A true Indian amongst the French

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Francis Wacziarg

Francis Wacziarg

Francis Wacziarg, a dynamic business personality and co-chairman of Neemrana Hotels Pvt. Ltd, passed away on 17 February 2014. His unparalleled contribution to heritage tourism in India, secured him as well as his business partner Aman Nath, a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Indian Ministry of Tourism. Coincidentally, this award was conferred on them just two days before Wacziarg succumbed to leukaemia at the age of 71.

Francis Wacziarg, a former French national, had graduated from the prestigious École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris and had already acquired an MBA before setting foot in India in 1969 for the first time. The 1968 student’s upheaval in France prompted him to accompany one of his friends to explore Indian revolutionary liberal movements, although he himself didn’t show any inclination for being a journalist nor an activist.

It was love at first sight for Wacziarg, who mentioned that India was like a big ‘tsunami’ for his mind. He had discovered a world that did not look like any other country that he had seen earlier. Once over here, he preferred to travel third class in local trains and buses to get accustomed to the rhythm and atmosphere of this new land. He admits that his contact with the Indians were straightforward and unpretentious, and that really warmed his heart. His immense love for India prompted him to change his nationality and he voluntarily opted to become a naturalised Indian citizen twenty years later.

His landed his first job as a commercial attaché for the French Embassy in Bombay, after which he headed the representative office of the Banque Nationale de Paris in New Delhi for another five years. Subsequently, he set up a consultancy bureau in 1978 to promote Indo-French business projects. However, his most successful entrepreneurial feat was when he founded the Neemrama Hotels Pvt. Ltd along with his business partner Aman Nath, a venture aimed at restoring dilapidated and decaying buildings and structures, some of them belonging to the erstwhile royals. These palaces and colonial homes held immense traditional and cultural value, which he subsequently converted into heritage hotels. Their joint enterprise has been nominated for the Aga Khan Award in 2004 and they have also won awards from Unesco, the Indian Travel Trade industry and other National awards from the Government of India.

Neemrana Fort

Neemrana Fort

Wacziarg wanted to preserve and maintain these old edifices so that they would not be relegated to the annals of history. This was made possible when he had a fortuitous meeting with Mr. Aman Nath, an author, poet, historian and curator who consequently became his associate and business partner. At that time, they were researching wall frescoes for writing The Painted Frescoes of Shekhavati, when they stumbled upon a 15th Century Neemrama Fort in the Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan. They both realised that India was still largely untouched by western culture and had immense potential. Their mutual love for art, history and culture led them to revive many old Indian bastions, decaying houses and architectural ruins, thereby restoring them to their former glory. Their joint undertaking was more a process to preserve and protect the authentic patrimony of old residences, rather than to make these properties luxury resorts. That is why, even today, the company prefers to call itself as a company of ‘non-hotels’. Today, they have more than 29 such properties. These estates were refurbished in small parts by the revenues received from guests. Local artisans and materials were used to keep their costs low.

Wacziarg and Nath also founded the HHA (Heritage Hotel Association), which groups together 150 hotels, which respect the old style and the authentic touch of their residencies. Some of the properties that have been restored are the Baradari Palace in Patiala, the Tijari Fort in Rajasthan, the Pataudi Palace, the Kesroli Palace in Alwar, etc.
Being a trustee of IFA (India Foundation for Arts) as well as the President of the Alliance Française of New Delhi, he passionately supported the promotion of arts and culture to build bridges between different people of diverse cultures. Moreover, Wacziarg chose to become the founding member of INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) and an eminent person on Delhi’s cultural platform. He was the trailblazer in introducing the genre of opera music to Indian audiences. He established the TNMF (The Neemrama Music Foundation) to produce and promote operas in India. Over the last six years, he trained students through his workshops conducted in Mumbai and New Delhi. He produced several major operas such as The Fakir of Benares, Carmen, The Pearl Fishers and If I were King, with a cast of Indian, French and Sri Lankan actors. These shows were appreciated by the Indian audiences and ran to packed houses. With his managerial expertise and enthusiasm, he was instrumental in bringing distinguished artistes like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Situ Singh Buehler to perform operas with an Indian flavour. Priya Aude, his daughter, is an adept and proficient opera singer herself and is currently involved in the administration of this music foundation.

His other business ventures included an export company, which he started in 1992 in the State of Uttar Pradesh as a supplier of ladies garments, fashion jewellery, bags, belts and footwear. His diligence and fastidiousness for perfectionism made his company create products of international standards, using the best raw materials with highly skilled workers. Other than that, his company also manufactures jam from the fruit orchards in Ramgarh, tea from his plantations in Coonoor and coffee from his estate in Coorg.

Wacziarg, in one of his interviews, emphasized that India had to find the right balance between modernism and tradition. According to him, tourists wanted to experience India but in a more traditional way, which is why the ‘heritage hotel’ concept attracted more people. He strongly felt that India was a country that had a lot to offer, not only from the cultural side, but also from the human side, to discover ‘another way of life’. He revealed that this ancient land, which still remains largely untouched by modernism, was the place to be in the future.

 

 

 

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Rédaction

Directeur de publication : Délégation Générale de la Fondation Alliance Française en Inde et au Népal

Rédacteur en chef : Laurent Elisio Bordier

Rédacteur/Coordinateur national : Siddharth Bhatt

Rédacteurs, contributeurs : Guillaume, Abhirami, Alexandre, Chintan, Cléa, David, Eleonore, Elie, Kanika, Karine, Nita, Thomas, Malvika, Marie-Joëlle, Meera, Mayuri, Mitushi, Alice, Prutha, Romain, Ritika, Manas, Supriya ...