Beyond the Boulevards
By: Aditi Sriram
Price: Rs 399
Aditi Sriram’s Beyond the Boulevards is a well-written biography of Pondicherry or Puducherry—the South Indian coastal town, Union Territory and former French colony, which is unlike any other city in India. Within the boulevards are the petanque games, the bazaars, yoga displays, jallikattu protests, mini-thali-sambar-rice lunch, or the briny tang drifting out of the fish market in the morning. It is a place where the French sport’s slower pace and quieter sounds reflect a different cultural trajectory compared to the rest of the country.
Indeed, any one of these many aspects make Puducherry wholly distinctive. Everywhere you look there are elements of the place that are local and foreign, unusual and traditional, all at the same time. Besides its hybrid identity, the city is also an important spiritual centre, a hub for alternative education, a quasi-extension of the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, an ecological and environmental bastion—and, no small thanks to a liberal liquor license which contributes, in no small measure, for its reputation as a party town. Tapping into every aspect of Puducherry, the author captures the substance of a city that is a contrast of colours, languages, religions, and cultures.
You find yourself making your way through the city’s phenomenal history—a melting pot of Dutch, Portugese, British and French colonial influences—and the shifting stories and changing perceptions that bring the place alive. One remarkable thing about the city is that amid all the dramatic changes in the landscape, is the feeling that “one had a handle on things,” says the author.
Puducherry has been arranging and rearranging itself ever since it was planted on a patch of South Indian land. Cloistered here, you find artists, linguists, DJs, tourists and shopkeepers. Some are warm; they chat with each other. Others move on and ending up going their separate ways. But Aditi hangs in there, with an ear to the ground, sensitive to the thump-thump of many footfalls down the ages.
From her perch in the local library, she takes you gently by the hand through the anecdotes of history, from maps to metaphors; from churches to monasteries; from early visitors to the today’s hordes and from prose to poetry. With a broad brush she boldly splashes the city with its many-coloured hues.
How one wishes that there were a few black and white sketches! Loosely scattered in this work of nonfiction, they would have raised the book to a whole other level and brought alive the words of this well produced book. Its the kind of book you will find yourself returning to again and again, if only to dip into it long after you’ve actually devoured the book from cover to cover.