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Vol. XXVII No. 14, November 1-15, 2017

Madras/Chennai as twenty see it

- T.K. Srinivas Chari

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How would you like on your plate aromatic servings of memoirs mixed and matched with short stories with the common thread of Madras-Chennai and dollops of literary flourish? The anthology Madras on My Mind: A city in stories, has seven women and 13 men between the ages of 30-plus and 80-plus sharing their musings. Three pieces are translated from Tamil and one from Telugu. Some of the writers have debuted and others have been in the business for a long time. It is edited by Chennaivasis Chitra Vira-raghavan and Krishna Shastri Devulapalli who believe Madras can never be removed from the equation. A true-blue Madrasi, Krishna has been in the city since the late 1960s, early ’70s and, for the record, is “older than the Gemini flyover and the Valluvar Kottam”. According to Chitra Viraraghavan, it was one hell of a task to make a clean break with existing books on the city and come out with an anthology with a fresh start and a new perspective.

Discover in the pages what Madras was like in 1939/40 through the eyes of an 8-year-old. His fascination for trains and tram rides, his wide-eyed wonder at the ragtag bunch of things for sale at Moore Market, including mongrel puppies, the diametrically different Spen-cer’s, his climb up the lighthouse and gorging on sundal and murukku at Marina.

Marvel at the deity of Thiruvanmiyur, Marundeesh-waran, materialising Himself in flesh and blood with thoughts and feelings while on a writing assignment about the city He lords it over; a small town student and aspiring artist making his tentative move into the big bad city where Taramani was like a forest in the back of beyond; the story of a guide who passes out of Alliance Française, Madras, and later scooters around the city with his French woman-client; the two watching the movie Irumbu Kottai Murattu Singam; a Muslim child growing up with Tam-Brahms and, while keeping a keen eye on their practices, falling in love with rasam. And there’s still more.

The mixed up and musical tale of a lawyer in Kondi Chetty Street; the world of Anglo-Indians at its most entertaining when enjoying the spirit of Christmas; the tragedy of a wronged wife breaking up with her two-timing husband; the funny surprises the Madras film world throws on an unsuspecting Telugu rice merchant; vivid remembrances of cricket in the city played in those days when the shade of a large tree was the dressing room and boys played ‘book cricket’ in classrooms; the bitter-sweet telling of an old Sowcarpet Gujarati man’s familiarity with eateries of his time and his relish for food; the eerie story of a stoic son’s search for his father’s dead body among a pile of bodies in a city under curfew; two friends meandering in the city and landing up at Vandalur Zoo on Kaanum Pongal; and hell breaking loose for an IITian even as he wades through the flooded roads for some marijuana. And there’s still more to Chennai.

The private and convoluted life of maidservant Muniamma; Partha’s love in the city in ‘From Triplicane to Taramani’; young Arjun’s churning within on his drive to Mahabalipuram down the ECR with his friends; Shanti’s sojourn in the city and her longing for what could have been; the son of an actress growing up in Madras and coming back to Chennai with a child of his own; and to wrap up the collection, a brave man’s day-long journey from Kumananchavdi near Poona-mallee to Velachery and back through a city under water in December 2015.

Madras on My Mind informs, entertains and gives back a vibrant life to the city.

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