Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tamarind City (Chennai)

TamarindCity: ( audio) Where the modern India began.

Tamarind city is the second book by Bishwanath Ghosh, a fellow Kanpurite settled in Chennai.

I moved to Chennai in 1996. I had only begun to marvel at the things it had to offer when I had to leave it, for my husband got an offer from IIT Kanpur and it being near to my hometown scored over Madras. This left a desire to explore Chennai and know more about its culture. Maybe this is why TC was a fabulous treat for me; leaving my desire well satiated. It gave me a second chance to walk down the streets I had  seen  and the ones I hadn't.

The Book starts with a metaphor which calls Chennai a charming old lady who met Robert Clive when she was 18 and calls him, “a very moody fellow." I wish my history teacher would have taught me in this way.

Exploring the city in the company of the author had its advantages as I could know about the city from the people living in it. Common people to celebrities all are his guests in the book. They include a primary school teacher, a palm reader at Marina, owner of Ratna Cafe, station master at Royapuram, Saroja Devi, Jemini Ganeshan's daughter Dr Kamla Selveraj, sexologist Dr Narayana Reddy, S.Muthiah, and many more including the man behind those illustrations in Chandamama, a magazine for children. Then we meet a yoga teacher who charges a measly sum for teaching this dynamic and challenging form of yoga saying she is not doing it for money.

 Some of the observations are so apt and well expressed that they surely would be quoted in future to define Chennai. One of them is, "Tradition is a day-wear in Chennai.While in other big cities it stays mothballed in trunks and taken out only during festivals or weddings, here tradition is worn round the year."

I am no historian so I believed what I read in the book that Chennai is known as conservative and orthodox yet almost every modern Indian institution — from army to judiciary, medicine to engineering — traces its roots to Madras’s Fort St. George, which was built when Delhi had just become Mughal India’s capital and Kolkata and Mumbai weren’t even born. But for those who beg to differ, Ghosh clarifies in one of his Facebook updates, "A couple of reviewers seem to have problems with my calling Madras India's oldest modern city. But that's an indisputable, historical fact."

I think, people from Chennai as well as outsiders would enjoy this book. At the book launch function in Delhi a young software engineer said: “Previously, when North Indians talked about Chennai they used to say: ‘Are you mad? Why would I move to Chennai?' But now I am thinking of moving there.”

(From EYES, our campus magazine)