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French diplomat's Kolkata love leads to book on its spooky side

kolkata Updated: Jul 20, 2015 13:41 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Fabrice Etienne

Ghosts of Calcutta by Sebastian Ortiz.

The ghosts of Kolkata and the spirit of the city have fascinated Fabrice Etienne, the French consul general in Kolkata, so much that he has ended up writing a book on its spookier side.

"I had lived in India when I was in my twenties. It was in Calcutta and I was on voluntary overseas service at the Consulate of France. More than ten years have since passed. This lapse of time was necessary for me to make up my mind to come back. I found a pretext to write a novel about the ghosts of Calcutta – an excuse which was as good as any, to better reign in my own ghosts," Fabrice Etienne writes in the preface of his novel, Ghosts of Calcutta.

The book is being released at a time when there is a renewed interest on ghosts in the city following the Robinson Street incident of a father-son duo living with the skeleton of a family member and carcasses of pet dogs for months until the father committed suicide.

Kolkata has several popular stories about ghosts and most of them are said to haunt old, colonial-era buildings in the city such as the National Library, the Writers' Buildings, the Old Mint and Clive House. And ghosts of Europeans, who died in Kolkata during the colonial era, appear as major characters in Etienne's book.

In the book, which has been written under the nom de guerre Sebastien Ortiz, Etienne has blended facts with fiction, stories from Kolkata's colonial past with its present.

"The novel runs on four parallel narratives. The protagonist, a Frenchman arrives in Calcutta in 2005 to write a book on Calcutta. The protagonist unravels lives of individual English men and women in colonial Calcutta, many of whom died tragic deaths. He tells the stories of their lives and how they live on as ghosts in Calcutta," said Sunandan Roychoudhury of Sampark, the publisher.

Etienne's fascination for Kolkata is obvious as one reads the 330-page novel, which was originally written in French and translated into English by Sriparna Chatterjee.

"To think of Calcutta, is to think of it as a whole. If India is bigger than the world, as Borges wrote, then Calcutta is bigger than India," he writes adding, "Calcutta, the most fulfilling city of the universe. The most schizophrenic too, one that epitomizes all the contradictions of existence and absorbs them all."

The French ambassador to India, François Richier, is set to release the book at his residence in New Delhi on July 23.