Last October we were on road from Bekal in Kasargode district of Kerala to Kochi. Hubs announces that we will be passing through Pondicherry on our drive. I was skeptical, Pondicherry is nowhere enroute to Kochi, it’s on the other side of the Indian peninsula, facing the Bay of Bengal and we were on the Arabian Sea coast.
Few hours down, hubs stops in front of a sign board that says “Welcome to Mahe, Pondicherry”. I am a bit lost….how? He also points out to the uniform of the police in Pondicherry, they have a very distinct red hat called “kepis”. Can someone explain how Pondicherry has appeared in Kerala, when clearly on the map its in Tamil Nadu district !? I get no answer and erase this nagging question from my mind for the next few months.
And then I discovered this little book on Pondicherry – “Beyond the Boulevards” A short biography of Pondicherry by Aditi Sriram. It’s the author’s first book and a spectacular debut !!
A pretty cover and an absolute delight to read. The author answers my question “Pondicherry or Puducherry comprises of four districts or enclaves – Mahe, Yanam, Karaikal, and the eponymous Puducherry. Like some of the other union territories, it is not contiguous; it’s sub-territories are spread across South India, from Mahe in Kerala to Yanam in Andhra Pradesh, Karaikal and Puducherry are within the union territories borders, an archipelago of settlements, islanded by the district of Tamil Nadu.” And when we refer to Pondicherry or Puducherry, we actually refer only to it’s eponymous district in Tamil Nadu. The other districts are famous by their own names.
She narrates the little know stories about the erstwhile French colony and its multicultural inhabitants. “The French history most tourists seek are stylish sandwiches, boutique apparel and movie screening at the Alliance Francaise”…she says. This is exactly what I had in mind when I hoped to visit this hotspot someday 🙃.
The author explores Pondicherry 360°; she brings to life the voices of people from various backgrounds, re-constructing the forgotten history and making sense of the present. She narrates the story of the French astronomer Le Gentil, who calculated that Pondicherry was most suitable for observing the ” Transit of Venus” – a rare sighting of the planet’s orbit set against the backdrop of the sun and makes his voyage across the Indian ocean…Does he succeed? Then there is the story of how Napoleon III permitted a monument to be constructed for a Devadasi…
She narrates the heroic efforts of Chitra Shah who established the Satya Special School for the differently abled children; the children from the school went on to bag gold medals at the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle, Australia.
Not to forget the stories about Sri Aurobindo and the Ashram…“And some recall the glow that shown out of Sri Aurobindo’s body after he had breathed his last; they still feel it’s rays lingering upon their skin, mingling with the sun by day and with the moon by night.”
She takes us beyond the Promenade, the White Town, Auroville, at the same time not ignoring the touristy spots. She just tells us where to look and what to see…
A great book to read if you are planning a trip to Pondy or simply if you are a Pondy enthusiast.✨ There are no pictures in the book; read, then visit Pondy and make your own stories !!
Till next post, take care !!