Spices and sarees; when Ernest van der Kwast thinks of India…

by Marlies Dekkers
Ernest van der Kwast (34) was born in Mumbai and grew up in Rotterdam. He is one of my favorite Dutch writers. One of the things I admire about Ernest is his desire and ability to see and show the magic in ordinary things.

As a matter of fact, that’s how we met, three years ago. Instead of the usual boring book launch – afternoon drinks at a publishing house-, Ernest decided to present his wonderful novella ‘Giovanna’s navel’ at my store in Rotterdam. “A much more original and stimulating environment”, according to Ernest. A very fitting location too, since the main character in the title story falls in love with a girl wearing a bikini, a year before the bikini was even invented. From the moment we met, I was fascinated by Ernest, and we stayed in touch. And so, when I decided to design a collection inspired by Indian rebel saint Mirabai, I immediately thought of this handsome son of India. I asked him what his mother’s country meant to him, and he sent me this reply:

‘When I think about India, I think of my mothers colourful herbs and spices: yellow, red, grey-white, deep black. She used to save her spices in a shiny metal box- her treasure box. But just as precious were her sarees that had the most gorgeous, intense colours: pink, orange, magenta, ultramarine. She would wear the sarees for special occasions, and she would be the most beautiful mother in the world.’

Isn’t that beautiful? And to think he sent me this text per SMS! I think receiving messages like that is definitely one of the perks of being friends with a writer..

Ernest van der Kwast had his breakthrough with ‘Mama Tandoori’ (2010), a hilarious and moving novel about his Indian mother. It sold more than 100.000 copies, no mean feat in a small country like Holland. His sixth novel, De IJsmakers (The ice cream makers) is out now.

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