Bonjour Chennai! Talking culture with French Consul General, Catherine Suard
Catherine Suard, the Consul General of France in Puducherry and Chennai, will soon complete the first year of her stint. Her main objective remains clear: to chalk out a long-term roadmap for improved business and cultural relations.
In a freewheeling chat, Suard gave us her impressions of the cities and a glimpse of her vision. Excerpts from the interview:
How would you encourage more people to visit Puducherry, not just from France, but anywhere else in the world? You must be enjoying the food, especially at the cafés.
First of all, I’m not a tourist in Puducherry, so, I don’t have as much time to enjoy all the right places, but sure, there is very good food in Puducherry both Indian and also French. It’s a very enjoyable place for French gastronomy, and there are many interesting things to discover. What I’m witnessing day by day is an increase in the number of tourists in Puducherry, and that’s tremendous. Visitors say they enjoy the fresh air, and that is why I recommend Puducherry — apart from the heritage, cuisine and of course, the French flair about things... It’s amazing to me, when some of them arrive and say, “Oh! Look, it’s just like the French Riviera!” That shows how impressive this is for all tourists, even for foreigners. In some way, I like to think of Puducherry as an alternative gateway to India, and a unique place to begin exploring the country’s deep cultural roots.
Tell us about the Smart City proposal for Puducherry.
The Smart City programme in Puducherry is really interesting, because the project engages the whole city. The proposal is to make the city’s heritage an asset for the future, and I’m convinced, this is the right path. We are really proud to accompany the government of Puducherry in this way, and we have a technical advisor counselling officials in that direction. The concept is to help the development of the city, and tourism, and also for local people to upgrade their quality of life. It’s a very doable, sustainable and inclusive project. Also, the size of Puducherry, and the way it is organised, is comparable to French cities, while our shared heritage means we can really add value to the programme.
How are things progressing with plans to restore the Mairie, the landmark heritage building? Are there any similar properties you are interested in restoring?
The Mairie, the town hall of Puducherry, is a very important project, because it is a symbol of the willingness of the government of Puducherry to change things. We have to rebuild the structure, as it reflects the importance of the city’s heritage. Many people living in Puducherry had their marriage ceremonies here, so it is a significant landmark. There are many other buildings that need to be restored, but it is important to know the purpose: Why are we restoring a building? We don’t want Puducherry to become a museum, as such. It has to be alive. It has to be compatible to the behaviour of people today, and in that respect, what is important is the heritage of Puducherry.
The Bureau de France was opened in Chennai recently. How do you see the city gaining significance at a global level, as a strategic cultural and business hub?
We opened the Bureau de France in Chennai last October. It’s a branch office of the Consulate General based in Puducherry, and our first aim was to upgrade our service in terms of Visa delivery, as 80 percent of the demand for Visas originates from Chennai. Earlier, we would instruct them from Puducherry, and there was a lot of energy and time lost in processing. Chennai is important for us as it is one of the major cities of India, and it has a booming economy. The city has a lot of highly skilled people, and they have a lot of good resources, in terms of academic and research centres. So, a lot of French companies have come to invest in Chennai, especially in the automobile sector. For an estimate, according to some sources, there are about 170 French companies with a presence in Tamil Nadu. There are a lot of opportunities across segments, even for R&D — in banking, the health sector, agro-foods and of course, in hospitality. So, Chennai for us is a business and a cultural hub. In Tamil Nadu, you get a strong impression of a rich inter-cultural identity. For sure, we see a lot of opportunities. If you want to invest, and you have a long-term perspective, in Tamil Nadu, you will find the resources.
What is the objective of the Bonjour India initiative, and how do you hope to extend its scope?
We hosted the third edition of Bonjour India this year, and we really tried to showcase, share and shape the relations between France and India in every field, based on creativity, innovation, and partnership with a global aim. It’s not purely an artistic or cultural festival. It was meant as a platform for exchanges in every field — lasting from November 2017 until February 2018. In that period, we had 301 events in 33 cities all over India. It was the first time that we reached so many people. We succeeded in touching the lives of people in varied fields. The people-to-people dimension is at the heart of our relationship, and Bonjour India was a way to achieve that objective.