Wednesday, January 14, 2009


My mother lives in Pune. Off of Karve Road. In one of the sprawling housing developments of big and small independent houses that Punekars call bunglows. It's amazing how close she is to some of the busiest areas of Pune and at the same time how quiet it can be around her house. Except when the neighbor's dogs start barking in the middle of the night attracting all the strays from the neighborhood and someone loudly kick-starts a motorcycle disturbing sleep and tranquility of the night.
Neither of my parents grew up in Pune but my father studied at Pune Engineering College. Perhaps that is the reason why he had a soft spot for the city. He was not a man given to idle talk or nostalgia or looking back on life and so on. But sometimes he would talk about going rowing in the college lake with his friends. Like a lot of middle-class Maharashtrians of his generation my father dreamed of building a house in Pune and retiring there.
Eventually he did build a nice big house, (at least at that time it was one of the biggest houses in the neighborhood)... long before he actually retired and went to live there- very close to where my mother's cousin and her husband had built their own retirement bunglow.
My mother lives alone in that house now with a night-time watchman cum early-morning gardener and a day-time, part-time maid cum cook . Daddy passed away in 2005.
When I was a young college girl, visiting Pune from Mumbai, I never use to like that city. I mean it was ok to visit but couldn't imagine living there. I thought it was very slow and sleepy for someone used to the fast pace of Mumbai.
Things seem to have changed a little bit now. This time when I visited my mother and stayed with her for two weeks, I saw a Pune that looked busy, bustling and crowded. Multiplexes, malls and shiny new name-brand stores abound. Traffic looks like a nightmare. Restaurants look packed. Punekars seem to have started staying up late. In a city that used to go to bed after watching the 9.00 pm news, I was so surprised to learn that my mother's dry cleaner and fish-seller are open till 9.30 in the night and the grocery-store will sometimes make home delivery after 11.30 pm.
I am not sure if the change is a result of the super-efficient Mumbai- Pune expressway which has cut-down the time and hassles of that journey or a result of the mushrooming IT companies in Hinjawadi and Magarpatta on the outskirts of Pune. It's probabaly a combination of both.
There are new housing developments now in newer parts of the city - gated communities for people who need to have helipad on the roof of their house and bathroom fixtures imported from Dubai.
But the good old residential neighborhoods of Pune like Prabaht Road and Bhandarkar Road still seem to have retained their charm. As for my mother's "retirement" colony, it's a joy to sit on her front porch and watch the morning unfold as hawkers selling fresh vegetables push their hand-carts down her street. In between a bhangarwallah or a dharwallah will loudly announce his arrival for those who wish to sell their old junk or get their knives sharpened.
Their number seems to be dwindling though. I saw a lot fewer hawkers this time than I remember seeing on my previous visits.
I wonder if they have found more lucrative employment elsewhere or as the communities have become more and more restrictive for the very ligitimate reasons of safety and security and Punekarnis have embraced the convenience of super- market shopping, the old hawkers have been driven out of the middle -class neighborhoods of the city.

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