For those not fortunate enough to own a car or a bike, getting into a bus at the end of the day is a daily test of one’s faith. Once you make it past the foot-board, you are automatically pushed into the bus by the tiding swarm of people. And once you are inside the bus, it is an entirely different story. The people are basically sandwiched against each other. You don’t know if the guy standing behind you is being a pervert or just trying to breathe. Flip a coin, and hope for the best.
It gets worse for women. Obviously. Prepare to be fondled every which way to Sunday. The midriff of a typical female bus traveler is often mistaken for hand-holds. Most women are proficient in the art of elbowing and karate chops. Bare skin protruding out from any part of your attire is misconstrued as a request for free massage. With time, you will start envying the women in Burqas. At least they don’t feel like museum pieces.
The bus drivers here have what is known as the ‘Schumacher Complex’. They were denied a rightful place in the Grand Prix, and they vent their anger in the road. Bus drivers have a strong sense of right and wrong. Sometimes, a bus driver feels that a passing motorist has disrespected him. And when he feels wronged, there is no stopping him. Literally. He will speed up, expecting the lowly cars and bikes to make way for him, with the ‘air-horn’ leading the way. Once he catches up with the motorist, he will let loose a string of expletives, that will leave you in silent contemplation of the many things that the driver considers an insult. As a youngster, I learnt to swear in Malayalam from the friendly neighborhood bus driver, and swearing in English, I learnt from Samuel L Jackson.
The typical bus driver is the master of suspense. You will have no clue about when the bus is going to halt. The naïve youngsters who are bus-virgins, will assume that a bus will slow down before it stops. What they don’t realize is that the laws of physics do not apply inside an Indian bus. The bus stops when the bus stops. The bus driver has mastered the art of bringing the bus to an absolute standstill from a speed of 80kmph, within a few hundred feet. Of course, the law of inertia dictates that the passengers, who were all travelling at a speed of 80kmph until a while back, grab hold of whatever scrap of bus they can find, in order to not be thrown out of the windshield. A hundred hands lifting up in the air in desperate unison, means a hundred armpits instantly make contact with the air, and the smell produced is… well… *sob*
And on those rare occasions when you manage to find a seat in the bus, prepare to be stared at, all stares meaning one thing – you are in my seat, jerk. Out staring the starers is an art in itself. And the minute you lift your posterior even an inch, there are 10 other posteriors jostling to fill up the space. It is a humbling thought, the knowledge that your posterior is instantly replaceable.
Once you are out of the bus, smelling of armpits and quiet desperation, and capable of breathing in the wonderfully polluted air without stepping on someone’s toes, you can check your pockets/bags to make sure that everything is where it is supposed to be.
Having to travel in the bus, is the main reason why so many of the middle-class people in India are religious. I mean, if there is no God, the only thing standing between you and certain death is the bus driver, and that is not a reassuring thought.