I was 5 years old may be when I first boarded BMTC bus number 201 from Ragigudda to Kathriguppe in Bengaluru. It was filled with so many people that I was sitting on some random aunt who was pitying my situation of standing in the middle of the bus where there is an unwritten rule no child will have a complete seat. This flashed through my memory when I read a news article that BMTC turned 20 years old. Yes, I have travelled all 20 years of my life in the legendary BMTC – Bangalore Metropolitan Transportation Corporation the only profit making government transportation company in India. Before BMTC, it was BTS and before that, it was something else for namma city.
The bus was the only mode of transportation of middle class in India. Hence I have mostly travelled in Bus everywhere. I still remember all the bus routes in fact being here in Barcelona I was guiding a friend of mine how to come to Jayanagar from 8th Mile. I stayed in Jayanagar, the well-developed area in Bengaluru with bus routes mostly passing through them. Hence I do not complain about my city at all. If I exaggerate and say Jayanagar is heaven for me.
So coming back to BMTC, this was the mode of transportation to most of the places from my house. We had relatives in North Part of Bengaluru like Malleshwara, Rajajinagara so if there was a family gathering there was a well-planned outing in the bus. My grandfather used to take out his old timetable that he would write asking the head of the depo or observe many times when the bus would come and we had to get ready at a certain time. I hated it since I was not even considered full ticket (yes, half ticket exists in BMTC for children below 12 years) so I had no seat again sit on random aunt pulling my cheeks, asking my name, my whole family history. I would either loose a handkerchief, an earring or a rubber band regularly. My mother had to bring replacements all the time. The ladies of the house didn’t like to have a child on their lap when they had ironed their silk sarees. So, I had to sit in the gents section on my grandfather or uncle or father’s lap. There the elders were very careful to not allow me to share a seat with a random uncle I never understood why but now reading some harrowing stories of child molestation cases in the bus I thank the people of my family for not giving me a chance. It is not generalising but mostly incidents happened on the bus.
The conductor uncle generally used to be a friend to children like us, he would also ask questions as to which stop should we get down and what is the distance. We knew most of the routes that way. But sometimes buses were very annoying too many people in summer, sweating and pushing. One random aunt also was very cranky and I was not adjusting well she made a comment that if you want more space shell in some money to buy a car you are poor hence you are on the bus. That kept me thinking all the time that whole day.
Next day, as usual, I asked my thaatha as to how poor are we and we should buy a car. He laughed at me and said we are going in the bus to save money also for making less harm to the environment. He explained how he always travelled by bus for work and sometimes even walking. That’s why he was never obese until he died. I was waiting to be 12 years old to get a full ticket and a seat.
But the situation never changed. I fought with aunties and uncles demanding a seat on priority as I boarded before. But they always said children should not have full seat then conductor uncle had to intervene to make the situation better. My mother who is very independent wanted me to be more independent than her. Hence she used to ask us to go 4th block Jayanagar from 9th Block Jayanagar with 4Rs in one pocket and 4Rs in another pocket (the fare for two side journey) she would say where exactly to get down and come back. To make things better she used to tell the conductor to remind me of the stop. I used to be always be amazed about the memory of conductor who used to remind so many people, where to get down. Sometimes I used to sit in the front on the Engine box until it used to get hot, the driver and conductor used to become my friends. I used to say that in school so proudly that I travelled to 4th Block alone. But that’s also the first time I saw people cheating so blatantly, the distance I travelled was minimum hence the conductor only took 2Rs and gave back the remaining two saying it’s ok and I was too happy to save 2Rs and buy a chocolate. I came home narrating my story of saving money. I was blasted badly at home saying that I was part of the cheating process and my father reminded me of 100Rs fine that I should have paid if I was caught. Now that’s where my fights started on the bus. One conductor-driver duo was audacious enough to de-board me from the bus for asking ticket so many times. That was a harrowing experience. When we were kids in school where we carried so much of books, I remember we had to go to ajji mane we were pulled down because the bag took too much of space. I hated BMTC. I secretly rejoiced when people threw stones at them during riots. Same time Santro arrived at our house. My mother learnt driving even before my father and she used to take us everywhere. The whole family could fit in the car and we loved it because it had AC, to travel FM and no problem when it rained. My thaatha was so proud of my mom and told everyone that his daughter in law is amazing and she does not let him travel by bus at this old age and giving a lot of comforts. I was so happy that I would not be travelling in Bus anymore.
But I joined National college Jayanagar and parents strictly said that 2 years of your life for PUC bus is convenient. I cursed every day to go on the bus, we had to take a student discount pass which meant stand in long queues in depos and at the mercy of the depo head, we used to get a pass. That was also the first-time experience of misbehaviour by men, following just like in movies. It was horrendous. I was shocked and seeing my expression random aunty asked me as to what happened and I said that man touched me inappropriately she walked all the way to the man and slapped him hard. He was one of the regulars in the bus who did it to most of the women and like always they kept quiet. Now everyone got courage and did complain to the conductor and driver and they did warn him and was never allowed to board the bus.
But BMTC did give me one gift that none could give me. The gift of time in traffic jams. I travelled all the way from Jayanagar to Marathahalli in much upgraded Volvo bus which less nuisance for my work after my Engineering graduation. Most passengers were the IT crowd like my father calls and hence it was a silent crowd of opening laptops, writing emails and other stuff. I used to read books, clear my emails, answer them and I still had time left. That’s when I saw the founder of KG’s query on writing blogs, I answered and I started writing blogs. For almost 6.5 months my weekly blog was drafted in BMTC and uploaded. It was such an amazing experience in the bus 500C. Sometimes the conductors and drivers were my blog heroes or villains. Once the conductor did ask me what I was up to, he saw what I wrote, next time he read that and he was impressed. He did tell me he was a graduate in English. Lingaih or linganna as what I called him would give me feedback about what I wrote, he said it was so lame of what I wrote implied I was in bad mood or I didn’t get a seat to sit. If the blog was very good he would say ‘madamge seat sikkthu ivathu, AC kadme ide,adikke chennagi bardideera’ meaning the seating was good, AC was minimal and that’s why I wrote well. Every day on the bus was a different story for me. It somehow improved my story writing skills. I heard love stories, patho stories and amazing movie stories in the bus. Sometimes the driver did say ‘madam idu barreeri sooper agirathe,1000 likes barathe nodi’. Also while I teach Kannada, the queries from students are generally to talk to a conductor and driver. In fact they are the ones who are still keeping the language alive by insisting people to learn the local language.
I am amazed by the zeal of those people who take us around the city without hassle. My father also had a lot of fans where the conductor himself would call him saying the bus in the stop. Sometimes these people would speak about their dreams of their children who wanted them to be educated like us and how circumstances pushed them to this. I was intrigued by lady drivers and conductors who worked round the clock with or without periods, physical harassment or even groping sometimes. Once a lady conductor did say ‘neev sumne complain madtheera madam 1 ghantege, naav idee dina hange odadbeku avaga na kelsa madalla andre sambla cut agathe en madadu heli’ which opened a counter-argument of how fortunate we are. I still remember my ajji asking why I don’t want to own a vehicle after working and travel in that rather than bus. I gave the same answer my thaatha gave it to her.
After moving to Barcelona, I miss BMTC and conversations. The public transport here is mostly metros, but I take buses generally. But I miss this warmth. What I like the best about buses here is everything is accessible to disabled and old people. People don’t even dare to sit on reserved seats and old people also never ask for a seat because they are aged. I see my grandparents have become immobile because of the transport system which is inaccessible. Yes, Volvos are but that’s not the route they take. Well BMTC if you are listening, you make a profit make it accessible but congratulations on your 20 years. I will continue to use it when you are 50 and maybe will write a blog in KG when I am old.
—- Forever your fan 😀