A Hitchhiker’s Guide To Pune City…

034All of us have something that can hold our attention. Some check out cars, some enjoy sunsets, many while away a lot of time noticing the other gender. Eye candy is something that not many can avoid or ignore. Even those looking for spiritual gratifications have some kind of fetish, so not all that excites people is the sign of a perverted mind. There are a lot of things that catch my attention, and some of them have, quite literally, slipped away as I moved cities. Some sadly, haven’t. One such random musing came to me as I was crossing roads. You see, back home crossing roads was an art I had mastered with relative ease; you’d still know which direction and lane a particular vehicle would come for you to dodge it without being killed. However, in the city of two wheelers (sometimes fondly referred to as Pune), a lot of unlearning and relearning has to be done. While the Mumbai-Delhi battle is usually fought on epic proportions with a lot of offensive and defensive flavour, the Mumbai-Pune turf war has its moments too. Although home is where the heart is, I sold a piece of my soul to the city I now reside in. As is true for the city of dreams, there are a few little nuggets only those who contribute tirelessly to the IT hub of Maharashtra are privy to. Since you are my friend, I will let you in on some of these gems…

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  • Auto rickshaws drivers in Mumbai are officially demi gods to me now! Okay, they don’t ply over short distances, but it is one sector that blackmails you with hike-or-strike threats; where bribery is unheard of. Here in Pune, they do you a favour by actually existing. These “social workers” wander aimlessly, only to appear as your guide dog that takes you home. Anywhere you ask to go; they overcharge you by 30-50 bucks. You see, this city has a thriving business of shared six-seater rickshaws, which are at prime locations, such that you end up walking for at least a couple of kilometres to reach to the spot you actually intended to be at. So what makes rickshaw drivers the knight in shining armour? Well, they are will to risk coming back to the place you boarded passenger-less, and in return charge you just a tiny amount. But mind you these are more like the Indian Robinhood ­- Tees Maar Khan (Tees Maar Khan ke fans / use aadha Robinhood maante hain / Kyunki woh ameeron se leta toh hai / Par gareebon ko deta kuchh nahin) – if they find a passenger; they don’t return your dough… And change, what change? They are obsessive self-tippers… You have been warned!
  • Small talk is a taboo in this city. If you exchange pleasantries with shopkeepers, neighbours, the building watchman, cleaning lady, laundryman or any Punekar in general, they stare at you as if you’ve grown three heads (the Pune-stare). Back home, I had befriended several people on onward journeys, some that I haven’t met more than once. Here, even regulars are strangers. So shows like Cheers! can never be set in Pune…
  • The city actually has several IT hubs scattered across corners of a well-rounded city (it is actually round, unlike Mumbai, which covers a vertical geography). The one I work in is the safest of its kind. Bags are checked religiously at all entry check-posts. Company identity cards are a mandate, and there are manual registers for everything. But nobody knows what they are looking for. Being as chatty as I am, I once asked a rather perplexed security guard if she has ever found anything that warranted and mandated all this flimflam. Understandably, I got my standard Pune-stare; she didn’t quite catch the essence of the rhetorical question: You can’t find anything, when you don’t know what you’re looking for.
  • This one came to me over coffee with a friend I managed to befriend locally. Pune by and large is a very well planned city: The roads are fairly wide, with two open lanes on both sides, despite being separated by a two-lane BRTS (Pune Bus Rapid Transit) route along the Pune-Satara Road. This is a supposed 16.5 km exercise that has been in place since December 2006. Now PMPML (Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Ltd) had its heart in the right place, but forgot one teeny-tiny yet essential detail. These lanes alongside the other much wider areas of the city don’t ply enough red buses! Also, these much-neglected and backbreaking buses don’t really cover the length and breadth of the city, and are also a preferred target for vandals (even in the heat of the moment, political vandals don’t harm autos and private vehicles… how thoughtful!). So given the nature of this pure lack of public transport, the number of private vehicles has to rise, right? This, in turn, obviously results in bumper-to-bumper traffic. So how does one fix this issue? Increase the number of buses, right? Not in Pune, no. Instead the local government breaks open the BRTS lane to all vehicles, putting all the immigrants and out-of-towners in a fix. Now that is what I call killing two birds with a stone. Screw the system so effectively, that we curb legit immigration that makes the city better, and ensure that local two-wheeler industry is thriving despite any after-sale service. Oh well, democracy and socialism is way too over rated anyway.
  • Now that I’ve spoken about the social evils and subsequent victories over immigration, let me talk of the most thriving revenue option in the city. You may believe it is having an outlet selling Mastani, Chitle Bhakarwadi, or missal pav, but you are way off. It’s the house rental industry. I talk about this from my happily rented out dwelling. Now,an average person will tell you that the cost of living in Mumbai is way too high, so Pune offers a better deal, but that is pure buffalo-shit. PG accommodations cost just around the same in both cities, and there are houses that you can get on rent depending on your budget. The only pitfall is that the lesser the rent, the farther away is your home from your workplace, which is true for all cities. While Pune does score in terms of ease of travel, cost of commuting here is astronomical! For instance, travelling from Gorai Khadi to Borivali station is around Rs 10 in a bus, the distance being around 6-7kms. Travelling 34kms to Churchgate by a local train is Rs. 15 one way. So in less than 50 bucks you can reach your destination, and even munch on some sukhi bhel from Borivali station. That opposed to a rickshaw ride from Anandnagar to Swargate, which is a happy 6-7kms costs me close to Rs. 90 bucks (make it a 100 if the meter jumps up… self-tippers round the cost to the closest Rs. 10… sigh). A decent vada pav or street food is a distant dream; there are specific pockets that offer something to satiate your gastronomical desires. Hence, you learn to be a pro cook to save up for a rainy day. So all-in-all the city is confused… it needs migrants to earn off rent, but vetoes the need for public transport. Mention the Pune metro, and the Pune-stare continues for another 10 minutes.
  • All is not lost in my whining of the lack of public transport, that is where the benevolence of the IT industry comes to play. School buses make up for the lack of state and local transport in the city, and some of these called Tempo Travellers transport grown up kids (aka IT pros, and yes we are treated as sacks of talent!). These yellow buses take kids small and large alike to the one place they’d rather not be, and the one place that robs the life off them. Just when I thought I’m through living on a clock, stuck to train timings, I find myself in the same trap. Now, I wait for a leaking TT to come take me home and drop me off to work. Sometimes I feel like a captive… sitting in a rickety bumpy bus all covered up to keep the dust and pollution off my face and hair. Just that no one will come bail me out, too much employee turnover for companies to care anyway, there are enough to eagerly hop into the bonded-labour-intensive industry.
  • If you think that a city with IT flowing through its veins (quite literally) will be ultra-tech-savvy. Not in the least! If you go to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa or any freaking where in the country, there is no dearth of information, living on your own is like turning on an iDevice; turn the button on, and off you go. But not in Pune. While the transport system is virtually non-existent, it’s not like there is none of it. But there are no apps that will take you on a joy ride. Nothing spells out anything about the local cuisine, bus routes, bus numbers, local landmarks, hang outs and tourist places. Even the foodie group on FB is a closed one; you need proof of being a Punekar to be initiated into the inner circle. And since no one really answers questions, you just have to earn good karma before you settle in, god is thy only saviour! That said, if you want to learn to survive, the city teaches you some neat tricks on self-reliance and independence. However, all this only applies if you live in Pune city, not some makeshift hippie joints such as Vimmannagar, Kalyaninagar, Amanora, Magarpatta or other areas with thriving out-of-Pune population, where shopping in a mall is not frowned upon.
  • Another interesting and possibly the most amazing sight in the IT City of Magarpatta is arm-chair shopping day. Let me explain as briefly as possible. You see when you move cities, the taste of essentials such as water and milk also needs to be adapted to. That is where mineral water and tetra-pack milk come to your rescue. The city takes its culture and roots a bit too seriously, so I have to endure the Pune-stare when I tell people I buy tetra-pack milk from a nearby mall. If you ask locals for directions and help, they’d probably insist on taking you themselves, but most such plans go south, as it does even back home. So most of us stick to the next best thing – E-tailing. When you opt for delivery at the cybercity, it’s like Santa Claus coming to town. Deliveries happen on specific dates, depending on the number of people who’ve ordered stuff online, and these delivery men come armed with a sizable list and a sack-full of goodies. To avoid being caught by the guards as parking in front of towers in a practice that is disallowed/frowned upon, they hide behind trees on the other side of the road. Then this Santa from his magical sack brings out goodies (that you paid for) in slo-mo. Happy little boys and girls with company leashes around their neck, queue up for their turn. Then these happy people pick up their goodies and trod along back to their grim cubicles only to be stopped by at the check in gate where the bills are stamped. So it doesn’t matter if a bomb is assembled inside the building premises, as long as the requisite stamping is done. This is where O’ Riley’s character in National treasure would’ve taken shape! If only I had the finesse of Ashwin Sanghi, I’d spin this into a copy-book novel (oh damn!)
  • Finally, let me end the rant with the Pune clock. While the IT people work 24/7 (even on weekends… most of them either don’t have a life or are too lazy to look for one), the Chitlebandu clock stands still between 1-4 pm everyday. Come hell or high waters, even god cannot get the shutters open. And he (I mean god) doesn’t even make the vain effort… You see when Lord Ganesha comes to Mother Earth for 10 full days, and descends in this happy city, every Pandal big and small you’d find him take a beauty nap in the afternoon. Even god can’t change a Punekar, so if he can’t beat ’em; he joins ’em..
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