As Time Went By In Pune’s Cool Cafes


One of the best things about Pune back in the old days when Sunil Gavaskar was still playing cricket was that there was no rush. Pune had already earned its reputation as a laidback city where time was not of essence.

Pune Standard Time was a byword, with one hour promises often ending three or more hours later.

Life trudged along at a leisurely pace.  College days were fun too.

Those studying in the pre-1990s in Pune have such fond memories of those days of books, bunking and brunches. Importantly, there was that cafe “near you”. The place where growing up was mixed with infatuations, exploration, self-awareness and above all the feeling of being free.

College authorities then were a little lax about attendance and the quiet slink down the passage was easy and would make a burglar proud. Past students of Fergusson College will remember the iconic Vaishali which was “a College Beyond College” and the “University of Growing Up”.

Those missing classes would be found there indulging in the masala dosa or tomato onion uttapa with green chutney depending on the cash situation without bothering too much about the next class or the next.

Copious amounts of strong coffee would be consumed. The waiters were friendly and would discuss the cricket scores with you. When broke, they would even slip a free coffee. Back when it started, Vaishali did not have a garden and the restaurant area was divided into the Men’s and Women’s section, fondly remembered as India and Pakistan respectively.

There was a small open area where those with the roving eye frequented, hoping to catch the glimpse of a passing college beauty and pine away to kingdom come. Those going into Pakistan would enhance their reputation of the ever-longing male student. He was the Man With The Girlfriend, to be envied and befriended.

The garden made the restaurant even more popular with the added space and better decor. The India-Pakistan border was finally smashed too.

Those in the Ranade Institiute and BMCC had Roopali to thank for enhancing their education. Roopali was smaller, an older version of Vaishali. The more studious kind went there. Those seeking adventure would walk the short distance to Vaishali. The good thing about Roopali was that it served an excellent thali which was good for those doing long hours in college.

Wadia college had earned a reputation of being a “Cool College”. Many of those anti-establishment students, inspired by communism and Woodstock, went there. It was an excellent college though and it had its studious ones too.

The Wadians had Cafe Delight.  This was more an Iranian type of joint, where tea and bun maska were popular. Early morning visitors could get an excellent malai or omelette bun. But tea was the most popular. It was cool then to share three teas among six, showing some sort of camaraderie. The strong smell of a Charminar cigarette would prevail at all times. Foreign students also patronised it because the menu there was to their liking.

Students who binged all night found it a saviour as it opened very early to satisfy their craving for tea to overcome the hangover.

Kalpana Restaurant near SP College was another well-frequented place. Those studying in SP or Abhinav Kala Mandir, often frequented this restaurant for tea and a fag. Some Maharashtrian and South Indian dishes were also available there.

Some of those establishments still exist but they are now money-making machines and not the place where one could have a quiet coffee without the waiter breathing down your neck.

The times have changed now. Only memories remain of the Cool Cafes and the Art of Growing Up.