Friday, October 02, 2009

Bangalore Life: A Bus Ride and a Lingering Memory

In my memory the thick stone walls rise to the level of four floors. The walls are covered with ivy and punctuated neatly with brown-colored windows. A sprawling stage backs to about a third of the back wall of the school. A little distance away is another imposing building, one that houses the convent of the Sisters of Charity. Still beyond that, a massive playground with a basketball court and another concrete stage.

A large open space behind the building is filled with girls in light-blue pinafores, white shirts, blue ties, white socks and black Mary Jane shoes. Girls with long hair have braids neatly folded in half and kept in place with blue ribbons. They are chatting in groups, headed somewhere in groups, eating lunch out of their lunch boxes in groups. Loners are few and far between. There is lots of chatter, shrieking, laughter.

From Sankey Road, a busy thoroughfare at somewhat of a higher elevation than the school (you looked down at the school from the road), it looks positively idyllic, straight out of my rendering of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys and so different from any other school I've seen so far. This is where I want to go to high school, I tell my parents.

Our home is at least two bus rides away and then a long walk from the last bus stop to the school. In terms of time, that's at least an hour door to door with a heavy back pack on my shoulders. In India, there is no school districting. You pick whatever school you want to go to, but you figure out how you're going to get there. Some private schools provide buses, but it's not always an option. We have no car. All we have is a scooter that my father rides to work in the opposite direction from the school. There is no one else that goes to the same school from my neighborhood.

There is no dissuading me, however. So off to Stella Maris High School I go. On all my note books and text books, I write my name, my grade and the name of my school - Stella Maris High. Note the missing 'School.' That's because Nancy Drew went to Riverdale High and Joe and Frank to Bayport High.

One day after school, I walk the 20-minute walk from the school to the bus terminus (many bus routes begin and end at this one bus stop) at 18th Cross in Malleswaram. Most of you will know how crowded the buses get in India. Bangalore is no exception. Riders will make the extra effort to trek to a terminus because there is at least half a chance that they might get to sit, rather than stand in the aisles (perfectly normal in India) or even on the steps leading into the bus (yours truly has ridden many times on the steps of a bus).

Once you get on the bus, you must purchase a ticket from the conductor (unlike in the US, the conductor is not the driver of the bus - this caused a whole lot of confusion when I first arrived in the US, I tell you). When every passenger purchases a ticket, the conductor blows a whistle strung around his neck and signals the driver to start driving.

This particular day, the bus is so crowded there is absolutely no space. The conductor is trying to finish up selling the tickets as fast as he can, but people are still arriving and trying to squeeze in. The exasperated conductor and driver hold a mini-conference. The situation is untenable, they concur, and agree they should execute a plan they've come up with for conditions such as this. They decide to start driving and stop about half a mile away but before the next scheduled bus stop on their route. That way the passengers already on the bus can finish buying the tickets but the driver and conductor wouldn't have to deal with new passengers constantly trying to get in.

A few seconds later, the driver hears the whistle and we're off! The bus stops at the agreed-upon place and we all wait for the conductor to make his rounds. It is stifling, to say the least, in the confines of the bus. The press of people, the still air and an immobile bus are not helping. Soon people start craning their necks to see how far the conductor has to go before the bus can move again. The people in the front crane their necks toward the back and the people in the back look toward the front of the bus.

The conductor is nowhere in sight.

Now the driver is impatient too. He has a schedule to keep if he wants to be home on time. He hollers, "ಎಲ್ಲಪ್ಪ ಇದ್ದೀಯ ನೀನು?" (where are you man?).

Silence. Then groans and clicking of the tongues.

Just as it dawns on everyone that we've managed to leave the conductor behind, an autorickshaw whizzes past and comes to a screeching halt in front of the bus. Out comes the conductor, shaking his fist at the driver in mock anger, unable to control his laughter at the turn of events.

Then a routine that would put the Three Stooges to shame: "I heard the whistle." "But I didn't blow the whistle." "But I heard the whistle. I thought you blew the whistle." "I'm telling you I didn't blow the whistle."

At every stop that day, the driver and the conductor proceed to enact an elaborate skit to make sure the conductor is safely on the bus before it starts to move again.


Choxbox said...

ROFLing! Too good!

Thanks Suj, brought back so many memories of my busy bus days. Been there done that - stood on steps and even jumped in and out of running buses!

Sands said...

That's absolutely hilarious. Like you and chox have many memories of riding the bus to and from school. Actually even took Meg by bus during this last trip to India. Told her it was way more fun and comfortable than autos at non-peak hours :)

mallikamt said...

What a wonderful read..I can't believe you went to Stella Maris..I have friends who went there and my grandma lived very close to there. I have fond memories of 18th cross since we lived close to Malleswaram(IIsc campus to be precise). My personal fav from the bus rides..when someone comes really close to the bus, the driver says "Mane alli helibittu bandiddira?":):)


Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

Such a cute memory ... what hit me most was the conductor's duty sense .. he didn't mind taking a auto and coming towards the bus !
I have stood of those steps "Foot board" as they are sometimes called.
Our bus drivers almost always stopped in between 2 bus stops (Ballal circle and Under Bridge ... if you remember those stops)

Sylvia K said...

Oh, a terrific, funny read indeed! You create a very vivid picture and I love it! I grew up in a very small town and walked to school, so never had any experiences with buses or drivers. What a bright spot in this gray old day here in Seattle! Thanks for the laughs!

Have a great day, hugs to you and the kids!


sujata sengupta said...

hahahah really a fun anecdote to share! loved the description of the school as well, i rem falling in love with boarding schools after the series on malory towers

Choxbox said...

@Mallika: LOLing at 'Mane alli helibittu bandiddira?'! Auto chappies still say that!

seo company Bangalore said...

Its kinda nostalgia for me. Just thinking 6 years back Pushpak is like a privileged bus in Bangalore and expensive too... Now so many changes have happened. people can commute even in volvo at affordable price ( at least for middle class people) thanks for your blog bringing back some of my memories...

Ugich Konitari said...


This was such a great read ! In my time, there wasnt any element of "warfare" getting into the bus. (1955-64, Pune). But bus travel here in Mumbai, particularly on some long routes that the buses tak , is like warfare, getting into and getting off the bus. One time the bus was so crowded. the conductor gor off and got in again through the drivers side. ....

Prats said...

That was such a fun trip back into nostalgia....I somehow always believed the bus trips while in school always measured way higher in terms of fun and adventure than when we got older..

The footboard travelling was a skill for the bravehearted...

Kavi said...

LOL ! Having lived in Bangalore for a long while..i can relate to all what you say !!

good fun reading this !


Tessa said...

HOOT! I'm wiping away tears of laughter as I write! What a wonderful story, beautifully told. I was absolutely 'in the moment' thanks to the clarity of the picture you evoked. You really do write superbly well, Sujatha - more fabulous memories of childhood, please. That was sheer magic!

Kiran said...

Hi Sujatha, I arrived here from Desipundit. This was a nostalfic post. I used to go to college by BMTC (formerly BTS :D) .. but now I drive to work. I miss the umpteen anecdotes on the buses!

To add to that, just yesterday I had my college alumni meet; so this post could not have come at a better time :)

Keep blogging!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

ROFL...AND you tell this so very well! You are a terrific writer, Sujatha! I love your description in this are so talented! ~Janine XO

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, I can't even manage!

SG said...

Ah.. Bangalore! I myself do have mixed memories from the place... I visited as a tiny little tourist with my parents in 1984, and I lived there for a year in 2004-05.. You write with such fondness about the place... a very vivid narrative about the bus ride! Riding buses in India has traditionally been a pain.. but recently I have woken up to limited edition chartered buses (at least in Delhi, I'm sure they are there in Bangalore as well).. I tell you.. you'll feel proud .. and that might inspire another narrative :)

Nagesh.MVS said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pesto Sauce said...

I visit Bangalore every year, my Uncle lives in Malleswaram and my parents own a house in Banashankari. But I have no idea about school life there, though heard Bishop Cotton to be cool

Sunita Venkatachalam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sunita Venkatachalam said...

LOL! Stella Marris ? I was closeby - in Cluny myself :)
Bus rides were always fun, there used to be this conductor on bus 82 who used to speak only in pucca kannada and we would be in peals of laughter everytime he said Vrutha and Smashana (HarishChandra Ghat -remember?) etc

Sujatha Bagal said...

@ Choxy and Mallika, that's funny! Most times the drivers and conductors were grumpy, but there were some who were stand-up comics in the making. :)

@ Sands, glad this brought back memories, all good I hope!. :) What did Meg say?

@ Mallika, yup. Two years at Stella Maris. But I bet your friends are much younger than me. Man, that IISc campus was gorgeous. Went there for a couple of quiz contests.

@CA, yeah, it was impressive, but I think he might have gotten a free ride. And I totally remember the Ballal Circle/Underbride mid-stop. In fact, it was almost right in front of our house then!

@Sylvia, you're welcome! So glad you like it! Hugs to you.

@Sujata, yes, if there was any opportunity to go off to boarding I would've, thanks to Mallory Towers and St. Claire's. :)

@Ugich, the conductor climbing in through the driver's door - yup! been there seen that! As much as riding on those buses was drudgery, some very good memories now. :)

@Prats, totally agree. It was way more fun in school!

Sujatha Bagal said...

@Kavi, I thought you might!

@Tessa, thank you and I shall be glad to oblige!

@Kiran, thank you for visiting my blog. I'm glad the post brought good memories. And yeah, car rides are way less fun, but a tad more comfortable. :)

@Seo, things sure have changed. Now the buses actually have doors!

@Janine, thank you! So glad you had a laugh. :)

@Meredith, you know, I think you might find it a little difficult to manage, but I have a feeling you'd have a blast once you figured it out. :)

@Phoenix, I was in B'lore 2004-05 too! But haven't been on those new-fangled buses. Perhaps on a future visit.

@Pesto, then you'll find lots of food for thought on this blog. Click away!

@Poppins, I had a lot of neighbors who went to Cluny. It was so close to our home. Yeah, some of those characters were funny! They worked their butts off, but they sure lightened the boredom of the daily commute for many.

Unknown said...

What a perfect capturing of a glimpse of regular Indian everyday life. What made it so much fun to read was the peek at the humor that makes it all worthwhile...and makes life fun.

Anonymous said...

LOLOL! Lovely start to the week for me, thanks!

MWM is home ground for me, so very familiar - and naturally I went to school in the opposite direction, heading towards Vidhana Soudha instead!


mallikamt said...


Kind of off topic, but do you know of a reliable way to donate towards the Karnataka flood situation? I noticed some links on your blog to NPOs in Bangalore. I thought you may know.


shoba said...

First time arriving here. You have a nice space. This post brought back fond memories of school days.

Jinksy said...

How I loved this fun look at life, thanks!

Sriram said...

Hahaha. Really funny!

♥ Braja said...

You simply do not get this kind of daily event anywhere but India :)))

Sujatha Bagal said...

Jawahara, thank you!

M, :)

Mallika, I've asked and will post a comment as soon as I get some info.

Shoba, thank you!

Jinksy, Sriram, glad you liked it!

Braja, if there is another place like that, would sure like to visit it! :)

mallikamt said...

Thanks, Sujatha. BTW, having younger kids than you by no means means I may be younger than you:)


mallikamt said...


Another note..I do have a couple of NPOs(one of them US based) that are taking donations towards flood relief efforts. I just wanted to get recommendations before I decide which one to go with. You're a wonderful writer..and you have a great audience..if you could blog about the floods or even call attention to it. I can provide you with the info I have for people to send donations. It will help get the word out. Just a small request , don't feel obligated to do it. Thanks in advance!


Sujatha Bagal said...

Mallika, that sounds like a great idea! Thanks for suggesting it. Please give me the NGO contact info, I'll put up a post.

mallikamt said...

Thanks for offering to post this. Here's the NPO info:

If you live in the United States, you can donate online using:

If you live in Bangalore(donations could be in cash or in the form of items such as groceries, blankets, medicine),

All the info is here:

Specifically, the contacts are:

1.Community Health Cell,
85/2, Ist Main, Maruthi Nagara, Madiwala, Bengaluru – 560068
(Contact Persons: Pushpa 9449070223)

2. Janarogya Andolana Karnataka
C/o CHC, Madiwala
(Contact: Obalesh - 9740524128)

3. Headstreams
(contact: Naveen Thomas 9342858056, 080-25200318)

4. Association for India’s Development (AID India)
(Contact: Guru – 9845294184; Prasanna – 9916937280

mallikamt said...

And this is for your readers in India:

Thanks again!:)