Menu in P'cherry, French cries
No better place to watch the World Cup finals
Allez Fraaaaanceeee!...Allez Les Bleus!!... Allez Parissssss!!! The chants filled the beach, pubs and restaurants of Pondicherry on the night of the Fifa World Cup finals.
I had been supporting Germany in the tournament. This trip, too, had been planned much in advance. Basically, no strings attached to France.
I had never watched a World Cup finals outside my football crazy city of Calcutta. And here I was in a former French colony, teeming with French vacationers, watching France play the finals.
The last couple of days had been spent in Chennai, a city that seemed immune to the frenzy of the global football carnival. From Calcutta, where even paanwalas and waiters enthusiastically discuss the game, individual players and teams with you at length, this was a depressing change of scene.
At Pondicherry, we put up at a cottage owned by a jolly German called Mr Werner. Our group picked his brains on where to watch the finals that evening.
Mr Werner, who shared my dismay at the premature German exit from the Cup, suggested we catch the screening at one of the pubs or restaurants close to the beach, in what is known as White Town.
An hour's ride on our rented scooters and we were there. And what did we have here? Every pub, restaurant and coffee shop was lit up in tri-colour. No, not saffron, white and green, but the French blue, white and red, their own tricolour.
Many people had their names printed on the Les Bleus jerseys they sported, but most pirouetted in jerseys with Pogba, Giroud, Kante and Griezmann emblazoned on them. If somebody from space landed in Pondicherry that evening, they would be forgiven for thinking it was some place in France.
In any case, after looking for a table in the plethora of pubs and restaurants and not finding any, half an hour before kick-off we finally landed up at a small place called the Promenade. We sat there watching the game unfold on a giant flat-screen against the wall.
As the French opener, an own-goal by Croatia, went in, it was total madness. An audio avalanche, followed by a murmur from the Croats - there were a handful present - and Croatia supporters. And all of it was washed down by golden lager. The scene was like no other I had ever seen and exactly like what I had imagined some football crazy country in Europe to be.
When the Croats equalised, an angry roar emanated from the French side. The disappointment, however, did not loom long as Griezmann recovered the lost lead with a penalty.
At half-time, I stepped out for a walk along the beach. It seemed to me for a second that it had been flooded over, only with people. A screen as high as a three-storey building had been fitted out. And huddled around it was one noisy crowd - 5,000 people, as I learnt later.
I decided not to go back to the pub, but watch the rest of the match with the amazing beach crowd. And it was there that I met a French girl. Laura was originally from Rennes in northwestern France. We got talking about the bars in Paris and Zizou. Eventually, I learnt that she owned a small eatery by the beach. She invited my friends and me to watch the rest of the match with her group.
The second half started. The next couple of minutes, the tiny establishment ran out of liquor but not enthusiasm, which was fuelled further after Pogba curled one into the net. The chanting began - Allez Les Bleus...Vive La France! I joined in too.
The sea breeze, pleasant, refreshing, added to the charm of the evening. Golden Boy Mbappe scored and the crowd was out of control. Victory for the French side seemed imminent. Those chants got louder and louder. And I forgot I was in India.
At some point a thought crossed my mind: no one there that evening seemed to care about nationality or some predefined brand of patriotism. No one needed any TV advertisement to remind that there was a "first country" and a " doosri country".
The cup was lost and won. In Pondicherry, Indians, French and other world citizens celebrated in unison the World Cup finale. Later, we tucked into crème brulees, quiches and clafoutis for a sweeter aftertaste. I am very, very Indian and deeply patriotic at heart. But that evening, for those 90 minutes and a little more I was happy to be French. Just Saying!