Wednesday, 27 February 2008


“France is fascinated by Gandhi and we are lucky in Europe to remember his ideas once again to counter hedonistic inclinations,” noted French author Christine Jordis tells me when I tell her about my fascination for the French language that I learnt at the Alliance Française de Calcutta though I may not fully comprehend what she has written about Mahatma Gandhi.

Winner of prestigious awards including Prix Femina and Prix Marcel-Thiebaut, Jordis is well-known for the vast range of subjects she covers in her works. “From travel books to literary criticism, I have shared my experiences with the readers,” the author says as we sit down for an informal chat. “None of them have anything to do with statistics; rather you will find temples, streets, people and earnest efforts to express myself,” she adds when I mention about her book Bali, Java In My Dreams.

Jordis then holds her book Epelez Gandhi and says that for two years she studied only about Gandhi. “He became my obsession and I was amazed to see how relevant his teachings are even today. But I think in India globalisation and consumerism has taken the front seat in comparison with Gandhi’s ideals,” the author says with an obvious question in her eyes. I didn’t have anything to say. But deep inside I agreed. Remembering Gandhiji has become a formal matter. It’s just a lip service by the poltical office holders and the so-called leaders. I don’t think anybody cares about Gandhiji’s ideals. The recent interest among young Indians about the ‘Father of the Nation’ was due to a film that got us the word Gandhigiri. I don’t see that interest continuing. People are back to their routine life that revolves round money and career.

The honk of a car outside breaks my chain of thoughts. I get back to the lady sitting in front of me with my questions. Jordis, who studied at Sorbonne and Harvard and worked with the British Council, has written two novels one of which dealt with passion and another was about love in marriage. “It is emotion and analysis of emotion that drives me,” she explains.

I ask her about the driving force behind French literature. “In France, the writers are trying to have a wider view of the world rather than offering intimate perspectives. But it is a gradual process and much of French literature is still rooted in the society and personal problems of death and love,” Jordis offers an insight.

We turn our attention to French writings by non-French authors. Jordis mentions about the “fascinating Francophonie” – works by the authors from Algeria and other African nations, Indonesia and also India. These writings “echo the big events around the world” and are “hugely popular” among French readers. “In fact last year almost all the French literary awards went to these Francophonie works,” Jordis informs.

Talking about awards, she affirms that as an author, “90 per cent” of her “motivation comes from the joy of creativity” while “the rest 10 per cent is left for the acknowledgement that these awards bring.” For Jordis, awards ensure that “people take interest” in the book and “appreciate the work.”

The first time she visited India, she looked at the country from the viewpoint of a tourist. In her second visit to India, Jordis finds the country is changing rapidly though it is still “heavily influenced by traditions and customs, specially for women.” But no matter what, “India is a fascinating country indeed.” Jordis then mentions the increasing demand for Indian literature that is being translated from several Indian languages. “Specially works in Bengali and Urdu are popular in France, though translations of Indian writings in English are also read by the French,” she adds. Jordis is currently writing a research-based non-fiction that has a touch of spiritualism.