TO A VISITOR IN PUNE, the city’s ubiquitous Marathi signboards might not look particularly remarkable. But ask a local to translate a few, and it becomes clear that, although these signs are instructions to the public, they also express a particular Puneri trait: rudeness. An example of their unsmiling tone can be found in this sign outside a house on Tilak Road: “Our children are not well brought up. They deflate your tyres.”
Srinivas Bhanage, a writer and director of Marathi films, assured me that the warnings contained in these signs were not to be taken lightly. “Make no mistake about it, they deflate your tyres,” he said. Bhanage might be considered something of an authority on Puneri traits, having made in 1996 a humorous fictional television series for Doordarshan called Puneri Punekar, which ran for 13 episodes, each telling a story that revolved around a quirk of Puneri character; he even featured the city’s rude signboards in one of the episodes.
Bhanage’s justification for these biting messages was to the point. “When you put up a signboard, you don’t have to explain the same thing over and over again,” he said.
On a day spent exploring the city and its culture of rudeness, I met and struck up a conversation with Pramod Yadav, a businessman who lives in central Pune. Like Bhanage, Yadav extolled the virtues of rudeness. “Say it politely, and people don’t listen to you,” said Yadav, who has a relatively mild sign on his gate, saying “No Parking No Tension”, but told me he is thinking of upgrading to the line, “I Park Here Because I am a Donkey”.
The paragon of Pune rudeness was celebrated lawyer and former deputy mayor of the city, the late PB Jog, about whom Bhanage wrote an article for a Diwali-special magazine this year. While he lived, Jog’s front door bore the classic, almost poetically blunt sign: “If the doorbell isn’t answered within ten minutes, leave.”
Jog recorded a life’s worth of rudeness in his popular self-published book titled Mee Haa Asa Bhandato (A Chronicle of My Quarrels), a collection of essays which contain, in lingering detail, accounts of fights that he entered into in the course of his life. Jog writes gleefully of foiling dastardly politicians, cutting relatives to size and outwitting annoying neighbours. Punekars recount that Jog developed a distinctive campaigning style when he was running for deputy mayor: he would sit on a chair balanced on the roof of his car and, megaphone in hand, unleash torrents of abuse directed at his opponents and their campaigns.
Jog’s brusque spirit lives on in Pune’s signboards, and in the hearts of people like Prasad Edlabadkar, who runs a website called Puneri Patya, which hosts photographs of rude Pune signboards submitted by users. Edlabadkar, who moved to Pune 14 years ago, uploaded images of five rude signboards to his website in 2007 on a whim. He was amazed at the volume of traffic the site began to receive; now his collection has swelled to 1,087 signboards, accompanied by 20,881 comments. “We get minimum 5,000 unique visitors [daily],” Edlabadkar said.
Among the gems collected on the site are, “Stay ten feet away from the counter while speaking on the cellphone,” from a wedding hall in Chinchwad; “Get your water yourself,” from a tea stall on Tanaji Malusare Road; and “Typesetting is an art, not a Xerox machine. Urgent jobs not accepted,” from a printer at Ganjawe Chowk. And, from Fergusson Road, the devastatingly droll, “Cross regardless of the traffic signal. Make Yamraj happy.”
I asked Edlabadkar whether the tradition of rudeness is vanishing now that Pune has grown far more cosmopolitan, with residents from across India and the world. “Can’t really say that given the number of patya being uploaded everyday,” he said. “Our moderators struggle to go through each one of them. Moreover, it’s a culture which has built over generations. It will not vanish so easily.”
Suhit Kelkar is a journalist and published haiku poet based in Mumbai. He has worked for several daily newspapers in the city. He writes features and the occasional essay for news-magazines. He loves a good cup of Bombay chai.