I met Savitri Natarajan on the afternoon of 22 April, as she was filling plastic boxes with food: fresh lemon rice, homemade gram and rice-flour chips, pickles, fries and curd. She was helping her family get ready for a journey of almost 900 kilometres, from their home in Yanam town, on India’s eastern coast, to the city of Pondicherry—the capital of the union territory Puducherry. They were headed there so that Savitri’s husband, Gurumurthy Natarajan, could vote in the French presidential election, whose first phase was due to start the next day.
The members of the Natarajan family were not the only residents of Yanam to be making this trip. Yanam town is in Yanam district—geographically located in Andhra Pradesh, but formally an enclave of Puducherry. When the French left India, in 1954, they extended the option of French citizenship to the subjects of their territories, which included Yanam. Over 60 years later, this has made Yanam—a quaint, Telugu-speaking area in coastal Andhra Pradesh—home to a community of unconventional French citizens.
Gurumurthy, at 56 years old, has travelled to France, but has never stayed there longer than three months. He told me that the French government allows people to authorise others to vote for them, but he still prefers casting his own ballot. “We have our relatives in France, and we can authorise them, too, but we chose to do it ourselves,” he said. “It makes us proud.”