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Mrs Priti Sanyal - Cultural Attachée of the Maison de l’Inde

30 septembre 2007

For this new universitary year, let’s go to the Cité U to meet Mr Bikas Sanyal and Mrs Priti Sanyal who are in charge of the Maison de l’Inde.

M. et Mme Sanyal

IEL : Mrs Sanyal, what are your education and professionnal backgrounds ?

P.S : I did a Master in modern history from Calcutta University, then I taught for a while in India and when I accompanied my husband to the US, I taught at the university about South Asian history.

IEL : What is your Role at Maison de l’Inde ?

P.S. : It’s difficult to say exactly as I do many things.

First when we arrived at Maison de l’Inde, it was in very bad conditions. Few people knew about it. My husband requested and had the agreement of the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Maison and the Delegué Générale of the Cité international universitaire de Paris to which the Maison belongs, for the creation of the post of an honorary (without any salary) Cultural Attaché for the Maison de l’Inde to organise cultural activities and also to help him in the renovation tasks of the Maison. I also take care of social aspects of the residents life.

IEL : It seems that you are a big family at Maison de l’Inde.

P.S. : Actually we are calling it a “home away from home” but my role is not to play the mother. I always have a separate line between my personal life and public life but for the students, I am a kind of interlink between the director who can be sometimes busy and not happy to manage some requests. We are otherwise quite open, so people feel like being in a family, especially women who have some problems to live here coming from India without knowing the French culture or language.

IEL : How do you manage the organisation of the cultural events ?

P.S. : When we organise something at Maison de l’Inde, it needs a lot of organizational work and logistical support. The Residents Committee helps me to do it. As it’s free for the public, we need to organise it with our funds. The Maison de l’Inde is completely self-financed.

At the beginning, we had to cook everything by ourselves with the help of some friends. It was first for the residents and then Indian people from Paris came to us. I have to add that we have a free contribution of some Indian people and restaurants, or with a discounted price so that we can organise the events and give fresh and good food to the guests. It’s not only us who organise this, it’s also all those people who help us, without forgetting the students.

BS : Shriya, here is a funny story : when we arrived at Maison de l’Inde, there was no money at all, and for the first event which was the 26th January - Republic Day, we couldn’t buy anything. The cultural programme was offered by a former resident with her students. Some girls came and asked for sweets. All that I had was bonbons. I offered those to them to distribute among the visitors to the cultural program and keep the rest for themselves. They were happy to do so and the visitors highly appreciated our gesture. I still have some of them that I keep as a souvenir !

IEL : Are you part of any cultural associations ?

P.S. : I’m a member of few associations :

-   Member of honnor chamilany association : library of Indian books
-   Member of the Indian Professional Association
-   Member of France-Union Indienne
-   Member of Musée Guimet

IEL : Will you organise a big festival pour Diwali ?

P.S. : The Indian people are such that they feel better in an intimate event. People like to come at Maison de l’Inde because it’s intimate even if there are 400 people. They feel at home, they go in and out, take some food and at the end, they don’t want to leave because they really feel confortable and have the feeling they are in India. Especially as it’s a non official event. In order to organise it , I work with the Committee which is composed of young people. So they organise it and manage it, even if it’s not grandiose, there is a warmful atmosphere.

IEL : Is there a temple at Maison de l’Inde for the Puja ?

P.S. : We do it in the hall but there is not really a temple because the residents are from different religions and make their prayers on their room according to their faith. We try to be as secular as India is. When we are here in France, we don’t think about who is who, we are just Indian living together in France just like in India. For Diwali, a muslim student will sing soufi songs, which is a good example of how people are far from religious concerns.

IEL : Apart from this work, when I met your husband few months ago, he told me you were writing books.

P.S. : Yes, I’m also a kind of writer and write travel books but also poetry books.

BS : No she is a real writer, she writes regularly for several years in Bengali and now her books are being translated in english

IEL : I read “France Inside Out” which is really intesting, even and maybe mostly for French people ! As Jean-Claude Carrière wrote on the préface : “ we can confidently open any page : we would be immediatly caught by an attentive and friendly voice”. In some chapters, there are interviews you did for the magazine Desh. Can you tell us about this magazine ?

P.S : Desh is a Bengali litterary magazine from Kolkata. It publishes non-fiction articles, essays in Bengali. A lot of famous Bengali writers began with Desh.

IEL : I highly recommand to the people interested in the cultural relations between France and India in the 80’s to read this book. They will find interesting articles and interviews. Thanks a lot to both of you for this interesting meeting.

P.S. : Thanks Shriya !

B.S. : Thanks Shriya, I hope you will come for the Puja this year.

IEL : Yes of course, I won’t miss it this year !

Interview realised by Shriya on 17th August 2007 at the Maison de l’Inde.

Mots-clés :


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