Chennai Latte: A Madras Brew

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Item Code: IHL524
Author: Ranjitha Ashok and Biswajit Balasubramanian
Publisher: East West Books (Chennai) Pvt Ltd
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 8188661317
Pages: 123 (Illustrated Throughout In B/W)
Cover: Paperback
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Book Description

I FIRST MET Ranjitha in 1979, when she became an Ashok, in fact, a member of the TFK family. T T Krishnamachari and my father had long been friends, but I got to know the family only from 1968 when I took charge of 'ITK’s printing and publishing unit. When I first met Ranjitha, somewhere along the way in the conversation it transpired that she had- been a journalist. That’s when I should have persuaded her to get involved with the editorial department of `TT` MAPS and make life easier for me, but, instead, we meandered into talking about journalism, which she was not thinking of getting into again, at least not then. Whereupon she gave up `writing for babies and a children’s boutique.

It was in the 1990s that the muse began to inspire her again. I began to read her in Eves touch, the only women’s magazine in the South, which I helped by dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s and minding the p’s and q’s. I had to do none of that whenever Ranjitha’s copy arrived. In fact, I’d flip through the pile to see if there was anything from her, and, if there was, grab it to look at it first. For I was sure it would give me enough laughs to not only sustain me through the rest of the pile but also through the day.

Those pieces Ranjitha did for Eves Touch were hilarious. Their razor-sharp wit, caustic at times, resigned at others, and what—to do occasionally, might have seemed a breath of fresh air to a grouchy editor like me who had by then come to the conclusion that no one had a sense of humour in this country, at least not enough to write amusingly, but it would have made the day for hundreds of mothers bringing up families in Madras and who’d gone through all Ranjitha wrote about without seeing the funny side of things. ‘Bringing up Father’ had always appealed to me from the time I was young; Ranjitha’s ‘Bringing up a Family’ struck the same chord. My only regret is that, now that her brood has almost flown, she’s stopped writing more in the same vein. But she could at least have made a book of it all. Which was advice she didn’t heed. But there’s still time...

There are many young parents who’d find nothing has changed...not even the need to look at the amusing side of life!

Be that as it may, as the Ashoks grew up and Ranjitha had less to say about them, she wanted to write something different. That was about the time a few readers of Madras Musings had written to me saying that the one thing the fortnightly lacked was what all Indian newspapers and journals were short of, a good piece of humorous writing. Would she like to try her hand at amusing, but meaningful, comment, every fortnight, on Madras that is Chennai and maybe someone in authority would see beneath the humour that there were things that needed to be done to make the city a better place and life in it more comfortable? “I’ve never done anything like it,” hummed and hawed Ranjitha, backing away from the thought. But in time to make its appearance in Madras Musings on January 16, 2002, there arrived her first piece for A-musings.

Supplementing Ranjitha’s writing and making A-musings still more telling has been the contribution of Biswajit Balasubramanian, the teaming coming about quite serendipitously. One of the first exhibitions at the Forum Art Gallery, run by Biswajit’s wife Shalini, was a look at Madras that is Chennai by well—known artist A V Ilango. The way Ilango had handled the chaos that seems an integral part of life in Madras made me ask him whether he’d like to do a regular cartoon for Musings. “Wait I’ll bring him here, someone who will suit you to a 'I`,” he said. And in moments he was back with Biswajit in tow — and promising me that he was not pulling my leg, that Biswajit could not only caricature, had a good line, but also a sense of humour When in a few moments I discovered that Biswajit knew Ranjitha, I suggested they work it out between themselves. And as April 2005 dawns, not only is A-musings still going strong, with Ranjitha’s words teaming with Biswajit’s cartoons, but the combination has had enough readers demanding that their work be brought out as a book. And so we have A—musings today. I look forward to readers enjoying the best of their work over the last three years.

Whether their comment, trenchant, wry, or just life’s- like-that, has made a difference to life in the city, I don’t know. I rather think it unlikely, for who in authority anywhere pays heed to newspaper comment or suggestions? But A-musings has undoubtedly given pleasure to hundreds of readers. And if there are people like Ranjitha and Biswajit who-can make a few smile or chuckle, surely that’s enough in a city where both are at a premium.

From the Jacket

A CITY HAS MANY faces - enigmatic, mysterious, romantic; frightening, violent and tragic.

And then there are those special moments, fleeting instances, when she allows you a brief, tantalizing glimpse of yet another face - a bright, elusive face, even as she, her eyes glittering with mischief, darts through the traffic, through the heat waves, dust, pollution, and long, sad lines waiting for water. She shoots a lightning glance at you to see if you are following her, then leads you to the strangely funny, the singularly unique, the absolutely maddening, and sometimes, the downright incomprehensible, all intrinsic elements in the drama that is her. And all evocative of the most hapless, yet somehow endearing facets of the human condition.

She throws a teasing laugh over her shoulder, as if telling you not to take Life in general, and yourself in particular, too seriously, and vanishes even as you register each new vision.

She knows you’ll search again. This book contains stories of those moments when the city, watching her people cope with both Destiny in particularly playful moods, and, more often, with the results of their own actions, decided to smile.

Cartoons have appeared in Madras Musings, The Hindu-Business Line, and other local publications in Chennai. He has participated in, and conducted, various cartoon, illustration and drawing workshops, notably in Apollo Specialty Hospital (Cancer), working with children. He is currently working on children’s books for leading publishers. His favourite cartoonists are Rene Goscinny, Herge, Charles Schulz, Don Martin, Quentin Blake and R K Lakshman. He says he has never undergone any formal training, but has been “doodling from very early childhood”, a practice that appears to have paid rich dividends.

RANJITHA ASHOK is a writer and columnist, residing in Chennai. A regular contributor to ‘Madras Musings’, she has worked with renowned historian and journalist, S Muthiah, on several book projects. She has recently published her first book with a leading publisher. Her list of favourite humourists is just a little too long-winded to qualify as a clear statement providing any real indication of preference, but she ranks Will Cuppy, Richard Lederer, Clarence Day, Stephen Leacock, Dave Barry, Bill Bryson, Richard Armour, Erma Bombeck, and also several comedians, theatre personalities and script writers right here in Chennai very high on that rather confused list, placing her all-time and absolute favourite, P G Wodehouse, right on top, (which is a little like the fate that befell Abou Ben Adhem, whose singular distinction appears to have been a source of gentle hilarity for Plum himself).

Back of the Book

“The combination of cartooning and writing makes for a wonderfully funny look at what’s wrong with this city, and, occasionally, what’s right with it.”

Shalini Umachandran
The Hindu Literary Review

“The phenomenon of Vis Comica (the Power to make people laugh) is all too prevalent in the book ‘Chennai Latte - A Madras Brew’.”

Praveena Shivram
Madras Plus, Economic Times

“The book honestly describes the Chennai experience with a rare touch of humour. What ‘thendral katthu’ (southern breeze) is to the Chennai-ite, this book is to the literary world.”

Usha Kris
Deccan Herald

“Nothing escapes the laughing pen and chuckling brush. The humour is gentle, with local flavours to guarantee general appeal.”

Gowri Ramnarayan
Metro Plus, The Hindu

“My fellow railway commuters had to endure my sudden snorts of laughter for a week, as I read this hilarious book on my journeys to work and back home… the issues touched upon in this witty book are common to my city as well. It could have very well been titled ‘Mumbai Latte - A Bombay Brew”

Supriya Kantak
‘Femina Staffers share the funniest books they’ve read!
Femina, August 2005.


A beaker of the warm south 2
What rubbish 4
The healing touch 6
Have spade, will dig 8
What’s the buzz? 10
The heat is on 12
June blues 14
Goal fever 16
Pipe-dreams 18
Mirror, mirror 20
Watch that space 22
The whole six yards 24
Patch of blue 26
Evening snacks 28
New year - already? 30
Of mice and men 32
Two much 34
Little shining light 36
Over? 38
Knock “em dead! 40
Pizza, paati? 42
Ring-a—ring-a—pulse-rate 44
The ides of July 46
Jungle patrol 48
Light of our lives 50
Outward Ho! 52
Tuning in 54
Listen to the falling rain 56
Clean sweep 58
Sweet season 60
What’s your name? 62
Big problems 64
Konjum mixing 66
Long way home 68
Fowl mood 70
Was school out for summer? 72
A little of this, a pinch of that 74
You just can't win 76
UR 2 much 78
Burrowing in 80
Hair raising 82
Guess who’s .... (sorry!) Where we are going for dinner? 84
Nine's a crowd? 86
Summer time - and the livin’ is easy? 88
Wanted: a Pied Piper 90
Shenanigans on the banana leaf 92
Falling down 94
Just another day in paradise 96
Tall tales 98
Skull and cross bones 100
The medium’s the message 102
Gift horses 104
Toil and spin 106
Name that baby 108
What a bargain 110
Waiting to inhale 112
Shawl, anyone? 114
Flying leap 116
Mr. Carnivore, I presume? 118
The right note 121
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