This is the story of long distance commuting. The good news is the story is sometimes cheerful. There are people who have found a better way of travelling long — with friendship, food, laughter and music. PRINCE FREDERICK tracks down two groups of chirpy long-distance commuters.
SINGING ON THE MOVE
Diwakar jostles his way to the row of seats at one end of the train compartment (third from the last) where a 10-member group is singing gustily. These singers travel every morning by the Pallavaram Return Special (PRS), a rush hour service between Pallavaram and Chennai Beach. Diwakar, who lives in the St. Thomas Mount area prefers the PRS to other trains for this assured treat of music. It does not matter that this compartment is invariably jam-packed and he has to stand through the entire journey.
These singers, headed for their offices, are treated like stars. Seats in this section are reserved for them and, when the group is in full attendance, the ‘audience' vacates its seats for them. Middle-aged and above, these singers are respected as much for their choice of songs as for their ability to carry a tune.
“No kuthu songs,” says Raghavan . Kamalapriya explains the group chooses only ‘decent' film songs — mostly in Tamil and Hindi. There is also a fair sprinkling of devotional and Carnatic songs, for most of these crooners are trained in Carnatic music. The lone instrumentalist, Harishankar, skilled in mridangam and tabla, sits by the window and drums on the metal wall.
Over the last 20 years, this group has had singers who have wowed audiences on the professional stage. One is Murali, who interestingly caught the attention of an organiser of music tours during a routine performance on this train and was invited to perform abroad.
In these decades, the group has bid farewell to many. With new people eager to join the group, the show goes on.
ROUTE TO FRIENDSHIP
There is tremendous warmth in the air-conditioned Volvo bus plying on the A51 route (Broadway to East Tambaram via Velachery). Despite vacant seats, a few passengers lean on driver's cabin and carry on an animated chat with conductor Stalin. While walking up and down the aisle to issue tickets, Stalin stops frequently for a friendly banter. The passengers also start conversations with one another without any uneasy preliminaries.
These men and women, numbering around 20, are regulars on this air-conditioned bus, operated twice a day (from Tambaram in the morning and from Broadway in the evening) and have struck friendships. V.S.N. Murthy, a doctor of alternative medicine who runs a pharmacy in Park Town, is 76 and boards the bus at Velachery. “The bus plies during peak hours both ways and my friends will ensure that I get to travel seated,” he says.
D. Kannappan, employed in a firm on Mount Road, says: “There are those who hire an auto to catch the bus, if they had missed it at the stop where they usually board it.”
“We take turn to sponsor snacks,” says Murthy. “Food is ordered in advance at a hotel on the route and delivered when the bus reaches the spot.”
As a businessman, Sridhar understands the value of good leads and advice and he has seen both being given unselfishly on this bus.
“Lawyers, doctors and other professionals travel by this bus. Whenever we need the expertise of any of them, we can turn to them for guidance without being turned down,” says Kannappan. Drivers and conductors who operate these services know what it means to have the familiar barrier between commuters and bus operators pulled down. “When a driver was injured in a bike accident, I called a railway doctor who travels by this bus. He asked the driver to be brought to him immediately, and he administered first-aid and guided the rest of the treatment,” narrates Stalin. “Being around these passengers is like being around my family.”