Dutch author Thomas Van Berckel expresses his feelings for India in his first English book, Small World Big World
It deals with the much talked about balancing act — of tradition and modernity in Indian women. In Dutch author Thomas Van Berckel’s words it is their ability to exist in two worlds ‘the small world and the big world’ that makes them powerful. “I am impressed by women in India. They are educated, powerful and focussed. They work, do business in the big world and at the same time perform their role as a wife and a mother in the small world,” he says.
The stories in “Small World Big World”, his first book in English, is a slice of India as seen and experienced by the author in the last five years. The first story “Rose and her friends at La Branche”, he says is an old story, drawn from his experiences of working with mentally challenged people in the Netherlands. It was a fund-raising initiative of this organisation that brought him to India to the cities of Chennai, Kolkata, Kerala and Bangalore. “It is either you love India or hate India. For me, it is more of love. I have been to Africa and I see the same spirit here, of anticipation,” the author adds.
This law degree holder from the University of Maastricht now runs Globalize Me, the Indian branch of the language translation agency in Bangalore. He has also set up The Toe to Heart Trust, an NGO with his Indian wife Lalitha. “We have adopted 15 children and sponsor their education and they are part of our family,” adds Thomas. He has published columns in magazines in Dutch and also co-authored books on a variety of topics, about the art and history of neighbourhood communities in the Netherlands, a multi-cultural cooking book of Moroccan and North African cuisines to name a few.
In his new book, he communicates his fascination for India. Also, about things that worry him, for instance corruption. In his second story “In Shakti: The story of Kaali and Kappu”, he talks about women empowerment by bringing together Kaali from the big world and Kappu from the small world.
His third story, “Incredible India, Incredible Thomas (about asthma and colonisation)” is inspired by his daughter Eva. She is asthmatic and she needs a second breath for her survival. He has drawn comparisons that India is also caught in such a situation. “To cope with poverty, most of the poor depend on a second breath. They explore culture, religion and family values and look for something to keep them going,” he adds.
He says India is dynamic. “You can feel it on the streets, the vibrancy of the second breath. In the midst of all this, there is peace. In Europe, where I grew up, it is like an open air museum. Things seem to be static,” the author says.
Thomas wants to strike a good balance of his business, writing and his NGO. “I think in everyone there is this tension, the struggle to spend time in the big world and the small world. And, it is fascinating,” he says.
He is curious to know what Indians think about the book. “There are no descriptive details on the table, the stories are from my heart, about my feelings for India,” he adds.
The book is priced at Rs. 300. All the money from the sale goes to Toe to Heart. To buy the book, go to a www.toetoheart.org/ book or e-mail infotoetoheart@orgK. JESHI