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Dirtscapes

Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Memoirs Deluxe

There come times in a man's life when faced with an overnight journey, he chooses to travel by bus. After a good 5 years. Various factors could shape this decision. Economic, preferential, or maybe, just because the bus ticket office is nearer to home, doesn't involve a travel agent/filling forms and is a lot less crowded and hassle-free. And it doesn't have touts trying to throw in an apartment free with the 'ticket'.

Takes me back to when a bus journey was a really big deal, to be looked forward to with a lot of anticipation. After all, we would be going to our 'native place' (which was usually good old Dharwad) come vacation time. A little reminiscing is in order here...

Reclining seats:
These are very comfortable at first glance. Only, they come with a major hitch. People boarding the bus at 6 pm, are tempted for pure 'paisa vasoolne ka' reasons (amongst other mystic ones) to start tilting them backwards from 6.01 pm onwards (ONLY because it takes a minute or so to stash in the luggage in the overhead shelves...). You watch with growing horror, as the seat in front starts to invade your personal space, inch by ghastly inch, listening to your kneecaps crunch and crackle. Till the guy in front is sleeping like a bucolic baby, and you start recollecting that Spidey kiss. Uncomfortably so.


The pee factor:
This is a major problem, compounded in the case of an AC Bus. Considering (of course) that there are no loos in the bus. The bus guys usually stop at joints along the highways, precisely for the same reason. Sleeping usually becomes a problem, if you're not a regular, as you feel your kidneys do their stuff a little more diligently than at home (the sadists, they KNOW you’re traveling, and this is their chance to have some fun with you. Mind, the master. Pah.), and grow edgier and edgier till the bus guy stops. If you have a suitable quorum with heavy groins, then you can force a halt by the roadside, where the assorted shrubbery can get their fix of urea nutrients. Now, where they stop? Up next.

The stops:
These are pretty much one of the reasons I look forward to travelling by bus. Apart from the point above, there's something wonderfully weird about a lone chai/cigarette joint usually adjoining a petrol pump, as brightly lit as a ‘French Polish’ connoisseur in the middle of nowhere, blaring a flavour-of-the-season song in whatever region ka language applicable to your co-ordinates, at say 3 am in the morning. Needless to say, the volume is high enough to wake you in spite of the air conditioning. But a little artful dodging to avoid the puddles, engine oil and fuel slush (this is always present, irrespective of weather) outside, does ensure that you are out of the sound fury range - they don't have surround speakers. Yet.

The food is another story. Fried god-knows-whats scream out to you from glass cages with bulb displays. Chips and colas manufactured exclusively locally, with dirty stares dished out at you, if you happened to ask for 'branded' stuff. (Parle-G however is ubiquitous. Some distribution network, that). Plastic/formica furniture, with plastic water jugs and plastic glasses. The travel guys usually have their 'standard' hotels at which they stop, which manage to serve some incredibly stale food, and 'service tea' and 'Nesscoffee'.

The in-bus entertainment:
The highlight. 30% of the ticket cost. There is a certain juvenile pleasure in predicting what exactly the bus guy is going to inflict upon you. Think of the weirdest movies you wouldn't have a chance in hell of seeing. And rev it up a notch. For eg, "Game" (when I was a kid), "Good Boy, Bad Boy" (on my lastest trip). I rest my case. But you resign to it once you realize there's nothing else to kill time in the darkness till the next pee-stop. That said, even the omnipresent pesky kids shut the **** up come movie time. For you, it's just a matter of choosing one form of screechy audio over another.

The drivers:
When I was a kid, they were these hard drinkin', mountains-of-rice and dozens-of-chappatis eating, hard workin', dark-red-blooded dudes in holed banians, who lived off the nutty thrill of overtaking every vehicle especially on hairpin bends, only to happily to douse the overtaken(trucks specifically preferred) with a huge blast of pure evil, black fumes. Jammed gears, kaput indicators, and steering wheels with limited turning radii were hardly of any concern – to be treated as disdainfully as the bicycle riders/tractors they’d scare the sh*t out of. They could do ANYTHING. They were bus drivers, who drove all night dammit. What CAN'T they do?!

Small wonder then that all one of my cousin brothers ever wanted to be when he grew up was a bus driver. He'd drag us to the village bus stand, and almost get off on the buses which would pull in and out. The guy was so obsessed that on meeting, the first thing he'd ask was "Which 'travels' did you come by?", even before the customary, friendly cuss-word greeting (which would be usually on the lines of “What’s up, mad dog/filthy pig?” – A lot funnier when said in Kannada. And when you are 10). Once, he got a ride in the driver's (god-ka-idol-with-LED-and-plastic-flower-garland and heroine-poster-from-Mayapuri adorned) cabin, because of an 'overbooking incident'. He couldn't stop raving about it ("I drove the bus for an hour when the driver was tired") when he met us. We were very happy for him. And proud. That's a pretty big thing to achieve when you are eight. Right.

The scenery:
If you are lucky enough to get a window seat, the scenery factor can be amazing. The towns whizzing by in the dead of the night, roads alternately cloaked in yellowish light and stretches of inky blackness, with the deliciously chilly air hitting your face. Till somebody barks at you to shut the window, cos it’s too freaking cold. The mountain roads do scare you a little, listening to the bus machinery moan as it negotiates whatever the mountains throw at it, and generally staring into nothingness. Half asleep, lurching and heaving, the first rays of dawn filtering in through the windows kind of makes you forget the agony for awhile, as the day breaks. School kids on the way to their grind, road-side shops opening up for the day, cattle herders getting busy, women collecting water and firewood, and no one defecating on/by the roads. Heaven.

The quality of the buses is pretty reflective of our India story. Time has ensured that the creaky, wheezing buses in the private segments (including the Deluxe, Luxury, Super Luxury, Super Deluxe, Ultra Deluxe, 2x2, 1x2 ones) have all but fully been replaced with spanking new 'Volvo' fleets, which boast of maddeningly silent engines (not even a gurgle, leave alone a wheeze), good aircon, and good seats. The seats are fixed in number. No stashing 2 additional guys into the cabin, or conjuring up 'improv seats'. What 'improv seats'? Coming right up.

Improv Seats:
These were incredible. Imagine, you are snug as a bug in your 'luxury' bug-infested bus seat with tattered fabric covers, and it's about 2 am. You have an aisle seat. You are generally conscious of somebody next to you, and it is NOT the lucky bastard with the window seat. There's a gentle creaking, followed by a thump, followed by swearing-under-breath and deep breathing. You wake up, look around and lo and behold. There's a guy actually sitting right next to you, in the aisle, perched as grandly as allowable under the circumstances, on a seat with no back rest which was folded up against your aisle seat. So on inclines or especially sexy turns, he gratefully grabs your arm for support. And you all but coo back at him. So, an extra 10 seats or more would bring in good money to the bus guy, especially during holiday season, when people just wanted to get to wherever they wanted to. Miserable apology of an ass-biting rexine cushion be damned.

Coming back to the present, the 'wheel seats' and the 'last seats' are no longer viewed like pariahs now, they have a legitimate standing with the rest of their brethren, considering the superior suspensions. Every seat is almost the same in terms of comfort. The eating joints have come a long way too, with 'food plazas' selling the same fried stuff, at a markup, and a little semblance of hygiene. And you get branded stuff there (Parle-G too, of course). The drivers are tee-totallers now and uniformed, and the stops are kept to a bare minimum. You get blankets and a bottle of (branded) mineral water too. Complimentary. The ‘ordinary’ bus fleets are there still, but the Volvos are first preference for a lot of junta now.

But some things never change. Like at least one traffic hold up on the highways, or the over-enthusiastic gourmands who stuff themselves silly, and start to assault your nostrils periodically (one more problem which the AC compounds). Or the all too familiar numbness in your lower back, and stiff neck as soon as you get down, which reminds you that you really couldn’t sleep, 80 degree reclining seat notwithstanding. But wait, they have ‘sleeper buses’ too nowadays. Which is definitely not quite the same thing. Sleeping kills all the fun.
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5:29 PM, August 30, 2007
Blogger Aarbee said...

Hey, just as nice as the post on train journeys!! I love the way you put the tiniest of details in the most incredible manner. Awesome!    



8:52 PM, August 30, 2007
Blogger GuNs said...

Lucky b@$.@.. you!
There is still no Volvo service to my native place - neighbouring Karwar!

I went there before coming to the UK - ST bus again. NO... no reclining seats either!

-PeAcE
--WiTh
---GuNs    



11:05 PM, August 30, 2007
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bro, a good one !!!

If ur guess is as good as mine, its me u r referring to the wannabe 'bus driver' n how I relieved the bus-driver when he got tired :D . U just bout bac good ol' memories.    



12:27 AM, August 31, 2007
Anonymous witnwisdumb said...

Love your posts. Keep writing!!!    



4:14 AM, September 04, 2007
Blogger shamanth said...

me too lucky enuff to get "VRL" volvo service...to hubli...the tiny mud roads kinda make th volvos look even giant!!!

awsome description of evrythin...specially...the movie point...and 80 degree recliner...    



12:37 PM, September 04, 2007
Blogger Yogesh K Sharma said...

oye guru.....chha gaye.......

nostaligaaaaaaa for anyone who had the morbid pleasure of travellin from the "lugzari" buses :-D    



2:59 PM, September 04, 2007
Blogger arpana said...

sahi hain ... :)
*Smiles* gets back some memories alright    



2:01 PM, September 10, 2007
Blogger Tapan said...

RB,
Thanks...

Guns,
All in good time magaa... the Volvos will arrive.

PP,
Never knew you lurked around here! :)

Witnwisdumb,
Thank ye...

Shamanth,
Thanks

Yogesh,
'Lugzari' is right... :)

Arpana,
Nice to know that...    



1:00 PM, September 12, 2007
Blogger mandeepsg said...

I guess tht sums up all....good observations    



8:26 PM, October 11, 2007
Blogger Shravan said...

Great stuff man.
Yeah I remember a similar sort of bus ride from Shirdi to Bby when I was about 12. Really nostalgic.

I think the only thing you forgot to mention were the Gujrati families who made it a point to open pickles and home-made (but cold/hard by now) rotis at every single stop.

Anyways keep blogging man.
You've inspired me to do one about my experiences on local flights =D    



1:02 AM, October 25, 2007
Anonymous Phantom said...

Great going kiddo. Long time since I came across something this good    



11:45 PM, October 31, 2007
Anonymous Supemus said...

“What’s up, mad dog/filthy pig?” – A lot funnier when said in Kannada. -- ROFL!!

Oh man, how did I miss this gem of a piece!! Brought back some really nostalgic memories! Sigh!    



5:58 AM, November 10, 2007
Anonymous Shirish said...

Too good dude... Surprising, surprising observation !!!
- driver's (god-ka-idol-with-LED-and-plastic-flower-garland and heroine-poster-from-Mayapuri adorned) cabin - for example....
Super !! Am waiting to get on my next bus !! :)    



11:04 PM, November 12, 2007
Blogger Tapan said...

Mandeep,
Thanks...

Shravan,
Am guessing the local flights would be worse... :) Thanks!

Ghost who walks,
Thank ye... thank ye...

Supremus,
Thanks!

Shirish,
Am guessing that's a thing of the past. No harm in trying though... :)    



3:41 AM, January 24, 2008
Blogger Winnie the poohi said...

damn cant stop grinning.. *sigh*

did u face cut service ever?? local buses ofcourse.. n yeah.. missed the last bus to the town from some god forsaken village ??

Bullock cart rides r fun too :D :D    



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