Not Knowing

Once out of the Grant Road station I went to my usual, route 155 bus stop. I have been using it for more than 2 years. It takes me to Films Division at Peddar road for my work. Sun was strong today, making it a rather warm day. I pulled out my cap from the bag. Felt better. I was feeling as calm as uncomfortable and warm the weather was. I saw a bus turn into the station road; but stopped at a distance. The queue was getting longer. Ladies were grumbling. Old men were frowning. They should also carry a cap or an umbrella in such hot and even sometimes wet weather. Most people had discarded face mask. I could see. They think Covid 19 has gone away. But they should know that numbers have stated rising again. I had my mask, cap and glares too. Bus moved again towards us. Stopped at the pit stop for the conductors. Here they take paper instructions. I guess records of number of rounds they made.

Once at the stop, door opened and people started climbing in. I was lucky to get a seat. Seat ahead of me was for Ladies, a woman in red sari was sitting and a guy joined in, in the empty space. That was not going to be allowed in such crowd. Another woman immediately pushed him off. AC wasn’t effective at all, more so with so many people. Sun was towards my seat. But something was keeping me calm, didn’t I did tell you? I did. We moved. People were buying tickets. Conductor was moving easily through the aisle. They are used to it. In about 10 minutes bus stopped at the Tardeo bus depot. The place famous for ‘Sardar Pav-Bhaji’. BEST staff changes here. Both driver and conductor. It gets done in less than 2 minutes. I am used to it. Somehow today the clock went beyond two minutes… then 5, then 10! Women in seat ahead of mine started, “where is the driver? How much time?” Many passengers in the aisle had started making a lot of noise. They were getting louder and rowdier. Someone went on ringing the bell. My eyes were fixed at the depot gate to find two men in khaki walking towards us. I gave up. They were nowhere to be seen. Sun was on my side and the AC seemed to be on ventilator.

I took photo of the bus identification number. The woman in front also did the same. I was thinking where should I post it? I said, “Hello, are you going to post it on Instagram? She said, yes. A good 25 minutes later staff entered the bus. I heard a woman saying we have to reach in time, otherwise they mark us absent. Other said we can’t afford to be late in our jobs. Next stop was Jaslok Hospital. I knew they both will get off there. I was sure they were medical staff. That is why so much insistence on punctuality.

But after being convinced in my mind that they were medical staff, none got off at the hospital! Why! My stop was next. I stood up and got off. Outside I noticed the woman also had come out, perhaps from back door. You need to be fully alert while crossing Peddar road. Traffic is very quick and dense. Once across the road I noticed the same woman had crossed the road too and was walking in the same direction. Now I felt that something quite unusual was happening. I entered ‘films division’ gate. She was already signing the entry register. I saw her entering the building. I saw her waiting for the lift among two more people. Some guys got off on 5th floor. 9th floor light was on. She did not chose her floor.

On 9th floor I went to the person who guides me which cabin is assigned to me for watching the film. Person told me to go to 8th floor. I walked down one floor and took a comfortable seat. Documents about the film were placed in front of me. The lady entered the room and took a seat behind. Grabbed her papers and started filling details.

Lights dimmed. The movie started.

Gautam and the Driver

The other day Gautam heard the story of someone taking a long walk in suburban Mumbai. He came to know how upset that poor guy was watching the condition of the pavements under his feet. It seemed to him that authorities have absolutely no empathy for the plight of the citizens, especially senior citizens. They are so vulnerable to trip and fall, hurting themselves seriously. And any fracture in that ripe age can ultimately result in his or her death…

Yesterday Gautam was coming home in an auto rickshaw. It was drizzling. He was thinking about that guy walker. Same sight was playing in front of him right now. People walking hurriedly holding their plastic bags in one hand and the umbrellas in the other but their eyes were focused on the ground. No one dared to look up straight and walk. They all had to be alert to all kinds of bumps, ups and downs, broken tiles etc on the surface right under their feet. The traffic signal had turned red at the last minute. There was going to be a fairly long wait now. Gautam decided to strike a conversation with the rickshaw driver. He does it often. In the bargain he often ends up getting enriched by experiences. So today too, internally a little playfully, but serious outwardly Gautam dragged the driver into a shockingly unlikely topic;

Gautam: If I should leave Mumbai, then where should I go? You have some place in mind?

It took quite a few seconds for the driver to register this strange topic. It certainly was very surprising for a passenger to talk about such deep personal problem to him. People mostly ask them about maps and routes or talk about driver’s village, their land, family etc. But this guy wasn’t a regular one.

Gautam continued: the roads and footpaths are so horrible here. I really feel that we are being given a raw deal by the authorities.

Driver: go to your village.

Gautam: I don’t have a village or a native place. My parents are no more and any ways they had sold everything. So, I have nowhere to go.

Driver: (looking away) go live with your children then.

Gautam: my children are here only.

Driver: then Mumbai only is fine. It is a good place.

Gautam: but look at the city.

Driver: sir, like that every place will have some or the other problem. You can’t keep running away from problems. The best city according to you will also have problems, may be of a different kind. But problems surely will be there.

Gautam: we are being treated like animals here. Can anyone think that our good money has been spent on making such horrible roads and footpaths?

Driver: (with surrender and finality in his tone) sir, as long as we live, problems will live with us. No one can run away from them.

Light turned green. He put the rickshaw in first gear and moved ahead with traffic. Gautam had earned his points.

(24 June 2013)

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