A Tale of Two Cities I

“So you’re a Mumbaikar, eh?”

“Yep, born and raised. Best city in the world, no?”

“Actually, I prefer Pune…”

***Cue Mortal Kombat soundtrack***

Most, if not all, of my conversations in Mumbai have started (and ended) in the aforementioned fashion. And more often than not, instead of precipitating some light banter, the conversation has mutated into full-blown argument involving swearing, tears and shouts of “Har Har Mahadev!”. Any dates that I’ve been on (any relatives reading this, please…save it for another time and forum) have always featured said question as a part of the icebreaking, and it has also happened that instead of flirting and whispering sweet nothings to one another, we’ve spent 3 hours arguing the relative merits of Bedekar Misal to Bade Miya’s Bheja Fry. True story.

Seems that ripping on each other’s cities is an integral part of being a resident of Pune or Mumbai. Almost as much as the Local is a part of Mumbai, or as the 1-to-4 lunch break is a part of Pune. Movies and literature have taken immense advantage of this phenomenon, most notably “Mumbai-Pune-Mumbai”, and the legendary Pu La essay “Punekar, Mumbaikar ki Nagpurkar?”. And having lived in said cities for quite a while, I must say that whatever has been written, said, sung or portrayed isn’t nearly enough to capture the spirit, the essence and the resulting divide between these two sprawling organisms.

Mumbai is Economy. Pune is Culture. Mumbai is Industrious. Pune is Laid-back. Mumbai runs. Pune saunters. Mumbai party’s. Pune Aarti’s. Mumbai works. Pune studies. In Mumbai shops, customer is king. For Pune there has been no king since Shivaji, and anyone thereafter is not worthy of courteous speech, let alone efficient service. Mumbai will take one look at you, shrug and move on to its business. Pune will do a double-take, observe you with great interest, totally judge you and then tell everyone in a 10-mile radius how stuff didn’t happen this way in the Peshwai. And mind you, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

If these one-liners caused you to snort and think to yourselves, “Mmmppfftt! (or however it is you snort) So Pune is clearly the less capable, addled and good-for-nothing city full of hippies and unshaven amateur artist-types”, I’ve managed to deceive you about my allegiances. For I, gentle readers, am and will always remain a Punekar at heart. No number of long meditative walks along the Marine Drive shall sway my stance, for I will always believe that Sambhaji Pul trumps the Bandra-Worli Sea Link any day of the week.

But hey, let’s be fair here and give this “City of Dreams” a chance. We Punekars are humble in greatness, and will always allow the other side their say. (Trick statement, that. Punekars are never humble. About anything.) So from here on will commence a series of posts titled as this one is; the idle reflections of an overworked adult who has studied in Pune and now pursues his livelihood in Mumbai. An examination of what it is that makes the residents of these cities defend them; with words, with fists, and the occasional thrown beverage on first dates. True story.

Note: “A Tale of Two Cities” is a novel by Charles Dickens, which I have no claim to and own no part of. Merely adopting the title to suit my nefarious purposes.

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