This traveler tells you why ‘push’ always means ‘shove’ in Chennai buses
I first came to Chennai – Madras then – in 1989 and the first thing that registered on the mind was the efficiency of the Pallavan fleet. It was on rare occasions that one had to wait for more than 15 minutes to board a bus to get to their destination. Madras buses were the talk and envy of other cities.
But with the turn of 2005, the bus service went completely off tangent. They had stopped cleaning the buses, with heaps of groundnut shells, guthka packets, cigarette buds, plastic covers and stale jasmine flowers lying all around.
Unlike a disciplined Mumbaikar, Chennaiites will push, shove, butt, elbow, trying to catch the bus that is still on the move. If you are over 6’ and 3” feet tall, you will have to hunch to avoid brushing the ceiling. The shorter people, should they have oily hair, as a taller man my shirt is soiled. Some adjustments and my elbows would stop at the head of the shortie, bracing him unintentionally.
At Saidapet, there is a Tirupati sized crowd that dashes into the bus, and then the butt-sqeezing begins. There is not an atom of space as people stamp on one another’s feet and the bus inclines to the left from sheer overload. And if the bus takes a left turn at 40 kmph, it will overturn most assuredly, for the laws of physics will not make any concession.
If you are unlucky to get the aisle seat – actually it is a bench – then be ready to get squashed by those standing; maybe it’s their wrath for not winning a seat. The bus comes to a halt at Nandanam and getting out is another tussle. On a particular bad day even my trouser belt got unbuckled while I was struggling to find my way out. My modesty was just short of being compromised on the famed Mount Road. *Sigh*
On the way back, there is a stretch of road, full of craters and potholes near Saidapet. It puts the driver’s skills to test as he struggles to negotiate the gaping craters. In the jam-packed vehicle, however, my conscience doesn’t elude me to deeply empathize with the old codgers and expecting women. For them, the pain is manifold.
The bus then reaches Vanan Thurai and it’s far from over. A deft hand slithers into my trouser pocket and coaxes my wallet out. Even before the whole thing registers in my mind, I am benumbed at the audacity and swiftness of it. I am a proud loser for only the best in the business have played on me and brought home some amusement and admiration.
Finally, reaching my place it feels like a war-hero bringing home the bacon. I immediately disrobe and go to the bath, shaking off all the unsolicited grime and grease. Now tell me, don’t I deserve a hero’s medal for going through all this and yet coming out unscathed?
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