Bus travel – bus ho gaya

Did you know the intra-city bus service in Chennai is considered one of the best in India? If you didn`t …chances are don`t read the magazine I have subscribed for.

On Saturday, I traveled by bus from Velachery (in Chennai) to the Central station. It was quite an experience.

While talking of bus travel, I cannot but narrate what happened when I traveled from Delhi to Jaipur in a bus. It was way back in 1995…and I was traveling with a gang of young boys willing to take on the world. I still believe at least two of the advertisements we see on TV are inspired by this bus service – first would be the Fevicol advertisement in which 100+ people are stuck to the outside of the bus, and second would be the car advertisement wherein the catch line is ‘because we like to carry our world with us`. I think it is for the Indigo car.

In that bus, all had forgotten to travel light. Besides, half of them were always asking for a light to light their beedis. Thanks to the beedis, the inside of the bus looked like a dream sequence. The only thing missing was a heroine to dance to our tunes and her coterie.

Some of the travelers were transporting hens & other birds in cages, some had sacks of vegetables, many others had bundles of crackers, few others were sophisticated…they were carrying suitcases. It seemed everybody in that bus to Jaipur was shifting his or her house.

My Saturday travel was quite different. The 11E bus goes to Central station, but when the 25B came and stopped right in front of me…I realized it doesn`t take long to be pushed into the wrong bus by strong people. It is only a matter of timing. Having got into 25B, going in the opposite direction, I had to get down and walk my way to the bus stand.

Eventually, I got 11E. Sometime back I had read that per-square feet rates were going up in Chennai. That seems to be truer in the case of busses. Try getting a space of your own in a bus at 8 a.m. on a weekday.

As soon as I got in, I heard the conductor saying: “Everybody out there…get in. I want nobody on the footboard.”

Nobody else but I moved. Guess, I am just too obedient. Marriage has changed everything.

While trying to get in, I brushed against a lady in the crowd. Not intentionally of course. The lady turned back angrily but when she realized that it was I – a young handsome man – who had by mistake brushed her, she cooled down and turned away. My guess is…if only I had not been handsome; she would have created a scene.

Inside the bus, I smelt onion, garlic, molasses, rum, hooch, Domex, Savlon, Liril, Rasna, lemon rice and rotten eggs. Not to mention all the other smells that I could not identify.

As I gasped for air and looked out of the bus, the outside world seemed good. More comfortable. Many things that work outside of the bus don`t work inside it. For example.. your credit card, which the conductor won`t accept.

I hung from the top rails as the bus meandered through the early-morning traffic. Some around me were standing yet sleeping. Perhaps, that is why I managed to rush to a vacated seat and yet get it. The moment I sat on the rickety seat, I regretted. Three pretty school girls – I think they were in their 12th grade – smiled at me and said: “Uncle, can you please hold our school bags?”

Before, I could get over the shock of being called an uncle; I had three bags on my lap. First had a leaking water bottle, second a lunch box that had opened and the third had a frog in a glass bottle – perhaps for the practical.

I had to get down at the Central station. I signaled the girls to take back their bags. As I got up, I offered one of them the seat….but they refused. I wondered why, because when I was 20-year-old, girls would rush in to sit where I had once sat.

As I was leaving, one of the girls said: “Thank you uncle.” That hurt.

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