There is no such thing as a reliable map in India—at least that is what I have been told. When we arrived, part of our welcome packet included “a Road Guide to Pune,” that has proven to be pretty much useless. A few weeks later, I was looking for a Hindi grammar book and I stumbled across the second edition of Pune A to Z, a more reliable street atlas with a classified index. Each of our maps of Pune is incomplete and, when used together, are almost reliable.
While most of the major roads have names, the street signs, if there are any, are in Marathi script. Most of the smaller lanes and streets have numbers or names, too; but if you look at the sings outside homes and apartment buildings, the address will often be more general, so if you live on Lane#3 it might just say Prabhat Road or Deccan Gymkhana. So if you want to go to a stationary store, and you do not have a street address (if there even is one) you simply say near the hospital or another well-known landmark.
The absence of reliable maps plays to one of my strengths. For whatever reason—most likely from decades wandering around in the mountains off of trail, trying to find my way to a forested ridgeline or across a scree slope into the next lakes basin—I am able to get back to wherever I’ve been. I’m unable to name the streets, or know when to turn right or left. But I can get to the base of the coulior or the stationary store. Before coming to Pune I tried to peer into our future using Google maps. Once you get Pune on the screen you can zoom in to Deccan Gymkhana, find the cricket field, and then follow streets through our neighborhood.
Because I don’t have Google’s omniscient point of view I’ve been using my walks to fill in my inner map of Pune. This morning I walked along the Mutha river, and then crossed the bridge into Navi Peth. There was a small group of men and boys milking buffalo next to the river. Most of the shops were not open, but there were groups of men crowded around stalls drinking hot chai. The garbage pickers were out, too, and women were sweeping the sidewalks and gutters.
Most of the morning I knew exactly where I was—and I could get back to the same place tomorrow if I need to. Just don’t ask me how to get there.