It was about 7.30 P.M. that I got into the Bus, after waiting for about 30 minutes. However, it was not the fault of the officials of the transport system. How can they take a bus in a particular direction if there is no road, but only a conglomeration of holes and pits and gutters, filled with rain water, through which a number people travel in every sort of vehicle and also walk, like participants in a mega-dance-show?
I got in the bus and it began to gather momentum. There was no vacant seat and already there were a sizable number of people deprived of a seat. I looked for the seat reserved for us, the senior citizens (people above the age of sixty), and reached near it. But the two” very old senior citizens” of around 30 years of age who occupied the seat just looked at me smiling benevolently and then turned their eyes to the panorama outside. I had an idea to point my finger towards the writing above their heads, but on second thoughts stopped the idea, as I had neither the original nor an attested copy of my birth certificate and so it was difficult to prove my senior-citizenship. White hair and a wrinkled face is never a substitute for the birth certificate, I knew.
Then the bus stopped and two people got down and I got a seat, while another old man looked at me, as if I am the winner of a mega-bumper prize.
Outside, two men were standing as if to get in to the bus. One of them asked the conductor: “Will this bus stop at Elamukku?”
“Yes. But you will have to pay the fare from Kolunadu.”
“That is no problem.” Said the questioner. And he turned and said to his friend with great respect: “Please get in Sir.”
He got in and moved his hand to the friend as if saying good-bye.
The conductor reached near him and said: “Eight and a half rupees.”
The man produced a ten rupee note from nowhere as if by magic and gave it to the conductor. The conductor checked it thoroughly and then gave a ticket for Rs.8/50 to the passenger and asked: “can you give 50 paise?”
“Sorry.” Said the man. And the conductor returned to him one rupee.
“What about the balance 50 paise?” Asked the passenger. And turning his hand to affirm his point, the conductor said flatly. : No change.”
“But I need it.”
“If anyone gives it, I will give it to you?”
“This is what is happening every time. Balance 50 paise not being returned to the passengers.”
“But how can I return something, which I do not have.”
“By evening, you will be getting a sizable amount as change- not-returned, isn’t? And you will be taking it.”
“No.” A man standing near-by interfered. “These people will keep the amount in front of God’s picture during the night. Without counting it. God will take whatever he wants and will leave the remaining for these people to take.” He laughed.
This laughter made the conductor angry. He said: “I am stopping this Bus.” He said to all people around him.” I have some two rupee coins with me. Whoever has to get the balance 50 paise can take two Rupees from me if they give me Rs.1/50 from anywhere. I don’t mind delaying the trip for this reason.” Ands he kept his hand on the thread above to ring the bell to stop the vehicle.
Everyone fell silent. And the conductor took off his hand from the thread and said like a winner.
“If a passenger cannot bring a single 50 paise coin to pay the correct fare, how can you expect me to bring so many small coins to pay towards everyone’s balance? “
A few people moved their head in approval. Then the conductor said specifically to the man who demanded his balance of 50 paise.
“I will do one thing. This bus is of Chilayar depot. After ending to-day’s trip, I will deposit your 0/50 paise there with the station master. You can go and collect it showing the ticket. I will write the amount due to you on it.”
“That is perfectly legal and fair. “ Agreed the man. And the conductor took the ticket, wrote the amount due and returned it to the man. The man smiled as if he won an international match.
I imagined the scene and could not control the resultant smile. The person spending about one hundred and fifty rupees – to and fro fare to Chilayar, which was above 100 kilometers from the place where he boarded the bus – to collect his fifty paise!!
Having finished the issue, the conductor reached near me and said:
“One minute. I want to sit and sort out these. “And he showed me the bunch of currency notes.
I got up, thinking that I had occupied the seat reserved for the conductor. Then I looked at the spot where such reservations are being notified. And there I saw a word. ‘Andhar’
As far as I knew, Andhar means Blind. Then how can it be the conductor’s seat? I thought about it deeply and gradually it dawned on me.
First of all, there need not be a seat reserved for blind people, because if a blind person enters a bus, one or two sitting people will surely get up and offer him a seat. After all, the seed of kindness is in every heart and it will sprout and grow up and show up in such circumstances. That means, the word Andhar (Blind) written above the seat may be to let the passengers remember that ‘justice (and also the rules framed to ensure justice) is blind and everyone has to obey it. And the conductor being the dutiful person to ensure the rule of law in the bus, he is naturally supposed to occupy that seat. What a fool I was to occupy his seat!
He arranged the currency notes, counted them and kept in his bag. Then he got up and gestured to me to sit down. But only I saw the gesture. And another person, who was young and fat and was badly in need of a seat and had not seen the gesture of the conductor to me, pushed me with elbow to one side and sat down. And to his credit, I must say that he had pushed me aside only gently. After sitting, he looked around and when he saw my face, grinned widely.
Then I saw a lot of light in a shop on the left side of the road. It was a hotel and there was a long, wide banner displayed on two pillars above the entrance. The letters were very big and I could read it. Biriyani Mela.
I knew that mela means an assemblage of people to see or enjoy something. Like kumbh Mela, Flower Mela, Vegetable Mela etc. But I had never heard about a Biriyani Mela. I tried to visualize it. People coming from various corners of the country, even world, to see and enjoy Biriyani. Some people may even get a chance to buy and eat it. What a great experience it will be! Or is it a Mela of some group of people, who call themselves as biriyanis? Or an exhibition of those animals, who are to become biriyanis sooner or later. Yes. That is the correct and perfect explanation.
Then the stop-bell of the bus rang. The driver slowed down the bus and looked back. Immediately the conductor gave a double bell and the speed of the bus increased. The conductor and the passengers looked around to find the guilty one, who rang the bell.
It was a small child. She was sitting on the waist of her mother and the thread of the bell was just above her head. And she had pulled it out of curiosity.
Seeing that it was a child, everyone smiled. The love and kindness in all the minds had broken the barriers of selfishness and formality for once. An unexplained explanation of the basic character of human mind. Love and kindness.
The child was again trying to pull the thread, but her mother moved away taking the child away from the thread.
I looked out. It was pitch-dark. No lights or shop or people. As if it was a place away from all human settlements.
Suddenly, a lady’s voice was heard: “Please stop the bus. We have to get down here.”
It was the lady with the thread-pulling child. She went on shouting.
“It will stop only at Elamukku.” Said the conductor.
“But how can I walk from there to here in this darkness, with this child?”
Now a few good Samaritans also had started shouting to the conductor. I looked at the fifty-paise man. He was moving his head as if telling: ‘Justice has to prevail. Bus will stop only where it is supposed to stop.’
By this time, the bus had reached Elamukku bus station. Many people got down there, including that man and the lady. And she was cursing the conductor aloud. And the conductor just smiled at her. Such a great man! To smile at the person, who is scolding him! Fantastic!
When the flow-out stopped, the conductor announced: “The bus will leave only after 20 minutes.”
So it is their meal-station, I guessed.
After about 25 minutes the crew returned, followed by a few passengers. A few new passengers also had climbed in. Now about half of the seats were vacant.
“Did everyone come?” Asked the conductor. He meant those passengers, who had gone out for something or other, to return and to continue the journey.
No one replied. And taking the silence as consent, he rang the bell and the bus began to move. After 10 minutes, it reached outside the town and began moving through a sleepy village. Nobody was speaking aloud. A sort of drowsiness prevailed among the passengers. Some of them were already asleep.
Then I heard the voice of the conductor: “It is not permitted in the bus.”
Everyone, except those lucky ones who were asleep, looked back.
There was only one person on the back seat. A fat man. And I immediately realized that it was the same man who had pulled me aside (gently) and had taken over the ‘Andhar’ seat. And he was smoking a cigarette.
The conductor reached near him and said again: “Smoking is prohibited inside the bus.” And he pointed towards the front, where it was written in bold letters: ‘NO SMOKING’.
The man sat smoking as if he did not hear it.
“I am going to stop the bus.” Said the conductor. And he touched the stop-bell-thread.
Hearing it, everyone began to shout at the smoker. One of them even got up and moved towards the smoker.
Then the smoker took another puff and said to the conductor: “you see, the ‘no smoking’ instruction is applicable only when the distance between the starting point and finishing point of the bus is 80 Kilometers or less. If it is more than 80 Kilometers, the instruction is not applicable. And this bus is travelling about 300 kilometers.” He was speaking as if teaching a student, although it was clear from his voice that he had a substantial quantity of booze in his system.
The conductor stood for a moment as if unable to decide the next step. Is it possible that what he says is right?
But the young man, who was moving towards the smoker, had no such doubt. He reached very near the man and said in a stern voice: “Throw it away, or I will throw you out. You stupid drunkard.”
Seeing the atmosphere not at all in his favour, the smokers’ advocate took a long puff and threw the cigarette butt out of the bus. And it fell just in front of a lady, who was walking beside the bus. She was taken aback and moved back in reflex response and then turned to the bus and said something. Seeing it, the young man turned and poked strongly at the cheek of the drunkard and then returned to his seat. And the drunkard began to sleep.
Now it was total silence in the bus. As if a drama had come to its end.
This story was written on 21.12.2010. On 29.12.2010, I had to travel from Karunagappally to Kayamkulam. In that bus, I saw writing in Malayalam above a seat as below:
“Andhan/conductor”. It was as if having my imagination come true.
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