Saturday 31 May, 2008

The Elizabethans

About a week back, I had a house guest. Not one I particularly invited, so, perhaps, a house crasher. At first we openly hated each other, and since he was not paying my rent and I was not cooking his meals, it was okay for us to have this dysfunctional hate-hate relationship. But then I soon realised that since my sister and brother-in-law were out of town, the only other person I knew in the city who could speak English and Kannada was staying in my house, being actively hated by me.

So we changed tactics. I started treating him like a necessary evil and he limited himself to shuffling around my living room, particularly checking out the insects in the Tubelight Area. I even started calling him by his given name. Elizabeth and I shared a somewhat peaceful coexistence, although he did not take kindly to my mocking his love handles, seeing how, in his own words, i was a "Minute Maid swilling fat basket" myself. Not that I was particularly hurt. Nobody but nobody takes shit from a transvestite house lizard called Elizabeth.

I got back earlier this week from a lizard-free weekend in Bangalore, to find an absconding house guest. It's been six days, and there is still no sign of Elizabeth. Not that I miss him. Or anything. And he did leave behind the fruit of his fantasy pregnancy: I now have a small annoying giggly boy lizard with big black beady eyes, haunting the same Tubelight Area, mocking me in an an alarmingly Elizabethan manner, althought minus the love handles. His name is Shane. As in, you know, Warne. And he is definitely straight.

There is even less love lost between Shane and me. I am hoping he goes back to his father's soon enough. I prefer living alone, although I won't punctuate it in the manner of obviously single middle-aged fiction-literature icons by wearing a tattered wedding gown and stopping all the clocks.*

* Reference to Auden poem unintended.

Sunday 11 May, 2008

The holy trinity at Lakdikapul

Last evening, my sister and I finally made that long-awaited trip to Best Books, the second-hand bookstore in Hyderabad. Having been an ardent devotee of Blossoms's in Bangalore for the longest time, I am acutely aware of how the concept of Time can take a backseat in certain bookstores. But this was something else! I have never seen a larger collection of poetry anthologies anywhere. Wait wait! Let me tell you what I found!

1. The New Poets- Selected and Introduced by A. Alvarez (Larkin, Hughes, Plath, Anne Sexton, and many more. Split into The Americans and The British for irony; there are 4 American poets and 24 British poets.)

2. The Complete Poetry of Henry Vaughn
3. Neruda, Walcott and Atwood: Poets of the Americas (eat that, Mr. Alvarez)
4. Fifteen Poets: An Oxford Anthology (In shocking pink)
5. All Across The Telegraph: A Bob Dylan Handbook (I did say poets. Bob Dylan will always always be a poet and not a singer. No matter how much drugs he took.)

And that's just the tip of the money-well-spent iceberg. It is only the realisation that the ceiling fans in Best Books are victims of disguised unemployment, that will urge you to reluctantly leave the establishment.

As we walked out with heavy bags and light hearts, I suddenly wanted to start paying attention to my second love, food. I decided to be hungry. My all-knowing sister led me in the general direction of a long window-wall, where people were looking out at us as they stood facing the road and eating. Yes! Food and inside-out-window-shopping! I sighed at this novel and heart-warming idea. This, boys, is the good life. Not only do they offer two things for the price of one, I realised as we ordered that this was also a Kannadiga joint. Sri Venkateshwara Coffee House is definitely where it's at. Although all of Hyderabad refers to Mangalore bajji as Mysore bajji, you don't let it alarm you in Sri Venkateshwara Coffee House. The chutney finally tastes like chutney, the coffee is heavenly South Indian Filter, there are books in bags and good in everything.

But that little bit of intangible adhesive that firmly latches on to your heart is definitely the train station at Lakdikapul. For a tiny station with two platforms, it is the most well-thought-out, well-planned and picturesque station I've seen here. Perhaps also the best spot for viewing a little bit of the wooden bridge that gave this place its name. (Lakdi-ka-pul having, over time, been bastardised and proper-nounised into one solid word. Never mind. All water under the bridge now.) I'm not entirely sure if any part of this bridge is wooden anymore, but even if the material is more durable now, this is definitely the geographic location best suited to an uninterrupted viewing of the bridge. You can even buy popcorn at this station, an unlikely item on the otherwise standard menu of railway station eatables.

I do remember deciding to go to Lakdikapul at least once a month, for the book-buying feast at Best Books. But the other temptations that this place has will definitely make it hard to make this a monthly affair only. Between the bookstore, the coffee shop and the holy bridge, I see the beginnings of a convert. I might actually like this city.

Saturday 3 May, 2008

And in the trains, the women come and go

There are ten stations between Secunderabad and Lingampally, the former being where I live, and the latter being the stop that leads to my sister and it's husbandicoot, the only people I really know in this city.

The local trains in Hyd-Sec are a blessing, although they are not very well organised. On most occasions, you will only know the platform number a few seconds before the train arrives. At the Secunderabad station for instance, it's not an easy scamper from Platforms 7 to Platform 10, the only options for the MMTS trains to stop. So you pray and run.

MMTS. Multi-Modal Transport Service, for some reason. Don't be fooled; our trains don't turn into helicoptors when we hit the magical Nature Cure Hospital Stop, which, ironically, is the part of the city that smells most like a cesspool.

Sitting in the ladies compartment is an eye opener. For all the chest hair than Andhra men believe they own, they have no qualms about getting into the ladies compartment on trains. On an average, the ladies compartment has a 40-60 split of men and women. Andhra men in general are the lowest form of masculine life, next only to those living North of...the South. No offence to my father and (some aspects of) his family, but in Andhra, we are into the serious business of bust-lining.

Afternoons are the best time for train travel, if you're brave enough to leave home in the scorching heat. The newspapers advise us to stay indoors between 2pm and 4pm, but if you manage to miss the peak-heat-hours, take a train. Some of the stations, especially those closer to Secunderabad like James Street and Sanjeevaiah Park, are quite pretty. The train ride itself is pleasant: the men are conspicuous in their gawking absence and not much can be heard over the metallic din of the train's chugging, stopping and starting. Vendors selling peanuts, bits of coconut and colourful coconut mithai hang around the trains, not really in a hurry to do much business, since the peak hours are on their way.

There are ten stations between Secunderabad and Lingampally. Enough time to do the Guardian Quick and the Sudoku. Altogether too much time to think, to yearn and to be a stranger in a strange land.