We are back
This is part 2 of an earlier post.
We call him uncle, and his house is on the main road in Nilavur. The actual Nilavur village is a little further down the road after this house. There is a bus at 3.30 PM that goes from Nilavur to Tirupathur. But the bus passes the house at 3, goes to Nilavur bus stop and then returns. So when the bus passes the house towards Nilavur, we started and reached the bus stop, so as to catch it on return. Since Prabha did not bring any book to read on the journey, uncle gave Prabha a magazine, Geo. It was a glossy print magazine, and we felt guilty taking it, even though we assured him that we would return it next time.
So we were all set in the bus stop. The bus finally came and we took our seats. We were looking forward to a nice downward journey, with good views. About 25-30 college students were waiting at the very next bus stop. When they saw our bus, everybody jumped in making loud noises. They had apparently, come to Yelagiri to have some fun, and were returning. The whole bus was packed. Prabha and I were occupying a 3-seater, and so one guy came and sat right next to me. What was strange about him was that, though his face and body looked human, he had two trunks growing from his shoulders. It took me a moment to realise that they were his hands. But what caused the initial confusion was he was wearing a sleeve-less t-shirt. Of course, I am not claiming there is something wrong in wearing a sleeve-less t-shirt, but then there are limits. I think it is present in our Indian Constitution that one should not scare the hell out of others. If not, I think a good case for an amendment could be made, by just taking this guy to our parliament.
And so, the anticipated peaceful journey vanished and was replaced with the memory of the smelly milk truck that we could have taken on our way up, and I think the similarity has got something to do with the smell that was wafting from this bunch of guys who were obviously playing some physically demanding game till the time they boarded the bus. If that was not enough, there was one more problem of half-baked unity among all of them that made the whole thing worse. They were united in that they felt that they should listen to some songs, but since they could not arrive at a consensus on what the song should be, everybody decided to play his own song on his mobile phone. The trunk closest to me pulled a mobile phone out of his packet and played a song from an even sillier Vijay movie. Let me introduce you to this Tamil actor Vijay in case you had the good fortune of not knowing him so far. I don’t know if you read my earlier post about how brain is the seat of the consciousness and that there is no consciousness without brain. But this guy is the single deadly counter-argument against that claim, since he seems to have consciousness with absolutely no trace of a brain. Successive governments are grappling with the dilemma of whether he can be barred from movies, since legal luminaries of the state think that his acting trying to act clearly falls under the definition of public nuisance.
One of my friends has a fascination for singing Tamil songs translated into English and this one is dedicated to him. The song that the guy next to me played went like this.
Looking at the hunter.
Behold, the hunter is coming.
If the pallavi suggests that the movie is a Tamil adaptation of the Jungle Book, I wouldn’t blame you. Even as this left me scratching my head, the singer piled on with a stanza that began like this.
Who is this? Who is this? Who is this?
He is an entire town walking alone.
Now, I started wondering if the lyricist is trying to get some spiritual message across about the unity of all souls or some such thing. Even before that thought process could reach its logical conclusion, he threw in a time travel paradox.
Who is this? Who is this? Who is this?
He is the future who will change history.
Now, my head started reeling with these riddles and I was desperately looking for some resolution of all these contradictions. And so I waited eagerly for the end of the stanza, and that is where the genius of the writer showed.
Strike, strike the blow,
Strike, strike the blow.
This further raised the expectations of a beautiful resolution coming in, and I was not disappointed. He ends his stanza with this wonderfully lucid resolution of everything that has come before, like the climax of an Agatha Christie novel.
Dakara dakara dakara dakara dakara dakara da.
And just in case the listener missed some important part of the line, he helpfully gets a chorus to sing it for us again.
Dakara dakara dakara dakara dakara dakara da.
Topping it off with a
Behold, the hunter is coming.
The next thing I remember is getting down at Ponneri in the foothills and waiting for a bus to Vellore. Prabha told me later that after this I started behaving strangely and finally became unconscious. Looking back at it, I think my becoming unconscious was a defense mechanism of my body to prevent me hearing the next stanza which could have led to some permanent brain damage. I thanked evolution, and looked forward nervously to what the next bus that we had to board was having in store for me.
A bus to Vellore arrived almost immediately. It was crowded, but I convinced Prabha into getting in since it was already 4.45 PM. This bus did not have any indications of college students and my mind was relaxing a bit. We bought our tickets, and a few minutes later Prabha got a seat. I was still standing and finally I got a seat in the last row of the bus near the window on the side of the stairs. I was sitting here, and the person next to me was a musician who was called to play at some wedding. He was generally lamenting on how rural music has been ignored, how his own son does not want to continue in the tradition and all that. A couple of his friends standing close by agreed solemnly with him.
Even as everything was going on like this smoothly, the conductor came to our seat and asked one of us to get up. Only then did it dawn on me that I was sitting in the conductor’s seat. I looked at the other two people imploringly, but neither showed any signs of moving. I yielded and got up. A few minutes later I got a seat on one of the two-seaters, and I took it. The lady next to me was a short lady of about 50-60 years and was looking out of the window, as if looking for somebody to whom she had loaned a considerable sum, and who is now hiding from her. The conductor then got up and started tallying the number of passengers in the bus and the number of tickets he had sold. He noticed that one person had not bought a ticket. So he started asking all the passengers to show their tickets. When he reached my place and asked me, I showed him my ticket promptly. Then he asked the lady next to me to show it. The lady became angry that her honesty was being doubted, and confronted him with a logical question, “If I bought a ticket and am not able to show it to you because I lost it, how would you know whether I bought it or not?” I was aghast. Let me explain.
Usually with bus conductors it is best to act like a person who does not know how to talk, the reason being that they have the capacity to embarrass you in front of so many co-travellers, even though you did the right and he is in the wrong. It is common experience of many bus commuters who when, very rightly, ask for the 50 paise that the conductor has to give back, have received responses that are minor variations of “Am I going to build a house in Anna Nagar, after accumulating all this change??”. If you are somebody who is dressed like a reasonably educated person, he will cast aspersions on the means through which you have got your degree certificates. In some extreme cases, they even question whether we eat rice daily or something else.
During my college days, in one of the bus journeys the conductor gave me a ticket, which was close to being torn into two, but technically retained a single identity. After I was given the ticket, it underwent mitosis and became two tickets. Dutifully I went up to him and told him “The ticket was torn”. He was furious and told me that my statement was inaccurate, tickets don’t tear up on their own, that only some conscious entity can tear a ticket into two and hence what I should have said was “I tore the ticket into two” .What happened after that that is not very relevant, but it suffices to say that I learnt the difference between active and passive voice and it has remained with me much better than anything my father ever taught me using Wren and Martin’s Grammar book.
Coming back to this lady, the conductor, who was already irritated, replied, “In that case, I will ask you to buy another one”. “Am I an idiot to buy a ticket twice?” asked the lady, her BP rising. “But if you lose the ticket, you don’t have an option but to buy another one”, the conductor replied. This ping-pong game went on for some time. Then the lady took a ticket out of her blouse and showed the conductor the ticket, and the conductor moved on. I am sure that after his encounter with this lady, he lost some of his belief in god and was quickly moving toward atheism.
After this the lady turned to me indignantly, “I am the kind of person, who buys my ticket, the moment I get onto a bus”. I wanted to tell her that not everybody is like that and that in fact whenever I get into a bus I first check my email. But I correctly deduced that sarcasm would be lost on her and kept quiet. But she continued “I am not the kind of person who avoids buying tickets”. For the sake of decency I replied, trying to communicate the conductor’s view point to her. “But the conductor will not know it, right? It is only his job to check”. This did not convince her, and neither did I expect it to, but I played my part in the conversation. She muttered something and started to again look out of the window for her debtor and I tried to read my book.
Prabha was sitting in the front row to the right, and we occasionally kept communicating, as usual in sign language. After sometime the logician lady told me that she was about to get down and that Prabha can come and sit next to me. I told this to Prabha and so she got up. The lady next to me was also standing and as I moved out of her way. Exactly at this moment, I got a phone call. As I was answering it, I moved to the window seat with the seat next to me empty. But even before Prabha could come and take the seat, another person occupied it. I momentarily forgot to hold that seat for Prabha, since I was on the phone. But Prabha had already got up from her seat, and somebody else occupied her seat too, and she ended up standing. I tried to offer her my seat for the terrible goof-up, but she, in a seemingly large-hearted way refused. But I knew there would be something in store for me. But thankfully, this person next to me got up and so Prabha got to sit down.
After all this, the bus reached Vellore at about 6.30 PM. We went into the Vellore bus stand to look for buses heading to Chennai. We were hoping to get an AC bus again, so that we can comfortably complete the remaining journey. There was one non-AC bus which had its engine started and ready to leave. Since there were no AC buses in sight, we headed towards this bus, but on the way there was an enquiry counter. I put my head through the counter and asked the person sitting there when the next AC bus to Chennai is. He told me that there was one waiting way behind the bus that was about to start but was hidden from our sight from here. I again quickly ran and located the bus. It was practically empty with one lady sitting, her legs folded as if sitting on the floor, but she too was about to get down since the driver or the conductor had not turned up for a long time. I asked Prabha to sit, and I went out to get, what else, a packet of bourbon biscuits a magazine to read and got back into the bus and then began our wait for the driver or the conductor.
It didn’t take long. Within the next ten minutes that AC was turned on and we settled down with our magazines to read. Now a young girl, with her father walked into the bus, and sat just behind us. Almost as soon as they sat down, she started an audiobiography (if I may coin a new word) of her life. She started talking about how she had come to Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) for a Ph.D seat and that she had got it, since she was ranked No.2 in the entrance test and group discussion. She was obviously excited about her getting a seat. She then explained how the topic of her research would be “Telomerase action in Cancer”. She had her convocation on July 20th in Gujarat, where she completed her PG and so she told the VIT people that she can join only after that date.
If you are wondering why she was telling us all this, it might help you to know that all this information was interspersed with things like, “Hello chitthi, how are you? Yes I got into VIT”. “Hi da, I got admission in VIT. Thank you.”. “Hello periamma, yes I got into VIT. Thank you”. Her periamma also told her that she already knew by meditation that she would get a seat at VIT This girl was impressed with her periamma’s sixth sense and was discussing with her father, though I wondered that if her periamma already knew it, was the phone call not a waste? Now, now, please don’t think that I am uncivil enough to overhear somebody else’s conversation. In fact, I was trying to block that out so that I could read the magazine I had bought, but my efforts were a complete waste. She was so loud that the whole bus could hear what she was saying. This went on from sometime, preventing us from giving any attention to. Now the bus driver turned off the lights. I was irritated with this. First there was this girl who prevented us from focusing our attention on reading, and added to that the conductor switched off the lights. That made me even more determined, and I turned on the torch light in my mobile phone and started reading the magazine under its light. This irritated Prabha and she told me to not show off. I didn’t know what I was showing off, but I knew enough to listen to her words without much discussion and so I turned off the torch light. Of course, the switching off of lights had no impact on the David Attenborough sitting behind me. She continued her narration of her life history. My wife and I tried to counter this, by playing songs on our mobile phone. Thus continued our journey till Chennai. Completely in the dark, except when one child on the bus had to relieve himself and so the bus stopped briefly on the roadside, so that the activity could be conducted on the road. When the child was back in the lights went out again. After this multiple diversions we finally reached Chennai and got down at CMBT bus stop. It was already 9.20 by then and from then on we took a bus to Vadapalani, had dinner at Saravana Bhavan and then took an auto home.
Our trip in brief:
Total distance covered: About 500 kms.
Total distance it felt like: 500 light years.
Total time taken: 17 hours
Total expenses for the trip: I better not think of it
Number of AC buses: 2
Number of non-AC buses: 7
Other means of transport: Walking, Running, Dragging along another person with you, 1 Auto, Almost a milk truck.
Number of biscuit packets consumed: 2
Number of book/magazines we had in hand: 4
Number of books/magazines we read: 0.002
What we had in plenty: Curious characters
What he didn’t have: Peace of mind
Lessons learnt: Logic, Sign language, how to find an AC bus
Lessons we need to learn: How to convince an old lady with logic, how to travel in an AC bus without paying for it, how to communicate in Sign language so that the other person understands it.
What we would do differently next time: Not go