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.