Why all of India is looking at Pune, and you should too!

A bit offbeat. A bit conservative. A bit introverted. A lot foodie. Maharashtra’s coolest city defies definition

brunch Updated: Jun 24, 2017 22:34 IST
pune,maharashtra,deccan queen
What you signify as change globally, becomes an uprising in Pune.(Prabhat Shetty)

The Deccan Queen, one of the oldest trains in India, defines Pune as ‘a large town’. It’s quite correct. Because, even though Kayani Bakery’s Shrewsbury biscuits and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar’s home turf are the national bookmarks of this city, it has been the cornerstone of quite a few changes in time. What you signify as change globally, becomes an uprising in Pune!

Infosys was born here whilst Narayana Murthy and Sudha Murthy were still employed with Tata Motors (then Telco). Mercedes Benz landed here for its production set-up in India. The Southern Command of the Indian Army is headquartered here as well.

Then again, there is a series of blips. The East India Company’s first ever takeover of an established Indian throne started here, with the defeat of Peshwas in 1818, much before they crushed the Indian Mutiny in 1857. And the Indian School of Business gave up its plans to set up here in favour of Hyderabad, because the ‘sons of the soil’ wanted 20 per cent of the seats reserved for them.

Paradise found

And that brings us to what we call the ‘ethos’ of the city. As we said, what is a simple vibe anywhere, for Pune is its ethos! In Europe it’s very easy to define a citizen of a metropolis i.e. Londoner, Roman, Berliner, Parisian etc. But in India, the suffix is the spirit. Delhiwala, Mumbaikar and Banglorean have their own essence of being idiosyncratic, quintessential and imperialistic, respectively. For Pune, it is Puneri. There are not many places to visit in Pune, but there are quite a few places where you can be yourself. Young Snapchatters would agree. Pune is never cold, it’s quite cool. It’s never hot, it’s just very warm! So expect an angry uncle to order you into vacating his PG accommodation, only because you are a lady wearing micro shorts. He might also submit a written application to your place of study to that effect. However, it doesn’t matter how many eyebrows would be strained reaching for the sky, and how many mouths are left gaping, you won’t be teased. Leave alone molested! In fact, in the second case, somebody might form yet another committee to champion your rights to micro apparel freedom.

Till around 25 years ago, Pune was an odd-sized quadrilateral with four points – Deccan, City, Station and Camp. And all these still locations run demographically deep. The bourgeois, the proletariat, the workforce and the immigrants is what these areas were meant to be. Much has changed since then, as much as it hasn’t. In fact, the first two have always been Pune, while the latter two truly, madly, deeply wish that they were still Poona. Over a sabudana khichri in Wadeshwar (served only on Thursdays and Saturdays) or a chutney sandwich in Marz-O-Rin, you might hear a lament that it is not the same Pune where ‘everybody knew everybody’ (is that even possible?), even as the dishes are being Instagrammed.

In India, the suffix (of the city) is the spirit. Delhiwala, Mumbaikar and Banglorean have their own essence… For Pune, it is ‘Puneri’.

Like any other small town in India (sorry, I meant, ‘emerging metropolis’), this city too has begun to grow ameobically. Pune now has its own satellite electronic city called Hinjewadi at its Mumbai end that bought into focus the Lohegaon airport, which is shared with the IAF. Then came the satellite industrial areas of Chakan and Shirwal, which are now pulling out Pune to the North and South in a gingerly manner. That does get in a huge share of ‘outsiders’ to the city, and Pune finds its own joy in grumbling about it. And then, finally, loving it secretly. Because that’s what brought in the fresh wave of the food culture, the fashion outlets and the fancy townships to the erstwhile ‘retirement paradise’.

Meet and eat

Just as Mumbai is the city that never sleeps, Pune is the city that ever chews. Once the bakery capital of India, in Pune there is light food, heavy food, cart food, mart food, plate food, late food, good food, mood food and everything else. And all of it is cheap and cheerful, that makes you happy for a hundred bucks, max. It cannot exactly be classified as the ‘street food’ culture, but it is meet food culture, where people meet to eat and vice versa. Preferably, out in the open! Yes, the city comes with its fair share of premium diners that are inherent to the subculture and not a franchised extension. I can’t resist, and so Darios, Le Plaisir, Syrakko, Malaka Spice and Shakahari@JW, would be my top five picks, in case you were to visit.

Since, like everything in Pune, I have to bring this piece to its logical conclusion, we shall just say that here is a city that celebrates the ordinary in the delight of its every day. And that comes with a rider that you’ve got to be real. You can be an outcaste for owning a fancy car, and reprimanded for a bratty child. Nerd is the sexy here, while chic is almost slutty. Friends are not always family. Success is not always great. And Mumbai is never the goal. And if ever you were to say that the city is slow or boring, you clearly have no taste for life. If you do not know the medical benefits and the social upsides of the afternoon siesta, public transport is what you deserve. Why do you think it does not exist in Pune?

So here I am at the end of my piece, and I haven’t referred to the Oxford of the East and Detroit of India (not for the crime, but for the cars) monikers. That glory we shall leave to Google and Ganpati.

From HT Brunch, June 25, 2017

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First Published: Jun 24, 2017 22:34 IST