Ari Gautier calls himself a vagabond— he was born in Madagascar, has lived in Paris, and is now based in Oslo. He has dabbled in art, theatre, music and films. Yet his latest foray is inspired by the city of his childhood and adolescence— Pondicherry. His debut novel, Carnet Secret de Lakshmi (The Secret Journal of Lakshmi), was launched last week at the Alliance Française. The official book launch at Paris was called off because of the shootings that shocked the world on the scheduled weekend. “I did take my novel to a few bookstores in the city that welcomed me to sell on the spot,” he shares. Set in the 1980s and 1990s, the story is told through the perspective of Lakshmi, the resident elephant at the Manakula Vinayagar Temple (inspired by the real temple elephant, Lakshmi). The streets of Pondicherry come to life in the novel through the exploits of interesting characters like Tripod Dog Baba, a three-legged dog and self-fashioned spiritual guru, and Alphonse, a flying fish and incarnation of a sage. While the book takes a dig at the rigidities of the caste system and blind faith, it questions if an elephant or anyone can break through the shackles of destiny and write their own script.
There is a dearth of fiction set in Pondicherry, feels Gautier, insisting the city is a muse for storytellers. “I have always been fascinated by the city’s history, but I did not want to write an academic or non-fictional narrative.” While he is looking to translate his work in English, Gautier has already begun on the sequel, Thinnai. “There are more stories that Pondicherry has to tell — and not only those seen through colonial perspectives. It is time we Pondicherrians took our literary destiny in our hands to tell our stories and the stories of our ancestors.”
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— Olympia Shilpa Gerald