It was monsoon and I found myself at a bus stop in Padmanabhanagar. I had arrived here by cab that cost me 280 Rupees and about an hour and fifteen minutes. The schools had emptied a half hour ago and the roads waited for the onslaught of rush hour. It had been overcast all day with a pervading cool breeze that held its authority better in this part of Bangalore. Still, these pleasant moments lasted only until razed by those cancer-free, four-wheeled, chain smokers.
The bus stop suffered an identity crisis. There were three in a row in varying stages of decay. I went for what seemed the newest of the lot and sat on the smooth black granite slab in the shelter. I could have whiled away the time watching the cricket game being played in the school ground behind if my view wasn’t blocked by the shelter’s back wall plastered with local ads.
A few moments passed and I was joined by two elderly gentlemen. By elderly I mean grandfathers, the species we Tamilians affectionately call thatta, whose aura compels those who approach them to be gentle and polite. From a distance they are almost invisible as they saunter through the streets hugging the curb of the roads. Like cows grazing the streets, they make stops at passing juice stalls, grocers, and electrical repair shops for a conversation.
Their white hair lay neatly brushed back or parted sideways giving a strong presence of a towering forehead. Though I did not see them today, it is not uncommon for a nammam or vibuthi to adorn the forehead which despite its religious affiliations, first and foremost, signifies a discipline of the mind and body. Follow down either side of the temples and you’ll find a vast desert of clean-shaven skin punctuated by dunes accumulated at the cheekbone and the chin. Characteristic of South Indians, long ears with detached lobes stand guard at either side.
The two gentlemen sat down comfortably and waited for the bus. I was suddenly reminded of my grandfather’s afternoon routine. I began to recall that this was the time when he went on his scheduled walk before his next generation took to the streets but after the generation below them came back from school and shared their anecdotes. The walk usually came after a scrumptious tiffin at home preceded by the ritual of washing the face with cool water and changing into afternoon clothes: a pristine white dhothi or a freshly pressed formal pants and shirt. Often the walk served a dual purpose of carrying out errands for the wife: some vegetables and that seemingly miscalculated extra packet of milk. With the city ever encroaching upon green zones, I imagine these gentlemen were to take the bus to a nearby park.
Time passed on and I shifted uneasily from standing against the railings to sitting cross-legged and choosing my right or left hand to rest my chin. The thattas picked a position and remained thus. They chatted for brief periods and then went silent the rest of the time. My attention jumped from place to place as I watched the traffic, pitied the motorcycle riders without helmets, listened to student chatter, and moaned the lack of a strict bus timetable. Their necks held their heads still and erect. One of their number sat with both his feet on the ground bisected by a long black umbrella held in place with his palms resting elegantly on the cane. His satisfied stomach bulged away from his spine as his gently curved back completed his posture. He gazed directly ahead.
What was he looking at? Memories… An interminable flow of events stretching back to before India gained her independence but how they lived reflected an even more distant past. My grandfather often recalled how he would walk to and from school that was an hour away each way and cycled to markets some thirty kilometers away. Their lives really seemed to trundle like Bangalore Mail in the wee hours of the night and yet he went to school and college, he worked and was married, and he had not one but three children. Most of us do no more, perhaps even less, than this today and yet we want to board the Shinkansen express.
What must it be like to recall carefully crafted letters of love and affection and then opening the replies delayed by an eventful waiting time? What must it have been like to have home-cooked breakfast and dinner every single day come what may? And nothing would stop them from seeing the night pass only in their dreams. Suddenly, the two of them jumped from their seats, walked at pace, and literally jumped into a bus that barely waited before they settled into their seats.
I didn’t know what bus would take me to Majestic but having hung around at the stop for a good half hour I overheard some folks under the same predicament who eventually found their answers. The bus arrived and I sat down. The ticket cost me 20 Rupees after which I spent another 20 Rupees for a metro ride from Majestic to Bayapannahalli. I started writing this to pass the time. A good part of two hours passed when I reached home.
The weather stayed cool for the rest of day and the night was greeted by showers. As I walked home, I couldn’t stop noticing people frantically passing by me on foot and on bikes. I had an urge to shout like a drill sergeant and stop them all moving and to inspect their lives. But this was a stampede and nothing was going to stop it till the panic subsided. Euclid postulated that parallel lines never meet; in this city, you meet people living in parallel worlds; the bus stop was a nexus.