It’s interesting how people make use of the time they spend in travelling from home to office and back, in Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai – especially if they happen to travel by public transport.
In buses and trains, packed tight as sardines, people manage to catch a few extra winks and even manage to reach the snoring stage. Or in one deft stroke they spread out a newspaper over multiple knees and arms to read the latest cricket score, the latest share to crash in the market, or the latest case of a politician caught taking a bribe.
Then there is that class of hardened travellers who have been playing cards with the same group over the last decade or so. They even have their specific seats. In fact, the seats bear the telltale signs of this long-term occupation – you can see the specific depressions according to the different shapes of backsides.
There is no doubt about it. Travelling by public transport is being in the thick of the seasons of life – a sweaty life if it happens to be summer where people, blissfully unaware of the rivulets running down their brows and inside their clothes, wrinkle their noses in disgust at what they think is an odour coming from the seat near the aisle. When, at the first smell of a perfumed man or woman to board the bus or train, most people feel they are reborn.
During the rains you can see the fastidious kinds huddling in the aisle, who do not like to get their clothes splashed or muddied at all. The windows, almost always, are not a perfect fit and you can be caught unawares by a mischievous drop or a wicked shower. And, on a bus, you could be taken unawares by a jet spray of muddy water unleashed by a fellow motorist driving fast through a puddle.
Rains are a perfect time for people to switch their old umbrellas for new ones, since there are so many of them looking alike and placed in any open space that can be found in the bus or train.
Those whose souls dance at the sight of raindrops cannot resist sidling near the window to feel the touch of blessing that is contained in just one drop of rain. Though it does cross their mind that it would have been better had it rained in the evening, when they would be homebound – and could get soaking wet!
Winter is the time when it feels good – or at least warm – to be part of a crowd. It is amazing how much the collective breaths of a 100 or so people can raise the temperature.
For those who particularly like to take the window seat because they want to see the outside world, it is time to look inward – that is, inside the bus. For, in peak winter, the panes frost over and the eyes look for colour elsewhere – in the bright red woollen dash in a pullover or the deep rust of a coat.
And for those who like to play guessing games, it is the perfect season to imagine what sort of face lies beneath the monkey-capped individual standing next to you!
The cold winter passes, making way for spring. It is impossible not to see every little flower by the wayside blooming proudly. And the balmy sun manages to transmit some of their pleasantness to the interiors of a bus or train.
Now, wouldn’t it be perfect if we had a public transport worth the name in all our cities?