A ‘Dark Secret’ Revealed On A Bus-Ride To King Circle
December 6, 2015 8 Comments
It was only 30 minutes to the time I had promised. Still persisted with my plan to catch a bus to King Circle. As most buses headed downtown had to pass through King Circle, I took the first one that came along after a few minutes of wait. Besides, I couldn’t read the destination board on the bus with my glasses failing me.
As I extended a couple of tenners to the conductor seated near the entry of a near empty bus, he curtly told me that King Circle wasn’t where the bus was going. I didn’t pop the infructously tempting query ‘So where is it headed?’, seeing his manner of one who was pulled out quite unnecessarily from a trance of deep meditation. Couldn’t fault him as I was the second ‘wrong number’ for him in quick succession. After all a conductor under stressful duty – never mind the empty bus – can only take so much early in the morning .
Meanwhile, true to his words, the bus veered away from the high-road to King Circle onto a road going wherever. Soon after the turn, the driver considerately made an adhoc stop just long enough for the ‘wrong numbers’ to get off early on their unintended ride.
It was a short walk to the right bus-stop. This time I was more careful, checking with other ‘waiters’.
The bus was not too crowded. As my custom, I squeezed past a few standees towards the front of the bus – that way it was easy to get off when the bus reached my stop. The lady seated near where I had parked my massive-self swaying a little unsteadily from the overhead hand-rails, fidgeted visibly for no apparent reason. In the end she raised herself a wee bit from the seat and looked up at me with a certain sadness. That’s when it struck me – she was trying to offer her seat. Here a word of explanation is due – on BEST (public transport) buses in Mumbai, some seats right in the front are reserved for the elderly, and it is a practice for one, not a senior citizen himself, occupying a reserved seat, to yield to a needy senior citizen standing in proximity. I politely declined her offer saying my stop was coming up shortly.
On passing Sion Circle – it meant another two stops to go – I moved further up leveling with the driver.
At the next stop I saw an inspector standing near the exit checking tickets from alighting passengers.
I remarked to the driver: ‘Why is he in civvies and not the usual uniform?
‘Oh, he’s from the vigilance. That’s why.’
He continued with his eyes on the road and the bus crawling owing to lanes blocked for repairs: ‘You know these guys catch anyone including us. I mean whenever we’re in the wrong. What to do saheb (sir), mistakes do happen with us too.’
He appeared to me an authentic middle-aged Maharashtrian – rustic, simple, honest and god-fearing – kind faced and a tilak (religious mark) on his forehead, inspiring trust you would leave your kids with him. No swear words despite the trying traffic on the road. A rare specimen, I thought.
I kept up the chat: ‘Well, it happened to me once years ago when I was studying engineering. I was caught for not retaining the ticket and fined in front of other students right outside my college. I felt so bad…But in Mumbai, that must be a one-off occasion? Many things may get stolen in Mumbai, but free ride by bus is not one of them.’
‘Though not often, as you say, saheb, it does happen. Some times it is a passenger on being caught accuses the conductor for not issuing him the ticket for the journey. Though, you know, the passenger is supposed to seek out the conductor and get his ticket.
While I nodded understandingly, my mind went back to what my school-going daughter told me years ago. Among her friends, she excepted, the dare was who could travel the farthest by the bus without purchasing a ticket and without getting caught.
He drew me back to the present: ‘Sometimes, yes, it does happen – the bus is so crowded our man genuinely is unable to reach out to all passengers onboard in time before their stops come up. And, I won’t deny this, once in a while we do have a black sheep among us – he pockets the money and does not issue tickets or allows some to travel without a ticket or for a lower fare.’
‘But, you know, saheb, who are the worst offenders?’
This was getting interesting. I gave an encouraging look for him to go on.
‘I’ll tell you, if you don’t take offence.’
Intriguing! Why should I be offended?
He really didn’t wait for my permission to unmask to offenders: ‘Saheb, it’s the senior citizens.’
Pausing to check if I am going into convulsions, he quickly reassured me:
‘I don’t mean you, saheb….It’s about others. You know, senior citizens are allowed to board from right here in the front? So they do. And when their stop comes up they simply get down and walk away nonchalantly. They make no effort to purchase tickets. The poor conductor is quite oblivious at the back.’
‘No, saheb, I see this happen often right before my eyes. How to confront white-haired decent-looking gentlemen?’
Instinctively I rummaged my pockets and produced the ticket for him to see.
Moments later both of us laughed.
Our little chat ended all too soon at King Circle, my stop to alight. I waved at him as he pulled away.
PS: To horrified readers amongst you, the chat took place mostly when the bus was at halt on a choked road.
Source: Image from Wiki