A typical Bengali will describe the passengers as bats clinging on to the doors and windows of buses and trains. The passengers seem like bees bent on protecting their honey combs. When the buses have not even a square centimetre of floor board left, the conductors will shout and usher in more passengers claiming that their buses are half empty. At times, the conductor will get off the bus and check through the windows whether the passengers can be pushed inside so that more passengers can be accommodated. To such endeavour, the conductor will be greeted with some honey-coated, sugary words from the passengers and the bus will start again. Here’s a slice of life in crowded Kolkata by Soumya, exclusively for Different Truths.
After passing out of college, my job brought me to the City of Joy. For three long years, I pushed myself in the busy hours of the day to my place of work; until recently I was placed in the three-shift duty. Three shift duty has given me the opportunity to travel during odd hours of the day when you find ample options for conveyance. It has also given me the opportunity to admire the beauty of our public transport system, which used to be a penance to me.
A typical Bengali will describe the passengers as bats clinging on to the doors and windows of buses and trains. The passengers seem like bees bent on protecting their honey combs. When the buses have not even a square centimetre of floor board left, the conductors will shout and usher in more passengers claiming that their buses are half empty. At times, the conductor will get off the bus and check through the windows whether the passengers can be pushed inside so that more passengers can be accommodated. To such endeavour, the conductor will be greeted with some honey-coated, sugary words from the passengers and the bus will start again.
At each bus stop, you can feel the vibe of the passengers. The adults in mid-40 will walk briskly with their pot bellies to grab the handle of the bus. The elderly or the senior citizens seem to be bang on target – determined and focused not only to grab the handle of the bus but also to occupy the seat allocated to senior citizens. The way they occupy the seats seems that those seats have been their birth right. As soon as they are seated, they will find their co-passenger, another elderly, and soon they will start discussing, “Today’s generation….What to say!”
The women, you can see from their faces, at first will give a grumpy look, then they will take some time to decide whether to get on the bus and finally when they have done so, they start off with the rat race. The men of mid 20’s with a grin on their faces casually grab the handle of the bus and seem to enjoy the breeze outside the bus.
I remember, once I boarded a local train from Sealdah (where suburban trains depart) and was destined to get off the next station at Ultadanga during the evening peak hours when people rush from their offices to their homes in the suburbs. I was advised by the fruit sellers to swing my body out of the train grabbing the handle and as soon as the train slowed down at Ultadanga station I released my grip and let my body do a free fall on the passengers on the platform. Neither I nor the passengers on the platform had any difficulty. People are used to such stunts. However, for me, that was my first and last stunt at Ultadanga station.
As long as the crowded bus runs with pace, the passengers are content that their decision to cling on to the bus was fruitful and you almost gauge a smile on their face. But, on the contrary, if the roads are jam packed and if it happens to be a hot humid day, soon the temperature of the bus will attain that of a volcano. “Why are you leaning on this side?”
“Stand straight!” “Where will I place my feet if you take all the space?” “Remove your bag or it will be thrown outside!” All such allegations will be raised against fellow passengers. A majority of co-passengers will support/disapprove such allegations and the crowded bus will turn into a courtroom.
You may take an auto rickshaw to avoid all this. You approach an auto driver, you will find him say, “Ten bucks extra for the jam-packed roads.” It’s a more of a humble way to say, “Look! I will rerun the 007 stunts from the movie Octopussy and I am charging extra for the added entertainment.” The auto driver starts off picking you up on the left side of the road and will head straight to the right end of the road. In doing so he will dodge a speeding bus, a trailer with tyres the size of the auto and innumerable motorbikes. He reaches the right end of the road, then dodges several other vehicles to get into the middle of the road. Someone rightly said you can never predict the diversions taken by the depression over the Bay of Bengal and the turns taken by the autorickshaws.
So you are left with the Metro railways. You reach the platform and realise “Great men think alike.” The platform is packed with ardent office goers ready to run on a whistle. The train arrives and gets stuffed. The last few to get into the coach push the people inside and make room for them. If that is not enough the RPF personnel comes to rescue and with their batons pushes your bag and what not to ensure that the gate is safely closed. Once you are stuffed you are not allowed to move. Even if you feel that you are being pick-pocketed, you won’t be allowed to touch your hip pockets to check.
If you want to avoid all sort of hustle, you need to try out Tramways. Trams are Kolkata’s heritage. Two wooden bogies driver by white-haired veterans. He has a bell which serves as the horn. Indeed the trams are very environment-friendly. They take you to places where normal vehicles are barred due to one-way traffic. The tram is the cheapest mode of transport in Kolkata.
Political meetings and processions are the surprise elements on roads. Suddenly you will find stranded for two hours without any reasons. However, Kolkata Police does a commendable job managing traffic.
The craze in Kolkata’s public transport is due to its easy availability. Unlike other metros, Kolkata is well connected as far as the far-fetched areas of the cities are concerned. Thanks to the overzealous people who make this public transport a success.
©Soumya Kanti Roy
Photos sourced by author and internet.
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Souma is an electrical engineer in Kolkata. Six years of work experience has given him ample opportunity to come close to the city. He likes writing blogs, travelling and writing travelogues.