Book: Mappillai: An Italian son-in-law in India
Author: Carlo Pizzati
Publisher: Simon & Schuster,
Price: Rs 399; Pages: 336
Written in a manner one can relate to in more ways than one, Carlo Pizzati’s Mapillai- An Italian Son-in-law in India, is a set of his observations from a ‘recovering orientalist’s’ point of view.
While narrating why he has chosen to live in isolation after a life of adventure, his experience with bribery, the daily traffic battles, co-existing with snake and mice in his beach house, along with a multitude of other things, Pizzati also offers various insights on Indian society.
'Mappillai' also lays bare identity politics and its significance in contemporary India, race relations, caste, and its continued relevance.
The book is entertaining, philosophical and insightful all at once.
Pizzati’s journey through various cultures, countries in pursuit of some answers and his settling down in Paramakeni near Chennai finally for love, is well encapsulated.
'Mappillai' will make you ponder about the harsh realities we are facing and leave you nodding in
agreement with Pizzati and the ‘point of view’ that he brings not as an expat, but as an immigrant.
The book which is available on Amazon will be launched on October 11, 7 pm at Goethe Institut Auditorium, Chennai.
Here is an excerpt from 'Mappillai':
"I come from those Northern Italian parts. I grew up with that Orientalist craving for sunny exoticism, dictated by the grimness of an industrialized life called development.
But, now, from my terrace on Bagheera Beach, in a house my mother-in-law, Eira, baptized with the Welsh name of ‘Ar Lan y Môr’ which means ‘Beside the Sea’, all I observe are goat herders and their goats, Indian barefoot cowboys in their lungis poking their cattle, the occasional construction workers or fishermen running out to the waves to squat, shit, scuttle forward a few steps for a fast ‘wave-bidet’, put their lungis back up, and pensively return to their daily business. Or the dazed meditators oozing out of the hedge-fund manager ashram up the beach, clad in white kurtas, a relaxed, dreamy smile on their faces.
I hear the constant breath of the waves and the wind, the monsoon rain filling the terrace and trickling down the roof. And in the right season the put-putting of fishing boats, while a devastated carburettor roars into the silence of dawn its scream of ownership of the landscape: humans are here, they are here to capture fish, and they are not shy about it!
I see the palm trees I’ve planted, the 10 cactus plants into a nice curving row, each necklaced with their own garland of rocks. The fragrant frangipani, the neem bush hiding the dark granite statue of Ganesh I bought in Mamallapuram; the water-sucking casuarina trees that were supposed to protect the soil from a second tsunami, after the 2004 disaster wiped away the foundations of Arlanymor.
I see a squirrel running along the frail brick wall, chased by a hawk or is it an osprey? Egrets seasonally come to dance their reptilian moves in search for scrambled insects for breakfast.
Once, I saw a rat snake swerve around the corner of the house. And also a tree snake chasing a frog across the wispy green grass lawn and then gulp it down.
I’ve seen 18 dogs, at one point, populate the garden.
I’ve also seen most of them die and only the matriarch Bagheera survive.
I’ve seen my own wedding filling the wide garden with white tents and cheerful friends from many corners of the world come here to dance or sing, with operatic voices, melancholic Welsh songs.
I saw an acquired Scottish uncle, Chris, skipping and hopping away in his kilt and my new Gujju Jain cousins improvise a most dazzling Bollywood choreography for us all.
And I loved them all.
The Jain cousins, the Scottish uncle, my dear friends and my teenage pale Italian son who’d travel here from Rome to stay with me and wear a lungi and do pooja with the smiling caretaker Ammu at the Ganesh statue, along with my septuagenarian mom, who would walk around in circles around an idol she didn’t fully understand, but she wanted to go along with the extraordinary life of this preferito son of hers.
I loved them all, the shitting fishermen on the beach, the workers who burned plastic upwind as I ran out to chase them away brandishing a big stick, but mostly armed by all that dad-bod white flesh they weren’t sure if it made them laugh or be scared, as if they’d seen the materialization of a vellai (‘white’ in the Tamil language) Asura.
I loved and love them all. The tree snake I found in the knife rack on the window sill in the kitchen. Not sure who was scared the most. We knew we both were terrified. Both equally dangerous to each other, in our own minds. Nature and man.
And I love the family of toads we allow to live behind our cupboard filled with family crystals my sister and her family brought as my dowry, along with the ancient family porcelain, a piece of the Old Continent brought to the even Older Continent.