M. Pierre Fournier, French Consul-General in Puducherry, says that with its mixed architecture, the coastal town is a unique asset

I know it’s going to be fun talking to M. Pierre Fournier, French Consul-General, Puducherry, when he says, “Call me Pierre.” From his sea-facing Consulate, he arbiters the fate of the French community of 7,000 (in Puducherry, Auroville, Karaikkal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala). Beautiful architecture, he says about the 300-year-old structure. “If there are ghosts, we live well together.” Over smiles, he narrates: A private house, the local government bought it and made it the seat of the French administration in the second half of the 19th Century.

Increasing number

He is the Consulate’s appointed Mayor, and registers births / weddings, facilitates passports / visas, does work related to nationality. “I see my job as preserving and promoting two aspects of the French community: heritage and future.” The French are among the first foreign community to arrive in Puducherry, he says. Most French nationals here were born in this coastal town, and an increasing number of expats adds to the numbers. In the last five years, the community has doubled in Chennai.

He loves Puducherry. “I would not like it to be another coastal city, it is a unique asset,” he says, discussing its mixed architecture. He would like heritage areas and buildings restored and integrated into the dynamics of the city — as theatres, art schools, libraries... “We must get the young generation into these buildings.” Thanks to his efforts, the route for the French group Penduick’s first international sailboat (catamarans) race will be from France to Puducherry. Another project, “dear to my heart” is reclaiming the sand beach. Meanwhile, he will continue his perusal of the Upanishads and The Bhagavad Gita — in French. The Gita is one of my favourite books, he says, has a copy on his bedside table, and “the Upanishads are the key to understandING Hinduism and Indian philosophy”.

“France was the first country to teach, create a University chair for Sanskrit in 1814 at College de France. Next year, we will commemorate two centuries of Sanskrit teaching in France.”

He throws more surprises. As a teen, he recognised his passion for Asia and for travel, learnt Chinese at university, speaks fluent Mandarin. He has travelled widely in India, was awed by the small Hanuman temple at Hampi where people have been singing devotional songs non-stop for 11 years now. He found the essence of southern architecture in the Gangaikondachozhapuram Temple. He has taken to Hindustani music, organises intimate concerts in this hall with the condition that no microphones be used. You appreciate the depth and richness of this chamber music only when played in small rooms, microphones distract, he tells them. He plays the piano and the guitar, and has jam sessions with friends once in a while. And yes, he watched English Vinglish.

His four years have gone very fast, he says. He isn’t inclined to carry souvenirs, but shows off a rare marble Shiva and a majestic bronze Ardhanareeswara he couldn’t resist buying. “This country is for me extraordinarily human. You are sensual, passionate at the same time, and that certainly means we have a lot in common.” He gets invited into all the ‘circles’ — Ashram, Tamil, French, Auroville, Bengalis, Oriyas — that co-exist. He has made lots of friends, and will definitely want to come back. “I’m extremely optimistic about the Indo-French relationship.”

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