If Pune's DNA was to be mapped, it would have to be done on the "tekdi". No other place will offer such a perfect cross-section of the city's cultural and sociological make-up, as one of the tekdis that dot the entire city.
"Tekdi" is the marathi word a small hill. And if Bangalore is the city of gardens and Delhi is the city of forts and tombs, then Pune is a city of tekdis. I guess it all started with the original 'tekdi' right in the heart of the city, which is referred to as 'parvati'. The Peshwas built a small temple and a palace on top of it. It was a great place for them to pray and hang out.
After that, as if by some accidental design, whenever the city grew and a new "locality" came into being, it had a tekdi of its own. These tekdis might not house palaces and museums, but they give a very accurate reading of the changing mores of the city.
It starts a few weeks after a child's birth. In other cities, kids are taken to parks. In Pune, they are taken more to a tekdi. You will see mothers and fathers, carrying a neatly-dressed-and-powdered baby, walking up the "easier" route, with the minimum gradient. The baby will be taking in the surroundings with its huge eyes. The denuded trees, the light brown soil, the yellow grass, and the expanse of the city as seen from the top of the hill, will all be novel sights for the little one. This will also be a place where a lot of unknown pretty young girls will shower the baby with a lot of attention with little squeals of "kitttttti gondassssss".
Soon the kid starts walking, and then starts running. For a few years, his energy knows no bounds, and his mother thinks that finally there is a perpetual motion machine, disproving what Newton's laws taught her. Now when he visits the tekdi, he tries to bound up it in half a milli-second. His mother still wants to take the easy route, but he will not be pinned to that boring slope. It is on the tekdi that he will get his first knee scrape, his first thorn prick, his first splinter-in-the-finger and possibly his first nose bleed.
A few years later, in his pre-teens, as he forms friendships that will stay with him for life, he discovers the tekdi in a completely new light - the dawn light. Until now his parents always took him to the tekdi in the evenings. But now, he and his friends wake up before sunrise to play cricket. The cricket ground is near the tekdi so of course, a trip up the tekdi for "warm up" is but natural. Since it is still pre-teens, and the official party line is still "Girls are stupid!", no one will admit that the visits to the tekdis also offer a chance to observe, from the corner of the eye, some pretty college going girls, who come to the tekdi for a morning walk. The tekdi also offers opportunities to assert the alpha-male-ness that some guys are gradually discovering. A race up the tekdi, which will always be won by this athletic fellow who is good at all sports, becomes a norm.
Over the next few years, the tekdi will be visited mainly early in the morning. But there will be visits in the late afternoons as well. Of course, these visits will have nothing to do with sport. His friend who managed to somehow procure a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of beer, also knows this great portion of the tekdi, where no one ever comes during the day. His first fit of coughing after the first drag of smoke and the first wince at the bitter taste of beer will also happen at this very tekdi.
Around the same time, he might be one of the lucky few guys who not only manages to bag a girl friend, but also convinces her to accompany him to the tekdi before 4 p.m. when the evening crowd starts trickling in. If he isn't the one who has his first kiss on the tekdi, he is at least friends with someone who has, and is hiding behind the trees getting a peek.
Of course, a few visits later, the girl is not amused at the tekdi as being a location for all this, especially since a watchman was prowling around the last time they were at it.
As he enters his late teens, he wants to work further on his fitness. He wants to be taller, have stronger legs, and tighter abs. Now the tekdi is like a gym equipment for him, and he will sprint up and down it. The girls who are also there, some of them in shorts, are a fringe benefit which motivate him to stick to his routine.
Later coaching classes, early morning practicals, CAT/GRE preparations begin to take their toll and the visits to the tekdi decrease. Now he almost exclusively goes there only in a group of at least half a dozen friends. They will discuss girls, sports, studies, and, after 10 sit-ups near the hanuman mandir to dispel any fears of girliness, a bit of gossip.
In a few years, the visits will become even more rare. Every visit will start with the comment "Wow, the tekdi has gotten so crowded these days", and then "Man, the quality of the crowd (ahem) has improved since our days". If he has moved out of Pune, then on every visit back to the city, a few evenings will be spent on the tekdi, reminiscing about the good old days.
A few years later, he gets married. He and his wife will go to the tekdi for a few days, but the crowd will put them off. Soon he has kids of his own, he starts taking them to the tekdi in the afternoons. The morning visits are "moring walks", either to shed the flabby beer belly, or to network with some other morning walkers. Once every couple of years, when the doctor warns about blood pressure and cholesterol, he will buy new shoes, and will be seen huffing and puffing up the tekdi, after he has driven to its base in his car. As youngsters sprint past him, he will curse himself for not taking good care of his once-fit body.
Soon his kids themselves have grown up and flown the coop. His retirement is nearing, and a few serious health problems have cropped up. He wants to visit the tekdi with his son, but the son would rather go there with his own friends. So he will wear the "University of Pennsylvania/Maryland/California/(insert suitable American state here)" sweatshirt his son bought for him, and go to the tekdi with his friend, who is also sporting a similar sweatshirt of another American university. Both of them will sit talk about their children, swap stories about their latest visit to America, and shamelessly gossip about that "loose" daughter of a common acquaintance whose revealing pic was published in yesterday's Pune Times on page 3.
Romances start and end on the tekdi, friendships are formed on the tekdi. Even photographs and "biodatas" for arranged marriages are exchanged on the tekdi. Flab is shed on the tekdi, and new things are tried on the tekdi. Profound debates happen on the tekdi and fierce fights happen on the tekdi. Poems are composed and paintings are conecptualised on the tekdi. Anything and everything of importance in a Punekar's life happens on the tekdi.
The next time you are in Pune, visit my favourite tekdi, the one behind the ILS Law College, and you will see every stage of Pune life. Every slice of the Punekar's existence and evolution is displayed, like a Darwinian exhibit. And no links are missing.Update:
Ashutosh writes his own tekdi post
. We went to the same school, so I am personally aware of his attachment for the tekdis. I remember accompanying him for a few entomological expeditions after playing hookey from the school PT periods.