LITERARY REVIEW

We are like this only

Humour

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

We are like this only

CHENNAI + Coffee = Madras + Kaapi. Try as you might, this is a tough formula to better. Chennai might have managed to shed its "dazzling Kanjeevaram sari-wearing and idli-sambar eating" image but whether it is degree kaapi in a davara-tumbler or a frothy frappe in a glass, coffee seems inextricably linked to this city's persona.

And like any self-respecting chroniclers of life in this city would, Ranjitha Ashok and Biswajit Balasubramanian have decided to pay tribute to this symbol of Madras/Chennai. Their book, Chennai Latt�: A Madras Brew starts with a piece on the changing face of coffee. And goes on to keep track of pretty much every aspect of life in Madras that is Chennai.

It is a book that gets you smiling and leaves the smile there for quite a while after you've finished reading it. From mosquitoes to bad roads to back-to-school blues, Ranjitha Ashok has something witty and wise to say about all these aspects of life in Chennai. It's an entertaining look at the everyday annoyances and simple habits of living in this city.

Which one of us has not wondered whether Madras road-users know what indicators are meant for? And got lost looking for places after the Corporation's house-number-changing exercise? Haven't we all headed out to the sabhas as connoisseurs of canteens rather than as rasikas of ragas? And wondered if the sole reason why one Government department lays roads is for another to dig them up? Ranjitha doesn't provide solutions or try to preach, it's more of a why-are-we-like-this-only? collection of writings.

Biswajit Balasubramanian's cartoons provide the ideal foil for her commentary on city life. His illustrations are sharp, humorous and tongue-in-cheek. They're a simple way to make you laugh as you relate to the situations his characters are in or are commenting upon. It's a book for every true Madrasi who realises that the local auto-driver will always oblige you with a fight when you want to work off the day's annoyances, who only reads the newspaper that's been around longer than your great-grandmother and who drinks scalding caf� latte (or kaapi) even in ninety degree temperatures.

This very Chennai book is a collection of the best of three years of Ranjitha's and Biswajit's fortnightly column, A-musings, for the newspaper, Madras Musings. The combination of cartooning and writing makes for a wonderfully funny look at what's wrong with this city and, occasionally, what's right with it. But beneath the funnies and the jibes is the hope that somewhere, someone, who has the power and the resolve, will see what can be done to make this city a better place.

So if you're a Madrasi in exile missing the scent of the Cooum and the sound of the early morning Suprabatham, a firmly-entrenched one who loves watching the morning splashing of water on the veedu-vasal and the drawing of kolams or a domiciled Chennai-ite who has adopted this land of heat and hospitality, this is one book you will truly enjoy. And if you're just passing through this city (here till your air-conditioner gives out or your company transfers you, whichever comes first) read it anyway — you might just realise just why we Madrasis are so crazy about our city.

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