HE defeated the British in India with his naval power plays, served as governor of Mauritius and now has an enclave and two principal streets named after him in Pondicherry. Yet, Mahe de Labourdonnais ended uplanguishing in prison at the Bastille. He is among the many figures whose names, though etched in the French Quarter, have seldom had their stories narrated. Beleaguered generals whose names are immortalised as street names, landmarks that once housed historic monuments and tales of British and French rivalry, all come alive in Chennai-based Storytrails’ maiden tour, French Connections, which launches this weekend.
Storytellers like Akila Raman will brew a concoction of facts, gossip and local legends for a brand of irreverent narration that promises to keep the listener hooked through the two-hour long tour. While even true-blue Pondicherrians may do a double take at hearing some anecdotes, for visitors, the tour will be an exhilarating way of discovering Pondicherry’s distinctive colonial history. “Our tours have always been planned around themes rather than locations, be it jewellery, art or food,” says Vijay Kamalakara, founder, adding that a street food trail is next on the cards.
Starting at the Gandhi Thidal, in front of the Old Pier, the storytellers will begin with Pondicherry’s early allure as a trading port for the Romans, Dutch, British and French. One can recount war time stories of local military men in front of the Unknown Soldier’s memorial and trace the origin of the red kepi that constables sport at the Police Headquarters, besides stopping by the grave of General Bussy opposite the Notre dame des Anges Church. They will also point out INTACH’s restoration efforts at the Hotel de l’Orient, while passing through Suffren, Romain Rolland and Dumas streets. The palpable influence of the Cluny congregation, the Aurobindo Ashram and the Manakula Vinayagar Koil in this quarter have all been woven into a narrative which never slackens pace, constantly conjuring images of ballroom dancing at the Cercle de Pondicherry or of Bharati finding his Muse and of the lady who inspired Pondicherry’s state emblem—the Aayi Mandapam.
On Sunday. Rs 1,100 per head. Details: 45010202
Back in Chennai
Storytrails has an exciting line-up of walks and cycling trails to celebrate Madras Day. Tomorrow, at 6 am, a special running trail will follow the course of the Marina, while storytellers will narrate the tales behind the most impressive British-era buildings in the city. To start from the Gandhi statue, it will continue for six kilometres. Later, a food trail is scheduled from 4 pm at Mint Street, Sowcarpet. Details: 9940040215
— Olympia Shilpa Gerald