It was in the Monsoon 2003 when I first stepped into Pune, the educational city, Oxford of the East and Land of Peshwa to explore life as a young student in my 20s. Tiny showers of rain sprinkling in the small but clean city was my first tryst with the Pune Monsoon.
I was discovering the city, whether it’s Fergusson College (FC) Road which I would make my home for three blissful years, enjoying soothing evening walk down the busy street, filled with honking and the hip crowd at the eateries and coffee hang outs. It was sight to walk for long on FC Road, surrounded by Savera, Rupali, Cafe Goodluck-the restaurants-and coffee shops-CCD and Barista, the tiny book shops and, of course, Archies gallery that lingers off Deccan and Jungli Maharaj Road.
A sheer delight to witness the happening crowd, making a beeline for street food and the vehicles, rickshaws, cars, bikes and PMT buses, zooming ahead. It was one of the best places to catch the sight of beautiful and glamorous girls and, of course everyone that lends Pune its ubiquitous charm. During those days, the traffic was not crazy or delirious where there were lots of breathing space and greenery, a far cry from today.
Buildings were not sprouting at a fast pace because Mumbai was still the in thing. One could easily sit at the restaurant, enjoying a smoke and coffee, watch the traffic flow moving at speed and in the rush haste which was within reach. Things like honking were not piling on one’s heads or making us bonkers. My first tryst was at CCD where I would enjoy my first Arab Eskimo among the crowd and it was the place to be since one would get the luxury of free passes for parties and it became my favorite hang out, enjoying cold coffee treat and pastry. The loud music played and the friendly waiters smiling as the crowd would gush and break into splinters, noises reaching decibel level.
Often, one would stop for a cutting chai at the tapdi, indulging into small chat with the chai wala, narrating how he saw the city grow since the time he came as a child. I enjoyed riding the scooter from Fergusson College till Aundh, off Military Ground and the peaceful Pashan, adorned by greenery and trees-cum-saplings planted till the end of the chowk, towards Sus Road. From one end of Pune FC Road to the other end at Aundh at Ozone, a favorite hang out zone for college going students which is close to Parihar Chowk and walking distance of my first paying guest at Goodwill Housing Society. I enjoyed the trip on the bike during the college days where one could drive without being bothered too much with the traffic at Pashan. During those days, one would drive in peace, humming a song and enjoying the scenery since honking and traffic was lost at a looming distance.
Don’t be shocked! Pashan Road, Baner Road and Aundh were the most peaceful places in the city, whether the morning or evening where you could sing your way without going bonkers.
Then, there were the places that we hanged around and never missed an opportunity to be, relishing pastry and coffee, shopping a lot during the college days. The joy of doing grocery on one’s own and one name that came to the mind was the red colored Food World. I was a regular at the few supermarkets in Pune, if one doesn’t count the local Kirana stores like Om and Hanuman supermarkets.
Foodworld was cherry on cake and to think one would drive all the way to Bhandarkar Road either by rick, bike or take a long walk. How I wish the Foodworld would still be there! Blame it on modernity with supermarkets like Reliance, Food Bazaar and More cropping up. There were small supermarkets such as NEEDS giving a sense of variety in Pashan. Towards our final year, Bakers’ Basket became the preferred option over Mongini’s Cake Shop. The variety of creamy pastries was a notch up. The joy of riding the scooter to the Sabzi Market at Deep Bunglow Chowk (DBC) looking for fresh veggies and parking the vehicle inside the yellow zone. One just has to cross the street for pastry and coffee at the tiny Nilgiris supermarket. Nilgiris which is now passe, was a small supermarket where one would roam freely, buying stuffs and hopping on to the tiny shop outside for mouth watering pastry. I remember always looking for pineapple pastry and coffee as I would burn a cigarette.
Our dear Old, Mongini Cake Shop, was the destination every now and then at Fergusson College Road. Or, walking in the scorching sun from college towards Deccan to the gud ole’ Irani cafe, Lucky for bun maska and chai. The old version of Pune days I relished, enjoyed every single moment of life, buying books on the street for 40 bucks. The yore days of stopping at Irani cafe like Lucky-it closed down the shutters-and Cafe Good Luck-luckily it’s still open-where one would fill the stomach at an economic rate retained the old world Pune charm. On the menu, samoosa, kheema and Omelette where romance over food was brewing as one sits at the marbled table. Truly, the days of magnificent charm are over.
It was in December 2013 when I was in for a rude shock after I read status update on Facebook that our college hang out, Savera, where all Fergussonians would flock after lecture and skipping classes to spend the day, was closed. Savera held a place of pride for all us which became our love and it would not be an understatement to say that we’ve celebrated double graduation, one at Fergusson College and at Savera, that witnessed intellectual, mundane and flimsy conversation. A place where everyone knew everyone, memories were carved and buried, smoking cigarettes and coffee spilled down the lungs. It hurts that I couldn’t be there on the last day when the hat was doffed.
I remember the last visit made to Pune gave me a rude shock to see the city drastically changed, courtesy to builders. It was no longer the green city but replaced by high rises, sprawling in every nook-and-corner of the city killing the breathing space. The magnificent Pune hill is slowing diminishing as the builders are not sparing the charming and beautiful city to make it another Mumbai whose infrastructure crumble at every monsoon. I remember last time I visited my teacher who was telling me that despite protests, the businessmen are ruthlessly designing towering building to kill the space Punekars take so much pride in. One day, I walked all the way from Fergusson College to Jangli Maharaj Road, for memory sake, to remove cash at HSBC.
Imagine my surprise on the sunny Sunday to see the branch closed or for that matter, FC Road becoming a one way. Or, to discover the Faaso outlet at DBC disappearing out of thin air. It was a pain to see the city changing drastically with buildings all over the place to give way to the consumerist society. I hate telling it but the fact is that Pune is losing its charm where traffic is escalating with all the honking to drive the city mad.
Somehow, I prefer the old charm in Pune, which made life so simple and peaceful. I am sure that it has changed every single day in the name of development, killing its identity where the beautiful places are facing a slow death. Hope the city retain its lost glory through a magic wand. Wishful thinking! Guess, we pay a price for modernity that overburdens the city’s space. With the hectic pace of life in the city, makes me wonder whether Punekars can afford the luxury of a morning walk at Kamla Nehru Park, off Bhandarkar Road. It’s a must visit if you haven’t done so till now and trust me, you’ll love the place. Gearing for my next visit in the city which I sorely miss and want to see how much more the landscape is changing by the day.
Post script: The post was started on Saturday and it took me three days to wrap it up. Reason: I racked my brain to remember the names, Nilgiris, Lucky Restaurant and Foodworld. I pinged a friend on FB and she reminded me of the names lost in translation. Blame it on amnesia and coming to terms with the fact that I am ageing faster:) I am planning for memories on the Pune days but unsure. Do let me know. In any case, its not for tomorrow. Love V