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Vol. XXX No. 7, August 1-15, 2020

New Initiatives at Madras Book Club

by S.R. Madhu

There’s good news for book-lovers. The Madras Book Club (MBC) has launched a few initiatives to overcome the problems posed by the Coronavirus and the lockdown. “We’ll continue our mission of promoting books and writing,” says the club.

These initiatives include online meetings of book launches and lectures via the Zoom platform and an online newsletter titled Between the Lines. MBC is working toward launching a website.

The MBC had hoped that the Coronavirus would go away soon, but when this did not happen, the club decided to go online with meetings.

Fortunately, “speakers and authors seem to like the online concept,” said the trustees of the MBC, “because they can speak from the comfort of their home, and save on travel time.”

The first online lecture on June 22, 2020, delivered by V. Sriram, was a characteristically gripping talk on old Madras – Recalling the adventures and amours of ‘US-born, Europe-bred, Africa-travelled, Asian-wed’ Elihu Yale. Elihu Yale was the Governor of Madras from 1617 to 1692, after whom the famous Yale college of the US is named. Sriram said Yale made a huge fortune in Chennai through corrupt practices including slave-trading and had at least two mistresses, both of whom assisted him commercially.

MBC’s second online lecture – by “Poochi” Venkat on July 15 – was about “the wonder world of insects”. This ambassador of the insect world has held numerous workshops, shot thousands of macro-photographs of creepy-crawlies and conducted many “insect walks”. The audience saw some incredibly beautiful photographs of bugs, beetles, butterflies, mosquitoes and other creatures and heard fascinating descriptions of their habits and characteristics.

Bangalore-based writer Shoba Narayan will discuss her remarkable writing career on July 29. Two Chennai-related talks are planned in August: by environmentalist Arun Krishnamurthy (August 12) on his work in lake restoration; and by film buff Ram Ramakrishnan (August 26) on the magic of the Viswanathan-Ramamurthy duo.

The newsletter

The inaugural issue of the MBC newsletter Between the Lines, was launched by V. Sriram on June 22, just before the first online lecture. He expressed delight at the initiative. He lauded the look and content of Between the Lines and said he had read the entire issue. He hoped the MBC would continue to bring out such informative and entertaining newsletters.

MBC members and other readers have accorded a warm reception to Between the Lines. The first issue carried reviews of Ruskin Bond’s brilliant autobiography Lonely fox dancing, and of Normal People, an acclaimed 2018 novel by Irish author Sally Rooney. Another article recalled a lecture by Mr. S. Muthiah way back in 2010, when he urged every member of MBC to write autobiographies.

The first issue also dissected the genius of Samuel Johnson, literary dictator of the 18th Century, and talked about his monumental work on an English dictionary. The newsletter also presented a lively “Polymathica” section designed to intrigue, provoke and amuse, including a story about unusual and delightful book dedications.

The second issue of Between the Lines will be out late August, which is “Madras Month”. It will carry a couple of Chennai-related articles, plus a pictorial tribute to Chennai, as well as a tribute in verse by award-winning poet Arundhathi Subramaniam (part of an interview-based article on her).

Other articles: a review of TV personality Anant Mahadevan’s book on the history of Indian television; a review of a book on the glorious role of India’s military during the second world war; an article recalling a talk at MBC by famed ophthalmologist S.S. Badrinath; plus another riveting “Polymathica” section.

When did the MBC start? “Officially” in 2003 when it acquired a bank account. But informal meetings of publishers and book lovers under the forum of Madras Book Club go as far back as 1990. It’s now more than a year since Mr. S. Muthiah, who guided and steered the MBC for many years, passed away. “We are sure our new initiatives will please him,” say the trustees of the Madras Book Club.

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