Everyone’s raving about how Pune’s become the newest IT and education hub of the country. Anoop Bharadwaj gives us his thoughts on the city through the eyes of a Bangalorean.
“Aundh la kuThe?” (Where in Aundh?)
“Shambar rupaiye hoyeel” (That’ll be a hundred rupees)
“Sau rupaiya” (Hundred rupees)
“Kya bhaiyya itna maang rahe ho.” (You’re asking for too much, bhai)
“Naahi saab, return milega naahi” (No sir, I won’t get a return fare)
If you’ve had a brush with a smattering of Hindi in your lifetime thus far, you’d know that a rickshaw driver was busy with his craft. Just that the driver started with Marathi, and the dialogue was set in Pune. The helpless bloke who coughed up the hundred is no one else but yours truly, from Bengaluru with love, here in Pune on a nearly self-resurrective mission.
It has been 30 days here today. That I hit the ground running at work has left me with little thought to give to the city between 8 am and 7 pm, factoring in the commute. From Aundh – a pretty little residential layout in northwest Pune that’s increasingly becoming home to big brands and office spaces – much like Bengaluru’s Koramangala or Chennai’s Anna Nagar – to Viman Nagar, as the name suggests, a newer locality adjacent to the travesty of an airport for the city. Nevertheless, the ninety-minute round trip to office and back has been offering some vistas about the city that countless people have likened to Bengaluru.
A brief note on the average Indian commute strategy: In our eagerness to ease the agony of long distance travel compounded by crazy traffic, we are driven to look at the shortest possible route which mostly involves flitting through the narrow lanes lined with micro sized tenements. We can still see men of the houses come out in underclothes and wash their motorcycles or the ladies chatting up to their neighbours across the lane. These by-lanes hadn’t found inclusivity in the city for decades together, and are now forcibly annexed to the bustle of the city, yet remain far from being the municipal council’s favourite. The pathetic state of the roads plied on with no respite is enough testimony. However, for me in Pune the short route has worked miraculously differently. The road to Viman Nagar from Aundh is never the worse for traffic, given adequately wide lanes and Khadki. Khadki (or Kirkee for steadfast Anglophiles), the erstwhile cantonment of the British Raj and now housing quarters for the Indian Army ‘s garrisons and a huge stretch of defence land with a couple of major ordinance factories, is such a balm for eyes sore with concreteness all around. A few square kilometres of the open greens, here a bungalow there a bungalow, a war cemetery and a railway station. It is picturesque in fair measure. The first time I hit the neighbourhood, the first thought that came to mind was ‘Poona, of course! The Poona of Khadakvasla fame! Of the Poona camp!’
As I engage my motorcycle at a steady 50 kmph, I try to squeeze in every opportunity to take in the city. I’m probably being criminal in looking around through Bengaluru-tinted glasses, and I’m in the process of undoing it but heck, the whole world says this city is very similar to Bengaluru. So, why not draw the parallels away first? The salubrious weather. A very conspicuous lack of lane discipline, which I used to think was the prerogative of the south western city jolted awake up by the drumbeat of development. That familiar nonchalance of the public when you approach them for anything. Save for the weather, it may be unclear as to how any of these others may be consequential to an individual who has seen the ways of the Indian junta. I have been here for just over a month, and this is about the similarities I have consciously forced myself to feel. And that precisely is what I endeavour to present to you.
Pune has enviably earned itself the sobriquet ‘Oxford of the East’ and it requires no genius to figure out why. A land that talks education is bound to have an air of dignity around it. The college crowd (from what I’ve seen, as a Symbiosis institute is situated very close to my workplace) chatter away at every tea stall, diving into vada pavs with relish, or dipping cream rolls into tea glasses. I’m yet to see the fatuousness associated with juvenile banter. There will certainly be a lot more than what meets the eye, but your Average Joe who’s going about his business can do just that at these stalls. No squirmy scenes of showdown or no lecherous overtures which has become an Indian reality now. Well, not to suggest that these indicate a sense of well-being, but coming from the heartland of old Bengaluru, the images of college kids frittering away their time in such pursuits with the convenient explanation of being directed by the laws of nature, have been imprinted in my head for a while now.
India is smarting with countless cases of rape. Delhi, Bengaluru and now Mumbai too. In an unfortunate turn for the worse, all my wa(l)king moments are filled with a subconscious scrutiny of the safety for women, wherever I go, whoever I interact with. My research on Pune before I moved in revealed that a leading survey rated the city as one of the safest in the country. But statistics remain just that, never a true mirror to reality. The rape of a mentally challenged woman inside a lift in a municipal hospital in Bhosari area shook me free of all illusions. The reality is I live in India, where the fallout of several misogynistic generations is manifesting itself in all glory and men are getting feral by the minute, at a rate faster than the fall of the Rupee.
My first observations of the city, however, say that the danger of being assaulted randomly at the corner probably looms ever so slightly lesser here than the other bigger metros. The denizens of Punyanagari are likely a tad too preoccupied for indiscriminate misconduct apparently. Stop and ask someone for directions, he’ll do no more than casually tilt his head in the right direction with half a raised eyebrow . This preoccupation is likely a derivative of the Shaniwarwada fort, of which I got a glimpse on a whistle-stop tour of the old city, seems to be caught in a time warp and clinging to glory of the Peshwa rule of yore and apparently oblivious to the inaction of the Government in restoring its cultural splendour. Equally reminiscent of the city’s lackadaisical approach to any proposal to for development as per international standards are the metro rail and the bus rapid transit, both of which have been non starters, and are lying in a state of dereliction.
Pune is certainly not caught in a time warp. With a GDP of close to USD 50 billion, and being one of the preferred destinations for IT shops and a home to leading research centres like National Chemical Laboratory, C-DAC, IISER, the city is well ensconced in a classical identity. The Ganapati festival here last week consolidated the city’s reputation for being a stellar host to the most popular God in this region. I’m off to catch the 7th day pooja, and try my luck with chaste Marathi.
After all, language is indeed the bridge to a culture, and words offer but countless meanings. Like Ernest Hemigway said “All my life I’ve looked at words like I’m seeing them for the first time!”
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