I’m not someone fond of book reviews. I think it stems from my formative years at school where teachers gave summer holiday homework which almost always included the task of having to do a book review (English HHW – Submit a book review of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens). And like the usual rebel that I was, I used to copy paste from some online content and spend most of my summer outdoors, which was definitely less boring than trying to read a difficult book for my standards, back then at least.
I started reading more books after that, but never felt like writing a book review. It was always an obligation in my eyes and I didn’t want to oblige anyone. But I found something in this book which has made me recommend it to a lot of people. And as a result, I’ve decided to write my first real book review.
Tamarind city: Where Modern India Began is a novel travelogue about the city of Chennai, or Madras as the author likes to continue calling it. I admit I would not have come across it if I hadn’t looked up the author, Bishwanath Ghosh, who writes a weekly column in the The Hindu Metro Plus Mélange. I liked his style of writing from whatever I read every week, and a book on Chennai was enough motivation for me to purchase it.
Ghosh is a visitor to Chennai, a city mostly avoided by North Indians due to multiple reasons and decides to make it his permanent residence. Right from Ratna Cafe Idly, to Ilayaraja’s music and Royapuram Railway, he covers everything. He’s interviewed famous personalities and people from different walks of life, and has an account of Madras’ history right from Fort St. George to the Dravidian movement. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on a French girl who had decided to spend her life in the city, living in a room affording the view of the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore.
Whether it was the personal life of Saroja Devi, or the stories of Sankar, the famous artist behind the children’s magazine Chandamama, I found something new in every chapter. The writing has a great flow, and is more of a blog than a novel, which makes for a very easy and effortless read. He’s given it a perfect mix of culture, tradition and modernity and it leaves a sweet taste to the reader.
If you are from Chennai, this is not a book to miss. Every page would give you the feel of reading something that has always been right in front of you, but which you decided to overlook. It gives an opportunity to fall in love with the city all over again. For someone not from the city, this is something that will make you see the bright side of Madras, a place where under the rough exterior, is a soft core.