Tuesday, August 19

A horse with no name

One of the less pleasurable aspects of reaching Pune is the traveling, particularly road journeys. Thanks to the inflexible work schedule, it's impossible for me to hop on to one of the regular intercity trains from Bombay, leaving only the MSRTC buses or Cool Cabs. The taxis require you to have either 3 other travellers or an infinite amount of patience so they're usually not an option, leaving only the bus.

To be fair, the Shivneri buses are usually dependable and my only grouse is the increasingly princely sum of the ticket. However, dependability and comfort are of little use in Bombay's famed traffic, which is a doozy on Friday nights and long weekends, when everyone and their uncles seem to be frantically scooting out of the city. This was the case on the Independence Day weekend too.

Reaching the bus depot, I was faced with a queue of at least 100 people, all of whom had a resigned "FML" look on their faces. I got talking with the guy standing before me and found that he was travelling with his mother, who was wisely cooling her heels in the AC Waiting Room. I suggested we find a 4th person and share a cab, which he agreed to after much hemming & hawing. He then went off to explain the situation to his mom and didn't show up for half an hour. Figuring his mom had other ideas, I continued my vigil, only to have someone tap me on the shoulder. It was another guy standing behind me, also travelling with his mom, who wanted to share a cab.

We found a 4th person and headed for the cab rank, only to meet Son number 1 with his mother in tow. Ram & Lakhan then agreed that it would be an even better idea if the two Mom-Son combos travelled together, leaving me out of the loop. To add insult to injury, one of them asked me to accompany them to the taxi booking office, probably because the large, garish Mumbai-Pune Taxi Association sign was well camouflaged by his idiocy. A little while later, I was back in the line, only for another set of 3 guys to inquire if I wanted to share a cab. Making sure there weren't any mums in the mix, we went to the booking point, where the employee phlegmatically informed us that there wasn't a taxi available for love or money.

I shuffled back into the queue, even as the other guys disappeared to make alternate arrangements, and waited as 4 buses slowly and sheepishly attempted to make their way to the station through the unholy mess that passes itself off as the Sion-Trombay road. Misery tends to bring people together and that day was no different. A girl standing in line, who would normally not have acknowledged my existence, began to chat about the situation in an effort to assuage her own worries about getting to Pune. A young man who'd been casual-flirting with the girl all evening, began to crack jokes and make ribald statements. Unfortunately for him, she indicated that there was someone waiting for her in Pune so he gave up the ghost and we moved on to discussing the sorry bus situation. While we complained and boasted about how long we'd been waiting, he casually let slip that he and his family had waited at Surat train station for 2 days in 2002... during the chaos of the riots. It was a sobering moment, I'll admit. We then moved on to other topics, such as what he was studying in college, what he wanted to do, yada, yada, yada.

As usual, the Peter Pan effect meant I was asked which college I attended and was forced to gently shatter their illusions. Jaws were picked up and we continued talking, for no other reason except that it made the wait somewhat bearable. Eventually, after 3.5 hours in queue, I got a ticket and climbed into the bus. Even though the 3 of us were seated next to each other, we had nothing left to say... nothing we wanted to say. Perhaps the moment of forced camaraderie was over. Everyone dozed off and I plugged in the headphones and stared away into the night. At 4 am, the bus dropped me off at my stop and I considered the fact that from office to home, it'd taken me more than 8 hours. Quite a trip.

Song for the moment: Ask the lonely - Journey