Why you should make a trip to Pondicherry later this month, for the town’s first heritage festival
When Kakoli Bane-rjee, the owner of hotel Gratitude and Sunaina Mandeen, the co-founder of non-profit organisation, PondyCAN saw how Pondicherry reacted to the collapse of the 144-year-old Mairie Building, last November, they knew what they had to do. When the landmark building succumbed to incessant rain,it highlighted the sorry state of heritage architecture in the union territory. “There are several buildings in Pondicherry that need immediate attention, like the police headquarters, high court building and the lighthouse. We decided to bring the people of Pondicherry together for a common cause,” explains Mandeen. The Pondicherry Heritage festival, scheduled from February 27 to March 1, will include talks, walks and performances, with rare access to private heritage homes. The duo has plans to rope in cultural veterans from Chennai for the festival, besides local hoteliers, performers and entrepreneurs stalwarts. “There are people from Chennai who are closely linked to Pondicherry. We are very inspired by Madras Week,” continues Mandeen. A quick look at what’s on the cards:
Know your French
Ashok Panda, a coordinator with The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) for the past 15 years, will be conducting a walk. “I will be holding a walk in the French sector and the Tamil sector. We’ll be looking at French architecture, buildings that have been restored and the history of Pondicherry,” says Panda. Among the buildings highlighted are Le Cafe, the 24 hour cafe on Beach Road, Le Dupleix and Hotel De L’Orient. A photo exhibition will depict the history and evolution of Pondicherry and will have pictures of restored buildings from the archives of INTACH.
Kumaran Valavan from Indianostrum Theatre is planning performances for the festival. A theatre enthusiast, Valavan is known for his thought-provoking productions like Land of Ashes and Kunti Karma.
According to Chennai entrepreneur Kiran Rao, three buildings that are valuable heritage properties but cannot be accessed by the public are Calve College, the lighthouse and Pensionnat de Jeunes Filles. “Several buildings are waiting to be restored in Pondicherry,” she says.
Save the town
Chennai-based Tamil scholar Rajagopal Muthukumaraswamy, another participant, says his talk will explore the importance of folklore and how the common man should get involved in the conservation of Pondicherry heritage. ‘‘I plan to include topics like kooth performances and the Angadi amman koil festival in my talk,” he says.
On the panel
While Tara Murali, from INTACH Tamil Nadu, will define heritage properties as built, natural and intangible, another panelistw, P T Krishnan, a Chennai-based architect, will talk about boundaries. “I think something has to be done to overlap the Tamil and French sectors. A lot of private houses in the Tamil sector need immediate attention. But only the French sector seems to be flourishing. The division in itself is wrong. It is one town,” he observes.
An alternative beat
Plans are underway for a musical evening at the performance company, Adishakti. Meanwhile, an active member at the Madras Week, historian V Sriram, may have a few heritage walks planned. While he says his role at the Pondy festival is yet to be defined, he shares, “Pondicherry is a fascinating town and if I have a walk, I would include the Old French Quarters, beautifully laid out in the form of a grid, with old streets, charming houses, so different from the British colonial houses in Chennai, the area around the Secretariat, with its monuments and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.”
— Team Indulge