Dominique Lapierre, a Parisian Love for India

AN ELGIN EXCLUSIVE FEATURE BY CHAYANIKA DUBEY

An eminent French author, Padma Bhushan awardee and philanthropist, Dominique Lapierre is an avid traveller who stayed at the Elgin Fairlawn, Kolkata while writing the famous book, City of Joy.  

Image by Sanjay Ghosh

The author of several bestsellers turned movies like City of Joy, Freedom at Midnight and, Is Paris Burning? has expressed a major fondness for India. 

In an interview, Dominique Lapierre revealed his association with Kolkata, “It’s been a long love story between me, Kolkata and the people of Bengal. There are just so many facets to this city — and more than anything else it’s the people of the city who’ve fascinated me. They smile through every adversity, and even the poorest of the poor finds something to laugh about. I always carry around this bell (pulls out a bell) — it’s what every rickshaw puller in Kolkata carries, it’s their cellphone. This bell was given to me by the hero of The City of Joy. It reminds me of the sights, sounds and smells of the city. I’ve spent a lot of time in Kolkata and have got a number of friends there. I’m also involved in 14 projects which work with slum dwellers in Kolkata and people in rural Bengal.”

As a teenager, Dominique Lapierre moved to the United States with his father, who was a French diplomat and developed a liking for cars, travelling, and writing. His first book, ‘A dollar for a thousand kilometers’ was a bestseller inspired by his adventurous travel in America with 30$ in his pocket. And presently, his books have collectively sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. 

Image by Deshakalyan Chowdhury/Getty Images

Dominique Lapierre on his way to attend a dedication ceremony for a school in Kolkata.

The renowned author had fascinating and emotional experiences in India and has established several charitable initiatives as a result, naming a few  ‘The City of Joy Foundation’ in Kolkata and an Action Aid Association for Calcutta lepers’ children. The royalties from his book ‘Five past midnight in Bhopal’ fund the medical treatment of the victims of the 1984 industrial disaster and a primary school in Oriya Basti settlement in Bhopal. This was his way of expressing gratitude to the people of India for the love and support he received while researching for his several books.

Image by Ashima Narain

I just look to report the truth — the colours, noises and smells. And what I report I report with love. – Dominique Lapierre

Lapierre regularly visits India, especially the slums and the Sunderbans. Interestingly, he also speaks fluent Bengali and still carries the broken bell of Hansari Pal, the rickshaw-puller from City of Joy as a good luck charm. When asked about Indian food in an interview, this is what he had to say “Some of the best meals I have had in India have been in the bastis of Kolkata, in the houses of those who barely had enough to feed themselves.”