The City of Djinns

It’s Chennai I speak of, not Delhi. Chennapattinam is a city of contrasts. Old and new. They co-exist, jostling each other amidst spaces that are sometimes too constrained to let them live.

One such place is Mangaduswamy street, in Nungambakkam – a street that’s still apt to lead you, the stray walker, into a sort of portal back to the times of the British rule, or something. Several houses in the street still hark back to the times when houses had huge sprawling thinnais, pillars that supported them, occasionally carved with ancient designs.

Two or three homes still exist, that way. They’ve got creaking wooden doors that would require you to duck in when you enter, little lamp-holders cut into the wall itself, deep dark and gloomy rooms that have one window (usually blocked by numerous household items), narrow passageways with a small sewer running underneath … and a large, open mutram/mitham in the middle.

Sometimes, when I go up to the terrace, I can even peep over the wall and look right down into one of these houses next door. They show me a slice of daily life: people pottering about in the courtyard, children reading lessons out loud, some housewife crushing a handful of something on a stone ammi, clanging vessels, pots and spoons by the water andas …

By this point, I lean away, embarrassed – because it’s still a family down there, no matter how interested I am in antiquated houses.

Come evenings, and I walk along these airy thinnais, marveling at the children having a whale of a time as they run up and down the length of the house, the dank corners providing perfect hideouts for a n enthusiastic game of hide-and seek. Of course, it’s a housekeeping headache …

…but old houses have their own feel. A sense of existence. A distinct personality. Like William Dalrymple says about Delhi, in his “City of Djinns.” If you’re very quiet, very still and listen carefully –

– maybe you’ll see a jinn or a spirit muni flit gently from one ancient room to another, reliving days of long ago. When Chennai wasn’t Chennai at all, but Madras, or Chennaptnam, a cluster of fishing villages. And Nungambakkam was Bommipuram, a luxuriant, well-forested place with a beautiful Sivan Koil and sparkling lake beside it.


Note: This post is unconnected with Vatsan’s post. :)

2 Comments so far

  1. vatsan (unregistered) on November 27th, 2006 @ 3:03 pm

    the post still supports my argument :D

  2. Pavithra (unregistered) on November 27th, 2006 @ 3:24 pm

    Indeed. :)

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