The spirit of a city reveals its true colors during the time of distress or during the time of celebrations. With the palkhi procession going around, Pune has been engulfed in the celebrations of the processions. I am still getting used to what makes Pune tick – the food, the culture, the climate and now its faith. I had skipped the morning papers on Monday. It was a pleasant surprise to see the roads minus the usual heavily crowding of the daily commuters. Reaching work on a pleasant day without my eardrums reverberating off the honking sounds felt heavenly. Someone up there, above the mighty clouds was in a good mood today. The rains had sprinkled for a small while in the morning and the slightly overcast weather was the perfect folly.
Reaching the office and meeting my fellow Punekars, I realized it was due to the Palkhi procession. I quickly scampered for the morning paper I had graciously sidestepped in the morning. On it was sprawled the city map highlighting the procession’s route. A major chunk of the city’s most heavily used roads were going to be closed. Life without these connecting roads was unfathomable to me. To make the matters worse, I had to drop off my parents to the railway station for their train at 6. It wasn’t going to be easy. Pat! I instantaneously drew out my phone and started calling the radio cab services. Almost every one of those services banged up with a “Sorry sir. We won’t be plying on the roads due to the procession… click!” One of the city’s leading cab services said they would ferry us happily. They even said to keep half-an-hour as buffer owing to the traffic. When the time came, they graciously backtracked from their commitment. What appalled me next was that they even went to the extent of saying, “Sir, even you would not be able to make it to the station as all the roads have been cordoned off by the police.” Knowing the city, I knew it could not be the same Pune. There had to be a way.
I have never been a fan of the auto-rickshaw drivers in the city. They charge us like we were all lottery winners and their meter runs like Amanda Seyfried on her roller blades. With the cab services throwing their towels, I had no other option but to search for an auto. The very first auto I inquired agreed without a second thought. To my surprise, he didn’t even negotiate on the price. Just clonked his meter down and invited us on the joy ride. Wow! The gods were still in their elements today. Pune Traffic Police had been kind enough to update the route on their chart. But, even squinting my eyes all the way to nearly closing them didn’t help. Placing the image under a microscope wouldn’t have helped much either. The image showed a satellite view of the city but it wasn’t readable at all. Guess even big screen smartphones (Samsung’s Note) are no use when we really need it.
The auto driver started on his narrative on the palkhi. The beam and the pride was unmistakable in his aging eyes as he briefed us about the palkhi. He told us that the palkhi processions of Sant Tukaram Maharaj and Sant Dnyaneshwar Maharaj were on their way to Pandharpur and that it was an annual event and certainly one of the most awaited event in the city. The belief was that it would always rain as the procession crossed by the city. It was drizzling just a little outside our auto and I believed it was true. He told us that nearly 5 lakh devotees participated in the procession and that it took eight hours for the procession to reach form Alandi to Pune. This was a visual spectacle unlike any the city sees each year.
Mumbai-Pune highway, Jungli Maharaj Road, Fergusson College Road, Laxmi Road, Tilak Road Shivaji Road and Lal Bahadur Shastri Road were all closed for traffic. Everywhere I looked, the traffic-jammed roads welcomed my sights. Senapati Bapat Road, Karve Road and other roads bore the maximum brunt of the heavy traffic. Every small diversion saw bumper-to-bumper traffic. I had never seen so many pedestrians walking on the city roads. The policemen seemed surprisingly happy amid the chaos. There smiles resonated with the happy-to-help pro activeness that belied my pre-conceived notion about them.
At around 7 P.M, I caught a glimpse of the F.C road on my way back. There were countless people frolicking at the side of the roads awaiting with their cameras to catch a glimpse of the city wide euphoria. Warkaris were heroes in their eyes and I too was urged to catch a fleeting glimpse of them from my swaying auto. The jubilation was evident on everyone. No one despite all the smaller hassles of the procession, was unfazed. At around 9.30 in the night normalcy seemed to be returning on the streets again, at least on the Senapati Bapat Road. It was after the celebration of India’s World Cup triumph when the entire city had poured out on the streets in such large numbers before. I felt I was part of a happy city that was united in its celebrations once again.
This is one more event I will always remember Pune for, no matter where I am at this time of the year.