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Tamarind City: Where Modern India Began

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  465 ratings  ·  80 reviews
‘While in other big cities tradition stays mothballed in trunks, taken out only during festivals and weddings, tradition here is worn round the year.’

This is just one of the author’s many keen observations of Chennai. With mordant wit, this biography of a city spares neither half of its split-personality: from moody, magical Madras to bursting-at-the-seams, tech-savvy Chen
Paperback, 344 pages
Published 2012 by Tranquebar
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3.88  · 
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 ·  465 ratings  ·  80 reviews

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Sep 22, 2014 rated it really liked it

It's like visiting a city and viewing it through the eyes and memories of random locals whom you happen to meet. The stories are thus quite varied, because of the potpourri of people telling them, and so provide us a wonderful kaleidoscope of colours and glimpses into the heart of what makes the city.

It's the story of Iyers and Iyengars, Vadagalais and the Thengalais, the Triplicane Parthasarathy temple and the Mylapore Kapaleeswara temple, kolams, the French and other nationals who have made Ch
Amandeep Sandhu
Oct 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Tamarind City by Bishwanath Ghosh has a subtitle: where modern India began. As you start reading the book, you realise that it is true that modern India did start at Madraspatnam’s Fort St. George. Elihu Yale (after whom the American Yale university is named) was the governor of the fort between 1687-92. Robert Clive started out as a clerk at the fort in 1774 and even attempted suicide in one of the rooms. Arthur Wellesly, William Bentinck and Warren Hastings all walked through the fort on to th ...more
Sairam Krishnan
Aug 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Last week we celebrated Madras Day, the day on which Fort St George was born, and I picked up this book for some topical reading.

I'm not from Madras. I hail from the French colonial town of Pondicherry, 3 hours south of Madras, but as work brought me here and I grew up to love history, I wanted to know something about the city I now live in.

I loved this book, every bit of it. Its amazingly well written and researched, and brings the author's love of the city and its people out in a dazzling nar
Vinayak Hegde
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it
A good memoir of Chennai. The author uncovers one by one the peculiarities of Chennai and chennai-ites starting with it's history as Madraspatnam or Chennaipatnam. He then goes into the origins of Dravidism and then the dilution of it by Cult figures from the Tamil Film industry. He delves on the different aspects of old neighborhoods of Chennai (which were once independent villages that have since been absorbed into the conurbation called Chennai).

The chapter on sex and city was very well writt
Santhosh Guru
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
When the likes of S.Muthiah and Narasaiah exists, it requires a lot of guts to embark on the mission of chronicling Madras. But Bishwanath succeeds in his breezy, almost-bloggish style of writing about Chennai and its people. It has a simple narrative style and interacts with lot of popular people but whose personal side I wasn't aware of (Muthiah). Inclusion of Narayana Reddy, Saroja Devi was a surprise. Sometimes the awe at brahminical things (Carnatic music, kolam, tradition with transformati ...more
Gita Madhu
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thorough, thoroughly enjoyable book on Chennai. From the very start, the descriptions ring true. One can read the chapters at random even though there is a linear sequence. The light gossipy style makes it easy to approach the historical details.
A wonderful book to carry on a journey-I happen to have read it on my balcony to the pitter patter of the monsoon.
I look forwards to reading his other books.
Mrs TJ
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: nags, smita, jyoti babel
Recommended to Mrs TJ by: blogadda
When Blogadda had put up this book for review I was sincerely wishing that I receive one. It is about my own city Madras. "Madras Nalla Madras". The author, Bishwanath Gosh, though a North Indian, has moved to Chennai and made its home for almost a decade now. The way he has potrayed Madras and its people is a big eye opener to even a native Chennaiite like me. Though my father's ancestral home still remains in Northern Madras (Royapuram) and my mother's home was in Triplicane, I had never taken ...more
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: indian-authors
Had been wanting to read this book since almost 2 yrs, when I saw it in my cousin's table. Finally when I wanted to get back to reading and needed an easy read along with a book that would mean something, I chose Tamarind City.

To see Madras of another time and era, is really amazing. More so, when you can do so in the confines of your couch. Personally, I live in a Chennai that is totally different from what the author himself is writing of which makes the journey even more so interesting.

Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travelogue
3.5/5 This was a very well-written book on Chennai - lucid, unpretentious and comprehensive. Have never visited the city and so was really curious.
Each of the dozen or so chapters has a theme. Starting with the history of the city without making it boring, we learn about various facets of life in Chennai - the politics, the films, the society, religion, sexual attitudes, music, industry etc And while the author does comment a bit, it blended in nicely with the conversations and the themes of the
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
I enjoyed reading this book. I have lived in Chennai for a couple of months and visited it numerous times. So, there was a connect and curiosity about Madras/Chennai that this book scratched. The initial chapters put the historical context of the city in place. Then it gets into the current lives of several people and gets into themes like religion and music. It ends with a snapshot of the upcoming manufacturing industry (as in 2010). Its a personal book of experiences and stories which attempts ...more
I think I'm gonna like Chennai very much when I move there next month.

Good book on the history, geography & most importantly, the people who have witnessed the transformation of the tiny settlement of Madraspatnam to the glitzy metropolis of Chennai.

Recommended reading if you're looking to fall in love with a city. 3 & a half to 4 stars.
Girl from Mumbai
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Many years ago, I found myself in Chennai on a sweltering summer morning. I was there to train some engineers on a product that we were supposed to deploy on an extensive development taking place in Chennai. Sweating like bricks, running fashionably late I reached the daunting sprawling office campus. Seeing my state, the very calm and gentle IT guy that I was coordinating with said: “Madam, time for lunch let’s go and have lunch and then we can start.” Feeling embarrassed for showing my frustra ...more
Jyotsna Hariharan
Oct 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
My first legitimate travel book, so it's going to take me a while to process this satisfactorily. But what I found interesting, is how non fiction, more than anything else, makes you so acutely aware about the passage of time. You can feel the references getting dated and see the present visibly transforming into history.

Reading this book made me realize that in my head, I have two Chennais. One, the city that was my summer vacation destination - the magical land of Landmark and Higginbothams th
Feb 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Don't get me wrong. I'm hardly the kind who would try to hold on to something that slipped away. But reading the early chapters of this book about the old history of Chennai, I can't help feel wrong about having forgotten so much. We as a generation, for some reason, have a problem realizing that we have a rich heritage that's crying to be acknowledged. And I find it pretty ironical that someone like Bishwanath Ghosh, being brought up far north, had to tell us homegrowns about what our city once ...more
Madhan Rajasekkharan
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
A portrait of modern and historic Chennai written by a Bengali who chose to move in here. The author's passion for the city is evident in the book and the book is brilliant mostly, covering several aspects of the city in breezy chapters. The first few chapters on the North and South Chennai divide, the ones on Mylapore and Triplicane are all really well done. But the author chooses to digress midway to talk about personalities that he happens to meet in his life and moves away from the general t ...more
Ravi Narayanan
Sep 13, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a quick read. I did not feel bored anywhere except “Gemini’s family description”. It brought back my childhood memories. I felt the same way as Ghosh, when I visited T.Nagar for the first time when I was 10 years old. Some of the history information is new to me. I would have been happy if he had written more about the industrial growth and the educational institutions and their role in the city’s growth. I liked the information about North Madras, Mylapore and Triplicane, reminded me of ...more
Jayaram Vengayil
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I always wanted to read the other books by Biswanath Ghosh once I had read 'Chai Chai'. The author just falls short of replicating the inimitable style of 'Chai Chai'. Perhaps it's the topic; Chennai however, stately is a dour subject to deal with for an entire book unlike the fleeting images in 'Chai Chai'.

The book is a breezy read except for some of the interviews which drag on a bit. Painstaking research combined with his conversational tone make it both a work of erudition and entertainment
Anusha Booboo
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
I would give this a 3.5 :) Great book for Madras Lovers!

"Kalluri Saalai" and "Kandukondain Kandukodain" are the Tamil songs, which sort of lured the author to the Tamarind City.

The author has portrayed Chennai as he sees it! The unassuming Chennai slowly opens up to him, and we get to know about the rich cultural heritage Chennai carries with, which is often overlooked. Loved the anecdotes and his simple style of writing. Sometimes it was more about the people and less about Chennai. Just did no
Aug 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Virtually travelled through Madras reading this book. With a fluid style of narration, Ghosh manages to cover most of the issues, topics and personalities one would usually associate with Madras - Clive, Wellesley, Yale, Annadurai, Karunanidhi and his bete noir, the Iyer-Iyengar rivalry, Carnatic music, Medical tourism, SEZ boom - name it and you more or less have it. What made the book more endearing to me was the fact that a supposedly conservative and traditional 'South' Indian city managed t ...more
Swarna Deepika
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is not only the best non-fiction books I have read till date but also the one I finished reading quickly! I might be biased because of my love for my hometown chennai. One needn't have to be from Chennai to enjoy the book - that's the best thing!

This book is like the perfect home made cup of hot filter coffee one can enjoy in the cool evenings of Margazhi (december-Jan month) listening to a soul-melting carnatic recital!!
Bhageshvar Mohan
Jun 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Chennai, the city I was born and where I lived for 18 years. Ghosh, gave a different view on my city from n outsider's perspective. Some places which I have never been to. Some places I have never heard of. Favourite restaurants. People who I never imagined to matter this significant.
A brief history of Chennai.
Yash Sharma
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Welcome to Chennai (Where modern India began)

A) The most important lesson which the book teaches is that "North India is not India", there are other parts of India as well i.e. southern, Western,Eastern and Northeast.And this book talks about "Chennai" where every modern institution in the country be it education, engineering, medicine,the army and judiciary has its roots.

B)Some most important personalities who directly or indirectly influence the destiny of India have there careers started in C
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Definite Chennai Book

My tryst with the tamarind city began in 2013. I came here as a bachelor who had the prospect of getting married very soon and moving in and the city with its open arms took us to its warm embrace. This is the city that taught me the early lessons of coming together, building together and working as a unit despite the differences. It also taught me resilience in the face of adversity. So when I discovered Ghosh's book a few months ago I knew I have to read and with on an
Tejaswi M
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I picked up the book curiously thinking which city in India is Tamarind city and thought it is Kolkata seeing the author name. But, a surprise awaited me. The book Tamarind city by a Bengali is about Chennai. :)
There is a popular saying in Chennai which goes: Çhennai is a city, Madras is an emotion. The author of this book did a good job in capturing the emotion of the city, a place where hi-tech is married to traditions.
The first chapters of the book are high on history and give the reader gre
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
A wonderful book about the history of Chennai, the author offers a right balance of events, places and people. While he touches the surface of a large number of topics, he does so in a very interesting way leaving book references for people who want to explore more. A must read for everyone especially tamilians or people associated with Tamil Nadu in some way.
He starts by talking about the East India company-about Clive, Yale and others who started their careers in Madras. He covers politicians
Meera Sundar
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
This is a good read on Chennai, it's colonial history and how it has evolved over the years. All these intertwined with stories of several individuals(popular and less known), who call Chennai home. The stories of Chandamama Sankar and chronicler (not historian! ) S Muthiah particularly stood out. As did the stories of Srimathy the yoga teacher and Sylvie the flautist. Several of the colonial era names and stories were new to me, and this book has gotten me hooked and resolved to read more about ...more
Gowri N.
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have never lived in Chennai. But I have visited it many times, mostly to shop for clothes and jewelry or attend weddings. But with my Tamil roots and many friends and relatives living there, it is a city that's always on top of my mind.

Tamarind City was therefore, a read I enjoyed very much for the heart Biswanath Ghosh put into writing it. There's just the right balance of fact, experiences, and musings in it and the kind of stories he has put in cover a wide spectrum, from Chennai's people a
Jun 25, 2018 rated it liked it
I couldn't help but rush through this book about the city I love. This doesn't mean I couldn't put it down for the book itself. The writing is lucid, but what starts of as a book on Chennai (for me, I doubt if the author claims it to be so) eventually eventually veers into people & the author's experiences. The language is simple and lucid, and the experiences themselves make for delightful narration. However, I expected more than just this, and that's just me.
Anusha Sridharan
Oct 29, 2017 rated it liked it
This book has a comparative mix of how Chennai is and how it is seen. It is a soothing read and impressive of how much research would have been done to have the details in place.
There were many things I hadn't known until I read this book.
It helped me build a relation to what Chennai was back then and how it is now.
The transformation seems to be inline with the time of how it has changed.
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Madras is a city I visited every year as a child. It is a city that my family often speaks about but of which I have only hazy memories. Chennai is a city I have now started traveling to often on work. Its a city I do not love, but which I find hard to ignore. I picked up the book because I was curious to know which was real- Madras or Chennai. And I found that both exist in a delightful whole.
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Bishwanath Ghosh is the author of Gazing at Neighbours: Travels Along the Line That Partitioned India (2017); Longing, Belonging: An Outsider at Home in Calcutta (2014), and Tamarind City: Where Modern India Began (2012), which is a portrait of Madras, now known as Chennai. In 2009 he wrote Chai, Chai: Travels in Places Where You Stop but Never Get Off, which The Telegraph (Kolkata) called "a deli ...more
“Yet, there is a Chennai that hasn’t changed and never will. Women still wake up at the crack of dawn and draw the kolam—the rice-flour design—outside their doorstep. Men don’t consider it old-fashioned to wear a dhoti, which is usually matched with a modest pair of Bata chappals. The day still begins with coffee and lunch ends with curd rice. Girls are sent to Carnatic music classes. The music festival continues to be held in the month of December. Tamarind rice is still a delicacy—and its preparation still an art form. It’s the marriage between tradition and transformation that makes Chennai unique. In a place like Delhi, you’ll have to hunt for tradition. In Kolkata, you’ll itch for transformation. Mumbai is only about transformation. It is Chennai alone that firmly holds its customs close to the chest, as if it were a box of priceless jewels handed down by ancestors, even as the city embraces change.” 2 likes
“Most often, you don’t need to understand the language for your ears to detect that a poet is saying something beautifully profound—words have their own rhythm that is independent of the script. Bharati,” 0 likes
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