Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Countdown to the Book Fair

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Haul

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

So...You Want to Eat Here?

The New Ones

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

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

The Old and the Gone Ones

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Vegetarian's Non-Vegetarian Dinner

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2011


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Hyderabad Happenings

Yet Another Eatery

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

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

C6 Metamorphoses

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

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

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

Friday, November 04, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

Now someone tell me where the sheen has gone.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Hyderabad Happenings

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

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

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

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

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