Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Double Post: Post No. 2- The Hungry Hills of Hyderabad

The Jubilee Hills/Banjara Hills crowd, I tell you, is a hungry lot, a very hungry lot. What puts apart the JH/BH crowd from the rest of us is that while in this part of the city everyone feel the hunger pangs twice or thrice a day, the JH/BH crowd is hungry round the clock. Of course, apart from being perpetually hungry they are also loaded, smart, sophisticated and not to mention, quite snobbish. But chiefly, they are always hungry and food seems to be their chief occupation next only to making money, of course. While they aren’t making money they are found to be eating, sometimes doing both simultaneously which isn’t easy for the likes of us but child’s play for the JH/BH crowd.

If you aren’t new to Hyderabad and also to this blog you will probably be aware by now that Jubilee Hills in an entirely different world from ours in several respects, beginning with money. While the air smells differently in the rest of the city, in Jubilee Hills it smells of money. Apart from this, JH is different in other respects too. While we have Chermas, CMR and the likes, Jubilee Hills has Satya Paul, Calvin Klein and even Ermenegildo Zegna. Then while we have Indira Park, Sanjeevaiah Park and other puny parks, Jubilee Hills has the vast KBR Park, which is actually a reserve forest. Then coming to automobiles while we have the likes of Saboo, Varun, Kun and so on, Jubilee Hills plays host to Jaguar, Audi, and Harley Davidson showrooms. Then on the jewellery front, while we have the Mangatrais and the like, it is Lladro, Swarovosky and other such international brands we may not have heard before. While we have the likes of Paradise and Bawarchi (which open a new branch roughly every two decades or so) they have new and big restaurants opening in the neighbourhood approximately every half hour which leads us to the main subject of this post.

Even as many Hyderabadis this side of the city are yet to overcome the tragedy of the collapse of ‘Citylights ’an Irani joint in Secunderabad, comes the news about the opening of yet another eatery in Jubilee Hills. On Monday I read a review in the Metro Plus of ‘Olive Bistro’ that seems to have opened on Road No 46, just a couple of weeks ago. This isn’t entirely surprising considering what I told you earlier above that the JH/BH crowd is a very hungry lot.

Sometime last month I read about the opening of another new restaurant in Madhapur which I remember as being a Bengali joint. Hardly a few days later I read about the opening of yet another new eatery by the name of Vasanta Bhavan where I am told they serve idlis and stuff like that. I do not know how far it is going to succeed because as far as I know the JH/BH crowd isn’t the idli-sambar eating sort like you and me. Here in this part of the city it is what most of us eat to get through life without further complicating it but in JH/BH it isn’t enough, on the grounds of style alone. It isn’t worth going in a Rs 2-3 crore Porsche/Jaguar from a Rs 25 crore mansion to some idli sambar joint. I do not think even their drivers will eat that stuff.

Double Post. Post No. 1: The Chai at Nilofer

You’d have to be one totally dumb Hyderabadi if you do not stop at Nilofer café whenever you are in the vicinity of Red Hill and Lakdi ka pul. And you’d have to be an even dumber Hyderbadi than that if you have no idea what Nilofer is and where it is. If you are a Hyderabadi and do not know about Nilofer Café most likely you are a) one of those snooty JH/BH types or b) one of those clueless Hyderabadis who has no idea where you get the good stuff. Either way, you are to be pitied. It is a pretty sad life if you haven’t yet tasted the chai at Nilofer. To tell you the truth, if you haven’t had it till now then you better pack your bags and leave because you do not deserve to live in Hyderabad for another moment. Okay, I am exaggerating but there are probably many asli Hyderabadis who haven’t tasted the chai at Nilofer. If I were you I’d drop whatever I am doing at the moment and right away rush to Nilofer from wherever I am and have the chai there before taking another breath.

For those uninitiated Nilofer café is an Irani chai joint that every true-blue Hyderbadi knows about. The chai here is something people from as far as Adilabad come here to taste not to mention those living in far flung places in Hyderabad. This nectar like chai is so good that it is worth crawling on one’s elbows to Nilofer from wherever you live. Once you drink it you are hooked so much that it keeps you going on for very long, sometimes upto a year without being aware of it at all.

It isn’t difficult to spot Nilofer café when you are on the road to Nilofer Hospital in Red Hills. You’ll find a large crowd spilling on to the middle of the road at a small joint beside a temple. Bikes and other two wheelers are haphazardly parked like the owners couldn’t wait to park properly. Anyway, Nilofer cafe is such a small joint that it has only four tables inside. These tables are always full but not many wait for their turn to sit and prefer picking up the chai from a self-service counter, and stand outside to sip it. The tea costs ten rupees a cup and Special is eleven rupees, the last time I was there. It’d probably be worth more than that if what the chai does to you is anything to go by.

The last time I had the chai at Nilofer was sometime in May when someone I knew asked me to meet him. The moment he told me he lived at Masab Tank I decided I’d drop in at Nilofer for a chai before meeting my friend. Even if you do not have a friend who lives in Masab Tank you can go to Nilofer anytime, any day.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Theft

Currently I am reading Ryszard Kapuscinski’s ‘Shadow of the Sun’ apart from other books. In a chapter titled ‘My Alleyway’ he writes about his feelings when his apartment in Lagos in Nigeris is broken into. He writes that ‘to be robbed is, first and foremost, to be humiliated, to be made a fool of.’ Those were exactly my feelings too when sometime last week the bag I carry to office was stolen from our house. I keep the bag in the drawing room on a table after I return from the office. It didn’t have any thing valuable for a thief but they were valuable for me. I lost a pen drive which had a draft of my novel, my office ID, a spare key to my room in the office, my income tax papers and also two books. One of the books was Jonathan Raban’s ‘Arabia’ that I had been reading in the car. When we were all inside the thief managed to step in the house, lift the bag and make away with it. We did not even realize it was missing until late into the night.

Anyway, it was a minor theft and I wouldn’t have approached the police. But since I lost my office ID and the key to my room in the Secretariat I thought I have to report it. The next morning I went to the police station and gave my complaint. The inspector heard me out and said they’ll be glad to issue me with a certificate that the said items are not traceable even before they made any efforts to trace the bag. It was clear that they did not think the theft was anything to launch an investigation into.
More than anything it is the loss of Jonathan Raban’s ‘Arabia’ that I have only half read, that upsets me. Funnily enough I had two copies of the book and only last month I sent one copy to a friend in Mumbai. Now I have no idea how the book ends.

All these days, since the past one week, I am not able to help thinking what the thief must have done with my bag and its contents. Each of the items in the bag must have been sold to a different buyer or may be one buyer. I wonder what the guy who got the pen drive would do with the files in it. I wonder what the guy did with the two books that were in the bag. I also fantasise that the books would somehow make their way to Abids which is what I want. Though I want the books back and also everything in the bag including the bag I know I will not see them again.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Trip No. 6 Dehra Dun

Not very often but sometimes strange things happen in my life. Sometime back in the first week of June I had managed to get myself selected for a 4-day training course beginning from the 18th of June to 21st June. The training course was at an institute in Dehra Dun. Naturally, I was excited. But at the last minute, due to the commencement of the second phase of the budget sessions of the Legislative Assembly, I was told to stay put at Hyderabad. Needless to say, I was terribly disappointed.

Then on the 20th of June after the news of the floods in Uttarakhand and the devastation caused by it reached us I was told to pack up and rush to Dehra Dun. I left the next day with my boss for what I thought would be a short visit of not more than three days at the most. It was almost a fortnight before I returned home. I had never been away from Hyderabad for so long on work so it was kind of draining.
For almost a fortnight since leaving Delhi and even before we left Hyderabad I was inundated with telephone call asking for information about the fate of pilgrims from our State in Uttarakhand. I was getting calls almost once every five minutes beginning from early in the morning to late in the night. I was in Delhi on Fri (21st June) where I got an idea of the magnitude of the sufferings of the pilgrims after I talked with some of the people at AP Bhavan who had returned safely. The next day we landed at Dehra Dun and almost immediately got down to work.
The work consisted of several things. The major part of the day was spent in the control room in the Uttarakhand Secretariat gathering information, attending to calls, coordinating movement of 32 other staff who had come from the State for the operations. Every day we attended a coordination meeting in the evenings where all the top brass involved in the rescue and relief operations gathered. There I got to shake hands with a General of the Army, and other top officials from ITBP, Indian Air Force and NDRF, almost daily. It isn’t every day that you get to shake hands with an Army General.

Anyway, it was extremely distressing talking to the relatives of the pilgrims who were missing since most of them would cry and plead with us to do something. We were not in a position to do anything much so all we could do was to take down the names of the missing persons, contact our persons spread out over Uttarakhand and do what we could do to obtain information about the missing pilgrims. It was even more distressing talking directly to the relatives of the missing pilgrims who came all the way from AP to Uttarakhand looking for their loved ones who went missing. They went around the airport, hotels, and wherever they could carrying pictures of their missing relatives. It was quite a sad sight watching the distress on their faces as the days went by without any word from their missing relatives. It was clear by then that most of those who were in the Kedarnath valley on the day when the flood happened, would not be found.
When we returned finally after twelve days it was with a heavy heart and disappointment that we could not do anything much for the families whose loved ones were missing at Uttarakhand.

The Sunday Haul

On Saturday, which was a holiday for us because it was a second Saturday I had to go to the office. Afterwards, in the afternoon I went to the Best Book Centre store in Lakdikapul. There I found another Jean Rhys title- ‘After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie’ that I got for only forty rupees which was quite a surprise since in that store no book comes for less than Rs 100. This is the third Jean Rhys title that I have managed to find, the first two being ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and ‘Tigers are Better Looking’ being the second book and which I found at Dehra Dun last month.
After a long time, with my two companions away, I had to go alone on the book hunt at Abids on Sunday. Without company to distract I thought I’d be able to look keenly and pick up some nice titles I might have otherwise missed. But even after more than an hour into the browsing I couldn’t find anything. It was slow going, moving from one seller to another seller because the toe straps of my chappal had given away. It was difficult to walk so I made it slowly to the GPO. It was while I was getting it fixed that I walked around barefoot for some time to look for the books at the seller near the GPO. I found another Spenser title. It was ‘Walking Shadow’ by Robert B. Parker. I got the book for fifty rupees.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Sunday Haul

Of the twelve days I was in Dehra Dun last month two happened to be Sundays. Of course, given the reason I was there I did not mind losing two Sundays at work. Sundays mean Abids and the book hunts for me but the five books I found at a sale in Dehra Dun kind of made it up for not being at Abids. However, once I was back in Hyderabad on a Tuesday I couldn’t wait for it to be Sunday.

Last Sunday, once in Abids I felt normalcy return to my life. It had been quite a different time in Dehra Dun and with all the running around here and there and living in a hotel room my normal life was a bit disrupted. Anyway, at Abids I picked up two books. The first find was a book I or anyone for that matter would have had second thoughts about reading. But after hearing all those tales of people dying horrific deaths in the floods in Uttarakhand I thought maybe the book I found would help me understand something I was unable to figure out. One of the tragic tales was the one a lady told me about waking up after two days of being lost in the mountains without food and water and finding her mother dead beside her. ‘On Death and Dying’ by Elisabeth Kubler Ross was the book I picked up last Sunday at Abids.
The other book I bought was one that would help me understand my work better. It was a copy of ‘The Monsoons’ by PK Das, which is an NBT book. There were other books I saw but I was not in a mood to buy them. I saw that Hemingway’s ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ that I had seen earlier still with the same seller. Maybe next Sunday I will buy it if I do not find anything better.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The Dehra Dun Haul

Last month, immediately after the Uttarakhand floods, we (a team of 34) were dispatched to Uttarakhand for rescue and coordination. At least three thousand pilgrims from our State were stranded somewhere in Uttarakhand. For nearly twelve days I was there on that grim mission attending to calls from hysterical relatives asking for information about their missing relatives. There was the constant stream of news about bodies being found and about the difficulties being faced by those stranded in remote and inhospitable places. What was difficult for me was to listen to the people telling their harrowing tales of death, destruction, and tragedy that cannot be imagined. It took a toll on me and I had nothing to distract my mind save for books. I had taken along only one book and needed more books.
The day after I landed at Dehra Dun I set out from the hotel early in the morning for a walk. A few minutes into the walk I was pleasantly surprised to see a board announcing a book sale by Max Books of Mumbai above a store on the main road. I decided I would drop in there sometime in the evening. However it wasn’t until three days later that I got the time to check the sale out. I found Ryszard Kapuscinski’s ‘The Shadow of the Sun’ on the first visit and did not hesitate to buy it though the price was Rs 195. I had just then learnt that I may have to stay back for quite some time. I had not brought any books except John Buchan’s ‘Thirty Nine Steps.’ Since I needed reading material I bought it. The next find was Jean Rhy’s ‘Tigers are Better Looking’ which is a collection of her short stories. This was a slim book and I bought it for Rs 75. That was the haul on the first visit.
A couple of days later I went to the sale again and found another interesting book by one of my favourite authors- Elmore Leonard. I somehow had missed it on the first visit and when I saw ‘Cat Chaser’ in a table of books for sale at Rs 50 only I jumped at it. On my third and final visit to the sale just a day before I was leaving Dehra Dun I had a couple of hours on hand to check out the collection at the sale. I found Tobias Wolff’s ‘A Pharaoh’s Army’ that I got for the steep price of Rs 195. After I had read his ‘This Boy’s Life’ I learnt that ‘A Pharaoh’s Army’ was worth reading so I bought it.
That wasn’t all. I also read somewhere that somewhere near Paltan Bazaar in Dehra Dun one can get second hand bookstores. So one afternoon when I was free for a couple of hours I went looking for it. After a lengthy search I learnt that there are a couple of shops in Moti Bazaar that stock second hand books. At a stationery store I asked if there were any second hand bookstores in the locality. Luckily the store keeper knew and told me the name ‘Reader’s Choice’ and even as I was leaving he advised me to drive a hard bargain. I located two shops and found that one such store was basically a newspaper scrap dealer who kept a couple of dozen titles where I found nothing worth buying. However, in the second store by name ‘Reader’s Choice’ which was a small store with a couple of thousand books neatly stacked in bookshelves. I found Bhabani Bhattacharya’s ‘Shadow from Ladakh’ which I read was a Sahitya Akademi winner in 1967. Looking at the size of the book I thought the guy would ask for at least a hundred rupees. I thought of asking it for fifty bucks come what may. I got a terrific shock when he asked for twenty rupees.
The haul of five books was the only good thing I brought back from Dehra Dun, the rest being unforgettable tales of miraculous survival, of tragic death, and tales of desperate searches for missing relatives. It is something I feel I cannot write adequately here.