Ever since I've known DD, he's been going on about Pune. Even though he spent only 4 years there, it's a city full of wonderful memories from his engineering days. All that daredevilry which I see no signs of today, did take place in this town which is famous, at least in our household.
So, when we decided to visit Shirdi with Squiggles, it was but natural for us to go via Pune and spend half a day there. I was really looking forward to it. I wanted to experience the city which had shaped DD from a boy to a man. And put pictures alongside the word-driven landscape in my mind.
We took an afternoon flight from Delhi and got to Pune in the evening. DD's excitement was palpable. All along the drive from the airport to the town, he kept exclaiming about how things had changed, how much more populated the once deserted area was. He kept giving me advance warnings of upcoming changes to the road - 'there's a bridge on the left' or 'we'll be taking a right turn next'.
We reached the hotel and quickly fed Squiggles and headed out to visit his old engineering college. It was already dark and I was quite hungry so I cajoled DD into getting me something to eat first. So, we picked up vada paus from Joshi Vada Pau Wala - the most famous guy in town turning these street snacks out by the dozen a minute. We continued on our way. Our first stop was the boys hostel. It was a strange feeling to be at a place where there were so many memories associated but none of them your own. I tried to imagine the boy that he must have been and ran through all the anecdotes he'd told me over the years. DD pointed out his room to me. He also spotted a guard who had been there even when DD was around. We went in and took a few pictures. And then made our way to his college.
I was quite impressed actually. Somehow, I hadn't expected a nice green lawn and imposing building. I have to confess that the name (M.I.T) made me think of the famed US university and I felt this was probably a wannabe. However, it wasn't their fault that Maharashtra and Massachusetts both started with 'M'!
We wandered around for a while. I saw bikes parked at the entrance and was instantly drawn to DD's tales about his adventures with his mates and ex-girlfriend on the bike. I stood back taking in the sights and trying to imagine him there, in a setting which I hadn't been part of till now. It's always nostalgic visiting a part from your past. And it's even more so when you visit the past of someone so close to you. We visited his department building, checked out the labs. DD pointed out the carpentry workshop where even today chairs made by students littered the ground outside. Many photographs later, we headed back to find a place to eat.
Normally, when we're on holiday it's my job to find us a place to eat. And since I'm a foodie, I will invariably agonise over the decision and take an inordinately ridiculous amount of time pondering on our options. But for once, it was DD trying to figure out which restaurants were still open and where I would like the food. Finally, we went to a cosy place near the Osho Ashram - an open air cafe called Prem's. Even though it had a very desi name, it had a very cool feel to it. It had al fresco seating, with dim lights and small candles flickering on tables. Red checked tablecloths covered tables. There was a busy vibe to the place and yet it didn't feel crowded. It was a place that DD frequented with his college mates and it was reassuringly unchanged. I spotted several tables with college goers. One group was celebrating a birthday, they were all dressed and a girl had a particularly lovely voice and was singing. The beautiful sounds filtered across to us and I could see why it had the potential of a place where memories are created. We put Squiggles to sleep by joining two chairs to make a bed (I have Mala to thank for this amazing idea which I have unfailingly used ever since) and enjoyed a leisurely meal. She woke up just as we finished and proceeded to howl loudly. As I stood up to walk her, a western lady came up and scolded me for being selfish and having an evening out at the expense of Squiggles' sleep. She went on to complain that she couldn't understand why Indians kept doing this..... blah blah blah. An irritating end to a wonderful day. We had to leave early the next morning for our trek to Shirdi. But more on that later.