Aditi Sriram’s debut guide, Past the Boulevards, charts Puducherry’s eventful historical past, by which numerous cultures of the world, from Dutch to French to Portuguese, have performed defining roles.
Past the Boulevards: A Brief Biography of Pondicherry
By Aditi Sriram; Writer: Aleph E-book Firm; Pages: Rs 176; Worth: Rs 399
A few of South India’s most artistic nomenclature comes from the town of pétanque. Though finest referred to as Pondicherry, 2,000 years in the past it was Poduke, and a dozen years in the past it reincarnated into Puducherry. There have been a number of identify adjustments in between, inevitably shifting in the direction of one thing much less European and extra Tamil, heralding a cultural, political, social revolution alongside the best way.
I begin my analysis in a sunny library one block south of Joan of Arc Park. Rigorously folded to suit into tiny drawers are 100-, 200-, 325-year-old maps of Pondicherry. Squiggles denote rivers and fields; strains divide international and native populations; packing containers mark properties which were clustered by neighborhood. Opening a map is to step right into a historic second: time is measured by the yellowed paper and light ink, area is measured by the important thing on the backside left or proper nook, and colonial rule is spelled in numerous European alphabets. Arrayed on the desk, with books serving as paperweights to carry down the corners, these maps show a full of life timeline.
What started as a Tamil settlement within the first century CE served as a busy buying and selling publish for the Romans, who documented the town utilizing variations of Poduke and Puduvai. Within the twelfth century, some students referred to it as Vedapuri: a spot of Vedic information. Within the mid-sixteenth century, the colonial story started when the Portuguese settled there; of their information they known as it Puducheira. The Dutch spent the early seventeenth century in Poelisjeri, introducing new vowels into the identify. The Danes arrived 20 years later, within the 1630s, however misplaced the land to France twice over the subsequent 90 years. A Dutch map produced in 1690 introduced their territory as Podechery, and one other map made in 1694, one yr after having gained their fort again from France for the second time, used a brand new spelling, Poedechery. This newly added “e” is silent by itself, however when paired with an “o” turns into a spherical, audible “oo”; maybe symbolic of the noisy effort required to win the town again.
By this time, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was about 13 years into his political campaigns within the south. Considered one of his troopers, Bhimsen, was additionally a reporter, and his memoir, Tarikh-i-Dilkusha, written in Persian, mentions his go to with Aurangzeb to “Phulchery”. The French had resumed energy by the point of Aurangzeb’s dying in 1707, and titled a map they produced in 1748 “Plan de la Ville de Pondicheri”. This launched the nasal “n” of the French language, and changed the swoop of the “y” on the finish of the phrase with an “I”. Might this have been visually symbolic? A play on the French phrase chéri, which means darling?
With the Dutch out of the image, the beloved settlement endured a 70-year-long tug of warfare between the British and the French. A 1778 map calls the fortified metropolis Pondichery, which may very well be a French or British spelling, since a key on the backside of the map states—in French—that it was “fait par les Anglais”, or made by the British. A yr later, a brand new map reasserted French dominance with a beret over the “e”: Pondichéry. This turned a everlasting fixture beginning 1816, when the territory was “lastly and definitively restored to France”.
Maps by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries stored the accent on the “e” till the French left India. From 1954 onwards, the territory turned Indian and, in a rustic that loves its lengthy, rolling “r”, the identify grew to Pondicherry. This model gave rise to the favored nickname Pondy, which was tacked on to companies, resorts, resorts and cafés: Le Pondy; PondyCAN; Pondy Cycle Tour, and so forth. Pondy is catchy, straightforward to say and, due to the town’s tourism trade, nonetheless connotes clear seashores, unique meals, and charming eateries. Ask faculty college students in Chennai what their weekend plans are, and a predictable reply is “Pondy” and “sarakku”, as these youth go on the lookout for alcohol pleasant escapes.
Present maps of South India present that Pondicherry borders, and is intermingled with, the state of Tamil Nadu—itself named out of its satisfaction for the Tamil language. From Pondicherry, the town has turn into a compound of two Tamil phrases, pudu and cheri, to make Puducherry. In reality, pudu means new, and cheri means village, so this newest identify means new village—one thing Pondicherry might need been again within the sixteenth century, however is hardly so 500 years and a number of other architectural resurrections later.
At present the place alternates between Puducherry and Pondicherry, simply as many Indian cities ping-pong between their Indian and colonial names: Mumbai and Bombay; Chennai and Madras; Kolkata and Calcutta; Bengaluru and Bangalore. However these tier-1 cities, established metropolitan zones with thriving commerce, tradition and scholarship, boast a easy both/or nomenclature at most. It’s price noting that Puducherry, a lot tinier and much much less conspicuous, has boasted a number of
Whereas these many names evoke a turbulent, adventurous previous, the current has been levelled by the Indian Census and its standardised naming schema. “Puducherry” is the identify of a number of entities nestled inside one another, beginning with the biggest, the union territory, and dealing its means all the way down to the census’s smallest administrative items. In between these are mid-sized Puducherrys with authorities descriptors like “metropolitan area” and “city agglomeration”
For the biographer, due to this fact, an early query is how a lot of the town of Puducherry comes from its function as administrative capital of the union territory, and the way a lot from its tourist-friendly metropolitan way of life. The reply requires extra maps and extra historical past.
Puducherry is one in every of seven union territories (UT) in India, comprising 4 “districts” or “enclaves”: Mahe, Yanam, Karaikal and the eponymous Puducherry. Like a number of the different UTs, it isn’t contiguous; its subterritories are unfold throughout South India, from Mahe in Kerala to Yanam in Andhra Pradesh. Karaikal and Puducherry are inside the UT’s borders, themselves an archipelago of settlements islanded by Tamil Nadu. These enclaves had been collectively administered by the French as comptoirs, or buying and selling settlements, for roughly 300 years till 1954. They proceed as a collective entity at this time, though their prominence as European vacationer cities has waned at totally different charges. There was a fifth district, positioned forty-five minutes north of Calcutta, known as Chandannagar—previously Chandernagore—but it surely give up the French dominion in 1949, six years earlier and one referendum before its southern counterparts. Correspondingly, it carries a fainter presence of its colonial energy.
Extracted with permission from ‘Past the Boulevards’, by Aditi Sriram, printed by Aleph E-book Firm