Friday, April 29, 2011

The Sunday Super Haul

Once in a while, I come up with a super haul of more than the usual one of a couple of books mostly by writers I love to read. Last Sunday it was one such occasion when I netted four good books by four equally good writers. One title was a book that I have several copies of but the other three were titles that I haven’t read about before so finding them was quite a thrilling experience. This kind of a super haul happens once in a blue moon so I was filled with joy though the haul did empty my wallet considerably. Even then, what I paid for the four books was far less than what I would have to pay for new copies of these titles assuming bookstores in Hyderabad actually stocked them. I would never have found all four titles anywhere else, leave alone a bookstore, except on the pavements of Abids.

The first find was by the author of one of the very first titles I read just when I was beginning to get seriously into books about places where people are equally crazy about the scene as well as the food (which is something you can’t say about Hyderabad). Peter Mayle is the author who opened my eyes to Provence when I read ‘A Year in Provence’ and ‘Toujours Provence’. ‘Encore Provence’ is what I found lying among other titles on the pavement at Abids. This is perhaps Mayle’s third book on Provence after the previous two titles on the same place. I did not know about ‘Encore Provence’ until I laid my eyes on it so finding the book was the first pleasant surprise of the day. The second surprise of the morning was getting it for only twenty rupees.

Ever since I’ve failed to get into medical college I’ve been more fascinated by surgeons and physicians than anyone or anything else. I’ve met a few of them and also count among doctors I know a cousin, two sisters-in-laws, an uncle and a nephew. The lives of physicians and surgeons fascinate me and I try to read whatever stuff I can find that is written by them. One of my favorite writers, Somerset Maugham is (or was) a student of medicine. So was AJ Cronin whose autobiography lies in my shelf waiting to be opened. Then there is another recent book that I want to read – Siddhartha Mukherjee’s ‘The Emperor of all Maladies’ apart from books by Abraham Varghese that I have not been able to locate anywhere. I’ve come across Atul Gawande’s name quite often though I haven’t really read anything written by him. So when I found his ‘Better- A Surgeon’s Note on Performance,’ I grabbed it. However, I had to bargain hard for it since the guy asked two hundred rupees for it but got only seventy rupees from me. His other book 'Complications:A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science' now gets added to my must read list.

I don’t know if I’m subconsciously waiting to find all books by Haruki Murakami before starting to read them. I have at least five Murakami books waiting to be read right from ‘Kafka on the Shore’ that I found sometime last year to the most recent find ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ that I found two weeks ago. Last week I almost began to read ‘What I Talk When I Talk About Running’ but put it aside after I got Le Carre’s ‘Our Kind of Traitor’ that I am currently reading. As if it wasn’t enough agony waiting to find some time alone to finish the almost half a dozen Murakami books I found another one on Sunday. The third find of the day was Haruki Murakami’s ‘After Dark,’ a short and slim book but which did not come cheap. I had to shell out seventy rupees for it though I felt it would be worth more than that.

Even if I come across a hundred copies of any book by Dave Barry I am going to buy all of them. There are a lot of people who do not know who he is and many more who haven’t even read a single book by him. I want to bring a bit of humor into the lives of such people I know and there’s no better way than to gift them a Dave Barry book. I had come across ‘Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys’ last week but did not buy it because the guy quoted a high price. Finding it still on the pavement on Sunday I asked the seller once again but he quoted the same price as last Sunday. I walked away appearing uninterested though inside I desperately wished he’d agree to my price. But my gambit paid off because the guy came running after me and handed over it to me at the price I asked for- sixty rupees. A book by Dave Barry is worth any price because one cannot find his books in bookstores in Hyderabad. I don’t understand why but no bookstore in Hyderabad seems to stock his books. It is the reason why I have no option to gift only second hand book copies of Dave Barry titles to friends.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Memories of Shimla

Around this time last year I was on my way home from Shimla filled with mixed feelings. Sometimes I felt sad and sometimes glad. I felt sad that I was leaving behind such a wonderful place and wondering if I’d ever get another chance to visit the scenic town. I felt glad because I was carrying some wonderful memories of Shimla and of the few good friends I made in the week I was there. The other day I remembered it was the birthday of one such friend who was my roommate at the hostel in Shimla. I called him up to wish him and he seemed glad I had remembered. Next I called up another friend and got some bad news. The friend told me he was just coming out of a depression brought upon by an upheaval in his life. He told me that shortly after he had returned from Shimla he had split with his wife. I felt upset when he told me that they had been married twenty eight years. I wondered how such things could happen to a couple who had been together that long. I wanted to ask him the reason for the split but he was not in a mood to talk. There was nothing I could think of to tell him other than promise to visit him some day soon. But that wasn’t the only tragedy that had happened to someone I had met at Shimla. Another officer from this state who had come along for the training lost her husband in a road accident shortly after the Shimla trip. The last time I saw her was at a traffic junction when she was crossing the road a couple of months ago.

Whatever, I was glad I had made that trip to Shimla though I was not very inclined to go. One of the vivid memories of Shimla is the walk I took at the Ridge early in the morning on the day I was to catch the bus to Delhi. I wish I could go there again for a longer stay and on a personal trip because I want to explore many places I couldn’t go. The entire week that I was there it had been a hectic time what with the day long training sessions leaving only a couple of hours in the evening free. Except for one day I went daily to Shimla from Mashobra and spent a few hours walking around watching people from all over the country and the world going around shopping or just strolling the streets in the chilly evenings. The natty jacket I bought at Shimla is proving to be quite a head turner whenever I happen to wear it to ward off the cold and the rain. I only wish I had bought one more similar jacket.

The Andaman Dream

Another week and it will be the fifth anniversary of the day I set off on my 90 day sojourn in the Andamans. I cannot believe five years have passed since the day I anxiously and nervously stepped into the plane bound for Chennai en route to Port Blair. It was one of the biggest adventures that I had in my life and now I feel really glad I overcame a last minute bout of second thoughts about the whole trip. I almost called it off but somehow I stuck on to my decision and, boy, am I really glad I did it. Though I cannot really say that the three months I spent at the Andamans were the most wonderful days I can claim that almost every day was filled with something new, something that opened my eyes to a lot of things, especially to life on the islands. Apart from a lot of memories of the jungle, the sea and the lonely trips I made to remote and isolated beaches I came back with three more good friends in my life- Eswar, Rahul and Shamik with whom I am in touch even now.

After returning from the Andamans I wished I could somehow find a way to spend a year exploring the islands and write a book called ‘A Year in the Andamans’ but it appears impossible. I would need a lot of money and also lots of courage to break off from the peaceful job and the company of family and friends for such a long time and go live in that beautiful and unforgettable place.

Restless for Sunday

What I am really excited about is that next Sunday happens to be the first Sunday of May and there will be The Literary Review to devour. I am sure there will be something about the Pulitzer Prize winners especially about Siddhartha Mukherjee’s ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’ that I plan to buy some day. It was Sunday yesterday and having missed watching ‘Just Books’ on Saturday evening I caught the program on Sunday night. In the ‘What’s On My Bookshelf’ segment Mrinal Pande showed off her collection of books. Most of the books on her shelves were Hindi books. The only book in her collection that I wish I had was Ryszard Kapuściński’s ‘The Soccer Wars’ that I am still looking for all over.

Four days from now the month-long wait will finally be over.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Haul and a Book Launch

Last Saturday turned out to be an eventful day on Hyderabad’s literary scene with not one but two book readings that took place. One was the book reading of Angela Saini’s ‘Geek Nation’ that I learnt about only in the afternoon when I happened to glance at the Times of India. The event was sometime in the afternoon and somewhere in Jubilee Hills so there was no way I could attend it though I very much wanted to. The second book reading was one I accidentally walked into in the evening when I landed up at Landmark at Punjagutta to buy gifts for my nephews. I was quite surprised to see the event in progress with Sunil Sethi and Jyotirmaya Sharma on the dais and a copy of ‘The Big Bookshelf’ displayed on the table. I was a bit annoyed that I missed knowing about the event which doesn’t seem to have been publicized anywhere. What added to the annoyance was the fact that I had come in when the event was just winding up.

There’s no better place to find out rather quickly how dumb some of us Hyderabadis are than at an event like a book launch. One of the reasons why I flee such events right after the actual reading or launch is over is to avoid the inevitable question and answer session that follows. There are invariably a bunch of people who ask the sort of questions that make me cringe. Among the crowd at Landmark on Saturday was one middle-aged gentleman who introduced himself as an artist and wanted to know from Sunil Sethi about the employment opportunities for an artist in the media. This at a book launch! Another person who introduced himself as the culture correspondent of a local newspaper asked Sunil Sethi why there were no language writers featured on ‘Just Books’ that Sethi anchors. Sethi told him that ‘Just Books’ was an English language program. Then there was another person who wanted to know about Anna Hazare and it was at this point that I decided to leave and find a hole to bury myself in. I imagine Sunil Sethi and Jyotirmaya Sharma must have been shaking their heads in utter disbelief at the sort of questions that were asked at Hyderabad.

Incidentally, after leaving the event midway I happened to glance at the latest issue of Outlook magazine elsewhere in the store and came across Jyotirmaya Sharma’s column- Hyderabad Diary- on the last page. He writes that politics, astrology, and cinema were what mattered to Hyderabadis. I think he is wrong. Hyderabadis are interested in individual politicians, not politics, Hyderabadis are crazy about movie stars and not cinema as such. I think he also missed out the fact that there is nothing matters more to the Hyderabadi than eating and drinking. One need only look around to see how many restaurants, hotels, small pushcarts, even vendors on bicycles are there in the city dishing out stuff to the hungry Hyderabadi at all times. Then there’s the drink. He doesn’t seem to have noticed that liquor stores in Hyderabad open as early as hotels. At an hour when people in other cities would be getting ready to have their first cup of tea some of us Hyderabadis would have already downed a couple of pegs. That’s Hyderabad, sir.

The Haul
On Sunday at Abids I did not find any book worth buying. I was looking for books by Ted Lewis. I am certain that I had seen ‘Jack Carter’s Law’ sometime back in a heap of books but I was not lucky. But I am going to find one soon. Since maybe I had my eyes open only for Ted Lewis I did not find other books. However, I found the March 28, 2011 issue of ‘The New Yorker’ magazine that had a story by Haruki Murakami titled ‘UFO in Kushiro’ that I read right after reaching home. I had also seen a collection of short stories by Penelope Lively that I did not feel like buying then but now I wish I had picked it up. That was one (and only) dumb thing I did on Sunday. Maybe I will look for the book next Sunday and pick it up if it is still available.

It wasn’t that I went without books the whole week. I finally lay my hands on John Le Carre’s ‘Our Kind of Traitor’ that one of my brothers gave me. It is what I am planning to read right after I finish another gem that I bought yesterday at a second hand bookstore in Nampally. I am glad I made the impromptu decision to dive into a second hand bookstore yesterday afternoon. After I read Raymond Chandler’s high praise for Dashiell Hammett in ‘The Simple Art of Murder’ I was on the lookout for Hammett’s book. Yesterday I found Dashiell Hammett’s ‘The Continental Op’ and got it for only fifty rupees. The lengthy and wonderful introduction by Steven Marcus about Hammett’s life and the influences on his writing is making me want to start reading the book right away.

There are seven stories in ‘The Continental Op’: The Tenth Clew/The Golden Horseshoe/The House in Turk Street/The Girl with the Silver Eyes/The Whosis Kid/The Main Death/ The Farewell Murder. Though I was a bit disappointed that I had not found any title by Ted Lewis I am glad I found Dashiell Hammett’s ‘The Continental Op.’

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Straight from the Saucer- 'I Tea' at Paradise Bakery

When you work for the government you learn to be simple. In fact, the government life is informed by its simplicity in every thing. Save a greedy and corrupt few, a majority of those who work for the government live a simple life. The clothes are simple, the thoughts are simple, and even the habits and tastes are simple. Naturally, being in the government I am no exception. I try to lead a simple life down to my food habits. A couple of times a week I indulge in what I call my own version of I –Tea or if you prefer, Irani Tea at a nice place like Paradise. Last Friday it was one such day when I was in the mood for I Tea so off I went to Paradise Bakery.

It isn’t a large variety of stuff one gets at Paradise Bakery to snack on but it is mouthwatering enough. There are the four varieties of puffs (egg, mutton, chicken and veg), biscuits (Osmania, Salt, Rota, cashew, Roat etc) and of course, the cakes and pastries. I don’t much fancy this stuff as much as I do the chota samosas which unfortunately almost everyone at Paradise seems to fancy too. Because you don’t get them every day and the day you find them considerable yourself very, very lucky. Last Friday was one such lucky day finding four chota samosas in the shelf. By the time I took out my wallet two of them disappeared. I managed to get the remaining two. I put them in a plate with two salt biscuits and settled down at a table to finish them off before having a cup of the chai.

If an Irani café were to stock only a couple of snacks then it would be Osmania biscuits and chota samosas. So far I haven’t been to any Irani café where I haven’t found chota samosas on the menu. Paradise bakery is no exception. The chota samosa at Paradise is quite a delicacy. One has to taste it once to know how it feels in the mouth. The chota samosas at Paradise are some of the best I have tasted in Hyderabad. It is neither very large nor very small but just large enough to last beyond two bites. I haven’t exactly tried to find out what the filling is so I cannot write here what is inside a chota samosa. The only thing I can identify is onion- small, bits of fried onions. The exterior is crunchy and the chota samosa is best eaten between sips of Irani chai which seems to taste better that way.

Though there are other items on the menu I stick to chota samosas on the days I find them. I find there’s nothing to beat this combination of Chota samosas and chai as the simple man’s ‘I Tea.’

Friday, April 15, 2011

A 'No Haul' Sunday

After quite some time I had a Sunday when I did not find anything worth buying at Abids. To tell the truth, I was more relieved to come home empty handed than disappointed that I had not found even a single book worth picking up. True, I felt a bit odd returning home with not a single book in the bag but I was also worried if it would be the same again next Sunday. It wasn’t that I did not come across anything at all worth picking up. I saw two latest issues of ‘The New Yorker’ magazine but I was in no mood to buy them. Then there was Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk in the Woods’ still on the pavement for the eighth or ninth week running. There was something I could have bought- Sagarika Ghose’s ‘The Girl’ and Ananda Mukerji’s ‘And where, My Friend, Lay You Hiding?’ that I saw at Chikkadpally but did not buy because the seller wanted too much for the old books. I was also disappointed that the book sellers were not getting anything new other than what they have been peddling all these weeks.

The Month’s ‘The Literary Review’ in The Hindu

Last Sunday wasn’t the first Sunday of the month but since I had forgotten I am now mentioning about ‘The Literary Review’ that appeared in The Hindu. On the front page was the announcement of the ‘The Hindu Literary Prize’ with June 25th as the deadline and a prize of Rs Five Lakhs. The interview with Gulzar, also on the front page, was a delight to read. To imagine he has been around for almost fifty years working on his poetry and lyrics. It made me feel I should not have stopped learning Urdu. Inside, there was Pradeep Sebastian on Sidharth Choudhury’s ‘Day Scholar’ and praised the book so highly that I am contemplating buying the book and checking it out myself. I haven’t kept up on my promise of reading more books by Indian writers. It makes me feel guilty, very guilty indeed.

Just Books

Ever since the telecast schedule of ‘Just Books’ was changed it has become difficult for me to watch the program on NDTV Profit. Last Sunday I managed to catch it at half past ten in the night. There was Pritish Nandy showing off his books and the only one I liked in his collection was ‘Complete Prose’ by Woody Allen which I do not have with me. Then there was the mandatory author interview, and this week it was with a US based author of another book on India. I wish somebody would tell Sunil Sethi that he speaks more than what his interviewees do. His interruptions are irritating and also so long that appears like Sethi is showing off his own knowledge. One can see the disappointment on the faces of the writers he has interrupted in mid-sentence to say something profound of his own. The poor authors can only nod in agreement as Sunil Sethi goes on and on. I wish he would ask the question and sit back to listen to the author’s answer rather than jump in and make a lengthy point. The program would be much better if he kept his questions short and to the point.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Food, Coffee, and Wine Post

Here’s something for those eagerly awaiting news of the latest on the restaurant scene in Jubilee Hills. ‘Bimas’ of Tirupati, I’ve read recently, has opened a branch in Jubilee Hills. From what I know of the Jubilee Hills crowd most likely Bimas was forced to open a branch because they cannot afford to go to Tirupati every time they feel an urge to eat a masala dosa. Whatever, that’s one more eatery for the Jubilee Hills crowd to indulge in as if there aren’t enough places already for them to stuff themselves to the gills. As usual it has caused me some heartburn though not as much as in the past when I read about other posh eateries opening in Jubilee Hills. That is because the report also mentioned that Bimas plans to open another branch in Secunderabad soon, something which already has begun to make my mouth water since Secunderabad is a stone’s throw from Musheerabad where I, fortunately or unfortunately, happen to live.


Musheerabad, by the way, has made its appearance on the Café Coffee Day map with an outlet that has opened sometime in the past without me being aware of such a thing. Until now there was nothing in Musheerabad to have felt proud about unless a jail in the neighborhood counts for such a thing. Now that even the jail has been shifted there was nothing to crow about until CCD decided it was time Musheerabad got another landmark. I haven’t yet been there though I wonder who would drop in at a Café Coffee Day outlet in Musheerabad, of all the places. I doubt it even if the medicos from Gandhi Medical College that’s on the other side of the road drop in there. So far I haven’t felt an urge to drink a seventy five rupee coffee there and when I do I will certainly write about it here.

Talking of Café Coffee Day, the other day I saw a small hoarding advertising the opening of two new CCD outlets. The tone of the ad suggested that now that CCD has opened its outlets in Charminar and Golconda these places would finally be getting some visitors as if there are people in Hyderabad who won’t venture to any place where there are no CCD outlets. There might be such people but they are most likely to be the Jubilee Hills types. They are the sort, when you tell them where you live, don’t mind asking you if there is a CCD outlet in your locality. Luckily, Musheerabad has now one in case anyone from Jubilee Hills decides to venture this far though what business they might have in Musheerabad is something I cannot figure out.

'Wine?'No Thanks

Moving from coffee to a different kind of drink, I read recently somewhere that there was a wine tasting event in the city. Yes, a wine tasting event. Though I have no idea of who attended it I am sure, except a handful, everyone who flocked there must have driven down all the way from Jubilee Hills. Châteaux Bordeaux sounds exactly like the sort of thing that the Jubilee Hills crowd likes to sip, and also be seen holding in their hands at some party hosted by the rich and snotty types who are to be mostly found in places like Jubilee Hills. I’m sure half of that crowd can’t tell a raisin from a grape. The wine tasting event was obviously a marketing gimmick by Sula wines. But sadly, they seemed to have overlooked one little thing. Even if the people are from Jubilee Hills or other equally snooty types they are, after all, Hyderabadis. And no true Hyderabadi, being Irani chai-beer-whisky swilling types, would even bother to touch something like wine even if it is given away free. If there’s another wine-tasting event in Hyderabad, that would be a miracle.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Sunday Haul- Three Books

This week’s haul of three books at Abids had a common theme. Since quite a number of years I have been struggling to write a screenplay of a story that I have in mind. Not knowing head or tail of movie screenwriting I managed to do three drafts earlier none of which seemed to make any sense. After a gap of two years I had started on it again as part of ‘Script Frenzy’ month and have been plodding through it slowly wondering how others could write screenplays so easily. In fact even after reading a couple of books on screenwriting and also actual screenplays I am unable to come out with a screenplay.

So it was with movies and screenplays in my mind that I came to Abids on Sunday and the first find turned out to be something totally different and that led to the discovery of a new, exciting author. Two of the books I found later were also related to movies. If one book was a screenplay of a movie made out of a book then the other book was one written by a prominent director. Come to think of it even the third book was made into a movie. Here are the three books:

1. ‘Get Carter’ by Ted Lewis
2. ‘The Arrangement’ by Elia Kazan
3. ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ by Che Guevara

Were it not for some sharp snooping on my part I would have missed this slender, small sized book. ‘Get Carter’ was the first haul of Sunday. It turned out to be a screenplay by Mark Hodges who directed the movie with the same name. I read that ‘Get Carter’ is based on the book ‘Jack’s Return Home’ written by Ted Lewis. When I read the reviews of the movie online I decided that I have to watch the movie somehow. The reviews described it as ‘the best British gangster movie ever made’, ‘landmark movie’, ‘the quintessential British gangster movie’ and so on. Reading so much of praise for the movie I have resolved to find the original book (Jack’s Return Home) and all other books written by Ted Lewis like GBH, Plender, All the Way Through, All the Night Through, The Rabbit, The Mafia Pigeon, Boldt, Bill Rags and Jack Carter’s Law.

‘Get Carter’ was an exciting find and I was thrilled to have stumbled upon it. By the way I got it for only ten rupees. The most thrilling part was that of discovering a new, exciting writer whose books I must, must read more of. I have a feeling that I had seen ‘Jack Carter’s Law’ sometime at Abids but I am not sure. But one thing I am sure is that I am going to keep my eyes peeled for books by Ted Lewis.

I am familiar with the name ‘Elia Kazan’ since I see some of his titles here at Abids though I have not picked up anything by him. But last Sunday when I saw his ‘The Arrangement’ in a heap of books I picked up the book. Later I read the online review (a habit that I developed recently) I found that Elia Kazan was much more than the film director that I thought he was. He is described as one of the most honored and influential directors in Broadway and Hollywood. I read that along with Lee Strasburg he introduced ‘method acting’ and is also credited with introducing a lot of new faces in Hollywood. Of course, he has also won a few Oscars so finding the 543-page ‘The Arrangement’ for only ten rupees was another bit of luck this Sunday. His autobiography ‘A Life’ is something I hope to find some day soon.

‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ by Che Guevara was the last book of the haul of Sunday. Curiously, all three books that I picked up on Sunday seem to have movies in common. ‘TMD’ was also made into a movie that seemed to have been a rage. The copy of TMD that I found was an extremely good one that I got for a tenth of the original price of Rs 295 at the back of the Harper Perennial edition was.

I hope after reading all these three books I might be able to do something about my own screenplay!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Quarterly Reading Report or the Books I Read So Far This Year

The rate at which I pick up books every week comes nowhere the rate at which I read them. On an average I end up picking up at least three books every week from Abids and second hand bookstores. But when it comes to reading them I manage just one book a week which is something I am not very happy about. There was a time when I could get enough time to go through two or even three books a week especially when I was in the rural postings where I seemed to have all the time in the world. I still manage to read something every day despite my job in the Secretariat here. Here’s the list of the books I have managed to finish reading this year.

‘Up in Honey’s Room’ Elmore Leonard
Somehow I did not enjoy reading this novel by Elmore Leonard. That maybe because I read it over a period of four weeks with long gaps in between. It wasn’t his usual gangster stuff but I will try to read it again.

‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ by Mohammed Hanif
This is one of the books I started the year with and I am glad I bought this book. ACEM is about the killing of Gen Zia in Pakistan. It is one of the funniest books that I read so far after Sidin Vadukut’s ‘Dork.’ It makes me wonder if any Indian writer can write such a story about our leaders and get away with it.

‘Utz’ by Bruce Chatwin
I love to read stuff by Bruce Chatwin and ‘In Patagonia’ is one book that will stay with me for long. Unfortunately, ‘Utz’ is fiction, it is way too short and I did not enjoy reading this book though there are some good lines in it. I have ‘Viceroy of Ouidah’ and ‘Songlines’ on the shelf waiting to be read.

‘If It Is Sweet’ by Mridula Koshy
Some of the stories are way too different but Koshy is one good writer. I enjoyed reading all the short and not so short stories in this collection.

‘Global Soul’ by Pico Iyer
I read more than half of this book sitting in Hotel Panchsheel near Ravindra Bharati while I was attending the Legislative Council in Feb-March. I would hurry out whenever the House was adjourned and spend a happy half hour lost in Pico Iyer’s prose and wishing it would never end. One of the best reads so far.

‘Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is another short book and wonderfully written by Marquez. I finished this book in one sitting mesmerized by the writing and also the tale.

‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Mohsin Hamid
I still feel stupid for reading this book more than a year after buying it. After I finished reading this book I wondered why I had not started reading it right after buying it. It is a beautifully written book with a very different narrative style. It made me eager to read Mohsin Hamid’s first book that I got from a friend.

Moth Smoke’ by Mohsin Hamid
I did not read this right after finishing ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ because I wanted to savor the feeling that the book left in me. ‘Moth Smoke’ is another wonderful book written in a unique narrative style. I enjoyed reading this book.

‘One L’ by Scott Turow
What’s common between Scott Turow and Mohsin Hamid? Both studied at Harvard Law School. ‘One L’ is a kind of journal Scott Turow kept while he was at Harvard Law School sometime in the seventies. There is a lot of stuff about American law that is a bit difficult. The descriptions of the time they had to prepare for the tests and the campus atmosphere are quite good. I had thought there’d be something about how Turow came into writing but it wasn’t so. But it made me think I should have studied law myself.

‘Diamond Dust’ by Anita Desai
This is another collection of short stories that I read this year after Mridula Koshy’s ‘If It is Sweet.’ All the stories in Diamond Dust are little gems that reveal Anita Desai’s mastery of language and her insights into human behavior.

‘White Album’ by Joan Didion
I had found WA very long ago and somehow did not feel like reading it until I found the right time. But after I found ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ a couple of months ago I thought I should begin reading WA first. It is a collection of her essays on varied topics that reveal her sharp journalistic mind. The collection dazzles with her insights into some momentous events, famous people and places.

‘Istanbul’ by Orhan Pamuk
I haven’t yet finished reading this wonderful book on Istanbul. More than his love for Istanbul and its history, what is obvious is the staggering amount of research that Orhan Pamuk put into writing this book. Everything is so lovingly described that I wonder if I will ever get to visit Istanbul in my lifetime and get to see the Bosporus. This book, coincidentally, is a gift from my brother who visits Istanbul so frequently that it makes me madly jealous of him. But I am glad he presented me with his beautiful book.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Double Haul of Four Books

The Mid Week Find

Though I find many good books during my Sunday hunts on the pavements of Abids, the place I find the really good books are the second hand bookstores of Hyderabad. If every Sunday I hunt at Abids at least once a week I make it a point to drop in at least one of the more than half a dozen secondhand bookstores of Hyderabad whenever I get the time. Last Thursday the Legislative Council where I was assigned on duty adjourned quite early. It left with some time so I decided to pay a visit to Best Books at Lakdikapul which was the nearest second hand bookstore. While checking out the books in the first floor of the store I spotted a book I knew I had to buy right away.

The book was Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Elephant Vanishes’, a collection of his short stories. A hundred and twenty five rupees is a lot of money to pay for a secondhand book but a Murakami title is worth perhaps more so I bought it almost grateful for coming across it. There are seventeen short stories in TVE beginning with The Windup Bird and Tuesday’s Women, The Second Bakery Attack, The Kangaroo Communiqué, On Seeing the 100 % Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning, Sleep, The Fall of the Roman Empire; The 1881 Indian Uprising; Hitler’s Invasion of Poland; and the Realm of Raging Winds, Lederhosen, Barn Burning, The Little Green Monster, Family Affiair, A Window, TV People, A Slow Boat to China, The Dancing Dwarf, the Last Lawn of the Afternoon, The Silence, and finally, The Elephant Vanishes, in the end. Till now I had read only one collection of Murakami’s stories titled ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ and nothing else by this acclaimed author though I have ‘Kafka on the Shore,’ ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle,’ ‘Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World’ that I am saving to read some other time.. My last Murakami find was ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ sometime in August last year. ‘

The Haul on Sunday

On Sunday the first book I found at Abids was one that I thought I had lost as I couldn’t find it after first spotting it two Sundays ago and failing to buy it. But Tobias Wolff’s memoir ‘This Boy’s Life’ was still with the same seller. I was relieved it wasn’t picked up by anyone. At only ten rupees the 288-pages book was a real steal. ‘This Boy’s Life’ is another addition to a long list of autobiographies/memoirs by writers I am gathering in my collection that I plan to list out in a separate post sometime in the future.

Though I have only heard of Tobias Wolff but never got to read any of his books I guess his memoir is a good place to get an idea about his writing and what shaped it. According to the reviews on the net TBL is described as a searing and honest account of his growing up years in the company of his single mother. I’m glad I bought this book but I am really looking forward to finding his other books- especially ‘In Pharaoh’s Army’ which is an account of the time he spent reporting the war in Vietnam.

I also saw Sarita Mandanna’s ‘Tiger Hills’ that I also had assumed was bought by a big second hand book seller but it wasn’t. However, the sheer size of the book and its condition made me decide not to buy it and I walked away. Which was a good thing I did because the next find was Milan Kundera’s ‘Life is Elsewhere’ that I wouldn’t have bought had I picked up ‘Tiger Hills’ because I wouldn’t have had the fifty rupees to pay for it. Milan Kundera is another writer I haven’t yet started reading though now I have two of his books the first one being ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ that I bought a couple of months back.

The third find of the day presented me with a tough choice. Stephen Fry’s ‘Paper Weight’ was one of my lucky finds a long time back, maybe a decade or more ago. It was one of the funniest collection of humor pieces I had ever read till then. I greatly enjoyed the book that I had then bought for only fifteen rupees. So when I found ‘Stephen Fry in America’ I couldn’t leave without buying it. The book was a sort of travelogue and had pictures in it which was a bit unusual. The book was brand new but some of the pages were slightly stained but that did not prevent the seller from asking two hundred rupees for it. I bargained successfully and got it for half that amount. Later I wondered if I had overpaid for the book but it is very unlikely that I would find the book so it justified the hundred rupees I spent on it.

Bill Bryson’s ‘Walk in the Woods’ was still on the pavements even after two months of spotting it first. I had thought I’d buy it this Sunday but with the midweek’s find and the three book haul on Sunday left me with no option but to leave it until next Sunday