Getting into a little flashback; I started using the bus, by myself, when I was about twelve years old. It all started when I overslept one day missing my school van. In these situations, usually, my father was kind enough to drop me to school, but this time, it angered my mother.
“I don’t care whether you reach school late or not, take the lunch bag, and here is fifty bucks, get out of the house”.
Next thing I knew, I was sitting on a bus to the outer-ring road, with my school bag on my lap, awkwardly looking around the bus. Even though I had been on a bus a million times before, being there alone is a totally different experience altogether. What I also immediately noticed was that, the conductor behaves very different when you are alone. The conductor, taking the pen which sat behind his ear, scribbled on a notebook, and ripped off a ticket from a whole bunch. The ticket costed 8 rupees, which, I am not sure why, I thought was overpriced. The bus shook a lot, made a lot of noises, especially of the almost-translucent windows shuddering. It was as if all the parts which held the vehicle together were on the verge of giving away. There was surprisingly more that I was observing and assimilating now, compared to when I was on the bus with my parents. And for the first time I noticed that the bus was divided into ladies in the front, and men at the back. The seats of the bus felt extremely comfortable, which made me wonder why my mother always complained about back pain, whenever she traveled by bus. I also saw couple of other passengers in the bus, who were asleep, and I wondered how it could be so easy to doze off with all the noise. I was constantly swaying as the bus took sharp turns on the narrow roads of Horamavu.
There was this thrill I got when I thought and feared about missing my stop. When I did over-think about it, I would calmed myself down by mentally saying; “Wouldn’t be an experience then”.
The first ride alone was confusing, as there was so much learning that was happening. I was so amused that I kept showing off about it to my friends at school.
“I am telling you da! Don’t go with your dad and all next time, go alone”.
The BMTC (Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation) buses are mostly, blue, red or green in colour. The ITPL ones are red and silver or even brown. These colours definitely do bring a sort of happiness to the people waiting at a bus stop, surveying the end of the road, looking for either one of these colours to show up.
The seats in the bus are also mostly blue, and are aligned in pairs. Poles to hold on to are placed close to the seats, and there are handles hung to the bar above. The windows are eternally oily and smudged, occasionally portraying an advertisement of a footwear company. The ground is scattered with tickets, and pan masala packets. There is no music played in the bus, but when there is, which is rare, it is always an old Kannada tune which fills up the air. Otherwise, the traffic and the drama outside, along with the constant “tickets” of the conductor, keep the passengers occupied. The bus driver and the conductor wear Khaki coloured clothes. All the buses in Bangalore have three major destinations; Shivajinagar, Majestic bus stand or K.R. Market, and all of these three areas are crowded with buses, and Shivajinagar was always my favourite destination.
There was something about traveling by bus that always pulled me back, even if I had problems with it. It was as if there was a gas that filled the bus which, if breathed in, made hormonal changes in the body, and got me addicted to it. Being a kid with low pocket money, I never used the Rickshaws. Nor did I use the Air Conditioned buses or commonly known as “Vayu Vajra” (the diamond of the sky). It was good that I avoided the A/C buses, because I got to see and meet a great deal of people from different backgrounds, with different stories.
I never kept a diary where I could write about my travel experiences, but I always came back home and gave my mother a detailed account of what happened on the bus. She was always happy to listen as she was also once a frequent passenger, and she could relate to what I was telling her. Both of us had one thing in common; we hated the A/C buses. There are many of them in Bangalore, too many of them. This not only created traffic, as they were really huge vehicles, but also were not economical. The tickets costed several times the normal bus tickets, and most of all, it lacked the real ‘bus feeling’. Unlike the ordinary buses, these had closed windows, and was unusually clean. The people in these buses are simply boring. Most of the population which traveled in these buses were the elite IT people, who would open up their laptops and smartphones, and get lost into a totally different world. No one had an idea of what happened in the bus or outside. They were just passengers who wanted to get from point A to point B; for whom the destination and not the journey of the travel mattered.
The people who traveled in the bus were, I would say, extraordinary. First off, I always got this sense of insignificance when I was on a bus. A crowded street also did this to me. Looking at a lot of people; some deep in thought, or some in a serious conversation over the phone, A man reading the newspaper, or a mother scolding her child, or even the conductor who buzzed along the corridor of the bus repeatedly shouting “Ticket!”. All of these people made me think that I was such a small part of this, leave alone the world, but this bus! An image of a small speck in the whole universe came to my mind and made me think about the different worlds that are traveling in the bus. This feeling was something amazing and it happened to me all the time.
There was one time when I was traveling to Shivajinagar, on bus number 300 E, there were two men in the bus casually chatting. After a while, I noticed that people around them started paying attention to what he was saying. I thought he was talking to the five other people too, which made me think to myself,
“Oh nice! He made friends quickly enough”
I was wrong. He was just speaking to his friend about how his boss didn’t pay him on time. It was such a topic that no one would bother listening to. So why was everyone so interested?
As I listened to him, I got pulled into the conversation too. Then I realized, that it was not what he was talking about, but the way in which he saying it. He used all the techniques a storyteller would use to make a story much more imaginable. He used his hands, facial expressions, different tones for different stories. When he said something secretive, his tone would be deeper and he would get quieter, and I found myself leaning forward to listen. The best thing he did was mono act his conversation with someone else. He would pause at the right moments and give a suspense to his story. Unfortunately, he got off at Jai Bharath Nagar, a few stops before the Shivaginagar bus stand. I was enthralled after listening to him storytelling. It would be so great if he took language classes for small children!
On the same bus route, 300 E, I always come across a couple of speech and hearing impaired people, who travel to Shivajinagar from their school in Dodda Banaswadi. These people might come across to a person as different from the rest, because they can’t hear or speak. One would imagine how they manage to travel around the city without communication, because not everyone knows sign language. Yet they seem to be the most “chilled-out” bunch in the bus. They would walk right in, get a seat, and get on with moving their hands to talk to their friends. When the conductor comes, they incompletely say where they want to go,
Like in the movie, Barfi, how Ranbir Kapoor says his name – “Baffi”.
It is a treat to watch them communicate with each other. There was one occasion where two men were sitting opposite of me and talking in sign language. I tried my best not to stare and seem rude, but I could not help but watch! What I could decipher from the hearts shapes, clapping and quiet laughter, that one young man was teasing the other about someone he liked. The other tried his best to defend himself but the redness on his face gave him away. I noticed that their hand signals were complicated, and it would be really hard for the person to understand what he really meant. Then I figured that not only their actions, but their facial expression which are vivid enough to send across an accurate message! When their eyebrows were fully raised, eyes wide open , with a huge smile across, it would mean he was happy. A scrunched nose and a little scratching of hair would show a confused face. I could not help but Imagine these two men on the stage, with their faces painted white, miming in the most beautiful way!
There are separate seats allocated for Ladies, Senior and handicapped citizens. When a senior citizen or a lady is standing, and you are occupying their seat, a complaint can be filed against you if you don’t stand up and give up the seat to them.
Mostly, no one cares, not even the conductor. However when there are random checks done by the police, then the men who sit in the ladies sit get fined 300 rupees.
There was this one time when I got fined for sitting in the ladies half of the bus. My mother, my friend, and me were traveling back from school after a summer class. We took a bus from Hebbal, and these buses usually are empty in the afternoon. So, I thought I would sit with my friend in the ladies seats until she got off, then go back. We were very busy talking about our future travel plans, and when she got off, I was still deep in thought about whether Munnar or Kodaikanal was a better hill station, unaware of the fact that there were two girls standing. Just then, two cops got on the bus. Noticing them, I calmly took out the ticket from my pocket, just when I heard,
“LS fine haakbidi…” – “fine him for Ladies Seat”.
When it hit me, I sprang up, only to be pushed back down by the cop. I regretted my ignorance, and it did hurt me when he said,
“Despite being educated you do all this nonsense”.
I tried negotiating with him, but there were too many people giving me stares. How I wished I could explain to every woman on that bus that It was sheer ignorance and nothing else. When I looked for my mother, I found her laughing at me from outside of the bus. I had no option but to pay him the money.
On the way back home, I was enraged by the fact that I lost 300 bucks for a very stupid thing I did, but later I found myself actually happy about the event that occurred. Later that day, I spoke to a BMTC official. He explained to me the rules and I asked him a lot of questions. And to this day, I am very glad that I got fined for sitting in the ladies seat. It made me more aware about the rules, but most of all it brought to me some sort of happiness that I had another experience.
Sometime recently, when I was traveling from Iblur to Sompura, on a 342 H, I was fortunate enough to find few men wearing the familiar khaki shirt and pants, sitting at the rear end of the bus. Taking the opportunity, I sat next to one of the BMTC drivers, and casually started a conversation. What I have realized over the years of traveling in the bus is that starting a conversation with a stranger is very easy. You just have to start complaining about the traffic and there will be a sure reply from the other person. After a while of chatter about the traffic and how tea in tea-stall have become so watery, I started asking him questions about his job.
“My job is far less adventurous and complicated that that of a conductors. There is nothing to do but simply drive. It is only that the rickshaws and bikes are a menace on the roads. Even the private buses which halt for more than two minutes at bus stands create traffic.”
As he spoke, the conductor of the bus came and became a part of conversations. I was delighted. So, I asked the conductor to describe how his day goes in the bus.
“It is a challenging job. Most of the time, I have to stand, because passengers keep coming in. Most people think that a conductor’s job is to collect money and hand out a piece of paper. We do way more than that. There is a lot of paperwork, that has to be done and recorded at the end of the day. If the bus gets crowded, it gets really hard to keep track of the people who bought tickets. With the kind of technology we have today, BMTC could do so much to make it easier, not only for us, but for the passengers also. God knows what they are up to”.
On asking him what problems he usually faced, he replied,
“There aren’t any serious problems, but there sure are misunderstandings with the passengers. It is mostly about their passes and what not. Then there are these college boys who stand around near the door, to get the thrill of leaning outside. I usually threaten them and send them to the back, but later I apologise. It back memories of my college days.”
The driver added,
“We start up the buses at around 6:30 in the morning, and drive along the route until 8:00 at night”.
When I asked them how many rounds they had to do for a day, they laughed and said,
“It is not how many rounds, it is the number of kilometers we need to cover. The more distance we cover, the more we get paid”.
For the rest of the bus journey, I sat and thought about the conversation I had, hoping I would not forget the details. It also made me think about these old buses buzzing around the vast city, reaching every corner possible. There was gloomy moment as I thought how one day, all these buses will vanish, and traveling by public transport will never be the same. On the brighter side, I was happy that I got to experience all of this, and just imagined myself, one day, with my grandchildren, telling them all of these tales. I smiled as I looked at the seat in front of me, on which “fuk” was carved out.
Photo credits : http://www.gettyimages.in/detail/video/high-view-on-kempegowda-majestic-bus-station-at-stock-video-footage/503021005