Fusion: I can’t think of any other word to describe Pondicherry. The topography is Tamil, but the air is decidedly French. That is because the architecture is French, even though the buildings are Indian. The inhabitants (as well as the tourists) are also a mix of both — Indian and French. So are the menus of its restaurants. Wine (which is impossible to find in Tamil Nadu) flows as freely as beer. Aurobindo mixes with Annadurai, with a generous dash of Dupleix. And the music... actually there is no music in Pondicherry, only silence, which is repreatedly broken by the waves in case you are living by the sea.
I stayed by the sea, in a hotel whose design was French but name Indian: Ajantha. Or was it L’Ajantha? I seriously can’t recall, but the view from its spacious balcony was excellent, and so was the food. In the name of ‘Press’ I extracted a 10 percent discount, and the money saved was spent on buying various ’Auro’ brands of incense sticks.
The VHP guys have clearly not been to Satsanga, and I sincerely hope they don’t ever, because that’s one of the few places in Pondicherry which provides you excellent Continental fare for prices you are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. The restaurant, on Lal Bahadur Shastri Road, is spread out in the courtyard of an old French-style bungalow, and run by a Frenchman: a quiet, laidback place where you can indulge in food and drinks at your own pace. Lunch for two is likely to cost you around Rs 500, with a couple of beers thrown in. Be careful about not trampling upon the tail of a pet puppy that can sprawl out at your feet and go off to sleep without you even noticing it.
About why the VHP should not discover this place. First of all, it is going to object to the name Satsanga, because the word usually conjures up images of a bunch of people singing a bhajan or attending a discourse. How can you eat meat and drink wine in a place with such a name? And the owner, in a bid to give his place the ethnic Indian touch, seems to have gone a bit overboard. The lovely saris that hang as the background curtain are fine, but idols of Ganesha sitting alongside beer mugs and clay ashtrays on the tables? Some might find it hip, but the sight can remind even the most liberal of Hindus that clay, when given the shape of a God, deserves a better place than the dining table. Or maybe these Ganeshas are French and not Indian.