Note: Today's post on my blog is a guest post by somebody very dear to me. Reading his essay brought back tons of memories to my mind, especially since before we ever owned a car, 5B used to be the one bus I was familiar with! Besides, now I live in a city where the frequency of public transport is terrible and better yet, lots of public transport services do not work on Sundays. It put everything into a different perspective and suddenly, I appreciate how well connected my home town is.
One often hears people say “what can 100 rupees get these days?” or “what can 500 rupees get you these days?” and so on, depending upon who is talking. Today is Sunday 26th June 2011. Time line is important for this story. I just got back after attending the wedding reception of one of my colleagues’ son. The reception was held at New Woodlands hotel lawn. I got ready at 6.30 pm and was ready to leave. My “Mrs” did not come with me to the reception because her family members have come for vacation. In her usual tone “why are you going so early, even the bride and groom won’t be ready by 7.00 pm! They must be still in the beauty parlour”. Based on the bad experiences we had in so many wedding receptions, I had to agree that she was correct. One of my own students came about an hour late for his own wedding reception. Janavasam procession got stuck in the traffic jam in Alwarpet! Well... coming back to the story, just then it started to drizzle, summer showers in Chennai. The bride and groom can forget about reception at outdoors on the lawn. While all this was going through my mind I was actually contemplating how to reach the venue. Taking the car was out of the question, did not feel like driving in the maddening evening traffic. So I rode the scooter up to the Gate, parked it there and came out of IIT campus.
Finally my mind was made up. I am not going to spoil my good mood by bargaining with the unreasonable Chennai auto drivers. I will take the bus. Which bus goes to New Woodlands? I had no idea; it had been so long since I took bus in Chennai. I crossed the Sardar Patel road in front of IIT and reached CLRI bus stop safely. Waited in the bus stop for about 5 minutes watching the traffic and reminiscing about how peaceful this Sardar Patel Road used to be when I joined IIT Madras in 1991, even better, how dark and forest like scary atmosphere this road used to pose when I was a student at IIT Madras in 1979. We could ride the bicycle without any difficulties to Adyar and Mylapore in those days. Within 30 years so much of change, so much of traffic, so much noise, where did the trees go, where did all the bicycles disappear? All in the name of development! But one thing has not changed, not even a bit. Like the Old Faithful the bus came to a screeching halt, the same old 5B bus, Thyagaraya Nagar to Mylapore. I just got in and started my journey to Mylapore.
It was supposed to be a Deluxe bus which meant the seats are moulded and contoured with special plastic, individual seats where one could park his butt individually and comfortably. The bus was not crowded, may be because it was a Sunday. I asked the Conductor of the bus the fare to Mylapore, he replied “seven rupees sir”. So, what can 100 rupees get you these days, you can do the math!, a lot actually. The conductor had a fancy calculator type electronic gadget, he punched a few keys and presto!, out came the electronically printed ticket. I was quite impressed. All the comforts of a contoured seat and an electronically printed ticket just for seven rupees? It could have been even a personalized ticket with my name on it! I just burned 1000 rupees worth of petrol driving my fancy air-conditioned car to Mahabalipuram today morning, relatives have come for vacation, you know (wink, wink). I bought my ticket and moved to the front end of the bus. Now I am having the bus driver’s view of the road. It is amazing how these drivers manage to navigate this large body of automobile through the narrow lanes of T. Nagar, Mandaveli and Mylapore. The cars and motorcycles driving like maniacs trying to over take the bus so closely. No wonder the drivers of the city bus go mad and drive like maniacs. They have to fight for every inch of road space along with the luxury cars and fancy motor cycles of the affluent for the sake of driving this bus for the poor souls who cannot indulge in such extravaganza. I love my India! Next time when I drive my car I will have sympathy for these bus drivers and give them way, not that they could not take it from me. The bus reached Mandaveli bus stand in about 15 minutes and I decided to get down there thinking that there will be a bus from Mandaveli bus stand to New Woodlands. I was told by the drivers who were chit chatting and sipping a cup of tea that 29C will take me there but I have to wait in the bus stand outside of the bus terminus. I just crossed the road and waited for about 5 minutes for 29C to come.
During these 5 minutes at least 10 buses came and went to various destinations ranging from Aavadi to Tambaram. What an amazing frequency of buses in Chennai city on a Sunday evening! That too not very crowded, thanks partly due to the Varuna Bhagawan who was kind enough to bring the humidity to 100% this evening. M29C came first, I did not take it because I did not understand what M stood for. Then came 29C, again a deluxe bus, this time the fare was only six rupees to New Woodlands. Just in 10 minutes I came to New Woodlands bus stop, got down and crossed the road “safely” and reached New Woodlands by 7.15 pm. Not bad at all, 13 rupees and 45 minutes got me going so for. I was indeed very proud of myself, my reality check worked and I succeeded in the test.
The wedding reception was the usual routine, you meet the same colleagues from IIT, stand in the queue for 20-30 minutes, reach the stage, shake hands with the groom and a Namaste to the bride in 10 seconds, photo and videographers dictate where you should stand, a few flashes go up and you are done with the social responsibility. It is time to grab the dinner and get out. This time it was a buffet dinner and not the usual “pandhi” type dinner. I hate the way Madarasi caterers serve in the pandhi style dinners. They randomly come and throw some food on the ”yet to the washed and cleaned banana leaf” and keep going like an assembly line.
After dinner I decided to venture in the bus once again to reach back IIT. Just in front of New Woodlands I waited for 29C, it came within 5 minutes of wait. During these 5 minutes I observed how nicely the bus stand was made, well lit, with hand rails and seats made of stainless steel. I even sat on one of the stainless steel stools for a few minutes. Some parts of Chennai are really Singara Chennai, no doubt. If not in Dr. Radhakrishna Salai, where else could one find a nice bus stand with such fantastic amenities? Pizza Hut, Reliance Fashions, GKB Opticals, all of them fancy shops, just across from New Woodlands, After all, the most affluent of Chennai live within 2 kilometre radius from here. I took 29C deluxe again to Mylapore tank, 4 rupees ticket this time, got down at the Tank within 5 minutes. This time bus driver was really mad, drove like a maniac in the narrow lanes over taking everyone as if he owned the road, he even “almost” kissed the rear end of a Maruti Swift near Luz corner. The Old Faithful 5B was parked near the tank and the bus was almost full. I mean all the seats were occupied but no one was standing. The driver and conductor were smoking and having a conversation on the recent outcome of the state assembly poll. “How did Amma manage to sweep the polls?; I guess, was the topic of their discussion. The display on the bus 5B LSS puzzled me. I began to wonder if this bus would stop in IIT stop. I asked the conductor. He was very polite “yes sir, get in, let us go”, one should imagine this and the following conversation in Chennai Tamil.
I asked for the fare to IIT and swiftly came the answer “three rupees sir”. I could not believe what I just heard and I wanted to be sure. “I beg your pardon, did you say three rupees, I want to go to IIT”. “Yes sir, only three rupees, don’t be surprised, even to T. Nagar it is only four rupees”. Just then I felt like shouting my buddy Sylvester’s phrase “Sufferin Succotash, only the.. thee...three rupees”. Just yesterday the Central Government decided to hike the price of diesel by three rupees a litre on which these buses run. I think the price of diesel is about 40 rupees a litre now. How the hell do they cover this distance of about 6-7 kilometres just in three rupees? To put things in proper perspective, a kilo of rice is 38-45 rupees, a kilo of vegetable oil is 135 rupees, a kilo of sugar is 35 rupees, a litre of petrol is 65 rupees, vegetables vary from 20-40 rupees a kilo. Although the conductor was busy issuing tickets I decided to engage him in a friendly conversation, he seemed like he could use one. I asked him “how come you do not have the fancy calculator type ticket printer?”, “Sir, those things are no good sir, they work only for 6 months, there is nothing like the good old paper tickets sir” showing me a bunch of printed tickets stashed between his left hand fingers. I guess he finally found someone to pour his heart out, he continued “look at this lousy blue uniform they have given us sir, it is neither cleanable nor ironable, useless thing. They even gave us a pair of chappals in the Transport Corporation, if I wanted to walk south the chappal would take me to north, sir, I had to throw them out, sorry sir, I should not complain, but sometimes I am unable to contain”. I did not know how to console him, I simply smiled and nodded my head as if I sympathize with him and agreeing to his point of view. He moved on to the back side of the bus. An elderly man got down at Mandaveli leaving the seat free for me to take. I enjoyed my three rupees ride to IIT. When the bus was about to reach IIT I got up and signalled to the friendly conductor, he whistled, the bus stopped and I got down after waving a “thank you” gesture to the bus conductor.
After a very long I took the bus today and I am so glad that I did. It taught me very valuable lessons. More importantly I have once again fallen in love with Chennai. Next time when I hear someone say “what can 100 rupees get these days?”, I shall tell them that it can take them from Mylapore to T Nagar 25 times in the Old Faithful 5B. The friendly conductor in the blue uniform will only be too happy to drop them at IIT bus stop on the way to T Nagar.