I still haven’t seen that much of Pune yet. Sunday my driver pointed out a few sights. He only speaks a few words of English, and I don’t speak any Hindi or Marathi. So he would say “Here prison Gandhi. Here hospital Gandhi die”.
But driving in town is a very exciting experience. There’s always lots of traffic, with a lot of bicycles, motorcycles, 3-wheel motorcycle cabs playing chicken with the cars and buses. Everybody tries to squeeze past whatever vehicle is in front, regardless of whether there’s room. Lane are just a suggestion. And since nobody ever looks behind them, everyone sounds their horn every few seconds – just to let you know they’re there. It’s like driving in a pinball game.
The motorcyclists are absolutely fearless. They’ll squeeze between two big trucks with a couple of inches of clearance. If either truck turned slightly, they’d be crushed. And a lot of cycles carry passengers, looking bored and unconcerned on the back of the bike. Women in saris will ride side-saddle and don’t seem to be hanging on to anything. Some guys have a kid riding on the handlebars and their wife side-saddle in back. I still can’t figure out how anyone survives the commute. And yet it seems to work, after a fashion. Traffic keeps moving, and people get where they need to go.
The contrast between rich and poor are stark. Our office is a six-story modern looking office building in the Pune IT park. On the street next door are other businesses – mostly little shacks made of scrap on the side of the road. But they seem to be doing a brisk business, selling food, cell phones, or the other necessities of life.
On the way to the office we drive past some new glass-fronted buildings, then past squatters camps where pigs, goats and mangy dogs rout for food. Also the Bombay Sappers military base, where the guards all look crisp and clean and very very British. And a couple of high explosive factories right next to residential areas.