The French Connection
Text: Aditya Mani Jha
Pondicherry, “the Gallic Gateway of India”, was colonised by the French towards the end of the 17th century, up until 1954 (with intermittent incursions by the East India Company and later the British government of India), when it was incorporated into the Indian Union. An important trade port, Pondicherry witnessed abundant exports of spices, textiles and even peanuts, in exchange for gold, silver and weapons. With time came the expected human paraphernalia of colonialism: merchants, adventurers, missionaries and teachers. Their culture, language and way of life remain influential in Pondicherry.
Raphael Malangin, a teacher at Pondicherry’s French Lycée (High School), has written a book called Pondicherry, That Was Once French India, published by Roli Books, in association with INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) Pondicherry. Apart from providing a brief history of the region, Malangin peppers the narrative with an array of striking black-and-white photographs that are, on their own, a serviceable account of the place we fondly call “Pondy”.
Governor Bonvin inspecting troops on his arrival in front of the Pondicherry’s massed population.
Arrival of Sir Arthur Oswald Hope, Governor of Madras, at Government House in December 1942.
Postcard, Circa 1900. Coumetis Street adjoins Chetty Street. The roads are not paved but treated with caliman, crushed brick mixed with mud.
Photograph of the ‘Comitè des non-castès’ in 1945. It was one of the pro-French organisations uniting Indians and Europeans.
A gathering of French expatriates at the Cercle de Pondichèry. Circa 1890.
Governor Bonvin’s arrival on the Messageries Maritimes ship Le Phoenix, receiving warm welcome from the chelingues of the Pondicherry Port.
Military review in the late 19th century.
A ‘Macoua’ of the Corommandel coast in Pondicherry, circa 1950.