Musings Circa 60’s! Eateries in my life!

My friend Suresh wrote something about canteens in COEP, on our WA group;  that took me back to my childhood and college days. My first visit to an eatery that I remember was when I was a child; I had gone with my mother and other family members to a place on Tilak Road, in Pune, called Jeevan! I was on the 7th cloud and I ate a Ghavan! Now I am not really sure if it was a dosa or the ghavan, both very thin roti type of bread, made of completely different batters. Later, I asked my mother a few times if we could go to Jeevan again. But she did not even bother to reply. Eating out in those days was something very rarely done. Then, of course, there was Diwadkar’s batata Wada (Patty) eaten during travel between Bombay and Pune. I used to eagerly wait for Karjat station to arrive. I think they used to give garlic chutney also along with hot wadas! This was the beginning of my journey about eateries, in 50’s.

My schooling was done in Bombay and I used to live in Dhobi Talao behind Metro Cinema. I used to go to school by us. Monsoon was the season I would eagerly await. I would cook a story that due to heavy rains buses were delayed and I had to walk home, a distance of about 25 minutes! Those four annas were used to eat Masala Dosa at a place called Kelkar or Batata Bhaji, yes only bhaji, no puris! This bhaji was the speciality of a place called Kulkarni’s, bang opposite our school at Prarthana Samaj in Girgaum. Both these places have gone away with time.

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One iconic place near our home in Dhobi Talao was Kyani’s. (The photo above) Bun Maska, chai, pastries and Omelette was their speciality. But how much money could one pinch from home? Once I managed to pinch money for an Omelette and a few times for bun Maska/chai, a couple of times for pastries. Ten years back I went there and had a full feed of everything, finally. Kyani is still around. My Mumbai story will not be completed without writing about Milk Bar behind Elphinstone College; custards, puddings and jellies and what have you! The last one in my list was Napoli Bistro opposite Brabourne Stadium. We used to go there during my Telang Memorial hostel stay on C road at Churchgate. We used to get expresso for a princely sum of Rs.1/, which we used to have once in a while. There was a jukebox in the restaurant which made us hang around for some time. One naughty guy called Nitin Khot took a bet with someone and somehow managed to pinch a chair from the restaurant. It was returned the next day!

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That brings me back to Pune of my engineering college days. Good Luck is like Kyani’s of Mumbai and served the similar foodstuff. There used to be a little more money in pockets during this phase which allowed us to eat chicken masala and roti! Wow! Mouth still waters! Bowing to the father time, now they serve Idli Sambhar also. Another joint for us night owls, was Olympia opposite Pune Corporation. We used to be awake with our other studious guys but most of the time was spent on serious discussions of the world at large, with special reference to girls! When we had some time free from these discussions, we would be busy in Rummy or Teen Patti (Flush). These serious activities would make us hungry past midnight and the only option was Olympia, famous for its Baida Masala! Boiled eggs cooked in a lovely curry! A couple months back I ate this dish at Fountain hotel near Vasai but I could not remember where I had eaten this beauty before! Of course, it was Olympia!

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Modern Café was our main Adda! Modern Café kept our gastric juices in control by providing us with piping hot Shira (something similar to porridge) and coffee at 5.30 am after all-night sessions of Teen Patti! In the afternoon the cafe would provide us with Idli, Dosa etc. At night around 10 pm we would go there for a cup of tea, theoretically to keep us awake for studies; oh yea! I also managed a Master’s Degree in Engineering too! Our main sessions in Modern Café were during our annual day functions. Preparations were done for a couple of months! I used to take part in these activities to hang around as Jaya used to play major roles in dramas. I was kept busy doing the backstage activity. Modern café had created a new facility at their backside called Bamboo House! This was a real cosy place where they had a charming manager called Shekhar. He was very talkative, we used to regularly have parties where someone from the group of 15 /20 of us would pay. Shekhar used to keep track of who had not paid for a long time and remind us that person’s name. The advantage of these parties was we could skip food in our common hostel mess! The money saved was money gained, which was fruitfully used on going to movies.

Out COEP hostel mess was very famous for the quality of food. Students and their relatives, friends from different colleges would come here for the Sunday feast. There were messes based on veg/non-veg food. Two of them, A & F were famous for non-vegetarian stuff. C was Maharashtrian, D was Gujarati type, E was Maharashtrian Kolhapur style hot food. Then later was born O club which had a mix of everything. A & F usually had the cosmopolitan crowd and the so-called Bombay crowd. I was in A club for two years. We had a guy called Aziz who used treat us to some lovely Biryanis and chicken Masala. Coke with Ice cream was the famous dessert of those times. I was friendly with all cooks and head waiters from all clubs. So, we could always “borrow” something from other clubs. My 3rd and 4th year were in C club. I was not admitted to this club in the first year because I was wearing a bold striped shirt for the interview. Medhekar and I used to be the first guys every day for breakfast for our morning quota of eggs. Another interesting thing used to be carrom games in the mess hall. There were some guys who used to be experts. But Bhave and I used to be Killers and we would beat the so-called champs. Just at the entrance of the hostel was a canteen run by Seva Sadan! It was really inexpensive and would sell home-made laddoos and Shankar pale! Next to that was table tennis room where would spend a lot of time. Even after marriage, we had opted for packed hostel food during exam time! We got married while we were doing our Masters!

Our major past time used to be watching movies! This would take us to different parts of Pune. Bedekar Misal, Sweet Home Khichadi and burun and tea at George’s in the camp were some of the famous places we would visit in those days before or after a movie! Pastries at NCR, opposite Jangali Maharaj Temple, were a treat. Near mandai we used to go Asara for very hot chicken! For us COEP gang Vaishali was just coming up on the horizon and was the place to see the Fergusson College girls!

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I could go on and on! But I must mention two places in camp! First one was Dorabajis where one of our gang, Nayan, Sharad, Ashok and others used to go for breakfast to celebrate birthdays! It was a real ritual. We used to sit in the area on the mezzanine floor. Then there was Latif’s. This has a special significance. Jaya and I used to go there as we were almost sure that no known persons will find us there. For Jaya from Sadashiv Peth to Latif’s was a big cultural jump! Until I told my friends, during my first year of post-graduation, about our marriage,  nobody had any inkling of our courtship. Latif’s was a great place “away from everything” in those days!

Let me find out if Latif’s still exists; its high time Jaya and I went there!

Roaming around in Pune!

It’s good to be moving around your own city but with age and technology, there is a possibility that you may not be required to move out of your home, especially after retirement. You can get your grocery online, you can pay your bills online, for cash you can go to ATM and deal with a machine rather than a human. All these things look sexy initially. But humans are social animals, and they love to meet and talk to friends, relatives, acquaintances, and unknown people. It is a well-proven fact that if humans become isolated then there is a good chance of early death. It’s good to know what new things are happening around you. When you move around, you observe different aspects of life. You know where the world is going.

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The other day, we went to a dentist in the old part of Pune. We took an Uber and lo, we reached there in about 25 minutes, which was 15 minutes earlier than expected, and 30 minutes before the appointment. That too during peak hours! As I have always said that I tend towards being an atheist, but once in a while I do visit Mandirs on my own. I suggested to Jaya, that since we were pretty early, we could visit the Kasaba Peth Ganapati Mandir which was bang opposite the clinic. It was surprisingly empty. After going inside, we realized that it was Chaturthi, an auspicious day from the Hindu calendar. I bowed to the God, Jaya did some more prayers and took another five minutes. As is usually done, we sat in the Mandir for five more minutes. When you go to a Mandir, and do not have even five minutes to spare, might as well not go there! This is done  to soak in the atmosphere. The Mandir is a totally different world than that I live in. People were very much engrossed in praying; a priest was giving a sermon and he was talking about day to day issues, how to handle them and how to face the world. I thought it was a very good way of helping people. The priests are revered by the society; his sermon was a good way of guiding people as a tradition. This is one tradition, people should continue to follow, instead of following some irrational things. The young dentist is my daughter’s classmate and I know him well. He jokingly said, “Uncle HE must have been happy that you found time to meet Him!” To me, HE is everywhere, I need not go to a Mandir to meet Him.

Use of Uber brings you in touch with more people, a group of drivers, the way they talk, the way they work, the way they look at the profession. I always make it a point to chat with them. One observation is that 50% of them are from Vidarbha, Marathwada side! In recent four trips, I had varied experiences. One chap was very unfriendly from the beginning, and ended up shouting at me and threatening me with dire consequences! In a huff, luckily, he cancelled the trip on his own. I complained to Uber and they took a lot of feedback from me. Next one was a good person, was shocked how expensive Pune was and did not know much about Pune roads! When will Uber train these drivers about the city where they drive? I explained to this fellow that Pune is expensive because it has money and since it has money, a lot of people use Uber! Next one had his car in horrible condition, dusty and unclean from both inside and outside. I asked him why he had not cleaned the car? He said that he got the trip immediately after login. I asked him why he did not login after the car was cleaned, he had nothing to say. The last one was the best, he knew all the roads, his car looked new. When I asked him if his car was new, he said that it was two-year-old but cleaned it at least four to five times in a day. It showed his passion to do well in his profession! On top of that, he was very polite! I gave him five stars!

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In Pune and Bombay, there is a tradition of Irani restaurants. These are the restaurants run by people who have come to India from Iran and have settled in the last century. These were our favourite joints in our school and college days. They would offer, Bun-Maska (butter), Pastries and Omelet. Chicken and mutton also used to be their speciality if you wanted to take lunch or dinner. I was coming home in the very clean Uber and could look around for a change, as I was not driving. We passed by an Irani restaurant called Regal! I now came to know how the times have changed. They had a display board saying special treat for people who keep fast for 9 days during the Navratri festival that is currently going on! (We always have some festival running or coming or just finished celebrating) Sabudana Wada, Sabudana Khichadi and so on. Typical Maharashtrian dishes. Goodluck is the most famous Irani restaurant in Pune. Looks like to grow their business, they are also offering stuff that people want. So happy to see the flexibility of the management. Another thing that I have seen these days is that these are small restaurants and are at prime locations. With traffic density soaring all the time, their prime locations have become no parking zones. Some of these hotels have bought a couple of shops near the restaurant so that they could provide parking space to at least 20 to 30 bikes, inside those shops!

Another great tradition that is going great guns in Pune, is cultural programs during the Ganapati Festival. Many colonies, apartments, condos have different programs on various days of this festival. In our Condo, there were cookery competitions, painting competitions. Youngest was my grand-daughter Rhea who gave a three-minute solo dance performance. Oldest was a 75 years old lady who took part in story-telling. Jaya and I also had fun. I interviewed her on the subject of modern technologies of IOT, AI, VR and AR. (These buzzwords were explained in the language all will understand) It was done in a chat format and we explained the technical things in such a way that common people could also easily understand the subject. We also kept it interactive and people asked a lot of questions! This is one tradition that should never be allowed to die! This brings people together, the main aim of Lokmanya Tilak who started this festival more than 100 years back. During this festival, people go to each other’s homes, sometimes uninvited, and attend the Ganapati Aarti (Prayers) which are performed in each home!

We keep on making a big noise about traffic chaos in any city. Pune is no exception. But my personal opinion is that Pune’s traffic is still manageable. But the indiscipline is rampant by the two-wheelers, trucks and buses. They break signals, bikes carry 3 or 4 people in place of allowed 2! They break helmet rule with vengeance! In most other cities this rule is followed quite well! They enter wrongly on a one-way street! But real information that you get is from Uber guys, three-wheeler auto chaps break the rules similarly to two-wheeler guys, so I don’t take their feedback seriously. There are surprises. The first thing we assume is that the traffic will be worst in the old part of the city. These are called Peths! The roads are narrow and winding, sometimes. But according to Uber guys, these areas are much better, traffic wise. According to them, the worst is Sinhgad Road and Nagar road. Hinjewadi IT park area is known for these issues simply because of the sheer volume  of vehicles which pour on the road, within a short span of time. Attempts are being made to correct this situation. But mind you, good things always come out in humans, when things go out of control. Nagar road traffic volume has been high and indiscipline has added to it. A group of people in that area created a WhatsApp group. (A creative way of using WA) At a very short notice volunteers from this group jump the fray and help the traffic to smoothen out. What they have done is to include some shopkeepers in that area who can easily see if there is a jam. They give precise location on WA and in a jiffy these guys, wardens working Pro Bono, come out and straighten things out.

Friends, I moved to Pune in 1967 and stayed over. In these 51 years, it has changed a lot but has remained same too! Change is because of technology and migration. Pune has already become cosmopolitan, with new International airport and Metro coming up, will same old  Pune exist at all? Maybe! In some pockets, it will remain the same good old Pune but in other areas, you may feel as if you are in any modern city! Will it be able to keep balance of both? Yes and no! Chitale’s of Pune have finally started advertising and with no breaks between 1 & 4 in the afternoon! Bhelpuri carts, now have to compete with Bhel Puri shops which sell other things like sandwiches and Ragda Pattice too! Puneri Misal is still famous so is sabudana khichadi (now sold even by Irani restaurants!) Only time will tell!

Flora and Humans in Karve Nagar!

I used to go for my morning walks at 5.30 am. Now I have kept the timing flexible and go out a little later after 6.45. Why did I change the schedules? Cooler weather, though I like it, has been giving me a bit of trouble as I get some issues with my throat. Hence, I thought this could be better timing. And Lo! I enjoy my walks at these times too! Each slot probably has its own charm and cannot be compared. The almost zero traffic, skies just starting to lose the darkness, has its own beauty. In winter, the chill, and darkness create their own zone. But then beautiful rising Sun with the fresh wind also adds to the charm.

Another advantage I see is that one can actually see the expressions on the faces of people walking at that time. I don’t smile at everybody on purpose, but I am lucky to have a smiling demeanour, maybe! I see all the possible combinations of facial expressions in this world. I really want to catch all these expressions on the camera, but it is not a practical thing to do! One couple, maybe in the late fifties, always has the lady giving a bit of sermon to her husband every day. They should make a pact that the sermons should stop at the gate of their home. Maybe they do not get that freedom at home, or perhaps fresh air induces more energy in the sermon! I see a very senior citizen with worry lines on the forehead. I hope that it is his demeanour and not real worries! Young folks, of course, are walking briskly but are in their own world, earbuds and all! Once I spoke to one of them while she was adjusting the earbuds. I jokingly asked her, when there are such lovely sounds of birds chirping, why the earbuds! Her expression either said, look at the stupid guy or what is he talking about!

Karve Nagar has beautiful flowery trees and shady trees! It is the area where I currently live in Pune.

These areas are just amazing with their collection of flora! With the current easy availability of cameras in cell phones, I enjoy taking photos which I am sharing with you. Around 30 years back, this area was comparatively undeveloped. The major bridge in that area, called Rajaram Pul, has come into existence in the last fifteen years. This bridge has changed the traffic pattern of this area from the sleepy area to a bustling area. One thing for sure, during the development of this area, the fauna in this area was reasonably well retained. However, the types have changed. This area had orchards of Guava for miles together and some Mango orchards too. These were private plantations and later on became housing colonies. But while developing the territories, authorities, as well as individuals have tried to keep the area as green as possible, it has also become colourful due to individual trees, especially Bahawas. Somehow, I have not found many of Gulmohars, though they are around. The abundance of trees is easily reflected when we come home in the evening. There is a marked difference in temperature, of at least a couple of degrees Centigrade when we take a turn towards the colonies from the main road.  This happens as there are natural welcome arches formed on the streets, by the trees!

Coming back to humans, this area is now reminiscent of Sadashiv Peth and Narayan Peth of olden days. I understand that many people in those areas moved to Karve Nagar area when the wadas in the old Peths (Localities) got developed into new buildings. I can see typical Maharashtrian products available in small joints in this area. For example, Thalipith, Sanja, Shira, Danyache Ladu, and so on. In summer we see many vendors selling Mogra flowers and Gajare, a typical Maharashtrian love! Ladies adorn these Gajaras and will share them with other ladies when they visit them!

This area has developed well, over some time but is not modern in the sense of many skyscrapers, malls. A major lane here and there bustles with Pizza Huts, Star Bucks and Pumas of this world. But preferred joints will still be Wada Pav and Pohe, Cutting chai and Bata! Favourite Ice cream will always be Local Ice cream to Baskin Robbins and the local parlours selling fresh juice. This area also has a beautiful set of bungalows, but it has more of apartment complexes built in the ’80s and ’90s. Though we see a few Mercedes’s and BMW’s, there more Nanos, Alto’s and two Wheelers which are called in local lingo, Gadi! A motorcycle or a scooter or a moped is always referred to as Gadi.

Karve Nagar area reminds me of the Old Pune of the ’60s and ’70s with a slightly modern touch, so naturally, it takes me back to days of my youth! Let us see if there is any other “Old Pune” coming up in “New Pune”! Or maybe that phase, old Pune, may have become History and we will see only NEW, “New Pune” in future!

COEP! Incredible Days!

A couple of days back, during a discussion on 1971 COEP batch WA group, a friend Sailesh reminded others how he was taken by me to my brother in law, Dr. Biniwale, for some treatment during college days. I used to stay in hostels in Pune, in those days. My mind veered to those times in late sixties! Were they different? Of course, I am old enough to say, “In our times”! Let me assure you, the world was different then. India is now rich poor country but, in those days, it was poor, poor country! There were shortages galore, food rationing, poor quality wheat under PL 480 and so on. But youth is such a stage in life that nothing ever matters! Youth always has fun, limitations don’t bother them. They live life without any botheration! We did the same. 

At the end of my tenure, it was a surprise for me to find out that I had learned some engineering too! The personal transportation in those was a bicycle or walk; some came by bus and in the college, there were about 15 to 20 students who came on two wheelers too! This is about 1 % of all students. Out of those five were girls! ( and there were not more than 30 girls in the college!) Since that time, we knew the meaning better half or was it better off! In those times friends were called by surname or short name, like Panvalkar was Panya and Dilip was Dilpya! There was an interesting issue, my cousin Abhay Panvalkar was two years junior to me. When he joined COEP, we used to have food in the same mess. Friends resolved the problem of the same name conflict by calling him Semi-Panya! Relations with ladies were very formal in those days and that too only for some specific work/study related things.  

The groups got established; I was in many groups like sports, dramatics (Jaya and I had a very cozy relation since our initial meetings) and main activity was TP (time pass) where of course I used to lead! This group had one major activity that was to see movies. We sometimes used to attend two movie shows one after another in a day, in nearby theaters. Another important activity would be to go to a restaurant late at night for some special egg dishes! A restaurant called Olympia was a favourite joint of students who wanted to snack after midnight! Staying awake past midnight was quite routine under the garb of studies! Another important activity was to go to see different sports events to support the college team. We used to easily go 10 to 12 kms, one way, for such events on bicycle.  

There used to be some real funny incidents! One of our friends used to be very friendly with girls, outside COEP. He would share a few anecdotes with us. Over a period, we realized that when he got friendlier with them, the girl would get engaged to be married to someone other than our friend! He was then named “Khadawa”! Khadawa are wooden slippers worn by Ramdas Swami, a Hindu saint who ran away from the marriage pandal just as he was about to be married! But one thing for sure was that our friend was very consistent, in ensuring marriage of the girls he was friendly with!  

Another funny incident I remember was when two of our friends planned to go for a movie for evening 6 pm show. By 7 pm both of them were back in hostels! Then we saw a bit of skirmish between them. Both had reached the correct movie show but the only problem was that they were at different theaters about 5 kms away! Then there was another film buff. He liked the then superhit movie “Aradhana” so much that he saw three shows 3/6/9 pm in a day for three consecutive days! He entertained us for next two weeks by play acting both hero and heroine’s roles!  

In those days there was a concept of parasites! Some students who were not authorized to live in the hostel, stayed there for all of fours years. In a room where three students were authorized, fourth would also live there. Main reason for this was the financial difficulties. These were unofficially resolved by such help.  

Having food in the hostel mess was great fun. Food style was based on the type of food that was prepared Maharashtrian, Gujarati, then Kolhapuri. There were two messes which were cosmopolitan which cooked food to suit non-Maharashtrian types. But our gang used to have great fun. We were friends with ALL the cooks and they would allow us to eat interesting stuff from different messes, irrespective of the fact that we were members of the Maharashtrian mess.  

Post exam, there would be “celebration” which meant drinking alcohol. My friend Raju and I, were non-drinkers. Post drinking there used to be a charade of going for food outside the hostel. In those days there never was any restrictions like curfew! 8 or ten of us would go out. One of us used to be at the front and the other at back ensure that the gang did not stray! We used to have a similar binge at a friend’s place as his parents lived far away from Pune. But mind you, some of them drink heavily even today! God bless them!  

Top of the chart fun was going in Ashok’s car for a spin at night. He was a Puneite and they had a bungalow off Prabhat Road. We would go to his home late at night when his parents were traveling, push the car out so that his siblings and neighbours won’t know about this. Then we would pile in the car and drive at night and across Katraj ghats at break necking speed. Ashok was a champion driver. Our money allowed us to eat only dal and rice at a restaurant called Apsara!  

Friends I could go on and on but as usual everything good has to end. Of course, we still remember these things when friends meet; alas Ashok passed away long back but most our gang is still around but our meeting frequencies are very low but let me assure you that while writing this blog I felt as if I had physically traveled back 50 years! I wish this could be achieved just once!  For now, at least I should cross the Katraj ghats and check if Apsara Restaurant is still around!