Kiran Rao highlights Pondicherry’s French colonial architecture, starting with the building that houses Anokhi
SITUATED in a corner plot, warm yellow ochre walls—typical of Pondicherry buildings—set off quaint French-style curved window bars and doorways on Caserne Street. These are your quick impressions as you enter an old house, constructed in the 60s, from where Pondicherry’s new Anokhi operates. Debuting in the city, the brand’s cotton apparel, curtains, quilts, accessories and bedspreads have a large following. Interestingly, this house is just one of many private homes and spaces that Chennai-based entrepreneur, Kiran Rao, has restored. Other examples are La Maison Rose in Pondicherry, Amethyst and Chamiers in Chennai.
Commenting on the French influence, Rao says, “The courtyard and balconies are very typically French. They have internal verandahs, whereas the Tamil-style buildings have the external verandah. The French also have the concept of big lawns, garden houses and they use yellow and white.” Passionate about restoration, Rao enjoys transforming spaces. “Working with heritage buildings gives an extra dimension, it has a layer of history, and one can transform the space without losing its sensibilities,” she says. Pondicherry boasts a list of hotels that have been restored. Rao’s favourites? “Starting from La Maison Rose that I restored, I like Hotel de l’Orient-Neemrana Hotels, Gratitude, Le Dupleix, Villa Shanti and La Villa. There are several private homes, too,” she shares.
Catching the eye
Despite several buildings being restored in Pondicherry, the recent collapse of the Mairie Building (Town Hall) came as a shock to supporters of Pondicherry’s heritage. Besides some homes, Rao believes that buildings that need immediate attention include the Calve College, The Light House and Pensionnat de Jeunes Filles. Strongly opposed to tearing down old buildings, she says, “The use of good Roman concrete, lime mortar and brick can benefit old structures. Just because one doesn’t know the value of these old buildings, one cannot demolish them or change their original facade.” To restore this heritage-rich city, Rao suggests identifying a motor-free zone. “We could have a zone where only cycles are allowed. Cities are expanding, so we can move out and yet have it all. Why create a mess of what is charming? Why do people like visiting London again and again? The architecture is a major attraction. It is a huge draw that we can achieve for our beloved city, too,” she concludes.
At Caserne Street. Details: 0413 4209940