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|February 12, 1999||
The Rediff Interview/ Francois Gautier
'There is an unconscious militant dislike of the Christian world towards Hindu India'
Francois Gautier is the South Asia correspondent for Le Figaro, one of France's most respected newspapers. He has lived in India since 1971, and has been associated with Auroville in Pondicherry for much of that time. He has strong views on India, as can be seen in the following. Rajeev Srinivasan interviewed him by email.
Could you tell us a little about your background, for example your education and upbringing?
I was born in Paris in 1950. I had a strict upper-class Catholic education but I never really fitted in the system and revolted against it quite early. Thus, I was sent to many famous boarding schools all over Europe, from which I was regularly kicked out! My family wanted me to be a businessman and I attended an American business school in Paris called IDRAC, but my interest was in writing and I quit to work in a small newspaper, which quickly folded; then I wrote the script of a film for a friend (whose father, a famous film director, had given him 30,000 francs to do his own film). Needless to say, the film was never released and soon after, I left for India: I had just turned 19.
Have you worked with anybody other than Le Figaro?
When I reached India, I stopped writing for a long time, except my own diaries and I went into other spheres -- meditation and gardening, for instance! In 1982, at the occasion of the Asian Games in Delhi, I chanced upon an article (on the Asian Games) in a French newspaper. It had all the usual clichés on India: poverty, fakirs, Mother Teresa... So I wrote a letter of correction to the editor; and he offered me to write an article, which I did. And then another article followed and another and another...
I then started writing and photographing for different publications and finally ended-up being the correspondent in South Asia, for the Geneva-based Journal de Geneve, which at one time used to be one of the best international newspapers in Europe. Five and a half years ago, I switched to Figaro, for which I now work exclusively, except for the occasional photo feature (on kalarapiyat for instance).
How did you become interested in Indology?
Indology grew on me the moment I started getting out of Auroville (which is a bit of an island in the midst of India). In fact I would say that India grows on those (Westerners) who LIVE in India in whatever field (dance, music, spirituality, crafts, photography -- but not journalism). Also I have an interest in spirituality and it opens up so many different areas of Indian life.
You are married to an Indian, aren't you? Do you have other roots in India now?
I have been married nine years to Namrita, who is from Delhi (mother is Hindu, father Sikh). Being married to a "daughter of India" is a natural complement of my being in this country for 30 years. My roots are very much in this country, even though I remain a Westerner. But I have no intention of going back to France, except for yearly visits to meet my family.
What is your relationship to Auroville?
I came to India with the first caravan for the international city of Auroville -- and even though I spent seven years in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondichery, because I was immediately attracted by this totally Indian and spiritualised atmosphere (lots of Westerners in Auroville), my dedication is to Auroville, where I have spent most of the last 22 years. It is this ATTEMPT at human unity which makes Auroville great (because so far, we cannot boast of many achievements!) and the fact that such a place exists and that it is in India (where else could it be but in the land of great tolerance and spiritual experiment?) is a sign of hope for the rest of humanity.
I have read excerpts from Rewriting Indian History on the web at www.hindu.org, the site of Hinduism Today. What is your relationship if any, with Hinduism Today?
No direct relationship with them. Sitaram Goel, publisher of the Voice of India (For a long time, Sitaram Goel and Ram Swarup, who just passed away, single handedly defended Hinduism in the face of the Marxist-Christian-Muslim onslaught in India) had read some of my articles in Blitz magazine and asked me if he could publish a series of them under a book form. I answered that I would rather write the book from scratch and thus was born The Wonder That Is India.
Later, Hinduism Today, a remarkable set-up, which for the first time in the history of Hinduism is attempting to rationalise and gather together this great knowledge to present it to the world, offered to put it on their site in the net.
You take exception to A L Basham's The Wonder that was India: because it thinks of India only in the past tense?
Not only does he think that India was great solely in the past, but his idea of India's greatness is very selective; furthermore, he subscribes to the usual Western slogans: the eternal clichés propagated by a few Christian missionaries and "enlightened secularists" on the Indian caste system. "The Aryans anointed themselves the ruling class (= Brahmins and Kshatriyas), while the poor conquered Dravidians (Harappans), became the slaves, (= Vaishyas and Shudras)". Or: "As they settled among darker aboriginals, the Aryans seem to have laid greater stress than before on purity of blood and class divisions hardened..." (pp. 36, The Wonder that was India). Or else this monstrosity: "...In the Vedic period, a situation arose rather like that prevailing in South Africa today, with a dominant fair minority, striving to maintain its purity and its supremacy over a darker majority"... (pp. 138, The Wonder that was India). Poor India, being granted the honour by Basham, of being the founding father of racism! But it is thus that Basham lays the ground for his later theories on what he calls Hindu imperialism.
You quote widely from Koenrad Elst (whom I have interviewed in the past). Isn't Elst -- and for that matter Dr David Frawley and Dr Subhash Kak -- dismissed by some as not serious scholars?
It is very unfortunate that Konrad Elst is not able to publish his writings but in Hindu-oriented magazines or publishing houses, for he is not only one of the most thorough and knowledgeable scholars on India, but also, because he is a Westerner, he is able to perceive things that Indians themselves, blinded by two centuries of colonialism and 50 years of so-called secularism, do not see any more. I hope that History will grant him his due place in the fight for Indian Renaissance.
All are very rigorous scholars -- the scope of Elst's knowledge is amazing. But they have been going for a long time against the mainstream thought of this country, which was initiated first by the Britishers and later taken on by Nehru and the intellectual left based in JNU, all of which were predominantly anti-Hindu and which strove to eradicate the genius that was India.
What other books have you written? Do tell me more about them.
I have written Rewriting Indian History, published by Vikas. In February Un autre regard sur l'Inde (A Different look at India), will be published in France and Switzerland by Editions du Tricorne and I have just finished a novel called The last caravan to India which I hope to publish first in France and later in India, after getting it translated in English.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on two books in collaboration with Indian photographer Raghu Rai. The first one is on kalaripayat, which as you may know is the ancestor of all great Asian martial arts, such as judo and karate. This Kerala-based multi-discipline martial art travelled to China and later to Japan with Buddhism and brought to these countries not only martial knowledge, but also medical science which gave birth to acupuncture in China. The other book is about the French influence in India, past and present.
Your views on the discrediting of the Aryan Invasion Theory. Isn't it a bit far-fetched to suggest that in addition to not being invaded, in fact Indian tribes went westwards?
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