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Coffee, cakes and Dominique

I love tandoori food. In France we have an Indian restaurant called Gandhi! One thing I resent about the Indian food is, it is too spicy.

Author Dominique Lapierre at Caf‚ Turtle in New Delhi.

THE HEAT outside is enervating. The traffic on the road finds an apt reflection in that timeworn expression, `mid-summer madness'. Inside it is all cool. There are rows and rows of books, an unwinding staircase leading one to the second floor where one can find tea, coffee, cake and cookies even as one flips through the pages of the latest bestseller. As one moves up, the wooden staircase makes as much sound as one makes movement.

At Café Turtle, the first thing that strikes a person is the stained glass used so liberally. There is a fetching interplay of light and shadow on many tables, and a comfortable view from the top for those who want to pick up their book and take time over their drink. As we settle for a corner table, Dominique Lapierre, in town to promote his latest book, "Is New York Burning?", comes into his own. He talks of his books, his social work. And, of course, food. He takes pride in his books, he is passionate about his cause, and frank about Indian food. It is not quite lunchtime yet, the man has had a busy day, signing autographs for the readers of his latest book, sorting pictures of a rehabilitation centre he is running near Kolkata, making enquiries about his travel to Paris the next day, and extending invitations for the book launch later in the day! It is probably a shade more than a man can handle. Not so Dominique. "I am always cheerful. I am the smaller Dominique. My wife (also called Dominique) is definitely the bigger, the better Dominique," he says in all modesty. Jostling for space with books and pictures on table are a cup of tea, some croissants and chocolate cake.

The Full Circle publication, one learns, is doing quite well abroad. "The book is doing wonderfully well in Italy, France and Spain," reveals Dominique, who once ran away from his home in France with only a handful of U.S. dollars for America, made his mark in Uncle Sam's land, found in Larry Collins a friend and co-author, came to India, was impressed with the work of Mother Teresa, and has since spent considerable time and energy trying to bring a smile to the face of a child in special need, an adult seeking attention.

Along the way, he has managed to pen bestsellers like "The City of Joy" which gave a new identity to Kolkata, "Five Past Midnight in Bhopal" where, he discloses, more people died than those consumed by the mad attack on 9/11, and "A Thousand Suns". But he is here to talk of his latest book that has given him "an occasion to get back with Larry Collins to write a novel which denounces the evil and the danger of terrorism". And what better way to start a discussion than over a lively cup of tea with some hot cakes for company?

"This is a nice place," he offers about Café Turtle as he looks around at tasteful interiors. "But I am no cook," he apologises, adding he can only use a pen. Dominique has spent 22 years doing what he does: writing and working for amelioration of the have-nots. "I am an author who at the age of 50 has heard the voice within which told me you can be a successful author but you can also be a harbinger of positive change. You can be Hemingway but you also be a small Mother Teresa. I share everything with the less affluent in a direct way. A part of every rupee I receive from every reader of my books goes to the poorest of the poor without a collaborator."

If India's poverty moved him to work for the uplift of the deprived, India's food appeals to Dominique. Not without a rider though. As he takes care of chocolate cake, he discloses, "I love tandoori food. I am happy to announce that the village I come from, St. Tropze in France has an Indian restaurant called Gandhi! One can get all non-vegetarian stuff there. Strange they call it Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence. However, one thing I resent about the Indian food is, it is too spicy. I have tried to find out why Indians go in for so many spices. They kill the real flavour of the food. It would be much richer in component if some of those terrible chillies are spared."

Politely declining the offer of dessert, Dominique Lapierre, who yields to none in sensitivity to human suffering, gets up. Again, a fan comes calling. He has to sign another copy of the book. What fan following! And what a role model for many!


Photos: S. Subramanium.

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