Everything in life is connected to each other. You start reading a book that leads you into another, that leads you into something else. I have been eyeing William Dalrymple’s books for quite sometime and finally took one home two weeks back – ‘The City of Djinns’. Engrossed in the stories of Mughal emporeors and the cities that they built, how it transformed into the present day ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Delhis, I almost missed the intimation from blogadda that ‘Tamarind City’ is up for review. To be really honest, the big push to apply for the review was the chance to get a free book. You see I’ll do anything, well… almost anything for a free book.
Written by Bishwanath Ghosh, a true blue North Indian journalist till 2001, the book starts with the hilarious story of why he decided to move to Chennai. He then takes us through the illustrious history of a city where ‘the marriage between tradition and transformation” makes it unique. The history of British rule is almost always associated with the Mughal Empire. The author here traces the roots to show us how “Modern India originated in Fort St George”. There are several interesting anecdotes throughout the book, one of them being that the name Chennai is actually associated with a non- Chennaite. Irony in its truest form!
The story of the city is narrated through the stories of people who played a part in making the city what it is today as well as some very interesting persons who are its current inhabitants. They include a couple of centuries old Robert Clive, Lord Wellesley, Warren Hastings, an octogenarian ‘Madras Discovered’ and ‘Rediscovered’ S. Muthaiah, twenty something firebrand Meena Kandaswamy,a sexologist, a ‘she-male’, and an yester year super star, to name a few.
Chennai has transformed itself into an industrial city in the recent years, but you cannot take out God, temples and religion out of it. It is another irony that ‘Periyar’ who can truy be cosidered as the the architect of modern Mardras or today’s Chennai denounced God at an early age. The author takes us through some fascinating places in the city where tradition and technology are so well interwoven, you sometimes lose track of which era you are in. The essence of the city is so well brought out through well woven tales, you can even feel the smell of some of the streets in between the pages.
How can you talk about Chennai without its movies and much larger than life movie stars? And did you know that your childhood favorite ‘Chandamama’ is based out of this city and that the same artist has been drawing the so very familiar ‘Vikram our Vetaal’ for almost sixty years? There is an entire chapter aptly titled ‘Come December’ that is dedicated to the music season or better known to its residents as Margazhi Festival.
The book is an interesting read, the flow is easy going and pleasing. The author’s love and pride for a city that has been his residence for more than a decade can be felt throughout. One thing I would have loved is a chapter entirely dedicated to Kancheevaram sarees. The fact that the author belongs to the other species of the population may have something to do with it 😉
Recommended for readers for whom Chennai is close to heart whether they stay there or not 🙂