From France with Love
The tall, lanky, Olivier Latvine, with black curly hair and bifocals, the outgoing Director of Alliance Française de Dhaka says, “The main projects that I have dealt with during my tenure, were 'Ethno Fashion', and 'Be Bop Dance'. The first was a collaboration of its kind with Goethe Institut, using Franco-German cultural funds. This was a special fund created in 2003, it being the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship. We wanted to show that there was a long standing tradition of clothes that go back to the Roman and Napoleon Bonaparte's time. Combining tradition with modernity is important. The more contemporary form has changed. It is different from what it was 30 years ago, when I was in Dhaka, touring on my own as a young man."
He says that the 'Arab Spring' was very much in the news when his colleague Samuel Berthe from Alliance Française of Chittagong created a project that dealt with experts from France and Bangladesh. "It dealt with its relevance for France and Bangladesh, how it was perceived in France," he says, "It came up with a brochure that incorporates more contributions from scholars and intellectuals."
Explaining the idea behind “The First World War and the Colonies”, he says that he thought that it was necessary to remember the role played by the colonials. "It was first and foremost a conflict of empires: the French, British and the Austro Hungarian. There were Colonial troops from Africa and undivided India on no small scale.Their participation was important. The special focus was on South Asia, because it was, at that time, part of the British Empire. Over a million troops were sent to France. It was a two pronged event with an exhibition of photographs and an international seminar. All in all, 5000 people visited the exhibition. It was exhibited at four different venues in Dhaka, and in November in Chittagong. The second version of it is touring all over India. In November I will be in Pondicherry to welcome it. India has 15 Alliance Françaises in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Pondicherry.”
Is he looking forward to going? He is, he says, as it carries significance. It used to be a French enclave in India. They have not only a lot of Francophones but they also have French people who do not speak French. So the Alliance Française there is the only in the world that teaches French to Frenchmen who chose French nationality. Because the Bengalis were not regarded as a martial race, the British did not want them in their armed forces. Twenty-six volunteers from Bengal were trained at Pondicherry. During the Second World War, Pondicherry was the first territory abroad to join the French resistance and declare their allegiance to free France.
He goes to the nearby bookshop quite often, it is reported. Which are the books he has read—what is his focus? “Since I' m very busy I read in the car. I've read a lot of novels. I have read authors from this part of the world. Of course it includes Tagore and Nazrul. I've read the entire works of Kaiser Haq, because I'm translating him, and we shall be publishing them in France. He ranks among the best of contemporary poets in South Asia. They will be launched at a special evening devoted to poems written in Paris. His poems will be published in France at the Mache de poesie (Market of poetry).The introduction will be by Bernard Levy.
He says that he has read the translation of the 'Gitanjali'. It was a translation by Andre Guide. "The British translation I've read was much better," he says, "As for Nazrul Islam, I've read his poems and listened to 'Nazrul Geeti'."