Friday, February 25, 2011

The Sunday Haul

It is quite impossible to go through each every title on the pavements at Abids before deciding whether to buy the book or not. There are literally thousands of books waiting to be picked up. I look for titles, covers on books that appear unusual, like something worth reading. Only very rarely have I picked up books in that manner that later turned out to be quite good finds. I usually follow the safe way and look for titles that I have read about somewhere, either in reviews or referred to in other books. This Sunday’s find was one such book that I had read about in another book.

Sometime in October on a Sunday morning I happened to be doing some early morning reading, trying to learn something about the craft of writing. I was reading Elizabeth George’s ‘Write Away’ in which I came upon an example of writing in the first person. The example was the opening paragraphs from Susan Isaac’s ‘Shining Through’ that was quite impressive and funny at the same time. I made a mental note to look for it and wondered if I’d be able to find it. Imagine my surprise when soon after I came across the very title in a hardcover edition at Abids. For some reason that I still cannot fathom I did not buy the book. Not surprisingly when I looked for it the following Sunday I couldn’t find it.

I rued that decision and almost forgot about it until I came across a paperback copy of Susan Isaac’s ‘Shining Through’ last Sunday. I picked it up after reading the first paragraphs that Uma too read after we had a cup of tea at the Irani at Abids. After Uma left I went on with my hunt and was in for the surprise of the day. I saw not one but two copies of another title ‘Red, White, and Blue’ by Susan Isaacs. However, though the blurbs said it was a wonderful read I did not buy it since anyway I would be able to find at least one of the copies the next Sunday.

Theodore Dreiser is another writer whose books I haven’t read so far other than remembering the title of one of his books’- ‘Sister Carrie’ that I often come across at Abids. Normally I would grab any title that is an autobiography by any famous writer but last Sunday I did not feel any interest in buying Theodore Dreiser’s ‘Newspaper Days’ that I saw at Abids. I hesitated because I had bought several such autobiographies in the past but never got around to reading most of them. Also, the price (Rs 75) the seller quoted put me off from buying the book. But now I feel I should have haggled and picked it up especially after reading about Drieser on the net. If it is still available next week thenmaybe I will pick it up.

Next Post: 'Assembly Fever' on Tuesday 1/3/2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kichdi Post

By the Lakeside
On a day and at an hour when the whole world likes to sleep late and when no one in his right mind would get up before seven a.m., I was up and out of the house. It had been more than three months since I had done my monthly Necklace Road routine, and last Sunday I went to fill up on some calm that I desperately needed. It wasn’t very chilly when I started at half past five in the morning but still dark with the streetlights still on. I reached Necklace Road in fifteen minutes and settled down on the bench where I usually sit. It was still dark and the lights on the Tank Bund were reflected in the waters of the Hussainsagar Lake. There was no one around as I soaked in the silence.

Soon, the darkness cleared up slowly and the daylight began to seep into the sky. The morning seemed magical last Sunday. Flocks of birds (geese, I guess) flew out from the horizon and some flew low, really low, just inches from the calm surface of the lake, and then rose suddenly gained height and flew away. I had not seen so many flocks of birds before. There were birds swimming in the water in pairs. Two birds sat on something that looked like a metal platform, quietly looking around.

The solitude and the magic of the morning on the lakefront was something priceless. I sat there watching the sun come up slowly, watching its reflection in the placid waters of the lake. I had missed this sight all these three months and I felt glad to be experiencing it again. I left after making a promise to myself to come again sometime next month. Afterwards I bought the Sunday papers and sat in Adarsh café sipping tea and reading the papers for more than an hour until it was time to return home.

The HaulOut of the dozens of articles on the Jaipur Literature Festival one that made me regret not attending the event was an article by Rajni George in the India Today magazine. The article made me wish I had gone to Jaipur and participated in the event which would have helped me do something about my book. Curiously, I came across Rajni George’s name again in a copy of Mridula Koshy’s ‘If It Is Sweet’ that I found at Abids on Sunday. When I first saw it I did not pick it up because it was not in a very good condition. I had read glowing reviews of the short story collection so on my way back I bought the book for forty rupees. One of the blurbs inside the book was an extract of Rajni George’s review in India Today.

The previous Sunday, The Hindu came with its monthly supplement of ‘The Literary Review’ which had Navtej Sarna writing in his column (Second Thoughts) on attending the Jaipur Literary Festival and his attempts to get his copy of Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist’ signed. This is one book that I plan to buy soon along with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Living to Tell the Tale’ that I saw at the Oxford Bookstore the other day when I went there to attend a book reading. Something I had been expecting from TLR happened. I had thought that if the supplement carried a regular column on writing it would have been helpful for writers. In the latest TLR there was such a column by Vikram Kapur called ‘The Creative Writer’ which I hope will be a regular feature.

Getting the Meisterstuck back
Finally after what seemed to be after ages I’ve got back my precious Meisterstück back after repairs. Two days back I got a call from the Mont Blanc boutique at Taj Deccan informing me that my fountain pen had arrived. Though I wanted to go right away and collect it I couldn’t for various reasons. Yesterday evening I raced to Taj Deccan and took my pen back. It now appears perfect with a new Mont Blanc star on the top of the cap of the pen. Boy, was I glad to have it back notwithstanding the fact that it cost me a bomb to get it fixed. I’d been missing my Meisterstück like anything.

Like it wasn’t enough shelling out nearly four thousand bucks on the repairs to the pen I also picked up a bottle of ink that cost me another eight hundred and twenty bucks. It looks like I have to use my Meisterstück only when I want to sign on papers and make very short notes. I cannot afford to use it to write regularly since I write quite a lot everyday and actually use up an ink bottle every month. I have to buy another branded pen to use as a workhorse to do my regular writing though the ones I currently use are doing a fine job, just that it gets a bit boring to write with the same pen every day unless it is a pen like the Mont Blanc.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Double Post- The Sunday Haul (1st Post)

There are days when I don’t find a single book worth buying at the Abids second hand book bazaar on Sundays and then there are days when I find more books than I can afford to buy. Last Sunday turned out to be one such day when I couldn’t decide which titles to pick up after I came across nearly half a dozen good ones. Despite much restraint I managed to pick up three good titles for under hundred rupees.

The first of the find was a book I had missed buying the previous Sunday. The first thing I did after parking my bike at Abids was head towards the seller where I had seen two good books last week. Luckily, Mohammed Hanif’s ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes.’ was still available with him and I bought it for fifty rupees which was quite a bargain for a book in good condition. However I was disappointed to see that Umberto Eco’s ‘Focault’s Pendulum’ and ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan were gone.

The second find of the day was Alice Sebold’s ‘The Almost Moon’ with a distinct and eye-catching cover in violet. Though I had not read her first book ‘The Lovely Bones’ I had read ‘Lucky’ sometime last year and was quite enamored of her style of writing. I picked up ‘The Almost Moon’ for twenty rupees but do not plan to read it right away. I will find her first book, read it and then start ‘The Almost Moon’ soon after. I come across quite a few copies of ‘The Lovely Bones’ at second hand bookstores and also at Abids though I did not pick it up. Now I am determined to buy the book the moment I spot it anywhere.

Then, the final find of the day was again a book I had seen earlier but had not bought. I like to read memoirs by famous people about some experience (usually terrible) that they have gone through. One such book was Robert McCrum’s ‘My Year Off’ that was about the time the author who is a famous editor, had a brain stroke. The book I bought last week was a similar book- the actor Michael J Fox’s ‘Lucky Man’- an account of his Parkinson’s. I had first seen this hardcover copy at a secondhand book store but did not buy it since it was priced quite high. The other Sunday however, it was on sale on the pavement for only thirty rupees which was another reason I bought it.

Friday Double Post- Three Things (2nd Post)

Eating Out at Rotti Shoti

Finally I got to eat at the funnily named restaurant that I had seen a couple of months ago and where I had promised I would have dinner sometime in December. However I couldn’t make it to the place in December but sometime last week I went there with family for dinner on a special occasion. Rotti Shoti is in Sindhi Colony on the road that connects Paradise Restaurant to Minister’s Road. There isn’t much parking space there though I could see parking attendants hovering before the entrance like the place gets several cars.

The burly doorman gave me a stiff salute and opened the door. Though I couldn’t see any cars parked outside I was surprised to see the place filled with people. There was the usual noise of people talking loudly and the clatter of plates. Within seconds of sitting at the table menus appeared before us. Not feeling very adventurous we ordered ordinary fare. Though on the menu it said that it would take a minimum of twenty minutes for the orders to be served, not more than ten minutes passed before we had food on the table. Then the staff were quite attentive taking turns to come to our table to serve the food, fill the glasses without giving us an opportunity to draw their attention. The service gets my full marks.

Since I am not qualified enough to write about how the food we ordered was prepared and what ingredients went in, I am not elaborating though I can tell that the food was tasty. The ending was a disappointment since we couldn’t get the dessert we wanted. But the biggest surprise was that the bill did not amount to much since every thing was priced quite modestly. On the basis of the rates and the taste alone the place gets my approval. So, the khaana-waana at Rotti Shoti was fine and the bill-vill too was easy on the pocket.

Missing My Mont Blanc
There’s a certain kind of anxiety parents feel when they send their kids to a strange place for a long time. I am feeling the same kind of anxiety ever since I sent out my Meisterstück for repairs to faraway Rajkot. Its been a little more than a week and I’m missing my fountain pen like anything. I long for it to be back in my hands so that I can finish revising my first novel. I had put off the revisions under the excuse I don’t have my Meisterstück in my hands while revising it.

Sometime a couple of days ago I got a call from the Mont Blanc service center in Rajkot. The lady who spoke in a fancy accent told me that the repairs would cost me exactly three thousand four hundred and ninety rupees. When one uses such luxury accessories (purchased or gifted) one must be prepared for some costly maintenance so I simply agreed to the repairs even though it would leave a big hole in my wallet which already has a big Income Tax hole. After she also told me that I would get the pen back in a week I felt a little better. I have to wait for a few days more for my Meisterstück to be back in my hands.

The new Oxford Bookstore at the Park
One of the many reasons why I don’t actually look forward to going to book readings at fancy hotels like the Grand Kakatiya and the sort is I feel out of place there. Another reason is that the staff at the entrance don’t appear too happy welcoming people who visit the hotel on two wheelers. Their attitude towards those coming on motorbikes is akin to that of city slickers’ towards relatives coming on bullock carts. If you notice (unless you don’t own a motorbike) the parking place for two wheelers is somewhere at the back of such hotel out of sight of everyone. It is like the hotel staff is afraid that other guests who have driven there in their fancy cars would get upset sharing the hotel space with those coming on a two wheeler even if it is a Harley Davidson.

Yesterday evening I went (on my bike, naturally) to Hyderabad’s newest hotel- the Park at Somajiguda for a book reading of Akhil Sharma’s ‘An Obedient Father’ at the Oxford bookstore in the hotel. I was quite surprised to see how big and hip Oxford at the Park was. It had an attractive if unusual design in the trademark red and white décor. I was taken in by the nice, comfortable seats arranged all over the store for people to sit and browse. There were large, round, white coin like structures hanging from the ceiling giving it a strange feel. It was an unusual bookstore that I liked instantly. However I did not have the time to check out the café there and other knickknacks because the book reading had already started by the time I reached. It turned out to be quite an interesting book reading by Akhil Sharma about which I plan to write in another post later in the week.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Friday Double Post-2 : The Sunday Haul etc

Getting the Mont Blanc Fixed
Only a week ago I had seen its picture and had not expected to see the real thing so soon. The other Sunday I had found a Mont Blanc catalogue which was a feast to the eyes. One of the pens featured in it was the Meisterstück Solitaire Doue Geometric Dimension that was quite beautiful and in fact I had wondered how much it cost. The other day I decided to drop in at the Mont Blanc boutique at the Taj Deccan to get my Meisterstück fixed and not only got to look at this beautiful pen (the Solitaire Doue) I also learnt how much it costs. Needless to say, it isn’t something government guys like me can afford hence I did not think much about it (and also other stuff in the store) afterwards and focused on the task at hand.

Two months after I got a Mont Blanc Meisterstück as a birthday gift, and even before I had begun to write with it regularly, a mysterious hole appeared bang in the middle of the white star on the cap. For one reason or the other (mainly because of the cost of the repair) I kept putting off getting it fixed. Because of the hole I did not feel like writing with the pen all the time. Last week I took the decision to get it fixed no matter what the cost. I had been to the Mont Blanc outlet at Inorbit mall last week with Uma but had to return because they did not follow up on servicing. The store at the Taj Deccan was closed too but last Saturday when I went there alone it was open.

The person at the counter in the Mont Blanc boutique at the Taj Deccan sported a black Mont Blanc and a nice smile. I told him I did not know when he looked at the hole on the cap of my Meisterstück and asked me how the hole came about. He said the pen had to be sent to Rajkot if I wanted the hole to be fixed and also added that it would cost me around sixteen hundred rupees. When you own and write with a pen that costs more than thirty thousand rupees you don’t balk at spending sixteen hundred rupees for repairs so I agreed. So, off it goes to distant Rajkot and hopefully will return in about three weeks time. Curiously enough, though I wasn’t writing with the Meisterstück regularly because of the hole, I am now missing it very much. I am counting the days when it will be back in my hands.

The Sunday Haul

Sometimes I cannot understand some of my decisions most of which leave me full of regrets afterwards. Last Sunday at Abids I came across a beautiful, brand new copy of Mohammed Hanif’s ‘A Case of the Exploding Mangoes.’ I did not buy it even though the guy offered it for fifty rupees only. I simply walked away feeling that I have far too many books at home and unwilling to add one more. I had also seen Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’ and Umberto Eco’s ‘Focault’s Pendulum’ the price of which I did not even ask. These two books (‘A Case of…’ and ‘Focault’s P…) are haunting my dreams since then. I cannot sleep properly until next Sunday when I plan to rush to Abids and pick up these two books before anyone does.

However, I picked up a magazine- The Sunday Times Travel magazine of July, 2007. It was in quite good condition and not having read any travel magazines of late I bought it. It cost me only twenty rupees though. Of the many articles in it one that I found slightly humorous was Josephine Davies’ account of her trip to Damascus accompanied by her mum during the month of Ramadan. Not that this magazine wasn’t very interesting but the fact is that I am used to the Conde Nast Traveller style of writing. Until I find another issue of Conde Nast I have to keep reading these.

Off on a Short Trip

I am on a short trip with the family to Tirupati. I visit the place quite regularly and love visiting the temple. I am going on a package tour with IRCTC which is quite comfortable. Everything from the train reservation, accommodation, food and even the darshan is taken care of so it doesn't tax your mind very much.

Friday Double Post- Anil Ekbote, A Tribute

One of the first questions I’m asked the moment I am introduced to anyone is- ‘Are you related to Gopal Rao Ekbote?’ even though I am not. Until 1996 my standard reply was that I did not know him. I did not expect to meet any other Ekbote other than my own immediate relations. Sometime in 1996 I met another Ekbote who was not related to me. It was Anil Ekbote. For those who read the Deccan Chronicle, he was the paper's foremost movie critic writing simple yet perceptive reviews. For some reason he stopped writing for them. He also happened to be the instructor of my IGNOU creative writing course and of course, I was sort of thrilled to meet him in person. Over the years I came to know him as a very learned man, modest and unassuming. I kept in touch with him on and off over the years.

It was a shock to learn that he had passed away not more than a week ago. I had last met him a couple of years when he was not keeping good health after the death of his wife. He had talked about the launch of his book. He was a sort of inspiration to us, his writing students, since he was not only a writer; he was a movie and art critic, translator and what not. He was so obsessed with writing he took voluntary retirement from the Electricity Department and focused on his writing pursuits. I was amazed at his interest in writing and longed to follow in his footsteps but it seemed impossible. Nevertheless, he remained an inspiration to us. He would always have something new to tell us every week, about something he had begun or submitted to the papers for publication.

After learning about his death I felt guilty for not having kept in touch with him in the past few years. Last week I went along with Kiran and Sailaja to meet his daughter. I told Aparna, his only daughter that I had invited her father to our house one day for lunch. He had readily agreed and came home one day unexpectedly and had lunch with me.

Anil Ekbote had encouraged me a lot and on my assignments he had marked ‘Excellent’ which boosted my confidence. It perhaps led to the publication of my first middle in a newspaper. He was proud of our work and encouraged us constantly in that soft voice of his. An important lesson I learnt from him was to be observant and to notice everything around us as it would help us a lot in writing.

Anil Ekbote's death is a great loss to the literary scene, especially the Marathi literary scene.