What studying Farrukh Dhondy’s ‘Poona Company’ means right now to a Pune resident l Janaseva News


Issues which had as soon as existed each did and didn’t exist anymore. The previous lay like a corpse amongst these homes and thoroughfares, and the current with its successive accretions had grow to be its shroud.

I used to be standing within the midst of Farrukh Dhondy’s Poona, a world he immortalised in his e-book of quick tales Poona Firm. Revealed in 1980, it’s peopled with unforgettable characters from Dhondy’s boyhood: Males like Soli Kolmi, the artful bookie who “was constantly bent over double like a prawn”; Samson, the Parsee physique provider who “walked in the fashion of ‘heroes,’ his arms stretched into stiff bows on either side of his body, …supposed to tell people who were watching that your muscles were so thick they prevented movement;” Minocher Toot, the penny-press baron who ran tirades in opposition to anybody who provoked his ire; and Confession, the Jesuit Catholic who turned rogue, transformed to Hinduism and altered his identify to Prabhat.

However in addition to these, there may be one other character, diffuse and omniscient, seeping into everybody and every thing within the e-book. That is the town of Pune itself, or extra appropriately, a really specific Poona of Dhondy’s boyhood…as a result of Dhondy didn’t develop up within the metropolis correct, however on its outskirts, in an space popularly referred to as “Camp”.

I had been going to this a part of the town since I used to be little, largely to buy at Westside and purchase Shrewsbury biscuits. I had by no means considered asking why it was referred to as “Camp”. Then I learn Dhondy’s tales. The defeat of the Peshwas in 1818 rendered Poona a conquered metropolis within the arms of the British, and in step with this conquest, the British military constructed a navy station on the town’s outskirts to accommodate its troopers and directors. In impact, it arrange “camp” right here, and therefore, the identify.

Inside Poona ‘Camp’ | {Photograph}: Nehrotra Mehrotra

However that was not all. The British needed to accommodate the myriad wants and needs of its campers, and this quickly spawned the phenomenon of “Camp Followers”. Comprising shopkeepers and merchants, cooks and cleaners, camp followers had been a floating civilian inhabitants, allowed to dwell and work within the cantonment with the only purpose of satisfying the wants of the British military. These followers had been directly a part of the cantonment and aside from it, residing in a clearly demarcated a part of Cantt typically referred to as the Bazaar.

It’s this that’s Dhondy’s Poona, and “Sarbatwalla Chowk and [his] neighbourhood, a little way down the road, were distinctly in the bazaar part of the camp, where no soldiers or administrators would ever have lived but where they would have been allowed to wander to the shops and cafes and markets and tumble-down growth of a no-man’s land between the narrow streets of the city and the spacious squares of the camp with its barracks and bungalows.”

Proper off the bat, this incipient Chowk assumes a close to legendary import in Dhondy’s tales. It was a hangout for everyone who was able-bodied and male within the neighbourhood, together with “older schoolboys, college boys, idle petty businessmen who ran the bakeries or the bicycle hire shops, the pious retired gentlemen with Parsee caps and newspapers who’d while away their hours in the bustle of company, the unemployed, the thieves, the layabouts and the few masters of the Chowk who lived, in one way or another, off them all.”

Inside Poona ‘Camp’ | {Photograph}: Nehrotra Mehrotra

Forty years later, standing on this Chowk on a wet weekday morning, I couldn’t assist however really feel it had shrunk. Although I had by no means seen it earlier than, the pages of Dhondy’s e-book had evoked a grand picture in my head of this chowk with a capital “C”, and the small, cramped thoroughfare I used to be standing in did nothing to consummate it. Time had shrunk house, because it does most issues, and the Chowk’s erstwhile bulwarks appeared gone.

I started by trying to find the Kayani and Sachapir cafes, which, in Dhondy’s telling, had flanked the edges of the Chowk like two loyal wingmen, and had been the place the neighbourhood’s punters had congregated to sip chaar and compensate for the most recent gossip.

I discovered no traces of the Kayani or its mob, however as I used to be about to surrender, I noticed an previous letterbox pushed right into a cavernous cranny of one of many buildings: “Mr and Mrs Zal K Kayani, 624 Sachapir Street, 848 Dastur Meher Road,” the field proclaimed. Close to the letterbox was a small shuttered store, beige and nameless. May this be all that remained of the Kayani cafe? (The Kayani cafe has nothing to do with Pune’s well-known Kayani bakery, which is in an altogether completely different a part of Camp).

A close-by stall proprietor gave me an thought as to the place I would discover the Chowk’s different wingman, the Sachapir Cafe. He thought I may be referring to what was now Majestic restaurant in close by Synagogue avenue, which he had heard was once referred to as Sachapir Cafe again within the day, although he couldn’t make certain.

Identify and placement swaps like these appeared widespread in these elements, preserving the previous in new garbs. Even the Naaz cafe “on the corner of Main Street, which was an altogether grander place than either the Kayani or the Sachapir cafes of the Chowk, with glass tables and a garden and terrace” exemplified the same change. This low-grade bistro for upper-class loafers was now not the place it had as soon as been. As an alternative, strolling by the lanes of Taboot avenue, I got here throughout the Mahanaaz restaurant, which, after a cursory dialog with the proprietor, turned out to be the refurbished avatar of the erstwhile Naaz.

Inside Poona ‘Camp’ | {Photograph}: Nehrotra Mehrotra

Subsequent, I turned onto Dastur Meher Street the place Dhondy’s pal Dinsy used to dwell “in a first floor flat with four discreet white curtains on their four front windows,” by which Dinsy’s father would hurl furnishings – and typically Dinsy too – out onto the pavement once they received into fights. Dastur Meher had all the time been a predominantly Parsi enclave. There are historic causes for this.

The Parsis had been the primary camp followers to settle within the Pune cantonment. Other than buying and selling in {hardware}, European items, and overseas liquor, they ran the primary native taverns, whilst different members of their group moonlighted as watch repairers, painters, clerks, carpenters and college lecturers. Actually, the Parsis had been the richest group among the many “natives”, and had been the primary to be allowed by the British to personal landed property and reside within the posh bungalow areas of Arsenal and Napier roads.

Other than them, the bazaar comprised Muslim Boharas from Gujarat, Sunni Muslims from Kutch, Maheshwari Banias from Rajasthan, Goan Christians, Eurasians and Bene-Israelis, all of whom had come a protracted method to commerce within the items and providers required by the British. In brief, the socio-cultural composition of Camp was an eclectic hodgepodge made up of immigrants from all around the nation.

It’s secure to say that this liminal effervescence was very completely different from the town of Pune as a complete, which skewed in the direction of a – somewhat monotonous – Maratha monopoly. Appropriately, Dhondy’s tales abound with fireplace temple fiascos, vultures from the Tower of Silence, Synagogue streets devoid of Jews, Jesuit padris at St Vincent’s faculty and betting horses referred to as Rose de Bahama.

The notorious Sarbatwalla Chowk itself is known as after some Parsi or one other, “walla” being a signature suffix in a group whose surnames of Daruwalla, Sodawaterwalla and even the somewhat caricatureish Sodabottleopenerwalla had been typically “a reflection of Parsi ingenuity and agency required to be a part of the new and innovative industries of the industrial era.”

All these years later, Dastur Meher street appeared tiny and picturesque, with quaint little homes glazed with unidentifiable squires and symbols. However the extra I walked, the much less picturesque all of it turned. The buildings had been crumbling: the peeling paint and damaged home windows appeared an indication that the majority had been uninhabited. The home windows had been ghostly: no curtains, no individuals, no Dinsy, no Dinsy’s father.

Some home windows on the higher flooring had been truly broad open, as if there was nobody and nothing inside them to guard. The whole lot appeared within the midst of a balancing act, teetering back and forth and fairly liable to topple over any second. Scattered conversations with locals revealed that the majority homes had been, in actual fact, empty. The previous house owners had handed away, and their properties had been now mired in authorized disputes.

Slightly crimson brick home sported an ominous discover throughout its facade: “This property bearing House No 865 Dastur Meher Road, Camp, Pune – 411001 belongs to the late Mrs Dinaz N Irani, Mrs Yasmin D Mazda and Mr Vispi Keki Chindhy. They are the legal heirs of late Mrs Dhun K Chindi and late Mr Keki Ardeshir Chindi whose names appear as the HOR in the records of the Pune Cantonment Board. Trespassers will be prosecuted.”

Inside Poona ‘Camp’ | {Photograph}: Nehrotra Mehrotra

I had all the time identified Camp was completely different. To me, it had been an unique place teeming with unusual names and stranger accents. However nothing extra. Its exoticism had precluded investigation. Actually, all my vital considering congealed when it got here to my very own metropolis, the place I used to be born, had grown up and about which I knew subsequent to nothing.

This had by no means bothered me, as a result of I took it with no consideration that there was nothing to know. It was a static and provincial metropolis, I informed myself: one thing fastened to come back residence to however nothing stimulating sufficient to launch forth from.

After which I learn Farrukh Dhondy’s Poona Firm. I noticed names and locations I had grown up amidst etched in inexorable print, and all of a sudden, they turned vital. If somebody had taken the pains to put in writing about them, they have to be vital. My thoughts began racing; I questioned, wandered, questioned, and researched, uncharted verbs in relation to my very own metropolis; and as I did, Pune opened up earlier than me, in all its previous glory and current grime.

If it weren’t for Dhondy, I’d by no means have identified what Camp as soon as was; and the way it was now not that anymore. I’d by no means have identified that right now’s Mahatma Gandhi Street was as soon as Predominant Avenue; that Sardar Patel Street was erstwhile East Avenue; that Sarbatwalla Chowk was not a anonymous avenue nook however a proud Parsi bastion; and most significantly, that the individuals I noticed right here weren’t an inexplicably unique inhabitants, however had been the final remnants of a protracted, circuitous historical past I had not revered sufficient to attempt to be aware of.

Maybe this overdependence on Dhondy is its personal form of problematic. In spite of everything, needing literary validation to start sentience shouldn’t be wholesome, and even sustainable. However then once more, it affirms for me one thing I’ve all the time believed in: the facility of books. And in the end, I’m simply glad that I managed to search out this e-book that launched me to my metropolis.

Poona Company


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Teja Sirisipalli

#studying #Farrukh #Dhondys #Poona #Firm #means #right now #Pune #resident

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