Adventures in Pune — We found love in a lifeless place

Indian Christian Cemetery, Wanowrie, Pune

If you know me, you know this — I fall in love with people, places, things quite often and easily. From spending too much time in my garden back home (in Khargone), admiring plants in our nursery to watching the whole world waltz by from local trains in Mumbai with a childlike curiosity — I can romanticize everything.

However, if you don’t know me, then you know now that I fall in love with people, places and things quite often and easily.

Mostly though, this romanticisation fizzles out in absence of an outlet. It thrives only with expression. So I have taken it upon myself to not let it burn out at the conceiving stage. I have decided to document my adventures in Pune and I hope to do justice to the beautiful city that it is.

The disconnect with this city at large had been bothering me for a while now. I have a very comfortable job, office is nice, stress level is zilch as compared to Bombay… so what could it be? The answer hit me like a bullet the day I stepped out to explore a very unusual place in Pune. Which is also the day that pushed me to take this initiative.

It has been a little over a month since I shifted here and I’m guilty of not giving the city a chance to let me adore her. To each one who has been so kind to ask me the looming question — “So, how’s Pune treating you?” I have replied with a dull, mechanic “It’s too slow. I am used to a fast paced life. I miss Mumbai” instantly.

But after over a month of whining I realized that apart from being a cry baby, I am also being an ignorant piece of shit by not even getting out of the pseudo-Pune I live in (read: Magarpatta), to explore the real city.

The real grandeur of Pune is tucked away in city’s acceptance of her culturally rich history. Influences from Maratha Empire and the British Raj reside deep in her core. In such a setup, it’s easy for one to be oblivious to what this city has to offer. It draws your attention slowly initially and then engulfs you all of a sudden once you start to take notice. This is how the former took place —

While returning from my nutritionist’s, I decided to take a walk to the cemetery that I cross every morning. Of course I didn’t go to the cemetery the same day. I am bad at listening to my inner voice. It keeps blabbering and who has time to follow one’s whims? We keep fighting it off, in spite knowing it means well, don’t we? “Quit that job”, “Say I love you”, “Forgive them”, “Let it go” — shutup! I like to keep things messed up, don’t you get it?

Every once in a while, though, I stir shit up spontaneously to keep that wild child from hipsterland alive. It took me good five days, but I managed to wake this baby up! (Read: Went to check out the graveyard, yay)

During my little adventure I learned that Pune IS in fact slow and boring but …excellently so! Bear with me while tell you how.

This is where things get a little dramatic. While I was loitering about in the cemetery, I spoke to the Gurkha who has been watching over the graves since past 10–15 years. But before we indulge ourselves into the details, let me tell you that this cemetery is not to be confused with the famous War Cemetery in Khirkee, which I hope to visit soon.

Indian Christian Cemetery is surrounded by three other graveyards and the Army Institute of Physical Training which was shifted to Wanowrie, Pune from Ambala after the partition; where both Indian and British students were taught. Owing to these establishments, the overall feel of this area is vintage and carries a tinge of nostalgia from British India. When you enter the cemetery, you are greeted with couple of Notice Boards that yell at you, explaining the rules of the sacred land.

“No Smoking or Drinking in the cemetery”

“Temporary graves are only for three years”

“Charges for digging a grave is 350/-”

“No booking after 4 PM” and such.

Rows of graves can be seen right from the entrance of Indian Christian Cemetery. These rows look like crooked lines drawn by a rather shaky hand. There is a cemented track that flows through the cemetery, in the shape of a very wide mouthed Y; tips of which further getting divided into small clearings of land, leading up to the tombs like a channel of veins on a leaf.

Few tombs have railings around them to separate their acres from others, few crammed haphazardly one after the other, barely leaving any room for their residents. One can spot few freshly dug up graves here and there, in no specific order. Rotting garlands, bouquets, molten wax can be seen on and around them accompanied by a resounding grief that’s more of an illusion which exists on a conscious demand going by the nature of the place.

The logic behind allotting area for a grave is simply this — If there’s a small piece of land available, you buy it. If there isn’t, a previously owned grave which isn’t visited by anyone anymore is dug, and belongings of the previous owner are reburied in it along with the new one. If you don’t have money to buy a land, you are given a temporary grave which is yours for up to 3 years, after which you’re requested to adjust with a new roommate. It’s safe to say that Indian Christian Cemetery unlike the elegant War Cemetery, dawns more of an Indian personality.

The most peculiar thing about this place is that one would expect a land with so many dead bodies buried beneath it to be like a place touched by Dementors. Cold and forsaken. But instead this place boasts of life. Creepers hanging over crosses, flowers flourishing atop graves, earthworms oozing out of tiny holes, wild grass growing in abundance. It seems like a full-fledged rebellion against death.

I spotted the watchman sitting on the edge of the track, busy trimming grass from an unoccupied piece of land. Next to him were corpses buried under various types of Crosses. Ranging from the ones that carried information about the person — birth, death, a quote from the Bible etched into the tombstone, a beautifully crafted Gothic guardian angel statue above them to the ones that just had two rotting iron bars above their head to mark their sleeping places.

“Kitna purana hai ye?” I asked

(How old is this place?)

“Ye kobrishtaan? Maloom naye, hum toh dash pundra shaal she aata hai idhar”He replied in a heavy nepali accent.

(This cemetery? No idea. I have only been working here since past 10–15 years)

“Toh sabse purani kabar kabki hai?”

(What year does the oldest grave here date back to?)

“1920 ki bhi hai. Naam naye hai kuch mai shirf cross hai. Koi nai aata shaal shaal hojata hai. Kitna yaad rakhega”

(There’s one that’s from 1920. Not sure though, there are few that don’t even have names on them. No one visits these graves.)

“Aapko bura nai lagta, aisi jageh pe logo ko dekh ke? Aur dar nai lagta raat mai?”

(Do you feel sad sometimes? Looking at all these people coming to the graveyard, and don’t you get scared?)

“Pehle lagta tha. Ab aadat hogayi hai.. Bohot log rota hai aake. Kuch log hashta bhi hai. Kuch log ek baar aake kabhi wapas nai aata. Kitna shochega? Kya sochega abhi? Kya karega itna shoch ke. Humko toh nai shamaj aata log. Hum hamara round lagata hai, kabar khodta hai bash.” He replied earnestly

(I used to think a lot earlier. I would get scared too at times. But not anymore. Few people come crying, few smile too. Few never return. I don’t understand people. Till when will one ponder and what for? I do my rounds, dig the graves and that’s all.)

The reason why Pune’s pace hasn’t caught on to the levels of Mumbai, Delhi or Hyderabad for that matter is because of it has withstood the reign of multiple institutions. She has inherited the traits that compliment her and her residents. Having been Bombay Presidency’s monsoon capital, home to the largest cantonment of British forces and the first privately governed college in India (Fergusson), the city has created a perfect balance between her IT parks, technological advancements and infrastructure and pre-independence relics. Disciplined households in the cantt, hippies from Osho ashram, devoted marathas, and the high-on-tolerance working class residing in IT parks — city’s diversity projects a perfect spectrum.

Till when will one ponder and what for?

A humble Gurkha from a cemetery in the slow and boring city of Pune had thetime to talk to me (a rare commodity in cities like Mumbai). He didn’t say much, no big words, but enough to showcase the flip side of living such a lifestyle. How it allows you to grow and ponder and teaches you to stop at the right time. To dream and to chase but to settle at the right time.

Coming from a very hectic life in Mumbai, I think I have fallen into a rut. The one where we chase things. The one where “Instant Gratification” gives us a sense of happiness. Awards, Hearts, Likes, Invitations … an array of boxes to check. One after the other. No time to appreciate, no time to stop and reflect.

Probably that’s the reason why one often doesn’t feel content with their work, relationship or life, regardless of the city they are in. It’s because although we have a sense of happiness, in reality, it’s not legitimate at all. A comfortable bubble built out of validation that we seek to fire up our self-esteems. A bubble that we constantly keep filling up, without stopping to check the air pressure. Until one day, it bursts.

Till when will one ponder and what for?

We don’t know that. There are more stories to listen to and more graves to dig (forgive me lord) and I guess we will all know when we know. One bubble at a time.

When I came out of the graveyard, equipped with a new lens in my toolbox, I knew I was going to fall in love with the walk back home and God knows, I did. In few days from today, while exploring this city, I will know what to look for in people and places.

Hopefully, upon looking back from Pune or some other slow and boring city, I will know and you will know that adjusting to a new city, a workplace or a new situation in life may be hard, but your perception of dealing with it can change a lot of things. All you have to do is visit a graveyard. Or follow that instinct and see where it takes you. Whatever helps!