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Talking literature, quite the French way with ambassador Alexandre Ziegler

The diplomatic ties between India and France also have a literary connect, says French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler.

delhi Updated: Jan 14, 2018 16:11 IST
Etti Bali
Etti Bali
Hindustan Times
Alexandre Ziegler,French Ambassador,World Book Fair
Alexandre Ziegler, the Ambassador of France to India.(Amal KS/HT Photo)

It’s a relatively warm winter morning and crisp sunshine is pouring in from the many glass doors and windows. The cosy setting of the lounge and drawing area, which have hosted many a dignitary, looks inviting. We are at the residence of Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India, to talk about France’s presence at the recently-concluded World Book Fair in the Capital. “This year, the European Union was the guest of honour at the New Delhi World Book Fair. We have invited the CEO of Gallimard Publishing House, Antoine Gallimard. Renowned French author and screen writer David Foenkinos was also present to participate in an engaging discussion on the subject, Lazy Sunday of Literature. His book, La Delicatesse, was recently translated in Hindi, as Nazakat, by Prabhat Ranjan,” shares Ziegler, a bibliophile himself.

Although the book fair in Delhi has concluded, the cultural and literary exchange between France and India hasn’t. Going forward, France will be participating in book fairs in Kolkata and Jaipur. “Exchange is at the core of our diplomatic mission, through our books. When we invite a French author or publisher to India, he returns to France with a piece of India that fosters other lucrative projects. Indian authors are widely published and read in France,” says Ziegler, who was appointed to office in July, 2016. Before this, he was Head of the Foreign Minister’s Political Office (Directeur de Cabinet).

“When we invite a French author or publisher to India, he returns to France with a piece of India,” says Ziegler. (Amal KS/HT Photo)

We take a tour of the official library on the ground floor. The musty smell of books and wooden shelves is a heady mix. The ambassador tells us that some of the editions here date back to the 1800s. We then climb up a flight of winding stairs leading to his private library. He shows us a copy of the classic French comic, Asterix which has been translated to Hindi. “Many classics have been translated into Hindi by Indian publishers. The anthology of La Fontaine (Aur Unki Neetiparak Kavitayen), published by Vani Prakashan in 2015, and Rue des boutiques obscures (Main Gumshuda) by Patrick Modiano, published by Rajpal & Sons in 2016, are some of the most recent translations. Contemporary authors, like David Foenkinos, who came to New Delhi World Book Fair for the promotion of Nazakat (Rajpal & Sons), or graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, whose bestseller, Persepolis, is scheduled to be published by Vani Prakashan next year are getting translated into Hindi,” says Ziegler.

The ambassador holds a degree in history from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, and is fond of classics, biographies and fiction. “L’Inde Classique has been in my family since 1947. I make it a point to read two books a week. It helps me understand this beautiful country. Sometimes, you need to go back to some classic novels. And for that, I usually read Emile Zola, Victor Hugo and Albert Camus,” he says.

“Maybe, one day in a few years, you will find a novel written by a former Ambassador of France to India,” says Ziegler. (Amal KS/HT Photo)

Browsing through his books, Ziegler explains the history of various classics. Asked if he has thought of turning author, he replies, “It would be interesting to write anovel. But for the moment, I prefer to focus on my mission here in India. We have so much to do here to prepare the future. But, maybe, one day in a few years, you will find a novel written by a former Ambassador of France to India.”

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First Published: Jan 14, 2018 16:11 IST