ZEESHAN NOFIL

As one flows along with its quiet rhythms, one realises that life in Pune has a different cadence.

The regulars offer their toast and butter to anyone who waves at them and expect gossip in return...

THE first glances that welcome you at the casual turn to Dastur Meher Road are from the curious eyes of the patrons of the Café Yezdaan. The regulars, who probably spent all their teatime there, are frail senior citizens. Most of the time they look out of the several tall windows at the pedestrians of the busy street or talk about the dhansak. Some of them offer their toast and butter to anyone who waves at them and expect gossip in return over their hot Irani chais.Iranian immigrants gave Poona some of its best bakeries and corner cafés with simple but sumptuous combinations of buns, caramel custard, omelette varieties, chai and glassed interiors with etched Persian motifs. In the 1930s, omelettes at these Irani cafés had overwhelmed the Poha-eating Puneri. The Café Yezdaan, among the earliest of the cafés that started at untaken corners of the city, four wood-and-iron chairs still crowd circular tables all over the place. The arrangement shares sunlight and sprays of rain from the windows and air from fans rotating for over 70 years from a ceiling too far away to be swept clean of a decade of cobwebs. It is a place where you wouldn't remember the number of hours you sit fascinated, eating plain omelette after plain omelette.

Infinite variety

At the parallel Sachapir Street, you can see the neighbourhood Imam speak a few ayaats in Arabic into a glass of water to heal small ailments; one is sandwiched between landmarks reflecting years of legacies. In one of which, Ansar Ali Sheikh snips hair. A 150-year-old barbershop, started by his Ajooba (great-great-grandfather), it had been famously regarded as the Chidiyawala Baba ka Dukaan. The founder kept and flew birds and won many bird-flying competitions that were common in those times. In another, a Dawakhana opposite the barbershop, sits Hakim Raazi, attending to patients and mixing several homemade medicines into small glass bottles or pieces of paper with a smile. This 80-year-old also writes satirical debates in Urdu.Up the street, amidst the din of vegetable sellers, restaurants serve meat rolls and achari gosht, perfect for rainy evenings. In the neighbourhood, the 120-year-old Shivaji Market has adequate varieties of fresh food, fresh meats and people like Fahim bhai who would save portions of tenderloin for complete strangers. During Ramadan, food stands line the outer wall of the market to sell excellent kadi gosht, rice stewed with meat and fried sweets for breaking fast.

Remnants of the past

Walking across the river to localities classified according to the professions of their residents which dot the heart of the city helps you recollect their pasts if not the dying sounds of their trades. The several social points of art and culture make you wonder if you can still hear the music from the Mujumdar Wada or read through its library of music and drama manuscripts as you pass. The hauds and the deepmalas, though now in their fading light, provide historical evidence of social development and community networking. The intricate wood-detailed interiors of the Shaniwar Wada, one of the glorious landmarks of Maratha royalty, echo of conversations on cultural bonding to military strategy. The casual passer-by, after a brief rest at the Bishrambaug Wada can sit at a corner of the Laxmi Road, and sip at sweet and fragrant chai watching a milieu of people buying, selling, eating, complaining and smiling.When you step away from these well- and lesser-trodden lanes, the song of the blind singer at the steps of the overhead bridge at Corporation reiterates what you may have observed, charming memories.