On the racks – October 2021


The Thinnai

Author                  : Ari Gautier
Publisher             : Hachette
Pages                    : 186; 399

In this delightful book, originally written in French, Ari Gautier takes us through the unglamorous district of Kurusukuppam, Pondicherry, that you will not
find in any tourist literature.

The narrative, translated from French to English by Blake Smith, is centred around the eccentricities of the inhabitants of the four-odd streets of the locality, as different from Pondichery’s plush and stylish White Town, as chalk from cheese. The core of the story is of course Pondicherry’s French history, and the differences, subtle and strong, between those who speak proper French, such as the narrator’s family and those who speak Creole, like their domestic help Lourdes. “Pondicherrian Creole is French compounded with Tamil and Portuguese words, spoken in a Tamil style,” explains the writer.

The protagonist’s father, who had once fought in the French army, is now settled comfortably with a Frenchman’s military pension in a respectable house with a predominant thinnai (Tamil word for a shaded verandah or sit-out with built-in seating). It is the fragnance of the French style cooking in this house, that draws the weary and colourful traveller Gilbert Thatta to the thinnai. The Durai (white person), dressed in a dirty coat, accompanied by little Gilbert, is welcomed in the thinnai, given ample food and liquor by the generous owner and the rest of the story is Gilbert Thatta’s colourful story about a rare diamond… the Stone of Sita… in his possession.

An interesting passage in the book is the history of how the local residents of Pondicherry renounced their Indian citizenship and embraced French citizenship. “On 3 January 1882, my great grandfather Nalanda presented himself at Pondicherry’s newly built City Hall…. Two hundred years ago, one of its ancestors had converted to Catholicism to escape untouchability. Now Nalanda was able to dive into another new world seeking a better life for himself and his children. He would become a French citizen.”



Polio, The Eradication Imbroglio

Author                  : T Jacob John and
                                Dhanya Dharmapalan
Publisher             : Notion Press
Pages                    : 274; 650

This book is a reminder of the war against polio and the continuing battle as its total eradication takes a back seat while the world fights Covid-19. The global programmes to root out polio are now facing an existential crisis, say experts. Helping the readers understand the global combat against the disease, the book talks of past milestones and the way forward. It has a detailed account of the challenges Albert Sabin, the first developer of oral polio vaccine, faced when he and Dr Olitsky grew a strain of poliovirus in a lab. The authors warn that “this is not the time to make more gambles,” as it would deflect from the primary aim of eradicating polio and suggest a logical way forward.



The Cursed Treasure

Author                  : Anu Pillai
Publisher             : Notion Press
Pages                    : 102; 150

Set in Kollam during the British Raj, the book narrates the story of Keshu, a man of high morals. His journey from rags to riches is pebbled with trials and tribulations including the sudden twist that claimed his fortunes under mysterious circumstances. Stretching over two centuries, from 1880 to 2020, the book narrates the history of Keshu’s descendants in a lucid style. It keeps the reader hooked on to the question: Will Keshu’s lost treasure ever be found?

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