Thoughts from Pune: Part 2 – By Katherine Zheng

Hi again,

Previously, I mentioned that I researched tourism in Pune. More specifically, I was assigned to work with the local and only bus tour company, the Pune Darshan Bus Tour, with the help of the development NGO, Janwani. The goal was to determine how the decisions of actors involved in the tour (the public relations officer of the bus company (PRO), tour guides, bus drivers, tourists, and site owners) shaped local history as a tourist commodity, and specifically financial motives such as profit and budget takes priority over cultural heritage and local history. The results were as follows:

For site owners, I got to interview the director of the Kelkar Museum (a museum devoted to the display of Indian artifacts of everyday life, from combs to musical instruments to toys and so forth) and the director of the Ambedkar museum (a museum devoted to the life of Dr. BR Ambedkar, who wrote the Indian constitution).   The museum director was very keen to tell me the operations of his museum and his future plans. He repeatedly emphasized the need for funding from the local government and associated NGOs to update facilites and expand the museum so it could house the entire Kelkar collection of artifacts, most of which are in storage at the moment. Something that stuck out to me was that he specifically mentioned the maintenance of his toilets, that he always makes sure the washrooms are kept clean so that if the “Prime Minister” of the United States were to visit tomorrow and use the washroom, he would notice how clean it is. Curiously, he said that most visitors are from outside Pune, and that few actual people from Pune visit the museum. I asked him if he had a theory as to why and he said that most people aren’t aware of it because it lacks presence as a space. Also he doesn’t know completely why either, and would like to find out. Also, at the end of the interview, he extended an invitation to me as a member of the family of the Kelkar museum and asked if I had had any means of contributing to the museum from the US, I should do so. I don’t know if it is within my power, but it was rather nice of him and I also wonder if he does this to all the foreigners he works with.

For the director of the Ambedkar museum, it turns out that as it is owned by the local college, the Symbiosis society, upon which it is heavily dependent for funds. As the museum is a non-profit institution, they haven’t changed the arrangement of displays and objects since its founding in the 70s.

As with the PRO, it was a shorter interview as he was busy and people constantly came in to have him sign documents and he answered phone calls throughout. Also, a man walked in and talked to him for 15 minutes about salary matters. In asking him about the operations of the bus tour, he disproved my assumptions about the tour being a for-profit business, but rather it receives funding from the government for their services. The inadequacies on the tour wasn’t because they didn’t plan on adding A/C buses or updating the company website for public access information, it’s because there is no funding to do so.

For tour guides and drivers, their main concerns about the tour was the operations itself: sometimes the bus had to be driven without proper maintenance, due to lack of funding, putting stress on their jobs. Also, they cared a lot about local history, citing that that was the reason why they applied to work on the tour, and in addition, the PRO said it was a requirement in hiring. They all said if they were to make any changes to the job, it would be to have better buses with A/C and maintenance, a tv set, and complimentary snacks for tourists.

As for the tourists, they all held middle-class occupations such as teacher or engineer, and interestingly, came from outside Maharastra. The ones I interviewed had a mild interest in Pune, in that they don’t know too much about the city and were “passing through”.

From this, the largest lesson and conclusion I came to draw and learn was that in some ways critical thinking is a first world privilege, or at least it comes easier to those who can afford to have free time and energy to themselves to ponder: the women in Velhe were not taught philosophy, sociology, or literature as we would in our education, and according to my classmates who intern in Pune private schools, the children who attend these institutions are either in the middle to upper class of society or their families are poor and put all that they have so that their son or daughter will have a better life at their expense. Similarly, museums and tourism as institutions can only come about once there is enough money to support it: the Kelkar museum director and the PRO were quite keen on expanding their respective businesses, but cited that funding was the biggest problem. Particularly, the Kelkar museum director said that museums are “not in the blood of Indians” because most Indians just live day-to-day and don’t really think about cultural preservation or history. Ultimately, this serves as a testament to how post-industrial of an institution the museum is.

I suppose if I had more time, or if I could go back again, the scope of this study would include far more representatives of each cohort I interviewed to provide more of a representative picture of tourism in Pune, which I guess I’ll keep in mind for the future. But it’s been interesting.

Cheers again,

Kat Zheng

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