"Mappilai, yes that's me"
Meet Carlo Pizzati, a 'soft version of Shantaram', who in a chat with newindianexpress.com, tells us about his newly-launched book, Mappillai: An Italian son-in-law in India, how he fell in love with Chennai, met and married his wife and his challenges of being a 'whitey' in the Southern belt of India.
Dressed smartly in a blue blazer on a rather sultry afternoon, as described vividly in his book, Carlo tells us how he came about to pen down his ‘extraordinary experiences’ in Chennai. “I was told by my editor in Italy to write my extraordinary life, so for me to have found an ordinary life in India in a family as a ‘mapillai’ is a very extraordinary thing.”
Ordinary Extraordinary life
Having had adventurous experiences as a journalist in Latin America, and the US (New
York), Carlo feels in India, he has found some sort of a normal life.
“I was shot at by a group of gangsters when I was going with the police wearing a bulletproof vest, and I was arrested by the Columbian Secret Service as I had interviewed the spokesperson of the guerrillas,” he recounts.
But in India, "everything is extraordinary; it is full of surprises," Pizzati says.
Adrenaline is something Carlo lived for as his adventures as a journalist tell you “I got that lesson that adrenaline has to teach you, whereas, in India, I got the lesson that patience has to teach you.”
'Mappillai' is a serious book in funny clothes. Placing his part-memoir, part-philosophical book in the migrant literature genre, Carlo ruminates: “I think we are all migrants, and I am a privileged migrant…
India is definitely mature, especially in the metropolitan context.”
Pizzati feels fortunate on being welcomed in India: “There are a few advantages of being a 'gora' in India, like a little could be due to some colonial, post-colonial hang-ups that are still lingering in India. The maturity is also in the Indian philosophy and history… India also has the historical and demographic muscles that can take away all the differences.”
Mappillai is not a book on India, or is it?
Though written with a lot of acceptance, Carlo feels that there are several others who are better qualified to talk about India. “I just thought I would try to explain what I saw and what I experienced and be more honest as a writer.”
Carlo has gotten used to so many things that he cannot recount challenges faced in his initial days. From traffic to bribery to serpentine queues which he’s familiar with from his Italy days, Carlo says, “Things that used to irritate me, they don’t irritate me so much.”
Speaking on the rampant inequality in India, Carlo tells us his views, “It is difficult to see that the people who are the subjects of inequality are sometimes those who endorse this system.”
But to highlight a positive aspect he found, Carlo brings up the Chennai floods of 2015. “There are some signs (of differences blurring) after the floods --- where different castes were affected similarly by the floods. We had some sort of collaboration, some sort of barrier being broken.”
Finding a balance in the different Indias
Carlo, who at one point felt he had a clear image before he ventured into his Indian experience a decade back, has now a totally different point of view. “Like other people, I also came here looking for an answer. I did find an answer, I found that answer in love, and I wasn’t looking for it.”
Where is India heading to?
Having written very extensively in Italian newspapers on India's current political atmosphere and the threats journalists face, Carlo feels there needs to be a change in legislation. “There need for stricter laws to protect journalists and faster trials to try people who harass and kill journalists.” Gau rakshaks or cow vigilantes-sponsored violence is much lesser when compared to the North, he says.
What does the Italian son-in-law think of his adopted home Chennai?
“A very boring metropolis, which is difficult to appreciate on its face value,” he opines.
Finding Chennai sedated in a positive way, Carlo feels, “It is very relaxing compared to the hustle and bustle of cities like Delhi or Mumbai.”
Carlo, who finds the lanes of Sowcarpet a good mix of the North and the South, puts it this way: “It attacks your nervous system less, except when you are driving!"