Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Have you been to Pune?

Initial Introduction:

I have visited Pune several times. Some business visits, but most of the time to meet my brother who is now settled in the ‘Land of the retired- Pune’. To be more specific he stays in Kothrud, which to an average Mumbaikar is like a rude and impolite version of Dadar/Vile Parle (E). The Pune experience starts the moment you leave the Mumbai-Pune expressway and connect to NH4 (Pune - Bangalore highway). After having cruised at high speeds on open roads, the speed symbolic to the lifestyle in Mumbai, you are greeted with slow running bikes plying on the middle of the road. People riding at their own pace, not willing to let you drive by the side and overtake their vehicle. Its here that you realize that the average biker is to the roads of Pune what a cow is to the roads in rural areas. The cows often gives you the look, an expression that I interpret as a dialogue ‘what is the hurry? Can’t you see I’m busy walking slowly and not doing anything, fly over me if you are in a hurry’ or it will remind you of a dialogue that you are bound to hear when shopping in the afternoon in Pune “aata dukaan band aahe, 5 chya nantar yaa”.  It is at this place on earth that GMT/Pacific Time/IST have no meaning, Pune operates, works on its own time zone and pace.

Weird Places, weirder names.

Like any other city across India, even Pune has its share of places with weird names. Top most on my list is Junglee Maharaj road, more famously disguised by the new breed of collegians (future IT company slaves) as JM road. The name might be funny but JM road happens to have some fine eateries, places to shop. A proud Puneri will say “ aamchya JM road var Mac Donaaaaaaald aahe”. Its funny how a region, which is obsessed with its vada pav and missal pav suddenly, becomes proud that some American junk food outlet is present in their otherwise conservative ‘Punya Nagri’. Its mixed emotions when Pune is concerned. People like to boast of a rich culture (which I accept exists), curse the new trends and outlets. The McD’s and the Pizza huts in the city are merely some names to mention in a cultural debate to prove how forward the city is, while making an attempt to condemn how all these American fast food outlets are spoiling ‘Puny Nagri’. It’s normal to hear people say that “Aapan campaaat/deccanaat/chaukaat bhetu”, where ‘campaat’ is the slightly posh area called as ‘Camp’ and chaukaat means every other junction in the city. Pune has like a zillion places that are linked with the name of Lord Ganesh. The ruthless Punekars have not even spared Lord Ganesh, the deity is identified by different names like jilbyaa Ganpati, Dagdu Ganpati etc. I will refrain from describing this more as I am personally a Ganesh devotee and partially fearing the backlash from the so-called ‘Internet Hindus’.
Reaching a destination:

Unlike other developed metros, Pune lacks the local transport infrastructure. The PMT bus service, as rest of Pune, operates at a time and pace that the world is not aware of. Its funny that these buses represent the belief of the average Punekar, praise them in a debate and condemn in a local discussion with someone from the heart of Pune, a 90 year old Joshi Kaka from Sadashiv peth. Auto rickshaws are found at every chowk (junctions), but they seem to have more attitude than the erstwhile Peshwas.  You have to believe the fact that the auto rickshaw driver is obliging by accepting money from you to drive you to your destination. As it is said “Bihar mein har bachha politics apne maa ke kok se seekh ke aata hai” every auto rickshaw driver in Pune is born with the talent of making you feel obliged for giving him some business and money. The above also holds true for most of the other businesses in the city. A simple google image search with the keywords ‘Puneri Paatya’ is all that is needed to prove my point. Owing to the lack of public transport system, the average per sq km population of bikers/cyclists in Pune is higher than the total population of mosquitoes in Dharaavi in Mumbai (Asia’s largest slum).

The bikers on the roads of Pune have their own set of rules, not known to anyone. Sometimes I feel that the mad actions and stunts in a Rajnikanth movie have more sense than the road sense of the average Punekar. I am not making this up, there have been incidents when a biker stretches his/her right hand and draws a virtual cross in the air to indicate that he/she is not going to turn right but actually going to the left. Now tell me am I wrong in comparing these creatures with the action sequences in a Rajni movie?

Mandatory praise for Pune: (I’m scared of the Puneris too)

Pune is a historic city. There are old monuments that have withstood the torture and hardships of time, the greatest being the Puneri ego, which stands taller and stronger than the walls of Shanivaar Wada, the home of the Peshwas. Keeping the criticism aside, Shanivaar wada plays host to lot of socio-cultural events, be it the wonderful decorations in Diwali or the traditional events during Ganpati. Maybe this rigidity in the attitude can be a reason why Pune has been able to retain some of the old traditions/culture, which is dear to the Maharashtrian community.

I was born in Mumbai in a simple middle class Maharashtrian family. The building where I stay has people from different religions, caste and professions, all staying together peacefully (the kitty parties are an exception to this communally and diplomatically correct/sensitive statement). Visiting each others place for lunch/dinner on festival days has been very common. It’s only in Pune that I have encountered the question “mag tumchya naav chya kiti polya banvaaychya?” (It simply means how many rotis are you going to eat?). Come on! Who asks their guests how much are you going to eat? The most surprising statement that tends to justify the question is “ oh we don’t like food being wasted you know”, I think I don’t I need to make another statement on how hospitable the people are. Dare to visit someone in the old Peths of Pune and you will be a spectator to a typical one sided conversation “ Oh you have come at 3 PM, I’m sure you must have had your lunch, its not tea time yet, what can I offer you?” at times like these I guess a person doesn’t have any answer, the only option is to put your foot on your mouth and politely reply “only water would be fine”.  People with such attitude are available by the million but there are some good exceptions too, mainly the new couples who are from the current generation.

Pune for the collegians:

Pune is well known for being the education hub. There are many schools/colleges that are renowned and till date impart some good quality education. Pune is a very good destination for students who are from other cities. It is safer compared to most other cities and the cost of living is not too high either, on that front Pune scores the brownie points against its metro counterparts. All the fun associated with college life depends on the locality in which you live. While some are fortunate enough to live in more tolerant buildings others have had to bear with the Joshi/Kulkarni Kaka/Kaku screaming from their first floor window because you were speaking with your mother on the phone while walking in the building compound at 9:30 PM in the night.  If you were planning to shift to Pune, it would be advisable to find out whether there are any flats that are rented by students/bachelors in the building. On your first visit to some building if you encounter an old man who asks too many questions, kindly assume that he is the Joshi/Kulkarni kaka of the building and he will be the party pooper for the rest of your stay in the building.

Place for the foodies
As a foodie I will vouch for one thing, Pune has some really nice eateries. My visit to Pune is never complete without having some hot and spicy mutton curry famously known as ‘Taamda rassa’ locally. There are some really awesome outlets serving you missal pav, sabudana khichdi in the old and conservative Peths in Pune. I have still not found places that serve such authentic Maharashtrian food in Mumbai. Other than these you have the world famous in Pune ‘SPDP’ from Vaishali. For the less knowledgeable ones, SPDP is just like any other Dahi Puri at every other chaat stall at Juhu, with a frugal attempt at trying to create a brand out of a routine dahi puri. A hardcore Punekar will beg to differ and argue that SPDP differs from a regular Dahi Puri, for my ignorant foodie soul its just another attempt at branding shit as “exotic crap imported from the golden lands of UP’. CADB available at a store below the world famous in Pune ‘Karishma building’ and the cold coffee at Durga Coffee house are some of the other places that an average Punekar will brag about. I can say one thing for sure, for a tall glass of cold coffee at Rs. 12, Durga coffee is worth a visit.

Confession from the heart: 

Despite all my inhibitions and negative opinions about Pune, I can’t change one thing, Pune still remains a destination that I will visit every now and then because a part of my soul, my brother and bhabhi, now stay in Pune. It feels nice to let go off the ‘I’m a Mumbaikar, I party all night long’ attitude and settle down for some disciplined fun with the loved ones as prescribed by the Joshi/Kulkarni Kakas of Pune, just for the people you really love.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Video-Coach ki haseen yaadein

In Mumbai the railways are the daily means of commute for millions. Today our lives invariably follow the train timings and not the time on our wristwatch. While the numbers 7:47 or 6:36 wont make sense to many, for me they have a different meaning altogether. 7:47 is the Churchgate bound fast train arriving at platform no 5 at Andheri station. This is the train that my ‘train friends’ travel in. Don’t know their names but the short guy with the curly hair will always be seated near the left side window at the far end, the uncle carrying a VIP suitcase to his right and a funnily dressed Gujju uncle (his dressing sense suggests so, don’t know whether he is one) always at the opposite window seat to keep spitting gallons of Manikchand that is mandatory to pass the time. There are some sleeping beauties too; they are always sleeping, leaning on the neighbor’s shoulder. I guess that after a while the regulars get used to that man sleeping on your shoulder like your wife cuddling you in the night.  The faces are familiar, your presence acknowledged with a smile and the offer to place your bag on the top luggage rack, all this without speaking a word. My place was always at the door hanging on one foot, feeling the breeze, listening to some rock music on my iPOD and watching a disgusting game of Kho-Kho (people pooping on the side of the tracks one after another) as stations pass by; the sight and the smell cannot be avoided. 
There is a general opinion that the trains on the western line are better than their central side counterpart. But there is one area where Central Railway scores the brownie points over western railway. Central Railway has more video coaches compared to western railway. For those who are not aware of the local train lingo let me explain the concept of video coach and its importance to the average male train traveler. A video coach is the compartment in which the ladies coach and the gents coach is separated by a small window (grill) providing unobstructed view of the ladies compartment to the cat-fight hungry males of the gent’s compartment.
It is always entertaining to watch the expressions of the female travelers. I believe that some girls watch other girls in a more embarrassing way than guys. A man will simply look at the face, the vital assets and that’s it, our world ends there. For girls it starts with the color of her hair, analyzing which celebrity’s hairstyle she has copied to the brand of clothing, whether it suits her figure. In short all the way from the top to the bottom, the last comparison being whether the color of her nail paint matches with the color of her hair, dress, her personality etc. Women also have this unique ability to judge a female based on her appearance. The analysis will be enough to fill up the ‘about you’ section on any site.  All this analysis will probably take her less than 5 seconds, and that I would say is some serious talent. It is equally funny to look at the way these females will point the odd ones out, without even pointing a finger, just by making signs with their eyes and tilting their necks.

The conflict amongst the women starts at the time of boarding the train. I have sometimes noticed personally other times heard weird stories from female friends. While boarding a train, pinching, hair pulling, pulling the dupatta, pinching the butt etc are very common. Does this act of women troubling other women qualify as self-defense, survival technique, eve teasing or molestation? I would request the readers to draw the conclusion. 
For the sake of humor and comparison lets call them Spartan warriors for a while. Once these Spartans have boarded the train, the trouble starts. Some young chirpy remembers being pushed by a fat sweaty sari clad aunty. Yes she will be aunty even for her husband, please get the point will you? After the initial squeal followed by a few remarks made in an accent that is the trademark of Xaviers and Sophiya’s students, an argument ensues. Contestant number one is a college girl wearing a good pair of jeans, a nice top, fashionable sandals, someone with whom you would want to be seen to make your friends jealous and the other contestant a “kolin”, more famously known as the macchiwali and for my friends unaware of both, a fisherwoman. The machhiwaalis have a unique style of dressing.  Most of the times they wear a nauwaari sari (Kaamwali bai ki style ki sari) that can only be green or yellow in color. What makes these macchiwalis noticeable is the quantum of bling that they usually wear. They wear more bling than a dozen rappers put together or maybe two Bappi Lahiris. Most of the time wearing at least ½ kg of gold, necklaces that look large enough to serve as chains to attach a small ship’s anchor or maybe even pull a car. Anyways just imagine the situation when females from such diverse backgrounds enter a fight.

 To highlight the cultural differences and beauty quotient, lets call the fisherwoman as ‘machhiwaali’ and the hot girl as ‘Item’ lets stick with Bambaiyya Hindi. Our item will usually make a sad face looking at the macchhiwali, muttering something in English. The macchhiwali will usually respond with a very brave loud comment. Being a very sophisticated girl, our item responds “excuse me?’’ in her polished accent. There is nothing more annoying to any macchiwali than to hear someone talking back in English, call it jealousy or pure instinct the words “excuse me”, are also considered as abuses. At this point the machhiwali starts responding with the best of its kind abuses in Marathi, call it a habit, our item has to respond back in English. If she is traveling with a friend the first lines usually are “Oh shit/yaar shiiiiiii look at the way she is talking”. And then round one of the bout begins. The catfight goes on with the macchiwaali trying to hurt our item with her abusing; now in Hindi, I guess butchering Hindi language more than her opponent. The fight continues and the male passenger across the grill is enjoying the show. The scene reminds of the scenes from movies where a criminal is watching a fight from behind the bars and is enjoying every bit of the action. A crowd would have already gathered near the screen (by now it has turned into an entertainment screen). It’s interesting to note that there will be guys stamping on each other’s feet or pushing each other, but instead of fighting they show great understanding. Instead of screaming or fighting, they will make some space for the other guy so that even he can get a glimpse of the ongoing entertainment show. The screaming can sometimes lead to a bit of hair pulling. Unfortunately I have not witnessed a full-fledged fist fight till date because the moment it gets a bit physical, there will be some is some old lady who will play the role of NATO and bring about unwanted peace.  What ensues is a cold war. Now the passengers are divided between two groups. A group of old ladies criticizing how these young girls have no sense at all and the group of young girls who believe that the aunties are like the cougars described in the latest edition of cosmopolitan or Femina magazine. The aunties passing their comments “Isko dekho, koi tameez ya laaj sharam nahi. Itne chhote skirt aur top, sab kuch dikhta hai. Kaise inki Maa inhe ye kapde pehen ke jaane dete hai? Main to apni beti ko aise logo se durr rehne ko kehti hoon”. The gang of girls with their set of comments “ Shit man look at these women, bloody Ghatis, I’m sick and tired of such women. These old bitches I tell you, even their husbands don’t hump them, bloody take out frustration on other people. Get a life you losers”.  Such scenes were witnessed on multiple occasions during train travel. Till date you will spot groups of men standing near the bridge on platform number 1 at Andheri station after 6 PM, waiting to watch the women enter into a royal rumble while trying to board a Virar bound train.
Recently saw some advertisements on the upcoming Mumbai Metro railway project. The metro project promises commuters with AC coaches, automatic doors and a journey in a train, which is not crowded. It somehow disheartens me to think that if there is no rush in the train and any pushing or pinching, there won’t be any catfights. In such a scenario will the travel be as entertaining? Will the catfights come to an end? I hope that all the items find some reason to fight and that the entertainment in the video coach does not end, but now it becomes more pleasurable with cushioned seats and an air-conditioned environment 40 feet above the ground.