11 November 2007
I came to know Franck from his photographic show in a website. In the beginning I thought of him as an Indian-as almost all of his photographs are on India. And I also noticed that the photographer had a deep love and liking for India as was evident from the photos he had shot. As a photographer he appeared to have admirable talent. As I had some photos of mine in the site-I loved to comment on his photos. Naturally we knew one another through our photographs. I did not read his profile till then. But one day out of my curiosity I read it and came to know to my surprise that he was French and had been living in France. So I wanted to be closer to him as friend. As the friendship grew I requested him to write something on India and why he felt inclined to India. He complied with my request and wrote a brief account on his India tour and his experience while traveling in India. This was published in this blog under the title-“In India with love” and later under “More photos from Frank”. Recently, I have interviewed him with some questions. My questions and his answers are now published. Franck lives in the Alps, at the Italian border-near the city of Briançon. There are two national parks around his village. He wants to visit India third time again at the occasion of Maha Kumbh Mela. Franck is a highly educated person, and also being a son of France, he is cultured in the true sense of the term. I think many educated persons of India are not equals to Franck in his knowledge on India as is evident from his comments on various matters in Indian situation. If the Indian youth were as enthusiastic as Franck in his search to discover India –we would have been fortunate.
Q1. Before coming to India at the age of nineteen you felt for visiting India. Was it because of your readings, seeing documentaries etc India appeared to be an interesting place to visit? Generally we feel interested in many places of the world like the forests of Africa, the Antarctica, Egypt and the Middle East etc which are not less interesting places than India. So in what way India had a special appeal for you. Franck: Oh sure, I was also interested in other places; wonderful landscapes we see in documentaries, especially the extreme of Antarctica, and Amazon also; still, the Himalayas were my favorite landscape; but what happened was that I was also, at the time, discovering/searching spirituality, from atheism to agnosticism; first, I’ve read stories about eremitism (Milarepa chants, but also the books from Alexandra David Neel) then I found a book from an Indian guru and that book made me want to know more about Hinduism; I found some books about Upanishads which my father in law had with him and he loved those books. I learned about "holy men", met students in university talking about this country.. I think I was searching for a living spirituality, and it seemed it was in Orient, and more particularly in India and so I wanted to find the land; and, oh yes, this sentence from Ramakrishna, which influenced me much –which he had told in a simple way about the various paths of religions- "..all religions are ways to God, but the ways are not god". This was how he taught the truth of tolerance. Q2. Was there any pre- base behind your interest conceived idea or thought that had been formed as a? Franck: Yes that same idea that in India spirituality was alive; but I must say that I was also scared in my ideas on the third world countries including India. Q3.Apart from socio-economic and cultural variations from other Western countries –if there is other distinctiveness India stands for? Franck:The strength of family structure; the fact that the culture and religion is far more complex, all-inclusive; the fact it was the only colonised country that survived decolonization, notwithstanding her having suffered the consequences of partition; her vegetarian emphasis, and the presence of nature in the heart of cities, like cows, monkeys, the place and importance of trees (I loved to see these huge trees everywhere); the multi cultural and multi language composition of India; and a strong national pride and consciousness Q4. Do you think India's religiosity is responsible for her backwardness? Franck:It depends on what you call backwardness; if you talk about cast discrimination, dowry problems, abortion of girls, I think it is not religion that is responsible but the lack of political will of the politicians who benefit from ignorance and bigotry; and there is a major difference between religiosity and bigotry; but still, in a 1 billion-people country with 85% of rural population, education is not easy to spread.. Q5. You have said that people of India in general are spontaneously warm to be in relation even with a stranger the kind of which is not natural in Western countries. Do you think it is because people of India consider white-skinned persons are superior to people of their own country? And for that matter they have considered themselves privileged in getting related to you? Franck: I had these feelings sometimes, and it was quite weird; it depends on the people; while Brahmins don't care about us westerners (as they feel so much superior),.. it is true that skin color play a role in the way we are perceived; but what could I do? sometimes it upset me as some attitudes were too servile; but upon that, there was real interest, specially from youths and student, about western way of life; and soon even I discovered that western way of life was not very well appreciated, and often mocked; so I think it is balanced; and beyond that, I had so much good meetings.. Q6. Are the people of India open-minded? Franck: That's a tough question...at first sight, I may think yes, it's an open minded country, with all these religions living together, but soon I discovered how Brahmins were talking about Shudras, how Hindus talked about Muslims, and how Muslims talked about Hindus. I think it's not possible to answer such a question, as there are all kinds of situations; from the very open minded students in big cities to the old men in small villages...India is fast changing, and a lot of people are attracted by these changes, but social structures seem very rigid in some part of the country (like, when dalit cannot enter a temple or drink the water from Brahmin source-in a small village of Uttar Pradesh, and a woman died of thirst because she was not permitted to drink water) Q7. Is India conservative in her social outlook? Franck: Defin tely, even if cast system has been abolished, still social classifications are very strong and make it difficult for anyone to change one's condition; but here again, it depends on the places; rural areas are more conservative, while in big cities changes happen very fast. I heard a Bollywood producer saying "India is 15% of the country, and Bharat is 85%" justifying why there were not more kisses in movies; in villages, boys and girls cannot walk hand in hand, and have to hide when they want to meet while in big cities, it is not a problem; in villages, boys cannot imagine to refuse an arranged marriage.... Q8.Have you not felt anytime that India lacks vitality to rise above her present state? Franck: No the contrary, I felt there is plenty of vitality! you have the best high schools in the world, you have also the second silicon valley with Bangalore, and the new generation is full of dreams and will for success; all is progressing very fast, especially your economy; but I don't know if this rising (if it is only a following of western way of life and economical "science") may be considered as positively indicated. Q9.Have you experienced communal hatred/ill-feeling between her Hindu and Muslim communities? Franck: Yes, once in Jodhpur; it was during a Sufi festival, so the imam in the mosque was talking loud (over microphone) for hours, and we could hear him throughout all the old city; the family in which I was staying were very upset against Muslims, ("they are all terrorists, they make too much babies, poverty is because of them") and talked about fights they had made against Muslims. One month before, I was in palitana, and where Muslims and Hindus were working side by side, drinking chaï (tea) together. I think, as far as I know, that this hatred between Muslims Hindus is maintained by the politics (BJP) as they want India to be a 100% Hindu country Q10.Indian Hindus regard the river Ganga as sacred and they believe in the divine purity of her water. What do you think? Franck: From a western point of view, Ganga is the most polluted river in the world, with half burnt dead bodies in it, chemical pollution, etc...but scientist made one experience: they put cholera germs both in normal water, and in ganga water; in normal water, germs survived 3 days; in Ganga water, germs disappeared in 24 hours...as I’m not Hindu, it shouldn't have impressed me, but when I saw Ganga for the first time I had some peculiar feeling...weird , isn't it? Q11.Have 'Kumbh Mela' had anything special to you? Franck: It was huge! this gathering of million people was very strong! Emile Durkheim, one of the greatest French sociologist and anthropologist, had a word for this: he talked about "mana"; and defined it as "the feeling that is spread in huge gathering as structuring of social model, reinforcing common values and faith"; that is what makes you feel part of a group, of a society; India is full of diversity but throughout events like that, it unites in celebration, and there's nothing more beautiful; a very strong experience. In Hardwar, the feeling of communion was so strong...I felt like a foreigner, for sure, but also received a lot of good feelings Q12.Have you not felt it queer –the way the Hindus sees the cows? Franck: Not at all! Cow gives milk, butter, dahi, cream, cheese, and also means (from its excretion) to light fire..so it is comprehensible for the cows being respected; but nevertheless I found sometime that there was far less respect than I expected; I was surprised for the first time when I found someone beating a cow (to avenge for the loss of vegetables the cow’s having eaten them). Q13.India is a large country with people who are not culturally as homogeneous as the peoples of France and the UK. Indians speak in more than twenty languages. There is no similarity between a Tamil and an Assamese or between a Gujrati and a Bengali. How far it is true that as a nation India is one? Have you felt the quintessential India in all places you have traveled in that country? Franck: As I said, I felt there is a strong national feeling, except in people from coming for eastern states (like Arunachal Pradesh or Meghalaya); and the feeling is also there that this country is out of time; but to answer properly this question, I need to spend more time in this country.. Q14. If you have formed a perception on India-which state seems most representative of your notion? Franck: Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh, for these states combine tradition, modernity, religious culture, coexistence of religions, holy places and developed cities and all the contrasts that India is living with. Q15.Which state have you liked most? Franck: As they all are different, it is very hard; I liked India as a global experience of alterity Q16. Did you have plans on visiting particular states in India? If you had –what determined your choices? Franck: Yes I had plans; I wanted to go to holy places, and also cultural places; but I also listened to people advising me; for example, when I was in Omkareshwar, some told me about Maheshwar, so I decided to go; then I heard about Hampi, and even I had not had prior plan to go, I decided I would (and I don't regret as -what a fantastic archeological place it was!) Q17.Have you visited W.Bengal and Tamil Nadu? If not-do you have any plan to visit the places that you have not covered in the last two trips? Franck: I did not visit these places, and regret it; but on a next trip, I’d like to go to Kolkata as it is of significant cultural importance, and it looks like a very attractive for that; I wish also to visit the eastern states, after encountering youth of Assam; Tamil Nadu also.. for it's new Shaibism, and also it is very interesting as there are lots of pilgrims places; I wish to travel also the char dham( char dham parikrama) once in my life (I come from mountains and love them). Q17. Indian Hindus believe in re-birth. If you are given the option-do you like to be born in India in your next birth? Franck: The principle of re-birth is that you cannot choose!.. but yes, why not? but not as a girl...! Q18. When are you coming to India again? Franck: I’ll go next time. I’d like to prepare myself for something more serious, may be to find some work in French high school or even primary school, to be able to stay for more long time; learn Hindi properly, to be able to understand and express more; go back in some places where I kept in touch with friends, and above all I wish to be in India for the next Maha kumbh-mela.
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