On Tuesday morning, after the exhausting long jaunt to Sangli the previous day, Nipesh (my colleague at mHS) and me were up and raring to inhale a new set of experiences in Pune. My friend Varsha had promised to spend some time showing us around and Nipesh’s curioisity about Pune’s Parsi bakeries set us off on a most enjoyable jaunt to Main Street via leafy, quirky Koregaon Park. Full of colonial buildings and exuding a quaint old world charm, we walked around carrying the load of Shrewsbury biscuits Varsha had bought us to take back home. Here are a few clicks from that morning depicting the old and the new, capturing (I hope) the flavor of the laid back excitement we experienced that morning!
We had a day in Pune with a flight to catch at the end of the day to return to Delhi. Nothing much was planned as I knew a work meeting had to be scheduled sometime today as well.
As soon as I realised the meeting was at lunchtime, I called up an old friend Varsha and we spent a delightful morning walking around Koregaon Park’s mind blowing greenery, passing the boarded up shop that was the German Bakery of the bomb blast fame and then moving through the cantonment to Pune’s Main Street, where we were taken through some really quaint old Parsi bakeries. Clearly, Varsha was reliving the pleasures of her college day haunts. She also bought a stash of the famed Shrewsbury biscuits for the Delhi gang, declaring it her birthright to buy us this delicious stuff!
Post the meeting and an unplanned site visit, I had time enough to catch up with family as well. Aslesha, my cousin Sunil’s wife (uncle actually, but only a few years my senior and a favourite companion of my childhood years in Mumbai) was kind enough to pick us from the hotel and take us home, feed us and make us comfortable in her lovely home. To top it all, Air India was kind enough to delay their flight so I had the chance to meet Sunil as well when he got back from work and could spend some time with their daughter Maigha who is one if the most entertaining kids I know!
The call to inform me that the airline had preponed the flight (yes, crazy) sent us all into a tizzy. Now I sit checked in, at a sleepy airport, smiling at the days events, at the sheer pleasure of unplanned jaunts, catch up sessions with friends and family, the pleasure if the warm hug and unaffected smiles of those you love. Makes it so much more worth your time to visit another city. In that sense, I guess I am and will always be my father’s daughter, above the pleasure if sights, sounds, tastes and smells will always remain the pleasure of company!
A long day indeed. An enjoyable day doing things I haven’t done for a very long time. Pune to Sangli and back in state transport buses (ST for those familiar with Maharashtra), a day of speaking mostly Marathi, of surviving on vada pav and cutting chai.
I have never been to this stretch before. Miles on miles of sugarcane fields, some still standing green and many lying harvested. Cane juice being sold everywhere.
My colleague Nipesh and me were on a mission to visit a pathbreaking project in the Sangli Kupwad Miraj municipal area where slums have been mapped using google maps, surveyed with the help of slum volunteers, GIS maps created rich with info and then a slum free city plan created. The ultimate idea is to relocate and merge slums onto municipal lands in new, well designed four storey apartments of 270 square feet each. We visited two sites where construction was underway. The best part is that Pune-based NGO Shelter Associates has achieved this through untiring community and stakeholder engagement and managed to work with the government too, an uphill task indeed. More on our conversations with Pratima Joshi and her inspiring volunteers later. For now, as we ride back to Pune with the cool winds laden with rain blowing on our faces, we take in the green fields, the clean air and the local dialects and sights with delight. A satisfying day indeed.
Election fever is all around. And this time round, I’m seeing the voters I know getting excited about things, for the first time in my living memory. I’m talking middle class, salaried people, not known for their love of the poll booth and most of who are happy to indulge in armchair discussions without any real political affiliations.
Perhaps we should thank Anna and his team for this gift to the nation- some sort of awakening of the middle class voter towards his responsibilities as opposed to his usual emphasis on rights (voter turnout has been increasing steadily for local and assembly elections throughout India and many voters claim to vote for development and not traditional reasons like caste). Or perhaps its my eyes that have opened, late in life.
A few weeks ago, at a wedding in Lucknow, much of the discussion among the local guests was about the impending voting in the city, which was to be the following Sunday. Rahul Gandhi’s every gesture was analyzed and Akhilesh Yadav seemed to have impressed quite a few with moves that reminded old timers of the Mulayam of their youth! Strangely, it was unclear what the election issues were from these conversations, the focus was entirely on the personalities!
Last night, a chat conversation with my cousin Pooja who lives in Goa spoke of the absolute excitement about the elections in our constituency of St Cruz, a bit outside Panjim. The villagers are being wooed by promises of better infrastructure and connectivity and of course, the possibility of real estate development is a huge lure for politicians in wards surrounding Goa’s large cities, where several residential projects are mushrooming in a rather haphazard manner.
An infamously corrupt and flamboyant local politician Babush Monsterrat from nearby Talegaon, she told me, was contesting from St Cruz this time round. Of course, his wife was contesting from their home seat, which got us into a discussion about women often being dummy candidates.
Last week, I was having dinner with friends, one of whom is from Pune. The recently concluded elections for the 152 seats of the Pune Municipal Corporations, this friend informed me, resulted in 51% of the seats occupied by women corporators, who number 78 as opposed to 74 men. This means that beyond the reserved seats, several women have won general seats as well. The number of woman applicants this year was 1,260 as against 2,080 men. The NCP and Congress gave tickets to 76 women, out of which 24 NCP and 14 Congress woman leaders secured a place in the House. Again, many of these could be dummy candidates put up by male politicians (husbands, fathers) who are seeing a decline in their political fortunes, or have criminal charges against them, or are embroiled in some controversy. Even so, locals feel there are many noteworthy, serious women politicians in power, which is a heartening thought.
It is unclear what these changes mean for our cities and citizens. Unfortunately, better voter turnout in a democracy does not result in better politicians, better governance or better accountability. More needs to be done to make politicians accountable to the people, and a lot needs to be done to mobilize communities to debate issues, list priorities and place adequate pressure on governments and bureaucracies to perform; but getting the middle class slightly more excited about elections is a good start, don’t you think?