September 17, 2013

Books on Madras that is Chennai

Two books have been by my bedside this season.
Both have to do with our city. To some this city continues to be Madras. To many it is Madras and Chennai. And to others it is Chennai.

Books, fiction and non-fiction which have all or something to do with our city interest me.
Timed with the annual Madras Week celebrations which were held in August, were the launch of two books.
One, on the Anglo-Indians. And the other which called itself a ‘Biography of Madras’.

The first claims to take a comprehensive look at the Anglo-Indians, from the time the community took root and grew in the sub-continent. This book has been written by historian S. Muthiah with the assistance of Harry Maclure ( who edits ‘The Anglos in the Wind’ magazine) and Richard O’Connor.
Madras was home to a pretty large A-I community and those of us who attended Christian-managed schools and colleges in the 50s and 60s must have some wonderful memories of our friends. 

Muthiah’s book has many stories to tell and I have been reading it in parts. My grouse with the production is the miserly space provided for the visuals. Most are valuable pictures of an era gone by but they are mere blobs in this book.

The second book, ‘Degree Coffee by the Yard’ has been written by Nirmala Lakshman of ‘The Hindu’. It carries lots of information which will not be new for those who have read stuff on the city. But Nirmala’s book works for two reasons - her sharing from conversations with a host of people of the city and from her journeys to a few corners of Madras. It also works because Nirmala jots down her own experiences of this city from her early days in what can be called ‘The Hindu’ neighbourhood in Alwarpet.

I am extremely pleased that Madras/Chennai-centric books are rolling out. And I would be happy too if people began to write on a colourful neighbourhood or on the fascinating history of a local institution. Books which can be of 75 or 110 pages, books with images and verses, books that are not souvenirs and brochure-ish.
We need these books because the city’s lore must be told and retold. There are lots of people with lots of stories to share - of our city, our of neighbourhoods and of our people who have all made the city what it is.

I enjoyed reading a small book called ‘ Pelathope Days’ written by G. Ram Mohan. This is a simple story of a nook in Mylapore which was home to legends of the legal community.
So if you have a story on the city to tell, start rolling it today. 
There are people who would like to read it.

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