The city on wheels

When I was 13, my father woke me up one morning and said he’s going to teach me how to board a bus and show me the routes around the city. I had been on buses before but my sister was always around because I was too young. She’d pay for the ticket and hold my hand through the entire journey. When my sister went off to college I used the school bus, but high school meant longer days, extra-curricular activities after school, sports practice and the like. So on a Saturday morning after breakfast, my father walked me to the bus stop and taught me how to use the city bus for the first time.

Even today, I remember being fascinated, he showed me the bus stop near my school and took me all the way to the city centre, the nerve centre of the city’s bus routes. It was an interesting experience. My father brought me back home on a different bus, told me the platform numbers for boarding a bus going outside the city, the buses that would take me home. I wondered how I would remember all of it. I also thought why would I ever need to use it? It seemed like such an intimidating task, how would I ever climb onto a crowded bus? What if I didn’t have change on hand? The worst of all, what if I boarded the wrong bus?

I vaguely remember my Dad telling me about bus fares, how to talk to the conductor, and told me the most important rule of any journey, when in doubt ask. Today, you can leave me in any part of the country and rest assured I’ll find my way home. Overseas might be a little hard, and expensive not to mention. But yeah after a while using the same route from school to home several times, the conductors knew me by name and vice versa. With time, I got to explore every nook and cranny of the city on a bus. I knew the numbers, the fares, and even if I guessed, experience made sure I was right. To date, I have never boarded the wrong bus.

My parents’ faith in the public transport system meant both their daughters would seldom call them saying they were stranded, and if they ever were it would be with good reason. I have made it very clear to my parents that I am never owning a car, because of the rising pollution rates and traffic jams, and I have noticed, buses get you to where you want to go faster than a car even though they stop multiple times along the way. Don’t ask me about the math behind this.

The city always looks better through a bus window. To me, the trees seem greener, the buildings taller, and one real advantage is the fact that on a bus you get to look over the traffic. Anyone who has travelled by bus regularly will tell you that some bus rides are better than any ride in the world’s best amusement park. I don’t want to stereotype but the older bus drivers have no fear of speed, the younger ones are more cautious. I guess I am never really going to forget that trip with my father. I remember holding his hand tight as I climbed the bus because I was immediately intimidated.

Buses have their own code, like writing the change they have to give you on the back of a ticket, holding someone’s bag if you’re sitting and they are standing, allowing a child to sit on your lap in a crowded bus while the parent is standing, passing change over heads to the conductor if the bus is overly crowded and the most important of all- listen to the conductor, no matter how absurd his instructions may be. I have seen newbies, first-time bus travellers, nervously looking around like they’re expecting a jump-scare at any moment. They stumble over their words asking the conductor for a ticket and constantly keep their eyes on the road even if they are eight stops away because they are afraid they might miss their stop.

Every time I look at them I remember my first bus journey with no one to help me. I was the same way, I stood up to leave four stops before my stop, hit two people with my bag, gave the wrong amount to the conductor and was scolded by a woman for blocking the entrance. The unwritten rules of bus journeys require you to spend more time on buses, it can either discourage you from ever boarding another bus or it’ll become the only mode of transport you’ll ever trust.

Unlike people and life, buses are reliable. There will always be another bus, no matter how late you are or how early you are, there will always be another bus. The bus route is one system I can put my complete faith in and I’ve never been let down. It’ll be a bumpy journey, some days it’ll be crowded, some days the destination might change, but as long as you have a ticket, you’ll be fine.


4 thoughts on “The city on wheels

  1. Poonacha PG says:

    A great piece of writing.You made me run down my memory lane! No other vehicle can give that kind of slow majestic (I call it elephant ride) ride with a driver to drive you around and a bus conductor to remind where we are. Very nice thoughts. Keep writing.All cities must have only bus routs! Who will listen to me?
    “The city always looks better through a bus window. To me, the trees seem greener, the buildings taller, and one real advantage is the fact that on a bus you get to look over the traffic.” All cities must have only bus routs! Who will listen to me?


  2. Gita says:

    Lovely piece. So nostalgic thinking of the endless bus journeys in Bengaluru!
    My mum gently introduced me to the bus system when I was a lot younger. As you said, it makes you more independant and mothers feel its the safest mode. So by the 7th I could go to Kanteerava stadium for my atheletics practice and come back to Ulsoor by myself, though Mum would on tbe way back, most days when she got back from work.
    We used to have the double deckers back in our times, in the 80s. Used to be fun on the top deck though I preferred the bottom one. Easier to get off you see!


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