I met Seth Burkes at NH7 Weekender last year; we were standing right outside Sky Harbor’s set. After a quick and casual chat about the band (I was surprised at the amount of shared music taste) I asked him a few generic questions- “Where do you come from?” “How long has it been in India?” and so on, you know?
Seth, 23, is from Michigan, USA. He has been in India, Pune precisely, for the past 8 months, working as an intern at a renowned IT firm in Balewadi. When I met him again after a month (after promising him profusely to take him to Bedekar Misal) I finally got the chance to properly interact with him.
The first and obviously, the most important question I had in my mind was the cultural difference. “It was a cultural shock, but I’d be stupid if I hadn’t expected it, yeah?” he says grinning sheepishly, while fumbling around with the Pav and Tarri.
“Culture is such a prominent factor in this city, especially with the dressing or the food. I know I haven’t seen much of the country, but I know ‘Poonay’ is different from most cities and people are very vocal about it. Even when I communicate with a cab driver or shopkeeper, I get asked about the weather a lot, and honestly, it’s beautiful. I was expecting sweltering heat or humidity, but maybe I’m just lucky that I came in the right season.”
Now I was curious about his daily schedule, albeit the nuance of work, of course. “I don’t get to hang out with a lot of local people”, he says rather disappointedly. “Mostly because of my work timings and I don’t know where to start. I literally know a handful people in this city; you’re the only friend outside the work environment”.
“Pune is a very odd city; I mean my first impression was very contradictory to what I had been told. There are fancy buildings and malls but then there are also so many parks, I wasn’t expecting this. When I was told about the city by my Indian counsellor, she painted a very different picture. Rather than being a very orthodox city, I feel it’s very young, like it keeps changing, I feel.”
“The traffic situation is a headache, but I’ve been told that it is worse in other parts of the city (he hadn’t been exploring a lot). I like the fact that Pune has so many young people; it’s easy to relate to. Everyone is super nice, but occasionally I get these strange stares from people so I’m expecting that it’s a pretty normal thing considering that I’m a foreigner.”
“My favorite place is Laxmi Road”, he says excitedly and I can’t help but laugh. “My team took me to that place and it was a commiseration of colours and speed and so many people. It’s such a narrow road, but there are so many things happening, like a crazy blur”, he says, while coughing at the sudden spice spike of the Misal.
‘One thing which is scarily similar to Michigan is the political approach. People back home like to bond over casual political street talk; my parents invite their friends over and that’s all they talk about sometimes. I see these huge street banners with politicians’ faces over them and I’m reminded of the Presidential election in USA. It’s unavoidable, you cannot escape politics”.
“I’m going to be in the city magazine? Damn.” He says, giving me a high five. “I just want to tell the readers that Pune is extremely cool, but you guys need to chill with the comparisons. I don’t know what’s better, Mumbai or Pune, but it’s boring to answer this question all the time. Also, I need food recommendations; I want to try authentic Indian food.”
He has assured me that he’ll buy a beer for anyone who suggests him good eateries. Let’s help out, shall we Punekars?