someday ill be in company of all....

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book review: Tamarind City by Bishwanath Ghosh

Title: Tamarind city
Author: Bishwanath Ghosh
Price: Rs 295 ( I got it for Rs 189 from
Rating: 5 out of 5
Source: Personal

Buy Tamarind city from
Buy Tamarind city from

From the back cover

‘While in other big cities tradition stays mothballed in trunks, taken out only during festivals and weddings, tradition here is worn round the year.’

This is just one of the author’s many keen observations of Chennai. With mordant wit, this biography of a city spares neither half of its split-personality: from moody, magical Madras to bursting-at-the-seams, tech-savvy Chennai. And, a minute into the book, the reader knows they are inseparable-and Bishwanath Ghosh refuses to take sides.

And yet, he tells us, while Chennai is usually known as conservative and orthodox, almost every modern institution in India-from the army to the judiciary, from medicine to engineering-traces its roots to Madras’s Fort St George, which was built when Delhi had only just become the capital of the Mughal Empire, and Calcutta and Bombay weren’t even born. Today, the city once again figures prominently on the global map as ‘India’s Detroit’, a manufacturing giant, and a hub of medical tourism. There have been sweeping changes since pre-Independent India, but even as Chennai embraces change, its people hold its age-old customs and traditions close to their heart.

Chennai , always Madras to me, is one of my favourite cities in the country..The city has various hues and colors..People might call it over crowded but don't you think ,we make the crowd?? Some may even call it too busy, but for me Madras ,Chennai whatever you call it goes by its own swing of time that sets it apart from other cities with all its charm and sensuous beauty...Predictably Ghosh starts with the history of the city but makes the reading different with his wit and humor that he adds on with the golden art of a story teller....He calls the city the charming old lady, with a string of jasmine tied around her hair who is too modest to talk about herself..
Chennai that hasn't changed and never will. Women still wake up at the crack of dawn and draw the Kolam- the rice -flour design- outside their doorstop.Men don't consider it old f ashioned to wear a dhoti, which is usually matched with a modest pair of Bata chappals.The day still begins with coffee and lunch ends with curd rice. Girls are sent to Carnatic music classes. The music festival continues to be held in the month of December. Tamarind rice is still a delicacy- its preparation still an art...
( p-xxvii)
It was in Chennai where the roots of modern India took ground, and Lord Robert Clive, Arthur Wellesly, Elihu Yale(yes the same person after whom the Yale University takes its name) all had their humble beginning here..Call it destiny or way of life they made their mark..The fort of St. George is the abode for most of the modern institutions of the country ..The first chapter is enriching with all details of great names linked to the city right from the pre-Independance era till day...
Ghosh has portrayed well how politics , religion, spirituality, personalities melts and are woven into everyday lives of the people..The famous rift between the Iyers and the Iyengars (two variation in the Brahmins), political set up of the state and the two dominant parties that rules the state today and their history and nuances are given with insights...Beaches ,Mylapore, Triplicane with the hot steaming Sambar and idly makes a wonderful combo to be savoured...Of course how can you miss people like Sankar who have immortalized the Vikram Betal comic series in Chandamama..In Tamilnadu politics and films go hand in hand ,even the present Chief minister used to be a top heroine of the 80's so no wonder you read a chapter exclusively on it....To me reading the chapter Sex and the city came as a surprise in an orthodox city and I will not spoil by giving away the details...From the online matrimony meet to lady entrepreneur to the historian you can find a unique blend of tales and information about the city and people that sets this book far ahead of its counterparts, and Ghosh has taken every effort to keep the reading light all through...What I liked about Ghosh's writing is that he takes the role of  a story teller giving no moral or his personal thoughts at the end...Being a journalist he has been able to step into the role of a complete outsider all through the book that has only helped the book immensely...Do not miss the Prologue before plunging into the book , it tells you the tale behind the title and the course of the book....There are eleven chapters that stand alone and can be enjoyed without really reading the others but you won't stop yourself from reading just one...For a person like me who loves the city the book was a real treat to relish and rekindle my special bond with the Madrasapattinam..

Book 26 for SAC

1 comment:

  1. I may be wrong about this, but in some ays the book sounds like a big National Geographic article!

    Of course as a fan of that magazine that is a very good thing!


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