Have you heard of this place (pronounced “Poona”)? If not, likely you have heard of the game called badminton, invented in Pune by British expatriate army officers. Originally, the game was called Battledore. Then, the name of the game was changed to Shuttlecock. Later, the name changed to the name of a grand house of one of those officers (Badminton House), where the resident family’s social events always included the games on their lawns. Today, the people of Pune have distanced their city from their colonial British, Portuguese, and Martha history. The seventh most-populated city in India, Pune’s considerable manufacturing base and higher learning institutions define its character and its future.
Located inland from the bustling port of Mumbai (formerly called Bombay) and well-connected by road, rail, and airports, Pune’s geography ideally supports trade and cultural exchanges with Southwest Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The city ranks seventh on the list of cities that billionaires call home, and Pune annually stands as a strong contender for India’s top city with the most new business startups.
Yet, Pune has not escaped India’s plague of overpopulation and the scourge of air and water pollution that goes with it. Population growth outpaces necessary infrastructure development. Without proper infrastructure, the people of Pune, especially the poor, must deal with an array of problems on their own, without the help of their city government. There are shortages in the food supply, poor drinking water, an inadequate sewer system, which has directly led to polluted rivers. Insufficient medical care has led to a lower birth rate and to premature death.
The city cannot accommodate all who wish to enter the university system. Thus, the poor, in great numbers, cannot better themselves through education. The best paying jobs remain out of their reach. Entire families cannot advance their status in society.
Just as potato famines created food shortages in Ireland that drove generations of poor Irish to abandon their country, poverty and little opportunity drive the poor of Pune to join the poor of other urban centers in India to become expatriate laborers elsewhere in the world, especially in the oil-blessed Arab states.
But, like the Irish immigrants, those who migrate from Pune bring their history, their culture, and the goodness of their morality with them. Wherever they land, they are ambassadors of India, and they are the city’s best chance at making a connection with others that could lead to a revitalization of Pune itself.