The Thinnai

If there was anything our neighbours envied us, it was our thinnais.

The working-class district of Kurusukuppam is not the Pondicherry of tourist brochures. Here, residents are a bewildering mix of Creoles, colonial war veterans, proud communists and French citizens who have never left India’s shores. It is a place of everyday tragedies, melodramatic occurrences and stubborn, absurd hope.

But life in Kurusukuppam is upturned by the arrival of a curious tramp, Gilbert Thaata, a wizened Frenchman who has clearly seen hard times. Settling down on the narrator’s verandah, his thinnai, Gilbert Thaata begins to earn his keep by recounting the tale of the rise and fall of his family’s fortunes as the custodians of a mysterious diamond, the Stone of Sita. The fanciful story that unfolds is one that stretches across centuries and encompasses the history of France’s colonial legacy in India. As entranced as they are by the raconteur, his listeners cannot help but ask – just who is this old man and how did he fall on such misfortune?

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