Posted by: chobhi | January 17, 2009

Letter from Chennai, India

I came to sunny Chennai, India ,a week back and I am still fighting jet lag. This just means that I am active at odd hours when most of Chennai is sleeping and a continent away, people are wide awake.

Two days back I went to the last day of the Chennai Book Fair. The fairgrounds are in the north part of town and it took my niece and I a good forty minutes by ‘auto’. ( ‘Auto’ is a three-wheeled vehicle that comfortably holds two people and is less expensive than a taxi; a favorite mode of transportation if you do not wish to rely on buses or trains.)My house is in the southern part of the city which is developing rapidly.

All the book stalls were situated in a covered area and we were overwhelmed by the number of publishing houses here. You must remember that most of the books are not written in English but in the regional language of the state of Tamil Nadu ( Chennai is the capital of this state) or what we term the ‘ vernacular’ language. ( This is true in most states of India. In the state of Kerala, which is next door to Tamil Nadu, literacy rates are very high and the number of books published in their vernacular language called ‘Malayalam’ is mind-boggling! )So imagine the number of publishing houses in this state where all the books are published in Tamil. Remember also that books written in English are also translated into Tamil so the variety of literature is staggering.

Since I had learnt to read and also write in Tamil when I was young, I bought a lot of books written by contemporary women writers. I also subscribed to a literary and political magazine . I shall try to focus on the books and other aspects of life from here periodically and am willing to take your comments and questions.

I am heartened by the volume of interesting and serious writing that is coming out of here. Apart from the plethora of publications in English, I am excited and proud to see that the vernacular writing is robust and cutting-edge. There were many articles about the presidential elections in USA and some articles focusing on Barack Obama. The analysis is well- thought out and is not just the spouting of US mainstream media opinions. I was struck by an article that says that not everyone in the left- leaning media outlets are praising the picks of the incoming administration and are concerned if Mr Obama may become the same old kind of US President, viz., protecting only US interests and not having a global perspective for a change.

This brings me to something that had been a thorn on my side ( besides several others; oh my aching sides!)during the Bush years. US had become an insular amd self-centered nation with Bush, arrogant enough to say,”If you are not with us, you are against us.” I hope the global perspective of Barack Obama will be really put to use. We can listen to the voices of intelligent and well-reasoned discussions all over the world and learn to finally be a well-loved and respected nation.

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