Book Review: Tamarind City- Where Modern India Began

 Publisher: Tranquebar, Westland Publishers

ISBN: 978-93-81626-33-7

Pages: 315

Price: Rs 295

‘This is what makes Chennai unique,’ says Ghosh, ‘the marriage of tradition and technology’.

Singara Chennai- yes it the world for me. I had lived my best part of life in Chennai and got married to a proper chennaite. So, I think this qualifies me to write the review for the blog.

When I think of Chennai, I get reminded of margalzi kolam, filter coffee, Murugan idili, and of course Besant Nagar beach( yup I am different in that way, I don’t like marina beach as it is always crowded), then the SIPCOT at Siruseri with glass buildings contrary to indo-sarasnic architecture displayed at central railway station. Of course how can I forget the prestigious IIT madras and Anna University, Madras medial college and Stanley medical college. Did I forget to mention the Loyola and Presidency college fights and beauty studded with fashion of Stella Mary’s and Eithraj College on college road?

Yes, I can relate to so much only because I am married to Chennai. This book talks about the Chennai which I missed to see.

He talks to various people starting from a unknown street vendors to evergreen tollywood stars, simple and tasty food to hi-tec IT corridor, life supporting doctors to life creating god with temples. I should appreciate the fact that, he gives an unbiased and critical view. Yes, I agree on flaws of Chennai too.

He de-mystifies the Iyer-Iyenger rivalry for you by taking you to the areas that belong exclusively to them Triplicane and Mylapore and takes you through their temples and the people living around them.

(Remembering Ananya’s house in chetan’s “two states”??.. isn’t it typical for the descriptions of Chennai and Tamil Brahmin community?)

he takes around a place or as part of a personal anecdote or his personal connect with certain places like his old office on Mount road or his exploring the history of his building where he has lived for all his years in Chennai or the connection of his publisher with the city. You can see his love for stories hidden behind buildings, people, legends and myths, and his curiosity to unearth the connections between various things.

He has tried to meet up a wide range of people, say a gynecologist, actors, yoga, teacher, transsexual, and sexologist.

All in all, Tamarind City is one of its kinds book on Chennai as a metropolitan city and in some ways still a city that is taking its own time. I would recommend this book to those who want to know more about the city and also to those who know but like I said have a different view.

At times his description of Chennai women is mundane. He tries to just portray the “mammi( Tamil Brahmin lady) with typical jasmine flower kept on hair, who makes filer coffee and makes vada, blushes and feels shy etc etc. I have seen them only on typical movies not much in real life. So, such an exaggeration made the book little untrue.

A city is a lot like a woman. You may fall for it because of a certain physical attribute — the eyes, the smile, the dimple — but it is the chemistry you develop over time that eventually makes you stick to it.


The book is straight and simple, narrating the meet up of different people and his journey from place to place in and around the city. It looks like it is a collection of essays, at times long taking me out of the book.

In later half of his book, he talks more about him than about the city.


What works best is when Ghosh lets go of his tendency to be his own protagonist and, instead, simply allows himself to meander into other people’s lives. Almost all of the information that the book compiles is arresting
I am going with 4.5/5 for this book,” Tamarind City”. No doubt Tamarind City informs, educates and entertains every one of us including many Chennaites about their city.

Bishwanath Ghosh was born on 26 December 1970 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where he began his career as a journalist before moving to New Delhi to work with Press Trust of India and The Asian Age. In 2001 he relocated to Chennai where he spent seven years at The New Sunday Express and three at The Times of India. He is currently a deputy editor with The Hindu. In 2009 he wrote the bestselling travel book, Chai, Chai: Travels in Places Where You Stop But Never Get Off, also published by Tranquebar.
This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Tamarind City- Where Modern India Began

  1. Its always good reading about your own city.. I think every chennaiite feels that we didnt see the city properly.. the intricate details are so piquing right??

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