What can I tell you about Tamilnadu? The land of my birth.
Madurai Malli (jasmine), Kumbakonam degree coffee, Ambur Thalapakatti biriyani, Kanchipuram silk, and the Kaveri delta.
Women who insist on compliments
The sari-clad matron grudgingly accepts the cellophane-wrapped plastic bag from the jewellery salesman behind the counter.
“No calendar?” she asks.
This then is the Great Tamilnadu Paradox.
Thrifty or value-for-money?
Locals will spend a million bucks on gold and diamonds.
They may even like their purchases.
But they won’t truly feel satisfied till they get a cheesy calendar or plastic bag as a “compliment.”
The Tamil paradox
To get a measure of the Tamilnadu paradox, you have to begin at Panagal Park in the heart of Thyagaraya Nagar (T. Nagar).
Named after two founders of the anti-Brahmin, anti-elitist Justice Party, this six-kilometre stretch, once covered with paddy fields, is today– ironically– India’s largest shopping district in terms of revenue.
A sense of the numbers
The shops here together earn a reported Rs. 20,000 crore annually — the spread comes from “black money” or unaccounted and untaxed transactions– by selling silk and gold to some 200,000 shoppers everyday.
During Diwali and other festivals, this number swells to a million shoppers a day.
This is four times what similar shopping neighborhoods such as Mumbai’s Linking Road, Delhi’s Connaught Place, or Bangalore’s Commercial Street earn.
Tamilnadu’s cultural touchstones— brass vessels, filter coffee, brightly coloured cotton sarees, bazaars, afternoon siesta, early-morning weddings, all remain reassuringly unchanged.
Tamilians are candid
Tamilnadu is the sort of place where “My, you’ve grown fat,” constitutes a greeting;
where candour is seen as a virtue and curiosity, a birthright;
where regional local fruits like the nungu and elanthapazham are loved.
My link to Tamilnadu.
I grew up in Chennai in a Tamilian family. So it is a particular pleasure to put together this edition.