Imagine someone daring to write about his adopted city in which he has been living for just a decade. Probably that is what is best about Tamarind City by Bishwanath Ghosh. Or is it his easy going writing style? Or rather the great mix of greatness, good, bad and ugly about Madras with a pinch of humor added here and there ?
The first thought that comes to your mind when you read the title is – Is Chennai known as Tamarind City? Did I miss that knowledge all this while? Well, the author has cleared this doubt in the very first few pages of the book.Tamarind City derives its title from the author’s association of Tamarind with Chennai or rather Madras. I think I should tell this book is more about the old Madras rather than the modern Chennai.
Tamarind City takes you to the Madras before the East India Company came to India, but explains how Madras played a key role in the establishment of East India Company and the British Rule. There is an interesting story about how the Yale University was named after Elihu Yale, the former governor of the East India Company at Chennai.From the British era, it takes you through the Iyers & Iyengars of Madras, who still holds tradition very much close to their hearts. The formation of DMK and AIDMK, the story about Periyar, Annadurai etc cannot be ignored either. Chennai is a place where film stars are worshipped like Gods; which is the reason why they have been successful as politicians too. The film fraternity and politics in Chennai are so intertwined that one cannot be thought of without the other one.
Tamarind City: Where Modern India Began starts with the journalist author’s train journey from Delhi to Chennai on Tamilnadu Express a decade ago and progresses with his exploration of the different faces of Chennai. Ratna Cafe where sambhar is made with machinery worth crores of rupees to the lady who comes to gym full decked in gold ornaments shows you glimpses of Chennai as it was and as it is even now..As the author says, “Tradition is daywear in Chennai”.
I liked reading every page of this book end to end. This book has some refreshing aspect about it that keeps boredom far away from the reader. When I decided to read this book to review, I should honestly say that I was skeptical about reading a whole book about a single city. But now I wish that the author had written some more stories and that I had lot more time to read them 🙂 Until now, the only thought when the name Chennai comes to me is the unbearable temperature(Forgive me Chennai people) ; but now I have a picture of St George Fort and lot many other scenes in my mind.
Bishwanath Ghosh wrote about Chennai as it is; without diluting any detail, without taking sides, depicting the many sides of Chennai – both its greatness and ugliness. Being a journalist, he is not worried about hurt feelings or personal ill feelings when the people about whom he wrote reads his book. Being a adopted citizen of Chennai keeps him away from the temptation of unconscious dilution while writing about his own city; yet there is no criticism in his words.
I liked the free flowing style of the book along with the lack of any particular connections between the chapters; just different chapters dealing with different aspects of Chennai – the obsession of Chennai people about Carnatic music, the Iyer vs Iyengar rivalry, DMK movement, Chandamama, Gemini Ganesh, MGR, Jayalalitha, Karunanidhi even the Bollywood actress Rekha gets a page owing to her parentage – all gets their due mention in the book.
On a finishing note, Tamarind City will keep you occupied if you are keen on knowing more about the “Madrasi” people as South Indians were called till North Indians were able to distinguish between Malayalees, Tamilians and Kannadigas.
PS: This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program. Participate now to get free books! All thoughts about the book are entirely mine and this is not a paid review 🙂