An Indian-American love dream in Chennai (Book Review)

August 2nd, 2012 - 10:16 am ICT by IANS  

Title: “Chennaivaasi”; Author: T.S. Tirumurti; Publishers: Harper Collins; Pages 268; Price: Rs.299

This is a beautiful and engrossing love story. Chennai comes alive in the emotive saga of a Tam Bram family torn apart by the youngest son’s love for a blonde Jewish girl he meets in the US and who he wants to marry. His conservative parents are shocked; however Ravi is adamant. It is either Deborah or the family.

His father, who in his younger days made love to a white woman, now wallows in Tam Bram pride and dumps him. The mother visits Ravi and his girlfriend, who are staying separately, and is struck by her beauty. “She looked almost like a Punjabi girl, she thought, but fairer. Such lovely blonde hair… If only she were an Iyer girl.”

Just when Ravi wonders why he returned to Chennai with Deborah, help is on hand in the form of Kamala, his Appa’s younger sister who is very affectionate to the Jewish-American woman. Deborah quietly takes to Tamil culture and Chennai, even the language. She and Ravi work in the same company, live together (raising many eyebrows), but don’t marry.

The mother pleads with Ravi to let go of Deborah, and then pursues the same line with the girl, but fails to break their love bond. Her heart broken, Amma dies in sleep, just a day after reading her own fate in the Naadi palm leaves.

Months roll by. Life changes dramatically for everyone one day when Appa, who refused to let Ravi and Deborah wed, lands up at their house, begging to be taken in because his first two sons have gone wayward and are now interested only in the family property, not his welfare.

What happens from then on is a fascinating story set in the heart of Chennai and encompassing a variety of other characters too: Chinnamma, a Dalit woman who works for Ravi and Deborah, slum lord-cum-gangster-cum-Brahmin baiter Marimuthu, lawyer Vaidyanathan, financier Karim Bala… Each character is full of life, not to forget the sex-starved Bala and Diana in the US.

“Chennaivaasi” is also a commentary on Tam Bram (Tamil Brahmin) values and the joint family system. It takes you around Chennai like a tour guide! Indian Foreign Service officer Tirumurti’s second work of fiction is a pleasurable read. I wish it had a glossary of Tamil words for non-Tamils.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at

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