Pune, Gokhale Nagar:
“Are you sure you want to move out there?” Mr Oak looks at me through his eyes sitting at the wooden table filled with papers and his rimmed spectacles fell on his nose. I was apologetic and said, “Yes, Sir. College is hardly 3 km away from Gokhale Nagar.” He shrugged my concern, “Don’t go there. It’s horrible and the place is so filthy and dirty. You can always hop on through the six seater and I’ve told you, learn to ride a scooter.” I was adamant and parted away with my three months rent. He was not ready to give it back. It makes sense in a way and parted ways with the money.
Gokhale Nagar is a middle class locality where you drive straight from Deep Bangla Chowk towards Senapati Bapat (SB) Road surrounded by community life of small and modest houses, small shops, chicken shops where necks were slashed alive, lining up on both sides of the narrow road which goes up to the slope. It was quite a small flat and our kitchen window gave the view of the road that borders hair dresser, small super market, sweet mart and cyber cafe. I remember Mom and Dad would call at the cyber guy who ran a local STD booth and he would hit the wooden kitchen window with a stone. You know the phone has arrived from home and hop in time to the other side of the road.
It was quite an experience waking up at 5.30 a.m to attend the morning lecture and waiting for the rickshaw in the cold. The rickshaw drove past me and stopped when you dash only to realize they are waiting for school kids. Bad signal! I felt like Harry Potter missing the Hogwarts bus. Coming back home, I jump straight to the bed sleeping till 4 to 5 p.m. The evening and nights were spent hanging around at the cyber and coffee shop owned by a jolly fellow who loved to pull our legs, Aslam Bhai. I would pull his legs singing, Aslam Bhai! Aslam Bhai! The jovial dude with greyish hair and beard would smile and shout, ‘Gaana hai yahan pe lagaon kya aur tum bhi gaana.’ The man always expressed a smile and pulled our legs and we would hang out at this cyber, sipping coffee or chai till the wee hours in the morning. There were sleepless nights since I slept during the day and the time winded at Aslam Bhai’s cafe where white plastic chair were scattered. We would chat past midnight with people and the young student population in the small community life, blowing smoke and sipping countless cups of tea and coffee.
Eye candy romance was served hot on the platter at the small shop owned by the uncle and aunty where we would buy pack of milk, biscuits and cigarettes, always making a last dash at 10.30 pm closing time The eye candy engineering wali rode the bike and walked inside the shop where our eyes met one day. Removing the scarf she entered the counter and scolded me, warning not to move inside and stay outside the counter. I flirted and asked her stream. It was engineering. Nazre mili (eyes met) and standing tall with her, longing to see her inside every time. I loved watching her shadow, draped in Salwar Kameez and walking gracefully. Aunty did get a hang of my one-sided romance with her daughter but was very sweet, always teased her with laughter when I came to the shop. I could make out their conversation in Marathi where aunty would tell her daughter, one day you will leave us and get married to him. I pretended not to figure it out. Both mother and daughter laughed. In fact, I was always a nice, sajjan guy. Both uncle and aunty loved me a lot. I missed my chance but aunty knew when I stood in front of the shop looking around. The lovely Maharashtrian aunty would tease me, ‘Kya chahiye’. She answered with a smile, ‘Woh abhi tak aayi nahin. Shaam ko aayegi’. My face became blank and wore a sheepish look. I felt like singing, ‘Yeh kya hua kaise hue, chori chori jab nazrein mili.’ As I look back, I could have married her and rather being single, aunty would narrate to the kids our shop romance. Ha!
Once, a big fat guy tried to bully me with his Dada giri at Aslam Bhai’s cyber shop and when Aslam Bhai got wind of it, he shouted at the Dada and told me not to worry since area ka Dada is being taken care of. The next day, the bully came towards and I must confess that I was scared but he told me yaar, asking to buy him beer. I slipped some 30 bucks in his hand and beat a hasty retreat to the flat.
The year ended in Gokhale Nagar when we were invited for a small party at the balcony which was organised by our society. It was lovely. We contributed 100 bucks each and there was songs, dance and kids obtained prizes. I was asked to hand over prizes to the kids who touched my feet. The families were always sweet to me. Aha! Biryani was served. Lukka chuppi was played again on the new year eye with the cute girl who would look at me from her flat in the neighborhood every morning and she made a sign with her hand inching to her lip, as a silent gesture to ask if I ate. Again, no romance shomance happened but it only brewed.
Gokhale Nagar can be very boisterous with the hordes of students while at the same time very sober, owing to the locals. I remember that on first January 2004, some folks lit a bonfire at the basement of the flats. It was winter in the evening near the shops owned by Aslam Bhai and my eye candy where I went to buy candles. It was a beautiful sight to see the local warming their hands. While it was not a place that I particularly liked owing to the facts that students can lose their sanity and often misbehaved making noise to make the people’s life hell. Yet, there were some memorable moments during my one year I stayed, be it playing cricket at the huge tarred road or reasoning with folks who came knocking on the door for chanda during Ganpati or a night out with some Arab folks at TDS.
Hope you liked this episode in my Pune Memoirs.
PS: There were three types of flats in Gokhale Nagar, LIG (Low Income Group), MIG (Middle Income Group) and HIG (High Income Group)