Journalist-writer Carlo Pizzati on his memoir Mappillai — An Italian son-in-law in India , his work around the globe and how he came to love and live in a fishing village south of Chennai
When we meet at the house with the green gate, Carlo Pizzati, 52, has just arrived from a refreshing walk at Kalakshetra, showered both by rain and tree jasmine. He sportingly decides to don a blazer for the photographer despite the sweat maps it leaves on him. Ten years ago, on his first visit to Chennai, Carlo almost decided he couldn’t allow himself to fall in love with the woman he had just set eyes on because he found the humidity sapping. Four years after he married poet-journalist-dancer Tishani Doshi he seems to have found his pace with the city’s weather and its people. Home is Arlanymôr (Welsh for ‘beside the sea)’, a salmon-pink villa with teal windows and a blue gate, at the fishing village of Paramankeni, over 90 kilometres south of the city.
Their life here — distributed among toads croaking behind the ancient family porcelain that has survived the voyage from Italy to India (“a piece of the Old Continent brought to the even Older Continent”); snakes that charm their way to the kitchen coffee station; a dog named after a character from Jungle Book ; a mouse that has survived several spins in the washing machine; navigating the red tapeism of Indian bureaucracy; locals who call him mapillai (son-in-law) when they see him walk the beach in his lungi ; and slaving away at writing desks despite the siren call of the sea — forms much of the lyrical, stream-of-consciousness narrative of Carlo’s memoir Mappillai – An Italian son-in-law in India (Simon & Schuster India).
“The book was a decade in the making, and took a year-and-a-half to write,” says Carlo. “There is a lot of race identity in it, about the India I first encountered and the India I see now. It is the journey of 10 years of a white European in this country who becomes a local without having to go native.”
Although Mapillai has some threads in common with Carlo’s previous bookEdge of An Era that explores geopolitics from the perspective of an European who grew up in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, it is more a sequel to “my other book, Technoshamans , a journal of a journey around the world that ended in India”, and introduced him to Indian spiritualism and Ashtanga yoga.
Let’s go exploring
At the age of 16, Carlo left his hometown north of Venice and went to Pensacola, Florida, as an exchange student. “I lived in the US for 11 years supporting myself through American University and Columbia. Those years babysitting boys with snakes, being a pool lifeguard, sports editor of the college newspaper, and doing carpentry were unusual growing-up experiences for someone from a middle-class European family, although it was a rite of passage for most Americans,” says Carlo, his eyes crinkling with laughter.
Adventure is a word that suffers from overuse, but that can be forgiven in relation to Carlo who struck luck when he started working for the Italian national daily la Repubblica corresponding from New York, Central and South America and Europe. It opened doors for him to cover the Northern Ireland strife, drugs in the Andes, civil rights battle in Chile, immigrant smuggling in Mexico, environment in Mururoa atoll and the GMO war in Europe and the US. “Those were the roaring years of enjoying New York but working hard as well. It made my writing eclectic, led me to make a feature film, be a political talk show host and teach at Asian College of Journalism. It’s probably easier to obtain success in one field by focussing, but I’ve been keen on having an interesting life,” he says, adding that some experiences like meeting a 16-year-old guerrilla in the jungles of Colombia taught him empathy. “She was more interesting than presidents who exude more power, although I got arrested on my way back.”
Does Paramankeni allow for this urgent, rock n’ roll journalism? “Stepping away has been a kind of evolution. The adrenaline-seeking personality I had is still there. I recently reported on love commandos in Delhi, following them to their secret hideout. Paramankeni is not retirement but more a writer’s colony that gives me the space for intimate storytelling. We are the sum of the experiences we have had. I don’t want to be stuck with an idea of myself.”
Is the real Carlo then the man who wrote a memoir that is a love song to his lucky wife? “Oh no, I’m the lucky one,” laughs the mapillai .
by Deepa Alexander
portrait photo by R. Ravindran
The book will be launched on October 11, 7 pm at Goethe Institut Auditorium. The author will be in conversation with Tishani Doshi. The event, hosted by Goethe Institut and Prakriti Foundation is open to all. For details, call 28331645.