A couple of months ago I took a right turn from Saikar Chowk on Baner Road (earlier called Ganraj Mangal Karyalay Chowk) and discovered the Cummins Building and the new, improved avatar of Baner-Balewadi that seems to have sprung up in the past year. It was a pleasant shock, especially since I have been living in Baner for some years now, and hadn’t noticed all the changes.
I have been interacting with Baner-Balewadi since 1998, when it was one long road beyond the turn to Aundh. I used to hurtle past the few buildings and odd restaurant, on my way to the Highway, enroute to Mumbai. From 2005 onwards, I was commuting to Baner every day since the company I was with then had moved lock, stock and barrel to Baner Road. Hotel Mahabaleshwar was a lone, solitary solace for late-night office goers. Malwani Gazali was a pioneer in its rustic avatar. But that was a stuttering start; a few brave restaurateurs and brands started shop but it never really took off – even the Youth Commonwealth Games of 2008 could not inject any life into a much improved and well-paved Baner Road.
By 2010, Baner Road was cleaner, better lit but, no one in their right minds would think of Baner Road as a place to meet and hang out.
Aundh was an oasis all those years, an oasis in an alpa-bachat manner of speaking, because even Aundh never had any great watering holes, food places or shopping malls. Tareef, Crossword, Kaka Halwai, Ozone, Bonsai and of course the evergreen Sarjaa kept the flag flying. Starbucks, Adidas, etc came much later but they never had the pulling power of the corner chai shop at Balewadi phata. All the hospitality and mall developments seemed to have been happening in Kalyaninagar side.
But that was before 2016, and the Cummins Building. I am sure the Cummins Building near Saikar Chowk is not the reason for the turnaround of Baner Road – it’s too simplistic an argument – but I dare say that High Street within the Cummins Building premises is the single largest draw for people on weekends in the Baner-Balewadi region.
I discovered this a couple of months ago when we gathered for four consecutive business meetings on High Street, which is home to as many as 15 eateries and bars, including Nawab, Incognito, Marrakesh, Arthur’s Theme, The Urban Foundry, Terttulia, Gong, among others.
But like all changes, the changing face of Baner Road is not exactly a welcome development for all. Another hospitality icon in the making on Baner Road, Deron Heights, is facing the ire of nearby residents since it houses five pubs (good pubs I might add).
But that makes me think as well. I was brought up in Mumbai and have now spent half my life in Pune and half in Mumbai. I love privacy, want safety and security in the vicinity of my residence and family, but also want an environment that is social, diverse, and hospitable.
Which is probably what most people want, but what kind of a world is safe, secure and hospitable? Is it possible to be open without entertaining diversity? Is it possible to be knowledgable without inviting debate? Is it possible to be hospitable without being social at the same time? Is it possible to have peace without conflict and dissent?
The world is changing, and changing fast. In the case of Baner Road and Balewadi, the world has taken at least 15 years to catch up, and now that it has, some may not like it.
Thus, the aspirational changes and any resulting disgruntlement in Baner-Balewadi is as multifaceted and diverse as the population. Residents in the area have seen more than their fair share of water shortages, power outages, traffic management, drainage issues, lack of basic facilities, including street lights, security, etc – these are common issues. Pubs, silence, noise … these are lifestyle changes and subjective. I want pubs but I don’t want them at the expense of my fellow-citizens’ right to live a peaceable life.
I want my fellow-citizens to have a peaceful life, but not to the extent that they hold an entire suburb with people of different opinions to ransom over their right to their own rights. Somewhere in-between lies the solution.
There is a lot to learn from cities like Hong Kong and Singapore and Orlando – residential areas, shopping areas, hospitality areas, commercial areas, business areas are well demarcated. But these cities are administered societies, administered by laws and rules and that means the individuals have to subscribe to and submit to the laws for the agreed development of everyone.
I guess this is where town-planning has a vital role to play so that personal preferences (collective or otherwise) do not have to come into play.
For the moment, I am happy that Baner-Balewadi is developing and I am going to enjoy it. There are better facilities available, better schools, better roads, I can see more cops than before, hopefully the area will get its own police chowky soon, more politicians are giving the area due attention … in some respects, the area is finally starting to live up to its very pricy tag. Let’s see what the future brings.
Sanjay Mukherjee is a Pune-based business consultant. He is Founder of RedstoneSummerhill and The Mountain Walker and also serves as Chief Strategy Advisor for the Hong Kong-based learning technology company, Peak Pacific Limited