Two Bus Rides

What’s in a Bus ride? It is not like taking a flight that is exciting and infrequent. It is also not like a cruise that you may take for holidaying. Even so, I feel like writing about my bus ride just a few days ago, and the reason is that I was travelling by city bus after at least twenty five years and it brought back some old memories.

I was a regular commuter who used bus, [in Mumbai it is called BEST] to travel between home and school. For twelve years that was my daily mode of transport. It used to cost me 10 paise, BEST introduced a ‘travel as much as you like’ daily ticket for Rs.1.25p then and it was considered a novelty. People from villages came to see Mumbai found it very attractive. As school boys we enjoyed riding a double-decker bus, the seat facing window on the upper deck was fought for between me and friends. Everyday travel in bus was full of enjoyment and fun.

Now with enough time on hand, I decided to take a bus to visit my friend. Things have changed of course. The bus that starts from Cadbury factory is air conditioned. I hurriedly approached it and found the driver quietly waiting for departure time; I enquired whether the bus would take me to ‘King’s Circle’ and the bus driver nodded ‘yes’ without hiding contempt for my ignorance. I went near an empty seat when I realized that it was reserved for the senior citizens and disabled. I was neither so I moved on. The elderly man sitting there was surprised. ‘How can you not be a senior citizen?’ he seemed to enquire. The seats were very comfortable. This was a bus for the office goers and businessmen. A passenger spoke loudly on his mobile giving instructions to his staff in a mix of Gujarati and English. Others gave him a dirty look. Another passenger conversed with a lady sitting a few seats ahead. A large number of regular travellers, I thought, they knew each other. The bus started. And it stopped within a few meters. A lady, an old man boarded the bus. Some things have not changed I felt. It used to be exactly like that when I used to travel regularly. Fifty rupees was my ticket for about twenty kilometres of journey. Not bad. But I know that many of my countrymen cannot afford it. I got down at my destination. It was a smooth ride.

The same service was not available on my way back, so I took the regular bus. Standing. But fortunately a passenger got down and I got a seat. The seats were uncomfortable. The distance between two seats qualified to be called ‘leg room’ because the legs fitted into it like feet in shoes. It was as if the space was measured by an engineer to maximize capacity. The passenger standing next to me started a conversation. He had noticed a blackberry in my hand. Quite obviously he was a techie. Though of my age, he refused to allow others to surpass him in knowledge of IT, we must know everything, he said. I sensed that the purpose of conversation was that he was expecting me to give him my seat since the journey was very long, over twenty kilometres. I was getting uncomfortable. The conductor’s announcements were very loud, and funny. He has a good sense of humour. Standees were not moving ahead, creating a crowd at the rear end, and there were at least twenty five of them. A young boy was wearing ear phones and was lost in his own world. ‘Bahire sahib, pudhe chala’ [O Lord Mr. Deaf, move ahead] he said. People laughed. The boy got the message. He moved on. ‘Maavshi, tickit ghya’ [Aunty, take your ticket] he said to a young girl. She was visibly embarrassed. Before she could react he pointed out that two seats were reserved for ladies and that she could ask a boy sitting there to get up and occupy it. The young ‘Aunty’ was very pleased. The conductor stole attention of all throughout the journey with his wisecracks and comments. A Muslim lady wearing burqua with a young kid in arms got in and was standing next to me. She looked at me with expectation. I decided to offer my seat to her. The techie said he would be getting down at the next stop, and saved himself embarrassment. The Muslim lady promptly replaced me without acknowledging. Things have not changed, I thought. Ladies rarely said ‘thank you’ thirty years ago too. ‘Utha, Santoshi Mata aali’ [Get up, it’s your stop near Santoshi Mata temple] said the conductor looking at me. I got down afraid that the driver might move the bus before I get down but he didn’t.

Two bus rides. One with office goers, who wore crisp laundered clothes, spoke English, expensive to travel, disapproved speaking aloud, and maintained some quiet. The other bus ride was very crowded, had cheap fare, uncomfortable seats, was noisy but full of fun. There was some life there. People behaved as they usually did; no facade. I was missing it in my ‘Corporate’ life. Comfort and time were not my concerns; getting in touch with people was. The second ride had it all.