Guess who had a makeover?

AFTER THE FACELIFT The new improved Vysial Street

AFTER THE FACELIFT The new improved Vysial Street   | Photo Credit: PHOTO:T. SINGARAVELOU

Vysial Street glows with pride on being honoured with an UNESCO award, writes SERENA M.JOSEPHINE

No longer is Puducherry’s Rue Calve Subraya Chetty (better known as Vysial Street) just another regular street. It’s glowing with new pride, after having bagged the Award of Merit from the UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation programme. Now, this street is seen as a symbol of Franco-Tamil architectural identity.

Effective restoration

But the honour did not come easy for the street, which is part of the Tamil town of Puducherry. After losing its original Franco-Tamil architectural patterns to new-age constructions, Vysial Street had to undergo a facelift and after several restoration works, now mirrors its traditional streetscape.

“Under the Asia Urbs Programme, restoration works of facades of heritage houses on Vysial Street were carried out from 2002-2005 with funding from the European Commission. INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) and Government departments such as Local Administration, Town Planning, and Public Works carried out the restoration works,” informs Ashok Panda, co-ordinator of INTACH.

Of all the streets in Puducherry why was Vysial Street chosen? INTACH’s answer is simple — because it is one of the historical areas in the Tamil town with a well-preserved architectural streetscape. The restoration works included repairing and repainting the building façades and improvement of general municipal services. In the award citation, UNESCO mentions, “The project has set a notable example for urban streetscape conservation in Pondicherry and other historic quarters in India and the region through the Asia Urbs programme. The restoration work has revived the historic Franco-Tamil character of the street and urban quarter and has reinvigorated a sense of pride among the community”.

As Ajit Koujalgi, Architect Co-convenor of INTACH, says: “The continuous verandahs in Puducherryhave all gone. The Tamil part of the town used to have so many verandahs. Over the years, new buildings have come up. We have restored the front portion of the houses, including the thinnai and thalvaram.”

After restoration, the stretch looks spanking new, but retains a traditional feel. And, being part of this street is a matter of pride for the Soussilabai Government Girls Higher Secondary School. The stained glass ornamentation on the entrance doors and several other decorative patterns have been restored.

“The school, which was the house of Calve Subbraya Chetty, was handed over to N. Selvarajolou Chettiar in 1940 in an auction by the then Governor Louis Bonvini. The building is a mix of French and Tamil architecture,” says the head of the institution T. Rajaramjee.

Still traditional

For N. Vani, residing in a heritage house is a different experience. She stays at No. 50, Vysial Street, a house that is around 150 years old. The traditional designs in the front of the house were restored thanks to the project. “I came here after my marriage. We have been maintaining the traditional look of the house. During the project, they erected a wooden fence in front of the house,” says an elated Vani.

At the house of S. K. Das, the asbestos sheet that covered the front of the house has been replaced by tiles.

But, there’s more to the award than just pride, says Koujalgi. “It shows that the town has a heritage value. The Government and people should uphold the heritage of the town.We need to protect all heritage buildings,” he insists.

Also, Puducherry evokes a sense of mystery and nostalgia. “There is great potential to convert Puducherry into a heritage destination. We need laws to protect the ambience, colour code and signage. We have a long way to go and a lot more to do,” he concludes.

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