Friday, September 28, 2012

Two Hauls, Two Gifts and A Bit of Good News

I sometimes wish I could be the only visitor to any sale of second hand books and also have enough money to buy all the books I want to read. It is with great difficulty I leave behind a few books without purchasing them mostly because of budgetary problems. At the sale by Best Books at YMCA I had not bought two books that I now wish I had bought. One was a collection of poems by TS Eliot and the other title was a collection of short stories by William Faulkner. Last Saturday I was there again and couldn’t find these two titles. Saying that I felt bad is only understating my actual reaction. Instead of the thousand rupees or so that I budget for books every month I wish I could keep aside five thousand rupees. There are still so many books that I have to read. Luckily for me, VS Naipaul’s ‘The Overcrowded Barracoon’ was still on the shelf. I bought it though it was priced at hundred and fifty rupees. I had also seen AJ Ackerley’s ‘Hindoo Holiday’ on my first visit to the sale but now it wasn’t to be seen. The guys at the sale told me they would be bringing in newer stocks this week but I haven’t yet found the time to make another visit. I plan to go there today (Friday) since Sunday is the last day of the sale. Uma was with me and he picked up Salman Rushdie’s ‘Imaginary Homelands’ that I plan to borrow from him and read one of these days. The next day was Sunday and time to go to Abids. On my way to Abids I stopped at one of the sellers in Chikkadpally. The guy had Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni’s ‘Sister of My Heart’ that he offered to sell at fifty rupees. I hesitated for a while before buying it since I plan to read at least half a dozen books by Indian writers before the end of the year. I couldn’t find anything else at Abids but I saw a book on cats by Doris Lessing. It was in a good condition and lying in a heap of books that sold for twenty rupees. But I did not buy it. I also saw a not-so-good copy of PJ O’Rourke’s ‘Republican Party Reptile’ that I might buy next Sunday if we are able to go out on the streets. Two Gifts Uma gave me a wonderful gift of a box containing a collection of hundred postcards having a picture of a prominent writer on the back It was ‘Postcards from Penguin Modern Classics-One Hundred Writers in One Box’. It was fantastic because at last I could get to see the faces of some of my favorite writers. After taking the box home I went through each and every postcard in the box with my kid. I was surprised to see Carson McCullers’ picture because the cover of her book ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ also had the picture of a rather sad looking girl. I did not know then that it was the writer herself on the cover. I was surprised Maugham, Gore Vidal were not featured in the collection. It was an unexpected and wonderful gift from Uma to whom I owe many thanks Another wonderful birthday gift I got was a Parker Vector fountain pen from Raj, my friend of more than twenty five years. My birthday was in February but the only thing I can think is that Raj certainly took his time to find the perfect gift for me. The blue colored fountain pen was exactly what I needed to do my daily writing in office so I have started using it right away. Thanks, bade saab. Talking of pens, the other day I read in the papers that Lawrence & Mayo is coming out with pens too apart from their usual glasses and frames. I read that they are bringing out hand-made granite pens in a range that starts from Rs 1000. I wonder how a handmade granite pen would feel in the hand. The Bit of Good News But what had me excited was the news about Sidin Vadukut’s last book in the Dork trilogy. I read in the papers that the book is on the stands and is priced at Rs 199. The title of the third book is ‘Who Let the Dork Out’ which is funny in itself. The first two books in the Dork trilogy- ‘Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin Einstein Varghese’ and the second ‘God Save the Dork’ I found to be incomparably funny and I expect the last book too be the same or funnier. This is one book I am going to buy from the bookstores right away and start reading the minute it is in my hands.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Two Hauls

The Haul at the Sale More than the trip to Abids every Sunday, more than the Literary Review in The Hindu every first Sunday of the month and more than the annual Hyderabad Book Fair what I eagerly wait for is the sale of secondhand books by Best Books Centre that happens twice a year. However, I await this event with a bit of trepidation also because I don't know if I will have enough money to buy all the titles I want to buy. At such sales I feel like someone let into a banquet after a long fast. This feeling is especially strong on the first day of the sale which I unfailingly attend no matter what. The first visit on the first day is always dangerous because I tend to pick up every good book in sight no matter what the price. Last week I went on the first day of the sale and picked up more than a couple of books that left me short of a few hundred rupees. If there is one gripe I have about these kind of sales by Best Books it is that such sales always seem to be held in the second half of the month when the wallet is more than half empty. So it was with a depleted empty wallet that I made my first visit to the Best Books sale at YMCA. Within minutes of entering I picked up Haruki Murakami's 'Norwegian Wood' for Rs 150, a second copy of Diana Athill's 'Stet' for Rs 95. I had picked up the same book at Abids not more than a couple of Sundays ago for Rs 30. I still haven’t started reading this book contrary to my claims of reading it at the earliest. Anyway, the third book I picked up was the 'Oxford Essential Guide to Writing' for Rs 125. This is one book I shouldn't have bothered to pick up because even after reading approximately a hundred books on writing I am unable to finish my first novel eight years after I have started it. However, I hope this book will help in fixing whatever shortcomings in my writing that seem to be hindering the completion of the novel. Four days after the first visit I went there again yesterday. On my first visit I had also seen a book of poems by TS.Eliot, something that I had promised myself to buy recently, and also a book of stories by William Faulkner and 'Hindoo Holiday' by A.J. Ackerley. Alas, when I looked for them I couldn't find them. Half disappointed at not finding them and also half relieved that I was spared buying these books I bought Somerset Maugham's 'The Human Element and Other Stories' for ninety five rupees. There was the 'Complete Prose of Woody Allen' and also Naipaul's 'The Overcrowded Barracoon' that I reluctantly did not buy in favor of Maugham's book. The sale is on until the end of the month and the guys at the sale told me to come next week as they would be getting newer stock. The Sunday Haul The next day of my first visit to the sale happened to be Sunday, and as usual I went to Abids to look for more books. I found a nice copy of Susan Isaacs 'Shining Through' which I want to send to a friend in Mumbai. I had bought a copy at Abids a long time ago and read it soon after. 'Shining Through' is full of witty lines and is the kind of book I enjoy reading. Linda Voss is one unforgettable character and if you like some really hilarious stuff then this is the book. I couldn’t find the Jonathan Franzen title I had seen earlier. After buying nearly half a dozen books in less than thirty six hours I was in no mood to add more books to my bookshelf and so returned home earlier than usual.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Sunday Haul, News of a Sale, and About Book Titles

The Haul

The last time I saw Dave Eggers’ ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ it was at a book sale more than a couple of years ago. It was a sale of second hand books but the price was of this book was somewhere near three hundred rupees and so naturally I did not pick it u p. I knew little about Dave Eggers then though an extract of Michiko Kakutani’s review full of praise for it made me almost buy it but for the price. I did not come across the book again until last Sunday. I saw ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ in a heap of books selling for Rs 20. I bought it right away. The book runs into more than 450 pages and looks very interesting with other superlative praise filling up a couple of pages in the front.
I also saw a book by Jonathan Franzen but I am not able to recollect the title now. But I am saving it for next Sunday if I am in the mood and shape to buy more books after a book sale that is coming up on Saturday. The eagerly awaited sale of second hand books by the ‘Best Books’ people begins on Saturday, that is, the 15th of September. The venue is YMCA, Secunderabad and I have no idea how long it will last but it is going to be around longer than expected.

News of A Sale

The ‘Best Books’ guy I got this news from also gave me another piece of wonderful news. It seems BB is planning to make the sale a permanent one. In other words they are opening their latest branch at YMCA tomorrow. It also means I have a second hand book store closer home. So whenever I feel the itch to browse through some good second hand titles I do not have to run all the way to Abids or Khairatabad or Begumpet.

Of Book Titles and their Origins

The last line in WB Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’ ‘…Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born’ was obviously the inspiration behind the title of Joan Didion’s collection of essays ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem.’ I know it because the poem comes after the ‘Acknowledgments’ page in the book. Last week I made a serendipitious discovery about the origin of another title. A couple of months back I had read somewhere about Tim Parks’ memoir titled ‘Teach Us to Sit Still’ that I planned to read if ever I came across it. Incidentally, I saw the book at Landmark, Somajiguda last week but I did not buy the book right away. I do not find it easy to spend hundreds of rupees buying a new book in a bookstore when I can find the same book cheap at Abids if I am patient. Anyway, the thing is that at that time I did not think much about the origin of the title. I could have learnt about it if I had opened the book and read the first chapter. I am currently reading Saul Bellow’s collection of non-fiction titled ‘It All Adds Up’ and going through it a chapter a day. The other day I read a piece which was actually a lecture Bellow gave at Oxford University in 1990. The piece was titled ‘The Distracted Public’ in which Saul Bellow quoted two lines from a poem by TS Eliot that go like this: Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still. It gave me a minor thrill knowing where Tim Parks got the title of his memoir. The side effect of this discovery is that now I want to read everything that TS Eliot wrote.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Friday Double Post-2 :Incident at The Marigold

Not more than a couple of weeks have passed since I wrote here about the newest hotel in Hyderabad- the Marigold- which itself opened not less than a month ago. Such is my luck that though it isn’t a whole month yet since The Marigold opened its doors I’ve already had the chance to be there last Friday. I haven’t had a similar chance when the Park Hyatt and Vivanta opened but with Marigold I seem to have better luck. Coming as it was just when I reached a significant milestone the chance to visit Margold was a welcome change.

Anyway, it was office work and not fate, and certainly not hunger, that took me to Marigold. Last Friday we had a top official from Delhi who booked himself at the Marigold as I later found out. Usually when people from Delhi visit Hyderabad it is one of the Government Guest Houses where they are put up. So when I learnt that this official was in Marigold I had filled with a certain nervousness for more than one reason.

It isn’t that I get nervous at the prospect of dropping in at such fancy hotels but the thing is there are certain requirements one has to fulfil before one even thinks of going to such places. First thing is that it is always better to drive to such places in a car. Secondly one doesn’t drop in at such high end hotels (even if one isn’t planning to eat there and even if it is just to look up someone) without at least a wad of currency in the wallet. Thirdly, one doesn’t simply pass through the lobby without at least wearing matching socks even if one isn’t wearing a suit. Luckily last Friday was one such day I was better dressed than usual. Actually you could have mistaken me for a corporate honcho except I wasn’t wearing a suit and a tie. So, out of three requirements I had fulfilled two- car and clothes - but I still felt nervous. The thing is, I had forgotten my wallet at home which is something that rarely happens to me.

Like any other sensible guy I too check if I’ve got my pen, my wallet, my mobile, my hanky with me every morning before I step out of the house. Last Friday though I had all the other items on my person I did not realize that I was forgetting my wallet. It was only later that I learnt that I had reached office sans wallet in the back pocket. At that time I did not know that later in the day I was destined to visit Marigold so I did not mind going through the day at the office without a paisa in my pocket. But when I was told I was to visit Marigold in the evening I became extremely nervous.

On Friday sometime around half past six I reached Marigold first in order to wait for my boss who was to come a little later. The first thing I liked about Marigold was that it was set deep inside a large compound. However, from the front it did not look like it had 181 rooms. As soon as I entered the lobby somebody dressed in black floated in my direction. It was a thin lady dressed in a black coat like thing that almost reached the ankle which seems to be the latest fashion in the top end hotels. She had a nice smile on her face, which is another thing I like about the hospitality industry: they always smile at you even if you aren’t dressed like John Travolta. I wondered if she would smile at me like that if she knew I was a temporarily penniless government guy. When I told her I had come to meet a guest she asked me which room he was staying. I had not remembered to ask my boss who it was we were supposed to meet so I waited until he came a little later. After he told me the name of the official we were supposed to meet I grew more jittery.

It so happens with these Delhi guys (officials especially) that they think just because they are in the Capital they are the cat’s whiskers. Last month I had a run in with a Delhi guy who was quite high in the pecking order. He had called me to ask for the arrangements to be made for someone who was visiting Hyderabad. If it was him who was visiting Hyderabad I would have taken care he got the right accommodation and arranged for transport but it was his son who was coming here on personal work. The son was not some school kid who had to be shown how to do things but a grown up and a surgeon to boot, and the Delhi guy was calling me up every other day to ask what arrangements I had made for his precious son’s stay at Hyderabad. We are obliged to do the expected for government officials and not their families especially when they are on personal work so with that attitude I took it rather casually. The outcome was that he was pretty riled up with me though ultimately I had made all the arrangements he wanted. I had wondered then how this guy could be in person because he was an ex-Army person and sounded pretty gruff and senior citizen-like. I did not realize I would be coming face to face with him so soon and that was what made me jittery. I hoped he wasn't the sort of ex-Army man to around with grenades in his pocket.

What followed was an elaborate affair as the lady personally herself escorted us to the lift and led us to the guest’s room and also knocked on the door on our behalf. Meanwhile my knees had started knocking. What if the guy had come to check me out?

Luckily for me the Delhi guy did not seem to realize who I was even after I asked him how his son’s stay at Hyderabad had been. He was pretty courteous and even offered us tea and cookies. Until then I was wondering where the Pan Asian restaurant was and if I could get to taste something which are the sort of thoughts one has when hungry. The tea was pretty nice and the cookies were so soft and tasty that I decided to have tea and biscuits also the next time I dropped in there for lunch or dinner. After we met the guest there took place another small drama.

When the lady had accompanied us all the way to the guest’s room I had wondered if she thought we were the sort who couldn’t find our way anywhere. I had noticed that she had operated the lift with some kind of a card. To cut a long story short after meeting the guest when we tried to get down in the lift the lift wouldn’t budge an inch. We tried pressing all the buttons and my boss got a bit panicky. I wondered if the lift would move if we put some coins inside a slot. But there was no slot. I thought of asking our guest to call the hotel staff to operate the lift. It would be a little embarrassing but there was no other solution. However, we found the guest himself standing outside his room. He told us sheepishly that he had locked himself out of his room forgetting his smart card inside. Luckily for us one of the hotel staff came to our rescue and ended this hi-tech drama.

Friday Double Post-1: The Sunday Haul

On other days of the week I wonder why I am still living in Hyderabad where more than half the population is bent on making life miserable for the other half by spitting and committing other uncivilized acts in the open. But on Sundays, especially when I am at Abids, I am glad I live in Hyderabad for a reason that has nothing to do with biryani and Irani chai. It isn’t that one can find books cheap at Abids, for as cheap as ten rupees, but the fact that one can get really good books very, very cheap. My recent haul of really fantastic books at Abids like Woody Allen’s ‘Without Feathers’ Manto’s ‘Black Margins’ Diana Athill’s ‘Stet’, Maugham’s ‘Razor’s Edge’ and so many other books too numerous to list here, is testimony of the kind of haul a serious book lover can make at Abids on Sundays.

Last Sunday I had yet another good haul. I am serious fan of John Le Carre and Len Deighton. Deighton’s Bernard Samson and Le Carre’s George Smiley are two of my favorite charecters. Though I possess many titles of Len Deighton, I cannot say the same about Le Carre though I have read all his books. On Sunday I found not one or two but three titles by Le Carre- The Honorable School Boy, The Perfect Spy and Smiley’s People- in a heap of books selling for thirty rupees each. The interesting thing was that these titles were hardcover copies with jacket and appeared almost new. ‘The Honorable Schoolboy’ and ‘Smiley’s People’ were Borzoi editions by Alfred A. Knopf while ‘The Perfect Spy’ was by Viking. I also found yet another copy of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Freaky Deaky’ which was also a hardcover copy. The funny thing was that this heap of books belongs to the Best Books guys and they have a pretty good idea about good books and their prices. The other day I had been to their store in Lakdi Ka Pul where I happened to see paperback copies of ‘Freaky Deaky’ priced at Rs. 70 whereas I got the hardcover copy on the pavement at Abids for just thirty rupees. Either these guys are dumb or I’m very lucky.

The fourth find of the day was a book that was actually the first book I had picked up last Sunday at Abids. I found UR Ananthamurthy’s ‘Samskara’ translated by AK Ramanujam. Now ‘Samskara’ happens to be a book that pops up in every discussion about Indian language writing. So in keeping with my resolve of reading books by Indian writers I added this book to my haul. It was a pretty good copy and I got it for only twenty rupees. Maybe the seller thought because it was a small book with less than two hundred pages it couldn’t have been worth more than twenty rupees. One of these days I am going to devote an entire month to read only Indian writers and I have a long list of their books I have yet to begin reading.