Where’s the real Pune? Where’s the city centre?

Pune City Center / CentreWith cities like Mumbai where an overwhelming majority of citizens travel south for work but stay up north, it’s quite obvious where the city centre is. However it’s intriguing how city centre means different things to different people in Pune. A friend was recently telling me how his company located in Kalyani Nagar refuses to give bus transport to employees stating that the company was located in the city and so bus transport need not be provided. Considering that he stays in Kothrud and believes that the old city and the Deccan area is the real Pune, he found the company’s suggestion that Kalyani Nagar was ‘in’ the city quite ludicrous.

For many who have been in Pune for a decade or so, Aundh is still a far away place inhabited by migrants. However for those staying in Aundh, that’s Pune. Some of my friends whose families have been in Pune for generations, argue that the old city is where the real Pune is. They say that Shaniwarwada is from where the Peshwas ruled most of India and so that definitely is the city centre. While other friends staying in the camp area think that M G Road is the city centre. This suggestion immediately gets countered with “Cantonments were created by the British primarily to distance the English masters from the native Indians. So a cantonment surely cannot be the centre of Pune for Indians” And so the argument continues…

The argument doesn’t serve much purpose as even if we agreed that place X was the real Pune, nothing is going to change. However it is interesting how the perceived importance of a place has a direct relation to how happy we are staying there. Property rates are often considered a good indicator of the importance of a place. So there’s fierce competition even when it comes to how expensive a square foot of land in an area is. Property rates in Pune have more than doubled over the past few years and yet many want to believe that the rates in their area are still rising at the fastest pace in Pune. Some even take offense when they are told that the rates in their area are less than those in some of the new IT suburbs. “Who would pay that kind of money to stay at such a far flung place?” is the question they have. One gentleman I know, always increases the per square foot price in his area by a good Rs.1000 every time we meet. It seems like an exaggeration, but I am sure even these exaggerations play a role in driving prices even higher.

Not having a city centre is both good and bad. It’s bad for tourism as most tourist friendly cities have a central place that is planned and decorated to make it attractive and enjoyable for tourists. In Pune I can’t think of any such place. As most Puneites think that their area is in the heart of the city, they expect all important development projects and offices should be nearby. So if a company shifts office to Kalyani Nagar, Viman Nagar etc. you have those staying in Deccan, the Peth area, Kothrud, etc. grumble about moving to the new office and vice versa. This isn’t true about many other cities. For example in Mumbai although Nariman Point is one of the most inconvenient places to get to, many Mumbaikars are strangely enough proud of having their office in the most well known business area of Mumbai. I can’t think of anybody who is proud of working in any particular area in Pune.

The positive side of not having a city centre is that because there is no central place, there’s no mad rush in one direction. Pune has grown in all directions and so unlike Mumbai where all traffic goes south during the morning peak hours and north in the evening, Pune sees an evenly chaotic flow in all directions. Being an island city, Mumbai suffers from a lack of space, however Pune still has the opportunity to grow in a systematic and planned fashion and provide a good standard of living to its citizens. Although it seems unlikely, one hopes that we will see well planned areas emerge on the outskirts of the present city, areas that will soon challenge the established areas for the title of being the city centre.

Coming back to the original question, where’s the real Pune, where’s the city centre? Is it the old peths, camp, deccan or is it in the newer and more vibrant suburbs? I guess as of today there’s no right answer.

(Published as “There is no clear answer” on 29th Dec 07 in my fortnightly column for the Maharashtra Herald)