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Sentimental about India

French novelist Dominique Fernandez talks about India, which is the subject of his latest work

Photo: S. Gopakumar

Dominique Fernandez

"HOMOSEXUALITY HAS divine origins in India. It is still outlawed in this country because of the existence of English laws that the country has adopted," believes Dominique Fernandez, French novelist, essayist and traveller whose latest work `Sentiment indien' (The Indian Sentiment) has just been released in India. Fernandez, who is on his third visit to India is here now in connection with the Kolkota Book Fair, which has France as the theme this year.

"The concept of `Ardhanarishwara' proves beyond doubt that homosexuality was very much accepted in this country before the advent of the British and 200 years of their occupation has affected Indian culture. In Greece, homosexuality was accepted before the arrival of Christianity," says Fernandez.

Prix Goncourt

In 1982, Fernandez was awarded the Prix Goncourt, the highest literary distinction in France, for his novel `Dans la main de l'ange' (In the Angel's Hand) about his friend Italian director and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was killed at Ostie in Italy in 1975.

Frenandez says that the Indian edition of his book in English is being brought out before the release of the original French version as he owed much to an Indian newspaper editor who persuaded him to reread `L'Odore dell'India' by Pasolini and to write this book.

A travelogue

`The Indian Sentiment,' which the author says "is not a guide nor an explanation of India" but "more like a travelogue," explores, within its 113 pages, varied themes such as conjugal values, problems of castratos, difference in conception of Indian literature and western literature, nature of Indian cinema, marvels of Mughal art, splendours of Portuguese baroque in Goa and works of Rabindranath Tagore among others.

Asked about writing another book on India, Fernandez said that he would like to spend at least six months in India and write a book, probably a novel, living here. He has already finalised plans to write one in association with Ferrante Ferranti, well-known French photographer whose coffee table book on India has been released recently.

A teacher too

Fernandez, who once taught Italian, says: "I teach to be independent financially. To pursue my passion for writing and for travelling around the world," says Fernandez. The writer has travelled extensively is fascinated by the beauty of God's Own Country. "It is magnificent," he says.

Born in Neuilly sur Seine in 1929, Fernandez studied at the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure and wrote his doctoral thesis on the gay Italian writer Cesare Pavese in 1968. Porporino, published in 1974, was his first literary work of note. Many of his books are inspired by his numerous travels to countries such as Italy, Russia, Bolivia, Brazil, Portugal and Syria.

Frenandez, who has so far written 17 novels, is a regular contributor to the left wing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. "I like to write novels, 500 pages thick."

A regular visitor to Russia Fernandez feels that even today Russians attend cultural programmes as in the days of the USSR.

The French writer, who has retired from teaching, today works with a publishing firm and lives in Paris when he is not on one of his many voyages round the world.

BIMAL SIVAJI

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