Friday, September 27, 2013

Trip No-12: 9 1/2 Hours in Bhubaneswar

Bhubaneswar is one of the many places I haven’t been to so far in my life. There are a lot of such cities I am yet to visit. Quite by chance I got to go to Bhubaneswar on Monday on office work. I was there for less than ten hours reaching there at about quarter to ten in the morning and leaving at quarter past seven in the evening. In those nine and half hours I packed in a little bit site-seeing.
The weather was pretty nice when I landed at Bhubaneswar in the morning. The meeting was at a place called Mayfair Lagoon and when I got there the meeting had already begun. The hotel was pretty opulent as I was to discover later in the day. The meeting lasted until lunch time and afterwards we were told we were free. I was booked to return on a flight at seven in the evening so I had almost five hours to kill. I set out to find if I could locate any second hand bookstores to browse. We were told there were a few shops somewhere near Ram Mandir but when we got there I discovered that they sold only text books. The shopkeepers were unhelpful and were unwilling to even open their mouths to speak. I decided to abandon the quest and instead do some sight-seeing.
In the meeting we were told that Bhubaneswar was a city of temples with more than five hundred temples. We asked an autorickshaw driver to take us to the biggest temple. I noticed that the city had wide roads and seemed pretty planned. I remembered that someone at the meeting had told us that after Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar was the second planned city in the country. It certainly appeared to be well planned since I did not see any high rise buildings but only quaint old buildings everywhere. There were no traffic problems so our journey was non-stop until we reached the Lingaraj temple.
I have seen temples but I haven’t seen a temple like the Lingaraj temple at Bhubaneswar. It was so ancient and so massive that my eyes boggle for a few moments. Inside the temple compound were smaller shrines and temples everywhere. Another thing was that there were hundreds of bronze figurines of a coiled cobra with its hood spread lying around in the smaller shrines. The temple was so ancient I was surprised it was intact all these centuries. It looked like it was at least a thousand years old. Since we weren’t allowed to take our mobile phones or camera inside I was content to click a few snaps of people sitting under a massive peepal tree right outside the temple, playing cards or just sitting.

I got back to Mayfair Lagoon to freshen up in someone’s room. The hotel was another wonder with so many corridors anyone new would be lost in that maze. It was an opulent hotel with some pretty eye-catching stuff on display. There was an antique car at one place and another place had an ancient propeller plane on display. I regretted not coming a day earlier and spending a night in that magnificent hotel. The room tariff, I noticed, began from Rs 10000. I was driven back to the airport that was just a fifteen minute drive away from the city.

Visit to Taj Falaknuma Palace

In the course of my office work I wouldn’t ever expect to visit the Taj Falaknuma Palace but last week I was there on work which was something of a minor miracle. I had been eager to check out the place ever since I read about the TFP in Conde Nast Traveller and seen some of the pictures in it.

There are several places in Hyderabad I haven’t been to due to various reasons. Some of these places are where I cannot afford to go. One such place was Taj Falaknuma Palace where I wouldn’t have any business as a government employee. But there I was driving up to the TFP along with my boss last week. Someone from the Aga Khan Foundation wanted to talk to my boss so I tagged along. I hadn’t expected TFP to take my breath away.

Located on a hillock, up a sweeping a drive, the magnificent palace has a bird’s eye view of the city that you cannot get from anywhere else. The palace itself is regal and the Taj Group has refurbished it so well one cannot but admire it. The CM was to take part in the meeting so I idled until the dignitary arrived watching the cops and others. Every guest there got a royal welcome with men dressed like attendants of yore escorting you up the stairs holding some kind of a mast in their hands. A shower of petals greets the surprised guest as they walk up the steps towards the reception. We did not get it since we weren’t staying there. Anyway, to cut a long story short while I did not exactly have a gala time there I was glad about the view. An added bonus was getting to watch a bevy of beautiful models walk past. Later I learnt from the papers that the next day Sabyasachi Mukherjee was having some kind of show at the TFP.

The Sunday Haul

The Sunday before, I had stupidly decided not to pick up a copy of Vilas Sarang’s ‘The Women in Cages’ that was on the pavements with one of the sellers. It was a Penguin and though I was aware that it would be a good book I did not buy it. Then later in the evening I began to regret not buying it and promised to buy it if I find it again at the same place. Luckily, last Sunday the book was still there. I noticed that it wasn’t in a good condition and that there was some damage on the bottom of the book where some of the pages seemed to have been eaten by termites. But it had all the pages intact otherwise so I took it for a hundred rupees.
‘The Women in Cages’ has twenty six stories under five different categories. Some of the stories are: An Evening at the Beach, An Afternoon Among the Rocks, Musk Deer, An Excursion, On the Stone Steps, A Revolt of the Gods, The Missing Link, The Women in Cages, The Odour of Immortality, Om Phallus, An Interview with M.Chakko, Barrel and Bombil: A Love Story, Flies, Spider in the Cock, Rabbit, The End of History, Testimony of An Indian Vulture, Return, Kalluri’s Escapade, The Terrorist, A Tale of Two Generals, Tree of Death, The Phonemate, Letters from Nikhil, The Life and Death of Manu, and The Departure.
Since a long time I had been meaning to read a Telugu novel called ‘Chillara Devullu’ written by Daasarathi Rangacharya but I was unable to find it at Abids. ‘Asamarthuni Jeevayatra’ by Tripuraneni Gopichand is another Telugu novel that I want to read. I want to read the original Telugu versions which I am somehow unable to find anywhere. Last Sunday at Abids I found a wonderful book called ‘Telugu Novel’ by an organization called ‘Yuva Bharathi’ that had essays in English on a few well known Telugu novels. Apart from ‘Chillara Devullu’ and ‘Asamarthuni Jeevayatra’ there were critical essays on more than ten novels including ‘Veyi Padagalu.’ I plan to read these essays first and decide which other novels I have to read. I got this book for just twenty rupees but it is an invaluable find.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Sunday Haul

The Sunday before the last was a complete washout as far as our trip to Abids was concerned. Thought the Sunday started off sunny and very bright, there was a sudden and heavy downpour shortly after we began our search for books at Abids sometime around half past eleven. We waited a long time hoping the rain would stop but it continued to rain. The gushing water soaked all the books on the pavements though the sellers tried pathetically to cover them up with sheets of tarpaulin. I couldn’t bear to watch the books getting completely drenched in that manner that would make them useless. We left, disheartened that we hadn’t found anything worth buying.
But last Sunday there was no rain and we could go on with our search without fear of rain. Earlier, on my way to Abids, I had stopped at a seller in Chikkadpally. The copy of John Banville’s ‘The Sea’ that I had been seeing with him since a couple of weeks was still there so I picked it up. It said that the book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Price in 2005 and so thought it would be worth reading. Even the blurbs on the back cover were fulsome in their praise of the book. When I looked inside the book I discovered that the copy was a prize to someone who had correctly guessed that John Banville would win the Booker Prize that year. The prize was from the British Library.

At Abids, though, I did not buy anything. I had seen Vilas Sarang’s collection of short stories at a seller near the GPO but foolishly enough I had not thought of buying it. Now I realize that it was a dumb thing to do. So next Sunday I will pick it up if the book is still around at the same place where I saw it. Later I dropped in at the Best Books store at Abids on the way home and found another copy of Arun Joshi’s ‘The Foreigner’ that was in a fairly good condition. I took it hoping to give it to someone who might like to read this extraordinary writer.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

FOUR POST FRIDAY: The Sunday Haul (4/4)

This is the last of the four posts today. Read the others too.

This is the haul I made on the Sunday before this, the Sunday before I left for Bengaluru on yet another trip on official work. As usual it was a normal Sunday, sunny and ordinary. We begin our routine in the usual way, with chai at the cafĂ© and conversation about books, writing, movies and also people, for sometime before heading off for the hunt. I did not expect to find anything great. Also, I had planned to visit the second hand bookstores on MG Road in Bengaluru later in the week and so wasn’t exactly in the mood to buy anything at Abids that day. But later on I found Jean Paul Sartre’s ‘Words’ at a seller near the GPO. I vaguely remember that I had already bought a copy of this book a long time back but I still picked it up.

Earlier in the day I had read ‘The Literary Review’ in 'The Hindu' since it was the first Sunday of the month. There was the announcement of the dates of the Hindu Lit Fest which were sometime in January next year. I had planned to attend the previous version which was sometime last year but I had to cancel at the last minute. I hope I get to attend the Lit Fest next year. On the last page of the supplement I read Navtej Sarna’s column where he had written about Paul Auster’s ‘Winter Journal’ which I was thrilled to realize I had with me. Sometime back this year I had picked up this copy at Abids. The copy I picked up was an uncorrected proof but I hope it has most of the original intact without many changes.

Friday, September 13, 2013

FOUR POST FRIDAY- The Best Books Sale Haul (3/4)

This is the third post of the day. Read the other posts also.

Perhaps no one in Hyderabad so eagerly awaits the sale of second hand books by Best Books as I do. Ever since I learnt that the sale would be some time in September I have been on the edge wondering when the sale would really start because I had been told only the month and not the dates when the sale would begin. Every year Best Books guys hold at least two sales, one in December of January and the other in September. Finally, sometime in the last week of August I learnt that the sale would begin from the first of September. Short of camping in the premises of YMCA the night before I make efforts to be one of the first to check out the books on sale.

So on the first of September,which also happened to be a Sunday, and also a day before I left for Bengaluru to look for more books, I landed at the Best Books sale in the afternoon after having been to Abids. I was disappointed as hell. The collection that they had on sale was terrible. They weren't even the unsold titles from previous sales but something unbelievably bad. There wasn’t a single book on writing, not a single Dave Barry title, not one of Elmore Leonard or Robert B. Parker either but shelves and shelves of titles that I wouldn’t have taken even of offered for free. However, on looking closely and for a long time I found two books that I bought.
A long time ago I believed that to learn to write well one should read books on writing or articles/essays on writing by other famous writers. Back then I would do anything to get such a book in my hands. I read somewhere about the NYT books containing essays on writing and pestered my younger brother in the US to actually buy them and get them for me. When he came to India some time later he brought the books along. The other day at the Best Books sale I found a hard cover copy of a similar book and bought it for 150 rupees. It had two or three new essays that aren’t there in the two volumes I had.
The next find was Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘Fictions’ that contains more than half a dozen short stories by this master story teller. Sometime in the previous month I had found another book by him at Abids. These were the only books I bought at the Best Books sale. I do not think I will go there again.

FOUR POST FRIDAY: The Bengaluru Haul (2/4)

This is the second post of this day. Read the others too.

I was in Bengaluru for three days last week. On the third day of my stay, which I kept deliberately free in order to go to the bookstores on MG Road, the first thing I did after breakfast was to head to MG Road. I had been to Bengaluru twice already this year, once in May and again last month and had on both occasions picked up some really good books. I hoped to find some more wonderful books at Blossoms, Bookworm, Select and another store that I hoped to look in all day since my train left hours later late in the evening.
At Blossoms that was my first stop I picked up ‘Teach Us to Sit Still’ by Tim Parks that I had read about somewhere earlier and was on my list. Somehow I found another title on my list- ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’ by Alan Fournier that I read was a classic. It was a good find. Another find was Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Vagrant Mood’ that surprisingly I had not read about before. I also found a hard cover copy of Elizabeth George’s ‘Write Away’ that I picked up. All these books did not come cheap but nevertheless I bought them.
The next stop was the Select Bookstore in another side lane on Brigade Road. The person recognised me since I was there only the previous month and had asked for Arun Joshi’s titles. He told me that he had a book on Arun Joshi and took out S.Radha Krishnan’s ‘Fiction of Arun Joshi’ which is a collection of academic articles by various academics on Arun Joshi’s novels. It was an interesting book and I got it for only thirty rupees.
In the main Bookworm store I couldn’t find Graham Greene’s ‘Getting to Know the General’ that I had missed buying on my earlier trip. There was nothing interesting to buy and the only book I picked up was ‘Dave Barry is Not Making This Up’ by Dave Barry. I bought the book since the guy offered me coffee and I did not want to leave without having made a single purchase.
In another bookstore (half of it was a clothes store) the name of which I do not remember now, I found a hard cover copy of ‘X Men’ that my kid loves to read. I bought this book too though it was a bit heavy to carry around for too long. It was almost half past four by the time I left for the railway station carrying my precious cargo of books. I was elated that I had found some good books that wouldn’t have found at Abids so easily. With this haul the total number of books that I have bought so far this year comes to around a hundred and thirty books. Time to stop the cascade of books flooding the house I guess.

FOUR POST FRIDAY: Trip No. 11- Another Trip to Bengaluru (1/4)

This is the first of the four posts this Friday.

For some reason this year I am visiting Bengaluru quite frequently. I have been to Bengaluru twice till last month. The first visit was sometime in April on office work and the second visit was last month to attend a close relative’s marriage. On both occasions I managed to drop in at MG Road to look in the couple of bookstores there and picked up some very good titles. On the first visit I had picked up quite a few books and during the visit last month too I had bought more books. Last week I was at Bengaluru again, my third visit, and on work. I had to attend a two day meet at an ISRO facility. This time I decided to travel by train, which, it turned out, wasn’t exactly a good decision.

The train was supposed to reach Bengaluru sometime around six the next morning. Having had a good night’s sleep I woke up early to get ready to get down from the train only to learn that Bengaluru was still hours away. In fact the train was five hours late and it was only after eleven in the morning that I reached Bengaluru Central. The organizers of the meeting kept calling me and I told them the train was late and that I would reach the venue sometime around lunch time only. The venue was somewhere at Marathahalli and I got to the ISRO facility just in time to find that the meeting was breaking up for lunch. After lunch the meeting ended a bit early. Since I had time I went to look up my friend’s mother. The funny thing was that I haven’t yet met this very good friend of mine who I got in touch with when I was in Port Blair back in 2006. Seven lengthy years have passed and we haven’t set our eyes on each other till now. After meeting the wonderful old lady I knew how my friend looked from the album she showed me and also from what she told me about my friend. She also gave me some tasty snacks and tea that taste of which still lingers on my tongue.

On the second day too the meeting started a bit late but ended early. It was a tightly guarded venue and we had to leave our mobiles, pendrives and all electronic stuff at the gate itself before going in. So for all day while I was in the meeting I wasn’t bothered by calls on my mobile. The meeting ended just before lunch and we all split after the heavy lunch. I had planned to meet another friend of mine, Eshwar Sundaresan who lived in Yelahanka.
Eshwar, who I met in Port Blair in 2006, has written two books- Bangalored and ‘Behind the Silicon Mask’ which was launched recently. The day I learnt I would be going to Bangalore I planned to meet Eshwar and have my copy of BSM signed by him. So I ordered the book online, read it and then on Wednesday went to see Eshwar. He had that same intensity I noticed in him when we first met at Port Blair. Eshwar has always been a different person following his own path. He left a cushy job with Infosys and struck on his own. We talked for long about our brief stint with an NGO in Port Blair and other matters. I told him about my job in the Government and about my present posting which is taking me places. He told me about the workshops he was doing to create awareness regarding Sexual Abuse of Children.

The next day, after a refreshing cup of ginger tea at the Chai Point in Rajajinagar (one reason why I chose to stay in that area) and later another nice breakfast of soft and fluffy dosas at a local joint I left for the railway station first. I dumped my bag in the Cloak Room and left for MG Road. I was told by someone that there are no direct buses to MG Road from Majestic but I learnt that all buses leaving from Platform 17 at the KGBS go to MG Road. I got down at Mayo Hall and first decided to have a cup of coffee before entering Blossom Books where I spent the hours until it was time for lunch. After lunch I went to Select and another branch of Bookworm in the same lane, then went to the main Bookworm store. I picked up more than half a dozen books during the day at Bengaluru and returned to the railway station laden with more books than I could carry. The train left on time but reached Hyderabad again two hours late.

Three more posts to read today