None of the people I hang out with in Pune are from Pune – except for one. A few of them are from Mumbai, a couple of them are from Delhi who’ve stayed in Mumbai, and one’s from Hyderabad, who padded around Mumbai briefly. Mumbai – the city we left to get away from it ‘all’. Mumbai – our ever-enduring lowest common denominator.
This Mumbai clique, by the way, is not deliberate. It’s water finding its own level. It’s destiny magnetizing the soul so that it attracts similar spirits. In fact, I think a Mumbai-person out of Mumbai would be rather insufferable unless he or she met other urban prodigals and got along with them. After all, it’s the Mumbai-tainted ones who really understand all the whining about the sea and ever-willing auto fellows. To the rest of the people here, they (or we, since I’m one of ‘them’) are dangerously afflicted with attitude. I can’t blame them though – ‘Mumbai this’, ‘Mumbai that’ can be very irritating. After a while, we all sound like Bilbo Baggins without the indispensability.
Since misery likes company and also comfort food, we eat together. After eating, we spend moments contemplating a hot brownie or a cool chocolate globule (it’s called a ‘chocolate ball’ and evokes silly giggles every time someone wants to get one.) Then we get that and slip into lazy melancholy. It’s rather nice.
However, there are a couple of girls in our group who are rather strident (yet adorable) in their dislike of Pune. They have somehow deduced that the Deccan climes hindered the evolution process of mankind and this is what makes Pune the way it is.
‘People here look so malnourished…so pale and sickly’, says Z.
‘I know…’, says SC, looking around with a cool, sophisticated disdain. Disdainful gaze rests on an emaciated man in checked shirt eating his chapatti with shrikhand from a steel tiffin. Attention to plate is brought back quickly when I take a larger share of the brownie than I’m supposed to. (We usually split stuff because we are cheap and desserts aren’t.)
‘I think that’s because the public transportation is bad’, continues Z.
‘Really?,’ I ask nudging away Z’s spoon that was scraping the walnuts off the brownie.
‘You’ve seen those rickshaws at the station? They pack in 4 people in those!’
‘ So? That happens in Mumbai too. In Vashi, in fact, some people fight to sit near the driver.’, I put in my two cents. Actually, it’s a lie. I’m just trying to distract competition so that my stupid plastic spoon has a chance against those sturdy steel ones.
‘No, they put everyone at the back!’, Z exclaims, waving her spoon away from the brownie.
‘Back! 4 people! Shit! Why?!’, SC interjects, her pretty manicured hands dangling the spoon, again away from the brownie.
‘Because it’s ‘illegal’ to have one person sit in front with the driver!’ [Twitterings. (Tee hee and such like.)]
And that’s true. Not just the legality bit of auto-transport; but also the way people are cramped into vehicles. A bus that can accommodate ninety will try to get three hundred inside. A rick that’s meant for three won’t move unless every atom of air has been squeezed out of the backseat. A squashed tum-tum (that’s a rick that can accommodate six people) will only go places if it has a dozen breathless human toothpicks in it. So, unless one can count your ribs or see your collar-bones, don’t bother hailing a rick. If you can afford to be plump and rounded, you can jolly well afford a vehicle.
‘Pune is expensive ya! I mean, what’s with the two month brokerage. I paid only one month in Mumbai,’ another pal postulated.
I didn’t reply to her because she’s a vegetarian and doesn’t have desserts with eggs. Moreover, she was right. It’s one of the biggest hoax that Pune is much cheaper than Mumbai. Not so. Completely not so.
I remember my pals in Mumbai telling me that I’d get a lovely flat in Pune for 5,000 bucks. Now, ‘lovely’ is a relative term, but here’s a list of flats I was shown for 5,000:
• A corridor with a bed and a refrigerator. When I looked around for a place to keep my cupboard, the broker showed me a corner where I could squat my suitcase. As he pointed out, ‘You’ll be on probation, won’t you? And you’ll be going to Mumbai every weekend. So, suitcase is more than enough. It’s much easier if you suddenly want to leave.’ ( That’s wonderful. Now I can have the fugitive lifestyle I always dreamed of.)
When I looked around for a place to put my TV, he said something about me working hard and not getting time to watch TV, and didn’t I have a laptop on which I could watch movies? (I don’t, by the way.)
• A place with a veranda and a loo that was splattered with the droppings of a million pigeons.
• A place that was ‘furnished’. Which means there was a bed that was cracked on one side, cupboards that opened or closed on alternate days, a TV that was smuggled in 1952 A.D., and a picture of a cherub with orange wings.
So, I get tired. I ask the broker to show me a place that doesn’t conjure up ‘Oink! Oink!’ images. Then the broker shakes his head and says, ‘See, this place is expensive because it’s in the heart of the city.’ And when I go and look at flats in areas that can’t be seen on the Pune map, he shakes his head again and says, ‘This place is expensive because it’s away from the city.’
Sometimes, you just can’t win.
And bananas are 10 bucks when I could get them for 6 in Mumbai, the bai charges 1,000 when I used to pay 800 in Mumbai, the cable guy wanted 2,500 for installation when I’d paid 1,500 in Mumbai. So whither is the ‘relatively economical alternative’ in Pune, pray tell.
In any case, since some girls in the group had stayed in other places as well, they started wondering about the quirks of different cities.
‘I don’t think the cars in Delhi have indicators. Haven’t seen anyone using them.’
‘All these guys in Bangalore buses…they’re all drunk. You can smell the alcohol a mile away.’
‘And what’s with the water supply in Cal! I think they only give water to houses that have cats.’ (This notion has a such a beautiful Egyptian undercurrent to it. Shall write a story about it sometime.)
Suddenly, AD who’s been quiet all this while pipes up.
‘Okay, these boutiques in Mumbai? What do they mean when they say they have a Fall-Winter collection? That’s so weird!’
Silence. Puzzled expressions all around. What does ‘Fall-Winter’ collection mean in a place where a stack of cotton shirts and jeans is replaced by another stack of cotton shirts and jeans?
Nobody’s spoon is touching the brownie.
AD finishes it.