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From Italy with love

Adria Bartolichi, an MP of the opposition Left Democrats of Italy, has been a crusader for women's rights from her childhood. She was in Kochi recently and confesses to LEELA MENON that she has joined the flock of admirers of God's Own Country.

WOMEN'S POSITION is the same everywhere... inferior to that of men. So says Adria Bartolichi, an MP of the Opposition Left Democrats of Italy, one of the 50 or so women MPs in the 600-member chamber of deputies.

Even the 350-member senate has only few women and there are just two women cabinet ministers. She has been an MP for the last 10 years and before that a member of the Municipality for another 10 years. "The Left Democrats was the ruling party last time. Now we are in the Opposition", explains Adria. Adria has been fighting for women's rights from the age of 14.

An architect-turned politician, Adria was in Kochi recently, revelling in the lush green beauty of Kerala, its picture-post-card landscape, its green-blue backwaters, its silvery beaches and yes, its people. "They are so friendly and courteous", Adria says, adding, "They wave when we pass by. Adria was quite impressed when the driver of the boat she sailed anchored when the rain poured and took her to a small house on the shore where she was very warmly welcomed.

Is the life of women generally bad in Italy? "No. It is better than that of politicians," Adria quips. Women have career, jobs, they become teachers and even faculty members at universities and they do have the freedom to move around. But there is sexual violence against them. "The Left Democrats brought a law to prevent this sexual violence against women. It is violence perpetrated by husbands and this law asks harassing husbands to leave their homes. "Men objected to the law but we got it passed", Adria says triumphantly. "I have been part of the women's movement in Italy from the age of fourteen. I have chaired different committees in Parliament, raising women's issues", Adria adds.

She is an admirer of the Indian woman who cooks food, clean the house, and does everything the mother once did, even as she holds a career. "Women always work more hours than men," she remarked. She has been championing the rights of the family. "It is difficult to change the mindset of the men. More and more marriages in Italy are falling apart because harassed housewives have begun to leave husbands. The women have gained confidence that they can hold a job and be on their own feet and hence it is the women who now seek divorces, according to Adria.

The Left Democrats are also trying to bring a law to ensure welfare for divorced women and deserted children. "Living together has become quite common in Italy. Church does not support abortion but it supports an abandoned woman with child," she remarked.

This is Adria's second visit to India and the first one to Kerala. Which places did she like best? "The tea fields of Munnar and the backwaters," she says unhesitatingly. "The boating was such a good experience. Munnar was very nice too but all the tea pluckers were women. I found them wrapped in plastic in the rain and continuing to pluck the tealeaves. Life is indeed hard for women, is'nt it?" she asks.

How about Kerala cuisine, its breakfasts, one of the best breakfasts according to the National Geographic Traveller? "I liked your `Chena', (elephant yam) best. (That is indeed a new one). And I liked the dal. Of the breakfast I liked ghee roast because it resembled our own Polentha, with the crusted underside. I felt that the food was very hot initially but then I became used to it".

She also liked the beaches at Kovalam and Varkala. Especially a girl whom she met at Varkala, who could speak five European languages in the correct foreign accent. "She told me she does not know German and I taught her a few words. And she picked them up in no time," she marvels. The girl is a Tamilian hawker. "And the boating in Thekkady was also beautiful, watching the different birds like the kingfisher, the monkeys and the giant squirrel." She was not lucky to catch the elephants grazing or bathing.

Adria is in Kerala with her small three-year-old daughter, Rachele, who appears to have fallen in love with the elephant. She carries a string of small Rajasthan toy elephants, playing with them constantly. "My husband is a lawyer and a politician. We belong to the same party and hence there is no disharmony. He shares all chores, though I found it difficult when I had the baby," Adria smiles.

Adria's panache for all things Indian extended to her desire to seek the horoscope of herself and her daughter, which was made for them by an astrological organisation in the town. Adria was thrilled with it, pronouncing the birth star of her daughter `Thiruvathira' with wonder. She also indulged herself with an oil massage at Kovalam. "I had undergone Panchakarma treatment in Italy at the hands of Nancy Thomas, a doctor who also practices Ayurveda. She did `Dhara' for me and it relaxed me so much that I went to sleep. It was a fantastic experience," she recalled.

Obviously there is one more admirer of Kerala in the ever-expanding touristscape of God's Own Country.

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