Tamarind and turmeric

Bishwanath Ghosh's “Tamarind City” was launched in New Delhi amid nostalgic recollections and some straight talk

Updated - July 11, 2016 10:17 pm IST

Published - May 30, 2012 09:15 pm IST - New Delhi

Simply city: Bishwanath Ghosh at the launch of "Tamarind City"  in New Delhi. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Simply city: Bishwanath Ghosh at the launch of "Tamarind City" in New Delhi. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

In a city where all young girls have to go for Bharatanatayam dance classes and an obsession for high marks results is shared by students and parents alike, where many husbands shy away from their wives to drink their quota of alcohol far away from home, and even the most traditional of wives are forthcoming enough to take their men to the sexologist, a writer travels to uncover the idiosyncrasies that lie hidden in the nooks and crannies that make up the grand city of Chennai.

A city as modern as traditional and as tech-savvy as god-fearing, Chennai is quite the melting pot of the conservative and orthodox with the contemporary and the futuristic, and that plays muse to the many experiences that Kanpur-born writer and journalist Bishwanath Ghosh journeys through in his 11 years in the city with which he feels one at heart, though only as an outsider. His book, “Tamarind City” (Tranquebar), was recently launched at the CMYK bookstore in the Capital by Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor of The Hindu, and renowned Indian classical dancer, Geeta Chandran.

“My first account of Chennai was that it was a city of Tamarind trees. I was young then but, nonetheless, I decided to title the book with the same name. It is basically a book that presents Chennai to everyone. I always had Chennai on my mind since I had seen Rajeev Menon's Kandukondain Kandukondain . Although the city was quite different from the picture painted in my head, exploring it was really what I wanted to do. Earlier, for many North Indians, Chennai carried the impression that it was a punishment to be sent to live there. They would really prefer staying above the Vindhyas. But all that has changed, there is great development, physically and otherwise, and that needs to be documented and spoken about. The people of Chennai have balanced the modern and the traditional really well, and that is what gives this book its flavour,” said the writer from ‘India's Detroit'.

The writer traces the long forgotten history of a global city where “the trees have been gobbled by flyovers”, and his travels yield him truths that have gone unnoticed for centuries, like Fort St. George in the former Madras, where almost every modern institution in Indian originated. He compares the the Triplicane and Mylapore neighbourhoods of Chennai to Britain and France, and labels Royapettah as the English Channel separating them, and sits face to face with the 63-year-old editor of a magazine where he had applied at the age of nine as an artist. Among all the peculiarities that he uncovers as he meets a yoga teacher, a transsexual, a sexologist and a noted vocalist among the living and even well-known ghosts around the city, the writer paints a distinctive picture of the city and his own experiences as an outsider in it.

The crowded book launch witnessed a lively discussion among people from both sides of the Vindhyas, agreeing, disagreeing and sometimes recreating the fables and stereotypes.

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