Monday, January 02, 2006

The curious incident of a bus in the night-time...

What more could leave you unprepared? A long day sprinkled with the same scent of tired keystrokes and overstretched deadlines, of "Man, I have to go home" muttered between teeth and bloodshot eyes unable to look at the watch... and then the trip to the public transport stop. An equally weary bus pulls in and coughs out zombies chattering out of habit or the need to keep themselves moving. Can you guess the day? Was it a Wednesday, or a Tuesday? No, Fridays aren't any better because "Come on, you have the whole weekend to rest" keeps hissing at you from all corners of an office constructed to make us lose track of time and sunlight. So, can you guess the day?

Exactly, it could have been just any other day and the faces that surrounded me could have been anyone. Suddenly, one fails to notice the flavour of an orange blouse, or a smart pair of shoes, or well cut trousers, or the elegant watch, or a nifty backpack... In tiredom lies the greatest destruction of beauty, and this is achieved not by touching beautiful entities but by dulling the senses. When else could a wonderful plate of antipasto appear as bland as unseasoned boiled potatoes? When else could a lovely wife waiting at home all decorated to please the man of her life, appear a little more familiar than a bellboy? When else could even Yanni's Nightingale transform into a noisy blast of police whistles and tumbling china? Blame not the artist, my dear, for the heart has a cataract.

Such a bus I boarded one night, with little clue of what was to come. I preferred to stand, bridging aisle and roof and politely turned down all invitations to find me seated. Everything was plain and normal and the bus conductor droned his appeals to all passengers to procure a ticket. The Bus engine droned, the passengers droned, every passing vehicle droned, the sultry evening heat droned in my ears, sweat screeching down my neck and floor of the bus a mirage of a nice comfortable bed (minus the frills ;-).

We reached this "Y" junction and we were driving down one of the outstretched arms of this wailing "Y" and had to go along the other flailing arm. But the bus had other plans, plans which no one knew of. The bus turned less sharply than the driver intended to and wedged its tired self at the centroid. And then started one of the finest samples of human bonding (without a trace of sarcasm there ;-).

Other vehicles had lovingly lodged themselves close enough to our bus's rear. So close that they could... well, with due respect to the tender hearts I shall refrain. So there was no space to back up and no space to move forth. The bus seemed to rest its sweat irrigated brow on a dilapidated wall which held within its confines a garbage dump. Off went the conductor, valiant and hopeful. He disappeared behind the bus and were it not for the constant whistles, we would have considered him devoured by the bus behind ours. In the eerie orange against the frosted rear glass, we saw many waving hands, like in a shadow puppet and shrill voices blaming everyone under the sun, most of whom are ignorant of this incident. The passengers were ready to blame the driver and dispel this matter to the misfortune that dilettantes bring to trusting patrons.

"He should have turned as soon as the mirror crosses that line. It takes a lot of talent to handle this kind of turns. You know, way back in my village...."

I simply shook my head and smiled.
A few passengers got off to ask the oncoming traffic to be patient, and to the fractious few, they lashed out in the most colourful language that could paint a grey evening like this. The conductor and a few others managed to get the vehicles move back a few human feet. A more refreshed bus inched back a little, until a landslide of "Enough" rendered the air and woke up confused birds. They never thought morning came with an "Enough"!! :-)

The bus backed a little and then turned a little and backed a little and turned a little. When enough of this was done to make it impossible for the bus to rest his forehead on the wall, a few anorexic two-wheelers and Somalian cyclists slithered between the now parted pair of incidental friends. One of the passengers manned the exit door and barked instructions to a driver who was looking the other way. He waved out to other vehicles and instructed them to move to specific locations on the road. Let me call this man DQ (for reasons some might know). So DQ kept doing this and kept checking on whether the ladies in the bus were impressed. Then he looked at me, seeking approval (and since when did I become the high priest? :-o ). I smiled at him and he continued with renewed vigour and purpose. He stepped off the bus and kept smacking its sides as an indication to the driver that he can move in the direction he had started out (either back or forth). A few others whistled and cheered as the bus made its final turn into the tired arm of the "Y". Everyone on the road started clapping (believe me) and the guys who had gotten off jumped right back in. What a wonderful homecoming that was! The bus dug two fingers into his mouth and blew the horn loud. I am sure I caught that bird shaking its head and shutting the windows! ;-)

Our man DQ barked his final orders and leapt in and straightened his shirt and dhoti (a long piece of white cloth kilted by men in some parts of India). He walked in with a sense of pride and gave me half a nod which I quickly reciprocated. He asked me to sit down, and I smiled while declining the offer. The more debonair amongst the passengers ran with the bus and then got in after it had picked pace. They jumped in and wore valiant smiles and an old man even patted them on their back. I turned around to look at all the passengers in the bus, everyone was smiling from their latest adventure. Everyone was happily chatting away and shaking their head in disbelief of what had transpired over the past 15 minutes. After driving a few ten meters, the driver screamed into the rear-view mirror.

"Did the conductor board the bus?"

Everyone laughed and turned towards the rear. They were all rewarded with a very familiar and musical whistle. I turned to face the front of the bus and felt the warmth of many smiles push the sweat on my nape to recesses unknown. I turned my head towards a familiar conversation...

"...And that driver would swerve straight between those huge banyan trees which marked the end of my village. I tell you, those men are real drivers..."

4 comments:

  1. Nice work! It was very easy to imagine the situation that you paint and full credit to you for making it that easy. And cute picture of the bus there :)

    I digress but Happy New Year to you!

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  2. Give me a train anyday!

    The picture of the bus is indeed cute and jaunty!

    @Eroteme: Your post shows more your captivation for general human-life, which makes you see all through the rose-tinted glasses of humour and an indulgent smile, than any that might actually be in that life per se...

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  3. brought on a smile. a refreshing break from life's monotony. lovely!

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  4. Dear E,
    Thank you... As Stephen King said, what is writing but telepathy!

    Dear P,
    Thank you. :-)

    Dear B,
    Glad it did... :-)

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