As soon as Featured in ‘Lifetime of Pi’, Puducherry Homestay is a 200-YO Heritage Villa

One morning final 12 months, whereas the remainder of Puducherry was quick asleep, Sudeep Sen, a Bengali poet, was engaged on a brand new piece. The protagonist was an iron secure embedded in a wall of his room on the Gratitude Heritage homestay.

“In Room 4, the secure within the wall has not been opened in a 150 years…It has seen historical past, life altering, growing older — however nobody is aware of what lies inside. However what’s inside? — The primary proprietor’s ashes, her will, wealth, gold; previous currencies, lover’s relics?” the primary couple of stanzas learn.

Whereas this does make for a really compelling learn, Siddarth Saikia, the proprietor and supervisor of affairs on the homestay, says it isn’t a bit of fiction; the secure exists. “The hot button is misplaced in time, and the secure’s outer body bears many markings. Many have tried to prise it open to verify what it comprises, nevertheless it gained’t budge,” he shares.

Even knowledgeable locksmith, who couldn’t get by way of, knowledgeable Siddarth and the household that the secure’s rusted interiors and strategic place throughout the wall meant that the one method to crack it open could be to interrupt down the wall itself. And nobody needed to resort to this selection. 

So, to at the present time, the secure lies untouched by the fingers of time, holding inside it many mysteries and including its personal little little bit of intrigue to the property.

However, engaging as it’s, this isn’t the one draw on the Gratitude Heritage homestay helmed by a mother-son duo from Delhi. The colourful yellows of the bungalow are a sight for sore eyes, its format providing pockets of sudden calm to the weary traveller or to anybody who comes in search of some peace and quiet.

Would you imagine it in case you had been advised that no more than twenty years in the past, this sprawling paradise was a “crumbling and dilapidated spot”?

We didn’t, and so, Siddarth settled down for a tete-a-tete with The Higher India, to unpeel the fascinating layers that lie beneath the homestays’ previous.

The Gratitude Heritage homestay in Puducherry is a quiet haven for travellers who are looking to immerse themselves in the calm of the city
The Gratitude Heritage homestay in Puducherry is a quiet haven for travellers who need to immerse themselves within the calm of town, Image supply: Siddarth
The facade of Gratitude Heritage featured in the film Life of Pi,
The facade of Gratitude Heritage featured within the movie Lifetime of Pi, Image supply: Siddarth

‘My mom fell in love with a crumbling home’

Jyoti Cariappa Saikia (67), a staunch devotee of Shri Aurobindo — who can be credited with inspiring the Auroville Township mission — would make frequent journeys to Puducherry. It could be beautiful to have a spot of my very own, she thought. However months of scouting for residences yielded no outcomes. Till at some point, in 2004, when Jyoti noticed a crumbling dwelling that was up on the market.

The proprietor, an aged lady in her seventies was trying to relocate to Marseille in France the place her youngsters had moved. Elated on the “pure coincidence”, Jyoti made a proposal for the property.

When requested the rationale for her spur-of-the-moment determination, she says it was a particular vibe. “It made it unimaginable to stroll away regardless that I had set out in search of a smaller and easier-to-maintain residence,” she reiterates.

We don’t blame her. The 200-year-old story of Gratitude Heritage would pale any historical past lesson as compared.

It has watched the world evolve; from the 18th century — when Puducherry was rife with merchants, engineers and builders who got here to work with the French East India Firm — to the current day. It’s simple that the French left their indelible imprint on town; the city nonetheless displays French sensibilities within the language, artwork, tradition and the settlements.

And Gratitude Heritage is one among historical past’s best-kept secrets and techniques.

The story of the house traces again to the early 1700s when Abraham Guerre, from the French-speaking province of St.Imier in Switzerland, got here to Puducherry to work as a hospital administrator with the French East India Firm. Abraham and his spouse Marie Brunet had 9 youngsters, the third of whom Jacques Guerre inherited the home and offered it to a gentleman Francois Ulmans Marie Clark Michel in 1940.

It was one among Francois’s descendants who offered the house to Jyoti, who noticed the placement as an incentive to be in shut quarters to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Her thoughts was already racing with concepts of restoring the property to its authentic glory, equipping it with facilities whereas preserving its historical mystique.

The rooms at Gratitude Heritage are furnished keeping the French style in mind and wood is sourced from demolished homes across Tamil Nadu
The rooms at Gratitude Heritage are furnished retaining the French fashion in thoughts and wooden is sourced from demolished houses throughout Tamil Nadu, Image supply: Siddarth
Much of the old house has been preserved to give the home a touch of vintage magic
A lot of the previous home has been preserved to offer the house a contact of classic magic, Image supply: Siddarth

Jyoti credit architect Ajit Koujalgi of INTACH (Indian Nationwide Belief for Artwork and Cultural Heritage) for lending his experience to see this to fruition. She recollects, “I keep in mind some fascinating facet journeys in search of genuine doorways, home windows, and wood beams to revive and construct the property. It was difficult and time-consuming however largely pleasurable.”

Including to this, Siddarth says the objective of the restoration was to be as traditionally correct as doable. “We needed to be one hundred percent genuine.” With heritage turning into a “buzzword”, it wasn’t unusual to listen to of historical buildings being razed in Puducherry to make method for brand-new residences. He didn’t need Gratitude Heritage to comply with swimsuit.

“We needed to maintain the architectural motifs intact however restore the place utilizing new supplies and methods,” he says, including that the images and decor that you just see across the place are borrowed from one among Francois’ ancestors.

Retaining historical past intact

If these footage are providing you with a deja vu, we’ll clarify. The facade of Gratitude Heritage was featured within the critically acclaimed movie Lifetime of Pi (2012). You would possibly keep in mind it from there. 

Elaborating on this, Siddarth says, “The director and the manufacturing staff of the movie needed to shoot in Puducherry and had reached out to us. The facade options in one of many opening scenes.” He provides that the pictures staff and cinematographer director stayed at Gratitude Heritage in the course of the filming of the film.

The homestay has seen its share of fame. In 2019, it featured in a BBC journey documentary sequence ‘The Actual Marigold Lodge’.

However these accolades are merely feathers in its cap. The true success lies in its restoration.

Gratitude Heritage is a 200 year old home that is built with a blend of French and Tamil architectural practices,
Gratitude Heritage is a 200-year-old dwelling that’s constructed with a mix of French and Tamil architectural practices, Image supply: Siddarth
Authentic South Indian food is served at the homestay prepared by staff who are locals,
Genuine South Indian meals is served on the homestay and ready by workers who’re locals, Image supply: Siddarth

The homestay options previous wooden that was collected from houses being demolished throughout Tamil Nadu. An fascinating factor to notice is that the house options ‘Madras terracing’ — a novel form of terracing the place the artisan employs his palms and toes to assemble the bricks. With fashionable methods substituting this conventional craftsmanship, sourcing artisans was a problem.

Elaborating, Siddarth says, “In Puducherry, we’ve the vernacular Tamil fashion of structure, the Franco-Tamil fashion (that attracts closely from Chettiar fashion), after which these that are predominantly mentioned to be French fashion due to the arches and pillars and sure different particulars. Gratitude Heritage falls within the third class.”

Throughout the restoration course of, care was taken to not upset something of the previous dwelling. “No partitions had been damaged and no bushes had been lower,” Siddarth shares. He goes on to relate an anecdote of how a mango tree within the courtyard was hindering the development.

As an alternative of chopping it off, they known as in ‘tree docs’ who pulled the tree out of the best way till work was full.

Jyoti and her son Siddarth, the duo behind the restoration and managing of the Gratitude Heritage homestay
Jyoti and her son Siddarth, the duo behind the restoration and administration of the Gratitude Heritage homestay, Image supply: Siddarth

That includes eight double rooms and one single room, Gratitude Heritage is a spacious paradise. Nonetheless, be ready for some “quirkiness” warns Siddarth. “Every room is a unique measurement with no consistency in any respect. The classic furnishings was sourced over a few years from houses that had been being introduced down. Each mattress, desk, and chair got here in numerous styles and sizes, so no two rooms are alike.”

That being mentioned, whether or not it’s the four-poster beds, the chequered duvets, the rocking chairs, the quaint lampshades — every little thing is a testomony to how native craft blends with sustainability. The subject of sustainability transcends the rooms and makes its method into the practices which might be adopted on the homestay.

Single-use plastic is a strict no and photo voltaic panels are the hero. Even the workers proper from the cooks to the housekeeping are from the locality. “We needed to make sure that their journey to and from dwelling will not be contributing to the carbon footprint,” Siddarth provides.

Though there are various moments of quiet and calm at Gratitude Heritage, there’s by no means a uninteresting one. Evenings are a blur of exercise because the thrum of occasions, artwork workshops, and dance recitals fill the air. And one emotion that’s sure to trump the remainder is gratitude.

One of many virtues prided on by the ashram — gratitude — Siddarth says, is what introduced his mom to Puducherry and led them to the life they’ve at the moment. It is just proper that we named our dream after it too, he smiles.

However at the same time as we attain the tip of this fascinating homestay, a query that continues to linger on my thoughts is concerning the iron secure and its contents.

Sudeep Sen’s poem does the suspense justice, saying, “Maybe, it’s best stored as a thriller, in a world the place there’s so little of it.” And, the identical emotion is apt for Gratitude Heritage too, I believe.

Edited by Pranita Bhat

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