I discovered Gratitude by chance. Serendipity! A walk in the ‘Alleys in Wonderland’ (which I affectionately also call Pondicherry), introduced me to her. Gratitude is a bundle of gorgeousness. Bathed in sunshine yellow, she seemed steeped in history and heritage. Her warmth was infectious, her serenity intoxicating.
She is ageless. And graceful. She is someone like Nafisa Ali.
Her birth can be traced back to the early 19th century and this makes her more than 150 years old. Her original owners were a Creole family who owned quite a few houses on Rue Romain Rolland in Pondicherry. Those were subsequently divided amongst the descendants. The old house (almost dilapidated, with rainwater seeping in through the walls) was bought from Eugene (who now lives in France) and has been restored over a period of three years in collaboration with Intach, which specialises in restoring historical and heritage sites throughout India.
As I stepped into the quietude of the mansion, greeted by a freshly- done rangoli, the first things that stuck me were the cleanliness and tranquility of the place. And the tastefulness. The colour scheme, the artefacts, the spacious courtyard, the long corridors, the abundance of green, the use of traditional sitting arrangements and the solitude all filled me with an indescribable sense of peace. Kakoli, before offering me a home tour, filled my stomach and warmed my heart with a delightful breakfast. The makeover stories unfolded themselves as we chatted over cups of coffee.
In their own words, “With the help of Ajit, Arul and Ashok and their team from Intach Pondicherry, we decided to restore the house using every traditional method that had been used. New portions had to be added and it was a natural choice to make it with exactly the same techniques. The work was executed by R. Chandramohan and team and after three long years of planning, modifying, re-designing and after many uplifting moments and frustrating ones too, Gratitude is now hopefully more beautiful than it has ever been.”
While Gratitude was being refurbished, it was made sure of that the authenticity of the architectural style and method of construction prevalent at the time in which she was built, were stuck to. The high columns, the wooden framework of the ceilings, the wide arches, the inner courtyard and the madras terrace roof were retained, unspoilt. Even the furniture used is traditional antique furniture salvaged from homes of that period. The furnishings used here are Anglo-French, blending the best of both worlds.
One thing in particular stole my heart- the sitting arrangements. Simple, classy, comfortable. I especially loved the swing, the chair with the small book shelf and the S-shaped conjoined twin chair.
The dining room overlooking the courtyard is huge, with an open kitchen. The breakfast is lip-smacking with a good number of options to suit the tastes of visitors from all over the world. There is a common refrigerator for visitors to use. I met an artist from France and a writer couple from China as I sipped my morning tea. We hardly understood each other’s language (and this is an understatement), but it was beautiful…
Another striking feature of Gratitude is the attention to detail. The shoe rack and the umbrella/raincoat hanger at the entrance, the key holders, the bamboo wind chimes, the ceramic laundry barrels, the artwork on the walls and the albums in which the entire makeover story is photographed and detailed, awed me.
The beautiful exterior compliments the inner beauty. Gratitude offers homestays for writers, artists, travellers and creative souls. For long stays, she offers reduced rates. She has air-conditioned rooms with attached baths. Each room has a writing table. She is a NO SMOKING and NO TELEVISION zone. She has a well-stocked library, free Wifi and serves breakfast and tea/coffee throughout the day. In-house massage and Yoga sessions can be availed on prior appointment. The only word of caution, if I may quote them: “We love children and their free spirit so we believe it would be unfair on them to ask them to stay quiet. Hence we do not encourage guests with children who can/may/will be noisy. Please do not request us to bend the rules on this issue.”
Gratitude offers varied kinds of bedrooms to suit your needs. King size four-poster beds, single beds, loft beds and restrooms with a reading area, a bathtub and a study table are some offerings that caught my attention. There is a strong ‘home away from home’ feeling in every nook and corner. The red cemented stairway in the above room, for example, reminded me of my paternal home. The cool, soothing effect of the red floors reminded me of summer afternoons, power-cuts, hand fans and the stories Grandma told me. The staircase led to a spacious restroom which ALSO had a study table, and space for books, magazines and newspapers, and a huge bathtub. If heaven had a twin sister, this is what she would look like.