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Monday, December 7, 2009

Mute Commute: Part 2

(To refresh your memory, this is my account of my journey to and from office - I love saying that word - everyday for 2 months this summer, in Bangalore)


And so I jump off the local bus, glad to be rid of all those stares, ready to embrace new ones. What is it with Indians and staring? I love staring back. Staring right into their eyes and then walking slowly towards them. But no, today will be a happy day, I've decided, so I will not start off on a sour note.

Kundahalli Gate bus stop is writhing like an anaconda around me. The air wants to leave this place - the noise and driving scare it away. There is no air left, only fumes and dust and busses. Busses of all shapes and sizes. It's nice to see who gets on which busses and how.

The shoe-less, scruffy haired villagers, heaving gunny bags full of vegetables climb aboard a bus named Super Deluxe A/C Volvo DVD Stereo Sleeper Deluxe Manju. The cleaner - a unique role in India, for he is the conductor, announcer and peace keeper - hangs off the side of the bus, tries to catch your eye unleashes his opera. He sings of far off bus stops and fair maidens. His song is enticing, his eyes beckon. A few weary men are charmed by his tale and reluctantly climb aboard - they've got places to be, I guess.

Off to my left, a drunk, slumped next to the corrugated iron door of the local bar, throws up over himself. People like this deserve to sleep with the dogs. The dog gets up and leaves.

The ladies and school kids and more civil folk take a local BMTC bus, like the one I've just gotten off. Ladies and school kids climb tenderly through the forward opening, the men grab whatever they can and swing themselves up onto the rear entrance platform, cramming the previous guy in, making space for the next. The system works, God knows how.

There is a French girl at this bus stop, whom I notice now. She is too pretty to be from anywhere else and too correctly dressed. What on earth is she doing here? Maybe she's Canad - oho, no time now, the Waalwo Buss-u is here.

I love seeing the red ticker tape destination lights of the Volvo bus as is slaloms its way past the sick, weak and newborns in the herd. It moves with the grace of a ballet dancer and accelerates like a swimmer. Each gear, a stroke; each stroke, a length ahead of everyone else. We proudly hail it. We, of course, being the ones in clean shirts and formal shoes and iPods and ties. Well not me, specifically, I am merely the commentator. I wear jeans and smile at the audacity of my words. Who am I to judge anyone? Whatever. My bus is here.

The conductor knows me now. He knows my thick, extravagant Panasonic headphones and lack of Kannada. There is no need for words between us - he knows where I'm going, I know what he's thinking. I pay the fare and lower the volume of my music, because I'm out of the outside, I'm inside where all is quiet and orderly.

Relief. My place is vacant. I get on quite early in the route. I know all those who get on after me and wonder where those get on before, live. There is a story for everyone, a story in my head that satisfies the way they look and talk and move and live. My seat is at the back, where the A/C is weak enough to be comfortable and there is more leg room. This is territory to be claimed and defended.

And so we hurtle along, insulated against the outside. Plasma screens display things no one pays attention to - I think they're there just to show you what you're paying for and who you are in society. I've seen entire families who take Volvo bus rides just for that luxurious feeling. The joy on the child's face as Tom and Jerry (yes, you read right) flashes across the flat screen TVs, the look of anxiety on the mother's face as she hopes her saaree is respected and of course the pride that radiates from the father. Today he will ride the Volvo Bus and he will enjoy the A/C and the driver's rear view camera-fed LCD screen and all the rest that comes with this shining beacon of status....its such a curious sight.

Out the window, I see a cleaning lady wearing one of those hilariously over-sized city-council jackets, cleaning the road side. She is cleansing the pavement of dust. But is she really? No. She is simply moving the dust from its current location to a pile on the corner, that will be blown away, probably back into its original place, by the time she gets back with the next pile. How do you remove dust? You can pack it tightly together and put it in a bucket but wherever you drop it, it will still be dust. It won't go away. And if you leave it unattended for long enough and there will be rain and the dust will become mud, worse yet. How do you expect normal people to fight such a foe?

All India does is move dust. There is no solution, only elaborate delay.