A friend called me up. Let's go clubbing, he said. Thousand Oaks? Thousand Oaks it was.
I would drive to his house, from where we would take his car to the pub. It was time to bring out the old two-wheeler.
The last time I rode a two-wheeler in Pune was six years ago. My dad was therefore concerned about my ability to stay upright in Pune traffic.
"Why don't you take a rickshaw, instead?", dad suggested. "Our old Kinetic Honda is very unstable, as it is".
"Dad, what are you talking about", I said. "There's a brand new Kinetic Zoom in our driveway".
"That's actually the Kinetic Honda", replied my dad. "I gave it a fresh coat of paint and attached a Kinetic Zoom sticker to it".
"What? That's our old scooter?" I was unconvinced. To verify my dad's claim, I climbed onto it and tried to kick back the stand. It was fucking stiff. Stiff as dead guy boner. Definitely 20 year old Kinetic Honda stiff.
But I had decided that I needed wheels of my own for the duration of my trip, so my dad finally handed over the keys.
Our Kinetic Honda is a masterpiece of Japanese engineering. At least, it was that 20 years ago when it was manufactured. Now, it is a great example of how a bunch of free-floating automobile parts can stay together purely through Newtonian forces of attraction.
Problem one was apparent the moment I turned on the headlights. Through some weird optical calisthenics, the light from the bulb, instead of illuminating the path ahead of me, was shining back at me through the speedometer dial.
The second problem was petrol consumption. This particular scooter burns a whopping one percent of petrol it consumes and releases the rest back into the care of Mother Nature.
The third problem was Pune traffic. Now, I know from old experience that the correct way to drive in Pune is to bid adieu to common sense and every natural reflex you possess and drive not IN, but directly AT traffic. When you do that, like the Red Sea at Moses' command, it shall part. That is, as long as you keep ignoring that tiny little terrified voice inside your head, requesting you to kindly not do that please. However, a decade in the US appears to have corrupted my Pune-traffic navigation skillset.
Although the traffic in Pune has increased, to be fair, a number of new roads have also been built. Where previously stood irrigation canals and wilderness, there are now roads that were built on top of those canals. The problem is, the trees that grew on the banks of those canals continue to exist. So as you are driving your two-wheeler on one of these roads, you should not be surprised if you suddenly find yourself clasped in a tight embrace with the trunk of one of these buggers. Growing, not in the middle of the road on the divider, but in the middle of the fucking left lane. The good news is, as you look up into the branches of the tree, you will discover that you are part of an entire community of Pune tree-dwellers who have arrived at the conclusion that life on a tree is far less hazardous than that on a two-wheeler.
Then, there are the newly built paths designated "bicycle cum homeless" that have been built to accommodate either bicyclists or the homeless, depending on who stakes claim to the path first.
Another huge improvement is the disappearance of pig-horns. These were powerful road-clearing devices popular in the 90s, devised for emergencies whereby the deployment of one would not only cause the two-wheeler rider in front of you to offer you the right of way, but also get him to crash into the sidewalk through the pure terror of being pursued by a feral beast. These now appear to have been replaced by the "baby-cry" horn which replicates the sound of a baby as it howls for food. These are however no less disconcerting because they make you fear for your safety, followed as you are, by a hungry baby on a Hero Honda who may or may not be conversant with traffic rules.
However, the biggest issue with Pune traffic now is the pollution, which is especially problematic if you're riding a two-wheeler. I do not know how two-wheeler riders manage to not get asphyxiated as they wait at traffic signals. Hitler would have adored Pune traffic (/end of tasteless Holocaust gas chamber joke).
An interesting aspect of Pune traffic are the confrontations. They usually occur at traffic signals, when the aggrieved party pulls up to the allegedly guilty party from behind and proceeds to inquire as to the legitimacy of one of his prior actions. The funny thing is, as long as the traffic light is red, the argument is quite peaceful, convivial even.
"Hello sir, do you realize that you did not have the right to cut me off back there?", says the miffed scooter rider.
"Oh hello, I'm sorry, but I own a car and as you can see, it outweighs your scooter by as many as 500 kilos, so quite obviously, I shall always have the right of way with you", explains the car driver quite patiently.
But after the light turns green and the threat of violent physical altercation has passed, that is when vocal belligerence begins.
"Gandu, I will hit your face so hard, you will bleed out of your anus", says the car driver as he speeds ahead.
"I will fucking rape your mother and tell the police your dad did it, madarchod", yells the scooter rider as he waves his fist at the car while simultaneously utilizing it as a shield against cross traffic.
That is Pune traffic.
Braving all this and more, I drove to my friend's place, from where we drove to Thousand Oaks in his car.
We appeared to be early. The place was virtually empty and we got two good seats near the bar, right in front of the TV playing the Mumbai-Bangalore IPL match.
Thousand Oaks has these small circular barstools, kind of like humongous mushrooms that barely accommodate one of your buttocks at a time. And they are so low that when you sit on one, you have to make sure you don't bump your knee into your jaw.
I ordered a bottle of Kingfisher beer, which seems to be pretty much the only beer available in Pune pubs. Seriously, I've had it with Kingfisher. A girl next to us was drinking something from a pitcher that looked kind of interesting. I decided to try and find out what it was.
As the saying goes, the way to a woman's pitcher is through her heart. My wife's voice inside my head said to me, "Okay, you may proceed. But make it fast".
I smiled at the girl. She smiled back.
"What is that stuff that you're drinking?", I asked her.
"Long Island iced tea", she replied.
"Oh okay, so am I", I said.
"No, you're not", said my wife's voice. "We're done here".
So I turned back to my beer.
On the other side, there was a guy entertaining a couple of ladies. Every 5 minutes, he would get a call on his cellphone and scamper out to take it. I've made this general observation in Pune that people never seem to reject cellphone calls. Doesn't matter how pressing the business they are currently attending to, a cellphone call HAS to be accepted.
For example, I'll be in my therapist's office (yes, my Pune guy) telling him, "So Doctor, I have all these heads that I..", and then he receives a phone call. He says to me, "Hold that thought", proceeds to accept it and tells the person on the line, "No, sister, that's the chilli pickle. The lime pickle is in the jar next to it", without being unduly concerned about the heads I'm referring to.
I have been informed by a number of people that pubs in Pune appear to be stuck in a musical time warp. Thousand Oaks was no exception. The DJ began with a Guns n Roses song. Following that up with a Pink Floyd number. Then, another Guns n Roses number, that was then followed by something from Metallica's black album. As the musical timeline progressed from 1996 to 1997, the crowd got even wilder till finally at 1998, they were partying like it was 1999. From my conversation with one such reveller, I came to know that he was celebrating because "who knows what's gonna happen when the clock strikes 2000".
At 11:30 the party ended, as is mandated by Pune Municipal Corporation decree and we all filed out.
But that night, I couldn't sleep because I couldn't stop worrying about the upcoming Y2K problem.