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P.A. Krishnan

THE UNHURRIED CITY
By C.S. Lakshmi
Penguin Books in association with The Hindu, Delhi, 2004, pp. 270, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 9 September 2004

Chennai, that waterless wonder, has an alarming number of purblind admirers. They are so bewitched by it that they ignore its harsh, unlivable state. I belong to this band of blind men. Though I am living in Delhi for the last thirty years I have never really stopped dreaming of settling in Chennai after my retirement. Almost every Tamil who is not living in that accursed city could be accused, justly, of harbouring such dreams. I am therefore not surprised that C.S. Lakshmi, who lives in Mumbai, has titled the book The Unhurried City. Perhaps, Lakshmi wants the city to be unhurried. Perhaps, it was unhurried once upon a time, though I doubt it. The modern Chennai is certainly not unhurried. It is a city on skates—a city fast hurtling down the slope to disaster.   Lakshmi says in her introduction that a city is built with memories—memories of people, of events, of happenings. She may be right, but memories are notoriously unreliable. For instance, her memory says that the Tamil song Sinthanai Sei Manamae was sung by Sirgazhi Govindarajan. Actually, it was sung by T. M. Soundararajan. Nevertheless, memories do breathe life into a book and make it throb. This is without doubt a throbbing book.   The blurb says the city is three hundred and fifty years old, but the book is mostly about the middle-class sanctuary that the city became in the twentieth century. It is curiously silent on its earlier years. There are exquisite writings on the then Madras of those years by both visitors and residents. None of them finds a place in the book. The city’s pan-Tamil identity, it must be remembered, is also fairly recent. Madras was, until the early fifties, the capital of the entire Andhra Pradesh except the Telengana region, the Malabar and a large part of the present Karnataka. There are fine pieces on Madras in the writings from these regions. They don’t even find a mention in the book. The book doesn’t speak about Chennai’s political evolution, its industrial growth and the consequent urban sprawl, its Anglo-Indians, its Muslims.... I could go on and on.   I am perhaps greedy. What has been offered in the book is sufficient to keep us engrossed for many hours. I shall comment on a few pieces that stand out. Ashokamitran’s ‘A Half Century of Residence’ is one ...


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