Bussing Around Town

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That’s your signal, the verbal gunshot for the endless race. Your sign to hold on tight to whatever it is that is closest to your hand.

…Grip the steel rod at the door, reach for the overhead one or the ubiquitous handrail – the one bordering all the seats. Grasp it as if your life depends on it. And it does. Your life that is ? almost. Slight miss and you could be spread-eagled thud on the tarmac or get into a domino like effect as you go whoosh on to all those who were quicker than you in grasping that overhead/seat railing.

It is all about playing a balancing act as the feet rushes to jump on to the steps and the hand reaches for railings that can help break that waiting-to-happen fall. Reminds you of trapeze artistes in circuses, who give it their all as they reach for the oscillating swing.

It is a matter of mentally overcoming the physical limits in as mundane an event as a bus ride.

As the bus shivers and shudders at every stop, the scramble to hop on to it, is mad, and that is without any exaggeration. It’s a threatening stance – that dramatic jumpiness of the bus as if it can’t ever stop. As if all full stops have been wiped out from the slate of the bus, cursing it with a seemingly unstoppable shudder that can vacillate between relative calmness to an emergency calling.

Bus has a way of magnifying the slightest turn or the bluntest brake and the term ‘fly off the handle’ can be just that.

A little imbalance in the movement between placing the foot on the step and the hand grasping the railing and you are sure to go lurching into the bus, which is safer but embarrassing, or go crashing down on to the pavement, about which lots could be said.

Boarding and alighting from the city buses and even some of those plying interiors, is an exercise that brings to fore the jungle rule ‘survival of the fittest.’ I know many who can ill-afford an auto fare but think nothing of it when faced with the prospect of a bus ride within the city. And these are not all old people.

If one were politically inclined, it would have seemed inevitable to presume that it is all a part of some bigger conspiracy. May be even blame America for it. That’s in fashion, isn’t it, blaming US for all the ills that befall us…? And conclude that drivers and conductors are in cahoots with our ‘enemies’.

Why? I have no answers. Only a madcap analysis of a syndrome that has all the undertones of a comedy gone wrong. It does appear to be a syndrome and a contagious one at that. The status quo is maintained by all the buses as if it had been decided at some annual general meeting where all the bigwigs pulled the brakes to ratify the clauses of random speed, volcanic shudder at the stops and chaotic shirking of traffic on the road. Taking into account such details as the stance to be taken as they give screaming chases, maneuver potholes and roundabouts and simply frisk through even when the vehicle is screaming for passengers.

There appears to be a method to their madness. But then again, it is a random kind of method, one that defies any semblance of logic. And as an old timer, you try not to focus too much on the method and the madness or worry over the whys and the hows. You just learn to hold on tightly to the cold metallic railings overhead or the ones hemming the seats on top. Feeling helpless every time an old lady or gentleman makes a futile attempt to stand firm on the step as the bus gets into top gear.

But if you are a first timer in the city and happen to be in a smaller car, following lanes, being a good driver and all that, the bus approaching from the other end with a screaming honk can seem like a preying animal, jumping right at your throat. Then you learn. Learn to keep your cool even when they blare their horns as if the road just caved in. Learn to keep panic at bay even when the bus appears to be lunging at your throat. Learn to hold all those expletives and drive coolly to your destination even when two buses seem to get into an athletic event.

And in the bus? It takes time, but you learn. Learn that you need to get into the get-set-go pose to beat the others waiting at the stop; be the first to get in and may be find a seat, if not avert a possible lopsided swing on the step. Learn not to jump out of your skin every time the driver blasts the horn. Learn to hold yourself from giving a piece of your mind to the conductor and driver every time a senior citizen struggles and trembles on the doorstep, fear of a fall writ large on their faces. Well, there is general appeasement as the conductor who just blew his whistle with a rriight pohyee gets there to give him/her a hand. What made him jump the gun in the first place is irrelevant as it is evident that he is a slave to this habit. And you also learn that you need to stand up if you are seated or move a couple of paces towards the door if you are standing, to indicate that you need to alight at your stop. That the bus ‘has’ to stop is not for you to question. Your movement towards the door ensures the hurried pace of the bus.

And you kinda learn to enjoy the ride, forgiving all the shivers and shudders, the scrambles and jerks, loudmouthed passengers and the ‘spirit’ed ones, the foot stamps and the ‘please adjusts’?

Author: Suzy Fontes- Mangalore

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