With Satsanga on Mount Road, Pierre Elouard hopes to create a striking space that is intimate and resonates with warmth

“It's been hell” grimaces Pierre Elouard. We're standing in his new hotel ‘Satsanga' on Mount Road, amid the thud of hammers and scurry of workmen. Blending cheeky kitsch, European aesthetics and the obligatory traditional Indian touches, the hotel resembles a pretty woman who's still in her pre-party hair rollers, face pack and dressing gown. It's evidently going to be striking when it's ready. But, right now, the anticipation is what makes it especially interesting.

There are bold orange walls juxtaposed with gleaming teak. Still-dusty antiques rest on the cool tile floor. The rooms are still work-in-progress, temporarily housing heavy bell jar-shaped glass lamps bustling with lacy floral patterns and a bewildering medley of antique furniture.

With just 21 rooms, each unique, Satsanga is aimed at travellers seeking intimate spaces, well away from the plush anonymity of efficient five star service. Hence, this hotel is a quirky slice of Puducherry, with heavy wooden chests, fussily-ornate teak doors and gaudy sequinned clocks.

A lot of work in total. So, it's a good thing Pierre has developed a talent for juggling multiple roles over the years. He counts them off triumphantly on his fingers: “Architecture, construction, restaurants, hotels, food processing, agriculture…” The hotel's drawn on all his skills. And patience. “Even when it's ready, it'll keep changing,” he smiles, walking from room to room to check on the progress.

His idea is to create a piece of art that's in constant flux, so it never gets boring. Which, coming to think of it, is a good metaphor for his life. Born into a family of architects in South France, Pierre wandered into India on the spirituality trail.

“It was 1970, and I was 25 years old.” Young enough to rough it, and idealistic enough to enjoy the process. “I was travelling non stop on very little money — sleeping in temples and eating just one meal a day.”

His adventures included a stint at the golden temple in Amritsar. “I was making chappatis.” He eventually reached Rishikesh. “One afternoon, a sadhu suddenly called me and said: ‘This is not the place for you — go see the Mother in Pondicherry'.”

Today, Pierre's a well known face in Puducherry. Although Satsanga's his best known brand, he also runs a pizzeria and is in the process of opening a tea room called La Carreta Rosa. He has a range of service apartments for visitors, a boutique and even an Ayurvedic treatment centre. “I'm also a farmer,” he adds, enthusiastically describing the organic vegetables he grows in Hosur and Auroville. Then, there's his work as an architect, which takes him around the country.

Yet, he always seems enviably tranquil. Equally happy in the chaos of his restaurant, the buzz of his hotel or simply fluffing up his car pillow and listening to Pavarotti as he shuttles yet again between Chennai and Puducherry. “I loved this country at once,” he states, adding without a trace of irony. “With love, there are no difficulties.”

The Auroville experience

And, a good thing too. Auroville in the 1970s was all hard work when he joined. “No cars, no houses. People had no shoes. It was a complete desert. There were maybe 75 of us all — French, Germans, Indians…” They began by planting saplings. He contributed to Auroville by training in their architects' office, and working on the buildings.

“Then, a friend from the ashram wanted to start a guesthouse and asked me to help. She ended up getting sick and dying — I was left with the baby in my arms.” The Satsanga (meaning ‘together') restaurant had humble beginnings. “We had one plate, one fork, one glass. After the first customer paid his bill, we bought the second plate, fork and glass,” Pierre chuckles.

“I'm not commercial. What I love most about what I do is that it enables me to meet people.” He says customers return for more than just their juicy green pepper steaks and buttery lemon pies. “I receive people well.” He pauses to find an apt simile. “I'm like… like your mother.”

(The hotel Satsanga opens this week at 283, Mount Road. Its restaurant should open in a month. Call 43144635/ 636 for details.)