Book Review- Tamarind City
|pic: ektakhetan photography|
'While in other big cities tradition stays mothballed in trunks, taken out only during festivals and weddings, tradition here is worn around the year'
Tamarind City, where modern India Began
Author: Bishwanath Ghosh
Publisher: Tranquebar, Westland Publishers
Genre: Travelogue, Non-Fiction
"Sometimes, coming a long way in life can just be about crossing the street".
The story: Tamarind city is the travelogue cum city blog where the author passionately explores the highly misinterpreted and under estimated city of Madras. That how from the comfortable streets of Delhi, he ventures into unknown salai's (road in Tamil) of Madras, explore the rich cultural heritage and bust the myth that Madras is not what it is perceived to average north Indian milieu. From Usman nagar markets to Triplicane shanty, to Santhome beaches, Mylapore temples and all. Chennai as city has always been associated with silk kanjeevaram sarees, Ayutha temples, hot filter caafee, heat and a difficult to fathom Tamil language is after all not that type casted either. It is the city that has funded many dreams, raised a nation and others, made gods/ goddesses of the screen idols, given some of the finest art to world of cinema, medicines, education, trade and all. Above all, its Chennai that has given million of us the novelty called "Chandamama".
There are many interesting and lesser known facts that the author has explored like how the prestigious University of Yale, Connecticut got its funds & buildings Elihu Yale, a former governor of Fort St George sold 9 bales of cotton at Madras.
You must be wondering why tamarind city? Well apart from tamarind rice being one of the favorite cuisine of author, he also narrates a simple yet engulfing story behind the name. One has to read the book to know its true worth.
The writing style of author: The author chose a very simple, engrossing and mellifluous language to tell his story. To make the reading more simple and joyous, he has split the narration into several small chapters (not so linked to each other so that you can chose a random, read and still love it) including an interesting prologue. The way he weaved tales of transsexuals, sexologist, people at old age homes with empty nest syndrome, to a couple who were ignorant about conceiving child to life and times of celluloid star Gemini Ganeshan, his flings, his tete a tete with Subiah Muthiah (famous chronicler of Madras musings), South Diva Khushboo, Political powers MGR & Periyar and so many other things.
Main character of the story:- the city of Madras (that's how I call it and not Chennai) is the main character of the story, but off course. The narration brings it to you in flesh, blood and smell of hot piping sambhar. From a small trading post on on a strip line of a beach (Madraspatnam) to the corner stone of modern India, the city is a delight to read in each of the pages. You ache to sit in Chandamama's office and smell the fresh prints of the book, outside the MGR studios, star gazing, chatting to gracious Saroja devi who always yearned to become a teacher but not actress, wipe the tears of BhanuRekha (the superstar of Indian Cinema) who was abandoned by her father until she became famous celebrity and watchiing Dr Kamala S at GG hospital while she is making test tube babies. What makes Chennai- India's Detroit unique is the marriage of tradition with Technology.
Likes/ Dislikes/ expectations: I liked everything about this book. Except lack of enough pictures. The author spoke to many people of remarkable contribution and a picture of each esp the artist Shankar, printed copies of Chandamama, fresh steaming idlis from Murugun Idlis, Higginbothams, Virgin beach of Neelangakarai would have helped. Also pictures add a lot to eyes esp in books like these. Second thing that I truly didn't liked the justice meted to Tsunami episode in "A seaside story". Wherein I felt the writer was more absorbed in his personal log and took the life defeating tragedy in lighter vein. To me the book was quite small for the worth is carried and would appreciate few more chapters on it (that's greed!). I stayed in Chennai for almost 4 years and men, I loved that city and can tell you how misconceived it is to outsiders. The cover page is tastefully done esp with color schemes it chose. It may occur non alluding (to non readers crowd) but that's ok. I wish he has done a chapter on my favorite TN Seshan :) whom he have missed mentioning.
Trivia: In one of the chapters author put forth that people like Robert Clive, Warren Hastings (incl yours truly ) who started their career in Madras became the fore runner of Modern India.
The book is highly recommended to all who loved the city of Mad-Rush (like me), who thinks its a south Indian dosa Pulihora city and everyone who has a perception and misperception about the legendary city. Like Shankar Pillai, the amazing ageing artiste who drew all the Vikram Betal series pictures for Chandamama would say- Very good very good.