One of the least inspiring go to places in my country – the Netherlands – is the ‘Meubelboulevard’. These out- and indoor furniture malls are primarily located on the outskirts of the cities, far away from the city centers. The huge parking areas are mainly occupied with family cars, mostly 5-door sedan with child-seats at the back. The Indian equivalent of these places is obviously the mall, like the Kalyani Nagar based Phoenix Mall, the Pavillion or the Westend, both at other sides of the city. Walking around in the Pavillion mall is only a little better than visiting the Dutch furniture malls, but there is one huge difference: you’ll be confronted with the flair of ‘India’ once you step out. Sometimes it feels as if you’re walking from the first world directly into the third world.
India and it’s Pune-based evergreens are awesome. Recurring readers of my blogs are fully aware of my temperament towards this amazing country: I’ve completely embraced this country. From the crowded and sometimes slightly unhygienic meat markets to the pristine mountains of Leh Ladakh and from the posh Bandra restaurants to the local chai wallahs on the streets; I love it all! More than often I’ll ask my driver to drop me somewhere near the bustling area of Tulsi Baug. This area is located right in the center of Pune and is one of my most favorite neighborhoods. I really enjoy walking around here, exploring the ‘real’ Indian experience: small family run chai stalls will almost block the roads, while decorated cows are crossing the chowks during heavy traffic. The noises and smells create a fascinating but intense mixture of love and disgust: loud honking cars and autorickshaws are pretty annoying, but the fragrance of fresh coriander- or curry leaves is more than a welcoming natural perfume. Furthermore: every corner of the area is populated with street sellers, offering a wide variety of cleaning products, vegetables, fruits and everything else one could need in the modern Indian household.
Architecture from the Victorian era. Exploring the older neighborhoods within the Pune city-center increases the chances of creating unique photo opportunities. I’ve seen hundreds of impressive priests, vegetable- and fruit sellers and chai wallahs. But there is more; I would advise everyone who wants to visit this part of the city to look up; The architecture of the centrally located offices, the markets and the residential buildings are a unique combination of Victorian-style facades, combined with some Indian flair. The result could be described as a ‘Tropical Indo -Victorian’ style, with a lot of covered outdoor areas.
Sometimes I’m exasperated with this country. Despite all the love for this amazing country, it could be frustrating to live here. The traffic jams are crazy, during peak hours it will easily take me more than two hours to reach the city center after work. The distance between the Hinjawadi based Pune offices and the center of Pune is approximately an 27km and one would never expect to see any quit and empty areas along the way. Besides the poverty sites could be extreme, with a lot of young kids trying to beg for some money at the traffic lights, mostly wearing only an underwear and a worn-out t-shirt at best. Besides these sad sights of poor kids living on the streets, there are much more ugly things in this vaste country. The honking is usually annoying. All Indian drivers seem to have received their driver’s license after they’ve only had 3 lessons probably on a Sunday morning. Furthermore: some parts of the city seem to have been transformed into public dumping places for garbage. It’s beyond dirty, with a lot of rats running around as if it’s a food theme park.
Complaining? No thank you. Although these thoughts only occasionally pop up in my mind, there are times that I would love to engage myself back with some first world perks. I do criticize some of the Pune based expats, especially the expat wives who are organizing regular meetups in one of the many nail salons across Pune. Everyone has the right to share their own thoughts, but I’m truly surprised by certain people, as some of the expats seem to complain about almost everything. There is always a choice for you to return back home if the living conditions are so undesirable. However, I’m also an expat with a need to flee from the third world environment to the first world.
In India, third world elements are very well woven into the first world segments of society. A good example is Mukesh Ambani’s house in Mumbai. This is said to be the most expensive house in the world, but it tends to overlook a large slum area. Furthermore: leaving one of the posh bars in the Koregaon Park area in Pune means that one could be confronted with poor children trying to sell you stuff. I can’t imagine any country in the world where these two groups are so interwoven into each other. However, at the same time – while living almost next to each other – they are world apars. It’s like living in a large family and still feeling lonely; you know that people are around you, but won’t reach out to you.
Fleeing back into my comfortable expat bubble. When I’m ‘done’ with the country or fed up with the Indian habits, I don’t mind fleeing back into my comfortable expat bubble. Enjoying myself in this bubble could mean anything; going to a friend’s house for a fancy dinner with good wine and excellent chocolate or going to splurge in one of the many upscale restaurants in Pune. It could almost be described as ‘me time’, as India is then far away while I’m enjoying myself in the bubble. But as I mentioned earlier, while others want to enjoy this bubble for longer periods, I’m actually always eager to return back to the real India, even if it means that I need to wait for a honking Uber on a washed away road during the monsoons. India, I love you but sometimes I do want to enjoy my bubble.