Nostalgic conveyance

India My Love
Dominique Lapierre
Full Circle2014,
 pp 186
Rs 275

The very mention of French writer Dominique Lapierre’s name brings to mind two popular books written by him — City of Joy and Freedom at Midnight — to most readers in India.

City of Joy was made into a movie directed by Roland Joffe and stars Patrick Swayze, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi in lead roles. Freedom at Midnight, published in 1975, was co-authored with Larry Collins, and is about India’s independence movement.

Lapierre’s third book on India, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal, which he co-authored with Javier Moro, is about the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Lapierre has been associated with India for the last 50 years. His book, India My Love, is like a homage to the people of this country. The French version, India Mon Amour, was published in 2010.

India My Love is an account of his “prodigious love affair with India,” says Lapierre. This book encapsulates accounts of the travel he undertook for his earlier books. His association with India was capped with the Padma Bhushan award in 2008.

 The award was the result of a petition penned by children to the President of India. Lapierre mentions about this endeavour in the latter part of the book. He says the children decided to stick together “bit by bit all their appeals, resulting in the longest letter ever written in history.” The 12-kilometre-long epistle entered into the Guinness Book of Records.

This book is split into two parts — ‘In the Footsteps of the Greatest Empire of All Time’ is the first part, and the second part is ‘The Unsung Heroes of India, My Love’.

The first part of the book is an account of Lapierre’s travels and experiences across many parts of India in his Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. Here, he speaks about his meetings with maharajas who lost their kingdoms after India’s independence, dwells upon the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and his meeting with Gopal Godse, brother of Nathuram Godse, the assassin.

The second part of the book is about the charity work he undertook, inspired by the work of Mother Theresa, in emancipating the lives of several poor people. This section is interspersed with several stories of people like Gaston Grandjean, the Swiss nurse, and Hasari Pal, a rickshaw puller, among the many whom he and his wife, also named Dominique, meet during their association with India. He also briefly touches upon the filming of City of Love, by director Roland Joffé.

The narrative employed in the book is simple but the style he adopts is quite far removed from what today’s youngster is used to. A top-down narrative approach may not work with today’s readers.

Also, accounts of people living in dirt, squalor and abject poverty may not sound glamorous to the reader after 67 years of independence from British rule.

Lapierre’s penchant to constantly attribute human qualities to his vehicle, Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, may seem misplaced in today’s era when the country is facing the
 consequences of having too many vehicles and very few roads to drive them on.

Sample this, “Poor Silver Cloud! I understand now how sorely I tried you when I thrust you along those terrible Indian roads.” Or this, “Silver Cloud and I were trapped in a crowd of rich merchant families from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Bengal...” while describing his visit to a temple that housed a monolithic statue of Bahubali in Karnataka.

The book does offer a fleeting view of his earlier works and makes for quick reading.

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