Gratitude has a unique character that you notice the moment you walk through the front door…
Gratitude has a unique character that you notice the moment you walk in. We always tell people, we’re not a hotel but we’re also not quite a homestay, because we don’t want people to feel like they’re coming to stay in somebody else’s home but in their own. Our staff are a big part of creating that atmosphere; they’re all local and some of them have been with us for 10 years. But we also pay attention to details like the smell of the house, so, for instance, we use lemongrass oil instead of typical cleaning products, which gives a nice natural fragrance and keeps away mosquitoes.
We are on a quiet street in the French Quarter, within walking distance of lots of restaurants and 200 metres from the ocean which you can hear if there’s a storm coming. The building itself is about 180 to 200 years old and was constructed for a prominent French family. When we bought it in 2004, it was completely falling apart, so we enlisted the help of INTACH, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. They had a fantastic architect named Ajit Koujalgi who helped us restore everything as authentically as possible over several years.
There are nine rooms and a separate living area for me, and they’re all unique, from the ceiling to the floor. A lot of the furniture is antique or has been made by local carpenters in various antique styles, so there are four-poster beds with mosquito netting and things like that. They’re arranged around the internal courtyard, which is the Tamil part of Franco-Tamil architecture – family life typically revolves around it.
Our courtyard is full of plants that smell wonderful when they’re in flower, and it’s where we serve breakfast on a long shared table. It’s a blend of French and local flavours: fresh bread and croissants from a local bakery, omelettes and other egg dishes cooked to order and one hot South Indian dish. In the background, we play what we call South Indian spiritual music – not really a bhajan, more like a gentle chanting-type sound – which is very calming in the morning and a very Indian way to start the day.
We didn’t want to open a restaurant because the great thing about this place is the peace and quiet, and the sounds of cooking and people coming and going would really disturb that ambience. So we do private dining, which is on request and for our guests only. We also do a four-course home-cooked tasting meal featuring different Chettinad cuisines served on banana leaves, which has proved popular.
You may have already seen inside Gratitude without knowing it because part of one series of The Real Marigold Hotel was filmed here. If you haven’t watched it, it’s a fun way to find out more about Pondicherry and our peaceful corner of it.