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