City Bus Ride

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Anything wrong happening anywhere in the world, the poor old bus in Delhi has to pay the price for it, partly at least.

Bent by age, crushed by heavy responsibilities, wounded in battles several times but mentioned in dispatches not even once, it goes on performing its  patriotic duty of carrying people from one place to another in a manner worthy of great heroes.

It goes off the roads only when it is compelled to do so by a bandh or curfew or some serious self-inflicted wound. If iy had been in America of Japan, it would have by now been dumped into the sea or crushed into powder.

In India, off and on it goes to its workshop – home for old people (they call them senior citizens now), where it is renovated. Rejuvenated and given a further lease of life. Once back on the road, it faces the same onslaughts – physical, psychological and biological. Be it Mandal or Ayodhya, Iraq or Israel, or students’

Boredom with their syudies, the bus must be stoned. And it must not grumble.

Think of the great causes it serves, apart from shortening distances for people who travel by it. It brings them together, be they from the North or the South, East or West. It promotes nations integration like nothing else does. It absorbs their indiscipline, their impatience, their anger, their antics. And in the process, it strengthens their faith in their own destiny and confidence in their ability to make it. And they do enter. If they fail to do so, they stand on the foot-boards or hang by railings at the rear-end.

My admiration is particularly great for that remarkable piece of ingenuity called the mini-bus. In appearance it is like a small hearse car but in performance it is like the large hearted throw away cigarette lighter which, unlike in other countries, we in India don’t like to throw away as soon as the gas in it has given us its last flame. We go on using it by getting it refilled with cooking gas or whatever it is. The boys who sell imported goods in the tire bazaars do it gladly at Rs 2 per piece.

I must confess that I do not have much experience of transport by bus, particularly by mini-bus on Jan. 31, 1991, for going from Tara Apartments to Kasturba Gandhi Marg. Ominously, it bore the No. 13. As I approached it, I found it full to the brim. But the conductor encouraged me to walk in. He also took in many more and asked us all to move ahead to make way for others.

There was no such thing as a “ahead”. Many passengers were standing in the narrow lane between the two rows of seats, all occupied. Moving ahead meant that we should sit on others’ shoulder. Still, at every stop the conductor took more passengers and repeated his “move ahead” slogan. The bus was intended for no more that 20 persons. Its capacity enlarged at every stop it touched. By the time it reached Khan Market, It had, I suspect, nearly 70. Throughout it moved fast and took sharp turns. At several points people fell one over another.

When the Kasturba Gandhi stop came, it became difficult for me to get out. The conductor was kind enough to ask other standing passengers to make way for me, which they did. As he himself also came out to take more passengers, I asked him, “is it the peak hour?”

“Nahin,Janab,” he chuckled , “it is the abadi hour. In our country al time is abadi time. If the people go on increasing like this, we shall soon have to build another storey on our poor little bus.”

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