Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Will the real Pune please stand up?

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Any city is like a person. It has multiple identities, multiple faces. You keep getting amazed by them in spite of staying there for years together. 'coz the identity is influenced by so many things. Right from the roads in that city to the language to the cost of living to the social circle we make. I stayed in Mumbai, and I have multiple identities of Mumbai. I stayed in Chennai and I have gathered quite a few impressions.

Of course, one must understand that these identities are largely individual impressions first, and probably turn into identities, if either large number of people think so or that particular situation or condition prevails for a long time. Still, a city has multiple identities as it represents different things for different people.These impressions are to be perceived, a city has to be read. Read like a book, to really start fathoming its soul. I tried reading these at both Mumbai and Chennai, with varied levels of success.

However, the equation changes when you are talking about your own native place. A city that you grew up in, and also grew up with. There, the identities are not only shaped by your own experiences, but also by what you have heard from your parents about the past, by the traces of heritage you still see, by the emotions you feel about that place and by what you hear about it from immigrants. Media, literature and folklore add to it even more. There are times when you are like: "this is so NOT true about my city! you immigrants and your biases!" and there are times when you totally buy the new identity and wonder where was this facet of your city till now.

Pune currently poses that problem for me. Well, Pune never had dearth of adjectives and identities. But I am sure, people did not think that only their version of Pune is the right face of the city. Pune was undoubtedly a Brahmin dominated orthodox city, but Pune was the one which started India's first school for girls. Old Pune is dotted by countless temples and old Pune does also serve awesome non-veg cuisine. These contradictions stay peacefully near each other, and have been doing so for years together.No single side claims that only their Pune is 'real' or rather the 'only' identity of Pune. Well, as we said before, there is no single identity to any city, even Pune.

I increasingly come across people who defy this and try to establish a city's identity through tinted glasses of their own prejudices, expectations and opinions. Moreover, claim that only this is the right picture. I happen to meet newer people as a part of my work, many of them new migrants in Pune, and sadly, with no desire to get to know the city.
I have been told emphatically that there are no palaces in Pune worth boasting. I have been told with conviction that Dagdusheth is the 'top-ranked Ganpati'! People have looked at me with blank stares when I tell them that my school is in Shaniwar Peth in the old city, and I have, no, I am not joking, been actually asked, where is that place called Shaniwar or some wada?

Now, I do get flabbergasted by such questions and opinions. I understand that looking at the way Pune is expanding, it is really difficult to colour it in a single shade or even know all the places. It is all right not to know something, but please do not pass expert comments based on what you really do not know. Worst, do not form opinions about the entire city based on a single locality or place or neighbourhood. Some random place in Aundh might be really hep and crowded with youngsters all over to have a drink. But that does not mean that the entire youth in Pune hangs out only at a bar. There are more and more girls who wear shorts on the street, that does not mean every girl in Pune wears skimpy clothes and roams around at night. There are number of plush residential schemes coming up in the far corners, that does not mean Undri or Shirwal is the only place in Pune worth staying. Yes, people reading and writing Marathi is getting dangerously low day by day, but that does not mean that English IS the first language of this city.

On the other hand side, I also know people, who refuse to accept this expanding city for what it is, are angry about the migrant flow, are pretty puritans in everything they do, and are generally stuck in history, without a real significant thought. They also pass statements like "Real Punekars are always good. The moment these migrants landed here, they destroyed the city."

Given above were examples of inferences people draw. They all probably fail to understand, that no single aspect is a right mirror for an entire city. City always has many moods, many faces, many stories to tell, and many lives at the same time. Moreover, as time passes, social influences change, moulds of societies change, cities change. Infrastructure-wise and also soul-wise. It is fun to see them changing, and it is fun to learn the new facets of city. Yes, it is painful when you see the old beloved things gone, but the new things are also as important to a city's picture as the old one. But all this requires an open mind, and a desire to read a city like a book.
Contrary to my title, there is perhaps no 'real' Pune. If you believe, everything is real, if you do not, it is not. Keeping the mind open is the key perhaps to 'know' the city. I have been actively trying to do that for past several years, and I perceive the changes in my city. Do you?

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