Madraspatnam speaks of Chennai’s history beyond the British Era…
73-year-old K.R.A.Narasiah was trying to locate a green garden (Keerai Thottam) behind the DGP’s office at Santhome. No, he wasn’t looking for fresh greens after his morning walk; he was after something much bigger. "When I told the gatekeeper of the garden why I wanted entry, I wasn’t let in straightaway," he chuckles. "But after some cajoling, he cleared some bushes for me, and Voila! I saw the first plane bought in Chennai some 70 years ago. Though only a skeleton remains, it was a satisfying ’discovery’ for me."
The history of this 370-year-old city is full of surprises, with these wonderful nuggets, he recalls Narasiah, whose Tamil book Madraspatnam - a look at the history of the city - is being released today. "The book," promises Narasiah, "has lots more interesting information such as this, previously unknown."
A Marine Engineer by profession, Narasiah has already written about the navigational history of South India, apart from his other collection of short stories. "History always remained in my blood, thanks to my father, who inculcated a sense of history in all his children," Narasiah says. And when he settled down in Chennai in the early 90s, he was fascinated by the rich history this city boasted of. "That was the time I started looking for some good Tamil books on the history of Chennai. To my surprise, I could find none. All the books on the subject were available only in English!" he recounts. It was then that Narasiah decided to write a book in Tamil. Even though the decision was taken early, he put his pen to paper much later. "It took 18 months for me to complete this book," he says.
He adds, "I have started the book describing the day Francis Day and Andrew Cogan landed on a small strip of shore in August 1639, and ended it in 1947." Though he hasn’t specified any reason for stopping the novel at the time of independence, Narasiah wanted to draw the line somewhere, "1947 seemed to be the easiest option," he says. More than the rave reviews, he is readying himself for some criticism as well. "Since this is a compilation of facts from various sources for a discerning reader to draw his own conclusions, there are bound to be plenty of people with different opinions," he feels.
Speaking on the argument that the city is much older than the British led us to believe, Narasiah voices his strong views, "Though Sangam literature does mention the Mylapore and Tiruvottriyur temples, they were just two little villages five miles apart. In fact, when somebody pointed out to me that the book should perhaps be named Chennapatnam, I refused! This city was always called Madras, and history records it as Madras only. The name Chennai was tagged to it much later."
When Narasiah isn’t writing, he expresses himself through his brush. A huge painting that adorns his drawing room reiterates the fact. "But right now, I am working on the history of another city. This time, it is my home town, Madurai," he reveals.
A different city, a different history, a different book…
- - - 2007.02.15 - - -