To each, it seemed his or her own city when the idea of Chennai (erstwhile Madras) was conveyed through the experiences of different people at a storytelling session organised at the World Storytelling Institute (WSI) here on Sunday as part of the Madras Week celebrations.
When seen through the eyes of Muthu, a fisherman from Nochikuppam, the city today was threatening the very survival of his community, while for Sajini, a songwriter, the shutting down of the Woodlands Drive-In Restaurant was a poignant loss.
WSI Director Eric Miller began by narrating a story he had heard from Muthu. The story is that a small boy from Nochikuppam longs to go to the sea but is advised to keep away from it by his father. A fortune-teller tells him that he would become a king. Later, after his father’s death, when the boy takes to the sea, he nets a sea turtle. The turtle takes him to the ocean underneath, marries him to its daughter and makes him the king there.
Years later, when the ocean king returns to the shore to meet his kith and kin, he sees that concrete buildings have replaced the modest huts on the shore and none of his family members has survived. “Muthu said this was because the ocean king was returning to the hamlet after 300 years, a period in which much of the fishing hamlets have undergone a drastic change,” Mr. Miller said. He added that the story revealed the latent fears of the fishermen of slowly losing their homes on the coast as they are constantly threatened by the process of urbanisation.
Mr. Miller said that in the age of television, when people are living isolated lives, storytelling is a way of connecting with the others in the city who share similar experiences like us. “New York city has several local storytelling networks through which people share their life stories and experiences. Similar experiments can be tried out in Chennai too,” he said.
Several members of the audience shared their fond memories of the city, especially after songwriter Sajini dedicated a special number for it. She recalled the days when she made buddies at Woody’s (as she refers to the Woodlands Drive-In restaurant), ate ice-creams seated atop bar stools at Jaffer’s that used to be opposite Anna Statue on Mount Road. The shop no longer exists and a chunk of the road nearby has made way for a residential apartment, another long-time Chennai resident R.G. Venkatesh noted.
Another interesting thing to check out is the Madrasi T-shirts on display at the Madras Terrace House in Royapettah. Also, an exhibition of old Tamil film lobby cards collected by American film enthusiast Clare Ami are up for display here. “In the days when there were no vinyl flexi-board hoardings for films, lobby cards were used,” said Kaveri Lalchand, who is hosting the exhibition.
The cards and photographs are original collections capturing several popular icons.