Nov 7, 2011

An archaeology of Pune Landmarks

Human culture evolves in many ways, and is often more apparent than other forms of evolution. Trends in language, for instance, or fashion. This is also true of the culture of a place, and cities like Pune exemplify this evolution.

The Punekar has always been famous for his complaint/lament that "Pune was not like this earlier". Some of it can be blamed on the "Rosy Retrospection" effect, but much of it emerges from drastic (and tangible) change experienced within even a generation. Obvious markers of such changes are evident in population growth, traffic patterns, and the rise in cosmopolitanism. A subtle indication of these can be seen in what are perceived to be landmarks of the city.

Someone asks you where Manney's bookstore is. A decade ago, you'd say: "near West End or Dorabjee's". Today, you might say "opposite SGS Mall". Or you are issuing directions to Aundh. You suggest the driver "take the flyover above University Circle" only to be met with a puzzled stare. "What Circle?". At a school quiz, when trying to mentally place the statue of Rani Laxmibai on J.M. Road (the answer to a question), the nearest landmark that came to a participant's mind was the nearby Pizza Hut, and not Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir or Sambhaji Park.

Only time will tell if the likes of SGS Mall, Pizza Hut, or Wadeshwar on FC Road, will some day evoke the kind of nostalgia as some of the old places. Many of these 'landmarks' are eateries or retail outlets, so it is inevitable that the march of time and economics consumes and produces new winners. What's boring is the sameness of many of these new landmarks: they tend to be malls or franchise outlets. A city needs some character in its landmarks, which often comes from being remarkable for what it can offer or for its quirks. Pune's old city landmarks still retain most of these traits, while the newer, often posh-er areas, are maddeningly homogenous.

For the discerning and the inquisitive, there is perhaps much to gain from an archaelogy of landmarks in a city: a lot is happening below the facade, even if it isn't 'happening' by modern standards. So the next time you give out directions to help your newly migrated colleague, perhaps you should slip in the odd reference to an odd place. Then direct that puzzled stare into a meaningful insight about the city.

Some older and newer landmarks

    University Road: Rahul Cinema vs E-Square
    Nehru Memorial/Dorabjees/West End vs SGS Mall
    University Circle vs the University Flyover
    Cafe Goodluck vs Wadeshwar


Ajay said...

"maddeningly homogenous" is a great way of putting it. I must add, it's not just a Pune phenomenon.

Unknown said...

Yes, it does annoy me that be it Bombay or Bangalore or Madras, you can step into a mall and you can't tell which city you are in. :)

CruiZen said...

Khind vs. Symbiosis - if one goes farther back in time.

Is Wadeshwar a relatively new place? Roopali and Goodluck are still more prominent landmarks in my circles.

Glad to see parts of the canal road restored - this time into a beautiful walkway/ cycling track.

Unknown said...

A lot of new people I know have not tried Goodluck (and well, Wadeshwar looks neater and more inviting :) ). I think it's more of a end-of-FC-Road-on-one-side marker: earlier people would probably use Sagar Arcade more often.

Rashmi said...

I don't know how true this is, but someone once remarked that when Vaishali came up, people would give its location as being 'Opposite BCL'. After some years, 'Where is BCL?' started getting answered as 'Opposite Vaishali' :-)

Unknown said...

Rashmi: :) Of late, I have begun paying close attention to what sort of landmarks to give to what kinds of people. So I'd give out landmarks like "Vaishali" to a young niece, but "BCL" to a more academic person. It's fun to see what strikes a more natural chord for them.

Anonymous said...

".. be it Bombay or Bangalore or Madras,.."
Oh, you mean Mumbai or Bengaluru or Chennai. Now I understand! :)
Seriously, I'd like to see you go ranting on name-changing of cities (and states and roads). If you're already done so, paste a link :)
- Dunbar

Unknown said...

Dunbar: I prefer to express my protest quietly by using these names that come naturally to me :) The closest I have come to a rant (specifically about Madras) is here:

Unknown said...

well as long as "Engineering College" remains an indelible landmark known to rickshawwallas & beggars alike, I am happy!

Anonymous said...

Hadn't see this before...but loved true and so you.