Saturday, 8 February 2014

Chennai? China? Madras? Madrassa?

As part of Tamil Heritage Trust's fifth site seminar, I was one of 30 people who visited several sites in Gujarat recently. "Where are you from?" was a common question. At Sarkhej Roza mosque in Ahmedabad, a young boy asked this question. When my friend VSS Iyer replied "Chennai?", he asked "China?" "No, no, Chennai," his mother laughed "remember the Shah Rukh Khan movie Chennai express?" The boy only nodded vaguely.

At another place, an automobile museum on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, I was asked the same question. Not a boy, 25 years old, in a white uniform, in charge of showing the cars to the visitors. "Madras," I said. "Madrassa?" he asked - a madrassa is a Muslim school, often held in a mosque. "No, Chennai." No recognition. "Shah Rukh Khan, Chennai express?" I added, using a mother's trick. Continued cluelessness.

I said "Jayalalitha, Karunanidhi." No response. "Chennai Superkings? Dhoni?" Blank look. "Tamil Nadu?" Shake of the head. "Kanyakumari, Ramesvaram?" I asked in despair. Very slight nod, "Sunaa," he said, meaning "I think I have heard of those places."

He did not even know Rajini Kanth.

I must say, every other person who ever asked, even those who may have been illiterate, immediately recognized Chennai or Madras.

Mulla Mohammad ali Madrasvala

Almost as a counterpoint, we visited the house of a Bohra Muslim called Mulla Mohammadali Madrasvala in Siddhpur. His descendants -who live in Kotturpuram!- hosted us and let us roam about the place. He is called Madrasvala because in his time he spent most of his money in Madras/Chennai. Sidhdhpur is to Bohra muslims what Karaikkudi is to Chettinadu Nagaraththaars. Mr Taheri Danalivala, who gave us a presentation on Siddhpur and Bohra Muslims, and who himself is now a resident of Chennai, says that when he is called Madrasvala in Gujarat!

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