We relocated to Pune this week. The moment I announced the shift, my WhatsApp groups saw a deluge of Puneri jokes. The groups had assumed that I had, by virtue of having made the move physically , shed my Mumbai hide overnight and grown prickly skin. They told me I would now be transformed into a benignly edgy, crotchety creature, (the stereotype immortalised by many a writer), who would shut out the world between 1pm -4 pm, who would not take kindly to gatecrashers or unsolicited advice, put up signboards that act as mood indicators, outside my door, and not balk at calling a spade a spade or whatever I deemed fit. ‘How wonderful’, I thought, grinning from ear to ear, though I had just about begun to breathe the fresh, cool air of Pune and it had yet to invade my cells and alter my character.
When we considered living in Undri, I was largely fascinated by its name. Undir, in Marathi, means mouse. Undri sounds similar, and in local dialect, means mice. I pictured a place swarming with mice, and needing the services of the Pied Piper. Later, I realised that my neighbouring village was Manjri, meaning ‘cats’, in Marathi. So, the cat and mouse game had probably been played many times over, with the cats from Manjri having chased the mice from Undri round the clock. How many of the rodents escaped, only time will tell, as I haven’t lived here long enough to know if I’ll have murine visitors scurrying about.
As of now, it’s the birds that wake me up every morning, before the alarm goes off. Flocks of bright green squawking parrots swoop down on trees, black sunbirds rattle off rapidly, their purplish, glistening wings, shiny spots in the foliage, fan-tailed birds dance about, cuckoos perform a jugalbandi and a gaggle of brownish grey seven sisters breaks the silence of the day with its incessant babble. It’s a concert that deserves an encore. The nip of the retreating winter makes sleeping in so compelling. But, the babblers are unrelenting. They remind you to seize the day–the earlier, the better.
I was in an auto rickshaw a couple of days ago. The driver, an almost toothless man in his mid 60s, figured out from my phone conversation that I had shifted to Undri from Mumbai. Out of the blue, he said, ‘Tai, now that you are here, you will never even look at Mumbai, leave alone return to the city.’ Not that I had any immediate plans of returning but I felt rather offended by his uncalled for remark. He continued, ‘In the rains, it’s so beautiful here, you won’t spit on Mumbai.’ Images of the paan-spitting population that has been painting Mumbai red flashed in front of my eyes. What had made the driver think I would join the gang of spit-sprayers, if only to prove my allegiance to and acceptance of my new abode, I have no idea. I was infuriated at his very suggestion but kept mum. Then, turning back, as the autorickshaw swerved dangerously, he asked, ‘Have you been to the temples here?’. I shook my head. ‘You must visit the KanifNath temple. It’s close by.’ I hadn’t heard of KanifNath. How does one keep track of all the 33 crore deities that Hindus worship or the countless spiritual masters they follow?
My ignorance did not go unnoticed. ‘You haven’t heard of KanifNath,’ the driver hissed, his shock evident in the way his body twisted and turned and the auto veered off the road. ‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered, sure that I had retribution waiting in the form of some broken bones, considering that both the driver and his vehicle were totally out of control. Only Lord KanifNath could save me now. He did. The driver regained composure and indicating that he had forgiven me for my crime, began filling me in with more details. ‘To go to the sanctum sanctorum, there is just a small opening, barely a foot wide. You have to creep through it, and creep out again, with your face towards the deity.’ I could feel my claustrophobia acting up.
I took a deep breath. ‘Tai, the opening is designed to ease the entry of even a man weighing one ton.’ I wondered where I would find such a gargantuan human being alive. I smiled. Realising that I wasn’t convinced, he continued, ‘Do you know how? Your thoughts have to be pure. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck.’ I thought of all the random wicked thoughts that invaded my mind at the most unexpected moments. I was sure I would never be able to pass through, especially if the deity was a mind reader too, and would be stuck in the tiny opening for life, fossilised in the most bizarre manner. I said so. He turned around once again, as my heart skipped several beats and a few two-wheelers speeding towards us almost collided with us. ‘You! You can’t go in.’ So, he knew about my inner life, I surmised. My thoughts, weird and wild. ‘Why not?’ I ventured. With the scorn deemed fit for the worthless, he spat, ‘Because you are a woman. Only men can go in, that too bare-chested.’ He was trying to intimidate me by adding the bit about disrobing.
I was about to tell him about Trupti Desai, the gender equality activist and temple gatecrasher. But, here, entry was not facilitated by just your gender. It was the purity of thought at the moment of entry that mattered too. I couldn’t possibly vouch for Trupti on that count. Thoughts are such mischievous wisps. ‘You may try your best, but you will never be allowed,’ he emphasised. He had sensed my mental revolt. Lord KanifNath had blessed the guy with psychic powers. ‘It’s okay,’ I said, knowing that apart from my thoughts, all the extra pounds I had on my body would anyway bar my entry even if I played feminist. When I reached my destination in one piece, I thanked Lord KanifNath profusely. So what if I never got to meet him in his lair, I had managed to obtain his protection. As I thanked the driver for reasons unknown, he wagged a finger and warned, ‘Remember what I said. You will never return to Mumbai.’ Was it a prophecy? Only time will tell.
Today, I wrote my first signboard and hung it outside my door. ‘Do not deliver milk today’. It worked. I’ve already had my first encounter with a straightforward grocer. After placing an order on the phone and having it delivered home once, when I called again to place another, smaller order, he told me in an ice-cold voice, ‘We do not deliver twice. Call only once.’ He’s put me in my place. I need to get more organised. Also, I love the 1pm-4pm time out. Puneites really know it all about ‘me time’ and ‘space’. I’m going to claim mine too. I am metamorphosing and loving it too.
But, there’s this one thing. The heart is still where the commotion is.