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Pune weaves a story of love for literature and arts

I love Pune because of its respect for education and culture. I loved the unhurried tone of the place

pune Updated: Aug 09, 2017 19:16 IST
Mohini Khot
Dr Mohini Khot is the head, Department  of English at St Mira’s College, Pune
Dr Mohini Khot is the head, Department of English at St Mira’s College, Pune(HT Photo)

I first visited Pune as a 13-year-old. It was called Poona then and it was hardly a city. To a Delhi-ite it seemed a very charming and rather sleepy town with a naturally moderate climate. It was known as a pensioner’s paradise. The monsoon season was fabulous! I came from the oven that was Delhi in June and found myself shivering here when it rained.

I loved the unhurried tone of the place, the slow pace. But, best of all were the people - straight-forward, honest, law-abiding and decent. No-one stared, no-one passed lewd comments, no-one whistled. Again, for a girl growing up in Delhi, this was a marvellous atmosphere to discover. It was also very clean. No one spat. I remember walking up to Parvati, leaving my sandals in the car, and finding the soles of my feet as clean as clean could be when I returned. A bus ride was a joy ride, as the bus was clean and neat with only two passengers allowed to stand. In the Camp area I fell in love with the sprawling old bungalows, the rather wild, large gardens with picket fences or high barred gates.

Lakshmi Road was a quaint small-town shopping area where my mother, sister and I loved wandering. Poona saris were “in” then, so we bought lots! Shopkeepers were, however, disconcertingly blunt and un-salesman-like, as if they cared two hoots whether you bought or didn’t. That has certainly changed.

The city has changed over the years. Once upon a time there was hardly anything to do in Pune. Maybe a concert (sangeet sabha) or a play now and then, and only in Marathi, of course. Now there’s plenty to do. The city has grown tremendously but, unfortunately, in a haphazard, unplanned way. Planning seems to have been poor. I had loved travelling by bus in the 1960s, but no longer. Public transport has just not developed to keep abreast of the needs of the city. People are forced to maintain private vehicles and the roads are choked. It looks like it will soon be another Bangalore. It has also got polluted and dirty. The rivers are in a pathetic state.

Worst of all, the people are seen spitting, littering and think nothing of breaking traffic and other rules. There has been a large influx of people coming into Pune, but they don’t seem to have learned the Puneite’s ability to hold strong opinions and voice them without becoming offensive, intolerant or loud. If Poona was my dream come true in the 60s, it is now uncomfortably close to a nightmare. Pollution of every sort - air, water, noise - is a daily reality. Some American friends of mine who would like to spend most of the year here for the sake of their interest in yoga and Indian culture ask me whether we are waiting for people to actually die of pollution before we do anything about it. The most sincere and dedicated NGOs have tried to nudge the authorities to prioritise these concerns, but to not much avail.

When all is said and done, Pune is still relatively better than other cities. The climate has worsened because of man’s abuse of his environment but it is still better than other places. One of the reasons I continue to like Pune is because of its respect for education and culture. The city has many good schools and colleges, offers good theatre, music and art, and plenty of platforms for discussion of books and ideas. Since these are my favourite things, I am happy to adopt the city as my own. The hallmark of the Puneite is their love of literature and the arts and interest in discussion: the city has many fora and platforms for this intellectual activity. It has been aptly said that others might spend their bonus on movies and dinner at a restaurant, but a Puneite will buy as many books as he can and settle down happily to read.

I worry very much about the city’s future. At the rate we are ignoring the needs of the environment, refusing to preserve the natural advantages of the city, particularly its hills, Pune will lose its rainfall and therefore its greenery. Our rivers are already little better than nullahs. Lawlessness is growing and a new unwelcome disrespect of law, order and authority. If citizens of this hub of education and culture can start interacting more with their elected representatives and with the municipal corporation to guide them, they can ensure a good future for our city and the future generations who will live here. There are so many activists and pro-active citizens, yet what they have achieved falls short of the requirements for the day.

Pune cannot afford to grow territorially any more. We should limit its boundaries so that the municipal corporation can manage it effectively. Protection of Pune’s greenery is our first duty. We need to become “green” because that’s the only way the city will survive and maintain some semblance of the beautiful Poona of yesteryear. Public transport and management of traffic must be given priority. Private vehicles must be reduced. Both the government and the people must learn to abide by the laws and these laws must be effectively enforced. More citizens should proactively interact with the government bodies to improve all aspects of the city. Above all, corruption in all spheres needs to be dealt with. We should be proud of our city and do our best for it: always think of the city first, rather than any small petty personal gain through illegal means.

Dr Mohini Khot, head, Department of English at St Mira’s College, Pune, began her teaching career at Lady Shri Ram College in July, 1975. She started teaching at St. Mira’s college in 1980 and has been with the institution since.