When she reached Mumbai in 2006 to work for O GLOBO newspaper of Brazil, Florencia Costa didn't know she was the first Brazilian and South American journalist to live and report from India.
In the next six years, as she covered politics, business, culture and entertainment in India and its neighboring countries, Costa fell in love with India, got married to an Indian and spent six years writing about and travelling across the country.
Before returning to Brazil at the end of 2012, she wrote Os Indianos (The Indians), a book about India and its people, promises and problems. Released in November 2012, the book is already a huge success in Brazil. Excerpts from an interview with the author:
What was the inspiration for the book?
The inspiration was India, a country where there is never a dull moment. There is always so much happening. At first, the multiplicity of noises, smells and colours and people can overwhelm you, but slowly it begins to make sense. As an emerging country like Brazil, we have a lot of interest in India. Brazilians love yoga, meditation and Indian music, but many of them don't have clear picture of India. It's either very romantic image of the country or very depressing. Just like people around the world think of Brazilians as football players and samba dancers, many here think of India as some kind of spiritual retreat. During my reporting years in India, I guess I saw the real India, and I have tried to bring that India to Brazilians. It's a country of the IT revolution and a growing middle class, but it's also a country of gang-rapes.
Is India difficult to understand for outsiders and the Indian culture difficult to delve into, if you are a Westerner?
To say that India is a complex country is a huge understatement. The complexities of caste, religion and languages and many layers of politics make it a difficult country to understand. But as I reported on different issues -- from politics to Bollywood to business -- I began to understand the country and how it works. The problem with the westerners is that if you don't speak local languages, you may end up interacting with a small group of middle-class, English-speaking people and that may not give you the complete picture of India. India is like no other country in the world. It can be a very hard place for westerners, but then people are really nice and it's impossible not to notice how so many people live on so little. That makes you humble.
You are married to an Indian. Did that give you any insights, personal ones?
Yes. As I travelled with my husband across the country -- even the countryside, I could talk to people through him. As he is a journalist too, I could see India through his eyes. Also through him, I got entry into an Indian family which welcomed me with open arms. Now I know how the Indian family works, their values, their relationships, their food and their festivals. I also learned a bit of Indian cooking from my mother-in-law. That was an amazing experience.
How's the book received in Brazil?
It has been received very well, both by the critics and readers. Of course, I don't want to be self-congratulatory so early but the book has generated a lot of interest in India and it has been discussed in newspapers and TV shows. Just in the first two months of its release, they have sold a 1000 copies. Also, some top magazines have put it on the top of their "must read" lists. It's good to see people taking interests in India.
Historically, India and Brazil have had very little contacts. But that is gradually changing, with both countries now becoming part of the BRICS acronym. What is the future of India-Brazil relations, in your opinion?
Brazil and India have a lot in common and a lot to learn from each other, and the process has already started. The direct cash transfer scheme being launched in India has been inspired by a hugely successful Brazilian plan called Bolsa Familia. Since Brics is more focussed on development and policy initiatives, the two countries are now coming even more closer. Of course, business and trade is growing and all big Indian IT firms are doing business here in Brazil. But we need more presence in each other's media and more people-to-people interaction. I hope my book will play a small role in initiating that.
You spent six years in India, covering the country and the region. What are some of the most interesting stories you covered?
Of course, the Indian politics is always exciting and writing about Bollywood and TV soaps was a new experience, but the most memorable experience was my travel to Pakistan in 2008 to cover the historic elections in that country. Benazir Bhutto had just been assassinated and Gen. Pervez Musharraf forced to step down from power. There was a lot of tension in the air, but I was glad to see the enthusiasm of people for elections and democracy. Visiting polling booths in Islamabad and Lahore and meeting political pundits, lawyer activists like Aitzaz Hasan was a thrilling experience. In 2009, we went to Kabul for the Afghan election. It was a great experience too. On the day of election, rockets flew above our hotel and a car bomb exploded just a hundred metres ahead of our car on the road to Jalalabad. That was scary, but then it's a part of being a journalist. (GIN - Amercian Bazaar Online)