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.