On Being Puneri
Being Puneri has got nothing to do with Pune, really. It’s more a state of mind than anything else.
For there are plenty of people who are in Pune and are not Puneris; and there are an equal number who are out of Pune right now, and they are the very undiluted essence of Puneri-ness.
Being Puneri, I hope you will be glad to know, has got nothing to do with caste, community and religion. It certainly has nothing to do with gender, and even lesser to do with parochialism. Being Puneri, dear reader, is all about the state of your mind.
And let’s be frank here. Your state of mind has to be a wee bit unhinged for you to be a Puneri. You need to have your own definitive share of idiosyncrasies. You need to be a little eccentric, a little acerbic. You need to profess an undying love for things as they once were, and you need to profess abject disappointment for things as they are now. You need to have a fierce love for your Pune; a love fierce enough for you to defend your city against all attacks – verbal or otherwise, imagined or otherwise. You need to have the ability to reminisce about Pune for hours on end. You need to have a lot else, of course, but this will do for starters.
Above all, you need to dislike Bombay with a vengeance, but we’ll leave that for later.
But more than anything else, a Puneri needs gentle wit. He needs dry, droll humour. He needs must have the ability to come up with the magic take on the situation at hand – a take that will thrust the rapier, and yet a take that will not scar for life. It is this possession of genius that truly defines a Puneri, really.
Take the proprietor of Bedekar Misal, for example. A kindly gentle old soul, he potters around the shop, keeping a keen eye on his customers. Who spend most of their time in companionable silence, wolfing down plate after plate. And a very nice symbiotic arrangement it is.
On one of the tables, on one fateful day, sat young Lochinvar. With his fair and dainty maiden in tow. Young Lochinvar, presumably a resident of our fabled city, had bought the lovely maiden to what he thought was one of Pune’s landmarks for breakfast.
The lovely maiden, unfortunately, was inclined to disagree. It was clear to us – we happened to be at a neighbouring table. From the moment she stepped in and cast wary glances around her, we knew it would end in tears. Being Puneri, we waited with unbridled glee.
Young Lochinvar got for each of them a plate of misal, and he solicitously arranged for some curds as well. And under the benevolent eye of the proprietor, they began their meal.
Now, misal, as you would know if you have ever had it, is a slightly spicy preparation. And slightly spicy, unfortunately, is a matter of taste. And so she huffed, and she puffed. Blew her cheeks out and had glass after glass of water.
And with tears streaming down her eyes, she looked at the proprietor as he passed by.
“Bhaiya”, she said, instantly arousing a hard, steely glint in the others eye,”… bhaiya, aap roj ye itna teekha banate ho kya?”
The proprietor contemplated her for a second, as neighbouring tables fell silent. Young Lochinvar gulped visibly, for he knew, as all of us did, that a repartee was in store. Time stood still, and the proprietor considered his reply for but a fleeting moment.
“No, madam,” he said in measured tone. “We knew you’d be coming today, that’s why.”