The plot sounds like so many others: traditional south Indian couple strives to build a happier world for their children; sends son off to America, only to have him commit the biggest blasphemy a Tam-Brahm could—falling in love with a white woman. Chennaivaasi book cover Buy What you should do, though, is pack a suitcase for that sense of wariness and send it away on a long, long trip. Chennaivaasi is beautifully written, relentlessly paced for a family drama , and keeps you turning pages in a frenzy for way longer than you might initially expect. Right from the crisply written prologue, Tirumurti sets the stage for a tale of duty, love, and family that spans across continents and generations. His wife, his beloved house—Sundari—and his three sons are all but lost to him.

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It was her husband returning from the Kapaleeshwarar temple. She could hear the door being opened. And shut. Footsteps climbing the steps. A pause in the verandah-that was Appa removing his chappals. The sound of the chappals sliding to one corner of the verandah. Amma was prepared. She had been rehearsing what to tell Appa.

She had to try and break the news gently-if that was at all possible. Their third son Ravi had finally returned from America. That was good news. But he had come back with his American girlfriend Deborah. She looked away to avoid eye contact. God only knew how Appa would react. Appa stopped in his tracks for a brief second. When did he come to Madras? I thought he had decided to stay in the US with his darling girlfriend!

Appa went into the bedroom, took off his shirt and pant and exchanged them for a veshti and banian. Amma followed him into the room and opened the wardrobe, pretending to look for something. There was silence. Did he come to our house with her? They flew down to Chennai together yesterday and are staying in a hotel.

That porukki thaazhi. He is a disgrace. We are the laughing stock of our friends and relatives. After the way I brought up my sons and daughter, this idiot has gone and ruined everything. Everyone is asking me what happened to all those wonderful values that I taught my children. With what face can I go out now? Who will respect us? All because of your favourite son.

Once he went to America, he started thinking he knew it all. Like those upstarts. Not worth even a quarter-anna, going around with whores and picking up American habits! I never expected Ravi would be like this, that madayan. After all, this is an ancestral property. A case filed by the son against the father will become a soap opera.

Anyway, let him do what he wants. Their backs were stiff, their legs wobbly. It had been a gruelling journey involving two transit halts. The airport seemed friendly enough.

It was no comparison to any international airport, not even as good as the one in Delhi, but the Chennaivaasis had to make do with it. Ravi remembered how small it used to be before, almost as if the city had no time for air travellers.

Small and crowded. On the other hand, visits to the train stations in Chennai-whether Madras Central or Egmore-were grand occasions. Madras Central Railway Station was a particularly impressive structure. It was an Gothic revival-style structure that punctuated the Chennai skyline with an imposing clock tower.

You had to fight to get platform tickets from the dark, tiny counter. You shoved your hand in with the money and got a ticket in return, dished out by the unseen ghostly figure sitting inside.

When you entered the platform, the diesel smell and the farting of trains and steam engines made you giddy. Rows and rows of compartments bursting at the seams, filled with hawkers selling hot coffee, chai or paneer soda; coolies dressed in rust-red shirts and white veshtis weaving their way through the crowd with a pile of suitcases on their turbaned heads; a circle of waitlisted passengers accosting the ticket-collector to convince him that they desperately needed the last vacant seat on the train; mounds of brown gunny sacks, carrying anything from fruit to army rations, lying unattended on the platform, waiting for the goods train which always seemed to be stuck at Basin Bridge to let more important passenger trains pass through; a family of beggars arrogating a corner of the station for themselves near the public toilets; the excitement of trying to locate your relatives and friends through the windows even as the train streamed onto the platform; and the smell of railway dust wafting out of every compartment when the door opened-Madras Central was a busy station.

Ravi loved it. He dreaded the prospect of Appa losing the platform tickets and not being allowed to leave the station. Father and son had their own favourite beggar, who sat just before the main exit on a torn gunny bag spread out over a flattened cardboard carton on the ground.

Appa usually tossed him a four-anna coin before they left. There were other beggars outside, some afflicted with leprosy. The worst affected sat in a cart while the others dragged him around, holding out their stumps, the sores open and raw. Ravi would watch them in horrified fascination while his father shouted at them to go to a government hospital to get free treatment instead of begging. Appa did not favour giving beggars money, though he was a generous person otherwise.

Begging has substituted daily wages, he warned. The more you encourage, the less you are helping them to become productive citizens. Look at some of these able-bodied beggars. They deserve to be whipped.

But given the high unemployment rate, it was better to beg with open sores and fill the stomach than to starve with cured leprosy. And so these beggars persisted in their profession day after day till they withered away and died. Appa always stopped in front of the station bookshop and bought Ravi Amar Chitra Katha comics. Mythology, epics, pictures and colours all merged into one another. It was worth going to the train station just for that. Anna International Airport certainly had none of this excitement.

Now and then you could hear a plane thunder past, but that was useless. Even the beggars were shooed off by the police.

It was useless to go to the airport. Ravi and Deborah got their luggage. The four monstrous suitcases contained all they wanted to start a new life in Chennai. It was a strange feeling for Ravi. He had always been met at the airport. Usually it was his father who landed up religiously and waited in the car, reading a book.

Sometimes the car came alone with just the driver. But those were rare occasions when Appa was travelling. Today, there was no one. No Appa. Not even a car. Well, there was always a first time.

Ravi and Deborah took a taxi. Beyond the portals of the airport, the only thing they were sure of was their hotel booking. And their jobs. Very little else. And, of course, their determination to make things work. Appa held the key.

But it pays him very well. Along with Deborah, of course. Ravi must have given her a sob story. I thought my sister had better sense than to let my son and that thevidiya into her house. Her reputation will be ruined. You tell her if you want. But let Kamala decide what she wants to do. She had hardly expected him to bless her visit to Ravi but it was important that Appa know she was planning to go.

With or without his permission, Amma was determined to see Ravi. That much she owed her son. Click here to contribute to the cause.


Rivers Remember

Rivers Remember, her book on the Chennai floods of was published by Context, an imprint of Westland, in July Well written and carefully researched, it brings home the full horror of the catastrophe. This is what the future holds for many cities around the world. Anita Nair In December , a city drowned when forgotten rivers and built-over lakes came back to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.


Chennaivaasi about a Tam-Brahm boy & a Jewish girl

The style is simple, interesting and makes for a gripping read. When I initially read the synopsis, I thought this would turn out to be yet another love story but I was proven wrong within the first two pages. Highly recommend it, if you are looking for something to pass time by! Jun 13, Arun S rated it really liked it "Chennaivaasi" - By the time you finished reading the book, you will feel like you are an chennaivaasi. Excellent characteristic narrations by author.

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