We have a lot in common with the folks who invented the pizza. They’re family-oriented, like the Indians. They love their food, religion and taking it easy, like the Indians. They use green chillies and lemons to ward off the evil eye, like the Indians. And if it wasn’t enough that the leader of the current ruling party in our government was born Italian, we’ve had plenty more of Italy in our face this past year – and not always for the right reasons.
Last year, two Italian marines of the Reggimento San Marco shot dead two Indian fishermen using automatic weapons from atop an oil tanker. They claimed it was an ‘accidental killing’ done in ‘self-defence against armed pirates’. They were arrested by Indian authorities and tried in Indian courts. However, unlike the way Indians charged with murder are treated, the Italians were allowed to return to Italy twice – the first to celebrate Christmas by paying a bond of INR 6 crore as stipulated by the Kerala High Court; the second, to vote in their country’s election with a surety being provided by the Italian ambassador to India that they would return in a month’s time. The shaky new government in Italy, however, decided not to send them back (a decision they overturned later), and diplomatic wires between the two countries went aflame.
Indo-Italian ties are also scorching under the weight of the Finmeccanica scandal, in which officials in the Indian defence forces including a former Air Force chief have been implicated. In February this year, Giuseppe Orsi, the then CEO of defence firm Finmeccanica, was arrested on corruption charges for bribing Indian officials to push forward a USD 750 million contract for 12 VVIP choppers. While Orsi and Finmeccania sweat it out under probe lights in Italy, in India, CBI is probing the issue and the Finance Ministry has initiated the process of cancelling the contract.
While underhanded deals and murder may well conjure up images of the mafia dons in Mario Puzo novels, there’s a more pleasant side to Indo-Italian relations – luxury and fashion. Italian brands Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, Tod’s and Boggi Milano have already tied up with local partners to retail in India and are doing roaring business, while fashion houses Moschino, Alberta Ferretti, Pollini, Gattinoni, Byblos and Scorpion Bay have signed up their entry strategy and partner search operations. With Zegna voicing an inclination to source accessories and fabric from India in the future, the path has probably been paved for a mutually beneficial fashion relationship.
The two countries – co-protagonists in Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love – could learn a thing or two from each other at this passionate love-hate stage of their relationship. Italians could meditate perhaps and dwell on the cosmos to lift them beyond their current unemployment nightmares and nixed politics. And Indians? We could do with some fashion styling. Never mind if there’s only 5 per cent growth this year – we may as well look good while at it.
First published in the April 2013 issue of Atelier