Demystifying Pune (Literally)

SSM and other guys here got me started on this! There seems to be a nostalgic image of Pune still lurking in the air (not the Pune air, of course, there is no scope for nostalgia there.. all other possible algia’s have taken up whatever place is left by pollutants). It’s time to bring in some reality…

They say once a Punekar, always a Punekar. Probably that explains why Punekars still love this city (?). Celebrated Marathi writer, P.L.Deshpande (known fondly as Pu La), has done a great job of characterizing this city (along with Mumbai and Nagpur), in his masterpiece “Mumbaikar, Punekar kee Naagpurkar”. Most Marathi people are familiar with that piece of writing, and it’s so good, that it would take either someone of his caliber or a complete idiot to write an addendum to it that’s more recent in scope. Since it’s hard to find anyone of the former variety, it’s obvious that only idiots will take up the honorable job. So here I am.

There are two kinds of Pune — one is the Pune of legends, Pune the “sanskritic kendra” (cultural capital) of Maharashtra, Pune the Pensioner’s Paradise, Pune with it’s cool atmosphere, idyllic life, the oxford of the east, the blah blah blah…
This Pune is buried deep in the starry eyed memories of those who live outside Pune, or those who have always lived here, and believe what those living outside tell them about Pune. There once was such a Pune, presumably. I am ready to give away that concession to this city(?).
But there is another kind of Pune, that people who live here (and especially those who have also lived elsewhere at different point of time) have to live with. I am one such part-time Punekar, without any of the “jAjwalya abhimAn” (errr. how does one translate that? strong pride?) about the city(?), who can look at some of it’s $hit and say it is indeed $hit, and not “just smells like it”. So what does it mean to be a part-time Punekar? How does one find this city(?), as a part-timer?

This is three part series on Pune.

Part One: Pune’s Traffic

You think you’ve seen it all, bad roads, lack of traffic sense in the bikers, rash driving, etc… You think your city is the absolute nadir (or epitome — if you think this is something to be proud of — and I’ve seen that attitude with genuine Punekars. They’ll tell you horrible stories of Pune’s traffic, almost with a pride) with respect to traffic, you haven’t driven in Pune. This city already boasts of the highest number of automobiles after Delhi, according to some report I read recently (which might be wrong, but that’s irrelevant). But for all these astronomical numbers, the traffic sense of average Punekar can be summed as look ahead, try not to bump into anyone in the front. Everything else is chalta hai. So you have PMT (Pune Municipal Transport — yes there is such a thing) buses stopping right at the center of the road (if you’re lucky — otherwise in the rightmost lane), the auto-wallahs (the ubiquitous auto-rickshaw drivers) taking a u-turn out of nowhere (that even Rajiv Malhortra would be proud of), cyclists moving in rows, you ask for a violation, and it’s there. For US returned citizens though, it’s easier to adjust. Overtaking is by consensus to be done from left, and in general, if you use the right side of the road for driving, no one seems particularly offended. For those wanting to drive in Pune, here are a few tips:

1) Buy a cellphone if you don’t have one, and always use it while driving, it’s considered a sign of novice driver, to stop to take a call. If you have to stop, don’t bother taking your vehicle to the side of the road. Stop right where you are, or better keep on driving at a sluggish place. People will respect you more.

2) Stopping at signals is passe. The in thing is to hang around for couple of seconds, pay homage to the red-light (which probably signifies all the blood that our freedom fighters have shed for us) and move along. It’s very dangerous to stop at a red-light, especially if there is a PMT or some heavy motor vehicle behind you (the red-light will then signify your blood). If you need to stop at the signals, raise your arm half from a kilometer back.

3) If anyone honks, and is expecting that you give him the side, DON’T move. In general, you’re not supposed to think about anyone behind you. Especially true if s/he’s honking. That only means s/he is deciding which side is more comfortable for overtaking. You’re supposed to hold your line (and not bump into anyone in the front, remember?)

4) If you yourself want to overtake there is a complicated algorithm, that I’ll try to simplify: basically the strategy depends on the vehicle you’re trying to overtake
PMT/Water-tankers: (this latter is a menacing vehicle that’s driven by people who generally can’t even differentiate between the forward and reverse gears) forget it.
Auto: Move marginally to the right (don’t need to look in the rear view mirrors, they’ll manage your sudden lane transition) and honk.. the auto-wallah will move towards the right.. then you move back to left, and if you don’t mind overtaking from the left go ahead. If you have to overtake from the right (a habit, you should unlearn fast, if you want to stay here) honk again, the auto-wallah will move to the left too.. now shoot past him from right.
Cycle: May go bless you. Try not to hurt him/her as you overtake.
Biker (and this includes every moped): If under 30, s/he’ll start a race with you. Watch the Terminator bike chase, and get some ideas. Otherwise, swiftly overtake from the left.

5) Right of the way: The earlier you forget that there is such a thing, the better for your metal well-being. Basically, dil chahta hai is the equivalent of this concept. You want to turn? Turn. You want to cross? cross. You think you’ve the right of the way, you have it. And so has everyone else. Afterall, it’s not for no reason that they ask you “sadak kya tere baap ki hai kya?”.

6) Disable the low beam on you vehicle. People here can’t spot low beams well. They might not be able to see you approaching.

For more tips, you’ll have to buy my upcoming book.

Part 2: The People (Coming Soon — Very Soon, as a true Punekar will say it)


10 thoughts on “Demystifying Pune (Literally)

  1. Peppy says:

    there damn well be a section on puneri food – am visiting this shrine of a city this december to, guess what..celebrate new years puneri style!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I thought I was the only one with a problem with Pune traffic sense or the lack of it….wow you put it in words perfectly. I wonder what is wrong with people here and why cant they wake up to the fact that they need to change the situation and respect traffic rules.

  3. ASJ says:

    Much of the world wide web is full of sarcasm & mocking of driving on Indian roads.

    This site has been created with the purpose of providing driver education and training rather than criticism.

    At present I have produced and made available 17 driver education videos aimed at changing the driving culture on Indian roads are available. To watch the videos, please visit:

    The videos cover the following topics:

    Video 1: Covers the concept of Blind spots
    Video 2: Introduces the principle of Mirrors, Signal and Manoeuvre
    Video 3: At red lights, stop behind the stop line
    Video 4: At red lights there are no free left turns
    Video 5: The Zebra belongs to pedestrians
    Video 6: Tyres and Tarmac (rather than bumper to bumper)
    Video 7: Merging with the Main road
    Video 8: Leaving The Main Road
    Video 9: Never Cut Corners
    Video 10: Show Courtesy on roads
    Video 11: 5 Rules that help deal with Roundabouts
    Video 12: Speed limits, stopping distances, tailgating & 2 seconds rule
    Video 13: Lane discipline and overtaking
    Video 14: Low beam or high beam?
    Video 15: Parallel (reverse parking) made easy
    Video 16: Give the cyclist the respect of a car
    Video 17: Dealing with in-car condensation

    Many thanks

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