Chennai, Madras And A Bookshop.

I was born in Bombay now known as Mumbai but after my younger brother Arvind was born a year later, our family moved to Madras now known as Chennai. Though my family moved back to Bombay for a little over a year when I was in Fourth Standard, I was left behind in Madras with my uncle to study there. Till I finished school in 1958 I therefore lived in Madras during my formative years and though I moved to Hyderabad I returned to Madras again for a few years till I left for good in 1965. I have never lived there since then, but have been visiting regularly almost every year and on some occasions more times too.

I have family and very dear friends who live in Madras and I enjoy going there. I always return with my battery fully charged, though I really wonder if something like air conditioning the whole city cannot be undertaken for that beautiful city.

Madras was established way back in 1639 and Madras now Chennai is right now celebrating its 375th birth year with a great many events taking place there.

My post is however to talk about something else altogether. When I was there for a few days last month, I bought myself a book at the airport on my way back based on a recommendation made by my nephew Jai. Here is an extract from that book. The context is the Chola Empire which can authoritatively be dated back to 300 BCE and which lasted till 1300 CE.

“…..The Greeks referred to the region as Damirica, possibly a corruption of the word Thamizhakam – abode of the Tamils – and had some interesting notions about South Indians. The great Herodotus had this to say about them;

These Indians whom I have described have intercourse openly like cattle; they are all black-skinned, like the Ethiopians. Their semen too, which they ejaculate into the women is not white like other men’s, but black like their skin, and resembles in this respect that of the Ethiopians. These Indians dwell far away from the Persians southwards, and were not subjects of King Darius.

How utterly inaccurate. As any resident of the region will tell you, intercourse is not only rare but almost universally forbidden across most South India. Instead, locals are encouraged to spend their time in prayers and IIT coaching. ………”

Fantastic. I love the writer’s sense of humour.

Apart from thoroughly enjoying reading the book, the name of the book shop at the airport took me down on another long nostalgia trip.

Can you imagine the fun this name would have generated for generations of Madrasis? This was Mecca for all book lovers of Madras when we were young and Higginbothams had branches in all railway stations in the South where the only entertainment that travellers like me had was available in the widest possible selection. To buy a book from another Higginbothams branch was like icing on the cake to round off a great visit to the city that I still like to call Madras.

Before I leave my readers, here is a recommendation to my Indian readers. Please get a copy of the book The Sceptical Patriot by Sidin Vadukut and read it. I would rate it among the best that I have read on India. Since I liked his writing style so much, I have also bought his three fiction books for my Kindle. The reviews are good enough for me to indulge!

17 thoughts on “Chennai, Madras And A Bookshop.”

  1. Black semen? Can I have some, please. In a phial. It’ll make such a change in conversation from the weather and house prices next time guests come round. For good measure I shall sprinkle some Madras curry powder onto the dish of the day and make a toast to you.

    Which reminds me: GG once asked me why (white) women of a certain age are so fascinated by dark coloured (exotic) men. He made this remark in connection with Leni Riefenstahl (the photographer) and her later work. What do I know? Nothing. That’s what. I guess that, to some extent, once we are past child bearing and know – instinctively – that no best and matching gene pool needs to be considered, the eye opens to other lures. Having said that: I see beauty everywhere. Regardless of skin colour, age, gender.

    Though, please do forgive me, Chinese and Japanese I can’t warm to. They, their body language is a closed book to me. It’s like being blind folded in company. Plus, respectively, one nationality always smiles and the other never does. Throws me for six.

    Ursula recently posted..Ebb

    1. Very interesting how how you took off on a tangent from Herodotus’ observation. He must have been totally zapped with the morals of the locals of that age and must have imagined all kinds of things! But the humour of the locals praying and studying is so typical of the South that I wrote about that.

  2. And how on earth would Herodotus know about the typical colour of men’s semen? Did he lurk in their bedrooms? Was he a healthcare assistant? I think you’re pulling our leg, Mister.
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    1. I wish that I knew Nick. He must have used some kind of an X-ray machine! No, I am not and nor is the writer. I have crosschecked that this is indeed a genuine Herodotus quote.

  3. Long time fan of Sidin’s writing. His blog is hugely entertaining. Esp. the older posts about mallus, the great Punjabi wedding etc. It cane be found here –

    In the same genre are – Krish Ashok and Ashish Shakya.

    Don’t blame me if a few days disappear into these rabbit holes. 🙂

  4. I was amazed at all the progress India has made since the time of Herodotus. But now I must go back and read it again from a skeptical vantage point. 😉
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    1. Unless you come and park yourself at my home, for a few days, as you have been promising to do for maybe a decade or so now, you cannot as they are on my kindle.

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