Ic­ing on the cake in Pondicherry


Ini­tially, my brother and I, both in our 60s, must have baf­fled the ho­tel man­agers. Af­ter all, who books into a notso-classy three-star ho­tel on a busy road in steamy Pondicherry for two weeks in late April?

This was the first time I hadn’t stayed in the Ashram guest­house in Pondicherry, South In­dia, over nu­mer­ous vis­its. My brother and I de­cided wisely to take a ho­tel with air-con­di­tion­ing. The es­tab­lish­ment was fairly new and in a typ­i­cally nar­row, tall, six-storey con­crete block.

The re­cep­tion staff were all young In­dian men, the clean­ers women. Most had no English, and we had no Hindi. So we spoke in ges­tures, but al­ways with a laugh, end­ing with a very po­lite, “Thank you, Madame.” With the lan­guage bar­rier, we never could ex­plain the rea­son for our ex­tended stay. An­other brother has lived in Pondicherry for 40 years, so this was a fam­ily re­u­nion.

One morn­ing, as we were leav­ing for our walk to the French cof­fee shop, the man­ager ush­ered us into the break­fast room. “Birth­day,” he ges­tured. Nei­ther my brother nor I was hav­ing a birth­day, but an­other guest was. So four of us joined this man to sing in his birth­day and eat sponge cake. We felt spe­cial.

By now we ad­dressed the man­agers by their first names, al­though we re­mained “Madame and Sir”. A warm­ing, heart­felt re­spect had grown be­tween us.

Even­tu­ally, though, we de­cided to go up-mar­ket to a place with a pool and restau­rants in-house, so can­celled our last week’s book­ing. As my brother and I were bundling our suit­cases into the foyer to de­part, the man­ager ap­proached. “Madame, we have a small pre­sen­ta­tion for you.” Nu­mer­ous staff ap­peared in­clud­ing the chief clean­ing lady. A “speech” in­di­cat­ing that we had been very spe­cial guests was acted out and a gar­land of fresh jas­mine and roses was hung over our heads. A bindi was placed on my tem­ple and nu­mer­ous pho­to­graphs were taken.

As we alighted from the tuk­tuk at the swish new ho­tel, still adorned in our flower gar­lands and look­ing like a newly mar­ried cou­ple, we pre­pared for the next in­stal­ment of feel­ing spe­cial in Pondicherry. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: [email protected]­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists will re­ceive a beau­ti­fully boxed set of a dozen 2ml vials of woody, flo­ral and spicy scents from in­ter­na­tional fra­grance house Amouage; $110. More: lib­ertinepar­fumerie.com.au.

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