Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Double Post: Post-2- Trip No. 3- Whirlwind Tour: Travels in Villages

Once again, for the second time this year I’ve made an official trip to a place other than Delhi. If the first trip of the year was to Visakhapatnam then this time I went to Bengaluru, Anantapur and Kadapa districts the week before. It was a sort of whirlwind trip in the company of a team of officials from Delhi. Originally, a colleague was supposed to tag along this team but at the last minute I was asked to go in his place. It worked out well because I could also go to Bengaluru where I picked up half a dozen books and I also got an opportunity to see from close quarters some bitter realities.
It had been more than two and half years since I’ve been to interiors. It is undeniable that a visit to the villages always reveals the real picture. So, at last I got an opportunity to visit more than twenty villages in Anantapuram and Kadapa districts on Sunday before last Sunday. We set off from Bengaluru on Sunday morning in our cars (five of them with a red beacon on the top) and got to Kodakonda checkpost where another senior officer of the Central government who was also asked to join the team at the last minute was to meet us. After a brief meeting with the officers of the Anantapuram district we set off for the villages. Anantpuram is the second driest district in the country next only to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan so one can imagine how it would be- intolerably hot and also very dusty.

It is while traveling that one finds the truth about most things, in rather unexpected ways. There’s truth in tears, in expressions of people and their talk and also in the manner in which they act. On this road trip through the villages I saw something worth narrating here. We had to follow a predetermined itinerary but sometimes we made unscheduled stops. At one such unscheduled stop at a road side village we stopped people to ask them how they were faring. An elderly farmer, with a weather beaten face, began telling his tale. He went on for a couple of minutes about how all the bore-wells he had sunk had failed, how he lost his crops and how it was difficult for him to make ends meet with in such conditions. Then there were the loans to repay. Suddenly, his eyes welled up as he pleaded with us to help him with folded palms. Then he broke down. We did not know what to do other than tell him unconvincingly that things would get better soon. It was awkward watching him wipe his tears with this towel. For a long time he was unable to stop crying. This was real suffering that hit me hard. I wondered how on earth we, or anyone for that matter would, would be able to help people like him. A large press contingent had accompanied us and the photographers began taking pictures of the man in tears.

Even as they were clicking the pictures I saw another photographer go over to another group of village women who were gathered around a lady official of the team from Delhi. The photographer called an old woman aside and whispered something in her ear. The next moment the old woman squatted on the ground before the lady official and touched her feet. Our friend, the photographer, had already taken position and clicked the pictures of the old woman prostrating at the feet of the official. He must have thought this manufactured image of the old woman pleading with the officials by falling at their feet would be dramatic. I was incensed at this blatant manipulation he resorted to. It was sort of degrading the hapless, old woman’s dignity. It also revealed the tricks resorted by some press people to get sensational pictures. It was disgusting to watch this too clever by half press photographer who no doubt thought it was all in the game to resort to such tricks. It shakes one’s faith in the fairness of the press.

It isn’t the press alone that manipulates, politicians are no different. Another incident that followed revealed how the politicians too manufacture protests. In another village we stopped at a dried up irrigation tank on the outskirts of a village. From the car windows I noticed groups of people belonging to different political parties standing apart from each other, waiting for us patiently, holding their party flags. As we got down from our vehicles they started sloganeering. Each group had two or three ‘leaders’ who took turns to speak with us in English and then hand over their representations while the press took their photographs. I saw a bespectacled man in one such group, wearing shirt and trousers, and in his thirties, get annoyed when a local official said something to him. The person suddenly flared up and in a loud voice started shouting that no one was bothered about the dried up tank, about the lack of drinking water in the village and so on. As everyone now focused on him he became strident, shouting at the top of his voice, the blood vessels on his neck bulging with the effort. We were all shocked at this unexpected outburst. His own party people tried to pacify him. But he wouldn’t and instead increased his protestations. At this point a burly cop stepped in and gently led him away from the group which moved away. But I slowed down and turned to watch what would happen.

The protestor, suddenly smiled and winked at the cop. He then put out his tongue and pulled it in quickly to show it was all an act. Of all the images of that Sunday in the villages it was this which stayed in my mind.

Friday Double Post: Post- 1: The Sunday and Other Haul

The recent five book haul at Bengaluru notwithstanding my book buying spree continues. It was a holiday last Friday due to a festival and with nothing much to do at home I dropped in at the Best Books store at YMCA in Secunderabad. There I found another title of Dashiell Hammett –‘Red Harvest’ that I read is another classic. I am glad I found it so easily and also for so cheap- Rs 150. Another title I found right after I picked up ‘The Red Harvest’ was Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’ that I had heard so much about. It is invariably included in the list of writing books recommended for people who want to become writers . Anyway, that wasn’t the only haul of last week. There were more books on Sunday at Abids.

The first book I spotted and picked up at Abids was ‘The Collected Poems of A.K. Ramanujan’ that was a hardbound copy. It had a faded cover page that was slightly torn in places. But the inside pages were intact and that was what mattered. It was a good find because this one volume seem to have almost all the poems of A.K. Ramanujan. The volume has four books, three of which were already published. Book 1- ‘The Striders’ (41 poems), Book 2- ‘Relations’ (33 poems), Book 3- ‘Second Sight’ (36 poems) and an unpublished book, Book 4- ‘The Black Hen’ ( 60 poems) which I read has been published in this collection for the first time. I got it for only thirty rupees which I guess is very reasonable considering the collection has in all nearly 170 poems that one cannot find anywhere at one place.

The second book was Chinua Achebe’s ‘Anthills of the Savannah’ that I had read about in the articles about Achebe following his death recently. I do not know when I will get the time to read it but I bought it nevertheless for fifty rupees. I haven’t seen any of his books except ‘Things Fall Apart’ at Abids so far.

PS: The photographs here look far better than the ones I put up usually because they have been shot by my ace photographer friend- Uma Shanker. Thanks, Uma.

Friday, April 19, 2013


It is four days since I returned from a trip that took me to Bangalore and I am unable to believe I’ve been so lucky while I had been there. All the claims that I’ve been making so long that I am lucky when it comes to finding good titles weren’t so light after all. Otherwise what luck can explain being sent (by plane, no less) to the very city that I’ve been wishing to visit of late. I had been dreaming of making a trip to Bengaluru to look for books in a few stores like Select, Blossoms etc., but for some reason it wasn’t materializing. Then last Saturday, in an incredibly lucky manner, I got an opportunity to be in Bengaluru where I hauled in five good titles.

Just a day before, on Friday a colleague who was supposed to make that trip backed out at the last minute and I was asked to go in his place. I was supposed to receive a team of officials coming from Delhi at Bangalore and accompany them to villages in the districts of AP bordering Bengaluru. In a move that I can only now call as smart I decided to reach Bengalure in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day meeting a friend and also browse in bookstores on the MG Road and Brigade Road. Everything went according to plan. I reached Bengaluru by noon and went to the hotel where I had lunch. Afterwards, I took along the guy who had come to receive me and together we went to MG Road first. While I was unable to meet my friend I found five good titles after browsing through just three book stores.

The first place I went to was ‘Book Worms’ on MG Road where I found two books. Here I found another title that I was desperate to find and read since a long time- Dashiell Hammett’s ‘The Maltese Falcon’ that I was very thrilled to find. I got it at a steep price though, at Rs 235. The next find was a Dave Barry title that I do not have in my collection of Dave Barrys. I found ‘Taming of the Screw’ and got it for a price that I found too high for Hyderabadi standards. But I wasn’t complaining since I would not have found these titles, at least not ‘The Maltese Falcon’ at Abids in Hyderabad.

Next stop was Select Bookstore, just a few steps away, on Brigade Road. Inside the two cramped rooms filled with books both old and not so old I looked in vain for other titles by Arun Joshi. I had hoped to find at least one Arun Joshi title there so I was sort of disappointed I couldn’t find any. But I found another title by Ryscard Kapuscinski that I do not have- ‘Travels with Herodotus’ that was a real treasure. I also picked up another Ashokamitran title that I hadn’t heard of- ‘The Colours of Evil’ that was a good copy. Both these books did not come exactly cheap though once again I wasn’t complaining. However I was a bit worried, wondering, having already found four good titles, if I’d find some more books at the next bookstore, which was Blossoms on Church Street, quite close by.

Honestly, though I have seen quite big bookstores, I wasn’t prepared for the sight that Blossoms presented- three storeys packed with miles of shelves stacked to the hilt with books, books and more books. Not only was I staggered at the sight of so many books I also lost my memory for some time. After I found that the store had a computer search facility on each floor I thought it made my job easier considering how little time I had. I had no time to go through all the shelves at Blossome. But when I tried to recollect some of the books on my ‘Must Buy’ list I had on my notebooks back home I could remember neither the name of a single title or the name of a single author that I wanted to read. After a great struggle to recollect only WG Sebald’s name came to mind. I told the young and helpful girl at the computer to look for his books. The search threw up ‘Austerlitz’ as available. I almost gave a whoop of joy at that news. While I looked for other titles in the shelves the girl went to look for the copy of WG Sebald’s ‘Austerlitz’ elsewhere in the store. I saw a decent copy of Pico Iyer’s ‘Tropical Classical’ and also Lajos Egri’s ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing’ that I did not buy. After sometime the girl returned with a fat book, a Penguin edition of ‘Auserlitz’ that was priced at Rs 180, which is very, very cheap considering how difficult it is to find Sebald’s books. Not many know about this marvelous writer.

‘Austerlitz’ was the best find on the Bengaluru trip and next comes ‘The Maltese Falcon’ both which I had not expected to find. Though these five books burned a rather large hole in my pocket I thanked my lucky stars for putting this trip in my way. For once I did not regret being away from Hyderabad on a Sunday because I would miss my Abids trip. The next day was Sunday and the second leg of my trip began and also ended on Sunday. It was an arduous trip before me but the thought that I had five good books in my bag comforted me.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Sunday Haul

Only in Hyderabad can anyone think of such a thing. On Sunday morning I read about a book launch to be held at ten in the morning! It was the launch of a Telugu translation of ‘October Coup’ by Mohammed Hyder. Since it had been quite a long time since I had attended a book event so early in the day I decided to go. Another reason I wanted to go there was that the venue (Andhra Saraswat Parishat) was on the way to Abids. As expected, and in true Hyderabadi style, the event began a good three quarters of an hour after the official time. However I did not mind it a bit because the gathering was most interesting. There were people of that forgotten era, that gracious old world Hyderabadis, of the time of the Nizams. There were very senior citizens but very alert and active, walking in for the event organized by Hyderabad Book Trust and Anveshi, an NGO. I felt like I was in the midst of a gathering of those people who had witnessed a lot of history.
I bought a copy of ‘October Coup’ and read that it was a different version of the story of Hyderabad’s liberation, written from the view point of someone who was not from the ruling family or from the Indian side. It was by a bureaucrat of the Hyderabad Civil Service, Mohammed Hyder, who was the Collector of Osmanabad district. It seemed like an interesting memoir about how things came to being in those times when the Nizam ruled Hyderabad state was coerced into joining the Indian state. Unfortunately I could not stay for the panel discussion by some prominent journalists and other Hyderabadis because I had friends waiting at Abids. I left reluctantly since the discussion promised to throw up a lot of interesting facts about that time around 1948.

At Abids we began the hunt after our usual cup of tea at the Irani. It was damn hot but we went in like intrepid hunters intent on snagging something good. Shortly after we stepped into the bazaar I found Jean Rhys’ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and the Penguin edition I found was okay though filled with a lot of scribbling. The guy wrote his name and the title of the book in pen wherever there was some space. I bought it since it was pretty neat copy other than the pen scribbles. I got it for just twenty bucks and later I discovered that it was a minor classic. It seems one has to read ‘Jane Eyre’ to get the story which means there’s another classic I have to read.
The second find of Sunday was yet another copy of Somerset Maugham’s ‘Summing Up’ that I got for only twenty rupees. I already possess a couple of copies of this title but the copy I found on Sunday had a foreword by Glenway Wescott that I wanted to read. It is a book I give to people who tell me they want to be writers but have no idea how to go about it. After I’ve read this book a long time back and reread it almost every year I have a pretty decent idea of what good writing entails. I feel it is a book that everyone who has a desire to write must read at least once to understand something about writing and writers.

There are a few titles on my list I believed I’d not ever find anywhere, least of all in Hyderabad. Some such titles were WG Sebald’s ‘Rings of Saturn’; Freya Stark’s ‘The Southern Gates of Arabia’ ; Joan Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’; Diana Athill’s ‘Stet’; Anne Fadiman’s ‘Ex-Libris’; Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Big Sleep’ and other books. Incredibly enough I’ve found these titles in second hand bookstores in Hyderabad and at Abids on Sundays. But one title on my list I did not ever expect to find. Unlike other titles I did not even remotely fantasize about finding it and also reading it. I simply added it to my list of good books and left it at that. Last Tuesday I dropped in at the MR Bookstore at Begumpet. I had visited their branch at Punjagutta where I was told there was new stock had arrived at the Begumpet store. On Tuesday I went there and found truck loads of books. I looked at the titles patiently and saw only multiple copies of books by Bernard Schlink (The Reader) James Patterson, Maeve Binchy, Catherine Cookson, Nora Roberts and others but not one title that interested me. Then suddenly my eyes hit on a title that sounded unusual. It was ‘The Blind Rider’ by Juan Goytisolo, that one title on my list I least expected to find! I was overjoyed at this serendipitous discovery and gladly paid the hundred rupees it was worth.
When I looked inside the book I was surprised to discover that the book was published in 2003, just ten years ago, originally in Spanish. The English translation came out in 2005. I was under the impression that it was a book published a long back, sometime in the fifties or earlier. Anyway when I read the blurbs on the back cover saying Goytisolo was one of the greatest living Spanish novelists I was glad the book came my way on Tuesday. Now I have another great writer whose other books I have to look out for. But I do not think I will find any of his other books in Hyderabad or anywhere in the country. I was just too damn lucky to find this copy.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Friday Triple Post: The Sunday Haul

Post No. 3 of 3

With 37 books in the past three months I was in no mood to buy any more books. I am running out of space at home to arrange all the books I am picking up quite regularly from Abids and also from second hand bookstores in Abids. After finding two Arun Joshi titles I felt I had enough quality reading and so was firmly determined to go Abids on Sunday and only just look. When you are a serious addict it is impossible to just look at all the books spread out on the pavements at Abids and refrain yourself from picking up something that you think might be a good read. Not surprisingly, I ended up buying three more books on Sunday at Abids. These were titles I couldn’t ever leave behind for others to buy.

At Chikkadpally I saw the first book of Sunday’s three book haul. It was Manohar Malgonkar’s ‘Four Graves and Other Stories’ that I wanted to buy the moment I spotted it. First reason was that it was a Penguin title and the other reason was that I could have the book for only thirty rupees. Of late I have begun picking up books by Indian writers and collections of short stories by them are rare to get so I took ‘Four Graves and Other Stories’ that has a total of fifteen stories- Pack Drill, Top Cat, Green Devils, Blame the Army, Chikmaglur Hookshot, Home Delivery, Palace Orders, A Little Sugar, A Little Tea, Four Graves, Snake and Ladder, The Nut Pickers, Tactical Surprise, Sitting Bull, Maggie, and Tipu.

The discovery of the second book was mildly dramatic. I read somewhere about Pauline Kael, the movie critic and jotted down the title of her famous book- I Lost it at the Movies- somewhere. On Sunday I was going through a pile of books at one of the sellers when I spotted an old and tattered copy of Pauline Kael’s ‘I Lost It at the Movies’ at the bottom. I took it out and saw that it was in a condition enough to read the articles in and picked it up. The surprise was that the book was in a heap selling for only ten rupees. After I got home I read the review of ‘Devi’ a film by Satyajit Ray that was very well written and made wish I could somehow watch the movie.
I thought I wouldn’t find any more books worth buying after finding these two books but I was proved wrong. Last Sunday I had picked up Gangadhar Gadgil’s ‘Crazy Bombay’ and after reading the introduction got the impression that it was the only book the author wrote in English. I was surprised to find a collection of short stories in English titled ‘The Woman and Other Stories’ which I bought for only thirty rupees. The collection has sixteen stories: The Coin, The Wan Moon, The Rough and the Smooth, A Dying World, The Hollow Men, Gopal Padhye: A Kind of a Man, the Fledglings, The Age of Kali, The Truth of the Matter, Farewell, A Contented Soul, The Third Class Coach, The Lost Children, This Way and That, The Dog that Ran in Circles, and The Woman.

Friday Triple Post: The Holiday Super Haul

Post No. 2 of 3

Ever since I finished reading Arun Joshi’s ‘The Foriegner’ an overwhelming desire to read all his other books like ‘The Strange Case of Billy Biswas’ ‘The Apprentice’, ‘The City and the River’ and ‘The Survivor’, has taken root in my mind. But I cannot hope to read them until I find them. I learnt that his books are hard to find since they are out of print. There seemed to be no hope of getting these titles anywhere except physically look for them in bookstores. I know of only one bookstore where I might be lucky and find Arun Joshi’s books and that book store is the Best Books Centre at Lakdikapul. I have been there several times and have seen many titles by Indian writers so I had a hunch maybe there might be a title by Arun Joshi that I had missed earlier because I did not know he was such a good writer.

Last Wednesday was a holiday on account of ‘Holi’ and so I had a full day to look all over the store for Arun Joshi’s books. I know there are a couple of shelves on the first floor of Best Book Center store in Lakdikapul which are filled with hard to find titles by the first generation of Indian writers like Kantha Rao, Anita Desai, KA Abbas, Manohar Malgonkar, Mulk Raj Anand, Kamala Markandeya and so on. On Tuesday morning I rushed to the store full of hope and started the search. I did not go straight to the shelves upstairs but began from the shelves on the ground floor. Though I was eager to rush upstairs I restrained myself and made my way through all the titles on display on the shelves on the ground floor. I saw a copy of Pankaj Mishra’s ‘The Romantics’, William Zinsser’s ‘On Writing Well’ and other titles I might have picked up on another day. After half hour’s futile search I climbed up the winding staircase to the first floor.
Earlier too I had said that when it came to books I was damn lucky. I am not wrong because soon after I rifled through the titles on the book shelf I spotted ‘The Last Labyrinth’! I was overjoyed at finding another Arun Joshi title and the joy was doubled when I saw the price on the sticker- Rs. 50 only. It was a good copy and I was pretty pleased with myself for following my hunch.

That wasn’t all. I saw three new Spenser titles- ‘Now and Then,’ ‘A Catskill Eagle,’ and ‘Early Autumn’ by Robert B. Parker. I couldn’t resist buying them and so bought all three titles though they did not come cheap.

Friday was again a holiday due to Good Friday. I somehow felt that I had not looked properly in the shelves at Best Book Centre on Tuesday and wanted to look again. Since I did not have anything else to do on Friday I once again set off to Lakdikapul. I wasn’t really expecting to find another Arun Joshi title but then that was what happened. I discovered a copy of ‘The Strange Case of Billy Biswas’ at the bottom of a tall stack in a corner of one of the shelf that I had looked at only a day before. I was puzzled how I could have missed since I had looked carefully at each and every title. On Tuesday while paying for ‘The Last Labyrinth’ I had told the person at the counter that I was looking for titles by Arun Joshi and had requested him to keep them aside if he happens to find them. Maybe he had found another title and kept in the bookshelf. But whatever, I am terribly glad at finding the book that fetched Arun Joshi the Sahitya Akademi award and which Aditya Sudershan in his article in TLR termed as ‘…’. This title too came cheap, though not as cheap as ‘The Last Labyrinth’ but at Rs 95 it was cheap enough considering how difficult it is to find these books. I could have paid a couple of hundred rupees for the book but I got it for under hundred rupees.

As I bounded down the stairs with the copy of ‘The Strange Case of Billy Biswas’ in my hand I couldn’t help feeling a wee bit disappointed. I wished I had found ‘The Apprentice’ also because I want to read it before anything else. I have a feeling that I will find it very soon and until then I have the two titles to read.

Friday Triple Post: 2013 Trips: Trip No. 2

Post No. 1 of 3

For as long as I am in this post here at the Secretariat, I now realize belatedly, almost all my official trips are going to be to New Delhi only. All such visits I make are either to handover important reports to important officials there or to attend important meetings. Last week’s trip to Delhi, this year’s second official trip was to hand over an important report to someone at New Delhi. Since everything is important I usually go by plane to make it more important and so this trip too was by plane. I would have been happy if it was some ten or twenty page report but the report I was carrying was nearly two hundred pages neatly bound. Again it would have been not a problem if I was carrying just one copy. I had to take along all 35 copies of this report which added up o nearly thirty kilograms.

However I did not mind carrying all that weight because I had something else on my mind. Every since I found Arun Joshi’s ‘The Foreigner’ at Abids only recently I’ve been rather restless to start reading it. I wanted to read the book in one sitting, in one day if possible, without anything to distract me. The trip to Delhi offered me just that opportunity because it would take around two hours to get from Hyderabad to Delhi and another two hours on the way back. In four hours I could easily finish the book that was only 185 pages long. So I took along Arun Joshi’s ‘The Foreigner’ with me on the important trip to Delhi.

Since I had no appointed time to give the report at Delhi I took a slightly late flight than my usual early morning ones. As planned I started the book in the plane even before it took off breaking off only for breakfast. I reached Delhi by noon and was surprised that it wasn’t as hot as Hyderabad was these days. By one in the afternoon I had accomplished my task of handing over the reports I had brought along. I set off to my brother’s at CR Park for lunch. On the return flight home I read the rest of the book and finished it before the plane touched down at Hyderabad. It was one heck of a book that changed my views about Indian writers of the earlier generation. Aditya Sudarshan was right in calling Arun Joshi as ‘India’s Greatest Novelist’ and what puzzles me is that why there is almost nothing written about Arun Joshi’s books anywhere. Thanks to ‘The Literary Review’ in ‘The Hindu’, Thanks to Aditya Sudarshan’s article on Arun Joshi, Thanks to my habit of browsing at Abids or I would never have known about Arun Joshi.