One of the best (and worst, depending on whether you are a pessimist) things about Bangalore is the BMTC bus facility. Even in these times when the Metro trains have arrived in great splendor, for most of us, the blue or red buses on the roads are the only way to get around the city. The adventures of a bus commuter could make for a great novel which can definitely be converted into a movie that could easily find its place in the hundred-crore club, as is the case with most releases nowadays.
So, moving on to scene one. The first bus ride. To spice things up a little bit, the protagonist is a non-Kannadiga. Feel free to imagine yourself as the hero or the heroine here. You step into the bus and bam! The driver accelerates away before you even make your way inside. As a first-timer, if you manage to find a seat (oh, you lucky commuter!), the wait begins for the conductor to take notice of you. She/he finally sees you after pushing everyone who stands in the way aside and you offer her/him a perfectly crisp hundred rupee note for a destination that is just a few stops away. God bless you when you face the wrath of the conductor who shouts at you in chaste Kannada for having insulted them by not carrying proper change (good thing you don’t understand a word they are saying!). Some of the buses even have displays inside them constantly reminding you to do whatever it takes and carry the correct amount for the ticket. Anyway, you finally reach your stop and rush outside, copying the mannerisms of the fellow passengers and escape the wrath of the impatient driver who seems to think that his talents are being questioned by constantly having to apply the brakes. Of course, that is the reason why he tries to showcase his skills by stopping the bus a few metres away from the actual bus stop! When you laugh at the people who run towards the bus (more like a rat race) like their lives depend on it, little do you know that there will come a day in the very near future where you will be in their position (karma, you see).
The story proceeds with days when you feel less inclined to visit the leaning tower of Pisa because you know the pain of hanging on to the bus doors with a million people helping you to accomplish what can be aptly called as the leaning bus of Bangalore. The conductor does her/his best to dissuade you from being such a dare-devil but the only reply you can give between trying not to lose your grip and balancing the weight of whoever thought it would be fun to grab your neck for support, is a grunt. And then comes the day where you finally manage to get a half-empty bus because come on, a completely empty bus in Bangalore is a dream that will never come true (you do know that you live in India and that people are everywhere, right?) and you jump into your favourite seat (that’s right, favourite seats are a thing) with help from the brake-loving driver and smile (good lord!) at the conductor when you ask for a ticket. But she/he smiles back at you and hands you some money instead of the ticket (wink wink!) and you gulp down that feeling similar to what corrupt politicians feel when they accept bribes for the first time.
After you settle down and plug your earphones in and the conductor acts all innocent and doesn’t even bother to give you a second look, the villain appears in the form of a checker! You have seen bad things happen to other passengers when they conveniently forget their bus passes at home and have to face the most furious wrath of all, the wrath of the checker, by being fined and chided and being cursed at by the conductor whose salary for the day would be taken away and now, it was your turn to cry. But the conductor turns into a savior at the last minute and thrusts a ticket into your hands before the checker manages to come over to you and when your heart rate comes back to normal and the conductor heaves a sigh of relief, you hand him the money that could have taken you straight to hell.
To add some masala into the story, fights come in handy. They are mostly verbal disagreements that break out between the conductor/driver and the passengers which are quite entertaining and leaves you with more Kannada words in your vocabulary. Rains are useful in romantic sequences and a ride in a BMTC bus when it is raining is as good as staying outside and letting the water drip all over you from unknown directions along with a bunch of strangers (they could be co-dancers in the brake-dance choreographed by the driver). And the beauty of it is that even if you manage to get inside a bus that does not leak, you will not remain dry for long as the people who will get inside along the way have umbrellas that will take care of you. Adding to your misery are the muddy sandals, shoes and flip-flops. God forbid if a “healthy” aunty were to step on your oh-so-very-delicate foot!
Even with all the assault you face from fellow passengers who lean against you like you are made of rock, beat you in the race towards an empty seat or hand you bags that probably carry heavy machinery, you can still see Indian values all around when seats are willingly offered to the elderly or women with children and men leave the ladies’ seats vacant without having to remind them to do so and when the conductor/driver (because they are not all that bad) try to be more patient with the disabled and stand up for them which makes your sufferings worth it.
So, instead of complaining about how the doors won’t shut or the windows don’t open, you smile at the people you see on the bus every day and let the aunty seated behind you play her devotional song aloud without scowling at her or the baby that won’t stop crying and let the breeze mess up your hair before the credits roll in.
Swetha Sadanand (Med. Electronics, 3rd year)
Illustration by D. Keshav Karanth (Information Science and Engineering)