Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Another New Joint in Jubilee Hills

Life has a mysterious way of bringing to one’s attention the very things one is not interested in and trying to avoid. Take for example, my own keen and undying interest in the restaurant scene in the Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills area. I am actually tired ( and also envious) of reading about new hotels coming up there that I have decided not to blog about it here but it seems something I am destined to do considering not many people are doing it.

In Jubilee Hills there are so many new restaurants coming up so regularly that I won’t be surprised if the Government notifies the entire Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills area as an SEZ- Special Eating Zone. I have lost count of the number of hotels opening in that locality that I have lost count. Just when I was wondering when the next joint would open came the news that another hotel has just come up in that area which I came to know only recently.

As I said earlier, life has a certain way of bringing things to our attention when we least expect them. So about two weeks ago I attended the Hyderabad Literary Festival hoping to indulge myself in some literary fare. I actually paid five hundred bucks and registered for the event like I had planned to attend for all the three days. After registration I was given a small cloth bag that contained i) a cheap ball point pen ii) a small note book iii) the January 2012 issue of C6 (Channel Six) magazine and iv) the three day program brochure. It was in C6 that I read that Jubilee Hills crowd had another new joint to go to and eat or do whatever they do in such places.

The new restaurant, I read, was ‘Salz’ and located at Road No. 92, Jubilee Hills which was another piece of news to me because I never knew there were so many roads in Jubilee Hills. Some day I plan to undertake some sort of an expedition and spend a lot of time getting acquainted with the locality because, if any place has roads beginning from Road No. 1 to Road No. 92 then it must be worth checking out in detail.

Anyway, yesterday again there was another item about ‘Salz’ in the ‘Metro Plus’ supplement of The Hindu. It is supposed to offer ‘Transcontinental’ cuisine whatever that means. The reviewer had many good things to say about the food there, describing everything in superlatives, which is exactly what one tends to do if one is not paying for all the stuff that one is generously helping oneself to. I say this from experience, honestly.

Even if I began, say starting tomorrow and assuming I can afford it, to have dinner once a week at each and every joint in Jubilee Hills I doubt if I would ever be able to go through all the joints before I retire, which is a good ten years from now. I know there will be at least one person in JH/BH who might have had at least one meal at each of the restaurants in that area and I won’t be surprised if he/she has an appetite bigger than the Jubilee Hills area and is never at home at mealtime.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Recent Haul

It was another of those weeks when books seem to pop up wherever I went. It escaped my mind to write here about the book I found the previous Sunday. I had found a book that I already had but had given away for reason I cannot comprehend now. I had found Edward Abbey’s ‘Desert Solitaire’ a couple of years ago at Abids. When I picked it up I was not aware that it was a well known title. Only after I bought it and also read it did I discover that it was in a list of top travel titles on World Hum, the travel site. But a couple of months ago I gave it away unwittingly and realized it too late. But last Sunday I found a different copy of the same book and surprisingly with the same seller and at the same price i.e., Twenty rupees.

Sometime during the week I happened to drop in at Frankfurt Books at Begumpet. There I saw two Robert B Parker’s Spenser titles- ‘Pastime’ and ‘Cold Service’ that I wasted no time in buying at Rs 50 each which was a bit high considering the price at which I got another Spenser title this Sunday. Last Sunday, Uma who was with me spotted another Spenser title- ‘Double Deuce’ for which he paid only twenty rupees. What was surprising was that this copy of Double Deuce was an almost brand new copy with the jacket intact. Uma was generous enough to give the book to me. Thanks, Uma.

Then on Friday last I dropped in at the Best Books sale at YMCA for a final see as I thought that 26th Jan was the last day of the sale. I was surprised to discover that the sale has been extended upto 5th February. If you haven’t been there go now before I pick up all the good books. I saw a lot of good books but they were all priced above a hundred and fifty rupees. I thought I wouldn’t be able to find any book for less than hundred rupees but I was wrong. I saw Ashokamitran’s ‘The Eighteenth Parallel’ and was surprised that it was priced at only forty rupees. But the real surprise was finding it was a copy signed by the author, Ashokamitran, himself to someone.

I leafed through the book and found that it was a story about the events that rocked Hyderabad around 1947 during the Nizam’s rule. There were many familiar places like Monda, Keyes Girls High School and such places mentioned in the book. I had not known that Hyderabad featured in novels other than those written by Narendra Luther. ‘The Eighteenth Parallel’ was translated into English from Tamil was Gomathi Narayanan. According to the copy on the back cover TEP is considered one of Ashokamitran’s finest works of fiction and it also won the Ilakkia Chintanai Book-of-the-Year Award in 1977. It was also chosen by National Book Trust of India for translation into several Indian Languages. I wonder if there is a Telugu translation of this book. However, I am extremely pleased with myself for spotting this book which I plan to read right away.

Another book that came to me recently was Dr Parchuri Gopala Krishna’s book on Telugu Films, Story and Screenplays that Srinath lent to me when I met him at HLF. I have already begun to read it and there is a lot of fascinating stuff about the early years of film making not only in the country but also in Tollywood.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sidin Vadukut’s ‘God Save the Dork’ – A Review; The Funniest Book I’ve Ever Read

For quite a long time I had been despairing if I’d ever come across a book by an Indian writer that’s really, really funny. Maybe there are some writers who others consider funny but I haven’t come across any such book. One recent writer who has made me laugh really hard is Sidin Vadukut in his ‘Dork’ books, two of which have come out. Reading his two books – ‘The Incredible Adventures of Robert Einstein Verghese’ and ‘God Save the Dork’ has made me feel that at last we have a truly funny writer.

I do not remember exactly how I came across Sidin Vadukut’s first book ‘The Incredible Adventures of Robert Einstein Verghese’ but I did buy it at a bookstore. It is a funny book loaded with lots of deadly lines that made me double up with laughter while reading. It is about a corporate guy ‘Einstein’ who has some really hilarious adventures you can never have enough of. Everything in the book- the situations, the characters, especially of ‘Einstein’, and the lines are extremely funny. After I finished reading it I had to wait for some time for the second title ‘God Save the Dork’ which I bought and finished reading recently.

‘God Save the Dork’ is funnier than ‘The Incredible Adventures of Robert Einstein Verghese’. It takes ‘Einstein’s adventures to a higher level and is so hilarious that I had to put aside the book in order to collapse on the floor and roll with laughter till my sides ached. You have to read it yourself to know what I mean. His interaction with his girl, Gouri, one of his bosses, Rahul Gupta and others, his Mallu jokes especially about Mohanlal, and also Raveena Tandon, are incredibly funny. There’s also some familiar stuff in GSTD, in that one of the characters is a Telugu guy and there’s mention of Chiru (Chiranjeevi, the actor) in the book.

I am happy I read both these books by Sidin Vadukut and now I am eagerly waiting for the final book in the Dork Trilogy. Sidin Vadukut is one writer you shouldn’t miss reading if you llike zany, irreverent humor. In my view he is on par with Dave Barry, Bill Bryson and the likes. The back cover has Hindustan Times saying the book is ‘Hysterically Funny’ an opinion I completely agree with. If you don’t find the book funny then maybe you ought to get your head examined.

Friday, January 20, 2012

At the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2012

The second edition of the Hyderabad Literary Festival took place from Monday to Wednesday (16-18 January, 2012) this week at the Taramati Baradari. Ever since I missed attending the first edition of HLF in December 2010 I have been planning to attend it this year. Though I couldn’t go on all three days I was present on the first and last days of the Fest. Since it was an optional holiday for the Government types I availed at and attended the festival. I applied for leave to attend on the last day. Due to work pressures I had to miss the second day which was actually a full day which had a lot of exciting sessions.

Anyway, attending the HLF was like getting hit with a blast of fresh air after spending two days in the company of so many towering literary personalities. I was very excited the day before and planned with Hari to meet up early on Monday morning, have breakfast at Minerva and be at Taramati Baradari right on time for the inaugural session. It went right as planned and we got to the venue on the dot and found the registration had begun. I too registered shelling out five hundred bucks and ticked off the sessions I wanted to attend. After a while the HLF was formally inaugurated by Gulzar, Pavan K. Varma and Chandana Khan, a senior IAS officer in the State Government.

After the inaugural, the first session I attended was ‘Salaam Hyderabad’ in which Hari was a participant along with Meena Alexander, Krishna Shastri Devulapally and Vamsi Juloori. They talked about Hyderabad, their memories of Hyderabad and the city in their novels. It was an interesting discussion but it could have been more interesting if it had been allowed to go a bit longer and if the moderator had been someone who was actually still living in Hyderabad.

Another session I found interesting was the one with Kiran Nagarkar who made a feisty defence of his novels- ‘Cuckold’ and ‘Ravan and Eddie.’ He brushed off what the critics and opponents of his novels say about them. The next session I sat through was ‘Translating Bharat’ held in the Kohinoor Hall. It was interesting to learn the difficulties translators have to face while translating works in regional languages into other regional languages and also into English. There was so much I learnt from listening to senior translators and writers like Prof Sachidananda Mohanty, Prof Udaya Narayana Singh, Jeelani Bano and someone young and intelligent like the Gujarati poet and translator Dr Hemang Desai.

Then the other session was the one with Amish Tripathi, Indu Sundaresan and Jaishree Mishra, writers of historical fiction in conversation with Dr T. Vijay Kumar. I found nothing very interesting or new in what they had to say about their books or the process of getting published.

At lunch under a shamiana it was a sight to watch people, especially youngsters, try to get Gulzar’s autograph and also get photographed with him. It gave me an idea and I bought ‘Raavi Paar’, a collection of 27 short stories by Gulzar at the bookstore outside. I had to wait a long time to get his signature on the book but I was glad I did it. Though I had planned to read Srilal Shukla’s ‘Raag Darbari’ in Hindi this year, I guess ‘Raavi Paar’ could substitute for it. It would be the first book in Hindi that I would read. I had never read anything longer than a poem in Hindi. Reading Hindi would be more difficult for me than reading Telugu since I read Telugu newspapers and occasional official stuff.

Apart from Hari, there were a few other book loving friends of mine. There was Srinath and also Rasana. I got to meet the Devulapalli couple- Krishna Shastri Devulapally and his wife, Chitra. Devulapalli is the author of ‘Ice Boys in Bell Bottoms’ whose launch I had attended a couple of months ago. There were other familiar faces- there was Sridala Swamy, Amita Talwar, Shankar Melkote and others but not many regulars who normally turn up at book launches and other literary events.

Anyway, it was an interesting first day though I did not stay till the end of the day for Pavan Varma’s book launch. I stayed back for the awards session where the renowned poet Adil Jussawala gave away the Muse India prizes to three young poets- Anindita Sen Gupta, Semeen Ali and Amrita Nair.

I tried to think of some excuses to attend the second day also but I couldn’t take the day off. On the last and final day too I teamed up with Hari and got to the venue by ten in the morning. We sat in the session with Suniti Namjoshi. I was not aware that she was in the IAS before she left it. It was an interesting and illuminating talk by her that made me decide to read at least one book by her. Unfortunately, Mark Tully had not come and I could only catch the second part of the session titled ‘Adapting to India’. It was followed by a reading of fiction by K.Srilata, Priti Aisola, Swati Chawla, Sagarika Chakraborty and Sudha Balagopal. It was interesting to listen to different voices taking us into different landscapes and stories. Two of the writers I knew, K.Srilata read out passages from her latest fiction work ‘A Table for Four’ and Priti Aisola read out from her third book in the making.

The venue was teeming with excited school children who had come to participate in a creative writing event. However, there was sparse attendance at other events especially in the sessions in Urdu and Hindi later in the afternoon. After lunch I sat in a session where four Urdu writers- read out ‘nazms’ and ‘shairi’. This was one of the most interesting sessions I had attended and I wish I could have stayed back for the ‘Mushaira’ that was slated after tea. But we reluctantly left at three in the afternoon mind filled with all that we had sat through.

It was a fine show put up by the Muse India team comprising of GSP Rao, Dr. T. Vijaya Kumar and others. They deserve to be congratulated for the successful conduct of the event despite things being what they are in Hyderabad.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Food and the Hyderabadi

Sometimes when I am on the road in Hyderabad, stuck in a traffic jam, fuming inside as I watch all the stupid drivers around me, I wonder why we haven’t yet lost our mental balance and started beating up each other on the heads. The answer came the other day when I was driving past an Irani joint. I then had a ‘Zen’ moment and the following realization: Were it not for Irani chai and biryani more than half the Hyderabadis would have been raving lunatics by now. It may sound like an exaggeration but I am sure these foods and beverages typical of Hyderabad play a role in helping us maintaining our sanity.

It is quite evident how profoundly chai and biryani affects Hyderabadis. Ask anyone who’s just had a cup of chai or had biryani either for lunch or dinner how they feel and you will get the answer and a lot more. Even just watching the dreamy expressions on the faces of those coming out of Irani hotels will give a clue as to their state of mind. It is quite impossible to pick up a fight with anyone coming out Irani joints in Hyderabad. On the other hand they will endeavour to calm you down with their friendliness and their almost saintly advice or a short couplet on the thing troubling you whether it is a parking problem or anything else.

Biryani and Irani chai are what makes the Hyderabadis what they are. That being so, Hyderabadis will do anything for biryani and chai. But the problem is that no self respecting Hyderabadi will agree to let you pay for his biryani or chai if you happen to be an outsider. He will insist on paying it himself unless he happens to be someone from Jubilee Hills. Anyway, on the rare occasion when you are lucky enough to be treating a Hyderabadi to biryani, be prepared. A Hyderabadi thus fed will express his undying gratitude to you all his life. He will not forget you so easily.

In fact if you want to get anything done by a Hyderabadi the trick is to treat him to biryani or chai. He will do anything you ask him, even jump into the Hussain Sagar if you so much as give him a hint. But if you happen to be one of those rare birds who can’t stand the smell of biryani or the taste of Irani chai and say so in the presence of a Hyderabadi then you’ve had it. He won’t argue with you or shout at you like residents of other cities because he is too refined. He has other ways of expressing his displeasure. He will simply get on the road and then drive you crazy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Sunday Haul and Another Find

Since the past three Sundays there’s been a book I’ve hesitated to buy though every instinct within told me to pick it up. The name of the author was new to me but the title on the cover suggested it could be a good book. Even a blurb on the back about the dialogue in the book akin to that of Elmore Leonard did not convince me to take it. Finally, on Sunday unable to resist it I picked up Harry Dolan’s ‘Bad Things Happen’ for only twenty rupees. Later when I searched online for reviews of this book I was glad I bought the book.

The other day I read on World Hum that ‘The Man Within My Head’ Pico Iyer’s latest book was out. I read the review and wondered when I’d be able to read it. It would be impossible to find the book in the bookstores in India I guess though I haven’t been to any bookstore to check it out. I do not think I will find a used copy anywhere so soon. However I do plan to buy a new copy as soon as I can afford it.

On my previous visit to the Best Books' sale of second hand books at YMCA, Secunderabad last week, I had kept aside Dave Barry’s ‘Dave Barry’s ‘History of the Millenium So Far’ with the intention of buying at a later date just before the sale closes. However, I couldn’t stop worrying about that book. I kept imagining that some crazy Dave Barry fan like me would spot the book kept under the counter and cajole the guy to sell it to him. It has been quite a long time since I had found a new Dave Barry title so I did not want to miss it for anything in the world. Despite tight finances I rushed to the sale and breathed a sigh of relief when I found that nothing of the sort I had imagined had taken place. I picked up the book but it set me back by Rs 195. However I do not regret it and feel rather lucky since it is a hard cover copy and appears almost new.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Another Book Sale and Another Book on My Shelf

Barely have two whole weeks passed since the Hyderabad Book Fair concluded than there was the news of yet another second hand book sale. On Friday evening I got a message from Best Books that they have a sale of second hand books from 6th of Jan. Any news of book sales is enough for me to drop everything and rush to the venue which is what I did on Saturday. I found that compared to a previous sale which was perhaps sometimes in November the books on sale were almost brand new. It was also a new collection of books many of which were titles I hadn’t seen before.

There were nearly half a dozen titles of Dave Barry, all of them hard cover and practically new. There was only one title I did not have – Dave Barry’s History of the Millenium (So Far)’ which I asked to be kept aside to be picked up later.

There were a lot of books that I wanted to buy but I did not have enough money to buy all of them. I picked up just one title –‘Best American Travel Writing 2002’ that I got for Rs 150. The collection is edited by Frances Mayes who has written the bestseller ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ and has twenty six travel articles. I know only a few of them- P J O’rourke, Edward Hoagland, Adam Gopnik and David Sedaris and the rest are new names to me. However, all the articles appear good to me and I cannot wait to begin reading them one a day.

I plan to go there again sometime after a couple of days and after devising ways of justifying to myself about buying the books I want to buy. If I don’t buy them now it will be difficult for me to remain sane until the next sale which is not likely to happen until June at least. This sale is until the 26th of January at the YMCA Secunderabad and is worth a visit.

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Sunday Haul and Other Stuff About Books

When compared to one of the previous years last year’s total haul at 103 books was a small one. In 2007 perhaps the number of books I had bought touched almost 200. I hope in 2012 I am not tempted to buy more than thirty or forty books. However, I missed writing about the last book of 2011 that I had picked up on Christmas Day. I found only one book and that was journalist Sarah Turnbull’s ‘Almost French.’ It is a memoir of her life in Paris after falling in love and marrying a Frenchman. I picked up this book when I saw I could get it for only twenty bucks though I was unwilling to add any more books to my 100 + list.

On the books front 2012 began on a good note. Last Sunday which turned out to the first day of 2012 I arrived at Abids repeatedly telling myself that I wouldn’t pick up any books and merely look around. But I found it impossible to prevent myself and ended up buying two books. The first book I picked up was a medical memoir that I find difficult to resist reading for some reason I cannot fathom. It was Jonathan Kaplan’s ‘Dressing Station’ that I got for only twenty rupees. I hope to read it sometime soon and not let it sit on the shelf for years together which is what sometimes happens to a few of the books I buy.

The second book was by an author I like to read because of the style and also the content. Sometime back I had found a novel by Joan Didion- ‘Run River’ (haven’t read it yet) and this Sunday I found another of her novel- ‘Play As It Lays’ that I got for the ridiculous price of ten rupees. I still have to read other books by Joan Didion that I had picked up earlier, especially ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ and ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ that I have two copies of- one a hardcover and the other a paperback. I’m hoping I can find her ‘Blue Nights’ that has been written about quite a lot in several places. Sometime in this month itself I plan to begin reading ‘slouching Towards Bethlehem.’

On my way to Abids in the morning I check out the booksellers on the left side of the road at Chikkadpally. On my way back home I check out the books with the sellers on the other side. Later in the afternoon while returning home I happened to check out one such seller at Chikkadpally who sometimes turns up with a good book. I found a nice Penguin edition copy of Somerset Maugham’s ‘Summing Up.’ When the guy said he’d give it for thirty rupees I grabbed it though I have about two copies of the same book at home. It is not easy to get the book at that price.

Then while buying a Telugu newspaper at a newspaper stand I noticed a new, glossy magazine called ‘Fountain Ink.’ It was the size of a small notebook and the quality of the paper was very good. It was priced at Rs 20 but that wasn’t the reason I bought it. There was an article on Shrilal Shukla’s ‘Raag Darbari’ which is one book I want to reread this year, in Hindi, if I find a copy somewhere.


I had thought that since the first Sunday of the month also happens to be the first day of 2012 the Literary Review in The Hindu would be something special. But I was disappointed to find nothing of that sort. However, it was as good as it always is and I spent an enjoyable hour reading some of the articles in it.

A couple of days ago I happened to be in the room of one of my bosses who happens to be a member of Secunderabad Club. On his table was some sort of a flyer from the Club and I opened it out of curiosity. Inside was a list of all the books the Secunderabad Club had bought in the month of November for its library. It was quite a lengthy list but I do not remember all the books there. I read that the Club had purchased Murakami’s ‘IQ84’, Hari Kunru’s ‘Gods Without Men’, Michael Ondaatje’s ‘The Cat’s Table’ and James Patterson’s ‘Don’t Blink’ and other books. I am glad some members of Secunderabad Club actually read since I was always under the impression that they spend their time playing golf, cards, and drinking. But, are they lucky.

In today’s (Thursday) Metro Plus supplement of The Hindu I read Aparna Karthikeyan’s column which had a list of all the travel classics. There was Robert Byron’s ‘Oxiana’, Paul Theroux’s ‘The Pillars of Hercules’, John Steinbeck’s ‘Travels With Charley’, Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia’, Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’ in the list along with books by other writerss I haven’t heard about. Except ‘Oxiana’ that I do not have I have the other three books in my collection. I haven’t really heard about Robert Berendt and AA Gill but now I am going to look for their books. Oddly enough but there was no mention of some great travel writers like Pico Iyer, Wilfred Thesiger, Ryszard Kapuscinski or Jan Morris either. Paul Theroux’s ‘Pillars of Hercules’ is one book I am desperately looking for in addition to his ‘Fresh Air Fiend’ that I found and missed sometime ago.

All this in just the first week of the new year!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

On Cyclone Watch and a Dramatic Rescue

A Happy New Year to You All

Quite ironically even as we were putting the final touches to a report on the drought in the State to be sent to the Central Government there came the warning from the Met Department that a major cyclone was on its way. Initially it was forecast that it was only a deep depression but later the warning was upgraded to a cyclone called ‘Thane’. As soon as the warning bulletins began to arrive we started our own preparations. When the warning bulletins said that the cyclone could grow into a severe cyclonic storm with wind speeds going up to 150 kmph we decided to go on round the clock alert which meant night duties for all of us.

I was on night duty on Thursday night and went home for just an hour for dinner and a change of clothes before coming back to office. Until midnight everything seemed normal while I sat working on a drought report. Just when I decided to lie down the fax machine spat out a message from a coastal district. The message said that six fishing boats with thirty fishermen were missing at sea and sought assistance from the Navy for large vessels as Coast Guard ships were unable to do so. The procedure here is to send a message to the Ministry of Home Affairs Control Room in Delhi to direct the Navy. The District administration had approached the Navy directly which wasn’t the right way. But anyway we sent a message to Delhi at midnight. It would be of comfort to learn that there is a round the clock control room in the Nation’s capital at all times for such situations. After we sent the message I rested for a couple of hours and when I woke up I learnt that a Navy Dornier had already made a sortie to check up on the fishermen.

There are some people who risk their lives everyday in their professions to make a living and fishermen are one such category. Everyday they venture out into the treacherous seas not really knowing if they will return alive. When I called up the officer in the district I learnt that the fishermen on one boat had spent the night in the sea on the bottom of their boat which had turned over. Imagine spending a full night in the dark in a rough sea not knowing when you will go under. The lucky thing was that later in the day they were all rescued by Navy helicopters and INS Dega. Another two boats had drifted to far away places and reached the shore safely. The next day it was all in the papers about the dramatic rescue.

However, we were on tenterhooks for three days wondering where the cyclone would hit. About five days before ‘Thane’ actually crossed the coast the reports said that it would cross the coast somewhere between Chennai and Nellore in AP. The satellite maps showed the path and the forecast was that ‘Thane’ would cross the coast somewhere between Nellore coast and Chennai. It is amazing how the India Meteorological Department is able to track the cyclone from its inception to its end with the help of the weather satellites. It went as predicted and ‘Thane’ missed AP and crossed the coast near Puducherry in Tamil Nadu. Around forty people were killed in TN and in AP there were three deaths- two of fishermen and another of an old woman who died when a tree got uprooted in the heavy winds and fell on her house. Many boats were damaged but there weren’t many casualties as we feared. One reason could be that there was ample time to warn the people along the coast and everyone in the Government right up to the CM monitored everything. The media too took a lead in making the public aware of the dangers of ‘Thane’ and its aftermath which helped things.

With ‘Thane’ 2011 came to an end and I hope 2012 would be uneventful.