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.