Right on Fergusson College Road, next to pick-chick the small neighborhood mafco shop, sat thirty-eight years back and still sits fetchingly, Roopali, the Udupi restaurant and the sister concern of Vaishali and Amrapali. Roopali, I call the middle sister as it is located in between Vaishali and Amrapali . I do not exactly Know when these restaurants have started, me and my Brother use to visit them during our childhood accompanied by our parents and uncles and aunts and even grandparents, thanks to the high quality hygiene and cleanliness which all the three restaurants maintained that even the finicky grand moms didn’t mind to visit on one odd occasion, this is a great certificate of excellence these restaurants have achieved that Puneri grand moms of those days and not the fashionable ones of today graced the restaurants with their presence. These lovely restaurants have similar sounding names but not are exactly same. Neither in names nor in their decor or clientele. There is dissimilarity in similarity. Vaishali and Roopali have almost same menu, with few additions in Vaishali. The Vaishali Restaurant is a popular hangout of the young College crowd as well as young families. I still remember the interiors of the restaurant during my childhood, I loved the ambiance then also and like it today as well, yes in present times the crowd has multiplied and I feel the restaurant should expand, otherwise the experience of eating their has to be taken in a hurried manner as one feels eyes boring your back, imploring you to get up soon. During my childhood things were not so bad, Pune was not so crowded and was not Vaishali. Vaishali’s garden was called ‘Sheetal’ garden, there was no terrace, Manglore roof covered its ceiling, there was a fish tank present which is still there and there was a small pond which was a home to two tortoises. Smoking was allowed in the garden, which is not allowed anymore which is a welcome change.
Roopali was closer to my home,. It was in those days and even today patronized by middle aged people more than the young crowd. It was a hangout of artistes, politicians, players, office goers, practically; everybody graced Roopali. Either before going for work or after coming back from work tete-a-tete at Roopali has to happen, otherwise the day felt incomplete. I think the things have not changed even today, magic of Roopali still prevails.
The Punekars visited Amrapali when they wanted to take full Punjabi lunches or dinners . Amrapali is not exactly a road side cafe, it is little bit inside, earlier, inside’ Lele quarters’. As a child, the restaurant acquainted me with Punjabi cuisine and a glimpse of fine dining.
I still recollect my visits to all these three restaurants which use to be numerous. My parents use to treat me and my brother there after completion of exams, after annual functions, sometimes on birthdays. Due to these visits and close vicinity, right from the owner till the waiters everybody knew us. I still remember me or my brother going there with a steel tiffin to get a parcel of the yummilicious sambar for Rs. 2 or a parcel of sada dosa or a masala dosa wrapped in banana leaf for Rs. 7 or Rs 7.50 each. After getting married to the olive green, that is an army officer, I left Pune, but the aromas which my sensory organ has captured, the ever smiling, ever busy, expertly dodging the crowd, welcoming the new, photographs of the waiters, the owner and the supervisors that my eyes have taken and the mind has stored could never be erased, gladly it has helped me try to cook similar dishes in the far flung army locations of Punjab, Rajasthan or Bihar. These memories bring a smile on my face and a resolve that next time I visit Pune, surely I will visit one of these restaurants. Now nobody recognizes me but I recognize the flavors and the aromas and the ever hospitable attitude of the hosts and it reassures me that somethings are still same in this fast changing city.
By Anuradha Singh