The big monster of iron energy arrives on time. It stands in front of me in all its glory, spewing clouds of grey into the city air. The conductor is shouting his daily rhyme. He scans the bus stop for prospective passengers. With a wave of hand, he calls out to them. His looks around one last time and his gaze falls on me. He asks, “Madam kidhar jaana hai?” (Madam, where do you want to go?). I do not know. The cars behind start blowing their horn. His voice drowns in the noise. The cars continue honking for what seems like forever and then traffic lights turn green. I look at the green signal and then back at the bus. At the signal and then back again. Next thing I know I am in it. The driver speeds the bus away.
I hear the conductor mumbling something which I can’t understand. The bus is jam packed. There isn’t a place to stand, let alone sit. I stand near the ladies section and sure enough, stares are passed around. If you ever want to feel like a celebrity and get a gist of paparazzi, all you have to do is; be a woman and get on a Delhi Bus. And Voila! Star experience in a jiffy.
As I am standing there trying to get a hold of my bag, a plump aunty looks up at me. She is wearing a bright pink salwar kameez, and her henna dyed hair is almost perfectly tied up except for the loose strands at the side, telling the tale of a busy day at work. She offers to hold my bag for me and I happily oblige. Kindness in the big bad city can surprise you sometimes.
I see a couple by door engrossed in an affectionate conversation. With his chest out, the boy is looking down at her, his voice hushed and smooth. She is smiling meekly and playing with her hair, her eyes never leaving his. They are in a cocoon, far away from the world. Just then, an old uncle-aunty get on the bus. They look the same – milky white hair, an almost toothless grin, deep wrinkles and a warm smile. They slowly move towards the senior citizen seat. The uncle fumbles through his ‘Shaktibhog Atta’ bag, which he then places between his feet. He presents his Senior citizen Travel Card to the conductor. After which, they settle down and look out the window. Their hazy eyes seem to be lost in their own thoughts.
At the next stop, half of the passengers get down, leaving behind rows of empty seats. I choose the one next to the window. The window panes seem larger than before. Or maybe my eyes are just wider this time. Up ahead, I can see the conductor with a brown satchel around his shoulder, standing by door of the bus. He is screaming out the names of bus stops so loud that you cannot differentiate the words. But then again, if person knows where he wants to go, then he can comprehend every word. With his arms resting on the frame of the door, the conductor swings his body out of the bus. He stays there, shouting at the other buses, picking on the other conductors. His black moustache goes up and down as laughs heartily at all the jokes he cracks. The bus turns at great speed but the conductor simply sways along with it. His movements are swift. I wonder how many trips like this he would have made. Shuttling between places but never reaching anywhere. Yet, there is a sense of pride in whatever he does. A feeling of content, which I haven’t seen in the longest time.
I look out through the large window panes again. The evening Sun is about to set and the travelers are returning home. They are carrying with them stories of a day gone by. So many of these stories intersected in this bus today. It was easy to get lost in them. There existed a world which stretched far beyond me, encompassing wisdom that could only be noticed when I paused. I think I needed that green signal to find that out.