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Mappillai – Carlo Pizzati

Mappillai – Carlo Pizzati

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Mappillai – Carlo Pizzati

Akshyata Ray

Mappillai is an honest, and deeply personal account of your life. How did you start writing this novel? Can you also tell us about the process of writing for you?

Thank you for your appreciation. More than a novel, I would define it as a ‘memovel,’ a memoir+novel. Let me tell you how it came about. An Italian editor who was rejecting a novel asked me to write about my life in India instead. He said: Carlo, I’d like to know what you think about when you stare into the darkness of the night in your house on the Bay of Bengal. I said: Antonio, do you want to know what I think about? Antonio said: yes, what do you think about? I said: I ask myself why the heck Antonio has rejected my novel! 

You see, we bring our desires and suffering with us wherever we go. Until we learn to tame them. About the process of writing, I write my books every morning, from breakfast to lunch. I edit or write journalistic texts in the afternoon and evening. In the case of Mappillai, I actually ended up following Antonio’s advice, and  I tried to tell the story of my 10 years in India as if I were trying to explain it to a friend.


India and Italy are said to have similarities in culture. As an Italian who’s been living in India for a decade, what are your views on this comparison?

Indians are Italians without wine, Salman Rushdie famously said. He hasn’t been back for a while. Now he’d find that Indians are making better wine. Italians and Indians do have a lot in common. We like our food and our mothers. We travel with both. I know I do! We embellish the beauty of our discourse by using not only the sound of our voice, but the expressive power of our arms and hands. Pier Paolo Pasolini thought that Indians differ from Italians because they have a much more intense spirituality, very far from the complex Italian Catholic culture, which he thought hid a deeper cynicism. He may have been right, but both Italian and Indian cultures have a common deep spirituality which doesn’t necessarily express itself only through religion.

In Mappillai, you also talk about the traffic, bureaucracy and the administrative toil, which is quite cumbersome in India. Was this a culture shock for you or something that you had anticipated?

I confess I had anticipated it. I’ve had the advantage of having lived in Mexico and Argentina, aside from Italy. These are all cultures, like the Indian one, that require an understanding of the flexibility of social mores and ethical customs. Yet, for all my preparation, I was not expecting to find the radical test to my patience which I found. And so, initially, I did experience a certain degree of culture shock. Luckily, I was prepared, having studied intercultural communication, which I think anyone who moves to an intense, culture-specific context like India should undergo in order to avoid the pitfalls of cultural coding.


You’ve blatantly highlighted the truth about corruption in India, especially the corruption prevailing in the temples. Religion being a sensitive issue in India, did you face any backlash because of this?

I’ve had the privilege of writing, in books like Edge of an Era or in Mappillai, but also  in my journalistic activity in Italian and Indian newspapers, quite freely and in critical terms about what I see in India. I’ve not had any real harassment or censorship issues of any sort. I feel I am respectful of religions and spirituality. I particularly admire the Advaitic view of this reality. I find that science is running a parallel interpretation of reality, in this phase of history. But when superstition causes violence, it means that religion has failed in its mission.


You’ve also travelled to Latin America and the US as a journalist. Currently, you write for The Hindu in India. Is your experience here as a reporter unique in any way?

I’ve lived in Latin America for 3 years and in the US for 11 years, so I’ve had a chance to gain a local perspective in the entire American continent. I think in-depth understanding can be achieved only by living in place long enough to understand the nuances. My experience as a reporter in India is more unique because, although I’ve lived in Mexican and American households, I am married into an Indian family. My conversations with my father-in-law, in this sense, are invaluable. He’s filled with wisdom and a historical understanding of India, the hands-on understanding of a man who’s been in business all his life. And my mother-in-law has been in India for enough decades to have a similar wealth of experiences, adding to it the view of someone who grew up in Europe, as I have.

Mappilai has a witty sense of humour to it. Does humour come naturally to you? What would you say are the perks of using humour in any biography?

Well, thank you! I think it does come naturally, yes. Until the age of 16 I was the shortest kid in my class. So I learned to make vicious fun of my short height in such a way that no one had better jokes about myself than me. This shielded me, I suppose. And it nurtured a penchant for self-irony. I still host that short boy wit within my 1.83 m of height. Also, I think that, compared to my books in Italian, writing in English brings out a freedom in me which allows for even more humour. The Anglo-Saxon literary tradition encourages that self-deprecating  tone which romance languages have not developed as fiercely. You know, I’m thinking, for example, of contemporary writers with human depth and brilliant, constant humour like Geoff Dyer or David Sedaris. In this, they are real masters. In my case, I had to rise to the challenge of writing about happiness… woah, nothing more at risk of being banal and boring than your own happiness, right? Luckily, I’m old enough to be constantly aware that everything ends, and this, instead of being dramatic, forces you to see the funny side of things. Especially of your own delusions! 

Please tell us about the process of publishing, and what it was like for you. Also, are you working on a sequel, or something else that your readers can look forward to? 

I had the fortune of finding Preeti Gill as an Indian agent and then in being appreciated by a brilliant editor like Dharini Bhaskar at Simon & Schuster. And, yes, I can announce here, for the first time, that there’s not a sequel, but a prequel to Mappillai that I’m working on. It is scheduled to come out in India this autumn with Harper Collins, which has also offered to publish my collection of short stories – something to look forward to in 2020!

About the Interviewee:

Carlo Pizzati is a Swiss-born fiction and non-fiction writer and an award-winning journalist who has published “Mappillai,” (memoir) “Edge of an Era,”(non-fiction) “Nimodo,” (novel) “Il Passo che Cerchi,” (stories) “Criminàl,” (novel) “Tecnosciamani” (memoir). He has lectured at New York University, Columbia University, Yonsei University (Seoul), Università Ca’Foscari (Venice), Università La Sapienza (Rome). He lives with his wife near a fishermen’s village in India where he writes about Asia for the Italian national daily La Stampa and cultural essays and editorials for the Indian national daily The Hindu. He’s an adjunct professor teaching communication theory at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai and he’s also developing a project with his teenage son to produce affordable football shoes for Indian girls.

Carlo is a seasoned journalist who has worked for over sixteen years for the Italian national daily newspaper La Repubblica, corresponding from New York, Rome, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Madrid. He’s covered the Northern Ireland strife, guerrilla war in Colombia, the narcos business in the Andes, illegal immigrant smuggling in Mexico, civil rights battles in Chile, pro-environment militancy in the French atoll of Mururoa, and the GMO battle in Europe and the US.

Over the course of his career, Carlo has also been political talk show host in Italy, a stringer for the WGBH-BBC ‘PRI–The World’ radio, a contributor to the Associated Press, Vanity Fair (Italy) and GQ.