Monday, August 18, 2008

A bus journey gone wrong - and then slightly right!

If you think the corner seat on a bus with bad or no leg room during a 10-hour journey was bad enough, add to it bumpy roads, middle of nowhere, cold weather and claustrophobia. I would have preferred an Iron Maiden. At least death would have been faster.

It was well past midnight and it was getting worse with every passing minute. The guy who sat in front of me had just decided that it was time for him to go to bed. And with the reclining of his backrest, I was off. I had to escape.

There were bodies everywhere. The line might sound straight out of a war movie, but to me it was no less traumatic. Except for the fact that dead bodies did not scream out abuses when stepped on, it was ditto. I stepped on at least a couple of them sleeping in the aisle and received welcome gestures before I reached the driver’s cabin.

“20 kms to the next taxi stand,” said one of the umpteen voices in the cabin. On any other day, I would have been two and half cigarettes down and happily getting down. But this was not just any other day. Out came a string of expletives. I had no choice but to wait. And I couldn’t even smoke. An opportunist next to me took pity on my state and traded his window sill for my seat. 2 minutes later, he was thrown off his seat and was back demanding his two-inches by the window. I did not return the favour. Darwin would agree. After all, I was getting off in another 20 kms!

Hairpins came and hairpins went. There was no sign of civilization as yet. It is so strange how perspectives change with circumstances. These were the same hairpins I got blissfully lost in during the dawn from a day before. And here I was, counting every one of them, with profanity studded between every number.

And then there was light! Houses! People! I was Gulliver. I was Robinson Crusoe. I was almost everyone who has ever been stranded. I was probably the only one who had a phobia though. The bus had reached Manandhavadi, something that resembled a town. To me it looked like a city from the future. Active night life, food on the fast lane and supersonic cars; mainly jeeps.

A bunch of jeep drivers gathered in conspiracy as I downed two glasses of very bad looking water at a nearby pushcart. I walked over slowly as they reached a consensus. A car was available, an ambassador. I did not even bother to bargain as I got into a rickshaw to summon the driver and the car from a few miles away. Rs.14 a kilometer for 400kms was cheap for Alexander Selkirk.

The road to the driver’s house got spookier and spookier. If I were to be murdered on the route, I guess it would have taken another stranded me to ever find the body. But due to the million other options I had in the matrix, I sat with my trap shut. I was prepared for a fight if needed. My mind was quickly beginning to contrive as the road curved into oblivion.

“So where are you coming from sir,” asked the curious driver. I answered. “Anything in particular,” came the next question. “I had gone on an investigative mission,” said I. The man obviously thought he had heard me wrong. But the rickshaw did stutter for a moment. “Are you with the police,” said the slightly intimidated rickshaw guy. With my attire and weight, it would have been very hard to pass on as a cop. “I am with the CBI (central bureau of investigation),” I replied in whatever baritone I could manage amidst the suppressed giggle. If he had any intention of doing anything that my idle mind had cooked up, it evaporated there. The message apparently was passed on to my driver the moment he was woken from his midnight slumber. Because, silence was the only language spoken through the length of the remaining journey. I finally smiled. And I slept with it on.