A warning at the outset, to all those who call themselves Puneris, Punekars, Puneites - basically take pride in the town that's called Pune. Yes, you heard me right, it's a town pretending to be a city, and yes, this is a slugfest against the pretentious town, so keep out, if you adore it.
I have lived 17 years of my life in Bombay. Wait, 9 in Bombay and 8 in Mumbai. But, I never got a chance to see this neighbouring bustling township they call Pune. My mom still rues the fact, but I wonder why. As I grew up, more and more of my friends started telling me about the pretty femme-fatales that crowd Pune and that I should desperately seek a job there (or here, cos I am here now). So, when as fate would have it I landed a job in Pune, my friends were evidently more excited than I was.
I leave behind my parents and my bro, all my bosom buddies, and move to Pune to earn my living on my first job. Its raining (record rainfall that year actually) most of the time, and the weather strikes me as pleasant. False first impression that. Later that year, the summer records desperate highs, and the winter records temperatures almost ready to freeze your veins, and all year long dust billows around riding on hot winds like you are in a desert. The journey hath only begun.
The earth is round, not flat
The folks in Pune are said to be well-educated and smart. I am sure even the guys who direct road construction here know that the earth is round, and not flat. They carry forward this knowledge blatantly, ensuring none of the roads here are flat. How can you have flat roads, if the earth itself isn't flat? The roads are filled with both intentional and unintentional speed-breakers. A tiny pothole gets filled overnight with tarry goo, and becomes a mound next morning. I have been used to potholes from my rainy days in Mumbai. But, the healthy mixture of ups and downs in Pune's roads reminds you that life is not just about downs.
I bet my bike has aged thrice as fast since I came here. You can only slow down so much for every bump, and there are too many around. A ride in the auto-rickhsaw, sans the shock-resistance of course, is most definitely a break-test for the spinal cord. Damn, I have seen better roads in a lot of other cities that Puneris like to compare Pune with. Pune is a town, with roads that deserve a place not even in a town.
Public transport - Two-wheeler
Everybody, and I mean everybody, owns a 2-wheeler. Public transport system? Conservation of fuel resources? Duh...Ok, there's a so-called PTC bus system. The buses are so filthy from the outside itself, I haven't dared step into one of them. I'm used to the more cleaner buses I have seen in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad...Hell, even the buses in Calcutta are more inviting. Plus, its not like the bus system is flawless and efficient and has a good span or coverage. Walk a mile to the bus stop, get down at some unknown place, and ask for directions during another mile hike toward where you really wanted to get. I know comparing with the BEST in Mumbai is pointless, but how bad can one get? The only semblance of public transport then becomes the auto-rickshaw, which is hell by itself. City or town?
Weird alarm system
I don't use an alarm to wake up in the morning. Precisely at 8am, the power is cut-off and I am woken up by the lulling hum of the fan being suddenly withdrawn. This is one of the ways mom used to wake me up when she thought I'd had enough sleep. But, I live alone now, and its plain rude! Damn, what worse time could one choose? People have their bath, prepare to leave for a day's work, and they gotto do it without power? The philosophy behind this of course is an attempt to 'hit where it hurts'. Try to cut off power when people need it the most. Thank god they haven't realised yet we need it most in the nights actually.
Yeah..women that kill. Of course, that was meant in a poetic sense by an arduous French admirer of women. But, my first venture into the streets of Pune made me rethink - perhaps Femme Fatale was meant to be taken literally here. Women may not be killers, but boy, they do dress like one. Bombarded with those images of militants and terrorists covering their faces with elaborate pieces of clothing, one can only help but relive those memories when they see the women here walking around, driving around, in exactly the same garb. You wonder if they will pull out a gun if you say a meek 'Hi'.They say it protects them from the sun and the dust. They even have some wrinkled horrendous polka-dotted thing they call a sun-coat to cover the rest of their exposed skin. And with the stereotypical arranged marriages that happen around us everyday with the groom seeking 'Pretty fair-skinned girl', how can you blame them? The only quirk of course is, when people ask me about the girls in Pune, I come back with, 'I am yet to see them, really'.
Another annoying bit I hate is the fact so many of the shops and services shut down for a whole 2 hours in the afternoon. No, it's not a lunch break, its more like a siesta break. People simply shut shop at 2 to re-open at 4. I've never seen somebody run a business like this anywhere. The shops shut early at night too, if this isn't already bad enough. It took one long trek at 10pm to find an open pharmacist before I realised, I should ensure not to fall sick at night, or stock up my home like a little pharmacy.
Everything about Pune is pretentious. A town pretending to be a city. Riding the IT-wave that has now hit most of the country anyway. Pune may have started early, but believe me, its not keeping up. With infrastructure in shambles, that's no surprise.
A town is made by its people. And that's where the pretending begins. You only have to speak to the youth here to know what I mean. So many of them carry a fake American accent. I don't know where they picked that from, unless the TV is their only friend and they have healthy conversations with it. 'Pune is a fashion conscious city'. People are obsessed with how they look, how they present themselves. They build a facade to hide the real 'them'. The less I speak about this the better. Cos I will be called judgemental, but in my view this is where all the make-believe and pretention starts.
At best, Pune is still a cantonment, tempted to blow into a city, but this really looks set to implode if the governance doesn't wake up and take note.