Novels on Chennai

Mumbai has its Shantaram, Mysore has its Malgudi days; does Chennai have a novel based on the city? In Shantaram you will find that the city is the main character. With its glory and warts.

I haven’t read many novels in which Chennai is the central character. In Tamil there have been some good works which are about Chennai.

Thi. Janakiraman’s novels Mogamul, Amma Vandhal have parts which describe Chennai of 1950s and 60s – especially Royapettah, Thirvallikkeni and the Marina beach. Balakumaran’s Irumbuk Kudhiraigal is an excellent work covering the transportation trade of North Madras and the Port. G. Nagarajan’s Naalai Mattroru Naale, dealing with fringe characters of the society is supposed to portray Chennai as it is. I haven’t read it though.

The best Tamil novel (well, it is a memoir, not a novel) I have read of Chennai is Padhinaaru Vayadhinile by Marina (nickname of Baraneedharan of Vikatan) covering his life upto the age of 16. It was serialised in Anandha Vikatan, and came out as a book too. It depicts Madras of 1930s and 1940s, and written with love for the city.

In English, I haven’t read any work so far where Madras plays a central role. I am talking about fiction, not History. In History you have two excellent books by S. Muthiah, Madras Discovered and Madras Rediscovered. I read that Timeri Murari’s novel, Four Steps from Paradise is a good novel on Madras. I am yet to read it.

So do you have any books that you recommend?

18 Comments so far

  1. Mehak (unregistered) on July 6th, 2006 @ 3:21 pm

    I finished Madras on Rainy Days last week…though Chennai is not the central city but then the happenings in the City play a major role in the story…hmm let me think of some other books based in Chennai…

  2. ayshwarya (unregistered) on July 6th, 2006 @ 6:07 pm

    Chennai Lattee? Its just a collection of snippets/carttons on what Chennai is all about!

  3. Chenthil (unregistered) on July 6th, 2006 @ 6:10 pm

    Madras on Rainy days – didn’t know about that one. Will try

    Ayshwarya – There are many non fiction books about Madras, Chennai. I assumed from the reviews Chennai Latte is one of those. I am looking for a novel that encompasses Chennai.

  4. Nandhu (unregistered) on July 6th, 2006 @ 6:58 pm

    malgudi is not mysore. it’s ficticious and has elements of chennai too, chenthil. rk said so in an interview with n ram of the hindu.

  5. s.Murugeshan (unregistered) on July 6th, 2006 @ 8:34 pm

    Bala a inhuman intellegent gaint

    The noted writer in Tamil Mr.Balakumaran is an intellectual giant and he is trying his best to reestablish Manu Darma, which is noted for its inhuman caste system. In his writings he is especially mentioning the castes of the characters and describing their habbits, tastes and all. By this he is trying to establish that only the Brahmins are only interested in knowledge and others are for quarrels, food, sex etc.

    He is also establishing in his writings that the Brahmins must not have physical strain and they have to live on and by Vedas and mantras. In a first glance no one may smell his hidden agenda. But is plan fully writing stories and essays only with an aim to reestablish Manu Dharma.

    He is a man of spiritual nothingness. But he is now establishing him self as a noble person. But in real he is hen pecked, selfish, and coward. He him self notes that only Sujatha had trained him in story writing but he him self quarreled with him with out any thankfulness.

    He is trying his best just to be friendly to the rulers. When Jayalalitha was CM in Tamil Nadu he had wrote a novel in it he had established kalaingar as villain. When Kalaingar was CM he had wrote novel * Irandavathu sooriyan. In it he had established MGR as villain and Kalaingar as the Hero. In this was he is functioning as an all time joker.

    Above all he is injecting selfish goals that only the wife and children must be given prominence and one must not give priority to the social life or else. By this he is polluting the fresh minds to become henpecked just like him.

    Now in the recent years he had wrote many novels with mystics and injecting illogical faiths in the minds of readers. But even the non-Brahmins also reading his writings, as they are not able to smell his hidden agenda

  6. R.S.Money (unregistered) on July 6th, 2006 @ 9:24 pm

    In his Novel,” Irumbu Kudhiraigal” Balakumaran is giving vivid expressions of “Thannithurai Market” – “Harbour/Port” “”Salt Coutaurs and Walltax Road Lorry Shed activities” and “Latex Industry of Pallavaram” and so many other places of Madras/Chennai. It is a very interesting reading one.

  7. Suppamani (unregistered) on July 6th, 2006 @ 9:29 pm

    Sundara Ramaswamy has given all the interesting matters of his native place – Kottayam and sub urbs in his novel “Kuzhaithaigal – Penngal AAngal. HIs expressions about his native place Nageroil in his another Novel “Puliya Marathin Kathai” is very intersting and enjoyble and to be read by those who have a passion in reading to know about places.

  8. SN (unregistered) on July 6th, 2006 @ 11:54 pm

    “Madras on Rainy days”, is more about Hyderabad than Madras. The story revolves around an incident that happens in Madras 1 night. Thats it.. Nothing about Madras…
    Madras or Hyd – Its still a very lousy, boring book.

  9. Nandhu (unregistered) on July 7th, 2006 @ 12:47 am

    I happen to know SuRaa very well. and his writings are about Nagercoil in Tale of a Tamarind Tree.

    They are about a family and not a place in his last novel, Children, Women, Men

  10. Chenthil (unregistered) on July 7th, 2006 @ 10:50 am

    Nandhu, agree that malgudi is an imaginary town, but it has more of Mysore than Madras.

    Murugesan, I am not sure of Balakumaran’s hidden agenda and stuff. I read him till Karaiyora Mudhalaigal and an airport story in Vikatan. Once he started writing in pocket novels, I found him losing his touch and haven’t read any of his latter day works. Yet, “Irumbuk kudhiraigal” is a good story with respect to portraying Chennai. We cannot deny him that because of his other works.

    R.S. Money, glad that you too liked it.

    Suppamany, “Oru Puliyamarathin Kathai” is a master piece. Nagercoil comes alive in that novel. I am a Su Ra fan too. I have read JJ Sila Kurippugal, but not his Kulandhaigal Pengal Angal.

    SN, point noted. Will read it from the library then :-).

  11. Lavanya (unregistered) on July 7th, 2006 @ 7:28 pm

    On a related note, Larry Darrell, the hero of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge was modelled on Ramana Maharishi who, of course, lived in Tiruvannamalai.

    The Razor’s Edge is a fantastic book to read btw.

  12. Lavanya (unregistered) on July 7th, 2006 @ 7:51 pm

    Chenthil, I just heard that a book called ‘In Old Madras’ by B.M.Croker paints a good picture of the White Madras during British times. This book, btw, is available at Prakash books, Rupa Publishing (ISBN: 8171679374)

  13. Lavanya (unregistered) on July 7th, 2006 @ 7:56 pm

    And continuing from the previous comment, some googling led me to this article

    which recommends a lot of books on / about Madras (both fiction and non-fiction). In Old Madras finds a mention here too.

  14. suppamani (unregistered) on July 8th, 2006 @ 5:45 pm

    Notr only “Kuzhanthaigal-Penngal-Aangal- all of his Novels are either about himself – or rediculing his relatives or friends – not a single line about common characters or some good or useful message to public – more over all his writings are in First Person as a beginner till his last.

  15. Elizabeth Bennett (unregistered) on July 8th, 2006 @ 6:04 pm

    I haven’t read any English fiction on Chennai. Tamil non-fiction: Ayyanar’s ‘Alaipuralum Vaazhkkai’ is a collection of articles written in a non-Chennaiite’s POV (he’s from Madurai).

  16. Nandhu (unregistered) on July 9th, 2006 @ 9:30 pm

    Even Tolstoy drew a lot of his characterisation from his relatives. No harm in that. Relatives everywhere are the same, arent they?

  17. Chenthil (unregistered) on July 10th, 2006 @ 11:52 am

    Lavanya, that India Seminar issue is a treasure trove of all information about Chennai. Read Mr. Muthiah’s article in that for a capsule history of Madras that is Chennai.

    Suppamani, this post is not about the merits of Sundra Ramaswamy’s writings. We will discuss that in an appropriate forum.

    Beth, any idea of where the book is available.

  18. Nandhu (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 2:08 am


    i can get a copy of the book if u want senthil. ayyanar is a friend. he is written a collection of poems called mansion kavithaigal on his mansion life in triplicane. add that book to ur list on chennai. :)

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