Friday, October 28, 2011


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

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

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

‘Cold Service’

‘Painted Ladies’

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

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

‘Catcher in the Rye’ by JD Salinger

‘A Book of English Essays’ edited by WE Williams

‘Once Was Bombay’ by Pinki Virani

‘The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Stories' by Rudyard Kipling

‘Inspector Ghote Draws a Line’ by HRF Keating

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My New Bookshelf

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

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

Wish you all a very happy Diwali.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Man with Two Mont Blancs

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Dose of Calm

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

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

At Adarsh With the Papers

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

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

Friday, October 14, 2011


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Two More Eateries Open

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 07, 2011


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Books or Beer?

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

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

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

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