Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The LA Diaries- 3

Familiarity Breeds Respect

Two weeks is a long enough period for people who are coming face to face everyday to become familiar. The plainclothes cop at the entrance to the VIP Gallery in the Assembly has now started wishing me with a polite ‘Good Morning, Sir.’ With that respect come other concessions- my bag isn’t checked and I am let in after I leave my mobile phone behind. At the main entrances, the cops however keep changing. Everyone has to pass through the metal detectors and also get frisked. What worries me is the way I am waved through the moment I open my bag. The notebooks and the books inside perhaps give them the impression that I am not the sort to carry a bomb or anything like that. I am not asked to open the numerous other pockets that my bag has. One can easily get past with other stuff in the lunch box. That is a scary thought.

Stand Up Lunch

Curiously, the LA takes a tea break but there’s no lunch break. Not only do I have a hurried breakfast in the mornings at home before rushing to the LA, I am also compelled to have lunch at odd hours and in odd places. Since the canteen is always full and other places to have lunch in peace are hard to find I am finding it difficult. I am tempted to sit in the lawns of the Public Gardens and eat my lunch but I have to walk a bit and find a place in the shade. The other day I had, or rather was given, just ten minutes to finish my lunch. The lunchbox was in my bike which itself was parked somewhere in a corner of a parking lot. I did not feel bad about having lunch there because at least I had it on time even though I had to eat standing up under a tree.

Tying the Knot

The same day after lunch and while hurrying back into the LA a man in some sort of white and blue uniform stopped me. He held a strip of cloth in his hand and asked, ’Sir, can you tie it for me?’ I then realized he was one of the drivers of the four brand new Volvo buses of the Tourism Department parked inside. The drivers of these new Volvos were smartly dressed in uniforms -white shirts, blue trousers, a peaked cap and a tie.

I do not know how he surmised that I’d know how to knot a tie but he guessed right. It’s been more than thirty years since I last wore a tie. I studied for two years in a convent school where the tie was part of the uniform. I do not remember who taught me the half knot but for the two years in was in high school I wore the tie for just an hour in the morning. That was thirty two years ago but the other day I realized I haven’t forgotten much.

I did not want to disappoint the driver so took the tie from him. I put the tie around his neck and managed without much difficulty to tie the half knot. I thought it was perfect except that the one end of the tie was longer than the broad end which is supposed to be longer. I unravelled it and retied it. This time I couldn’t push the knot up the collar. I had to struggle a bit while the driver looked sideways at the other drivers and smiled like I was his valet helping him dress up. But he seemed grateful after I finished. He said ‘Thank you’ and shook my hand like I had saved his life.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Sunday Haul

Summer is upon us if the rising temperatures are any indication. Last Sunday the temperature was in the high thirties, 35 degrees to be exact, which is not exactly something that would bring on sunstroke. But since I’d be out in the sun for a couple of hours in the morning on Sunday hunting for books at Abids, I packed in a cap and a bottle of water. It was a welcome Sunday coming at the end of a hectic week at work putting in 12-hour days. I was eagerly looking forward to my weekly book hunt at Abids.

On the way to Abids I stopped at Chikkadpally and found the first book of the haul. I saw ‘The Coming of Rain’ by Richard Marius and got it for twenty rupees. It was a Penguin title and seemed to be a novel with drought as the background, and which I planned to read after finishing P.Sainath’s ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ that I am currently reading.

At Abids the second book of the haul was a book on VS Naipaul titled ‘The Humour and The Pity’, a collection of essays and articles on Naipaul and edited by Amitava Kumar. The book has a dozen essays and articles on the Nobel Laureate and his works by well known writers like Tarun T Tejpal, Pankaj Mishra, Amit Chaudhri, Farrukh Dhondy, J.M. Coetzee and other names that I haven’t heard before like like Akash Kapur, Shahid Amin, etc. I was really glad I got the book for only thirty bucks. I’ve already started reading it and I found Akash Kapur’s article on Naipaul titled ‘A Million Neuroses’ very interestingly written with a lot of insight and balance.

After reading some of the essays in this book I am tempted to buy particularly two titles ‘Half a Life’ and also ‘Finding the Centre’ and read them. I also want to read Naipaul’s other books that I haven’t read before and also Paul Theroux’s ‘Sir Vidia’s Shadow’ that lies on my book shelf unread since long. Another interesting thing about ‘The Humour and The Pity’ was finding a set of seven rules for writers that VS Naipaul listed out. If finding the book itself for thirty rupees only was something of a jackpot then finding Naipaul’s rules for writers was the bonus.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The L.A. Diaries- 2

The first week at LA went off pretty much without any event worth mentioning save for the last day (Friday) when the Budget was presented. Friday happened to be the only day any kind of business was transacted in the LA since from Monday onwards the House was repeatedly adjourned. When the House is not functioning for hours on end it is pretty boring to sit and wait for it to meet again. The adjournments sometimes stretched for as long as three hours which can be terribly boring for those who have to sit through the sessions. But I am one who isn’t easily bored since I have my own weaoons to get over any kind of boredom- BOOKS.

During the lengthy adjournments, while the others sat chatting I sat reading. I almost finished Sarah Turnbull’s ‘Almost French’ and got started on P. Sainath’s ‘Everybody Loves A Good Drought’ that might take a couple of days to finish. I have listed out a lengthy list of books that I plan to read during the long Budget session till it ends on March 29. Since I have no other choice but to read I plan to read some titles that I haven’t read till now. Leaving home in a rush early in the morning without even a proper breakfast is a small price to pay for the uninterrupted hours I get to read.

Previously I used to hang around the main lobbies of the Assembly hall but during this session I am spending more time in the galleries from where one can watch the proceedings clearly. The galleries are on the first floor and one can look down on the main assembly hall through a glass partition. From the galleries one can see the Legislators going around the proceedings. The problem is that the whole building is centrally airconditioned which makes it difficult for the likes of me to sit inside for long.

On Friday when the Budget was being presented not only the press gallery was crowded there were a couple of VIPs. There was the Chief Secretary, the DGP, and the City Police Commissioner seated in another tiny enclosure meant for officers right inside the Assembly hall. Everyone listened attentively to the Budget speech however. It was the first time I was listening to a Budget speech so I too paid attention. Afterwards, the House was adjourned for three days which was a big relief for me.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The L.A. Diaries-1

Come February and it is time for the Budget sessions of the Legislatures in the country. The LA in the title of the post means the Legislative Assembly and not Los Angeles where I’d have preferred to go instead of spending almost a month and half attending the Assembly sessions. I have been going to the Assembly on and off since 2007 but since the past two years it has become a regular feature. Except for the government blokes like me who are assigned duty there, everyone else seems pretty excited to be there, more so the cops. This time there seemed to be more cops than all legislators, media people, and officials put together. I would say there were about five cops for each civilian there.

So, with nothing much and nothing better to do than watch the people around me I decided to concentrate on the cops. One cannot do anything else when one is surrounded by cops of all types on all sides. They were everywhere more so in the canteen. There were the SPF (Special Protection Force) cops at the exits and entrances, the regular uniformed cops of Hyderabad City Police inside, and even the traffic cops in their whites. There were the gunmen of the legislators with their pistols, carbines, sten guns swarming all over the place especially the canteen. There were even the NSG commandoes. Most of the cops had walkie talkies in their hands and went around importantly appearing busy.

But most of the cops, especially the gunmen have nothing to do except hang around. They lounge around in the cars of their legislators or Ministers until the sessions are over. Almost all the cops do little except watch people or crack jokes among themselves which is one side others rarely get to see. Not only the Ministers and legislators other top cops too have their own gun men. Some of the really top cops have a guard or two following them. And the bigger the cop, larger the entourage. The other day I saw one such guard holding the big cops’ baton and mobile phone leading the way, brushing aside others like the top cop can’t find his way around.

I’ve begun to feel jealous of these cops especially the gunmen because they do not have anything to do. In contrast, attending the sessions is putting me under a lot of strain. I have to leave home early and sit through the sessions which are, frankly, terribly boring sometimes. Then I have to get back to the office and stay late in case there’s a question posted that we have to give an answer right away. It has thrown my entire routine into disarray affecting my social and family life. The sessions stretch right upto the end of March, the same month when my kid would be writing his annual exams. I like to be around to help him in his preparation but this time I guess he has to go it alone. Such are the things some of us blokes in the government have to go through.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Numaish, Another New Eatery in Jubilee Hills and Catching the Legislature Fever

Only a true Hyderabadi can understand the fuss behind the tamasha that is the Numaish. And only a true Hyderabadi and no one else can come out smiling after spending hours gawking inside the Numaish. I’ll bet there’ll be very few Hyderabadis who do not feel like making another trip to the Numaish within days of making one In fact though only Hyderabadis throng the Numaish mostly, one can find people from other places going around curiously with ‘I-Can’t-Believe-This’ expressions on their faces and hurrying out after spending just an hour or less inside.

Anyone claiming themselves to be true Hyderabadis must pass this test- of having been to the Numaish year after year for ten or more continuous years and eagerly awaiting for January every year. I’ve been going to the Numaish ever since I was a small kid. Though we were at that time moving from one town to another in some corner of the State my father made it a point to bring us to Hyderabad around Numaish time every year. The sound of the hand held tin toy making a clicking noise ( I cannot recollect what it was called- phit- phiti?) and playing with the ‘lailappas’ is something that is part of my childhood memories.

The Numaish is a part of the Hyderabadis life wherever they live. One has to visit the Numaish at least once or else life wouldn’t be quite the same until the next year. Only Hyderabadis can go to the Numaish and gawk like it is their first ever visit to the show though they’ve been coming every year. Incidentally, the Numaish is another place where you will never come across even a single soul from Jubilee Hills. I guess they’d rather prefer being dead than be seen at the Numaish eating chikki and gawking at the stuff in the dinky stalls.

Talking of Jubilee Hills folks reminds me of this latest eruption in the restaurant scene there. There’s news of another new restaurant opening in Jubilee Hills. I read on Monday in the papers that ‘Sitara Grand’ has opened on Road No.12 in Jubilee Hills. This hotel is not to be confused with Hotel Sitara which was in the news recently because it caught fire which is something of the sort that usually happens with restaurants this side of the town. Anyway I had written about Sitara Grand long back on this blog. This place is bang on the main road and there are nearly half a dozen other eateries like Ohri’s and such within spitting distance.

The Legislative Fever is on and needless to say I’m part of it. There’ll be posts on it in the coming days.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Week’s Haul

At last the day I had been waiting for since a month finally dawned. This Sunday was the day I was looking forward to eagerly for more than one reason. It was the first Sunday of the month and The Hindu would bring with it ‘The Literary Review’ that I read first thing in the morning. It was worth the wait because there was something in it that cheered me up. In his regular column Pradeep Sebastian wrote about Pico Iyer’s new book ‘The Man Within My Head’ which, in his view, was ‘Pico Iyer’s richest, wisest book to date’ which made me want to buy the book at the earliest. Navtej Sarna in his column ‘Second thoughts’ also mentioned Pico Iyer’s new book and also Graham Greene’s ‘The Quiet American.’ However, what I was pleased with was the fact that I have Graham Greene’s ‘The Quiet American’ that Pico Iyer seems to treat as his personal bible. I had picked up the book only last September Some day soon I am going to start reading it and find out for myself the reason for Pico Iyer’s fascination for it..

At Abids later in the morning I hunted, as usual, for books. Uma had brought along his friend Shrikant and there were six pairs of eyes looking for books. I had seen Jake Arnott’s ‘True Crime’ the previous Sunday and had not picked it up because of the price. The seller had asked for seventy rupees for the almost new book with a plastic jacket used in library copies. The copy I found was indeed a library copy. I got it this Sunday for only forty rupees and I hope it turns out to be deserving of the praise on the back cover. There’s crime in it and also humor, a combination I find very difficult to resist. ‘True Crime’ was the only book I found this Sunday.

Later during the week I got a book as a present. My brother gave me Phil Dusenberg’s ‘Then We Set His Hair on Fire’ which was something I wanted to read. It is about advertising and copywriting something which I am still interested in though I no longer write copy. However I am looking for something by Charles Dickens to read during this year since 2012 happens to be his 200th birth anniversary. I had read ‘Great Expectations’ while in high school. I plan to read it again and also at least two other titles by Charles Dickens this year. Another reason for this sudden interest in Dickens is that I have something in common with Charles Dickens- we are Aquarians.

Like it wasn’t enough adding to my anxiety about how to buy Pico Iyer’s ‘The Man Within My Head’ there was news about a new book by another of my favourite writer. I read a review somewhere of Elmore Leonard’s new book ‘Raylan’ that I now want to read right away. But I may have to wait for a long time to buy this book since my finances aren’t exactly in the right shape to spend on two new books.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

'The Eighteenth Parallel' by Ashokamithran- A Review

There aren’t many novels in English that have Hyderabad, especially pre-Independence Hyderabad as a setting, and if there are, I haven’t read any. I know a little bit of how it was during the time of the Razakars. One of my uncles (my father’s elder brother) was a freedom fighter who joined an underground group fighting the Razaakars. Now I regret I did not ask him about it since he passed away a couple of months ago, I am aware of how oppressive and cruel the Razakaars were. A couple of weeks ago I found Ashokamithran’s ‘The Eighteenth Parallel’ at the Best Books Sale. ‘The Eighteenth Parallel’s is a novella involving a student in Hyderabad during the period between 1940-50. Though only 136 pages long TEP gives a stark picture of life in Hyderabad state during those times.

‘The Eighteenth Parallel’ takes the reader through the life of Chandrasekhar, the son of a Tamilian Railway employee living in Lancer Barracks somewhere in Secunderabad. Chandru studies at Nizam college, plays cricket with his friends in the colony consisting of Muslims, Anglo Indians and Telugu people. It isn’t exactly a novel in that there is a beginning, middle and ending about an event. To me it appeared more like a tale about a certain period in a person’s life that is marked by some major drama. The drama in this case is the growing demand for Hyderabad state to join the Indian union and the resistance of the Nizams to do so. Ashokamithran with characteristic understated humor takes the reader along Chandru as he goes about his life. I found some of the descriptions hilarious. Then some of them were simply blood curdling like that of how the Razakar killed Lambada men and women. There are descriptions of Monda, Kingsway, Nizam College and other landmarks in Hyderabad and Secunderabad that Hyderabadi readers can identify with.

Ashokamithran has a style that is deceptively simple which makes it difficult to put down the book. It took me only two days to finish the book. Surprisingly parts of the book is in the first person and parts in third person. This might be to convey certain feelings and emotions which are possible only in the first person. But the strategy is successful since it works to make the book an engaging read without being jarring. What I enjoyed most was the subtle humour of Ashokamithran’s writing. The feelings of the adolescent Chandru towards some of the girls in his neighbourhood and in his class are brought in a style that is hard to imitate. TEP is something I am happy to have found and also read. It is a book that Hyderabadis might enjoy reading if they are in the mood to know history of their city

Friday, February 03, 2012

Another New Eatery in Hyderabad- 'De Thali'

For every ten new eateries that open in Jubilee Hills, one or sometimes half a restaurant seems to be open in this part of the city. Even this one or half restaurant is opened grudgingly as if some they are doing everyone a big favour. Needless to say, this half restaurant doesn’t even come anywhere near the Jubilee Hills swank joints. The new joint that opened up two days ago is once again from the ‘Ohri’s’ stable and the name of the joint is ‘De Thali’. It is located somewhere near Greenlands in Ameerpet where the Jubilee Hills are unlikely to come because of the traffic.

I have no idea of how ‘De Thali’ is but I know about another new hotel that opened last week. I saw the ad announcing the opening of ‘Vivanta’ of the Taj Group in Begumpet. I have passed by this hotel many times but more about it in another post about Begumpet coming up shortly. I read in the ‘Vivanta’ ad about ‘edge of the plate’ dining which had me thinking what it could be. I can understand ‘edge of the table’ but what’s ‘edge of the plate’?? Somebody enlighten me.