The Fuss in the Bus

Bus-journey

Dated : 20 Jan 2017

Sometimes all it takes is a strangers smile………..to start a journey of a 1000 miles

By the rule of no choice I have to travel to Pune to visit family in a Volvo bus.

My personal chauffer usually doped on excess tobacco, hired drivers appearing in radiant smells, taxi services costing almost as much as airfare and train tickets requiring a much-advanced booking, buses pose none of the above problems and this comes closest to my voyage tick marks.

Still, it’s not the most pleasant of experiences not cause am a travel snob but it’s just something that starts building up slowly which almost guarantees that by the time you reach your destination you will definitely be few hair short.

And each time I say never again, I promptly get sucked into travelling by the same mode, the next month or the other.

Deciding to take the Shivneri Volvo at their Maithre Park bus stop at Chembur for sheer convenience of location, being the second stop en route after its start point at Dadar, I try to look out for some kind of ticket booth.

Two tickets I say with confidence in my broken Marathi. Two because I have the bright idea of booking a seat next to mine for my luggage. Besides, it will give me the freedom to stretch my legs and avoid any kind of human skin contact.

He informs me that I need to buy one in the bus as soon as it reaches the stop, which I am informed is another half hour away.

Tugging on my two heavies I squint for any early sign of it as I wait alongside few others whom I guess are going to be my travel companions.

One looks at me as if I may have come from a very foreign land and in painfully accented English he asks, ‘So we are going same place ha?’

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I look away. This scene is not new to me. Middle aged, pot-bellied Uncle types always seem more interested in my life than they should be. Then whether it is an air plane, a movie theatre or a plain old bus stop, it hardly mattered.

Not one to be dissuaded he tries again, ‘Oh Madam, we go to Pune huh?’

We go to Pune! The mere ring of that line is enough to enrage me.

I drag my heavy lugs slightly further away, next to the lady in a shiny blue sari.

I avoid looking in his direction so as to avoid eye contact at any rate.

The lady smiles, ‘Pune bus!’

‘No Timbuktu,’ I am tempted to cry out but common sense says that I might need an ally on the bus in case belly bawdy Baldy decides to make my life miserable with space intrusions.

I nod at her and give her a half smile.

‘You are married?’ she asks me. What was this? A conspiracy?

I shake my head.

‘Oh I have nice nephew,’ she reveals, trying her best at the English language to impress me.

‘He is in Pune. If we get down same place then you meet him; he will be there at station to pick up me.’

I look around panic. Praying now that there is an extra seat waiting in the bus for me; for the last thing I wanted was to be caught between she-match Maker devil and male leery deep sea.

Fortunately, the bus arrives and without looking at either, I rush to get in first, hoping to convince the driver for a double sitting.

He spits some orange out of his window as he replies rudely, showing me his smeared teeth, ‘Not allowed!’

‘And why not?’ I start arguing, ‘I am paying for it isn’t it?’

‘In fact, I will buy the whole bus you tobacco sucking monster;’  I feel like adding but decide to not piss him off in case he directed me to the rear end of the vehicle just to have the sadistic pleasure of watching me throw up.

I quietly pay him and take the fourth seat on the right, next to a younger girl who may have boarded from Dadar. Better her than the rest of the crazy.

She looked like a college student, we would have nothing much in common and that was alright. It would help me catch up on my wats app group messages.

As the bus moves along, I discreetly glance over my shoulder at a shiny blue object floating in my side vision periphery. She waves.

‘Good Goooood’ she starts, ‘I have already informed nephew about your coming.’

I look zapped. It seemed like she had a welcome committee ready for me.

I turn away quickly, wondering how the hell I would get out of that one.

Should I inform her that I was a millionaire posing as a commoner?

No that would be mean and untrue or maybe it would excite her further.

Should I fib about an impending albeit fake fiancé?

No, that would start more conversation for she looked thirsty for any kind of acknowledgement.

Though she seems harmless, I was in no mood to make small talk -I seldom was.

I pretend to get some shut eye as the bus touched the expressway, yeah  just a couple of hours to go….

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And then as if the plot is just waiting to thicken, I feel a kick on the behind of my seat.

I ignore it; it’s probably a foot stretch error of some Daddy long legs; then comes along another and another.

Is it an annoying child?

Once again my seat shakes, I have had enough.

I turn around, my eyes blazing, ‘Will you please stop?’

A skinny moustached man snarls back, ‘Certainly not.’

He speaks perfect English which is good, it would make it easier for him to understand what was about to come….

‘Look,’ I say with the last ounce of patience I had left, ‘Be reasonable. I’m not able to relax as my seat is constantly wobbling with your oversized legs.’

‘Should I cut my legs because Madam is inconvenienced?’ he looks menacingly at me.

I cannot believe his high road tone. He has already gathered a few nosy parkers who are straining their ears to know what is transpiring.

‘If you don’t like your seat, take the one left at the rear end….you spoilt brat,’ he goes on rudely.

‘ Talking about rear ends… why don’t you shove that idea right up …..’ my temper is now scorching.

I have to exercise immense self control to not say the above line aloud.

Now had I been on different grounds I would have done so but not wanting to be thrown out of the vehicle at any point in the middle of nowhere , I keep my trap shut and instead softly request the sweet girl next to me to swap seats.

She smirks: certainly not!

Impossible! What was wrong with the world?

My horoscope had said, ‘Conflict!’

I just thought it was singular.

And then came a thud behind me and a loud voice.

Potbelly bald aka Mr Inquisitive has yanked my seat nemesis  from his perch and is about to punch him straight in the face.

‘What you said? What you told her?’  His saliva is dripping from the corner of his mouth and it is not a pleasant site.

Most of the passengers stand up, more so in excitement with this welcome interruption of their otherwise thoroughly boring journey.

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The moustache man is now quivering.  ‘Sorry s se orry, Sir.’

I look away. Now I am indebted to Potbelly for the rest of my hours and would be forced to make some kind of gratitude speech.

I thank him kindly much to his joy and I hope against hope, he would not follow me home, with his beady eyes and his yellow teeth.

I look at blue sari whom I fondly address Auntyji ( all of a sudden.)

‘I can’t wait to meet your nephew’ I say and she beams.

There, I have smartly created a diversion and no one can infringe my space from then on.

Aunty and I become inseparable for the next two hours. We hold each other’s handbags at public toilets and I buy her a cup of Masala tea, we share a few jokes about baldy and leggy over steamy wada pavs.

I tell her about my upcoming first book, the editorial complexities and the struggle with the idea of starting my own blog.

She hears me with great enthusiasm, as I try explaining it all in Hindi which is her comfort zone.

Then I sheepishly confess to her that I was using her as a decoy from the bus delinquents and she laughs….

‘Don’t worry, I was using you too,’ she replies in jest.

I look at her in disbelief; doubtful that these kind of strange men posed any trouble for her.

‘You see beta, I Iost my young daughter a few years ago and only wanted to remember the feeling of being overbearing and caring….’

Half hugging her, I write my number on a piece of paper.

‘Call me anytime you feel like doing that again,’ assuring her my presence from then on. At least over the phone.

She takes it from me readily and gratefully, keeping it safely tucked in her purse.

As we got off at the last juncture together, she digs into her handbag and hands over a white handkerchief.

‘It’s unused and white, just like a blank paper.’ She states.

Then patting my arm at my confused expression, she tells me in Hindi, ‘Beta, Aap jo bhi likhoge, acha hi likhoge. Khud per bharosa karna sikho.’ (Whatever you will write, you will write well only, learn to have faith in yourself)

And as one voyage ended on a stranger’s confident claim, another one began with my blog- ‘ Chai with Kai.’

 

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A Train to nowhere…

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“I need to experience the juice of travel,”
I told a friend on the phone,who pleaded with me, to not take the semi rush hour train into town.
“There are other ways to experience this juice or milkshake or whatever you want to,” he  tried convincing me but I was adamant.
I needed to get to Churchgate for a Poets Meet that Sunday evening from Bandra and I was hell bent, on not img_8600spoiling Uber or Ola with over priced fares that day.
Rs 30  return trip versus Rs 800….Do the math!
I must admit that I haven’t jumped in a local one in very many years. But how bad could it be?
I was glad to discover that the ticket counters were still positioned, where I remembered them last.
Looking for the shortest queue, my eye caught on the one which seemed slightly less intimidating than the rest, ‘Booking Window for physically disabled persons’ it said.
The line seemed to have only women standees which made me slightly irritated; ‘did they think they were handicapped as women?’
Then I realized it was the short, smart way my gender could be using at times to purchase quick tickets and my hesitation turned into silent applause.
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I stood there excited, clutching a fifty note, like a five year old about to embark on her first train journey.
Let me add that I have taken plenty of these, in my days at St Xavier’s College,Marine lines; with Rs 100 a week pocket money in place.
Patting myself on the back for remembering where the ‘fast train platform’ was, I walked quick paced, almost missing the swinging lathi that two railway cops were mock scaring the urchins with, on the bridge.
As I stood waiting for the 3.33 pm local to arrive, I sheepishly asked the bystanders where the second class ladies compartment was. They sized me up and down before answering ‘Last Last.’
Which I assumed meant :walk further and you will eventually slip upon it.
I started clicking ferociously on my 16 GB cell phone explaining to a group of giggling girls that it was for my blog and they asked curiously,”Kya aap foreign se aye ho?”(are you from abroad?)
 
I began to show off my minuscule Marathi skills; it seemed to turn on some laughing gas switch in their system and I was thankful that my train had drawn closer.
Everyone around me seemed to be geared for some action.
I believe that shoving each other before time of this action, can be totally avoided, if we all formed one neat, straight line, in a civilized manner.
How hard was it? Didn’t we do it on the London underground?
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I decided to impart this; I would teach everyone to do things in an organised way, for that day at least!
“Go easy, form a line, don’t push. Let the ladies with the kids go first….” I started to request the confused and flustered faces around me.
Soon, my red P cap had somersaulted on the floor, my ray bans in my hands, as two boxy women shoved me hard, “What are you waiting for princess?” they howled in Hindi, agitated that I was not pushing ahead of order, before the train had come to a halt
Having no opportunity to quip back, I quickly joined the mass struggle, realizing that if I didn’t, I would be camping on Bandra platform until dusk.
Phew! I just about made it, tasting parachute strands in my mouth and an armpit in my face.
Well I did say I wanted to experience the juice of life, did I not?train1
Not to miss a photo moment(yes yes for my blog) I started once again to shoot random faces around me, startling the others sardines who are as tightly packed as me in the overcrowded tiny space.
Dadar brought a welcome vacuum and when I could breathe once again; I continued with more selfies.
The hair accessories vendor boy smiled coyly at me, “Didi mera picture khico na.” (take my photo)
Snap!
Then came his mother, in tow; with her fruit basket…Snap!
Aha I felt like news reporter on the go, already….! img_8586
I spotted some girls on the seats bending over a box; curiously I go over. Ooh nail paints.
“Which brand is it?” I asked among some weird stares.
I Wondered why? Don’t they sell Sally Hansen in Mumbai locales? Apparently not.
I contemplated buying some ‘My colour,  Rs 20 each only !’ … And there were so many interesting colors for grabs.

The stern face of my manicurist appeared out of nowhere, “Yellow cuticles madam you will get; only OPI products you must use.”    He wins. Plan cancelled.

Snappy Music in the background did I hear? Oh we have progressed!

In house Bollywood entertainment?

Brief second of  glee was cut short; it turned out to be an audio advert for Badshaah masala pav bhaji ka masala, etc etc.

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Got me wondering  if I should make a catchy jingle for my forth coming novel too and let it sing in local trains? Clever gimmick, worth considering.
As Grant road station approached….it dawned to me that I haven’t made any friends yet. I looked around. What could a possible ice breaker be on a twenty minute weekend train ride?
I smiled at the neatly plaited lady at the far left corner, she looked amicable.
I went over and took a seat; she looked at me a tad suspiciously like most around did.
“Do any of you have a hand sanitizer?”I finally questioned the trio opposite me.
My O.C.D. had kicked in as I  had a flash image of being bathed in railway germs.
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One of them stammered as she asked me, what it was?
I gave them a brief: ‘We touch things in trains like seats, handles, doors, even currency notes.  When was the last time, all of you, cleaned your hands?’
My reply seemed to make her spring from her perch and hang her head out of the door.
The other two started talking in low whispers, avoiding eye contact in an obvious manner.
Okay, I got it …I was going to leave that train with no new friends or fans and failing to impart my hygiene concerns.
On my return trip post seven pm, I purposefully sat in a quiet corner all by myself, staring outside….Counting the number of trains that crossed us and thinking about the poetry reading session I had just attended.

Poets they say are highly intelligent people who have a depth beyond common understanding. dfhthruhru

I had clearly established at the attended reading, that I was definitely not one of them.
I don’t recall being carried away into a beautiful world of poetic beauty or literature, ever….
But that did not mean that I could not get carried away elsewhere. In this case- to Andheri; which happened to be five stops away from where I was supposed to originally skip off.
Eventually, I called it a night as I hopped off the carriage, on to the wrong platform and apped for an Uber straight back home.