My commute daily to work, earlier an hour long, now a little less, is a part of my day I wouldn’t trade anything with. Mostly I am cooped up with a book in the rickety/long-servicing bus, with hundreds of other travellers. i.e. if I reach on time and manage to get a seat. In the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, I have rarely seen such crowded buses; most people would be seated and traveling comfortably. The space for standing is also limited, with long three-person seats taking up the better part of the bus, a two-person seat opposite it and a narrow alley for the “conductor” to move on. I wonder why the ticket providers in buses are called “conductors”, is this some reference to the bus making its way through long snake like twisted routes, often resembling complicated sheets of music?!
Some part of my journey helps me reflect on the many blessings Kerala has, why it has earned the title of God’s own country. You can see the seasons change. In her paddy fields, raked with mud and water sloshing together, tiny green saplings taking root, to a growing green carpet gently swaying in the breeze, to the contrast of golden yellow and green as the harvest season emerges only to turn to a total yellow. The odd river and stream about to burst its borders during the monsoon, reduced to sand filled trickle and pockets of blue in hot summer. The peacock or two that suddenly decides to delight you by mere presence, beautiful green and blue plumage blending perfectly with the surrounding trees, a perfect camouflage that takes your breath away when you witness it, their regal perch on an isolated tree stump a glimpse into forest’s glory. Clear skies, an abundance of water, clean air, picturesque surroundings…
Within the bus, however, it could be chaos! From the people who came in a little later, the inevitable jostling for space and the territorial fight by the existing occupants can be pretty irritating ( or fascinating, to the curious observer). Kids with school bags three times their size and fare one fifth of an adult get in, ignoring the curt words and curses of the cleaner. Gatekeeping begins early in our life, with the cleaner shutting the bus door right in the kids’ faces, because they occupy space and don’t fetch as much fare. Still many get in, turning a deaf ear and blind eye to insults hurled at them. To the shorter ones whose hands are not long enough to reach the bars up, to hold, another daymare begins. Their fingers scrambling for a hold grab other passengers’ hands, iron bars on seats and the odd-iron rod in the front right of the bus, where the not-so-tall cling and pray before their destination. People can be especially rude to kids, forgetting that these are like their own, and pull up a bag to make their way out, only to dump it unceremoniously a few seconds later.
The cleaner having shouted full-throat now faces the unenviable task to demonstrating during the onward journey that there is space inside the bus for full fare-paying passengers to get in. So the push, shove, scold begins, only to conclude when the bus grudges to a stop outside the school. You may have eaten a sandwich but to truly get the concept, you need to be stuffed in the middle of a crowded line bus once in a while!
Those standing have their troubles, swaying to the sudden breaks and turns on snaking paths, particularly as the bus hurtles on at full speed. The alley seats are the worst for those seated. The seats appear to have been made typically around famine times, when people were stick thin and could squeeze into the space barely enough for two. If you have ( or are!) slightly on the heavier side, you get burning looks from your now skinny seat mate who glowers at you for eating so much and now taking up so much of space, so now you are squiggling into your seat. The people on the other side deliberately mistake your arms for the chairs’ arm rest and lean on you for dear life. Slowly your body seems to take the shape of the seat, adapting your contours to its steel frame. If you happen to be one of the kinder understanding souls, you will also get requests of “could you please hold this bag” that literally leaves you locked left, right and front. Bless the lord if you can come up for air.
In the middle of this there will be that one traveller who has not yet got over her motion sickness and you can hear the barely-veiled threat- I am going to throw up, give me a seat…!
But still, these bus rides are a break.. a time to savour the beauty of the seasons as they change around me and to appreciate nature at its fullest….