Friday, July 29, 2005

Home, dry

Sweet, sweet home.

Last night, after walking out of a net cafe in Belgaum, a stranger asked why I looked frazzled. I said to him that trying to reach home from two states thrice in two days was tiresome. He smiled and asked me to wait while he called someone over. A person whose crooked teeth somehow described this situation appeared from a mass of farmers milling around the bus stand across the street. 'Banglorebanglorebanglorepatnapatnapatna?' he asked or said to me over and over while he crossed the busy road. It was the strangest proposition by a tout so far this trip. I corrected him. 'Yesyes, there is Bombay bus also. Where you want to go?'

His blue-washed office contained a desk, a phone, and a large laminated photograph of the bus. It was what is referred to as a Volvo, in the way that all photocopies are called Xeroxes. To be called a Volvo, the bus needs to be air conditioned, have a television, and have comfortable seats. The tout said to me quietly that this bus would try a different route tonight, and it would take us to Bombay in nine hours. His whisper hinted that we'd be running guns and drugs. Remembering my struggle in the dark at Ratnagiri, I considered sleeping in at Belgaum and reading in the morning papers a report of a missing Volvo bus. But the tout burst my thought bubble with, 'Tell me now. Seats are getting full.'

Not long after, the bus left. After initial scuffles over seats, which forced the driver to stop the vehicle three times and personally threaten the participants with ejection on the desolate highway, a restfulness settled on the passengers, all of who had battled the unforgiving weather and wearisome state transport officials. Soundproofed, the bus was quiet inside but for the engine's faint hum and the rustle of a plastic packet. Even a potentially punishing traveler - the omnipresent baby - cooed and was then silent. Then, with admirable timing and considerable volume, the movie 'Fida' came alive on the television down the aisle and the speakers above. The alarmed baby began to wail, a middle-aged Gujarati wolf-whistled, a phone rang, someone stepped on a villager sleeping in the aisle, and Shahid Kapoor tilted his head and smiled.

The lullaby was inappropriate, but the wake up call was incomparable. The driver roused us with lovelorn melodies from classics. Suhani raat dhal chuki, naa jane tum kab aaogey; Bindiya chamkegi, chudi khankegi, neend ud jaye to udney do. There were giggles when the theme became apparent. The person beside me sang a whole song with his eyes shut.

Then Bombay appeared.

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