6 months ago
Nestled next to the Sahyadri mountain ranges, and sitting 560m atop the Deccan Plateau at the confluence of the Mula and Mutha rivers, Pune (pronounced pu-nay) has grown by leaps and bounds from when it was an agricultural settlement in the 9th century to the bustling metropolis that it has turned into, especially over the last two decades.
Its name is a shortened form of Punawadi, derived from the word ‘punya’ or spiritual goodness.
Punekars are proud of the role their city has played in Indian history. Pune was effectively the capital of much of India from 1720 to 1820 when the Maratha kingdom controlled nearly three-fourths of the country. One of the foremost and beloved Maratha warrior kings was Chattrapati Shivaji, after whom Mumbai’s international airport is named, and was renowned for his guerilla warfare tactics against the Mughals.
Pune was expanded considerably when it was the seat of the Peshwas, prime ministers of the Chattrapatis of Satara. The Peshwas were benevolent rulers and far-sighted town planners who built Pune’s distinctive fortifications – wadas – that can still be seen around the city today.
Under British Rule, Pune served as the ‘monsoon capital’ of the Bombay Presidency until Indian independence. The cavalry regiment called The Poona Horse, raised in 1817 as part of the army of the Bombay Presidency, went on to fight with distinction in wars in the Afghan wars, Persia, Abyssinia and China and later, as part of the Indian army in the Indo-Pakistan wars. When not at work, British soldiers stationed at the munitions factory in the adjoining town of Khadki came up with what was called the ‘Poona Game’, which upon their return to the UK became what is now called badminton.
Pune still remains a bulwark of the Indian armed forces – cadets train at the National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla and the city hosts many defence-related establishments.
No less than the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, called the city the ‘Oxford of the East’ for its preponderance of educational institutions. Among them were independent entities not associated with the Government or the church, such as Deccan Education Society, which set up a multitude of institutions of learning. Over 550,000 students from all over India and outside study in nine premier universities and over 800 affiliated colleges today.
As much as it is steeped in history, Pune has its share of social reformers and even its oddballs. Visitors come to commemorate Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule who set up the first Indian school for girls in 1848. Another son of Pune was Babasaheb Rao Ambedkar, who campaigned vigorously in the mid-1900s for equal rights for lower castes, and who drafted the first Constitution of India. Some visitors pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi at the memorial containing his ashes. Others make the trek to Rajneesh Ashram to visit the memorial of the controversial guru Osho.
Have we mentioned how Punekars are very proud of their homegrown traditions? The distinctive style of turban worn in the city, the Puneri Pagdi, has its own geographical indication (GI) status. They are also justly proud of the ubiquitous Puneri Patya, those bluntly humorous signages that can be seen around the city instructing or warning people about their behaviour.
Locals will extol the virtues of their favourite misal pav restaurant, while pointing out that the signature crunchy snack bhakarwadi should ideally be bought from Chithale Bandhu Mithaiwale, and Shrewsbury biscuits from Kayani Bakery. Long lines are common outside both places.
With its salubrious climate, the romance of its monsoons, unhurried pace, and a number of getaways in the hills close by, the Queen of the Deccan has attracted many in recent years to relocate for its quality of life. It’s vicinity to India’s commercial capital Mumbai, and its cultural offerings such as a lively theatre scene, and the Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav – one of the premier events of the Indian classical music calendar and founded by a giant of the genre, Bhimsen Joshi – are other factors. As are its cleanliness and safety for women. No wonder the city contains the happiest people in India, according to one survey.
The triangle that Pune, Mumbai and Nashik – the latter, home to many of India’s wineries – form holds 50million residents, making it the most populated urban area in the world. Alongside the earliest engineering companies such as Kirloskar and automotive companies ranging from Bajaj Auto to Mercedes Benz, Pune’s growing hinterland and educated workforce these days draws many tech companies and startups. The buying power of some of its residents is evident – Pune already has its own Trump Towers and soon will get the first Philippe Starck-designed residences in India.
BORN Pune is situated in central Sangamwadi, in a building designed by the award-winning Indian architect Hafeez Contractor, who is behind some of the tallest skyscrapers in the country.