A brownish-blue pearl wedged on India's east coast, Pondicherry continues to brand itself as a place with the 'unmistakable French connection'. And truth be told, this is indeed why many foreigners traversing through south India make a stop here. Since recent times, urban Indian professionals and families from metro cities too fly down for the weekend.
Blue-enameled signposts bearing French names such as rue Labourdounnais are pretty normative in the French Quarter called the White Town (Ville Blanche). To the other side of the canal lies the Tamil Quarter named Black Town (Ville Noir) by the French. There is yet another precinct - the Fishing Village or Kuruchikuppam to the north of the promenade.
In the fishing village, the sounds of morning ablutions set in by 4.30 am. You could wake up in pitch darkness to the sounds of some hardcore coughing to clear up sinuses, gargling and scrubbing of teeth, intercepted by a crowing rooster.
The fisher folk speak no English save for a few words, neither do they speak Hindi. If they want to speak to you, they will do so in Tamil! Non-verbal communication plays an important role too: blazing eyes if you've stepped over their chickens, curious eyes if you're new in 'town', teasing eyes if they like you...
By 9 am, things quieten down considerably almost like it's siesta time already. Remember that it's already been four hours since they have set about their morning business, religious rituals, drawing of kolams, feeding the animals, taking the boats out into the sea, etc. In the fishing village, houses are set apart a few feet from each other, and everything is everyone's business.
A boy of three spends his mornings outside his home, playing with toys, chickens, puppies and goats. Handsome roosters snuggle up together and lie in the shade of a bubbling gutter when the heat gets too oppressive.
A few hundred meters away closer to the canal are the fisher women selling the catch of the day. Don't miss the fresh grains of sand across the fish, and their firm, deep red gills. All signs of a fresh catch.
An intriguing, feisty woman I met often was the hearing-impaired vendor who sold tomatoes along the canal. One time, they were in pretty bad shape yet she protested vociferously and shooed away passersby who pointed this out to her. To my chagrin, she caught me grinning and called me over, after which she broke into a smile when I asked to take a picture.
Close by is Raja's Saloon & Spa (serving just your style). The locals are getting trendier -- after all it's not a Tamil film star chosen to adorn the signboard but a very sultry profile of David Beckham. While most Westerners erupt into a fit of giggles at this comely sight; a few are even enraged at how globalization is 'corrupting Indian sensibilities like a cancer.'
If you come to Pondicherry, do visit the fishing village. It's a stone's throw away from the White Town, just north of the promenade. Full moon nights are the best time to be here.