Ami Paromita bolchi Pop Up theke

PAROMITA ADHIKARY

This seems a bit odd, but this has been my identity for a long period of time to most people in Chandernagore. In June, 2017 I came across a social media post, looking for local coordinators for an exciting project in Chandernagore for Bonjour India. In my last stint with ATA, I was merely a team member, where Udit da was essentially the Coordinator, this time I was supposed to play that role. I was a little hesitant, wondering if I was ready to take on this responsibility! I gathered my courage and sent my CV and to my surprise I got shortlisted!

Although the workshop was to be between 5th- 12th January 2018, my work began from June. I knew architects work very hard and now I can say they make everyone work equally as much. As soon as I became part of the project, I received excel sheets describing all minute details of day to day activity.

I was particularly interested in one of the events known as “Pop-Up Dinner”, I had no idea what it meant.  I learnt along the way that it was like an impromptu event where where the ladies of Chandernagore would cook some delicacies from their home and present it in front of the judges, in the form of competition.

My job was to mobilize the women of the community to come together and participate in the event. And yes to be able to do this, I was chosen as a “Make Sense Ambassador”, I had the chance to take my first flight all the way to Delhi and attend this training at IFI on how to bring people together. It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life and I will forever be grateful to ATA for this!

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I was lucky that I found Basabi maam as my anchor, she almost became my mashi. She knew exactly how to manage this situation. She started making calls and informing the people about Bonjour India and Pop- Up Dinner. The pace was slow, we’re going somewhere. Due to festivals, examinations and family issues the whole purpose of spreading the news of the event fizzled out. But the challenge remained the same for me, I had to mobilize some fifty women for the event.

Now, the real task began. When I started off we had seven months in advance, but now it was just more than a month. There were a lot of things to be taken care of, but the most important was getting some fifty names for the participants first. We started off, with holding a community gathering, where a lot of people turned up. Met a lot of people for the first time who were very enthusiastic about the whole workshop. Some ladies volunteered for being participants in the Pop- Up Dinner. Through them we got another set of contacts, and Basabi Ma’am was constantly there, adding new names to the list. The first list which was compiled mid- December had only fifteen names; we were running behind time and participants.

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We hardly had twenty days left for the event. We started with sharing posts in social media particularly whatsapp and facebook. Entries started pouring in, an interesting part was, first it was mostly for the ladies, but we started getting names of men who were equally interested in cooking. Within five days, I was able to compile a list of thirty four participants. The next mammoth task was selecting and fixing menu. That was a difficult task. Everyone had the own choice and own comfort zone. The WhatsApp group never stopped vibrating, everyone poured in their choices. It was going out of hands. We had to keep a lot of technicalities in mind and move forward.

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After a lot of debating and conversation, we came up with a fixed menu. The participants had to fill in their choices on first come first serve basis. A rough work was done. Next was, calling all these 34 participants and finalizing their menu and the number of heads they were comfortable cooking for. At the end of these 34 calls, my ears and mobile used to get heated up. Over these phone calls, where these phrase came, or rather I used to introduce myself as “Ami Paromita bolchi, Pop- Up theke”. For many people, they were not sure, who was I exactly. Two or three people only knew me. On alternate days at a stretch, I used to call them and confirm their items. These went on for few days.

As the big day approached, a new set of problem approached. Some people were canceling, some were changing their menu, doing a lot of things, which I was informed late. In such a situation I was losing my cool. But there were people who calmed me down and supported me for whatever I was doing. Aishwarya Ma’am, Alankrita di and Basabi Ma’am. Less than 24 hours left for the event, some people who knew me, started to scare me about many a thing, started to ask me some questions, which were not a matter of concern for the participants.

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Beating all odds, finally, the day arrived. I was a bit apprehensive about the turnout of the participants. But all 30 of them arrived with their finest delicacies. The judges had a tough time tasting all those thirty dishes and marking them. The event was a great success and everyone enjoyed to the fullest. But, sadly due to my ill health, I could not taste such tasty dishes !!

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I may not have got an opportunity to thank those 30 participants who had come and had been a part of the event. A big thank you to all thirty of you. And to Aishwarya Ma’am who had the full confidence in me, who knew me better than I knew myself. She has always been the person who has pulled me out of my comfort zone and made me do things, which I have never done before and brought out the best in me always and instilled me in that confidence, which I lacked. Thank you, Ma’am…

Another person who deserves a special person is Alankrita di, she has been such a sweetheart and being there with me throughout this wonderful journey, miss you Alankrita di…

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I think I should be given another blog to write about those wonderful people I met through Bonjour India and Aishwarya Tipnis Architects.

Chandernagore’s Christmas

Heritage & People of Chandernagore Team

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At the launch of our website at the Alliance Francaise du Bengal, we met a very interesting French born documentary filmaker Mr Fransua Joly, who decided to make Chandernagore his home.

He is a  documentary videographer, script-writer, cameraman, and filmmaking teacher.
He directed and produced over 30 films,.of which his 1989 title TIMELESS VILLAGE OF THE HIMALAYAS won the AVC Award in Hollywood The competition was presented by the American Film Institute and Billboard Magazine.

Now known as Vasudeva Das he says,

“Before my viewers and friends wonder whether Vasudeva is on the verge of turning Christian… I’m NOT. Joining the Vaisnava faith has never meant for me to renounce my Christian background but to fulfil it. In the wake of moving to a part-time home in Chandernagore, near Kolkata, I met Father Orson. We took a liking to each other and I caught myself following him on some of his parochial activities. Christmas time came and I started shooting…only for peace. the result being this informal video. It covers the midnight mass, but also a Hindu worship of the Goddess Durga, and outstanding aerial shots from my drone, right above the Ganges river. If you find the mass a bit long, skip over it, although you’d miss my comments comparing the Roman Catholic and the Hindu Vaisnava faiths. So yes, the video belongs to your compared religions folder.

Here is the beautiful video he has made for Christmas in Chandernagore, a must watch for all.

Chandernagore’s Neelkantheshwar Temple

Heritage & People of Chandernagore Team

1Chandernagore is a place dotted with temples most of which holds immense amount of historical value. Our visit to Neelkantheshwar temple revealed the untold secrets behind it. On interviewing Sampa Bannerjee, one of the present owners of the temple, was revealed the account of the place.

Mrs Bannerjee told us the temple was originally owned by Shibnath Mukherjee and his wife Sarat Kumari Devi. It was this childless Sarat kumari Devi who dreamt of constructing the temple. It is said goddess Kali ordered her to curve an idol of goddess kali and worship her as her daughter. It is this dream that led to the formation of the Neelkantheshwar temple. According to the dream a stone was found in the Rose garden in the premises of the house which was curved in Italy by Bhaskar De. Sampa Bannerjee told us, it took three to four years with a total expenditure Rs.90,000 to construct the temple. Finally, it was established on 7th of July 1913 according to Bengali calendar it was Saptami Tithi after the festival of Rathayatra. To our utter surprise the idol in the temple resembled an eight year old girl standing on the Shiva and the mystery behind it was said that Goddess kali wished to be worshiped as Sarat kumari’s daughter thus the peculiar change in the idol.

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After the sudden death of Sarat Kumari Devi, the responsibility was passed on to nephew Anadi Nath Bannerjee and his wife Jayabati devi. Later Anadi Nath Bannerjee bought the house and later it was passed on to his eldest son Prakash Chandra Bannerjee who renovated the temple. It was Prakash Chandra who came up with the idea to construct shops around the area to generate income for the expenditure of the temple. Finally, after his death on 24th July, the responsibility of the temple was taken over by the his maternal brother– Rabindranath Bhattacharya . On denouncing domestic life soon Rabindranath was unable to perform the daily rituals of the temple thereby passing it over to Anadi nath’s younger son Biswanath Bannerjee. It is from then on ward that Biswanath Bannerjee along with Akshay Bannerjee (son of Prakash Chandra Bannerjee )and his wife Sampa Bannerjee have taken up the responsibility. The glory of the hundred year old temple is presently striving to fight the erosion of time but the Bannerjees still maintain their responsibility of the annual celebrations of kali puja and the saptami tithi.

Chandernagore’s famous son: Dourga Chorone Roquitte

Heritage & People of Chandernagore Team

Chandernagore is one of those dormant historical witnesses that remained untouched since ages. But that did not subdue the glamour it possessed as one of the richest French colony. Not only financially but also with several historical figures. Walking through the place dotted with profound architectures that reminds us of its fading glory history offered us the name of Dourga Chorone Roquitte. One of the many well-known business men of his time, Rakshit constituted the upper class of the French Chandernagore. Their glory, now subdued still peeks from behind the crevices of the multi facade mansion at Lal Bagan. Our visit to the Rakshits exposed a lot of it, as Debi Charone Roquitte and Partha Charan rakshit narrated the history of the family.

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The introduction of weaving and textile industry at Chandernagore was the work of Jagannath Bhar, a resident of Saptagram, who shifted to Chandernagore to seek shelter under the French government from the borgis. Indian Textile being high on demand, mainly among the Europeans served as a catalyst to the flourishing of textile trade. Though the exact date of the migration, of the Rakshits from their homeland at Bhandarhati village near Tarakeshwar to Chandernagore; cannot be traced, but that they belonged to the tantubaya clan gives the idea that the lucrative weaving business tempted them. Dourga Chorone Roquitte (a French way of writing Durga Charan Rakshit)’s father Govinda Chandra joined a job at Kolkata. Working initially as an order supplier to a French shipping company he soon became a ‘mutsuddi’or ‘baniyan’(collector of dues of the sold goods from the consumer) in Cama Lamoru and Co.

The story goes that Govinda Chandra had helped Cama in his bad times and then onwards began a deep relation of Cama with the Rakshit family which had severe effects in the life of dourga charone, especially after the death of Govindachandra.

Born on 26th September, 1841at the very residence of Lalbagan, Dourga Charone went to a village school. Govinda Chandra’s death in cholera in the year 1851 changed the fate of the Rakshit family. Being the eldest of the two siblings Dourga Chorone was burdened with responsibilities. Preceeding his father’s death Dourga charone’s mother, a strong woman as she was raised the kids single handedly. A new chapter of his life began under the guidance of Cama who returned to chandernagore to help the family.

Cama made him well versed in French from a school near laldighi and later took him to Calcutta with the intension of employing him in his firm. His command over language was seen in the letters written by him to the chamber of Deputies and chamber of Senetors in his later years. Thus began his career at Calcutta,

At an early age of 14, Roquitte joined Cama Lamoru and Co. as an assistant treasurer to Ishwar Chandra Das. Some scam in the company disappointed Roquite which led him to leave the job and start his business. Thus began the journey of Douga charone Roquite as a business man.

It is said when Dourga began his business, he was at a loss of capital to invest, but soon his hard work and dedication bore fruits. Initially He started a cloth business with Pranakrishna(brother of Nabakrishna from Radhabajar, Kolkata) as a partner, which earned him a profit of Rs. 2200.

Soon Roquitte became the first exporter of Indian goods to foreign countries. Business flourished and Roquitte started exporting goods like paddy, tea, pulses, mustard, oil, textile, opium, poppy seeds, ghee indigo, and gunny bags in exchange for paint, medicines, metals and alcohol. Trading relation began spreading, starting with France, it soon had countries like Malaysia, Yangon (Rangoon), Trinidad, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Metternich, Egypt, and Mauritius, coming in. The imports were distributed all over in India and Dourga Chorone’s shop at 1, World Court House Lane Kolkata was an agent in this. Indian objects being high in demand among foreigners saw a chunk of foreign customers flocking at the shop. His products gained popularity among French women and therefore soon Roquitte had to hire foreigners beside Indians to work in his shop. Getting goods at a very cheap rate help him further to increase the profit margin.

The flourishing business led him to invest in the development of his homeland and thus began the social development for the people at Chandernagore.

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Roquitte began by opening ‘Ecole Durga’ school for boys under his teacher Guru Gopal Chandra Das. Apart from the free medical store an Ayurvedic medical store was also started by him at Haldarpara under Ramhari Pal with Krishna Chandra as his assistant. It was revealed by Debi Chorone Roquitte(great grandson of Dourga Charone Roquitte) that on Sundays Roquitte met poor and needy to help them with money and goods. Once, it was said people of chandernagore were reduced to begging due to sudden rise in the price of paddy. Dourga supplied paddy to chandernagore from outside to help them.

Dourga Chorone often went on pilgrimages with a huge group of people and bore all their expenses on himself, taking care of all their needs. The healthy relation with French government made them send their men at major stations to take care of the entourage.

At a very young age he was a part of the municipal committee and a member of the Counsel of Generals . As we came to know from the family members Dourga Charone used his good relation with the government to help the people in distress. For instance the law that ordered man of the family to participate in the war was stopped at the request of Roquite who was grieved to see his men in distress. Debi Chorone recollects how the French officials would visit Rakshit Bhavan to meet Dourga Charone. His good work and healthy relation with the French government earned him several titles. He received Officer d’Academie literary society of Paris, Chevalier de l’ordre royal du Cambodge from Cambodge, and finally the legendary Chevalier de la d’honneur from French government on 6th June 1896.

Behind all the successes, there were dreams that failed and left unfulfilled. His dream of to overcome the water crisis at chandernagore through several means failed resulting in huge loss. His dream of constructing a Ghat was later fulfilled by his son – Shyama Charan Rakshit with the 20,000 he kept for the purpose. The Jetty that we see today is just a smaller version of the whole creation which originally extended up to the mid-point of the river for the purpose of transaction.

Dourga Chorone celebrated all occasions with his people and included the whole chandernagore in it. Free clothes and blankets were distributed among the poor at all the occasions.

At a very early age of 56 he was diagnosed with small pox. He decided to shift to Beneras. He breathed his last on 27th August 1898. At his death ceremony the French government send their regiment to pay him salute. As has been said he was the only one to receive such an honour.

After his death, according to his wish the family contimued to maintain the plethora of celebrations with equal grandeur. Being an well organised man he had equally divided his property among his children later due to mismanagement a lot of it were sold. After him his grandson, Tulsi Charan Rakshit was appointed the mayor under the foreign government. But unfortunately the glory of the family was short lived and with the death of Dourga Charone the fall had began which increased its pace with the later generation. As Mr. Partha Charone Rakshit, grieves the upcoming end of the history. The busy life of the modern day generations have left the palatial building and its saga unsaid. Further the fall in the business led to severe financial crisis that made it difficult for them to live up to their standards. Therefore a lot had to be cut down. Partha Charan Rakshit told us the unfortunate consequences taking its effect on the building but still Rakshits are able to maintain the wonderful architectural creation.

It was through Debi Charone Roquite and Partha Charan Rakshit that a lot was unveiled. Unfortunately with the death of Dourga Charone the family lost not only its prosperity but also its grandeur. What presently remains is just a mere residue of a glorious past.

Confluence of French and Bengali culture.

In Conversation with Ms Basabi Pal, French Proffesor at Chandernagore College

Heritage & People of Chandernagore Team

As a part of this project we came across a variety of people out of which Basabi Pal , a professor at Chandernagore college was one of those,  who  gave first hand experiences to us. Her journey with French as an important language in her career started from the French Institute of Chandernagore where she learnt a lot about French Chandernagore, its people culture and life style.Capture.JPGrt.JPG

Out of them very close to her heart was Betteille family.  Her love for the language began in an early age and the Betteille family played an important role in it.  She revealed how the whole family was a confluence of French and Bengali culture. She recalls how Madame Betteille being the principal of the ‘School for Little girls’ in the year 1903 ,sat on a well carved Mahoghony chair on the strand road enjoying the view . She further recalled monsieur Morris Betteille who was French by attire and by birth but spoke fluent Bengali. She recalls how Betteille not only shared a close relation with her family but also spoke fluently in Bengali with her mother. Their command over French, English and Bengali filled her with awe and it is this that later influenced her to take up French as her career.  Her description of Leena Betei who after marriage became Mrs. Leena Dey gave us a picturesque idea of a cultural milieu. Leena Betteille was the daughter of Morris Betteille, who became the principal of the school in future.DSC_0343.JPG

Mrs. Pal told us how Mrs. Dey followed Bengali customs and rituals intently and her love for Bengali culture showed in every spec of her life as her French facial features peeked from the very Bengali white sari and vermillion. Monsieur Betteille died in chandernagore and was buried in Sacred Heart cemetery, following which Betteille family remained here. Basabi Pal recollects her meeting with Leena Dey’s son Pradyut Dey at Paris and then goes on to reveal her visit to the marriage of famous sociologist Andre Betei, a member of the same Betteille family.   While looking back at the past Basabi Pal missed the silence, serenity and purity of the Chandernagore but the happiness of nostalgia shone on her face.

Chandernagore’s Prabartak Sangha

Heritage & People of Chandernagore Team

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Chandernagore boasts the work of several great men, one of which was Sri Aurobindo Ghosh. Though he had no connection with Chandernagore but fate brought him there and thus began the history of this place – Prabartak Sangha.

As Sister Nibedita wrote, the night of 19th February 1919 “was a stormy night” when she visited Ghosh to reveal the news of warrant being issued in his name, advising him to leave. Sri aurobindo quite perplexed wrote “ i was wondering what to do” when he finally decided to leave for Chandernagore. Thus on 20th February he ferried from the Ahiritola ghat along with two of his men reaching Chandernagore on 21st of February. At Chandernagore his arrangement of staying at Charu Chandra’s place failed and destiny pulled him to Motilal Roy’s house, who on the request of Sirish Chandra an ardent follower of Rash Bihari Bose decided to shelter Ghosh for some time. It is the 42 days stay at Motilal Roy’s place that made Moti lal not only bond with Ghosh and but also became his fervent adherent thus began the idea of Prabortak Sangha and its social works.

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House of Motilal Roy at Chandernagore

Our visit at the Prabartak Sangha unveiled the history of the sacred place. Men like Rabindra Nath Tagore, Nazrul Islam, Subhas Chandra Bose, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy visited to pay homage to the place and its founder. It is said that Mahatma Gandhi , not only pay a visit but spend a night there. Prabartak Sagha was founded by Motilal Roy with one of its Akshay tritiya mela being chaired by Bipin Chandra pal in the year 1930. The temple may have been created by Motilal Roy but as Aurobindo wrote “all of Moti’s work are mine” He was further quoted saying “if you want to know my ideology , my philosophy, go to Prabartak sangha”. The ‘Prabartak Patrika’, which celebrated its centenary on 15th August, 2015 bore his words. Further the Sangha continued with its social work forming ashrams and schools, serving people and presently completed seventy five years in this process. We were fortunate enough to visit such a place and now we salute the immense work of the great man and his followers.

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Chandernagore’s Das Bakery

Heritage & People of Chandernagore Team

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The South Eastern corner of the Kanailal Vidyamadir looked quite gloomy. It is in this gloomy corner of the earth, just near the junction where once stood the two hundred years old Das bakery. Just as it is said “in the midst of the gloom, it’s the crimson that blooms” so was the das bakery. In this shady, gloomy place delicacies were created that had enough strength to attract people from different parts of chandernagore. The place was mundane to people who were unaware of its magic but for the ones who knew, it was a Pandora’s Box filled with wonder like “boat shaped bun” and “crocodile shaped bun”.

Being featured in a number of documentaries and in other media fields das bakery remained one of the many specialities of chandernagore that presently lost its glory. The new trend of urbanisation and development had its effect on the loaves as well. The scene completely changed with the end of 2o13 .As the modern day concept the land was given to promoters therefore shifting the factory with its 30 feet brick chimney to Lalbagan at the Das’s residence. The houses in the locality of the dim corner that cherished the delicious smell from the chimney of the bakery now satisfy themselves looking at the sales counter. The bakery that once topped the list in Harihar sett’s ‘Sankhipta Chandernagore Porichoy’ lost all its glory being reduced to a mere sales counter. The magic was lost and loaves started being imported from outside.

In its initial years, Mannath Das one of the owners brought in other French objects along with loaves to be sold in the shop. Evidences show French wine, books, and even French mineral water constituted “the other” in the das bakery. Das bakery enjoyed the monopoly of these objects. In the year 1947 India won its independence but chandernagore did not. Being a home to revolutionaries and witnessing the Swadeshi movement, Das bakery had to give away all its foreign objects. The French wines and books were now replaced by biscuits.

It is interesting to note that Nandalal, tantubae by birth took up baking as a profession which was further carried on by his eldest son Manmohan Das latter being passed on to his sons, Tarini Charan and Karali Charan Das. It is said that Karali Charan started Das Co. Which only lasted for 10 years . All these members of the Das family reside at Lalbagan in ‘Nandoloy’, named after their ancestor. It is here that the factory later came up. Being near to Padri Para the Das bakery attracted a lot of foreigners. The star cast of the bakery was the, boat bun and the crocodile bun. There were a number of workers throughout its 200 years of journey one of them is Tarun Dutta who can give his first hand experiences in the factory. It is said the ladle used while baking the bread was made of a special kind of wood that was brought from Calcutta.

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It is said that the Das bakery of chandernagore has reached its 200 years of creating master pieces and therefore stood by a number of changes but it never changed itself, the boat kept sailing and the crocodiles kept swimming without water on the shelves of das bakery .

Shared Roots, shared histories: The Rauly Chronicles

TREVOR HISLOP

Australia

In 2014 I was intrigued to discover the quite detailed story of French/Indian ancestors who lived in Chandernagore in the 1700’s – my immediate family previously had no idea of their existence. My wife and I visited the town all too briefly in 2015 and were enchanted by it (I live in Australia) however I do wish this web page had been available then to better inform our visit.

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By combining Indian, French and Portuguese influences, the ‘idea’ of Chandernagore and the fact that my ancestors lived through that ‘idea’ excited my imagination.

The reality was less to get excited about. From 1757, my ancestor’s strata of society in Chandernagore was framed by racism, religious prejudice, the devastation of war, bitter military occupations, deprivation and long separations – and they may have been the lucky ones!  The fate of those with no European ancestor are relatively poorly recorded, especially the non-Catholic indigenous population and the slaves.  Perhaps your project will redress this balance by revealing as much about Chandernagore’s ‘Ville Noire’, as it does about its architecturally romantic ‘Ville Blanche’.

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Two years ago one of my 2ndcousins in England (I am in Australia) recalled a legend told to him by one of his aunts – no one had previously taken this very seriously. The legend was that a French sea captain had eloped with an Indian princess. As usual the legend was a distortion, but on researching it he discovered a significant grain of truth.

He managed to trace back as far as a Monsieur Rauly, from Castres, France.

We suspect this is a Louis Rauly whose family we have identified in Castres (France) but his Christian name needs to be confirmed. Castres was known for its trade in dyes especially that used before indigo. Once in India he married a lady named Feliciana whom we know was at least part Indian (my maternal DNA was tested and is rare outside India).

Their lives were full of crisis due to international events. The details follow:

Around 1750, Louis Rauly who we think was 24, set up a warehouse in Chandernagore. He soon became rich – in theory – from his trading warehouse which dealt principally in Indigo.

Unlike Pondicherry,where the French practiced quite rigid racial segregation, Chandernagore was more relaxed. Louis could therefore meet and marry Feliciana. Their daughter was later described as a Creole, suggesting that she was identifiably of Indian extraction, so Feliciana must have been too. The Rauly’s were Catholic.

Feliciana’s daughter Perrette, who was also my ancestor, was the eldest of what we think wereat least 5 children.She was born in 1754. At age 3 she saw the bombardment and major destruction of her city, its capture by Robert Clive (1757) and its British occupation of 6 years.

Sometime after the City was returned to France in 1763, the children undertook a precarious journey to Paris for their education (arriving around 1767), leaving their parents behind in Chandernagore. The girls went to an exclusive convent school outside Paris and the boys were educated in Paris itself.The boys resided with a priest who arranged their education. There is confusion about their arrival as the children seem to have been largely abandoned by their trustee in Paris after being placed in education – their French family actually had trouble locating them to check on their welfare.There is a veiled suggestion in the correspondence that the trustee may have absconded with at least part of this money. Obviously this was all compounded by the immense difficulties of travel and communication at that time.

Louis died in 1769 (around 43 years of age) but the children probably did not know this until well into the 1770’s.

1769 was also the year of a terrible Bengal famine, killing 10 million and leaving much of Bengal contolled by bandits. Though protected from the famine by her position, the massive hunger, disease and death caused by the famine must have surrounded Feliciana during her mourning. The famine was partly caused by the growing of Indigo and opium, sadly creating a link between the Rauly’sand its cause.

Louis’ assets seem to have been frozen and confused and Felicianawas later said to be almost destitute in this period. She was certainly under enormous debt pressure. However she was fortunate enough to have a British lady friend who housed and supported her for some years.

French officials in Pondicherry acted on her behalf with the monarchy to try to unravel the chaos. From the outcome it appears that enough of the Rauly assets were freed up by 1776 for a normal, but restrained, debt free life. The huge cost of the children’s education was also eventually met – but perhaps not until the 1780’s(in the interim Parisian family members seem to have provided much of this).

While this descent from supposed wealth to poverty appearsconfusing it is important to remember that a merchant’s life was far from secure in the 18th century. Their trade goods could be in relatively unsafe transit anywhere in the world and their capital tied up wherever those trade goods were sold. There was no liquid international money market and only very slow, unsure communications of letters of credit etc. To compound this, all French trade was supposed to be carried out through the French East India Company, which started having major problems of its own in this period.

Perrette was trapped at her convent school outside Paris until about 1776 (age 22) by her mother’s financial position and the international financial and communicationchaos that prevailed at that time. Her grandmother,inCastres, who had been managing their affairs through Parisian relatives, also passed away in the early 1770’s. This was likely to have compounded difficulties.

The childrenultimately returned to Chandernagore in time for another war and a second British occupation from 1778-1783.In fact Perrette had spent much more of her life in Chandernagore under British rule than French. It is also important to remember that for most of the children’s life France and England were at war or a very hostile peace.

In 1782 Perrette, at the then surpisingly late age of 28, married a recently arrived, wealthy English Huguenot Indigo planter, John Henry Guinand (24). She moved to the British location of Pultah 3 Km away.Pultah is no longer a locality but was then (broadly speaking) the area along the river between Chandernagore and Bandel. The Guinands were also of French descent, though had a family history as very strong supporters of the Huguenot (protestant) cause. John also identified strongly as English, but almost certainly spoke French due to family connections. It seems possible that Perrette was known as Mary (possibly her middle name) in her English family.

The fact that Perette was a devout Catholic and the Guinand family strongly involved in the French protestant cause must have caused some complications as Perrette did not convert.

John Henry and Perrette had 7 children in 7 years before John Henry died in 1789 at 31 years of age. Life for Perrettewould now take another harsh twist.

John Guinand’s will provided for Perrette to take their children to England and be well educated there. Perrette had promised to do so. The will also provided for Perrette and her mother Feliciana.

Perrette sailed with all 7 children, the eldest 8, the youngest a baby, on a long precarious journey to England on an East Indiaman. The children were there re baptised (as Anglican) and given into the care of trusted high ranking trustees known to the family from India and from Huguenot circles. They were clearly to be made ‘British’.

After about 12 months Perrette returned alone to India. The reason is not written anywhere and can only be guessed at. It must have been heartbreaking. One memento of hers remains in England – a little piece of embroidery, presumably made by her, saying ‘remember me’.

Up to the early 1700’s it was socially acceptable, and relatively fashionable, for British men to marry a ‘well bred’ Indian woman. By the 1790’s, though, English women who could not find a husband were flowing to India in large numbers –this was discussed openly as the ‘fishing fleet’. This created a white English female ‘establishment’. It was very much in their interest not to provide social recognition of Indian wives. And thus to discourage inter marriage.

Being brown, or married to someone brown, became a social, and perhaps more importantly, commercial liability – to the point where English men were hiding or denying their legally married Indian wives, regardless of their affection for them.

This was most transparent in the case of Princess Diana’s Indian ancestor, Katherine, whose father had her shipped ‘urgently’ to Scotland at age 8, away from her Indian mother Eliza, on receiving advice that the Indian climate was making Katherine ‘brown’. At some point he started to refer to his Indian wife as a servant and use all sorts of arguments to confuse Katherine’s maternity. It worked, because Katherine eventually married very well into the English establishment …but at what personal cost?

Perrette did see her sons again when they returned to India. Sadly this created another wave of tragedy. Two returned as artillery lieutenants and one as a teacher. To have been commissioned as lieutenants they mightnormally have had to disguise their racial origins, otherwise they would have been commissioned only as Jemars- Indian officers allowed only to command Indians. However there is some confusion on this point because one of her sons, in his army records, confirmed that his mother was ‘a creole’.

However fate (and India) again took its toll – all three dying of illness within 8 years of arriving in India, each before age 30. Maybe this was partly genetic genetic, given their father’s early death, but around 40% of young British lieutenants sent to India at that time died of illness within 10 years.

Perrette’s will (1826) specified she be buried at the Basillica at Bandel, on the left of the steps to the front verandah. Did she perceive this as the end to a life marked by tragedy?

The Basillica dates to 1599 but was rebuilt after being sacked in 1632. It is little changed except for the addition of ceramic tiles to the walls. Within 6km, as the crow flies, you pass from Chandernagore, once French, to what was British Pultah to what was Portuguese Bandel. In the 1800s a horse and trap probably took about 2 hours.

The Basillica is unlike Portuguese churches in Kochi or Goa but like some we’ve seen in Portugal. It is a complex of shaded verandah walkways and courtyards surrounding the main chapel. It would have been cool and peaceful and I can imagine Perrette taking solice here from a life of relative tragedy.

On a quiet day, it is still an oasis within the noise, dust and hurry of Bandel town.

Perrette died in the absence of any family. Her husband and 3 sons were dead. She died before learning that the eldest of her 4 daughters, Charlotte (my ancestor), had also passed away a year earlier. The 3 surviving children (daughters) were in England.

However I like to think Perrette found some peace at Bandel. At her death she bequeathed her coterie of animals to an English friend, provided a pension to her Ayah (whom she described as a close friend), donated jewellery and a cash flow to the church (for prayers for herself and her mother) and the significant balance to her surviving children.

On a much lighter personal note I was intrigued to realise that both I and my French ancestor from the 1750’s married Indian ladies with some Portuguese heritage.  I was also amused to discover (from testing) that the DNA my blonde, blue eyed sister inherited from her mother is almost unique to India!  Most of all I enjoy pointing out to my Indian/Australian wife that while she cannot produce any scientific proof that she is Indian I can present a DNA Certificate verifying my ‘Indian’ DNA.