Yes I remember that very well. Every day from when I was 11 until joining college, I went through this routine which was painful but necessary part of the day.
Catching the bus. Entering it; finding your spot; and more importantly, getting out unscathed.
No, it was not simple.
The first day to the high school – around 10 kms from home – was also my first ever bus trip by myself. Standing amidst a crowd of busy people at the bus stop – school kids big and small, families, and irritated, lonely office goers – I remember feeling anxious but proud of being on my own.
Imagine the 80’s in India. A typical bus stop at a middle class neighbourhood. No mobile phones. You have to chat with strangers otherwise the wait for the bus would feel much longer. Usually I was with friends and occasionally my parents would decide to start early to office and give me company. But mostly I found myself among a crowd of unfamiliar people.
Suddenly there was a jostling. I look towards the end of the road. Appears like a mirage, but it was indeed the bus emerging from nowhere. The red and white coloured metal box carrying a sea of humanity is going to stop near me anytime. And I need to figure out a way to get in and find some space to stand if not sit. Already, the sound and sight of that beast had made me nervous, especially the ear piercing horn announcing to the world that no one dare stand in the way.
Everyone gets ready; no queues, no courtesy. Bags are lifted from the ground; conversations pause; a sense of alertness kicks in. Families make strategies – who gets in first to look for seats for others and who should carry the heavy bags etc. As the bus stops, I realized one of the fundamental assumptions going wrong. You expect a bunch of people getting down to make space for ones getting in. That never happened. But no one seemed to care. Everybody barged in. Actually, my attempt to get in to the bus was effortless (alas, not painless) since, all I did was to stand in the way of this bulky guy who wanted to desperately get in. The raging bull that he was, he ensured I was shovelled right into it.
There were days when the arriving bus wouldn’t stop near us. You see, the driver would want to keep his sanity (and his job) when he knows there is a physical limit. He might prefer to avoid a stampede and stop a lot farther from the bus stop, hoping to only offload people and not let anymore in. But he is unaware that we are also good sprinters and nothing would deter us from making a mad rush towards the bus.
Most days we make it. Entering that way as an unwelcome passenger, you need to avoid making eye contact with the driver (or the ticket conductor). I look back at the scene now and it resembles the one from the movie Avatar where Jake Sully waits for his dragon on the top of the mountains. While everyone gets their carrier, he is left wondering if he would ever have a chance to be on top of his own dragon until when he is assured by his girlfriend of the tribe ,”You choose your Ikran, but you have to wait until it choses you”.
Some days I get up late and I would already know that the only chance to get to school in time would mean that I run and run towards the bus stop. There are other factors too at play: the straight but uneven path from my home to the bus stop via a dumping ground; speed and position of the bus that has already commenced from the previous stop; probability that it would even stop close to bus station. I never had to struggle for real life examples when I learnt Pythagoras theorem, Trigonometry, Newton’s laws etc. at school.
Catching a bus was not just an event. It now seems to me as a metaphor for grabbing opportunities, taking risks and wriggling my way out of the crowd to find a spot. It has prepared me well for the real journeys later.
To travel away from a familiar home to new places full of hope and unknowns.