| CASE STUDY: Lucas Delattre. Picture by Rashbehari Das
Chubby face, kind eyes, a receding hairline and a friendly disposition. Lucas Delattre hardly looks the sort to research and write on international espionage. But this unassuming persona is what he shares with the character he has resurrected from the forgotten pages of World War II in his book Fritz Kolbe: a spy during the IIIrd Reich.
'I am no expert on spies. Kolbe is a special case,' he smiles almost apologetically, settling down on the steps of the auditorium at Max Mueller Bhavan.
It was an article in a newspaper that steered him towards the German bureaucrat, 'a simple man who became a key informer for America in the Nazi camp'.
'Kolbe lived and died in disgrace. In choosing to help the Allies, he had sided against his country. He lost his job in the foreign ministry when he was identified. Even after the war, his job applications were never considered. He was whipped out of memory. I thought there was a book there.'
If Delattre's willingness to dig the past came from his background in history, the ability to sniff out a story came from the journalist's nose for news; Delattre had started his career as the Germany correspondent for Le Monde.
On his first visit to India, Delattre was shocked to find the reality so close to the clich's. 'I saw a cow in the middle of the road in Delhi, even an elephant.'
But India has brought the 39-year-old face-to-face with a bigger realisation about life back home. 'Here people live, however poor they may be. I saw a man who must have used all his resources to buy his only possession ' a weighing machine. He was sitting with that on the streets, earning a living. In Europe, once people lose jobs, they sit back in depression and drink,' says the head of the Council of Europe's Paris office.
In Delattre's view, Europe was at the pinnacle of glory at the beginning of the 20th Century. 'WW I was a suicide, WWII a bigger suicide. Though there is still no comparison, we seem to be going downhill, while India and China are on the upswing.'
In Calcutta, the first trip he has made as a tourist befits an author ' College Street. 'It is somewhat like the bouquinistes by the Seine in Paris,' he smiles.