I rode public transportation since I was 10 years old. The bus numbers were 52B, 18A, 18B and 18G. These buses took me from home to school and back.

India use to be a populated country even when I was 10 years old. In order to avoid more people getting on the over loaded bus the driver would stop a few hundred feet away from my bus stop. That is when I first learnt how to run with my backpack and lunch bag…. all the while yelling at my sister to follow me hastily. I would fall, get up and run again to catch the bus to get to school. I would hop on the foot board of the bus before the driver took off and turn around to ensure my sister had made it. Many times, despite my running, the driver would take off and leave me and my sister stranded at the bus stop.

Over time I learnt to become friends with the passengers, bus drivers and conductors.

In my hometown, you didn’t call the driver as Mr. Driver or the conductor as Mr. Conductor. You didn’t call them by their first name either.. You called them Annen (colloquial usage of word Anna which means Big Brother).

I would say to the conductor (who was typically in the back of the bus and could possibly see me running to catch the bus) – “Annen… please Annen. Don’t take off the bus without picking me up. If I go late to school, teachers are giving me a difficult time. Tell the Driver Annen to pause for just a tad bit more until my sister and I get on the bus. Please Annen.”

Guess what happens when you ask?
That is right.
When you ask, you are given.

For the next several years, the bus conductors and drives would pause the bus to pick up my sister and me. The passengers would give us a helping hand to get into the bus. Over the years, the regular passengers got to know me well. So, if they saw me running and the foot board of the bus was already crowded, they would make away for me. They would also yell to the people (who were not regular commuters) standing on the foot board – “Yenga area ponnu varuthu ya. Othu. Othu. Othu. Vazhi odu. Seekarma.” (Which meant: Yo. Our area girl is coming. Move. Move. Move. Make away. Fast.)

As I grew up, I realized that the person who sold flowers near the Temple was “Poovikara Akka” (the elder sister selling flowers).

The youngster in the grocery store was “Maligakadai Thambi” (the younger brother helper in the grocery store).

The priest in the temple was “Mama” (the Uncle in the temple).

The old man selling coconuts on the corner of the street was “Elani Thatha” (Grandpa who sells coconuts).

The old lady who sold milk was “Pallu Patti” (Grandma who sells milk).

All those people, in different socioeconomic backgrounds, and not related to me by blood.. were related to me in the giant maze of my hometown. If you treated them well, they appreciated it and reciprocated with niceness.

That is what I learnt in my hometown. To treat everybody fairly and nicely…as if they were related to me…as my very own family.

Well, that, and how to run fast, land my foot (without falling or faltering) on the foot board of a moving bus that paused for me to get on and get to my destination.

Originally published at ambalbalakrishnan.com