Goodness of Pune

Ganesh Festival, Pune
Ganesh Festival, Pune

One year in Pune.

It will be one year this week since I came to Pune. This is about few random thoughts on Pune, mostly good.

  1. Safety – It was a rude shock to see a girl walk in a deserted road after the last show from a multiplex. The data can reveal something but certainly there is a feeling that people can walk freely at night and without any issue. Chennai is supposed to be safe city. And Pune, equally is. There is one crime in IPC which is quite different. Its called as “Insult to Modesty of Women.” This can be seen as a minor crime but it reveals a lot. It is surprising that Chennai is far worse than Pune in this aspect.
  2. Women – I have always heard that the best place for a woman to work in India is Mumbai. Like all biases and prejudices, this claim can either be true or false. But there is one thing which is certain. In India, Pune is one of the best open places for women to work. A corollary to “Insult to Modesty of Women” crime being low is that, as a society, women are respected a little more than average and little less objectified than the national average. Combined with safety, this city should top every woman’s list of places to be. There are other correlations but with no causal relationships – like more women sporting tattoos or more women going out to have a good time.
  3. Culture (whatever the definition is!) – We in South of India, should stop bragging about having diverse and rich culture and all associated pride. A walk through this city will demonstrate how hollow that claim is. Music, theatre, festivities, food and the pride that comes with it is equal to any southern city. Number of music halls may be less but the passion certainly is not.
  4. Ganesh Festival – forget Mumbai. Its Pune which rocks. Every street corner having a Pandal and every group celebrating Ganesh is as big as Diwali. The colour, the music, the noise and ‘people celebrating together’ is something similar to a village festival we have in south, which large cities have abandoned.
  5. Food – something for everyone! The city has host of options, from more diverse cuisine than what we get in Chennai. Iranian (non Biriyani), East Asian and German(?)! If a bakery (Kayani Bakery) can attract crowd everyday like a cinema hall, it says a lot about the food.
  6. Street Food – Chennai has long lost the trust of many people to have food from ‘kaiyendhi bhavans.’ One shop in T.Nagar doesn’t cut as a sample of overall quality of food served on road. Pune is closer to another southern city, Madurai than the metropolis of Chennai – more options, hygiene and taste. (A dedicated post on Vada Pav later.)
  7. Sambar – Lets not be cocky to claim Sambar as exclusively southern (or Tamil) dish. It’s has a Maharashtrian lineage and especially linked to a person from Pune – Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji.
  8. Pride – if there is a competing state to our (Tamil) pride, its Maharashtra. And Pune is at the heart of that competition. Like how we are proud of Tamil, people are proud of Marathi. Like how we are proud about Chola empire, people are proud about Maratha Empire. A Bhosale still being the prince of Thanjavur goes on to show how proud they are about the influence of Marathas, despite their differences.
  9. Mahatma Phule – you cannot cover in one sentence or a paragraph about the importance of this person. Personally, I consider him real ‘Mahatma’ than Gandhi.
  10. Progressives – Women priests to women entering a temple sanctum sanctorum, Maharashtra and places around Pune leads rest of India.
  11. South’s proud peaceful coexistence – We, from Southern states are proud of peaceful coexistence between communities. But we owe a lot of that peace to the Marathas. Peaceful south was possible because of valiant Marathas. The see-saw between Mughals, Nizam and Marathas has (yes, has and not had) kept the southern India more peaceful and harmonious between communities than we would like to acknowledge.
  12. Politics of India, today – to understand the politics of India today, we need to understand the politics of Maharashtra, not just because of RSS but because of people. And to understand politics of Maharashtra, we need to understand the history of Maharashtra. What we in south may see as chauvinism by some political parties, is actually not considered so by many. When someone says Muslim rulers were invaders and foreign, we in south, may not see so emotionally attached to it or identify with it or agree to it. Scars of that fight still runs through and visible in the geography around Pune. Remnants of various forts and the battle to protect or conquer those bear those scars. When we talk in abstract of values we are shown these scars, proud scars. I have always wondered why anyone cannot write various shades of Shivaji, the great. But come to Pune and talk to highly educated, well travelled, cosmopolitan Maharashtrians (not any fringe that we were told of) and they will tell you why. How do you offend someone who was just not a king but is revered as high as God?

The journey of a Tamil on discovery of India should start from Pune. To throw out our biases, to tear our prejudices, to strip of our overbearing pride (of culture, intelligence etc), Pune, is a better starting point and hence will make us more open to learn and see things, not from a southern prism but of different places. By the way, Maharashtra is not ‘North India.’

Like all cities and places, Pune too has many bad shades – crumbling infrastructure, public hospitals not being good, public transport not being comparable to superior Tamil Nadu or Kerala, there is no traffic sense, caste is alive and kicking etc.

But this post is to pick the roses and not the weed.

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