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Longing for a jaunty bus ride

I saw a bus rumbling by the other day while returning home from work. The sight of something so innocuous, so reminiscent of the days before the lockdown came as a shock to me. I am not ashamed to say that I gaped. Even after reading about the resumption of bus services in the news, seeing an actual bus let my eyes widen as I watched the austere brown behemoth pass.

I noted with some disappointment that it did not have its usual leftward tilt. A characteristic of the rush hours of morning, when students and workers alike would be crammed on the stairs of the bus, forcing one side of the bus downwards. The stairwell is an interesting ecosystem, in my experience. We were always busy in there; either with books for last-minute studying or phones to distract from the day ahead. Amid this, people would cling onto each other, in a shared brotherhood as we tried to avoid falling off the bus. Ironic that we must cling to each other from a distance now.

There would always be one elderly statesman with a large sack of textiles or vegetables — the brotherhood of the stairwell was always gracious in making space for them. There were some cracks in their unity though, when they had to clamber down at each stop to allow people to get off and on. Words were exchanged, hands waved, the bus conductor usually charges an extra 50 for the extra weight. Off again before the idly watching traffic policeman makes his way here. It happens again the very next day.

The veterans are the people who would complete a long journey on the bus by just holding onto the window grilles on the sides with their teeth as well as hands. They can be seen with half their body swaying outside the bus. They would still have their earphones plugged in and Instagram open on their phones. I once saw a person performing the difficult task of sharing a video just as a lorry whizzed by, inches away. To whom? Someone important, I hope.

Then there’s me. I usually have my face pressed against the glass of the foldable doors of the stairwell. I’ve travelled a fair bit on the bus, but I lack the recklessness to hang out with the veterans. I also lack the courage to face my boss for being late after waiting for a less-crowded bus. You know, like a sensible person. Go figure.

I usually read the news while I’m on the stairwell. I don’t need my phone for it either. Every day, with great precision, posters carrying the front covers and top stories of magazines are plastered onto walls, bridges and the sides of other buses. Sometimes on the doors of the green toilets too. The news that really matters is covered by these magazines.

I once read that ‘Life is a train journey’ back when I was in school. You meet a lot of people and you get off at your stop. I reckon though, life is more like a bus journey. There are too many people in a hurry and too few seats. You do meet people, but the chances of a missed connection are quite high. As for getting off at your right stop, the rule of thumb is that if you haven’t wasted half-an-hour taking a bus in the opposite direction after overshooting your destination by at least three stops, you’re not doing it right.

Still, what I’d do for those days to have never been interrupted.

abinesh1995wri@gmail.com

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2020 4:14:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/longing-for-a-jaunty-bus-ride/article32760124.ece

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