Changing face of Chennai

Meera Rao’s “Madras Mosaic” is a compilation of her articles about the city

ANOTHER BOOK ON MADRAS At the launch of "Madras Mosaic" by Meera Rao

Meera Rao thanks a group of students from Pittsburgh for her latest book “Madras Mosaic”. When they were docked at Chennai during their semester-at-sea programme, Meera addressed them. When the journalist read out some of her articles, they liked the write-ups for their humour. When they asked her which book she read them from, the idea of putting these articles between two covers was planted in her mind.

A recent Madras Book Club meeting saw the release of this book by former Chief Vigilance Commissioner, N. Vittal. Nina Reddy, director, Savera Hotels, and Jaya Vaidhyanathan, director and business unit head, HCL Technologies, spoke about the descriptive richness of the book.

Meera has not fallen for the stereotyped views about Chennai, but has tried to portray a city that invites changes. The chapter “Forbidden Fruit” is about Chennai’s traumatic encounter with changing social mores. She also goes on to report a book-reading session with Shobhaa De and what the excerpts from Surviving Men did to the gathering. She attaches to the chapter an article carrying interviews with sex consultants and social scientists in the city. “Dr. Narayana Reddy concurs that women are becoming more and more permissive and demanding, which is due to changing value systems. This again is due to economic independence and exposure to the world outside home and family. Also sexual fidelity (expected within marriage) is increasingly considered old-fashioned. He feels men are finding it extremely difficult to cope with this situation. Some go into their shells and others react violently. He concludes that today’s man is a very insecure person.”

Meera has an eye for the offbeat. “Middle-aged Mothers” is about “a new tribe of middle-aged grandmothers in Chennai”, who are “in their late forties or early fifties, still full of life, and have a wide range of interests and hobbies to pursue, but no time for them. Their spouses are on the verge of retirement and have hectic post-retirement plans. But for the new breed of `mothers’ there is no super-annuation or relaxation, because the life cycle begins all over again, a cycle involving more work and greater responsibility.”

The “Singles Club” is about the woman who’s at the helm of things. “Another visible change in Chennai is an increase in women-run households. We often find a working woman, though married, ploughing a lonely furrow, thanks to a job which does not allow her to relocate to her husband’s place of work.”

Although, women appear a lot more in the book, it’s not a book about them. It’s also about “elusive grooms”, “a choosy beggar” (“He has been a familiar sight in Alwarpet and Mylapore in south Chennai for over five decades, the only difference being that at first, he used to beg for milk to feed his snake, and after his snake’s death he begs to feed himself”), multiculturalism, personality training, Akshaya thritiya and a lot more.

PRINCE FREDERICK

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