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VOL. XXII NO. 8, August 1-15, 2012
A cityscape and a chronicle
By Savitha Gautam

Tamarind City: Where Modern India Began – Bishwanath Ghosh (Tranquebar, Rs. 295).

"It's the marriage between tradition and transformation that makes Chennai unique…," writes Bishwanath Ghosh in the first chapter of his travelogue-cum-cityscape. He then goes on to justify that line by painting with words a portrait of a city where "modern India began." Switching smoothly between personal encounters and historical facts and figures, Ghosh brings alive the pulsating life in a metropolis that may have embraced technology but is still comfortable with its hoary past and traditional idiosyncrasies. Even as Ghosh weaves his way through forgotten by-lanes and stops to stare at unique processions, this Kanpur-bred Kolkatan uncannily lends history a modern touch, making the book an enjoyable journey of discovery. Take the story about Robert Clive. I remember studying (or rather learning by rote) about him and that unforgettable Battle of Plassey just a day before my exams. And promptly forgot all about him once I passed that examination! But here is Ghosh who brings Clive alive for me all over again, not only by giving me lots more information about the man and the times he lived in, but also making him much more human!

As Ghosh sits in the deserted Royapuram railway station and talks about its hoary past, you can imagine a time when life was simple, and surely less stress-free. A time when people, carrying luggage that included tall tiffin boxes filled with sweets and savouries, looked forward to a train journey. If his meeting with playwright Gnani is an eye-opener, so is his encounter with Sundararajan of Triplicane. The meeting with Saroja Devi reveals a Madras that was. The yesteryear actor recalls the city of those days with clarity and it lends a fresh dimension to the city.

Ghosh captures those little images that complete the portrait of the city of contrasts – the caste mark and its significance, a fortune teller on the Marina, the classical music scene, the tsunami and its aftermath, a transgender who smacks of confidence, a top sexologist, a jasmine seller near a temple, the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial… His reporter's instincts are there for the reader to see at every juncture. He roams the city by day and by night returns to delve into its past, to probe its psyche and just present interesting, often intriguing, pictures. Sometimes witty, sometimes sardonic, but insightful and evocative, the biography of Madras that is Chennai is one happy read.

Just one point: Wish there were some photographs of old Madras (people and places), and, maybe, some rough maps!

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In this issue

Where are those water bodies?
Marina to undergo yet another facelift
Homes of yore
Draw up your plans for Madras Week
Changing face of the game
Ravi Varma's heroines come alive on stage
A cityscape and a chronicle
The day Dara Singh was arrested
The return of the Redvented Bulbul

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan


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