Friday, February 17, 2012

The art of bus-riding

Today morning, a fellow student accidentally held on to my backpack to steady himself when the bus turned a corner. He looked up at me with a worried expression on his face and said apologetically "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to.. I, I, I... was out of balance.." I looked up at him and smiled.

In the state where I hail from, school kids have a free-ride in government run buses - provided they are able to produce their
bus-pass within a micro-second to the bus-overseer (colloquially: 'kandectaar annan' - big brother conductor). As I was to learn in my undergraduate courses later, this was the speed at which early microprocessors used to operate. Therefore, keeping it folded in the wallet or inside the backpack is both infeasible and unacceptable. I'll avoid getting into the intricacies here, since carrying backpacks while riding a bus requires metier and is a topic requiring an intense treatment on its own. Losing the bus-pass is an expensive incident (as you don't get a replacement for that year) that earns severe rebuke from all affected parties. An exceptionally unfortunate situation is when teh kid realizes that he had lost his bus-pass when asked to produce on-board the bus. Elder co-passengers suddenly realize their social responsibility in educating the already shattered kid on the "art of carefulness".

Often, what clothing to wear when you ride the bus is a great dilemma, especially for the youth. In fact, it puts your morality, up-bringing and social-status at stake and determines where you end up in the social chart of your co-passengers. For instance, a young looking fellow by default is a good-for-nothing vagabond who apparently can have no respectable social status what-so-ever. A fellow with a neatly pressed shirt is tolerable and anyone with a ripped jean has no salvation, ever.

To top it up, bus-riding has a bunch of innate protocols associated with it. Any person who is occupying a double-seater is always required to offer the seat when he sees a couple standing. The decision to offer a seat when you see a couple is intricately complex and a direct confrontation of your morality. The worst part is, the correctness of your decision is never influenced by the ensuing behaviour of the couple. If they are married and abide by the socially accepted protocol of having non-mushy conversations, then your decision to offer the seat makes you earn a scornful look from your co-passengers. In case, the couple seem happy enough, you earn disdain. And if they turn out to be unmarried or just friends -  congratulations, you just got promoted to being an uncouth fellow and an object of sheer contempt for having allowed them to sit together.

With a billion people, buses are the life-line of public transportation in India and it is natural to expect them to be crowded. Bus-riding without jostling or stepping on someone is therefore a rare event and if you manage to get out of the bus after accidentally step on someone without having to put your all your known ancestors to shame, you should definitely buy yourself a lottery ticket that day. As a kid carrying a heavy backpack, my life was always in an unstable equilibrium when riding a bus. Enriching experiences have trained me not to worry too much about what goes on around you when in a bus.

But today, I looked up at him and smiled.

PS. Just in case you were wondering where I managed click this photograph, it was taken at our own Chennai a few years ago when I had been there visiting my friends.


Shri Vignesh said...

Shankara, may be you missed to educate your readers about Mumbai trains or Delhi Metro where you are a LIFO entity effortlessly. All you need to do is to just be there :).

Mighty Titan said...

Ha.. ha.. I do have first hand experience on 'effortless' traveling in Mumbai metro trains. Guess one day, I'll write about that too.