Mirroring the face of change
Patrick French, who was in the City to launch his new book shares his thoughts about India
He writes of Vajpayee cooking for Advani, of how the makers of the Indian Constitution met for the first time the day Sonia Maino was born in Italy, of the Sikh driver ‘Back Gear Champian’, who drives only in reverse gear, and a certain Dr K who translated ‘Michael Jackson into Hindi’…anecdotes that highlight the picture of a country as sketched by Patrick French, the British writer and historian, in his latest work India, a Portrait. “I love obscure details, I can’t help the humour. It’s just the way I write,” says Patrick, who was in the City to launch the book.
The author has been described as a first-rate historian and a storyteller. “I think it’s possible to write well-researched factually correct history which is appealing to the general reader. I do believe complicated subjects like economics and politics can be made easy,” he says.
The narrative spans the length and breadth of the country and has its moments. The thoughts of ordinary Indians flow into a simple, complete narrative. “The details often give you the bigger picture. I had spent 10 years in India before my first book Liberty or Death. It took another 10 years to write this one. Since I am married to an Indian, it gives me a better insight of this country,” Patrick informs.
He recalls when he made his tryst with this nation, “My fascination for India began as a teenager while I was a student and travelling here. I found it to be an interesting and unusual society. I was intrigued.” Patrick’s India is devoid of the exoticism, mercifully.
“It’s still possible to go to Bengal, Punjab or Karnataka and find a common thread in the way people behave. But South Indians are more polite, quiet, restrained. And I love Bangalore. Particularly, the atmosphere here. I want to come back every time I am here,” he says.
Indeed, he does talk about how “Indian democracy works at the triumph of nepotism”. “Nepotism is particular to certain states and certain parties. There's a backlash against it. But it still is a reality.” Could the young guns change the situation? “If young people with merit come in, may be. But it’s there in the system,’’ he adds.
India though never ceases to amaze him. “It’s full of surprises, with funny things at every corner. Just the other day, I happened to see the photograph of a reluctant cow being made to jump through fire as part of a ritual,” he smiles.
“I’d like this book to be seen as one for Indian readers which can show aspects of recent Indian history and social changes in a deeper historical context,” he says.
But the Himalayan region seems to have left a deep impact on him. “My next work may be on it,” he says. Hills or plains, the French connection is only getting stronger.