(This was published in Golden Sparrow a while ago.)
You’re new in Pune.
You’re probably stuck on the side of the road, trying to cross the street. Or looked down at the plate of Mughlai food and wondered if the dish’s description in the menu was fiction. Or were blindsided by the brutishness of the autorickshaw drivers. You are away from home, fed up, and want out. Understandable. Bu hang on because with a few things explored, that lens will soften and getting by will be easier.
Arrange for that rickshaw ride: First things first. It’s tough going about town when you don’t have your own vehicle. Negotiating with rickshaw folks (the term ‘negotiating’ is used very loosely here) is very draining. The situation in recent times seems to be improving in some parts of the city where they do ply by meter. However, instead of taking a chance, you could book your rickshaws here: www.autowale.in. They have a service charge. However, the rickshaws go by meter and you get details of the rickshaw driver and the vehicle. This makes it a safer option than hailing an auto. It’s also cheaper than booking a cab.
Walk: Either in the blush of a summer evening or the dreamy rainy mornings, Pune is quite a sweet treat to the walker. There’s a wanton innocence in the lanes strewn with garnet-hued hibiscuses, peach blossoms and buttercups. In parts, the roads are wide with broad footpaths like in Baner. In some places, they wind and slope like SB Road. you find neem trees with their delicate leaves that curl up like eyelashes and filter the sun. Walking is like having a deep conversation with the city. It may start off shy but end up meaningful.
Open-air: Some cities have the sea, some have century-old tombs littered across the cityscape. Pune’s thumbprint is its Goldilocks ‘just-right’ quality of an open-air experience. Choose dinner by the pool at Green Park or on the roof-top at Post-91, a brunch in the patio of Dario’s or Terrtulia, or even a late evening drink at Salt by the humble Balewaadi faata. Choose live music at High Spirits or Soul at ABC Farms. Choose to watch a movie at the weekend, open-air screenings at Seasons. Choose coffee at wee coffee shops like Zodiac or heck, even a CCD. Choose anything open-air and you have chosen well. Sitting outdoors for a meal is quite the mood-enhancing experience (so mood-enhancing that you even forgive the ulti-multi cuisine pastiche that most restaurants offer. That is saying something). This experience, interestingly, does not come with the caviar pricing you find in big cities.
Friends being strangers you haven’t met: Transition to a new place is never easy and without friends to sandpaper that experience, it’s tougher. However, there are a lot of people in the city from outside so there’s a large group that’s feeling dislodged. Meetup.com is a good way to connect with them. There are groups with similar interests out there who welcome members. There’s a variety of groups to watch movies, discuss writing, go trekking, explore haunted houses, or consider start-ups. Some are even formed to discuss appraisals. (It’s true.)
Sweet Serendipity: Overall, the appeal Pune is quiet. It doesn’t jump out at you immediately. It needs a close peering, a waiting, and then, should your spirit move you, a gentle exploration. You could get curious about what lies over a hill that shimmers in the distance. Then you climb it to find a vista that fills you up. Or you could take a wrong turn and land up at an old sixteenth century Shiv temple that’s built around a banyan and has a creek in its backyard. (It’s at Someshwar wadi.) Or you could be dining in ABC farms and listen to a remarkable music band making its debut. Or watch birds in jewel-tones perch on a branch or hundreds of vines with purple flowers creep up a telephone pole. Pune is garnished with a whole lot of such mundane beauties. It’s fun when you find them.
Koregaon Park: You’ve probably heard of the area, its notoriety, its opulence, its reputation for being the petridish where hipsters breed. Locals might tell you KP is a tired cliché. Yet, go there. It will soothe out the routine wear-and-tear of a migrant life. There’s a dulcet hedonism about the place that will help you settle down in Pune. It’s in the white lilies and swaying bamboos of the Nala garden (it’s an enchanting little place made over a drain. Dare you to go there and not be amazed.) It’s in the quiet lanes with large houses, some lovely even in their ruins. It’s in the wedges of banana cakes made of buckwheat flour (at Naughty Angel). Explore that area once and you’ll revisit every time you want to exhale.
Nor work-life, all-life: You have one huge advantage over locals if you’ve moved to Pune from another big city. You don’t really see a 40 minute commute to be very horrible or a reason to not make any evening plans on a workday. In most other places, going for a swim, getting to work, catching a movie, and going for drinks and dinner may be plans you make on four separate days. Not so in Pune. Places are still comparatively close to each other and you can indulge a last-minute whim without thinking, “So far!”
Of course apart from all this, there are the malls, pubs, speciality restaurants, bookstores, and multiplexes – everything that makes urban life so comfortable in their familiarity. But that’s not how you’ll ‘settle’ down here. One settles down when you hush up and wait. When the sky will change colour, flowers will bloom in all their glory and the robust greenness of trees will envelope you. It’s when you will look up and look around and know that with a patch of earth and a patch of sky, anyplace could be home.
And with these kinds of patches? Most certainly.