: 291 Vaswani Nagar, North Main Road, Koregaon Park, Pune :

Pune was a quieter place then.  It was 1997, the year of the last great Pune Floods. M G Road was a one-way road, Deccan looked like a vast campus and Orient Express (since deceased) delivered pizzas to homes. Aundh was a forest, and NDA stood atop a dark and lonely hill in Khadakvasla.

There were birds in the lake beyond the NCL campus.

Laxmi Road was the artery that ran through the city. Camp was the green lung that breathed, its alveoli soaking the heat and the air. Sassoon stood stolid next to The Railway station, housing (among other things) 2000+ hospital beds and one appendix (belonging to one mr mohandas karamchand gandhi, preserved for posterity). Budhwar Peth was the red light district.

And Koregaon Park was the centre of the Universe.

Its own universe, alone and distinct. A mysterious world of brooding buildings and overgrown gardens, plaster seraphs and purple robes – roaming the streets during the day, their open hair catching the dappled sunlight.

As you passed over the bridge leaping across the railway lines from Camp to Koregaon, the Don Bosco centre would rise on your right, and the turn off to North Main Road soon after.  North Main Road snaked its way to Mundhwa, umbilically connected to South Main Road by a ladder-rung of gentility, seven in all: unobtrusive portals that would ferry you from bustling NMR to the leafy temple-strewn length of SMR. In between the two roads was a mystery land of crumbling old houses and mysterious manors, their facades fenced by ferns and foliage, set deep inside from the tree-lined lanes, in coccoons of sound-soaking eternity. “Old Parsi houses”, we would intone, part-admiration, part-awe, whole-envy. “Old Money”, we would add, throwing in a grimace with pursed upper lips pushing down the corners of our mouths- the ultimate Indian expression of begrudging appreciation.

And right there in the beginning of North Main Road, before the right turn to the Osho Ashram, opposite the yet-to-be-born Hot Breads, next door to Gourmet, home of mouth watering waffles with unlimited honey and butter (which has since been ambushed and swallowed by a bright young Cafe Coffee Day, swarming with peri-pubescent puppydom), was German Bakery, the cafe at the end of the Universe, where burnt-out souls came to rest and feed, to sleep, perchance to dream.

German Bakery was on the first corner, its mian entrance opening out to the main road: the itinerant visitor would step through the threshold into a large leafy courtyard, littered with low stools and short tables, and intellectuals contemplating the swirling grounds in their coffee dregs. The aisle along the side led to the Tibetan shops, presided over by slightly intimidating aunties selling smooth coral stones and necklaces. Between these and the Bakery was the exit to the side lane, leading off to the river and the cremation ghat – a bare clearing with rectangular depressions set into the concrete. The river was full, dark and sludgy, and an Aghori sat on the far side steps of the ghats, tending to the shrine, making conversations and fires, and smoking his butter-like charas in his chillum.

German Bakery itself was always abuzz, and yet untouched: a tiny oasis of Truthful Chocolate ecstasy in a harsh and cruel world. A large Masala chai cup and croissants were among things on offer, along with mashed potatoes, hummus, fruit salads and cream and scones and cakes, and a pick of delicious omelettes. A wide and eclectic menu stared the visitor in the face, neatly inscribed and hung above the smiling Nepali waiter’s head, his cheerful frame dwarfed by the counter, piled high with such suspicious events like Organic Muesli and Pekan Boe tea. The cafe itself wrapped around the kitchen and the manager’s room, and was lined with wooden benches and white-washed walls. The monotony of the walls was broken by random advertismenets for colon irrigation and tantra classes, an ironic speech bubble above the head of Nirvana in night-blue ensemble talking to Pretty Young (Confused) Thing in the corner. A list of rules for visitors on the wall offered pragmatic advice, such as to not offend the locals by kissing in public. A bulletin board advertised second-hand enfield bikes, houses for rent and eternal salvation in Hebrew.

An air of calm ran through German Bakery, with swirling cigarette smoke from tables mixing with the clouds from the coffee. Conversations ebbed, and flowed, and ebbed again, their lines looping and dipping and whorling through the hot summer air. Regulars dotted the tables, sitting beside newer wannabes, and pondered on the meanings of the universe, and on the vagaries of Kishan’s waiters.  As the cries of hawkers wafted across to the tables, somewhere a pair of flip-flops shuffled its way to the gate, its wearer drawn to the swelling tide of human consciousness outside – propelled forward by the purposefulness of the truly aimless. Ashram inmates walked in, their eyes scanning the cafe,  and their purple robes revealed shapely ankles beneath (as their erect nipples revealed sheer nakedness beneath, or so it seemed to our hormone-addled brains). Couples necked in the corner, and sometimes, a Warkari wandered in, lost on the way back from Pandharpur. Her Sari tucked in between her legs and folded neatly into her waist-fold, her forehead marked with a large vermillion circle of sometimes-purple red, she walked into German Bakery, her dish held out in front of her: battered, aluminium. 

And somewhere, another star-struck student would step through the threshold, his eyes drinking in the slice of peacefulness before him, his mind noting with sudden bemusement that time was treacly-thick here, the hours passed like days passed like minutes passed like the lifetimes that spent their years contemplating the slow settling of the black grounds into the murky depths of the Mint Ice Tea…

And history would play itself out again, a tired organ-grinder in the corner cranking up his instrument, preparing to play out the same tune again for the umpteenth time, as a new monkey prepared to dance.

                       – In Memory, German Bakery, No 291, Vaswani Nagar, North Main Road, Koregaon Park, Pune.

 

*Author’s postcript

Like everything else in Pune, the German Bakery was also torn down by the assault of invading Megapolis-Pune. In 2002, Pecuniary Pune crept slowly into Koregaon Park, widening North Main Road and taking a great big slice of German Bakery’s facade with it. The slow decay of the Osho Ashram and the steady invasion of more upmarket coffee chains turned GB into a symbol of wannabe kitsch: frequented by itinerants, populated by infrequents.  As traffic and dust rose with equal ferocity through Pune’s roads, the calm around German Bakery was shattered: its unhurried pace lost, its extravagant space now a thing of the past. Its access to both the main road and the side alley- a metaphorical cul-de-sac linking the mainstream and the alternate, was taken over by an army of rude short-cutters, turning the aisle of wafting thoughts into a thoroughfare to somewhere else. In 2008, when I spoke to Kishan, he confessed that times were hard, and he was staring closure in the face if things didn’t pick up. Presumably they did, because he was open and active till the 13th of February, 2010, over 22 years after German Bakery’s inauguration.

On Saturday, February 13th, 2010, an Improvised Explosive Device ripped through German Bakery, killing 9, and injuring at least 45 persons. Random images of carnage greeted passers-by, in an attack believed to have been targeted at foreigners, or the Jewish Chabad house, located less than 400 metres away. Terrorist outfits are being implied darkly in discussions, impending bilateral talks are being touted as immediate provocations. Possible links to Mumbai are being investigated. Inevitably, a high-profile blame game will ensue, and outrageous statements will be made; ultimately, the powers-that-be will continue to fiddle as Home burns: their railings all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

And yet another loud bang will rip through the sunny afternoons of our collective consciousness, tearing through the peace, severed limbs and shattered viscera piercing the bubble of calm around our most precious memories.

                           German Bakery is Dead! Long Live German Bakery!

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