Friday, August 30, 2013

The Delhi Book Fair Haul

If it weren’t for a colleague who was on leave I would not have gone to Delhi last Monday on work. If it weren’t for my brother I wouldn’t have known in advance that the Delhi Book Fair would be on during my visit. If I hadn’t visited the Book Fair last Monday I wouldn’t have ever found the book I had been desperately looking for since quite a long time.

Sometime in February I read Aditya Sudarshan’s article about Arun Joshi and quite coincidentally, a few weeks later, found ‘The Foreigner’ at Abids. After reading the book I was hooked since it was like nothing I had read by any Indian writer. Since the article mentioned Arun Joshi’s other titles I was desperate to find them also and read them. Shortly afterwards I managed to find ‘The Last Labyrinth’ and ‘The Strange Case of Billy Biswas.’ Aditya Sudarshan had mentioned that ‘The Apprentice’ was one of the best books of Arun Joshi and was determined to find the title come what may. Since then I have been searching high and low wherever I went for this title but in vain.
So imagine my surprise when the first stall I walked into at the Book Fair at Pragati Maidan was that of Orient Paperbacks. When I I asked the guys at the counter about Arun Joshi’s titles they said they had those titles which set my heart beat into overdrive. They guy got up and went to a shelf that I did not even look at and brought me the treasured books. I couldn’t just believe that I held brand new copies of ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘The City and the River’ in my hand. But it was not as simple as that. The guy took the books from hand and called up someone on the phone and asked him if he should give the books to me. A short exchange followed during which I waited tensely wondering what it was all about. Finally, the sales guy gave me the book. He then asked another person to take out all the Arun Joshi titles from the shelves. He kept them under the table out of sight. I wasn’t very curious to know more since I was more excited by my find. I did a perfunctory round of the rest of the fair and returned home wondering if I was dumb not to have picked up extra copies of these two titles.
The next day after I finished a short meeting at another office I took the Metro from Hauz Khas to Rajiv Chowk from where I changed to another line towards Pragathi Maidan. I saw that ‘The City and The River’ were not displayed but there were copies of ‘The Apprentice’ and I picked up a second copy. That was all I needed. At another stall selling used books I picked up Ian Rankin’s for my brother. I saw Patrick French’s biography of VS Naipaul- The World is What It Is- but the price was of New Delhi scale so I backed out from buying it. I had earlier come across it in Hyderabad but hadn’t picked it up though I could have got it quite cheap. Anyway, I felt, after finding two Arun Joshi titles, I did not need anything more.

The Sunday Haul

Last Sunday at Abids I found two books. Actually, one book I picked up at a seller in Chikkadpally on the way to Abids. It was John M Harrison’s ‘Travel Arrangements’ which is a collection of fourteen short stories. The stories in it are .Old Women, Small Heirlooms, The Gift, The Horse of Iron and How We Can Know It, Gifco, Anima, Empty, Seven Guesses of the Heart, I Did It, The East, Suicide Coast, The Neon Heart Murders, Black Houses, and Science & the Arts. I got this book for only thirty rupees which was quite a ridiculous price for something like that.

The other find was by an author I got to know only recently. Sometime back I had picked up ‘Dead and Gone’ by Andrew Vachss. I found another book by the same author titled ‘Hard Candy’ which I couldn’t resist buying after I looked at the cover.

I learnt that the Best Books sale is happening from the first of September and as usual, is likely to be for a fortnight at the least. I hope to find some really good titles at the sale that begins the day after tomorrow.

Trip No. 10: To Delhi Again

For the second time this month and for the fifth time this year I had to go to Delhi on work. On an average I am making one trip, every month, mostly to Delhi. It isn’t exactly a fun thing going to Delhi on work to attend meetings where sometimes you get skewered for not meeting the targets or for not submitting reports on time. For some strange reason I am unable to comprehend only I seem to get sent to Delhi every time there is a meeting to attend.

Last Monday I went to Delhi to stand in for my colleague who was actually supposed to attend the meeting. Normally I wouldn’t agree to attend important meetings on behalf of others but when I learnt that the Delhi Book Fair was on, I agreed to go. I was booked on an early morning flight which meant that I had to get up at three in the morning. It was four when I got out of the house and into a cab. The cabbie turned out to be an interesting guy about whom I will write some other time. As is usual with the flights to Delhi there was no one interesting or no celebrity on board so it was rather boring. I had with me ‘Dead and Gone’ by Andrew Vachss to read.

The daylong meeting at an institute somewhere near the Delhi Police Headquarters ended sometime around four in the afternoon. I was told that Pragathi Maidan where the Delhi Book Fair was going on was close by. It was pretty hot but I walked to the Book Fair and got a pleasant surprise finding two books that I had been looking for rather desperately. The Book Fair wasn’t so large considering Delhi the size of Delhi but there were a few stall selling used books. I browsed these stalls but couldn’t find anything interesting.

The next day I had a meeting at another office close to where I was staying with my brother. After that meeting I caught the Metro to Pragathi Maidan for a second visit. The Metro is a marvellous thing and it felt like I was in another world riding the glitzy trains. I got into the Metro at Hauz Khas, changed at Rajiv Chowk and got to Pragathi Maidan in no time. I spent an hour and returned by the same route. The return journey to Hyderabad was a bit interesting.

Almost all the trips I made to Delhi were in the domestic flights but Tuesday’s journey was on an international flight. We had to board through the International Departures terminal. I gawked at the numerous stalls selling duty free stuff. The plane turned out to be a Boeing 777 which was so large there were nine seats a row. The crew wore a different uniform and even the food, for a change, was better than the tasteless stuff they serve on the domestic flights. I reached home in time for dinner happy that I had found the books I desperately wanted to read. I’ve written about it in another post.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Sunday Haul

The Sunday before last Sunday I had a haul I had forgotten to write about in the recent posts. I think it was while searching for reviews of Achebe’s books that I read the name Ngugi. At Abids, the previous Sunday, I found ‘The Devil on the Cross’ by Ngugi and decided to buy it after I read on the cover that the Tribune called it as ‘one of the century’s great novels.’ I read on the back cover that Ngugi was the most celebrated of African novelist. Curiously, I hadn’t ever heard of the book or the author which was another reminder that there are several authors and several good books ouit there that I do not know about.
That wasn’t the only item in the haul though. I also found a May, 2012 issue of CNT which had a lengthy article on, of all places, Hyderabad. It was written by Sunil Sethi of Just Books fame. The article titled ‘The Lost Jewels of Hyderabad’ had many photographs and was quite lengthy but I found nothing in it that I did not know about. While the places mentioned in it like Chowmahalla Palace and of course, the Charminar are in this side of the city the people mentioned in it are , quite naturally, are from the Jubilee Hills crowd which isn't surprising since magazines like this are read by that crowd. It was disappointing that Sunil Sethi couldn't find anyone in this part of the city to talk to or mention in the article. But I was piqued to read about the Pinky Reddy mentioned in it who I had met a long time ago (and who had a smile to die for) and the Pinky Reddy whose picture was included. There was a picture of a lovely lady in a bangle store in Lad Bazaar who I think is the Pinky Reddy with the lovely smile.
The third find was an issue of The New Yorker that I got for just twenty rupees. It was the April, 16, 2012 issue with an article on Mecca by Basharrat Peer and a poem by Amit Majmudar. I read only Basharrat Peer’s lengthy piece and have yet to read the other articles in it. Of course, I looked at all the wonderful cartoons and had quite a laugh.

Last Sunday’s haul consisted of just one book- ‘A Sort of Life’ by Graham Greene that I got for only thirty rupees. It was a hardcover copy and looked quite old without the jacket. It was by sheer luck that I spotted it among a heap of run down hardcover titles.
Sometime last week I set out to visit ‘Unique Books’ at Nampally only to find that the ancient building that housed the store was completely demolished. Last Sunday I asked the guy and was told that they had moved the store to a place near the Lakdikapul bridge. One of these days I plan to go there and check out the books there.

The other news is that the Best Books sale might be sometime in the second week of September. I am looking forward to picking up some really good titles in that sale and plan to set aside a couple of thousand rupees. In the previous sale I had found very good titles so it is a sale not to be missed at any cost.

The news of Elmore Leonard’s death saddened me. He was one of my favourite writers. As a tribute I plan to re-read all his books that I have with me. I will begin with my favourite- ‘Freaky Deaky’ and next read ‘Get Shorty’ followed by ‘Be Cool’ and other titles. I regret not buying the copy of ‘Djibouti’ that I had seen at Dehradun on my first visit to the place in June this year. If only I had bought it I would have been quite happy. I will also look out for another recent title of his that I haven’t read- ‘Raylan’ that I hope I will find at Abids sometime soon.

Friday, August 16, 2013

4-Post Friday: Post 4/4: Another Bengaluru Haul

On the first day of landing at Bengaluru there was a function connected with the marriage I had come for. It was a ladies-only event so I announced my plan to go to MG Road. Before anyone got second thoughts about our plan I sped away with the kid in an auto to MG Road. We got there by noon. I was eager to show my son, the wonder that was Blossom Book Store with its thousands of books. Before we went there we stopped at Indian Coffee House for snacks and coffee. In less than five minutes after entering BBS my son managed to locate more than a dozen comics he absolutely wanted to buy. On the other hand I could lay my hands on only three books. But they were all gems. The first book I picked up was another Chinua Achebe title- ‘Things Fall Apart’ that was a beautiful Penguin edition. The second was Graham Greene’s ‘Journey Without Maps’ that I had been looking for since a long time. The final find was a book that I had been looking for since I last saw and partly read at Port Blair way back in 2006. It was Madhusree Mukerjee’s ‘The Land of Naked People’ and the copy I found was a beautiful hardcover copy unlike the paperback I had seen earlier. With these three books in hand and the more than a dozen comics too we left for the next destination which was ‘Select’ a few steps away from Blossoms.

During my last visit to Select I found Kapuscinski’s ‘Travels with Herodotus’ and ‘Colours of Evil’ by Ashokamitran. I wondered what I would find this time. It did not take very long to take a quick look at all the titles in that small store. I found Raymond Chandler’s ‘Pearls are a Nuisance’ and got it for only eighty rupees. There was nothing else worth buying though if I had time I am sure I would have dug up something to take home. I had only half hour left to reach the venue of the marriage and before that I had another bookstore to check out. I hurried out and rushed to ‘Bookworm’ where I hoped I would find something really good like the last time when I found Dashiel Hammett’s ‘The Maltese Falcon’.
My friend Uma had praised ‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O’Brien and had also said that we wouldn’t find it ever at Abids. Maybe not at Abids but I was confident I would find a copy in a second hand bookstore. I did not know that I would come across a copy in Bengaluru, albeit at a second hand store. Since I had very little time I simply glanced at the stack of books from the ground up and my eyes caught the title ‘The Things They Carried’ and after I had it taken out I realized it was the book Uma was mentioning. Excited, I sent him a message and later I learnt that he already had a copy that he had ordered online.
It was another big haul and after these eight books I found at Dehradun and Bengaluru within a week, the tally of books I picked up so far this year has crossed hundred. On the other hand, I haven’t even read half that number of books till date. So far I have read only forty two books this year. There’s still the Best Books sale coming up next month and later in December, the Hyderabad Book Fair where I am sure I will find more titles. Of course there are about twenty Sundays left. Whatever, I do not want to buy too many books and instead I want to read whatever I can.

4-Post Friday: Post 3/4: Trip No. 8- Another Trip to Bengaluru

It was only in April that I was in Bengaluru and last week again I made another trip. In April it was an official trip and I was there for only a day. Last week’s trip was a personal one (to attend my brother-in-law’s marriage) of three days. During April I visited the bookstores on MG Road and that was all. Last week I went almost all over the town. Of course, I went to MG Road also.

We left on Tuesday evening by train and after an uneventful journey reached Bengaluru sometime around half past seven in the morning. We were put up at a hotel in Rajajinagar which wasn’t very far from the railway station. Later I came to know that the place is also called Shivanahalli but whatever it was called it was a pretty nice place. In fact, the whole of Bengaluru (or whatever I saw) was pretty nice, so very much unlike Hyderabad. I did not see a single Mega-pothole on any road that I passed. I was sort of dumbfounded and disappointed that I couldn’t come across even a teeny-weeny pothole. Oh yes, the road was bad somewhere under a bridge but that was all.

On the first day some kind of function was scheduled in the afternoon followed by the reception in the evening. After breakfast we landed at the venue only to learn that it was a function mostly to do with ladies. We had time until three to participate in the final part of the function where we guys had to be around. So I decided I’d make better use of the hours that lay ahead. It is surprising how in a place other than the home town it is quite easy to convince the spouse regarding some things. It was a matter of minutes to get the go ahead to our plans to visit MG Road and check out the bookstores. Hours later we returned with lots of books ( see in accompanying post) in hand. The rest of the day was full with lot of activity and it was pretty late in the night when we returned to the hotel.

The next day was the actual marriage and since many of the invitees had made it to the reception the previous evening there wasn’t much of a crowd for the marriage. Like all traditional Indian ceremonies this too took a pretty long time. I wished I had brought along one of the books I had picked up at MG Road the day before. After lunch there were some more winding up ceremonies and then it was all over by four. I went out to book tickets for ‘Bangalore Rounds’ and was disappointed to learn there were only two seats available. Luckily, I was told I might be able to find seats if we managed to reach the starting point by half past eight the next morning.

The next day we were lucky. We got the seats in the sight seeing bus. Though MG Road was included in the tour unfortunately, that day, it was excluded due to the flower show at Lal Bagh where we were supposed to spend more time. Anyway, it was six by the time we got to the hotel. Next was a visit to my friend, Amarnad who I met in Chennai in 2000 I guess when I went there to attend a training course. We stayed together in the same room for about ten days which was long enough to spark a long term friendship. I wanted to meet him because he had sent me a box of cream that he makes at home from out of rare herbs that quickly heals any wounds.

Afterwards we got to Yeshwantpur where we caught the Sampark Kranti Express at ten in the night and reached Kacheguda in the morning. I was glad to be back home after almost a week of travelling to Dehradun and Bengaluru, one place in the North of the country and another in the South of the country.

4-Post Friday: Post 2/4:: Another Dehradun Haul

During a long stay at Dehradun in June this year I had discovered a book sale very near to the hotel where I stayed for almost two weeks. I made a couple of visits to the Max Book Sale and managed to find a few good books. One of the best hauls there was Ryszard Kapuscinski’s ‘The Shadow of the Sun’ that I am currently reading. I also bought Jean Rhys’ ‘Tigers are Better Looking’ and Tobias Wolff’s ‘In Pharaoh’s Army’ at the sale. I saw Elmore Leonard’s ‘Djibouti’ but did not buy it. I knew I cannot find it anywhere but still I did not pick it up since I had bought too many books by then.
I was in Dehradun again sometime last week and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Max Book Sale was still on. Earlier it was in the ground floor of a building under construction and now it had shifted to the upper floor of the building. I told the person with me that I would look around in the sale for about an hour and then went in. The first find was a beautiful copy of Peter Matthiessen’s ‘The Snow Leopard’ that I got for a hundred and fifty rupees. The other find was VS Naipaul’s ‘An Area of Darkness’ that was in good condition. I already have this book but the reason why I picked up the book was that it was in a stack of books selling for only thirty rupees.
The third book I picked up was Walter Mosley’s ‘Fearless Jones’ that I bought since I would have about three hours to kill at the airport in Delhi between my flights. I got this book too for only thirty rupees. But I was not able to find the copy of ‘Djibouti’ by Elmore Leonard however hard I looked. It was the only disappointment of the trip.

4-Post Friday:Post 1/4: Trip No.7- Another Trip to Dehradun

At the end of our twelve day trip to Dehradun in June-July in connection with the Uttarakhand floods it was obvious that our job was not complete. There was another task to fulfil. I vaguely felt that there could be another visit sometime in the future. I did not expect to be sent again to Dehradun. But the other week after two senior officers could not go to Dehradun I was told to go. I had mixed feelings about the trip. One reason was that though the trip was at Government expense I have to shell out the money first for a lot of things that are not allowed or partially allowed, so it is actually a drain on the wallet. Another reason was that I had to visit Bengaluru to attend a marriage and there wouldn’t be enough time for two back to back trips.
Since I had to leave for Bengaluru on Tuesday I left for Dehradun, reluctantly, on Sunday. At Delhi another officer joined me and we both took the afternoon flight to Dehradun. After we got into the plane there was a minor drama. Just as the plane was taxiing towards the main runway one of the passengers said that he had to get off. At first I did not know what the reason was and only later that I found out why. The pilot announced that we were returning to the parking back and turned around the plane. After the passenger got down, we had to identify our baggage, go through the security drill. The plane was refuelled and after quite sometime took off. It was then I learnt that the passenger had got a call that his mother had died and he had to return home. It was a nice gesture on part of Spicejet to have turned back before taking off to help the passenger go back home.

When we landed at Dehradun sometime around half past four the weather was beautiful. The sky was clear and the sun shone brightly. The drive from Jolly Grant to Dehradun takes about an hour. We were put up at a nice government guest house ( Bijapur House) which had large rooms. I had a big room all for myself. Since we had nothing to do until the next day I suggested that we’d go out into the town and gawk. I did not tell my companion that I wanted to check out for books. After tea we went into the town and got down near Astley Hall. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the book sale where I had picked up quite a few good books was still on.

Later we sauntered down to the Tibetan Bazaar where I bought clothes for the kid. There was nothing else to do so we got back to the guest house, had dinner and went to sleep. Sometime at midnight I was woken up by a thunderous sound. I realized it was the sound of the rain pounding on the roof of the guesthouse. It was heavy rain and continued till the next day.

The next day, after breakfast, we went to the Secretariat where we handed over some important documents. I had thought we’d be done in an hour but it took a long time. We had a plane to catch at three in the afternoon. It was still raining and I wondered if we would make it to the airport. The officers assured us that we’d get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I had thought we’d leave at half past twelve but we left an hour later. We were assured that we’d get to the airport in time. But when we got into the cab and came to the main road the sight before us got us worried. There was a heavy traffic jam with cars stuck bumper to bumper and it showed no signs of moving. As the minutes ticked away our anxiety rose. We had just fifteen minutes to reach the airport almost thirty kilometres away. The road was bad and it looked impossible. I thought we’d miss the flight and was already making alternate plans. I was close to panic because later in the evening I had to catch another plane to Hyderabad.

The driver raced like a maniac bumping over large potholes, coming down the road into the gravel to over take slow moving trucks which was, to put in simple words, reckless and dangerous driving. We called the airport to say we would be delayed. Surprisingly the guy told us we should reach in the next fifteen minutes. I was relieved when we turned into the airport and I noticed that the Jet flight we had to catch had not yet come from Delhi. Even then the check in counter closed just seconds after we got there. I breathed easy afterwards.

We had missed lunch and I was damn hungry. Luckily, we were given sandwiches in the plane that took just under thirty minutes to reach Delhi. I was in Delhi exactly at four in the afternoon. My flight to Hyderabad was at half past seven. I sat reading ‘Fearless Jones’ by Walter Mosley and in between I watched the people in the airport. I love watching people and learn a lot about how they react in different situations. Unfortunately, there were no famous faces around and not a single soul with a book.

Finally, I reached Hyderabad late in the night and caught a bus to the Secretariat. Luckily, I got an autorickshaw almost immediately to take me home. The driver turned out to be a chatty guy who told me about all the problems he was facing in life. I felt a bit sorry for him and paid him more than the fare hoping he’d feel better.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Sarkari Haleem

There’s mutton haleem, there’s chicken haleem, there’s veg haleem, even fish haleem and now we have government haleem. Considering how popular haleem is and how it is an integral part of life of Hyderabad the government has jumped into the haleem business. Sometime last month I had read that the government, i.e., the Tourism Department was considering going into the haleem business during the month of Ramzan. When the government is involved things are a bit different. Just how different it is depends on who you are and the kind of experience you had in the past.

As for me, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the APTDC had set up a haleem counter within a stone’s thrown away from the Secretariat where I am currently posted. The price was Rs 80 wotj a free Coke. I do not understand why the haleem had to be offered with Coke. Last week I picked up a small container of haleem. Though I said I did want the Coke they put it in the bag and handed it to me. For something of Government made it was pretty tasty, actually, finger licking good, to be honest. But the quantity wasn’t sufficient for two persons.

Anyway, this was my second haleem of the season. I had my first haleem at a place near home. Sometime in the beginning of the month of Ramzan I went along with my kid to Gharonda and tasted the haleem at Gharonda which was quite good though a bit expensive. I am yet to have the Paradise haleem and also one with my friend Raj. Every year, we have haleem together at least once in the season which is how friends in Hyderabad bond. Other times there’s chai and of course, biryani and during Ramzan it is over haleem that friends bond. There’s just a week left for the Ramzan month to end and I have to have one more round of haleem sometime in the next couple of days.

Milestone 750th Post: The Sunday Haul

Milestone Post: This is the 750th Post and the first post of the 7th year of this blog.

The first time I saw Moritz Thomsen’s ‘The Saddest Pleasure’ was sometime in January, 2009.I did not buy it right away. The seller had asked for a high price and besides I had not heard of either the book or the author before. I was curious because the book had a foreword by Paul Theroux. After I got home I regretted not buying it. I was crestfallen since I did not find the book again. But four Sundays later, fortunately for me the book reappeared and I picked it up right away. Here’s the blog I wrote about it in February, 2009. Sadly I haven’t read it so far but now I want to read it because someone recently nominated it as the greatest book on earth.

Of the two item haul last Sunday, one item was the March 2013 issue of Conde Nast Traveller. Later in the evening while flipping through the issue I came upon something in the ‘Books’ page that made me feel very good. Author Sarah Wheeler wrote about ‘The Saddest Pleasure’ and said it was the greatest book on earth. I felt really pleased with myself that I had the presence of mind to pick it up when I saw it. I was glad I owned a copy of the book and somehow thought of myself as a lucky person. Last Sunday I took out the book from my bookshelf and read the foreword by Paul Theroux which made me yearn to find the other two books by Thomsen.
The other haul of Sunday was a book I found not at Abids but at Chikkadpally. I found Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ on the pavement and picked it up. It was a Penguin edition and in quite good condition and surprisingly the seller gave it to me for only forty rupees. It was a steal at that price. I saw a copy of ‘A Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that Srikant wanted me to buy for him after I told him about seeing it at Chikkadpally. I picked it up for rupees fifty on my way home.
On Monday I happened to be near Sangeet in Secunderabad. There’s a bookseller putting up a few books on makeshift wooden shelves where I found some interesting books in the past. I saw a really good Penguin edition of Marquez’s ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ that I could not resist buying. I got it for only sixty rupees and thought it was a steal. But on Tuesday I was in for another surprise.
On Tuesday on my way back from Jubilee Hills where I had gone to a training institute on work I dropped in at the MR Books stall beside the Punjagutta flyover. There I saw yet another Marquez book. It was ‘Three Novellas’ containing ‘Leaf Storm,’ ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ and ‘No One Writes to the Colonel.’ The book was in an excellent condition and the surprise was that I got the book for only fifty rupees as it said on the price sticker. This is the third Marquez title that I found in a span of three days last week making it a Marquez bonanza for me.