It was a rather warm evening yet people were seen scurrying around a huge old structure, brownstone and brimming, reflecting the splendour of an era gone by…
The noise was at a crescendo, people yelling on top of their voices, vendors bargaining, horns blaring; a cacophony of sounds which cut into the evening air like a knife.
Then, the hoot of a train sounded, long and distinct, seeking the attention of passengers. This seemed to have galvanised another hundred into immediate action. There was much running amid the mass of humanity as the matter became one of life and death or rather reaching the platform on time.
The Pune Railway Station area has not changed much in terms of appearance since the 1980s but the character wears a little different shade since then.
With Pune’s industrial growth surging like a fast train and new sectors like information technology setting up its hub here, more people from outside the state have set up homes here.
The cosmopolitan nature of Pune has further increased and the Pune station has become a nerve centre for many travellers to newer destinations.
At night, the scene changes. The cacophony gives way to bustle, the hawkers have gone home and the noise is steady in nature.
Strict laws imposed on the many food outlets in terms of closing time and recession which bit India had taken its toll on the number of outlets in the vicinity.
Amidst that, there is still life out there for the night owls, a little more subdued now.
It had a buzz once though. In the 1970s and 80s, the Pune Railway Station offered a nice alternative for people who needed tea and a bite late at night.
There were the partygoers who converged to the railway station for a strong cup of tea to shake away the effects of excesses indulged in earlier.
Some opted for a quick massage offered by local ‘malishwalas’ who hovered around the area with a bag full of strange looking bottles. The head massage was very popular and it revived many a sozzled soul into the sane world.
The many foreign students in Pune found the station very invigorating. After a hard day in college grappling with the mysteries of science or commerce and then a late dinner, they came to the station for tea and company.
In those days, there used to be a chaiwala (name forgotten) who probably served the best tea in the city. All those night birds loved gathering around him for some lovely milky tea which smelt awfully nice.
Nobody knew what he put in the tea and few cared. He never revealed his secret, anyway.
People sat on the steps near him, sipping hot cups of tea and indulging in animated discussions. Those feeling peckish could have a bhurji pao (scrambled eggs with bread) from one of the perennial food handcarts there. Or they could just visit the restaurants if open.
Those who preferred a nice place could always go to Hotel Amir’s 24-hour coffee shop for cutlets and coffee.
There was something pleasing about the whole area. There were many regulars who just came to relax. Quite a few of the food outlets and shops remained open until late at night and the lights emanating from the tube-lights and bulbs gave the whole area a bright look.
Come closer to 5am, the crowd got thinner as the challenges of a new day began to dawn on them. The chaiwala started his washing up and the malishwalas had long disappeared. As the sun began its upward journey, the old set had disappeared and a new lot of people began to trickle in.
It was the time of the factory workers who came in to catch a bus or train. The railway station never sleeps…