"You travel by bus? Why?" I keep hearing this from loads of people. I always hated bus travel because of the nasty crowds that I had to deal with. Oh, don't get me wrong. I am not some rich couple's child who had a chauffeur driven car while I was growing up. But I lived inside the IIT campus and rode a bicycle to school and back. Cool life! I could have chosen to attempt the IIT JEE and get into it and do what most campus kids in my time did... spend 21 years on campus and then go to the US. Engineering wasn't my cup of tea in any case and I've always been the "exploratory" type. I had to start trips outside the campus because I had classes outside.
I've always been fascinated by buses. When I was all of 9 years, I'd gone to a Spelling Bee contest at Good Shepherd and the teacher sent me back with 4 other kids. All by myself... from Nungambakkam to IIT. My mother is furious with the teacher to this day and I don't blame her. But the thing was that I was this confident girl. I KNEW the bus routes very well. Even when I was just 9.
When I had classes outside, I'd ride my cycle to the IIT gate, park it there and then take a bus to wherever I had to go to. But there were times when the buses would be crowded. I had a boy's cut in those days and went to my classes in jeans and a Tshirt. I was once trying to get on to a bus and after the bus started moving, a lady was trying to make me get off because she forgot it was her stop. A guy on the road lifted me and placed me on the road. I turned around and slapped him. It was only then that he realized I was a girl. So, I've had my share of bad incidents.
I decided to go everywhere on my bicycle. If it meant attending classes in Nandanam, visiting my grandmother in Mylapore, or a friend in Ashok Nagar. I loved riding my bicycle. Chennai's traffic is also the most organized among all cities I've lived in. Safe enough for a child to ride a bicycle even on Mount Road.
For the first 2 years of college, I took the '5E' ladies special. After that, I bought my first "bike". As in one with a motor. It was a TVS Super Champ and I refuse to this day to call it a "moped". There were no pedals. It had a kick start and was as good as any other "bike".
When I moved to Pondicherry, I started French lessons. I would wake up at 4.00 in the morning and then switch on my roomie's heater and place some water and an egg in a vessel on it. I would wake up again at 5, by which time the egg would have been boiled perfectly. I'd go through my morning routine and leave at 5.45. Walk down for 15 minutes and reach the gate. Catch the 6.00 a.m. bus to town. Get off at Ananda Theatre and walk for half an hour to reach Alliance Francaise. Everything was nice about this routine... except for the fisher women and their huge baskets of fish. I would almost throw up by the time I got out of the bus. So I got my Super Champ transported to Pondicherry as well. Another post will be dedicated to my bus trips between Pondicherry and Madras.
In Bangalore and Gurgaon, where I spent the next 2 years after I graduated, I had to use the bus on several occasions. Of course, I had the bike in Bangalore as well. In Chennai, whenever I had a problem with the bike, I'd happily take the bus. PTC or MTC or whatever it is called these days is by far the best bus service that I have used in India. Many people say BEST that runs in Bombay is the best, but I find those buses tough to use. The digits are in Devnagri on the front and the side. So I always know which bus I've missed! (As Appa puts it.) It's only on the back of the bus do they have the route in numbers written such that I can read and understand.
In Hyderabad, I used the bus. I asked the receptionist at the office about bus routes to Secunderabad. And she said, "You're a Director. What will people think if you go by bus?" I assured her that the driver and conductor and the passengers would never come to know! She didn't think it was funny. She said, "I never travel by bus. Always by auto." I avoid the auto whenever possible. You're sitting through a jerky ride, and at a level where the fumes of all vehicles, especially the buses, come straight at you.
In Bangalore, I started taking the bus when I signed up for Spanish classes. I had to learn the Kannada script in order to figure out where the bus was heading. But hey, I learnt another language. (Hindi numerals will probably account for a separate post.) Back in the NCR, I am back to using the buses.
You meet so many types of people. People look at me up and down, up and down... what's a girl with a laptop, sunglasses and a nice handbag, wearing trousers and a formal top, doing in a bus? I find it amusing that they find me amusing. Delhi Gurgaon buses are filled with labourers. There are times when folks get up to offer me a seat. I still steer clear of crowded buses. But the ones where I can get a seat...mmm nothing like it. I watch the sunset in the evenings. Focus on the people on the road. Chat with the conductor if he seems a nice sort. Look at other buses to see where they go, what route they take. I couldn't have done any of this had I been driving back and forth. I'm saved the trouble of watching the road and steering clear of all the cars that are there just to run into mine.
Ah, the simple pleasures of life!