Carlo Pizzati confronts the challenges of writing an ‘India book’ in his memoir ‘Mappillai’ (Mint Lounge)

For centuries, travellers from the West have written tomes about India—but no one’s had the last word

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Oh, no,’ my wife says, ‘you are NOT going to write an India book, are you?’

‘No, I’m not, I promise.’

This book will not attempt to explain something that cannot be dissected, as it is ever changing.

There are so many Indias. There’s a tangible, smellable, real India. There’s an imaginary, literary, dreamed India.

Writing about India is like writing about the mafia. It’s like owning a pharmacy. Everyone is bound to always get sick, there’ll always be a need for medicines. A never-ending, lucrative business.

Whether you want to find out about India’s Maximum City, its White Tigers, its Slum-dog Millionaires, its Cities of Joy, or whether India is calling or coming or becoming, whether you want to know about its makers, its prisons or its 50 incarnations or its nine lives, India is there to be told. To be explained and often mansplained.

Not here, not in these pages. Nope. Here you’ll have to read about simple, real, one-sided, totally biased and culturally slanted personal anecdotes and opinions from a recovering Orientalist.

But, think about it, hasn’t this really been the fate of all the people who’ve come for religion or to conquer or for love and have been captivated?…

I guess it all started with the historian Megasthenes, the first foreigner from the West who wrote about India. He left Greece around 300 BC and, after crossing Anatolia and Mesopotamia, finally reached Lahore and then Allahabad. The first whitey or gora, as they’re called in Hindi, to tell his side of the story about India and Indians.

Diodorus, Strabo, Pliny and Adrian all plagiarized from his Indica (not just a type of cannabis, but also the title of Megasthenes’ book). He mixed local legends with personal tales. (…)

This excerpt of my memoir “Mappillai” Simon & Schuster continues at this link in “Mint Lounge”.

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