She is the original feminist, who is known to speak her mind even if it means creating controversies- like her Edwina-Nehru affair book that was until recently being adapted into a Bollywood film - or her views against France’s Burqa dilemma. Catherine Clément
, renowned author of some 50 odd books and a student of Claude Lévi-Strauss, is also an Indophile, whose love affair with India began on hateful notes.
Attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, Catherine Clément tells Shashank Chouhan
that she belongs to India as much as she does to France, even though the Indians won’t stop being sacrosanct about their heroes. Excerpts:From being hostile towards India to being in love with it, yours has been an interesting tale. Could you tell us how it began and where it has reached now?
In 1944, my mother lost her parents in the Nazi camp of Auschwitz, and then, disconsolate, she turned to mysticism in 1946 and entered the Ramakrishna Mission in Paris. She did this instead of taking care of her still very young children! I had the impression of being betrayed by India. This feeling lasted until 1983. I was then in-charge of Cultural affairs at the French Foreign affairs ministry, and the French minister of Culture decided that I would be the Secretary General of the Year of India in France. I met many eminent Indians, with whom I had to work, like Indira Gandhi or Pupul Jayakar. This is how I fell in love with India, I mean, the real India, not the imaginary one.What fascinates you most as a writer- India’s culture, its history, spirituality, people, colours…
I do not like the word "fascinate", which is, in my eyes, full of irrationality, and is weaker than "loving" or even "interesting". I like almost everything in India, except the nationalist and fanatical political parties. My life in India, my life WITH India, does not differ from my life in France. I have the strange feeling to belong to the two nations instead of one. You have written on characters ranging from Gandhi to Nehru to even Meerabai. Which character has been the most interesting one and why?
All these characters have the same meaning: they all resist to orders when they feel that these orders are unjust. I cannot choose between them. What do you think about the general state of affairs in India today?
Impossible to answer. It would require hundred pages! What do you think about a curious debate on Muslim identity in your country?
I am among the intellectuals who publicly and solemnly refused to debate about "national" identity. Would you put yourself in any genre?
Feminist, progressive, Marxist, loving and writer. Tell us about your upcoming books…
This also would take too much time. My memoirs are not going to be released soon. The poetical essay is Untilted Praise of the Night and the novel, to come out on the 11th of February 2010, has an Indian rhinoceros as a story-teller.A rhinoceros as the narrator! How did that happen and does it signify something?
Captured around 1577 in the nowadays Sikkim, the animal was offered to the King of Portugal as a treasury: in those times, these rare animals were considered as real treasures. Then, it belonged to three other European sovereigns: the King of Spain, the Emperor of the Roman Empire and Austria, and finally to the young Queen of Sweden Christina. So, living or dead, the rhinoceros could see the long period of European wars of religion, until 1648. The meaning? The animal, who is also the reincarnation of Brahman faulty of impurity, describes the history of Europe (Portugal, Spain, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Italy) from an Indian point of view.What was your reaction to the Edwina-Nehru book creating controversy in India?
The controversy had nothing to do with my own novel, but with a film on the same subject, or rather some scenes of this film. When it was published, my book "Edwina and Nehru" aroused curiosity, but no controversy. But I brought with me the letter written by Edwina to her husband Louis Mountbatten, describing her love for Nehru. This letter should stop the debate.Do you think Indians think their icons too be sacrosanct?
First Published: 1/25/2010 9:11:40 AM