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Blasted and bruised

“German Bakery is over,” says a restaurateur. It seems like a cold epitaph to a place that was once one of the joyous landmarks of Pune.

It’s been a year-and-a-half since a blast, allegedly by Islamic terrorists, at the Koregaon Park bakery brought life — and the city — to a standstill. And though there is constant talk of the bakery being rebuilt — the owners hope it will be back on its feet by Christmas — not everybody is convinced.

Indeed, the place — in a shambles after the blast killed 17 people and injured 60 — looks like a badly repaired war zone. A half-built structure has come up, but there’s no sign of the bustling activity that could lead to the bakery opening up by the year-end. Snehal Kharose, the eldest daughter of the late founder, Dnyaneshwar Narayan “Nanu” Kharose, rues that since the building has been locked in a court dispute between family members, she isn’t sure if they can be ready by December, having already missed their August deadline.

The manager, Gopal Karkee, she says, quit the bakery which was in police custody for eight months after the February 13 blast. “Besides, the government compensation of Rs 14.23 lakh was just not enough to rebuild the 300-sq-ft bakery premises on the ground floor,” she adds.

The re-opening of the bakery, many Pune residents believe, would have been a symbol of the city’s resurgent spirit. But right now, the half-baked building seems to indicate that life has changed for ever.

German Bakery was started in 1989 by Nanu, with Klaus Woody Gutzeit, a German who had meandered into India from Nepal on the hippie trail of the Seventies, as the food consultant. Soon, Klaus’s multi-grain breads were synonymous with the bakery.

Nanu himself had started out by selling cigarettes in front of the Rajneesh ashram and in later years diversified into money exchange, says Kharose.

“It was a lovely hangout where you could hear chatter in different languages,” recalls Moushumi Kuvawalla, a physiotherapist who lives down the road (North Main) from German Bakery.

“It was where we played chess and backpackers found a home,” says Sandeep “Sandy” Singh, who runs Prem’s, an old and popular hangout in Koregaon Park. “The food, too, was lovely and popular with the gym crowd. The bakery opened at 5.45am and accepted the first order at 6am.”

Not everybody, of course, thought the food was all that memorable. In its early and humble days, when Oshoites — disciples of Rajneesh, later called Osho — sat on benches, sipping tea and smoking, Roshni, another resident, remembers eating an “awful tasting” cheesecake at the bakery.

But Nanu — old-timers remember him as a “good natured gentleman” — was always there. Once when Smita, another old resident of Koregaon Park, bought a box of stale biscuits, Nanu was most contrite. “He promised to get it replaced, but it never happened,” she says.

Nanu died on May 15, 1999, but the bakery continued to thrive, with people gathering there for its cheese and mushroom omelettes, and cold coffee. But today food is not on Kharose’s mind, even when she talks of scouting around for “new pastries” to be added to the menu.

“We are concentrating more on security than on anything else,” she says.

Clearly, the place that was once known for its casual, carefree air is now looking at the world with suspicion. After the blasts, CCTVs became a must for Koregaon Park’s businesses — many of them craft shops.

“The CCTVs allow me to see what’s happening in my shop, even when I’m abroad,” says Nirdosh, a travel agent who joined the Osho Commune in the mid-Eighties and insists on prefixing his name with a “Swami” even though he no longer visits the ashram. “Meditation is a way of life,” he justifies.

Once, the bakery — along with Osho’s ashram just round the corner — was the place for foreigners. The easy camaraderie between the local traders and the foreigners seems to have disappeared. “After the blast, we no longer allow foreigners to keep their baggage with us after they check out of hotels as we once used to,” says Nirdosh.

Adding to security concerns is the presence of Chabad House — an Orthodox Jewish community centre — right opposite German Bakery. Security has been enhanced since the attack on Chabad House in Mumbai three years ago. Policemen hide behind sandbags and let nobody but the “Rabbi’s relatives” inside.

“You’ll need written permission from the Bund Garden police (responsible for Koregaon Park) to enter,” says a senior cop. But the senior inspector at the Bund Garden police station, U. Sonawane, says he has not been authorised to grant any such permission.

Police permissions, sandbags and security men are all alien to the culture that German Bakery once propagated — reinforced many times over by the Rajneesh ashram, now called the Osho International Meditation Resort.

A few yards outside the ashram gate, a police van slumbers before rusty barricades. But just in front of the gate are a couple of sombre looking security men in dark safari suits. They discreetly scan passersby, and swoop down upon those daring to aim a camera lens at the ashram’s smooth black exterior, questioning them about their business.

Amrit Sadhana, a member of the ashram’s management team, who talks about meditation taking away all fear, admits to security getting a beef up at the ashram after the blast. “But then no place in the world is safe and we can’t stop living because of these people (terrorists),” she adds.

Like German Bakery, the ashram was once a veritable part of the city. Rickshaw drivers pacing the ashram lane, still hoping to hook a foreigner, are unanimous about business being down by 50-60 per cent, as compared to the Seventies and Eighties, the heydays of Rajneesh and his ashram. “If you quoted a fare of Rs 20, a Rajneesh disciple paid Rs 50,” says Raju, a rickshaw driver who insists on speaking English — broken and with a foreign accent.

But with the ashram having been turned into a resort, with a residential meditation programme, there’s little interaction between its clients and the city. “There are no Oshoites left in the ashram,” says Singh of Prem’s. “It is like an expensive spa. The ideology there isn’t the same as it was till less than a decade ago.”

These days, most foreigners seen at Koregaon Park, says Khodad Irani, who owns High Spirits, a pub in the neighbourhood, are expats working with automobile companies and NGOs.

But when German Bakery was a part of the city’s lexicon, it wasn’t so. People from across the world mingled at Koregaon Park, and if residents worried about anything — it was not the rise of terrorism, but the free sex that, the whisper went, took place in the ashram premises. Religion was never an issue. Nirdosh recalls the time when even non-Jews could drop in at Chabad House for traditional Jewish fare such falafel —cooked for Jewish travellers — mostly backpackers.

At the beginning of the shady lanes that branch off from the North Main Road, a few vestiges of dying hippy chic show up on a tiny batch of rubber slippers, with the names and faces of Che and Bob Marley etched on them.

The bulk of the slippers are the trademark “Osho chappals”, thrown in with worn out and shiny pink and yellow sandals bearing brand names such as “Levies”.

Not too different from the fake sense of calm in Koregaon Park.

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