Not long ago, the common sight in the morning (say around 8 AM to 9AM, the peak hours) at any of the villages and towns in Kerala were the same - people hurrying along the village path to a bus stop located some distance away (a couple of kilometers, if not more) to board the bus. Many a times, people would be run-walking (wherein one is almost running, but in reality it is the briskest form of walking) so that they won't miss the bus. If one miss the usual one, then the next one might not even bother to stop. Invariably, all buses would be packed to its fullest capacity, that the cleaner (the pet name for the employee other than the driver, conductor and the checker) literally has to push in the remaining passengers into the overflowing bus. Many a times, he along with the people hailing from the last few stops have to travel rather adventurously, on the foot-board.
If one cares to look around, the front of the bus would be filled with girls and ladies, who would be sporting wet (often still dripping) hair, beautiful and colourful bindis, struggling to find a balance while trying to get hold of the overhead rod with one hand while holding their hand/school bags and the pallu of the saree (or pleats of the skirt, as the case may be) with the other. The greatest of their challenge is to avoid the mischief makers among the crowd of men who seem to spillover to the front end of the vehicle, no matter what! Fortunately, since most of the people are co-travellers who travel daily in the same bus, no serious offense is committed. Often many of the co-travellers pitch in to help (by holding the bag or taking care of a baby and even offering seats for the elderly) one in need.
It is noteworthy that the majority of people are slender and looks fit and fine. Amidst the maddening crowd they exchange pleasantries and catch up with each other lives. The absence of even a single regular traveller is noted and discussed. There is a special camaraderie among these daily commuters that bind total strangers together. And if for any reason the bus does not stop at their stop, these regular travellers feel betrayed.... and they vent their feelings at the very next opportunity. All in all, this journey from one's home to the workplace / school /college in a crowded bus was an unavoidable part of one's daily routine..
Fast forward to the present day.... the village paths have given way to tarred /concrete roads. The bus stop, which used to be crowded with people and a couple of village shops, is now crowded with auto rickshaws that line up in front of the numerous specialized shops. Hardly any person is run-walking. Most of the people arrive pillion riding on two-wheelers (especially the ladies), or by autos and cars. A few minutes doesn't matter any more... If one miss the bus of 8 AM, he/she can still reach his/her destination on time by the bus of 8.05AM or the one at 8.10AM or even later. And if the bus doesn't stop, just take out the mobile and call home for someone to drop one at the destination. Anyways, what are the autos for?
If one didn't miss the bus, then it is worthwhile having a look inside... The basics are still the same. The buses are crowded, but only marginally. The ladies and girls still rush to place themselves in the extreme front of the bus, the balancing act too has remained more or less the same. The only difference is that the Pallu of saree is replaced by the duppattas. The men folk still spill out to the front end and the same old story is repeated... of course, many of the young men are now travelling by their own two wheelers...
One significant change is in the appearance of the travellers ... many of them seem to be overweight, unhealthy and unhappy too... The wet hair is still to be seen, the bindis have changed shapes and colours... those seated are too busy on their mobiles to bother about helping out others... Those who are standing still struggle for their balance as the bus fly past (literally) other vehicles, so that they are not behind the schedule by even a nano second... Nobody misses anyone any more... Everything seems to be same, yet so different!!!
Image Courtesy: Google Images
Image Courtesy: Google Images