Chapter 7: The Kerchief Throwers
As we all know, there is no concept of reserving a seat in a city bus. It is strictly first-come, first-served. But what if an empty bus comes to a bus stop with 50 people waiting to get in? Sure, we could stand in a queue in a disciplined way and get into the bus without pushing each other.
But standing in a queue, as we all know, is a western idea imposed by the British to enslave our great ancestors into obedience and discipline. It is totally against Indian culture and it is a disgrace that this racist idea is in still practice in this day and age!
Luckily, we have an alternative. A standard way of claiming an empty seat is to throw a handkerchief on the seat through the window from outside. The good part is it doesn't really have to be a kerchief.
Cigarette packs, hand towels, today’s newspaper, Chunnis, match boxes (a little controversial), small to medium sized bags, footwear, a kid below six years of age etc. are all legitimate items that can be thrown through the window to reserve your seat. Wallets, mobile phones, laptops, iPods etc. are not. (You’ll thank me later for this tip)
If you throw something but it doesn't land on the seat, you're disqualified. If two or more people claim the same seat by throwing something on it, then it is first-come first-served among those few candidates. These are rules for getting a seat in the bus. Kerchief throwing is also accepted in State Transport buses and general compartments of trains.
Note: Kerchief throwing is valid only when the bus/train is at its starting point.
Chapter 8: The Dude with the 500 rupee note
What are the odds that your bus ticket costs 11 rupees and you have nothing but a 500 rupee note on you? The odds are much greater than you think! Ask any bus conductor if you don’t trust me on this. Also, you can blame those HDFC and ICICI bank ATMs that dispense only 1000 or 500 rupee notes (They say that they regret the inconvenience but I don’t believe them anymore)
Chapter 9: The Templeton
This one time, our fully packed bus was stuck in pathetic traffic. An elderly gentleman who was seated asked the people around to wake him up at the Devi temple bus stop and slipped into a quick nap (who says old people have difficulty sleeping?)
Almost immediately, two men in the immediate vicinity sensed the opportunity to get the elderly gentleman’s seat. Both the men looked tired after a hard day’s work and hence fairly desperate for a place to sit. Their body language became more hostile towards each other as the bus approached the Devi Temple. A succession battle was sure to happen. I was standing a few feet away eager to see what happens next.
Soon they took their respective positions. Going by the stance, it looked like one man’s strategy was to slip into the seat gently while the other’s was to slither in smoothly from behind. They woke the elderly gentleman up with a gentle tap on his shoulder that some societies may not consider very polite. The startled gentleman woke up, adjusted himself a bit, joined his hands in a quick prayer as the bus passed by the temple and went back to sleep again!
Such people are called Templetons – simpletons who pray every time the bus passes by a temple. Templetons come in all shapes (of vibhuti) and sizes (of tilak). And they are not confined to city buses only.
You can find them leaving their scooters in auto-pilot mode, folding their hands, closing their eyes and facing the temple whenever they happen to pass by one. The prayer lasts until the scooter hits the speed breaker (or a pothole... or a parked cycle...) at which point they realize that their Scooter did not come with an auto-pilot mode and thank God again for saving their lives yet again!
Some people don’t care much about temples. These Devotional DJs would rather spend their time in the bus chanting Vishnu Sahasra Naamam or reading Hanuma Chalisa aloud. The best part of being a Devotional DJ is that no one can ask you to shut up!
It’s not for nothing they do all this. The bhakti really pays off you know. I think God is holding on to His side of the deal too… because Templetons always get a seat! *Always*
Chapter 10: The Occasional Alcoholic
I am sure everyone runs into the occasional alcoholic. My most recent encounter was when one occasional alcoholic, in his drunken stupor, stepped on Amit’s toe. Amit*, being the assertive guy he is, expressed his rather strong opinions on the subject of people stamping his toe when he is not wearing shoes.
(*Amit is a stereotypical North Indian who’s visiting South India and thinks anything south of Malabar Hill is Madras and wonders how Tamil people survive in Tamil Nadu without a working knowledge of Hindi)
Our Alcoholic anonymous, being the proud but gentle Kannadiga he is, started a melancholic monologue on what dark times have befallen the great state of Karnataka, the land of Sri Krishna Devaraya and home to the beautiful language of Kannada.
He went on to deliver a rather excellent speech on how the Garden city of Bangalore was sold and transformed into an ugly concrete jungle by the politicians. He also expressed his disapproval of these North Indian IT pests who come and settle down in their land but make no attempt to learn the local language, embrace local culture or respect local sensibilities, but instead expect the locals to learn and speak Hindi.
He further urged his Kannada brothers to take a leaf from neighboring Chennai and not speak in any other language except Kannada so that these “outsiders” will be forced to learn Kannada.
And then he was kicked out of the bus!
If you’re wondering how I, an outsider myself who spoke no Kannada, understood the whole speech? Well, it happened to be in broken English!
Occasional Alcoholics are like angels with body-odour issues. They have a knack of showing up on the most depressing of days to lighten up everyone’s mood with five or ten minutes of solid entertainment and then whoosh! They’re out.
Chapter 11: The Door Hangers
"Buses in Bangalore suck! They have doors which are closed between stops. What if I see a bus going at 20 km per hour and I want to get into it? There is no way I can do it in Bangalore. The govt. is actively preventing me from doing what I want to do. And I thought we live in a democracy!
These sorts of things don’t happen in our Hyderabad okay? First of all, why do you need a door? People get in and get out at every traffic signal and you have to open the door and close it like once every 30 seconds… Such a waste of time, energy and money!"
– A Hyderabadi door hanger on buses in Bangalore
(Imagine the voice of David Attenborough reading this out for you)
There is more to Hyderabadi Door hangers than just hanging out. They have a complex mating dance ritual unique to their species. Door hangers typically hang from the back door. They get down at every stop; walk up to the front door while checking out the females sitting near the window seats.
After choosing one to stare at, the Male waits for the bus to leave and continues to stare at the Female till the bus picks up some speed. Once the bus is at least a hundred feet away, he starts running behind the bus chasing it and in an amazing display of athleticism, he hangs on to it. And soon all his fellow door-hangers burst into celebration!
But the harsh city life is not always that easy. Sometimes, there are no chase-worthy Females near the window seat. In this case, he gets down a moving bus, attempts to run faster than the bus he was hanging from to catch a bus of the same number that is moving ahead in the traffic.
Most of the Door Hangers are college students who have bags (with external hard drives in it) and performing this ritual dance with a college bag is mighty inconvenient. So they (literally) dump their bags on the strangers sitting nearby and ask them to take care of it. Yes, this Hey, hold my bag thing is an accepted practice in the buses of Hyderabad!
Chapter 12: Pass Fakers
Regular commuters usually have monthly bus passes. The standard pass protocol in buses is to show your wallet (like an FBI badge) to the conductor and say “Pass”. The conductor will assume you have a valid pass and move on. The conductor may sometimes look at the expiry date to check if the pass is valid but in crowded buses, they just don’t have the time.
If you intend to travel without a ticket or with an expired pass, you want to be as far away from the conductor as possible. And that place happens to be the last step near on the exit. This is when a pass faker becomes a door hanger.
Activity: Now that you have learned about the various people you meet in a bus, print a few copies of this Bus Bingo the next time you're taking a bus for guaranteed amusement!