Buses in Tamil Nadu

While you may subconsciously value what you have in hand, at times, it takes a thing or two to remind you how fortunate you are.


Although this sounds profound (and like something your average storyteller would say), it is quite simple, really. And it might interest you to know that I gained this pearl of wisdom, thanks to an experience I had a few days ago.


Bus rides are some things that I look forward to, conditions applied of course. The conditions being the availability of a seat (on the side of the bus where your gender usually sits, else you’ll be looked at like you’re asking a share of the others’ ancestral lands), window preferably, along with your presence of mind to have brought your earphones along. Once you find a seat and settle, your life is nothing short of a movie, as you pretend to be a movie character, and solemnly look outside, pondering over your life. Atleast, this is what I do, and hence, assume others do too.


Having lived in Chennai for nearly south of a decade, the MTC buses are something that I have gotten extremely attached to. Agreed, that they are not the fastest of buses, and always take the most elaborate of routes, but the system itself is so intricate that you can reach any random part of the city (and its outskirts) if you know which bus to board. Thus, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I prefer the bus to an Ola (or an Uber), provided I leave well in advance, when it comes to Chennai at least.


For, what I’ve discovered from my little time on Earth (yet all of my time in Tamil Nadu) is the fact that it’s absurd to expect uniformity in public services in different places. I cannot expect the same government owned MTC buses in Coimbatore, or even Trichy for that matter. Some buses are privately owned in Trichy (and these go infinitely faster, but that’s for another article), while almost all of them are privately owned in Coimbatore.


Up until a few days ago, I didn’t have anything particular against the private buses, maybe except the careless nature of the drivers who drive the bus more like a car. But, that seems like nothing at this point. Why? ‘Cause I experienced a ride exponentially more eventful than the rides I’ve been on.


Coimbatore is where I spent the major chunk of my life, albeit the earlier chunk. I used to do my fair share of travelling in buses, at times when I needed to get extremely early to school, or when I used to go places with my mum. Then we left to Chennai, where the MTC buses blew me away. So when I went back to Coimbatore for a short vacation (after a couple of years or so), I was taken aback by the absence of the MTC buses that I’d gotten accustomed to. The buses here were all private. I managed to swallow my doubts about the buses, thinking about the safer rides I’d had earlier, and boarded one.


The time being early evening, the bus was full with people returning home from their places of work, and it was no shocker that there were no seats. I found a place next to one of the poles, plugged in my earphones,and got ready for the physically taxing ride ahead, when my thoughts were jolted by a physical jolt of the bus itself. The conductor, who was issuing tickets, who also unfortunately happened to be standing too close to the steps, hit the railing on the other side, fell on the road, and was seemingly motionless.


While the rest of us were craning our necks to see if he was alright, or if he was getting up, someone who was in danger of losing his job, fled. Yes, you guessed it right, it was the driver. He jumped out and absconded. If only he knew it was all for nothing, for the conductor regained consciousness soon after. Though all of us beyond grateful that nothing had happened to the man, we realised that we were on a bus without a driver, and continuing to be there was of no use. So we climbed down from the bus, and waited for the same numbered bus, or a bus from the same company to come. The latter did arrive, with a conductor who had the cheek to tell us that we did not deserve the AC bus, but that he was sorry (for name’s sake, I’m willing to bet).


This experience taught me one thing for sure – to value the MTC buses more than ever, and to embrace them with all their faults. For even though they trundle and take forever to get to their destination, they sure as hell are not manned by drivers who would abandon their passengers in the middle of a ride.


Nandini Ranganathan

All ears if you've any books to suggest. Preferably fiction, as the characters there beat the ones here by a mile and a half.

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