Remember that scene in Swades in which Sharukh travels to rural India and the disparity of his and lives of others around him in the local train glares him in the face. This is what came to my mind when I purchased a ticket in SETC – the very own Travel corporation of Tamilnadu. When I asked a friend what ‘ultra deluxe’ means in SETC terms, she replied “cushioned seats”. Humph… After traveling in those Volvos that spoils you, I wasn’t quite ready to travel in just “cushioned seats”!! But I didn’t have a go- owing to my tardiness in booking tickets, every single ticket to home was booked for that weekend.
Thus I reached the vast CMBT bus stand to board my bus hoping it not to be too dirty. After following too many false directions from the information centre, I spotted my bus. I don’t know if you have ever heard your heart thud when it hits rock bottom. I did. There was a dirty blue (?) bus smiling back at me through broken teeth. I sighed and climbed into a confusion of agarbathi fumes and blaring music to find a grey haired woman smiling at me seated on my seat by the window.
I smiled back and said that’s my seat. She said she gets sick during the journey and told me its ok, you can take my seat. I said that’s so kind, but you know what? I got the same problem. I frowned and said I get very sick!!! She stared and said that’s ok you take my seat; I might get sick on you. Well I felt like laughing coz this is the excuse I give to my fellow passengers and somebody is trying to beat me at my own game! So I just smiled back and said cant do.
She moved her bulging plastic covers and sweating Mirinda bottle and made way for me. After keeping bags in place and seated, I had a chance to look around. Apart from the stink of the public loo in the bust stand, there were plenty more stuff to dismay me.
That bus could seriously do good business with a wash. The seats were dust covered– ones that prodded you to imagine the persona of its previous occupiers and less said about the curtains the better. I tried sitting with minimal contact to anything around me, which meant only the seat of my pants would get soiled. But I told myself not to be an ass since the journey was going to last for next 12 hours. And that’s when I thought about the scenes in Swades. It looked less impressive now and I came to conclusion that those villagers in the scene with the actor were just well scrubbed extras in villagers’ clothes. I looked at my neighbour happily chatting on her phone and identified the source of the stink that was clouding my brain with images of soiled socks.
There was only one way out. Escape the reality. I reached for my music player and the now familiar Thud told me I had forgotten it in flat. Plan B. My James bond novel. It is Octopussy this time. I forgot about the bus and wallowed in the shallows of the sea along with Major Smythe towards the octopus.
Soon the bus started and when I looked out of the window during different phases of the journey, I first spotted disarray of colours across the sky and then distant spots of lights and occasional colored lines of light of temples against a black canvas. Well it looks the same whether in Volvo or the poor SETC bus. I decided not to be such a prude and give the poor thing a chance. After all it’s not that bad! Look at my chummy neighbour who has forgotten all about the window seat and is laughing at the loud Tamil movie the driver is playing. And the man in front of me is so considerate, he asks every time before he reclines his seat. I returned to immersing myself in the cold blue eyes of Bond with better spirit than when I started.
Soon it was time for dinner and thankfully bus pulled up beside a clean looking restaurant. My neighbour vanished somewhere and I went inside to clean up and have dinner. Coming back, I fed my reserve of biscuits to a wandering bitch and climbed back into the bus. My chum was back and said she looked for me and since doesn’t like eating alone, didn’t get dinner. I felt sorry and thought of getting her a pack of biscuits when the bus started. On rummaging inside my bag, I found a thin pack of 2 biscuits which the lady hungrily ate up while complaining to her husband about my vanishing act through phone. She loaded me with some Murukk from an open packet and told me to eat it all and said she got it on her way back from the toilet. At the very same instance bus passed the public toilet and at the sight of it my heart went back to thudding and rumbling around.
I simply had to act as if I were fidgeting in the seat and threw away the snack out of the window. I was scared to touch my water bottle in case I infected it! I scrubbed my hands hard with tissue paper and tried not to think about swine flu. My chum was happily explaining to me where she was going and how her nephew broke his leg. She reverted her attention as the movie was back on and resorted to laughing at all Vadivelu jokes. Dinner made me mellow and I started laughing with her because her laugh was just so infectious!
But if you ask me if I would do the same journey again, I would go back to my prude self and say in my best snobbish voice NEVER! Unless somebody who likes his martini shaken and not stirred is pointing a gun at my head.