Posts Tagged ‘Vaishali’

I was reading a Facebook status update by Ramesh Menon and it brought back memories of my days in college way back in the late 1970s. Let me ‘assure’ Mr Menon that even in those days there were hooligans who molested girls and misbehaved on the streets.

I remember one Holi when we were having fun outside Vaishali restaurant on the busy Fergusson College Road. We weren’t allowed in by the management if we intended to spray colours. All that Naik, the manager at Vaishali, had to do was to tell revellers to have their fun outside – and no one objected. It wasn’t what happened inside Vaishali that day that I remember, but what happened outside on the busy street that has stuck in my head till date.

We were, on that particular Holi day, having fun outside Vaishali when two girls from our class came out of the Fergusson College Girls Hostel gate. Suddenly a bunch of guys noticed these two, one of whom was in a white Tee. These guys just surrounded them, before any of us could react or warn the girls. None of us knew what transpired inside the ‘ring’ made by the boys, but when the guys left I only saw this completely shaken girl, her white Tee and pants camouflaged by myriad colours, hand prints in all the ‘strategic’ places. She had been molested (and that’s the only word to describe what she went through) in public view, on a busy Fergusson College Road, in the presence of her peers, none of whom dared to help her. I thought it was a pretty disgraceful thing to do.

I don’t know if all the guys who molested her were from the same college she studied in, but they were not exactly the kind one would like to associate with even if they were last people left on this earth! I still remember the look on the girl’s face. I don’t think she expected to be celebrating Holi in this way. She had wrapped her arms around herself and was shaking in shock. I knew who the girl was and I’m sure some of my friends who read this post also did. It was a sick thing to do but all of us – and we were aged just 17 or 18 then – pretended like we didn’t know anything and left.

Many years later, while living in Salunke Vihar, we celebrated Holi every year, the way it should be celebrated – with colours, guzzling beer, going on a drive with the girls and generally having fun. Sure, some of the guys did take a few inadvertent ‘liberties’ but it was followed by apologies. Heck, we had to live there and the girls we were with, were the ones who would eventually be invited to the parties we had in the colony. Quite a few of them were pretty stunning, so most of us knew which side the bread was buttered and behaved ourselves!

Of course, we joked that we didn’t wish to be chased by some retired Fauji armed with a loaded rifle around Salunke Vihar, because we had fooled around with his daughter/s! But the truth is we did maintain some decorum. It wasn’t like there were no affairs happening around, but during any public event or even a private party, we usually behaved ourselves! We drank ourselves silly but were usually well-behaved around the women! There was something else about the Army culture that I liked as a ‘civilian’. People wished each other. We wished all the elders we knew and met at whatever time of day. We also knew, because of the friends we made, that it only took one phone call and a friend would be at our doorstep to help. I don’t know if I can say that today. I guess I really miss those good ol’ days…


We run into so many situations in life that seem ironical, don’t they?

Take my situation for example – Over a decade ago, I loved eating sweets, especially Bengali sweets. I could polish off a dozen rosogallos, by myself; devour chocolates, cakes, pastries…heck the entire bakery; I could feast all alone on an entire family pack of ice cream; I was delighted when I met my wife-to-be and discovered that she baked the most delicious pastries. What more could I have asked for? Soon after that I was diagnosed with diabetes. A cruel twist of fate or just irony?

Many years ago, unemployed and generally wasting my life away, I was having coffee at Vaishali, a popular haunt on Fergusson College Road with babu kalyanpur, a friend who then worked at the Maharashtra Herald, the only local English daily in Pune.

I had given him a letter for use in the mailbag column of the newspaper. It must have been really bad because the sub-desk at the MH never used it. But he asked me if I would like to work in a newspaper, since “I liked to write.”

I didn’t know whether he was being serious or sarcastic, but a job is a job and I jumped at it. At least, I wouldn’t have to ask my folks for any money for my next cigarette.

Well, I got the job and grew into it and I had babu to thank for it. From a trainee, I became a sub-editor six months later, and slowly and steadily climbed the ladder. When I quit the MH thirteen years later I was an Assistant Editor. I guess I didn’t do badly for someone who’s first attempt at letter writing found its way to a trash bin. It was ironic, because I had initially looked at it only as something that would keep me suitably employed and give me some money. But from an ordinary job, journalism became a passion that still keeps me going.

The initial years really made me wonder whether I was really cut out for such a job. and I remember an incident that occurred a few years after I joined that proved the proverbial turning point. I’ve narrated this incident to the students in my class, but my friend Joe Pinto believes I should document it. So here goes, just for the record…

Sometime in the morning of October 19, 1988, there was a ‘flash’ on the teleprinter that an Indian Airlines flight to Ahmedabad had crashed near there. I was alone in the office, when I got a call from a woman who asked me if a captain O.M. Dalaya was on the flight. I checked the list and replied that he was.

“Are there any survivors?” the voice asked.

“No ma’am,” I replied, and then out of curiosity asked “Please, may I know who’s speaking?”

“I’m his mother,” was the reply.

I felt a shiver run through me, and was numb as I put the phone down. My head was reeling because for me what could be worse that telling a mother that her son had died in an air crash?

When the chief reporter Harry David came in, I told him what had occurred. Harry is a gentle soul, never given to anger or a temper. Ironically, I was thinking he would pat me on the shoulder and sympathise with me for what I had just experienced.

He asked me if I had taken her number down. I replied in the negative, and the ‘gentle’ Harry suddenly became Dirty Harry aka Clint Eastwood. And like Dirty Harry, he didn’t yell or scream. In a cold, measured tone Harry told me that I had screwed up – big time.

This was worse than a shouting. He was basically telling me in his own way that I was a bloody duffer and should be banished from the newspaper office – forever.

I still thought I was right and tried to justify it, by telling him that I could not possibly have asked a woman who had just lost her son for her phone number. That only made it worse.

He raised his voice ever so slightly and said, “When my brother Abel died (Abel was the secretary of the Indian Hockey Federation and also the Founder Editor of the then Poona Herald)), I sat next to his body and typed the copy for the news agencies. You just missed the story of your life. NEVER let it happen again.”

Harry didn’t shout, didn’t go ballistic or froth in the mouth when he imparted that very important lesson in journalism and it’s something I’ve never forgotten. It hit home that for a journalist there is no such thing as good news or bad news – IT’S JUST NEWS and it has to be reported, at any cost.

This one’s about stuck-up celebrities and film stars — not all of them are, but there are those who really make me wonder…. I met one the other day and she was so full of herself that I really wondered when she would implode!
I worked at a five-star hotel for three years in the 1980s, when Pune had only one such hotel, and anybody who was somebody wanted to stay there. After the initial star-struck reaction I realized that most celebrities were… well…human, but not necessarily like us! They had the same foibles; the same idiosyncrasies; the same prejudices and got the same hangovers!
They too misbehaved with the receptionists; they too got dead drunk and created a scene (I saw quite a few of those). They also checked in to the hotel with their mistresses and took rooms with interconnecting doors — just in case the wife showed up!! Quite a few times, it was touch and go. The mistress left from the ‘Out’ gate even as the wife drove in to the hotel. Thank God, we had two gates some distance apart! Now you know why I said “…not necessarily like us!”
There were the classy ones too. This lot never failed to wish you when they came in and went out, and did everything politely – even complain. And these were the rich, REALLY RICH ones. I remember a regular American guest who was with the then Rajneesh Ashram (now Osho Commune), who would come down to the reception, once he was settled in, with a long list of complaints about his room. He never shouted or spoke rudely, just handed over a sheet of paper with his list of complaints. He expected things to be fixed when he got back in the evening and they usually were.
He came down to the lobby one night because he couldn’t sleep and we had a long chat about ‘Bhagwan Rajneesh’ and ihs business back in the US. He showed me a folder which had the profiles of his group companies – there were at least two dozen names there! It was no wonder he could stay in a five-star hotel for six months at a stretch! And he always tipped me twenty bucks every morning on his way to the Ashram!! In those days, twenty bucks could buy me a packet of Wills Navy Cut, a snack at Vaishali and a movie – two days in a row, so I wasn’t complaining.
But, I’ve also met some complete jerks. These were the kind that really made you wonder whether this was the same person you had read and heard so much about! Like the middle-aged actor who was a superstar of his time. He came with his girl friend and some friends, and wanted two rooms. We had a suite vacant and were ready to give him that, but he insisted on two rooms. He first tried the usual “I know your GM well” line, but when that didn’t cut ice with us, he cajoled us.
Soon the cajoling stopped and the demands started, followed by threats of complaints to the GM, but we refused to budge. Till finally he and his girl friend were given the option of either sharing the suite with their friends or looking for accommodation elsewhere. The chose the former, because the superstar couldn’t possibly stay at a four-star hotel, could he? Oh, and his complaint was trashed by the GM!

More later…Cheers!

Some of my friends requsted that I use paras….so here it goes again

Went to Vaishali after a long break. I’m pretty sure that if the management of this eatery on Fergusson College Road in Pune, ever gave out ‘frequent visitor’ discounts, they would go broke, because half of Pune city would be queuing up for it! There’s so much you can say about a place you’ve grown up in and, which in turn has grown on you. I don’t know how life would have been without it, but in the last forty years that I have spent in Pune, so much has changed, but Vaishali has remained that constant factor.

Maybe, in the last decade, visits to the place haven’t been that frequent (read daily!), due to work and familial commitments, but one never misses an opportunity to visit the old haunt (like this Saturday to meet an old colleague after nearly a decade) and meeting my old friend Lingo (real name Lingappa, but who knew or cared?) to all you ! Back then we did a few things in Vaishali that even kids of today would baulk at doing in a public place! Ask the old-timers why the proprietors cut down the branches of a tree that hung over one corner of the restaurant. There’s an interesting nugget behind it, but I’m not telling!

Way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vaishali was always thought of as a college hangout. But that changed one Sunday morning. Imagine our surprise when in walked Pune’s First Family – the entire Kirloskar clan right from the grand old man himself to the youngest – and tucked into the fare! I believe from that day onwards Vaishali gained instant respectability! We were also quite cool, one day, about the fact that on the next table was sitting a certain Smita Patil with friends! I don’t think anyone of us even wanted to scramble out of our seats and rush to her for an autograph! Most uncool!! There were times when we’d eaten there and were either too broke to pay or fell short of money. And the friendly waiters allowed us to leave after we promised that we would pay up the next day. It was a promise cast in stone! We never reneged on that.

I can happily say that whenever I’ve been there lately, I’ve never had to wait more than a few minutes for a table. The marvellous thing about Vaishali is that, although down the years it has changed its prices, look and ambience; it has managed to retain its charm and free spirit. There are a lot of things that money can’t buy – the feeling of being in Vaish is one of them. And here even Mastercard doesn’t work!