What’s a ride in Bus No. 7 like? The writer hops on the bus that criss-crosses the city and recreates the conversations and stories from her journey
It is a chirpy Friday morning at the Collector’s Bungalow bus stop in Race Course. It bustles with college students, office goers and shoppers. Their destinations are different; but all of them will get on to the same bus — No. 7.
Bhanumathi, a vendor who sells pooja items outside a vinayakar temple in Race Course, travels at least four times a day in this bus. “I have shifts in the morning and night. This bus is a big saviour, especially during the nights when the roads are deserted and scary. It helps me reach home in time,” she says.
Pom...pom...pom! The familiar horn brings a smile onto people’s faces, as they gear up to get on to 7, as it grinds to a slow halt in front of us.
On the driver’s seat is Mani, who has a big smile for every passenger. Mani has been driving 7 for the past seven years! But the route never bores him, he says. “There has never been a dull moment. We drive around the heart of the city. There are so many exciting sights to see.”
Conductor Rajendran waves a hello from the other end of the bus. He is busy selling tickets, in between pausing to grumble at those who do not have change. He has been a conductor for 35 years.
Rajendran is a man of few words, but the same cannot be said of our friend, the driver, who now steers the vehicle towards Mempaalam. “Everyone loves 7 because this route covers so many hospitals, theatres, colleges and schools. Of all the routes I have driven, this is my favourite,” he declares.
“Gandhipuram Gandhipuram”...calls out Rajendran and blows his shrill whistle. The bus halts here for five minutes. “That is because most of our passengers get in here,” says Mani. Students carrying sling bags and a few flower sellers get in. The bus is now full. Mani, who was chatting with other bus drivers, jumps back into the bus.
We continue on the same road before the bus veers to the right to hit 100-ft road. Glittering showrooms selling electronic goods and clothes come into view and before we know it, we enter Cross Cut Road.
Mani now changes gears to ascend the zig zag Vadakovai bridge and climbs down to reach the Vadakovai bus stop. A few youngsters get down here. “All of them are headed towards Brookfields. On Sundays, especially, the bus is jam packed with people who visit the mall,” says Mani.
We turn right and advance towards DB road in R.S. Puram. At the Kennedy bus stop, the bus takes a turn and enters a narrow lane which takes us to the final stop, Gandhi Park. “Time for a tea break,” declares Mani as he stretches and yawns.
At Vel Raj Bakery, shop owner Velraj serves us a steaming cup of coffee. Mani and Rajendran drop in here at least four times a day to have their breakfast, lunch and tea.
“There are many coffee outlets such as these around the junction, most of which cater to Bus No. 7,” says Mani.
“Make it fast. Every six minutes, a 7 passes by. We might lose passengers if we tarry,” Rajendran tells the driver.
Post-tea break, the second leg of the journey begins. We wind into the dusty, musty lanes of Town Hall and drive past shops selling second-hand books and electronic items. A horde of school girls sporting pigtails climb in when we halt at Manikoondu. “We always get delayed here. With the place milling with students, there is almost always a jam here in the mornings.”
Magic of MGR
We whiz past the posters of MGR and Jayalalithaa as we cross Royal Theatre. Speeding past Periyaaspathri (GH), we touch Trichy Road. We pass Kannan Departmental Store and end up at the chaotic Sungam junction. From there, we head to the relatively less-crowded streets of Puliyakulam. Mani has to dodge goats that stroll across the roads.
There are huts on either side. Women with children on their laps squat on the road. Some of them chop vegetables. Multi-coloured plastic pots sit neatly in a line under a dry tap.
Soon, the arid lanes of Puliyakulam give way to lush green Red Fields. It is all very military as the Army, Navy and the Air Force are located here. “Thomas Park…Thomas Park”, cries out Rajendran as we enter Race Course.
My ride ends here. But, it is a fresh start for Mani and Rajendran. New people, new conversations and new stories…
Bus No. 7 rides on.