Everything that is not given is lost

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Nov 29 2010, 04:45am hrs
In India to celebrate the 75,000th TB patient getting cured and the 10,000th girl student getting educated at the welfare centre in West Bengal and for the launch of his book A Rainbow in the Night (Full Circle), French author Dominique Lapierre is proud of his efforts and charities in India. Lapierres research in India for the past 40 years has produced bestsellers like Freedom at Midnight and City of Joy, and is set to release his new book India My Love in the country by October 2011. For the last 26 years, Lapierre, a Padma Bhushan recipient, has been using his royalties to support 14 charities in rural Bengal. His non profit organisation - City of Joy Aid - runs a network of clinics, schools, rehabilitation centres and hospital boats that has been helping the poor since 1981. Accompanied by his wife, also named Dominique, Lapierre says he continues to be baffled and frustrated with the reluctance of affluent Indians to aid destitute. In conversation with Garima Pant, Lapierre talks about his forthcoming books and his love for India. Excerpts:

You have a very special relation-ship with India with a number of your books and charity initiatives being centred around India What makes India so special to you

I have had a love relationship with India for a long time. This trip is really special as it celebrates my victory against ignorance and poverty. I am a very happy person because of the results of my love story with India, which has come from three big books. One is Freedom at Midnight, which is a cult book everywhere in the world, about the independence of India. Other one is City of Joy, which has sold over nine million copies in the world. And the third is Five Past Midnight, where I tell the whole story about Bhopal. And now, I will be publishing another book next year, titled India My Love, where I will tell stories connected with my long association with India, my research and my humanitarian action.

But at the same time, I am a very frustrated person because I have been trying for so many years to interest Indian participation in my humanitarian actions. Three years ago, I had set up in Delhi a Trust that offers a tax-deductible certificate for all donations. The foundation still does not have any funds from affluent Indians. In the past 28 years, I have given $65 million from my royalties and donations from my readers. I want Indians to be concerned about the plight of the poor.

Why do you think people in India, who can contribute to your cause have been away Where is the lacuna

I think rich people probably dont know about the realities of life in rural surroundings, for instance in Bengal. I have done my own research and I want to know how many people realise that almost 300 million Indians sleep without a full belly every night. How many people are aware that there are about 50 million people who will never go to a school These are the realities that Shining India wants to ignore or doesnt want to be bothered with. Every time I meet these people, I come back rejuvenated. I get my vitamins from these people. Tagore once wrote, Adversity is big, but man is bigger than adversity, and thats what I found in those very destitute areas. When I researched to write City of Joy, for two years I lived in this slum, which I called the City of Joy. I learnt a motto there, which has become my motto, and it says, Everything that is not given is lost. Its been taught to me by the poorest of the poor and I want this to be written on the stone of my grave. When I heard that Mukesh Ambani is building a 27-storey house in Mumbai with all the luxuries, I am thinking of all those people in the Sundarbans that I am communicating with.

We might have to close some of our schools and dispensaries and cut down our fleet of hospital boats in the Sunderbans because of dwindling resources. This is a rich country. But why isnt Shining India collaborating a little more to help the unfortunate

Your upcoming book is on Africa, tell us something about it.

The figure of Nelson Mandela reminds me of the figure of Mahatma Gandhi. These are the great icons of our modern history and I yearn for these similar icons in Israel or in Palestine to achieve peace. It took me two years of research and the book deals with the birth of Africa and the extraordinary epic of a man called Mandela, who, after 30 years in jail in terrible circumstances, instead of calling upon the black people of South Africa to avenge apartheid, said,

All of usblacks, whites, Indianswe are going to create a rainbow nation to give a lesson of reconciliation to the world.