Mappillai: An Italian son-in-law in India review: Country musings

How an ‘outsider’ made himself at home in Chennai

October 06, 2018 07:18 pm | Updated 07:18 pm IST

From now on, every time my husband brings up a trip to Chennai, I am going to brandish Carlo Pizzati’s Mappillai: An Italian son-in-law in India , specifically the pages titled “White man’s privilege in Chennai’s spiral traffic”, before him and ask in horrified tones, “You want to go back to that ?” Not that I am a vellai ( white ) , as Pizzati terms himself; it’s just that his descriptions of the hell that is Chennai’s traffic are just too delicious to be locked away inside the pages of a book.

To start with, the Contents section itself makes for entertaining reading. I giggle over “... how the woman who forgot having met me changed my destiny” and identify with “... snakes, rats, frogs and other fauna teaching a lesson about Nature” and sigh over “Dealing with the kind extortionists of our daily lives”, having had to deal with the latter two quite often in the past year.

Mappillai is part love story, part memoir, part philosophical musings... all of which are tied together with wry humour, some grumpiness and a large dose of acceptance.

Pizzati met poet-dancer Tishani Doshi on a trip to India in 2008 and they got married in 2014 in what he calls “my big fat Jain Scottish Welsh Venetian Indian wedding.” Enough to make one’s head reel! Bookended between these two events is Pizzati’s journey through various countries and cultures until he finally settles down in Paramakeni, near Chennai.

In between his accounts of coping with open defecation, villagers seeking ‘donations’ for a local temple, the role of the mango in Indian identity and more, Pizzati offers shrewd observations on caste and class differences, the yawning gap between the rich and the poor, attitudes of foreigners, bribery.... Some of which make you wince, recognising the truth of his statement; some you need to put aside to think about; still others bring a slight flush of annoyance before you ruefully accept that he has a point.

I guess, at the end of the day, it’s good to see ourselves as others see us, even if the other has been co-opted to become one of us.

Mappillai: An Italian son-in-law in India ; Carlo Pizzati, Simon & Schuster, ₹399.

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