CHENNAI: Sri Lankan author Ashok Ferry says he loves to explore new places, wander around streets and observe the architecture. A short visit to Chennai recently gave him the opportunity to do just that. He was here for the launch of his latest book The Professional.
The book revolves around the life of a guy, who is forced to become a male escort due to certain circumstances, and is unable to come out of the trap. “It explores society from a different angle,” says Ashok, who holds a degree in Pure Math from Oxford. Known for his works like Colpetty People, The Good Little Ceylonese Girl and Serendipity, the author says humour has always found its way in his works. In that sense, The Professional will be unlike any of his previous books, he adds.
The Sri Lanka’s biggest selling author in English and host of The Ashok Ferry Show is also a guest lecturer at Colombo School of Architecture. “Though I do not have a degree in architecture, I still take classes. Firstly, because I am fond of the subject, and secondly, there are not enough experts on the field to teach,” he says. He talks to City Express about the similarities between Sri Lanka and Chennai, besides the aspects in the city that would bring him back.
In awe of Colonial Architecture
While I was here for the launch, I took a workshop on Creative Writing at Madras University. Someone there told me that it is the oldest institution in the city. I loved the architecture. Chennai seems to have an absolute wealth of colonial architecture – a feast for the eye. As in Sri Lanka, many of these architectural gems are hidden from the public eye with private houses hidden behind trees, mysteriously beautiful. Since I love walking around the streets fairly aimlessly, it is an absolute joy when I discover these hidden treasures. As a novelist I often wonder: Who lives there? What do they do? Do they have any idea of the architectural value of their bricks and mortar? Does this building inspire them as much as it does me? Then of course there is the truly splendid esplanade along the sea, that seems to stretch for ever and ever - British colonial town planning at its best!
Bridging the Gap
Here, if one has to travel from one place to the other, it is quite a distance and takes a lot of time, unlike in Sri Lanka. But the city seems to combine effortlessly the complexity of a big city with its many moving parts, and the charm of a small town, with the degree of connectivity this entails. I love, for instance, the stalls that iron your clothes in the open air – the takeaway ironing stations! Supremely practical – how I wish we had them in Colombo.
Detoxing in Chennai
South Indian food is so much lighter than our own which tends to be overloaded with spices and coconut milk. I am normally a greedy Colombo carnivore; so it is truly a healthy detox for me when I come to Chennai!
The Lanka Connection
Huge similarities between Chennai and Colombo. The same giant trees, the same tropical climate, the same friendly people. If only we would concentrate on these, instead of trying to highlight differences, which for the most part are so minor as to be irrelevant.
Love for R K Narayan
As I said before, Chennai seems to have a lovely small-town ethic in spite of being a huge metropolis. I always think of my favourite writer when I come here – R K Narayan – and I see South Indian life very much through his eyes. He too had the knack of reducing fairly complicated social structures and emotions to their essence through his deceptively simple sentences. This will always be an inspiration to me: to be able to write like that is truly a god- given gift.