About a year and half ago I did something I’d thought and claimed that I would never do – yeah, yeah, never say never and all that – but hey, one lives and learns.
After spending 16 years in Mumbai (with brief stints in Delhi and Goa, yes, I quit Goa, that’s another story), I returned to Pune.
I’d left Pune young, hopeful, quite in love and reasonably stupid – I was returning older (OK, much older), jaded, single and still, reasonably stupid.
Plus I now had a metropolis-sized chip on my shoulder, thanks to having been an honorary Mumbaikar for more than a decade and a half.
Needless to say, the move wasn’t easy. An aborted spell in Goa had further strengthened everybody’s abject lack of confidence in my surviving this traverse.
Family, close friends, even the Mumbai house help expressed their concern about my decision to return; clearly not many people had any faith in my decision-making skills!
The initial delight of not having to fend for oneself on the domestic front soon waned and the city started to creep up into my attempts to lead an idyllic life.
Here I was, back in the town where I was born and brought up, a city which my family had always called home, and yet, in this landlocked pride of the Western Ghats, I found myself inexplicably at sea.
For starters, I realised I’d to start getting used to Pune’s legendary arrogance.
Sure, we can call it our straightforwardness, our honest demeanour etc. but it’s essentially our rudeness, plain and simple.
And for reasons I cannot fathom, we take pride in being rude!
For example, there’s the parking attendant at Deccan – who’ll wait for you to carefully parallel park, get out of the car and start walking away, before calling out to you and making you park elsewhere.
Next, there’s the hospital receptionist, who somehow thinks your bloody, mangled injury is not more important than her phone call discussing how Sanju bought Sarita a handkerchief with a puppy on it. “Aga ho na, naahi khara puppy roomaalaat kasa fit hoil?!”
Let’s not forget the haughty autowala who equates your address with not having to give you back change. “Kya boss Koregaon Park mein rehke unnees rupaiyya waapis maangte ho?”
Just everyday chores in Pune meant navigating through these conversational codes of (mis)conduct!
But, I’m adaptable if nothing else, and I found that once one embraces the rudeness and refuses to get upset by it, the whole act of interacting with people on a regular day becomes a form of sport – one where sledging and trash talking is the real game winner!
Then came the city’s very unique ‘Can’t do’ attitude (try not mixing up ‘can’t do’ with a similar sounding very expressive vernacular adjective!) – everyone from the neighbourhood kabadiwala to the local corporator love saying “No”.
Now, I understand that everyone is entitled to their right of refusal and ‘no means no’ – but that does pose a small problem when everyone says no to doing their jobs!
After grappling with this situation a few times, I learnt that subtle art of Puneri persuasion when I realised that essentially folk don’t like to be told it’s their job to do a certain thing – they prefer doing it with the demeanour of them doing you a favour or teaching you a lesson. Now that is the acceptable way to do it!
For example if you ask the plumber to fix a dripping tap, 9 times out of 10 he will refuse, but let him impress upon you on how he is single-handedly saving water across Maharashtra and how you are honoured to have him to tighten your leaky faucet (yes, I meant for it to sound that inappropriate!), then he’ll ensure the job is done pronto!
Pune, it has dawned on me, is not your average run-of-the-mill wannabe metropolis, and the average Punekar is no regular Joe (or Janardhan Joshi if you prefer).
So, while the generic Mumbaikar is usually exhausted by end of the day, too tired to open the fridge door, let alone opine about anything, the Punekar is well-rested with an afternoon nap, fortified by his/her walk up the tekdi and rearing to take on foe (or friend) for a fight about anything unto death. OK, make that unto dinnertime, this is Pune, not Sparta!
It’s now almost two years since that fateful decision I took to return home, and while I’m deeply grateful for the space the city affords me for my job and passion, I’m still never going to agree that Shrewsbury is the best thing that happened to mankind since sliced bread. Let me just reserve my opinion on Chitale chi amba barfi – because I don’t want to be killed, after all, this is Pune, not Sparta!