I was born and grew up (for a significant part of my life at least) in an area widely pincoded (I just made that up) as Pune 4.
Pune 4 may be just a part of the city’s pin code for some, but for me, and I believe several others (at the risk of sounding jejune), it signifies a way of being.
So what does Pune 4 stand for after all?
At the outset, its lush (well, once upon a time) canopy of Gulmohars, Bouganvillas, rainbow trees, and a myriad others whose names I do not know. We share an unspoken camaraderie, the trees and I. We greet each other as familiar strangers do; the kinds you see on your way to work in a bus or train. The green canopy is a cynosure for the eyes and conjures up a sense of home.
Pune has abysmally narrow galis and bols (lanes and bylanes) that are its virtual lifeline(s); anything wider than 10 feet (in the heart of the city) would probably be detrimental for ‘effective commuting’. But that does not deter those vivacious greens to pop out from precariously hung Dalda (an erstwhile Palm oil brand) cans.
While Pune 4 boasts of shaded pavements, further inside, the Peths welcomed you with a lone, but significant Peepul and of course a swinging Dalda garden.
Pune 4 also means this tidy mesh of colleges and popular eateries that have mushroomed around them. Fergusson, BMCC, Ranade Institute, Gokhale Institute, to name just a few, are brands unto themselves. From a demographic perspective, Pune 4 has never quite aged; it has always been 18, if not 16.
Santosh Bakery is yet another popular landmark in Pune 4 and boasts of (once upon a time) delicious puffs, popularly known as pattice. The flaky treat was earlier available only on Sundays and its stuffing of pungent, garlicky potatoes would clear the worst clogged noses.
Come Sundays and the hitherto obscure bakery would be swarming with pattice lovers . Elderly gents returning from morning walks, people walking dogs, kids, teens, men, women, would lay siege over its small, decrepit counter, fighting for their share of the ‘manna’ before it ran out… which it usually did around 10 am.
Today the pattice is no longer a Sunday treat, and one can get it almost everyday. Of course, the cost of this popularity was borne by the stuffing, the pungent, garlicky potatoes have shrunk to minuscule proportions.
Pune 4 also means that you had easy access to the theatre and several cinema halls. Catching a play at Balgandharva Rangmandir did not call for a five-year planning. One just ran through the daily happenings’ section of the newspaper, and if you fancied a play, or a talk, and tickets were not sold out, you could simply regale yourself with an evening of good entertainment.
And, which self-respecting Punekar would walk out of Balgandharva without eating his/her worth of those delicious batata wadas? Intermissions in the play meant you were fighting tooth and nail over a plate of batata wada and chai at a counter that was already besieged by another hundred odd starved souls (who had probably eaten a plate of wada before the show started).
As a child, I remember catching several children’s plays at the theatre. I do not recall much of the stories in these plays except that they usually had titles which ended in alliterations like ‘toon tanak doon danak’ and what could not be alliterated was turned into fantasies that would put Tim Burton to shame. Like ‘Bham bham bhootaachi bhambheri goshta’.
The best part of the entire play was that you could exchange your ticket for a cup of vanilla ice cream. Simply hand in your ticket to the kaka manning the ice cream cart at the entrance to the theatre and he would nonchalantly hand you a cup of ice cream.
And while at Balgandharva, you could also wheeze your way up to the first floor art gallery, which was infrequently cleaned and had all manner of mould and other wheez-inducing substances floating in the air.
Nondescript and extremely unassuming, it showcased not only local talent, but some very interesting pieces of work from the rest of the country as well.
As an earning adult, I had once bought a handmade ceramic mug from an artist in Jhabua (an area in Bihar) from this art gallery. Jhabua and ceramics were both unknown to me until then.
To be continued…