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The extra mile

Retro bus parked in meadow on a background of the blue sky.

Retro bus parked in meadow on a background of the blue sky.

In the 1980s, when government bus service started in the somewhat interior region of Baiswara, the town near my village got better connected with the district headquarters. One fine day, an elderly man (Baba) from near my village was returning from Unnao city to his village. He was eager to board the new bus. The travelling time was reduced considerably, besides it offered comfort and convenience.

When the bus arrived, Baba boarded it with delight and the journey started. When the conductor came for the ticket, he asked Baba about his destination. Baba told the name of his village. So, the conductor demanded one rupee as fare. But, Baba was an aware citizen of his time. So, he enquired what is the fare for the next stops and the previous ones. To his enlightenment, he came to know that the fare for Bhagwant Nagar (nearest town) was also the same. Bhagwant Nagar was a few kilometres from his village, after which the fares increased.

Now the enlightened Baba exclaimed, “Do you think I am a fool? If one rupee is the fare for Bhagwant Nagar, why should I leave before?” The confused conductor asked, “But your village comes before Bhagwant Nagar, right?” Baba declared, “That does not matter. I will fully appropriate my fare charges and then only de-board the bus. Give me the ticket for Bhagwant Nagar.” “As you wish,” the conductor gave him the ticket for Bhagwant Nagar.

When the bus arrived at Bhagwant Nagar, Baba has to finally bid adieu to his bus. But, he alighted with a sense of pride, as he was satisfied that he had fully appropriated the fare charges. After walking for a few kilometres, he reached his village and met his fellows. He was excited to tell them about the journey, and even more excited to elaborate on how he outwitted the conductor.

With great pride, Baba used to tell, “The conductor tried to fool me, but I outsmarted him flat!” The story crossed the borders of his village and reached our village as well. It became a matter of discussion whether what he did was actually a smart act or not, and what others are supposed to do in such situations. People used to give their “opinions” on this matter in various gatherings. They probably did not know about the ecological footprint then. Fare and comfort were the only parameters to judge the actions of Baba!

Today, it is hard to imagine what Baba would have done while travelling in the Metros, where the fare is the same for many stations. Moreover, it is not easy to come back walking! New technologies, platforms, or services always come with some humorous stories, which make embracing them more convenient. The “ice-breaking” required is done by a few legends from among us. Later on, these stories become sweet memories.

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Printable version | May 13, 2022 5:50:49 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-extra-mile/article38273606.ece