Monday, November 06, 2006
Memories of another Pune
(The picture alongside appears on the web page of the Pune Police traffic control branch. No comments)
Every time i return back from Pune, it feels like my childhood comes rushing back to me.
The density of the city has changed beyond imagination, vehicular decibel levels make one wince; one sees a sample of the 'open culture' that seems to be on display amongst the young ones, and one gets the feeling that its a city desperately trying to prove its "up there" with, say Mumbai......
Pune has a certain character; despite the winds of change breezing around, parts of Pune still display that.
I grew up in Pune, went to school there. At a time when people from my area did not attend what were called "convent" schools, 7:45 am every morning would see my younger brother and me, tugging our uniforms, ties and all, lugging our 'suitcases' full of books, trying to make, what was then the 8:05 am 18 number bus , at the S. P. College bus stop. We knew almost everyone we passed on the road. The bus driver, as a matter of habit, would look in the direction from which we would emerge, and sort of wait for us to make the final run. This happened at several bus stops on our way, as so many of our friends got in. We even knew the licence number of the bus. The fare was 10 P each way, and no one ever had a problem of "chutta".
By and by , we changed schools, and I began commuting by a bus to the Ralway station to attend a girls school. It so happened that girl med students studying at the BJ medical college, travelled with us, and we developed a more than nodding aquaintance. I developed a great interest in the books they carried, and my abiding interest in medicine and the practice of it grew out of daily pouring over amazing pictures in grays anatomy. I even remember the names of some of the college girls today, and it certainly helped that their college hostel was next to my school.
Rickshas were then (as now) called rickshas, and not "ricks" or "autos". One did NOT take a ricksha at the drop of a hand. The primary mode of transport was the immortal bicycle, bought after much planning, discussion, deals over bettering oneself in studies,etc, at shops, somewhere behind Shaniwar Wada. The city was dotted with cycle shops, scooters (synonymous with Bajaaj) had not yet appeared .
Exam results were a BIG deal. 11th class was SSC, and results and making the first 30 of the merit list was a GREAT achievement. I remember, year after year, we always knew , who amongst our neighbours was appearing for the SSC exam. There were rumours about scholars, avidly swallowed. Then on a cold clear morning, in the half dark atmosphere, a newspaper boy would come cycling down, shouting out the name of who was first. I remember peering out of the balcony thinking how glamorous it was to know the result before everyone else and announce it like this with so many ears straining to hear, amidst, alarms going off, baths being organised, surya namaskars conducted, and milkmen leading their buffaloes in near houses, to milk them for our daily needs.
I went to college in Pune too; Fergusson College. Because my parents went there. So did my older brother. Those days colleges had characters. SP, in my neighbourhood, was the most conservative. Rumour had it that the head hauled up girls for not wearing bangles. Wadia College near the station was the other extreme. The key word one associated with it was "jam sessions". Fergusson was a golden mean.
It was during this time, that two of my senior girls, joined COEP Pune; and it was supposed to be a sensational thing. What was even more sensational, is that these girls drove Lambretta/vespa scooters to college; I distinctly remember their names, and the sight of them speeding down confidently over what was then a relatively empty J M Road, as they went fro Deccan Gymkhana to college was something one admired.
Where we stayed , near Peshwe Park, was considered 'outside ' the town. Ricksha wallas would haggle about taking us there . Today WE are downtown. Going to Main Street in camp (M. G. Rd) was a huge thing. Everyone there wore frocks, and rock-and-roll shoes, spoke in English, and iI remember being absolutely mortified when I was walking with my mother dressed in a parkar polka, and ran into a classmate called Darius Cooper coming in the opposite direction with his mother. Both mothers had a more than cordial chat, Mrs Cooper thought my outfit was great, and Darius and I pretended not see each other. (Today, while "camp" has clearly lost its charm, folks wearing nine yard sarees confidently wander around, accompanying grandchildren clamouring for corn bhel, ice cream, and other goodies)
The Bhaji mandi in the city was where my mother shopped once a week for fruits. In those days we had a green Hillman Minx car. What was even more amazing was that my mother drove it everywhere; sometimes with her Vanita Samaj members. Ladies driving cars was an event. Driving through small side streets was even more impressive. And my mother often followed the dictum, "when in doubt, honk". Even so, todays drivers, are not a patch on her, maruti or otherwise.
She was well known amongst the fruit merchants, as she had a thing about fresh orange juice , in those non-electric-juicer, non mixer/blender days. Years of accompanying her have fine-honed my haggling abilities. On a recent visit to get fruits for my ailing father, I recalled the name of one of the fruit sellers from those days, and was delighted to meet him, quietly keeping an eye on his merchandise, as his grandson did the daily nitty gritty work. He remarked on my facial resemblance to my mother, commented on her excellence in judging a good fruit, enquired after my brothers (he knew they were in "amrika"), charged me market rates, presented my daughter with a complimetary pomegranate, and crowned the whole interlude with a saying from Sant Tukarams verses, that had to do with "judging" something, presumably in my late mothers honour.
I was stunned with the level of education in this gentleman.
Pune is full of people of this type. There are special interest lectures taking place all the time, all seriously attended and applauded, at times, questioned and commented upon. There are more fearless people in Pune per square kilometre than anywhere else, I think. Broadening of the mind through such activities, continues in Pune, despite the onslaught of TV, Cable, Movies, Blockbusters, Internet, DVD players, and all kinds of technology.
Waves of globalisation keep hitting Pune. Sometimes they crash and quietly dissipate over some area. Sometimes a solid rock of intellect will deflect this wave back. Fashions have changed. Norms have changed even more. On the surface , Pune appears to have changed.
Deep down however, like the earths crust, the solidity of Pune endures.
One still runs into small business owners, who have been at it for decades, and they recgnise you and talk to you about how bad Pune is today. Sometimes even an aged rickshawlla will shake his head and comment on the police.
Today Pune is overrun with two wheelers, and 3 whelers. Bajaaj is like black and white TV. Hondas rule. Kinetics sweep across. Immigration from he outlying villages has been replaced with immigration from other states. Hindi accented Marathi is the norm, in places like Tulshibaag. The grandsons of the milkman (who came with his buffaloes to deliver milk in our schooldays) today run a fast food set up . Many flyovers and traffic lights interrupt what used to be our peaceful trip to our school. That of course brings in the police.
Tail Piece : Recently , on Bajirao Rd, a Tow truck appeared and started lifting two wheelers , which were parked, in, it seems, a no parking zone. Police brandishing their power, canes and all. Till someone noticed that a police motorcycle was parked in a no parking zone, the vehicle was not part of the monitoring group. And the tow truck, simply bypassed this vehicle.
Well. Folks rushed over from teashops across the road, argued and pointed this anomaly to the police. The first response was a typical careless, powerful, wave of hand. The crowd swelled. many of them women, having parked two wheelers. Till someone, a girl, quietly let the air out of the tow truck tyres, as well as the ignored police twowheeler. all this while the uniformed folks were making a show of strenghth, calling re-enforcements and all.
How do I know all this ? it was all over the local papers, the next day.
No political party instigated this. It was simply too much for the standard Puneite to tolerate. And the police, probably Puneites, knew that.
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