Pune street life

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.

Pune – the Oxford of the East

I’m spending 2 weeks at our office in Pune, India. I arrived on Sunday morning, and have not seen much of the area yet. But I did a bit of sight-seeing on Sunday, and have some first impressions.

From the air, Pune is a lot greener than near Delhi. Surrounded by low green hills. And the country side around town doesn’t look bad. But there are a lot of slums in town. And more trash in the streets than I’m used to. Lots of little shacks on the roadside where vendors did brisk business. In some of the shanty towns, the walls were painted with cell phone advertising. And a painted ad on a wall advertised “Learn CAD and EDA”. Pigs and goats routed around nearby.

I supposed Pune is segregated into rich and poor. The biggest office buildings in town are the call centers. They look like modern western office buildings. But squatters live right next door.

I first went off in search of an ATM, which gave me a good appreciation of life on the street in Pune. I also went running in a park nearby, that actually has a running track. I still owe the custodian 4 rupees for that. I was afraid he would lock me in…

I had to dodge motorcycle cabs, demonic drivers and people on the roadside to get there. They all seemed pretty amused. I also used the health club and pool at the hotel. From the pool I could watch constant traffic on the street and hear the constant car horns.

Of course, no Westerner should drive in India. You hire a car and driver instead. My driver came early and was told to take me to see some sights.

The big sight in town is the “Osho Commune“. That’s an ashram that was founded by Osho Rajneesh. Or Two Car Garajee. Or somebody. From the photos it looks like a kind of meditation center meets Los Vegas resort.

Osho auditorium Dancing at Osho

Anyway, I could not get in, which might be a good thing. I might have been lured in by all the singing and dancing. Next time you’d see me I’d be wearing a red robe and handing out flowers in airports.

Instead I walked through a nearby “Osho park” run by the commune. This seems popular with the locals. In fact, it seems to be the prime spot for young lovers to hide out. Every few paces I’d run into another young couple holding hands. Or worse!

The best thing I saw yesterday was the Aga Khan Palace. It’s a fine example of colonial elegance, now a bit run down.

Aga Khan palace Aga Khan palace

This is famous for being where Gandhiji and his wife were imprisoned in 1942. She died there, as did his secretary. Their ashes are interred on the site. You can tour the rooms where they lived. They had a faded setof posters showing pictures and events from his life.