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I am a Native of Pondicherry..By Niveditha Ravikumar
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With smart-city initiatives picking up at every corner, all the places in the country are gradually getting categorized as 'urban', 'semi-urban', 'super-urban', 'rural', 'semi-rural', etc., But we, a bunch of natives of Pondicherry are still comfortably struggling to classify the place under any such category- 'urban' or a 'semi-urban', 'city' or 'town', even though it is a Union Territory. Let's forget the planners for a while.. The confusion has always been underlying or, to keep it simple – we have never bothered. All we know is 'We love Pondy.'
We say- the British shouldn't have ruled our country, but we also don't mind that the French captured Pondicherry and ruled us. Today's beautiful French essence couldn't have remained without their decision to choose a port along the sea-coast, for trade purposes though. Interestingly, they let us free only after a few years after the rest of the country got independence from the British in 1947. Each and every person of this place has individual reasons for their lasting love towards it. It is a rare place with the potential to witness outsiders tending to know more about the place, than the natives. That's sad, but the satisfying part is that the place has magnetized so many from around the world.
My childhood could just blindly see the French buildings on the coastal side when I vaguely remembered the area of Pondicherry to be 492 sq km. To go shopping on the streets of Grand Bazaar and the adjacent parallel ones, was a big deal. This was because, the drive from one end to the other end was almost 6 kms, which according to me, was pretty tiring and messy. Back then, the radial compactness was not understood and enjoyed. One major spot of recreation has been the beach – the shores of Bay of Bengal, which keeps changing its character during different times of the day, thanks to INTACH.
All I knew was that, we had an exclusive Chief Minister and government, low taxes, cheap electricity supply, cheap water supply, less traffic, less pollution, less population and therefore, we always say – 'Our place, Our rules', which adds up to a stress-free life.
The very thought of the place makes any Pondicherrian go happy and lively. Realization about Pondy knocked my brains only when I went to college, after 17 years of living there. When it was time for me to begin my studies in Architecture, I gradually 'observed myself observing buildings!' Everyone except me, wanted to crash in and explore the place. I was innocently confused, even when I was supposed to be bragging of those boards with street names written in French and Tamil!
Any shopkeeper, doing business here for more than a decade would be better at French than he is at English. One cannot believe that most of the natives here have pure Tamil names, but with French spellings. Few examples- Pouviarasan (Puviarasan), Balamourugane (Balamurugan), Coumar (Kumar), etc.
My soaring curiosity allowed me to learn about the 'grid-iron' pattern, a magical quality of the place, which I never knew even existed. Likewise, all the unknown architectural and planning aspects of the 'Planned' city of Pondicherry were studied, with special interest.
In no time, an opportunity of 'Thesis' knocked my door, when I performed an extensive study of the place. The thesis, which was on 'Translating the Franco-Tamilian aspects of culture into spaces and Architecture', couldn't have gotten any better.
One might be assuming that the Franco-Tamilian synthesis relates to having one floor in the French style and the other in the Tamil style. But, it doesn't work that way. I had spent potential time all around the Grand canal, which has been the main geographical landscape feature separating the 'French' town and the 'Tamil' town. To research more and more about the place instilled a sense of celebration into me. The implication of my research was on re-designing a 'maternity hospital' (a building of French style on the French side of the town) into a 'Franco-Tamilian cultural centre' (a building involving both the styles), following the techniques of 'adaptive re-use.'
Let the architecture, culture and heritage of Pondicherry last longer and, stay less polluted and populated, just like how it is today!
The tourism department's tag line is – 'Peaceful Pondicherry, Give time a break!'
Now, dare to deny that!
FACT: The original name of Pondicherry is 'Vedapuri.'
Being a place with high inflow of tourists, Pondicherry does not constitute a 'Shopping mall', as the place
doesn't demand one and will never!
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