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Vol. XXX No. 10, September 16-30, 2020

City lights

by N.S. Ramaswam

Mylapore vs. Triplicane

We thank reader and contributor Karthik Bhatt for locating this gem by N.S. Ramaswami that appeared in a 1956 issue of the magazine Swarajya. Is there still a rivalry between Mylapore & Thiruvallikeni?

It has been said that every man born is either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. A more valid division of humanity will perhaps be that it pertains to either Mylapore or Triplicane. These are not mere geographical divisions, but two ways of life. It adds to the piquancy of living in Madras City that these two concepts should be diametrically opposed to each other.

Triplicane lies to the north of Mylapore, for the intervening area of Royapettah is of neither of the two philosophies in the midst of which it impertinently ekes out an existence. This very contiguity has promoted a tempest of inimical passion, between the true Mylaporean and the genuine denizen of Triplicane. But, being above all polite persons, they express their incompatibility by means of mutual sneers, innuendoes and sarcasm. Never has there occured any physical combat between them, though this extreme resort may help them in relieving their feelings.

The Mylaporean has faults, but in his slightly self-righteous manner he thanks God that his ways are not those of the detestable Triplicanite. There is a wide-spread feeling in the stately homes of Mylapore that the hated neighbour is a charlatan and a pretender to omniscience while his ignorance is all too obvious. Triplicane is the true home of pretended cleverness, non-existent smartness and alleged ingenuity.

The characteristic Triplicanite would have been a worthy individual and an ornament to society but that nature or the spirit of the times appears to have supervened in his development to higher forms of life and living. He would fain be knowledgeable, he is merely a scholiast; he would like to be considered competent and ingenious, but most likely he descends to be a trickster. Many forms of activity suffer a sea-change in that locality.

Such, it is often argued in the boudoirs of Mylapore, is the gravamen of the charge against the Triplicanite. It is difficult to say whether this is justified. What is undoubted is that there has long subsisted an irreconcilable enmity between the two areas. This will scarcely cause any surprise; for, nothing can be more galling or irritating to pontificating intellectualism than irreverent scepticism. The dreadful truth – Mylapore can never forgive it – is that the pretensions of Mylapore are rejected in Triplicane, which would set up a tradition and an authority of its own.

Intellectualism sits enthroned in Mylapore, but it is apt to be self-righteous. It is convinced that the moon shines more brightly in its area than elsewhere in the world, a conceit for which Plutarch’s Athenian has been laughed at. It has decided to its own satisfaction, if not that of many others, that it represents the quintessence of culture and learning. It is scarcely aware of the existence of such barbarian lands as Nungambakkam and Kodambakkam; it has a nodding acquaintance with the other resorts of the bourgeoisie, Mambalam and Adyar. But it is certain that it has not so much as heard of such unregenerate Ethiopias as George Town or Muthialpet. It is firmly convinced that the centre of the world runs through Luz Church Road.

More Penguin books are sold and read in Mylapore than in any other area. But it may be doubted whether it is deeply acquainted with the Everyman series. Its tabernacle is the Ranade Library, where every form of intellectual excitement is efficiently catered for. The most startling, the most unlikely theory of the origin of the Australian bushmen, the newest concept of chromosomes, are propounded there to the delight of the vast multitudes who throng the hall to the very door and are deeply satisfied that they have manifested a form of superiority to the philistine Triplicanite.

It is thus that the unregenerate vessel of wrath in the neighbouring area would interpret the highest aspirations, the noblest sentiments of Mylapore. It can, therefore, cause little wonder that neither should take kindly to the other. They are agreed that the intellectual leadership of Madras City belongs to them, but they are agreed in nothing else.

This is an inveterate quarrel in high places and only fools will rush in to adjudicate where angels may fear to tread. It may, in fact, be doubted whether any such adjudication will not be the means of reducing such gaiety as has survived in Madras City. The hostility causes little harm, but it produces much good. It lends vivacity to life. Blood may boil in the Mylaporean or the Triplicanite at any development in the persistent battle, but the onlooker may permit himself to be entertained at the bloodless combat. There comes the Mylaporean, steeped in thought, his brows almost, if not quite, crowned with the olive leaves of intellectual primacy, or he treads his way through the traffic, his mind immersed in the profundities of a Penguin Special. He has no ears or eyes for the mundane world; he is deeply discussing with the author the latter’s new principles of the origin of the alphabet. But he is not so abstracted that he will not eye with disdain the oncoming impertinent Triplicanite who makes no secret of his contempt of these intellectual processes.If the latter does not quite cock a snook at the reverent student, it is not because of lack of desire. The learned scholar breathes fire and slaughter as he stalks away while the ragamuffin (I speak figuratively) pours on him a wealth of ridicule by signs. It is such encounters that lend piquancy to the streets of Madras, and it will be an evil day when the lion sits down with the lamb. Fortunately, neither Triplicane nor Mylapore knows which of them is the lion and which is the lamb.
Swarajya, July 21, 1956

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