There is something about Pune that makes my heart sing and my breath soar. It is in the air – crisp and light on winter mornings and oppressive, long summer afternoons, and in the sweet, peculiar taste of the water that only a true Punekar can appreciate. It retains its flavour in biting, sarcastic retorts of daily life, where grandiose praise, layered with the subtlest amount of sarcasm is the norm. Being a thoroughbred Punekar, I claim a healthy amount of misplaced pride, my wit is claimed to acerbic, my comments, biting.
So when I met him for the first time, I was in for a loss. He was sitting on a table in the canteen of my college, one of the oldest campus in the country and certainly one of the finest. His tousled brown hair winked in the early morning sun and he cradled the coffee mug in his hands with strange possessiveness. An exchange student who had spent the better part of the year in the city and hated it with a passion that equaled my love for it.
“Pune sucks,” he said with a carelessness that stirred my anger.
How dare he, I thought. Only I, a certified Punekar was allowed to blame my city! When I told him so, he burst into mirthful laughter, telling me that I was off my rocker and as crazy as the rickshawalas of Pune.
And on a strange whim of a bet, we set out to determine if Pune was truly as beautiful as I believed and uncouth as he did. We went to Parvati and Shaniwarwada, walked down the length of JM road and spent dusty evenings in dark bars, where bands crooned into their microphones and the street outside thudded with the force of their enthusiasm. The tiny, meandering lanes of the inner part of the city still lived in past, where nothing changed for years. These lanes lived in a dreamworld where the past merged with the present and life is lived on indistinct, blurry lines of time. The shining, chrome and glass of new buildings, which stood sandwiched between the old wadas, relics of history made him laugh the most. At the end of the month, he went back to his country and I went back to my daily routine, with a hole in my heart that nothing could seem to fill.
He came back the next year. He had, he told me, fallen in love.
I may as well admit that it was not me that he had fallen for. The city that I loved had became my rival in love and I now share a bittersweet relationship with the tiny lanes and the wooded parks.
—- Pooja Wanpal
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