Indian boy from traditional family goes abroad, falls in love with an American, gets married? Well, yes, but with the mandatory blessings from the father. And that’s something that comes after a lot of trials and tribulations. Seems like an 80s Hindi movie? Nope, this is actually the premise of Chennaivaasi, diplomat-turned-author T S Tirumurti’s second work of fiction, which was released recently and has already run out of stock.
‘It may be a cliché but some of the best of cliches comes out of reality. Otherwise it would be complete fiction,’ defends Tirumurti. ‘I don’t deny that it is a cliché. Is there an acceptance, a meeting point? That’s what I am trying to find,’ he explains.
For those who haven’t been to Chennai, the book is a wonderful insight on the city and into the lives of a TamBram family. His first book, Clive Avenue, was also set in Chennai and will soon be converted into an e-book.
Writing on Chennai is but natural for Tirumurti who belongs to the city, even though he has studied and worked in Delhi. Having left Chennai 30 years back, the author says he now views the metropolis through the eyes of his parents and children who still live there.
‘The story is based on the TamBram community that I am familiar with. I am not here to fill a literary gap, I am here to write. The constraints of the job comes first,’ muses Tirumurti.
Chennaivaaasi aims to capture the different ethos that the city has and its ethos. ‘It’s about what makes Chennai tick. For example the Triplicane area is a fascinating example of co-existence,’ says the author, who says he tried to give every strata of the society a voice in his book. Indeed, every character is sketched out in detail – from the son Ravi to Jewish American Deborah, the maid, the father and even Ravi’s mother who dies halfway through the book.
Tirumurti agrees that a certain intellectual streak, which is often mistaken to be snobbishness, exists in the society in Chennai. But at the same time he insists that the book is not about that. His job has taken him all over the globe and he has taken facets of his travels and inculcated it in the story. For example, his Jewish friends during his stint in Washington DC gave him in idea about the community and its reactions to India.
‘These crept into my writing. I also travelled to Cornell University twice to figure out about the life of students there,’ explains the author who believes that ‘not only should you be authentic but you also need to give correct information.’
But how does Delhi or for that matter, any other part of India connect to Chennai, especially since the book only deals with the southern metropolis? ‘The touchstone of success is making it a story which universally people can resonate with. But north India’s interest in Chennai is very low. I was initially apprehensive that people may not pick it up,’ admits Tirumurti. ‘Even in Chennai people will pick it up if the book is good, not because I am an IFS officer,’ he asserts.
But all his fears proved unfounded because the first edition is already out of print and ‘in Delhi also people have picked it up quite a bit,’ says the author. The writing of the book also has an interesting story behind it. Tirumurti first started writing it before shifting to Delhi and went back to the manuscript only after he shifted to the UN desk after four and a half years.
‘Leaving a book halfway and getting back to it is like literally writing a new one,’ says Tirumurti who wrote the book even in airport lounges and during long flights. Like he says, one adapts.