine how stylish I would appear with a Rs 25,000 fountain pen in my shirt pocket. Later in Delhi at Khan Market I saw just the outside of the ‘editions’ pen store. I did not go in though since there is no point just gawking at the pens without being able to afford them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Delhi Haul

My Second Copy of 'The Groaning Shelf'
Only someone who loves books can perhaps understand why I did what I did at Delhi last week. It isn’t unusual for me to buy second or even third copies of books I like. So far I had picked up six copies of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and more than two copies of books by Dave Barry and Elmore Leonard especially his ‘Get Shorty.’ But these were all second hand books on which I did not have to spend more than fifty rupees a copy. I had never bought two brand new copies of any book until last week.

Sometime back while looking in Walden Bookstore in Hyderabad for Pradeep Sebastian’s ‘The Groaning Shelf’ the thought had occurred to me about buying a second copy. Sine the store had only one copy I had to be content with it though I had not entirely forgotten about buying a second copy sometime in the distant future. I wanted one copy to read and one to keep on my shelf unopened, unread and pristinely preserved.

Last week while going around Khan Market in Delhi I spotted Bahrisons Booksellers and stepped inside wondering if they had TGS. Not finding it on the shelves I asked the attendant if they happened to have a copy of it. He looked around for sometime, fished it out from a stack on the floor and put it in my hands. I hadn’t actually planned to buy the second copy of TGS right away. I had not even finished reading from the copy I had at home. Since, on my travels I am a bit extravagant, I quickly took out my wallet and paid for the book before I could change my mind. The second copy of TGS in my hand, I walked out of the store, in a happy state of mind, brushing away thoughts of what the missus would say when she saw two copies of the expensive book on my shelves.

On Friday I went to Nehru Place and wanted to check out the bookstore I had been to on my previous visit in April. At the bookstore I saw Edward Albee’s 'Stretching My Mind' for only hundred rupees. It appeared to be a book of essays, something that I love to read. But I did not feel like buying it because the top half of the book’s cover was torn. I hesitated for a while and took the painful decision not to buy it. Now I feel a bit of regret not buying the book. I also checked out two other sellers who had stacked their books in the open. There was nothing interested in the stack of books most of which had faded covers and not in particularly good shape. I had bought Elmore Leonard’s ‘Get Shorty’ from one of these sellers and the same guy had his ‘Switch’ too but I let it be.

Conde Nast Traveller Comes to India
At the IGI airport on Saturday on my way back to Hyderabad I had a lot of time to kill. The departures terminal was swarming with soldiers in their combat uniforms who occupied half the seats. There were some passengers who kept their bags in the seats beside them as if afraid someone would run off with them. If they thought the floor was too dirty to keep their precious bags it wasn’t so. The floor was terribly neat and good enough to eat off it. Unable to find a place to sit I wandered around and discovered that there were two bookstores in the terminal. One was ‘Odyssey’ and the other with a name that I forgot. It was in this store that I picked up the inaugural issue of ‘Conde Nast Traveller India’. I bought it, temporarily putting aside my rule of not buying anything, especially books and magazines, wrapped in plastic.

I am glad I bought it though the magazine weighed a ton with 320 glossy pages making up the inaugural issue. The magazine would be a bimonthly issue I read. On the cover was Aishwarya Rai. Inside, there was more interesting stuff. First thing I read on opening the magazine was Suketu Mehta’s piece on Indian eateries in New York.

John Le Carre's 'Our Kind of Traitor'- Future Buy
One book that I definitely plan to buy soon is the latest book by John Le Carre "Our Kind of Traitor.' On Sunday I had read Michiko Kakutani’s review of the book in the Deccan Chronicle. She had written that 'Our Kind of Traitor' was far better than some of Le Carre's previous titles that I too had not read. I had not bought them somehow sensing that they may not be as good as his older books. I was right since MK too said the same thing. MK’s glowing review of 'Our Kind of Traitor' means I have to, have to buy and read it. John Le Carre is one of my favorite spy thriller writer on par with another master of the same genre- Len Deighton.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Delhi Post

During my recent trip I did a lot at Delhi than what I went there for though half the time I was practically idle. I had more experiences than I had bargained for considering the fact that it was an official trip. I was not just asked to go but to go by plane as if there was no other means of reaching Delhi. Anyway, some of the experiences include ignoring a famous young actor standing behind me in the queue at the airport, pandal hopping, and traveling by the Metro apart from gawking at Khan Market where I bought something that I already possess.

Almost every time that I had flown by plane (which is not very frequent) I had the experience of meeting celebrities especially film stars. On my first ever flight back in the eighties the entire Indian cricket team accompanied me. On a recent occasion the comedian Brahmanandam was my fellow passenger. This time it was another younger actor. Since I was booked on an early morning flight I was at the airport at six in the morning. I stood waiting in line for the security check when Allu Arjun walked in and stood behind me. He was restless, glancing away at his mobile and looking around to see if anyone had recognized him. Not many seemed to know the actor but in the end a young attendant took him aside and got him a special check. I was glad he wasn’t traveling on the same plane.

The day I reached Delhi, Thursday, turned out to be a holiday for the whole city since it happened to be the last day of the Commonwealth Games. Everything was shut and the roads were deserted. There were gun toting soldiers and cops everywhere. Delhi appeared like a virtual fortress. Since all offices were closed I stayed at home watching television and reading old issues of HT Brunch.

I was staying at CR Park with my brother. In the evening I went out with my two nephews and sister-in-law ( who is a Bengali) to check out the puja pandals. It was quite an experience for me to watch how the Bengalis celebrate Durga Puja with everyone doing their bit. We went around five pandals in CR Park and at every pandal there were dozens of cops armed to their teeth. Roads were cordoned off and entry to cars was restricted to those belonging to the residents only. Everyone stood patiently in line to go through the metal detectors at the entrance. No one seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere unlike we Hyderabadis who would have been swarming all over the place. That was Thursday’s experience but the experience on Friday too was something that was a first in my life.

I was totally unprepared for the swank Delhi Metro. On all my trips to Delhi I have never failed to visit Connaught Place whatever the weather be. On most occasions it was cold and in April this year on my way to Shimla it was hot as hell in Delhi. But this time it was very pleasant and sunny. On Friday after completing my official business I was all set to go to Connaught Place. My brother told me to go by the Metro. The nearest Metro station was at Nehru Place. I took a bus to Nehru Place and found my way to Kalkaji Temple station where some construction was still in progress.

Once inside the station, my Hyderabadi jaw dropped when I looked around. It was unlike anything that I had seen. It was clean, modern with all steel and glass. I had to buy a token which looked like the sort they give out at malls etc where you keep your bags. The blue plastic token was an electronic one which opened the gates to let me into the station. I was wondering aloud how to get to CP when a young, quiet looking Sardar told me to follow him. He was so tall I could only see his turban above the heads of the crowd. When I saw the train stream in my Hyderabadi jaw dropped further. The doors opened and I stepped in. There were scrolling screens which showed the name of the next station. There were announcements too about the next station and which side the doors would open. I got down at Central Secretariat to catch another train to Rajiv Chowk. The stations were marvels of modernity with silent escalators, sign posts, smartly dressed crew and silent crowds. There was virtually no jostling though there were some who pushed their way in even before those inside got down. Of course, that was the Indian touch.

After going around the virtually deserted and almost unrecognizable CP I caught the Metro train back to Nehru Place. CP had a new look with barricades, newly painted surfaces, and a lot of nice changes. However, I did not find anything worth buying or looking at and simply wandered around gawking. I had been to Bahrisons at Khan Market earlier in the day when I had to visit an office which happened to be at Khan Market. Work done, I spent an hour gawking. I visited the only bookstore at Khan Market- Bahrisons where I found the owner ticking off an employee for disappointing a customer. He had apparently asked for a book and the guy wasn’t able to get it in time. At the store I picked up a second copy of a book that I already possess. It isn’t unusual of me to buy second copies of books I love but this happened to be a brand new book. This was a book worth every rupee of its price. In the next post titled ‘The Delhi Haul’ that I will put up on Friday I will write about this book.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Off to Delhi

The thing I miss most about my previous post is the relentless travel that I had to do. Almost every day I travelled to villages that used to get progressively smaller the deeper I went in. I went to villages that had no roads, to villages that had no building worth looking at and also visited villages far, far away from towns and cities. The only way to reach these villages was by bike or by bus. It was dreary to make these trips that were back breaking. It was worth visiting the villages if only to observe at close quarters how rural India lived. Most of the time I actually looked forward to those visits that took me to newer villages and newer faces almost everyday. However, on several occasions I wished I were somewhere else other than in a dusty village square talking to farmers. I wondered if there’d ever be any change in the way I traveled and also the places I traveled to. I used to dream of zipping around in a car. I did not, however, dream of flying in planes on work. That dream is almost coming true this week.

In my present posting at Hyderabad, confined to my desk, I wondered if I would get to travel anywhere apart from the twenty minute ride to and from office every day. Until yesterday I was fantasizing of going away somewhere faraway in a plane. I never imagined the dream would be coming true so quickly. Yesterday I had been told to be ready to fly to Delhi on office work, so tomorrow I am off to Delhi for a three day trip. It isn't that I am going on some high level meeting but on an errand that someone has to make. For the second time in a year I am visiting Delhi which is something of a record for me because I don't usually visit Delhi so often. The last time I was in Delhi was on my way to Mashobra. I am very keen to take a look at how Delhi has changed after the CWG. Last time the work on the flyovers and other structures was going on. I want to see how Connaught Place has been transformed.

I am told the people in Delhi are staying indoors on Thursday, the last day of the CW Games and the same day I'd be landing in Delhi. It seems the whole city would be shut down. I'll be stepping out on Friday only and after completing my official errand I plan to go around a few places. I want to check the second hand booksellers at Connaught Place and also at Nehru Place if I get the time. The next posts would be on the trip to Delhi.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Latest Food Joints in Hyderabad

Though normally preoccupied with books, bookstores and writers I also keep an eye out for other things that I am interested in, such as the restaurant scene in Hyderabad. That is because the scene changes almost every week, with new joints opening with a predictable regularity. Sometime last week I was passing through Begumpet and saw a sign board that announced the imminent opening of a branch of ‘Chutneys.’ They have a couple of branches in the city with the original ‘Chutneys’ on the main road to Jubilee Hills. This was the place where I was treated to a lavish buffet lunch by the producer of a TV comedy that I happened to contribute a few episodes.

Those who’ve been shocked by the news of the closure of ‘Gayatri Bhavan’ at Himayatnagar are in for another shock. ‘Gayatri Bhavan’ for those living in this side of Hyderabad was a sort of landmark. Many a genteel Hyderabadi especially those living in and around Himayatnagar has partook of the stuff that GB dished out. This idli-dosa joint where I too had eaten quite a number of times had shut down sometime last year. For a long time I thought that the place was undergoing a renovation looking at the construction activity going on. A couple of months back I saw a board that ‘McDonalds’ is opening an outlet at the very place where Gayatri Bhavan once stood. A lot of Hyderabadis who’ve eaten at GB and later passed away peacefully must be turning in their graves at this news.

The road that links Paradise Restaurant with Minister’s Road passing through Sindhi Colony has no fewer than a dozen eating joints. Two names catch my eye- ‘Rotti-Shotti’ and ‘The Idli Dosa People’ whenever I pass through that locality. A loved one’s birthday is coming up shortly and I plan to have dinner at ‘Rotti-Shotti’ to check if their ‘khaana-vaana’ is any good.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

More Book Talk

This is the last of the daily posts of this special week. Next week onwards it is back to the usual schedule- Tuesday and Fridays only.

Like it wasn’t enough compelling me to buy almost brand new issues of two different editions (the US and the UK editions) of Conde Nast Traveller every other week at Abids, fate has brought in another edition. The other day while looking high and low at Walden in search of a copy of Pradeep Sebastian’s ‘The Groaning Shelf’ I didn’t spare even the magazine racks. I got temporarily distracted from the hunt though, having chanced upon something unexpected. On the rack was ‘Conde Nast Traveller India’ priced at a hundred bucks. Coming close on the heels of Lonely Planet that launched its Indian edition recently, Conde Nast Traveller magazine is the latest but welcome addition to the travel magazines now crowding the shelves. I wanted to buy the inaugural issue but it was wrapped in a transparent plastic sheet. I don’t buy anything without first taking a look at it even if it is Conde Nast Traveller.

Most of what I learn about new books and book stores is through the papers. This week the papers had a lot of stuff about books, writers and bookstores. Those living in Tarnaka at last have a new bookstore opening in their midst. On Wednesday I saw an ad about a new bookstore- Shree Central Book Shop- opening in Mudra Complex, beside Big Bazaar in Tarnaka. Funny how there are many localities where one cannot find a single bookstore like Tarnaka, Kukatpalli and such places. I hope my friends in Tarnaka now stop grumbling about having to make long trips to buy books. I guess this is a branch of the bookstore of the same name at Clock Tower in Secunderabad. The ad also said that they are soon opening another branch at Pragathinagar, Kukatpalli.

For the fourth or fifth consecutive year the Nobel has gone to yet another writer I have not had the good fortune to read. However, Mario Vargos Llosa isn’t an entirely new name to me since the name is always quoted along with that of Gabriel Marcia Marquez. Long back I had seen one of his books at Abids but I did not buy it. It is one of those stupid decisions one has to live with I guess not picking up books by such writers.

Now that the Literature Nobel issue has been cleared I am curious to know who will get the maiden The Hindu Best Fiction Award. This month’s Literary Review carried the shortlist with eleven books on it. I am a bit embarrassed to reveal that I have not read any of the titles in the list. However, going by the various reviews of the books on the list I would bet on three likely contenders- Anjum Hasan (Neti, Neti) or Tishani Doshi (The Pleasure Seekers) or Manu Joseph (Serious Men) but Anjali Joseph (Saraswati Park) might turn out a surprise. The world has to wait until November 1 to know who wins the prize.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Midweek Haul- 'The Groaning Shelf'

This is the sixth daily post of this special week. The next one will appear tomorrow.

There are few things I go to great lengths to obtain. I am capable of anything (short of theft and murder) when it comes to books. There’s no saying how far my love for books will take me. Though I have been meaning to buy Pradeep Sebastian’s ‘The Groaning Shelf’ ever since I’ve read about it, I’ve not been able to buy it till yesterday. Something more pressing (a new mobile phone) made sure I was left with little money to buy a new book. Add to it the delay in getting the pay because of my transfer, my desperation to buy TGS reached a new peak. When I read the review of the book in the latest ‘Literary Review’ in The Hindu I couldn’t hold myself back. So on Thursday I set off to the bookstores to look for and buy ‘The Groaning Shelf.’ It turned out to be quite a long hunt.

Though it was quite late in the evening on Thursday I decided to check out ‘Crossword’ at the City Centre Mall in Banjara Hills first. I was disappointed to be told that the book was out of stock. Undeterred, I next went to the Landmark store in Banjara Hills. I entered the store hoping I’d find the book. But alas, Landmark too had run out of stocks of TGS. I wondered if the other booklovers in Hyderabad had got to the stocks much before me. The thought that they might be reading the book much before me made me determined to check every bookstore in Hyderabad till I found it.

The next stop was the small Oxford Book Store in Banjara Hills again. The sales person asked me to spell out ‘Pradeep’ and also ‘Groaning’ which made me wonder about the caliber of the salesmen in bookstores. The ones at Landmark and Crossword too had asked me to repeat the title like they had never heard the word ‘Groaning’ before. But it was at my fourth and final stop at the Walden Bookstore that I got lucky. The young attendant gave me the happy news that they had TGS in stock. But he was unable to find a copy. I was surprised I too couldn’t spot the book, the keen eyed guy that I thought I was having spotted Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections’ last Sunday at Abids. Anyway, I watched in despair, as the attendant looked all over the store. Finally after checking some invoices in a side room he rushed out and went straight to a rack and took out the book. I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t the one who spotted the book.

TGS is a compact sized hardcover book with a little under three hundred pages filled with some inviting essays on books. If the simple cover was arresting in its own way then the pages themselves held another surprise. The outer edges of the pages were notched which gave the book an interesting appearance. Also, the book was light which belied the weight of the words on its pages. Somehow I get the feeling that the author must have chosen the size and had the last word on the overall appearance of the book. But whatever, TGS is a book everyone who claims to love books must have on their bookshelves.

Only after I reached home after my three-hour, four-bookstore book hunt did I feel happy holding TGS in my hand and leafing through it. The brand new book with the pure white on the cover appeared striking beside the sad looking pile of second hand books taking up half of the dining table at home. For what I paid for TGS (Rs 395) I could have easily bought not less than a dozen secondhand books at Abids. But books on books by bibliophiles are not written so often and also hard to find so I really do not mind the big hole in my wallet.

Sometime in the coming weeks I will attempt a review though the thought makes me nervous. Tomorrow, in the next post, I will write about another interesting discovery I made at Walden.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Tragedies on the Job

This is the fourth daily post of this special week.

Never did I imagine, remotely even, that post-mortem reports would form a substantial part of my job-related reading. On a typical day I get to read at least half a dozen post mortem reports. It isn’t that I have to do it compulsorily. I have this habit of reading everything that comes to my table even if they are reports relating to deaths in accidents. I simply cannot resist reading anything that can be read even if it is just a pamplet about home tuitions. I want to read it from top to bottom. Also, I have to confess to a morbid curiosity to know how someone died. Frankly speaking, reading those reports is depressing especially when the reports happen to be those of children.

When someone who is below the poverty line dies an unnatural death in accidents and the like the state government pays fifty thousand rupees ex-gratia to the next of kin. That amount comes from our department. As soon as the accident happens the local officials release the money and later send the details to us for reimbursement. Among the details they forward are the post-mortem report and the FIR filed by the police. The FIRs are a category apart written they are in the language only cops know. It happens to be my job to go through such details before forwarding the papers for approval by the bosses.

Reading about the deaths of adults in road accidents etc doesn’t particularly have any effect but there are certain deaths that cause a lot of anguish. Entire families seem to perish in accidents in our country. Two that I cannot forget are the deaths of families that drowned while the country boat they were traveling in capsized in a river in spate. The other was about a family that died in a road accident. This accident took place on the road that I used to take to Suryapet. Going through the list of names, the details of their age, the injuries they suffered is enough to cause a lot of mental turmoil. I wonder how those members of the family who were lucky to survive would cope with the loss of their loved ones. The day I read about such deaths of families I cannot think normally. Those are the days I wish I wasn’t so addicted to reading.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Sunday Haul- Lucky, Lucky, Lucky.

From Monday to Saturday this week I will be posting daily.

Unlike lightning, luck does have a way of striking one at the same place more than twice, if not again and again. The other Sunday, I had found Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Simple Art of Murder’ at Chikkadpally. I was delighted to learn that I was extremely lucky to have found the book. This Sunday I found another Raymond Chandler title- ‘The High Window’ that I got for twenty five bucks. I hope this is also a lucky find. I have not yet started reading all the stories in the earlier title except the first one. ‘The High Window’ is Chandler’s third book and one that added to his growing fame. Since Chikkadpally comes before Abids I had a feeling that it was going to be a lucky day at Abids if finding Raymond Chandler was any indication.

The first find at Abids this Sunday turned out to be by a writer I had read about only recently. Sometime back I had read about Jonathan Franzen in an issue of Time and also in the issue of Vanity Fair that I found last week. I did not expect to find any of his books in secondhand bookstores stores much less at Abids. I had read that ‘The Corrections’ had sold three million copies one of which I discovered in a heap selling for twenty rupees at Abids. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the name on the cover of the paperback book. This was one writer and one book I had read about only weeks ago and one I had actually looked forward to reading someday. The day has come! ‘The Corrections’ runs to nearly six hundred pages. This is one book that is going to take me days to finish reading but whatever I am terribly glad I found this book.

I have lost count of the number of books on writing that I have read till date and I have also not count the number of times and examples of Ernest Hemingway’s writing that I read in those books. So far I have read only a few stories by Hemingway but not any of his novels. I am more interested in reading his non-fiction but his non-fiction books are few and also difficult to find. ‘Green Hills of Africa’ is one book I read about very recently and it was by a lucky coincidence that I found the book at Abids on Sunday. It was my third lucky find but it came at a steep price. The seller wasn’t budging from the fifty rupees that he quoted for it. I paid because I did not want to break my lucky spell.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

What the Reviews Don't Tell

Until recently I used to marvel at people who carried two mobiles and wondered how they managed to get through life juggling them. As usually happens to me when I wonder at some strange things a similar experience happened to me. For about a month I went around carrying two mobile phones (one personal and the other, official) feeling odd. I was in a dilemma- neither could I leave the personal phone at home nor could I burden y friends with the news that my mobile number had changed again. So I ended up carrying the burden of two chunky mobile phones a month before a solution suggested itself.

The solution was buying a dual SIM mobile phone. I spent weeks trying to decide which phone to buy since I wanted an MP3 player as well as a good camera in it. There were too many models with these features but I had my heart on the LG KS660 model. This model has Touch screen, a 5 MP camera, a ‘powerful’ MP 3 player and a host of other features. I was desperate for it but there was only one problem. I had no money to buy this model that costs over ten thousand rupees. It wasn’t worth spending so much on a mobile phone I was told repeatedly by those watching the stars in my eyes. I made a wise choice and snapped out of my dreams of sporting the LG KS660 mobile phone. Instead I decided to go in for another model. Sometime last week Motorala launched two dual SIM models but they too seemed way beyond my budget so I decided to for another model- the Samsung 2152.

I was told to go for a dual SIM phone in which the two SIMs were active so this model (the Samsung 2152) according to the reviews on the net, had that facility. I had planned to go with a friend to buy the phone because it makes me a bit nervous buying electronic stuff. But last Sunday I was passing through Punjagutta and dove into Hyderabad Central on an impulse. It was my intention only to check out other models and their features.

Going to Hyderabad Central was a minor revelation to me. Inside the lift, the attendant gave a strange look at a couple who said they had come to watch ‘Robot.’ He told them the tickets were sold out for weeks ahead. The whole mall was packed with people and there was no place to move around. People were waiting in the food courts watching others eat leisurely. People were trying out jeans, shirts and what not. There was a small crowd gathered to watch a handful of mobile phones displayed. I was one of them. It did not take me more than a minute to decide on the model I wanted to buy. I bought the Samsung 2152 for a little under four thousand rupees. I asked the salesman, as he put in my two SIMs, questions which I thought were the ones to ask. But I forgot a crucial one. Even the reviews did not have an answer to that problem that I discovered after I reached home.

The model had the feature of having both the SIMs active which meant that one could receive calls on either of the SIM. But if you had to make a call from the second SIM it would take no less than five minutes to do so. Only one SIM is a default one, I learnt, from which one can make calls easily. It was only when I tried to make a call from my second SIM I learnt about a new problem. I had to switch SIMs which involved pressing a lot of buttons for a long time. The phone reboots before it switches to the second SIM. This was one thing none of the reviews talked about, unfortunately. I was told that in the Chinese models one can make calls from both SIMs easily without switching.

Other features or non-features I discovered about my new mobile was that it had only one ringtone to choose from. 'Beyond Samsung' was the name of the ringtone which was so lousy that I doubt even the company people would use it on their own phones. It also did not have a memory card. I am sure there are a lot of surprises in store for me and I am eager to find them out. My phone has more 'non features' than 'features' in it that are useful.

Monday, October 04, 2010

'Joy of Giving Week' in Hyderabad

Starting today, for a week, I plan to do one post daily since I seem to have more time on my hands than money.

Last week something that I had been long trying to find out revealed itself to me in a rather unexpected way. Everyone knows, out there languish talented, hardworking people eager to make a honest living if only they had a bit of money. After years of traveling in rural areas I know how hard it is for some people to make a living. It was in my mind for long to do something to help instead of merely expressing sympathy. I was wondering how to go about identifying genuine people in need of a loan small enough for me but big enough for them to make a major difference in their lives. Last week, while reading the morning papers a small leaflet slipped out. It was the announcement of the ‘Joy of Giving Week’ event at Padmaraonagar which is near my home. I went with family in the evening and met a youngster in a stall of ‘Rang De’ which is an NGO which does exactly what I was thinking of. Now I am planning to go through the profiles of people who need a loan and pick out someone who I can help.

I find it very humbling to know that there are people and organizations who spend a lot of time and effort in helping people with problems like AIDS, learning disabilities and such problems normal people don’t pay attention to. At the fair I went around the stalls of several NGOs working for such people. More surprising was the fact there were eager youngsters mostly from the IT industry volunteering in the JGW. There was a fun element too to the event. School kids were dancing and giving performances. There was an enthusiastic youngster (I do not recollect his name) who I was told is seen often on television, belting out some popular film hits spurred on by the gathering. The crowd made of underprivileged school kids, visitors (many of them appearing well to do,) and others enjoyed the show that created a sense of participation and bonhomie.

An eager, polite youngster working for Microsoft who was in the Rotaract Club stall told me he’d come personally to collect a lot of stuff I wanted to give away. The next day I offloaded a carton full of books that I no longer wanted to read, clothes, ballpoint pens, pencils, an old keyboard and a mouse. The kid gave away some of the books I had bought for him to read when he was young. Apart from these articles there is something better that I can give- a helping hand and that I plan to do through Rang De. (

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Sunday Haul- Two Books and a Magazine

Though the number of memoirs by famous chefs that I’ve found at Abids till date comes nowhere near those by writers and books on writing that fill my shelves their numbers are steadily increasing. But I cannot understand my fascination for such books. Firstly, I cannot cook and secondly, I do not have any more love for food than is needed to fill the stomach. So I am unable to explain my growing interest in books by chefs and ex-chefs recounting their lives in the kitchen. Maybe I am destined to become a chef sometime in the near or distant future rather than a writer I was hoping to be. Whatever, on Sunday I found another such book- ‘Comfort Me with Apples’ by Ruth Riechl that I got for only twenty rupees. It was a sequel to her first book titled ‘Tender to the Bone’ that I now want to buy even before I have begun to read CMWA. In fact some of the reviews on the net suggest that it is better to read her first book before beginning her second. God knows when I will find 'Tender to the Bone.'

Joyce Carol Oates is another writer whose name and titles of books I come across very frequently mentioned in books on writing. She herself has written a book about writing titled “The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art” that I am still hoping to find someday. Meanwhile, I found a copy of her “You Must Remember This” in a heap of books selling for twenty rupees. It was an old copy with a tattered and torn cover and had an interesting book mark stuck between the pages. I love it when I find bookmarks in books that I pick up. It gives an idea where the previous owner of the book might have been. The one I found belonged to a lady in the USA.

It is not usual to find the latest issues of famous international magazines at the Abids book bazaar. On Sunday I found the very latest issue of ‘Vanity Fair’ and got it for thirty rupees only. There was a terrific piece by Christopher Hitchens on his cancer diagnosis. Here's the first line- 'I have more than once in my time woken up feeling like death.' Here's another 'In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life maybe, I have very abruptly become a finalist.'

If in one of the issues of CNT that I found last week I came across mention of Anjali Joseph’s ‘Saraswati Park’ then this week I read about Tishani Doshi’s ‘The Pleasure Seekers’ mentioned in Vanity Fair. Though described in just one line (Tishani Doshi's 'Pleasure Seekers' delights.) I guess that's enough to have serious readers take note of it. However, I am not as much eager to buy any of these two books as I am to buy Pradeep Sebastian’s ‘The Groaning Shelf and Other Instances of Book Love’ that I read about in Sunday’s Crest Edition of TOI. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the book published by Hachette and priced at Rs 395, is out in the bookstores. If it had been any other week of the month I would not have hesitated to rush out to the nearest bookstore to pick it up but being the last week of the month when the wallet is not exactly overflowing with cash I wisely decided to wait another week. That is, if I can hold myself back.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Not So Long Ago

It is proving to be rather difficult to get used to the fact that only a couple of weeks before I was traveling to small villages in passenger buses on work. It seems a long ago, though that I was roughing it out in the rural landscape trying to make sense of my job. Now that I am in Hyderabad, at a desk job, it feels odd. Though I had returned to the field post after a long gap and had been at it for just over a year I felt at home there. But it was rather tiring work with all that travelling, meeting farmers and feeling some kind of an invisible pressure all the time. Not that I did not enjoyed it but a field job had its own problems and perks. But a desk job is something else altogether.

There are several reasons why I do not enjoy desk jobs. I prefer being in the field posts where the action is, where one comes face to face with the public whose ‘servants’ we are. In the field you know what is happening which is not possible if you are sitting in your chair in some far off office. In the field, you are in the ‘situation’ which incidentally changes every day. There’s nothing to beat the feeling of being in the thick of things. To sum up, there is nothing like a field posting to make you feel that you are doing a real job.

A field post involves traveling all the time, meeting different kinds of people, facing different situations and generally, is one which doesn’t let you sit still. The field posting also puts you in different moods. Sometimes you are elated that you were able to help someone and being thanked for it and sometimes you feel rotten given the kind of people around you. Sometimes you become an unwitting target of some poor guy’s ire for no fault of yours. This is a very common thing in field postings, being a government wala, to suffer the consequences of someone’s mistake. I did not mind shouted at, but what got my goat was facing the anger of some innocent villager cheated out of his rightful due by some dishonest employee. You’d be surprised to see the levels to which some government employees stoop to make money off poor villagers. All this takes a huge toll if you are someone like me, too sensitive.

Not that I am glad that I have got out of the field post but I feel relieved a bit. In this current posting, miles away from villages I am in the centre of the government establishment. But I am only one among the hundreds in this office which hums with a strange power because it is the place where the top people have their offices and decide upon important things. This, needless to say, doesn’t make for much excitement for someone who is only a face in the crowd. About the only excitement I had in these couple of weeks was being asked one morning to rush to the office to send a message to the Navy to take up a rescue mission in a faraway place. Someone had drowned in a river and his body was untraceable. But before the naval swimmers could begin there was another message that the body was found. So much for my rushing.

As of now, two things I am glad about is that I am with my kid all thet time and that I get to eat my lunch on time. Out there in the villages it was something I was not sure of getting much less having it on time. Even though I hardly eat two morsels out of my tiny lunch box I am glad I have it right on time. Yes, I am also happy I get to have Irani chai whenever I feel like it. There is nothing like downing a cup of Irani chai straight from the saucer to make you feel like a Hyderabadi.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Sunday Haul

Flipping through the glossy pages of yet another issue of the Conde Nast Traveller (July 2010 issue) that I found at Abids this Sunday I suddenly realized that I could perhaps be the only reader of the magazine who hasn’t been to any of the places written about in it. The problem with Conde Nast Traveller is that it features the sort of places not many government blokes like me can afford to visit without breaking the bank. Anyway, on the other hand, I feel I should consider myself lucky that I am finding the magazine and its latest issues even, quite regularly and getting to read all about those places I cannot ever dream of visiting. Of course, being in government service I can’t unless some publisher decides to accept my first novel and agrees to pay me a jaw-dropping sum as advance.

I do not know why but once I find Conde Nast Traveller I find it again and again. I found the July 2010 issue this Sunday even before I could finish reading the August 2010 issue that I had found last Sunday at Abids. I had also seen a stack of the same magazine (but these were of 2009) the other day at the Landmark sale and they were selling at fifty rupees each. In the July 2010 issue I found Mumbai is featured once again as if there is no other place in India worth a visit. If not for the Charminar or Golconda I feel that people should visit Hyderabad to see for themselves how wonderful drivers we Hyderabadis are.

After Dave Barry and Bill Bryson one humor writer I discovered is David Sedaris. I had found his ‘Me Talk Funny One Day’ long back at Abids and liked his humor enough not to lend the book to anyone. This Sunday I came across another of his books- ‘Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim’ and bought it for sixty rupees. It is a book of humorous essays which is one form I love to read. The book got some pretty impressive reviews and here are some:

The hilarious new collection from the funniest man on the face of the earth.’ – New York Post

The essays are sardonic, funny, and wry, but at the same time… that attest to the author’s evolution from comic writer to full-fledged memoirist’- that from the famed critic Michiko Kakutani of New York Times.

‘You’ll be on the floor laughing once the twisted mind of David Sedaris has its way with you.’- Marie Claire

I guess that’s enough to get all those who missed this book at Abids start burning. The last item in the Sunday Haul I made at Abids is a book completely at odds with the previous find. A hardcover edition of ‘The Best Short Stories of Dostoesvsky’ is what I found and got for only forty rupees which is a steal considering it has seven stories filling up 297 pages. These are the stories in it- White Nights, The Honest Thief, The Christmas Tree and a Wedding, The Peasant Marey, Notes from the Underground, A Gentle Creature, and The Dream of a Ridiculous Man along with an Introduction by the translator David Magarshack.

So far in my short reading life I haven’t read anything about Dostoevsky though I am well aware that he is one of the greats. I remember picking up ‘Idiots’ for Hari a long time back and I haven’t heard about it from him afterwards. Maybe he is still reading it because I also remember that it was the sort of thick and heavy book that takes months to finish. Anyway, I hope to get started on the short stories in TBSSD someday if only in the hope of being brought down to earth because these days I am having too many dreams about fat advances.

Tzatziki Again

It was in an issue of Conde Nast Traveller (which has done more to my knowledge of exotic food than anything else) that I first read about ‘Tzatziki’ which is a Greek dish. Not very long ago I came across ‘Tzatziki’ in a book of short stories (Good Bye Harold, Good Luck) by Audrey Thomas. Last Sunday I read about the dish again in Vasundhara Chauhan’s delightful column in the magazine section of ‘The Hindu.’ Next time I come across it I hope it will be on a plate.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Crime Doesn't Pay

However desperate the wish one cannot change or escape from one’s circumstances, especially at work. Just as one can choose one’s neighborhood but not the neighbors, in government service sometimes there is a choice of posting but not the colleagues. Right from the day I joined in the government service almost seventeen years ago and till recently, I had the experience of working with people who did not think twice before taking bribes and who thought that the salary they earned was not enough to lead a comfortable life. I worked with people who indulged in petty corruption and I also worked with people who were sophisticated when it came to making money by illegal ways. In the first few years watching these greedy people I had thoughts of quitting the job rather than work in such circumstances where corruption was not only accepted but sometimes encouraged.

But as the years rolled by I began to realize that I had an advantage very few people had. I was witness to a phenomenon that many talked about but did not know the details of. I had an insider’s view of corruption. I was in a position to witness the goings on in several government organizations. I was especially lucky in the posting where I was able to make detailed investigations in different departments and learnt enough to write a book about it. (Come to think of it, I might write one.) However I feel that I do not know everything about corruption. I’ve seen enough to know how the corrupt do it but only have little knowledge of the why. Of course, the basic motivation behind corruption is greed. But even after so many years of watching the corrupt people at work, my anger and loathing have not weakened. Every time I learnt of someone taking bribes quite openly and nonchalantly I wished they would be caught in the act. Last week that wish came true. Someone who worked as an assistant to me for about two years was arrested last Thursday.

Before being promoted and posted to Suryapet I was in the Head Office at Hyderabad, in a post that many coveted. My posting in that seat caused a lot of surprise and, heartburn. I heard that many people who aspired for my post did not understand how I was posted in that seat. In fact, I myself was quite mystified by my boss’s decision to post me there. Anyway, I soon found out why there was such a clamor for the seat I was occupying. It was a post that was lucrative. I handled files dealing with issue and renewal of licences. I knew that some of my bosses, my assistants made a lot of money through bribes. But I was not able to do anything about it in the absence of complaints or clear evidence. I could only watch helplessly. I had five assistants and one of them was very aggressive about it. He was known to be corrupt and did not mind the least about his image. He got promoted and managed to get into another lucrative posting by virtue of being an office bearer of some association. He had a lot of contacts with politicians and officers who he kept in good humor. But all that did not come handy when he was arrested along with another lady clerk for accepting bribes.

However, it did not come as a shock to me. As soon as I read in the papers about the arrest of two persons in my former office I knew right away who it was. My hunch proved to be right when another assistant confirmed that it was indeed the same person. I felt a bit upset but then, he deserved it. But the regular arrests of corrupt employees do not seem to deter others from taking bribes. A day after my former assistant was arrested I read that a lady employee was arrested in the Secretariat, where I am posted now, after being caught red handed accepting bribes.

Today I came to know that my former assistant was still behind bars. I hope at least in jail he would realize that crime doesn’t pay.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Sunday Haul

One magazine that I look forward to find at Abids and one that I cannot resist buying is the Conde Nast Traveller. Once again, after a long gap, last Sunday I found the latest i.e., August 2010 issue of Conde Nast Traveller at Abids. I got it for twenty five rupees only and it also happened to be only haul of Sunday. I wasn’t very disappointed that I did not find any other book because the magazine was enough to get me through the week.

There are a couple of places I’d like to visit before I become too old to travel. One of them is Tuscany. The issue of Conde Nast that I found at Abids has a lengthy article on good hotels in Tuscany. There was another interesting article on Masai Marai in Kenya with some stunning photographs. Of course, India was featured and guess what was the article about? Monkeys in Delhi! Apart from very well written pieces on exotic places the magazine also carries small box items about books in a regular feature called ‘Shelf Improvement. One of the books mentioned in this issue’s ‘Shelf Improvement’ was Anjali Joseph’s ‘Saraswati Park’ of which I had read somewhere very recently. The book got a good review and if I come across it anywhere I am definitely going to buy it even if it costs me a bomb.

Landmark and also Crossword stores are advertising sale of books on discount. Last week I happened to go to the Landmark store at Punjagutta. There were hundreds of books on sale at various discounts. Most title of the recent crop of Indian writers were selling at huge discounts and some titles were for sale at fifty bucks only. I did not have the time to go through all the heaps of books kept on tables all over the store. Landmark was overcrowded with people picking up everything on sale. I felt glad seeing the crowd that never seems it worth to visit Abids. Anyway, I had thought only the books were on discount so it came as a pleasant surprise that almost everything in the store was included in the sale. I had picked up a rather nice looking handmade notebook with a strip of gold on the hard cardboard cover. I got it for less than hundred bucks and now I regret not having bought a couple more of them. Next week I hope to drop in at the sale at Crossword and see what they’ve got.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sleepless in the Secretariat

There’s nothing like staying up the whole night on work to throw your normal routine off kilter. Barely a week into the new posting and I was asked to be on night duty because of the flood situation. Only days earlier I was on similar duty on Sunday from morning till night. Since it was raining and what with the shopping frenzy I had decided to skip the Abids visit anyway so it did not matter if I spent the day in the office instead. But sitting up all night, though not new to me, wasn’t what I was prepared for. I had no choice but to agree. I was told to go home early and return by half past nine after dinner and a couple of hours of ‘rest.’

In one of my earlier postings with the cops, once a month we’d do what was called as ‘Route Checking’ all night. We’d position ourselves, a large posse of cops in mufti and officials, on one of the highways leading into the city and stop all kinds of vehicles, especially trucks. We’d check them if they carried any goods without paying tax. It was grueling work, being up on your feet all night and dealing with cranky truck drivers. The only saving grace was being in the company of one cop friend who demonstrated how cops dealt with drivers and others who did not fall in line. I saw him pick out particularly rude and surly drivers and slap them. I did not like it a bit and felt sorry for the harried drivers but I couldn’t do anything about it because I too felt like slapping them the way they sometimes behaved. The long night’s duty was something I did not particularly look forward to because not only was it back breaking it was also dangerous. But the night duty in the Secretariat was exactly the opposite.

All I had to do was sit before the television and make calls to a lot of officials in the districts to ask them how the rain or flood was. Then I could do all the net surfing I wanted. I did not know what to do all night so I took along my notebook. I also took along Alice Sebold’s ‘Lucky’ but I did not get much time to read it. It was the day before Ramzan and from the window of the room high up on the seventh floor I watched the traffic zoom past even at midnight. I was supposed to be awake all night and remain so until eight in the morning. But a little past one thirty in the night I lay down on the sofa to stretch and slipped into an uneasy sleep. When I opened my eyes it was a quarter to four in the morning and the news on the television said the river Godavari had risen upto 56 feet at Bhadrachalam.

That day I was probably the only one in the world to watch the sunrise from his office window. It was quite a beautiful sight as the sun rose into a clear sky in the early hours of the day. I wished I had my camera with me. I had also not remembered to bring along a tooth brush and had to drink my tea without brushing my teeth. For those who haven’t been through this experience, the tea tastes the same.

I’m told I have to be prepared to do the night shift whenever there is heavy rain or flood in the state. I’m wondering when next I would be doing it again.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lucky Me

Sometimes, those who think they are not lucky enough in anything (small,big or medium) discover that Lady Luck after all hasn’t entirely written off their names from her list. There are times when luck seems to come down on their heads like a ton of bricks. Something like that happened to me just a little more than a week ago.

For over a year until last week I was in a post where I was training farmers how to raise their crops (as if they didn’t know) and not fall into debts. I was almost resigned to that line of work for another couple of years before being eligible for a transfer. It wasn’t that I wasn’t enjoying travelling to remote villages and meeting farmers. But then I wasn’t also exactly thrilled to be doing such a thing while living alone, away from friends and family in a small town. I harbored the sort of fantasies people who are forced to live under such circumstances almost every moment conjure up. I hoped that by some miracle I would get transferred to Hyderabad.

Normally in the government one has to move heaven and earth, or if one can, shed a few tears or do some kind of skullduggery to get a transfer to a post or place of one’s choice. Not willing (and also not capable) to do any such thing I was resigned to my current bureaucratic fate of passing at least two more years of a rural stint. But, like I said before, I dreamt of a transfer to Hyderabad almost every day. But I did not even contemplate doing anything about it until out of the blue someone presented me with a wonderful chance to get a transfer to Hyderabad.

Sometime in May, I got a call from someone I did not even know asking me if I was interested to work in a post based in Hyderabad. He wanted me to replace him in his post at Hyderabad. Someone else seems to have suggested my name to him as the right, bright (?) person to take over from him in a post that I wasn’t actually eligible for. I’d been in my current post for only a year and I knew it was impossible for me to be transferred. But the kind gentleman assured me that he would make sure of my transfer if only I put in an application. Since it did not involve much to write a whiny application I did it and gave it to him. Afterwards I forgot all about it until less than two weeks ago he called me up again and gave me the wonderful news that my transfer was through.

To cut a long story short, last week I joined at the Secretariat at Hyderabad. I had not ever thought that I’d be working in the nerve center and heart of the state administration at the Secretariat at Hyderabad. This job of mine in the government is turning out to be quite interesting what with a few unusual postings. Earlier I was working in an entirely different post in the company of cops doing some bureaucratic sleuthing and enjoying it too. Once again, I am in a different post far removed from what I normally am supposed to do.

In my new post in Disaster Management, among other things, I am supposed to keep track of storms, cyclones, floods and such disasters. My job, my boss told me on the first day, begins at five in the morning with watching the weather reports on the net and the television. It was something I had never even thought I’d do in my life- watch television immediately on waking up. But then, there’s always a first time for everything.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Adios, Suryapet

A little over a year ago I landed in Suryapet unaware that I’d be leaving it sooner than the mandatory three years gap between transfers. I had been promoted and since I didn’t mind a field posting I was packed off to Suryapet to work in a training centre. After nearly eight years working in offices I was actually looking forward to a stint in the field. There’s nothing like a field posting to make you see the realities and since my job involves traveling in villages I got to see all the reality I could handle. In the field one learns more in a month than one can learn sitting in an office for years. So I was glad I was once again back in the villages amongst farmers. However, like before I had to stay away from the family. But it was worth it.

Normally, though I am a bit of a sentimental bloke, I am not as sentimental about places as I am about people. There wasn’t (and isn’t) anything in Suryapet to feel mushy about but somehow it made me sad about leaving the place. A couple of months ago I had an inkling that I’d be moving out of Suryapet. In fact, our training centre had shifted to Nalgonda sometime in the beginning of July. Though the office was in Nalgonda I had my house in Suryapet where I dropped in at least twice a week for a day or two. But it was getting a bit too tiresome going to Nalgonda from Hyderabad and then again to Suryapet to make trips to villages where I had work. At Nalgonda I felt restless, at Hyderabad I felt a bit anxious but whenever I was in Suryapet I experienced a different feeling- one of relaxed calmness,

Maybe it was the absence of the noise and clamor of Hyderabad but I felt at peace in Suryapet. I had a simple routine there. Being an early bird I would get ready and walk the few steps to my regular hotel where the owner had tea ready for me along with the day’s newspaper. Then I’d leave for the villages and return in the evening only to go on another long walk for a cup of ginger tea at Anand’s. The walk would take me through half the town past garages where mechanics repaired tractors, past shops selling filtered water in large plastic cans, past pushcarts selling fried snacks and finally arrive on a main road. This was a peculiar road because on both sides of the road were clinics of various kinds of doctors, diagnostic centers and medical shops. There were ENT surgeons, dentists, orthopaedicans, children’s doctors, and such medical people on that street which was always busy. After a two kilometer walk the ginger tea at Anand’s felt wonderful.

I miss the ginger tea at Anand’s but more than that I miss the unconditional generosity of the people of this small town. I still cannot forget what happened one day when I happened to reach Suryapet late in the night. I got down from the bus at a stop from where it was about fifteen minutes of walk to my house. It was around ten when I started to walk lugging a heavy bag. The town had shut down and there were no autorickshaws. The bag felt heavy and I was tired after the three and hour half journey from Hyderabad. Then suddenly I heard the sound of engines from behind. I turned around and saw three motorcycles approaching. I walked on disappointed that it wasn’t an autorickshaw. Then the bikes stopped when they neared me. I was a bit wary because I was at an isolated spot. Then one of the riders called out to me to get on the bike. When I heard him call out ‘Saar’ in a drunken voice I was a bit worried. Then told me he worked in a local government office and said he recognized me. He asked me to get on the bike. But he drove normally and dropped me right near my house riding away before I could say thanks. I did not know who he was but he simply did what he felt was his responsibility to get me home. It left me feeling grateful for these small town folks.

Sometime last week I packed my things and moved out of Suryapet. Now I am in a different posting about which I hope to write in the next post. I wonder when I will get to visit Suryapet again.