I have called Pune home since 2002. I came to the city just before starting high school and I was half-expecting to be out of there soon looking at the way we were moving every few years. My prophecy sort of did come true after 4 years, even though partially. I got into an engineering college in Lonavala and had to move to the college girls’ hostel, it being a residential college. Initial months were really hard, due to several reasons. But after 2 years and countless number of crying sessions, I found my groove and turned my life around to get the maximum out of it. I would not trade away any part of it and would do it all over again, any day. I am very glad that I stuck to living in the hostel and not outside in the city, or even at home in Pune, 1.25 hours away by local train.
One of the memories associated with Lonavala, besides the incessant monsoon rains, is all the traveling and commute. During my first 1.5 years, I had a boyfriend who was from north of India and was full time in the hostel since he couldn’t go back home as often. So, I would spend the weekends in the hostel itself and would go back home once or twice a month with all my laundry and to replenish my snack supply and get my fill with the doggie-doo. We used to get around 20 days of break before the final semester exams to study that were called preparatory leaves or the PL. I would even spend most of my PL in the hostel, either studying in the room or the library with the guy. Bad idea. My grades, friendships, personality, everything suffered. Soon after, I broke up with him during the second year. A lot of things changed with respect to friendship too and I switched rooms. Things got back to track, my life was beyond fun, and my grades shot up(almost 😛 ) after that.
My new roommates were all from Pune too and they would go home every weekend and would stay put there during the PLs as well. I started doing the same. When the college would end on Fridays, we would catch auto-rickshaws to the city train station and catch the evening local train to Pune. If we were late, we would catch the Pragati Express that would stop at Lonavala during its 3.5 hour journey from Mumbai to Pune. There was another train that stopped in Lonavala at about 7.15 pm or so, called the Deccan Queen, which is my absolute favorite train forever, and was an absolute delight whenever I could catch it. We had the morning and late afternoon trains’ schedules memorized and we didn’t even have to take out the time table from our bags anymore. We were of course keener to catch the local train because even if it was slower and more crowded, it was almost 1/3rd the price of the Express trains. Sometimes, we would have some class on Saturday morning and we would have to stay back on Fridays and that would be when we used to be on our grumpiest best, and repeating outfit from the previous week. It was not that big a deal because I literally wore the same t-shirts every week. My dating and social life was booming, but unless the plan involved friends and the girls staying back as well, weekends in Pune were not given up anymore. Also, just because us girls we lived together, it did not mean we didn’t see each other in Pune. We have spent innumerable weekends hanging out with each other, watching movies, shopping, and doing other shenanigans.
Friday evenings were the best, because we had the anticipation of going home. But Monday mornings were evil. We had to catch the 6.40 am local and that meant waking up at 5.30 am to reach the station on time. N started from the previous station or the point of origin and would catch seats for us. I got in on station 2 and Ani on station 3. We were always in the women’s compartment so it was easy to spot N and for Ani to spot us. Then our college decided to mix things up for kicks and changed the timings to start an hour earlier in the mornings and thanks to that, we had to catch the Sinhgad Express going to Mumbai at around 6.10 am. Now, that was murder! But I am very happy to say that I never missed a train. My obsession with time and punctuality saves me from such headaches. My dad had to catch that train on Mondays because he worked in Mumbai during the week, when I was in high school and then after high school, he had to come to drop me every Monday. It was our running joke how his Monday mornings are always going to be painfully early. But the last time he dropped me for my last week in Lonavala, I don’t know who was more emotional.
Another fun part of the commute was traveling with my dad sometimes on the way back. He would go to Mumbai for work at times on Fridays and while coming back he would tell me if he took Pragati or Deccan Queen. I would wait back for those trains to be with him while going back to Pune. He would stand at the door when the train would pull in and wave his hankerchief at me. I used to be so embarrassed but so amused with that. He still does that at times in crowded places to pull my leg. His office was in Chinchwad which fell between Lonavala and Pune. If I was in the local train, I would call him up 15 minutes before Chinchwad and if he was done and ready to go home, I would just get down there and we would go home together in his car. It used to take around 45 minutes, but I thought that time was precious. Otherwise I would get down at the second last station in Pune, say bye to N and catch an autorickshaw home where dad would pick me up half ways.
Such fun times have been had in the trains. On Monday mornings, we would always talk about how sleepy we were as soon as we sat down, tried to sleep for exactly 2.875347 minutes and then would start talking. Around exam time, we would come armed with books in hand to try and study but everything else happened like staring outside the window, chatting, my texting with the then crush, food, clothes, all this with the book open. We have had very interesting fights with other people in the trains regarding capturing seats and specially window seats. I have a vague memory of someone sitting down on me and me pushing the said person away. Most of the regular commuters sort of knew each other. I used to see a short-haired lady get into Sinhgad Express from my station till Mumbai and she would head back in the same train in the evening, every single weekday since almost a decade. She used to know when our exam time was depending on the amount of books open in our hands and would wish us luck. Someone had tried to snatch our seat once and she had spoken up for us. We have even been fined for sitting in a higher level compartment on a lower level seat ticket and it was not fun to meet Ani’s dad for the first time when detained by the Railway cop. It was not our fault and we had no idea we were doing wrong. Hmmpphh. Even waiting on the station for the train to pull in was fun. Whiling time away at Lonavala station was awesome because of yummy Bangalor Iyengar bakery products like cakes, muffins, puffs or Maganlal’s fresh Smaosas and the fried green chillies. Wait a minute, let me wipe my drool off the keyboard, be right back. Now, Pune station on Monday mornings was also fun.There were stray dogs around and the ones who lived there were particularly big and strong for some reason. They ate protein regularly due to the kind train station folks who owned stores there. It used to be funny when the big dogs would randomly stop by dad and I, and start sniffing our ankles and legs, catching on Moony’s scent. My dad would freeze and I would find that very amusing. One big event on Fridays, was trying to get out of the train in Chinchwad. It was a red zone with respect to crowd during peak office timings, and I had to shamelessly use my drawing sheet holder and backpack to push the crazy ladies out of the way to get out. It was a ‘you snooze, you lose’ sort of a deal.
How I miss all that. If I get to go back to the college for a day, I would start that right from a Monday morning, waiting at Pune(Shivajinagar) station and end it with a ride in Deccan Queen with the best chai in the world. For now, I have to be content with the memories. *Sniff* Damn you, allergies!