Friday, November 30, 2012

Kaar Ke Side Effects- 1

It is exactly seven months and I am still (hesitantly) in the No. 2 seat in the office. At first I had thought the arrangement would be for a few days or a week at the most. But the days have turned into weeks and the weeks have turned into months, six months in fact which is more than half a year. Half a year isn’t very long but if one considers the fact that I've been in this posting for a little more than two years it is long enough. Never in the nineteen years of my service had I dreamt that one day I’d be shouldering more responsibility than is due. A couple of days back I learnt the welcome news that someone is being posted in the No. 2 seat. I am feeling terribly relieved and feel like an enormous rock has been lifted from my shoulders. I am eagerly awaiting to go back to being No. 5, not that it is any less burdensome. But it’ll seem less intimidating sitting in my other seat in a tiny cabin that has a window with a nice view of the Hussain Sagar lake. In fact after shifting to a new block I've not spent more than half hour in that cabin. In the next few days I will be comfortably ensconced in that glass cabin looking out at the placid lake. As No. 2 I guess I've had a fairly smooth run not considering the usual irritants common in any organization. I've sat in some really important meetings with important people and got the opportunity to observe very closely how major decisions are taken, had been to Delhi on a couple of occasions, and once to Tirupati, been on television, and also had my name in the newspapers. Last week Keshav, my close friend, called me to tell me that he had read my name in The Hindu that he read in Goa. It gave me quite a thrill learning folks in Goa could have read my name though I’d rather my name gets into the papers for my novel. I will miss none of it, except possibly one thing- the car. I’ll be lying if I say that won’t miss the car. It’s done quite a few things to me which I will write in a separate post later. But I do not mind going back to riding to office on my trusted Hero Honda motorbike. What I would miss most is the 15-20 minutes of time I had on the ride to office during which I could read. I’m astounded to realize that during the six months that I had been No. 2, I've managed to finish six books reading for just twenty minutes in the car. I've finished Helene Hanff’s ’84 Charing Cross Road’, Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Kitchen Confidential’, P.Sainath’s ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’, Stephen Fry’s ‘Stephen Fry in America’, Joan Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ and also ‘Best Food Writing 2007’ that I read in the car only .

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Sunday Haul

Of late, on-fiction is what I am filling up on quite regularly. Travelogues, autobiographies especially of writers, memoirs, accounts of people who have had adventures, mishaps, harrowing experiences and other trials and tribulations now form a major part of my daily reading. Since this makes for fascinating reading I am always on the lookout for such books. Last Sunday my first find was Brian Keenan’s ‘Evil Cradling’ that I picked up from a pile of books selling for thirty rupees. The book has received high praise and after I read a couple of paragraphs I am convinced it is a damn good book. Surprisingly after I picked up this book I came across two more copies of the same book at different places at Abids.
I never let go of any of Dave Barry’s books wherever I come across them though mostly I find his books in second hand bookstores or at Abids. I haven’t yet seen any titles by Dave Barry in regular book stores in Hyderabad. I wonder why. My second find at Abids last Sunday was ‘Dave Barry’s Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need’ that was my nth copy. It was an almost brand new hardcover copy that I was lucky to get for only thirty rupees. ‘Dave Barry’s Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need’ is another hilarious book by one of my favorite writers. Here’s a sampler from the book: ‘Of course, traveling is much easier today than it used to be. A hundred years ago, it could take you the better part of a year to get from New York to California: whereas today because of equipment problems at O’Hare , you can’t get there at all.’ ‘We travel because no matter how comfortable we are at home, there’s a part of us that wants- that needs- to see new vistas, take new tours, obtain new traveler’s checks, buy new souvenirs, order new entrees, introduce new bacteria into our intestinal tracts, learn new words for ‘transfusion’ and have all the other travel adventures that make us want to French-kiss our doormats when we finally get home.’ Once I started reading I couldn’t stop because it is so terribly funny and leaves one is splits. I love Dave Barry and I am glad I have almost every book he’s written except a couple of them that I am sure I will find one day or the other.
Afterwards I found two comics that my kid loves to read. The haul had grown to four books and also made me poorer by a hundred rupees. Nevertheless we continued looking for more books. Shrikant who was with us struck gold finding Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay of ‘Pulp Fiction’ quite cheap. I could have exchanged the day’s haul for that one book. At one of the last places where we stop to look before turning back I found a treasure. The seller had on the pavement three Tin Tin titles- ‘Explorers on the Moon’, ‘Prisoners of the Sun’, and ‘Destination Moon’- that I snapped up pretty fast. They were brand new copies without a single blemish in the form of damaged covers and spoilt pages. In regular bookstores each Tin Tin title would have cost me nothing less than Rs 500. But I paid only Rs 200 for the three boks which, though a great bargain, dwindled my finances to precarious levels.
This was madness and I felt guilty splurging hundreds of rupees every week on books. But on Monday or so I read an article on the net which made me feel better and actually made me feel that I had done the right thing buying the books. Here’s an excerpt from the article by Anthony Daniels in ‘The New Criterion’ I buy more books than I read, though always with the intention of reading them; For the moment, however, I derive a certain comfort from looking over, and being surrounded by, my laden shelves. They are my refuge from a world that I have found difficult to negotiate; if it had not been for the necessity of earning my living in a more practical way, I could easily, and perhaps happily, have turned into a complete bookworm, or one of those creatures like the silverfish and the small, fragile, scaly moths that spend their entire lives among obscure and seldom disturbed volumes. I would have not read to live, but lived to read.
On Tue morning I read in the newspapers that the Hyderabad Book Fair would begin from the 14th of the next month and would last until the end of the month, which is, coincidentally the end of the year. So far this year I have bought a total of … books. At the book fair I am certain I will find at least half a dozen books that I will have to buy if I do not want to die of regret. The only thing on my mind is how to set aside at least a thousand rupees though I will be happy if I have double that amount. One never knows what one finds at such book fairs. Last year at the same book fair I picked up quite a few good titles including ‘The Old Patagonian Express’ by Paul Theroux and ‘Playback’ by Raymond Chandler.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Double Post.- 1. Another Magical, Blessed Trip

The only thought in the minds of those returning from Tirupati after the darshan would be mostly about when they would be able to have the next darshan. That is what I also have on my mind whenever I too return from Tirupati. That is because one can never get enough of the divine feeling at Tirumala. I was there only in May this year with my family on a two day trip. We had gone up the steps from Sri Vari Mettu, and had darshan the next day, though it was very brief and also, from a distance. I had then wondered how long it would be before I got the call for the next visit. Last week, in what could be only called a minor miracle, I was in Tirupati again, but on office work which meant it was an all-expenses paid trip. I am not very lucky when it comes to money, success, or even talent and whatever luck’s come my way has been only in inconsequential things. However, there have been a few occasions when I’ve been overwhelmed by extreme good luck, like this posting in the Secretariat which came out of the blue two years ago. Just as abrupt was the opportunity to visit Tirupati that presented itself a fortnight ago. A Parliament Committee was visiting Tirupati and we were supposed to appear before the Committee. Since we were busy with cyclone related work it was decided we’d make a short one day trip to Tirupati- in one morning and out the next morning. On Saturday morning we (me and the boss) flew to Tirupati only to learn that the meeting in the afternoon was postponed to the next day. We had to change our plans since we had the entire day to ourselves. At around noon we started up on the climb to Tirumala by the same route I had taken in May. We got to the top by two in the afternoon and after lunch we joined a queue for dashan. We had decided not to get any privileged darshan which we were told we were entitled to as we were part of the Committee. However, we had someone from TTD to accompany us in the queue. This person cleared the route for us after we crossed the main entrance to the temple, taking us past many barriers with a few whispers in the ears of those manning those gates. I was amazed and overwhelmed since for the second time in my life I stood inside the sanctum, just a few feet away from the diety, completely undisturbed for more than a minute. We were not jostled or pushed away by the attendants there which is what happens to others. The attendants actually told us to have a good darshan. There was more to come. We went up by car. We stayed the night at Tirumala atop the hill in a top Government guest house where we were accorded VIP status for being part of the Committee. It meant that I got a large room all for myself. Then there was all that glorious looking food. I never tasted food like the stuff I had at the Guest house for breakfast, lunch and also dinner. It was simply too good to describe. The next day the meeting with the Parliament Committee went off without a hitch and incidentally, a picture I was in made it to the newspapers. We caught another plane to Hyderabad in the afternoon after lunch. After landing we had to drive straight from the airport for a meeting with the top man in the State himself. After I got home late in the evening I couldn’t believe that I had been to Tirupati only the day before. I had been to Tirupati by plane, climbed up the steps, had wonderful darshan, stayed in comfort, had great food and returned home with not just one or two but eight Tirupati laddoos which was the only item I had to spend on. If that is not good luck, I do not know what is.

Friday Double Post-2. The Sunday Haul

Browsing for books at the second hand book market in Abids isn’t the same thing as buying books at regular book stores. For one thing you will never know what you will find in the heaps of books arranged on the pavements at Abids on Sundays. Lying underneath could be the title that you have been looking for all along or you might come across the title that could change your life forever. Then there is the joy of shopping in the open, moving from seller to seller, looking at the titles on sale, flipping through the pages, and even reading a passage or two before deciding to buy the book. This is something now impossible to do in a regular bookstore where the books nowadays are encased in plastic wrapping. Then there is the ultimate shopping experience- bargaining. Nowhere can you bargain hard for the book you want to buy, not even in a second hand bookstore, except at Abids. Only at Abids in Hyderabad can you come home with a good title at dirt cheap prices.
The Sunday before last Sunday I couldn’t make it to Abids because the ‘Nilam’ cyclone not yet left the State. I had to be in the office all day and missed my usual Sunday routine entirely. So it was with a lot of eagerness that I set out for Abids though I did not expect to find many sellers because Diwali was only two days away. The regular shops would be open for the Diwali shoppers which meant there wouldn’t be space for the second hand book sellers to set up shop. But last Sunday I found my first book even before I got to Abids. At Chikkadpally I found Victor E. Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ which was a book some of my friends had told me about. I had not evinced much interest in reading it when I first heard of the book maybe because of the serious sounding title. But when I saw the actual book I did not think twice before buying it for fifty rupees. I was glad because it was in good condition and I had got it pretty cheap. Later at Abids though I did not find anything interesting Shrikant spotted and picked up George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ that I borrowed from him and which I am currently reading.
The same day in the evening I checked out Crossword at GVK One and also at Walden in Begumpet but couldn’t find Sidin Vadukut’s ‘Who Let the Dork Out’ that I had been planning to buy ever since I read that it had been launched. On Friday I had planned to read it in the plane on way to Tirupati but I got to the airport too late and had no time to check the bookstore at the Shamshabad airport. Anyway, on Monday evening I was returning from yet another high level meeting and since I was near Landmark at Somajiguda I went in. Luckily I could find the book and got quite a thrill seeing on the back cover a blurb by Hari. I read just the acknowledgements page and the first paragraph in the first chapter which was enough to convince me that ‘Who Let the Dork Out’ by Sidin Vadukut could be the crowning glory in the Dork trilogy. I’ve kept it aside to read it shortly after I finish the books I am currently reading so you have to wait a while for the review.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

On TV, and in the Papers

If you had not switched on the television at seven in the morning last Thursday and had not watched Doordarshan you better be prepared to spend the rest of your life feeling utterly miserable, so unlucky you are. Tsk. I can only pity you for missing an once-in-a-lifetime event. It is your bad luck not having watched what I think is my only appearance on TV as a talking head. You’ve really missed watching me live at my bureaucratic best in appearance and also, performance. I feel sad for you that you will never get the opportunity again, at least not on DD. As it is, I break into a sweat at the very thought of meeting strangers or facing an audience of more than three people. Imagine how many liters of sweat I must have perspired on being told I have to face a tv camera. My first worry wasn’t how I’d get through the talk show but about how I’d appear and how many people would switch off the television the moment I appear on their screens. In case you did not know or hadn't bothered to check the picture on my profile, I’m not exactly Shahid Khan but an almost 50 years old guy seriously lacking in the looks department. In short, I am not terribly photogenic but there was no way I could avoid being on the show what with the cyclone ‘Nilam’ wreaking havoc in the State. I was to inform the audience (if there’s any) what the government was doing. I think I was on the screen for approximately 17.4 seconds (in a program that lasted thirty minutes) and the rest of the time the camera seemed to have been focused on three other people including the anchor. I do not know what message I managed to convey to the public about the measures taken by the government in the face of the cyclone. But I got the message that on these kind of talk shows it is the anchor who is right, and it is the anchor who gets the most screen time. It is natural because he is the anchor. Anyway, judging from the fact that neither I nor DD were flooded with calls shows that the show seems to have gone completely unnoticed which also means that not many people got to see me. No one I know seems to have watched the show. Even my own family did not bother to watch it which speaks volumes about my looks. Ahem. Apart from this historic and rare appearance on TV, I also made it to the newspapers. Were it not for ‘Nilam’ cyclone ‘The Hindu’ may not have bothered to mention my name in their columns. Last Sunday my name was mentioned in a report about the damages wrought by the cyclone in the State. It carried my designation as well which is bigger than my name. They also got it completely wrong. I do not mind though. For a couple of days I was flooded with calls from BBC, CNN, Wall Street Journal and something called the German Press, asking me for updates on the cyclone damages. I do not know if I made it to the international press also. But it was an experience that merits an entire post. But next time I'm the news I hope it will be after my novel gets published.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Sunday Haul

On Sunday I went alone to Abids. I saw Mordecai Richler's 'The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz'at the same spot where I had seen it last. The other book Herman Wouk's "Don't Stop the Carnival" was also there at the same place I had seen it last Sunday. Since I had earlier seen copies of these two books I did not buy them right away and decided to keep them for another day. I was looking for something not usually found but I found such a book at Chikkadpally not at Abids. This seller near the RTC Crossroads sometimes has real jewels. On Sunday he had Robert M Pirsig's classic 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'on the pavement. This copy with a cover in psychedelic colors was the 25th Anniversary Edition it said on the cover. I had seen a similar copy elsewhere but with the cover half torn. Since it seemed unlikely I would find another good copy I bought it though I had read the book earlier. I had read the book almost twenty years ago. I want to read it again very soon.