Welcome to the Maison Perumal - Puducherry - 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
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.
The Restaurant :
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.
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.
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.
Maison Perumal is a
tasteful blend of old-world Tamil and French architectural styles.
Verandahs and sit out areas speak of the Tamil heritage while the
arched windows and stylized colonnades reflect their French colonial
ancestry. The materials are typically local, with cool Cuduppah stone
underfoot and teak furniture lending its special richness. The only
sign of modernity is the air-conditioner humming unobtrusively in the
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 maison 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’
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