Morning Walk at Parvati Hills in Pune

Recently I came across an article that traced the history of Parvati Hill landmarks in Pune. It was fascinating to walk in the bylanes of history and come to know that the hill represents the second highest elevation in Pune after Vetal Tekdi.

Indeed one gets a panoramic view of the city from the top. But I have great memories of going for morning walks at Parvati Hills in Pune – am sure it remains a popular activity even today.

It was the early 90s and I was still studying in High School. One of elder brother’s friends was very close to us and used to regularly visit our home. Suddenly he felt the need to undertake a vigour exercise program to cut the flab and chose me to keep company. My ineffectual protests did not make much of an impact, so imagine the two of us would start out around 5 30 in the morning to reach Parvati Hills for our exercise routine.

On googling it I learn that the distance from our homes in Rasta Peth to Parvati was about 6 KMs and we should be able to easily cover it within 10 minutes by using a two-wheeler when there was little traffic in the morning. Am sure that it is factually correct to state thus – the experience was no less shocking as one left the warm quilt in exchange for the nipping winds that Pune continues to experience in winter nowadays as well. They did serve one purpose though – one was fully awake and alert at the end of the journey.

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India Diaries: A Heritage Building in Pune

You can’t miss the ‘Palace Building’ in Rasta Peth, Pune – it has the unique legacy of being one of the early RCC buildings when it came up in 1928.

The building stands till today though most of the occupants are gone now. I am told that it has been included in a Heritage Building list but not many know what it implies for the building’s future.

The Palace Building
The Palace Building

My maternal family has a long association with the building that came to an abrupt end when we finally moved on in 1998. That meant an end to a relationship that started more than 60 years ago when my grandfather became one of the early tenants in the building. My mother was born here and spend most of her life at the place. It gave her a wrench to finally leave but by then the Palace was past its prime and life had moved on.

It had many redeeming features as a tenement – a central location in the heart of the city with amenities like schools, hospitals, temples, gardens, markets, bus and train stations at a walkable distance. It was an ecosystem in itself as most families had spent decades and generation at the place. It was ‘home’ like no other place.

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India Diaries: the Pune-Mumbai Circuit 1

Have been in India for nearly a fortnight now and have spent the last few days in my favourite getaway – the Pune-Mumbai circuit.

There are enough and more stories to share from the small but packed trip. I have been moving places, meeting people and getting the odds and ends sorted. It has been a mixed bag – the excitement of an unexpected meeting due to sheer fortuitous circumstances whereas the disappointment of missing certainly carefully planned ones as our plans go astray. Nonetheless a refreshing and energizing trip that will leave many lasting memories – though not all of them are pleasant.

I think the most interesting part of my trip is the different people I met and the varied experiences we shared together. Either I have become more perceptive with age or there is an urge in most of us to share easily with a person who literally makes only flying visits to your world and is placed at a convenient distance from your life. So for the most period it was a privilege to share personal stories and share certain private moments. It was intense at times mostly on pleasant terms though there were a few tragic stories as well.

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My English teacher …

On 5 September we celebrate Teacher’s Day in India and one is familiar with the traditional images – students doing a role-reversal and teaching to classes having teachers in the audience. It is interesting to note that we celebrate the birthday of our second President, Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, as Teacher’s Day since 1962. It is as per his wishes in response to requests by his well-wishers wanting to celebrate his birthday after he became the President.

It also brings back recollections of Teacher’s positively influencing blighted young lives across nations – Braithwaite’s ‘To Sir, With Love’ and Booker T Washington passing the ‘White Gloves Test’ to get admission in a college and then founding The Tuskegee Institute.

I was a good student and had little difficulty in making progress as a Science student at High School. And at this stage, I was more interested in English than in my elective subjects. My English teacher made all the difference by her unique approach towards teaching. Till then I only knew the ‘rote’ method that our schools were so notorious for, the tests would amount to credit your ability to memorize and reproduce the subject and not show any application of either intelligence or creativity. Indeed the approach only changed when I started studying my graduation and PG courses.

My English teacher took a very different approach in teaching us – she preferred to interact rather than deliver a sermon. She appreciated questions and encouraged debate in the class. She wanted us to go beyond the syllabus and read more of the authors and writers featured in the textbook. She was unconventional enough to use the daily newspaper as a tool to teach English. Her assignments were rarely theoretical, she tried to give us practical exercises while setting the typical assignments of writing a letter or a short essay.

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The world of a Medical Representative …

My elder brother always desired to be a doctor. He missed the opportunity and chose to work in the allied field by starting his career as Medical Representative with a German MNC in the mid-80s. My father had worked as a ‘Government Servant’ all his life and was a bit sceptical about his choice.

Back in the 80s, beyond the conventional streams of Engineering and Medicine, there were not many lucrative career options available for a young graduate. In fact jobs were hard to come by in those pre-liberalization days and one would be considered to have been fortunate to land a job offer with an MNC pharmaceutical group. However the offer caused a great schism between my father and elder brother as somehow he was not very keen on his son working in the private sector. My father was naturally drawn to the world of job security and ‘norm based progression’ and the private sector seemed to be rather fanciful to his mind.

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A Royal Bus Ride.

It was around 2007 when my job as a sales auditor meant that I travelled extensively in Western India cities viz. Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Surat and Rajkot. My preferred travel mode had always been trains and certainly they were the most convenient options for overnight journeys or when you have the option of travelling in a AC Chair Car – highly productive option as it enables easy use of laptop and even broadband connectivity was available.

But the luxury bus options too were useful – sudden and unplanned travel, shorter trips with travel time of 4 hours or less, trips between cities wherein train connectivity / timings were not convenient were all easily handled by availing the bus service.

Several things had improved dramatically in relation to bus travel – as part of the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ project the highways connectivity the popular cities had been rebuilt and were truly of international standards. Indeed they were known by a more apt name, ‘Expressway’ instead of their stolid counterparts. The road stretches were wide, provided for easy entry/exits by using service lanes and exit loops, the petrol pumps were upgraded to provide decent ‘Food Courts’ enabling one to refresh themselves during periodic breaks and even the buses used on the routes were the brand new premium ones. The older ones were presumably shunted out to the older and less popular routes.

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The Sudoku Craze …

It was as addictive as Coffee and often went along with it.

About a decade ago I got introduced to the world of Sudoku and it was a whirlwind romance while it lasted.

As a child I was fond of Scrabble, Jumble puzzle and Crossword, but I could have never imagined the craze Sudoku generated in 2005. It just swept all of us off our feet when you could see many people around placing numbers on the 9*9 blocker using a pencil (It was easier to correct your mistakes that way instead of using a pen).Curiosity got the better of you and before you knew it you too were hooked to the number game – Sudoku means ‘Single Number’ in Japanese language.

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The daily commute in a Pune local train.

Even a decade ago the local trains represented the city’s lifeline in Mumbai and regular office commuters would vouch for it being the most efficient way to travel in the city. The trains zip in and out at startling frequencies like clockwork and during peak hours you would not wait for more than 5 minutes to catch your train.

So when I moved back to Pune and bought my own flat near Khadki Railway Station it was a no-brainer to opt for a ‘First Class’ pass to travel for 10 minutes to reach the next station, Shivaji Nagar, and take a brisk 5 minutes walk to Office.

But things thankfully happen at a more leisurely pace in Pune and the train frequency was not what I was used to in Mumbai – typically you had to wait for 30-45 minutes for the trains and timing ones walk to the station would never quite work as the trains tended to be erratic in maintaining its scheduled timings. The great plus was that the trains, unlike Mumbai where you were packed to the rafters, were not very crowded and definitely in the First Class compartment you could always a find a seat and travel in comfort.

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Memories of Fergusson College Hostel.

Nearly 2 decades ago I joined Fergusson College in Pune, India to pursue my Bachelors degree in Science. My results in CBSE Board Exams had been a disappointment, more for my family than even for me. And rather disillusioned, I opted out from studying Maths or Physics any further choosing to major in Chemistry along with Botany, Zoology and the esoteric option Geology.

But my college stint was extremely rewarding as the syllabus was not all that taxing and the college provided great freedom to study at your own pace. On a rebound I topped my FY Group in college and have fond memories of spending hours at the Library and in my friend’s hostel room on the campus.

The course structure of B.Sc. was more appealing than that of the Engineering colleges. While a lot of my school friends slogged it out in college particularly in their practicals and projects, we had a fairly chilled out time. They were loaded with the Semester system while we had annual exams. The ‘ATKT’ (Allowed To Keep Term) was a disaster most of them faced and it was a drag in their future semesters as well.

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The old South Indian Cafe …

On a quick visit to Pune, I set up a meeting with a lawyer, who was an old school mate of my elder brother, and off-chance we decided to meet at the old South Indian café in one of the famous Peth areas in the old city.

As I waded my way through the bylanes to one of those old ramshackle buildings, I wondered whether it will be trick or treat, coming back to a place that was part of our daily routine in my childhood.

It evoked the same pleasant smells of fresh food, freshly brewed Coffee and the strong scent of the incense sticks (agarbatti). The place was rather vacant which helped us a quiet chat but I wondered where was the bustle gone – usually one even had to wait for a while to get hold of a place to sit. It was run by a young chap in his thirties – the old proprietor had passed away and the place had exchanged hands.

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