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The bus experience

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See the sights, talk to co-passengers, assert your rights — and save some money

I had never had the pleasure of travelling in a public transport bus, till one day, as I came out of our gate, I saw an air-conditioned bus waiting across the road at the bus stop. It was the month of June, unbearably hot and dry. But the doors of the bus were closed with the air-conditioning on, and both driver and conductor were relaxing inside. What was shocking was that all the passengers waiting to board the bus were standing outside, roasting in the blistering heat. I somehow just couldn't bear to see their plight. The activist in me forced me to cross the road and ask them why they were also not inside, in the air-conditioned comfort. They just shrugged helplessly and said the driver was not opening the door.

So I went and knocked on his window. "Why are you not letting all those people waiting outside also get in?" He raised his index finger and said, "The bus will go at one o’clock." 

"That is fine, but you can at least let the waiting passengers also sit inside; the air-conditioning is on anyway. Otherwise don’t waste the diesel, both of you also come out and switch off the air-conditioner. 

But he just ignored me, till I urged everyone to also insist. At last, with the help of the traffic constable at the crossing nearby, we all managed to get in. 

So I decided I will also try ‘bus-ing’ it, if only for the experience. I tried it the next day. It was such a pleasant surprise when I realised that it cost just Rs.10 for me to reach the destination in comfort, right up to the gate of my brother's house. I could look out and admire the greenery or read a book with no worry about traffic jams or unruly two-wheeler drivers which hassles one so much when one is driving oneself. 

As I took to travelling by bus more often, I had some interesting experiences. One day a boy got in from the entrance at the back and walked to the front of the bus. The conductor shouted at him, "Buy the ticket." 

"What’s the hurry?" asked the boy, "I have far to go, I’ll buy it". So the conductor started attending to other passengers. He called out again after a while, but the boy had the same reply. 

At last, when his destination came and he was about to get down, the conductor reached him. 

"OK," said the boy. He put his hand in his pocket, took out a fist full of tickets and dumped them all in the out-stretched hand of the conductor. "Here," he said, "find yours!", and got down. Seeing this and the conductor's confused face, the whole bus started laughing, while the boy walked away.  

Then the pattern changed. Now the conductor sits comfortably on a seat with his back to the entrance door, while the passengers alight. He doesn't even look back to see if all have boarded. There is no getting up and going to the passengers to issue tickets. Lots of them get off without one. If some honest ones want to buy a ticket, they either have to get up and walk back to him, or more likely, pass the money from person to person till it reaches the conductor, and then your ticket travels back to you the same way, along with the change. 

One day a lady right near the exit door, about to get down, kept requesting the conductor to come and give her the ticket, but he kept ignoring her. She did not want to go without a ticket: what if there was a ticket checker who caught her as she got down? Seeing her plight, I told her, "Get down, it’s not your fault, we are all witness to that, we will support you." 

Just then an elderly lady firmly yelled at the conductor, "Can’t you hear her? Come this very moment and give her the ticket." It worked, and the conductor came rushing and gave her the ticket. The whole bus was now looking at the old lady. 

"Come on," I urged, "let’s clap for her!" 

We should all learn to ask for and insist on getting what is our right. 

Bus travel in the city has indeed become a fun activity for me. There are always youngsters sitting on the ‘senior citizen’ seats; and young, sturdy fellows sitting on seats reserved for the handicapped. Then there are hefty men occupying seats earmarked for women. The trick is to look at the notice written in bright red above the assigned seat, look the fellow occupying the wrong seat in the eye and smile. Mostly, it works. 

I meet young girls going to college, women travelling to their jobs, or with their friends, or for shopping. Sitting next to each other one often gets chatting. When it is time to get down, there is always a smile, "Bye, it was nice meeting you."  

So bus travel has become an interesting interlude and a fun activity. If you don’t strike up a conversation, you can always lean back and relax. 

Try it. It will decrease pollution, traffic jams, over-crowding of roads and of course save money. But for some, that may be the least important benefit, in comparison to the other advantages.  

ranidevasar@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 10:01:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-bus-experience/article19699437.ece

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