Pune: Of Kattas, College Life And Cups Of Chai

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As I walked towards a rather unusual looking, yet a stunning concrete canopy, I could hear the students discussing the intricate details of their upcoming play. The director was reading some rather intense lines which echoed beautifully within the space. I was at Kimaya, officially an open air theatre in the north side of the campus, but unofficially the katta of the college students.

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Curiously I asked one of the students what a katta was, and her answer took me nostalgically to my own college days.

“A katta is a space where we meet to have fun, discuss work, practice for performances, gossip, complain, often over a cup of tea or some snacks. It’s one of those Pune things you would know only when you are a part of it.”

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Like Kimaya, a katta is often a space where all disciplines of the college come together and intermingle, bringing more vibrancy to several lives. In Kimaya, it’s not uncommon to see a bunch of young people sitting together and programming, or sharing jokes, discussing the latest twitter controversy, or even discussing profound social issues. The conversations are often fun, but a katta can also be formative for the young minds as interactions help form thoughts and opinions at their age.

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But do you guys never leave campus and always hang out inside? Everyone around me sheepishly smiled and shared names of some of the popular student joints just outside on the Ferguson College Road. Two of the most popular joints are Vaishali and Cafe Good Luck. Highly affordable and often packed, it has also made some open street food places very popular, like the Flavours for chocolate sandwich.

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Tea is often an integral part of conversations right from college days, and some go as far as the Tilak tea house on Tilak Road during college hours to hang out with friends. For others, Sujata Mastani is the favourite place, especially in the evenings. I asked if they met over the weekends too, and was quite surprised that many went up till the Vetal Tekdi in early morning on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Next, I spoke to a bunch of young boys who were waiting outside Cafe Good Luck after their morning football match, and for them the cafe was their favourite katta. At their age, girls were often the key topic of discussion, though currently, Aamir Khan was trending in their talks. I was pleasantly surprised when they all said that there was no controversy and they would happily watch his next movie and continue to shop from SnapDeal. Over cups of tea paired with the legendary maska-buns, the katta was certainly helping in shaping up these conversations and helping them form opinions.

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Pune is known to be a student city and one of its biggest universities is actually located a little outside the city limits in Lavale, where the main campus of Symbiosis is located. To me, the visit was essential as I knew the concept of a katta must have evolved to meet the specific needs of a residential campus.

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One of the students, Vaibhav, said, “When I came here, the first year was difficult as we felt that in free time there was nothing to do, nowhere to go. But because of this, we all got quite close to each other and our hangout spaces played a significant part in it.”

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Most kattas at Symbiosis are around food and the most popular spaces being the open space around the mess area, the recreation room and the night mess. I spent quite some time with the students around sunset and could feel the relaxed vibes as no one was in a rush to go anywhere. As cups of chai flowed, conversations also became more colourful. This was a favourite hangout space for Hamid, a student from Afghanistan and Takuya from Japan. It was here that they had built a relationship with their Indian counterparts. There was quite a bit of diversity and it was at their kattas that the differences dissolved and relationships built.

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Another very unique institute in the city is the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) which is located in the land which was originally the home of Prabhat studio. It’s a large campus full of trees, water bodies and creativity. Both the syllabus as well as the space ensures that the students spend most of their time in the campus and hence, all their kattas are also located within.

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I started with the first and the most obvious place in the campus – their canteen. It’s a lovely open place but I was immediately drawn to a bunch of youngsters who were singing songs and laughing voraciously. Though I was a complete stranger, I became one of them within minutes. Later, Devash Dixit, a second year student in Acting and I, had a long chat over a walk and we saw a few more kattas within the campus – the iconic Wisdom Tree, Shantaram Pond and Pani ki Tanki. For a few who do venture out in the evenings, the popular place to visit is Invitation tea on Law College road.

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One of the biggest campuses in the city is located on the Paud Road on Kothrud – Maharashtra Institute of Technology, more commonly known as MIT. Away from the conventional hangout hub of the city, Ferguson College Road, this part of Kothrud has evolved to meet students’ needs. However, if there is one place which can truly be called a student katta here, it’s got to be the Durga Cafe. In fact, the cold coffee of the cafe is so legendary that students from many other colleges also come here to chill with friends.

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I had many interesting conversations with a bunch of young guys over pav-bhaji and cold coffee, with topics ranging from girls, career options, intolerance and Aamir Khan. I was completely taken by surprise by how balanced their worldview was and the dignity with which they disagreed with each other. Durga Cafe has been their katta for years and it’s conversations like these which helped them grow. It’s a place they will continue to visit even after they all move on in their lives; obviously, the connect with the coffee and conversations is deep.

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My day was ending, but I knew it would truly end only when I visit the last katta, and the most unusual one – Vetal Tekdi. Located right in the middle of Pune city, the green zone is akin to the lungs of the city. As I trekked, I saw people of all age groups, and not surprisingly, many of these were young college goers from all over the city. The ones with health on their minds, often catch up here over the weekends for a hike, run or simply to exercise together in the open. I met a bunch of them and some of them originally came from Mumbai.

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“We come here to relax with friends and just chill. It’s so good to spend a few hours here every weekend to unwind.”

Fun. Eat. Relax. Evolve. These are just some of the words that describe a katta, but these spaces are much more and often their impact is intangible. Perhaps due to its large student population and a very relaxed atmosphere, kattas have become an integral part of all college campuses here. As times change, kattas also evolve, but stay central to a student’s life in the city.

Smiles of India – an ground initiative: we have collaborated with a travel blogger Siddhartha Joshi, who is also an ace photographer. He would be travelling to more than 10 cities across India in a two-month-long campaign capturing unique and interesting stories that bring about smile, happiness and positivity with a theme centered around ‘Celebrating Life’.

Click if you like our story!

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