I love traveling by bus. It’s like a Michael Angelo painting-both an agony and ecstasy! There is something so genuine about bus commuters; no ego hang ups, no tearing hurry to set the horizon on fire, no over-exaggerated concern about the safety of one’s life and limb and above all, a philosophical attitude towards the bumps and jolts of life’s journey.
Shake hands with a bus commuter if you want to meet a paragon of patience and tolerance. But if you think all you need to have is some change and lots of time, to be a successful busser, you are mistaken. You must have a flexible and adaptable temperament, because, as the famous busser said it takes all sorts of buses to make the world.
For instance, it is sheer foolhardiness to go by bus in Delhi, unless it is unavoidable. If you must, you better take some precautions. Before you set out from home, sew all your money carefully inside of your shirt and trousers, if you are a woman, wear a pinch- and- squeeze resistant garment and for heavens sake leave that gold tooth of yours on the kitchen shelf. There have been cases of jaws being cut off in the greed for gold! Anything resembling a purse or wallet should be buried in the backyard and before stepping on to the footboard, say ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’... there might then be a flimsy chance of your reaching safe and sound.
In comparison to the trauma of a Delhi busser, the Bangaloreans’ experience seems like a winter sport. In this garden city, everyone's motto is ‘hurry not for a bus for you live only once’. The conductors are large hearted and though the buses are not commensurately roomy, they let you get in with a more-the-merrier indulgence. There are separate entrance and seats for men and women. One would think this would be a disadvantage while buying tickets, but it isn’t. It’s like this-after every two km there is a TIP (ticket issuing point) and the groaning, overloaded bus takes a breather while the conductor issues tickets. Somu, sitting in the men’s enclosure, yells out for ‘Padakka’ who is up front in the ‘zanana’, to buy the ticket. The conductor picks up the refrain and shouts out for ‘Padakka’ to do the needful. The whole bus gets acquainted with ‘Padakka’ and Somu and what with one thing and another, by the time all the tickets are issued, there is general bonhomie and exchange of addresses and the discomfort of standing on one leg is soon forgotten. The only hitch in this system is that one has to leave home a day earlier if the intention is to reach the destination on time.
In Visakhapatnam, in the good old days before the State Govt took over, one felt like a Queen getting into a bus. The conductors cheerily vied with one another, inviting you to sit in their bus and some even offered discounts on the ticket! Every two kms, the bus would stop at a SSP (soda sipping point) where you could quench your thirst with soda for 25 paise. While passing the main market, some commuters would request the conductor to stop for them to shop for vegetables and fruits. Major comforts like these would compensate for minor irritants like springless seats, worn out shock absorbers and stink of stale fish and sweat.
The Madras bus commuter is a great fountainhead of wit and wisdom. Tamilians have a unique sense of humour which seems to be at its best in a bus. Looking at a family planning ad on the panel, someone will remark loudly, ‘it’s all very well for the govt to say have two children but we need at least four pall bearers to carry our dead body don’t we?’ The men guffaw and the women hide their blushing faces in their Kanjeevaram pallav.
Nothing can be as exciting as a bus ride in Bombay. It is a commuter’s delight. The conductors are so deliciously rude that your skin thickens. You don’t have to go to gyms to develop those bi and tri ceps-just elbowing your way through a blissfully unruly crowd of queue breakers makes you feel like a trapeze artist. What I like best about BEST it is that it is like Delhi ka ladoo- the one who gets it, suffers discomfort and the one who doesn’t, also suffers’. There is cosmic
companionship in misery...