I was on my 10-minute break at Hadapsar Depot. The depot was surrounded by snack shops, restaurants that served quick and dirty grub, and numerous other hawkers. I was sitting under a banyan tree, sipping on a cutting of chai. My route went through the dirtiest and most crowded parts of Pune and I needed the caffeine to mentally prepare myself.
The time was up. I got into my bus, sat down on the driver’s seat and revved up the engine. I honked to signal the horde of people aimlessly looking at their phones. They looked up like they were waking up from a dream and strode briskly towards the bus. I wore the impatient look of a hassled person, the look that says, “Move it, people. I have places to go. Heck, you have places to go, and I need to take you there. Move it!” They got into the bus listlessly, driven in like cattle by my conductor. He is a good guy, my conductor. I think he does steal money occasionally…but who can blame him? The pay is not really anything to talk about in this line of work.
A random yuppie dressed in a chic shirt and jeans popped out his earphones to ask me a question. “Does this bus go to Baner?”. I said “Yes” grimly. If he had spent a second reading the board on the bus he would know. A really, really old lady got on to the bus. She didn’t have money. What could I do? I can’t go around helping every other person who couldn’t afford the bus fare of Rs 10. Besides, I can barely afford my own chai. I shouted at her angrily and told her to get off. Typically, this is the window of time during which a passenger could help out with her fare. This time, however, everyone was glued to their phones. The lady stepped down sadly. I would have felt bad, but I had seen too many people trying to get a free ride. It was time to take the bus out for a spin.
I had 40 stops on this route from Hadapsar to Balewadi. The times when I had to stop at each one of them were the worst. This time, however, the stops were few. I drove like I owned the road, scattering away some pesky two-wheelers and auto-rickshaws. I hate those two-wheelers. They act like they can sneak in through any gap in the traffic and not obey any rules.
Someone rang the bell in the bus. I pulled over at the stop near a busy intersection. This bus was made by Tata back in 1990. It was way past its retirement date. I moved my hands around the massive steering wheel to get us back on track. I have heard new cars have power steering. I wonder when my buses would get that. I heard shouts from the back. The conductor was shouting at some passenger. I may need to pull over anytime…and here comes the bell. I stopped by the sidewalk. The conductor pushed out a passenger who was walking like a crab. “Who gets drunk at 10 am in the morning?”, I heard him grumble, as I got back on the road.
I thought about the old lady who had tried to get a free ride. What if she genuinely didn’t have money? She reminded me of my mother. A traffic cop signaled me to stop at an intersection. There was a big procession of people. They were marching for cow rights. I wondered how these people got the time to protest. It was a Monday.
After what seemed like an eternity I reached Balewadi Depot, my destination. Time for another 10-minute break before I get back to the grind.