The Vytilla Mobility Hub connects the bus routes that criss-cross the city and State. Among the hustle and bustle of journeys Sooraj Rajmohan finds it to be a pleasant stop for the weary traveller

The gurgling rumble of a diesel engine turning over is one of the first sounds to greet visitors at the Vytilla Mobility Hub in the wee hours of the morning. Sunlight valiantly attempts to shine through the many shades of grey smeared across the sky, as a few people mill about the 13 platforms that make up the crescent shaped terminal where hundreds of buses halt for a brief respite on their long journeys traversing the State.

The fancifully decorated private buses that connect Ernakulam to the smaller towns in outlying districts line the idle bay, providing a multicoloured tapestry to offset the gloom of the rainy day. Solitary travellers slowly walk the length of the platform, making a beeline for the refreshment stalls located on either side of the restaurant in the hub; which is slowly waking up to the demands of the day.

The first buses pull up and idle footsteps speed up, rushing to find the first seats and settle in for their journeys. More engines fire up and let out long roars of defiance against the residual chill of the night, and travellers in small groups exchange small talk. The first private buses trundle out of the hub, and the first of the ubiquitous red city buses rush in, bringing more people to frequent the sprawling environs.

Security guards change shifts, crowds slowly swell and more conversations break out. The frequency of the large inter-district transport buses, the ‘Super Fast’ and ‘Super Express’ buses, nostalgic reminders of childhoods in Kerala, increases as the light slowly improves. Feeble shafts of sunlight illuminate the curved rails atop each platform on the terminal, and private buses, city buses and transport vehicles begin their daily routine in earnest, each one bringing a deluge of passengers to the terminal and picking up still more. The refreshment stalls do brisk business, steaming hot tea and freshly made puffs and samosas warming up long distance travellers as smartly dressed office goers grab quick breakfasts at the restaurant and browse newspapers and magazines at the newsstand.

The far end of the terminal devoted to local buses is the source of most noise, with cries of ‘South, Jetty, Menaka!’ being repeated with practised emotion.

The middle of the day is accompanied by a light rain, and the people ambling about the terminal wear a more relaxed look. ‘Chachi’, ‘Sharanya’, ‘Blue Star’ and ‘Evergreen Rose’ set about their journeys as office-goers are replaced by college students taking a lazy afternoon off. Travellers awaiting buses to Thiruvanthapauram and Thrissur enjoy a quiet moment on the rows of silver chairs and take a moment to call their loved ones and observe the peaceful backwaters behind the terminal as they wait.

The reduced rush reveals the security guards and cleaning crew going about their jobs, occasionally stopping to guide lost travellers to platforms or restrooms. The sudden quiet allows the private bus ‘kilis’ their moment in the spotlight, as they rival their local counterparts, announcing their destinations loudly from the platform and pointing interested passengers to their vehicles. The office of the station master bustles with frantic activity, as transport ticket collectors rush in to mark timings while their drivers enjoy a hot cup of tea.

The gloomy day seems unchanged as the transition to evening takes place, the change instead being reflected by the building rush on the platforms. Office workers make a return and bustle onto platforms, jostling and elbowing to get into the transport buses that can take them to their faraway homes. For the first time the steady metronome of the rumbling behemoths is disturbed, with the crowds causing them to pull out slowly, stopping and restarting, as sheer numbers overwhelm and occasional shouts of displeasure make themselves heard.

It is only when the stillness of night overcomes the greyness that permeated the day that the terminal returns to normal. Lights illuminate the platforms, a welcome oasis in the middle of the darkness of the bus bays in front and the waters behind. The lights of the buses coming out of the darkness are fewer in number now, even as the last of the red city buses departs and the final private vehicle slots into its position for the night, the engine trundling to a weary stop and the lights switching off, leaving a moment’s afterglow. The occasional traveller lies sprawled on the seats, awaiting a late ride, with the security guards still maintaining their vigil. The day has ended, but travels do not. The vehicles keep coming, and the Hub never sleeps.