If you are wondering how the three title words are related, then don’t worry because there’s no mystery in there; all I could think of at this time of the day were single unrelated words. It’s Friday night and I would have loved to gorge on a cheese Pizza topped with jalapenos, black olives, mushrooms, corn, and the other regulars. The thought of a newly opened pizza outlet about 250 meters from where I live doesn’t help much. Pune and Bangalore are contrasts in every aspect of the daily life. I waited a good seven months before I could feast on a Pizza - one of my favorite foods - in Pune because I was pregnant with LG and couldn’t make it to the city. Can you believe it meant an hour’s drive to visit the nearest Domino’s or Pizza Hut and home delivery was virtually unheard of until about six months back? In Bangalore, there are two outlets within half a kilometer.
Sleep. Now food and sleep are two things I value very much in life; I can’t decide which one comes first but today I will go with sleep. Or maybe food on second thoughts. I can describe to the minutest detail the layout of our bedroom, the speck of dust adorning the fan blades, and the globe shape formed by orange hues from the night lamp’s reflection; no big deal if you spend hours night after night staring into these objects, right? For years, I went to bed to 10:00 p.m. and woke up by 6:30 p.m. - yea, I was one of those humans that required a minimum of 8 hours sleep to be sane the next morning. It all changed once Li’l General came into our lives. To match his night-time milk schedule, my bedtime shifted by an hour. Of late, with work keeping me up late nights, the mind is too alert by the time I land in bed while the body craves for some good sleep. I’ve been struggling to get a balance between the two. Committing to more work this month isn’t helping either. So, I guess blogging will be a bit slow until I finish my projects before Santa arrives. Yes, the Santa Claus countdown has begun. V plans to visit us for a few days later this month. Yay! For now, I’m totally sleep-deprived and “sleep” tops my wish list for next year (I have the right to change it tomorrow, if I get a good night’s sleep today ). Talking of wish lists, do you have one or believe in one?
“Where are you from?” is a simple question that doesn’t warrant any thinking; it’s akin to asking “What’s your name?” Unless one is an absent-minded professor, the reply should be a reflex reaction. However, of late I find people respond to the place of their origin with a “It’s slightly complicated” or an evasive “Umm..” followed by what they think is appropriate at the moment after due consideration. I’m with the group that chooses a place per convenience. Weird? Well, let’s see as I draw the picture for you.
Born in Southern Tamil Nadu. Studied in places across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Bahrain. Parents living outside India intending to settle in a different town where neither have roots nor were raised. I’ve worked in Bangalore, Pune, and Chicago not necessarily in the same order. Married to a Bengali who was born and raised in Punjab and speaks Punjabi, Hindi at home. I currently live in Bangalore. So when people ask me where I am from, I answer “Bangalore” though I’ve never lived in the city continuously for more than four years. The fact that we own an apartment here brings that affinity for the place. Wonder what people with multiple apartments in different cities would say? After all, real estate is no judging factor to be rooted to a location for an identity.
A few weeks ago, a lady (let’s call her Ms. S) at met had a similar story to narrate. Her father was in the armed forces which in turn implied she had schooling in more number of schools than there were grades to study in (sometimes one grade in more than one school). The “Indian Identity” was not uncommon to folks from the Armed Forces and with parents in transferrable jobs such as those in banks. But to majority civilians when job-hopping was considered a big career mistake, it was a strange feeling until a few years ago to not have a place that you could call home. It’s an increasingly wide-spread phenomenon. Every second person you meet in India’s metros today are like Ms.S and I. Our kids in that sense will have more Indian-ness in them. And for all you know, they might just start calling themselves an Indian instead of a Bangalorean or a Delhite.
Regionalism is still pretty much intact in tier-2 and tier-3 towns of India. The cosmo experience has its own advantages. With the stay in every city, you take away some aspects of it that change your lives permanently. Pune, how-much ever I detested initially, always made me feel good for its community living. I regret spending the festive season in Bangalore. Be it dahi-handi during Krishna Jayanthi or pandals during Navratri and Ganesh Chaturthi, the city came alive taking in Puneites and outsiders alike in its festivities with an open embrace. My best Holi moments were in Pune. Bangalore, for all its claim of a blend of traditional outlook and modernity of a cosmopolitan, has that inherent aloofness, a cold feeling that’s difficult to describe.
Living across cities opens a wide array of culinary choices. I find it rather interesting at the ease with which we have sabudana khichdi one day, idli the next, paratha, and pohe the following days. Until a few years ago, we would have been discouraged to welcome Maharashtrian or Bangalorean food home out of a lack of understanding. What was restricted to experimentation in restaurants has entered our kitchens now.
Where you live transforms one in ways that’s difficult to comprehend at times. Sometimes it’s beyond reasoning. It was only natural for V to have immense faith in visiting Harmandir Sahib every time he was in Amritsar because that’s what he believed in during his growing up years. He may not live there anymore but that doesn’t shake the faith you’ve harbored all your life.
So, where are you from? A straightforward answer would indeed arouse my curiosity in you
After a long wait, I’ve decided to get this out of my head and be done with before logically moving on with the rest of the posts. Here comes the concluding part in the “Moving Cities” series.
With boxes of all sizes and shapes stacked up in every room, we spent the night on plastic covered mattresses laid on the floor; food for us was ordered from outside and some generous neighbours offered to cook up a meal for LG. About 25% of stuff was yet to be packed and we got going the next morning with the carpenter dismantling the wardrobe and the toiletries being stowed away like trash into a stack in the cartons. Yes, DRS Agarwal - the packers and movers - sucked this time. Satisfied with their services three years ago, we decided to go with them this time too for moving from Pune to Bangalore despite the relatively exorbitant price they charge. And, I regret that decision. The two days that they packed, I had to don on the hat of a supervisor as they lacked coordination and each one was up against the other picking quarrels, delaying loading etc. The last day at Pune was a circus; never had I imagined that so much could be done in twenty-four hours and still be left with energy. The loading which was scheduled to begin at 11:00 p.m. got delayed to 6:00 p.m. because of a severe shortage of diesel in Pune. To fill the container’s tank took the packers to petrol bunks across the city and by the time it was all done it was late evening.
I’m still alive …testimony enough that packing is going great. Slightly limping form the exhaustion of standing all day yesterday, I can feel every muscle on my body. Wasn’t this bad the last time we moved - blame it age ? This time around, there was a lot of energy one had to muster - thanks to LG who literally kept me on my toes. He had a whale of time actually touching objects which until now were quite out of reach a good 4 feet higher than his hands could reach. Touching “The Harvard University” frame that he saw every morning or for that matter the clock he danced to for “Hickory Dickory Dock” - the happiness was clearly drawn on his face.
When the packers came in at 11:00 a.m., I had put Lg for a nap. By the time he woke up half past noon, they were done with a lot of heavy stuff such as dining table, sofa etc. In a span of an hour, the house looked dramatically different. The puzzled look on his face as he got up said it all. The only comforting factor came when he saw me and I walked him room by room showing him stuff that was being put away in cartons and boxes getting stacked by the side. It took him a good half an hour before he got himself together to start on the survey-damage mission.
The surprising moment of the day came when the packers packed his toy box. I couldn’t believe a 19 month old dragging such a heavy hardware box just because it has his belongings - his first expression of holding onto something that belonged to him. It got worse when they packed away his horse - repeatedly pulling it out finally giving into crying. He has a sense of change, of not everything being the same but can’t express it. With the pram and high chair packed, it has never been the same. A cranky child, missed dinners, and an uprooted life - it’s going to a while before normalcy returns. In a way, his cheerfulness is what has kept me going.
With three nights to go before we pack our bags and leave Pune for Bangalore, my planning demons are back in action that translates into a nightmare for the rest of the family. We got a lot accomplished over the weekend but there’s the nagging feeling that there’s still so much to be done (remember Murphy’s law?) that I’ve no clue where to get started. I’m a great planner jotting down long-winding lists of things to be done on every available notepad in the house and barking orders hysterically as the D-day draws nearer ; sometimes going to extremes writing down even the obvious as to stuff suitcases with clothes before the date of departure. I always knew we had a cart-load of travel bags but since they were stashed away in the dingy loft, I lost count. It’s not surprising to see a dozen (yes, 12) lined up against the wall in all shapes, sizes, colors, degrees of wear/tear and brands. Opening some of them was even comforting as they sprang a surprise - some bringing back memories of travels from five years ago, that favorite jacket which we thought had been lost in SA or the secretly hidden Nike shoes of V. Yes, it’s been a disorganized mess the past three years here with no proper storage space, we just put away stuff that were not of daily use in these cases on the lofts.
Packing is fun; it’s the rest has-to-get-done in the list which is annoying like shifting broadband connection, disconnecting mobiles etc etc. How I wish we had a universal number portable across India under no fancy charges of roaming. As if this weren’t enough, Vodafone with whom I have my mobile connection requires me to visit their store in person and surrender the SIM card. Can’t get better and I have 28 hours in a day to find a slot for this errand amidst all the packing and hundred other things. And, my favorite Tata Indicom goes a step further in making things convenient - shifting of broadband connection is very much possible they say after conducting a feasibility study, but their usual server problem in my location will mean it will take 15-20 days for it to be setup. Why bother you might ask and just dump this crazy thing? I happened to take the 4 months post-paid connection by paying in advance and I’ve just used 2 months’ worth. My better sense advises me not to waste time and effort in getting it done in Bangalore and just go with some other provider, let’s see!
The past week has been rough with the family taking turns in falling sick sharing antibiotics, passing boxes of tissues, and being partners in cold. The virus was kind enough to spare me but a nasty stomach bug coupled with acidity hit me over the weekend that saw me eating raw garlic at 2 a.m. to soothe the pain. Multitasking comes naturally to women and I’m no exception. Every spare minute since Friday was put to use in stuffing suitcases with clothes, labeling them and stacking them in one corner. By Sunday evening, we got a great deal done with little damage from the very efficient LG who tried too hard. Moving is also the best time to cleaning and giving away stuff you don’t need. With no option of a garage sale, we just are habituated to accumulating knick-knacks over the years that take up so much space. All the unwanted furniture, clothes, artifacts has been disposed of. The packers and movers come in tomorrow and everything will leave the day-after. It’s been raining incessantly since Saturday. But, it’s still far better than Sept. 2005 when we moved here.
I’m looking forward to the move back to Bangalore. There is little doubt that I will miss the neighborhood we live in Pune a great deal. Perhaps, the person who will miss it the most will be Lil’ General. So much peace and so much space despite all the infrastructure problems (no water, no power) which have only grown multi-fold over the past few days because of the monsoon (or lack of). Bangalore will be starkly different with all the chaos thrown in. The hopes of getting a life and an organised home is exciting!
On a hot summer day, the smart way to begin a meal at Mini Punjab is by refreshing your palate with a sweet or savory lassi before pouring over the menu. For those familiar with the North Indian and Punjabi cuisine, there is little room for confusion in the dishes served – and to make matters easy Mini Punjab serves only vegetarian cuisine.
There is a moderate choice of starters ranging from vegetable seekh kebabs to paneer 65 and gobi manchurian. Quite out of the ordinary for a Punjabi restaurant, they also serve snacks - if you happen to stop by early for dinner and have the appetite for a quick and tasty samosa.
The waiters hard sell their specialty mixed kulchas and parathas helping one decide faster. Once the thirst was quenched with the lassi (Rs.20) and we settled down, we had a quick look at the familiar Punjabi menu to settle for two plates of onion Paratha(Rs.40), one methi kulcha(Rs.25) and one mixed kulcha(Rs.20). The kulchas are served with a bowl of chole while the butter dripping paratha cut into quartets comes with a cup of dahi. Once you’ve tasted the kulchas, greed takes over asking for more of the same leaving little room to order rice and other vegetable relishes such as the malai kofta or the seasonal makki-di-roti with sarson da saag.
Onion paratha is my personal favorite when served. A thick layer of finely diced onions fried in the choiciest of masalas sprinkled with ajwain and dhaniya leaves sandwiched between thin layers of atta with dollops of butter simmering on the top makes for a hearty dinner. On more than one occasion we have been served the wrong order and apologized to profusely for the goof-up due to internal miscommunication.
The décor is minimalist with no Bollywood filmy posters from the ‘70s era donning the walls. Neither will you find seating arrangements on the floor or a charpai as in a roadside dhaba. Just a dozen wooden tables and chairs segregated into little islands and some non-fancy lamps on the walls. But the natural surroundings of the restaurant render a rustic look complementing the look that a dhaba warrants. With the railways station less than 250 meters away and an adjoining truckers parking area there is always enough hustle bustle at a respectable distance.
Dining out for parents in India with toddlers is an exercise more rigorous than the morning workout. 99% of the restaurants in India are not child-friendly with no high-chair or other activities to keep them entertained; the minority that do are upscale dining lounges in five star hotels. In that respect Mini Punjab – a non assuming roadside place with a friendly owner and courteous staff are always forthcoming in babysitting kids while the parents dine – a reason good enough to rate it higher than its competitors in the neighborhood. The clientele is mainly working bachelors and students because of the restaurant’s proximity to various colleges.
The folks who run the place had a small outlet near Bhel chowk with just two tables while most of their revenues came from take-away orders for those mouth-watering parathas and Nans. Seeing the demand they moved to a large area much farther from where the action was - towards the railway station. The crowds have disappeared and so has the quality of the onion parathas. But it still remains a better option for dining out than most restaurants in the locality. Satisfaction guaranteed!
If one lives on the stretch of road that leads to Bhakti Shakti in Pradhikaran, it’s tough to miss the sound of galloping horses or the clinking of the camels as they head towards the garden every evening for a brisk business. Much to the dislike of animal lovers, the dozen camels and horses draw a lot of children week after week. The turnout is considerably high on Thursdays when the industrial area shuts down because of the power cut. Weekends attract people from other parts of the city.
Bhakti Shakti garden located atop a high hill rock in Sector 23 of Nigdi-Pradhikaran along the Mumbai-Pune highway, has statues of Shivaji Maharaj and Saint Tukaram. The landscaping and well-manicured gardens provide a perfect getaway for the residents of PCMC. The huge vacant space outside the garden has slides, merry-go-rounds, camels and horse rides for children. Miniature cars and bikes cart young kids on a 100 m ride. Most visitors are families comprising of young children, but there is something in store for everyone. Many old couples relax on the lawns after an evening walk with a handful of roasted chana or groundnut.
Bhakti Shakti garden is a huge hit with young kids. At the same time, it creates employment for hundreds of hawkers selling anything from bhel puri to coconut water on hot summer evening to kala jamun. The place resembles a fair and does brisk business all through the year except the monsoon months of July-September when the business gets adversely affected. Young boys in the age group of 13-17 ride the horses. One of them said, “There are no holidays in this business. but we enjoy it as it is fun to give rides to children. At Rs.10 per ride for 100 meters, it is economical for customers.” I questioned, “What about the animals? You overwork them so much?” For which the boy without battling an eyelid said, “Madam it is our livelihood. Without these we will go hungry.”
In many ways, Bhakti Shakti - open seven days a week - is PCMC’s indigenous Animal Kingdom – not for the variety of species it houses but for the numbers it attracts by offering a wholesome entertainment for the family on a shoestring budget.
We’ve lived in Pune for over two years now; not decided to make it our home, at least not yet. I don’t love it; I don’t hate it. There’s something about the place that I can’t quite point my finger to that makes me oscillate between this love-hate thing.
Indian cities that way are quite different from the American ones, never been to Europe so I don’t know if they are stereotypical like their American counterparts. Every Indian town and city is diverse from the rest - in its culture, its people, language, cuisine, tolerance level for people from other states, festivals, real estate, mannerisms and communities. Every city will not have a Reliance Fresh or Spencer’s, though that’s changing now. Read more
Till date, I’ve lost 3 parcels sent to and from Pune and all of them by different couriers - Professional, DTDC and most recently First Flight totallig to Rs.6000. While in the first two cases, the entire parcel got lost, the last one sent on April 2nd was tactically stolen by First Flight. The parcel comprised of 2 expensive shirts in one box. While 1 shirt reached, the other one was removed from the pack by slittig one corner, repacked the same way and sent with the outer cover that had my handwritten to and from address. In this case, it is hard to recover the insurance money as there is no way to prove to those guys that only 1 shirt was delivered. I have lost faith now after 3 experiences in sending anything to and from Pune. I thought it was a mere coincidence when a set of Titan watches sent from Pune got lost a year back followed by sent of dresses sent from Delhi. Sometimes, this is reason enough to hate the corrupt society we live in! More than the cost value of these parcels, what hurts is that all of them were gifts … so the thoughts, effort and love that went behind selecting/shopping each of them also is stolen!
Pune Railway Station. 18:00 hrs. Destination : A Pune suburb. Mode of Transportation : Local Train.
At the ticket counter, I request for a first-class ticket. The ticket collector looks at me for a few seconds, states the price and on second thoughts says (in English), “I think you should be with the ladies in the ladies compartment. Take a regular ticket.” I follow his advice and duly march towards the a bench on the platform where a few ladies are sitting.
18:10 hrs. The silent platform suddenly is buzzing with activity. College students discussing the day’s highs and lows, white collar workers whining about their bosses, blue collar workers resigning quietly after the day’s work, low wage workers squatting on the ground and above all this noise hawkers shouting loudly selling chat (read: junk food), biscuits luring prospective customers.
18:15 hrs. The loud speaker announces that the local train is on time and is expected in a few minutes. People get up and move towards the edge of the platform. Boyfriends bid goodbye to girlfriends.
18:20 hrs. As the train pulls in, it sends a shiver down my spine. As a kid, I fell from a moving local train close to the platform and was lucky to come out alive. Since then, I have a train phobia and avoided traveling by one for many years. When a express train zips past at 80 Km ph or one pulls into the station, I shudder looking at the moving monster. Thankfully, this local train pulled into the station very slowly.
If you are seeing one such train for the first time, you could get a heart attack and die in shock. The train was overflowing with people, some were hanging out of the door with a iron handle standing in the way of their life and death. Before the train stopped, people disembarked (well, jumped) out so adeptly that they have done all their lives. It was a shock but then this is INDIA. Anything and everything can happen if you can’t find your way through a country with over 1 Billion people.
Once the train stopped fully, everyone was pushing one another to get into the bogies. The trains stop for 30 seconds at every station. No fancy doors. If your feet slips, you could be on the tracks counting the last minutes of your life. I was behind not pushing anyone. Apparently, the people behind pushed me and with the natural force I got in. Once in, I found a few inches to keep my feet and myself in balance.
Despite warnings from acquaintances refraining me from taking the train during the peak hour which it was, I took the train. Thanks to my driver who called in sick. You might ask what was I thinking? Honestly, I don’t know and wasn’t sure quite what to expect. But I’m glad I did it because —
The scene inside was a representation of the real India. Ladies of multicultural, multilingual background from the middle and the lower segments of the society chatting away with no strings attached. Discussing their festival plans, discussing work, college students talking about guys.
It was a slap in the face. The India IT has made us forget. Bangalore and Hyderabad is not India. That is the India the world knows about. As we gloat in our status having lived for the past few years in the comforts of plush offices/residences and commuting in a chauffeur driven car and shopping in malls and vacationing in foreign destinations and huge disposable incomes, the IT generation is leaving their past behind. But the past hasn’t vanished. It is still a reality for some.
This is the true face of India. According to a recent McKinsey report, an estimated 695,000 people are employed by the Indian IT and business-process -outsourcing industry. Sure, it is a large number. Interestingly, it is a meager 0.0695% of India’s population. These 695,00 odd people are the envy of the rest of the Indians. Our older generation toiled hard but couldn’t make it big. There is a huge economic divide and you can sense it in the railway stations. Be adventurous and go on one yourself!