The French connection
Michel Danino and Nicole Elfi are taken in by the richness of Indian heritage and culture
Photo: K. Ananthan At Home Michel Danino and Nicole Elfi
It was a double bonanza — a 14-km early morning drive along the clean and green city outskirts and food for thought in a serene atmosphere at the foothills of Ayyasamy Hills, near Perur. “Take the road from Omsakthi temple in Theethipalayam village, it leads to a hill and you won’t miss the house, it is the only one,” says Michel Danino over phone. He is a French scholar who has made India his home for the past 31 years.
I follow his directions and spot his quaint house. I take in the view, walk past the bougainvillea blooms, meet his Indian mongrel pets, Tu tu and Tu toon and settle down to listen to him.
“I have just lodged a complaint with the District Forest Officer on the illegal cutting of two banyan trees from the neighbouring forest,” says Michel Danino, who has been in Coimbatore for three years now along with Nicole Elfi. “The Bhagavad Gita says fight for dharma. But in every field, people make sure that there is no answerability. This is because our politicians don’t trust our culture. Even the Arthashastra gives measures to control corruption,” says the scholar, who fought for the restoration of the Longwood Shola ecosystem in Kotagiri during his stay there.
Nicole came to India as a fussy Paris girl in a caravan 34 years ago and the immediate sense of belonging she felt when she stepped on the Indian soil kept her back. “It was like my mother was here,” she says and rushes to pick up the cell phone that is singing a polyphonic vande matram.
“Sri Aurobindo and the Mother pulled us to India,” they say. Michel and Nicole lived as a part of the international community in Aurovillefor a few years, did a lot of writing, editing and translation of the works about Sri Aurobindo and then shifted to the Nilgiris in 1982 and continued to work from there for 21 years.
His goal is to teach young Indians about the inherent strengths of Indian culture. “They should have a sense of pride in Indian culture and heritage. Be it the ecological traditions or the scientific and technological traditions, in Mathematics, Astronomy, aspects of Physics, Chemistry or Metallurgy, the achievements are high,” says Michel, who is the convener of International Forum for India’s Heritage, a network of scholars and thinkers.
His latest book ‘The Elusive Aryans’ released in French talks about his theory that there is no real evidence of an Aryan invasion. English version will follow. He has authored five books and some of his papers on India’s history have been published in academic journals. Michel who lectures at institutions such as the IITs says the present educational system denigrates the Indian culture in an indirect way. “Textbooks showcase it as primitive and ancient. Under NCERT, we conducted a survey among school students from class IX to XII to probe their minds regarding culture. It was a direct poll done among 11,000 students across 21 states in nine languages. We found that 60 per cent of the students were deeply dissatisfied and 90 per cent wanted to learn,” he adds.
Nicole has published a book on ‘The Living Roots, initiation to knowledge’ in French. History and the deeper side of Indian culture fascinate her.
Do they miss their hometown? “We are at home in India. We love chappathis and sambhar, yoga and everything Indian. After 14 years, we visited France only last year,” they say.
K. JESHI www.thehindu.com/mp/2008/10/04/stories/2008100454321400.htm