Thursday, September 27, 2007


Traveling by bus in mofussil areas is in itself a very enriching experience if you wouldn’t mind being embarrassed over trivials. In the competitive world of privatization, bus operators have a stake. Their agents vie one another for their masters to get the day’s largesse. Their guiles are quite intriguing. They would not take off unless there is a ‘knock out’ punch from the next bus agent. Even then the take off wouldn’t be smooth. The engine would start, but the bus would be idle and the agent would be calling passengers in his stentorian voice crying destinations as if they are beyond sea! You would come running and get into the bus hoping the bus to take off instantly. It does start after a quarter of an hour by which time a government bus would have sped off. You curse and sit.

Having ensconced in your seat with a news paper bought at the stands you have hardly unfolded it. Your back row neighbour with a smugness attached to reading an English daily dabs you gently on your shoulder with a synthesised grin for the paper you have not browsed yet. You give him the paper with a wry smile not wanting to ruin your morning. You condone the tendentious attitude of reading a paper on ‘gratis’.

Your neighbour folds and unfolds reading or trying to read the previous day’s denouement. He returns the paper with customary thanks and you wouldn’t like to read the paper that is reduced to a mass. You bury it in the racks over head and sit blinking vaguely at the outside skies. You wouldn’t like to look back.

Your problems don’t end here. The cassette recorder begins to pound on your ears once the bus prepares to leave the town. You would really mind hearing the latest hype. You would plump for the classical if the recorder can’t be fully stopped. The conductor fails to take the cue. For, he wants to prove, he knows the latest. The movie buffs in the bus make him an instant hero. Cacophony for you is symphony for them. The blue outside sky is what beckons you.

The bus which the agent behoved as non-stop, stops at every available opportunity. You take cudgels on others’ behalf who are not many though. ‘If every bus is a non-stop one, how should we go?’, a co-passenger is heard shouting. Many join in to form the chorus. You sit subdued and offended. You think, of complaining, but decide against it. Even one in this world has a slice of good or bad or both, you philosophise. You try to hide your taut and pallid face, but can’t. You get down at your place and move off in the end.

But then going by bus has indeed its pleasurable moments. You notice with awe mild skirmishes for a seat among other passengers. You remember you too were involved in such things once or twice in the past. You chip in trying to counsel the vanquished for you are already a victor gratified with a seat. Failing, you sit looking at the minor comedy of manners which Shakespeare would have turned into a major one.

‘Jatras’ are regaling features with people who you would see perched on top of the bus, the inside being jam-packed. No rules or regulations and for that matter not even life threatening consequences would whittle them down. If you are a passenger inside or a curious onlooker, your middle class upbringing with a sense of security paramount always in your mind would make you feel for the endangered commuters who care little for they have reposed unflinching faith in the deity worshipped during the jathra.

Being on top of a bus is yet another moment of bliss. You think you are on top of the world seen by the bystanders below awestruck. I myself remember one such experience.

Grown and brought up in the midst of a rustic village, with sylvan surroundings silhouetting our ways of life I had to commute all the way to a near by town for my school. Those were the days when buses were not too many. On every weekly gathering of the town people being seen on top of the bus was an unfailing regularity. Students weren’t as a safety measure allowed getting onto the top! One such day is still deeply entrenched in my memory. The bus was as usual filled to the brim! I pleaded with the conductor to allow me to travel on top. He was reluctant, but I persevered. The moment of my reckoning came the same day, with the conductor agreeing.
Climbing onto the top, I chose a sack of rice to sit on. There were a few elders who had chosen to sit similarly. As the bus moved I thought I was on cloud nine! Wobbling and meandering its way on a road that had scrapped with years of use, the bus halted at my station. I got down feeling no less than Hilary on Mount Everest who too could not have been as hilarious.

Back home, I narrated the tale to my father. He became aghast and in a fit of rage flogged me soundly. I swore never to travel on top though I shyly did on a few more occasions not declaring my heroics to any body!

Commuting for years to my school and college by bus I could know the microscopic as also macrocosmic view of Indian life. The kinds of language that were uttered by passengers as varied as they were myriad, the things they bought and transported, the idiosyncratic mannerisms as it would seem to us, the intrepid voices narrating the politics of the land, the debates during election time on who would win or lose and a host of issues getting circulated inside the bus did make me think how public opinion would formulate itself inside a bus which remains even now as the only popular mode of transport of the poor and the down trodden. Traveling with them would annihilate our ego making us think, we are on par.

To know India is to travel by bus and to travel by bus is to know India!


vishnu said...

lol..sir..the charm is doesn't take much to notice that..i wish the elite could understand this...and also fathom the charm..[yes-fathom,not many can do that]..convey my regards to sir..and also,that,if i was an english gentleman i'd have had my not so....jus...sharanri masterra...should be

shashismiles said...

Dear SP,
I am cursing myself for not reading this earlier!! This one is absolutely divine with its subtle humour and classy observations. As a female lone passenger, I would like to add the oddities we have to face when a fellow male passenger falls asleep beside us and takes us to be his pillows! You groan, you cough, you make irriating noises but nothing happpens and the man continues to plunge into deeper, blissful oblivion. Not to mention the irritation when some decent-looking gentleman decides to work his fingers around our arms. Well your perspective was a joy to read!!

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