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Memory Speaks

Nov 26, 2003
Life in the wadas

The wada of Pune is an Indian heirloom that is unlikely to survive many more generations. Their heyday was when the Peshwas --those warrior Brahmins-- wielded real power [1700 to 1818] though Shivaji’s successors wore the nominal crown at Satara. Wadas or family seats were numerous and were continually lived in for more than a century or two. At any given time, three or more generations would thrive within a wada. Shinde’s Chatri at Wanawadi built by Mahadji Scindia is still well maintained by the Scindia clan. But that is an exception. Most have disappeared along with the way of life that grew around them.

I am lucky to know Dr N K Bhide and have him recall his childhood in a wada. He is 75 and still lives in the one he was born. He is quite proud that it is pretty much the original, bar a few attempts to ‘landscape’ parts of it.

But the ‘wada-life’ is gone forever. ‘Festivals still enjoy the same place in people’s lives as they did in the years gone by. But when I was young, festivals were something else altogether’, he avers.

‘Punekars of the wadas were an austere, frugal lot. The only form of entertainment they allowed themselves was music and dance during festivals. While Diwali, Ganpati, and Gudhi Padwa are observed zealously even today, some lesser known ones like Mangala Gour, Shravani Somwar and Chaitrateel and Shankrantiteel Haldi Kumkum etc have almost disappeared from public view. Gone too are Pune-specific festivals like Bhondla, Bulabai, Hartalika etc. When I was young, the entire city would deck up, and you could see hordes flocking to temples to pay obeisance to the respective deities of each festival. People were infused with a different kind of vigour.’

‘Just as celebration was buoyant, abstinence played an equally important role. Especially during the four months of Chaturmas. Everybody, and literally everybody, would stay away from onions, garlic and ginger. Why, other than in areas like Camp with a predominantly Christian population, the markets too were devoid of these produce. People strictly adhered to such traditions.’

Dr Bhide draws special attention to the culinary delights that would be devoured during the festivals. Its not just the array of food preparations. The variety may have been retained till date. But it’s the appetite and the gusto with which they would be relished that is absent today. Cooking was joint activity of the ‘sugaranees’ [housewives] of the wada. Appetite used to be a healthy component of every celebration. It was customary for young lads in their teens to devour sweets by the kilo! The reason probably was that throughout the year, everyone followed a simple diet. No rich food, no spices. No wonder then that the special food of the festivals would be something to look forward to. Appetites did ample justice to the enormous amounts and varieties cooked.

‘But today, one does not wait for a special occasion to cook or order in special food, and hence the novelty has sort of worn off,’ he reasons.

Another important feature he recalls is the social interaction at such events. People used to make it a point to wish each other personally. On festivals like Dassera and Sankranti, little kids would be marched off to their teachers’ and elders’ homes to touch their feet. ‘I remember my elders packing me off to pay social visits. We wouldn’t return home till we had done the rounds of at least 20-30 homes. And this was common to people of all castes and social strata,’ says Bhide, fondly remembering people of his times.

He emphasises that these were the ways of a wide section of the society and not just the upper classes.

Though alas the wadas are disappearing one by one yielding to apartment blocks, the spirit of community celebration in a serene manner, is now being revived in the form of Diwali Pahaat [dawn].  Bedecked men, women and children make a bee-line at 5 am in the morning, after performing the traditional abhyang snaan, for a specially arranged classical musical soiree at the famous Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir. And a visit to the Talyateel Ganapati at Saras Baug, to pay their obeisance, is a must for many on this auspicious dawn… a routine almost exactly as it used to happen in the heydays of the wadas.

--Rasika Dhavse

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