Mappillai—‘son-in-law’ in Tamil—is the rollicking story of journalist Carlo Pizzati, a European living with his in-laws in urban Chennai and with his wife in rural Paramankeni. When in Paramankeni, he finds himself in the company of fishermen and goat-herders, in a house where 3G asserts itself in a corner of the bathroom and electricity courses through rooms in fits and starts.
At one level, Mappillai is deeply personal. With beguiling candour, Carlo tells of his struggle with two extreme, contradictory responses to India—fascination and suspicion—and his awkward attempts at cruising through a maze of bribery, bureaucracy and traffic. Yet, at another level, the book offers a glimpse into the world of expats in contemporary India by introducing us to a host of colourful ‘firangi friends’—from those who are overwhelmed by this nation’s noise and colour; to those who ‘go native’ in kurtas; to those who believe that India is vast enough to accommodate their diverse selves as dreamers or yogis or artists. But, beyond all of this, Mappillai is the story of India. Over his decade long stay in this nation—one that has taken him north and south, west and east—Carlo has witnessed a land in flux—from the gloom and doom of 2008 when the New India dream shattered, to the heady optimism of 2015 with promises of ‘acche din’, right up to today, marked by the domination of anti-Romeo squads and gau-rakshaks.
With wry humour and jollity, wisdom and acceptance, Mappillai offers an intimate capsule of contemporary Indian history— of the concomitant Hinduization and Westernization of India, intertwined with the Indianization of a European!
It also touches upon topics of inter-cultural communication and integration, race relations, identity politics, contemporary India, contemporary lifestyle choice (city vs countryside, downsizing), caste politics, the challenges of innovation in India.