Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The 'Cha Bar' in the OBS @ The Park Hotel

Where in this part of the world would you go, if you had the sudden urge, to have a cup of Ladakhi cha? Or a cup of Kashmiri kawa? Or Japanese Macha? Or Malaysian teh tarik? The answer is, Hyderabad. In a city where Irani chai reigns supreme you’d be surprised there is a place which serves Arabic spice tea, Moroccan mint tea, Russian caravan tea, South African rooibos, Thai lemongrass tea and more than a hundred other varieties of tea and coffee. Those who had been to the ‘cha bar’ in Oxford Book Stores across the country would know what I am talking about. I had been to one such store in Hyderabad sometime last week. One on my visits to Delhi I had been to the OBS somewhere near Janpath and had a cup of masala chai which made me very good which is not something that usually happens whenever I am in Delhi. I had then thought how nice it would be if someone had the bright idea of opening an OBS in apna Hyderabad.

Quite miraculously, not long after I had that thought, an OBS opened right in Hyderabad on the busy Road No. 1 of Banjara Hills. I dropped in there once soon after and checked out not only the place but also the tea. I wasn’t impressed with the store because of its location and also its size. I felt it was way too small and I did not go there again. I had then wished that OBS were a bit larger and more swish. I was quite taken aback, about a few months ago, when I read somewhere that another OBS had opened at the Park Hotel. Though I did not go there right away sometime in January I happened to drop in at the Park OBS for a book reading and came away sufficiently impressed to tell myself that I’d drop in for a detailed survey very soon. Last week I got the time to pay a visit to the OBS.

It is a pity to see a large bookstore, the kind Hyderabad hasn’t seen before, with not a single soul in it. I was the only customer in the store at the time of the hour, around half past six in the evening, me and about half a dozen sales assistants hovering around. I browsed around for a while and hoped someone would drop in because I was on the verge of creating a world record for being the only customer in a large bookstore for the longest time. I was wondering if I too should make a quiet exit and let the sales assistants relax when somebody walked in. Two people sauntered in and I knew right away that they weren’t the book buying sorts and not very soon I was proved right. I overheard one of them asking the sales guys if the store stocked Intermediate text books. Only in Hyderabad can we find people whose idea of a bookstore is of a place where one buys school and college textbooks. I felt like walking up to the guy and taking a close look at his face. But he walked out even before I could get anywhere near him. He certainly seemed to be the sort of guy who would no doubt go home and tell his family and half the people in his neighborhood that he had recently walked into a big bookstore in a big hotel that did not stock Intermediate textbooks as if he had made a major archaeological discovery.

But the fact was, forget textbooks, it did not have what I wanted. ‘Tinkle’ magazine? I asked. No. Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist? No. ‘Outlook’ magazine? No. Even the OBS tee shirts they had stocked were of one size only- Large. I suppose they expect all their Hyderabadi customers to be of that size. No wonder there weren’t many customers in that store. Since I lost all interest in buying anything at OBS I decided to check out the ‘cha bar’ and got the surprise of my life when I took a glance at the menu.

The menu of the ‘cha bar’ at OBS listed no less than 119 (yes, one hundred and nineteen) varieties of tea and coffee. There was the standard Masala chai, the South Indian coffee, and something called the ‘Sau Meel ka Cha’ (100 Mile Tea) that the menu helpfully told me was what truck drivers had on their long trips. Since I had not driven to OBS in a truck I settled for the standard Masala chai. I was also intrigued to read that cha bar also offers teas from Darjeeling (Malkaibari, Gold) Nilgiris (Tiger Hill, Craigmore, non such), Kangra, Sikkim, Nepal and tea margaritas, dessert teas, Ceylon tea, green tea, Oolong, Chinese (Lapsang souchong, song lou etc), herbal teas, ayurvedic tea and even ‘mother and child’ tea, coffees, assorted snacks and so many other varieties of tea that it would take me two years to sample all those teas even if I managed to drop in once a week. I discovered that the masala chai served in a glass tumbler in a quaint holder just like the one I had at the Delhi cha bar, was really good and worth the thirty bucks I had to shell out for it.

It felt really nice to know that at last there was a place in Hyderabad I could come to if I was bored of Irani chai. It struck me that cha bar did not offer Irani chai. But it is all wasted on Hyderabadis because for us Hyderabadis there is nothing like a cup of Irani chai to make others on the road nervous with our driving skills. Also, not many would be bothered to drive down all the way to the Park Hotel which is in Somajiguda (near the Necklace Road MMTS station to be exact) to sample the varieties of teas and coffees. The Park and the OBS opened sometime November last I guess, that is six months ago but still probably doesn’t get more than a couple of visitors a day which is a real pity because OBS is a nice joint. For a change I wish the Park had opened somewhere in Jubilee Hills where the crowd would have done justice to it

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Sunday Haul- Joyce Carol Oates

I should have known that all the books (the good ones anyway) would be picked up by others more interested in them than I. People who love books aren’t the only ones coming to Abids on Sundays but those who sell them also come except that they come with keener eyes and deeper pockets. It is a fact (that not many know) that most people who run second hand bookstores in Hyderabad buy some of their titles from other smaller booksellers at Abids. These small sellers don’t know the value of the books they have or are too eager to sell them off to the first buyer who asks for them. These bigger buyers get such books cheap from the smaller guys since they buy a lot of books which they then put in their stores for sale at inflated prices. I see the Best Books guys every Sunday patiently sifting through the books with other sellers and picking up bagfuls of them. Most of the books that I miss buying and don’t find again subsequently in the following weeks invariably appear on the shelves of these second hand bookstores.

The other week I had come across Tobias Wolff’s memoir ‘This Boy’s Life,’ Sarita Mandanna’s ‘Tiger Hills,’ Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ and also the Conde Nast Traveller of Jan 2010 and missed buying them. This Sunday I couldn’t find them anywhere which was a bit disappointing. I had thought I’d pick up ‘Tiger Hills’ and ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ but someone smarter had bagged them. I didn’t regret not finding the books but I regret losing the Conde Nast Traveller.

But I found a good book by Joyce Carol Oates- ‘Wonderland’- in a pile of books selling for twenty rupees. This was the same pile where I had seen an Iris Murdoch title the other week but hadn’t picked up to my eternal regret because Iris Murdoch is a great writer. But I instantly picked up 'Wonderland' which is quite a lengthy book at 479 pages. Coincidentally, a few steps away I saw another of her title (Beasts), a hardcover that I did not buy because I knew the seller would quote an impossible price. I left hoping I’d find it next week and get it for an affordable price after some hard bargaining, something I am beginning to get better at.

Later, I found the Feb 2011, issue of ‘The New Yorker’ that I read after I got home. I love the cartoons in TNY. Each one of them is a gem as are the articles and review in it. One of the books advertised in it was ‘Secret Ingredients’ a TNY book that I would have loved to read. It is described as ‘a feast of delicious writing on food and drink, seasoned with a generous dash of cartoons.’ The contributors to this collection include Woody Allen (on Dieting Like Dostoyevsky’s Way) Anthony Bourdain, Bill Buford, Don Dellillo (on Jell-O), Adam Gopnik, Chang Rae Lee, Susan Orlean, Jane Kramer (on The Writer’s Kitchen) and many other equally talented writers contributing their humor pieces, memoirs, classic profiles of great chefs and great eaters. I wonder if I will ever find it here in Hyderabad or anywhere in the country even.

Quite coincidentally the other day I had also read a review about another book by a chef- Gabrielle Hamilton’s ‘Blood, Bones, Butter.’ The excerpt I read made me wonder if I’d find this book too somewhere soon. But the book I have been on the look out since a long time eludes me. A long time ago I had seen ‘How I Learnt to Cook’ in a secondhand bookstore. It was outrageously priced at four hundred and fifty rupees which was one reason I did not immediately buy it. I had seen two copies of the book in that particular bookstore but now when I have the money in my pocket and a hunger to read such books I am unable to locate it.

There were other books I came across but was not interested in buying them. There was a hardcover copy of Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections’ selling for the ridiculous price of only twenty rupees. Then there are the books by Len Deighton (Spy Hook, London Match, Only When I Larf) and John Le Carre (Smiley’s People; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) that no one seems to be interested in reading. There was also Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk in the Woods’ that I have been seeing since the past two or three months at the same place. If no one buys it next week then I am going to pick it up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Up with the Birds

Though every morning I wake up much before the birds do I do not get the opportunity of watching them closely for long. Once a month though I deliberately set aside my morning routine and go to the Necklace Road where I spend sometime in solitude by the lakeside. Since the past month I’ve taken to a kind of bird watching. Even before the sky lights up with the first rays of the sun several kinds of birds, especially geese, begin to fly in towards the city from god knows where. They come in waves, one after the other, some waves made up of just two birds and some consisting of more than a dozen. But the birds are something worth watching if only for their fluid grace. They first appear as specks on the horizon growing larger and larger as they come closer to the lake. Wings flapping gracefully, the geese fly in formation sometimes descending low just inches over the surface of the lake and then soaring up again to fly onwards. Then there are the birds in the water gliding around smoothly. There are other birds, nervously darting around their cries filling the silence of the morning.

But somehow, on this Sunday I felt that some of the usual magic was missing. Adding to this feeling of disappointment was the unwelcome presence of a young person. I sat at my usual spot on the lakeside, on a bench just near the edge of the lake near some kind of a tower that was overgrown with weeds. This youngster fully dressed in jeans and shoes at that early hour (six am) ambled into the till then idyllic scene speaking loudly into his mobile phone. Still talking into the phone he looked around and parked himself in such a manner to block my view of the lake. He stood there leaning against the metal fencing. I got a little annoyed by this invasion of my privacy. The whole of the Necklace Road was empty and this guy chose that very spot to carry on his conversation on the mobile phone. After he finished talking he stood for sometime staring at the lake. I briefly thought he was going to jump in but he took out his mobile and snapped a picture of the lake. I was almost ready to get up and move to a different spot when he moved away and left me in peace to watch the sun rise.

Afterwards the sun emerged out of the horizon slowly, first appearing as a pink blob and then changing to read as it climbed higher into the sky. Sometimes I feel that one should watch the sunrise over a body of water like a lake or the sea everyday but I know it is something impossible. But whenever I am near the sea I never miss the sunrise. I’ve done it in the Andamans, I’ve done it in Visakapatnam and I’ve done it at Kakinada. It is magical and nothing can express the feeling of watching the sunrise at such places all by oneself.

Later, I went to Adarsh for a cup of Irani chai and spent almost an hour reading the newspapers. When you read the papers leisurely on such peaceful mornings the world, the people and everything in it appears different. There wasn’t much of a crowd at Adarsh that morning maybe because it was also Holi. I was immersed in reading the paper from top to bottom and the waiter, a distinguished looking man with a long silvery beard reminded me that my tea was getting cold. I missed my old friend, the smoker who is not to be seen since a long time. I wonder if he has gone where the smoke from his cigarettes goes- up.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Sunday Haul

Howard Jacobson was one writer whose books, especially ‘The Finkler Question,’ I wanted to read the day I learnt that he had won the Booker Prize for 2010. However, I hadn’t really expected to find any of his books, particularly TFQ at Abids or any secondhand bookstores in Hyderabad until two or more years later. After all, my last Booker find was Anne Enright’s ‘The Gathering’ that I had found sometime in November 2010, three years after the she won the prize. So, the possibility of finding TFQ so soon after it won the prize appeared remote though I was on the look out for it. But then, the lucky guy that I am, I stumbled upon a copy of ‘The Finkler Question’ on Sunday at Abids. If I weren’t a senior officer in the government and also 48 years old I would have actually danced a jig on the spot but mercifully I didn’t. Instead, trying to conceal my excitement, I casually asked how much the price was. If finding the book was something of a miracle then getting it for only fifty rupees was the icing.

I’d have been happier if I had also picked up other titles that I had seen. A rule I follow while browsing at Abids is to immediately pick up any title that appears even remotely good. Breaking this rule brings me only regret as I realized several times in the past. The other Sunday I had spotted the January 2010 issue of Condé Nast Traveller and Tobias Wolff’s memoir but did not buy them perhaps filled with the overconfidence that comes with being too lucky finding good books. This week I did not find them much to my regret. Not only these, I also left behind Sarita Mandanna’s ‘Tiger Hills,’ Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and an Irish Murdoch title for others to pick up this Sunday. I hope no one had picked them up after I left and I would find them at their usual places next Sunday.

Now that I’ve two Booker titles on my table I’m yet to make up my mind which to read first- The Gathering or The Finkler Question? Maybe I should follow the ‘first come, first served’ rule and begin with Anne Enright’s ‘The Gathering’ sometime soon. The mixed reviews notwithstanding I need to read these two award winning books if only for the reason that I’ve actually shelled out money to buy them. I’ll also make sure many friends of mine also read these titles.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An Unexpected Encounter

How is one expected to feel on coming face to face with someone one’s helped to be arrested? I had thought I would come across this person, only in the safe confines of a court in the reassuring presence of cops, judges and lawyers, he in the accused’s box and myself in the witness box. But I had not expected such an unexpected and premature encounter with the senior cop arrested by a team of Anti Corruption cops of which I was an undeniable part a long time ago.

More than two and half years ago, in December, 2008 to be exact, I was to become, quite by accident, the prime Government witness (by virtue of my seniority, rank and also the fact that I’d drawn the statement of proceedings) a civilian member of anti-corruption cops tracking a corrupt official. The operation resulted in the arrest of a senior policeman of the rank of an Assistant Commissioner of Police on a busy street after a dramatic chase which must count as one of the high points of my career. Given the circumstances under which he was caught red-handed accepting a bribe of fifty thousand rupees, while on duty wearing his uniform and in his official vehicle, I thought the cop was a goner and had not expected to see him for a long, long time. I thought it would be years before he would be allowed to wear the uniform and put on duty.

But there he was, in full uniform complete with pistol in its holster, looking a bit fatter, on duty at the Legislative Council. He sat at the entrance gates through which I had to pass. There was no way I could escape his eyes because he was watching over other cops frisking the visitors. When I first saw him I had the uncomfortable realization that, like elephants, cops have long memories. In fact, all cops are trained to remember faces. I wondered if he would remember my face after two and half years. If I were in his place I would certainly not forget the face of someone who was present when I was arrested in such a dramatic manner. In fact no one with even the minutest sense of shame would have forgotten any face that stared at him while he was being arrested. But it looked like this cop did not even recognize me. I wondered if it wasn’t the same cop but when I saw the name on the badge on his chest I knew I was not wrong. This cop was the same one who was introduced to me and who sat before me while I recorded his statement, the same cop who was later sent to a lock up on the same night he was arrested. I couldn’t believe I was there that night, a witness to his complete humiliation by fellow policemen when they led him away to the jail.

As I neared the gates of the Legislative Council and stood before the metal detector I had visions of the cop drawing out his pistol, pumping bullets into my chest and laughing even as I lay bleeding to death. Nothing of that sort happened though as I passed through without looking at him. I knew he was watching me while I was patted down but strangely what was in my mind was how many people around me knew the cop in their midst had spent time in jail.

My only guess is that he must have spent some time in jail, had been suspended and must have requested to be put on duty until the court proved him guilty. It’s been more than three weeks since my daily encounters with this corrupt cop but not once did he give a sign that he had recognized me. But I do feel damn nervous every time I pass by. I have another two weeks of this ordeal and I hope our next encounter will only be in the court.

Monday, March 14, 2011

'March'ing to Work

It had been a long time in the offing, this plan of mine that I had made to walk all the way to work. I had originally planned to do it in the winter months when the weather is more conducive for such sort of adventures. But I couldn’t do it in December I told myself that I’d do it in February but I couldn’t do it last month either. Last Thursday, the day of the Million March gave me the perfect reason to do it. There was no way I could avoid going to work because I had to be present at the Legislative Council. So I had to go somehow. There was only one way I could go there- on foot. There’d be traffic restrictions so I had the perfect excuse not to take out my bike. The bus services too would be uncertain which was another stronger reason and one that left me with no option but to walk. In the end it proved to be a longer walk than the four kilometers I thought would the distance from Musheerabad (where I live) to the Legislative Council inside the Public Gardens in Nampally.

When I started at half past eight in the morning on Thursday, wearing just a cap, I had a tentative plan. I planned to walk upto RTC X Roads, then go towards Ashoknagar X Roads, turn left to reach Himayatnagar, go towards Liberty, take the lane beside MLA quarters to reach Adarsh café. At Adarsh I planned to have a cup of tea before going ahead via Ritz, to Public Gardens. With so many roads cordoned off to traffic there was utter chaos with vehicles jamming the roads. I could see the frustration on the faces of the motorcyclists and those struck in their cars unable to move forward or go back. I walked on weaving through the vehicles towards the RTC Cross Roads. The road towards Ashoknagar was cordoned off with CISF troops standing guard. I was let through after I showed my ID. I walked on towards Ashoknagar and then when I reached Himayatnagar I began to sweat a little. When I reached Minerva I thought it would be a good idea to sit somewhere to rest my feet and drink some water. Ultimately I stopped at Hotel Woodland. My original plan was to drink tea at Adarsh but my feet that were beginning to ache a little made me change the plan. Refreshed with the coffee I resumed after a ten minute break.

At Liberty X Roads there was more chaos with the motorcyclists and car drivers arguing with the cops who cordoned off the road towards the Tank Bund. There is a certain optimism and hope on the faces of my fellow Hyderabadis that they’d be somehow allowed to pass through despite the number of lathi wielding cops, the barricades, the barbed wire making it clear that no one would be allowed to pass through. The people waited passively, maybe praying for a miracle, but I walked on glad that I was not among the frustrated motorists cursing everyone. When I reached MLA Quarters in Adarshnagar I noticed that Adarsh Café was shuttered down. I was glad I had made the decision to have coffee at Woodlands. If I had not done so and plodded on with the hope of drinking tea at Adarsh I would have been left high and dry. Another fifteen minutes of walking was left when I began to feel the pain in the shins. I wore brown leather shoes which weren’t exactly meant for hikes of this kind. But the pain notwithstanding I felt glad that I had carried out my plan to walk to work.

The good feeling gave me ideas to do this kind of a hike more often and I actually planned to do it twice a week with just a minor difference. Instead of walking to office from home I thought it would be a better idea to walk home from the office in the evening. I could come to office by bus in the morning and in the evening walk back leisurely discovering more of the city. It seemed to be a good idea except that I would need to buy a comfortable pair of shoes. During the next few months of the summer I plan to do it at least once a week. Besides being good exercise it would also mean I could get to see more of Hyderabad. It is surprising how much detail passes unnoticed when you travel anywhere by bike or drive a car.

At last, at five minutes past ten I passed the gates of the Legislative Council and subjected myself to a body search. Normally the cops don’t even wish me but that morning a cop actually said ‘Good Morning, Sir’ which made me wonder if he knew about my four kilometer walk. It was comforting to know that at last our cops are catching up on politeness. When I entered the cool confines of the air conditioned Officers Waiting Hall I felt a certain exhilaration about my own march. I felt like I had climbed the Himalayas. But that wasn’t the end of the walk. After the House was adjourned an hour later I realized I had to get back to office. I had no vehicle and the pain in the feet was intense after the hour long rest. I couldn't walk making me wonder if I had to crawl to the Secretariat. But I managed to somehow hobble along up to Hotel Panchsheel. After a bracing cup of Irani chai I started for the Secretariat and got there in about twenty minutes. In the end it turned out to be a longer walk than I had planned for.

When I told my colleagues in the office about my long march they looked at me like they had never met anyone who walked such a long distance. But when I told them I planned to repeat it every week some of them rolled their eyes like they had a lunatic in their midst. Come to think of it, it is a crazy idea and exactly the sort of thing that appeals to me.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Sunday Haul

Not even for pay day do I wait as eagerly as I do for the first Sunday of the month. It is the day when ‘The Hindu’ brings with it its ‘The Literary Review’ supplement. This month I did not find anything very interesting in TLR. However, out of habit I read the entire supplement from top to bottom covering the regular columns, the book reviews etc. There was an article by an author who met Orhan Pamuk at the Jaipur Literary Festival. The most interesting article in TLR was the one by Aparna Karthikeyan about a second hand book store (Barter Books) in Alnwick somewhere in the UK that she visited recently.

So on such Sundays after reading TLR I am filled with an unusual excitement as I browse for books on the pavements of Abids that I visit every Sunday. Maybe that was the reason I did not find anything interesting. However, I had seen a memoir of Tobias Wolff (This Boy’s Life) but I did not buy it. Now, after reading the reviews of the book online I feel, as usual, like kicking myself. It seems such a good book that next Sunday, if it is available, I am not going to miss buying it at any cost.

The only find at Abids on Sunday was the January 31, 2011 issue of ‘The New Yorker’ magazine that I got for only ten rupees. One reason why I bought it was that it carried a short story by Alice Munro. I read later in the magazine that Munro had twelve short story collections to her credit and the thirteenth one would be launched next year. After I got home in the afternoon I read the short story titled ‘Axis’ which was about a stone-hearted man and two women living in rural Canada.

TNY wasn’t the only magazine I came across on Sunday. I could have picked up the January 2010 issue of the Conde Nast Traveller but did not. I haven’t finished reading the one I had found last week so I left the Jan 2010 issue for the next Sunday. I don’t think anyone will even think of buying such an old issue so I am pretty confident that I will find it at the same place next Sunday. But what I look forward to find at Abids is Dave Barry's 'I'll Mature When I am Dead' that I read about on Kunal's blog. It is strange but true that you cannot find Dave Barry's titles in a regular bookstore. All Dave Barry books I have I've picked them up only at Abids or in second hand bookstores.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Legislature Fever- 2

When it gets incredibly boring even by my bureaucratic standards I tend to do something to get out of it. It is the second week of my duty at the Legislative Council and the tedium of it is getting on my nerves. Fed up with the tasteless tea in the makeshift canteen in the premises of the Council I decided to go to a real Irani. Bahar, Bombay Bakery were too far away so I settled for Hotel Panchsheel just across the road near Ravindra Bharati . The chota samosa they serve there are quite good so I went to the place. I had about half hour to kill so I just sat down watching the people at other tables.

At any given time half the crowd in an Irani hotel is made up of autorickshaw drivers. They just cannot seem to be able to drive their autorickshaws without Irani chai coursing in their bloodstream. There were the obligatory cops too. You just cannot step into an Irani without finding at least one cop leisurely drinking chai. One finds all sorts of people in Irani hotels in Hyderabad so finding someone reading a book in such hotels isn’t unusual. After realizing that I’d be free most of the time in the Council I made it a habit to carry a couple of books to read whenever I found the time. I took out Pico Iyer’s ‘Global Soul’ that I had with me and read an entire chapter (The Games) sitting in Hotel Panchsheel.

Needless to say I was bowled by Pico Iyer’s analytical style of his writing and the depth and range of his insights into almost everything that he saw or experienced. I wonder what he would have made of my experiences in the Council were he to be in my place. I guess he would have something insightful to say about the dozing bureaucrats, the eager assistants of the Ministers, the gun toting cops in grey safari suits, the dozens of enormous SUVs with blue lights on the top, the frisking at the entrance, the beeps of the metal detectors and the people milling around with passes and IDs hanging around their necks. I would have liked to write something quite observant and insightful about this daily scene I witness but then I am no Pico Iyer.

There’s a rush to get out of the Council as soon it is adjourned for the day. I always make it a point to try to pick out the journalists among the crowd. I know that there are quite a few reporters who sit in the Council to cover the proceedings. There are faces I can recognize and know the papers for which they work. There are some faces I try to connect to the publications they belong. Of course, it is quite easy to tell the television reporters from the print reporters. They are invariably to be seen dictating the headlines into their mobile phones as soon as they emerge out of the Council, headlines which appear as Breaking News on the television screens.

I have another three weeks of this to go before the House is adjourned sine die.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Sunday Haul

It is time and occasion to make a couple of confessions here. The first is regarding an unfulfilled ambition I harbored for quite a long time. While in college I realized that given my temperament I am more suited to be a journalist and so dreamed of a life in the publishing world. But unfortunately I ended up in the government world after a brief stint in the advertising world. Though I’ve given up on that dream I nevertheless like to read about journalism and journalists. So, without a second thought, I picked up Theodore Dreiser’s ‘A Book About Myself; Newspaper Days’ first thing on reaching Abids. I had not bought it last week when I first saw it because I thought it was too highly priced. I was disappointed with myself about that decision. However, on Sunday I got the book for only fifty bucks. Dreiser, as I’ve discovered lately, has written travel books (‘A Traveller at Forty,’ ‘Dreiser Looks at Russia, ‘A Hoosier Holiday’) and other non fiction titles like ‘Notes on Life’, ‘Tragic America’ that I want to look out for.

My second confession is a bit embarrassing- in my thirty odd years of reading life I haven’t read anything by Anita Desai, apart from the odd essay or short piece. I keep coming across a few of her titles especially ‘A Village by the Sea’ quite often at Abids. Somehow I keep telling myself that I’d start reading Anita Desai some other time. But that time never came until last Sunday when I found a new title of hers. I found ‘Diamond Dust’ a collection of nine short stories- Royalty, Winterscape, Diamond Dust, a Tragedy; Underground, The Man Who Saw Himself Drown, The Artists Life, Five Hours to Simla or Faisla, Tepoztlan Tomorrow, and The Rooftop Dwellers. I got the book for thirty rupees and was quite a bargain though the pages have started yellowing.

The next find was my first Condé Nast Traveller of 2011 which happened to be the last issue of 2010 i.e., the December 2010 issue. The issue, at first glance, appeared to be a good enough issue but it wasn’t so. Inside, a complete section (on India), almost thirty odd pages of it, were not only repeated but inserted upside down in place of nearly thirty odd pages. There was an article on New Zealand that was missing along with others. It was a freak issue but I don’t mind since the magazine has a couple of nice articles especially the ones on Reunion Islands, Lech in Austria, and Uruguay. Of course, the photographs alone are worth more than the twenty rupees I paid for it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Legislature Fever

Those government employees, officers especially, working in their Head Offices in Hyderabad, get a unique opportunity a couple of times a year. This opportunity is one of watching democracy in action in the form of duty at legislatures when they are in session. Some of the officers are drafted for duty either at the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council for about half a day or so. During the last session I too was on duty at the Assembly for a couple of days. This time however I was drafted to the Legislative Council for the whole duration of the sessions which, being the budget session, ends on the 31st of March.

Since Monday last I’ve been attending the sessions at the Legislative Council housed in the Jubilee Hall in the Public Gardens at Nampally. Since then I’m spending half my day until late afternoon in the Officers Waiting Hall in historic Jubilee Hall. The hall is a beautiful circular building built by the Nizams. The Waiting Hall is a curved hall with a high ceiling with chandeliers and ceiling fans hanging down. However, the stiff backed chairs are damn uncomfortable if one has to spend more than a couple of hours sitting on them listening to the proceedings in the Council Hall through the speakers.

It is a great opportunity to witness legislation in the making, listening to the debates between the Members and also getting to watch some of the faces one sees only on the televisions. Being the house of the elders the Legislative Council proceedings go on smoothly unlike that of the Assembly which has more members. It is less noisy here at the Council. Whenever there is a break I take out a book that I am carrying in my bag and read it. Last week I managed to finish Mohammed Hanif’s ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ that I had picked up only recently. It is an unputdownable book with a great plot and some wonderful passages. What stands out is, however, the humor evident in the situations and the lines mouthed by some of the characters in the book.

The other day I had to come as early as eight am to the Council. There are always cops swarming the place. At the Gates, one has to show the Official pass to be let in. Then there is more checking- you are frisked, the bags are checked before you are allowed to enter. There are metal detectors, bomb and dog squads. That day I saw the dog squad in action with the canine sniffing around led by its burly handler. There was someone checking the mike saying ‘Checking 1,2,3’ every few seconds for at least an hour. After an hour or so the place begins to fill up with the members arriving. Soon the place is crowded with Scorpios, Innova cars with the blue lights at the top, cops in safari suits carrying sten guns, some cops in uniforms with pistols stuck in their waistbands and even traffic cops directing the traffic inside the Public Garden. The sessions begin with pealing of a bell that rings continuously for more than a couple of minutes. Then the session begins and goes on until eleven or half past eleven after which there is a tea break. After the tea break the session goes on until half past one by which time I begin to feel terribly hungry. As soon as the House is adjourned for the day I rush to the office for lunch.

The whole thing is repeated the next day. There are usually no sessions on Saturdays and Sundays. I have another month of Council duty by which time I plan to finish reading at least five books.