The New Pune

Pune is fast approaching Bangalore in terms of traffic, pollution, and suburban development. Chalk it up to the BPOs (business processing outsourcing), which have set up centers ringing the outskirts of Pune, creating a class of newly affluent youth and the development of shopping malls to take advantage of their purchasing power.”Luxury” apartment complexes are springing up, chock-a-block, just outside of the Pune Municipal Corporation, so residents have to buy their infrastructure, including drinking water.

Gone are the open-air tea stalls about which former students from this college town reminisce from their jobs overseas, replaced by air-conditioned Barista coffee shops where a coffee drink costs more than the daily wages of a laborer. (You can now also find several franchises of McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Subway.) The pollution now rivals the worst cities in India, with no CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles in sight. (Even in Ahmedabad, in our view the most polluted city we’ve experienced, about 20% of the auto rickshaws are now CNG vehicles.) The traffic is so bad that many auto rickshaw drivers refuse to take you to areas of congestion, such as the railway station or the main “new” shopping area, MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Road.

But Pune is still great. Former students who have a choice of where to live still choose to come back and settle here, drawn by other independent minded people of all ages who frequent the many activities available at all times of the year. The climate is good, the food is good, the people interesting.

Mark and I have been here since the 25th. and leave tomorrow evening. We have spent the bulk of our time with ARTI (Appropriate Rural Technology Institute), learning about their improved cookstove program and visiting their research center and two rural regions where some of their stoves are installed. The travel has been difficult, over bad roads made even worse by the heavy monsoon season (Pune got about 3 times the usual amount of rain) on local buses and trains, and we are ready for a break from travel.

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