Are you really a Punekar of the 90s if your first riding experience wasn’t that of sneaking your mom’s/dad’s or your friend’s mom’s/dad’s Kinetic Honda and go for a joy ride around Pune at a tender and careless age of 14? Head to your tuition classes on your “non-geared” two-wheeler with your two friends, riding “tripsie” (a term I am sure Punekars coined for three people riding on a bike/moped/scooter meant for two people).
Not much has changed in Pune from those days really. Wait at a signal and you see school-going kids in threes on their scooters not afraid of the cops who are busy updating their seniors on Whatsapp about the sales target they have reached by way of collecting “traffic fines”.
In fact, wait at the signal long enough and you see a myriad of people who you will find exclusively in Pune. Beginning with the highly unique helmet-less two wheeler riders.
Even though Pune is known to have the highest number of two wheelers in the world, it is also known to have the least number of helmet sales.
However, much more famous than the non-helmet riders are the legendary, immigrant scaring and cop-confusing female two-wheeler riders. Our lady riders are unique because they are the polar opposite of ladies in Iran who are risking their lives to remove their hijab.
Little known fake fact of Pune female riders is that they are used as an inspiration by fashion designers in the middle east to design their Burkhas. There is more protection by the usage of scarves on the heads of the ladies than there is on a Formula 1 driver. Everything is covered using at least 67 million different pieces of extra cloth apart from the eyes (thankfully), which are further protected by sunglasses.
In Pune, the vehicle user isn’t the only traffic you come across; on the traffic signals of this city you can see pedestrians walking on the roads because why not and two-wheelers riding on the footpaths because there isn’t enough space on the roads. You can also see these same guys fighting and putting the blame on each other yet not changing their own ways because, well, Punekars.
Punekars hate it when there are music festivals or food festivals which draw in crowds from Mumbai and that’s not just because of our strong opinions about “outsiders”; they bring along with them this weird, unheard of concept called “driving in their respective lanes”.
This organised phenomenon, which is widely used across the world categorised under disciplined driving, is one that we believe just increases traffic. It’s difficult to understand this idea of patience and forming an orderly queue so that everyone can pass and drive smoothly.
It really is confusing when a person who wants to go to the right is in the extreme right lane and is using this strange orange blinking light to indicate where they intend to go. All this while two-wheeler riders are filling the gaps between two cars. Give a gap to a two wheeler rider in my city and rest assured that he will fill it.
Most of Pune’s traffic woes come from the fact that we do not have efficient public transport. Our municipal buses look like scraps of metal that have been joined together with an adhesive whose designs are based on the drawings of kindergarten kids and whose engines are maintained by ghosts of the people that have been run over by them. No wonder the Pune Metro project is probably the one thing we are really looking forward to.
Even as you read this there are chances you will see a truck driving at 10 kmph in the last lane only to realise that a really old uncle is riding on his scooter at 5 kmph right in front of them, you guessed it, without a helmet.