DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING IS PURELY WRITTEN FROM AUTHOR'S PERCEPTION OF THE WORLD. PLEASE READ IT AS SUCH. ON FAILING TO DO SO THE AUTHOR PRESCRIBES THE READER TO PERFORM MEDITATION STANDING ON ONE LEG FOR 7 YEARS.
A long time ago before getting my license, I used to travel by bus frequently. The most favourite pass time of mine was to sit and observe people around me and discern a story about them in my mind. Pretending to read a book, I would hang the "Do Not Disturb" expression on my face and indulge in creating stories.
If you are a person who tries to decipher 'What the man sitting beside you ate for lunch based on a stain on his cuff' like Sherlock Holmes, your ma man/ woman. Some might ask "Why decipher other's lives?" I mean... Why Not?
I amuse myself by decoding people's stories. Weaving a story by gathering information and walking through my 'Mind Palace' to use every detail I could possibly use. In the due process, I hope I haven't given anybody a cringe-y experience of me staring at them longer than that is acceptable. If by chance you are reading this, I'd like to console you with the thought 'I wasn't staring at you, but starring you in your own life's story.'
Apart from it being an amusement, it was my way of understanding 'How people react to their circumstances.'. For instance, the act of purchasing a ticket is not very complex, yet what baffles me is how differently people do it. One time a man with full confidence asked for a ticket to 'Gandhi park' which costs around 6 rupees and extended a 10 rupee note expecting change. Another man in a jittery manner asked for the same ticket with a 10 rupee note feeling anxious expecting a fuss. His manner seemed to relax as soon as he received the change without any drama. Another day the bus was at max capacity. No one had room to move, not even the conductor. A lady from the front passed on the money and the information of the stop where she was to disembark with total trust and confidence that the money would reach the conductor. While a man standing 3 people away from the conductor refused to pass the money and handled the finances all by himself.
It is amazing how different people approach situations based on their personal experiences.
When the bus is empty and there is nothing interesting happening inside the bus, the outside world would grab my attention. Even if the outside world fails, I have a fail-safe mechanism. I would 'actually' read a book. At least that way I'd look cool in front of other earthlings scrolling through their endless feed. Not because I did not have a smartphone then.
One must keep in mind, anybody who boards a bus is there for a specific mission. It is to go from point A to point B. Be it for business or pleasure. Unless one travels with a companion, everyone engages with their cell phone. There will be only occasional talking if the engaging party is a group of friends, acquaints or elderly people. Mind you, they usually are in pairs. There aren't many casual conversationalists and even if they exist they are snubbed away. So the environment is either hostile or blaring with music from the stereo where one's own thoughts aren't heard. I assumed regardless of any bus I'd board this would be the scenario. But to my surprise, this perspective was shattered. Crossing urban boundaries, the world becomes different regardless of how far one travels.
My house is located on the outskirts of the city. There are only 3 functional bus services to my locality from the city. To reach my house I'd use any bus that would take me to the end of the corporation limit where most of them turn around to carry on with their return trips. I get down at this terminus and wait for a bus that will take me out of the corporation limit to my house which is around 6 km from there. I would have covered a 14 km journey from the city centre within 45 minutes, but might take another 45 minutes (mostly waiting) to cover the final stretch of 6 kilometres. To avoid the painstaking wait, I usually ask my parents to pick me up.
But that day, due to their unavailability I had to take 'THE' bus. I got down at the terminus and waited grumpily alongside a huge crowd. The street lights were on and it became quite difficult to read the bus numbers from a distance against to the high beam from the headlights. It was impossible to read until the bus was a few metres away. To my luck, it was only a short 15-minute wait that day. Relieved to see the bus I positioned myself at the bus stop aiming to get as close as possible to the door. The bus approached, whizzed past me, and stopped a good 30 feet farther away from the bus stop. Indian transport system teaches every human being a very important life lesson:
"If you want something in life you need to run towards it. It will not materialize right at your feet".
We all ran towards the bus. Fighting my way in, I got a seat. Not a window seat, but it was better than to have my nose right at others' armpits, standing. As the bus rolled, I purchased my ticket and gathered my senses after enduring all the nudging, pushing, and pulling. Sitting there and looking around I noticed this.
A man in a blue shirt with white stripes and another man wearing a khakhi shirt with some visible grease marks, sitting on the bench in front were having an intense conversation. A few moments later another man wearing a white dhoti and a white shirt clinging on to the plastic grab handle next to the two, joined in. There was casual teasing and suddenly a woman's voice joined the banter. In no time the participating voices increased and it felt like almost the entire bus guffawed. This was strange! There were stories exchanged. People started talking about various stuff. A few comments dropped in casually. People randomly made themselves available for a conversation. It felt like I boarded a bus full of relatives going on a tour.
I had a smile at the corner of my lips while getting down after listening to some good repartee amongst neighbours and friends who were winding down after a day's hard labour. It was a very comfortable ride emotionally.
This particular experience of 'That Night on the Bus', kept creeping up in my mind and I felt the need to understand it. After needless thinking and contemplation, the only rational conclusion I could arrive at was - 'the scarcity of connectivity'.
It is known that 'panchayaths' are village councils and have very small populations. My village is a terminus. The busses ply solely for the people living in the village. Anybody boarding the bus in their right senses would do so only to come to the village. Either they are visiting someone or they are coming to their house. The people who travel by bus are the ones who cannot afford the luxury of personal transportation or use it as a last resort as I did. On observing the demographics of people travelling, it pointed towards the category of 'regular commuters' and incidentally most were neighbours. They are the ones who gather to use a common facility. They are the ones who get together to request/complain to the 'panchayath' head. They are the ones who take part in all social good and bad. The community is very well acquainted.
All these factors reflect in the bus ride I took. I felt safe, as I could believe all the 100 people travelling on the bus weren't possibly there to hurt me (I mean no disrespect). Believe me, one person would have been enough. I definitely couldn't have travelled with my 'guard down' in any other route even if it meant commuting on a daily basis. The feeling 'everyone knew each other' somehow made me trust the people around me.
Look at it this way. If you were in a new place say a new school, first day of college or work. It would be easier to join and converse with a group of people who are comfortable with themselves than with individuals who are as uncertain as you are. It would be easier to gather more information and form opinions on the people, based on their conversations without actively engaging.
The sense of trust in the air makes us trust. It can be said: "To be comfortable with a group of people, we need not know them personally. It is enough the people around knew each other".
Aushwath S S