Pune has metamorphosed from being a conservative Maharashtrian bastion to a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis.
Some pockets with ‘asli Puneri’ facets still merrily co-exist, though hidden from the glare. The others have been simply wiped off from the city’s face…
I remember a friend who is a well-known corporate leader telling me at a party that two decades ago when they decided to settle in Pune, she and her husband, had specifically asked the broker to find an apartment in a neighbourhood of traditional Puneri culture, having heard so much about this.
However, she said he could not find one suitable for them and they settled in the new upper scale neighbourhood of East Pune.
Pune is traditionally known as the cultural and Intellectual capital of Maharashtra but has expanded colossally after over 30 villages merged into original Pune in phases over the past three decades. Often people wonder what and where this ‘Asli Puneri’ ethos and culture is today. What is so unique to Pune that makes it a very special city you may ask..
Today, I walk you, my readers, through the essence of Pune and being Puneri. Each facet, unique, endearing and quintessentially Pune…
The pagdi is considered the symbol of intellectualism and wisdom, ever since it was adorned by the Peshwas. Later, a smaller version of it was worn by leading social reformers and freedom fighters like Lokmanya Tilak.
Thanks to the efforts of a group of students who applied to the Geographical Indication Status (GI) authority, the Puneri Pagdi was patented in 2009 and it is established as the official cultural identity of Pune.
Today, it is popularly used for crowning a chief guest or an achiever at a public or social function. There are a number of shops in downtown Raviwar Peth and Budhwar Peth where you get them on hire. You can also get them custom made and buy them online as well.
Did you know that Laxmi Road used to be lined up with several shops selling Pagdis?
By the 1960s, their popularity waned with modernity biting Pune’s young men and the shops changed over to selling sarees or other readymade stuff.
Maharashtrian Non-Veg Thali
This came as a huge shocker to the hardcore Pune Brahmin bastion of Sadashiv Peth ()a vegetarian neighbourhood. In the late 60’s restaurants started serving it and soon beer bars also appeared.
Did you know that the lane of Sadashiv Peth which now boasts of several beer bars and popular restaurants serving authentic non-vegetarian Maharashtrian dishes was once well known for shops selling nine yard sarees?
By the 1960s, it was time to shut shop when five yard sarees got more popular with young women.
Pune’s modern youngsters of that time were clearly unsatisfied with the pure vegetarian fare of kokum sarbat, sadhavaran bhaat and puran poli.
Soon, the smart entrepreneurs cashed in on this by opening beer bars and asli Maharashtrian non-vegetarian outlets that did roaring business and still do!
Enough eyebrows were raised on how the traditional environment is being polluted with the non-vegetarian cuisines distinct aroma but it all stayed on…And everyone is still loving it.
So, if you want to eat hot and spicy non-veg Maharashtrian food with copious amounts of oil, do take a stroll down Sadashiv Peth and you will be surprised to see how you are spoilt for choice with several such restaurants.
Irani in this Maharashtrian bastion may sound strange to you, but one of them sure made its mark over and above the chai and bun maska image.
Fergusson College Road was and is always known as the young street of Pune. The Lucky Restaurant has been mentioned in several romantic novels of the legendary Marathi author, N S Phadke. It was here that his protagonist met his beloved.
Incidentally, Lucky Café was Dev Anand’s favourite haunt for Bun Maska.
This historic eatery was brought down recently to pave the way for a modern multiplex.
Another Irani restaurant down this road, the Good Luck Café was popular amongst the elite and educated Maharashtrian youngsters of that era.
The youngsters visited this cafe quite surreptitiously and interestingly only to get their first taste of an omelette.
That was quite a feat considering that eggs were a strict No-No in Pune Brahmin homes. The restaurant continues to be a popular haunt for youngsters.
Located near Mahatma Phule Mandai, this is another hot spot of Puneri culture.
It is still a pleasure to visit the tiny shops surrounding the Ram temple. Many of them sell steel, brass and copper utensils and curios. It relives the era of Maharashtrian lifestyle of our grandmas shopping in their nine yard sarees, with mogra flowers on their pleats and cloth bags slung on their arms.
Tulshibaug has now become a trademark for Pune’s cultural heritage.
You will see many foreigners visiting this market and taking with them a Puneri memento- a small replica of the `bumb’–a traditional water heater made of copper.
Tulshibaug was also well known for selling wool, art & craft cloth and embroidery material but with hardly anyone knitting or embroidering now, the shops have turned into cosmetic and junk jewellery stores.
One dish that is just as popular even now and though it is available easily everywhere, the Bedekar Misal in Narayan Peth still steals the hearts of food connoisseurs.
Lately, the Katta Kirr in Deccan area is the most sought after restaurant for Misal, patronised by youngsters.
Other Puneri delicacies are Chitale’s Bakarwadi, Laxminarayan Chiwda and Ghodke’s Pedhas. For the vegetarian Maharashtrian thalis Shreyas remains the tallest name. However, Durvankur , Krishna Dining Hall and Vishnuji ki Rasoi are equally famous.
Very popular among the tourists, they have a soft texture and attract attention for their exquisite temple borders. They are made of cotton and offered in a range of attractive colours.
The silk variety are known as the Narayan Peth Sarees. Paithanis are not Puneri but Pune is the hub for their sale. Laxmi Road has a string of shops from where you can buy them.
Other cute shops are INTACH’s store in Shaniwar Wada and Vandana Chavan’s Smiles in Vishrambaug Wada where you get lovely gift articles too made of Puneri khaan, the typical borders.
Once extremely popular in this city of intellectuals, social reformers and citizen activists. Most people love to sit together and debate on myriad topics.
However, with the present traffic and congested streets the old tradition of sitting at a roadside katta is dying, though you may still find a few groups meeting in public gardens and tekdis to pursue a cause.
Plays were the chief source of entertainment for Puneites as they mirrored social changes, trends and rich literature.
Balgandharva Rang Mandir, Tilak Smarak Mandir and Yashwantrao Chavan Sabhagruha continue to host Marathi plays but their sheen and siginifance has waned in the hearts of the next generation.
There is so much that makes Pune so special so savour every bit of it dear readers…!
#All views expressed in this column are the authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
Get Real And Stay Relevant says Vinita,
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