Monday, May 08, 2006

Pondy - The Infernal Return Journey...

Whilst boarding the bus, my fatigued mind had coolly overlooked the newly acquired piece of wisdom that there were two types of buses. One taking the ECR -East Coast Road, and the other going through a maze of villages. I obviously got into the less crowded bus, without bothering to check.

" Will this bus go to Chennai?" I had asked the driver, an ageing man with thick glasses who said ama ama... yes, yes, very enthusiastically.

I settled down on an aisle seat right in the middle of the bus where the jumping motion usually is less. There were the usual drowsy, tired and bored faces all around me. The only person I noticed, with a different cool aura about him sat across the aisle on a seat behind our row. Cool, calm and collected -seemingly a school teacher with decades of experience, I surmised. Someone you could trust.

When the bus started stopping at every possible village on the way, after giving the picturesque ECR a miss, only after ten kilometres of actual travel, it made me wonder. Two guys would get out and twenty would fight their way in. Mentally I imagined the bus as a highly pregnant fish, with a burgeoning middle. Ten thousand eggs would spew out... if the middle burst.

Sending and receiving SMS messages,I settled down comfortably, watching the monontony of Tamil Nadu villages, now nearly cities of small size. About 100 KMs from Chennai, in a perfectly nowhere place, there was an onslaught of something like 50 person, but the bus remained stationary. Usually the driver would be in a tearing hurry, but this time the bus wouldn't leave. Tempers rose, cackling and yelping increased. The freshly inducted standees who had no hopes of getting seats, took our leave. When the bus was nearly empty, the thick glasses wearing schoolteacher got up with a very determined air. I meekly followed him, for no one seemed to be heeding my queries and please including the blessed driver.

"Brakes failed." Said the cool calm and collected neighbour when I tugged at his sleeve. He waited outside with a thousand others, for the bus to Chennai. In ten minutes' time he had become rather restless, some of his cool exterior having been chipped off like crushed ice by the constant hustle and bustle which failed to affect me. I had this wild hope another bus would come and we would be restored our dignity. I found out he could speak. Very good English too. So I pestered him no end, trying to reassure myself.
“ There will be another bus? “
“ Yes.”
“ Any alternative transport?”
“ No.”
“ Will auto-rickshaws come to Chennai, if we both share the expense?”
“ No.” Here he raised his eyebrows as if I had made an indecent proposal.
“ Will we reach Chennai before nine thirty?”
“ God alone knows.

Nearly forty minutes we spent together on that nameless road. Walking up and down, checking each of the hundred odd buses that came and went away without taking us in. The driver of the abandoned bus turned to be so pigheaded, he tried fixing the 'failed' brakes sitting at the steering wheel and pumping the pedals. I told my new friend, that it seemed like a doctor was trying to cure a case of piles, by hitting someone of the head. He chuckled mirthlessly. Decidedly a man of few words, with a dry sense of humour. I shut up.

Luckily, the bus that arrived finally was what is euphemistically called here, a 'luxury' bus, with better quality of body building, better seats, less congestion in spacing of seats and garish colours splashed in gay abandon all around. I trooped in with my humourless friend. I stood near the door, for nearly thirty odd souls had been traveling in the painful standing mode already. One very determined looking young woman, buxom and stylish for a villager, strode in and place a huge bag crushing all my toes. The more I wiggled, the more she stared and glared at me as if I had been tickling her open midriff.

I thought I would die, with ten kilogrammes of dead weight on my toes, and this slow slow journey ahead, cramped between profusely sweating bodies. I twisted and turned, I changed my grips from the upper holding rods to the seats handles for support. I slanted my body, I squirmed and turned. Nothing helped. The buxom young lady, yelled at me for having kicked her bag which appeared to have been filled with cast iron slugs. It was so infernally heavy.

Finally, I had to stretch my body and look up in the fashion of dog howling at the moon, to get a breath of fresh air. It was all right when the bus moved. When it stopped, two guys disembarked and twenty more got in. Yes I know I am repeating myself. But that's what happened. I nearly had a panic attack. I wanted to jump out of the bus and walk the rest of the distance, hitch-hike, do whatever possible, go to a farm and sleep the night off... but not this.

However the saner part of my big brain did take over and I started to breath easy. Low sugar, low sugar, low sugar my brain told me, and juggling my hands to keep standing, I removed a toffee and sucked. In minutes, sanity prevailed. More later. (c) Max Babi, May 2006.


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