Since I moved to Bangalore, I have been using the bus to get everywhere, including the daily commute to work. My phone has an app that gives me bus routes with time of departure, and journey times and voila, all of Bangalore is now accessible. So a smug me has been patting myself on the back for being sustainable, and walking the walk, talking the talk etc. I do write eloquently about public transport as the preferred mode for all, and make idealistic masterplans with transport hubs and nodes…. you get the drift. I am very close to digressing here into a sermon on intermodal connectivity, but I’ll refrain and steer back on course – My Buscapades
Bangalore buses have an unspoken law that women stand in the front half of the bus and men in the rear half. This is a wonderful system that prevents the molestation which is oh so prevalent in the Chennai buses. My mother used to travel to school armed with a safety pin, and other friends have horror stories ranging from ass grabbing to a man once wiping his sweaty face on a friend’s dupatta !! The most I face in Bangalore is the odd conductor who tries to cop a feel as he moves through the crowd selling tickets, or brushes my fingers while handing over the change. It is violating, but still way better than having to deal with many men.
Initially I was polite on the bus, I made way for people, said please thank you etc. Then I realized I was getting pushed around, as I made room, and then more room for every lady, I would always end up near the door rattling around with nothing to hold on to. So I hardened myself, though I have not turned into that woman who pushes other people, uses her handbag as a weapon or steps on somebody’s foot, I don’t give way, and I don’t let people push me.
What bothers me is that these women, everyday women who work at offices, banks and manage households seem to leave humanity behind at the doorstep of the bus. When I give way to an old lady or do something polite or smile at another person, I am met with blank stares, or mistrusting looks. A young woman once scratched me with crimson nails so I would relinquish my hold on the coveted bar and go back to rattling around the bus. Women do not think twice before pushing you or stepping on your toes, they are so used to doing it that it has become second nature, and I don’t think any of them even realize it is wrong. I am sure if I met any of these women at their homes or work places, they would be civil and well mannered, but they transform, sport their worst in the bus.
While returning home, after a frustrating day of work on Friday, I was at the edge of the women’s section with less than an inch between me and a middle aged plump woman in front of me. Somewhere in the middle, another woman got on trampled on my feet and pushed herself into this small gap with such force that I was suddenly bang in the middle of the men’s section.
This is not the first time this has happened, and I am sure it won’t be the last. Usually I keep quiet, but I don’t know what got into me that day. I tapped her on her back and politely informed her that what she did was not right and that she took my place by force. I was very polite, I even addressed her as madam. Unfortunately for both of us she didn’t understand English and I don’t understand Kannada all that well. Since it is similar to Tamil I can get the gist of the conversation but nuances are lost on me. She replied in rapid kannada, to what I understood as “this is bus-u, deal with it !”
In the next stop a bunch of college boys got in, and were pressing against me and now I saw red. If it were a Tamil movie, the veins on my arm would have suddenly come alive, I would have made a fist with a cracking sound and with blazing eyes single handedly brought down the whole bus. I wanted my spot in the women’s section back. I again told her what you did was not right a little less politely this time. She raised her voice in return and then I made a big mistake. A big big mistake. I asked her to shut up. She did not need to know English to understand that, she took offense. She started yelling, but not at me – she was yelling to the whole bus in general.
Surprisingly she didn’t yell about our argument over the spot, she yelled about how immigrants who didn’t speak kannada were ruining the state. Then, just like that 10 others joined her, and then 10 more. Everybody were yelling on how everyone to enter this haloed state must speak kannada or perish (ok, the perish part I made up). An old granny claimed that her husband was in the airforce and the she had to learn Tamil and Malyalam, when he was posted in these extreme ends of the earth and hence it was only fair that I learn Kannada.
I admit that I crossed a line, and no matter how angry I was, I should have not asked her or anybody to shut up, but I am also appalled at the woman twisting an argument over a spot, to language fundamentalism, and garnering this much support. The old lady in the traditional silk saree diamonds glinting at her nose, the old man who had been nodding to sleep the whole journey, the harrowed looking man who smelt of a drinking problem, the lady with the jingling bangles, and even the bald man travelling with his grandson pointing at all the cars on their road and naming their colours, jumped in viciously proclaiming that people who did not know kannada had no right to be here. Not one person in the bus said, hey! but you did take that girl’s spot and pushed her into the guy’s section, though another young girl caught my eye and gave me a comforting smile that said let them be.
My legs started to shake, I am smarter and braver in retrospect but had no idea how to handle a kannada version of shiv-sena, who would probably make visas to this state mandatory,but luckily my stop came and I snuck out of the bus, though I doubt that the bable even realized I had gone. I don’t know why, but I kept turning back the entire walk home to make sure no one was following me.
I remember being terrified in Glasgow when a huge woman chased me down the street, yelling at me to remove my superman T-shirt and give back the Scottish jobs to the Scottish people. In New York, a possibly homeless man with no teeth asked my mother to go back to her own country. Lack of teeth and alcohol made him slur, and my mother politely leaned towards him, smiled and said, pardon? He began repating himself more aggressivley, and my heart skipped a beat as I dragged her away explaining what he said in hushed tones. In another country you expect this, it scares you, rattles you, but you expect it. I am surprised that relaxed Bangalore, lazy Bangalore with her old world charm, where shops open at 10:00 am and everyone is ready for a drink any time of the day had this streak in her.
On hearing this story my parents are now breathing fire down my neck so I accept a loan to buy a second hand car, and the Other off course has his usual words of wisdom, his solution to everything, – wake up early. He firmly believes that this is the solution to my ever expanding waist, colds and sniffles, managing time, cooking efficiently and any other problem that may arise. But in this case he is right, for I would miss the crowded buses and escape the traffic and could probably use commute times for things such a day dreaming and reading as opposed to learning to balance on a moving shaking vehicle or the art of using my handbag as a shield.
Just to be fair, it has not been all bad, sometimes I see some very interesting things and people or some ordinary people and imagine interesting things about them. The conductors have a certain style, and certain intrigue, and I imagine how Rajini would have been in his days as a bus conductor. There are women who flirt with the driver, and women who are crouched talking so quietly to their loved ones on the phone that you can’t hear a word even if you are sitting next to them. Trust me, I have tried. They are a whole breed, they speak on headphones, cupping the mouthpiece very close to their mouth, and are lost to the world. It is beautiful in a way on how these girls can get lost, can float in a bubble in a crowded bus. I like making up stories about the oppressive families they come from, and how bus time is the only private phone time they get.
One morning I was standing over this young girl, nondescript in appearance. My bag was weighing me down, I had an evening train to Chennai and was carrying a whole load of clothes to be washed. * sheepish* smile. I was staring at her, trying to telepathically make her offer to hold my bag, when I noticed that she was texting somebody furiously. She finished and then quickly opened up her phone and removed her Vodafone sim card. I was intrigued. She groped around her bag and pulled out a few more sim cards, each from a different operator and selected an Airtel one and then switched on her phone and began texting again. By now I was alarmed. Apart from a terrorist I didn’t think anyone needed 5 different sim cards. My mind was playing games, I was transfixed, I was sure the bus would blow up as soon as her phone rang. I was glad I was standing close to her for I would die immediately. She then replaced her phone, which was an old Nokia 1100, in which the letters on the keys had all been rubbed of and was held together by a rubber band with a slightly better one and continued the same game, except that she used an Aircel sim card this time. Just as she started she abruptly stopped her phone activity, pulled out a prayer book and started to ferverently mouth the ‘slokas’ . My fears were confirmed, she had to be a suicide bomber. Nobody else in the bus seemed to have noticed her behaviour, nobody else seemed to care, everybody was oblivious to the impending doom.
Well since I am writing this, nothing happened, the bus did not blow up and she did not offer to hold my bag, just continued to mouth her slokas.
New resolutions starting tommorrow – Need to wake up early and practice my telepathy.