Old world charm

Old world charm
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Enjoy the tranquil old-worldiness of Maison Perumal in the otherwise lively Puducherry

Vaidehi Iyer
March 18 , 2014
05 Min Read

Perumal Koil Street is the second right on the way to Mission Street from the Lotus Hotel that is near Beach Road. This is important. On the other hand, nearly everybody in Pondicherry knows where the old registrar’s office used to be and some of the couples who were married at this illustrious if (then) decrepit building even came by for the opening. And what an astonishing transformation they must have seen.

The invitation to the compact 10-room property begins right off the said street in the even-now French city’s bustling Tamil Quarter. The cheerful thinnai (traditional sit-out) leads to a sunlit courtyard, its floor a charming red oxide. Barring the discreet elevator and the even more discreet numbering of rooms, there is little to suggest that Maison Perumal isn’t the home of someone with considerable wealth and even more good taste.

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CGH Earth’s uniquely elegant minimalism is in evidence here as well. The Cuddapah flooring in the bathroom is unpolished, and the furniture and gorgeously tall doors appear unvarnished. The white walls have a corrugated finish and set off the dark wood beams of the Madras ceiling superbly. Sombre, sepia-tinted photo portraits make up the décor. A small rose and jasmine floral arrangement on the turned sheet of a bed welcomes guests to their rooms. The half-length mirror mounted on the antique wardrobe is the only concession to a dressing area. But little comforts like a spacious bathroom — no room for a tub here, of course — a coffee/tea-maker, short eats or a refrigerator with drinks, might be missed.

The stark white linen in the rooms, and ditto table cloth and flatware in the nameless restaurant, the unevenly hand-finished mustard flooring and signature-print fuchsia, purple and turquoise pillow cases (note the same exquisite pattern frames the bathroom mirror), the crisp bags fashioned out of dated newspaper for the complimentary jute bedroom slippers, the unlined wood dustbins, the neem soap from Auroville that looks like, of all things, speckled white chocolate — if God is in the details, Maison Perumal is nearly divine. But what this writer will remember the most is the tiny peengan jaadi (ceramic pickle jar) in which comes the shampoo.

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Without trying too hard, the old-fashioned semi-circular tank and urns with potted plants and mossy water that cluster about the ‘lobby’ render flower-laden bronze urulis passé, and the stained-glass balconies overlooking the courtyard bring in just the right splash of irreverent colour — look out for the rainbow-hued play of sunlight on the walls of the first floor in the morning.

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Minimalism can be admirable but one wishes it hadn’t extended to the menu. While breakfast is Continental, the Maison’s restaurant only serves appam with mutton/ vegetable stew from 10am to 7pm. As a signature dish, one can’t help but think it’s as out of place in Pondicherry as Commun-ism. Interestingly, the kitchen does not have a deep freezer so the catch, and mutton, is procured fresh. For dinner, non-vegetarians may have a grilled seafood platter.

Vegetarians, worry not, can have more of the doubtless excellent appam and stew. Dishes outside of the house ‘theme’ may be arranged (the grilled vegetables in pesto sauce is very good). Cut fruit is available. A bar is in the offing. All of which certainly does away with the need for a menu card and is not without benefits. When a delicious lemon-and-lentil soup of the day materialised unexpectedly for dinner, it was difficult not to whoop for joy.

Regardless. Maison Perumal’s classy arrival, particularly in Pondicherry’s frequently overlooked Tamil Quarter, calls for celebration. Sit across the antique desk that serves as the reception or enjoy the oonjal (the gentle, long swing crafted out of a plank of jackfruit wood). Imagine the open-to-sky mutrams when it rains — as in many traditional homes, two central courtyards let in the elements here. It took a year and a half to partly restore and partly extend this privately owned property now on long lease, and without such lavish love, this mansion would have been sacrificed to obscurity. In particular, savour the tranquil old-worldliness of Maison Perumal, after the quaint, narrow-streets liveliness of this part of ye ol’ Paandi. Welcome home.

The information:

Where
: Number 44 (old number 58), Perumal Koil Street, Puducherry; 3-hour drive from Chennai airport; 36km from nearest railhead Villupuram
Accommodation: 10 standard rooms
Tariff: Rs 6,000, inclusive of breakfast
Contact: 0413-2227519/20, 9442127519, www.cghearth.com


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