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The Other City

Gaana music challenges the singular, homogenising narratives of Chennai city.

I live in one of the southernmost neighbourhoods in Chennai, and in order to get to the city’s opposite end in North Chennai, I have to take four modes of public transport. I make this commute fairly often for my research with practitioners of Gaana music—a distinct musical style that originated in North Chennai from the songs of labourers who came to the city to work in factories and mills during colonial rule. In my discussions with the singers about their art, we often find ourselves speaking about things under­lying the practice of their music, like their experiences of navigating the city.

On hot days, when the Chennai sun is harsh on my back and my hair feels as though it might spontaneously combust from the heat, I dread the long commute. I grew up in South Chennai, and throughout my schooling, the orbit of my world was squarely within the radius of things familiar to me. Everyone that I knew lived on this side of the city, and we all went to the same places where we would often bump into each other and think, “What a small city!” It never struck me as odd that I had rarely visited North Chennai in all these years, until my research took me “there.”

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Updated On : 28th Jan, 2020

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