A crush of sweaty and smelly riders, as the driver goes on his own trip

For those not fortunate enough to own a car or a motorcycle, getting into a bus, especially when it is at the end of the day’s work, is a daily test of one’s faith. Once you make it past the foot-board, you are carried in by a tidal wave. And once you are inside, it is a different story. People are basically sandwiched against each other. You don’t know if the one standing behind is being a pervert or just trying to breathe. Hope for the best.

It gets worse for women. Obviously. Prepare to be fondled every which way to Sunday. The midriff is often mistaken for hand-holds. Bare skin is misconstrued as a request for a free massage. Most women are proficient in the art of elbowing and karate chops. In time, you start envying women in burqas.

The bus drivers here have the ‘Schumacher Complex’. They were denied a rightful place in the Grand Prix, and they give vent to their anger on the road all the time. They have a strong sense of rights and wrongs. Sometimes he may feel a passing motorist has shown disrespect to him. And when he feels wronged, there is no stopping him. Literally. He will speed up, expecting the lowly cars and bikes to make way for him, the ‘air-horn’ leading the way. Once he catches up with the motorist, he will let loose a string of expletives that will leave you in silent contemplation of the many things the driver considers an insult. As a youngster, I learnt to swear in the regional language from the friendly neighbourhood driver. (In English, I learnt from Samuel L. Jackson.)

The typical bus driver is the master of suspense. You will have no clue about when the bus is going to halt. The naïve bus-virgins will assume a bus will slow down before it stops. What they don’t realise is that the laws of physics do not apply here. The bus stops when the bus stops. The driver has mastered the art of bringing the bus to an absolute standstill from a speed of 80 kmph, just like that. Of course, the law of inertia dictates that the passengers, who were travelling at a speed of 80 kmph until a milli-second ago, grab whatever scrap of the bus they can find, in order not to be thrown out through the windshield. A hundred hands lifting up in the air in desperate unison, means a hundred armpits make contact with the air, and the smell that emanates is… well… *sob*

And on those rare occasions when you manage to find a seat, prepare to be stared at, all meaning one thing — you are in my seat, jerk. Out-staring the starers is an art in itself. And the minute you lift your posterior even an inch, there are 10 others jostling to fill the space.

Once you are outside, smelling of armpits, pervaded by a quiet desperation, and breathing in the wonderfully polluted air without stepping on someone else’s toes, you can check pockets and bags to make sure everything is where it is supposed to be.

Having to travel in the bus, is the main reason why so many of the middle-class people in India are religious. I mean, if there is no God, the only thing standing between you and certain death is the bus driver, and that is not a reassuring thought.


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