On a very sunny July afternoon more than two years ago, I realised I had to move to Pune. Never knew the duration of stay nor knew the quality of it. There were weeks of anxiety, sometimes aversion and eagerness.
Incidentally, my insurance career started in the same city, in fact in July. It was a rainy day.
A decade later, I found myself in the same city where I never thought I would live; for, looking beyond Chennai was never a question. If at all, it could be Bombay. Not Pune. Life being what it is, sends us to places we never think we will ever go.
Initial weeks at work were all about knowing things, adapting, adopting and nothing else. Of course, it did contain its own roller-coaster ride.
Soon, I found a place on rent, gambling to stay for ‘at least’ a year. It was not an easy decision. My spouse had to quit her job and move to this place, again, not knowing how long we would stay.
Thus, began our journey in Pune.
Change, makes us vulnerable. Or sometimes makes us worried. It is what is generally known as the ‘fear of the unknown.’ The winter set in and we were never used to winter. It was a cold winter, literally in real and figuratively at work.
I do not know what inspired us about Pune nor when it did. But I do remember discussing about five days of Diwali, or what we call Deepavali and explaining why we celebrate it for a different reason or different day than here. It was a glimpse into Maharashtrian traditions and customs. So, for every festival, I had to look at the customs here. So, a three-day Ganesh Chaturthi at my place is a ten-day festival here. Holi, which we never celebrate is not just about colour and ‘baang’ but also about a night-before fire. And my Pongal is kite flying. It was a lesson and learning in traditions and customs.
Winter made me miss our bus service and had to commute by car. As luck would have it, I started coming with Shivam for a while, both of us being, what can be called as ‘late-risers.’ On one such drive, I was introduced to Mulshi. The following weekend, my wife and I drove to Mulshi, the first among many, many and many more to the same place. It was mesmerising, even in winter.
Before that, it was commuting to office and back in Pune. The city was just incidental to where we lived. We could never care if it was Delhi or Ahmedabad or Lucknow. We were just here, indifferent to the city and its surrounding beauty. That drive to Mulshi changed it all.
Every weekend or every alternate weekend, we had to go somewhere, see new places. It didn’t matter if it was FC Road or MG Road. Every city has a MG road. Big deal? No. But a static indifferent existence in this city became a joyous, exploratory living. Haggling on street or hunting for perfumes or that rush and queue outside Kayani Bakery or sumptuous Garden Vada Pav brought a different hue to the city. We were blending in, albeit without Marathi or Hindi.
Summer on beaches of Konkan were excruciatingly hot. Even in summer, the lean forests of Konkan were beautiful.
If these things made us get to know the city and its surroundings better and appreciate it, monsoon made us fall in love with the city and surroundings. Places around Pune have their own unique beauty. Whether it is a viewpoint at Lonavala or an obscure spot in Velhe or a drive through the narrow roads of Raigad or multiple Ghat roads or the multitude of reservoirs or resplendent forts that make history continuous, each uniquely beautiful.
Morning drives through narrow roads, roads never taken, roads not seen much, roads with no traffic, roads that are near non-existent, roads that were paved, unpaved or rocky all opened up to what can only be described as radiance of nature.
As vegetarians, we fell in love with variety of food the city has to offer. Whether it is a humble Poha, which has become my staple breakfast, or grand thalis or roadside chaats or the humble shewsberry biscuit.
What began as a journey in Pune morphed into journey of Pune.
Every city has a character. It is not to say one is better than the other. One can never be better than the other because people who live in those cities chose how they want their cities to be. As I realised that the character of the city is a mix of both lifeless that I encountered – buildings, monuments and nature – and the lively people I had the pleasure of knowing.
One year ago, I wrote a short piece called as “Goodness of Pune.” After a year, reinforced multiple times and the feeling of ‘goodness of Pune’ is still intact.
(If you are interested, link here: http://indblu.com/index.php/2016/07/31/goodness-of-pune/ )
The city is a nice blend of old and the new. Every city is proud about its character. The pride comes from what they are, like a planned Chandigarh or what they were, like my town Thanjavur, which was the seat of power ruling many parts of South and South East Asia. Rarer are cities that have a magnificent past and an equally admirable present. Pune fits this bill perfectly. (Chennai has a past too. Indeed, a glorious past with many firsts and equally admirable present.) Coming from a place where savings are seen as a great trait, Pune showed us why spending on oneself is equally important for a better quality of life; for, what is life without happiness. Maybe it is just a personal opinion that cannot be generalised. To each, his or her own.
If an over generalisation can be made, it is that ‘The city is Liberal.’
It is not city’s newly acquired trait. It has a rich history going back to Phule and Ambedkar. Much more can be elaborated on why I say so. However, let me give you one personal example. My wife will not think twice before what she wears in Pune. That can only happen in a city that is liberal in outlook and in true sense, that freedom to choose and do what we want. It may not be perfect as we expect it to be. Still, it is a right direction.
We have not seen anything like the Ganesh Festival in Pune. Yes, there are bigger structures and richer ones in Mumbai, but in my biased opinion, Pune has the best, in terms of history of how it started and celebrated.
I am tempted to write a lot more. For now, let me stop here.
Charles Dickens proudly called London, a Magic Lantern. Borrowing from him, I do call Pune as my personal Magic Lantern, not just projecting images outwards but inwards, inward into me revealing so many things to me, about me.
The city, the people, the landmarks, the history, the progressive nature of social reformation, the nature, the beauty, the food, the character of the city, the feeling of liberated makes a near perfect fusion of many things I love and cherish.
Pune, certainly, is my muse.
Time flies, but not memories. They stay.
Tempus fugit, non autem memoria.