By Susannah Milton
We started the day with a hilarious conversation about the care and feeding of Indian toilets. Euphemisms are sometimes so much funnier than taboo words; we were all hot messes when we finished choking with laughter.
Later that day, groups of students were assigned a section of Pune to explore. My group was assigned the Shivaji Maharaj part of town. It was like a treasure hunt; we had to find particular buildings and talk to people. We walked across a particular road about seven times. I would say it was a six to eight lane road, but lanes aren’t really a thing around here. (We once told a college student from Pune that in the U.S., people have to stay in the lanes unless they are passing somebody. He laughed in our faces.)
Pune traffic has taught me how to get a rickshaw to not drive into you—you shove your palm at their window shield and walk really quickly. I have had a giant Mercedes-Benz tour bus coming straight at me from about eight feet away and I’ve not quite walked out in front of a bus that was definitely not going to stop. Our traffic sense has greatly improved after several weeks here in Pune. One of the best ways is to wait until the traffic has stopped and then weave in between cars further back, because they’re less likely to be trying to run a light or turn somewhere. However, that strategy does fail if traffic starts moving while you’re still in the middle of it.
We found the buildings we had been assigned and tried to take pictures or enter the premises, before reading the signs saying the premises are protected under the forbidden secrets act of who-knows-when, pictures are forbidden and one needs government clearance to enter. Cool buildings, though, especially the Pune Observatory. We also passed my favorite billboard in Pune, which read, “Robots Invade Pune.” I think it’s a sign for a robotics conference.
We all ended up at the Modern Cafe, one of the oldest restaurants in Pune. It looks rundown inside, but the food seems good. We were all dehydrated and ordered stuff like milkshakes, mastaani–still not sure what that is, but it’s sweeter than a milkshake–and Falooda. Falooda was my choice. I’d heard of Falooda but never seen or tried it. All I knew was that it’s apparently popular in the Middle East and India. I think it’s supposed to be rose-flavored. I think, but I’m still not sure. Eventually our orders came out and we tried them hesitantly. Falooda was a shock. It was bright pink, with vanilla ice cream on top. I sucked some up through the straw, and discovered a warm, pepto-bismol-like syrup…and then a noodle made its way up the straw. It only got more interesting from there. It was like exploring the bottom of the ocean after a container ship containing nothing but Barbie accessories has sunk. It had chia seeds, which look like moldy sesame seeds and taste like weirdly crunchy tapioca; red jello; green jello; clear noodles; raisins; cashews and probably a bunch of other stuff as well. We had a fantastic time making friends close their eyes and then giving them a spoonful of the random mixture. I have some beautiful pictures.