It is heartening to see that a group from Ile de La Réunion has taken an interest to help and restore the beautiful historical building housing the Pensionnat de Jeunes Filles located on the beach road. It shows that cultural bonds remain strong across time and distance. And that safekeeping of heritage is an important aspect of keeping these ties alive.
Reunion Island, a French island in the Indian Ocean, has expressed interest in collaborating on heritage preservation in Pondicherry, and is considering the renovation of the Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles (Government Girls French High School) on the Beach Road.
The 21-member delegation that visited Pondicherry consisted of CEOs of private firms involved in renovation, and was headed by Raziah Locate, Director and Teo Narayanin, Treasurer of the international wing of the Chamber of Commerce, Reunion Island. They discussed the issue with French Consul General Philippe Janvier-Kamiyama, French Ambassador to India François Richier, and the team of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
A quarter of the population on the Reunion Island is of Indian origin, and most of them are of Tamil speaking-origin. Muriel Bertile, Regional Cooperation Coordinator, Reunion Island, said that they have a vital role to play between France and India due to its cultural connection. He added that both the Reunion Island and Pondicherry had similar climate and architecture of the buildings, and Reunion Island is skilled in renovation of heritage structures and use of durable materials.
The predominantly French architecture-styled building, Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles is at present India’s only French girls’ high school run by the government. It was founded in 1826 by the Viscount de Richemont and the school building was donated by Mrs. Smith who expressed a wish that the building should always serve as a school for girls.
Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles has classes from kindergarten (Maternelle section) up to Standard X (Brevet Superieur). The school campus has been used for shooting quite a few films, including the much-admired Life of Pi. Sadly, in real life, the school is a faint shadow of its past grandeur.
The painting on its colonnaded entrance is peeling off, and its teak stairway is decaying. Creepers have made the walls their home and there are deep cracks. The tall arched double doors of many of the classrooms are broken and the wooden shutters of quite a few windows are damaged. The first floor of the main building has been closed for three years after a beam from the roof caved in.
When the historic Mairie building collapsed in November 2014, students of three schools that were in bad state, including Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles, were moved out to other schools as a safety measure.
INTACH has made a plan for the restoration of Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles at an estimated cost of Rs 5 crore. Ashok Panda, Convenor of INTACH said that completing a pilot project will give visibility and credibility to the collaboration on heritage conservation and this was the reason they suggested the Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles.
Text: Amit Peter
Source: The Hindu