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French Connection

Franco-Pondicherrians

Pondicherry was a French Colony until 1954.  When the French left Pondicherry, they offered an option for the citizens of Pondicherry to remain as Indian citizen or choose the French citizenship.  Though most preferred to hold Indian citizenship, few chose be French citizen but to remain in India.  So children born for the people with French citizenship naturally became the FRENCH living in Pondicherry with an Indian Visa.  There were nearly 16,000 French in 1985 and now there are approximately 10,000.  More...

The months of July & August attracts many French people, who are ethnic Pondicherrians.  On an average there will be 10,000 to 20,000 visitors to Pondicherry to meet their relatives and participate in family ceremonies.

Most of the marriage registration happens at the "Mairie" Building [Municipality office], where the oath is taken in Tamil and French.  Though many local people don’t realise that, as they just repeat the phonetics spelled by the officials.

Pondicherry has French Medium schools, where the course are framed on French educational system.  Most of the students passing out from such schools gets into French universities / colleges, as they get their equivalence.

"Quatrose Julliet", 14th July–is the national day of France, where you can experience the parade with French national anthem.

You will not be surprised to see an advertisement campaign in the regional newspapers or in the streets for the French President elections.  There is a polling booth at the French Consulate for the French, living in Pondicherry.

Pondicherry stands as an icon of French culture, though you dont have many things to see but this destination offers lots to experience.

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Pétanque

Pétanque is a popular game from southern France.  The name is derived from the term pieds tanqués, which in the Marseilles dialect of French means "stuck feet", because in Pétanque the feet have to remain fixed together within a (small) circle.

Pétanque is a form of boules where the goal is to throw metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (piglet).  The game is normally played on hard soil or gravel, but can also be played on grass.  The game is normally played in teams [atleast 2 players].  More...

A player from the team that wins the toss starts the game by drawing a circle on the field [35 to 50 cm in diameter].  Both feet must be inside this circle, touching the ground, when playing.  The player then throws the jack to a distance of between 6 and 10 metres from the starting circle.  A player from the team that wins the toss then plays the first boule, trying to place it as closed to the jack as possible.  Then the opposing team must get closed to the jack and keep playing until they succeed.  When they do, it is back to the first team to do better and so forth.

A player may choose to ‘place’ a boule [get it as near as possible to the jack] or ‘shoot’ it [attempt to displace opponent boule].  When all boules have been played, that is the end of a ‘round’, and the winning team scores a point for each boule that is nearer to the jack than the opposing team’s nearest boule.  The team that wins a round starts the next one, and a new circle is drawn where the jack ended up in the previous round.  The above process is repeated until one of the teams gets 13 points and wins!

You could see local people playing Pétanque on the Beach Road, Ambour Salai, Kuruchikuppam, Anna Thidal, near Marketing Committee and few other old joints.  Pondicherry Tourism department organises Pétanque Tournament regularly.

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Creoles In Pondicherry

Creoles are to be found all over the globe, in each country the melting-pot is different.

The word "Creole" comes from the Spanish word "criollo", and the French "Créole" which came into English by the French between 1595 and 1605.  It refers to all those born of Portuguese, Spanish, English or French parents with the natives in their colonies. More...

In due course, however it denoted all born of mixed marriages between European and natives, to distinguish them from the upper-class European born immigrants.  The progenies of such mixed marriages were also known as "Métis". 

In Louisiana, records trace back Creole people to 1519 AD, and state that they are a blend of West-Africa and Europe [Afro-American].  The Creole [people of colour] mingled with the Black slaves, and Acadian people already settled in Lousiana.  With the Spanish and French occupation, inter-ethnic marriages also occurred creating an Incredible cultural heritage.

In Mauritius, people are highly multi-ethnic, most of the population of the island are descendants of the Indian subcontinent.  Creole people are called "les zoreilles" [the ears], and are a mix of African, European [France and Great-Britain], Asian [China, Vietnam], Northern and Southern India [Tamilnadu], and Sri-Lanka.

The Mauritius Creole is a French based language with other dialects.  Creole was the language used by the African slaves to communicate with their French masters.  Today, Creole is used in everyday life by all Mauritians.  The Indian languages [Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Gujurati, Punjabi] are spoken by the descendants of the labourers brought from British India during the British rule.

The Creole Community In Pondicherry

In Pondicherry, with the arrival of the French, the flow of men and ideas, a new cultural milieu emerged.  Inter-racial marriages gave birth to a new type of population called as "topas" or "gens a chapeau" in French, in account of their wearing the hat.  ["topi" meaning hat in Tamil].

It seems that in 1690, there already were adult "topas", that is only twenty - five years after the arrival of François Martin, the first governor general of Pondicherry, and his men in Pondicherry.  In 1704, in the five companies consisting of 90 men, 36 were "topas".  In 1706, the new town of Pondicherry counted about 300 "topas".

In the 18th century, mostly French officials and soldiers contracted marriages with the native Indian population.  Some Indians who married the French were working as servants or slaves in those colonial mansions in the White town.  Their children often born out of wedlock, were not officially recognized by their fathers, and were brought up by their mothers with the financial support of the father.

Of Course, many legal marriages also occurred between native Indians and French.  They adopted the French ways of life in the realms of language, dress, food, music, architecture, and even in matters of certain conventions and traditions.

They were despised by the native Indians, and often considered as "second class citizens", neither were they accepted by the French.

The children were first called "Fils de l’Inde" in French [Sons of India], then "métis", and "creoles".  They were officially known as "descendants d'Européens" in French [European progenies].  Among the Indian community, they were called as "sattaikars" in Tamil [people wearing European dresses].

Some natives Indians who contracted marriages with the Portuguese settlers, invariably adopted typical Portuguese family names like Rozario, Decruz, Lopez, Pereira, Decosta and Demonte.  We still can find such names in Pondicherry.

It happened that some far-stretched marriages were contracted between girls from Pondicherry and Portuguese men living in Portugal.  Sometimes, they married the few Portuguese settlers living in the White town and left for Portugal.

Since the times of Dupleix, Europeans regularly get married with Indians.  In fact, Dupleix himself married a Creole lady of Portuguese origins, known as Joanna Begum, who helped him in his negotiations with the native Indian princess.

The "topas" managed to be accepted as "Europeans progenies", and married Indians for two or three generations which resulted in children with a darker complexion in each generation, who could hardly been distinguished from the native Indians.  However, a hierarchy was established which classified them according to their skin complexion, their social status and their level of education.

Settlements

Most of the "upper-class creoles" were mainly living in the White town, in Goubert Avenue and Rue Dumas, in clean and well-maintained Western style houses.  The few referred to as "lower-class creoles", were living in Duprayapet or even Uppalam.  This category of "lower-class creoles", also gathered those born of Indian and Portuguese blood, those people were settled North of the Raj Nivas.  At that time, the town of Pondicherry was divided into the Black town and the White town, and people were living in particular areas according to their castes, religions and races.  The physical segregation of the town became more obvious from the year 1827.

Education And Language

French influence is also obvious in the realms of language.

The whiter "topas" talked French fluently and knew an Indian language, whereas the others didn't know French, neither did they master the local language, which excluded them from the French society as well as the Indian community.

They received their education from the "Pensionnat de Jeunes filles" located in Rue Dumas and "Saint-Joseph de Cluny" in rue Suffren in the White town.

They had French as their first language, Tamil as second, and English as third.  Since they considered themselves as Europeans, they hardly showed any interest in learning Tamil, neither did they feel the need to, since they were talking French at home, and even the grocer's at the end of the street would talk French.  They learnt Tamil with the maids at home, and created their own Tamil accent.

Since 1827, the local administration worked towards the uplifment of the Creole community by providing them training and employment in the newly established "Ateliers de Charité".  Slowly they earned the goodwill of the administration and secured high position jobs in the administration judiciary.  Some joined the army and became popular in World War I and II.

Those who opted for the French nationality went to settle down in France and other colonies.  Those who remained in Pondicherry established links with the Anglo-Indian community whose social background was similar to theirs, except for the language barriers.

Faith

Most of the creoles living in the White town used to go to the Church of "Notre-Dame des Anges", in Rue Surcouf, since masses were in French and English, conducted by Italian and French and priests.  It was clearly reflecting their will to safeguard their identity, going a more "Europeanized church" than some in the Indian town.

A regular visit to Saint-Antoine's church [Saint-Antony's church] near the bus stand, on every Tuesday, was a must.  Saint-Antoine is very popular in and around Pondicherry, people raised many churches and chapels to the Saint which are often not recognized by the Church.

The Portuguese influence dates back to the 17th century when those forms of faiths were introduced in Tamilnadu by the Portuguese missionaries.  Another major legacy left by the Portuguese.

Moreover, Portuguese was the lingua franca in Pondicherry at the time of Dupleix.  Some creoles families were still communicating in Portuguese at home till recently.

Clothing

The Creole people differentiated themselves from the native Indian people by adopting European dresses like pants and shirts for men and frocks for ladies.

The remaining generation is those grandmothers wearing colourful frocks and going joyfully around the streets of Pondicherry in cycle-rickshaws, as if to remind the bygone days.  They represent the fading Creole community, Creole style and Creole era.

But twenty years ago, their daughters and grand-daughters have adopted the local traditions and melted themselves with the native Indians, by wearing Indian dresses maybe to be better accepted and wipe off the biased opinions based on their community.

The cross cultural influences can also be seen in the local style of furniture, which is probably the first of an international colonial style freely mixing Portuguese, Dutch, French and English designs with Indian and Sinhalese craftsmanship.

The Creole house

It is exclusive to the White town, between the Canal and the sea, and its style can also be found in the other colonies.  All the French and Creole houses built in the eastern part of the town were built according to very similar ground plans, although with variations in size, orientation and details.

The design is said to be the local version of "the hotel particulier", a typical feature of the mansions of the upper classes in the 18th century in France.

After the British destruction, the town was entirely rebuilt, and the colonial mansions which can still be seen today, date from the 19th century.

All of them have been restored to their original style of the 18th century.  The main facade usually faces a garden and not a street.

The rooms are organized around a main hall.  Separating rooms with huge corridors was common in the 19th century in Europe, when people felt a need for privacy, but it could not be applied to Pondicherry where the climate is too hot and sultry and the constant flow of maids from one room to the other.  The huge windows were facing the garden or the street, but mainly had an airing function.  Before the fan came into use, the "panka", ["vissiri" in Tamil], was used, which consisted of a large board handled manually by a young boy in an adjacent room, with a pulley and ropes, through holes on the wall.  But the "panka" was to be found only in some of the rich mansions of the White area.

Graveyard

In the Christian graveyard in Uppalam, Creoles were buried separately, they wouldn't mix with the others castes, now the walls separating them have been destroyed.

« La Société Mutuelle Des Créoles »

Started in 1883, with its office Rue du Bazar Saint-Laurent, gathering almost 120 members, the aim of this institution is to help the neediest Creole people.  In fact, many Creoles couldn't choose the French option in 1962, because they feared losing their job if they opted.

In the past, parties were organized in this place, gathering the young creoles of Pondicherry.  All the young generation is settled abroad, and rarely comes back home.  The only remaining testimonies of the Creole period are those few colonial mansions, those grandmothers adding some nostalgic touch to the disappearance of the Creole community in Pondicherry.  However, Creole cuisine is a culinary art passed on from generation to generation, and very much sought after these days.

Creole Cuisine Or "Local Pondicherry Dish"

In Pondicherry, Creole cuisine [Franco-Indian cuisine] is a blend of the European and Indian culinary traditions, it draws on local ingredients, the presentation is more artful, and the flavours are enchanting.

Indian seasonings used in Pondicherry include curry powder, garam masala, tamarind, coconut, chiles, ginger and cilantro, which are blended with French additions such as butter and rich cream.

All the young generation creoles are settled abroad, and rarely comes back home.  But few families still plan their Traditional Creole style wedding at Pondicherry.

The only remaining testimonies of the Creole period are those few colonial mansions, those grandmothers adding some nostalgic touch to the disappearance of the Creole community in Pondicherry.  However, Creole cuisine is a culinary art passed on from generation to generation, and very much sought after these days.

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Lycee Francais De Pondicherry

In those days, the education was entrusted to religious institutions [Foreign Missions Society & Fathers of Holy Spirit].  In 1834, the school hardly counted 40 students.

The French Revolution of 1848 had changed the name of this school from "Collège Royal" into "Collège Colonial".  More...

The 3rd Republic in France focused on civic teaching and Primary school education was the priority.  The "Collège Colonial" was closed in 1899 and was reopened in 1900, managed by the non-religious based administration. 

The authorities wanted everyone to have access to a merit-based school, in particular young girls, which was an exception at that time.  

In 1907, the school created "Le cercle de Pondichéry" to develop the physical activities for the students and today it stands as one of the oldest and most reputed club in Pondicherry.

After the 2nd World War, the colonial period was fading away and Pondicherry became part of India in 1964.  During the period of decolonization, the "Collége Colonial" became the "Collège Français".

In 1972, the "Collège Français" became the "Lycée Français", and accepted Indian people holding French citizenship along with the Indians attracted by the French culture.

Today the school has almost 1400 students ranging from the age of 3 to 18, among them 1000 are French citizens.  Almost 100 teachers are working here and they are mostly native French.  The medium of education is in French. Tamil, English, German, Spanish and Latin can be had as optional languages.

The school year spreads from July to April and offers science, literature, economics and accounts.  The studies are sanctioned by the "baccalauréat".  Since the education system and curriculum is on par with the French schools, most of the students continue their higher studies in France.

The "Lycée Français" is a live monument having glorious history and a representation of the French connections.

About Desbassayns de Richmont... He was the Governor of Pondicherry from 18th June 1826 to 2nd August 1828, yet he realised a huge work, mainly by reorganizing and simplifying many departments, especially the police.  Willing to spread education, he created free schools for Indians in Pondicherry and Karaikal. In 1827, he opened the public library in Pondicherry, the Cours Chabrol (now Goubert Avenue), and the central market.

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Banque De l'Indochine [The Indo-Chine Bank]

Banque de l'Indochine was a note-issuing bank established in Paris on January 21, 1875, for the territories of France in Asia.

Surrounded by Bharathi Park, General Hospital and Chamber of commerce, close to seafront the Grand white building stands as the souvenir of the INDO CHINE BANK in pondicherry during the French rule.  The present Uco Bank building was the former Banque De l'Indochine, which was the prestigious bank of the colonial times.

Pondicherry is one of the oldest branch among the indo-chine banking network.  It was started in Vinodha Cumarie Maheswaran pondicherry through the initiative of "Comptoir d'Escompte de Paris" [1st French bank in India in 1823]. More...

Marechal Mac Mahon, then French President, opened this first money issuing bank.

Till then, Pondicherry was depending upon the English commercial bank and the local "escompte office", where the operations and dealings were very expensive.  In 1825, the local agent of the colonial banks thought about opening a local issuing bank but the project was left behind in 1873.

The Chamber of Commerce of Pondicherry requested a Colonial bank to lower the operation and loan cost, where upon by the Government initiative, the Banque De l'Indochine was opened and the earliest ‘Roupie’ denominated notes were issued.  Then loans and discounting sections were also started to support the trade and commerce.

The Banque de l'Indochine printed the first paper money and circulated French Indian currencies.  The value of Rouipes [issued by French Banks] was equallant to Rupees [issued by British Government].  The First banknote were issued on 21st January, 1875.

The Roupie consisted of 8 Fanons and one Fanon was equivalent to two annas.  These were in the denomination of 50 and 10.  Notes of One Roupie were issued immediately after the First World War.  New notes of 50 Roupies carried the bust of Dupleix, who founded the French Empire in India.  These notes continued to be in circulation till they were replaced by Indian currency in 1954.

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The Franco-Indians Of Pondicherry

This old French colony counts 4,500 French citizens of Tamil origins.  This tiny community of Franco–Indians is the biggest French community located in the East of the Suez Canal.

All Franco–Indians living in Pondicherry can stay in India with a residential permit to be renewed every five years at the Indian immigration office.

Most of Franco–Pondicherrians are from a family of "renoncants".  In French, it comes from the verb "renoncer" meaning to give up.  This refers to a particular part of a French legal system from the 3rd Republic, in all former French colonies.  More...

In 1881, France governed by its president Jules Grévy, was concerned about the situation of caste system and the problems faced by the people.  So, they offered the possibility to give up their personal status in favour of the French Civil Code.

In those days, that egalitarian movement [movement for equality], reached some respected families and few "renoncants" came from unprivileged social classes, willing to give up their caste name. Expecting a better future, they adopted a new French family name.  That's the reason why we can find some typical French names like Duguesclin, Drapeau, and Lourdes in Pondicherry.

However, in certain families, some are French and others are Indians for the past three generations.  There is an historic explanation for this.

When the old colonial power left the town, in 1962, they offered its old nationals "the French option", those who were willing to remain French had to register themselves at the Consulate within a period of six months, otherwise they became automatically Indians.

Only 7,000 people including the children chose to remain as French.  The 450,000 inhabitants of the other colonies preferred to remain as Indian citizens.

Sign of patriotism, fear of the unknown, and lack of information made them to remain as Indian citizens.  Many believed that a French passport would isolate them from the rest of their family or society.

As a matter of fact, the "French options" of 1962, differentiated themselves from the others. Most of them, were soldiers or civil servants who left for France and had converted themselves to Catholicism or Islam, children or grand–children of "renoncants", submissive to the French civil code.

It is difficult to tell exactly how many of the socially unprivileged people, got the French citizenship.  There are interesting stories like the one of a rickshaw's driver who opted for the French opportunity some forty years ago.  Today, his grandson has no regrets.

Regarding a French army retired soldier, an ex–caporal (caporal is the starting grade in French army) can earn almost 55,000 Rupees (1000 Euros) as a military pension.  Of course, it depends on the number of years of service, and also whether the soldier has been practicing outside France during his military service.  But the average Indian monthly salary being 8,000 Rs, we can notice the advantages of a French passport.

If some people didn't chose the French option in 1962, today it is very much sought–after.  The French Consulate of Pondicherry was totally assaulted by hundreds of people, in spring 2006, convinced that the right to the "French option" was to be enforced again and made available for everyone.

With almost 40,000 Franco–Pondicherrians gathered in Paris suburb, most of this community is living in Trappes, Pontoise or even Sarcelles.

Most of them come back for the summer holidays, in July–August. The "Hôtel de ville" (Mairie), gathers many Franco–Indians couples who have come to make their union official.  As it is throughout India, those alliances are "arranged marriages".

Between India and France, baptisms and marriages are an opportunity to gather dispersed families.  The Franco–Indian community is the remaining French aroma of Pondicherry.  This intriguing mixing of cultures makes the uniqueness and beauty of Pondicherry.

Every 14th of July, on Bastille Day, the Franco–Indian retired army soldiers gather in front of the "Monument des morts" (French War Memorial) in Goubert Avenue / Beach road.  Decorated with their medals, they will brandish the French flag with pride, while the municipality's brass band will play the Indian and French national anthems.  The consulate and French representatives will attend the function, along with the Franco–Indian community living in Pondicherry.

The same kind of function happens on 8th May, and 11th November.  The Franco–Indian retired soldiers also gather at the "Foyer du Soldat" for social, cultural, elections related meetings organized by their French representatives.

In the "Cercle de Pondichéry", they can participate to physical activities like tennis, badminton, table tennis, pétanque, and board games like chess.

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