FOOTLOOSE IN PUNE
[The Art of Loafing]
What is ‘loafing’?
Idling away one’s time on useless things?
Loitering! Sounds a bit derogatory, isn’t it? Okay let’s say it’s aimless wandering. Perfectly useless time spent in a perfectly useless manner! Yes. That’s how I would like to define the art of loafing. Spending perfectly useless time in a perfectly useless manner!
That’s what I did a few days back. I loafed. I spent a perfectly useless day in a perfectly useless manner – Loafing. Let me tell you about it.
It’s a beautiful morning. I try to furtively slip out of my house unnoticed, but I am stopped in my tracks by my wife’s piercing voice, “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know?” I answer truthfully, and this adroit answer probably precludes the next question she is about to ask, “What time are you coming back?” for she knows I will again truthfully answer, “I don’t know.”
“Take the mobile with you,” she shouts, but I pretend not to hear and make myself scarce and disappear as fast as possible for I do not want the manacles of technology to ruin my day. If you want to truly enjoy life – beware of the technology trap!
It’s a bright day. I feel good. Flush with a sense of carefree irresponsibility, I walk with a spring in my step. I am going to enjoy my leisure.
Should I turn left? Should I turn right? I was free. Free to go wherever I desired. Free. To enjoy my day as I wanted. True freedom. To travel with no destination to reach. No task to complete. No deadlines to meet. Just Loaf. Aimlessly. Timelessly. Spend a perfectly useless day in a perfectly useless manner.
I see a bus, stop it and hop in.
“Where do you want to go?” the conductor asks.
“Where does this bus go?” I ask.
“Pune Railway Station.”
“Okay. One Pune Railway Station,” I say holding out a tenner.
The conductor gives me an amused look and hands me a ticket and a rupee coin. I sit down, think interesting thoughts and enjoy the view through the window. On these trips of mine I prefer traveling by bus and, of course, I love to walk on foot. Driving my car on the terrible potholed, crowded and chaotic roads of Pune makes me go crazy, and, at my age, I dare not venture out too far on my scooter, lest I land up with broken bones in hospital or, worse, lifeless in Vaikunth or Kailas crematoriums!
That’s what I sometimes do on these glorious trips of mine. Just jump into the first bus that comes along and let it take you wherever it goes. Go where life leads you. Last time I landed up in the heart of Pune – near Shaniwar Wada. In Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi it’s even more exciting, as there are so many more routes and choices, and you can serendipitously explore so many novel and exotic places you wouldn’t dream of going to otherwise.
The PCMT bus reaches the Railway Station. It’s a smooth ride. (PCMT buses seem to be better than PMT buses!).
I get down and admire the magnificent heritage stone building of Pune Railway Station. I stand in the porch and look inside. Trains, crowds – I love the atmosphere. On impulse, I enter, and stroll on the platform, panning my gaze all over, and stopping once in a while to feast my eyes on any attractive object that arrests my attention.
“Want a seat?” a porter asks.
“No,” I say.
“Where are you going?” he pursues.
“Nowhere,” I say.
“Waiting for someone,” he asks, probably in anticipation of porterage.
“No,” I say.
He stares at me for a moment and walks off with a look of perplexed dejection. I look around. Everyone is waiting to go somewhere, or for someone. I am waiting to go nowhere, and for nobody. So I walk out of the station and head for Shiv Kailash Milk Bar bang opposite.
If you arrive at Pune by train on a hot morning, never make the blunder of heading for the rickshaw stand. You’ll get all stressed up waiting in the never-ending queue and haggling with the rickshawallas trying to con you. Just cross the road to Shiv Kailash, sit under the shade on one of the stainless steel stools placed on the pavement, invigorate yourself with a tall glass of cool refreshing lassi (which is guaranteed to banish the depleting effects of the tiresome train journey) and tell the waiter to hail a rickshaw from the many hanging around. This is what I have been doing for so many years, during my numerous homecomings, since the days Pune was called Poona.
Shiv Kailash serves the best lassi in Pune. It’s almost as good as the one at Pehelwan in Varanasi. The lassi freshly made in front of you topped off with a generous dollop of soft fresh cream. It’s thick, lip-smacking, nourishing, and gives me a heavenly feeling. I sip slowly, relishing every mouthful, almost eating the delectable fluid after letting it perambulate on my tongue, as I watch the world go about it’s business outside. People come, gulp their lassis in a hurry, and rush away, while I blissfully savor each and every drop of the delicious lassi.
I walk leisurely towards Camp. Past Mira College, GPO, Zero Milestone, Police Headquarters, Nehru Memorial Hall, where I cross the Moledina Road admiring the imposing Lal Deval Synagogue, and turn left, past the place imperial Dorabjee Store Building used to be once. Now there is a huge shopping complex and a glitzy mall opposite. I reminisce. West End, New Empire, all the adorable landmarks gone – “Landmark” – what’s that? A swanky new music-cum-book store. I walk in. The place is swarming with chic salesgirls and salesboys. No one pays any attention to me. Maybe I blend well with the surroundings. I realize the tremendous advantages of obscurity and the benefits of anonymity. Had I been a “successful” person, rich and famous, or someone with a striking personality, people would notice me and I doubt I would have been able to enjoy myself with such carefree abandon. Only non-achievers like me can truly enjoy a life of carefree irresponsibility.
I roam around the ground floor music section. There are no music stations where you can listen to music – like they have in Rhythm House and Planet-M in Mumbai. So I go the first floor bookstore. It’s spacious, neatly laid out and looks impressive. The books are arranged subject-wise, clearly visible from anywhere. There are cushioned stools to sit and browse and also two long sofas below the huge tinted windows towards the far side. I start from the left. Food, Philosophy, Self-Help, Travel, Coffee Table, Erotica, Classics, Fiction, Computers, Children, Indian Writing – there are books on every topic you can think of. The tranquil ambiance is so soothing and conducive that I browse to my heart’s content, loosing myself into that wonderful state of timelessness I experience sometimes when I’m totally immersed into doing something I love.
By the time I leave Landmark, cerebrally satiated, it’s almost three in the afternoon, I’m hungry, and in desperate need of gastronomic satiation. So I walk past Manney’s, West End, turn right on Main Street, cross Aurora Towers, turn right, walk past ABN Amro Bank, and turn left on Dastur Meher Road, a walk leisurely towards Sarbatwala Chowk till I reach Dorabjee and Sons. I dive in through the low entrance and look around. The eatery is crowded, with noisy families bashing away regardless greedily devouring the heaps food before them. The mouth-watering aroma, and the sight of the appetizing food, creates in me such ravenous pangs of hunger that I quickly sit on the only vacant table and order a Mutton Biryani – the signature dish of Dorabjee.
As is the hallmark of specialty cuisine restaurants – the menu is select – just a few choice dishes a single page. There’s Sali, Curry, Masala and Biryani in Mutton and Chicken; Kheema, Brain, Eggs, and combinations thereof, cutlets in gravy, and a few Veg dishes, for appearance sake. On Sundays, you can have Dhansak, maybe on your way to the races in the season.
I spoon some Biryani onto my tongue, seal my lips, close my eyes, turn my senses inwards with full consciousness to imbibe and savor the unique medley of juices released by the succulent piece of mutton, the bitterish-sweet taste of the slightly burnt crisp fried onions, and the spicy flavorsome rice. It is superlative delicious authentic cuisine at its best. Dorabjee serves the best mutton biryani in Pune – no doubt about it.
The fervent atmosphere of the place and exquisite quality of the food is such that one eats enthusiastically, with wholehearted zest and gusto; not apologetically and self-consciously, as one tends to do, trying to be prim and proper, in highfalutin restaurants. At Dorabjee, you can enjoy every morsel of your food with passionate ardor. And as I reach blissful satiety I realize that a well-filled stomach radiates a kind of spiritual happiness.
The ideal way to end this rich spicy repast is to cool it off with a Falooda. So I walk down Sachapir Street, cross Main Street, and head for Badshah on East Street to down a deliciously sweet and chilled Rose flavored Royal Falooda. And then to Kayani, down East Street, to pick up some Shrewsbury Biscuits and Chocolate Walnut Cake.
I stand outside Kayani, wondering what to do. Maybe I can go to Manney’s and browse some more. If Landmark has got the ambiance, Manney’s got the books! And then just walk down Main Street admiring pretty looking things, till I’m tired and hungry. Maybe I’ll have some sandwiches, a roll and cold coffee at Marzorin. Or pastries and a softy at Pasteurs. Or a Burger at Burger King, or a Chopsuey at East End, down East Street. Maybe Kathi Rolls at Olympia, Chicken Masala at George, Chana Bhatura at Monafood, Sev Barfi at Bhavnagri, Wafers at Budhani, or Sizzlers at The Place next to Manney’s. The possibilities are endless!
Or should I see the movie at Victory opposite, or at West End nearby. Maybe I’ll jump into the first bus I see and go wherever it goes. How about going for a long walk on Laxmi road into the heart of town? Or an idyll beside the river in Bund Garden, or Saras Baug, or Sambhaji Park? Or maybe I’ll just head home. The possibilities are endless! I am free to do whatever I choose to do! Loaf to my heart’s content! To continue to spend a perfectly useless day in a perfectly useless manner!
You can take my word for it, dear reader. There is nothing you’ll enjoy more than loafing. It is when you cease to do the things you have to do, and do the things you like to do, and you want to do, that you achieve the highest value of your time. The freedom to enjoy life is the ultimate reward. Why should you defer happiness waiting for some elusive abstract rewards? What reward could be greater than a life enjoyed as it is lived?
If you do not find happiness as you are, where you are, here and now, you will never find it. There is always plenty in life right now to enjoy for one who is determined to enjoy it. The feast of life is before you. Do you have the appetite to enjoy the feast of life? So my dear friend, discover the art of loafing, and you’ll redeem the art of living from the business of living.
The Art of Traveling and The Art of Loafing – inextricably intertwined, aren’t they?