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A town bus trip down memory lane…

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A father and his sons take a nostalgia-ridden route on a Sunday morning, invoking many happy memories

Town bus services in Tamil Nadu, as in many other parts of the country, are invariably crowded and jam-packed, so much so that the commuter would often feel drained by the time he or she reaches the destination. So, naturally I was very surprised when my two sons (7 and 5 years old) wished to take a journey in the town bus, on a bright Sunday morning.

But in an effort to compromise for the “missed” previous weekends as I was travelling abroad, I agreed and took them to the nearest bus stop in our car. It was a bit odd to travel in a sedan to the bus stop and then wait for the bus, but the kids seemed to enjoy the wait. They were looking curiously at the bystanders, the relaxing cattle, chattering chaiwallas and the busy morning walkers.

Soon a bus came and my elder son asked whether it was the bus we are waiting for. I too didn’t have a clue till then about our destination, but I just nodded my head and showed them the way into the bus. It wasn’t crowded and we managed to get a seat near the front of the bus close to the driver. As we were boarding, the conductor whistled and the bus started with a sudden thud, probably caused by a jammed clutch box. I could see the excitement in my kids’ faces at the prospect of travelling with so many co-travellers in a non-air conditioned ‘new’ machine.

The interior architecture of the bus appeared ghastly — dusty dashboard with many non-functional switches and meters, an old, curving gear rod, a big and ragged steering wheel well-manoeuvred by the driver, and a broken front window glass pane. But these were all a treat for the kids, who obviously believed they were travelling in a “Mad Max”-type vehicle.

Contrary to my expectations, they seemed to enjoy the ride looking at the new exciting features available inside the vehicle and also the scenery visible from the window seat. An old lady sitting near the gear box with a basket full of peanuts, a middle-aged man sleeping on the last seat, two women continuously chattering to each other oblivious to the fact that they were in a public vehicle, and a group of drums-men gearing up for a marriage party, were clearly too exciting to gaze at for the kids. But my parental instincts were constantly looking for potential dangers inside the bus as I saw sharp window panes, broken seats and dangling wooden floors through which I could even see the road. As the gentle December breeze waved through my hair, I slowly drifted into memories of my own school days.

Twenty five years ago, when we were in Madurai, I used to travel in the town bus daily to school, situated about 5 km away. With both my parents working, I used to get ready for the school myself, and with the back-pack and a lunch bag in hand I had to walk briskly for a kilometre to reach the bus stop every day by 8 a.m. Regular commuters in the bus stop and the bus become familiar faces, and many a time their absence would be felt more than their presence.

The joy of seeing my friends who either would have boarded in a previous stop or would be boarding later, was as immense. So was getting a rare seat. But all these pleasures were limited only to the buses that came around the magical point of 8 a.m. Any delay in getting ready for school at home meant I could board a bus only after 8-10 a.m., which were, for some unknown reason, obnoxiously crowded. With my back-pack and lunch box, squeezing through the crowd and getting out at the right stop was always an uphill task. Often other passengers would scold us for carrying such big bags, unmindful of our plight. A stop missed to alight would mean I would have to walk another kilometre to reach the school on time. The return journey also used to be equally turbulent but the prospect of getting back home kept my spirits high.

These adventures continued for almost six years till I completed my schooling, though during the later days of schooling, I had become a veteran in the art of travelling in a town bus.

To be truthful, in the early days I had accepted town bus travel as part of growing up. But as I matured I would wonder when the town bus turmoil would end for me. The sight of other children travelling in a school van or an autorickshaw or being dropped in school by their parent, would drop a sad veil on my face. Finally, my tryst with town buses ended one day when I entered post-graduation: at that point I got a motor bike presented by my dad. It was a moment of victory as I said good bye to my travails in the bus.

“Sir, ticket”, the voice of the bus conductor brought me back to the present. We travelled to the destination the bus was bound to and waited in the same bus to take the trip back home. As we got into the car my younger son said, thank you, appa. I smiled: it was an irony that a thing I wanted to sever my ties with, had actually given them so much happiness. It was also a paradox that the town bus that I had come to hate had brought me sweet memories of my school days.

The same trip in our car would not have been exciting for the kids. As I was enjoying the smile in my sons’ faces, I too felt a triumphant, feeling in my heart that I had conquered the “town bus”.

Even today, once in a while, even if my sons forget, I would ask them, “How about a town bus trip”, with a wink.

rishiortho2003@yahoo.co.in

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 10:29:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-town-bus-trip-down-memory-lane/article21381800.ece

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