PUNE—A Dweller’s View*
Pune—On the March
Big Cousin Bombay
Glorious past to a dynamic present to a rarefied future?
by Jayant Deshpande
une has the charm of an overgrown village; that may well be its salvation. We can thank our stars that no superhighway—except of course the information one—runs through the city, impersonally, fragmenting everything in its path, giving the illusion of grandeur.
In her landmark book on Bombay, City of Gold, Gillian Tindall compares it to many illustrious western capitals, and to her they seem like small towns expressed in a grandiose manner; some have even become lifeless. As she puts it, “But Bombay lives”. Pune may resemble an overgrown village, but one not expressed in a grandiose manner. It still retains an old-world sort of charm, beating to a gentler rhythm. And it lives.
But make no mistake—Pune is on the move, ready to join the global village.
Software firms, computer vendors and net cafés have mushroomed, spread like wildfire and have generally set the mood and tone of the city. Young people rather like the cyber-culture because it gives them a chance to jet into the modern world of sophisticated lifestyles and technologies—in a manner of speaking; it’s necessary to at least nurse the illusion. Computer institutes and net cafés are flourishing like wild flowers. They seem eager to equip Pune for the 21st century.
A new Infotech Park has been established at Hinjewadi (to the city's northwest, near Aundh), with major software houses like Infosys, Wipro, Tata Consulting and Geometric dominating the information technology scene. Some American software firms are forming collaborative partnerships with local start-ups or opening branch offices to address the aggressive growth in demand. But more important, many American firms, software or otherwise, are 'outsourcing' their work to India-based firms. Shiny glass-walled buildings and lavish campuses have come up to woo the ‘freshers’ just out of college, armed with IT diplomas and degrees.
This is the cyber-veneer Pune has feverishly acquired—growing thicker by the day. Who knows where the cyber-revolution will take this city, but it is changing a lot of people's lives. And fast. Pune is clearly poised to become another Cyberabad.
Can Pune, should it, emulate Bangalore or Hyderabad as a possible Silicon Valley? I think it would be a travesty of its gentle nature, a beginning of the end for this sensible town.
Yet, I wonder. It may just be the panacea if handled right.
A Silicon Valley would no doubt bring in its wake more squatters and shanties subsisting on handouts from these cyber-lords, and result in power shortages, inadequate roads and parking space—a despicable sight. But however despicable industrial growth may look, one can’t deny that it is a barometer of the city’s health and vigor. Economic growth always wears two faces.
Bombayites, or Mumbaikars, have always regarded Pune as a satellite town, a pensioner’s retreat, a refuge for those weary of Bombay’s frenetic pace. For the British Pune served as a retreat from the burdens of the Bombay Presidency. But now, as Bombay’s growth slows down, they’re eagerly gravitating, if not flocking in droves, to this satellite, cashing in on the windfall profits made from the sale of golden real estate in that port city, and driving up prices here. The new Pune-Mumbai expressway, built along the lines of turnpikes and freeways in the West, has facilitated this as never before. Even Pune’s gravitational center of employment has shifted to the twin, newly incorporated municipality of Pimpri-Chinchwad, formerly village suburbs bordering on the vast plots and estates of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation. Because of the natural flow of people from Bombay, the rich ethnic variety of Pune may appear to mimic that of Bombay, but it lacks the special character that Bombay’s has acquired due to its maritime role, its unique situation as a major trading port and a hub of commercial and financial activity. The Pune-Mumbai conurbation, with upwards of 15 million people, is reputedly the biggest in India. By the year 2011, it is estimated to be upwards of 25 million, putting it easily in the league of megacities like Tokyo or Mexico City.
* Revised & updated—first appeared in City Beat (a Pune weekly) during 1999-2000
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