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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hail to the Bus Driver

(Disclaimer: mild Star Wars references imminent. If you haven't seen all 6 movies, you may want to rethink your life)

Most things worth writing about in my life, involve a bus ride. I'd taken plenty of over-night busses in India and this journey - though much more lively and colourful than previous ones - was largely similar. I boarded the bus at Tatooine, after finding out that those were not in fact the droids I was looking for. Did I say Tatooine? I meant Madiwalla bus stand, in Bangalore.

It was as dusty and hot and grumpy and yet excitable as always. Hundreds of people braved the dust-storms that ravaged Jabba's home planet, all of them standing in circles around their luggage and sizing up those around them. The city lights kept the night at arm's length: for an 8pm sky, it was a strange sort of purple. I am a different kind of tourist to most at this bus stand. Ganesh Tours and Paolo Travels and Seabird Tours are not used to backpack'd 19 years wearing, God-forbid, shorts. Most of my species have flown south for winter - but where is the fun in flying to Goa? Nothing like an overnight ride to really think about stuff.

I boarded and found my seat next to Bindu. I said hi and like that, I was friends with a Mallu. Your picture-book Malayali specimen. She used the phrase 'trust me' (or "trawst me" as she said it) in every sentence. The only thing missing was Parachute Advance. I loved her because she was New India. A sincere, hard working person from the interiors who’d slogged her way to the big city life. She represented everything I admire about the changes taking place in my country. She wasn’t posh, she wasn’t the silly foreign educated Tinkerbell I’d come to know so well. She didn’t drink or smoke and she was going to Goa for a reunion just like me. She worked for an IT company – surprise, surprise. She was 25 but treated me as an equal. She talked of her town, of her country life and - let's be honest - was absolutely blown away by my charm, as all women are. That being said, we were but fellow passengers on this piece of insulation.

A bus is vessel of insulation. You lay there, air conditioned, squinting at a far away plasma TV (yet listening to your own music), totally cut off from the moon-lit mysteries hurtling by outside. A stray tube-light here or there offers a slight insight into the happenings at this time of peace. I love the country side anyway, but at night, at 60 kilometres an hour, the vast fields and dirt tracks and quiet dogs and dead trucks move me. I love the silence outside, the silence I don't need to hear to know of.

Grumpy middle-aged Indian men shot contemptuous looks those chattering away inside the bus, through half opened eyes as they tried to sleep. Only about half the bus was Indian, the rest were international tourists. The atmosphere was wonderful. Everyone was sharing their experiences about India. There was a guy from Canada, Pierre, who was the cheeriest of the bunch. He made his way over to each and every person who was awake (this bus left Bangalore's last stop at midnight). He was a delightful character; as non-threatening as a guy with tattoo-drenched arms can be. There was a family from England: a father and his two daughters. There was a couple from Brazil. I felt proud that they'd come to see my country. It was a nice feeling. I recommend it, whenever you meet any tourists in your country.

There were was also a group of teenagers like myself, sat in the seats directly across the aisle. They didn't look very friendly though, which to be fair, goes without saying. We, of course, went through standard protocol for when "you're stuck somewhere with other people your age who you don't know". It's standard operating procedure and can be found in chapter twelve of the Hitchhiker's Guide to Teenagers. I'll summarise: look cool. Make sure you don't look bored - listen to music or light a cigarette and look mysteriously off into the distance, pretend to be texting someone and please, whatever you do, don't smile! When your gaze does meet one of the Others', hide any interest you may have and make sure you don't chicken out and look away instantly - maintain eye contact for a second before looking away as if you don't care. Do this until they or you leave. I'm not quite sure what it means to look cool for this time period, but if you do, you win... something.

The next morning I awoke to foggy hills and Avatar (Avathaar, actually) dubbed in Hindi, blaring in the speaker system. It was different to watching it in the cinema, where the crowds cheered and whistled. Still quite fun though. The foreigners' faces were fun to observe. Poor things - some of them hadn't even seen Avatar in English.

We stopped at in the wee hours of the morning at a road-side 'dhaba' for breakfast. Relieved smokers and pee-ers alike jumped off the bus like X-wings out the bowels of a doomed Death Star. Ha! What if there was a dude who needed to smoke as badly as he needed to pee? Which would take priority? As a guy I can safely say that taking a slash after a long time is categorically the best feeling in the world - even better than that feeling. I love dhabas because of the fantastic cross-section of society they provide. You have every kind of person here, because the tea costs Rs 2 and because everyone needs tea. In India, things take a long time, so you need a break. Movies have intervals and bus rides have dhabas.

Bindu is talking about something but I'm not listening, I'm placing people. Apart from us Volvo bus folk, there was the standard group of 6 local-college-attending guys with dreams of alcohol and maybe even sex. They were from an engineering college in a satellite town and were clearly heading to Indibiza for New Years Eve like me. There was the noisy village family, complete with one of those tiny grandmothers who looks like she's about to collapse under the weight of her skin and of course the screaming baby. They'd come on the local, inter-state bus that had holes in the side and the suspension of a late-model shopping trolley. I don't know where they were from or where they were going to, but I knew that made up most of the population. It was not a fact I wanted to think about too much. I saw a trio of IT workers. They were wearing jeans with cross-trainers - that's how I knew who they were. Jeans and cross trainers, I'm telling ya. There were two French guys in khaki shorts, still half asleep and who could blame them? It was 6:30am! Grudgingly they took in the sunrise with the SLR's hanging from their necks. I knew where they were going: the same place as me. There were quite a few couples, affluent types. They wore nice flip-flops and had their sunglasses out. I fucking hate couples.

12 hours after leaving the sand people of Tatooine, after starry skies and paddy fields, after misty mountain mornings and a shot of chai, I felt the force of the seaside heat flow through me. That was a Jedi night.

1 comment:

Supernova said...

Love the way you detail everyday life...being able to do that without losing the reader's attention is a gift...reminds me (in a what is surely a bizarre juxtaposition) of RK Narayan and Stephen King...both have great detailing skills and can capture the mood of a place.