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Chennai Brew: Chronicling lives of ‘North Indian’ communities in coastal city

The book traces the lives of four North Indian communities in Chennai against the backdrop of the Partition.

Written by Shivani Ramakrishnan | Chennai |
Updated: August 16, 2019 7:46:06 pm
Chennai Brew: Chronicling lives of 'North Indian' communities in coastal city Chennai Brew explores the lives of Punjabi, Bengali, Parsi and Sindhi communities living in Chennai. Express Photo.

Many communities from North India have started calling the coastal city of Chennai their home, having settled in the city during Partition 72 years ago. Set against this backdrop in the Indian history, debutante author Anuradha Uberoi explores the lives of four communities in Chennai— Punjabis, Bengalis, Parsis and Sindhis— in her book titled ‘Chennai Brew’.

Speaking to from New York where she is currently on tour, Chennai-based author Anuradha discusses Chennai Brew, which was born out of her own experiences in Chennai.

A consultant in the field of organisational behaviour and development, Anuradha said that she decided to make the shift from a columnist to an author after realising that despite being a metropolitan city, Chennai’s understanding of communities is very poor, which struck her as quite odd. “I have heard people hailing from different communities being called names due to ignorance. However, a talk that I had given on the Punjabi community in Chennai a few years ago during Madras Week was well-received, following which a senior journalist suggested making a book on North Indian communities in Chennai and thus Chennai Brew was born.”

“The name ‘Chennai Brew’ is symbolic of the fact that there are other communities brewing in Chennai and filter coffee is an integral part of the communities,” said Anuradha while speaking about the title of her book and the image which is featured on top.

Chennai Brew Chennai Brew contains a plethora of first-hand accounts of the Partition of India

The book, which traces the journey of the four communities was both a personal journey and learning experience for Anuradha, who has her roots in Chandigarh. “There was such a treasure trove of data which had to be written and I had interviewed close to 150 people for the book,” said Anuradha, who holds a PhD in Psychology.

Chennai Brew contains a plethora of first-hand accounts of the Partition of India, with photographs and documents dating back to 1943, 1947 and even 1954 immortalised between the pages of the narrative. “All the information and documents mentioned in the books have been lost to us until now and in fact, the people I interviewed are perhaps the last generation out of those times who can give us this kind of information and documents. This made writing the book all the more precious to me,” said the author.

According to Anuradha, what makes the book unique, besides being the first book of its kind to talk about the North Indian communities in Chennai is the fact that all the information was sourced by the author through first hand accounts. “I used to receive calls from readers saying that I had quoted somebody they knew. This first-hand information was one way of bringing the communities closer”, she said.

Speaking about the people who have been featured in Chennai Brew, Anuradha said that everyone was very forthcoming and enthusiastic about providing information and pictures from their personal collection once they realised that the author was documenting their story. “The people taught me so much about their lives and their communities and I owe a lot of gratitude to them,” she said.

Given the cultural differences between people hailing from Chennai and people settled in Chennai, the author said that there was a stark contrast in culture in the late eighties in the city. Today, however, Chennai has amalgamated different cultures while also retaining their individuality, thus providing a sense of belonging for people from across India who have come to call Chennai their home.

The narrative features a third-person’s point of view of the accounts, with the author also comparing the people from each community in Chennai to their kin back home and what it is about them in the city that makes them similar or different to their brethren in the North. According to the author, North Indians settled in South India are much more subdued than those in North India, with the Chennai culture visible in their lifestyles and upbringing today.

Throughout her journey, Anuradha observed that despite being settled in all corners of the city, the people from the four communities looked out for their brethren in Chennai through thick and thin. Opening up about her interactions with the Punjabi, Bengali, Parsi and Sindhi communities, the author found out that all four communities loved to live life well, were very fond of good food and enjoyed socialising and meeting people. “But that is where the similarities end, since the communities all have distinct traditions, styles of cooking and lifestyles,” said Anuradha.

Speaking about support systems for the communities in Chennai, she found despite having common roots in the North, the four communities preferred to seek help among themselves rather than looking for outside assistance. “Support systems are very important and my question is why should we be looking for support systems within our community? Sadly the Punjabi, Bengali and Parsi communities find that their go-to people for socialising are their own community members. My vision is that one day, a Bengali will look to a Sindhi for help. Maybe it is a utopian thought but that is my contribution to Chennai,” she said.

With Chennai Brew, Anuradha aims to show that the city has a rich culture and if one is willing to learn about Chennai’s various culture, people can learn to live as one cohesive group.

Coupled with extensive interviews and exhaustive research, Chennai Brew, which took three years to chronicle people’s accounts, was published in July 2019. Currently, the author is working on her second book which will chronicle the lives of the Marathi, Gujarati and Rajasthani communities in Chennai.

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