What comes to mind when one thinks of Chennai? The heat. The Marina Beach. The food may be and nothing beyond that I guess. Chennai has been a different universe for most who do not belong to it. One cannot relate to it easily if one hasn’t lived there. I think that applies to every city, however as one of the metros, Chennai gets the most flak.
Bishwanath Ghosh has brought Chennai to readers in a different light. One that is beyond misconceptions and shatters perceptions. The book “Tamarind City” (Apt title considering the city he is talking about) is all about Chennai – from when it was Madras to present times.
Ghosh talks of the city as a muse at times, as a lover and sometimes an indifferent friend. He takes the mood of the city (so to say) and travels with it – from people he meets along the way to talking about Tollywood (the Chennai film industry) to the local cuisine and places surrounding it, Ghosh takes the critical and unbiased perspective.
The Chennai that Ghosh takes us through the book is very different from what we have imagined. He cleverly merges both – the traditional and modern aspects of the city, without favouring any. He visits historic sites, neighbourhoods, people and introduces us to varied lives led and dreams dreamed.
The writing is fluid and doesn’t jump too soon from one topic to the other, though it tends to drift a little, which can be ignored given the content. The people one meets in the book are quite different, belonging to different spectrums – from a transsexual to a yoga teacher to a top sexologist. With such people, the anecdotes and stories also get very interesting. In fact there were times while reading the book, when I forgot that it was non-fiction. The voice is casual and doesn’t demand too much intellect while reading it.
All in all, Tamarind City is one of its kinds book on Chennai as a metropolitan city and in some ways still a city that is taking its own time. I would recommend this book to those who want to know more about the city and also to those who know but like I said have a different view.