Descending on Pune by road or train from the hill resort of Lonavla always leaves a picturesque imprint in the mind of a traveller. Coming to the city after almost a year, especially a day after the rain gods relented with a 69.6 mm downpour, Wednesday was a typically cool but wet day for the laid-back Punekars. Having for long frowned on the frenetic pace set by the neighbouring Mumbaikars, Punekars have adequate reason to feel happy with themselves.
They accept the title ‘Detroit of India’ with sense of pride just as they did the age-old ‘Oxford of the East’ status; its emerging importance as a IT hub is there for all to see. The affluence of the city is now such that J W Marriot has its third major project going, adding to the list of almost a dozen five-star hotels. That medical tourism is a reality is visible from the number of hospitals that are opening branches in the suburbs. Underlining all this is a vibrant real estate sector. Enough reason for friends to chide my decision to sell off my apartment.
By evening, the deed is done and with nothing better to do, it is time for a drive to JM (Junglee Maharaj) Road, to meet up old friends and visit an eatery. The traffic is typically thick, but as the crawl grinds to halt in the Deccan area it is clear that something is not right. Snatches of ‘Shinde Saheb Aale Le’ can be overheard from other vehicles. Ten minutes later it is clear that it is more than Shinde saheb as text messages start landing in a flurry about a bomb blast on JM Road, followed by two, three, four and five, before settling down at four.
Having gone through the February 13 German Bakery blast a couple of years back, one can only brace for the worst. The worry lines run deep as a popular fast food joint is one of the blast site — it’s a favourite spot of my son who has remained a Punekar by choice. Soon we touch base and also realise that the blasts were of such low intensity that they could not possibly have claimed a casualty. Someone with a wry sense of humour floated a theory that the blasts were a welcome celebration for the new Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde.
After driving around the city for a couple of hours during the night, it soon becomes clear that the people have chosen to ignore the latest assault on their freedom and move ahead, in their short affluent stature. Except JM Road that has been cordoned off, people are getting on with their life — having fun after a hard day’s work. They will not be deterred by a miscreant who decided that it takes only a few blasts to shut the city they love.
The next morning, an acquaintance calls: “A few cracker bursts and you are off?” After a long-winding explanation about high EMI comes a query from the other side: “So, you will come back, if given a chance?” It takes only a few minutes to answer. “Yes, I will.”