Friday, December 30, 2011

Books Read in 2011

Though I’ve read only fifty two books this year, which is roughly half the number of books that I bought, I am happy in a way. Some of the books I’ve read this year are truly outstanding. This is the list of the fifty two books that I read in 2011. Some of these books are those that I am reading for the second or the third time. Anyway, I’ve managed to read one book a week, on an average.

1. ‘Up in Honey’s Room’ by Elmore Leonard
2. ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ by Mohammed Hanif
3. ‘Utz’ by Bruce Chatwin
4. ‘If It Is Sweet’ by Mridula Koshy
5. ‘Global Soul’ by Pico Iyer
6. ‘Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
7. ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Mohsin Hamid
8. ‘Moth Smoke’ by Mohsin Hamid
9. ‘One L’ by Scott Turow
10. ‘Diamond Dust’ by Anita Desai
11. ‘White Album’ by Joan Didion
12. ‘Istanbul’ by Orhan Pamuk
13. ‘Freaky Deaky’ by Elmore Leonard
14. ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss
15. ‘Complications’ by Atul Gawande
16. ‘Counsel of Strangers’ by Gouri Dange
17. ‘Out of Sight’ by Elmore Leonard
18. ‘Playing with Fire’ by Gordon Ramsay
19. ‘The Cobra’s Heart’ by Ryszard Kapuscinski
20. ‘After Dark’ by Haruki Murakami
21. ‘Worth Dying For’ by Lee Child
22. ‘Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry
23. ‘Chance’ by Robert B Parker
24. ‘Hush Money’ by Robert B Parker
25. ‘How to Write a Damn Good Novel’ by James N Frey
26. ‘How to Do the Times Crosswords’ by Brian Greer
27. ‘Playmates’ by Robert B Parker
28. ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’ by David Ogilvy
29. ‘Ceremony’ by Robert B Parker
30. ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami
31. ‘Back Story’ by Robert B Parker
32. ‘Butter Chicken in Ludhiana’ by Pankaj Misra
33. ‘Shining Through’ by Susan Isaacs
34. ‘Art of Dramatic Writing’ by Lajos Egri
35. ‘Love and Other Infectious Diseases’ by Molly Haskins
36. ‘The Joy of Running’ by Thaddeus Kostrubala
37. ‘The First Five Pages’ by Noah Lukeman
38. ‘Along Came a Spider’ by James Patterson
39. ‘The Courage to Begin’ by Robert Bingham
40. ‘Lunatic in My Head’ by Anjum Hasan
41. ‘Yesterday’s Spy’ by Len Deighton
42. ‘A Nice, Quiet Holiday’ by Aditya Sudarshan
43. ‘To Jerusalem and Back’ by Saul Bellow
44. ‘God Save the Dork’ by Sidin Vadukut
45. ‘Rough Weather’ by Robert B Parker
46. ‘Your Sacred Self’ by Wayne W Dyer
47. ‘An Expensive Place to Die’ by Len Deighton
48. ‘One Day I Will Write About This Place’ by Binyavanga Wainiaina
49. ‘Mole’ by Ashokamitran
50. ‘Balipeetam’ by Ranganayakamma
51. ‘Right To Write’ by Julia Camerson
52. ‘Write Away’ by Elizabeth George

In 2012 I hope to read more books than I plan to buy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top 11 of 2011

Sometimes it is hard to believe that one can find the sort of books one can find on the pavements of Abids and in second hand book stores in Hyderabad. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to find some really good boks on my visits to Abids on Sundays and also in sales of second hand books. In this year, that is 2011, I’ve found more good books than in any other year in the past. By end of the last week of December I have picked up a total of 103 books.

Of those 103 books a lot of them are by Robert B Parker and many titles are travel related. Of the books I’ve picked up in 2011, these are the top 11:
(1) ‘Sands of Arabia’ by Wilfred Thesiger
(2) ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ by Joan Didion
(3) ‘The Sands of Arabia’ by Freya Stark
(4) ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ by P. Sainath
(5) ‘The Emperor of all Maladies’ by Siddhartha Mukherjee
(6) ‘Playback’ by Raymond Chandler
(7) ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ by Mohammed Hanif
(8) ‘Get Carter’ Screenplay by Mark Hodges
(9) ‘The Continental Op’ by Dashiell Hammett
(10) ‘The Cobra’s Heart’ by Ryszard Kapuscinski
(11) ‘A Small Death in Lisbon’ by Robert Wilson




This is the list of all the 103 books I bought during the year.
1. ‘Beyond the Mexique Bay’ by Aldous Huxley-
2. ‘The Autograph Man’ by Zadie Smith
3. ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Dragon Tattoo’
4. ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion (2nd copy)
5. ‘At Home With Books’
6. ‘Lucky Man’ by Michael J. Fox
7. ‘The Almost Moon’ by Alice Sebold
8. ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ by Mohammed Hanif
9. ‘If It Is Sweet’ by Mridula Koshy
10. ‘The Liveliest Art’ by Arthur Knight
11. ‘Shining Through’ by Susan Isaacs
12. ‘Newspaper Days’ by Theodore Drieser Rs
13. ‘Diamond Dust’ by Anita Desai
14. ‘The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobson
15. ‘Wonderland’ by Joyce Carol Oates
16.‘The Elephant Vanishes’ by Haruki Murakami
17 'This Boy’s Life’ by Tobias Wolff
18 'Life is Elsewhere’ by Milan Kundera
19 ‘Stephen Fry in America’ by Stephen Fry
20 ‘Get Carter’ Screenplay by Mark Hodges
21 ‘The Arrangement’ by Elia Kazan-
22 ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ by Che Guevara
23 ‘The Continental Op’ by Dashiell Hammett
24 ‘Encore Provence’ by Peter Mayle
25 ‘Dave Barry’s Guide to Guys’ by Dave Barry
26 ‘Better- A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance’- Atul Gawande
27 ‘After Dark’ by Haruki Murakami
28 The Man in My Basement’ by Walter Mosley
29 ‘All the Pretty Horses’ by Cormac McCarthy
30 ‘Complications’ by Atul Gawande
31 ‘A House for Mr Biswas’ by V.S. Naipaul
32 ‘The Leopard’ by Jo Nesbo
33 ‘Perdido Station Street’ by China Mieville
34 ‘Beyond the Blue Mountains’ by Penelope Lively
35 ‘Lunatic in My Head’ by Anjum Hasan
36 ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ by Pascal Mercier,
37 ‘Freaky Deaky’ by Elmore Leonard
38 ‘Freedom Song’ by Amit Chaudhri
39 ‘Arabia’ by Jonathan Raban
40 ‘Out of Sight’ by Elmore Leonard
41 ‘The Cobra’s Heart’ by Ryszard Kapuscinski
42 ‘Worth Dying For’ by Lee Child
43 ‘Chance’ by Robert B Parker
44 ‘The Great Plains’ by Ian Frazier
45 ‘Danziger’s Travels’ by Nick Danziger
46 ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro
47 ‘Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry
48 ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius
49 ‘The Simoquin Prophecies’ by Samit Basu
50 ‘Hugger Mugger’ by Robert B Parker
51 ‘The Tao of Cricket’ by Ahish Nandy
52 ‘How to Do the Times Crossword’ by Brian Greer
53 ‘The Bounty Hunters’ by Elmore Leonard
54 ‘Yesterday’s Spy’ by Len Deighton
55 ‘Playmates’ by Robert B Parker-
56 ‘Backstory’ by Robert B Parker-
57 ‘Ceremony’ by Robert B Parker-
58 ‘Hunting Mister Heartbreak’ by Jonathan Raban
59 ‘Driving Over Lemons’ by Chris Stewart

60 ‘The Penguin Book of Modern Indian Short Stories’
61 ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ by Joan Didion,
62 ‘Sun After Dark’ by Pico Iyer,
63 ‘The Wayward Bus’ by John Steinbeck
64 ‘The Quiet American’ by Graham Greene
65 ‘The Glass Key’ by Dashiell Hammett
66 ‘Valediction’ by Robert B Parker
67 ‘Where the Wild Things Are’
68 ‘Going to the Movies’ by Syd Field
69 ‘The Lady and the Monk’ by Pico Iyer
70 ‘The Southern Gates of Arabia’ by Freya Stark
71 ‘The First Five Pages’ by Noah Lukeman
72 ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’ by Siddhartha Mukerjee
73 ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’ by Julian Barnes
74 ‘Stardust’ by Robert B Parker
75 ‘To Jerusalem and Back’ by Saul Bellow
76 ‘Along Came a Spider’ by James Patterson
77 ‘Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul’
78 ‘Structuring Your Novel’ by Meredith and Fitzgerald
79 ‘Love of Fat men’ by Helen Dunmore
80 ‘Mandingo’ by Kyle Onstott
81 ‘The First Forty Nine Stories’ by Ernest Hemingway

82 ‘An Expensive Place to Die’ by Len Deighton
83 ‘A Nice Quiet Holiday’ by Aditya Sudarsnah
84 ‘Sleepers’ by Lorenzo Carcaterra
85 ‘How to Write’ by Stanley Wood
86 ‘The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver’ by Syd Field
87 ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen
88 ‘God Save the Dork’ by Sidin Vadukut
89 ‘Balipeetam’ by Ranganayakamma
90 ‘Solstice’ by Joyce Carol Oates
91 ‘One Day I Will Write About This Place’ by Binyavanga Wainaina

92 ‘An Expensive Place to Die’ by Len Deighton
93 ‘Sands of Arabia’ by Wilfred Thesiger
94 ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Somerset Maugham
95 ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding
96 ‘The Discomfort Zone’ by Jonathan Franzen
97 ‘Playback’ by Raymond Chandler
98 ‘The Old Patagonian Express’ by Paul Theroux
99 ‘A Small Death in Lisbon’ by Robert Wilson
100 ‘Mole’ by Ashokamithran
101 ‘Widow’s Walk’ by Robert B Parker
102 ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ by P Sainath
103 ‘Almost French’ by Sarah Turnbull

In the next post I'll put up a list of all the books I've managed to read during 2011.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Sunday Haul




It was a slightly upbeat Sunday for me this week. One reason could be the knowledge that I had picked up a few good books over the past week on my three visits to the Book Fair. Another reason could be that after two Sundays I am finally at home. One Sunday I had been at work at the Assembly and the other Sunday I was travelling. So I missed my regular Sunday routine for two successive Sundays and finally last Sunday I got a chance to visit Abids and also do other things I find to do time only on Sundays.

In the past I’ve sometimes picked up books on a mere hunch. There’s something about the cover or the title of the book that marks it out as something different. Last Sunday at Chikkadpally where I usually stop before going to Abids, I saw ‘A Small Death in Lisbon’ that I knew instantly was something different. And when I read the blurb I knew my hunch wasn’t wrong. ‘An intense reading experience. You will turn the last page of this compelling novel almost out of breath’ was what The New York Times’ blurb said on the cover of the book. I did not need anything more to convince me to pick up the book which I did for forty rupees. Later when I googled for Robert Wilson I knew I had landed a good book which adds to my growing collection of crime fiction.

A couple of weeks ago I had seen Ashokamitran’s ‘Mansarovar’ that I did not buy right away for two reasons. One reason was the fact that the seller was one who wasn’t the sort to give it away for a bargain and the other reason was my over confidence that no one would pick it up. Sadly, it was gone when I checked later and I felt very bad about letting it go. However on Sunday I found another book of his - ‘Mole’ - which is all about the seven months that Ashokamitran spent at the Iowa University in connection with some international visiting writer event. I’ve been dreaming of doing some sort of a writing workshop at Iowa University Writing School ever since I realised that my writing talent was almost non-existent and also that whatever little of it I have is taking me nowhere. Sadly, it remains out of my reach and perhaps will remain as another unfulfilled dream of mine.

I felt glad I had not picked up the copy of P Sainath’s ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ that I saw at the book fair last week. I would have had to shell out two hundred rupees for it otherwise. On Sunday at Abids I found a copy of the same book that I got for only a hundred and twenty rupees. I feel sort of guilty about buying a second hand copy of the book since I had made a decision long back to buy only new copies of a few good books. Anyway, after I read the book which I now feel I shoud have read long time ago, I might buy a few new copies to gift to people who do not have any idea of what really farmers go through in our country.

Another book that I picked up was Robert B Parker’s ‘Widow’s Walk’ which Uma had spotted. I did not have an idea then that I already possess a copy of the book that one of my brothers had given me. With the Sunday’s haul of four books the total number of books I picked up during the month so far comes to eleven. It might go up by another couple of books because the Book Fair is not yet over and I have plans to drip in one last time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

At the Book Fair and the Haul






It is never a good idea to drop in at any event on the first day itself, anywhere especially in Hyderabad, especially if it is the sort of an event that goes on for more than a week, This I say from long experience. Most of the time things are rarely ready or even half ready on the first day when the event is supposed to be inaugurated. Though I know half the stalls will not be set up I always make it a point to drop in at the Book Fair on the very first day every year. Like I expected about a third of the stalls in the 26th Hyderabad Book Fair at the Necklace Road were empty. In some stalls the guys were feverishly arranging the books on the shelves and tables.

In one such stall of a second hand book seller, with the shelves only half arranged and with cartons lying around unopened, I managed to spot a book that was on my list of travel books to buy. Wilfred Thesiger’s ‘Arabian Sands’ is the No.1 on the list of Top 30 Travel books on World Hum, a travel website. It was a book that I did not ever expect to find but my luck is such I always find a good book when I least expect it. On the first day of the Book Fair I got lucky and found this book that I had been looking for since more than five years. That was only the haul on the first day. I had seen good copies of Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ with a fantastic cover, P. Sainath’s ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ that I wanted to buy right away but did not. There was also an old copy of Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’ that I planned to pick up along with the other two books before the Book Fair ended.

So next day itself I landed up there, money in wallet and anxiety in the heart whether the books I had seen the previous day were in the shelves or gone. As expected I could not locate Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ however hard I looked. I did not pick up P. Sainath’s ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ because I found other books that I wouldn’t otherwise find. However I picked up ‘Of Human Bondage’ for a hundred rupees and also William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ at the same seller. At another stall I found Raymond Chandler’s ‘Playback’ and got it for hundred rupees again. ‘Playback’ is my third Chandler find this year and I am feeling very happy the collection is growing. At one stall of ‘Best Books’ (their other stall is ‘Great Books’) I found Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Discomfort Zone’ that I got for Rs 95.

I went again the next day, on Saturday in the evening, on my third visit to the Book Fair in as many days. I went with my family which meant I couldn’t head straight to the book stalls. First we filled up ourselves with some snacks, had coffee and looked at the people staggering out of the book fair holding bags filled with books and with expressions like they had found an unexpected treasure. Later I too found something no less a treasure. I spotted Paul Theroux’s ‘The Old Patagonian Express’ that I had read long back but did not possess a copy. I got it for Rs 150 though a copy of his ‘Isles of Oceania’ was for Rs 100 in another shelf. I did not yet feel like buying P.Sainath’s ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ and thought I’d wait until the last day when the outstation sellers give away the books at any price.

There were altogether more than half a dozen stalls at the Book Fair selling second hand books. There were the Hyderabad based second hand book sellers like like Best Books, Great Books, Unique, and MR Books. Then there were the outstation ones like Prateek Book Stores, Neha Books, Pooja Books, Student Book Centre and others from places like Thane and Delhi with some really good books. I cannot believe the number of titles by James Patterson that are crowding the shelves in almost all the second hand bookstalls. However, I did not come across any new titles of Robert B Parker’s Spenser books different from the ones that I already have. I guess I will find more books but I am not sure if I will pick them up because I have far exceeded my budget for books this year. I’ve picked up six books at the Book Fair in the first two days and there’s still less than a week to go.

Wait until I post about the haul of books I had on Sunday at Abids. I picked up four books on Sunday as if the six books I had picked up at the Book Fair weren’t enough. Sometime in the coming days I will post a list of all the books I’ve picked up this year and also a list of the book I have managed to read during the year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Journey within a Trip

When one finishes reading a good book it takes a while to leave behind the world the writer has created and return to one’s world. Last Sunday I was in a bus trundling out of the city with a book in hand to my native town. Less than three months ago I had made the same trip as part of a large contingent of our families. Me and my brothers had wanted to show our families the ancestral house we were born in and our numerous relations especially our elderly uncle, my father’s eldest brother. It was a happy reunion. Our kids saw for the first time some of their cousins, their aunts and grandparents in their eighties for the first time. I wondered when I would be returning again to my town. Not more than three months have passed and I am making the trip again.


This time I was making the trip all alone to attend a ceremony of the same uncle who had died the previous week. After breakfast on Sunday morning, I caught a bus sometime around half past nine and settled down for the four hour trip. The weather outside was gorgeous and I spent a long time looking out of the window at the passing landscape that seemed to change with every mile. Now we were speeding by on the National Highway and now we were passing through small crowded roadside towns bustling with people. There was evidence of the effects of the drought here and there in the form of dried up crops which had turned brown. The only greenery was the green patches of groundnut crop irrigated by borewell water .

Some places the grass had turned golden that looked just wonderful in the midmorning sun. At periodical intervals the bus made a few halts at small towns where some of the passengers got out and newer ones got in. One thing I miss in the Secretariat posting is the frequent travelling that I used to do in my earlier posting at Suryapet which entailed travel by local buses and watching a variety of people. In between watching the landscape outside the bus window I lost myself in Binyavanga Wainaina’s ‘One Day I Will Write About This Place’ that was engrossing. Outside there was rural India and inside, in my hands was rural Africa.

‘One Day I Will Write About This Place’ is a memoir by Wainaiana about his life in Kenya, South Africa, his childhood, his relations especially his parents, sister and studying which he doesn’t seem to be very interested in and a lot about Africa especially its politics, its numerous tribes and flashes of humor that makes for a fascinating read. Wainaian describes the African landscape, the places he visits and the people he meets and about his desire to write more than anything else. I was lost in that book that took me to Africa while I was travelling in my own homeland. I felt like it was a journey within a trip. Then there were a few things I had in common with Wainaina- a love of reading, a desire to write and also, the fact that he was involved in agriculture extension, that is, giving advice to farmers which is what I am supposed to do in my job. Though the copy I am reading is an uncorrected bound proof there was no sign (at least to my eyes) that there was anything wrong except for a couple of typos. It would be interesting to read the actual published edition that I hope I will find in the bookstores here.

Lost in the book the four hours passed quite quickly and at around two in the afternoon I reached the small town. I walked through the narrow road of the town to the large house where I was born. I felt sad and couldn’t properly express my feelings to my aunt who lost her son and her husband within the span of a couple of weeks. I was also amazed at the fortitude my unlettered, hardworking almost eighty year old aunt displayed. On my previous visit two months ago under happy circumstances in the company of my brothers and their families I had told my aunt that she would live to be a hundred years. She had shaken her head and said she did not have such a wish. She had seen enough of life she said. Now she wiped the tears from her eyes and asked why I did not bring along my kid. Grandmothers are always like that, they want to see the kids. I had thought of bringing along my son but he was preparing for his midterm exams. But still I wish I had taken him along because my aunt and my mother who was with her would have felt happy.

After lunch I was on my way home at Hyderabad. But this time I made the return trip cocooned in a cousin’s car. It was an unremarkable trip that lasted just three hours. We did not stop anywhere and we didn’t talk much also. I did not read the book but watched the landscape zip by with barely anything registering. The world’s so different when seen through the window of a bus.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Idle Post

The previous Sunday I was at work ( on duty at the Assembly) and hence couldn’t go to Abids to indulge in the one thing that I enjoy more than anything else-that is hunting for second hand books. It has become such a habit to bring along at least one book home every week from Abids that I become restless and sort of disoriented if that does not happen. To compensate for the missed Abids visit I decided to drop in at a second hand bookstore and try to look for a book that I can take home. Though nothing can beat the experience of finding a good book on the pavements at Abids, on certain occasions one has to make a compromise and hence the visit to Best Books at Lakdikapul last Thursday.

One can never get books anywhere at the same price as one can get them at Abids on Sundays. Prices of books in second hand bookstores are quite high and in Best Books they are higher than anywhere else which is one reason I try to limit my purchases to only the absolutely irresistible titles there. I saw VS Naipaul’s ‘Among the Believers’ and another title about his travels in America but the price was so high I did not feel like buying those books. After having read Pico Iyer’s praise for Michael Ondaatje’s ‘The Cat’s Table’ and its review by Jai Arjun Singh’s in ‘The Literary Review’ of this month I wanted to begin with ‘The English Patient.’ I had earlier seen it at Abids but had, foolishly, not picked it up. At Best Books however I saw Ondaatje’s ‘Anil’s Ghost’ which again I did not pick up for the simple reason that I first want to read ‘The English Patient’ followed by other works. So I returned empty handed from Best Books which made me even more crotchety.

So on Friday last I went to Frankfurt at Begumpet and browsed for a long time and in the end saw two Robert B Parker titles- ‘Pastime’ and ‘Cold Service.’ These too I did not buy because the price was simply too much for my budget. The guy wanted eighty rupees for each book and made it clear (perhaps from the look on my face) that he wouldn’t reduce the price by even a single rupee. If it were the regular guy I would have tried to bargain and also got the books for a much lesser price. So I upped and left without the books because I was slightly offended at the guy’s uppity behaviour as if one cannot find those books anywhere else but in his shop. While taking my bike out I almost swallowed my pride and went back to pick up the books because, what the heck, they are Spenser titles after all, but surprisingly, I didn’t. Maybe I will go one of these days and pick them up but right now I feel I’ll get the books at Abids soon.

The only bright book related moment of the past week was reading about Chris Stewart’s ‘Driving Over Lemons’ in Aparna Karthikeyan’s column ‘Armchair Traveller’ in the Metro Plus sometime last week. Sometime in October or earlier I had picked up the book at Abids and now reading Karthikeyan’s review is making me think of beginning to read it one of these days.

A major disappointment was deciding not to go for the book signing of Wilbur Smith’s ‘Those in Peril’ on Saturday at Landmark. Somehow I just did not feel like going at the last moment though I was all dressed up and ready to go. It looks like I have missed something really interesting if the reports of the event in the papers and Hari’s post on his blog are anything to go by.

Anyway, the Hyderabad Book Fair is just two days away which I hope will drive away my winter blues.

Friday, December 09, 2011

On Duty at the Assembly

Many in AP can be forgiven for being under the impression that is a cushy 10 to 5 job for the people who work in the Secretariat. I too had a similar impression until I too became a Secretariat staffer last year. The Department where I joined is one where there are no fixed timings, no fixed work or anything like that. One has to stay long hours, do everything assigned and sometimes more than that, and attend scores of meetings which leaves little time for other things in life. However, it isn’t the same every day but this is more or less the pattern in general. But there’s always something going on. Right now there is a drought in the state, a severe one that not many who live in urban areas might be aware of. This was what dominated the Legislature sessions for five days last week. Unlike last time I was assigned duties at the Legislative Assembly during the current sessions. Being a legislator might have its own share of fun but being a government employee isn’t especially when the legislatures are in session.

I missed the first day because my pass wasn’t ready. The second day onwards and for the next three days I had to reach the Assembly by nine in the morning. One of the high points about attending the sessions at the Legislative Assembly in Hyderabad apart from hanging around the beautiful, historic buildings is the food in the canteen inside. Most of the days I had breakfast there in the company of a variety of people. More than the MLA’s there are the gunmen who accompany them. They are all over the place dressed in safari suits, some carrying their sten guns, walkie talkie sets and some with their pistols hidden under their lapels. The cops in the dark blue safaris were the constables while the ones in cream colored safari suits were the inspectors. Then there were the marshals in the same dress but with a red band tied to their upper arms.

Apart from cops, officials, legislators and their hangers on there are the press people present in the assembly premises. There were a couple of familiar faces from the national and regional press but I could not recognise the rest of the crowd. There were other officials clutching files and appearing nervous. It is a nervous time that we have because we never know what gets asked for. We have to be ready with all details on our fingertips if not in the papers we carry. Since there was a discussion on drought I brought along a lot of stuff in case anyone wanted to know more about the drought here. It was one reason why I could bring along only one book.

The Assembly is more crowded than the Council where I was on duty the last time. One gets to see all the Ministers, some famous MLAs and top officials one normally does not get to see on other days which isn’t exactly a fun thing because most of them go around with grim faces like the entire burden of humanity is on their shoulders.

Since the Assembly met on Sunday too needless to say I missed my weekly visit to Abids to look for books. However since I had taken along a book now and then I sat in the canteen by myself and read Robert B Parker’s ‘Rough
Weather’ whenever I got the time. I managed to finish in two days. It takes a huge toll to wait nervously for nearly the entire day in the Assembly. On the last day, the day of the no-confidence motion the sessions went on until 1-30 am but I did not hang around till then. I left at half past nine.

It was hard missing the trip to Abids on Sunday but then I am planning to compensate for it by dropping in at a second hand bookstore and picking up a book. It wasn’t that I did not get a book since I got Dan Brown’s ‘Digital Fortress’ from Daniel the other day. The other compensation was reading “Literary Review’ in The Hindu in the evening on Sunday since in the morning the paper was delivered late and I had to rush. More about it in another post.

Update on Hyderabad Book Fair:

I was quite relieved to learn that the Hyderabad Book Fair is back at People’s Plaza on Necklace Road instead of the Nizam College Grounds which was the venue before it was postponed. It means that I can visit the Book Fair on my way home more often than I had planned. The Book Fair is another week away but I’ve already begun the countdown.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

3 Things

‘Pakwaan’ Opens

With things being pretty grim on the personal front of late, I’m desperate for news that would bring some cheer. Last week there were a few such things. First was the fact that the Irani joint ‘Panchsheel’ that I had mentioned in a previous post had closed has now reopened in a new avatar. A swank new joint called ‘Pakwaan’ has come up in place of ‘Panchsheel’ on the busy road linking Ravindra Bharati and the Secretariat. The other day I happened to be passing by and had a fleeting glimpse of ‘Pakwaan’.

The place now seems to be a dedicated Biryani joint which is rather good news and the other thing is that the Irani Chai section hasn’t been entirely done away with. Adjacent to the main eatery is a small chai/café with about half a dozen tables catering to the crowd who cannot do without Irani chai and associated snacks. It was a good idea to minimize the café part because most of the time the tables would be empty. Anyway, in case anyone finds himself in and around Lakdikapul and Ravindrabharathi and is dying to taste some fine biryani please note there’s Pakwaan.

The Book Fair

The other thing that brought me so more cheer was an ad on the back of a city bus. The ad said that the 26th Hyderabad Book Fair would now begin on the 15th of December for ten days. It was to begin from the 1st of December but was postponed for various reasons. Now that 15th of December is less than ten days away I have enough time to rustle up some cash. Since I had missed going to Abids this Sunday and might also have to skip going there next Sunday too, the thought of the ten day Book Fair is very inviting.

A Book Signing

The other day I read somewhere that Wilbur Smith would be in town on the 9th of December at ‘Landmark’ in Somajiguda to sign his new book ‘Those in Peril’. I have read Wilbur Smith a long time back and do not even recollect his titles. But I plan to be there at the event if possible.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Sunday Haul

It is not unusual those visiting Abids for the first time to be find many a surprise at the Sunday book market. I’ve been looking for books on the pavements of Abids since more than twenty years and the surprises never cease.. Sometimes I find the latest issue of New Yorker or Atlantic magazine, or a signed copy of a famous book or a brand new book at dirt cheap prices. The anticipation of what surprises Abids holds is something that makes me go to Abids every Sunday.

Last week I had another pleasant and unusual surprise. Apart from the regular copies of books, bestsellers or otherwise, sometimes I come across copies of uncorrected proofs of titles by well known writers. Such books do not hold interest for me and I usually desist from buying them. But last week I made an exception. It isn’t even two months since I read about Binyavanga Wainaiana’s article ‘How to Write About Africa’ somewhere on the net and also about his forthcoming book ‘One Day I Will Write About This Place.’ Though I thought it would be wonderful to read the book I never wondered if I’d be able to find it or had such thoughts. However, last Sunday I found a copy of ‘One Day I Will Write About This Place’ but it was a uncorrected proof copy and not meant for sale in bookstores. It was being published by ‘Granta Books’ and the publishing date was November 2011. I got the book for hundred rupees and am wondering now if I should have bought it. However, I will get to know why the book is so eagerly talked about and maybe wait for the corrected final published copy.

The other find of Sunday was Joyce Carol Oates’s ‘Solstice’ that I picked up in a heap of books selling for twenty rupees only. Ashokamitran’s ‘Mansarovar’ that I had seen two weeks ago wasn’t to be seen. Uma, who was with me, found a new copy of the script of Arundhati Roy’s ‘In Which Annie Gives Those Ones’ which I consider a good find. Later I urged him to pick up Paul Theroux’s ‘Dark Star Safari’ that was the first Paul Theroux book I had read a long time back.

Hyderabad Book Fair Postponement

I was disappointed to learn from a comment on my previous post that the Hyderabad Book Fair is postponed. Surprisingly there was nothing in the news about it but I am very disappointed especially after going through an agonising countdown for it to begin. Anyway, there’s now the first Sunday of December to look forward to for ‘The Literary Review Supplement’ in The Hindu. I doubt if I will be able to read it in peace on Sunday morning itself because of work. The Legislature is in session and is meeting on Sunday also which is unusual. Since I have been assigned duties at the Assembly I might miss the pleasure of reading Literary Review on Sunday morning and also miss the visit to Abids.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Countdown to the Book Fair

Ever since I read a little more than a week ago that the 26th Hyderabad Book Fair begins this year from the 1st of December I’ve been feeling unusually restless. I’ve never looked forward to anything so impatiently in this year. I’ve never even looked at the calendar so often for anything other than Sunday, especially for the first Sunday of the month (for the Literary Review in The Hindu) but I now await the first day of December. Though it is only a day away from today I am counting the hours which seem to be passing agonizingly slow. But I do not understand why I am so eager to buy more books when I already have scores of books lying unread since ages.

Last year the book fair was at the Necklace Road on the People’s Plaze just a short distance from my office. After office I went there in the evenings on a couple of occasions and bought Carson McCuller’s ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’. However I do not remember going there too many times. This year the book fair is in the Nizam College grounds which is a bit out of the way for me but not very far. I only hope there are more second hand book stalls this year especially those from out of town. I plan to buy only a few books especially copies of Sri Sri’s ‘Mahaprasthanam’ and Gurujada Appa Rao’s ‘Kanyashulkam’ that I hope to buy in the Telugu Academy stall.

Another related event I came to know about is the Hyderabad Literary Festival that is scheduled to be held from January 16 to 18, 2012. I am not sure of the exact dates but this is roughly what I came to know. Last year I missed the maiden event because there was something urgent at work that I had to attend to during the same period. This year too it appears I may have to miss it since I am planning a vacation around that time. Strange it may sound but so far I haven’t attended a single lit fest though there are quite a few good ones. Someday I plan to be either at the Jaipur Litfest or at the Kollam festival if I get the chance.

But now I wait for December 1, which is tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Haul

It took a full year to pass before I learnt that there was a library in the premises of the Secretariat. Sometime last week I located the library and checked it out. It was quite a sizeable one with a room for periodicals and another couple of rooms filled with books. The periodical section was open only for an hour during the lunch hour every day. I thought of checking out the books some other day but forgot all about it. But a week ago when I saw a notice about a two day book exhibition on occasion of the Library Week, stuck on the notice board I decided to drop in on the second day. There was a small crowd checking out the books displayed. There weren’t any titles interesting enough for me to pick up but I nevertheless bought a book. It was a Telugu novel.

It might come as a surprise to all but the very first book I read when I was a school kid was a Telugu book. It was also the first time I ever visited a library back in Nizamabad where I spent a considerable part of my childhood. However, afterwards I switched over to English books but I haven’t stopped reading Telugu newspapers and other material. Though born a Maharashtrian, I studied Hindi and Telugu at school. I am surrounded by Telugu speaking people all the time and also sometimes at work I have to read and write Telugu which I do fairly well. It is another thing that I cannot either read or write in my mother tongue, which is Marathi. However, I have never read a full length Telugu novel so far and since a long time I have harboured a desire to read Telugu classics. I have planned to read Gurujada Appa Rao’s ‘Kanyashulkam’, Sri Sri’s works like ‘Mahaprasthanam’, and other classics in the original language. At the book exhibition in the Secretariat I picked up a Telugu novel that I had read about- ‘Balipeetam’ by Ranganayakamma.

The copy of ‘Balipeetam’ by Ranganayakamma that I bought was a beautifully bound copy with a colourful cover. I got the book for only sixty rupees. I plan to start reading it right away and have the satisfaction of having read at least one Telugu novel in 2011. The book is fairly lengthy and though I cannot read Telugu as fast as English I hope to complete it by the end of the year.

On Sunday I was at a funeral and hence couldn’t go to Abids for my weekly book hunt. Since the past two weeks several distressing occurrences have put me under a cloud. I needed some kind of relief and when I read the newspapers on Tuesday I found it. I read in Tuesday’s ‘Metro Plus’ supplement that Sidin Vadukut’s ‘God Save the Dork’, the second book in the Dork trilogy, was out I decided to buy it. I had found his first book very hilarious and had been waiting for this second book. The same day I went to Landmark at Somajiguda with Hari and picked it up. I plan to begin reading it after I finish ‘A Nice Quiet Holiday’ that I am reading now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

So...You Want to Eat Here?

The New Ones

The dining out scene in Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills seems to have evolved to such an extent that they now have eateries with names comprising of just a letter (eg: N) or two, like nothing more is needed. A couple of years ago ‘N’ opened somewhere in Jubilee Hills, and last week I came to know, through ‘Outlook’ magazine, that there’s a restaurant called ‘So’ located on Road 92, Jubilee Hills. The redoubtable Anvar Ali Khan had written a review of this place in the recent issue of ‘Outlook’ which I chanced upon accidentally. I am not aware if ‘So’ is new or has been around for sometime but to me, it is a new discovery. . Anyway I hope the food there isn’t so so because these JH/BH types can be pretty choosy when it comes to eating out. But if it has been written about in Outlook then I guess it could be a place worth going to if you happen to be a JH/BH type.

Even as I was drafting these lines came the news that yet another restaurant has opened in Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills area. Last Friday I read in ‘The Hindu’ that a restaurant called ‘Kona’s Fine Dine Restaurant’ set amidst the scenic Durgam Cheruvu lake was inaugurated just the other day. There’s a lot of detail about the restaurant and the fare that it would offer but what struck me was that it could accommodate 450 seats in various settings and that it wouldn’t cost you more than 800 bucks for a decent meal. From what I know of restaurants near lakes, mosquitoes are an inevitable part of the scenery so I hope the KFDR people have taken this into consideration and avoid ‘Waiter, there’s a mosquito in my soup’ type of situations.

The Old and the Gone Ones

For every eatery that opens in the Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills area two eateries in this part of the city seem to be closing down. About a week ago I happened to notice that a landmark Irani hotel ‘The President’ had closed down shutters. In its place has come up some store selling Chinese products which was even more tragic than the demise of ‘President’. ‘President’ was a busy place but wasn’t decently maintained though its location was just great, being right at RTC Crossroads. I haven’t been there quite often owing to the shabby conditions but I do regrets its closing down.

Another Irani joint that hasn’t exactly shut down is ‘Panchsheel’ near Ravindra Bharati. Last year while the Assembly was in session I spent quite sometime sitting in Panchsheel having chai and reading books. I used to come here now and then before but since a year I have been going there quite regularly owing to the special duties. Last week I noticed that the board has been taken down and there’s some work going on suggesting that the place is undergoing a metamorphosis into a better, fancier and needless to say, expensive Irani joint serving more biryani than chai. In its earlier avatar Panchsheel was a laid back place with thin crowds consisting of auto drivers, cops and others having chai and chattering endlessly. I always used to find a table for myself every time I went there to have the smallest and delicious chota samosas along with chai. I do hope they still serve the same stuff when it reopens. Incidentally, the Assembly sessions begin from December 1 and I hope the place opens its doors by then.

Friday, November 18, 2011

THE SUNDAY HAUL

The Four Book Haul
Bargaining was one thing that was proving something very difficult for me to master. I thought I’d never be able to get the hang of it despite my many feeble attempts. I always ended up paying more than necessary. But at Abids I seemed to be succeeding now and then, managing to get some books at the price I wanted. I always leave feeling I could have got a better price. Last week, however, I managed to get two books at what I think was a great bargain. I picked up two books from a seller who usually doesn’t budge from his price and reluctantly lowers the price by just ten or twenty rupees. On Sunday I got two good books at half the price.

One gets something nearing a cardiac arrest on finding two good books at the same moment. Something of that almost happened to me when I saw not one but three of Syd Field’s books apart from Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ at Abids. After checking out the books I realized some aspiring screenwriter had lost interest and sold away the books. But I had another theory in mind. No one who buys writing books sells them away all at once. I wondered if someone had stolen them and disposed them. Whatever, since I did not have Syd Field’s ‘The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver’ I decided to buy it as well as another book I thought of giving to a friend. It was David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ that I had earlier read and also gave as a gift to one of my brothers on his birthday.

The seller wouldn’t budge from his price of 350 rupees for these two books. I told him that I’d buy the books if he gave the two books I wanted for that price. He took a while to think and just when I thought he would put back the books on the shelf, he agreed. I was astonished and it was then I realized I may not have packed that much money. But luckily I had and so picked up both Syd Field’s ‘The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver’ and David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ for 350 rupees

These weren’t the only books I found on Sunday at Abids. There was a book on writing that I am now unable to find mentioned anywhere on the internet. The book is Stanley Wood’s ‘How to Write’ that I got for only thirty rupees. It was a hardcover book and had someone’s name inscribed in black ink along with the year- 1951.

But the first book I had picked up on Sunday was one I had seen earlier. It was Lorenzo Carcaterra’s ‘Sleepers’ that is a hard hitting memoir. I did not pick up the book the first time I saw it two Sundays ago. When I saw it on Sunday I picked it up especially after I noticed that it had been made into a movie. It seems something worth reading and so I bought it paying thirty rupees for it. In all I picked up four books on Sunday including one that I have to give away.

Hyderabad Book Fair
On the subject of books there’s happy news for those who love books. I read in the papes that the 26th edition of the Hyderabad Book Fair is beginning from December 1 to December 11 at the Nizam College grounds. It is an event that I look forward to with more trepidation than eagerness because there would be so many books to buy during that ten day period that there’s the danger of losing one’s mind and buying whatever book one happens to like. Luckily, being in the Government has helped me in limiting my purchases because we don’t get paid like the Ambanis. Last year I bought just a couple of books at the Book Fair and this year I don’t know what I will find. But there’s one book I am looking for now especially after I read about it yesterday.

Another Book to Find
In Wednesday’s (17-11-11) The Metro Plus supplement in The Hindu I came across a well written travel piece by Aparna Karthikeyan about a ballooning trip. In the same page she also wrote a wonderful review (in the column The Armchair Traveller) of an equally wonderful book called ‘Cloud Road- A Journey through the Inca Heartland’ by John Harrison. Surprisingly, I have not heard of this book before but however I am on the look out for it and hope to find it soon because there are a lot of travel books I have to read. In 2012 I plan to read all the travel books that I have collected so far.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Vegetarian's Non-Vegetarian Dinner

The saddest man at the dinner table at a Muslim wedding is perhaps the one who calls himself a ‘total vegetarian.’ He’ll find there’s nothing on the table before him that can be called as ‘vegetarian’ even remotely. Fortunately I do not call myself a ‘total’ vegetarian nor I intended to be any more sad than I am. In situations like this where I do not have any choice I eat non-veg stuff without qualms. Last week I was in such a situation. I broke a personal rule and tasted several tasty delicacies at a dinner at a wedding. We had worked together in another Department earlier and later at Nalgonda. So even though the venue was somewhere far away I went to the trouble of going several kilometres out of the way just to attend the marriage of the daughter of a colleague in the Department..

An important thing to remember about Muslim weddings, especially in Hyderabad, is that they begin quite late in the evening. I failed to keep it in mind and hence landed at the venue rather too early, so early that apart from me there was only another person who just reached. Luckily, he was another colleague who worked with me at Suryapet. So I sat talking with him for quite a long time. I did not notice that two hours had passed and the marriage party had yet to come. My colleague was so excited at thought I was posted at the Secretariat that when others asked where I was now, my friend told them rather proudly that I was at the Secretariat like it was the Pentagon.

Ultimately, it was eleven in the night when I sat down for dinner with my colleague. On the table were spread an astonishing variety of dishes. There were large bowls filled with chicken curry, fish fry, mutton biryani, another mutton dish, two varieties of roti, raita, two varieties of dessert and other stuff I did not even recognise. There wasn’t a single thing a vegetarian could eat without feeling guilty. Those at the table were already attacking the food with gusto and giving me odd looks. I was damn hungry and decided to go the whole hog. Until I finished the dinner I forgot I was a vegetarian. The kheer was the best dish and I had it in the end. Afterwards we had a cup of Irani chai that taste of which still lingers. It was the perfect chai but there was still something I felt was lacking - a paan.

It was almost midnight when we hit the road. I looked for some place where I could get a paan to round off the fine meal. Everything was shut down and I almost lost hope and was reconciled to going to sleep without tasting a paan. But I was lucky. Near home a paan shop was open, its shutter open just a few inches. The guy bent down and peered out to ask what I wanted. When I told him I wanted a paan he quickly made one and gave it to me. Only after I put the paan in my mouth not only did I feel like I would be able to digest all the stuff I had eaten I also felt glad that I had something leafy for dinner even if it was just a paan.

Friday, November 11, 2011

THE SUNDAY HAUL




The Abids second hand book bazaar that comes up on Sundays is a pretty open affair in the sense that everything is in the open- the books, the sellers, and also the buyers. It is, literally, a bazaar on the pavement. The sellers display and sell their books on the pavements before shops that are closed for Sunday. Being in the open it means exposure to the sun, which can get pretty merciless in the summer. In the monsoon the unpredictable rains play spoilsport to the book hunting experience. The books get drenched in the rain which, in my opinion, worse than getting drenched oneself. That leaves only one season when it is pure bliss to haunt the Abids book bazaar- Winter.

I hadn’t realized it was already winter in Hyderabad until last Sunday when a mild winter sun came out. It felt pleasantly warm as I discussed the Literary Review in The Hindu over a cup of Iran chai with Uma Shanker. There was news about the Lit for Life event at Chennai and the Fiction Prize going to Rahul Bhattacharya for ‘The Sly Company of People Who Care’ that I now want to read very soon. After the tea we went out for the hunt among the piles of books.

There was a seller who had new stock of almost brand new copies of Penguin titles of Indian authors. There were a lot of books that I wanted to pick up but the seller was someone who doesn’t reduce the prices to the levels I want. But Uma Shanker and Srinath picked up each a title of Marquez. I saw Ashokamitran’s ‘Mansarovar’ that I might look at again and buy next week if it still around. Next we went to another seller and looked in another pile that we’ve been rifling through since weeks and came up with two books.

The first find was a tattered copy of ‘An Expensive Place to Die’ by Len Deighton who happens to be one of my favourite writers. The second find was ‘A Nice Quiet Holiday’ by Aditya Sudarshan who writes interesting articles in The Literary Review supplement of The Hindu. I have already begun to read the book right after coming out of a daze induced by reading Anjum Hasan’s ‘Lunatic in My Head.’ The style of writing made me want to read her next novel ‘Neti, Neti’ that I hope I can find soon.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Hyderabad Happenings

Yet Another Eatery

With so much happening, especially on the food side, I sometimes wish I could relocate to Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills. If I’d been as interested in eating as I am in reading then maybe I would have done that long ago. Anyway, it isn’t my fault really but another eatery opened last week in Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills. But I am not going to say much about it or crib too much about it. It isn’t that I am on the look out for such happenings in JH/BH but I have this habit of reading at least two other newspapers everyday other than The Hindu. A couple of days ago I saw an ad in the TOI ad for ‘The Buffet’ that is described in the ad as ‘the newest destination in town’ which incidentally is located in the GVK One Mall (Level 5) in Banjara Hills.

However ‘The Buffet’ doesn’t appear like the sort of fancy the eatery which will have the JH/BH crowd jumping into their fancy cars and rushing to it at the tiniest sign of hunger. The buffet at ‘The Buffet’ costs only Rs 249 which, like I said before, isn’t exactly something that will have the JH/BH crowd salivating. I mean you don’t drive five miles in a Rs 35 lakh Mercedes Benz ( or equivalent set of wheels) to eat a meal that costs less than two hundred and fifty rupees. It simply isn’t in their class though they wouldn’t mind it on those occasions when they are shopping their wallets off in the pricey stores at GVK One.


C6 Metamorphoses

The first city magazine of Hyderabad was Channel Six which until recently came out in a format slightly bigger than a post card. It was the definitive guide for site-seeing, shopping, events in Hyderabad that catered to a lot of visitors to Hyderabad. Many years ago when I was in that phase spouting poetry I won a prize for something I had written. The prize was a meal for two at a place called ‘Once Upon a Time’ but I was too nervous to go. So the prize went unavailed but I still have that issue somewhere that I show to everyone who tells me I cannot write anything, not even poetry.

Last week I happened to be in Landmark where I picked up a copy of something called C6 which I realized was Channel Six in a new avatar. At last count there were more than a dozen city magazines in Hyderabad like WOW Hyderabad, 040 and others which had good production values with glossy paper, colour photographs which C6 wasn’t able to match until now. I feel glad that it has come of age and ready to challenge the others. Amita Talwar is the soul behind C6 and coincidentally there was a big write up about her in The Hindu the other week.

In the November issue of Channel 6 I read an interview of Jyotirmaya Sharma, a regular fixture at literary events. I last saw him at the launch of ‘River of Smoke’ by Amitav Ghosh at The Park. Since he is a writer also I was not surprised to read that he was an ‘obsessive collector’ of fountain pens. So that’s one more high profile fountain pen collector in Hyderabad to talk about.

Friday, November 04, 2011

THE SUNDAY HAUL




Normally I do no find anything I read in ‘The Hindu’ that makes me go to the extent of dashing off a letter to the editor protesting against the inaccuracies. Last week however there were two occasions though I haven’t written to the editor. One concerned an item about an official report about the drought in the state that I was personally involved in preparing which ‘The Hindu’ got completely wrong. The other was a feature in ‘Downtown’ supplement on Sunday which had the headline- ‘Sunday Book Market Loses Its Sheen.’ For the first time in my life I thought of writing to the editor to let him know how wrong the report was but felt the blog was a better place to write about it.

I usually like the thoroughness with which Asif Yar Khan (who did the report) does his reporting. He manages to cover even minor things but on this occasion he seems to have got it wrong. Anyone who is a regular at the Abids book bazaar on Sundays knows the bazaar is thriving with thousands of visitors thronging the place every Sunday to pick up books. Though the number of sellers may have gone down slightly there is no decrease in the number of books. Not many have an idea of the kind of treasures that one can find at Abids. Last week, I had another occasion for such an experience.

Sometime last month I had come across a list of books that were ‘out of print’ and for which people were ready to pay hundreds of dollars for. One of the books was Kyle Onstott’s ‘Mandingo’ that sounded familiar. I remembered seeing it at Abids. I was intrigued to read that a new copy of ‘Mandingo’ would fetch nearly three hundred dollars. I somehow knew I would find it some day. I was certain of it because I had seen the book on the pavements at Abids not very long ago. Last Sunday I found ‘Mandingo.’ I wasn’t looking for it for the money but for the thrill of tracking down something I believed I’d come across sooner or later.

Since about a month I’d been discussing the list of out of print books with Uma Shanker. Apart from “Mandingo’ the list featured Stephen King’s ‘Rage’ and ‘Pretty Pony,’ ‘Promise Me Tomorrow’ by Nora Roberts and other books I had not read about. I told him I had seen Mandingo and secretly wished I could find it if only to prove that I wasn’t boasting. Coincidentally, Uma Shanker was with me when I chanced upon ‘Mandingo’ and got it for just fifty rupees. I have no idea how much that copy might fetch but I do not have any plans to part with it.

However, ‘Mandingo’ wasn’t the first find of Sunday. I got a good copy of Helen Dunmore’s ‘Love of Fat Men’ which is a collection of these nineteen short stories: Love of Fat Men, Batteries, Short Days Long Nights, The Bridge Painter, Ullikins, Paivi, etc. I read on the book that Helen Dunmore is a winner of the Orange Prize. I got the book for only twenty rupees.

But the real find of the Sunday was the collection of short stories of Ernest Hemingway ‘The First Forty Nine Stories’ which was in a good condition. The collection includes some of Hemingway’s famous stories llike The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Indian Camp, Hills Like White Elephants, The Killers, Ten Indians and a lot many other stories that I haven’t read like: The Capital of the World, Old Man at the Bridge, Up in Michigan, On the Quai at Smyrna, The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife and so on. All forty nine stories for just fifty rupees.

Now someone tell me where the sheen has gone.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Hyderabad Happenings

Some times I feel like pitying the Jubilee Hills/ Banjara Hills crowd for some of the travails they go through, especially travails involving food and eating out. I’m amazed how they manage to go through life when there are eating joints sprouting up around them all the time. There are hotels and restaurants opening in their locality with such an unfailing regularity that they hardly have any time to catch their breath.

Not more than three weeks (time taken for an egg to hatch) must have passed since a foodie joint- XPRS- of the Venky’s Group opened in Banjara Hills and now another XPRS branch has popped up in Madhapur, which is, for all purposes, the backyard of Jubilee Hills.

Now anyone of the JH crowd feels that the XPRS in Banjara Hills is too far away or full then they can always go to the Madhapur branch to fill up. One must actually commend Venky’s for being so thoughtful and making things easy for the this crowd. Anyway, I hope Venky’s opens its next XPRS branch this side of the city though it doesn’t matter a bit since we’ve got our own Irani joints and other places.

Talking of food and eating out reminds me of the ad I saw for ‘Nature’s Basket’ where the Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills crowd can shop for some exotic stuff to take home and eat on the rare occasions whey they are not eating out. I read somewhere that the Godrej Group opened a food store called ‘Nature’s Basket’ somewhere on Road No. 10, Banjara Hills. I read that the store stocks thirty varieties of cheese, cold cuts ( I do not even know what that is) and other such stuff.

Anyway, I don’t grudge them what they eat and probably I too wouldn’t mind eating such stuff provided it is actually edible and provided someone sells it on a bandi.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A FESTIVE HAUL




Sometimes, though very rarely, it so happens that though I do not purchase any books at the Abids book bazaar on Sundays I end up with a lot of books in other ways. Last Sunday at Abids I picked up only one book but I got a pile of new and old books as presents. I got a total of ten books from family and friends. I was overjoyed at this unexpected shower of presents that included titles by two of my favourite writers- Dave Barry and Robert B.Parker.

Though I knew that because of the festival shopping there wouldn’t be many booksellers at Abids I nevertheless went out of habit. Almost all the sellers were present but not at their usual places. I saw a book that I thought I'd buy. It was Lee Zacharias’ ‘Lessons’ that I got for only twenty rupees. I picked up the book solely because was a Penguin title and the blurbs on the back cover were irrestible. On my urging Uma bought a nice Borzoi edition of Le Carre’s ‘Smiley’s People’ that I read a long time ago.

This Diwali was special to me in more than one way. All my brothers were flying in for the festival. On Saturday one of my brothers brought these three new titles by Robert B Parker for me:

‘Cold Service’

‘Painted Ladies’

‘Rough Weather’
This takes the tally of Spenser titles that I have to read by six.

Just the day before day I had received a parcel from Mumbai. A friend in Mumbai sent the following titles:

‘Catcher in the Rye’ by JD Salinger

‘A Book of English Essays’ edited by WE Williams

‘Once Was Bombay’ by Pinki Virani

‘The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Stories' by Rudyard Kipling

‘Inspector Ghote Draws a Line’ by HRF Keating

Another brother who arrived from the US brought me the book I had asked him to get for me. Ever since I read about this title I madly wanted to read. Now that I have Dave Barry’s ‘I’ll Mature When I’m Dead’ I will begin it after finishing the book I am reading right now. Right now I am reading Christopher Hitchen’s memoir ‘Hitch-22’ though I do not have the book with me. One of my brother brought his Kindle along with him and I am reading this book on the Kindle. It is a first for me, reading a book on Kindle Kindle is amazing and my mind reels with the possibilities that it presents. More on the Kindle sometime later.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My New Bookshelf


If there are too many books in your life, there are bound to be bookshelves in it sooner or later. For long I’ve lived with just one bookshelf and now, in a move that could be said to be the best thing I’ve done this year, I had a new 8 x 4 ft bookshelf that I put in our drawing room. It holds around five hundred books, which is almost half my book collection.

It looks so good I now spend half my time before the bookshelf wondering how I managed to buy so many books and how I am going to find time to read them. The new bookshelf has brightened up our Diwali because now there are no corners or tables cluttered with books. It is the best gift I could give myself this Diwali.

Wish you all a very happy Diwali.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Man with Two Mont Blancs

Many people are under the impression that government employees do not work or have a comfortable 9 to 5 routine without any hassles. Nothing can be far from the truth. If one happens to be working in the Secretariat and especially in a Department like the one I am in, there are no fixed timings, no holidays, and no peace of mind either, most of the time. Another hair raising thing is that, out of the blue, you will be told to prepare a report and meet someone very high up, on a holiday with just an hour’s notice. Something like that happened to me last Sunday minutes after I had returned from a nice, relaxed time watching the sunrise on the Necklace Road.

I was told I had to come to the office, prepare a report and show it to a top official who too had come to the office on the Sunday. Normally, I get irritated but on Sunday I was in a different state of mind. I set off for the office after breakfast wondering if I would be able to go to Abids later in the afternoon. The preparation of the report might take at the most an hour and I thought I’d be out of the office by noon. The thought that I might be able to spend a couple of hours at Abids before going home for lunch made me work on the report faster. The report in my hand I accompanied one of my bosses to the top official, so at the top that he has three people handling the phones in his office.

Many believe that bureaucrats are not only boring but also boring dressers. But some, especially those at the top, wear real classy clothes complete with classy accessories. The officer I went to meet turned out to be such a person. He was dignity personified. He wore sober but elegant clothes but it did not catch my attention as much as the two Mont Blancs in his pocket did. Now, it is very, very rare to come across Mont Blanc sporting people in Hyderabad. Though I am aware that a few bureaucrats have a weakness for good pens I hadn’t so far met anyone who had a Mont Blanc in the pocket.

Though it may sound a bit too far fetched, I believe that those who write with fountain pens are a different breed altogether. They look at the world with a different eye. This officer I went to meet not only asked me to sit but he also offered tea. It is not the usual custom for top officials to ask others not of their rank to sit so I was a bit taken aback. Not only that he looked at me like I was his equal when I explained some points in the report. I wonder how he would have viewed me if I had my Mont Blanc in the pocket.

Though I was glad that I had met a gentlemanly officer I was a bit low that I couldn’t get to do my weekly bookhunt at Abids. It was too late by the time I got home and I also missed ‘Just Books’ on NDTV Profit. Some days aren’t just perfect.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Dose of Calm




I have a once-a-month routine of going out to a scenic place early in the morning to watch the sunrise. It was sometime in June that I had been to the Necklace Road to watch the sunrise over the Hussainsagar Lake on a Sunday morning. That was almost six months ago and the cloud of gloom that always seems to hang over my head had grown too large for me to handle. I had not found the time to indulge in this once-a-month routine for months either because I was too busy or the weather was not favorable. Anyway, I had been restless to do it so last Sunday I went to Necklace Road at the crack of dawn to catch some solitude before the rest of the city woke up.

One of the first things I noticed on reaching the lake were the islands, large ones, of the hyacinth that covered most of the lake. I don’t say the water of Hussainsagar is clean but at least it doesn’t have scum floating on the surface all the time. But this Sunday there was enough vegetation on top to call it a marsh. The other thing was that most of the metal railing skirting the lake’s edge at the place where I usually sit was missing. The last time I had seen it but only a small portion was missing but this time the gap was too big to be ignored. Then there were the fountains shooting up thick jets of water into the air. The water falling back on the surface set off gentle ripples which made the hyacinth islands gently bob up and down.
However, the sight of the sun slowly appearing over the rim of the lake made me forget everything. I sometimes feel that one should watch either the sunrise or sunset everyday in order to feel alive. It was a great sight to watch the sun make its way up into the sky first as a pinkish orb and then gradually turn into a golden disc. I sat there for some time taking in the scene and trying to get rid of some of my gloom. Feeling strangely peaceful in the tranquil setting I decided I’d repeat this routine every month without fail. I’d give anything for that feeling of calm that washes over one at that place so early in the morning.

At Adarsh With the Papers

After a peaceful three quarters of an hour mulling over everything happening or not happening in my life I shifted to Phase II of the routine. I settled down at one of the tables at Adarsh and opened the Sunday papers. I started with the Deccan Chronicle reading the main paper, the Sunday supplement and also the City supplement for almost an hour poring over each and every item. Surprisingly now I do not remember anything I read except a review in the books section. A reviewer called Sunrita Sen had a nice piece on Michael Ondaatje’s ‘The Cat’s Table.’ The book review made me decide to look for ‘The English Patient’ and buy it the next time I find it at a second hand bookstore or at Abids.

The couple of hours spent at Necklace Road watching the sunrise and at Adarsh poring over the papers in the quiet Irani joint left me in such a peaceful state of mind that I did not get irritated when I was asked to come to the office later in the day. It meant that I had to miss my weekly trip to Abids to hunt for books but I did not mind. Abids can wait but the Government cannot. I did not know then that later in the day I’d be meeting a top official who sported two Mont Blanc pens. Actually there were three Mont Blancs but I will write about it in the next post on Friday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

THE SUNDAY HAUL



With the two books I bought on Sunday the tally of books I bought so far this year has grown to 82. If I buy two books a week for the remaining 13 weeks I’ll be touching more than hundred books. Though it is a considerably smaller haul than some of the haul in the previous years, I do not want to cross the 85 mark. I plan to cut down on my book purchases in the coming weeks in order to increase the tally of books that I’ve read so far. As on date I’ve read only forty books this year and this figure might touch sixty by the end of the year if I really speed up my reading. Though I do not know if I can stick to this goal, that’s the plan for now- to buy fewer books but read more of them.

Non-fiction titles number more than fiction titles this year. In non-fiction, travel books account for most of the titles. In 2911 I’ve found some very good travel books by well known writers especially Pico Iyer. Though I haven’t done any kind of travel so far this year, I’ve picked up fourteen travel titles till date. Last Sunday I added another title to this bunch.

At Abids I found Saul Bellow’s ‘To Jerusalem and Back; A Personal Account’ on the pavement. I got the slim, 182-page book for only twenty rupees. Maybe I should plan my reading so that I read all books on travel at one go though it sounds like a bad idea. Anyway, since it is a short book I am thinking of reading it sometime next week since it won’t take more than a couple of days to finish it.

Just before I left I came to know from the Best Books guy that their sale at YMCA was still on and that Monday was the last day. The sale was supposed to end on the last day of September and it was a pleasant surprise to know I can check it out one last time. I did not plan to buy anything but there was a title that I had wanted to check out since I had been eyeing it since long. In the evening I went to the sale at YMCA at Secunderabad and saw all the titles I couldn’t buy. There was Kunal Basu’s ‘Racists,’ Joan Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ that I have two copies of with me and other books. When I checked for James Patterson’s books I saw that ‘Along Came the Spider’ was still in the stack. I decided to buy it though it was for Rs 95, and so ‘Along Came the Spider’ became the second haul of the day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Two More Eateries Open

Unless you live in the Banjara Hills/Jubilee Hills areas you really don’t have any idea of how lucky you are. While elsewhere in the city everyone’s life has been turned upside down with the strike, things seem to be pretty normal for the Banjara Hills/Jubilee Hills crowd, at least as far as opening of new restaurants is concerned.

Somebody actually was considerate enough not to deprive the Hills crowd of their only source of entertainment- gorging on food in a new eatery. Last week yet another new joint opened in Banjara Hills. ‘XPRS’ from the Venky’s Group opened its doors to the hungry hordes bringing much needed joy to this eternally famished crowd. For those who do not know about the Venky’s group these are the chicken feed people now into a lot of poultry related stuff. It is quite natural that they came up with this idea of having a joint serving mostly chicken items. For those who really want to know where exactly ‘XPRS’ is located, it is in MS Towers on Road No. 1, Banjara Hills.

Even before I could fully recover from the news about the opening of ‘XPRS’ came the news of the opening of yet another new eating joint in Hyderabad. The thing is no one has any idea where it is located. One would have thought that ‘The Hindu’ newspaper trains its reporters properly but whoever filed the report in ‘Downtown’ supplement about the opening of ‘Jalpaan’ forgot a basic thing. Nowhere in the report was it mentioned where ‘Jalpaan’ was located as if the readers have to guess it. It also makes me wonder how the subeditors missed it. Whatever it is, folks, there’s another new vegetarian eatery in Hyderabad you have to search for.

I’m willing to bet that ‘Jalpaan’ is also located in the Banjara/Jubilee Hills area because no matter how crowded it is with countless eateries there’s always space for another new joint there.

Friday, October 07, 2011

A DOUBLE POST FRIDAY: POST-2-- The Sunday Haul



Were it not for the time that goes into the writing of this blog, the novel and other writing I’d have easily read at least two medium sized books every week. But I am not able to match the rate of my reading with the number of books I’m regularly picking up at Abids on Sundays. I find no less than two books every Sunday. Last Sunday too I found two books, both of them good ones.

The first find was a book that I’d told myself I’d buy the moment I saw it even if it was in a bookstore. But I didn’t have to buy it at a regular bookstore. At Chikkadpally on Sunday I spotted Siddhartha Mukherjee’s ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’ on the pavement. I asked for the price and hesitated wondering if I really wanted to spend Rs 200 on a 571- pages book about something dreaded like cancer. An article I read about Siddhartha Mukherjee I read somewhere after he won the Pulitzer Prize for the book had fired me up and made me decide about buying the book. Only then I did not know the book would be 570 pages long. I continued to hesitate and the seller lowered the price to Rs 180. Maybe he would have further reduced the price if I hesitated any longer but by then I decided to buy it. Though I am happy I found the book I wonder when I will finally get to read the book.

Another find on Sunday was Julian Barnes’ ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’ that I got for only Rs 20. Compared to the first find of Sunday this book is only 190 pages long but it also has endorsements by writers like Joseph Heller, Graham Greene, John Irving, John Fowles, Fran Liebowitz and others I did not know. It left me with little choice but to buy it and I was glad it came cheap.

Another happy coincidence was meeting another member of the small group that reads this blog regularly. It was a pleasant surprise to meet Srinath who picked me out from the crowd at Abids just like that. I felt I had done my duty when I helped him pick up a good copy of Pico Iyer’s ‘Global Soul.’ I hope he is hooked to Abids by now and continues to come.

A DOUBLE POST FRIDAY: POST-1:Another Sale Haul



There aren’t many instances in the past when I did not visit a book sale no less than half a dozen times while it ran. There are even fewer occasions when I did not return home from such a sale without at least a couple of books in my arms. It was no different during the recent sale of second hand books by Best Books that was in the YMCA at Secunderabad from 15th of September to the first week of October. I had been there earlier a couple of days after it opened and returned with a nice haul of books by Pico Iyer and Joan Didion. During the next visit I found two more good books.

The first book was another Pico Iyer title. I found ‘The Lady and the Monk’ tucked away somewhere in a corner. However it did not come cheap. I had to pay Rs 175 for it but I guess everything by Pico Iyer is priceless. ‘The Lady and the Monk’ is about Pico Iyer’s visit to Kyoto to live in a monastery and learn about Zen Buddhism. I am just raring to read this book but I know I have to wait for some time since there is almost the equivalent of a library at home waiting to be read. I felt doubly lucky finding another Pico Iyer title days after I found ‘Sun After Dark’ on my first visit to the sale.

There are a few travel writers whose books I want to read but whose books I found it difficult to get. One of the names is Freya Stark and I was almost certain that I wouldn’t find any of her books anywhere in Hyderabad much less in a second hand book sale. So when I found Freya Stark’s ‘The Southern Gates of Arabia’ I could only stifle an urge to scream out aloud. It was funny how I was finding only non-fiction titles especially travel books of late. On the first visit I had also found Joan Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ and now I found Stark’s book. The book was in a good condition and I got it for Rs 150 which was a bit steep.

On another visit in the company of Daniel I found another book that I had been looking for since a long time. I found Noah Lukeman’s ‘The First Five Pages’ and got it for Rs 125. I hope now at least I will be able to learn what is wrong with my manuscript and fix it after reading ‘The First Five Pages’ right away. Daniel also gave me three books- Morris West’s ‘Summer of the Red Wolf,’ HRF Keating’s ‘The Good Detective’ and also James Patterson’s ‘Four Blind Mice.’ I plan to begin reading James Patterson’s books with ‘Along Came a Spider’ that I have yet to pick up.

So it was books, books and more books in the past week.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Books or Beer?

Like there weren’t enough liquor bars in Hyderabad I saw that a new one has come up at a most unlikely place. It is a place that happens to hold some nice memories for me. I have seen Irani hotels turn into shoe stores, I have seen restaurants turn into readymade cloth stores and I have seen grocery stores make way for hair cutting saloons. But I’ve never seen a bookstore turn into a bar. Who would have thought that where once stood a bookstore, a bar would come up in its place? Not me. I for one did not expect that a bar would come up in place of a bookstore that I often visited in the past. But then, this is Hyderabad where one can expect anything to happen.

Sometime in the early nineties, when the only fashionable (read modern) bookstore was Walden at Begumpet, Gangarams of Bangalore decided to come to Hyderabad. Gangarams opened a branch (maybe its only branch outside Bangalore) in Secunderabad in the basement of a building complex right opposite Garden Restaurant at Clock Tower circle. It was an odd location for a bookstore, for sure, but the store flourished for more than a couple of years. A chance encounter with the owner of the store, Chaturbhuj Gangaram, in the first week of its opening turned into something of a friendship. Chaturbhuj Gangaram was a softspoken person with a terrific knowledge of the book selling business. He told me that he had decided to move to Hyderabad on account of his children’s health problems. When he learnt that I was a copywriter he asked me to do the copy for Gangarams. He was happy with the ads my agency did for him and I in turn was happy with the 20% discount he gave me on my purchases. He told me that the margin on books was 30% which was sort of an eye opener for me. It was in Gangarams that I bought my first Dave Barry title- ‘Dave Barry Goes to Japan.’

However, something went wrong somewhere and the store went into a decline. I had left advertising to join the government. I was posted to a far away and remote place which meant I could visit Hyderabad once in a while. One day I learnt that Chaturbhuj Gangaram had sold away the place and moved to Bangalore. For sometime the store ran under a different name, then closed down and opened again but it wasn’t the same. With competition from Odyssey, Crossword, and other stores this oddly located bookstore did not last long. Nobody seemed to mourn the closing down of the bookstore because in its place, something of great interest to Hyderabadis had come up- a bar and restaurant.

Last week while passing through the Clock Tower square I noticed a board that said ‘Madhushala Bar & Restaurant’ at the same place where once the board of Gangarams stood. From ‘Gangarams Bookstore’ to ‘Madhushala Bar & Restaurant’ hasn’t taken long. It perhaps is a pointer to what the average Hyderabadi likes- books or beer?

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Sunday Haul

One of my writerly ambitions is to write a complete movie screenplay. I had this ambition in mind long before the idea of writing a novel occurred to me. Though the novel is almost done the screenplay remains to be completed. So this ambition burns inside rather intensely. I have a couple of stories in mind that I have to put in the form of a screenplay. Until recently I had no idea of what a screenplay was and how it is written. Sometime back I found Syd Field’s books about screenwriting and read them. Syd Field’s books have been helpful in giving me an idea about how a screenplay is written. I have also a copy of Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ that I asked someone to get for me during one of those phases when I was serious about writing my screenplay. I started, hesitantly though, work on my screenplay that is still far from completion.

Though I do not watch many movies I like to read about movies, about reviews and almost everything connected with movies. I have even a couple of books by movie stars (David Niven, Kirk Douglas, Dirk Bogarde,) movie critics that I found at Abids and elsewhere. I have picked up quite a few screenplays too at Abids where last week I found Syd Field’s ‘Going to the Movies.’ Earlier I had seen the same book at a secondhand bookseller but the price was somewhere over four hundred rupees. It was way beyond my budget so I did not buy it which was a smart thing to do since I found the same book and paid only sixty rupees for it last Sunday. The book is in good condition and I’m already itching to begin reading it right away. Maybe that will spur me to finish the script I am working on intermittently at present. Despite reading so many actual screenplays and books on screenwriting I still feel there’s something I have to learn.

Coincidentally, a few hours after I bought the book, I read in Eenadu about Robert McKee’s ‘Story Seminar.’ I read that the seminar is proposed to be organized at Ramoji Film City sometime February next. I do want to attend the four day seminar but the fee is putting me off. The fees is somewhere around Rs 33000/ if paid by end of January 2012 and Rs 38605 after January 31. I am at a loss to decide whether to shell out the money and attend it though I know the seminar might be of use to me in writing the screenplay. I hope I will take a decision before I chew out all the nails on my fingers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Goodbye, Airtel. Hello, BSNL

Thanks to Airtel, since the past one year, every time I got a call on my mobile phone not only my family, but my immediate neighbours and practically everyone who lives in our lane knew it was my office calling. Every time my mobile rang I dropped whatever I was doing at that moment- getting into clothes, having breakfast, reading the paper- and rushed out of the room, out of the house, out of the gate and out on the road in our lane and try to catch the signal on my mobile. This is because my service provider is Airtel whose signal is so bad that I am sure even Airtel folks find it difficult to talk with each other on their mobile phones. Several times I wondered if I should seek out the nearest Airtel mobile tower and climb to its top to get the signal and have a clear talk.

I am sure I am not the only Airtel customer to have contemplated climbing mobile towers in order to catch the signal. One only has to read the papers to discover how many complaints there are about Aitel’s lousy service. One would have expected Airtel to pay attention to improving their service but instead they are spending the money on sponsoring events and also commissioning interesting ads as if that would somehow help the customer. Anyway, there are a few reasons why I am terribly angry with Airtel.

One such reason is that every month I received a rather joyously worded message from Airtel saying- ‘Airtel Radio is renewed and you have been charged Rs 30 for 30 days and 30 minutes free.’

Earlier I used to get this message before I got the previous message:

‘Aitel Radio will be renewed in 3 days. You will be charged Rs 30 for 30 days with 60 Free minutes of music. To unsubscribe call xxxxx’

These messages came without fail every month like I had nothing else to do all day except listen to the radio on my mobile. I am amazed that the Aitel folks think that despite TV, the net and other distractions there are people, especially Airtel customers, who still love the radio. As for me the last time I listened to the radio was sometime back in the early 80’s. That too was by accident. Dad had just got a new emergency lamp that also had a fan and other things. When I fiddled with the switches the radio came on and that is how I knew it also had a radio. I haven’t heard a song or anything on the radio since then. I haven’t also seen an actual radio set for decades now.

Anyway, so when I got those messages asking me to renew Airtel Radio I did not want to. I did not even know that my lousy Samsung mobile phone was also capable of radio facility. I tried to call the number they gave in the message to unsubscribe. Needless to say, no one responded on that number and three days later I would get the message that my Airtel Radio was renewed and that Rs 30 have been charged to my account.

After a couple of months of this Airtel simply messaged me that Airtel Radio was renewed and Rs 30 was charged to my account without even giving me the advance notice they used to send earlier. Maybe the intelligent folks at Airtel thought it wasn’t worth asking me beforehand if I was interested in renewing since they anyway wanted to add Rs 30 to their kitty. This, naturally, enraged me no end.

Everyone in the office had Airtel connections. Some clever guy at Airtel must have figured out that since all our connections are paid by the Government we wouldn’t mind a piddling Rs 30 being added to the bill. How wrong they were! We decided we’d go for number portability and switch to another service provider. Sometime last month we initiated the process. The Airtel guys panicked when we asked for the connections to be transferred to BSNL. Someone from Airtel actually called me up and asked why I was switching. I told him their reception is so lousy, that I get probably a million marketing messages everyday and also told him about the Radio. He had no answer to it and simply said thanks and put down the phone. I thought they had accepted our request but no, I was wrong.

Our request for portability was turned down on the grounds that there was some technical mismatch. We tried again, this time with BSNL guys on our side. The second time too Airtel refused the request saying we had pending payments issues. The third time however, they couldn’t refuse. The BSNL people took up the issue and somehow we were able to switch to BSNL. I am so happy since I can now take calls from my bedroom at any time of the day.

I wouldn’t have minded if the Airtel folks used the money they took surreptitiously to improve the service. But instead what do we get? Ads like the ‘Har Friend Zaroori Hotha Hai’ (which is a wonderful ad, by the way) and news that they are sponsoring some event. When will it get through the thick skulls at Airtel that offering better service to the customers will get them more customers than running creative ads on television.

To cut a long story short, I now have good old BSNL as the service provider for my office connection too. The BSNL network signal is so strong I am sure even if I am a couple of miles underground I will be able to talk with anyone. Now I can be somewhere deep inside my house and talk on my mobile phone instead of coming out on the street and shouting my head off.

Good riddance, Airtel.