'If there was anything our neighbours envied us, it was our thinnais.'
The working-class district of Kurusukuppam is not the Pondicherry of tourist brochures. Here, French soldiers, Tamil activists, Creoles and communists all live in boisterous and comical equanimity.
But life in Kurusukuppam is upturned by the arrival of a curious tramp, Gilbert Thaata, a wizened Frenchman who has clearly seen hard times. Settling down on the narrator's verandah, his thinnai, Gilbert Thaata begins to earn his keep by recounting the tale of the rise and fall of his family's fortunes as the custodians of a mysterious diamond, the Stone of Sita. The fanciful story that unfolds is one that stretches across centuries and encompasses the history of France's colonial legacy in India. His entranced listeners cannot help but ask – just who is this old man and how did he fall on such misfortune?
Masterfully translated from the French original by Blake Smith, Ari Gautier's The Thinnai offers a panoramic view of Pondicherry's past and the whimsical eccentricities of its present, and shines a light on the quirks of history that have come to define us.
The Thinnai by Ari Gautier
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