Andrew Buncombe: Fresh baguettes and ancient enemies

Pondicherry Notebook: In the 'French Quarter' of this otherwise Tamil town it is clean and calm

Share
Related Topics

It's been more than 50 years since the French were pushed out of this Indian coastal colonial town, but even now there is plenty of evidence of their wonderful legacies. At breakfast, for instance, we wake to strong fresh coffee and splendidly chewy bread, before strolling along wide, ocean-front streets with names such as Rue Demas and Rue La Bourdonnais. There are restaurants serving steak au poivre (albeit with buffalo rather than beef) and some of the policemen on duty wear bright red kepis on their heads. There are at least two lycées, teaching in French

In the so-called French Quarter of this otherwise Tamil town it is clean and calm. The buildings are large, ochre-coloured affairs, and after lunch it feels as if you have stumbled into the back streets of a sleepy, southern French town.

We bump into a man we assume is the new French consul, whose job it will be to tend to the concerns of around 7,000 French citizens still living in the area. He is overseeing the unloading a shipping truck of belongings at what is perhaps the most beautiful house in Pondicherry, and for a moment I fantasise of shifting The Independent's bureau here from Delhi.

Surely there'd be plenty of news to cover – new restaurant openings, the demise or otherwise of the French language – and glamorous dinners to attend at the consul's house? I ponder the different legacies of colonialism and the twists of fate. What if the British East India had lost the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760, rather than beating the French forces and thereby ending almost a hundred years of conflict over supremacy in India? Would all of India have fallen to France? Would I now be able to get decent baguettes in Delhi?

A jungle boulevard

Just 15 years after the French left, the New Agers moved in. Ten miles out of town, followers of the guru Sri Aurobindo set up a community designed to promote the "unity of humanity". The centrepiece of Auroville is a huge gold-leaf covered spherical temple, but much better are the experiments in environmentalism. Solar power is being generated and organic food is grown, while what was once a barren and eroded hillside has been returned to jungle. The pathways to the temple have been planted with large shady trees and they remind me a leafy boulevard. Perhaps the French legacy lingered here too.

India's culture is still afloat

It's the Hindu festival of Ganesh Chathurthi, the elephant god's birthday. Across the country, brightly painted statues of Ganesh are thrown into rivers and lakes. One beautiful evening, we watch a riotous celebration of god-immersion. I smile: foreign invasions, be it colonial armies or well-intentioned hippies, have not submerged India's own traditions.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
Andreas Lubitz runs the Airport Race half marathon in Hamburg on 13 September 2009  

Being sensitive to mental health need not lead us to downplay the horror of what Lubitz did

Will Gore
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing