A whole’s night’s restlessness, a whole day’s sleeping, a home cooked meal with drinks and friends and laughter in tow. It’s what Pune has come to mean for this soul who’s always reluctant to go all the way. Change modes, ask people to pick up and drop, wait, travel. Uf.
In one sense, I’ve been there so often, counting isn’t possible anymore. In another though, these visits can all be clubbed into clusters of ages of their own. Each cluster of varied degrees of engagement with the people I go to meet there, and the people I end up meeting there. Each one is deviant from the other in length of time. Always, my visits have been to spend time with a beloved or an old friend. Always, they have been only visits, not longer than a weekend.
But at different times of the year, Pune evokes different sentiments. I remember the first time I set foot – more like drove into – the city, right after high school. In the heat of May, my cousin had driven MA, my sister and me to the city of his first bank posting – also perhaps the first and only city he had ever lived in outside of Bombay. The elder bro has seldom been too protective and trusted me with old school friends to go explore some more.
What parts I saw, do not come back to the mind, but I distinctly recall how similar I thought Pune was to Baroda. Only later did I find out that it was the monsoon capital of the Bombay Presidency, of which my own city was a part as well till independence. Was it the flood of two-wheelers? Was it the many 18th Century Peshwa edifices? Was it the marked Marathi presence (and a literacy rate of 81%) or the eateries?
The end of my grads saw me reluctantly applying for post graduate programs. That the next best thing to do was to simply apply outside to make successes out of them was natural. There for my Pune University MA entrances, the rains unleashed another aspect of the city’s beauty. The many lanes lined with नीम and gulmohar trees and thick foliage come alive in the rains. It is also the first time I met Nishant. The Crossword Bookstore that landmarked the otherwise unremarkable back road parallel to FC Road closed a couple of years ago. I had wept.
As if in royal welcome, the cobbled and patched streets slope here and there to allow processions of leaves floating along the streams of rainwater along the sides. The clichéd romance of the rains couldn’t be better illustrated.
A little over a year later, I was to enter into something of a long term treaty with the city of the Sawai Gandharva Festival. Yet to attend a season, the December tradition started by the late Pt Bhimsen Joshi is one I so eagerly want to absorb in its entirety.
The winters are for long walks and house parties that involve much spirit – of the kinds one partakes, and the other that one allows to soar. These parties, devoid of agenda, sans fancy dress and music or games, are conducive to conversation. Freewheeling and meandering into brief silences of satisfaction that simple homemade grub provides with. Laughter is integral. The clock is ignored and sleepovers are the call of the – er – night. After all, drinking and driving is as good as singing while diving, no?
After my split was when I had made a hesitant trip to Pune again. Anubhav had coaxed me into it, and played the gracious host replete with a Rajasthani razaii, safety, alcohol, mad banter, female company. I had made a new friend.
And I made more new friends. My recent day-and-a-half trip was also serendipitous. Not only did it surprise me but also shock and even turn hilarious for the contrarian turn of events, but also reinforced my belief in the city’s power to erase selectively parts of one’s memory. Each time is such an improvement from the last. Each trip presents an opportunity to discover even more of even if just the new portion of the city that I’ve now begun to reckon familiar.
For the past few days that I’ve been back, I’ve wondered why Pune was never on the city-to-work-in list. Even if not awfully long, it is a city I could live in. the crowd is great (some puns and some truths), the weather’s charming, the Marathis are a superior breed here, it’s still affordable and close enough to a metro.
Here’s an excerpt from my chat with a friend who enquired about the trip after my return:
16:32 him: What's pune like?
16:33 Have only breezed through it
me: this is the perfect weather to be there actually
16:34 if you have pals there, just put up with one
walk walk walk
you smell the smoke from burning wood in the air
coupled with a strange wetness
like you were being tricked
16:35 it's very wooded in a lot of parts
about 2000 ft
above sea level
him: Cold aah?
not cold like delhi
or even calcutta
but unique in itself
16:36 ask someone to give you a ride thru the army cant or the police R&D facility areas
catch a marathi children's play
december is time for the savai gandharva festival
16:37 if you enjoy hindustani classical music then you must do it
16:38 it's got great clubs, great restos
parsis and liberal marathis
16:39 english the way she's spoken
horses the way they're bred
some really fantastic stone buildings
16:40 him: Ok
I get the feeling that you like pune