India through the eyes of an Italian man
CARLO PIZZATI is a fiction and non-fiction writer and an award-winning journalist.
As a journalist, he has got over 16 years of experience corresponding from New York, Rome, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Madrid, covering the guerrilla war in Colombia, the Andes’ narcos business, Mexico’s illegal immigrant smuggling, to say the least.
As a writer, Pizzati is witty and charming, with two novels, three non-fiction books, and a collection of short stories which touch on the concept of a sense of history and belonging juxtaposed with transformation through travel and experience.
Currently, he lives with his wife near a fishing village in India, where he writes for national dailies La Stampa and The Hindu, on top of teaching communication theory at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai.
Come Oct 29, 2018, he will be at The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2018 in Ubud on the Indonesian paradise island of Bali, where he will be speaking at Main Program: Crossing Cultures, Main Program: The Big Read: Journeys, and Special Event: This Alien Nation.
Let’s get to know him a little bit better:
When and why did you decide to move to India?
I didn’t decide at all. It was way too hot in India, especially in Tamil Nadu where I now live. I immediately knew I’d never move here when I first got to India in 2008 to practice yoga Ashtanga with Patthabi Jois in Mysore and to meditate in front of the holy mountain of Arunachala. Too much sweat, I couldn’t take it.
Of course, then I fell in love, so forget about my rational thinking!
Describe a day in the life of Carlo Pizzati in India.
Carlo Pizzati wakes up at dawn…wait, why am I speaking in the third person? Because you’re a writer! Now it’s the second person. Let’s keep it simple.
I live in a house on the beach of the Bay of Bengal. I go for a jog at dawn chased by my three beach dogs, breakfast of champions, lock myself in the studio until it’s time to whip up some spicy spaghetti, work on articles, essays, lectures in the afternoon until a one-hour walk on the beach, and never miss Tequila Mockingbird hour before dinner.
What were some of the cultural differences that have surprised you about India?
I find myself not being able to use my left hand when I’m in Europe. I’ll be paying with a Euro note in my left hand and quickly pass it on the right hand before giving it to the person at the counter. But they don’t have “bathroom hand” problems in Italy.
Too late, the mechanism is engrained in my neurological metabolism. Just like the Indian head bob, which I inadvertently adopted.
What surprised me a lot was the widespread smiling culture, especially in the South. It’s contagious, and even though a smile here has a different meaning than elsewhere, I still find it uplifting to be surrounded by such apparent glee.
What do you think were some of the biggest misconceptions about the country?
After having already visited much of the world, I was able to come to India thanks to a very handy contraption – a pocket-sized water sterilizing pen which you stick it in a pitcher of water to supposedly kill the bacteria with UVA rays.
Of course, I never used it once. India is littered with plastic water bottles for a reason.
It was a defense mechanism. I was so scared of getting elephantiasis and leprosy because I’d read too many Rudyard Kipling novels as a boy. I mean, you do get used to the loose motions of Delhi belly, and after a bit of bowel purification, you build up a resistance.
What are some of your biggest takeaways and learnings from living in India?
Drive on the left side. Definitely. Eat with your right hand. Don’t order salads in restaurants! Never get mad. Forget about getting even. Chill. Things are not what they seem. Your dharma is your karma. And vice-versa.
But for the long version, you have to read Mappillai.
For curious travelers who have never been to India, what words of advice would you impart to best prepare them for their trip?
Bring mosquito repellent. The rapidly evolving Indian breed of those blood-sucking bugs drinks local repellent like it’s sweet champagne.
When eating Indian food, ask for a plate of rice with yogurt as the final dish. It’ll calm the burning sensation on your mucose membrane and stop the watery nose and eyes.
Do not walk around cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Hyderabad, or Lucknow dressed in camouflage waistcoats, hiking boots, and trekking gear like you’re entering a safari jungle. Just say no to that embarrassing look.
Which Asian country is on your travel bucket list and why?
I want to say Italy or Spain, any of those countries who’ve already been colonized by Asian investment and have so many Asian owned interests, but I think some people might find that insulting.
So I’ll say Myanmar and Laos. Why? I’ve heard good things and I sometimes head into experiences irresponsibly like that.
Tell us why this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival is not to be missed.
There are so many interesting things and great names on the program.
There’s This Alien Nation or a top panel on #MeToo or Hanif Kureishi talking about sex, for example, plus the cultural workshops and the literary menu at the Indus Restaurant which promise to be rich and spicy every day.
But I think the main attraction will be my ping pong rematch with Geoff Dyer.
I gave him a good whipping this summer. Then I was lured into a trap and got beaten badly, couldn’t win a game. I’m counting that the Ubud rematch will be something worth the money.
The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival is the major annual project of the not-for-profit foundation, the Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati.
It was first conceived by Janet DeNeefe, co-founder of the foundation, as a healing project in response to the first Bali bombing.