The call comes. A distant cousin wants to stay with me during his visit to Pune. For those who want a taste of being a true-blue Punekar, it can't get more "original" than staying in the heart of the city - Sadashiv Peth, a traditional neighbourhood, mostly full of vegetarians, but where you'll find quaint little places serving the most authentic non-vegetarian food.
Welcome to my world, I think, as I nod into the phone. "You can stay for two days, Ameya. Just remember that if you wake up after the maid leaves, you will have to wash your own dishes and clothes. I will manage the rest." I smile, quite oblivious to the stunned silence at the other end.
I wonder whether I should also tell him that he should try to arrive before lunch. But the board by my doorbell - "Don't ring the bell between 2pm and 4pm. We have turned it off so that we can sleep undisturbed. Our phone is off the hook too" - should do it. Anyway, he shouldn't be surprised; he was a Punekar till he was six years old.
He plans to park his bags at my house and head out to watch an IPL match and do the usual Pune rounds. You know, a snack at Shree Misal, a look at all the trinkets he can get in Tulshi Baug, a vegetarian thali at Poona Boarding House, a surrender to meat cravings at Nagpur or Kolhapuri Darbar near the Peru Gate, a binge on a Mastani (ice-cream sundae), and a trek up Parvati hill. Then there are visits to aunts and uncles living in Aundh and Prabhat Road.
"We are frank also through our numerous signboards. So the board at an eatery may tell you to: "Sit in the seats you occupy first and resist changing them"
So, cricket or no cricket, his schedule will be packed. I hope he remembers that all the bakarwadi (a sweet and spicy crunchy snack) and amba barfi (a mango sweet) he'd like to take back with him should be bought before 1pm or after 4pm, since the shop he'll go to will be shut for all hours, minutes and seconds in between. And I hope his mother doesn't want me to go to her favourite jeweller on Laxmi Road. The prices there are ridiculous and I won't stand for it.
We may be brusque but we Punekars are sticklers for fairness. If we see something that's not right, be it a rickshaw driver overcharging us by five rupees, a grocer under-weighing the rice by 10g, an issue regarding the Right To Information Act, or an attack on our culture, we are always ready to fight, together. For being a Punekar also means standing up for what is right and loving the city that gave us social reformers like Maharishi Dhondo Keshav Karve and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, the city known for its prestigious classical music festival, the Sawai Gandharva, the city that is the Oxford of the East.
Ameya calls me back to say that since he will be doing his own chores, he would like to bring a friend along who would not put any pressure on me or my kitchen. How could I say no to that?
Ameya will be driving down so he and his friend can take in the sights. I hope he reads the walls before he parks anywhere in the city, even in my building. Ketkar kaku deflates the tyres of any car that strays into her always-empty parking space. Quite rightfully, I think, for the wall says anybody who parks there without permission will suffer such a fate.
My neighbourhood is full of typical Punekars; the sort for whom being frank is really important, even if it comes across as being rude. It is equally important to them to know everything about their neighbours. I know Vahini from next door will want to know more about my cousin - he's 28, and doesn't drink or smoke; her daughter is 26 and ready to get hitched.
We are frank also through our numerous signboards. So the board at an eatery may tell you to: "Sit in the seats you occupy first and resist changing them". Others go with threats: "If parents lose their kids, they may find them loaded with a shot of espresso and a puppy". Or they will be sold to the circus. Now who would want to try either?
But we mean well. Usually. We want our guests to feel at home and spare no effort in getting the message across with our various notices hung in the most obvious and most obscure places. All that Ameya, his friend, and anybody who visits Pune, must do is to follow them.
Can you disagree with the assertion that "Anybody who parks in front of the gate is a donkey" or that "Only brainless people would throw their garbage here"? Wouldn't you be happy if you were confused about where the stairway led up to and then you saw a helpful note with an arrow pointing up that said: "This way up to floor numbers 1, 2 and 3"? Or a note inside the lift that says: "7th floor not working from inside". I particularly like the one outside a temple: "Hopelessness and shoes to be left here."
My advice to Ameya and his friend is: Have a good time. Take walks in the evening or early in the morning in Kothrud or Baner or Pashan and meet Punekars who are there to walk and care for the hills around the city. Hang out with other youngsters partying on Saturday nights in Koregaon Park. Walk through Bohri Ali, Mandai, Tambat Ali, Vishrambaug Wada, Shaniwar Wada, the University of Pune, and the various kattas (outdoor gatherings) devoted to everything from astronomy to sports to the environment. Try being a Punekar, even if it's for just a weekend.