Quirky slice of Puducherry

Forging bonds Pierre Elouard Photo: N. Sridharan

Forging bonds Pierre Elouard Photo: N. Sridharan  

Meet With Satsanga on Anna Salai, Pierre Elouard hopes to create a striking space that is intimate and warm, writes SHONALI MUTHALALY

“I t's been hell” grimaces Pierre Elouard. We're in his new hotel ‘Satsanga' on Anna Salai 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. It's evidently going to be striking when it's ready. But, right now, the anticipation is what makes it interesting.

There are bold orange walls juxtaposed with gleaming teak. 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 furniture.

With 21 rooms, each unique, Satsanga is aimed at travellers seeking intimate spaces instead of the plush anonymity of five star service. Hence, this hotel is a quirky slice of Puducherry, featuring ponderous 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: “Architecture, construction, restaurants, hotels, food processing, agriculture…” This hotel's drawn on all his skills. And patience. “Even when it's ready, it'll keep changing,” he smiles.

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 out, and idealistic enough to enjoy the process. “I was travelling nonstop with 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 called me and said: ‘This is not the place for you — go see the Mother in Pondicherry'.”

Today, Pierre's well-known face thanks to his Satsanga restaurant. “We began with 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. I receive people well.” He pauses to find an apt simile. “I'm like… like your mother.”

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, a boutique and 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 Satsanga hotel is at 283, Anna Salai. Its restaurant should open in a month. Call 43144635/ 636 for details.)

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