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‘I came to Pune to learn English’

Yoko Deshmukh is a Japanese national married to an Indian living in Pune. She is a freelance translator and writer. She arranges international tea parties for expats and language lovers living in Pune to interact at a single platform

pune Updated: Aug 22, 2017 10:39 IST
Prachi Bari
Prachi Bari
Hindustan Times, Pune
i love pune,eateries,japanese
Yoko Deshmukh. (Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)

I was a student of economics in Tokyo in 2000 and one of my friends lived in Pune. I had never heard of Pune and this friend was my pen pal / email friend. I was surprised that my friend from India had access to internet and this was really unexpected. I wanted to learn English and writing emails to people in different countries was a part of an exercise to learn better. But spoken English and written English is totally different and going to US or UK was very expensive. So, my friend from India suggested that I visit the country. According to him, India was a British colony and hence, everybody could speak English.

So, I came to Pune in 2001 and the first place I visited was an internet cafe on Jungli Maharaj (JM) Road to communicate with my mother. The person I met, then, as a pen pal is now my husband, Siddharth. We had good communication for over a year and wrote to each other and my mother trusted him enough to send me to Pune. During my first visit, I stayed here for three months, since I had an open ticket. The time I spent with Siddharth increased my trust in him and he always felt like a part of my family. He came to visit me after a month and met my parents, my late father liked him and was happy talking to him. Besides, I had really improved my English. It was 2002, when I married Siddharth in Japan on my father’s suggestion. We returned to Pune by the end of 2003.

Back in the day, Pune was very different and it had no shopping malls. It had small cafes and roadside eateries which I loved. I liked eating biscuits with my tea at any roadside eatery. These eateries served fresh tea and it was a wonderful experience. The first time I travelled from Mumbai to Pune, it was on the old Bombay- Pune highway. The experience of the long winding roads was fascinating but it took a long time because of traffic. So, whenever there was traffic, I would get out of the car and have tea at the roadside eateries, which lined the highway.

Life in India is not so easy for many, but a person can learn so much by interacting with the small shopkeepers or roadside eatery owners. These are very good options to refresh when you are on a long, tiring journey. It has been 14 years since I have been living in Pune. Pune as a city is not as big as Mumbai, it is relatively easy to meet friends and you have many choices to relax in different cafes. I often work from home and sometimes I like to visit these small cafes. The reason why I love them is because they are people-oriented and they tend to remember a person’s choices. 14 years ago, foreigners in Pune would hardly interact and you would often see them in Koregaon Park but now because of the IT industry, I have friends from all over the world. When I first came here, I had no idea about Pune and I was under the impression that everyone in Pune could speak English, and yet people never responded to my questions. I thought my spoken English was not up to the mark but this was not the case. People here spoke more in Marathi and now, I take efforts to speak and understand Marathi. This way I am much closer to understanding the Pune culture.

Till now Pune for me was where I earned my bread and I did not learn about the culture, maybe because it is too community centric and a very closely knit society. But now I am able to read a little bit of Marathi through which I am learning more about the cultural variety here. My cultural initiation in Pune was all through my colleagues at work, but now the city teaches me a lot when I interact with people.

First Published: Aug 22, 2017 10:39 IST