Taken For A Ride

 

Part 1

 

One of my recurring nightmares is I fail to get off from the train or the bus at my destination due to inattentiveness or a blocking crowd and face a penalty for over-travel. While travelling on a train or a bus, to be sure, I gravitate closest to the exit even before it is half-way to the destination. It happened on this occasion too.

 

At Dadar TT, as the bus pulled in, the seats were filled up and a few standing; and a good number of us managed to pile onto it filling it up in the guts and seams. As the bus sped on its way, the tightly packed standees shook off all body contacts around themselves and found their own standing space – like a shaggy dog shaking off rain from its fur-coat. I found myself standing near the point of entry at the tail-end of the bus, far away from the front exit. And instinctively, I made a slow progress towards the vantage position just behind the bus-driver’s cabin where the seat did not extend up to the edge of the cabin leaving a small standing-room for a person only a few steps away from the exit. You’d know what I meant if you had travelled by one of these buses. By the time the bus touched Kings Circle, I had reached my ‘goal’ gingerly stepping on a few toes on the way, deftly squeezing past a few substantial waists and other jutting parts of bodies – an everyday act expertly practiced by most commuting Mumbaikars with a skill rivaling PC Sorcar’s star contortionist, not eliciting even an ‘ouch’ of squeal in the process. My customary panic subsided and I now made myself comfortable standing at that spot with my back to the driver and looking down on the smugly seated and the stoic standees. All this while, my hand was threaded thru the large loopy ears of a cloth bag, firmly clutching it at its neck.

 

Fortunately the conductor was at the head dispensing tickets. I paid out the fare of nine rupees with exact change as planned giving him no room for kicking up a row or shorting me by a rupee on my tenner. If one is permitted to give oneself one’s due, by ‘taking’ the bus against everybody’s advice, I had saved on the taxi fare to Chembur that would have easily set me back by at least a hundred rupees and much more if the wily driver, against instructions, took the Amar Mahal detour or the road was constipated with traffic near Everard Nagar. Not to mention the hard-won settlement I made with the unyielding printer at Dadar on the invitation cards – after protracted negotiations he had agreed not to charge me in full for the additional fifty cards that I had ordered subsequently.       

 

When I was gazing down the length of the bus, I caught him looking at me. A man in mid -thirties. He was standing behind a lady in a red sari with a couple of restless children in tow. I remembered she appeared on the scene only after we had gotten past Sion. I blinked first and looked away from him. There being not many things a man could do in a crowded bus, my thoughts went back to the vexing matter invitees-list I was compiling for my daughter’s wedding. The list was already large for my budget and growing. The roti’s per head were already pared to two; the daal-katoris, shrunk by a couple of sizes, were only a little larger than a tablespoon; and the banana wafers went out of the menu. Should I include the neighbors from Kalina where we had lived twenty years ago? Just as I was up-ticking them in (it meant peanuts were in and cashews were out of the kheer), I caught him again looking at me.

 

(To be contd.)

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