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…


  • 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..

One Vote For Reality

Painted-Fingers-2.storyimageMost human beings survive on two primary things the need to satiate hunger and excrete filth. For most of us who have seen a settled civilisation, which is at the helm of modernisation, we can nurture hunger of varied kinds; be it food, comforts, entertainment, art, or even knowledge. We are even vocal enough to spit out any resentment and filth bubbling inside our system. But there is another side to the coin: There is an India with nothing; no basic amenities to live a dignified life.

Possibly the best parameter to gauge the pulse of a nation is by the way the masses choose to accept their cultural variedness. You cannot isolate yourself from your roots, and hence can possible never have an unbiased approach to anything you see – perception is an essential by-product of comprehension. Thus, the only real way you would know of any other culture or social group than your own is through the stories that you see, hear and pass on. Movies and televised shows score in this regard, because of the audio-visual nature of the medium. For every four movies in the genre of mindless entertainment, there is place for rare gems that rock you to the core.

Be it a Valu, Deool, or Fandry set in rural Maharashtra or the likes of Autograph or the more-intense Kanchivaram from Tamil cinema, or Rudali, Manthan, Dor, even Swades (these I have seen, and remember), makes one realise that there are several countries living within this vast expanse of earth we call our motherland. There are pockets of progressive civilisations well into the process of development, thanks to a strong academic base. Then there is a connected India, which owes its existence to the internet revolution, but it isn’t too well-read, because it is laid back in its attitude. Somewhere in between, there is the ignorant India, which continues to exist with bare-minimum resources and is well satisfied in its own means to an end. Finally, there is an ignored India, which is bound by the most regressive laws of civilisation, which doesn’t know of the world outside its boundaries, and the world returns the favour.

As we stand at the brink of yet another opportunity to exercise our franchise, many of us don’t really bother to realise the full impact of not just the right, but also the duty it entails. This election is not just about bringing to power the right candidate that will stand true to the promised development of your land of dreams, but also someone who will bring progressiveness to the entire nation. When we talk of voting for change, we need a person who not just completes that divide of development, bridges the gap of knowledge, but also realises and bothers to bring those who are disregarded and neglected to the fore  outside of their own shadows. After all, it is they who not just need it, but also truly deserve a voice.

Coming of Age: A Decade in Time

The first decade of the new millennium was a realization as I stepped of the comfort of school life and structured learning into the big bad world. Everything that I have to show for myself, I earned in these ten long years, right from my degrees to my new family life. Whether for better or for worse, only time can tell. However, here are some of the lessons I learnt through this beautiful and gruelling decade, with the best of companions that God handpicked, just for me! Hopefully the next decade goes a bit easy on me.

  1. It is good to believe. Faith however is optional.
  2. Blood is thicker than water; even then it flows smoothly continuously and without jerks, despite distances and differences.
  3. A sibling is the best gift god gives you. He tops it with an amazing life-partner!
  4. You can’t choose your relatives or co-workers, but choose friends wisely.
  5. A friend in need, most often than never, is an opportunist in disguise.
  6. Pay compliments without malice and in goodtime. A delayed compliment often translates into jealously.
  7. Actions without expectations are the best. It helps you keep anxiety in check.
  8. Revenge is the strongest emotion of all, but karma always wins.
  9. Keep prejudices at bay. That way your mind doesn’t lie to you.
  10. Never stock up any emotions. Laugh when something’s funny, cry when you’re sad, and yell when you’re angry. But never displace it to the wrong person; not even yourself.
  11. Enjoy everything in its entirety, it’s easier to analyse and dissect later.
  12. A regret of action can be rectified, but a time bound regret can’t. Do all that you want in good time and with foresight; ‘could have beens’ and ‘should have beens’ are very difficult to live with.
  13. Be open to change, but learn to draw the line subtly.
  14. Inquisitiveness is good if your questions are answered; most often than never.
  15. It’s good to have perspectives, but be cautious when sharing them.
  16. Never hate someone who has a point of view and has the courage to express it too. Such people are difficult to come by.
  17. Never put your self in someone else’s shoes, they will end up blaming you for stealing them; extra pairs of shoes are not always good.
  18. For all the bad things you do, your children pay the price. Be better parents for them right from the start.
  19. Have an imagination; it becomes easier to appreciate the finer things in life.
  20. To have a healthy love life, you need to be the closest of friends for life.
  21. Love is always between equals.
  22. You need to be truly blessed to love unconditionally and not be taken for granted in return.
  23. It is healthy to hold on to memories. Sometime it’s all you have.
  24. It’s never too late to grieve for a loss. Realisation is not always sudden.
  25. Professionalism is not the best of virtues to have, but it guarantees you sound sleep every night.
  26. Speak your mind, but choose your words.
  27. Don’t expect perfection, only aim for it. That way you will still like yourself in the end.
  28. Its better to fantasize than procrastinate that too while appearing to be busy. That’s what multitasking is all about!
  29. Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve, being smart is better than being intelligent.
  30. It’s easier to remember nightmares in detail, but dreams are very forgettable. Same goes for joys and sorrows.
  31.  Dogs love you unconditionally, even if you don’t feed them or play with them everyday.
  32. A relationship that can stand the test of geographical distances and get better despite of the void is for keeps.
  33. When you love unconditionally, there are only random acts of kindness, no sacrifices of compromises.
  34. There are no such things as rose-tinted glasses; the world is full of cynics who are negative. Positivism is, at times, overrated.
  35. Competition is never healthy. You feel the guilt despite winning or losing.
  36. Avoid monetizing your hobby; the very essence of its de-stressing nature is lost. Make money from your second most favourite thing instead.
  37. All the questions of life come with options. But at times, you get the results the hard way.
  38. Never say no to anyone. Whether you carry out the deed is a different thing altogether. Save yourself the energy of getting into meaningless arguments that leave a bitter taste without doing any good.
  39. Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut. You need to use only your ears and shut your brain when criticism comes about.
  40. Don’t try to change the world all by yourself. It’s quite capable to do so by itself and that too at a blistering pace that you don’t even notice!
  41. You can’t make everybody like you. Settle with liking yourself to start with.
  42. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, especially when you are suicidal.
  43. Work is the worse thing to get addicted to. Detached attachment is the best medicine.
  44. No one but you can decide your own calibre. Others just try to clip your wings.
  45. Honesty is the best policy only if it doesn’t get you into trouble.
  46. It’s good to be punctual, even if no one else is. It goes a long way.
  47. Create a happy place in your mind. It helps you switch off your mind and wander away when in boring meetings. But cultivate sharp reflexes before that.
  48. Read across genres. You never know what you would end up enjoying.
  49. You can never learn from another’s mistakes, you got to make them all yourself and learn things the hard way. But it’s important to get the best out of every folly you commit.
  50. ‘I am sorry’ is the most powerful of statement. Even without any emotional backing, it helps you save energy for more important decisions in life.

Freedom: A Bestowed Responsibility

flying lanternsFreedom will be the ‘in’ word soon with Independence Day just around the corner. The Constitution of India has painstakingly ensured that each citizen or any person on the Indian soil is treated and tried for the actions he has done as an individual and not actions taken by a cult or mob that he is a part of.

If the nation as an entity can protect and consider us in an individual capacity, is it fair for sects – religious, or otherwise – to use this as a shield for their selfish motives?

People usually talk about freedom of speech, but fail to realize that by wagging their tongue incessantly about another’s affairs, they are violating another right of leading a life with dignity and liberty. Everyone enjoys a good gossip at the cost of the other, without realizing the implications voicing their opinion. So be it the person sitting in the next cubicle, or a celluloid actor, there is an urgent need for restraint.

Let us begin with ourselves as “Mahatma Gandhi” once said, “Be the change to want to see in the world”. We also need to voice and control our opinions about what we see and hear.

And keeping in mind the large scheme of things, the media should also curb its enthusiasm, since it has a far stronger reach and a more gripping effect on those especially, who are low on literacy. Depiction of certain incidents has been in very bad taste keeping in mind the general audience and they tend to have a very damning effect on those who are easily convinced. The media today have a gift of changing the ways we perceive the incidents that occur around us and thus they need to act more responsibly and respect the sensibilities of their viewers on the whole.

And like an age old idiom goes, live and let live…let that be the way we lead our lives, caring yet aloof about secrets which are not ours to share but a promise that one needs to hold on to.