Posts Tagged ‘Puducherry’

(Inspired by parts of Right Ho, Jeeves, The Code of the Woosters, and Clustering Around Young Bingo)

I had barely crossed the threshold of the dining room when I perceived Aunt Dahlia at the table, morosely tucking into salmon mayonnaise.

Being a keen observer, I could make out that she was in a sorrowful mood. A pall of despondency hung over her. It was as if she had been handed out a harsh sentence of thirty days without the option by a stern-looking beak.

She gave me a sharp look of the kind a person gulping down her last bit of coffee would give to a dead beetle at the bottom of her cup. She sighed and waved a depressed fork at me.

‘Hullo, Bertie, howsoever sad the circumstances, I thought I would never find you far away from the food. Try some of this salmon.’

‘Anatole’s?’ I queried.

‘No. I do not know why he has suddenly gone AWOL. Missing in action since the past two weeks, leaving all of us twiddling our thumbs. Poor Thomas, his digestion has already gone for a toss. I was so desperate to touch him for some vitamin M for Milady’s Boudoir. But I have had to put that proposal on hold.’

Well, Uncle Thomas, when his gastric juices have been giving him the elbow, is not his genial and benevolent self. To touch him for some funds then would be akin to waking a lion from its slumber.

‘Somehow, the new kitchen maid has struck an inspired streak. It suddenly seems to have come home to her that she isn’t catering for a covey of buzzards in the Sahara Desert, and she has put out something quite fit for human consumption.’

‘You never know with these temperamental French cooks,’ I chipped in on a sympathetic note, while mouthing a forkful of the salmon on offer.

‘Of late, he did seem a bit moody. Luckily, he left at a time when the new kitchen maid was just about to arrive. We are somehow…’

She broke off. The door had opened, and we were plus a butler.

‘Hullo, Seppings,’ said Aunt Dahlia. ‘Was there something you wanted to see me about?’

‘Yes, madam. It is with reference to Monsieur Anatole. He is on a video call on your laptop. He is desirous of having a word with you.’

‘Yoicks! Tally Ho!!’, she exclaimed excitedly. 

I had never suspected her of being capable of the magnificent burst of speed which she now displayed. She rose like a rocketing pheasant and was out of her seat and the room making for the instrument which was bracing itself for an acrimonious exchange of views between a hunting field expert and the typical Queen’s language laced with liberal doses of French which the God’s gift to our gastric juices deployed. And feeling that my place was by her side, I put down my plate and hastened after her, Seppings following at a loping gallop.

‘Hello, hello…’

Anatole’s round face popped up on the screen and one could discern a noisy air-conditioner growling in the background.  

‘Where are you calling from?’, Aunt Dahlia bellowed.

‘From India, Ma’am’.

‘What? India? What made you go to that God forsaken country?’

Sacre bleue! This is one pretty place – I am in Pondicherry, of which Madame is aware, I doubt myself.’

‘Pondicherry? Where the hell is that?’

‘Name of a dog, Madame! You don’t say! You are not serious! You haven’t heard of Pondicherry? It was a French colony years before.’

‘What are you doing there?’

‘I am ze most famous chef, Madame – know this! Even ze Indians know me. Several hotels here gave me jobs on ze platter.’

There was one of those long silences. Pregnant, I believe, is what they’re generally called. Aunt looked at butler. Butler looked at aunt. I looked at both of them. An eerie stillness seemed to envelop the room like a bubble pack for a silver cow creamer in transit.

‘But how can you leave us suddenly? It would have been nice if you could have at least told us about your plans,’ she said with as much politeness as she could muster. I couldn’t have believed that her robust voice could sink to such an absolute coo. More like a turtle dove calling to its mate than anything else.

Je suis vraiment désolé, Madame .’

‘It’s quite all right. What are you doing there?’

‘Listen. Make some attention a little. I bring my recipes. I add many new French dishes for a premier hotel here.’

‘New dishes? Introducing French cuisine for some hotel?’

Anatole perked up a bit. His soup-strainer kind of a moustache was quivering a bit. Like an artist’s who is showing his first ever painting to a connoisseur of art.

‘They already have places where you can find pastries and breads like the French baguette, croissants, pains au chocolat, pains aux amandes, macarons, crèmes caramel, etc. You pay little attention? I tell what I introduce here.’

‘Sure, I will, Monsieur Anatole, I will,’ cooed the aged relative. 

He then went on to rattle off several of his culinary achievements.

‘I introduce ze Boeuf bourguignon, Steak-frites, Poulet rôti, Ratatouille, Soupe à l’oignon, Bouillabaisse, Croque-Monsieur, Croque-Madame, Crêpe, Quiche Lorraine, to say a few. And, of course, many of which they never hear before, like Veloute auxfleurs de courgette, Consomme aux Pommes d’Amour, Sylphides a la Cremes d’ecrivesses, Mignonette de poulet Petit Duc, Pointes d’asperges a la Mistinguette, Supreme de foie gras au champagne, Neige aux Perles des Alpes, Timbale de ris de veau Toulousaine, Salade d’endive et de celery, Le Plum Pudding, L’Etoile au Berger, Bombe Nero, Friandises, and Diablotins.

Of course, all this made me drool like never before. I imagined the lavish spread Aunt Dahlia and I had discussed while we were at Totleigh Towers quite some time back. I had then graciously offered to undergo thirty days in the second division in lieu of Anatole’s services being transferred to Pop Bassett. Luckily, I had been dismissed without a stain on my character.

I went weak in my knees, imagining putting down the hatch some of the delicacies mentioned by him.

The irony of the situation also hit me hard. God’s gift to our gastric juices whisked off by a Third World country from right under our noses. The wizard of the cooking stove cocking a snook at us? My sister in Calcutta once did mention to me that this century belonged to countries like India and China, but I never took her seriously. If all our valets, butlers, chefs, and parlourmaids decided to migrate to one of the emerging economies, what would the harvest be? The British upper classes will be left behind twiddling their thumbs trying to figure out how to lead their lives. God save the Empire was the thought which I was ruminating upon, while Aunt Dahlia came direct to the nub of the matter.

‘That sounds great. When do you think we could sample these dishes here at Brinkley Manor?’

‘All in time desired. For the instant, I am content here. It is the beautiful life here. They give me big house with glass pyramid on top. I have a car with an Indian chauffeur. The beach is at distance of march from my house. It is just like Côte d’Azur. It is a place to make dream.’

‘You must be exaggerating – surely the place can’t be as beautiful as Brighton?’

‘Au contraire, Madame! There is a beautiful promenade with a tall statue of an old man walking with a stick in hand – Gandhi is his name, I think. Listen and take note – full moon evenings are magnifique here. You should make one visit here. In the evenings, lovely demoiselles in silk dress with gold jewels and fleurs de jasmin in their lustrous hair come for walk. Good heavens, do I give them company? You bet your last dime no. Hélas, I am too busy with my work. Me, I am French – work is sacré for me.’

‘Oh, so you are quite comfortable there, are you?’

‘Eh bien oui, Madame. I have a lady colleague – she teach me many South Indian dishes with strange names: dosa, idli, sambhar, rasam, vadai…Cest incroyable – they have amazing variety of plates in India. Like what, to each county her cuisine.’

‘The perfect life, eh, Anatole?’

‘I take some rough with some smooth, Madame. Behold and lo, in each man’s life, some rain must fall. The weather is hot and humid here. Often, intolerable. However, late afternoon onwards, sea breeze starts blowing in, bringing some comfort. Also, the place has very many people. A noisy city.’    

When it comes to milk of human kindness, there are indeed times when Aunt Dahlia’s kindly overtures do leave me, as Roget would put it, amazed, astonished, astounded, blown-away, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, jolted, and rendered speechless.

‘Is there anything you need from here?’

‘Kind of you to ask, Madame. Le soleil ici est très dur. Could you manage to send across one of my favourite chapeaux? Seppings can find one in my room. I shall let him know the address and the care taker’s phone number which he may need.’

‘Monsieur Anatole, thy will shall be done.’

While leaving, Aunt Dahlia cast a venomous look at the laptop, much like an Indian resident would eye a cobra, had she found it nestling in her bathtub. Seppings took over the dialogue, as we retired to the dining room. The pall of gloom had deepened considerably. My aged relative was fanning herself with a reproachful fork. She appeared to have aged a lot.

‘What do we do now?’, she looked at me enquiringly.

Before I could respond, there was a sound in the background like a distant sheep coughing gently on a mountainside. Jeeves had materialized, much like an Indian fakir.

‘Jeeves, do you know of the calamity that has befallen us?’, I asked.

‘Perhaps you allude to the prolonged absence of Monsieur Anatole from our midst, sir?’, he responded, unflappable as ever.

Tetigisti nub materiae, Jeeves. What do you suggest?’

Aunt Dahlia gave him a reverential look, pleading with her mute eyes.

‘Allow me some time to give the matter some thought, sir.’

‘Sure, Jeeves. Have as much fish as you need. A crisis has arisen in the affairs of Brinkley Manor. We need to come to the aid of the party.’

‘Indeed, sir,’ he bowed respectfully and withdrew.

Life at Aunt Dahlia’s lair would have become a tad boring had it not been for the sudden arrival of my cousin Angela from one of her trips to Cannes. We spent a good deal of time together in the open spaces, she lampooning Tuppy Glossop’s conduct at Cannes in no uncertain terms, while all I had to do was to make sympathetic noises in the interim.

Funny thing, talking to females, if you know what I mean. You need to utter only one sentence, switch over to a silent mode, and start thinking some beautiful thoughts of your own. You merely hear the party of the other part, without necessarily listening to it blowing off steam on whatever issue happens to be tormenting it at the time. More of a monologue kind of a thing. Bringing anything sideways into the so-called dialogue is as perilous as offering a juicy lamb sandwich to an enraged tigress.  

Meanwhile, Aunt Dahlia went about her daily routine in a listless, morose, and disgruntled manner. Uncle Tom kept complaining about the lining of his stomach registering frequent protests of a rather strong kind.

But the mood of our Guardian Angels suddenly turned benign. A miracle of sorts happened on the sixth day. A taxi pulled up, and, lo and behold, Anatole was amongst us! Back home. Duly tanned and dulled, possibly by the excessive heat and humidity braved by him while at Pondicherry. There were dark circles below the eyes. The moustache was drooping, Sure enough, his soul was bruised.

When told of the return of the prodigal chef, Aunt Dahlia perked up like a member of the canine species being offered a fish slice.  However, one glance at Anatole’s visage led her to steady herself against the sideboard. She spoke in a low, husky voice:

‘Are you fine, Monsieur Anatole?’

‘I do not think so, Madame.’

‘Why? What happened?’

‘I told you I was put up in a house with a glass pyramid on top.’

‘Oh, kind of a skylight?’

‘Yes. Honest to God, I liked it a lot. I used to look up at it and take in the moonlight sipping my post-dinner port.’

‘So, what went wrong?’

‘One night, I saw someone making faces at me through the glass pyramid.’

‘You mean someone was sitting on the roof?’

‘Oh là-là. You can say that. There was a walkway around the pyramid. This horrible man was standing on it, I guess. And I say, this is not true – jolly well no. But he kept staring at me making some faces. His eyes were bulging, and his mouth was open and tongue sticking out. Did it upset me? By Jove, you bet it upset me like anything. He looked like some rare fish in an aquarium.’

I must say that he had the complete attention and sympathies of the audience. Review the facts, I mean to say. There he had been, relishing his late-night snifter, thinking idly of whatever French cooks do think about when in an easy chair, hoping to look at the moon, and suddenly becoming aware of a frightful face menacingly peering at them. A thing to jar the sturdiest soul.

While I stood musing thus, Aunt Dahlia, in her practical way, was coming straight to the point:

‘When did this happen?’

Anatole did a sort of Swedish exercise, starting at the base of the spine, carrying on through the shoulder-blades and finishing up among the back hair.

‘Just two days after I spoke to you. Me, I am about to hit the hay, and presently I look up, and there is one who make faces against me through the dashed glass pyramid. Was that a pretty affair? Was that convenient? If you think I like it, you jolly well mistake yourself. I was so mad as a wet hen. And why not? I was an honoured guest there, isn’t it? I was at the place given to me, what-what, not a house for some apes? Then for what do blighters peer at me so cool as a few cucumbers, making some faces?’

‘Must have been very upsetting,’ said Aunt Dahlia.

Anatole clutched his drooping moustache and gave it a tug.

‘Wait yet a little. I am not finish. I say I see this type on the glass pyramid on top of the house, making a few faces. But what then? Does he buzz off when I shout a cry, and leave me peaceable? Not on your life. He remained planted there, not giving any damns, and sit regarding me like a cat watching a duck. Was this amusing for me? You think I liked it? I am not content with such folly. I think the poor mutt’s loony. Je me fiche de ce type infect. C’est idiot de faire comme ça l’oiseau… Allez-vous-en, louffier….’

‘Did you not complain to your hosts?’

Immédiatement. They said it is all right – they will check in the morning. What a heap of trash – blistering barnacles – I am like some cat on hot bricks – and they say it is all right. Forsooth!”

Aunt Dahlia laid a quivering hand on his shoulder.

‘That was very inhospitable on their part, I say. You must be shaken.’

‘All right? Nom d’un nom d’un nom! The hell they say it’s all right! Of what use to pull stuff like that? Wait one half-moment. Not yet quite so quick, my old sport. It is by no means all right. See yet again a little. It is some very different dishes of fish. I can take a few smooths with a rough, it is true, but I do not find it agreeable when one play larks against me on my windows. That cannot do. A nice thing, no. I am a serious man. If such rannygazoo is to arrive, I do not remain any longer in that house no more. I buzz off and do not stay planted.’

‘Of course. Those crazy loons!’, cried Aunt Dahlia, in that ringing voice of hers which had once caused nervous members of the Quorn to lose stirrups and take tosses from the saddle.

‘I tell them to make an immediate return booking. I collect all moneys due to me. Then I buzz off from that wretched place.’

‘You did the right thing’, cooed the aged relative. ‘I thought Indians believed in the principle that a guest is like God. What is the expression I am looking for, Jeeves?’

‘Perhaps you allude to a phrase in Sanskrit, Ma’am. Atithi devo bhavah.’

But Anatole went on, uttering such words as ‘marmiton de Domange’, ‘pignouf’, ‘hurluberlu’, and ‘roustisseur’. Lost on me, of course, because, though I sweated a bit at the Gallic language during my last Cannes visit, I’m still more or less an illiterate in that means of communication. I regretted this, for these words somehow sounded juicy.

Frenchmen are surely made of sterner stuff. Pretty soon, Anatole had regained his composure and got back to displaying his proficiency at the cooking stove, surpassing himself.

I am not a man who speaks hastily in these matters. I weigh my words. And I say again that Anatole had surpassed himself. The exotic fare dished out by him revived Uncle Thomas like a watered flower.

As we sat down to a sumptuous dinner, he was saying some things about the Government which they wouldn’t have cared to hear. With the soupe à l’oignon, he said but what could you expect nowadays? With the boeuf bourguignonde, he admitted rather decently that the Government couldn’t be held responsible for the rotten weather, anyway. And shortly after the quiche Lorraine, he was practically giving the lads the benefit of his whole-hearted support.

The dining table was yet again a lively place. Light-hearted family banter had once again become the norm. Aunt Dahlia was back to being a suave and genial host, presiding over the dinner-table on most nights. Often, the conversation in the group touched a high level and feasts of Reason and flows of Soul occurred. Angela and Tuppy had buried their hatchet and were no longer arguing whether a shark had indeed bitten Angela while she was swimming at Cannes. 

In other words, love and domestic peace had regained its throne. Flowers were in full bloom. Birds were twittering merrily. God was in heaven, and all was well at Brinkley Manor.

A day dawned when Jeeves and I were getting ready to drive back to the city.driving down to the city. There was something troubling me within and I thought it fit to mention it to Jeeves.

‘Jeeves, I say, rummy all this, what? I mean Anatole popping back so very soon?’

‘Indeed sir. Most gratifying.’

‘Well, I suspect you had played some role there.’

‘Kind of you to say so, sir. I was somewhat baffled for a while, I must confess, sir. Then I was materially assisted by a fortunate opportunity that came up and I merely seized it.’

‘What opportunity?’

‘You may recall that some time back, Monsieur Anatole was very upset when Gussie Fink Nottle had made faces at him through the skylight of his bedroom.’

‘Yes. A chapter in the annals of Brinkley Manor which is not easy to forget.’

‘Since Anatole had given the contact particulars of the caretaker in Pondicherry to Seppings, it was not difficult for me to reach out to him. I explained the state of affairs at this end and he kindly accepted to help us out. He hired someone local to go on top of the house and deliver the goods, so to say, sir.’

‘Jeeves,’ I said, ‘this is genius of a high order.’

‘It is very good of you to say so, sir.’

‘What did Aunt Dahlia say about it?’

‘Details are not known to her, but she appeared gratified at the outcome, sir.’

‘To go into sordid figures, did she—’

‘Yes, sir. Two hundred pounds.’

‘Uncle Thomas?’

‘Yes, sir. He also behaved most handsomely, quite independently of Mrs Travers. Another two hundred and fifty pounds.

‘Good Lord, Jeeves! You’ve been coining the stuff!’

‘But, sir, I confess I owe one hundred pounds to the caretaker of the house where Anatole was staying while in Pondicherry.’

I gaped at the fellow.

‘Oh, for the services rendered?’

‘Indeed sir. There are no free lunches in life, as those across the pond say, sir.’

‘Well, I would hate to see you incurring a cost of that magnitude for benefitting a beloved aunt of mine. I suppose I had better pitch in and support you on that count.’

‘Why, thank you, sir. This is extremely generous of you.’


  1. Inputs from Anand Pakiam, C G Suresh, Dominique Conterno, and Chakravarti Madhusudana are gratefully acknowledged.
  2. Illustration of Anatole courtesy Shalini Bhatia.
  3. Photo of beach road courtesy Sanjay Mohan.

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Recently, your truly had the privilege of addressing members of the Rotary Club of Pondicherry Mid Town. Business lessons from some of the cartoons created by the inimitable R K Laxman and Mario Miranda were presented.

Since the orange juice served before the talk was not laced with an appropriate tissue restorative, yours truly was all of a twitter. At such occasions, one tends to get tongue-tied, much like a Gussie Fink Nottle when he runs into a Madeline Bassett. Nevertheless, the Wooster policy of a chin-up attitude comes to one’s rescue. Services of one’s nerves of chilled steel have to be called upon. It also helps not to have any giggling girls in the audience.

This is how yours truly was introduced to the audience.

“Mr Bhatia is a management guy by profession and a romantic at heart. He did his MBA in what he labels as the pre-Jurassic period…

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There are indeed times when one is feeling rather chuffed and believing that God is in heaven and all is right with the world, and it is precisely at times such as these that life plays a cruel joke on one. Residents of Plumsville would agree that it quietly sneaks up behind one and strikes at the not-at-all-bulging-at-the-back head of one with a hollow lead pipe, duly stuffed with cast iron pellets.

A straight forward person like yours truly would never aspire to walk in the footsteps of someone like Soapy Molloy or Sid Marks. But life recently played a prank and made me come very close to such an experience.

I had just returned to my home and hearth in Pondicherry, India, from a lovely trip to Europe, full of sweet memories of the time spent with my children and grandchildren who inhabit that part of the world. The…

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A place grows on us. It offers a comfort zone which we get used to. We might dislike the place for so many things. But when we are away for some time, the gravitational pull again comes into play. We start missing the place.

Lakshmi Lakshmi

Pondicherry is no exception to this general rule. While here, we might bemoan the lack of civic sense, the streets littered with garbage, the reckless driving on the roads and the absence of adequate parking space in the town area. But take us away for some time, and we start missing it somehow. We yearn to get back to the humidity and the heat of the place.

What is so hot and happening about this quaint little town, perched on the Bay of Bengal, you may well ask.

Consider the following.

A small group of close friends

This is what makes Pondicherry so very special…

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Many amongst us chug along in life somewhat dissatisfied with our life partners. A neighbour’s wife always looks smarter. A friend’s husband sounds more dashing and practical. Our own spouse invariably sounds duller and listless in comparison. We are never quite satisfied with what we have. We often yearn for what we do not have.

What do we expect from a soul-mate? An unqualified acceptance by the party of the other part, perhaps? A companionship which comforts and soothes? A fulfillment of some of our basic needs?

At a deeper level, the illusory search for a perfect soul-mate, The One, begins with a realization that we cannot become more perfect all by ourselves. We need another person’s help to chisel ourselves better. To do so, we search for a person who is perfect in more ways than one.

Some Bollywood movies have dealt with this aspect of our relationships…

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It is fashionable these days to speak of our beloved city metamorphosing into what is euphemistically referred to as a Smart City. Here is a contrary view which may find resonance with some of its residents.

These nameless denizens may instead like to lead a leisurely life in a city where:

  1. The need to jump out-of-the-way of a speeding vehicle gets minimized – in other words, hapless pedestrians and bicycle riders have the right of way; the use of horns and loudspeakers attract a hefty fine, leaving the offender crying all the way to his bank.
  2. Warehouses and hotels are not permitted within the boulevard limits, leaving the narrow streets peaceful and resident-friendly. Elderly and ailing residents need no longer complain of being startled at times – either by the incessant growling of commercial vehicles during days or by the sound pollution generated by tourist vehicles during nights.
  3. More parks, where citizens could stretch their limbs and try to fight off such lifestyle diseases as diabetes and hypertension, thereby warding off cardiac blues. Likewise, a denser coverage of main streets by trees with thick foliage, with water dispensing kiosks, toilets and garbage bins dotting the landscape liberally. What Pondicherry needs are more Ashe Marsons (of ‘Something Fresh’ fame) who are fond of brisk walks and Larsen Exercises in open spaces.
  4. All crossings within the boulevard area have convex mirrors at corners, thereby avoiding speeding-bike-enthusiasts routinely crashing into other vehicles, thereby putting life and limb to grave risks.
  5. All crossings across the canal are made obstruction free, avoiding blind spots and congestion on Gingee Salai and Ambour Salai. (As of now, the Vysial Street crossing is the only good example of a blind-spot free crossing across the canal.) Mandatory mini parks could be planned at all these corners. Shops peddling terracotta articles near the Ashram can be relocated to other suitable places, so the road on that stretch becomes clearer for traffic.
  6. The dependence on tourism alone to prop up the local economy is given a lower priority; where the powers that are exercise their grey cells better, hold consultations with business leaders so innovative ways to augment the territory’s revenues get planned and implemented. A concerted drive towards industrialization by using SEZ-earmarked and other parcels of land available could help. So could a hefty increase in registration charges for petroleum-driven vehicles, with substantial rebates for those who go in for greener vehicles.
  7. A multi-modal public transport system gets implemented in a mission mode, with battery operated vehicles alone being permitted within the boulevard area.
  8. Water channels and aquifers get revitalized, with the single aim of making Pondicherry a model in reversing the trend of increasing ground water salinity. A long-term plan to ward off the ill effects of rising sea levels and to tackle incessant rains also needs to be put in place.
  9. Strict ban on plastic bags of all kinds; a scientifically designed garbage collection and disposal system, duly backed by latest technology.
  10. Cooperation and collaboration at the top, leading to a visionary development of Pondicherry.

Call it a ‘smart’ one or a ‘dumb’ one, but the above features, if worked upon by those in charge of making things happen, would surely make the denizens of Pondicherry a healthier and a happier lot in the long term.

These would retain the essential character of the territory. What the planners would do well to avoid would be adopting a soulless materialistic ‘smart’ plan which would leave the residents gasping for clean air, yearning for sparkling water and ardently wishing for a sound of silence which would enable a person standing on Ambour Salai to hear the unmistakable melody of ocean waves on the main beach road.


  1. A version of this article can also be found at https://www.pondylive.com/2018/08/smart-city-pondicherry-why-some-of-us-prefer-a-dumb-city;
  2. Pondicherry montage courtesy www;
  3. Pondicherry street scene illustration by Emanuel Scanziani for Le Club, Pondicherry)


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With its scenic promenade, picturesque locations, an old world French ambience, Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville, Puducherry offers the lay visitor a curious combination of hedonistic as well as spiritual opportunities. One could go on a spirited binge and simply freak out. Otherwise, one could soak in its spiritual glow and get mentally uplifted.

True to the innate character of Puducherry, most of the films shot in the town also reflect a somewhat similar bipolar tendency. Amorous endeavors get captured on celluloid. Themes with a spiritual strain also find Puducherry attractive. Occasionally, one would find the town getting mentioned in a block buster!

Here is a quick recap of the Hindi and English movies which have had a Puducherry connection.pondy movie Jism

Jism (2003, Amit Saxena) was an erotic thriller. Obsession with the pleasures of the flesh and greed for wealth eventually drive the main protagonists towards a tragic end.

pondy movie black 1

Black (2005…

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P G Wodehouse and the little town of Pondicherry in India could both boast of a French connection.

The former began his stint in France in 1934 at Le Touquet, but was detained and interned by the advancing German army in 1940. When he was released in 1941, he went on to live in Paris from where he left for USA in 1947.

As to Pondicherry, it was in 1674 that the French East India Company set up a trading centre there. This outpost eventually became the chief French settlement in India. With some intermittent breaks, Pondicherry remained one of France’s colonies in India till 1954.


Policemen surely play an important role in many of Plum’s narratives. A majority of them happen to be in the service of the Queen. Some are also of French origin. Thus, to a lesser mortal like yours truly who happens to be a fan of his and is normally found polluting the Pondicherry landscape, a museum showcasing the history of our gallant policemen there does hold some attraction. Add to this the allure of looking up policemen’s helmets of various kinds at closer quarters, and the gig becomes a must-do.

The challenges

The police force in Pondicherry comprises not only the higher rungs of officers in Central or State government services but also the humble constabulary which ensures that the laws in force are rigorously implemented without a flaw on their personal reputation and character.


While tracking down criminals, they spare no effort. It is their upright and proper conduct which upholds the might of the Law. Their career pursuits may not be of much interest to either the Scotland Yard or the DGSE, but they happen to be meticulous in their approach. The force believes in gender parity and has exclusive outposts (wo)manned by the delicately nurtured.

Much like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, often they face the challenge of walking the thin line between performing the duties assigned to them and kowtowing to the wishes of their political masters, much like a cop in Plum’s narratives who has no recourse but to yield to the wishes of his Justice of Peace.

Yet another serious challenge the constabulary in Pondicherry has always faced is that of keeping a strict eye on its multi-ethnic society. In order to be able to understand the psychology of the denizens under their watch, its members need to be fluent in several languages. In a write-up dating back to 1943, Monsieur Le Chef d’escadron Petignot, the then Commandant les Forces Publiques de I’Inde Francaise, speaks of the Indigenous police constabulary being entrusted with ensuring administrative police and judicial police in most parts of the territory where all the castes and almost all races exist, having to make enquiries in as many as eight different languages – French, English, Tamil, Hindustani, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali and Oriya – indicating the extraordinary situation which this police force was required to function in.

Of French policemen and weapons

Fans of P G Wodehouse fondly recall the pursuits of Pierre Alexandre Boissonade, Commissaire of Police, in French Leave, as also those of Monsieur Punez, one of his underlings. They would be disappointed to learn that the former never made it to the coveted post of a Directeur de la Police at Pondicherry. Had he done so, he would have found himself on familiar ground, what with the place being akin to the fictitious French resort of Roville, duly infested with troubled lovers, impoverished aristocrats, millionaires and servants. To his surprise, he would have also found expatriates of all hues, sizes and shapes, spiritual aspirants, retired French army personnel, the annual July shoppers which descended on the town with sackfuls of the green stuff, the weekend youth who popped up merely to soak in the spirited ambience of the place, heritage enthusiasts, environmental activists, busy physicians, egoistic academicians, robbers, swindlers and argumentative fishermen.

The deftness with which Psmith handles a situation which involves the use of a revolver in Leave it to Psmith does make one wonder as to the kind of weapons which the police force in Pondicherry used to rely upon to keep the ambitions of its criminals under check.

The enticing proposal of a pinching technique

A saunter down the Police Museum at Pondicherry does clarify some such doubts, as the photographs accompanying this write-up amply demonstrate.

Of particular interest to yours truly was the display of various kinds of ‘kepis’ in use by the police force in Pondicherry. One could not pinch any, of course. But a soft glow of inner satisfaction was surely experienced at being allowed to fondle one for a few minutes.

A close examination revealed what could perhaps be a better technique of pinching one of this kind, if ever one’s Guardian Angels offered an opportunity to do so – the backward shove, followed by a vertical anti-gravity push, while using one’s non-twiddling thumbs to hold the desired object from the front side.

Bertie Wooster would surely approve.


(Note: For a history of the Pondicherry police force, please refer to http://police.puducherry.gov.in)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/of-a-mom-bassett-and-the-allure-of-policemens-helmets)

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There are indeed times when one is feeling rather chuffed and believing that God is in heaven and all is right with the world, and it is precisely at times such as these that life plays a cruel joke on one. Residents of Plumsville would agree that it quietly sneaks up behind one and strikes at the not-at-all-bulging-at-the-back head of one with a hollow lead pipe, duly stuffed with cast iron pellets.

A straight forward person like yours truly would never aspire to walk in the footsteps of someone like Soapy Molloy or Sid Marks. But life recently played a prank and made me come very close to such an experience.

I had just returned to my home and hearth in Pondicherry, India, from a lovely trip to Europe, full of sweet memories of the time spent with my children and grandchildren who inhabit that part of the world. The door bell rang and, to my utter surprise and horror, I found a stern looking policeman eyeing my humble abode with a suspicious gaze. I mustered some courage and peeped out of the main gate.

‘Ashok Kumar Bhatia?’, he asked, giving me a supercilious look which would have met with hearty approval of someone like Bartholomew.

Having had a great deal of experience with dominating bosses, I did what I know best – I nodded in quiet affirmation.

‘There is a warrant for you’, said the policeman.

Even at the best of times, the long arms of law leave me twiddling my thumbs. The declaration that there was a warrant for me left me shuddering from the top to the base of my frail frame.

‘Warrant?’, I bleated.

Ignoring my nervousness, the policeman proceeded to clarify that I was wanted in the court on the given date, though not as a criminal but merely as a witness. Given that the local language is as alien to me as is Latin and Greek, and that the party of the other part had never progressed beyond the first lesson of a correspondence course in Queen’s English, the dialogue between us was sporadic.

Eventually, it transpired that I was expected to appear in a court in connection with a crime which had been perpetrated by four criminals in respect of some property of a company I had worked for more than a decade back. The wheels of justice do move rather slowly. Sixteen years after the crime took place, I was supposed to pop up and testify that the crime indeed took place.

Well, as a duty-bound citizen, I had no other option but to receive the warrant. The soul was left all of a twitter. There were sleepless nights till the date of appearance. Dark circles formed below the eyes are yet to disappear.

An encounter with Ma Bassett

When the day dawned, a hurried breakfast was put down the hatch. A rush was made to the court complex. After parking blues were faced with a chin-up attitude, the challenge of locating the court room specified had to be braved. A climb of three floors left one’s heart thumping even more than the agitated state in which the poor thing already found itself on that fateful day. Once the court room concerned had been identified, the long wait for the honourable judge began. The gang of four criminals, standing in a corner with a furtive look on their not-so-pretty faces, kept giving me dirty looks at frequent intervals.

A stern looking lady judge shaped along the lines of Mom Bassett finally arrived. I confess I have no information as to the physical features of the lady who had brought into this world a unique specimen of the tribe of the delicately nurtured, namely Madeline Bassett. Unlike her daughter, she was neither soupy nor blonde. Nor was she a breath-taker that takes one’s breath away. If her daughter was mushy and fanciful, the lady beak in question was surely not. She had a perpetual frown on her visage, leaving me wondering if she suffered from dyspepsia.

The court was called to order. Several other witnesses got called, with each one getting cross-examined by a lawyer bloke who looked at witnesses as if they were the dust beneath his chariot wheels. The local language was in use, and yours truly could hardly understand precisely what was transpiring.

When called to the witness box, the soul was in torment. I confess I felt weak in the knees. An oath of truthfulness was administered. The lady beak had to be requested to accept my use of English, to which she very graciously consented, but not before eyeing me with unmasked contempt. The typist assisting her with the help of a vintage typewriter was duly instructed.

The lawyer concerned then pounced upon me with all ferocity, desperately trying to establish that I was not present on the scene of the crime. I meekly assented, because that was indeed the case. After each of my answers, the lady beak turned to the typist clerk and repeated what I said at a very slow pace, thereby enabling the typist to do justice to the transcription. After what sounded like a few hours, but might have merely been a span of twenty minutes, the questioning ended and I was asked to get off the stand.

The allure of policemen’s helmets

The ordeal over, I heaved a sigh of relief. I was asked to wait, so I could sign my statement typed out by the court clerk. While waiting outside the court room, I ran into two friendly cops who kept me engaged with their small cross-talk in the overcrowded corridor. Unlike Sergeant Edward Voules, they were rather slim and trim and were surely not built on the lines of the Albert Hall. Possibly, they could have made a cut as his nephews, Dobson 1 and Dobson 2, in search of their respective heartthrobs.

I was sorely tempted to request them to allow me to try out their toupees, but the sinister ambience of the court complex thwarted my ambitions. Pinching was out of the realm of feasibility, simply because it entailed the risk of their apparent friendliness getting quickly transformed into a disastrous viciousness.

This was not the first time, though, that I had missed an opportunity to lay my hands on a copper’s helmet. Even earlier, while at the Amsterdam airport, I had once spotted a pair of young policewomen who sported gleaming headgear. Their smartness merely added to the gravitational forces of allure which fans of P G Wodehouse generally experience when in the vicinity of policemen’s helmets. But the steely look in their opaque eyes and the manner in which they were wielding their batons had then stopped me in my tracks.

When it comes to making court appearances and pinching helmets, I guess I need to work further on my nerves and try to pour some chilled steel into them. I wonder if there are surgeons out there who wield a scalpel and are good at such transplants.

Or, my Guardian Angels need to send in a Stephanie Byng who would keep prodding me in the ribs at frequent intervals, exhorting me to pinch a policeman’s helmet as and when the next opportunity presents itself.

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Recently, your truly had the privilege of addressing members of the Rotary Club of Pondicherry Mid Town. Business lessons from some of the cartoons created by the inimitable R K Laxman and Mario Miranda were presented.

Since the orange juice served before the talk was not laced with an appropriate tissue restorative, yours truly was all of a twitter. At such occasions, one tends to get tongue-tied, much like a Gussie Fink Nottle when he runs into a Madeline Bassett. Nevertheless, the Wooster policy of a chin-up attitude comes to one’s rescue. Services of one’s nerves of chilled steel have to be called upon. It also helps not to have any giggling girls in the audience.

This is how yours truly was introduced to the audience.

“Mr Bhatia is a management guy by profession and a romantic at heart. He did his MBA in what he labels as the pre-Jurassic period of management education in India.

In the 42 years he has spent unlearning management theories in the private sector, he spent quite a lot of time with Tatas, Hidesign and HCL. Whenever he left these companies, the managements there were absolutely relieved and delighted. He has been a promoter director of several companies, all of which you will never hear of.

As a speaker, he has already been hooted out at several IIMs and other leading management institutes. Whichever city he speaks in, he makes the vendors there very happy, because the audience buys rotten tomatoes and eggs in bulk, so the same may be thrown at him. Organizers of his talks are invariably on the lookout for body scanners which can be used to screen the audience before they enter the auditorium.

He still has some grey cells left. These keep the flow of creative juices going on. He creates movies on topics of family interest. He has a regular blogger on various subjects – management, movies, P G Wodehouse, etc.

We may call him a wordsmith and a management thinker. He has even published a book entitled “Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’ – first in Portugal, then in India. He claims he is not a descendant of Vasco da Gama.

He claims to suffer from two maladies – Professor-itis and Wodehous-itis. He is not wanting to be cured of these.

He is a non-resident Puducherryite. He is a harmless creature otherwise.”

The talk ended with some brilliant questions posed by the attentive audience getting handled by a jittery speaker.

A Drones club atmosphere prevailed thereafter, what with a lavish dinner getting served and some bread-crumb-throwing getting practised by those present on the occasion.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/about-me)

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